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Saturday, March 24, 2012
I wonder if my neighbors know their tree is an evangelist, albeit one who uses no words. Their oak tree across the street is again fully garbed in rich light green – I feel proprietary, though, for every day it is in my line of vision when I look up from my desk. In winter, it is black and bare – to all appearances, dead, but it is especially lovely now, in late March, because its verdant leaves portend new beginnings. In two weeks, it has gone from death to life, and I have seen its testimony that the loss of last year’s foliage isn’t the whole story – but another chapter in a bigger book: a hopeful story to one in the autumn of her life.
Disability and – loss – death do not seem as menacing on this spring morning – their imminence recedes, but their reality remains. I check myself: I may be in a wide place for a spell; many, many are not:
· A daughter mourns the loss of her mom;
· A mother, the death of her child.
· A friend endures the unstoppable decline of a merciless disease, and
· Age finally hobbles a woman whose life has been service.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 argued that death no longer stings, he and we know that too often our life before death deeply hurts! (Lamentations 3) Suffering abounds, multiplies -- the daily smashing of human life appalls. Where is God? People, especially children, who suffer – why does the God whose power reaches into the grave not stop suffering, giving everyone a fresh start?
The Bible explains that death and suffering is what we got when the first couple disobeyed God’s warning about their choices. One woman decided the fruit of a beautiful tree looked tasty, and being wise as God sounded like such a good thing. And God’s warning did sound bizarre: that death would be the end of taking even a bite. (Genesis 3:6) So, we learned God tells the truth -- through Eve and Adam’s disobedience, we lost peace with God, our world and ourselves. (Romans 5:12)
“And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put [it] right again.”
Thus, a child’s nursery rhyme, Humpty-Dumpty , becomes a portrait of the universal brokenness and individual calamity of daily life. As we can’t reconstruct a broken egg, we can’t reverse the damage our parents’ disobedience wrought.
Yet, Christians believe the King is doing what the men and horses could never do: restoring one broken soul at a time, by grace through faith that Christ paid the price for all the sins of those who come to Him. (Titus 2:11-14) We don’t believe He mends groups, but rescues some from every tribe and nation. And we believe He has the right as our Maker, (Jeremiah 18-19) and that He earned the right as our Redeemer. (Isaiah 53)
For skeptics, the Christian’s view of God’s new and unfailing compassions may not resolve the conundrum of suffering. For example, Chuck Templeton, a fellow-evangelist of Billy Graham in the 1950’s and ‘60’s turned from Christ because he couldn’t reconcile the apparent dichotomy of a loving God and the horror in the lives of too many of His creatures. (Walking Away from Faith: Living with Doubt and Unbelief by Ruth Tucker.)
And even as I say I believe – even as I study the Scriptures that confirm faith-- I falter when I see how pervasive evil – suffering and death is. I want to see God and know Him real, even amidst ruin.
That’s why I am glad my oak tree shows me life can come from death – a tiny acorn perishes – but wow! For perhaps half a century, the resulting oak has been a faithful witness of unwritten true expressions of order in a world growing more chaotic and cruel.
Today, my life is beautiful – an Ebenezer to remember when cold winds and dark skies overwhelm the sunshine and color. (For the Beauty of the Earth) Let me make this realization into purposeful prayer for those who are still inundated by winter – let me rejoice and be glad today that God hears and answers prayers. And may I remember this evangelist's bright beauty when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death with my Friend. (John 15:15 )
Friday, March 16, 2012
Memo to Self :
That is amazing is an expression that has lost its power to convey astonishment.
Amazing means an action or idea that causes wonder or surprise.
The judges on American Idol say they are amazed at contestants and their performances even when they know how hard the hopefuls have worked to get to their shot at stardom. What amazed me on the recent series was how far a talented singer was able to advance before his notoriety was uncovered. Now that surprised me – and made me wonder about the impossibility of knowing people with whom we interact and admire.
On the TV show, I decided I liked the performer based on a few minutes here and there on camera – he has a rich baritone and sang well; his reactions convinced me he was the real deal. What I thought was the real deal was a young man who was overcoming adversity. And he was! Alas, he had some problems that weighed him down and disqualified him from rising above in this venue. I also liked another performer, whose own parents divulged her secret: sloppiness. Subsequently, every time I see her, I imagine what her dressing room must look like.
