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.”

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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.