Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Love A Parade!

I was watching PBS last week when they featured a program about the life of Judy Garland.  I learned a lot about her that I did not know.  Most of it was about the tragic short life she had (she died at 47).  She suffered through many incredibly sad experienced, some of which were visited upon her by the movie industry who wanted to make millions of dollars off of her talents.  They forced her to have an illegal abortion when she found herself pregnant at a young age (married the first time) because it did not fit into their plans for her.  They give her pills to pep her up so she would work longer and then to put her to sleep for about 4 hours nightly before she would begin again.  She was set to start in the movie production of "Annie, Get Your Gun" when she collapsed from exhaustion due to the abuse they put her body through.  Finally, when they no longer had need of her, they fired her, telling her she would not work in movies any longer.  That did not end her career, though, because she formed her own movie company and produced, "A Star is Born" which seemed to mirror her own life experiences.  She worked as a singer and television star until finally she died from a drug overdose at the age of 47, far too young.

Despite her sad life, we will always remember her as a teenager in her most famous role as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."  Her young smiling face is imprinting in our brains and we can seem to her her voice each time we hear the song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  Another movie she made that was not as famous but for which she sang and danced with Fred Astair was "Easter Parade".  The title song became one which is played and sung each year at Easter.  It is all about people dressing up in their Easter finery and parading down the streets of large cities to show off their clothes.  Still today, many people buy new clothes at Easter to look their best for the holiday.

Easter customs are special and are part of why the traditions of Easter continue to exist.  Decorating, hiding, and hunting eggs remind us of our own childhood memories.  Buying and wearing new clothes make us feel special for that special Sunday.  Enjoying a large dinner with family and friends also helps us celebrate that big day.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week which leads up to Easter.  The first Palm Sunday featured a parade also, but not one that would lead to joy and celebration.  That parade led to Jesus' death on the cross on Good Friday.  People gathered on both sides of the street as Jesus rode on the back of a donkey and the people shouted "Hosanna!" which means "Save us".  They wanted to be saved from the cruel domination of the Roman government that occupied their land.  Many saw Jesus as a political leader who would arm an insurrection against the Romans despite the fact that he had never held a sword or talked about leading a rebellion.  In fact, he had described a kingdom again and again based on love and forgiveness, even of enemies.

Palm Sunday is the event that launched Jesus into the spotlight and created the political mood that would lead to his death.  The religious authorities of Jesus' day would not rest until they had him murdered to get him out of their way so they could be fully in charge of their religious institutions.  As long as Jesus was living, his followers would always be publicizing the fact that Jesus was very special, so special that they could not live with his being in the spotlight.

So, this Sunday is called Palm Sunday because Jesus' followers waved palm branches, a symbol of rebellion, and shouted "Hosanna!" or "Save us, Jesus!" as Jesus rode in on the back of a small donkey, a very humble scene.  They could not understand that the man they saw before them could not bring about any political change because his kingdom was not of this world but was a heavenly one not to be realized in this life.

We will wave the palm branches and say "Hosanna!" this Sunday during our worship service.  We will remember Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem as Passover was about to begin.  We will leave to continue our own lives during Holy Week perhaps pausing on Thursday to remember Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples.  Then comes the end....Good Friday...a day to stop and remember and reflect and prepare for the quiet that leads us to Easter....but that is a story saved for the next week to come.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Natural Ability

I took piano lessons for four years when I was in high school because my mother wanted me to do so.  I had played the trombone in junior high but decided to drop out of band when I was going into high school.  My mother decided that if I learned to play the piano then I could help her out on Thursdays in the summer when she went to the nursing home to entertain the residents.  She wanted them to sing and made them listen to her try to lead them in singing.  I think they just enjoyed watching her jump around while she was singing so they sat and watched but rarely did any of them join her in singing.  Maybe they did not like her song selections either since they were all hymns

Anyway, so I did take piano lessons for four years.  I was even in a couple of piano recitals, along with kids who were much younger than I since few high school students were taking piano lessons from the teacher I had.  I liked this teacher though because she let me choose the music I wanted to play, not hymns like my mother wanted me to play but show tunes and popular songs and a bit of classical thrown in for good measure.  I played well for a teenager who did not practice as much as he should have.  I played for mom's nursing home show too in the summers, hitting many clinkers as I tried to grind out the hymns she wanted the old folks to sing.  I did not play well but the residents never complained. I think they thought it was cute to have a teenage boy playing a piano and they watched every move I made as if I were the object of the day to be admired.

