Sunday, December 31, 2017

What I Believe...

We live in a physical universe, a world that operates according to the laws of nature.  Some say this world came into being with a “big bang” or was formed by some unconscious force.  This may be so, but I believe (think) that in addition to this physical world and those natural forces, there is Spirit—a Spirit which gives meaning to all existence.  A Spirit who sustains and intervenes in our history and a Spirit upon which this physical world is dependent and subservient.  This world and its natural laws are dependable not alone because of some mechanical or unchangeable phenomena, but precisely because it is ordered by a purposeful and intelligent Spirit.  I believe God exists and I think God exists independent of my thinking (belief).  

God is a Person.  God is not an “It.”  God is an objective reality, not a creation of my fancies.  I can talk with God and I do.  I believe (think) God talks to me.  God cares for every person and knows and loves us individually.  My mind cannot grasp the sheer magnitude of this thought, nor can it take in the reality of it.   I believe (think) God loves all of us because I have felt God’s care and love for me—and I cannot conceive or imagine a God who cares for me, but does not care and love my neighbors, my friends, my enemies, and all persons everywhere.  This belief (thought) about God is not something I’ve contrived in my own little mind or soul, it is the belief  (thinking) expressed in the Hebrew/Christian and other sacred scriptures through the ages, and has been expressed over and over again in the  world’s greatest literature and thought.

When I say God is a Person, I mean God, in order to be our God, must have all the powers present in us as human persons.  God is conscious and aware, as we are.  God has purposes, as we do.  God knows, cares and loves as we do.  We are made in God’s image—there is “that of God” in each of us—but we are not God.

At Christmas, Christians say, “in the fullness of time” God broke into our world as a human being to show God’s very being to be like our own and to show God’s love for all people everywhere.  This story according to many has been called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”  It is also the strangest story ever told!  Stranger still, is the notion, that God can break through in you and in me.  That is the strangest story I’ve ever heard!  I don't care to quibble or argue about my belief, I'm just sharing it for whatever it is worth.

What do we see when we look into the mirror?
I think my granddaughter, Eleni, sees something
 far more wondrous than  just her own image
 (if such is possible)
I believe so...I think so.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

I Am Singing A New Song!

“The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. 
 It has long ago been learned by heart;
 It repeats itself over and over, 
Bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit.” (Howard Thurman)

My new year 2018 began on the first day of Advent (Sunday, December 3, 2017).  I will not be in Times Square tomorrow night to watch the ball drop, but I will be pondering the year that has been and wondering what 2018 may bring.  I think such pondering is a healthy exercise.

The year 2017 for me was the best of years and the worst of years to paraphrase Charles Dickens’ words from A Tale of Two Cities. It began with a really terrific road trip of nearly two-months across this wonderful country of ours, visiting family and friends, seeing places and things never seen before, and experiencing the people and the wonders of this land that is mine and yours.  Snow, rain, hail, tornadoes, thunder and lightning, fierce winds,  bitter cold, and blizzard forecasts did not deter or in any way diminish that wonderful time on the road in the winter of 2017. BUT upon our return home, I developed a flu-like bug that really put me down for nearly four weeks. Never before had I experienced such a long-term “down and out” kind of illness (except for a bout of pneumonia some 15 years ago).  BUT spring came, Easter broke through, and I was tending my flowerbeds and feeling full of life.  THEN, we went off again a’traveling with two of my siblings and their spouses to the Greek  Isles—a dream trip of a lifetime.  Oh, what a great time we had together! BUT, the very day we arrived home we learned that my mother-in-law had been hospitalized.  My wife immediately boarded a plane and spent the next several months in California. THEN, shortly after she returned, I ended up in the hospital for four days with what the ER doctor called “life-threatening” diverticulitis.  BUT, we were able to travel to Maine in September for a taste of lobster and clam chowder and I was able to make several solo trips to do some fishing and to visit friends in West Virginia and Kentucky.  THEN, we had the joy of being part of our granddaughter’s wedding in late October.  BUT, shortly thereafter, I was again visiting hospitals, undergoing tests, getting acquainted with new friends in vascular medicine, and now I’m taking more “pills” than I did before.  THEN came Thanksgiving and believe me, I was thankful. NOW, I have a new year ahead of me and today I’m celebrating the Sixth Day of Christmas!  As I look back and look ahead—I discover it wasn’t such a bad year at all!

