Friday, December 31, 2004
ALCOHOL NOT REQUIRED FOR A PARTY. But neither have I spent a New Year's Eve somber. I have been priviledged to be with people who love me and with whom I have made life-long and community commitments on New Year's Eve. Our parties do not include alcohol but they do include good fun, light-heartedness, and often great conversations. Alcohol does not equal fun. And fun does not have to leave regrets, shame, addictions, and pain.
THINK WHEN YOU DRINK? I haven't figured this one out. The ad says: "Think when you drink." No way. What happens when you drink is that your thinking becomes blurred. You cannot think when you drink. Judgment is compromised. Wisdom is out the window. This is just one of many deceitful advertizing ploys of the alcohol industry.
TIME TO TAKE ALCOHOL ADS OFF TV. Interesting that at the same time American public will has been effectively turned against cigarette smoking and the entire tobacco industry has been brought to heel, the alcohol industry has been allowed to run rampant. It's time to remove alcohol advertizing from college sporting events. Then, to remove it from TV entirely. It is time to delegitimize the abuse of alcohol.
Care to comment?
ONLY SEVEN? Many more spiritual gifts could be named. The Apostle Paul lists others in other letters. But let these seven at least highlight the belief that God gives special graces, or gifts, to people for the sake of enacting and advancing Kingdom purposes.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
FIVE GOLD RINGS. Today's gift: "five gold rings." What are they? They are the first five books of the Old Testament. Also known as Torah or the Pentateuch, these five documents form the backbone and skeletal structure for all that follows in the story of Judaism and Christianity. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy is a story of people who are formed by faith in an invisible but covenanting God; it is a story like no other. The Pentateuch is a gift, indeed.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
RIDE, NOT RUN, LANCE. What's Lance Armstrong doing running with his bike? He's competing in the Dec. 19 Scary Fast Cross race. Cross biking combines road, off-road, and, yes, jumping some barriers. That's what Lance is doing here. The photo is by Dorothy Wong and found at www.cyclingnews.com.
COME ON OUT. I enjoyed a great cross-country ski through Eagle Creek Park yesterday. Though I am sore this morning, it was worth it. I hope to ski a few more times before it melts away.
SEIZE THE DAY. Get out of the house. Get out of your vehicle. Step into the snow. If you don't ski, run. If you don't run, walk. If you don't walk, breathe the crisp air, take in the sun. Seize the moment.
TASTE THE LOT OF ALL. The folks at Bruderhof help me begin to put it into perspective. Bruderhof's Daily Dig this morning is an excerpt from an extended 1919 lecture on suffering by Eberhard Arnold:
"Only when we take human existence upon ourselves in its starkest and most humiliating misery—a misery in which nothing has meaning—can we win through to the only possible way to live. Only when we taste the lot of all, when we become involved deeply in world suffering, one in heart with the need of humanity, can we win through to our true vocation. Only when the conscience becomes active, only when love is born out of suffering, only when hardship leads to liberating action, is victory near."
Monday, December 27, 2004
1755 JOHN WESLEY COVENANT SERVICE. The 18th-century English words and sentence structures are a bit odd, but the heart-and-soul relevance of Wesley's Covenant Service is right on. I will lead a John Wesley Covenant Service on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2004, at 8:00 pm in the Sanctuary of West Morris Street Free Methodist Church, 2302 W. Morris St., Indianapolis. You are welcome!
CROSS-COUNTRY SKI TIME. Later this morning, I hope to hit the trails at Eagle Creek Park again. I've already enjoyed two cross-country skiing excursions since our big snowfall last week. It's going to start warming up over the next few days. Ski days in Central Indiana are limited; gotta take them in while you can.
If you cannot or choose not to join in the roundtable, I encourage you to consider taking a twelve-day journey as an individual spiritual discipline. You can use the reading, reflections, and journal exercises I've prepared.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
TWO TURTLE DOVES. The first day's gift was Jesus the Messiah, the "partridge in a pear tree" in the nmemonic song that is actually a catechetical tool first used in 16th-century England. Each gift conveys a basic aspect of orthodox Christian faith. The two gifts offered you today are the Old and New Testaments--the "two turtle doves."
CHRISTMAS TRANSITION. Christmas is the transition point from Old Testament to New Testament. The ancient anticipations, expectations, and interpretations of the Law and prophecies of a Messiah (Christ) are challengingly fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Many good people were so deeply entrenched in their traditions that they simply could not make Jesus fit into their worldview. Many others -- hungry for grace, liberation, and restoration – in faith opened their hearts to Jesus, in whom they found the embodiment of God’s promises.