Today, I can play well enough to be embarrassed by my playing skills.  I only play hymns nowadays since I work in the church business but even those suffer greatly by my poor playing skills.  I am like Lot's Wife, if I look away from the page, I turn into a bumbling fool trying to play the piano.  I keep my eyes fixed on the page and do not sing along if I am attempting to play for others to sing.  I cannot do two things at once when it comes to this skill.  I need to concentrate in order for it to happen.

I have always been envious of those who play by ear, whether they play the piano or the guitar or any other instrument.  Some people do not look at music at all.  In fact, some people who play the piano cannot even read music.  They simply sit down at the piano and their fingers play and for some reason the tune leaves their brain and travels down their arms to their hands and they simply play.  If I do not have music in front of me, nothing can happen.  I have no musical imagination.  The notes do not happen just by my thinking about them.

Why is it some have natural talent in some areas and others have to take lessons to try to learn the same things?  Why can some people habla Espanol or spreche sie Deutsch easily and others of us take language lessons for years and all we can do is say hello or count or name the colors in a language?  Why are some adept at tennis or swimming or sports of all kinds and other must practice and put in a lot of effort to make a good showing?

We can those things that people can do well "natural ability" or "gifts" or talents".  We refer to them as "God-given" because the people who have such abilities can use them naturally and easily.  They seem to be a part of the genetic makeup of some persons and not a part of other people.

Could the same be said about spirituality?  Why is it that spirituality comes easily to some and it seems to be hard to grasp for others?  Why is it that to some knowing how to live and what to do in life is an innate part of being human and for others they live lives of confusion and turmoil because they are constantly making wrong choices in life?

Jeremiah spoke of a day that would come when "No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest..." (31:34a,b)  He spoke of a time in the life of the people of Israel when the knowledge of their God Yahweh would be an innate part of being human.  That day has not come, either for the people of Israel or any other part of the human family because the knowledge of God as an innate part of living would produce the reign of God within the lives of human beings.  Some humans come close.  They know how to serve God and neighbor most of the time.  All of us fail now and then, however.  We all need to be taught how to live by learning from one another and studying the writings of persons inspired by God, both biblical and persons in society who have something to say to us concerning the life God would have us live.

God told Jeremiah that God would write the law on their hearts and they would be God's People and he would be their God.  They would just know what it means to love God with one's entire being and to love one's neighbor as oneself.  That would be a part of human existence in the same way that one breathes or receives blood through one's being.  Knowing God would an innate part of being human.

When will the day come when humans love one another instead of destroying one another?  When will it be simply natural to hold the hand of another human being and not see skin color or difference in language or culture as a wall but instead observe it as a characteristic that makes another person unique and beautiful?  The day is surely coming, says the Lord.....one day.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Snakes in the Desert

According to a study done by livescience.com, the number one top fear of everyone who responded was....snakes!  That fear was followed by spiders, scary places, other people, heights, darkness, thunder and lightning, flying, dogs, and dentists.  I can understand why the fear of snakes is the most common fear.  Snakes are so unpredicatable and threatening.  They slither and scoot and can go in any direction.  Their bite is feared because many snakes are poisonous and so many of us cannot distinguish between the poisonous ones and the non-poisonous ones so we just fear them all.

My mother is very afraid of snakes.  Her view toward them is: The only good snake is a dead snake.  She always reminded me of the woman in the B.C. comic strip who would beat the snake to death if she saw it.  My mother would immediately find the garden hoe if she saw a snake of any kind and chase it down and club it to death.  She instilled her fear of snakes in her children so I too share that fear and do not like to even see a snake if I can avoid it.  I change the channel on television if snakes come on and I refuse to go in the snake house at the zoo if we visit there.

The people of Israel were wandering in the desert after they left the bondage of Egypt and, as they often did, they began complaining about the food that God was giving them.  They did not like the miracle bread called manna and began griping about its taste.  I guess God did not appreciate their comments because suddenly fiery serpents began coming out from under the rocks and bit them.  Some died from the bites and others began to plead with Moses to ask God to heal them.  Moses did and God gave him a strange command.  He was to make a copper snake and put it on a pole.  Anyone who had been bitten by a snake could look at the snake on the pole and they would live.  Moses obeyed God and the people looked at the snake on the pole and lived over their snakebites.

