Day Twenty-Three

Day Twenty-Three
March 31, 2014

Servant of God

One of the readings for today in Lent is Psalm 89. Most picture David as having written all of the psalms, a simple shepherd scribing the hopes, joys, fears, and frustrations of us all in these poems that were also unofficial hymns. Psalms were poems read or recited while someone played music on a common ancestor of the guitar. Since this instrument was called a psalter from the Greek psalmoi meaning musical accompaniment, the readings became known as psalms. King David is attributed to have written seventy-plus numbers of the one hundred and fifty that are in the Bible most commonly used today. The entire collection is thought to have been written over a span of five centuries so it seems fairly certain that one man did not in fact compose all of these poems.

David is one of two people in the Bible most often referred to as a “servant of God”, the other being Moses. David was actually a soldier in training when he fought Goliath and stayed on his intended career path in becoming a leader. His defeat of the giant Goliath could be attributed to theories that Goliath suffered from McCune-Albright Syndrome or gigantism or the accuracy or his weapons compared to that of Goliath’s. He definitely knew where to strike and when and was victorious. Was he real? Good question! History tells us there was a king named David but theologians bicker over whether or not the David of the Psalms ever really existed. What is clear in all the stories and history is that the man David was committed to his faith and his God.

Moses and David are not the only servants of God listed in the Bible. There was Abraham, Ahijah, Caleb, Daniel, Elijah, Isaiah, Job, Joshua, Samuel, Solomon, and what has to be the most distinctive name in the entire sixty-six books – Zerubbabel! Of course, this list is not complete. After all, you and I are not on it.

From somewhere around age two we begin to try to exert control over our environment, our actions, and our choices. Those terrible two’s are really the testing two’s, followed by the thrilling three’s [to see just what you can do], the fearsome four’s, etc. Now the Bible comes along and tells you to be a servant.

We tend to confuse the word servant with the word slave. Servants were domestic service professionals. Slaves were kidnapped victims forced to do work they were seldom prepared to do and live in deplorable conditions. I do not mean to glamorize the life of a servant; it was hard and seldom rewarded properly. However, they performed a very necessary service; hence, the word servant.

The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first; perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”

In our attempt to be successful, we tend to unknowingly become leader-first individuals. We focus on the acquisition of material possessions, sometimes to the detriment of our family and friends and even our self. Greenleaf tried to explain the benefits of the servant-first individual and leader. He pointed out that the successful leader makes sure that other people have their needs met which in turns makes them “healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous.” It also makes them more willing to become servant-first people. They will see the advantages of sharing power and help everyone in their group develop and grow which in turns results in a higher performing and successful group or company.

Lent is an example of our servant-hood. We have the potential to become that healthier, wiser, and freer person by living our life as a servant of God. When we treat others with the kindness and charity we ourselves would want, when we put others first, then we profit. When we practice our Lenten disciplines, we reap the rewards and like David, we defeat the materialism of today’s society with the simplest of weapons – faith.
Greenleaf summed up his idea this way: “Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.” Jesus said it another way: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Day Twenty-Two

Day Twenty-Two

March 29, 2014

Umuganda!

There are five fingers on the average human hand. Most people have two hands so the average human has ten fingers, counting thumbs as digits on the hand and therefore fingers. How do we use those ten fingers? What kind of dexterity does our faith have?

The Decalogue is better known as the Ten Commandments. The name literally means ten words or ten sayings. Commandment One sets the stage for everything that follows. The thumb on my left hand is how I remember it: I am the Lord. After all, we use an upright thumb to show “I’m alive!” or “I agree.” Even FaceBook uses it! As a child I started with the left hand because it was the one closest to the heart. The index or second finger is often used for pointing or emphasizing facts and the second commandment does that: No other gods but me. The middle finger, the tallest finger, was a great reminder for not having any images to worship as a god or idol. In ancient times, it was believed that the vein in the fourth or ring finger went directly to the heart. It doesn’t but it does get to the heart of what we are to say and not to say: Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. The little finger is one used by kids to pledge friendships or promises not to divulge a secret. It is a connection between friends and as such, it is a great reminder for us to remember to keep the Sabbath holy.

