27 April 2008

hey, Barack, what's your problem?

After Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania last week, the chorus of those demanding that Barack Obama seal the deal has become more strident. "Hey, Barack, what's your problem? Why can't you close the door on that woman?" Let's ignore the fact that, in reality, we're four months into the primary season. Of course, when the media decides it wants the presidential campaign to begin (at least) a year before any votes are cast in primary or caucus, I suppose it can feel like this thing should already be over with. Oh, democracy, what a wearisome form of government you are!

In the current issue of Utne Reader, David Schimke reflects on Obama and the (yes, I'll say it) hope he has generated. "Obama is a young man, and no matter what his political future, he too will disappoint the same people he instigated. It's inevitable. Nevertheless, the millions he's already touched will never forget this moment in history because, no matter your political stripe, there's no denying that our nation has been sleepwalking for the past eight years. We put the covers over our heads on September 12, 2001, got up to look around in 2004, and then hit the snooze button again, hoping that things would work themselves out. They didn't. And they won't."

22 April 2008

a day for the earth

Today is Earth Day (just in case you were unaware). For some, it's a date that gets little, if any, attention. For others, it's a clarion call to action. And for still others, including myself, it's an occasion with more than a bit of irony. If we see it as the one day in which we really pay attention to planet Earth, "irony" would hardly suffice. Maybe "absurd" would be a better term! I suppose similar comments could be made about designating February as African-American History Month, or the 8th of March as International Women's Day. I suppose it's people who have the least connection with the earth who need to be reminded of it.

Joseph Romm is only half-joking when he suggests that we "dump Earth Day." I can see his point about Earth surviving whatever damage we foolish humans do. I predict that when civilizations collapse, there will still be a human remnant somewhere, engaged in the lofty cultural pursuits as envisioned in Mad Max or the stirring opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

18 April 2008

a happy nba fan

Once again, both of my favorite NBA teams are in the playoffs. Andre Iguodala has been the leader of the Philadelphia 76ers after Allen Iverson went to the Denver Nuggets. I'm not expecting the Sixers to get past the first round in the East, but they should be able to give the Detroit Pistons all they can handle.

The Western Conference truly has been the "wild west" this year. For much of the season, the top 9 teams were within 6 games of each other. As it has turned out, the top 8 teams (the playoff teams) finished within a 7 game spread. I'm hoping that my boys, the San Antonio Spurs, can do something they've never done: win back-to-back championships. They've won 4 titles in 9 seasons, but they've always come in odd-numbered years. Their first round series is against the Phoenix Suns, which promises to be a hard-fought, possibly bloody, affair--especially since the Suns now have Shaquille O'Neal, who wants badly to get one more ring.

17 April 2008

some markings from Dag Hammarskjöld

My wife and I have scheduled a Christian spirituality workshop for this Saturday. I'll especially focus on Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General from 1953 until his death in 1961. His book, Markings, published posthumously, was a true inspiration to me as a young Christian. As time goes on, I think I appreciate it more than ever. There are so many great quotations I could cite, but here are a few:

"Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I—
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.
But in the meantime how grievous the memory

Of hours frittered away."
How many of us have the fear of missed opportunities? I would count myself among that number.

"To preserve the silence within—amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens—no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky."
I like his imagery in expressing his desire to keep the world, in which he was very deeply engaged, from invading his soul and clamoring where calm should reign.

"In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation; past walls that receded and gates that opened, through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment—the dwelling place of souls acquainted with light and warmth—until, around me, was an infinity into which we all flowed together and lived anew, like the rings made by raindrops falling upon wide expanses of calm dark waters."
This is the quote I love the most and understand the least. When my mind soars and my analysis is shut down, I come close to the verge of beginning to grasp it.

12 April 2008

there's enough for everyone

Acts 2:42-47, one of the readings for tomorrow, gives us a picture of the early Jerusalem church: [42] They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. [44] All who believed were together and had all things in common; [45] they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

They "were together and had all things in common." That's not a resounding note of support for private ownership! It would seem that they're taking their lead from Jesus, who speaks in the Gospels about wealth as much as, if not more than, any other single topic. He recognizes both its power to do good and its power to enslave—its tendency to become an idol. We cross that line much more easily than we think.