Centuries later, a man named Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night and Jesus was trying to explain how God would save all humankind.  He compared the snake in the wilderness to what God would do to bring about salvation.  God would lift up God's Son so that all who would look at him would be saved.  Looking at God's Son hanging on the cross brought healing of soul to those who needed to receive it the most.

Today, we see the Christ hanging on the cross, through eyes of faith, and believe that he is the salvation of the world.  He brings life and health to all who look for a better answer than what they can find in the world around them.  "Look and live" is the message is to all who would believe and receive what God is providing to a sin sick world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Bible Tells Me So


"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to him belongs, they are weak but he is strong."

We have sung this hymn in church circles in every church I have ever attended in my life.  It is a very pleasing and pleasant song with the underlying meaning that we can trust that Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us that truth.  Jesus does say that he calls the little children to come to him and older folks should not prevent them from doing so, which in his day was a revolutionary thing to say because children were considered to be worthless until they were old enough to earn a living.  They were treated as objects or property, the same as women, because in the ancient world only men had rights, property rights and personal rights.  So, when Jesus ordered his disciples not to forbid the children to come to him and for him to hold them and talk to them, his words were in complete contradiction to what society in his day believed about children.

The Bible tells me so....that is what many of us base our beliefs upon and say we believe certain things because we believe that the Bible says something about our beliefs, but how many of us actually believe what the Bible says and really consider the teachings of Jesus and of the Bible as valid for daily life?  Yes, many of us say we believe the Bible and its teachings but when they run contradictory to what we have been taught by others in our lives or by society or by people or organizations whose opinions we value, we may discount what the Bible says and consider its teachings to be secondary.

Our Bible study group this morning discussed the Old Testament reading for this week's lectionary, Exodus 20: 1-17.  That is where one can find "The Ten Commandments" in case you are ever asked where to locate them.  We read the passage aloud and then discussed it in light of our understanding of the world today in comparison to the ancient world.  Most of the commandments found there can be taken literally but a few are ones that few people take literally or they would live their lives in a different manner than they do.

The first two commandments blend into one idea--not to have an idol or god in your life other than the God we worship.  That sounds pretty commonsense in that few of us have a statue of some kind to which we pay homage regularly.  But when one looks at our modern life in the United States, we can see that many of us elevate persons or things to the place of idols in life.  If we were to meet a movie star or celebrity or sports figure that we see on television or in the movies, we would immediately consider that person to be better than we are and we may even idolize them.  If we value money or possessions to the place where it holds first place in life then it has become an idol.  So, we do not need to worship a statue of a cow as the Canaanites did in order for us to have an idol in life.  We only need to examine what is important to us in order to know whether or not we have an idol in our life.

Then, there is that whole idea about keeping the Sabbath day holy.  Since Sabbath literally means "seventh" then Saturday is the Sabbath from scripture so perhaps as Christians we are not obeying that commandment literally unless we rest on Saturday as our Jewish friends and Seventh Day Adventist friends do.  So, even if we allow that Sunday is our "Christian Sabbath" then how do we live on Sunday if we keep it "holy"?  Does that mean that we do nothing on Sunday except go to church and eat lunch and then take a nap?  Does keeping it holy mean that we live entirely differently than the rest of the week or does it mean that we try to slow down a bit and enjoy the day rather than rushing around as we do the other 6 days?  That question is open for debate so perhaps we do not believe it literally, just as the words say.

Taking the name of God in an improper way.....Oh My God--OMG--has saturated our culture.  People say that phrase so much that it has little meaning.  If I say it, does it mean I have taken God's Name in vain or is it just an expression?  Do I have to not say God's name at all to keep it holy as my Jewish friends practice?  Does it mean I do not say G-D (you know the word I mean)?  Again, not a literal meaning to consider.

The list goes on when one considers the Bible and all contained in it.  So, why then, do some insist to elevate certain verses so as to castigate or condemn some in society?  Perhaps the words they are saying are not truly from the Bible but from a human who has used the Bible to promote his or her own agenda.  Perhaps the Bible is being misused by that individual and that misuse needs to be called out by those of us who believe in a sacred reading of God's Word.  Perhaps that person who is misusing the words of scripture has an agenda that needs to be revealed to others so that the power they gain from its misuse will lessen or disappear.