So I used to use my left hand to remind myself I was not perfect, not a god but a mere mortal. My index or pointer finger should not be used either to point out things as idols nor in speaking to make myself seem like I was perfect or knew everything. My middle finger was another reminder about false gods but also served to make me realize we should not imagine ourselves higher than anyone else, nor look down on others because of what our station in life might be or what theirs might be. The ring finger is so named because in many cultures it is the finger upon which rests a ring symbolic of one’s greatest love. While the commandment it represented to me technically talks about ill-use of the Lord’s name, it also reminds to try to speak from a place of love, not anger or superiority. The little finger is the one most often first held by infants and to a parent that connection is priceless. By attending church, being in the presence of other believers and by doing things like those Jesus encouraged, I have a better chance of living a life that is close to that preached by holy men – Jesus, the disciples, the prophets.

The right hand is the hand we use to shake hands and the commandments I remembered with it are those that deal with other people. I won’t go into detail – you can figure it out for yourself. I will say that by following respect for where I came from, being honest and upright, finding contentment with what I have and living respectfully with others, I have a better chance at a happy life. When you put both hands together with fingers upright, you have praying hands. When you live both sides of those hands, you are living close to God.

What else can we do with our hands? Today is Global Umuganda Day. Umuganda is a word in the Bantu dialect of Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda. It means simply “coming together for a common purpose to achieve an outcome”. Since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the country has selected the last Saturday of every month for a day in which those who were killed were remembered as people came together to rebuild their country. Umuganda has enabled a country without a great deal of resources to pull together and use its people and assets to improve itself. Today, the twentieth anniversary of the killings of the people of Rwanda, the world is joining in as people all over are helping improve their environment in memory of those who died.

Hands of every color worked for one purpose – umuganda. We can use our hands to draw people close or to push them away. Life can be scary at times. It may seem like we haven’t the time or energy or resources to make our own ends meet, let alone help others. The thing is, though, that when we remember the Decalogue and live it, when we use our hands to help others, then we provide ourselves the most help of all. When we use our hands to draw closer to all of God’s children, then we draw closer to God.

Lenten disciplines are our umuganda, our own direct vein to the heart of our faith. Hold hands with someone. Wave your hands around in joy, celebrating life. Come together with a common purpose, love, to achieve something – making our faith alive. It doesn’t have to be perfect; neither do the hands you hold or use in prayer. We just need to live God’s love in umuganda.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJ6jc4SOoNY

Day Twenty-One

Day Twenty-One

March 28, 2014

 

Are we there? Psalm 31: 8-9

Many churches have people “watch” during the hours from the end of the Maundy Thursday church service to the start of the Good Friday services. Two or more people sign up for the watch and sit in the darkened church. The altar has been stripped, just as Jesus was stripped. They sit in a dark church with a vacant altar, bereft of any candles or other trappings of faith. They sit to answer the question Jesus posed to his disciples: “Will no one sit and watch with me?”

When do we “watch” with God’s children today? When it comes to living our faith, when are we there? We remember those last days of Jesus during Lent, alone and waiting for what he knew would happen. We cannot go back in time but we can be present in our faith in our present day. Are we there?

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY CRUCIFIED MY LORD?

A child bullied; A young man denied service at a restaurant because it is assumed he is gay.

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY CRUCIFIED MY LORD?

Riots at Kent State; Children killed at a Connecticut elementary school

 

OH, SOMETIMES IT CAUSES ME TO TREMBLE, TREMBLE, TREMBLE

A runaway teenager escaping an abusive parent;

TREMBLE,

A homeless family living in a car;

TREMBLE

An abused domestic partner

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY CRUCIFIED MY LORD?

Neighborhood associations protesting Neighborhood Housing Authorities trying to relocate families to better housing

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY NAILED HIM TO THE TREE?

A Ku Klux Klan lynching

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY NAILED HIM TO THE TREE?