My point is simply this:  I’m singing a new song; a different song from the song I sang in 2017.  I’m singing a new song for 2018.  It is not a song of complaint.  No, not at all!  It is just a new song for a new time, a new year, for new awareness, and for new joys.  

“I will sing a new song.
I must learn the new song for the new needs.
I must fashion new words born of all the new growth
  of my life—of my mind—of my spirit.
I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before,
That all that is within me may lift my voice unto God.
Therefore, I shall rejoice with each new day
And delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding.
I will sing, this day, a new song unto the Lord.”  

(Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas) 

My son, Paul, singing his new song
 some years ago.  New melodies come
with every new Season of life.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Is The Voice of The New Age

I believe there is a recalcitrant “Old Order” and an ever-emerging “New Order.”  The old order is marked by lies, greed, hate, animosity, power, death, deceit, war, and selfishness.  The new order is marked by love, community, equality, decency,  justice, peace, and selflessness.  History is the on-going story of human beings seeking their human fulfillment.  It is an “up and down,” a “rise and fall” story of the eventual overthrow of the existing old order and the dawning or inauguration of a new and better world.  On this fifth day of Christmas I would describe this new world as one in which men and women live together as brothers and sisters (in community), beating their old animosities, greed, power and selfishness into care, support and love for one another.   It is a world in which the dignity and worth of every human personality will be respected and honored.

This new age can be delayed and is always delayed not only “by the guardians of the status quo” but also by those who unwittingly or willingly allow dehumanization to happen in any form, or who become part of an “attention-deficit” culture, ignoring the present “great last-minute breathing power…with their oxygen tents” attempting to keep the  old order alive.”  We must overthrow the present order which presently treats human beings, persons, immigrants, political rivals, races, women, religions, the media, supposed enemies, other nations and national leaders, and the judicial system as though they were cockroaches to be stomped upon.  I’m not suggesting the use of “political correctness”—I’m talking about the dignity and worth of human personality!

Where is the outrage?  Where is the outcry?  Where is the voice of the church, the synagogue, the mosque?  Where is the voice of the prophet?  

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

We Are Not On The Same Page

The phrase, “on the same page,” is a modern version of older idioms like,  in the same league, in the same ballpark, singing from the same song sheet, or preaching to the choir.  To be on the same page means “we” are in general agreement.  For example, if we agreed that global warming is a serious problem, but disagreed in minor ways about suggested solutions, we might say we were on the same page. However, we might fervently disagree on whether wind turbines are good or bad for the environment.  In this case we would have to say that while we agree that global warming is a problem, we are not on the same page because we strongly disagree on the use of wind turbines as a solution.

Put in another context we might say that all Christians (or Jews or Muslims) are on the same page because they are in general agreement about God, Jesus, or Mohammed.  It is self-evident, however, that all Christians are not on the same page.  This has been demonstrated over the centuries by the splintering of Christians into denominations and in modern times into “un” or “non” denominational churches or groups. The Jews and the Muslims have the same problem.  Not all Jews—Muslims—Republicans—Democrats, or Americans are on the same page.  Why?  Because we do not all think alike!  Simple as that and as profound as that! Personally, I think this is a good thing.  It is the bedrock of our American Constitution and the promise of the American Dream that we are free to think and express ourselves without hindrance.

It is for this reason that I really get upset when I hear a member of the House of Representatives of the United States of America suggesting that there should be a purge of the FBI in order to provide a “clean” investigation.  What he is suggesting is that everyone should be on the same page and in this case, he means the “Trump” political page—any other position in his mind seems to be un-American.  The early purges in Nazi German were against those people and those things considered “un-German.”

There was a “purging” on a Christmas long ago when Herod attempted to keep all things under his thumb.  On this Fourth Day of Christmas 2017, we must be on the same page in resisting any and all forms of purging so that we can be free NOT to be on the same page!

Arches National Park

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fake News at Christmas

On the third day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Twenty-five years or so ago, a viral message began circulating and continues to circulate today about the origin and the secret meaning of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” published around 1780.  This dubious Email message purports that the lyrics were composed as an “underground catechism song” for persecuted Catholics living under Protestant rule in England.  It claimed that the song had two levels (don’t you l0ve that “two level” stuff) a surface meaning plus a hidden meaning (that means, code words) “known only to young Catholics of the time:
  The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ.
The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
The three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.
The four calling birds were the four gospels…” etc.

