Monday, September 29, 2014

God at the laundromat

Sunday morning at 10 am God showed up at Ninth and Main in Jacksonville, Fl. Ninth and Main is the location of a laundromat and several members of a neighborhood church planned to have their church service there that day. There was prayer as those who came to do their laundry and those who came to help joined hands outside and praised God. Communion was shared over muffins and coffee. Singing was heard over the hum of washers and dryers. New friends were seen conversing and praying together. Quarters were dispensed from the church's budget to do the wash. Mounds of clothes were piled next to jugs of detergent. Children were quietly coloring or playing games at a table outside. One or two boys were throwing a football with one of the adults from the church. It was an uncommon way to do church. The people who had come to do their wash were familiar with church rhythms from their past but this kind of church was new to them. They seemed to like it. Several asked questions, shouted thank you's and blessed those who had come to share their Sunday morning drudgery, and, is it possible, to embrace it with joy. It was not a new experience for some from the church, they had done it before. Others, who were uncomfortable at first, soon relaxed in this new routine of worship. If they knew God's presence with them in their church buildings, now they knew He frequents laundromats on Sunday mornings, too.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Finally got around to watching the film, Noah. I don't look to Hollywood for Biblical interpretation but this was a creative midrash on the text. We all use our imaginations when we read the Bible. I was wowed by the size of the ark, and the multitude of animals on board. The landscape was as bleak as the human race had become. There was a powerful scene when Noah goes down to see what the sons of men had become and we are seeing through his eyes what God sees and maybe have a little more understanding why God grieved that he had made humankind. Tubal-Cain is the leader of the rebellious humans and we are reminded of his serpent - like intentions visually and metaphorically as he asserts his will to get what he wants. The scenes at the end, post flood, are moving as these saved humans begin to get what God has done. Noah did not know why God had done it, he figured they would be the last humans to die. He does not believe he is a righteous man only that God has chosen him to get the task done. This doesn't make a lot of sense because why would God go to all the trouble of building an ark to save some from the flood if he did not have a plan to continue the survival of the human race. But, we miss the point, too, when God has made his will clear. Noah got so caught up in his interpretation of what God was doing he was not open to what the others saw.

 Until his turning point when he feels like he has failed God and himself and goes off on a drunk. As the film ends on a note of grace, the family of Noah (minus one and the addition of three) worship at an altar of God's second chances and the renewal of the earth.

The film answered several questions I had about the Noah story, like where did the wood come from to build the ark, and how were the animals managed during their long trip, and how did Noah with only his small family to help get the job done, and where did the wives come from for Noah's sons, etc, and most were creative answers that were also plausible. There were other issues I had never connected with Noah before, i.e., was he a vegan, environmentalist, and a respecter of the rights of animals as we would say today. Again, I don't think the director was trying to score political points as much as creating a plausible way of looking at life then.

We might not expect the film to follow the Biblical text as closely as it does and to handle that which the text does not speak of directly sensitively but I thought it did both. Noah played by Russel Crowe is a rough bear of a man who doesn't talk much but carries a big stick and can use it. He seems confused by God's choice of him since he seems not to see himself or his family as any better than anyone else (his wife rightly disagrees).  At first he has a clue about God's plan and then he seems to lose that clue only to find it again at the end. There is not much about Noah's self understanding in the Bible so we can only speculate. This is a very human Noah which of course he was. He does get it right when he says he was chosen because God chose him for God's own reasons. The Bible says Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. Indeed, he did.

This Hollywood film about Noah directed by a man of Jewish faith is full of God. Most often he is referred to as the Creator but everyone is reacting to him either for or against. The Creator's purpose and plan is the story line and the characters live their lives with that in mind. The script has not changed.

Derek Jeter's legacy

I had a text message from our son when I woke today. He had watched the end of Derek Jeter's final home game at Yankee Stadium. "Classy and clutch", he said. We have been without TV  because we are moving into a new house. I had been trying to watch as many of Jeter's last games this year as I could. I went to and watched the video of Jeter's game winning single and his emotional and graceful exit from Yankee Stadium and into Yankee lore. My son and I share a love of baseball and a love for the Yankees and their captain, Derek Jeter. He arrived with Yankees about the same time my son was starting to play baseball. Jeter became his guy. He played shortstop as Jeter did. He played the game like Jeter, too, with love and passion and respect for the game and his opponents. I remembered one Little League game - it was a regional all-star playoff game - and he was pitching against the ace of the other region. They were both on their game that day and no runs had been scored by either team. It was the bottom of the last inning and the other pitcher, who was their team's best hitter, hit one over the fence. As the batter rounded third for home my son walked off the mound and met him half way down the baseline extending his hand to congratulate him. Classy move. Respect for a game well played. It was Jeter - like. He has been a great role model teaching by example a love for a great game played the right way. There is no greater legacy than kids playing ball in future years, Jeter -like.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Two credos

Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy; shed tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.

