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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter and the Girl Next Door

The house behind us long sat empty as a FSBO.  I called the owner a few weeks ago before trimming back some overgrown shrubs on his side of the four-foot tall picket fence that runs the length of our mutual property line.  The overgrowth had killed the grass on my side.  “Be my guest,” was his reply. “I’ve sold the house and the new residents arrive next month.  I think he’ll replace the fence with a new one, anyway.  Oh—they have a six-year-old daughter.” 
Their six-year-old daughter has become fast friends with my eight-year-old daughter, Caley Kate.  With her Autism-spectrum developmental delays, Caley Kate relates much better to younger kids.  She had no real friends in our neighborhood until the little girl behind us moved in.
Most every afternoon after school, and different times on Saturdays and Sundays, we’ll see this girl from the house behind us standing on a chair on her side of the fence.  She doesn’t call out for Caley Kate to come outside.  She merely stands there on her chair and waits to be seen.  One of us in the family will alert Caley Kate to this and she will run outside, stand on a chair on our side of the fence, and there the two girls talk, draw with chalk on the fence, or show each other their favorite story books and toys.  There’s no gate there (yet), so their friendship is mostly an over-the-fence conviviality.  They get to play with each other in their yards.  But so many times they are content to stand on their chairs on each side of the fence and enjoy each other’s company that way.
Our little neighbor girl’s quiet waiting for her friend is remarkable to me.  It’s like a faith statement: she knows Caley Kate will eventually emerge from our house and run to the fence because they want to be with each other.  That’s how it is with friends.  But I love that our neighbor child realizes she doesn’t have to draw attention to herself waiting, or climb our fence and knock on our door to ask if Caley Kate can play.  It would be fine if she did.  But instead she stands on her chair at the fence—possible because I cut back the tangle of brush that would have prevented it—and waits on Caley Kate.  And her waiting is always rewarded.
We don’t think of the return of Jesus at Eastertime, usually.  The focus is on His resurrection.  But He rose to return.  The same power that shook that tomb will someday crack the sky.  And I don’t have to draw attention to myself awaiting Him, or otherwise try to clamber over “things too wonderful for me” to know, like how or when or where.  It is enough to stand by faith on His promise, watchful and waiting, anticipating the Friend from Heaven who loves me as I am and will come to me soon.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Should Be Taught About Origins in Public Schools?

I have a new post on Faith in Memphis addressing some of the questions surrounding evolution and creation debates in science, specifically in science classes:

Many thanks to my good friend, Jonathan Morrow, a young apologist whom I checked in with as I wrote my response.  Jonathan knows his stuff well.  Take a look and listen to him on these matters here and here, and visit his website which I have listed in Blogs to Consider for more resources from a fine thinker:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So, What Do You Want?

This will appear in our May issue of the church newsletter:
I don’t know why this scene from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams came to mind the other day while I was out running.  But I thought specifically of that exchange in the movie in front of a Fenway Park concession stand between Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) and Terence Mann (James Earl Jones).  Ray had just asked Terence why he was no longer involved in the social movements he influenced by writing The Boat Rocker (fictional novel for the movie) in the 1960’s:
Terence Mann: I was the East Coast distributor of “involved.” I ate it, drank it, and breathed it. Then they killed Martin; then they killed Bobby; elected Tricky Dick twice; and people like you must think I'm miserable because I'm not involved anymore. Well, I've got news for you. I spent all my misery years ago. I have no more pain for anything. I gave at the office.
Ray Kinsella: So, what do you want?
Terence Mann: I want them to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. I want my privacy.
Ray Kinsella: I mean, what do you want? [Gestures toward concession stand.]
Terence Mann: Oh. Dog and a beer.
Ray Kinsella: Two.

Nothing washes down a good rant like an offer of stadium food.  The Terence Mann that Ray Kinsella found in Boston was disillusioned and rather directionless in the twilight of his years.  He was so chronically disappointed as to be almost irretrievably discouraged.  So he thought all he wanted was to be left alone. 