This theory has been much disputed, found to be dubious if not spurious, and has been thoroughly debunked.  Yet the theory continues to circulate and many buy into it as truth.  Why?  I suppose it has to do with the fact that we don’t understand the words of the song in the first place, and since we are fascinated by “code words” and “hidden meanings,” and then someone comes along and explains it to us, we simply buy into it without checking it out for ourselves.  That is called letting someone else do not only our work, but our thinking as well.  A very dangerous place to put ourselves.

There are other explanations as to the meaning of “the partridge in a pear tree” and “two turtle doves” and “three French hens,” just like there are sound and responsible explanations for saying “Happy Holiday” at Christmastime.  When we don’t understand something in the first place and someone comes along to explain it to us, rightly or wrongly, we just buy into it without any thought at all.  We just buy into this dubious, spurious, even debunked stuff (in spite of evidence to the contrary) all the time these days.  It worries me on this Third Day of Christmas as I cluelessly sing:  “Three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear three,” and say with the deepest possible respect “Happy Holidays to you." 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Meandering Mind

Merry Christmas on this Second Day of Christmas to all who should happen to read this blog and a very Happy Birthday to our youngest son, Luke.  So many say Luke was born “the day after Christmas” which sounds so anti-climatic and piddling.  And it just isn’t so!  There is nothing anti-climactic or piddling about Luke in his birth or in the journey he has traveled since.  Luke was born on the Second Day of Christmas!  Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better?  I think so.

My aging mind wanders back and forth, from here to there, from there to here,  from then to now, and from now to then, giving me great enjoyment in these morning hours.  I do not see this as a deficit as some of you may think it might be.  To the contrary, this wandering mind is a tremendous bonus.  The gift of a meandering mind takes me everywhere—from childhood memories, to teenage rebellions, to educational pursuits, to the birth of our children, grandchildren, and even imagines the unknown  future.  I wouldn’t trade it in for anything!  For example, I am thinking right now of a record album purchased many years ago called “Love Is A Season,”  by Edye Gorme, one of my favorite singers back then.  In the album she sings, “Love is a season within the heart, we never know when it will come and go.  Love is no season on some calendar chart, there is no place for it, you simply wait for it…”  Now I’m trying to figure out why this album came to my mind—and it is simply this—Christmas is a season within the heart, it is no season on some calendar chart, you simply wait for it…” So, our son Luke was born on the Second Day of Christmas, not some day “after” a date on some calendar chart, for Christmas is a season within the heart.

Oh, this meandering mind of mine. Now it seems to insist on checking out Edye Gorme.  I discover she was born in 1928 as Edith Garmezano in New York City to Jewish immigrants.  Her father was from Sicily and her mother from Turkey.  Thank goodness there were no bans or walls preventing her parents from coming to this land, for then I would have missed, and the world would have missed the lovely voice of Edye Gorme, singing “Love is a season within the heart…Love is no season on some calendar chart…”

Merry Christmas on this Second Day of Christmas and to our son, Luke, a very Happy Birthday!

Luke, Kim, Eleni and Ethan.
"Love is a season within the heart..."

Monday, December 25, 2017

Dreaming the Christmas Dream

Perry Como sang it.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote it.  It was used  in the 1974 film The Odessa File.  Does anyone remember the song, “Christmas Dream?”  Here are just a few stanzas to help jog your memory and your Christmas dream along:

Watch me now, here I go, all I need's a little snow! 
Starts me off, sets the theme, 
helps me dream my Christmas dream.  
Every year I dream it, hoping things will change,
An end to the crying, the shouting, the dying,
And I hope you will dream it too!  
It's Christmas, Remember?
We've got to remember!

Nights should all be silent,
Days should all slow down,
An end to the hurry, the noise and the worry!
And I hope you believe that too!
It's Christmas, Remember?
Does no one remember?

The whole world needs a Christmas dream,
We need it to warm us, to calm us, to love us,
To help us dream our Christmas dream!

What is this Christmas dream? What is the Christmas dream you dream?  I’ve asked myself these questions since hearing the song sung last night.  The Christmas dream is God’s dream.  It is the dream God dreams for all men, women, and children everywhere, no matter their religion, their color, their culture, their poverty or wealth.  It is expressed best for me in the symbolic words of Isaiah:  “Then the wolf shall live with the sheep, and the leopard lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall grow up together, and a little child shall lead them; the cow and the bear shall be friends, and their young shall lie down together….”

