Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Baseball playoffs

So it looks like the Yankees will not make the playoffs this year, only the second time in the past 20 years. You expect them to be there. This year I don't care. For Mariano's sake, I could wish they were but Jeter is out for the rest of the year and perhaps forever and then there is A-Rod who has no business being there, no business at all. Today in the NY Times there was a report about the high profile team of lawyers he has put together to fight his 211 day suspension. The paper said it was costing him thousands a month and he can afford it since he is paid by the Yankees millions per month. If Mo is the class act (and he is, of course, not acting at all) of the Yankees then A-Rod is the act with no class (and he is all act). So, maybe it is good that the Yankees sit out of the playoffs this year. Maybe, A-Rod will be suspended next year, after all the MLB lawyers are no slouches. Maybe, Jeter will be back as DH next year. Maybe, Sabbathia will find his velocity again. Maybe, Girardi will say no to the Cubs. Maybe, the Yankees will find some ballplayers who are hungry for the chance to play the game in their farm leagues. So I will be happy rooting for the A's and the Pirates to make it to the World Series this year. Wouldn't that be just fine.

A long life

We just got back from a very long drive from South to North, well over 2000 miles of interstate driving. If you did something like that this summer, then you know about the white knuckle adventure of going bumper to bumper with thousands of pounds of STEEL barreling down the highway at 80 mph. Then, there are the smaller, sleeker, lighter and faster models vying for road supremacy, piloted by frustrated office workers by day who become transformed behind the wheel of their new BMW or Jetta, or for that matter, even their Yaris. Zooming up on your rear end as you are trying to get around an RV with a bigger car than you are driving towed behind and carrying bikes, kayaks and bags that could not fit in the RV that is bigger than your house. The driver, channeling his inner Andretti, is about six inches off your rear bumper and flashing his lights on and off. As you try to maneuver around this RV that is the size of a couple of city blocks you see up ahead another truck in your lane so you are not going anywhere which does not please the idiot behind you who thinks you can't see him flashing his lights so he begins hitting his horn. The joys of interstate driving. When we finally get in the slow lane again we turn our attention to NPR. One of the stories we heard was about Google tackling death. Perhaps, you heard about the new project Google's innovators are working on. Last week Larry Page announced the launch of Calico - a new venture aimed at solving the dilemmas of aging and disease. The biomedical gerontologist, Audrey DeGrey is excited, he commented that we need a "bona fide rejuvenation biotechnology industry, providing people with truly comprehensive restoration and preservation of youthful mental and physical function however long they live... and one side effect of this advance is that most people will live a great deal longer than today and do so in the prime of health." Maybe so, but there are lots of ways to die that do not involve the dilemmas of aging and disease and I was reminded of these on the interstate this week. But, this post is going to talk about a different aspect of aging. On our trip North we visited with some relatives we had not seen for a long time. One relative was now in his 90's. His mind was sharp, his conversation intelligent, articulate and engaging. Physically, he seemed to be in good shape and easily got around without assistance. He wanted to tell me a story. I knew he had been raised in a religious cult that had had a very negative influence on his perception of all religion. He had never been to church since he left home as far as I knew. His wife was a devout church goer but he abstained for years which added up to many, many years of non-church going, as you can see. A couple of years ago he told me he experienced a desire to go to church so he visited about six in the community. Finally, he found one that "fit",  he said. He has been there every Sunday since and it has brought great meaning to his life. It took him a long time but he was happy with his new found faith. In my years as a pastor, I had not heard many stories like that. We often hear that older people are too set in their ways to change. Here was one older person who was not. So, when I heard on NPR about the new Google project to revive lives, I was thinking of this encounter with my relative. Technology may help us to live a longer life but it is faith that revives it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A world of orphans

The CAIN Institute estimates there are 153 million orphans worldwide who have lost one or both parents. That number is mind boggling. This weekend we had the privilege of reducing that number by one as we welcomed a little girl from China into our family. Our son and daughter in law arrived home on Saturday night. Sunday night we had a chaotic but joy infused party as both sets of grandparents and our newest grand daughter and her three other siblings gathered together for the first time. She joined with us in an all American meal of pizza and chocolate cake which she wore all over her face. I could not help but marvel at the impossibly huge change in her life. From orphanage where rice was her staple diet to a warm family home. She was held by her parents and welcomed into boisterous family life by her family. Her new brother who is about the same age and twice her size quickly made it clear that she will have fight for a share in the family's cache of matchbox cars and trucks. Her skinny little legs could not hold her up for long but she mixed it up with her new brothers and sisters by scootching along on her bottom. More pizza and walking will soon build up her strength and stamina, she will learn to communicate quickly and it will not be long before she finds her place in the family. That is amazing; she has a family who already has a place for her and already loves her. I wonder how she will look back on this day, a day when her life changed. Will she wonder, why and how it all happened? In a world of orphans and lost and vulnerable children, it is good to know that, at least, today there is one less.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Retirement on purpose