I grew up in a very restrictive religious community which forbade almost everything in society based upon their reading of scripture.  Very few ideas they promoted were truly in the Bible but they taught they as if they had received the commandments from the mountain rather than Moses.  Those people are no longer even involved in a church or religious movement.  Their ideas have faded even as their influence is gone.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so....maybe that is one of the few things I can take literally from the words of Scripture.  It may not say those words literally, but I believe them because that is my experience.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Little Easters in the Middle of Lent

Each Sunday in Lent is considered to be a "Little Easter" and is not part of Lent, actually.  So, you can eat that chocolate cake that you gave up for Lent one day a week, on Sunday.  If one adds up all the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday you come up with more than 40 days.  The Early Church decided that on Sundays we should always proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ so Sundays became days of celebration even during Lent.  Adhering strictly to the Lenten discipline that you set before you on Ash Wednesday is noble but you can "live a little" on each Sunday even during the Lenten season.

Sundays are special days year round.  When one is accustomed to attending worship services on Sundays and rarely misses them, it seems unnatural to be elsewhere on Sunday morning.  Sundays seem incomplete without church attendance to many of us.  There is a certain air about Sundays that may have to do with people having a different schedule than during the work week.  Even after being in worship, Sunday afternoons seem lazy and long, perfect times for reading the newspaper and then taking a nap.  I love Sunday afternoon naps and I usually try to work one in every Sunday if I can.  Then, after waking from the nap, a good cup of coffee and maybe something to go with it, such as a piece of cake or pie or a couple cookies reinforces the Sunday lazy feeling.

Some people like to be out and about on Sundays and that is nice now and then but having a relaxing, lazy Sunday afternoon is more of a treat to me than driving into the city to see a movie or getting involved in some activity that will take a lot of energy out of me.  The commandment to "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" has many interpretations.  Honoring the Sabbath, to Christians that is Sunday, may mean doing very little and actually "resting" as the scripture says God did after God finished the busy task of creation in six days.

Sundays in Lent are reflective, worshipful days centered on the themes of covenant and cross, discipleship and duty, and offer us the opportunity to think about our relationship to God and our neighbors.  Sundays are the perfect days to allow God to speak to us as we slow down enough to hear God's voice.  Monday will come soon enough, too soon for most of us.  Enjoy each Sunday during Lent and savor each moment as much as you may savor that cake you deny yourself the other six days of the week during Lent.  Come Easter, resurrection cake will taste even sweeter and be more satisfying because you proved to yourself that you could do without it most of the time in order to enjoy the reward of it later after the 40 Days have ended.    

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Gift at the End of the Rainbow

Have you ever wondered why people are fascinated with rainbows?  If a big rain comes and then the sun suddenly comes out and a rainbow appears, people will stop walking in the street to stare and point and make remarks about how beautiful it is.  If you are driving and you see one, you may be distracted by its location and beauty.

Scientists can explain how rainbows appear and why they happen but they are still very mysterious.  They are part of legend in various cultures but the most well known, of course, has to do with the Irish culture and finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  Leprechauns are responsible for making humans go to all lengths to try to discover the end of the rainbow so as to find the gold and they laugh with joy whenever the humans have been fooled by their tricks.  That does not make humans dream less about fortune that could be hidden at the rainbow's end.  It continues to be a fantasy to some who daydream about wealth and riches.

There is a rainbow in a story in the Bible.  The story is one of the most famous biblical stories--Noah and the ark!  Noah builds a huge boat called an ark to hold his family members and two of each kind of creatures on the earth so that after the giant flood they can repopulate the earth.  The giant flood happens because God is very angry at how violent human beings have become so God decides to just start over with Noah and his family and the creatures who are saved from the flood.

The rains stop falling and the flood waters finally begin to receded and Noah sends out a dove to see if there is dry land.  When the dove returns with an olive branch in its mouth, then Noah knows that the coast is clear, relatively speaking.  There is still a lot of water around and a lot of damage control to enact, as well as the planting of a vineyard so that Noah and his family can have wine to rejoice and celebrate the new life.