As the lyrics say, we must get hold of this larger Christmas dream (we need it to warm us, to calm us, to love us) because only with it can we dream our own Christmas dreams.  (If this doesn't make any sense to you, I'm sorry.  It makes a lot of sense to me this Christmas morning.)  Merry Christmas!

The wolf, the lion, the cow and the bear are missing.
It doesn't have to be that way.
 The Christmas dream can bring us together.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Last Day of Advent

The season of Advent ends today and the Twelve-Day season of Christmas begins at midnight.  The Church calendar and liturgical seasons change as the days pass, but the “reasons for the seasons” continue on.  The end of the Advent season today does not rule out the possibility that we may still hear an annunciation, or see some star beckoning us to follow, or be visited by some Gabriel  next month, or in May, or perhaps even in September 2018.  No calendar or liturgy can control or hold the Spirit in bondage!  Advent and Christmas continue—there is no end for the “reasons for the seasons.”

We hear many say during the seasons of Advent and Christmas that we should “Keep Christ in Christmas.”  In fact, for a number of years, religious conservatives have proclaimed that a “war on Christmas” was being waged by some (liberals, Jews, progressives, Muslims, etc.) to take Christ out of Christmas!  Well, NO, that is not what they have been harping about.  What they have been harping about is semantics—their battle has been waged over whether or not we (Christians or otherwise) should be inclusive.  The so-called “war on Christmas” trumped up by Bill O’Reilly and Fox News in recent years raised issue with the words “Happy Holidays,” saying that the term was an affront to the typical “Merry Christmas” greeting. Saying,  “holiday” (which means “holy day”) was some kind of plot, they ascertained, to outlaw the “Merry Christmas” greeting and thus remove “Christ” from Christmas.

But now the “war” is over we are told.  President Trump has brought Christmas back!  “Remember I said we’re bringing Christmas back?” he bragged some weeks ago in Utah.  “Christmas  is back, bigger and better than ever before.  We’re bringing Christmas back.”  On Christmas Day a commercial sponsored by America First Policies (a nonprofit group formed by former Trump campaign aides) will be aired on TV in which it will be proclaimed “everyday Americans are standing to thank President Trump.”  It will continue to announce that that thank you includes “letting us” say, “Merry Christmas” again.”

“Keeping Christ in Christmas” is not something we do, or can do.  We didn’t invent it or create it.   Christmas has never been lost, not in America or anywhere else in the world.  Mr. Trump does not and cannot “bring Christmas back,” nor can he make it “bigger and better than ever before.” Those who buy into that claim have just left Christ out of Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wishing You A Troubled Christmas

Christmas comes once again with all its wrappings.  The lights on the lawns and in the windows of many homes brighten the darkness of these winter nights.  The old familiar carols, the family gatherings around the tinseled tree, the giving and receiving of gifts, and candlelight vigils, these all lift us for a little while above the normal, the usual, and the routines to which we are so accustomed.  Visions of sugar plums dance in the minds of children as they await Christmas Day.

“This Is Christmas,” writes Howard Thurman:
“The evergreen singing aloud its poem of constant renewal,
The festive mood spreading lilting magic everywhere,
The gifts of recollection calling to heart the graces of life,
The star in the sky calling to mind the wisdom of hope,
The warmth of candlelight glowing against the darkness,
The birth of a child linking past to future,
The symbol of love absorbing all violence.

But there is more to Christmas than these things.  God comes, not to pat the world on the back and make things merry and bright, but to disturb, upset, and change it.  God comes to turn the world upside down!  In the midst of all our Christmas celebrations are we troubled and perturbed by this discordant note?  Matthew writes in his gospel, “King Herod was greatly perturbed when he heard this…”  Are we perturbed and troubled when we sing, “Peace on earth, goodwill to all?”  Paul Scherer writes, “Could it be that the only trouble God has with Christmas is that it troubles us so little?”

We celebrate Christmas but we are slow to set it to work!  This ought to perturb and trouble those of us who celebrate the season.  Again, Howard Thurman speaks:

“Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed.

In you, in me, in all mankind.”

Friday, December 22, 2017

Is Christmas Nothing at All?

