Friday, September 30, 2005

Out of Africa

If you haven't seen The Constant Gardner, go see it.

If you have, read on.

I recently saw Africa referred to as "the world's orphan" in a blog by
Jeff Huber (see posting "The New World Order"). In this movie based on the novel by John le Carre that's exactly what you see. Though this work may be a piece of fiction, the northern hemisphere's attitude toward the dark continent and her people is not. What scientists hypothesize as the birthplace of homo sapiens has now become the backwater ghetto of the human race. These people are plagued by famine, sickness, and death while we go on and fight our war on "terrorism". We know nothing, really, about true terror. Except for those who fight this war, those who die in it, and those who lose loved ones every day. On both sides, if there are only two.

Is this how a "Christian" nation, how a civilized hemisphere, treats its southern sister and her widows and orphans, what Christ called "the least of these"? Yes, we have problems at home. Yes, we have a Gulf coast to rebuild. But we cannot afford an economy based on war anymore. Enough of "The Empire Strikes Back". Enough pain and suffering; why do we need to make more?

Our African brothers and sisters need our mercy and compassion, not our indifference or our 15 minutes of caring or our polite gift of money. The global community giving what is needed in Africa--with the U.S. leading the way. Now that's what I call a faith-based initiative.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I Blog, You Blog, We Blog

Confession: In the past I have had a rather negative view of blogging.

It seemed to me a self-adoring mirror for one's ego, operating under the delusion that strangers or even people I know would want to read what I had to say about anything. Even worse, a lame attempt at being "published". ( And if you know what "I bop, you bop, we bop" means, then you understand the title and what I consider to be the ultimate purpose of blogging.)

So, am I a convert?

Not entirely. I still keep some of that cynical swill flowing through my veins to help keep me honest about why I blog. So, why?

Because I stay home with my children I am not in the habit of writing sermons on a weekly basis. I supply preach, which means I step in for pastors when they are on vacation or have to be away for a Sunday. I usually get about 10-15 gigs a year, which means my writing skills don't get the workout they need to stay in shape. And I just finished a four-month stint in a nearby church while the pastor was on sabbatical and vacation. I wrote a sermon every week; now that I am no longer working I have lots of time to reflect and to write.

When I was in seminary I had a weekly report I had to hand in while I was working at a local church for the purpose of learning theological reflection. Simply put, I wrote about what I did that week and asked of myself, "WWJD?". But it was more than that. It was an exercise in seeing my role in God's activity in the world: was I resisting, avoiding, going with the flow, engaging those around me? Was I bringing the presence of Christ to the situation or was I standing in the way? Was I seeing God, the great "I AM", within me and in the world around me? This is the skill I hope to nurture with this blog.

And yes, I like to see my words staring back me on the screen. My very own op-ed page with no editor (or a reading audience) to bite me.

For a funnier reflection on blogging, see
David Bouchier's public radio commentary on the subject. As for finding his blog, see Writer at Work on this very website. It wasn't hard to find at all, which goes back to the whole ego thing.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Can you hear me now?

How ironic.

The nursing home in New Orleans where 34 residents drowned was named St. Rita's.

St. Rita is the patron saint of desperate, impossible causes.

Now Hurricane Rita is bearing down on the Florida coast.

Perhaps there is a message here.

There's no such thing as an accident

If you haven't seen the movie Crash, go see it.

If you have, keep reading.

Possibly the best movie I have seen in a long time. The Grand Canyon of the new millennium. Another movie about the racial divide; not the canyon between the races, but the gaping maw of fear and anger within each of us that we think will keep us safe somehow.

One of the many pivots the movie turns on is a St. Christopher dashboard statue. St. Christopher is the "Christ-bearer". Not only did he carry the Christ child across a river but also the massive burden of sin that he bears. The meaning of this has been watered down by making good ol' St. Chris into the patron saint of travellers, to protect them from harm.

Ironically, in this movie, everyone collides with everyone else and ultimately with themselves. The collisions are the vehicle through which grace is able to work its way into the big and small bits of each character. Of late, I have understood grace as removing obstacles between us and the divine. In this movie, obstacles are the divine: God getting in the face of each character as if they thought they could avoid what angers them and fears them the most. From what I've observed, the second we try to avoid something or someone, a tiny thread of light ties itself to us and the object of our resistance, pulling us closer together until wham! what is staring us in the eye is not an obstacle to grace but the very key to our salvation for that particular day, hour, minute. And usually what we are being saved from is ourselves.

What St. Chris teaches us is that we are to imitate the one who bears our burdens by bearing up one another. If we won't do it willingly, we may just crash into that one we've been avoiding and be offered another chance to choose mercy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

It's a Small World After All

You've probably seen it before:

If the earth's population was represented in a village of 100 people, this is what the village would look like.