God and Noah talk and God tells him that God will never again destroy the planet with a flood.  As a sign to help God remember this promise, God tells Noah that God will place a rainbow in the sky as a reminder to God that this promise was made to humans.  The rainbow is actually a reminder for God and a sign of this covenant with Noah and the new inhabitants of earth.

God made this promise not only to humans but also to all the creatures that inhabit the earth with humans.  God grieved over the loss of human life as well as animal life and did not want this act to happen again so the rainbow was set as a reminder that God would remember the promise made.

We may never find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but we can find a sign of God's great promise to humankind that God's love and grace will be everlasting.  This is the first of three great covenants made by God to humankind--first with Noah, then with Abraham, and then with Moses at the mountain as the Commandments were given.  God's steadfast love continued to grow as humans learned about this God and how God loved humans despite their frailties.

When it looks like the sun will not shine again, remember the rainbow, a sign of promise and hope and new life to all who are seeking a better future.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Check-Up from the Neck Up!

I went to my family doctor this past Monday to have my annual physical examination.  I did not eat anything from midnight the night before and did not have my usual morning coffee which irritated me greatly but I followed all the directions given to me and arrived early for the appointment.  When I was called in, I did my duty and give them the urine sample needed, and then went into the exam room where the nurse asked me a host of questions, took my blood pressure reading, and made me read an eye chart after weighing me and measuring my height.  The scale in the doctor's office even weighed me less than my scale at home for the first time ever.  So, my visit started out in a very positive manner.

Soon, the doctor came in to see me.  I have been seeing this same doctor for about ten years now so he knows me somewhat.  I stay pretty healthy so I do not see him regularly unless I have a need for him.  He makes me come in at least twice a year so he can stay in touch since I take a small amount of blood pressure medication and he wants to be sure it is working okay.  He looked down my throat, in my ears and eyes, and listened to my heart, my chest, my back, the sides of my neck, each time asking me to breathe or hold my breath, as he desired.  Then, he did those things that doctors do to men patients that require one to drop his pants and stand in front of the doctor while he prods and pokes and does unspeakable acts.  All went well and then I went to give my three vials of blood for testing.  All in all, it was fairly painless and not humiliating at all, since I chatted with him all through it, even when I had my pants around my feet.

My doctor has joined the 21st century and sends me my test results by email so I received them yesterday.  I passed my physical with flying colors.  Everything is great in the blood department and I am supposed to carry on as usual since I try to eat healthy, get regular sleep and exercise, and try to live as stress free as possible.  Everything is moderation is my motto and I try to live by that saying.

It is good to have a complete physical exam once a year just to be sure that all continues to go well in your health.  It is good to have as spiritual physical also at least once a year, to think about what we are doing in our lives that either bring us closer to God to takes us in the other direction.  Perhaps we need to think about how often we attend worship or if we ever read the Bible or other inspirational material or how we treat our neighbors.  Maybe we need to think about making a new start during Lent that is about to begin next week.  Lent provides another place in life to start again.  We begin on Ash Wednesday by getting serious with God and perhaps making a pledge to do something positive in our life for 40 days.  That is a good way to break into a new habit or begin an old good habit once more.

I always give up something for Lent, not because someone tells me that I have to but because it gives me a good feeling to test myself to see if I can do it.  Forty days without meat or dessert does not drive me crazy with desire for either of those things.  I have given up one or both for Lent in the past and found that it helped me to live in a constructive way for that short period of time.  I learned that I could indeed be a vegetarian if I desired for a long period of time but doing it during Lent simply helped me to prove to myself that it is possible.  Giving up something does not have to include food.  Some give up a piece of technology or they give up gossip or they give up television on one day a week.  One has to decide what this sacrifice means to oneself and if it really will make any difference at all in life if they do it or do not do it.

I like Lent.  Lent gives me the time and space in my life to think about what is important to me in life.  Lent helps me to devote myself to new spiritual practices or to revive old ones that were once important to me but have been put aside for some reason or another.  I think about Lent as being just as important to me as that yearly physical exam.  It helps me to see what is going on in my life and if I need to change in any way or if things are good as they are.  Lent is like a check-up from the neck up, as it says on an inspirational poster I saw somewhere once.  Maybe it is a good thing to do for 40 days or even more.