The wooden fence where Matthew Shepherd was brutally beaten to death

 

OH, SOMETIMES IT CAUSES ME TO TREMBLE,

Elder abuse

TREMBLE,

Children without proper clothing for cold weather

TREMBLE

Undiagnosed mental health patients

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY NAILED HIM TO THE TREE?

Soldiers lying dead on a battlefield

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY LAID HIM IN THE TOMB?

Tiny caskets containing victims of child abuse

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY LAID HIM IN THE TOMB?

Victims of natural disasters whose bodies can never be recovered

 

OH, SOMETIMES IT CAUSES ME TO TREMBLE,

The mentally ill who cannot afford medication

TREMBLE,

Victims of genocide

TREMBLE

The victims of human trafficking

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY LAID HIM IN THE TOMB?

The victims of terrorism

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE TOMB?

A premature baby that beats the odds and lives

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE TOMB?

Victims of natural disasters found after several days still alive

 

OH, SOMETIMES IT CAUSES ME TO TREMBLE,

Discrimination due to race or color

TREMBLE,

Discrimination due to sexual orientation

TREMBLE

Discrimination due to age or handicap

 

WERE YOU THERE WHEN GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE TOMB?

A Syrian toddler found wandering alone in the dessert by UN Aid Relief Workers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZQ73M84QGQ

Day Twenty

Day Twenty

March 27, 2014

Half-way there!

The Lenten season is forty days, not counting Sundays, and today is Day Twenty in Lent. We are half-way there – well, as far as Lent is concerned! So what does that mean? We can slack off some? Maybe it means we only have twenty days to start whatever good habit it was that we were supposed to be doing. Maybe to you it means “Ugh! I’m only half-way done? I’ll never make it!”

Look up how to learn to pace one’s self in a marathon and the first thing suggested is to run more than one marathon. What? Research shows that most of pacing is really a mental thing. Your brain will tell your body when it is tired, how much further it can go. To do that, your brain needs experience and to get that….you guessed it. Ya gotta run more than one race! That experience gained will help your mental race run more efficiently and with greater ease. Another great tip is to set realistic goals. Nobody sets out to run a 27-mile marathon for their first race, not if they have any expectation of completing it. Maybe forty days is a bit much for you. Perhaps you should try to practice your Lenten discipline every other day if you are not having much success. In Lent, just like life, practice does make perfect…or at least a more reasonable result. You’ve done the first half of Lent by desire and dictates. Maybe do the second twenty days by feel. After all, an unhealthy you or depressed you is counterproductive to the goal of Lent.

The last two suggestions for a marathon also apply to Lent: Know the course and Train hard. Know why we make our Lenten journey. To do that you have to know your faith, its purpose, and how it applies in your life. If you gave up alcohol for Lent, don’t go out to Happy Hour every night with your friends. That’s a recipe for failure. Think about why alcohol was a good thing to give up. Think about why it doesn’t really help your body. Think about how a daily habit can easily become an addiction. Think about how pouring unhealthy drinks into your body, which the Bible calls the temple of God, is like spray-painting graffiti all over the Temple of Jerusalem. Another good thing to remember is that you are only as good as your last race or hour. None of us is perfect. Relax and focus on the effort, not the results or the bragging rights.

How do you know the course for Lent? None of us really knows what tomorrow will bring – the joys, the challenges, the tears. Sometimes we forget to reward ourselves and take proud in the race we’ve already won. We beat yesterday! Maybe it wasn’t the best day but we made it through so yeah, we beat it. Our imperfections got out of bed along with the rest of us. That is an unavoidable fact. Fortunately, God’s love is perfect in that it is perpetual and always there for us. All we have to do is give our efforts to him and then rest easy, knowing He will help us get through the day and to the end of whatever race we are running.

Knowing the course means taking the time to read the appointed lessons or go online and read those. Lenten meditations are plentiful from almost every parish, cathedral, and major group within many churches. Tomorrow is another day, another gift you’ve been given. Good luck on the back twenty, days that is. Remember, you are not going through this alone. Life is apace, not really a race, and God is right there with us. So pat yourself on the back, let prayer ease those sore muscles from running the metaphorical marathon of Lent, and rest easy. God’s got you!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xetfkQr1vo  

Day Nineteen

Day Nineteen

March 26, 2014

 

Mulberry Street Theology and Pancakes!

