Remember This.

There is something about turning middle age that causes many of us to focus like a laser on our own mortality. And with that comes the almost irrepressible compulsion to share our maternal or paternal wisdom with our children. The blog “Shit My Dad Says” is devoted almost entirely to this phenomenon.  There’s just stuff we’ve learned along the way and it seems like such a waste not to share these things with our children. And so we do. Early and often. To our children’s dismay.

But I have often wondered, if I only had a few more days or weeks or months left with my children, what would I choose to tell them?  What are the really important things I want them to know?

Surely Jesus must have asked himself this question during the forty days between Easter and his ascension into heaven.  He had spent his entire ministry imparting wisdom to his friends and followers. But his ministry was coming to an end.  Of all the things he had tried to teach them, what were the most important things that he wanted them to remember?

As far as I can tell, it looks like we have about nine recorded accounts of Jesus talking to his disciples during that forty day period after Easter.  So what did he say?  Of all the many things that Jesus tried to teach his disciples, what were the essential things he wanted them to remember?

Well, it turns out that Jesus says about what we would probably say if we had just a limited amount of time left with our children.

He tells them not to be afraid.  That everything is going to work out okay.

He tells them to love each other and to take care of each other.

And he tells them that he loves them and that he will see them again some day.

I guess Jesus knew that his parenting days were over. There was no more time for speeches, lectures, or even parables. It was time to boil an entire ministry down to the very basics. And so he did: Don’t be afraid. Its going to be OK. Love each other. Take care of each other. I love you. I’ll see you again.

Words to remember.

Peace.

Facebook Official

733824_589445451065527_1461816516_nI changed my profile picture on Facebook today. I joined thousands of others in putting up the red human rights flag in solidarity with those seeking marriage equality. It didn’t take long but my decision was hardly impulsive. I did it only after a good bit of reflection. But, to be honest, most of my reflection was about the reactions I would likely get from my friends, both my Facebook friends and my real life friends, that represent so many different backgrounds, perspectives and religious beliefs.

I thought about the church that I grew up in and the many people there that were so important in the development of my faith in God and my curiosity in the mystery of the divine. I recalled their teaching me that God’s love for his children was unconditional but I also recalled their teaching me that homosexuality was an abomination to Him. I could almost feel their disappointment in me and that made me sad.

I thought briefly about my barely flickering political ambitions and wondered whether making this statement in support of marriage equality would end those hopes for good.

I thought about my daughters who are almost 10 and almost 8. I could almost see their 20 year old selves looking at me incredulously as I tried to explain why I had stayed silent on the issue of marriage equality — the same expression on their face as I probably had on mine as my parents tried to explain to me why they, and lots of other people, stood by silently during the segregated days of the 1960’s.

I thought about my friends and coworkers, some of whom would be disgusted that I would make a public statement in support of gay marriage possibly putting at risk the reputation of my conservative firm, some of whom might mock my making a public statement as a lame effort to be trendy just to join an ever growing consensus, and some of whom would react with disgust because it took me so long to come around on an issue of such basic fairness.

I also thought about the kids that I have taught in Senior High Sunday School, many of whom are way ahead of me on this issue.  They have seen their future and they are certain that it includes marriage equality for everyone. I pictured them shaking their heads, finding it hard to believe that anyone could possibly struggle with this issue. Most of them have not changed their profile picture but that’s because for them this is a settled issue. Their generation has led on this issue. And as I think about them, I am inclined to follow.

I thought about the wonderful church that I now attend and the diversity of opinions that are represented on this issue. I thought about how thankful I am to be a part of a church that allows, and even welcomes, differences of opinions but is uncompromising in its belief in the unconditional love of Christ and our obligation to love and accept each other despite our differences.

And of course I thought about God and what God might think about this issue. I suppose I will always be concerned that Paul was right: that God really does think that homosexuality is an abomination and that God may be disappointed in me for making this public statement.

But, mostly, two thoughts kept coming back to me: I thought of my friends at church — a gay couple that have lived a ridiculously traditional life together for 15 years and who now have a ridiculously beautiful baby boy that was born into their family just a couple weeks ago. I thought about how dramatically my life changed for the better when I got married and had children and how much I wanted the same for them.

