Thursday, March 6, 2014
Black Friday, Internet Domain
As we start the season of Lent and move toward holy week, Good Friday looms ahead prior to Easter Sunday. I prefer to use the alternative name for that day which occurred over two thousand years ago as Black Friday. The sun stopped shining and darkness came over the whole land for three hours in the middle of that day as all nature mourned the impending death of its Creator. For the first time in all creation, the Father was temporarily separated from relationship with the Son. The temple curtain was torn apart in that hour. The curtain symbolically separated the court of the people and the Most Holy Place where only the high priest could enter once a year to atone for the sins of the people. Now, Jesus’ death removed the barrier between human beings and God so that His sacrifice could pave the way for the atonement of all sins and the promise of eternal life through the grace of God.
Just before Jesus was condemned to death on a Roman cross, however, a man named Barabbas had also been condemned to death. It was a Passover custom for the Roman ruler to pardon one prisoner. Barabbas had been convicted as a revolutionary insurgent and murderer. Interestingly, he was guilty of the same false charge against Jesus. Finding no fault with Jesus, Pilate offered the riotous crowd either Jesus or Barabbas to be set free; assuming they would chose the obvious guilty man. But Barabbas was spared certain death on that day and given new life while Jesus was sent to the cross in his place.
The names of many Jewish men of the day were derived from their father’s name. Interestingly, Bar means “son of” and Abba means “father”. Barabbas could be the son of any father--you or me. Jesus was crucified with two condemned men also dying on either side of him. One hurled insults but the other recognized His divinity and pleaded for him to "remember me when you come into your kingdom". And Jesus answered him; "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise". Only this one man was able to see beyond the seeming devastation of the cross to the triumph of the eternal Kingdom of God. As he breathed his last on the cross, Jesus softly spoke, “Father (Abba), into your hands I commit my spirit”.
We are all sons and daughters of our eternal Abba and after the events of Black Friday, we are all now the beneficiaries of His priceless grace. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. We only have to look to the cross to understand the full measure of His love. The condemned Barabbas was given a pardon for a second chance at mortal life, but the unknown dying man on Calvary received a last minute reprieve for eternal life!
Saturday, March 1, 2014
F.W.WOOLWORTH, Greensboro, NC
Civil Rights Reflections, Greensboro, NC
A HAIKU POEM
And a Rather Long Post
I’ve recently been volunteering my Monday afternoons at a local elementary school along with other fellow church members. We’ve been assisting young students with their homework and serving a warm dinner before they go home. As with so many volunteer activities, there are always many opportunities to receive in addition to give. This week I was helping a young boy with his homework and he breezed right through his math assignment without needing much help. But he was struggling with a Black History assignment to write Haiku poems based on his study of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in this country. He had specifically taken notes on Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Emmitt Till. And I had the advantage of a smart phone with access to Google search. As we struggled with the Haiku restrictions of both brevity and structure, we both learned a lot about the struggle and the history of three key figures in the movement. Here was an old white guy who lived during this period, working closely with a young Asian student who wasn’t even born then, trying to breathe life into an African-American revolution for equality.
A Haiku poem must only consist of three lines and seventeen syllables with five, seven and five syllables on lines one, two and three, respectively. That’s not a lot of room to adequately describe the contributions of three people that rallied a nation to dramatic cultural change.
We first studied the very troubling death of young fourteen year old Emmitt Till. He was visiting relatives in Mississippi from Chicago in August 1955 when some other boys reportedly dared him to whistle at the young wife of a white store owner. Four days later her husband and half-brother abducted young Emmitt. They gouged out his eye, beat him, shot him in the head, wrapped a cotton-gin fan around his neck with barbed wire and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River where it was recovered three days later. Emmitt’s mother was the one who insisted on an open-casket funeral back in Chicago and the sleeping giant of righteousness was rudely awakened when the images of Emmitt’s remains began circulating.