Don't hit back; discover the beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it." (From Romans 12, The Message)

I believe in Free Enterprise, Pride of Place
Fiscal Responsibility, The Middle Ages,
Seasonal Allergies, Queen Anne's Lace,
Undying Love, The Communion of Saints,
The Golden Ratio, Due Process, Outer Space,
The Diet of Worms, The Bay of Fundy,
The Statue of Liberty, The Human Race,
The Freedom of the Press, The Milky Way,
The Four Seasons, The Commonplace,
Pinot Grigio, The Bermuda Triangle,
The Golden Ages, Prevenient Grace.
(From Adventure of Ascent, by Luci Shaw)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The President's prayers

To some people the words President Obama and Christian would never appear in the same sentence unless it was to state that he was not. I have encountered people who believe he might be a Muslim. Some believe he is non-religious or even anti -religious. When I had a meeting a while ago with a professional person about a totally unrelated subject, the President's faith or lack of was suddenly on the table, and before I knew where the conversation was headed, I was in uncharted territory. This person, who was a successful business person and normal in every way, wanted to know if I thought the President was out to destroy America and Christianity -sort of an anti-American, anti-Christ. No, I said, I thought he was a Christian. It was an awkward moment.

Joshua DuBois was a pastor before he began working on President's Obama's election campaign and then worked in the White House as Obama's "pastor in chief". The President wanted him to email him a devotional thought based on a Scripture reading every morning. Some of these readings are compiled in a new book entitled, The President's Devotional. I looked it up on Amazon and sampled some of the entries. It was pretty good and very evangelical. Shouldn't be surprising since the President has spoken at prayer breakfasts and has said that he is a Christian. Some may not agree with  his politics or his priorities for the country but why question his faith? We are supposed to pray for our leaders, especially a brother in Christ who is leading us at a time when we face crises on many fronts. It doesn't matter if we agree or not with his approach to these crises because we are not called to agree but to pray. That is what we can do as we are jarred nearly every day by the latest news. (The reference to Josh DuBois can be followed up in the September issue of Christianity Today.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bible belt

We live in the Bible Belt after 14 years in the relatively unchurched Northwest and Alaska.  Here in Florida there are Bibles on the counters of many businesses, car dashboards, and in homes. Church signs quote the Bible and many houses have the Ten Commandments prominently displayed on their front laws (businesses often have them displayed on a wall, as well). Public teachers were given Bible verses on Kickoff Sunday before the new school year. Some churches  proudly announce which Bible they teach from, i.e., KJV, alone! I wonder if all this focus on the Bible is a good thing. The people in Jesus day who were his most vocal opponents were the ones who were most focused on the Bible (look at John 5: 39-40). F. Bruner reminds us that "there is Bible study and then there is Bible study. The Bible is not about the Bible... and it is not meant to be a religious encyclopedia of facts... it is meant to be the book that points to Christ... let us watch like hawks that our own poring over the Bible has no other goal than to know Christ." Well put.

When the Ten Commandments are taken out of context, it can easily lead to moralism or legalism. The verse that precedes the Ten Commandment in Deuteronomy, verse 6, is a word of grace and salvation. The Ten Commandments are a way of life in which we respond to the God of grace who has saved us. In the same way, the Old Testament prepares us to find Jesus as our Savior and Lord in the New Testament. Bible study on it's own can totally miss the point which is to lead us to Christ. See John 5:39-40, again. Jesus want us to believe in Him and to follow Him and, Bruner states, when we do, Jesus says,  "You are the Light of the world, You are the salt of the earth."

The key to life is Jesus Christ. In the words of the Spiritual, Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart. (thanks again to Bruner for this reference.

There are a lot of Bibles here in the Bible Belt. I know that can be a good thing. When it gets from the belt to the heart.