Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth day

We took an Earth Day trip to Okefenokee Swamp about an hour north of where we live. Our four Florida grandkids went with us. We took the guided boat ride into the swamp and saw gators, all kinds of turtles, and many birds like egrets, and great white wood storks perched high up in the trees. We came upon a pygmy rattlesnake on the trail. Once business interests tried to drain the swamp and make money on it's peat and timber. Fortunately, that business interest failed and the swamp was later preserved as a national wildlife refuge. It's a wonderful place full of birdsong, and abundant water lilies and it's a thrill to see a gator's head swimming alongside the boat and wonder how big he is.

Psalm 24 says the earth is the Lord's. It is not ours to do with as we please. Genesis says we are stewards of God's good creation and truth is humankind has not done well with this task. Books like Planted by Leah Kostamo remind us our creation care responsibilities and books like Bill McKibben's Eaarth warn us about what happens when we fail. Global warming, deep earth drilling on land and in the ocean, fracking (such a new environmental disaster my word processor keeps changing it to tracking!), cause the earth to groan under the burdens we humans keep piling heaping upon it. Animal species are nearing extinction at an alarming rate. It may be too late to reverse the trend, at least, it seems so given the disregard shown to this place we live.

I thought about this as I spent the day at Okefenokee. I had just finished Kostamo's book whose ministry of creation care is hopeful. I was grateful for the wisdom of our national leaders to protect precious places like this swamp and I pray for the wisdom to face the current ecological crises.  And my commitment to care for the small plot of creation in which I live was renewed.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter surprises

What to expect on Easter? For most Christians it is the last Sunday of the year when you would expect the unexpected. That's why so many Christians show up on Easter filling churches that may only be half filled next week. They expect the great Easter hymns like Christ The Lord is Risen Today and a rousing choral anthem faithfully rehearsed for weeks so it is as near perfect as it can be. The sermon should be delivered with care, as well. Faith full, no doubt, extolling the victory of the Resurrection. The service should end on a triumphal note so we feel better about our chances, here and there, no matter what. We should see a few people we know -celebrate the community of the Risen - and then get home to see how the ham is coming along.

A blogger on the Christian Century website got me thinking. Should Easter be surprising? The first Easter was. Look at Matthew 28. There was an earthquake so powerful the great stone in front of the tomb rolled away, and the dazzling presence of angels, and then the completely unexpected appearance of Jesus. Guards quaked until they passed out and the women who came to anoint the dead body of their friend, were scared speechless but joyful, too. They were given a job to do by Jesus to go tell the men, who were home doing who knows what, to get to Galilee to meet up with him. Then, there comes Acts which is as unexpected a story as there could be.

I've had a hand in putting together many Easter services and prepared just as many Easter sermons. It's a challenge. How to say the expected in such a way that the unexpectedness of it all gets through. Nothing I came up seemed to work to my satisfaction. The best thing I found was to gather a few people for an Easter sunrise service and in an unscripted setting, after a chorus to two were sung, invite people to share what the the Risen Christ is doing in their lives. In an atmosphere of unscripted honestly and transparency, Easter comes alive. Then, we go to the kitchen and share a meal together, lingering over coffee, in the hours when nothing has to be done except wait for the main Easter service to begin.

Then, we can adjourn to the sanctuary to sing and preach the great theme of our faith. Which we know was surprising when it happened - and is still - we discover in the sharing of word and meal.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week

This is Holy Week and for many Christians an opportunity to reflect on the events in the life of Jesus leading up to the Resurrection. One of those events is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for thirty pieces of silver. Judas, the betrayer, is presented to us as someone who was bitterly disappointed in Jesus and his mission. The act of betrayal seems like payback for what Judas saw as his "apparent preference for ministry to a single hysterical woman at the expense of a huge poor world" (Bruner). This is referring to the story immediately preceding the story of Judas and which sets the stage for it. Judas went to the high priests and offered to turn over Jesus for a price. The price: thirty pieces of silver. The betrayal price has been called "a ridiculously small sum", especially in contrast to the expensive perfume which the woman used to anoint Jesus in the previous story. The religious leaders and Judas are portrayed as selling out Jesus for a paltry sum, mirroring their disdain of the claim that Jesus is the Messiah. Judas goes down in history as the one who betrayed Jesus and we get on with the big celebration of Easter.

But not so fast. To understand the Judas story we have to look back at a fascinating passage in the Old Testament, Zechariah 11-12. Here is either an allegory or an acted out parable on the part of the prophet. It is a shepherd story, too. Israel has been unfaithful to the leadership of the shepherds God has sent to them. To be fair, not all of their shepherds have been good ones. But, the shepherd mentioned here in Zechariah is a good one, in fact, this is a prophecy of a coming Messiah/King. The prophet acts out the prophecy by taking two staffs called grace and unity. The people do not accept this Shepherd. The Shepherd rejects his covenant with them and breaks the two staffs. The leaders of the people couldn't care less and pay off the Shepherd/King with thirty pieces of silver (the price in OT law set to compensate for the loss of a slave) and send him on his way. Thirty pieces of silver was not a small sum but the point is that the people are paying off their own Messiah! Elizabeth Achtemeier says, "they want a Messiah who can be bought, whom they can hire and dismiss at will." They want to run their own show.