So, are you retired? People ask when they find out you lived in Alaska and now live in Florida. It's hard to imagine how you wound up here. Well, it's hard to imagine how one winds up in Alaska in the first place! Not many people do. It's a big state with a small population. I cannot bring myself to say, yes, I am retired. I was reading a book by Mark Scandrette entitled Free. Something he said makes it a bit easier. We work at jobs because we need to make money for living expenses. The Scandrettes live in San Francisco which is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. They have lived in the city on one modest income for a number of years. They choose to live frugally (some would say cheaply) so they can save and give a large portion of their money away. His book is kind of a Dave Ramsey for those seeking a more simple lifestyle. With no income for the past several months and then living on a much reduced one in the future, this was the book for us! What I noticed in reading this book is that I had the idea that getting paid = meaningful work. I did not want to think of myself as retired because I did not want to think of myself as not doing anything meaningful. Scandrette has some stories in his book about people who retired and then were free to do what they wanted. Not in the sense of living self indulgently which is usually what we think about when we envision the retirement years. But, living on purpose in ways you are freer to choose when no one is paying you to work for them. It is a freeing idea. With a little creativity and a willingness to swim against the current of the modern western lifestyle, you can live on much less than you might think. And live better at the same time. For instance, the Scandrettes, don't eat out at restaurants, or pay for cable tv, or go to movies, or buy new cars, etc. You get the point. They buy what they can afford to pay cash for. They save for emergencies and regular maintenance of such things as vehicles and appliances. As I said, they save so they can give generously to missions and other charities. They meticulously track their spending. What they show is it can be done. When it is done the bills get paid, money gets used wisely, and you have a sense of being a good steward of what God has given you. Which equals meaningful living.

Monday, September 9, 2013

NFL opens with a bang and a dud

The NFL was in full swing this past weekend. Today the experts will begin breaking down the season and correcting their predictions from the many hours of expert analysis before the games began. Living near Jacksonville, as we do now, I endured weeks of buildup to the new season. The Jags have been pretty bad the past few years but with a new coach, gm and qb, they were supposed to be on the rise. Sure enough, with the game only moments old, they already had two points on the board (they are getting a brand new 65 million dollar Super Board next season).  Up 2-0 the preseason hype was looking solid. Unfortunately, it was the only points they put up all game. They had 11 punts, and their receivers could not catch the ball when their qb had time to throw it. They only made it past their own 36 yard line once! At least their offense should be refreshed for the next game! Their new qb, Blaine Gabbert from Missouri, looked shell shocked. His porous line had him running for his life except he showed he could not run. He is not one of the new breed of read-option qbs - his only option is to drop back to pass and take the sack. Losing 28-2 to the Chiefs who were pretty woeful last year, too, was not a good way to start the season. Well, there is always next year. The stadium looked near empty by the 4th quarter. Shouldn't be a problem getting tickets the rest of the year. Looks to me like, barring injury, it's the 49ers and Packers; Patriots and Broncos fighting it out at the end of the season. 49ers and Broncos in the Super Bowl. That's my best guess. What I know is that the hometown favorites, the Jags, will not be there. They may not even need that new scoreboard. In fact, the money might be better spent on getting some players.

Love bugs me

Here is something the Florida Department of Tourism or the Relocate to Florida Department does not tell you. Florida has all kinds of interesting bugs and crawling things that the non-Floridians who visit or relocate here never suspected. So last week when I noticed a new bug crawling on our window I had to look more closely. In fact, there were several of these new insects crawling and flying around. Up close it looked like two elongated flies attached together. Two distinct insects hooking up - looked like a mating dance to me. I showed my wife. What do you think, I asked. She said it looked like a helicopter bug. Not that she had any scientific background to stake her claim on. I said, no, look closely, see how it is two bugs hooking up. They are mating, I think. Right here in public, on our window. Oh, ugh, she said, unromantically. I do see! Our neighbor is the resident pest control guy so I asked him what was up with these new bugs that looked like they were in some kind of mating dance. Sure are, he said, that's why they are called love bugs! No kidding, I never knew there was such a thing. Florida keeps coming up with new ways to make me ponder the question, why is place so popular?  There is the heat, the monsoonal rains, the frogs, and now love bugs. There are swarms of them. They don't bite and they are amazingly slow moving - like they are intoxicated with love. How can you fly fast when you are hooked together with your mate. So they have a hard time avoiding traffic! Everyone's car is covered with these things. And you need to wash them off fast which isn't easy because the heat quickly bakes them on. They leave a gooey residue behind that is hard to get off. What you have on your car windshield and front end is an exploded egg sac with over 350 eggs! Nice, huh. These bugs celebrating their love in public and getting run over by cars only last about a month but they come in May and September. Two months of love! So this is a heads up: if you're planning to visit Florida you might want to skip the love months. I doubt the tourism brochures will mention that!