Through the years people have questioned my sanity about many things, but particularly when it comes to this business of Christmas.  They think I might be a little “touched” when I keep harping year after year on Christmas being about Jesus being born in some new way in us, or when I suggest that Christmas is not just a historical event, but rather something that is meant to happen again and again.  They also think I’m a little “off” when I talk in a similar vein about Easter.  Easter, too, is not just a historical event as Fritz Kunkel reminds us, “Easter, rebirth, the new phase of creation, is either a convincing inner experience which changes our character and our life, or it is nothing at all.”  And Christmas, too, in my thinking,  “Is nothing at all,” if it is simply a nice story from the past. Meister Eckhart said it clearly, “What good is it to me that Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago, and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture?  We are all meant to be mothers of God.  God is always needing to be born.”

My suspicion is that most people prefer to think of Christmas and Easter in the past tense rather than the present.  It is far less costly that way.  The same is true in the way many Christians use the Bible, saying it is  “God’s Word,” thus implying that God hasn’t spoken a word since the last word of the Bible!  What silliness!  And yet, is it really?  Does anyone really want to hear what God or Jesus might have to say to us right now?  It is easier to make it all historical—another time, another place—and make our contemporary Christianity a matter of rules, behavior, and belief, etc.  The good Christian people of Germany in the late 1930’s voted for Adolf Hitler because he was a good Christian man—he did not drink or smoke!  We have made small what is meant to be large.  We have kept in the past what is meant to be contemporary.  We have made “American” what is meant to be universal.  We have substituted Churchianity for Christianity!  We have made a “book” our idol, our god.  

We need a contemporary Christmas desperately.  We must open ourselves to the annunciations (God’s demands and God’s promises) being sounded in the world today, hear the voices of angels singing now, follow the stars of hope and promise that shine before us, offer the friendly space of hospitality to the Marys and Josephs of our day, resist the Herods who by their power would destroy the babies, comfort the Rachels who cry for those babies who are no more.  Christmas is about our giving birth to the Son of God in our time and in our culture or it is nothing at all.

The tides flow out from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime:
They find their way to many shores
With gifts of remembrance, thoughts of love--
Though the world be weary and the days afraid
The heart renews its life and the mind takes hope
From the tides that flow from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime
(Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Providing Stable Hospitality

It has become increasingly clear to me with the passing of the years that in one sense, I can do very little for another person.  If he or she is troubled, bewildered or confused, I cannot clear up that trouble or confusion.  No matter how clearly I think I see his or her state, and no matter how much I long to clear up that person’s situation, I simply cannot do it.  If a person is anxious, I cannot make that anxiety go away.  No matter how much I long to do it, no matter how much I care, I cannot make that person’s anxiety go away.  If a person is blocked by fear or circumstance and unable to move forward, or if a person is adamant about this or that political or societal issue, there is nothing I can do, until he or she is ready to move forward or to change.  No argument, no discussion of facts, no evidence will dissuade.  If a person feels that he is not loved, I cannot make him  feel that he is, no matter how many times I affirm this for him.  He or she will not know until they are given the mysterious power of making their own faith assumption that they are loved.  In most of the needs and problems people are up against in life, there is little or nothing that I can do.  I feel powerless and helpless in the face of this reality.  

There is, however, one thing I can do.  I can create a friendly space in which a person can “eat and drink and rest and recover from his fatigue.”  I can be a host.  I can offer hospitality to those who come my way, friends, strangers, neighbors, and enemies, providing them a friendly space to talk freely about, and to work out their needs, whatever they may be.  This  friendly space will be one in which they are given time to look at their issues, discover their own options, and find their own solutions.  It is a friendly place, a friendly space, where they can discover themselves, and be free to sing their own song, dance their own dance, free also, to follow the leadings of their own hearts.  It is not a space where I try to make the person into my image, or try to tell her what she should or should not be or what she should or should not do.  It is not a place or space where I get him in a corner and try to persuade him to come around to my opinions, my beliefs,  or my political agenda.  

In the Christmas narrative we read of that Innkeeper of Bethlehem, who turned away  a stranger—a young man and his pregnant wife—because there was no room for them in his Inn.    How we have denigrated him through the centuries!   Yet, that Innkeeper did that which we as individuals, society, nation and world refuse to do these days. He had no room in his Inn, but he provided them another place—a stable—a friendly space where they could “eat and drink and rest and recover from their fatigue” and give birth to their firstborn son.  He did more for the strangers at his door than we do for the strangers at our door.  He provided them a stable hospitality.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Chased Down and Surrendering = Annunciation

Congressman John Lewis in his book Walking with the Wind writes about the sense of expectancy that came into his life in the early civil rights movement.  “It was at this time that I began believing in what I call the Spirit of History.  Others might call it Fate, or Destiny, or a Guiding Hand.  Whatever it is called, I came to believe that this force is on the side of what is good, of what is right and just.  It is the essence of the moral force of the universe, and at certain points in life, this force, this spirit, finds you and selects you, it chases you down, and you have no choice, you must allow yourself to be used, to be guided by this force and to carry out what must be done.  To me, that concept of surrender, of giving your self over to something so much larger than yourself, is the basis of what we call faith.  And it is the first and most crucial step toward opening yourself to this Spirit.”