Zechariah foretells what we see happening in the Judas story and later on in the trial and crucifixion. It is a chilling word that challenges God's people to consider whether they really do want God to send his Messiah to lead them into the good life God wants for them.

At the cross Jesus was abandoned by almost all of those he came to save. He was the Good Shepherd and he was rejected by the sheep. He paid the price to go away. Why did people do this? Why do we do this today? God came with his vision for the good life and we turned away from him and turned him away from us. For a mere thirty pieces of silver. Holy week invites us to consider the price we are willing to pay to run our own lives. Thirty pieces of silver may not seem like much but it is everything.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Living Lite

We have been living on a much reduced income since we left our two full time jobs last year. One of our questions, of course, was can we do it? Well, it has been nearly a year and we have found out. We can, or at least, we are, so far. It has meant some changes in our lifestyle. We left a very expensive place to live but it was an island which helped us get used to a minimal lifestyle. There was a lot to do there but most of it was outside oriented, i.e. hiking, biking, beach combing, fishing. It was a cold place and it rained a lot, and it was dark much of the winter (good guess: it was Alaska). So, in those months people got together for dinners, games and school and church activities. It made for a rich community life. It also was cheap. There were not many places to shop and there were few restaurants. Still, things like groceries, transportation, housing and utilities cost well above the average. When we left our income was cut more than half.

So, we knew we needed to be intentional about cutting what costs we could. Housing costs were less here (Florida) but much of the other stuff was about the same. We kept our cell phones but cut cable. I miss sports but most of the other programs we want to watch we can stream after they have been shown on tv. We've grown to love PBS! We don't buy dvds and no place rents them anymore. But, with a Kindle we can watch movies when they come out on dvd and with Amazon Prime many older movies are free.

I have had to cut my book buying budget way back. Jacksonville has a great library and for $40 a year (out of county residents) we can borrow any book we want to read. We have had to reduce food costs, too. The local farmers bring fresh produce to market almost year round so we stock up on good food there. We make our own bread and we skip the restaurants unless we have coupons or they are running a special. Naturally, we only go out for lunch since it is a discounted dinner already.

Transportation is still a big budget item. Flights are cheaper here and so is gas but the miles add up. It's a 60 mile round trip from our house to most places we want to get to in the city.

Most of our recreation is still cheap, i.e., biking, walking, going to the gym. The state parks are good values. Church activities and getting together with family remains the hub of our social life.

Downsized feels like an upgrade.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

World Vision's change of mind

It's been a couple weeks since I saw on an ABC news website a report about the evangelical world in an uproar because one of it's largest and most visible organizations, World Vision, decided to reverse a decision made 48 hours previously to hire gay people in same sex marriages. World Vision is generally viewed as doing good work feeding, clothing, educating and caring for some of the world's poorest people. Whenever there is a disaster, WV is part of the world wide response team to provide aid. I have supported them for years. They walk a fine line because they depend on both Christians and non - Christians to give to their relief and development efforts. I read on a Christian magazine website that their president, Richard Stearns, had announced that the board of WV, after years of prayer for guidance, decided to hire gay persons who were in same-sex marriages or who had entered into such marriages while in the employ of WV. They already hire people without regard for sexual orientation. Washington state, where WV is headquartered, permits same-sex marriage. So, this decision would seem logical, and since prayed about, by mature Christians on the WV board, in God's will for WV. And, so I was surprised to read 48 hours later WV had reversed their prayed about decision. This reversal came much quicker than the original one that was prayed over "for years". Apparently, a number of prominent evangelical leaders did not trust the ability of the WV board to hear from the LORD on this issue, hence, the outrage in the evangelical world. In a matter of hours from the original announcement of WV's policy change, some leaders like John Piper, Franklin Graham, Al Moehler, and the head of the Assemblies of God were expressing outrage and calling on WV to reverse it's decision. Which they did. Which raises a big question about what we mean when we say we pray about something. But, a greater, and even more troubling question was raised by the actions of the so-called evangelical leaders who called on their followers to show their outrage to WV by canceling their child sponsorships of poor children which is the backbone of WV's work. Thousands of people did for WV reported an anticipated loss into the millions of dollars. In a matter of hours, thousands of Christians, followers of Jesus, chose to show their disagreement of WV's decision by TAKING THE FOOD OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF THE POOR! These leaders not only disagreed, they called for a boycott of WV.

 It is staggering. WV did not change it's doctrine, they did not deny the deity or atonement of Christ, they did not question the inspiration of Scripture. All they did was to say they were going to continue to follow the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 along with people who were gay and had chosen to marry and worked for WV. The evangelical big money machine kicked in and WV was looking at losing millions of dollars. Money talked and God, who they thought they heard after much prayer, was put on hold. I don't fault WV for it's reversal. More than most, they knew what was at stake. They have walked among the poorest of the poor and they knew what the loss of millions of dollars would mean to them. I fault the evangelical establishment which was ready to let kids starve rather than lose a battle in the culture wars. After WV reversed it's policy decision, many child sponsors reversed their decision to drop their sponsorship. Could we have our kids back, they called and asked. What is this, a game we are playing. I will support WV and send in my 40 bucks to sponsor a child and feel good about being a caring follower of Jesus - until WV does something I don't like or until one of the evangelical bigwigs tells me what WV is doing is unbiblical.