Friday, September 6, 2013

A bloody ending

I am finishing up my reading of Esther this week. It has a bloody ending. It could have been the blood of Jews if Haman had had his way. Instead, in a twist to the story, the blood shed is that of the Persians. Queen Esther seems to turn from asking for the lives of her own people to be spared to demanding that the lives of others be taken. I still don't know how Veggie Tales ever made a video on Esther! The Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, I have been reading makes some helpful points; the slaughter of the Persians was DEFENSIVE, and the Jews refused to take plunder from their victims, to gain any profit from their military successes. It is remarkable that the Persians still attacked the Jews even after Haman's plot was exposed and he was put to death. Racial or religious hatreds do not conform to reason often. Goldingay says that the Jews continue to celebrate this victory today (Feast of Purim) by the giving and receiving of gifts especially remembering the poor in their midst, both Jewish and non-Jewish. There is a lot of violence in the Bible and people have a problem with that sometimes. But, why wouldn't there be? There is a lot of violence in the world. In our day, we can pick up a phone and call 911 to have someone else deal with some of that violence. Not so in the days of the Bible. People living in a violent world are going to have to deal with it. God, at least, had some rules for his people that served to restrain the violence. Today, we are debating the national response to the escalating violence in Syria. Will our response lead to more violence, or will it lead to a negotiated settlement and less violence. When we look at our responses in Iraq and Afghanistan, we know there is no easy formula. We do know violence is a given in the world we live in and it is messy and we have to deal with it.

William Glasser, RIP

There was an obit in todays's NY Times marking the passing of Dr. William Glasser. He wrote Reality Therapy, and Schools Without Failure among other books. As a psychology major in college, we read and discussed his works. His work was picked up by others including some Christian authors. He stressed taking responsibility for one's own life. Two concepts that he stressed in his writings were: 1) the only person in the world you can control is yourself, and 2) the effort to change others is wasted. It will only lead to more emotional problems. Related to these two main principles is this: the most profound human need is to love and be loved so it's critical that we repair broken relationships with family, friends or others by taking the initiative on our own to do it. It does no good to wallow in self pity, or hurt feelings, or resentment. Although, I do not know if Glasser was a professing Christian, I found his principles compatible with Christian faith. As a psychiatrist, Glasser broke with the Freudian model of psychoanalysis and focused on helping people take charge of their own lives. While Glasser might have believed we can control more than we actually can, I found his concepts to be like a breath of fresh air in my study of psychology and I found his principles made sense. Glasser was saying what Christians have said for centuries; God's relationship with us is based on forgiveness, and our relationships with others have to be based on forgiveness, too. We find that theological underpinning for relationships in the Lord's Prayer among other places. Glasser wrote that no one has the power to make us miserable nor make us happy. In his phrase, which others have popularized, happiness is a choice. What he meant was that we can control how we respond to the ways others sin against us. We can forgive; we can forget; we can choose to let it go instead of let it fester; we can move on; we can reach out to the ones who have hurt us. It's not always as easy as that but Glasser showed in real life case histories how it works. Jesus showed how it works, too. "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing."

Yankee fan on hold

The Yankees are fighting for a chance to make the baseball postseason. Their star players are mostly all back although they are not as formidable as they once were. Jeter has only recently been in the lineup and is hitting a weak .200. Mariano Rivera is showing his age with 6 blown saves this year including one against Boston last night. Ichiro, the  perennial allstar when he was with the Mariners, is hitting well below his career average. And then we come to he middle of the order where A-Rod is batting. This is the biggest fraud of all. He is fighting his own personal battle against MLB for banning him for 211 games because he has used performance enhancing drugs, for years. His suspension is not in doubt although the length of it may be. Yet, here he is supported by MLB and the Yankees organization and showing up in the middle of the batting order day after day. There are only 20 games or so left. A-Rod has helped the Yankees in this playoff race. This fervent Yankee fan cannot hide his distaste for the way this season is playing out. Despite, Mo's last year and he has been a great player and role model for younger players. Despite, Jeter's valiant comeback attempt, and Cano's grace, Ichiro's gamesmanship, and Girardi's respect for the game, I cannot root them on. I hope baseball does not have to endure the sight of A-Rod in the playoffs, or worse, the World Series. It's a scandal that one of baseball biggest cheats is still on the field.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Adoption process