COMMON THREAD. The dramatic diversity of the books of the Bible makes it difficult to find a common thread running throughout. But both Old and New Testaments speak pointedly of the Kingdom of God -- the reign of God as Lord in the lives of people and communities who embrace grace. God’s reign is depicted in the Old and New Testaments as a kingdom of peace. So it is fitting that today’s gifts are depicted as “turtle doves,” the dove being the ancient and contemporary symbol of peace, or shalom. The dove is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who brings the Word of God alive in our lives. Embrace God’s gift peace expressed in the new covenant mediated and sustained by Jesus Christ (the “partridge in a pear tree”).
Saturday, December 25, 2004
WHITE HOUSE CHRISTMAS CARD? Martyn Turner of The Irish Times portrays a version of the gifts of the Magi. The greeting says: "Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men...as long as you do exactly what we say." That's the spirit of the season! To Hegemony! To pax Americana! (Click on the graphic--or any photo or illustration on this blog--to see a larger view).
My gift to you today: Reading, reflections, and journal exercises for the First Day of Christmas.
Here's a quote from Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) that seems to echo Augustine's sense of Christmas:
"Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son. Oh, the wonder of Christmas."
CATCH A WAVE! My mom's a good sport. She came through once again, fulfilling my Christmas wish for a used surfboard. What started off as a whim and then a joke turned into a great gift. The juxtaposition of the surfboard and 12 inches of snow with sub-zero temperatures was over the top. Suppose I could surf a hill at the park?
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
SEVEN INSIGHTS FOR THE OUTWARD JOURNEY. A couple of years ago, I began to consider the insights I have received that most help me to live an active, engaged, but reflective outward life. As I put the list together and reduced it down to a few essential statements, the following list is one on which I can hang my hat. On the surface they seem all-too-obvious, even shallow. At the same time they have, as Shrek says, "layers." They have layers--history, perspective, experience, illustration, connectivity, and considerable depth. I have copyrighted the list for future development. Anyone interested in taking a risk on investing in a writing/resourcing project? Let me know. Below I share the list in the briefest possible terms--mere bullet points. Over the next few days and weeks I will flesh out what's inside each one.
1. Think big
2. Start small
3. Build well
4. Act impeccably
5. Resource your network
6. Expand within your mission
7. Enjoy the journey
- An Oscar Peterson Christmas. Unparalleled jazz that will astound you. Mellow Christian carols done with amazing sensitivity; secular songsdone with technical mastery. It has it all. All-time favorite.
- Klezmer Nutcracker. You will never listen to "The Nutcracker" againwithout thinking of this perfect blend of the classical ballet and Klezmer music. Fascinating. Joyous. To call it upbeat would be anunderstatement.
- Sing Choirs of Angels by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Moving, complex arrangements performed in a huge, well recorded environment with majestic pipe organ and the famous choir.
- Improvisations for Christmas by Jean Guillou on pipe organ. What our Christmas carols would sound like if Bach had written them. Really impressive on a good sound system.
- A Child is Born by the Trinity Choir at Cambridge. Formal, classical, highbrow stuff. Not for background listening. It is rather old and I don't see it listed at Amazon, but there is a double disc set called "Carols from Trinity" that has much of the same music on it.
Risky business for mayor and cityThe Star did not print another question I raised: "Are we going to gamble that gambling is now somehow an amoral issue?" I wonder why they chose not to print that? It seems to me that this is the crux of it. If gambling is a moral issue, then the debate is over. Steer clear. Find other funding.
"Gamble" is the operative word to describe what's at stake for all in the stadium proposal. Is Mayor Bart Peterson really going to gamble away his leadership on this? Are we going to sabotage the clean, family-friendly city image that has been carefully cultivated for decades? Are we going to gamble that a gambling industry-funded stadium for the Colts produces enough residual revenue and compassion to directly and significantly impact the future of thousands of young people living in poverty within the shadow of Downtown? This is, indeed, risky business.
John Hay Jr.
Senior pastor, West Morris Street Free Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Here we are on the first day of winter--winter solstice, the longest day of the year--and the weather wizards are promising--PROMISING--4-6 inches of snow by this time tomorrow evening. Please, let it snow more!
My cross-country skis are ready. I want to be one of the first to ski Eagle Creek Park. I've got an extra pair of c-c skis if you'd care to join me.
"Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia (“permitted religion”) were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power. At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, “All went…to be registered” (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels “on earth” and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of pax and jus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time. (All this can be confirmed by research today.)"
Contextualization, rooting the story of the Gospel in its realtime milieu, brings the power of its light into focus.
"Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."
"Our text refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."
"Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."
Monday, December 20, 2004
WHO IS THE PARTRIDGE? The Twelve Days of Christmas are around the corner. Each day offers a spiritual grace. Care to engage the 12-day journey as a gentle alternative to "crashing" after Christmas? Learn a bit of the history of The Twelve Days and Link to my daily guides.
ROLLING THE DICE. "Gamble" is the word that describes what's at stake for all in this proposal. Is Mayor Peterson really going gamble away his leadership on this? Are we going to gamble that gambling is now an amoral issue? Are we going to gamble on the city's future in this manner? Are going to gamble that keeping the Colts in town produces enough residual revenue and compassion to invest in the futures of young people living in poverty within the shadow of downtown? This is, indeed, risky business.
"Christmas makes me nervous. The Infinite who came in a feeding trough is not the kind of God I want. He is too powerless for my liking. Such a God is an embarrassment, not just to the Herods of this world, but to all who are enamored with themselves and their own potency. I don’t want this God. I have an inn to offer, decorated for Christmas, not a stinking stall."
"God exists in weakness and comes to those who reach up to him with empty hands. He is neither useful nor helpful. He came and still comes, not to solve our problems or answer our questions or fulfill our needs or bless our endeavors, but to expose our problems, to question our answers, to be our need, and to point us to his kingdom. In Christ, God enters time and space to turn our world upside down and inside out. 'Valleys are made high, mountains are laid low.' We are left bewildered, undone."
Let's hope the community's "winter contingency plan" is effective. With temperatures hovering in single digits overnight, this weather is deadly for our neighbors without homes.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Saturday, December 18, 2004
- Silent…and Expectant - a short poem by Led Loder
- Invitation to Twelve Days - access readings, reflections and journal exercises for each day from December 25 thru January 6; also get in on the daily 6:30 am roundtable
- Christmas, Music, & Silence - does Christmas music help us approach the holiday?
- My "Top Ten" Christmas CDs - from the sublime to the ridiculous
- A Bonhoeffer Christmas - reflections from the 1943 prison pen of the young German theologian
ADVENT LIKE A PRISON CELL. During Advent 1943, from this cell in Nazi Germany, the young theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancee:
"A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of Advent."Bonhoeffer wrote to his parents:
"From the Christian point of view, spending Christmas in a prison doesn't pose any special problem. Most likely, a more meaningful and authentic Christmas is celebrated here by many people than in places where only the name of the feast remains. Misery, pain, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt have an altogether different meaning in God's eyes than in the judgment of men."
"God turns toward the very places from which humans tend to turn away. Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him at the inn: A prisoner can understand all this better than other people. It's truly good news for him; in believing it, he knows he has been made a part of the Christian community that breaks down all spatial and temporal frontiers, and the walls of prison lose their meaning."
HOW CHRIST COMES TO US. “We are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?”
BETWEEN ADVENTS. “Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5).”
OUR WHOLE LIFE IS ADVENT. “Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent -- that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: ‘On earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.’ Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. ‘I stand at the door…’ We however call to him: ‘Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!’” (This excerpt of an Advent reflection by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, Plough Publishing House, 2001, available at http://www.bruderhof.org/)
Friday, December 17, 2004
BAYH CALLS FOR RUMSFELD'S OUSTER. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh yesterday not only called Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq into question, he called for the Defense Secretary to step down. Now, if Evan Bayh--the world's worst worry wart about not going out on a limb and the conservative Democrat who did hardly more than hold his breath for eight years as governor--calls for your ouster, you're very far gone.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE. Not that Bush cares what Bayh says. Not that anything Rumsfeld has said or done (or not done) recently deserves this call now more than over the past four years. Bayh is right to make this call; it's a slam dunk. But it doesn't win him points for visionary or on-the-point leadership if he plans to run for President.
BLOG FOR PEACE AND HOLINESS. I've started a "peace and holiness" blog, transferring the writings and links from my 2003 effort to it. Check in as you like. It won't be updated daily, but weekly. This is nothing other than what I have been writing and living, as reflected through Grace Notes and posts to bikehiker blog. Let me know if you're interested in the conversation.
THE PRESIDENT IS RESPONSIBLE. For abuses and mismanagement, the finger points back to the President. It began in his decision to go to war against Iraq, which is the grave misjudgment his entire Administration is now trying to manage. Rumsfeld has responsibility for his own words, actions, outlook, and attitude. But the force of his will and spirit, over against many voices of opposition inside and out, has been aided, abetted, and enthusiastically sanctioned by George W. Bush.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
TEETERING ON A PRECIPICE. It seems to me that if the Word of God does not devastate us, we have not yet heard or seen it. We are only working and playing around the fire. Until the Word of God devastates us, we are still in trivial pursuit, playing games, pretending to know, desperately trying to drive back despair, teetering on a precipice without realizing it.
