Saturday, March 31, 2007

Books: Snicker-Snack!

A few days ago, my college English class read “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland. It's a great poem featuring an adventure story about a young hero, a "beamish boy" whose father is overjoyed because he has "slain the jabberwock" with his "vorpal blade" that went "snicker-snack."

"O frabjous day!" the father chortles. "Callooh, callay!!"

Read the poem at this link, if you never have; it's a treat. I told my students I hoped they had read Alice when they were younger.

“Oh, no!” they laughed. “We saw the movie.”

Oh, dear.

Will books become obsolete in some near future technological age?

See the very funny video at this linked site, Girl Talk. You will see a likely (?!) scenario.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

To Say "I Love You"

In one week, two grown men confided to me that their fathers never told them “I love you.” The father of one of them has been dead for years; the other is still living. These two men were obviously saddened by that fact. They seemed to feel incomplete—not whole because of it. They implied that they had been kept from something important in their lives because of it. The man whose father is dead cried when he told me; the other man seemed angry.

I did not know what to say. This morning, several weeks later, I had a thought about it.

We are called to love. Jesus said that what God wants the most from us is love. He said the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-33). And who is our “neighbor”? He means love other people—the people around us.

It doesn’t say “Get others to love you.” And it doesn’t say, “If you know somebody loves you, make sure they say it.” It tells us to love others. That says nothing about them loving us or saying they do. No conditions are attached to it, I notice. We don’t have to wait until they love us first. Love others.

But obviously, people want to hear those words, “I love you.” The words have a sort of magical power. They transform. Could we tell the people we love that we love them—even if we know they might not respond? It’s a hard thing to do. Why should it be so difficult to say three words?

Let’s think about that old goat, our stubborn father—or a difficult grandfather—maybe an indifferent mother or hard-hearted sister. We could gather up our courage and say the words: “I love you.” Saying the words opens our hearts—throws us out in the open, unprotected. It might make a world of difference in our relationships, in their hearts, in our own hearts.

So what if they never can say it back? We could keep on saying it anyway, from time to time, raining love on them. Who can resist a love attack for long?

The all-important question I have for that angry man whose father is still alive is this: can you fling yourself off the safe narrow ledge and say to him ‘I love you’?

The picture is from National Geographic.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Heart of a Church

Recently, Andrew C. Thompson of “Gen-X Rising” expressed his thoughts about church size. He says he does not believe that churches have to be of the “mega-church” size, like the Saddleback Church of Rick Warren, in order to be carrying out the directions of God to take his gospel to the world. Small churches can do that, as well. I agree with Andrew. The important thing is that a church has its heart in the right place.

When our small Methodist congregation is blandly reading the Wesleyan liturgy, I sometimes wonder about our hearts. We read them so often that we have the words memorized; they are part of us. And yet, we sometimes sound as if we are thinking about something else. Every Sunday, we read aloud marvelous, Spirit-breathed words of one of the affirmations of faith. The traditional version, The Apostles’ Creed, says

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen

**the universal church

I sometimes wonder if in John Wesley’s services, people used to read together like this. I wonder how God hears these words as they come from stiff lips. I understand that a church doesn’t have to be huge to experience Christ’s love. Some days, our hearts are dry. But many days, the Spirit is moving among us and filling us, and our hearts reach out to him.

Andrew said this in his Gen-X Rising blog:

The other day I came across a quote in Wesley's "Thoughts Upon Methodism," where he distinguished between the essentials of Methodism (holiness of heart and life) and the circumstantials (the disciplined practice that nurtures such holiness).

He writes, "The essence of [Methodism] is holiness of heart and life; the circumstantials all point to this. And as long as they are joined together in the people called Methodists, no weapon formed against them shall prosper. But if even the circumstantial parts are despised, the essential will soon be lost. And if ever the essential parts should evaporate, what remains will be dung and dross."

Clearly, for Wesley the power of the Methodist approach to Christian faith is bound up in practices that allow people to experience the saving grace of Christ. That has every bit to do with the quality of a community, and nothing to do with its size.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"An Inconvenient Truth"

Al Gore won an Oscar recently for work on his best-documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth.” I believe Gore is sincerely concerned about the environment and truly wants to help find solutions for the damage we humans have done to it.

The full story can be seen at this linked site. "It is the overriding world challenge of our time," Gore said. "I really hope the decision by the academy to honor the work by director Davis Guggenheim and these producers will convince people who did not go see it before to see the movie and learn about the climate crisis and become a part of the solution."

What are some simple but helpful things we could do?

1. Throw trash into designated trash cans rather than out the window of the car onto the roadside.

2. Recycle everything we possibly can.

3. Turn off water while we brush our teeth.

4. Turn off lights when we leave a room.

5. Use those new curly low-wattage light bulbs instead of regular incandescent ones.

6. Remember that powerful picture in TV commercials some years back of a Native American shedding tears over the terribly polluted river in the background.

We are charged by God with taking care of the earth; we should all take this responsibility as seriously as Al Gore does.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gift of Love and Grace

(This blog has been neglected for a couple of weeks; I’ve been busy catching up on paper grading and also, spring-breaking.)

In my last entry, I told a little story about Eddie, an employee at a self-service gas station that is part of a convenience store in our small town. Eddie often offered to pump gas for people, even though it is a do-it-yourself establishment.

He told me he was amazed at how people resisted letting him serve them, free of charge. He said, “You can’t imagine how hard it is for people to accept something that is absolutely free, no strings attached.”

I missed the opportunity to tell him what I thought of immediately, because I was too timid: People have trouble understanding that God offers forgiveness, new life, and wholeness of spirit, free of charge. Or maybe we can understand it intellectually. We think we don’t deserve it, though, so we have difficulty accepting it.

Well, the truth is, we don’t deserve it. And there is no possible way to work hard enough to earn it. It is free—a gift of grace. “Grace” means undeserved favor.

It isn’t necessary for us to go halfway there or to give 90 percent. God through his son Jesus gave it all—sacrificed everything to take whatever blame we deserve. New life is possible now, this minute. It is a gift of love.

I had the perfect chance to talk to Eddie about that, but I missed it. I thought, “The next time he pumps my gas, I’ll say to him, ‘Eddie, remember when you said . . . .’”

But that time never came, and soon Eddie was gone—he moved away or went to work somewhere else, and I never saw him again. I think Eddie would understand God’s gift.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Free--No Strings Attached

I was about ready to pump some gas into my car’s empty gas tank at a local convenience- self-service store, when an employee, Eddie, came out. “I’ll do that for you,” he said, smiling through his thick mat of a reddish beard. I gladly accepted his kind offer, and we stood talking while he pumped my gas.

“Eddie,” I said, “this is the best full-service self-service place in this county.”

“Yep,” he said. “But you would be amazed at how many people can hardly make themselves let me do this for them.”

He told me that people were often very suspicious of his offer to pump their gas. “They say things like ‘I can do it myself’ and ‘How much will it cost?’” He said most cannot believe that this service is free.

“You can’t imagine,” he told me, “how hard it is for people to accept something that is absolutely free, no strings attached.”

I can imagine that. More later on this thought…..

The gas pump picture is from "WebShots."