Just three months later on December 1, 1955 a resolute Rosa Parks sat down in the “whites only” section of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested for violating a city code that only allowed blacks to sit in the back of the bus. A 26 year old Baptist minister whose birth name was Michael King after his Baptist minister father, assumed a leadership role in a nonviolent, civil disobedient, civil rights movement to begin eradicating these racially discriminatory practices. Michael King’s father changed both of their names to Martin Luther in honor of the great German reformer after he visited Berlin in 1939 for a church conference. Other nonviolent demonstrations now began to occur around the country including the 1960 Woolworth sit-in at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, NC—a location that today has been converted into a civil rights museum to honor the four college students who sat down that February 1 for the first of many days.
Martin Luther’s life and faith was based on Jesus’ succinct response to the religious leaders of his time when asked which was the greatest of all the hundreds of commands they were trying to follow. He stated that we should love God and others, i.e., we should be relational like the Trinity. After all, we were made in God’s image. And it’s much more difficult to simplify things than to complicate them. Jesus didn’t come to conquer the oppressive Romans as a warrior king but as a savior teaching love and right relationships for all mankind. Martin’s leadership placed him in peril for his very life once the movement gained momentum from the streets of Montgomery. His home was bombed in 1956, but he still pleaded for non-violence. Another of his significant influences was Mohandas Gandhi who he quoted when he accepted the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize; “He struggled only with the weapons of truth, soul force, non-injury and courage”.
Martin’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered rather impromptu when Mahalia Jackson shouted that he should “Tell them about the dream!” during the 1963 March on Washington. My favorite line was that “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. Martin told the marchers in Selma Alabama in 1965 that equal rights were imminent because “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. On April 3, 1965 Martin addressed a rally in Memphis, Tennessee after his flight was delayed by a bomb threat. In the ending of his last speech he said “I’ve been to the mountaintop…I would like to live a long life…But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…And I’ve seen the Promised Land”. Afterwards, his last words before an assassin’s bullet ended his life were spoken to musician Ben Branch who was scheduled to perform that night: “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty”.
Discussing these events with a young elementary school child was difficult. Helping him compose a short Haiku that did credit to the lives of these three icons of the civil rights movement was emotional and challenging. But answering a child’s question of “Why did people do all these bad things?” was even more difficult--except to say that what they did was very wrong and it’s good to know there are people out in the world with God at their side that will stand up to them. We’ve been endowed with the free will to do good or evil in this broken world. When folks do not choose wisely, I’ve witnessed God working with others to bring good out of a bad situation. Martin summarized this well; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
I was obviously not in the classroom when the young student was given this assignment, but after he finished composing his three Haiku’s it became obvious why the teacher had assigned those specific people. And it led to my own Haiku:
Three lives converging.
Connected by one man’s dream.
Jesus, take our hand.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Spirit Flame, Jamestown, NC
In Euclidean geometry, the equilateral triangle has all three sides equal with all three internal angles equal and congruent to each other. Among all the world’s religions, Christianity is the only faith that teaches that God is one being that exists as three; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each being in this Trinity delights in and glorifies the other. This Triumvirate has related to each other for all eternity and was introduced at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River when all three were present. Adam Hamilton writes that “Jesus was declaring that he was the Son of Man, God was declaring that he was the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit descended (in the form of a dove) to give power for the ministry ahead”.
The Holy Spirit was made available at Pentecost (in the form of wind-blown flames) to all who accepted Jesus. We receive Jesus at our baptism and we receive the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus. John baptized with water to wash away sins while Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit to comfort us, guide us to the truth, remind us of His teachings, inspire us with the right words to say and give us power.
When I recently purchased a new vehicle, it came equipped with the electronics to communicate with a satellite out in space for flawless radio reception. However, to actually experience the technology imbedded deep within my dashboard, I had to make a conscious decision to activate my account. We work to follow Jesus’ teaching to establish a kingdom on earth by activating the Holy Spirit within us—the Spirit that we receive as a christening gift at baptism to be our counselor, our comforter and our guide. And there’s no activation fee—the price has already been paid. So may the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the communion of the Spirit be with you always.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Cover Model, SI
God instructed the ancient Israelites to construct a portable sacred ark and tabernacle out of precious materials so that His spirit could dwell with His chosen people in the desert. A curtain of fine linen separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. After they were settled in Jerusalem, a magnificent temple was constructed for God’s presence which also included a curtain separating the spirit of God from the people due to their imperfections. When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtain was immediately torn in half to finally symbolize our free access to God without priests and sacrifices. Before Jesus ascended to His Father, he promised that He would send a Spirit of truth to be with us always as an advocate, comforter, helper and counselor. And He made clear that this Spirit would dwell within each of us—within the temple of our unbelievable bodies.