The evangelical leaders said their rapid response was in defense of biblical marriage. I doubt it because they are not talking about divorce, or adultery or pre- marital cohabitation. Jesus had a word or two on all those topics. He had hundreds of words about money and caring for the poor.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Opening Day

Should it be Opening Days? When was Opening Day this year? There were those strange games down in Australia many days ago and they counted as regular season games. Most of the the rest of the league celebrated Opening Day on Monday, March 31. Except for the Yankees and Astros who had their Opening Day one day later on April 1. I always thought Opening Day should be a national holiday even before Budweiser threw their Clydesdales behind the effort this year. My wife whose baseball IQ doesn't qualify her for an official baseball fan certificate used to celebrate Opening Day at Wrigley Field. Even she realized Opening Day was a sufficient reason to miss a day of high school. On the other hand, I had little reason to celebrate Opening Day this year. Most recent Opening Days would find me blitzed on a marathon session of ESPN televised games. By the end of the day I couldn't tell the difference between Orel Hersheiser and Jon Kruk. This year being the year of "cable freedom" found me, like Israel in the desert, longing for the old days when I was chained to ESPN on Opening Day. The real heartbreak was the Opening Day after Opening Day game when the Yankees were playing in Houston. Nolan Ryan, the president of the Astros, threw out the first wild pitch of the year. Then, Yankee ace, C.C. Sabbathia, was not much better over the first two innings. He gave up home runs to players no one ever heard of. Derek Jeter got plunked on the forearm the first time up after almost a year off because of injuries. Manager Joe Girardi must have wondered if this year was just a replay of the last one. He might have thrown out his flag to have the whole game reviewed. New acquisitions, McCann and Beltran threw errantly and these were the players everyone has heard of (well except for the Cubs fan I live with). The Yankees lost 6-2. Jeter said, well I guess we are not going to be undefeated and Girardi quipped, I figured we would lose at least one game. The real heartbreak was that I was following the action on CBS sports game tracker.  Instead of Miller and Buck, I supplied the play by play as I waited for my slow streaming internet to post the next ball or strike. "Ball in play" would  pop up on the screen and then - wait, wait - until you found out if the ball in play was a hit or an out. Ironically, I was reading Michael Lewis's new book called Flash Boys about high speed internet stock traders in between my slow speed internet pitch by pitch postings.

Opening Days is over for another year. The season has begun. The Astros are undefeated. The Yankees are in last place. Seattle is 2-0 and the Brewer fans are giddy their PED tarnished superstar is back in uniform. It's a new season; the slate is wiped clean, almost.  And I have a lot more games to announce.


Littlefaiths! Four times in Matthew's gospel Jesus used that term for the disciples. It's one word in Greek. It is formed by combining a word that means "a small amount" with the word for faith. There is not a profound theological teaching there. It is simple; the disciples had a small amount of faith. And Jesus wanted more for them. Jesus calls them Littlefaiths in the sermon on the mount when he was teaching about not worrying about material things. Once when they were at sea in a storm and afraid, he called them, Littlefaiths! And once when Jesus came walking on the sea to them and Peter jumped out of the boat to meet him, and began to sink. Jesus called him, Littlefaith. Hardly, seems fair. He did take a few steps on the water! The final time is in chapter 16 and it looks like a classic case of the disciples just not getting it. The Message translates the "little faith" word there as "runt believers". That's the point, isn't it? Jesus does not say to his followers that they are faith-less or without faith -there was a word for that if that was what he meant to say.  They had faith alright, they were on board with Jesus, it was just small. It was barely enough and there was so much more to explore. He didn't want them to be satisfied with what they had.  They had to trade up. I can relate to that. I may be an "older believer" but I still feel like a "runt believer" at times, holding on to what I have attained rather than trading up. It feels safer that way.

I've been reading Bob Goff's book, Love Does, during Lent. It's a good read and a faith -expanding one. It's for "runt believers" like me.  In the chapter I read today, Goff writes about the game called Bigger and Better. Perhaps, you played it with your youth group. I have. But, I never played it like his son Rich played it. Rich and his buddies started out with a dime and went door to door trading up. What will you trade me for this dime, and then you take what you got in trade and trade it for something bigger and better. The winner is the one who returns with the biggest and best trade. Rich won. Rich began with a dime and ended up with a pickup truck! Not bad. Goff's point is about faith. He writes: "Christian people say Jesus stands at the door and knocks. I agree. But there's more. He wants us to stand at the door of his house and knock, too. And when he opens the door he wants us to bring all the faith we have to him, even if it's only a dime's worth. And he promises he will trade up with us. Because he is what we have the chance to trade for. And what we'll have to give in exchange for knowing him is everything we've accumulated during our lives and are standing on the porch holding on to."

What did Rich do with the pick up truck? He drove it to a church in town and tossed them the keys. He traded up.