Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Tale as Old as Time"

Just what is the “tale as old as time”? 

Tuesday was not a good day for me.  It was one of those cold, dreary May days in which nothing was going right; one of those days that persuades me “spring” and its promise of “new life” is a myth invented by those famous ‘old wives’.  So when Jill suggested a trip to the movies to see “Beauty and the Beast” I jumped at the chance. Buttered popcorn solves a lot of life’s little problems.

The movie tells a “tale as old as time”, as you know, and if you don’t then this is your “spoiler alert”.  The handsome prince becomes a hideous Beast because he fails to see the beauty inside a woman who comes for help at his castle door. He will remain forever the Beast unless someone loves him before the final petal of a magical rose falls.  The Beauty finally does express her love for the Beast, but not until after the final petal has fallen, and not until after the Beast has been killed in his defense of the beauty from her enemy.  Now, I have to tell you, I have seen this story in movie and theatre form, but I had forgotten that the Beast dies as the final rose petal falls. I thought, “Oh no, did they modernize the movie and let the Beast die?”  Silly me.  What kind of ending is that to a tale as old as time? The Beast, of course, rises in a swirl of sound and sight and the entire castle and environs are restored. Dark becomes light. Brokenness is healed. Death becomes life. Love wins.

So, what is the tale as old as time, I wondered. That animals and humans can love each other? While true on some level, I don’t think that is the point of this tale. That beauty is only skin deep? No, the prince and princess each gain a companion with a beautiful outward appearance.  That true love transforms people’s personalities? That might be closer to the meaning of the tale.

But I think the real tale as old as time is that when you love someone not for their appearance, and even when that love is not returned; when sacrificial love is offered, then death is defeated. What makes such a tale remain part of the campfire stories library for as long as time is not that “boy gets girl”, but that transforming love acts to save the object of one’s love expecting nothing in return. Such love happens because love is “other-centered”; such love is unselfish. Such love is what grace might look like if expressed in a tale as old as time.

It is this kind of love alone which allows the Lover to say to all who will listen, “Even though you die, you will live. Do you believe this?”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Oh, Daughter"

That there are children of church-going parents who have “left” the Church, who deny God, is hardly news. That there are parents who won’t give up on their hope that God has not left their children ought to be news. And that is what this story is about.

A Grandma raises her daughter to love God and neighbor.  That daughter becomes a Mom who raises her daughter the very same way. But then college happens. And that daughter/granddaughter finds out about life and living and worldviews which make the “church” and “religion”, and even “God”, seem like “fake news” made up by insecure, simple-minded old folks.

Well, one day Granddaughter tells Mom that she doesn’t know if God exists. She proclaims herself to be an “agnostic” (as opposed to an “atheist”, who claims to believe that there is no “god.”)  She announces to Mother, and in turn to Grandmother, that, well, maybe there is no “god” after all, and if there is no “god” then you certainly don’t need a church or religion.   

Anyway, Grandma sends Mom last week’s entry (“Oh Mom” 5/12/17) and Mom tells Grandma that this is how she reacted:

“I agree with his wisdom here - especially with my current status of being the mother of an 'agnostic'.  Like I told (Mary), when she was very distressed about telling me her current spiritual belief for fear of distressing me:  ‘I will continue to pray to God that He will reveal the truth of Himself to you.  If my beliefs about God aren't true, then there's no damage done.  But if they are, I won't live in perpetual distress about your spiritual condition because I believe the Holy Spirit can and does influence people's minds and heart towards God.’”

Isn’t that profound?  It is a wonderful view of how to respond to a non-believing child with grace and humility.  She is not saying “Oh, Daughter, believe!” She is saying, “Oh, Spirit, help her unbelief!” Jesus promises that he will send the Holy Spirit to assist in making that prayer effective.  Faith flows from God’s gift of faith.

There are a lot of “Marys” who do not yet know how much they are loved by God.  But one day they will. To all of you Grandmas and Moms out there with a “Mary”, let me assure you, she is not lost. She is just not yet found.  Keep on loving like Jesus loved; keep on praying for the Spirit’s power “to influence her mind and heart towards God”; keep before your mind’s eye the beautiful picture of the three of you together forever.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Oh, Mom"

Mother’s Day is traditionally the third-highest attended worship service, following Easter and Christmas Eve.  Why? It is not celebrating some aspect of the gospel story, like the birth or resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What accounts for the pattern of higher attendance on the 2nd Sunday of May? Here is my theory:  Moms are the spiritual center of their families.  Of course, in some families the Dad is the “spiritual director”, but more often than not, based on my observation, the mother is the stronger faith motivator for the children. So, when it comes to Mother’s Day, a Mother is able to motivate her family to attend worship with her. One Mom told me straight out, as she walked in the door with her entire family (an unusual event), “I told them the best gift they could give me for Mother’s Day was to go to church with me.” 

I got to thinking about this after I read an advice column written by Carolyn Hax (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 5.12.17) in which a young woman was seeking advice for how to deal with her mother who would not relent on pushing religion. The young woman and her husband had “chosen not to continue” to observe their religious practices. When her Mom would ask about certain practices, especially after the grandchildren were born, the mother and daughter would end up in huge fights, taking months to repair.  So, what’s a daughter to do, Carolyn?  The advice given was to “disengage”; that is, don’t talk about it; change the subject; respond to a question about religion with, “I love you, Mom.”

I like that  advice.  The writer of Hebrews says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another….” (10:24-25) I often tell Moms (and this comes up a lot!), don’t push religion on your adult children. If it is practical, offer to bring the grandchildren to worship or education events on your own. Pray for them and trust in the promise of baptism. Let the Spirit do the heavy lifting of bringing them into a faith community.  It appears that the practice of “not meeting together” is a complaint going back to the earliest churches.  It continues today, of course, but that doesn’t mean non-attenders are “lost children.”  Find ways to encourage your children and grandchildren which don’t result in an “Oh, Mom” response accompanied by an eye roll.

You could always begin by asking your children to worship with you on Mother’s Day…and offer to feed them afterwards!  A mother’s work is never done, right Moms?