Our son and daughter in law and grandson are in China. They are concluding a long process of adopting a little girl from there. She has been in an orphanage for most of the first 18 months of her life. No one knows the circumstances but she was dropped off there when she was 4 months old. She had a heart problem and since she was a girl her future in China was very uncertain. She would have remained in the orphanage for a long time. This morning I saw the first pictures of her with her new family, her mother and father and brother holding her. Then, a bit later, I read in Psalm 68 this line: God is the Father of orphans.... This little girl has certainly been in her Father's hands. What a new life she is set to begin. From orphanage to belonging in a family... from a life of poverty to one where her needs and more will be met.... from a life where she did not matter much as a young girl with special needs to a special place where her family will do whatever they can to make sure those needs are met. It is such a dramatic change I cannot quite understand it. It is almost from death to life. From lost to found. From being no one to being someone. She is only one of millions of girls and boys just like her in the world: orphans. Before our son left for China he spoke in church about this experience. He used the analogy of God adopting each of us as his sons and daughters. In a spiritual sense, we were all orphans before being adopted into His family. The mindblowing part is this: He chose us. Our son and daughter in law chose their little girl but they did not "not" choose all the other orphans. That is, there was no rejection in this process. There is a strain of hyper Calvinist theology that draws the conclusion from the doctrine of election that since God chooses some, he must reject others, the ones who are not chosen. Watching our family go through this process of choosing: the paperwork, the heavy financial commitment, the endless arrangements, the stress, the tears, the prayers, and then the actual trip from the USA to China and the travel in a unknown place to finally meet this little girl they have chosen - all of this has spoken to me of God's love in choosing us. Of what he went through to get to us. This little girl will come to know in the days and years ahead what her chosen-ness means. She will grow into it. Much as we do as Christians when we grow into God's love for us. As we mature, we take more responsibility for our adoption into God's family. She will discover what grace and blessing she has received. Much as we do as Christians. It seems to me the point of that theological doctrine of election makes the most sense in this context. Yes, we are chosen. The point of that chosen-ness is to realize how we have been blessed, and to live out that blessing by being a blessing to others. Just as our family could choose only one little girl, we hope and pray others will be chosen, too. There are way too many orphans in the world. What fuels that hope and ignites our prayers is that God is the Father of orphans. We can pray for their chosen-ness, for them to find their place of belonging, however that may happen. God is the Father of orphans, we remember. And what about those we run into today who are not part of the family of God? God may be in the process right now of meeting them, telling them, showing them the new reality. They were lost but now are found, once an orphan but now have a special place in the family of God.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Football is coming

CBS and Time Warner settled their cable dispute which was keeping CBS out of some big city markets. No surprise, since the NFL starts this week and some of it's prime games are on CBS. I don't live in any of those big markets so I didn't really care what happened although we all knew what was going to happen as Football got closer (those stupid pre-season games don't count unless you are totaling up the injured from those games). Since we moved I have not gotten cable or dish or direct tv. The big cable companies down here and the big satellite companies are so darn customer unfriendly that it has put me off. Still, football and the baseball playoffs are coming.... It is also very expensive and upsetting that you should have to pay for all those channels you will never watch - which is most of them for me and none of them except pbs for my wife. Then, there is the fact that it has been kinda nice not to have tv these past few months. I sit less, I read more ( I'm aware that involves sitting too because I don't read standing up!), I have more time for things my wife wants me to do (she reads these blogs), and I go to bed earlier because I am not staying up late watching the end of a game. Truth is, I find I like this tv fast but I know what is coming... I can feel it... can I fight it... stay tuned

Debate on Syria

President Obama has launched the country into a debate on Syria and our response to the unleashing of chemical warfare there. Some will fault him for beginning this national debate and some have said he was too unsure of himself to make the call on his own. There will be critics no matter what course of action we choose. I think it is a good thing to involve our representatives and their constituents in this debate. As I have listened to the officials and the "un" officials, I have heard good points on both sides. One Senator said this is not the first atrocity nor will it be the last and we cannot police the world. It is true there has been no shortage of human atrocities across the world in our lifetimes. In this latest one it looks like Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, killing many hundreds including over 400 children. This atrocity may not be our business, indeed, as some say, a response will only lead to more dead. Needless to say, the blood of these dead Syrians cries out to God, as the Old Testament reminds us. There will be a response; there always is, and whether we will part of it remains to be seen.  In the book of Esther - which never mentions God - his unseen presence is on every page. It is there for the eyes of faith to see. To others the events that transpire may look like coincidences. The King's sleepless night, Mordecai's overhearing the conspiracy plot in the "gates", even Esther's rise to a position where she can influence the King; all of these coincidences assume God's involvement but only to those with the faith to see it. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay makes a good point when he says that sometimes the Old Testament shows God orchestrating events behind the scenes of our lives, but at other times God harnesses our decisions and actions after the fact and creatively uses them to fulfill his purposes. Either way, as the Psalmist says:  "YOU" judge the nations with equity and guide the nations upon earth." In Esther, God is sovereign but that fact does not excuse human courage and responsibility, in fact, it is just the opposite; it requires it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Church building or people

