Friday, December 2, 2016

Happy Holidays



It’s interesting that in the country of Singapore, Christmas is a big deal.  Christmas shopping accounts for half of the country’s annual retail sales.  Shopping malls turn into extravagant theme parks while traditional hymns play over the loud speakers everywhere.  What’s surprising about this, however, is that while most of the people there enthusiastically embrace the holiday, only about 13 percent of the population are Christians.  Most of the citizens love the holiday without embracing all of its religious themes.

Now some Christians might be bothered by this, but I’m not one of them.   I don’t have a problem with non-Christians embracing the holiday, just as I don’t have a problem with non-Christians not embracing the holiday.  And by the same token, I don’t have a problem with Christians who celebrate Christmas, and Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas.  And yes, there are Christians who refuse to celebrate Christmas.

There is actually a long tradition of Christian opposition to the Christmas season.  Most of us are just starting to burn off some of the calories we consumed over Thanksgiving, a holiday whose origin we trace back to the pilgrims; but pilgrims refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter!  According the history site, Mayflowerhistory.com: 

They believed that these holidays were invented by man to memorialize Jesus, and are not prescribed by the Bible or celebrated by the early Christian churches, and therefore cannot be considered Holy days. "It seems too much for any mortal man to appoint, or make an anniversary memorial [for Christ]," taught the Pilgrims' pastor John Robinson.  (http://mayflowerhistory.com/religion/)

The Puritans, for years, tried to outlaw the holiday, and even today Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, some Church of Christ folk, and some Baptists, refuse to celebrate Christmas for many reasons including its alleged (and likely) pagan roots.  And as many scholars point out, nobody has the faintest idea when Christ was really born since the Bible and early Christians never mentioned a date or time of year.

But I don’t believe any of this matters.  I hold to the Apostle Paul’s view regarding this issue.  In Paul’s day there were Jewish Christians who had a whole slew of holidays the Gentile Christians were ignoring (like Hanukah), and the Gentile Christians observed some days the Jewish Christians ignored.  Each side thought the other was wrong.  So Paul settled their argument with these strong words:

Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.  (Romans 14:4-8 NRSV)

In other words, stop picking on one another just because you don’t observe the same holidays in the same ways, and do what you do for the glory of the Lord.

I love Christmas, and I’m going to celebrate the turkey stuffing out of it!  You do what you think right. But from my perspective, celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Peace is the perfect opportunity for me to embrace those around me with kindness and respect.  Even, or especially, those who see things differently.
So whatever your traditions, however you celebrate, I wish you a holiday full of blessings and grace.  And in that vein I’m going to offer you a greeting that has, in some circles, become controversial.

Happy Holidays
David

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Second Helping Of Thanksgiving



Many Americans don’t know this, but the first recorded thanksgiving celebration in North America took place forty-three years before the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, and was observed by Martin Frobisher, an English pirate/explorer.  He was trying unsuccessfully to find a passage to China and India, and after leaving England with three small ships, encountered storms and ice.  One ship was lost, another abandoned, and when they finally arrived safely on land in what is now Newfoundland, Canada, he was glad to be alive.  So on May 27, 1578, Frobisher and his crew had a celebration of thanksgiving for their safe arrival.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving much like Americans, but they have their holiday the second Monday in October, which this year was on October 10th.  And since we were on vacation in Newfoundland on this day, I’m writing this article as one who has already celebrated Thanksgiving once this year.  On November 24th when most other Americans will celebrate the holiday for the first time in 2016 Patsy and I  will be celebrating it for a second time!

Like Frobisher’s search for India, our Canadian Thanksgiving didn’t go as planned.  The week before, we had passed a church in Clarenville, Newfoundland, that was putting up a sign:  “Thanksgiving Turkey meal, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.”, and we thought that since we’d be back in the area on the Canadian Thanksgiving Day, we’d drop in.  We were looking forward to celebrating with other Canadian Church Folk, and enjoying the turkey and whatever else Canadians eat for the holiday (poutine, maybe?). 

But Thanksgiving Day in Newfoundland didn’t go as planned.  Hurricane Matthew hit the island, and it rained all day.  We made it to the Clarenville area just fine, even though we were stranded there because the only road crossing Newfoundland washed out.  Still, we were looking forward to the 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner.  But when we pulled into the church parking lot, no one was there.  We apparently hadn’t stayed long enough for the entire sign to be erected.  It actually read:  “Thanksgiving Turkey Meal, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., on October 19th”. The dinner wasn’t for another week!  So we had to find a restaurant open on a holiday and like much of life, we had to resign ourselves to things not going as planned.

But we still had a great time.  We still were thankful.  And I think that’s what Thanksgiving is really about.

We’re not thankful because our life flows smoothly, we’ve got lots of good things, and a feast sits on the table.  We’re thankful regardless of the storms of life, our possessions, and our food. Gratitude is an attitude, and thankfulness flows from our heart, not our circumstances.

Habakkuk knew this when he wrote:  Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NRSV).  

We don't always embrace this kind of attitude, and I think that’s what the holiday of Thanksgiving is really about.  We’re not thankful one day a year.  We’re reminded one day a year to be thankful every day.