Where do you live? I mean, really live? Lent calls us to ponder that question. Tomorrow will be the numeric halfway, although counting Sundays the halfway point will be March 30th, but regardless of how you are counting, Lent is almost halfway over. That means if you gave up chocolate, you are halfway there to enjoying that luscious triple chocolate, four-decker scrumptious piece of decadent cake. Most likely you are living in your memories of your first Hershey bar right about now! If you took on running your block four times each day for Lent, then you are living in the blessing of a frigid winter that has given you the perfect excuse to exercise indoors! These are, of course, humorous replies to a really serious question. Where do we live – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

There are certain towns that stand out when you hear their names. Some need only the city name and we instantly know where they are – Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, Seattle. Others are names repeated in different states. I grew up in a town that has identical name-twins in at least ten other cities, not counting townships and counties. Some names might seem unique but really aren’t. Take Acadia, for instance. Five states have towns named Acadia. Who knew?

There are sixteen cities named Springfield in the USA. I always liked the name; it seems happy and hopeful. The Springfield I am drawn to is one I have never visited – Springfield, Massachusetts. Its name seems to fit – Springfield, Mass. A rather large metropolitan area, second largest in its state, Springfield’s nickname is “City of Firsts” – again a happy and hopeful designation that honors accomplishment and hints of more to come. I mean, if you have a first, there is probably a second right around the corner. Springfield is also known as the City of Homes, taking note of the many Victorian homes built during its history. Sadly, most have been converted or razed under the guise of progress.

Theodore Seuss Geisel grew up on Mulberry Street. It is Wednesday and on Wednesdays in Lent I promised to feature a Dr Seuss book and recipe. Our book for today is “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street”. It is the story of a caring father who sees the world in realistic terms, in black and white, in facts and figures. It is also the story of an imaginative little boy named Marco. Where his father sees a bleak street in front of their house, Marco sees an avenue full of parading reindeer and elephants.  I have been told I live in Marco’s world; I always say thank you.

Lent encourages us to see an imagined self, a better self. Through our Lenten disciplines, we are to have hope that we will become better people and make the world a better place. Just as Marco and his father come together as Marco’s vision promises a brighter future, Lent offers us a chance to live the hope of a better self and stronger faith. Another example of faith is the publishing of the book at all. It is for me the true Lenten lesson for today. “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street” was rejected by publishers twenty-seven times. Theodore Geisel had faith, though, in his vision and prevailed. This first book of his to be published was the beginning of a new career. His vision has led us all on a joyous parade through all his books and their lessons. He stayed true to his vision and lived his faith in himself.

Springfield, Massachusetts is also known for hosting the World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast. Pancakes are another example of a trinity, a culinary trinity of eggs, milk, and flour. Everyone I know has a pancake recipe handed down through their family but they taste great with just plain store-bought mix. Today’s recipe is a basic one that will offer several imaginative uses. Check out this glorious Dr Seuss book from your local library and then invite your family in to make pancakes! There are enough variations so that no matter what someone gave up for Lent, they can enjoy!

Basic pancake recipe: ½ cup flour (add a dash of salt), ¾ cup of milk, 1 egg. Mix together. Add more or less flour depending on how you like your batter (think or thin). I sometimes add a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon or both but basically, the flour, egg, and milk makes the basic recipe.

