Saturday, November 23, 2013

Silence, PLEASE!

Silent places are difficult to find.  I relish the moment when it is the first day of a vacation trip and I have found me seat on the airplane, the day’s sports section in hand, as I sit back and I hear nothing but the muted sound of the jet’s engine. Now they say that may change as they allow people to speak on mobile phones while in the air.  I cannot imagine the conversations and loud, shrill voices I will need to endure.  Profit-making for some business has persuaded the government that silence is not a safety feature needed at 30,000 feet.  Wait until the first physical attack happens caused by the woman trying to quiet her baby while the drunk man behind bellows to the ‘love of his life.” Maybe I will need to take up hunting. I am not a hunter, not because I oppose it, but because there are other things I prefer to fill the “hunting hours” of my life.  But many hunters I know tell me that as they take up their places today in their favorite trees the true success of the hunt has already happened…they have found silence.  The leaves fall. The critters crunch the underbrush. Peace is found in the quiet of the woods.  Now, what happens in the deer hunting cabin may be less quiet, but that is another story.

Simon and Garfunkel wondered about these Sounds of Silence, when the air is filled with “people talking without speaking/people hearing without listening.”  Prophetic words, don’t you think? Do we avoid silence because we need to make sound to prove our worth, to give life meaning? Or, do we fear silence, because of what we might hear in those sounds of silence. For people who pray, the constant challenge is not telling God what we want or need to say, but rather listening in the silence for God’s reply.  We fear the answer, perhaps.  We cannot fathom the silence of a God who speaks only when the time is right and when we can hear. So, we keep on talking, filling the silence with sound.  Thus my challenge to you: Find a silent place, and quietly mediate there for five minutes on this verse from Lynn Unger’s poem, Boundaries.

Listen. Every molecule is humming
its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think
the planets are singing
as they dance?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

He Didn't Get to Grow Weary

The men wore silk top hats, the women their best dresses.  The prior evening’s snowstorm threatened to undo the entire event, but the winds of change were more powerful than the storm.  So, he ascended the podium, hat off now, looking so young, so dapper in his black jacket, silver vest,  with a silver tie adorning his crisp white shirt.

The speech early on had a captivating illustration designed to inspire a new generation about the passing of the torch.  This early word picture captured the ears of the listening crowd, even the world. Through another twenty-two paragraphs he tried to inspire.  The speaker, now almost preacher, began paragraph twenty-five with a fist gently pounding the podium. And then, as he got to the second half of the sentence he raised his right index finger, slightly bent, and with his distinct accent he spoke his most famous words. The crowd behind the lectern didn’t seem to hear or notice the moment, but for one man. He was a large man with big ears who possessed a keen sense  of greatness, and as the words echoed over the open air this astute listener raised his head and looked surprised, no-he looked aware,  that he had just heard a man declaim generation-changing sound:

 “…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”

A much too short time later he would speak no more.  Another man famously wrote something like “Do not grow weary in doing good.”  The generation which as children first heard the “ask not” words is getting ready to retire.  I wonder if we, if I, have grown weary in doing good. I wonder if we have become a people who have forgotten what it is we are to “ask not” and if, instead, we have become a generation which insists that our country now “do for me”.  A sign of “growing weary in doing good” is that the questions which we ask change;  the range of people we seek to care for, to love, grows more and more narrow until our sole concern, as with infants, is “me.”

I wonder what question John F. Kennedy would inspire us to ask today.  I wonder, had he been given the chance, if he would have grown weary of doing good.  Have you?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How Big is Heaven?

Eleven billion “Earths”?  The scientists who spend their work weeks looking for life-sustaining planets are telling the rest of us that there could be 11 billion planets in the Milky Way which have the right elements to sustain life. Water is necessary for life to exist. Now, the author of Genesis did not have an Ivy League education, but when that author wrote that in the beginning the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters it seems you could believe it was (a) a lucky guess; or (b) the first recorded insight into what the really brainy guys and gals have now confirmed: life on a planet needs water.  But, the Bible isn’t a science handbook, and that isn’t the point of Genesis 1. Still, isn’t it is fascinating how science just keeps drawing closer to finding God? But, this isn’t my point for today.

My point for today is that for water to exist on a planet it needs to be made of the right material (rock; iron) and it needs to be in a habitable zone. That is, it must not be too far from nor too close to a sun. If it is in the “just right” zone, then water can puddle up. Now, the scientists have made an educated guess that they are 11 billion “suns” which have a related planet just like our Sun and Earth.  You can see these with your naked eye on a clear night. Just think, when you see that star twinkling in the sky at night, that could be your future home!

When I don’t have enough other things to think about I wonder about this: with all the people that have lived in time, when Jesus Christ returns and makes the Earth new where will all of the people live? So I think about  the size of the oceans and deserts which could be made habitable.  But wouldn’t we all have to live in big skyscrapers?  So news of this discovery of a potential 11 billion Earths became a “light bulb” moment for me.  Who says that God needs to limit the new Earth to one habitable planet. Why couldn’t the new “Earth” be plural? And since we are dealing with eternity, the fact that my kids live on a planet 12 light years away won’t bother me because I have all the time in the world (literally) to get there.  Which all goes to say, don’t worry about it, right? God will make a way.  This is not the only life we will know. That is the point.

How big is heaven? Big enough. For you. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"When the Saints Come Marching In"

Soon to be a Walt Disney movie: Dia de los Muertos.  The folks at Disney tried to trademark the phrase, which means “Day of the Dead”, but they ended their efforts after public outrage, including that of one clever artist who drew a cartoon of a “fanged ‘Muerto (Mickey) Mouse.’” (WSJ 11/1/13)  Apparently the idea of a dead Mickey drove home the point that trying to claim exclusive use of what is becoming an international celebration was not a good idea.  You see, on this Saturday 35,000 people are expected to attend what may be the world’s largest gathering designed to honor the dead at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  People are going to party in celebration of the dead spirits which some believe come back to earth on November 1 and 2.  Those who believe in this event build altars to their departed loved ones, waiting for their spirits to come to the party. The participants dress up in special masks and clothing. They dress out the trunks of the departed cars with memorabilia and the favorite drinks and food which they enjoyed in life.  Nestle, the chocolate company, is attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the largest Day of the Dead altar in the U.S. using female skeletons (“Catrinas”) enjoying their Mexican- style products.

Now, if this all sounds an awful lot like Halloween, it is not the same celebration.  Halloween was designed to keep the spirits away on October 31, so  people would dress up in disguises so as to avoid detection by the roaming spirits who might be looking for them.  Churches held special “All Hallow’s Eve” services to ward away the spirits until the dawn of All Hallows (Saints) Day on Nov. 1, which was the celebration of the saints in heaven, which was a prelude to All Souls Day on Nov. 2, which was a celebration of souls who had not yet quite made it to heaven but were on the way.  These are all practices which go back to at least the 500’s.  The more things change…you know the rest.

Human beings sure do spend a lot of time thinking about what happens to people after they die.  Is there life after death and if so, what does it look like?  I have no idea what the folks at Pixar Animation Studios are dreaming up for a movie about trying to attract roaming spirits on Dia de los Muertos, but I have a funny feeling it will create yet another challenge for parents who are trying to teach the truth to their children: when the saints do come marching in, it will not be as spirits. The saints, and that’s all who believe, will have perfect flesh and bones bodies designed to live forever, and they are arriving on the day of the living.  Now, that would be a movie worth watching.