Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Kingdoms of the World

In the year 800, Pope Leo the third was having trouble in Rome. People did not like him. Historians are not sure why. He may have been immoral and dishonest or he may have been insufficiently aristocratic. He had many critics but little evidence survives today. He ran to Charlemagne to save his position and his power. After much deliberation, Charlemagne marched into Rome with all his armies in a tremendous display of power and support for Leo. Leo swore on the Gospels in St Peters Cathedral that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. With Charlemagne standing nearby, no one contested his re-institution as Pope. On Christmas day, Charlemagne went to morning mass and as he kneeled, Leo came forward and crowned him "imperator et Augustus". The title of the former Roman emperors. In the words of a contemporary, "it seemed to Pope Leo and to the whole Christian people that it would be fitting to give the title of emperor to the King of the Franks, Charles." From Charles on each new Holy Roman Emperor was crowned with the Crown of the Holy Empire. The octagonal bejeweled crown was topped with an imperial cross. It was composed of eight gold plates, each one decorated with pearls and other precious jewels. The Biblical figures of David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Jesus surrounded the crown. Metal workers were said to have embedded in the cross nail shards and wood from the cross of Christ. The wearer of this crown had the right to rule under God. Unfortunately, as history goes, that didn't happen. The crown was used to justify violence, territorial expansion and gaining more glory for the one who wore the crown.

Voltaire, the writer and atheist, commented on this time many years later saying, "the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman nor an empire."

"Greed, slaughter, intolerance, adultery, jealousies, competition, warmongering and other sins permeated the holy millenia." (Judith Couchman)

What a contrast to the kingdom Jesus taught about whose values are not anything like the power grabbing world empires. In Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus describes the values of his kingdom. The citizens of his kingdom are poor, mournful, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure, peaceful, and persecuted. In our culture we are we are told to: get rich quick if we are poor, buck up if we are mourning, assert ourselves rather than be meek, get what is due us rather than be merciful, not to be so straight laced we come off like a goody two shoes, fight back for what we deserve, and dont appear too fanatical hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Not only is this advice from our culture, it is often what the church hands out as well.

Jesus kingdom was inverted. To live in it, we are called to embrace a lifestyle where the first will be last, our faith must be childlike, and pursuing riches makes it hard to get in at all. He also said, His kingdom was as near as our willingness to repent and allow his kingdom to live within us.

[Portions of the above were taken from The Mystery of the Cross by Judith Couchman and The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer]

Gratitude: More Than an Attitude

Leadership: defining reality and saying thank you (Max DePree).

We are creatures - created beings. Made in the image of God. We are dependent persons. We have limits. We cannot do it all or be good at everything. We have been created for God's glory. We are most glorified when we are grateful to God and give him glory for his creation. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory that the most creaturely of pleasures is the "specific pleasure of the inferior." "When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather the greater glory of which nature is only the first sketch." Lewis goes on to say: "there are no ordinary people," and "next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." So, we have the privilege of living with our neighbors and being grateful for them. Saying Thank You.

Gratitude is an energizing, satisfying emotion. It is not possessive but builds up and reaches out. It cannot be purchased, or mimicked or stored. It cant be achieved or accomplished because it is not something that is ever finished or that can be checked off. It is the involuntary response of the heart to all aspects of life and ultimately to God. It is not based primarily on circumstances. Some of the most grateful people are poor while some of the most ungrateful people are rich.

Getting or acquiring is very self-focused. It feeds pride. Receiving feeds humility. To receive we recognize the value of others and what they are giving. This is the fertile soil in which gratitude grows. An attitude of gratitude cannot be forced by saying all the right things; if the soil of humility is not there, gratitude is gratuitous, superficial and phony.

Habits of gratitude can be practiced. Thank God daily for all the individuals you work with and live with.

Gratitude is linked with defining reality (clarity). Good, clear job and role expectations are so desired and necessary ( we really need to hear this in the church where roles and jobs which are often voluntary are so vague and ambiguous. This is the cause of so many hard feelings and resentments. I think we need to take this seriously. Church employees including pastors should have clear job descriptions and so should every person who is serving in the church.)

From The Leadership Ellipse by Robert Fryling

Friday, June 4, 2010

Summer Reading

Summer is for reading. Hopefully, you get some time away for uninterrupted hours of reading. Beach reading doesn't really happen here. Unless you like to lay on rocks in a driving rain. You can get away to a remote cabin but the bears pawing at the door may be a distraction. If you have a deck that is not in disrepair you may get a chance to lay out on a sunny day and read. But don't count on it - the sunny days. There are not enough of them to finish one book, unless you have a really short book.

You may be scheduled for a plane trip somewhere. If you can get out of Kodiak, you can read on the plane or in the airport during weather delays. This might afford you the best chance to get some reading in. If you finally get to somewhere else, then maybe you can read on the beach.

I have never been a big beach reader or beach goer for that matter. Too hot, too sandy, too windy - generally not good conditions for reading. I like to get up early when it is quiet and read, or go to a coffee shop. Priority number one on vacation is to find a coffee shop. I don't really change my reading habits during the summer. I usually find I have less time to read when I am away from home and my routines. This summer we are planning a driving trip from Kodiak to Oregon. Hard to read and drive at the same time and my wife will only drive for about twenty minutes at a time. Then we will have a few days on the Oregon coast. Beaches there are not ideal for reading but they have good coffee shops. Then we are flying back. So with weather delays always a possibility, I may get some reading in.