This is the 2002 version:

Miniature Earth

They say it takes a village to raise a child. What kind of children are we raising based on this version of Village Earth?

Here's yet another illustration of just how small we are, how vast the neighborhood we live in:

Large Gamma Ray Burst Discovered

In the movie "Grand Canyon", Danny Glover's character talks about how it made him feel to sit on the edge of that big hole in the ground, like a flea on the rump of a cow as it's chewing its cud, next to a freeway going 70 mph. Small.

Yet we are as precious and rare as we are insignifigant. Like grains of sand that together make a beautiful beach; something more than the sum of its parts.

God said that a nation would be made of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Through a particularity God would reveal the infinite.

Each one of us is a particularity, a doorway, an entire world of our own (but not only for our own sake), through which the infinite may be known in some way. Gerald May, God rest his soul, once said that the most important endeavor of his life was "practicing God's Presence".

What kind of village raised you? How do you reveal the infinite in your particular life? What creates awe in you? Practice the presence of the Holy every infinitesimal chance you get.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Change of Habit

I've started driving the speed limit.

I strive for an average of 60 mph on the highway. I figure if the speed limit is either 55 or 65, the cops are gonna love me.

Even on back roads and city streets I am driving slower.


Two reasons: the price of gas and my spirit.

When I drive the speed limit, I get better gas mileage. I've also been condensing my trips, trying to get to several destinations in one jaunt. And I question whether the outing is even necessary. I try to squeak as much mileage out of a tank as I can.

But I've also noticed that when I drive slower, I'm more relaxed. Not as frenetic, harried, crazed. Maybe old people are old and drive that way for a reason.

Actually, there's a third reason: sacrifice. Because we are at war, because the Gulf Coast is underwater, because gas prices are up, and my life is largely unaffected, I have decided to affect my life with sacrifice: as solidarity, as thanks, as prayer. The word sacrifice has its roots in the word sacred. When we make a sacrifice, we are making our lives, and the lives of those our sacrifice affects, sacred. We realize that life is sacred and deserves our attention, our care, and our love.

There was a Star Trek episode from the 60's that depicted two planets at war with each other but the culture still thrived, the government and society were intact, people still had homes and families and livelihoods; there was no decay. Instead of using conventional weapons, the war was fought with supercomputers. When a "hit" was made on a certain area, the residents of that area reported to disintegration chambers as casualities. They sacrificed their lives but nothing else that war usually destroys. Thus, life had also become only a commodity rather than something to be treasured. Kirk and the boys destroyed the computers on one planet, which forced the other planet to use conventional weapons, as per their agreement. Needless to say, peace talks began immediately.

Many others are sacrificing on our behalf; not only the military, but relief workers, emergency personnel, health care professionals, and ordinary citizens volunteering their time and livelihood. As a wealthy nation, we have sacrificed the poor to support the lifestyle to which we have become so accustomed as to believe it our birthright. Christians believe that Christ sacrificed his life for all, including the poor, on the cross. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others made the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in. Usually, that moves one to some sort of action, some sort of sacrifice on our part.

What are you doing to make your corner of the world sacred?

Friday, September 09, 2005

You are what you eat

Today my daughters' pediatrician gave me a big pat on the back for saying "no".

"No" to soda and sweets, most of the time. "No" to vegging out in front of the TV (now there's an oxymoron). "No" to McDonald's, except once a month. "No" to dessert, except for Saturday and Wednesday nights.

Yes, there are exceptions. I'm no Major Domo, whoever he was. Life is meant to be enjoyed but not choked on either.

My girls are healthy, within their weight range, with great blood pressure and a zest for life. It helps having a pediatrician who's also an endocrinologist. She's seen a lot of overweight and obese kids. She calls it an epidemic. She says a lot of parents have abdicated their role in what their kids eat. I'm glad she said that because sometimes I worry my kids are going to have an eating disorder because I'm always telling them to slow down when they eat; don't just shovel it in, enjoy what you're eating; eat only as much as you're hungry for; don't eat just because you're bored. Silly me.

On the way to the doctor's appointment, I saw a young man, high school, maybe college, walking his bike uphill and smoking. I wanted to stop and tell him that if he really wanted to be health conscious, if he really wanted to make it up the hill, he probably could if he quit the cigs. The cancer sticks.

Someone once told me that it's really easy to raise a brat. Just leave the word "no" out. Don't set limits. Let them make all their own choices. (shudder)

Just like it's easier to not preach the gospel, whatever good news you're sitting on, and then live it. You are what you eat, what you breath, what you read, what you choose. Bread and wine, blessed and broken for you; books that make you think and feel, including the Good Book; how you spend and give your money, what you do in your leisure time, how much of yourself to give away: it's not just about us but the world we live in.

What are you hungry for? How are you going to give back once you've been fed? That's why, when you give thanks for meal, they call it "grace".