Finally, I concluded that Martin Luther King was right. The arc of the universe really does bend towards justice. Slavery, segregation, interracial marriage, and now marriage equality: the arc really does bend towards justice. And I choose to be on the side of justice. So, for now, the profile picture has been changed. I’m Facebook official in support of marriage equality. And it feels good.

Joy

We lit the advent calendar at church last week.  I like Joy.  Joy is good.  But dang it’s hard to describe.  Sort of like describing the smell of a lemon, the sight of a double rainbow after a storm, the feeling you get at the birth of a child.  I’m reminded of United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who tried but failed to describe exactly what amounted to pornography that was not entitled to the protection of the first amendment.  Eventually, Stewart threw up his hands and remarked, “I know it when I see it.”

I know what you mean, Judge.  Some things just defy easy description and must be experienced to be fully appreciated and understood.  So it is with Joy, yet we still try to put it in words.

Poet William Henry Davies’ very able attempt reads like this:

Now, joy is born of parents poor,
And pleasure of our richer kind;
Though pleasure’s free, she cannot sing
As sweet a song as joy confined.

Pleasure’s a Moth, that sleeps by day
And dances by false glare at night;
But Joy’s a Butterfly, that loves
To spread its wings in Nature’s light.

Joy’s like a Bee that gently sucks
Away on blossoms its sweet hour;
But pleasure’s like a greedy Wasp,
That plums and cherries would devour.

Joy’s like a Lark that lives alone,
Whose ties are very strong, though few;
But Pleasure like a Cuckoo roams,
Makes much acquaintance, no friends true.

Joy from her heart doth sing at home,
With little care if others hear;
But pleasure then is cold and dumb,
And sings and laughs with strangers near.

 

The Apostle Paul made joy a theme of his letters, referring often to his joy “in Christ”.  He spoke many times about the joy he experienced even while facing persecution, imprisonment and death.  Even in those times of adversity, especially in those times of adversity, Paul experienced the joy that comes of being in Christ.
The Psalmists also talked often of joy — the joy of salvation expressed through worship and praise of God.  Joy, for the psalmist, is described as a gift from the creator.  Joy, for the psalmist, is expressed in worship, and obedience, and reverence.
But perhaps my favorite illustration of joy comes from Dr. Seuss and the people of Whoville:
“That’s a noise,” grinned the Grinch,

“That I simply must hear!”
So he paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow…

But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?
Well…in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!

…HE HIMSELF…!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!

Joy’s not easy to describe.  But I think Paul, Poet Davies, the psalmist and Dr. Seuss, are all saying essentially the same thing.  Joy is a gift.  It is of God and from God.  It is enduring.  And it can be experienced even in the face of tragedy.  It is joy that permitted Paul to praise God even while facing death.  It is joy that allowed the people of Whoville to sing despite the Grinch’s best effort.  It is joy allows us to walk boldly and in peace even when things are rough and the future seems uncertain.  And it is Joy that will enable the people of Newtown, Conneticut to slowly pick up the pieces, press on, and sing this Christmas.
Joy to the world, y’all!

Peace

There He is.  The Prince of Peace.  Watching our chaos:  A country at war for nearly a decade; a government so dysfunctional that its leaders have taken the economy hostage and are threatening to throw it over a cliff; a town completely heart broken, busy preparing twenty precious and bullet riddled children for burial while the rest of us look on in shock and horror; families in constant conflict, with husbands and wives arguing endlessly over meaningless things while brothers and sisters are at each other’s throat one minute and united in open defiance of their parents the next.  And then there’s me, and maybe you, with our chaotic and stressed out minds, wracked with doubts and regrets and indecision and constant worries — so conflicted that we can barely move, much less act with any real conviction.  And in the midst of all this madness stands the Prince of Peace, watching.

I desperately wish He would do something.  Fix something.  Fix me or others around me.  Instead, it seems like everywhere He goes, chaos follows.  But in my better moments, I know it’s the other way around — everywhere chaos goes, He follows.  I know He’s been there amidst the fog of war, the heat of those political battles, the stress of family conflicts and the utter despair of the grieving parents of Newtown.  And He’s been there with you and me as we wrestle our stressed out thoughts struggling to keep it all in the road.