Variations on a Theme:

  1. Last week was the 45th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, another beloved children’s book so you could add green food coloring to ¾ of your batter and add red food coloring to the rest. Cook all the batter. Place the green pancakes in a line. Put one red pancake at the head of the line and curve your line to make your caterpillar. Cut three of the red into triangles and place these as legs coming out from the body (green pancakes).
  2. Use your pancakes as a bun for either a hamburger/soy burger or BLT.
  3. Smear some chocolate hazelnut spread on your pancake and then roll it up. Crown with a dollop of whipped cream and you have dessert.
  4. Spread strawberry jam across the flat pancake. Top with shredded coconut and garnish with pineapple wedges. You just made a fruit pizza!
  5. Make classic strawberry shortcakes using pancakes, strawberry slices, and whipped cream.
  6. Roll a sausage link inside a pancake and drizzle with maple syrup or, if you gave up sugar for Lent, garnish with grapes or orange slices.
  7. My favorite is Mexican pancakes: Use the pancake as a soft tortilla and top with Mexican-style ground beef or refried beans, add grated cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, hot sauce and fold.

I invite you to live in your world of Lent and the imagined new life it offers all of us. I really do think we can change the world with faith. We only have to believe and then live it. With God, all things are possible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFvrvtH0psI

Day Eighteen

Day Eighteen
March 25, 2014

The Magnificence of seasons, dogmas, and dogs

It is spring! Or is it? Tragic mudslides in Washington State with more rain to come are making it very difficult for the northwest to celebrate the new season. Snow forecasts in the northeast are dragging out winter for what seems like forever. Temperatures in the twenties in Dixie have snowbirds wishing they’d stayed home for spring break. It is spring and birds are nesting along the coastal waters of Houston, only to be bathed in oil leaking from a barge as a result of a water collision. Bah humbug spring.

Our faith has its seasons just like Mother Nature. Meteorologically speaking, the seasons change on the corresponding equinox but realistically they tend to change by holidays, fashion, or sports. When we hear the crack of the baseball bat, then we know it is spring. Football tailgating parties always occur in the fall. Hockey means winter just like swimming and tennis mean summer. When is the season of our discontent? Is that a season of our faith?

Recently I became aware that I defined human nature as that egocentric will to survive we first exhibit as newborn infants. We are uncomfortable so we cry. After all, we really can’t do anything else. Slowly both our handlers and we learn to distinguish between hunger, the uncomfortable feeling of a wet diaper, pain, fear, other discomforts, and yes, even happiness. What others might call human nature I would call human character. I would also add human spirit to the mix. These are, I think, intrinsically tied to the seasons of our faith and whether or not we have a season of discontent in our faith.

Dogmas are hard fast rules or tenets of faith. The word literally means what we think so our dogmas are those absolute established beliefs that will not change, that define what we think. Churches prefer to call their dogmas doctrines. Technically, though, a doctrine is a specific belief that is taught, coming from the Latin word for teaching. Both words work, though, because within our faith we are taught those uppermost rules held as truths and then the specifics of them.

We adopt these dogmas and doctrines into our own personal belief system, forming a basic belief upon which our convictions rest. It is at this point I think human character starts to reveal itself. How I approach the concept of “Love thy neighbor” will depend upon my character and that depends, in part, on how I am hardwired. We are all a casserole of chromosomes, genes, inherited characteristics, and individual talents. Some of this is determined by environment, some by culture, and a great deal by our upbringing. A recent study conducted by a well-respected psychiatrist revealed some startling similarities between sociopathic killers regarding their chromosomes. Even more surprising was that the specialist in charge of the study had those same pairings of chromosomes. When he revealed this to his family, none were that surprised. While he was a law-abiding citizen and well-loved and respected, everyone could see where the slightest thing might have set him down a different path. The nurturing he had received as a child made the difference. How we live our beliefs result in our principles.

The dogmas of our faith may seem like the bleak, dreary winter but they really are the advent and Christmas seasons of our faith. We connect with our human nature to prepare for the discovery of self and the celebration of the birth of Christ. Epiphany and Lent are the human character seasons where we show our beliefs and live them as principles in our lives. We celebrate Easter as the culmination and touchdown of our character. We held certain things to be truth and we celebrate the realization of that truth on Easter.

