Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Don’t Get Cute

December 21, 2017

Someone – someone I’m not sure I even know – sent me a hard copy of this missive today.   What a great Christmas present.

Because of course pastors are stressed out about Christmas Eve service.  As my buddy notes, there is an added pressure to this service, perhaps more so than any other service the entire year.  Additional people present.  And not just extended family of current members, but others as well.  Perhaps estranged former members of the congregation.  People that had a falling out with a pastor some years ago – or perhaps with me! – might show up for some reason they can’t even define well themselves.  People injured by the Church in the past, stepping their toes back in the water after years or decades away.

To have the perfect message – witty, sparkling, engaging – could mean so much for these people and my congregation!  Old faces returning and new faces showing up on Sunday mornings.  Is there a better feeling as a pastor to be told that you’re the reason that someone has decided to return or come to church or the faith?  The monstrous pride that lurks within many preachers and pastors, sometimes masquerading as pious humility – that monster gorges itself on those sorts of comments.  It’s not that the comments are bad, or shouldn’t be shared.  It’s just that the sin within me wants to lead me down dangerous, dark roads of self-congratulatory ego-caressing.

But the perfect message isn’t mine, it’s God the Holy Spirit’s.  And while the Holy Spirit deigns to work through imperfect pastors that fall out in different places on a dizzyingly broad spectrum of speaking skills and writing mastery, the message that counts is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  The baby in the manger and the God on the cross.  I should care about delivery and about making it enjoyable for the people festively attired in the candlelit pews, but only towards the end that the Holy Spirit’s Word might penetrate the heart, might strike the lethal blow that leads to the death of the old Adam within us, and raises up a new creation in Jesus Christ.  I can’t do that, only the Holy Spirit can.

So I will endeavor, as I like to think I always do, not to be cute.  To make sure the full message is delivered, and that the results of that are to God’s glory not mine.  On Christmas Eve and during every other worship service of the year.

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Friday Musings

December 1, 2017

A couple of random, Internet-inspired thoughts today.

The first is just to share two beautiful poems I stumbled across today.  First, a touching picture of divisions within the Church and how they play out in the Christian life.   A book I’m finishing (and will blog about shortly) emphasizes the very real, very actual expectation that Christians will live together differently.  In our homes, in our communities, and most of all in our Churches.  What a horrible, ugly, painful failure it is when we are unable or unwilling to do so.  The second is a poem by Wendell Berry, an author I have been telling myself for years that I will purchase one or more of his books.  I’m always struck by his way of expressing himself and his ideas.  I really need to do that.

Secondly, while I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular the way her doctrines of sexuality and marriage interrelate in a way Protestantism frankly disappoints, I don’t agree with other major aspects of her doctrine.  Such as the idea that I owe God particular things in worship participation.  Rather than talking about the blessing of receiving the grace of God in Word and Sacrament as often as possible, this is an example of the legalism that is easy to substitute for such grace.  Worship becomes not a gift of God that we should joy to participate in, but rather a legal obligation – with all the attendant nit-picking about the precise nature of what fulfills  that legal obligation.

I trust there are plenty of Roman Catholics who worship out of joy and in response to God’s love rather than an institutional demand, but I ache for those who are weighed down by the guilt inherent in worship obligations.

 

Reunions and Other Missings

November 6, 2017

 

Sonny sits by his window and thinks to himself

How it’s strange that some rooms are like cages.

Sonny’s yearbook from high school is down from the shelf

And he idly thumbs through the pages.

Some have died, some have fled from themselves.

Or struggled from here to get there.

Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls,

Runs his hands through his thinning brown hair.

~ Paul Simon, The Obvious Child ~

 

This Saturday past was my 30-year high school reunion.

I wasn’t there.  As I wasn’t there for the 20th or the 10th.  I flew out of high school a bat out of hell, swearing never to return, never to reminisce, never to idealize the living hell that had been four years of my life.

But time is strange and treacherous and this many years out there was an actual a tug, a curiosity that bordered on yearning at moments.  Who were these people now?  For that matter, who had they been then?  I hate that I was curious.  I’ve stayed in touch with the people I was close to in high school beyond the constructs of class reunions, a group of folks I can count on one hand.  We talked briefly about meeting up at the reunion.  I said I wouldn’t go to the reunion but I would come into town to see the rest of them around it.  In the end it came to nothing and I don’t think any of the others went.