COMPLTE. But devastated, we find ourselves able--for the first time--to begin to live.
The previous five were:
10. Windham Hill: A Winter Solstice Reunion
9. Bethlehem After Dark: Butch Thompson and Laura Sewell
8. Gary Hoey: the Best of Ho! Ho! Hoey (Christmas surf!)
7. Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration
6. Now It Is Christmas Again: Garrison Keillor and the PHC crew
5. Michael W. Smith: Christmastime. For those who like contemporary Christian music and the MWS style, this is rich. I can only listen to MWS for a short while. Why does CCM have such a need to blast and over-embellish?
4. KiHo’Alu Christmas: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. 1996, Dancing Cat Records (distributed by Windham Hill Records). Unplugged. Very smooth. I checked this out of the library last week; a great find. How can folks who’ve never seen snow so wonderfully distill the essence of the season?
3. Manheim Steamroller Christmas projects. I enjoy all of these CDs from American Gramaphone. Since 1984, Chip Davis has single-handedly invigorated instrumental Christmas music for our generation with six distinctive CDs.
2. Elvis’ Christmas Album. 1957, RCA. Acclaimed by pop music critics everywhere, this predates several later Christmas music projects by the king. This is pure, early, simple, soulful Elvis.
1. Ray Charles: The Spirit of Christmas. 1997, Rhino Records (CD of record made released in 1985). This is classic Ray Charles. Charles’ more recent project receives rave reviews, though I have not yet heard/seen it. It is a DVD called “Ray Charles Celebrates a Gospel Christmas,” released in 2003. It must be great, it is back-ordered almost everywhere. Have you seen "Ray?" What do you think?
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
"Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God."
-- Evelyn Underhill in Watch for the Light
Monday, December 13, 2004
CHRISTMAS CONCERT TIME. I think the last one was this evening. Within a week we've attended the Ben Davis High School Madrigal Dinner, the BD Combined Choirs Concert (featured here is the school's top show choir, Premiers; our son Jared is the blonde in dead center of the picture), and the Fulton Jr. High 8th and 9th Grade Holiday Concert. Who ever said they don't allow Christian music in public schools?!
A 12-DAY ALTERNATIVE. Instead of crashing into Christmas and spending the next weeks recovering from it, consider joining me in a gentle but intentional spiritual journey from Christmas Day to Epiphany. These "Twelve Days of Christmas" offer an opportunity to receive gifts and reflect on spiritual graces together. I've prepared readings and journaling exercises for each day from December 25th through January 6th.
DAILY READINGS & JOURNAL EXERCISES. Let me know if you want to track the days; I can have the readings/exercises waiting in your "inbox" each morning. Or, you can access the 12 readings/exercises online.
DAILY ROUNDTABLE. Also, I am facilitating a "Twelve Days Pre-dawn Roundtable" at 6:30 am each day from December 26 through January 6 in the Chuck Ball Library at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church (WEMO), 2302 W. Morris Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. Each day we'll share the readings, discuss the day's gift, explore applications, and pray together. You are welcome! I'll have fresh coffee, bagels, shmears, and fruit waiting. You'll be on your way to work by 7:15 am; but you don't have to hurry off.
"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.MY QUESTIONS. When is a minorty group's problem "not my problem?" When you notice civil liberties being curtailed or compromised--perhaps as an emerging pattern of neglect or abuse or simply eclipsed by some other momentarily more important purpose--what do you do? Ignore it? Pretend it's not real? Hope it's not real? Get busy with other personal matters? Pass it off as somebody else's problem? Hope somebody does something about it? What? What am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."
CIRCLE OF LIGHTS. You won't see the fireworks or nearly 100,000 people jamming Monument Circle, but you will see a wonderful display of lights and holiday decorations in the center of Indianapolis. The centerpiece is our 284-foot, 6-inch State Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument with thousands of lights transforming it into the "world's largest Christmas tree." Worth going out of your way to experience.
OFF THE HOOK. I think this about the so-called moral vote in the recent presidential election. While the gullible were told to focus only on abortion and gay marriage, the candidate got off the hook for accountability for the war in Iraq, domestic disarray, and international buffoonery.
NO FOOLING GOD. And, like a magician, candidates gloat in profusive adulation, all the while knowing they got away with deceit. But every magician ultimately has to pray. There's no fooling God.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
- "How Long?" - Lyrics from Over the Rhine. This is the essence of Advent.