But like any sports, there comes the Monday morning quarterbacking. Life isn’t over on Easter Sunday. Hopefully we have the rest of the year (and many more) to live. Pentecost is where the human spirit shines forth. It is the human spirit that I believe gets us through the realities of life, those blizzards of chaos that threaten our beliefs and even the dogmas we held so dear. The longest season of the church calendar also encompasses the two seasons of life fulfilled and death in nature. Our dogmas are discussed in the winter calm of infancy, literal and figurative. Then they blossom as budding principles into springtime beliefs by way of our human character. For example, good people don’t kick stray dogs, for instance; they take them home and feed them. Disturbed people might torment them or not care, failing to convey the dogma of “Loving thy neighbor” into a belief of helping or not inflicting pain on a harmless living being.

Summer brings the fruition of those beliefs and they become our behaviors, our practices. It is the human spirit that keeps us going when nothing is going right. When you walk out to your car after being chewed out by the boss and discover a parking ticket, it is the goodness of the human spirit that keeps you from kicking that dog you find curled up by your back bumper, seeking a bit of relief from the hot sun or maybe a sudden rainstorm. It is the human spirit that keeps us believing when faith gives us nothing we could take into a court of law as evidence. It is the feeling of the human spirit that becomes the harvest of our dogmas and beliefs. It is the human spirit that fuels our actions and makes our faith living. Human spirit helps us find another way to help that stray dog if we live in a building that doesn’t allow dogs.

Our human nature, character, and spirit (a nice little trinity!) cause our soul to rejoice and magnify our dogmas, beliefs, and behaviors to reflect our faith. They take faith from the imagination of our dogmas to the magnificent living with God’s mercy, seasons of productive glory that are promised to repeat each and every year by God’s grace. Together they fight those seasons of discontent and keep us from living in them permanently.

We are in Lent, the springtime of our faith. We are living our beliefs and finding ways to incorporate the principles we hold dear into a life we want to live. We may feel like a stray dog at times but our faith promises the loving family of God if we will but walk in faith.

Day Seventeen

Day Seventeen

March 24, 2014

 

 

Game Theory and Baptism

 

Game Theory was developed by John Von Neumann, a mathematician who utilized mathematical algorithms to win games.   It proposes that one should cooperate first and then mimic the other player’s last action in order to “win”.  Today, game theory has many uses and law enforcement applies it in interrogations and negotiations.   It is based upon the premise of Pascal’s Wager.  Pascal’s Wager was the application of decision theory by French philosopher Blaise Pascal, published posthumously in 1670.  Pascal used what would become the early beginnings of game theory to support his belief that one would have a more rewarding life and win the prize of eternal glory if one had faith. 

Game theory says that if you are the only one cooperating, it is pointless.  After all, we usually think that the definition of “cooperate” requires two or more persons.  The word can be defined as a joining together of two or more, but it can also be defined as “coming together for a common good”.  Crucial, however, to game theory, is the identification of all players and the fact that rewards or payoffs must be expressible or tangible.

Most decision theory is concerned with identifying the best decision to take, assuming an ideal decision maker who is fully informed, able to compute with perfect accuracy, and is fully rational.  It contradicts game theory’s cooperate first and then do what the other player did last principle.  Can we apply this to life? 

The Episcopal baptismal covenant says to cooperate, regardless of what the other player does.  We are to do what we know is right, not to do what everyone else is doing.  It is composed of five parts.  Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?  Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord?  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

When one practices one’s faith, I think we are cooperating – with everyone else who is practicing faith.  It doesn’t matter if those faith-based theologies contradict each other.    Game theory says that, if all begin by cooperating, then cooperation should continue because future actions are all dependent upon the last action.  A contract of cooperation has begun, regardless of past faiths, hurts, or actions.  This will continue until one person decides not to cooperate.  Decision theory, by definition, cannot be applied to the game of life, because none of us is omniscient.

The readings for Lent all focus on one having faith, whether it appears to have a basis or not.   Life is, of course, more than just a game, and those who live it in frivolity must accept that their rewards will be frivolous.  Faith can be defined in many ways and we each end up defining it for ourselves in our own way.   Pascal determined that, using decision theory, it made sense to have faith.  Von Neumann’s game theory would produce a winner if all players practiced their faith.