I make just as questionable decisions about people everyday – based on what they look like, how they sound, etc. I pigeonhole people. Sometimes I am wise to do so; often I am not.
Right now I am reading BLOODLINES: Race, Cross and the Christian by John Piper. It is an understatement to say his personal revelations hurt, and remind me of thoughts and expressions I have indulged. This comes immediately after reading In the Garden of the Beast: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. by Erik Larson.
We still live in times as pre- and post- WWII – times when we still are prone to call evil good:
· just as Martha Dodd and many other Americans excused and ignored the excesses as Hitler rose to power
· just as I have excused or ignored racism’s stain within me, or throughout America’s history and character.
And we are just as prone to call good, evil. For instance, many think it is evil to inform women about what an abortion is. For example, Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury waded into the debate here in Texas about sonograms, skewering those who want informed consent.
· Is it an evil informing women about what the surgery entails they request? Or is it good to know what will be surgically removed?
In the 1930’s too many Americans did not want to know what Hitler’s rise to power cost; in the 1940’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s we did not want to think about what segregation meant, really. And now we don’t want to address who pays what for an abortion.
These two books show me how poorly I know and have understood history, culture and myself. And I am amazed.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
The recent dust-up over who should pay the cost of contraceptives helped slam shut an opportunity to explore an increasing and damaging price of sex outside of marriage – sexually transmitted diseases, (STDs or STIs); none are prevented by birth control. Rush Limbaugh could have directed his audience and those who do not listen to some troubling facts. But he couldn’t resist some smart remarks about a young woman who wanted the US government to pay for her birth control; they were hard to hear, even for long-time listeners. The radio talk show host apologized, admitting he blew it. Therefore, the timing of an e-mail* from Peacemaker Ministry seemed fitting. Here’s what Ken Sande wrote about reckless words:
Oh, Be Careful Little Mouth
"Even a fool is thought wise…and discerning if he holds his tongue." Proverbs 17:28
Reckless words, spoken hastily and without thinking, inflame many conflicts. "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Prov. 12:18; cf. Prov. 13:3; 17:28; 21:23; 29:20). Although we may seldom set out deliberately to hurt others with our words, sometimes we do not make much of an effort not to hurt others. We simply say what comes to mind without thinking about the consequences. In the process, we may hurt and offend others, which only aggravates conflict. . . . (emphasis added)
Tragically, women do die because of unplanned pregnancies – more babies, however, die from these unintentional conceptions. What is appalling, and still unaddressed, is that approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted infections are thought to occur each year.
These infections affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. But almost half of new infections are among young people ages 15 to 24. Women are also severely affected by STIs. They have more frequent and more serious health problems from STIs than men. African-American women have especially high rates of infection. (source)
A powerful entertainer and social commentator made reckless comments and we missed an opportunity to begin a worthwhile discussion on a serious public health issue, again – and all because of someone’s exercising their right to speak plainly. So, what we remember is rude remarks – and the firestorm that erupted – not solutions to the damaging personal, medical, and social problems that erupt from sex with a multitude of partners.
The lesson I learned from Mr. Limbaugh’s catastrophic lapse of good sense and common decency, and from Mr. Sande’s apt reminder is opening my mouth without engaging my brain and heart loses listeners. Even reckless speech may be my right – but that constitutional freedom is an opportunity that thoughtless words will destroy.
Peacemaker ministry’s e-mail redirected my disappointment over a missed opportunity to reconsider how I say what I say:
What have you said recently without thinking?
The word "reckless" usually conjures up images of someone driving a car with no concern for the people around them. A reckless driver can cause havoc on the highway, putting his or her life, as well as the lives of others, in harm's way. If we spot someone driving recklessly, we usually grab our cell phones and alert the police. But what about someone speaking recklessly?
Simply saying what comes to mind can be looked upon as being authentic and honest. People admire the plain-speak quality and often promote folks who can do it. But it can also be looked upon as not thinking, or reckless. The lives of the one speaking and those hearing then are caught in harm's way. And if you're caught in harm's way, the result is usually some kind of harm.
Oh, be careful little mouth what you say.
A wise woman, when she opens her mouth, the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Prov. 31:26) * PeaceMeal is a publication of Peacemaker® Ministries. Copyright 2012. Reprinted with permission. To sign up for this free weekly email publication, go to the Peacemaker Ministries website at www.Peacemaker.net/epubs.