- "Alone at Christmas" - A moving reflection left by a woman who visited our Clothing Ministry last Wednesday.
- "O How Shall I Receive Thee?" - A "new" (to me) old Advent hymn.
- Military Pressure On Our Youth - How the military is getting our kids' names and addresses...and recruiting them without our permission.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
INCARNATIONAL PARADOX. “Maker of the sun, he is made under the sun. In the Father he remains, from his mother he goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, he was born on earth under heaven. Unspeakably wise, he is wisely speechless. Filling the world, he lies in a manger. Ruler of the stars, he nurses at his mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant.” -- Augustine (354-430 AD)
AUGUSTINE'S INFLUENCE. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) was one of the most articulate voices and influential leaders of the post-Nicean church (that is, the church after the Council of Nicea of 325 AD). His Confessions and City of God are still being published and read. This painting of Augustine by Raffaello Sanzio is one of few that do not portray either a bishop's headgear or a halo on or around Augustine's head (a superfluous attribution of honor assigned to revered saints). In Sanzio's eyes, Augustine must have seemed somewhat human.
AUGUSTINE AND "JUST WAR." By the way, Augustine's writings provide much of the fodder for the "Just War" provisions outlined some 800 years later by Thomas Aquinas (see Aquinas' "Just War" guidance). The "Just War" theory, as I read it through 21-century eyes conditioned by Biblical theology, is thoroughly untennable as it stands. Their use of Scripture is what we call "proof texting"; it takes statements out of context and uses what the Scripture "allows" (or does not specifically and pointedly prohibit) to justify the desires and actions of men. It may sound arrogant, but it is fair to say we now "know better" than Augustine and Aquinas.
AMERICA'S ATTACK ON IRAQ IS NOT JUST. But even if one takes Aquinas' 13th-century "Just War" provisions as the "standard" measure by which a nation or state would justify going to war, the United States of America's attack on Iraq is out of bounds and unjustifiable. Read the terms for yourself. I wonder how many American evangelical church leaders and laypersons who champion President Bush's war on Iraq and "preemptive strike" policy are aware of this?
Friday, December 10, 2004
O how shall I receive thee,
How greet thee, Lord, aright?
All nations long to see thee,
My Hope, my heart's delight!
O kindle, Lord most holy,
Thy lamp within my breast,
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please thee best.
Thy Zion palms are strewing,
And branches fresh and fair;
My heart, its powers renewing,
An anthem shall prepare.
My soul puts off her sadness
Thy glories to proclaim;
With all her strength and gladness
She fain would serve thy Name.
Love caused thine incarnation,
Love brought thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling
That led thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.
Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o're joys departed
And tremble at your doom,
He who alone can cheer you
Is standing at your door;
He brings his pity near you,
And bids you weep no more.
Thursday, December 9, 2004
CIVIL LIBERTIES AT RISK. Of course high school administrators say their hands are tied. They "have to" do what the military demands. But the high school assistant principal I talked to had no idea from what department or person the personal information about my son got into the hands of the National Guard recruiter. Privacy of information and civil liberties are out the window. Prepare to grapple with it.
WHERE ARE WE HEADED? I suppose all of this is not an issue if you think aggressive military recruitment in high schools is a good thing. I don't think it's a good thing. I think it's a really bad thing. I think it unduly and unfairly preys upon vulnerable and impressionable young people. I also think the entire militarization of civil society is a bad thing. Calling our youth to the military as the highest expression of patriotism will come back to bite us as a democratic society.
MY PREDICTION: THE DRAFT WITHIN 12 MONTHS. The military is desperate for recruits. Their recruiting quotas are down. Many who are enlisted do not believe the Bush Administration's spin on the necessity and value of the Iraq War. The appeals to patriotism will increase. The pressure will heighten. And even though Mr. Bush said during his election campaign that there will be no draft, he has also said that will do whatever he wants to do if he thinks it's the right thing to do. And he has demonstrated that he exercises this will quite readily. My prediction as the War in Iraq continues: by this time next year, the draft will be in place.
'Till we lay these weapons at your feet, Lord, how long, how long?
'Till we call all hatred obsolete, Lord, how long, how long?
(Please tell me how long)
'Till we walk like lovers through Bethlehem, Lord, how long, how long?
'Till the lion lies down with the lamb, Lord, how long, how long?
I know it's not too late to wrestle with this angel--
higher and higher
-don't let go
higher and higher
-before we know
how does it end? how does it end?
we're all riding on the last train, tryin' to find our way home again
'Till we wash the blood from the hands of our fathers, Lord, how long, how long?