Pictures of the reunion have fluttered across Facebook since Saturday night, and I’m relieved that I didn’t cave in to the passing of years and the desperation for connection across the decades.  The people in those pictures were strangers.  Not just strangers in the 30-year removed sense, but strangers even in my memories.  I knew some of the names but they were not people I ever hung out with in high school.  I only shared classes with a few of them.  I might as well have walked into a room full of complete strangers for all the reminiscing I would have been able to do with those folks.

Out of a class of 900 there were maybe 40 people there.  They had things to relive together, I presume.  Shared memories and experiences.  I would only have shared a coincidence of timing with them, and geography.   We were in the same walls for the same four years and passed through similar classrooms at alternating times of the day.  But the memories aren’t there.  Only the reminders of who I used to be, or who I wasn’t, and I hang out enough with those shadows plenty already.

It looks like everyone there had fun.  I certainly don’t fault them for going.  Part of me is jealous they could share things together that I can’t.  Or perhaps time smooths over the different social classes and standings so folks who never had much in common 30 years ago are suddenly long lost brothers and sisters.  Perhaps the ache for who they were is so strong such incidentals mean little compared to seeing a name and a face that might remember who they were, might be able to give some insight or a reminder of a forgotten incident, rekindle a forgotten feeling.

As for me, I have to side with Thomas Wolfe –  You Can’t Go Home Again. Or perhaps you can, but I can’t.  Why deny the obvious, child?

Defending the Press

October 5, 2017

President Trump has taken a lot of flack from nearly the beginning of his presidency for his dismissal of the press.  Humanly speaking, it’s hard to blame him.  The press has not exactly been kind to him, constantly seeking for some malfeasance or other transgression to invalidate his election, his presidency, his existence.  His public and sometimes official policy of ignoring representatives from certain press outlets infuriated some people and resulted in allegations that President Trump is anti-press.  Dan Rather now routinely writes on Facebook posting his dismay and disgust on this topic as well as many other issues wherein he disagrees with conservatives and President Trump.  So be it.  He’s entitled to his say.

But I believe there is a distinction to be made between having a press badge and being what the press has always supposed to be – an unbiased and investigative community reporting the news in as objective a manner as possible.  This is a press I think most people – conservative and liberal alike – can get behind and support.  This is the press at it’s finest.  You want to uncover the misdoings of Watergate and topple a president?  Go for it – but be objective!  You want to defend wantonly criminal actions of a sitting official or candidate because you agree with them ideologically?  I’m not nearly as impressed.  Press representatives on both ends of the spectrum fall into this dangerous pit repeatedly.  At this point, I don’t think I’m the only American who thinks that ideological bias has been institutionalized in most major media outlets.  The press is not free and objective, but rather dedicated to fostering a particular view of events that support their ideological leanings.

So it was that I turned on NPR the other morning for the first time in months.  I want to like NPR.  I really do.  Hell, as a taxpayer I pay for it.  But I can’t listen to it for too long before the inherent bias’ in their reporting leaves me frustrated and I have to turn it off.  This particular morning it was discussing President Trump’s upcoming visit to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

Of course, most of the initial discussion was about the anticipated tenseness sure to be present at his meeting with local officials, some of whom were loudly critical of his response (and our nation’s response as a whole) to the devastation suffered in Puerto Rico.  The reporter and the radio anchor person eagerly opined about how it would be awkward indeed.  The reporter then duly reported about how there was no power in Puerto Rico and the situation was dire.

But the more you listened, the more you realized she was only telling part of the story, the part that accented her desire to make President Trump look bad.  A few minutes later, she lamented that not many people in Puerto Rico would know about the President’s visit, though some would, because, actually, there were some radio stations broadcasting.  And if you have radio stations broadcasting and people picking up their broadcasts, there is likely at least *some* power on the island.  But rather than talk about how some power is being restored – whether through the grid or through shared or individual generators, the narrative is simply that there is no electricity to speak of.

Furthermore, discussion was about how aid was being distributed.  Meaning the materials and aid were already present, but there were difficulties or delays in distributing it.  Which sounds a lot different from the impression I’ve had in the news that we haven’t done anything.  Things are happening, but it’s difficult.  That’s news I can understand, but it doesn’t happen to make Trump look bad and so the presentation needs spin, apparently.

