Friday, March 6, 2009

Campaign of Hope?

President Barak Hussein Obama's bid for the Presidency included campaign slogans of "Hope", "Change", and "Yes, we can!"  Well, we've got change, alright; but it's not what many people assumed it would be, which shows that you can't take simple rhetoric simply.  So, we have "Change", but what happened to "Hope" and "Yes, we can?"  There's been nothing but gloom and doom and "you can't do anything about it, the government has to" in every speech I've heard Obama give.  
Today President Obama gave another speech - this one to a graduating Police Academy class in Ohio.  We all know that graduation speeches are intended to inspire and uplift the graduates as they prepare to go and do what they've been prepared to go do.  This particular class, however, heard nothing like that at all.  They heard, "I don't need to tell this graduation class that your job might be next.." and the President continued his continuing campaign oration.

Mr. President, that's not how leaders lead.  Leaders inspire, encourage, cheer, and motivate. More importantly leaders serve, listen, and pay attention to the needs of those they're leading. That last sentiment can be echoed to the entire Congress as well.  We need Leaders, not just political campaigners with false premises and false promises.

Godric, A Novel by Frederick Buechner

     "Look at the floor, Godric," she said in her thin child's voice.  I looked and saw it freshly strewn with rushes.
     She said, "My lord this morning bade me tell the chamberlain to have them sweeten it with herbs against the feats, and so I did.  They scattered lavender and mint and winter savory all about till now it's fit for royal feet.  And pennyroyal too, that makes me think.  I doubt if there's a sweeter floor in all of Christendom.  But, Godric, do you know what's underneath?"
     I shook my head.  I thought the wine had made her giddy the way she closed her eyes and shivered.  But when she opened them again, I saw that wine was not the cause.  If we'd met as simply man and child, I'd have taken her upon my knee and tried to lullaby the pain away.  
     "What's underneath is turds of dogs and grease and spit and bits of bone," she said.  "The part you see is fair and fresh.  The part you do not see is foul.  Do you know what it reminds me of, this floor?"
     Again I shook my head though I had guessed her meaning well enough.
     "My life," she said, and hid her face."

The premise explored by Buechner in his novel Godric, can be summed in the above passage - the holiest, most devout Christian is yet a man of filthy rags, sinful down to his DNA.  

Saint Godric was an actual man.  He was born in the mid-Eleventh century to an Anglo-Saxon family in Walpole, Britain.  He began his career as a peddler, and later becoming a sailing merchant (pirate?), and then a steward to a wealthy British lord.  During this time he made a pilgrimage to Rome with his mother, as well as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Then at about the age of 30, he forsook his "secular" life and joint the hermit Elric at Wulsingham where he acted as door-keeper and bellringer at the church of St. Giles.  He also took up his education with the choir boys at Saint Mary-le-Bow.  Sometime after the age of 40 he became a hermit himself, settling at Finchale by the River Wear.  There he took up the austere lifestyle of a religious ascetic, dedicating his life to mortifying his flesh in order to become pure before God.  Before his death on May 21, 1170 - now his feast day - he was attributed with knowledge of future and distant events and a love of wild creatures, having power over them.  He is the earliest known lyrical poet in English, including a hymn to the Virgin Mary which he set to music himself. 

In his novel about Saint Godric, Buechner takes these and other facts, and weaves an extraordinary Chaucer-like tale of a man who encounters grace, and then follows after the Giver of grace with all that he knows.  The medieval Roman Church's understanding of holiness is not what we understand it to be today, but any modern Believer would appreciate the struggle in Godric's life to live a life pleasing to our Lord and Maker, but yet struggles daily with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Indeed, in our flesh we are all like the banqueting floor of the passage, lovely and fragrant on the surface, but full of filth beneath.  And like Godric, we can find a remedy for our souls in the One who takes our sins upon Himself and washes us clean.

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered:
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
~ Romans 4:7-8

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How'd That Happen?

Today is the 30th birthday of my firstborn.  How on earth did that happen?  Why, I'm only 35 myself!  Aren't I?  

It certainly doesn't seem that it could be 30 years ago that our 8 lb. 6 oz. baby boy arrived early one spring morning.  But, alas, it's so, and God-willing - the other children will be celebrating theirs soon in orderly fashion.  It's a funny thing how the seemingly eternal time of child-rearing is suddenly gone in a flash.  Whoosh!  No do-overs.  But, in the place of that little child you so carefully tended to, is an adult that you are pleased to call your friend.  What a blessing God has given us in the gift of children.  Even when they get to be as old as you are!

                                               Happy Birthday, Son!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Life - Not Death - Is Real

Our family has long enjoyed marking the Advent season in anticipation of Christmas Day, and it has never been a challenge finding plenty of good material from which to celebrate Advent.  Great little Advent books abound, but just try marking the Lenten Season!  Other than publications from our Catholic brothers and sisters, which I've used and enjoyed, there's just not much out there.  Then last month, my dear friend Susan slipped a gift into my hand.  It was "The Christ of Easter" by Calvin Miller, a little book of devotional readings for the Easter season.  I was doubly blessed because, not only was this small volume of readings filled with beautiful art, but Susan had affixed a bookplate inside dedicated to Beau's memory.  What better way to remember him than with a book dedicated to observing the resurrection.  
With that thought in mind, I'd like to share last Friday's reading with you.

Your brother will rise again," Jesus told her.  Martha said, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."  Jesus said to her, "I m the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die - ever."   
~ John 11:23-26

"Jesus' greatest teaching often came in short syllables.  Here he set two words against all dying - resurrection and life.  He reminded us that every time we stand beside an open grave and bid good-bye to a loved one, we participate in a grieving illusion.  No Christian grave is eternal.

Often when Jesus spoke, he presented a definition in process.  This is one of those occasions.  Martha would require six more weeks to fully appreciate what Jesus was saying, much as we are spending these six weeks pondering the depths of Easter's phrases and events.  Yes, Lazarus was about to break out of his shallow, impermanent grave.  But Martha's understanding of what Jesus was saying would only be partially apparent when her brother returned to life.  The fullest definition of all Jesus was saying would make no sense until he himself came out of the tomb. 

These two resurrections - Jesus' and Lazarus's - are quite a bit different:
1.  Lazarus's coming back to life represented only a regaining of his pulse and respiration.  When Jesus came back to lie, he somehow had outgrown his dependency on oxygen.
2.  Lazarus would come back to life only to face another dying later.  Jesus returned forever free of all dying.
3.  Lazarus's return to life was only a short reprieve, a biological postponement.  Jesus' resurrection was truly an everlasting triumph over death.

In some ways, Lazarus's resurrection was a kind of theological overture to them symphony of Easter.  In other ways it was like a report from behind the high gates of death, over which none could see and which all believed could not be opened.  Yet Jesus cried, "Lazarus, come forth," and the gates were splintered by the gales on an invisible life force.  

The dead cannot sleep when Christ has ordered them awake.

We cannot trivialize this miracle even by setting it alongside Easter.  Lazarus's resurrection was a bold reversal, strong enough to declare that in all matters of death and dying, God always gets the last word."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Like a Lion

"March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb."  

Indeed March did roar in, bringing wind and snow to middle Tennessee.  What matter that some trees and flowers had begun to bloom and bud?  It will soon be warm again and we'll be enjoying the more lamb-like aspects of the month.

Happy Birthday, Honey!