We're sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, how long, how long?
Our eyes are shining different colors- we cry Lord, how long, how long?
Our dreams, our tears, our brothers sing by and by Lord, how long?
I know it's not too late to climb up Jacob's ladder--
higher and higher
-don't let go
higher and higher
-before we know
how does it end? how does it end?
we're all riding on the last train, tryin' to find our way home again
it's not too late
-don't give up
-don't give in
tell me how long
AT OUR CLOTHING MINISTRY. The second Wednesday evening of each month is Clothing Ministry night at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church. Yeah, I wish we were able to share more frequently, but it's a faithful expression of grace from our congregation for which I'm thankful. We begin with a shared meal of soup and sandwiches, I open the Word for a gospel story, and then neighors select clothing they desire in the pantry.
FESTIVE NIGHT. Last night's Clothing Ministry was festive. Christmas music played on a CD as about forty-five of us ate the meal together. We also sang together in a "request-a-carol" format (including each song is Spanish for our Latino neighbors, which number about one third of those who gathered). In the pantry, we added an offering of new and gently used coats into the mix, items our Missions Commission had challenged the church to bring in.
BUT ONE FELT ALL ALONE. But at least one woman was overwhelmed by her aloneness in the midst of this well-intentioned evening. She left the following words written on a placemat. She didn't sign her name.
Can no one see the pain, can no one see me?
I must really be alone.
So sad. A mother's love. Brokenheartedness.
I drop to my knees and ask, "why me, God?
Why has my life been so hard?"
3 kids at 17 years. Married at 15 years.
Now, 36 years later, with my earthly father gone
no more than 3 weeks. What can I do?
My kids are all grown, except for one.
And on this Christmas, we don't have a home,
No Christmas lights, no more children's laughter.
Only tears, only tears.
Hurt for my drug-addicted boys.
Hurt for my daughter because I can no
longer give her what she needs.
Can no one see me?
Am I really all alone?
THE POVERTY DRAFT. Turns out Pablo Paredes was recruited to the Navy through what is called the "poverty draft." That's the heavy bombardment of armed forces recruiting that takes place in America's urban high schools and low income areas. Just this week my son, Jared, received a recruiting letter from the local National Guard unit (with his name and address handwritten). The appeal was for part-time work, money, and valuable training; no reference was made to military service in Iraq.
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
SURF CHRISTMAS. Mom still pulls out the stops at Christmas, particularly for all her grandchildren (four of which are my kids). And she still wants to fulfill the Christmas wish of middle-aged adult children.
"What do you want for Christmas?" she asks.
"Nothing in particular," I reply in a 45-year old ho-hum drone.
Then I have a brainstorm. I change my tune.
"Well, you live on the beach. How about an old used surfboard?"
"A surfboard!" she responds. "Do you still want to learn to surf?"
"Still do," I confess. "Besides, what could be more fun than hauling a surfboard around on top of my VW Beetle in the dead of a midwestern winter?"
I've even got the Christmas surf music to go with it.
Catch a wave...er, drift!
THIRTY MINUTES AND TWO HOURS. I'd be happy to sit through a mere 30-minutes of the Limbaugh radio show with any Dittohead so we could spend the next two hours with the Bible unpacking the sub-Christian and anti-Christian philosophy and views he espouses durinig that brief period.
GROW UP, WISE UP. If you buy Rush's political and economic conservativism as Christian, you are gullible and undiscerning. You need to grow up in the faith of Jesus Christ. And you need to begin to question why this functional athiest's ideas appeal to you. It's time to wise up. Turn off the noise. Tune into the Word that gives life.
Tuesday, December 7, 2004
To obey is better than sacrifice,
I don't need your money, I want your life.
And I hear you say that I'm coming back soon,
but you act like I'll never return.
Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet.
How you thrive on milk but reject my meat.
And I can't help weeping at how it will be,
if you keep on ignoring my Word.
Well you pray to prosper and succeed,
but your flesh is something I just can't feed.
To obey is better than sacrifice,
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights.
'Cause if you can't come to me every day,
then don't bother coming at all.
To obey is better than sacrifice.
I want hearts of fire, not your prayers of ice.
And I'm coming quickly to give back to you,
according to what you have done.
10. Windham Hill: A Winter Solstice Reunion. 1998 Windham Hill Records. Moving-- even haunting--instrumental arrangements of old and new Christmas songs by the best new age genre musicians around.