As an American, I’ve grown up, living in and breathing an atmosphere in which the worship of money has been achieved like never before. So, I have to ask myself: do I serve God or mammon? Jesus says in Matthew 6:24 that we can’t serve both. If I think I’ve already made the choice to serve God—and if I don’t actively discipline myself to notice the trust in wealth rising up within me—then I am self-deceived. One very effective way of fighting the worship of money is by simply giving it away. It’s hard to imagine a more forceful way of driving a stake into the heart of riches. But even then, it's a battle fought more inwardly than outwardly.

I love the scene at the end of the movie, Hotel Rwanda (2004). (If you haven't seen it, don't worry if this is a spoiler! The movie is well worth watching anyway!) Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabegina, the hotel manager who gives shelter to about 1200 Rwandans during the 1994 genocide.

During the chaos, the two youngest daughters of Paul and his wife, Tatiana, go missing. Like so many others, they fear that they've been killed. Pat Archer, a Red Cross worker, tells them that she saw the girls at a refugee camp. So they get off the bus that would take them across the border into Tanzania. The family is reunited, and we see them walking down the road, after the bus has already left. Pat says to Paul, "They said that there wasn’t any room." Paul replies to her, "There's always room."

There's always room. There's more than enough. That's our response when we allow the Spirit to direct our best thinking and our best energies into making it happen.

11 April 2008

guilty football pleasure

I just happened to catch the last half of Goal! The Dream Begins (2005) while I was eating lunch. (I've seen it more than once.) I freely admit that the movie displays many qualities that in film are considered derivative: clichés abound, emotionally manipulative music swells at the right moments, and it features a script that is all too predictable. By any cold-eyed, objective standard, this is not a good movie.

But I don't care! Lover of football that I am (that's "soccer" in the States), I can look past the cheesiness and appreciate some fairly realistic play on the pitch. You find yourself caring what happens to our boy Santiago (played by Kuno Becker). There are even some real-life players in the film, including Zinedine Zidane ("Zizou") and David Beckham. I'm afraid, however, that Becks doesn't have acting as a career for the long run!

09 April 2008

happy birthday, Jürgen

Yesterday was Jürgen Moltmann's 82nd birthday. I'm almost finished reading his autobiography, A Broad Place. (I knew it would take a while.)

Here's a nice tidbit from chapter 20, in which he's discussing Christian-Jewish dialogue. It's something people like me need to be aware of: "when the 'progressives' look down on others as if they are people who have been left behind, saying, 'They are not as far advanced as us,' this is nothing but narrow self-righteousness and contributes nothing to the matter itself."

One need not be a fundamentalist to indulge in legalism!

05 April 2008

"she whom I saw when I opened my eyes"

A thousand years ago, tales circulated in Central Asia of the Oghuz Turks—tales that were gradually collected and finally appeared as The Book of Dede Korkut. One of these has a refrain dedicated to the Lady Chichek, one that I wish to dedicate to my lady: “She whom I saw when I opened my eyes / Whom I love with all my heart.”

My lady, Banu, will be two score years of age tomorrow. As with the lady a millennium ago, my lady is the one I saw when my eyes were opened. Beyond that, she has opened my eyes in more ways than I can count. And need I add, the eyes of my heart?

03 April 2008

five year anniversary of rebirth

Today marks the five year anniversary of my father’s death. In my sermon this past Sunday, I made some comments about that.

His health had been declining for several years, following the onset of congestive heart failure. Having received a phone call the night before that the end was near, I flew down to Nashville the next day—which was the day he passed away. My brother-in-law met me at the airport, and he took me directly to the hospital. My sister (his wife) and my mother were in the waiting room outside the Intensive Care Unit. Some people from my mom’s church (including the pastor) were there with her.

I guess my dad willed himself to stay conscious until I arrived. We said our final goodbyes, and he fell asleep. My sister, who had come with me to his bedside, went back to the waiting room to be with my mom. Dad’s breathing grew slower, until it finally stopped. It was 5pm, and the sun, setting in the west, was now shining through the window.

My dad was never what you would call a talkative man. I don’t recall any really long conversations between us. I’m not certain about this, but I imagine he never was quite sure what to make of me as a son! I suppose I wasn’t the easiest person to figure out! It was only when both of us welcomed Christ into our lives that our relationship truly came alive.

After the service, one of the wise old men in our congregation told me that I should have said, “It’s the five year anniversary of his rebirth!” I agree.