We are called this Lenten season to have faith, to practice our faith, and to live our faith in order to win the ultimate prize.  It is the only way to play the game of life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ 

3rd Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent

March 23, 2014

Amnesia and blunders: How Great Thou Art!

 

Some of the readings for today might seem contradictory.  Moses is trying to explain to God that his people are about to stone Moses.  The psalmist is joyously singing Bless the Lord! And Roman is saying we have peace with God.  I am reading the revised lectionary readings so take a few minutes and look them up: Exodus 17, Psalm 95, Romans 5.  Does Moses sound like he’s at peace with God?  I wasn’t there, of course, but I really doubt he was mentally thinking “Bless the Lord!” while God is telling him to go hit a rock with his stick and that would assuage the tribe’s thirst.  I’m pretty sure he had the same human response we would have: “Whatchu talking about, Lord?” (apologies to Gary Coleman!)

Anyone who has ever worked with kids in the church has many anecdotes to tell of how kids mishear or confuse what we say or Bible passages.  I had an older cousin who for several years prayed:  “Our father, who oughta be in heaven; how’d you know my name?”  AS a children’s choir director, I never could convince one little boy named John that the hymn’s verse was “O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder…”  He was positive it was “O Lord, my God, when I in awful  blunder…”!

God does know our name.  That’s one of those good news/bad news kinds of things.  Good that He knows us when we need Him.  After all, it would be pretty horrible to be praying and suddenly hear a voice from the heavens:  “I’m sorry; do I know you?  Have we met?”  “Uh, sure, Lord.  Remember at Billy’s church that time back in 01?”  Bad because then He can hold us accountable.  God flexed his muscles as homeowner in the Garden of Eden and threw out the unruly tenants Adam and Eve.  He went to visit them one day and, sure enough, calls them by name.  Like some tenants who are behind in the rent or hiding a cat in a no-animals building, they pretended not to be home.  He kept calling and eventually they had to answer and confess, well shift the blame.  God again proved a conscientious landowner and police chief when he spoke to Noah about the mayhem and lack of regard for anything living or breathing except personal gain, feeding one’s greed, and stepping on one’s neighbor to get ahead – the rules of the world at the time of Noah.  This time he gave Noah time to relocate and take a few thousand of God’s closest friends.  And again, that relocation began with God calling Noah by name.

Life is a bit chaotic at the moment.  Huge airplanes have gone missing, a man who claims he is not a dictator is acting like a dictator, governing bodies seem to have no power, children are growing up without childhoods due to civil unrest, countries are teetering on the brink of anarchy with little concern outside of their borders, other children are homeless and/or starving.  California is going through a major drought at the moment.  Is anyone taking a stick to a rock outside of Palm Beach?  Are we being good neighbors and good stewards or have we fallen back into the habits of our ancestors who were Noah’s neighbors?

Truth is, life is usually chaotic.  That’s why we need to remember His name and who He is.  We certainly call on Him quickly enough during times of tragedy or turmoil.  “How did you know my name?”  We need to remember who we are and who we are trying to be and why.  Sometimes we have amnesia.  It is quite evident in our actions or rather, when we fail to act.

“When I in awful blunder…” remember all.  We can do a great many things in this modern technologically-advanced 21st century that we live in and enjoy.  We cannot, however, make all children healthy.  We cannot guarantee California that there will be plentiful rainfall but not so much that landslides will results and heavy flooding will damage.  We cannot stop people from being killed by other people, many times total strangers.  We cannot control nature and prevent earthquakes, tornados, tidal waves, hurricanes, blizzards.  We can build towering skyscrapers but cannot repair our infrastructure of aging bridges that are used every day.  We rely on faith for so much of our living.  When you stop and consider all the things we take on faith and use faith for, it really is awesome…and for those without faith, I guess maybe awful.