9. Bethlehem After Dark. Butch Thompson, piano; Laura Sewell, cello. 2000, Daring Records. Butch plays on the weekly public radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." This combo plays a subdued but very crisp rag style.
8. Gary Hoey: The Best of Ho! Ho! Hoey. 2001, Surfdog Records. Gary Hoey defined Christmas music in the surf guitar genre. Once you hear what Hoey does to these traditional songs and carols, you'll want to head to the beach for Christmas. I could not find this in stores; I had to order it at www.surfdog.com.
7. Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. 1992, Reprise Records. You guessed it: the classic masterpiece in soul style featuring well-known African-American artists. Very cool.
6. Now It Is Christmas Again. 1994, Angel Records. Garrison Keillor and company sing and storytell their way through 25 traditional songs (some sung in the languages of the northern Europe). You'll laugh and cry.
TURN YOUR RADIO ON. On an errand last evening, I turned on the radio in my Beetle. Christmas music--sacred and secular, sophisticated and sappy--played on many stations as I searched the dial. Everything from "Silent Night" sung acapella by a large choir to "Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey" sung by Lou Monte. "Dominic" still rings in my head. I can't get away from it.
WHAT IS ITS IMPACT ON US? Serious question: What is the impact of listening endlessly to Christmas music for over a month? How much of our understanding and expectation of the season comes from the incredible mix of Christmas music, instead of our own experience? How do we experience or encounter the unique gift of Christmas joy when we've been saturated with a thousand versions of how, when, and where it's going to happen? How much are we shaped by Christmas music? Is it merely elevator music or does it reach us? Should it?
MEASURE OF SPIRITUALITY. A person who's calling and witness I look up to once said that he could measure the temperature of his spirituality by how quickly he reached for the radio "on" button as he traveled around the city in his vehicle. The idea is that noise prevents silence and masks the "still small voice" of God. Am I ready and/or willing to let God speak to me?
BETTER THAN RUSH. Some of the spiritual masters, like Henri Nouwen, write about "mini-solitudes" in our transitions from one place, occasion, or appointment to another. One women who attended a church I served decided not to get her car CD and tape player fixed because she had been able to pray so effectively during the time she used to listen to Rush Limbaugh. Amen, sister!
GREATNESS OR NOISE? Granted, Advent and Christmas have inspired the greatest music. But can we really experience its depth if it becomes mere background noise in our hustle and bustle up to the day "you know who" comes to town?
Monday, December 6, 2004
- Advent Curmudgeon? - William Stringfellow reflects on the nature of Advent
- A Little More Stringfellow - two of my favorite Stringfellow quotes
- When the Church Plays to Political Ideologies - strange befellows
- To My Mother: A Poem of Wendell Berry - imagine such forgiveness
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Enough preaching...let's get on with the day!
Saturday, December 4, 2004
GLORY THROUGH YOUR OWN WINDOW. Why do we tend to seek for God's glory in other and far-off places, as if God is more revealing and present on the mountain top than across the street? Here's evidence of glory out our front window this morning. Look near, listen here!
The sage continues: "True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, 'I'm sorry,' than to the future and saying 'Wow!'" (from Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, Harper & Row, 1973)
Now, put that in the context of John the Baptist's message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!"
Dare we try to enter a breathtaking future and sacred journey burdened down by besetting sins and the baggage of a thousand and one trivial preoccupations?
Friday, December 3, 2004
(a) it was related to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center...then you are buying into lies and twisted logic.
(b) Saddam Hussein harbored terrorists,
(c) Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,
(d) Saddam Hussein was a valid national security threat to the United States,
(e) Iraqi citizens would welcome Americans as liberators,
When you grapple honestly with each of the above lies, half-truths, misleading information, bad intelligence (call it whatever you need to call it), you will see that America has no business or right to be in Iraq.
All of the "evidence" and "rationale" for opening up a war in Iraq have collapsed like a house of cards. Still, our President doggedly deploys more troops to Iraq for a war for which he declared victory a year ago.
Iraq did not provoke war. An American President declared he had the right to attack any nation he deemed a threat on "preemptive" grounds. He did so. Those "preemptive" grounds did not and do not exist.
If our nation is a nation that values the power of reason over the sheer use of whimsical and personal will, it follows that American citizens have every right and responsibility to insist that the American President use his "political capital" to extract his nation's young men and costly resources from a quagmire into which he blindly charged us.
DENY, DENY, DENY. These athletes and their attorneys used the same strategy that only serves to deepen the pit into which cheaters and liars fall: deny, deny, deny. And it appears such athletes were either so brazen or so dependent on their drugs for top performance, that they continued to dope during the ongoing investigation.