If we really try to understand and learn more about the magnificent construction of our human bodies, they are truly a masterpiece of highly complex integrated systems working in harmony to sustain our mortal lives. And even though there have been billions of these models created, no two are exactly alike. Not even identical twins. There are an infinite variety of ways just our appearance can differentiate all of us, let alone how we think and act. Consequently, we all have a self-image that we relate to for both our inner being and outer appearance.
We now live in a culture that seemingly worships youth and beauty and perfection. “I’m not saying movies are the most important thing in the world,” noted 2014 Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres. “I’m not saying that—because the most important thing in the world is youth.” The tongue-in-cheek comment was a shot across the bow to the entire entertainment industry. Models and celebrities don’t look like the rest of us. We have a few bulges here and there, wrinkles and sagging skin, freckles and age spots, receding hair lines and split ends, irregular and off color teeth, eye glasses, shadow lines, etc. Constant media images fill our days with these ideal images, generally created to attract our attention and sell us something. DeGeneres poked fun at her celebrity audience when she welcomed “one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I have seen in my entire life,” as the camera zoomed in on the actress’ lifted, nipped and filled face. “Just really, seriously,” DeGeneres added. “Good job, sir.” It was a sad commentary on a woman whose artificial quest for youth had reduced her to a sorry imitation of herself. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue now on the stands is a perfect example of our ideal-image worshiping culture. These young females are all touted as goddesses in bikinis! And they subconsciously leave a model of human image that is mostly unattainable for the entire human race, including the models themselves.
So it was very interesting to observe the reactions of four regular women who were recently invited to participate in a professional photo shoot. The women were attended by professional make-up artists and hair stylists. After the shoot, a Photoshop expert retouched the images to look like “cover models”. Their body lines were slimmed for more curvature and balance, skin was softened and lightened, eye shadows were removed along with all feature irregularities. Then the “models” were filmed as they were presented with the results.
Their reactions weren’t necessarily predictable. There was nervous laughter, surprise, shock to see their identity radically changed and immediate denial that these were the same people who were observing the images. They missed the little freckles and lines that added character to their unique identity. The Photoshop expert had literally stripped away their true self-image, leaving little authenticity. Having seen the flawless ideal they had aspired to, resulted in questioning why they had ever wasted their time. They resolved to be comfortable in their own skin and true to themselves, although it seems to be natural to aspire to something different. Ultimately, truth and substance represent universal beauty. And we should appreciate the temple that has been uniquely created for our care and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Monticello Gardens, VA
Voltaire’s satiric novella Candide has been listed as one of the most influential books ever written. The story line follows the misadventures of a naïve and impressionable young man who leads a sheltered and easy life. He is being tutored by Pangloss, a staunch follower of Leibnizian optimism. The Leibnizian mantra of the time was “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. Once these two have suddenly been cast out into the real world, disillusionment slowly follows as they are confronted with the realities of this broken world such as devastating natural disasters and mankind’s incomprehensible inhumanity.
One of the most quoted examples of Voltaire’s satire occurs when the two vagabonds witness the execution of an admiral on the deck of his own ship because he failed to engage a French fleet. The classic explanation was “to encourage the others”, a satiric quote heard ‘round many corporate board rooms after experiencing more than one consecutive quarter of low earnings.
I studied Candide in my college days and it made an impression. The conclusion of the book has been the subject of many academic papers and it’s still regarded as both enigmatic and contentious. Candide and his motley crew finally arrive on a farm which Candide purchases with the last of his once considerable finances. They’ve all experienced the fleeting possession of earthly riches—wealth, intellect, beauty, freedom, health, youth, prestige, and blind optimism. There they encounter a man working on a small farm with his family who shares his life’s plan; keeping occupied to be “free of three great evils: boredom, vice and necessity”.