I want a free press.  I need a free press.  And frankly I have no problem with a president or anyone else who wants to point out that our press isn’t exactly objective and unbiased.  I’m not naive to think that it has ever been – or ever could be 100% objective and free from bias.  But it could do a lot better.  That’s what I was taught as a news reporter and then news editor way back in the Dark Ages of high school.  Report the facts.  Leave the interpretation to the Op-Ed pages.  Make sure readers can trust there is a clear distinction between what happens on the news pages and what happens on the Editorial pages.

Maybe our press outlets could use a reminder of this basic fact that undergirds the American concept of a free press, yet seems to regularly get ignored.  Educate the people on the facts and let them draw their conclusions, don’t presume you have to pre-package the facts to make sure that people reach the conclusion you want them to reach.  You’ll find your readers and hearers more appreciative and more supportive.

At least this one.

Semantics Matter

August 16, 2017

Words mean things.   They’re important.  So I applaud it when someone points out the real meaning of words.   In this case, a popular actress calling a nation out for murder rather than lauding it for some sort of medical progress.

Patricia Heaton made an important Tweet in response to media news claiming that Iceland is eliminating Downs Syndrome.  She pointed out the difference between eliminating something and killing everyone who suffers from it.

Well said, in 140-characters!

Fightin’ Words

August 5, 2017

A Google exec released an internal memo critiquing the company’s dominant ideological assumptions and is getting reamed for it.  The memo (allegedly) can be read here, while a sample of some of the responses it is generating can be found here.

I can understand why it would sound inflammatory to some people.  I suspect his basic assertions – that a particular ideological mindset are now entrenched and broach no challenge and engage in no dialogue – are accurate.  Some of the additional things he adds to the mix however make those basic assertions difficult to hear.  I don’t know if he attempted to substantiate his claims.  I hope that he did.  I would like to see his detractors substantiate some of theirs as well.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of statistics on both sides of the ideological divide, effectively clouding issues further.

Regardless of your point of view or ideological leanings on this, it’s disturbing once again to see where tolerance has gotten our culture and society.

 

When the Lost Find

April 13, 2017
Now, I know all you folks are the right kinda parents.
One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
Headin’ for the dance at the Arm’ry!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That’ll grab your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!
Mass-staria!
Friends, the idle brain is the devil’s playground!
Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
“Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man

 

I’ve been playing pool all of my adult life, which means countless hours spent in pool halls and bars.  I’ve seen a lot of things in those places, but there’s also a lot of things I haven’t seen, primarily because I don’t know what I’m looking at or looking for.  Pool halls and bars have earned their reputations at least in part, however, and just because I don’t see the sexual solicitations or the drug sales all the time doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.

But there are also times when it’s pretty obvious what I’m looking  at, and then there are times when I’m reminded that I’m not seeing everything I ought to.  Not by a long shot.

I stopped in to a familiar bar with the best tables in town up the hill from my house the other day to snatch a quick few games of pool before an afternoon of meetings.  I knew a few of the guys playing there, and I quickly got my cues assembled and the balls racked and broke.  It was only after a few moments that I saw a girl I didn’t recognize chatting with one of the guys.  And as the game progressed I rapidly realized that the man was making pretty free use of her as she sat with her eyes glued to her smart phone.  Far more use than a casual acquaintance or even a good friend might, to put it diplomatically.

They disappear to his car for a few minutes and emerge in a haze of marijuana smoke and laughter.  But by this time I have to get back to the office.  I’ve packed up my cues and am on my way out of the bar, giving my regards to the guys I know and passing the couple as they re-enter the bar.  As I exit the cavern-like darkness of the bar into the blinding Central Coast sunshine, fumbling for my sunglasses,  I hear a woman calling Hey! after me.

You and I need to talk, she says as I turn in the parking lot to look back.  It’s the young woman the guy was with.  Her attire is eye-catching without being too over the top.  Faded denim jeans and a white t-shirt.  Her blond-ish hair has purple tints in it and her make-up is not light.  She’s probably in her late 20’s and the scent of her perfume alone is enough to nearly knock me unconscious.