Mary saw and heard the angel Gabriel because she was ready, receptive, expectant, and open to such a possibility.  She believed that such a thing could really happen.  She believed that God was about to do a new thing in her life.   She believed God would find her, select her, call her, chase her down.  She was ready to allow herself to be used.  She was willing to give herself over to something larger than herself.  Mary was open to faith.

Joseph could dream his dream because he was ready, receptive, expectant, and open, too.  The shepherds could see and hear the heavenly host because they believed such a thing could really be, could really happen.  The wise persons could see the star and follow it because they believed it was leading them somewhere, that it pointed to something bigger than themselves.  They felt that they had been found, selected, and chased down by God to be used for a mighty purpose.

Without a sense of expectancy and willing receptivity how can annunciations occur?  The Spirit of History, Fate, Destiny, a Guiding Hand, or God, “Whatever it is called,” cannot get through without our having a sense that such breakthroughs are possible.  Have you ever felt yourself being  “chased down” by something bigger than yourself? It happens every Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

“The Force Be With You!”

Oh, it is so costly trying to be with somebody in their situation or need (to sit where they sit, to walk a mile in their moccasins, etc.).  It is particularly costly for a Granddad to try to be with his young grandchildren.  In order to be with my grandchildren, to share in that which brings excitement to their young lives  and dominates their thoughts and conversation, I went to see the Star War Movie yesterday.  When did going to the theater become so expensive?  I was flabbergasted—even after the Senior discount.  Why, I can remember when tickets were…  (oh, let it go, Grandad).   

Never have I sat in a more luxurious theater chair than that which I sat in yesterday—a leather-covered recliner with a swivel tray in front to place your popcorn and coke—if you can afford to purchase snacks after purchasing your ticket.  I appreciated the comfortable chair (without the snacks) because the movie (with all those upcoming previews and advertisements) was almost three hours in length.  How I stayed awake during the whole thing is amazing, especially when it was my afternoon nap time and that chair was so comfortable.  When I reserved our seats online I failed to notice that we would be seeing the 3-D version of the movie.  That experience was enough to knock my glasses off!  I believe I may have lost my hearing, too.  The volume was turned up to such a point where even a person with “hearing loss” thought everybody was shouting and yelling for all of those three hours!  Next time, I’m going to take some ear protection—but maybe I won’t need the protection now that I’m deaf.  It sure is costly trying to be with somebody where they are!

I saw the first Star Wars movie in 1977 when I was 44 years-old.  Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was then a youthful hero  who destroyed the Death Star and became a Jedi knight. In the Star Wars Movie of yesterday (I am now 74) Luke Skywalker is an old man who has seen his day!  That wasn’t at all helpful to my self image!

Even so, the old Star Wars theology comes through—“The Force Be With You.”  I wonder if my grandchildren pick up on that theology?  Do they hear “Why fight for hate when you can fight for love?”  Do they understand the on-going battle between Light and Darkness—"The First Order and the Resistance"?  Did they hear what Yoda said to Luke Skywalker about how failure and weakness is a necessary strength in the search for the fulfillment of humanity?  I did!

Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, December 18, 2017

Star Wars Theology

My youngest grandchildren, Ethan and Eleni, have been looking forward to Christmas all year long!  Their eager waiting has had nothing to do with Santa Claus or presents under the Christmas tree.  They have been waiting for the new Star Wars Movie.  I think they have already seen it twice. 

This film series has had a long history.  I remember taking my oldest son, Paul, to the first Star Wars Movie in 1977.  I remember taking my youngest son, Luke, and his friend, Tim,  to Star Wars Episode V:  The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.  I recall the many Star Wars action figures,  the X-Wing Fighter, and the AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) and many another Star Wars thing-a-ma-jigs under the Christmas tree in the years that followed.  I think I probably saw other Star Wars episodes with Luke, like The Return of the Jedi in 1983, but my memory is a bit blurry.  In 2015, however, Star Wars came back into my life.  I went to see the Star Wars Movie:  The Force Awakens that year in order to make sense out of the conversations I was then having with my grandson Ethan.