I have a huge stack of books I want to read this summer but not too much hope I will get very far. I want to finish a couple of history books I am reading. One is called The War Lovers and the other is What Hath God Wrought. The first has to do with Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and William Randolph Hearst (why did people use all three names back then - I have noticed most people do it on facebook now too) and the Spanish-American War. The second is largely about Andrew Jackson and his severe treatment of Native Americans, among many other people he treated severely.

I also want to continue my reading in Karl Barth's theology. I have been reading his works for twenty years or so, on and off. He is probably the most influential theologian of the twentieth century. Barth wrote over 500 works but I am just concentrating on his four hefty volumes called Church Dogmatics. This is what attracts me to Barth: he was a pastor first. He broke with European liberals during WW1 and challenged their liberal theology. He was a student of the Bible. Often, in his writing he will go into long conversations with the Word. He wrote his theology after he was forced to leave Germany by the Nazis. To me that was an act of hope. While the Nazis were overrunning Europe, Barth wrote about the Hope we have in Christ. Eugene Peterson said that Barth was a man who believed in prayer; every page of his Dogmatics was prayed through. I do not find Barth easy to read. I feel like I have been reading him all my life and I have not gotten very far. I need to read him slowly and not be in a hurry. Like the way you eat a good dessert. Good books for the long days of summer in Alaska. Whether you are inside or outside. In an airport, waiting or in a plane going somewhere else.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

(Im)Perfect Game

This one is easy. You are the Commissioner of Baseball. The buck stops with you. Yesterday a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers pitched a perfect game - up to the last out. On the final play of the game the batter hit an infield ground ball and ran to first base. He was out. Replay showed he was out. The umpire said he was out - later. Everyone could see he was out. But he wasn't. The umpire called him safe at the moment of the play. Only hit of the game. Perfect game gone. No hitter gone. Later on the umpire admitted he made a mistake. He hugged the pitcher and told him he was sorry. He cried.

A perfect game is a big deal in baseball. There have only been around 20 of them ever. So, what does baseball do? Admit the umpire made a mistake and award the pitcher a perfect game. Makes perfect sense. Except Commissioner Selig, in another of his bone headed decisions, said No, he would not reverse the call. Why? Was it to preserve some traditional value in the game: umpire's decisions are final. Even if they are wrong. Even if everyone knows it. Even if it costs a pitcher a well earned perfect game. Baseball just lost more credibility. Fantasy leagues have taken over the local ballparks.

Junior's Retirement

Ken Griffey, Jr, known affectionately as Junior, retired from baseball yesterday. After 20 plus seasons and 600 plus homeruns (5th on the all time home run list), Junior is a sure bet first round hall of famer. He came to Seattle as a 19 year old kid and stayed for 11 years playing at such a high level it is said he saved baseball in Seattle. Safeco Ballpark is the park Junior built. Since playing for Seattle he has been with the Reds and a short stint with the White Sox. Seattle brought him back last year. It was the feel good story of last baseball season. Griffey brought his infectious love for the game and his fun loving style to the Mariners team and they over achieved. But not this year. The pop in Griffey's bat was gone. There was no bounce left in his legs. He put on too much weight. Rumors circulated he needed naps between innings. He got up to bat almost 100 times this year and got 18 hits for a paltry .184 average. He hit only 2 doubles and no home runs. Not hall of fame numbers. He could not play the outfield. First, he dh'd and then he rode the bench nearly grounding into a doubleplay in his last pinch hit attempt. Sports journalists -mostly tactfully- hinted he had stayed one year too long. It was time to retire. So, he did. Yesterday, was the first day in many years he did not show up to a ballpark. His absence spoke volumes. Some players cried. Everyone spoke fondly of the Griffey years.

How do you know when to retire. Most of the great ones stay too long. Babe Ruth did. Bonds did. Griffey mostly embarrassed himself and put the team management in a tight spot this year. How can you fire a hall of famer? Everyone was waiting for him to bow out gracefully. Which he did, finally.

So how do you know when to retire? Ballplayers can look at their stats and they tell the story of diminished abilities. Ballplayers, especially those of Griffey's caliber, have millions to fall back on and a wide range of options for their post baseball careers. Not so for most of us. Some of us hold on until the "retirement age" doing our jobs even when we've lost the joy of working. Griffey had said when the joy was gone he would retire. Most people don't have that option. Many people today don't even have the choice of retiring; their company chooses to lay them off in a move to downsize. Many more people have seen their retirement portfolios considerably downsized, as well, over the past few years so their retirement plans have been put on hold.

Then there are those who retire only to start a second career. And those who retire and are sorry they did because they forgot to plan for something to do. Travel, or golf, or puttering around the house grows old too.

Griffey seems fortunate to have so many choices in retirement. He would never have to work again if he saved some of the mega millions he has made playing baseball. Hard to feel sorry for him. He had his run and it was a good one. He can find his joy again now that he has more time with his family, or if he joins his fellow retired athletes in the broadcast booth.

His retirement is front page news today. Hardly anyone noticed most of the other people who retired yesterday or those who were forced to retire. How do you know when to retire? Other than athletes and politicians, most people in our society don't have the luxury of asking that question.