It is an earnest desire of mine never to let that happen to myself.  It does happen.  It happens to good men and women who have vibrant contributions to make to the church and her interests.  I’ve known and observed “Terence Mannism” in the church.  It happens to pastors; it happens to laypeople.  They are “involved.”  They aren’t necessarily idealistic but they are motivated by the gospel.  They want to make a lasting difference wherever they direct their passions to produce what Jesus called “fruit that lasts” (John 15:16). 

But then they discover that the people they want to influence for Jesus have an interest in God but a passion for everything else.  When this realization sets in on the Terence Manns among us it is dispiriting like nothing else.  So their efforts to promote renewal or preserve health or reinvigorate enthusiasm or generate compassion are often discontinued instead of redoubled.

I first recognized Terence Mannism in myself when I was church planting in Murfreesboro almost a decade ago.  Standing in the line at the grocery store, I peripherally noticed the redheaded man ahead of me eyeing me.  He finally spoke: “I was in your church last Sunday.”  I then remembered him, seated in the back of the school auditorium where we met.  He introduced himself and continued, “Y’all have a good thing going here; my wife and I have been looking for Bible teaching in Murfreesboro like you gave Sunday.”  I thanked him and presented a thumbnail version of how we’d arrived there and what we hoped to accomplish.

He smiled and listened, but then looked at the floor and said, “Yeah, but we have two teenage boys who need a youth group, and y’all don’t have a youth group yet.”  I told him we wanted one of course (a youth pastor was to be our next hire) but it took a few families willing to pioneer with us to start one.  “Well, good,” he said, “we’ll check you out again when you get those folks.” 

Standing there with my milk and eggs and Cocoa Pebbles, it was the first time the “why am I doing this?” question viciously accosted my cerebral cortex.  Why am I even putting forth the effort if everybody thinks like you? 

Everybody doesn’t think like him, of course.  But I had come face-to-red-bearded-face in that grocery store checkout line with ecclesiastic consumerism.  And I didn’t like it.  It offended something deep in me.  He just killed my Martin, and my Bobby, and was headed back to Tricky Dick’s church next Sunday because we didn’t have a youth group.  I wanted more for this guy and his family than they wanted for themselves.  It wouldn’t be the last time I encountered such in God’s people.

Disappointing?  Sure.  Justification for Terence Mannism?  No.  No one really wants that.  A sign of growing in grace is keeping our disappointments with others from curdling into leave-me-alone discouragement.  I want that growth.  And to get it I need to look to the One who wasn’t the boat rocker, but the sea calmer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What About the Quran-Burning Pastor in Florida?

New post at Faith in Memphis in response to the question, "How can we live responsibly as devout and faithful adherents of one religion in a world (or a community) of many religions?"  See mine and other replies here:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Wisdom Ring

This is the ring Lynn and I gave our daughter, Helen, for her thirteenth birthday Sunday night.  It is a gold band custom made for her by my friend, Memphis jeweler extraordinaire Nubar Yacoubian, with three diamonds from one of her Great Aunt Faye's rings.

Lynn organized a "Welcome to Womanhood" birthday party for Helen.  About twenty-five women from different stages of life came together in our home as a surprise to Helen, to pass along in writing their godly wisdom.  A few of Helen's friends got to overhear everything the ladies shared, and one lady brought her teenage daughters along with her to listen in.  The evening ended with our presenting to Helen what some call a Purity Ring but we're calling a Wisdom Ring.  In wearing it Helen is to be mindful that wisdom "is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compete with her" (Prov. 8:11). 

Why not a "Purity Ring"?  Because purity is really a function of wisdom, and what we want for our children is a fully-orbed virtue informed by wisdom that they'll pass on to their kids, our grandchildren.  I pointed out to Helen Sunday night that wisdom is personified in Proverbs as female, making the setting of her party especially fitting for her ring ceremony.  Wisdom does not force her way but appeals.  In addition to what was shared with Helen, we are even more grateful for those who shared it.

We told Helen we want her to pass her ring along to her daughter someday (if she has one) as a "heritage of those who fear your name" (Ps. 61:5).