Our Canadian Thanksgiving didn’t go as planned and who knows if our U.S. Thanksgiving will.  But regardless, I’m going to have more than two Thanksgivings this year.  I’m going to have a helping of gratitude every day.  And why not?  I’m grateful in so many ways everyday for you, and for all the blessings that enrich my life.  I hope you are grateful as well.

Yours in Christ;
David

Monday, October 24, 2016

Don't Be A Sap


Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  (Galatians 5:19-23 NRSV)

Last month (August 2016) a man living in Pennsylvania was getting tired of a neighbor’s tree.  The tree had branches that hung over the man’s parking space, and like many trees it tended to drip sap…all over the man’s car.  So finally the man was fed up and in anger he took a chainsaw and cut down the tree.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t an experienced tree-trimmer, and the 36 inch diameter tree toppled over onto his own apartment building, causing extensive damage and resulting in the building being condemned.  All five people living there, including the angry tree-slayer were forced to move out and find new lodging.

And that’s an example of what often happens when we allow our negative emotions to get the better of us.  We end up hurting ourselves more than anyone else, making the world and those around us miserable.

The Apostle Paul contrasts the fruits of the spirit with the fruits of the flesh in Galatians, and it’s interesting to note that almost all of the “fruits of the flesh” are problems we have when we act without thinking, while the “fruits of the spirit” are qualities that arise out of loving self-control.  In fact, “Love” and “self-control” are themselves two fruits of the Spirit.

Since you’ve caught me in acorny mood, I’m going to have a little fun with this.  So if you’re not a fan of puns, you might want to be like a tree and….finish the article later.  Here are some insights that have grown out of my life and faith.  When I’m done, you willow me one.

1.  Root your response in the fruits of the Spirit.  It’s hard to go wrong when you’re motivated by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Paul knew what he was talking about.

2.  Leaf your anger behind before making any kind of major decision.  Anger and good judgement seldom go hand in hand.  When good judgment is important (which is most of the time) you’re barking up the wrong tree when your judgment depends on your worst qualities.

3.  Make calm communication a root-ine. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them calmly, honestly, and in a non-threatening way.  It’s amazing how many problems can be resolved by people who are willing to listen and share.

4. If you’re stumped by a problem consider your options.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.  There are often many positive options available if we only take a moment to look for them.

5. Find re-leaf in compassionate fellowship.  If you surround yourself with a community of Spirit-fruitful people, the qualities of the Spirit will begin to stick to you like the sap on a car.

6. Plant the seeds of understanding and peace throughout your life.  We tend to sow what we reap, and if we plant anger and resentment, we will wake up and find a forest of anger and resentment growing all around us. Be sure to plant the good stuff.

7. Avoid idolo-tree, and ground your faith in God.  When God becomes the center of our focus, minor inconveniences tend to lose their power over us.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the world is in dire need of people who are truly watered by the Spirit of God, bearing the fruits of that Spirit, boldly branching out of the trunk of Jesus Christ.

We are called to be this kind of people.  And as such a people, I believe we can be an orchard of light in our world and community.

Yours in Christ;

David

Friday, September 2, 2016

“Making A Better Door”



If anyone has ever said to you “You make a better door than a window”, you probably already have a sense of what the phrase means.  Wictionary, the online dictionary, defines it in this way:

(idiomatic) To obstruct someone's view, especially as a result of thoughtlessness.   Usage notes:   Often used in the second person — "You make a better door than a window" — as a tactful way of asking a person to move aside so that one may see.

I leave it up to you to decide whether it’s a “tactful” way to ask someone to move.  But regardless of your feelings for the phrase, it came to mind last week when I was reading about the Wheelers Avenue Baptist Church in Huston Texas.  I was reminded because this predominantly black congregation had some front doors with a story.  It seems that during the days of segregation, there were numerous doors in the city that you were barred from using if you happened to be born the wrong color.  One set of these doors adorned the front of the Loew's State Movie Theatre.  And so, years later when the theater was being torn down, its doors were purchased by the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, and installed in the front of their new church building.  So every Sunday the worshippers passed through doors that use to exclude them, but now welcomed them in.

Every Sunday, thousands of African-American worshippers stream through them. Every week, Wheeler's custodians polish them. And every once in a great while, the church's pastor or Lawson (now pastor emeritus) will preach about those doors, the doors that the civil rights movement opened. 

Doors can do two things.  They can open up to welcome people in, or they can close tightly to shut people out.  And it seems to me that in a real sense, we are all doors. We can openly welcome people into our lives and the fellowship of God’s Kingdom; or we can close up tight and keep people out our hearts and our fellowship.

This is a good thing to remember as we enter the month of September.  During this month we will be having a special worship service every Sunday.  On the 4th we will recognize workers, inviting folk to come in their work clothes, with special music featuring Jessica Moore.  On the 11th we will have one service at 10:30 at Collett Park, where we will celebrate those who serve others, like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, followed by a pot-luck.  The 18th will have young people involved in our worship participating and sharing their talent.  And the 24th will be a musical extravaganza – a celebration of our unity – with a meal to follow.  