Faith does give us peace.  Giving thanks for our blessings empowers our faith and reminds who we are and who God is.  Let us bless his name and respect Him as the owner of all He has made.  We ourselves cannot go out into space and cause a gravitational wave that results in a galaxy of planets, one that sustains human life.  We can, however, worship and respect that which has been made, however it was made.  We do blunder but God is merciful and forgiving.  Consider all that He is and rejoice, drinking in His mercy.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfvi3kvshfQ

Day Sixteen

Day Sixteen

March 22, 2014

 

Fear and Silence

One of the most enduring Christmas songs asks a question for all ages:  Do you hear what I hear?  The night wind asks a little lamb if it hears the changes about to happen.  The answer was blowing in the wind, a hint of what was to be.  The dark is often a time of silence to us.  Perhaps that is because it is the only way to make us listen.  After all, it is in the dark times of the night and our lives that we are brought to our knees, when we are silent enough to listen, to take the time to admit we need help.

The narratives of the Old Testament are just that – stories.  Like most stories, they were told for a purpose.  Most stories, certainly many of them in the Bible, relate to a fear in one way or another.  Karen Thompson Walker, in a TED talk, explained the relationship between fear and storytelling this way: “Fear is something we conquer. It’s something we fight. It’s something we overcome. But what if we looked at fear in a fresh way? What if we thought of fear as an amazing act of the imagination, something that can be as profound and insightful as storytelling itself?”

Storytelling has been around as long as there have been people, and probably since the earliest of animals.  Maybe early man came back from a fishing trip using his arms to tell the first story of the one that got away to an animal!  I have a sneaking suspicion that God saw Adam trying to engage a snail in conversation and then realized Adam needed one of his own kind.  That leads us to a critical element in storytelling…the audience.

Stories are told to entertain, to convey family history, to teach.  They remind us who we are, how far we have come, what we need to take with us in the future.  Fear is a component of all of those things.  Man is an ornery animal and for some reason we delight in hearing stories of people slipping on slick surfaces, opening a door and being drenched with water, inadvertently eating one thing thinking it is something else.  We find it funny that momentary look of surprise accompanied by the fear of the unexpected.  History is best remembered when connected to a story rather than just a set of dry, boring facts.  The images provoked remain with us much longer than simply the numbers. Every culture has had an oral tradition, the telling of its origins and mores. 

As a folk art, storytelling is accessible to all ages and abilities. No special equipment beyond the imagination is needed.   We think of storytelling as a speaker art but storytelling is evident in music, the ballet, visual arts, and the fiber arts. As a learning tool, storytelling can encourage students to explore their unique expressiveness and can heighten a student’s ability to communicate thoughts and feelings in an articulate, lucid manner. These benefits transcend the art experience to support daily life skills. Storytelling reminds us that spoken words and visual images are powerful, that listening is important, and that clear communication between people is an art.

The telling of the story, no matter the format, is only half of the process, though.  There must be a listener, an audience.  Another Christmas song begins “The heavens are telling the glory of God”, much the same message that the night wind asks the little lamb.  We are the present-day audience for that message.  Do you hear what they heard?  Are we listening in this modern 21st century world?

One must be still and listen to get the story.  One must pause, take the time to open the brain and ears, receive the story, digest it, and use it in order to live it.  This is why the stories of the Old Testament were told.  Life was hard, miserable by today’s standards.  Storytelling based on traditional folktales is a one way to guide people toward constructive personal values by presenting imaginative and real situations in which the outcome of both wise and unwise actions and decisions can be seen.  In a time where everything proved an enemy – nature, man, animals – and existence was not guaranteed, the survival of mankind depended upon the stories told, heeded, and lessons learned.

Paul Simon liked his choice of instrument, the guitar.  He could go into a dark room, solitary, and compose or just fiddle around with chords.  The dark was not feared but was a friend.  “Hello darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again.”  What might have been scary to another was his venue of pleasure, a canvass for imagination and composition.  The story would unfold as he played.  He used the quiet time to listen to the night wind; he told a story that we all hear and sing.  “The vision softly creeping” has become a song for the ages.

Lent is a time for quiet.  Lent is a time for prayer but also for listening.  The sound of silence can be deafening at times but it allows our story to unfold.  The darkness leaves a seed, the seed of our future. 

We, and only we, will write the story of our Lent 2014.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fWyzwo1xg0