I don’t imagine the conversation will be too long, as there can’t possibly be much to say.  Of the three guys at the pool table she was closest to, I paid her the least attention (by far!).  I assumed she just wanted to make sure I properly acknowledged her vanity, as it should have been obvious that I wasn’t interested in her services.

Are you really a priest? I mean, a real priest?   I assure her that I am, indeed, a card-carrying minister, realizing that the guy must have filled her in on that detail for some reason during their time together.  She’s taking her time now, sizing me up.  We’re blocking traffic in the parking lot so I move us out of the way.  I’m in a slight hurry, and not interested in playing around conversationally or otherwise.  But at length she asks What church?  I tell her the name and where it is.  She hasn’t heard of it.  Not surprising, I think to myself.  I start to search for a business card to give her.  My dad died a couple of months ago, and I’d like to think he’s with you.  When I look back up at her face she has tears on both cheeks that she’s wiping away.  I hope he’s with God, I respond after a stunned second.

In the bar I first saw a young woman who was so jaded in life that she didn’t care how men used her as long as they noticed her.  Then I saw a woman supporting herself with that attention and exploiting it.  What I had failed to see – in part because I didn’t want to pay too much attention to her – is someone lost.

My work in the recovery community has taught me a lot, but the one thing it has to keep teaching me over and over again is something that my faith taught me but is difficult at times to bear in mind.  People are more than the sum of their circumstances and choices.  They might be a train-wreck of addiction and crime and moral degradation, but it isn’t who they are.  It isn’t all they are.  And given the right circumstances and situations and the power of God the Holy Spirit, even the most monumental of train wrecks can be repaired.  The tracks cleared, the rubble swept away and a life of promise and possibility stretching into eternity put in place.

I hadn’t seen that with this girl.  So perhaps God the Holy Spirit sent her after me to make sure that I saw it.  I went to my car to search for a business card and brought it back to her.  By this point she was standing by a beat-up car lighting up a pipe of marijuana.  I recognized the young man in the car as someone who had been sitting at the bar earlier, and surmised it was her boss.  I handed her my card, wondering what he thought of the whole thing and realizing he probably didn’t think anything of it.  I wasn’t likely going to upset their arrangement.

I wasn’t.  I’m not.  But God the Holy Spirit, that’s another matter.  That’s a daugher of God the Father I was talking to.  That’s a woman The Son of God died and rose again for.  And while I may not want to look at her too long or bother to get involved too deeply, the Holy Spirit of God is after her.  He can do what I can’t.  He can lead her away from the pipe and the pimp and the random encounters in darkened bars in midday.  He can find the lost and lead them home and I pray that’s what happens with her.

It was a good reminder of the power and purpose of the Gospel.  One of the key reasons God gathers his people together, so that the Word might go out and reach the lost.  So that He might bring them home – the very people we don’t want to look at to closely or be seen talking to in the bright early afternoon sunlight of a busy parking lot.  It’s not a comfortable place to be, but it’s a necessary discomfort for somebody.  Perhaps even me.

 

 

 

The View from the Back of the Church

December 24, 2016

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This is the view from the back of the church.

Come all ye faithful and gather to see

The God-man commanding your whole life’s search

From poinsettia blood nativity.

Sit down and partake of the Word made man,

Though pews be hard and the liturgy rough.

No harder than mangers where livestock ran,

Nails – destined for hands – hold a cradle trough.

Hear, the oft-told story bears repeating

Of angel bands singing to flocks by night,

Mother, husband, stood amidst the bleating

Backlit in the birth of their son, the Light.

The angels proclaim it still tonight. Hark!

When you enter here, the hold of Christ’s ark.

 

 

 

A Bomb, by Any Other Name

September 17, 2016

…might be called an intentional explosive.

Since…why?  Bomb sounds too scary?  Bomb is too associated with terrorists?  Bomb is somehow politically incorrect?  Is intentional explosive more specific or descriptive than bomb?

Words matter.  That might not always show from this blog, but it’s true.  I just haven’t figured out why this word has changed – at least for this event.

Paperback Writer II

April 23, 2016

Another great video, this time discussing the role of the early papyrus scroll, as opposed to the vellum or animal skin material used in medieval writings, which I posted about earlier in the week.