I get it that the Prince of Peace is needed most at scene of chaos.  And I get it that we are supposed to follow along.  But honestly, I wish He traveled with a giant spotlight — one with enough amperage to allow us to see clearly for miles and miles.  If He did, I think I would still follow but, no doubt, I would occasionally run ahead — either in search of the next adventure or at least in search of the next exit so that my family and I could get the hell out of some of the chaos around us.  But this is a Prince that travels light — with just enough light that we can see little more than our feet in front of us and then only if we stay close.

I suspect the Prince of Peace is more comfortable with chaos than I am. He was both made for it and born into it. I guess in that way, He’s the perfect travel companion. And so we travel with Him. Lugging our chaos from place to place.  In the dark.  Barely able to see the ground in front of us.  Following a Prince who is in search of more chaos, another place that could use His peace.

I know He is in Newtown this week.  I hope and pray that the people there can feel His presence and that they stand close to His light.  They are surely experiencing a chaos I can only imagine.  But the Prince is comfortable there.  He’s there right now.  No doubt.

Hope

Today, Sunday, December 2, 2012, we celebrated the first day of Advent by lighting the candle of hope at church.  True to form, my devotional for today was also about hope.  It was the story of Elizabeth and Zacharia and the difficulties and frustrations they experienced trying to get pregnant.  But the story goes that through it all they remained hopeful and faithful and God eventually rewarded them.  Elizabeth bore a child and his name was John the Baptist.

Yesterday, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot his girlfriend and then drove to his team’s training facility, where he thanked his coach and the team’s general manager and then shot himself in the head.  It was later determined that he had shot and killed his girlfriend just an hour prior.

The story of Elizabeth and Zacharia as an illustration of hope and faith makes me a bit uncomfortable. Things worked out ok for Elizabeth and Zacharia.  But that is not always the case.  I know plenty of people who have prayed earnestly and persistently for years and years but their prayers have gone unanswered.  Some times things work out ok.  But some times they don’t.  It is when they don’t that we really need hope.

For me, hope seems to come from two different sources.  The first is my own past experience.  I have hope now because I have experienced God’s hand at work many times in the past.  I have both hope and faith that things will eventually work out, because it has been my experience that they generally do.

My other source of hope, even when things do not work out ok, is that I believe I know the end of the story.  I believe that in the end, God wins.  I believe that in the end, I’m going to be ok even if things and circumstances around me are not.  I believe that in in the end, this has all been worth it and will make sense.  It is my belief that I know the end of the story that allows me to remain hopeful even when some chapters of my story really suck.  My faith tells me that God is in control.  With God in control, even my tragedy has a context, and that gives me hope.

But I know that there are many Javon Belcher’s in the world.  There are many that have not experienced God’s hand at work in the past and for whom things have not worked out ok.  Their prayers have gone unanswered.  They are without hope.  They have reached then end of their rope.  The story of Javon Belcher tells us that that is a dangerous place to be.

I guess the take home message for me, in this season of Advent, is how easy it is for some of us to have hope, how difficult for others, but how vitally important for all of us.  And how necessary it is for those of us who have it, to spread it to those who don’t.

As for me, I can give people hope by telling of my experience — that of God and his faithfulness.  But also, I can give people hope by sharing with them my understanding of the end of the story — that despite life’s ups and downs, some of which are tragic, the end of the story has been written and it is good.

For unto us, a child is born…

Any Regrets?

My regrets?  Not getting married sooner, maybe.  Practicing transparency earlier and more often, possibly.   A couple of relationships I might undo. But even the bad stuff proved to be pretty good life lessons so even those I’m not sure I would undo entirely. What about you? Any regrets?   Anything you would undo if you had the chance? Some good responses here. Take a look.

My Jesus is Blue. What’s Yours?

Do you believe in a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus? – CNN Belief Blog 

My quiz results suggest I lean toward a “blue state Jesus” (which is sort of funny since I live in the reddest of red states…)  But, in light of the very conservative church background of my childhood and the fairly liberal church participation of adulthood, it’s no wonder my results are somewhat mixed.  Interesting quiz, though.  I do think a lot of the cultural and political discord of today can be traced to these differing views of the divine.

So which are you?

Do you believe in a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus?

Do you believe in a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus? – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.