As the story comes to a conclusion, we find Pangloss philosophizing to Candide that everything turned out for the best due to necessity. And Candide famously replies “Excellently observed, but we must cultivate our garden”. Academicians have speculated that the work’s focus is on the problems of Leibnizian optimism, the existence of evil, man’s inhumanity, environmental uncertainties, etc. My view hasn’t changed too much since college days—there’s nothing in this broken world that can be sustained; the best of all possible worlds cannot be found in this life but in the next; nurture and place your trust for survival within yourself and your Creator and not the external trappings of this volatile world; today’s treasures can be lost overnight, but any investment you make between your ears can never be taken away; passive retreat from the world is not the answer, but active industrious participation will help see us through so that we can hopefully leave this world a little better than we found it.
And I’ve always liked the ancient gardening practice of a small order of monks who planted one row of vegetables for the body followed by one row of flowers for the soul. We reap in this life what we cultivate.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
CLEAN BEFORE EACH LOAD, Jamestown, NC
Valentine’s Day 2014
A Facebook friend recently shared a thought by Chip Ingram that caught my attention. It simply stated that “A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other”. That’s a good thing to consider for anybody in a committed relationship on this Valentine’s week 2014. Perhaps it made more of an impact this morning as I finished the laundry and removed trapped cotton fibers from the dryer’s lint filter. It’s always wise to check the filter in case it’s completely jammed with anything that circulates out of the dryer as the clothes are readied for another fresh day.
So what in the world does a lint filter have to do with a perfect relationship? Well, as imperfect humans, we all need to come to grips with the concept that perfection is difficult to achieve. My wife Karen had developed a minor sinus irritation. As a consequence, she was always in possession of a tissue. And those tissues generally ended up in any possible pocket of her wardrobe. We both worked, so it was reasonable for both of us to share household duties and the weekend laundry fell on my side of the ledger. Needless to say, some of those ubiquitous tissues ended up in the laundry almost every week and I was always fishing their scattered remains out of the lint filter. Then I would complain and we’d exchange a few barbs back and forth in our weekly recycled tissue ritual. It was never a big deal but always a small irritation.
Then Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. The next time I discovered a full lint filter, I was reminded that it was small stuff indeed and a blessing to validate her presence. And I never mentioned it again. That was a period of total appreciation for each other. Now whenever I clean the lint filter, I’m reminded of her memory and the day I resolved to filter out the small stuff and accept the imperfections in our relationship. The lint filter in my dryer is embossed with the instruction to “clean before each load”. That’s a good reminder to filter out all the small stuff in our head before each interaction. One of the biggest mistakes a couple can make is to commit to a relationship with the intent of changing the other person. And it always seems to be the small stuff that distracts us from the important stuff which can eventually destroy the relationship if not resolved—it’s much better to accept our little imperfections and refuse to give up on each other.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Immortal, Jamestown, NC
William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. He created a cast of characters four hundred years ago and breathed life into them through his unprecedented talent. They’ve been introduced to generations of people and include Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Romeo and Juliet. These characters are part of a select club that have come close to the elusive concept of immortality through the written word. If history holds true, however, they will inevitably be lost in the sands of time. Even the bard himself can’t create a promise of hope for life everlasting and he's written about it. It’s been said that practically everyone will be forgotten within two generations.
One of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes from Macbeth says it all:
“Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
That’s a mantra for the existentialist in all of us. Solomon, acknowledged as the richest and wisest man who ever lived, writes in his opening chapter of Ecclesiastes that “there is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow”. Life is “a chasing after the wind”. And the apostle James writes in chapter 4, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”.
Fortunately, our Creator has left us with a much more positive message in the third chapter of John, proclaiming that if we believe in the redeeming power of His Son, our ultimate destiny does not perish with the short span of this mortal and sometimes difficult earthly life. We will transition into the priceless gift of a restored and eternal spiritual life where we’ll be reunited with those who remember us and our Creator who never forgot us!