STRINGFELLOW'S PERSPECTIVE. William Stringfellow, the outspoken lay theologian and Harlem street lawyer who died in 1985, perceived clearly the political implications of the Bible as it related to life. He pushed people out of their private religion and sanitized views of the Bible. Read a one-page synopsis of Stringfellow. The following statement is poignant and typically Stringfellow:
"The biblical topic is politics. The Bible is about the politics of fallen creation and the politics of redemption; the politics of the nations, institutions, ideologies, and causes of this world and the politics of the Kingdom of God; the politics of Babylon and the politics of Jerusalem; the politics of the Antichrist and the politics of Jesus Christ; the politics of the demonic powers and principalities and the politics of the timely judgment of God as sovereign; the politics of death and the politics of life; apocalyptic politics and eschatological politics."
"In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst babel, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word. Teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word." (from An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land)
NO REJOICING. "For all the greeting card and sermonic rhetoric, I do not think that much rejoicing happens around Christmastime, least of all about the coming of the Lord. There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing. In any case, maybe outbursts of either frolicking or rejoicing are premature, if John the Baptist has credibility. He identifies repentance as the message and sentiment of Advent."
NOT JUST PERSONAL REPENTANCE. "In context, in the biblical accounts (Matthew 3 and Luke 3), the repentance of which John the Baptist preaches is no private or individualistic effort, but the disposition of a person is related to the reconciliation of the whole of creation. 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"
PRODUCE THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE. "The pioneer Christians...knew that the message of both Advents is political. That message is that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the nations and the principalities and the rulers of the world are judged in the Word of God. In the lordship of Christ they are rendered accountable to human life and, indeed, to all created life. Hence, the response of John the Baptist when he is pressed to show the meaning of the repentance he preaches is, 'Bear fruits that befit repentance.'" -- from A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow, edited by Bill Wiley Kellermann (Eerdmans, 1994)
OVERWHELMED. Let not Stringfellow's words douse what little lightheartedness we may muster in anticipation of Christmas. Instead, may his effort to point to the Word of God overwhelm us. Let's not allow ourselves to waltz through Advent and into Christmas without falling before God in true repentance. And then, ever repentant and cleaving to the living Word of God, bear joyfully the burden of an unrepentant church, nation, and world in our hearts and through our prayers, words, and actions.
Thursday, December 2, 2004
"When people request prayer for 'our boys in Iraq' do you think they mean our troops or the Iraqi Christians? What does that say about our primary identity as people of God? I fear that the cross for many has become a bulletin board for all of our other identities. Are we first and foremost Christians or Americans? Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Are we following in His footsteps?My response:
1. I suspect a lot more evangelical Christian prayers are being prayed for American troops (Christian or non) than for (a) Iraqi Christians, (b) Iraqi Muslims, (c) foreign insurgents in Iraq, or (d) the Israeli government to cooperate post haste in the creation of a Palestinian state (a generational delay that is fueling most of the Middle East-related terrorism).
2. American evangelical Christians are grossly muddling their identity. They want it both ways, to serve Jesus and loudly champion or silently support the unjustifiable wars of an Amercian President.
3. The question of whose Kingdom are we following is, to me, the most critical question for this generation of evangelicals.
"Clearly, the struggle of the German church was uppermost in Bonhoeffer’s thinking. The statist fervor of the German Christians impelled him to say that the true church must constantly defend itself against idolatry. Long before the excesses of the Third Reich forced Bonhoeffer to join the political resistance, acceptance by the German Christians of Nazi ideology had driven him into a state of protest against the church in which they were so dominant."
In a warning and challenge to Amercian pastors, Black writes:
"What, then, was the role of the pastor for Bonhoeffer? And what is the responsibility of church leaders today? [Professor Michael] Moeller, who carefully studied this issue, concluded: 'The pastor has to speak the truth. Not the truth of ideologies, but the truth of the Gospel which the world does not like to hear. The role of the pastor is not to be the master of ceremonies for the world celebrating itself. The role of the pastor might be more the role of the fool, the one who is set aside to speak the truth even though nobody really wants to hear it.'”
Well said, Dave and Michael. Now, who will heed the call? O God, help me thus to live and speak!
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
WHEN THE CHURCH LOOKS TO POLITICS TO SAVE IT. In the name of preserving and advancing some moral issues and gaining influence in the Third Reich, church leaders in Germany gladly raised their hands to Hitler and welcomed his nationalistic fervor. For the sake of having their own agendas advanced, they turned a blind eye to his emerging pattern of abuses and authoritarian actions. You know...the rest of the story.