Some observations on a few of our recent church visits. Each of these several churches we visited were leasing worship space. One meets in a store front in a strip mall right next to a restaurant on one side and a financial services office on the other. It has a small office and childcare space and seating for about one hundred. Another church has recently finished remodeling the worship space. It has state of the art video and audio technology, stadium seating and a large platform in the front. The last church left their building (the diocese owned it so they could not sell it) and leased space in an office park. They completely redid it and fashioned a simple yet profound worship space that appeals to all your senses. It is open and bright with seating in a semi-circle. You can clearly see what is going on up front and you are close enough to the worship action that you feel included. There is a large fellowship area immediately outside the sanctuary with table and chairs and a welcome/information station for visitors (visitors are clearly in mind during the service, too, where everything is explained either by the pastors or on the screen). Coffee is served and the donations support a mission in Honduras. There are   surrounding the fellowship center. There is childcare, and a children's program during the morning worship hours. There is no traditional Sunday School but there is an educational program midweek for all ages, and small groups, and special interest groups like a men's breakfast, and a senior luncheon. There are larger events that focus on social issues. There is an ongoing series called Christ and culture that asks what Christ has to say to the social issues of our time. This month the focus is race and how the church can be involved when racial tensions surface as they have in response to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.  There are still loads of big, beautiful church buildings here in Florida. Most of the churches are not leasing space. (In downtown Jacksonville, the First Baptist Church takes up several blocks! of prime real estate in center city.) But, it seems to me these churches that have moved out of buildings - or never had one- are on to something. They are debt free and free of many maintenance issues older buildings face, and they can share space with others, ie, such as parking which is plentiful on Sunday because it is not being used by the other tenants. Money that is not spent on buildings can be used for ministry and mission. It is a model being used by some churches and I think in these increasingly tight economic times it makes sense. As we like to say, the church is people not the building.

Church worship

We have attended an Anglican church in Jacksonville the past few weeks. It is different from the Baptist churches we have served for many years in many ways but similar in some ways, too. This is what I like about it: there is a lot of Scripture, an Old Testament, an Epistle and the Gospel readings. A Psalm is used as a call to worship. Then, there is a sense of rehearsing the whole gospel every service. Through the confession, the assurance, the Nicene Creed, the prayers, the communion service, I feel washed over with the Gospel. Then, there are many people taking part, it is not a pastor centered service. The music is simple and powerful. In the early service we have been to there is a piano, guitar, and two vocalists, one who has played a flute. The music is lyric driven but the vocalists have powerful voices. There are many postures which help us worship. Most churches use standing, or sitting. I appreciate the opportunity to kneel on the benches provided at the pews and the invitation to come forward for communion and kneel at the altar. I have found I like the way we receive the "body" in our outstretched hands as the servers place the wafer there. (There is communion at every service.) The lectionary is used for the scripture readings and the sermon is based on them. That way a person can come to worship having already read the Word that will be read and taught. I have felt these past weeks a releasing of what I had been doing (pastoral ministry) and a renewed sense of "being" in worship. It has been emotional, both refreshing and I sense, renewing. For many years I have planned, led, worried, prodded, worried, pulled - and been near the center of much of what I perceived to be happening at worship (although how can we know what God is doing in worship?). I see there were not many times when I was able to worship - too much looking ahead to the next thing I had to do! I am sure the pastors of the church we are attending do that too, but I sense it is freeing to have the liturgy  provide the structure each week. Many of the words they use are repeated at each service (and why not, who can improve on them, ie, the Nicene Creed, for instance). I was talking to my wife about this today on the drive home ( I also like the 8:30 am service and the half hour drive each way to talk). She said, I think you have been a closet Anglican for a while. Maybe, she is right. The church we are attending seems a good fit for us partly because it is doing some of the things I have tried to do over the years as I studied the scripture and the history of worship. In a sense, this church is not doing anything new. Maybe that's what I like about it.