Today I will go see the latest Star Wars Movie episode, The Last Jedi,  so that I can once again carry on an intelligent conversation with Ethan and Eleni, who are very excited and really “into”  Star Wars just now.

Now you may think I have diverged from my Advent thoughts, but I really haven’t at all.  My going to the Star Wars movies in order to understand and “be with” my grandchildren (wherever they are) is precisely what we are told God did that first Christmas long ago—and what God does still.  God still comes to be with us (wherever we are), to understand us, to sit with us, to cry with us, to stand with us, to talk with us.  God came and God comes in Jesus to walk in our steps—not the other way around. 

Ethan & Eleni

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Reality

The Advent/Christmas season comes again with its good news and its bad news and neither the good or the bad news is fake news.  Both the good news and the bad news happen simultaneously and sometimes seems to be magnified at this time of year. It is a fact.  Good news and bad news are realities in our world all the time.  We can’t cover up the bad news with some kind of sentimental wishy-washy Christmas spirit.  Neither can we cover up the good news with a spirit of despair.  The best we can do, if we are honest, is to accept Charles Dickens’ famous words in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”  It would be hypocritical for us, even in this season of Advent/Christmas, to suggest that this is not true of our time—and it is sheer ignorance if we were to suggest that somehow this wasn’t true in some other time or in some Christmas past.

This reality of “the best of times, the worst of times” has always been.  It is recorded in the Christmas narrative in the gospels according to Matthew and Luke.  There we read of the annunciation to Mary, the struggle and turmoil of Joseph’s acceptance, the birth of Jesus in a smelly stable because there was no room in the inn.  There we have the shepherds hearing and heeding the voices of angels—searching for and finding the child.  There we have the wise people following a star.  There, in that first Christmas, we have a graphic description of the despotic King Herod with all his power, ego, and lunacy—forcing the wise people to depart another way, and causing Joseph and Mary and the babe to flee into Egypt.  There in that story we are told of the massacre of the babies of Bethlehem, and of Rachel weeping for her children who are no more.  The Good News:  Emmanuel—God is with us.  The Bad News:  Herods still reign and Rachels still cry.

"And the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, I have good news for you:  there is great joy coming to the whole people,” and I ask:  Where is the good news?  Where is the great joy?  The Good News, the Joy, the Hope is here and it is there—it is always here, always there, in the midst of the bad, the sad, the struggle, and the despair:

“And ye, beneath Life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing.  
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

We Carry And Are Carried

My mind travels many pathways in these early morning hours.  Today’s pathway has led me to the third stanza of the hymn, Amazing Grace:  “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Are those words just poppycock?  Do I really think God (grace) has carried me through the struggles and toils I’ve experienced along my way?  Am I carried, or am I just whistling in the wind? Are we all carried?  I really believe we are.

We are not carried because we believe this or that about God, or because we go to church, synagogue or mosque.  We are carried because God loves us.  We are carried because God has placed his hope in us.  We are carried because as the Quakers say, there is “that of God” in each of us.  Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the Christmas story.  

God risked the destiny of the world by putting the hope of that world in the hands of two teenagers:  Mary and Joseph.  He poured out himself, emptied himself into human form.  God became vulnerable, weak, an embryo, unable to care for himself.  God gave himself in the gift of child to Mary, who was probably no more than 16 years of age.  Joseph was probably not yet 20 years old.  God allowed himself to be carried.  Off they went to Bethlehem—the baby could have been lost on that 100-mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God’s hope to be “with us” as Emmanuel could have been dashed on that journey.  God’s gift of himself could have ended if something had gone wrong. Then, in Bethlehem, in a dirty stable, the baby was born without anyone around to help in the birthing. That could have ended the whole thing. One little infection could have ended it all.  God took the risk! What a risk!  Joseph and Mary carried it off—God carried it off.  Who carried who?

Is there “that of God” in us?  Do we carry within us, just as Mary carried, that of God?    Does God take that kind of amazing risk?  Has God poured out himself, emptied himself into us in some mysterious way or another?  How else could God be Emmanuel (God  is with us)?  Is this the on-going Christmas story—God taking the risk and emptying God’s very self (Jesus) into my life and yours?  Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis God hath carried me safe thus far, and I am carrying, too, along with you, “that of God.” What amazing grace!

Sunset on the Aegean Sea