We hope you’ll participate in all of these services and invite your friends and neighbors.  These will be good services, but more important than any program is the friendship and love offered by the individual members of our family of faith to the visitors who walk into our midst.  And in this area, I feel very confident.  Maple Avenue is a welcoming congregation, and it does my heart good to see how our church family can quickly embrace others.  

To this end, this is a good month to be intentional about being the best door possible.  The United Methodist Church, over the past few years, has used the slogan:  ‘Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.’  This September let’s make this personal.  It’s our hearts that are open.  It’s our minds that seek to grow.  And we are the inviting doors through which people can enter into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.
So the next time someone tells you that “You make a better door than a window,” respond with an enthusiastic “Thank You!  I’ve been striving to be the best door possible!”  We have a congregation full of nice doors, and September is a time to swing into action.

Your’s in Christ;
David Rockhill

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

From Hair(spray) To Eternity


As we end our run of the musical Hairspray I want to thank all those involved in the production, and those who have seen, or will be seeing the performance.

The musical, Hairspray is set in 1962 Baltimore during the Civil Rights movement, and deals with the issue of integration and race relations.  It reflects a time in our nation’s history when Petula Clark (who was white) could spark a heated national controversy by simply touching the arm of Harry Belafonte (who was black) during her 1968 television special!  And while we’ve made some headway in race relations since then, it’s ironic and sad that these issues are still real and painful 50 years later.  People continue to shun or mistreat others over superficial differences.  We still struggle to get along, frequently forgetting that “it’s what’s inside that counts.”

Sadly, the Church has not been immune to these divisions.  As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."  Half a century later this is still the case.   So why can’t Christians (and others) all just get along? And why are churches still largely segregated?  Obviously, not all congregations welcome all people, and if you visit a congregation and get the sense that others aren’t comfortable around you, you probably won’t come back.  But by the same token, if you visit a congregation and you aren’t comfortable around others (who may be fine with you), you also won’t be back. 

We hang out with people who make us comfortable, and we’re most comfortable with people who remind us of ourselves.  Folk naturally want to hang out with other folk of the same age, social strata, race, opinion, and appearance.  And while courts can force schools to integrate, they can’t force churches, or social circles, to do the same. Embracing people who are different from what we’re use to is always stressful and difficult, and that’s why many of us simply avoid doing it.  Yet, in the modern world, embracing people who are different from us is essential, and in the Church it’s a mandate from Jesus Christ!

So if this production of Hairspray can get people talking about these important issues, all while laughing, singing, and working together, than it has done something good.  If it can remind us that people are important because of what’s in their heart, it’s taught us a valuable lesson.  If it brings people together who would otherwise remain strangers, in the audience, cast, and crew, than it’s given us a commonly shared experience we can build on.  And by being part of this event, you’ve been part of something significant as well.  

Jesus spoke much about love.  It was his bottom line.  It should be ours as well.  As the Chorus, and Tracy, sing in “Without Love”:

Without love, Life is like my mother on a diet!
Like a week that's only Mondays; Only ice cream, never sundaes
Like a circle with no center; Like a door marked "do not enter!"

Whoever you are, whatever you’re like, however you look, in whatever way you self-identify, you are loved.  Let’s get to know each other.  And thanks for spending this time with us.

David Rockhill

Friday, July 1, 2016

Abraham’s Dysfunctional Family




It’s a sad and stressful thing to be caught in the middle of a family squabble. Most of us have seen first hand the scars such conflicts leave behind.  And dysfunctional families don’t just make each other miserable; they drag down everyone around them.  Unfortunately, we are currently in the middle of a family fight dating back hundreds, even thousands, of years. 

Historically speaking, the three major world religions that have had the most difficulty getting along all come from the same family and claim Abraham as a common ancestor.  This is why Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (I’m listing them in chronological order) are called the “Abrahamic Religions”.  Jews and Christians trace their linage through Abraham’s son Isaac, and Muslims through Ishmael.

I will refrain from going into detail regarding the times people from one group of Abraham’s family have oppressed or killed people from another group, but no branch of his offspring emerges from the mud of history looking clean

This long-standing lack of harmony is not really a surprise, in light of the sibling rivalry running rampant through the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).  Abraham’s children, Isaac and Ishmael, were not on the best terms.  In turn, Isaac’s children--Jacob and Esau--also had major conflicts.  And then Jacob’s brood took family feuds to a new level, with their mistreatment of Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph.  They say that family patterns repeat themselves, and this seems to be the case with the conflicted family of Abraham, right down to his present day descendants.  In spite of this, I think there are some things we can learn from Abraham’s ancient offspring, which can be useful to Abraham’s family today.   So I’d like to address all Jews, Christians and Muslims, and lift up three lessons I believe we can all learn from our Spiritual forefather’s family line:  Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. 

First of all, we need to stop demonizing one another.   God made promises to both of Abraham’s children, Isaac and Ishmael.  Regarding Ishmael, God said to Abraham:  “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation “ (Genesis 17:20 NRSV  ). Both of Abraham’s children had a destiny, and both children were important to Abraham and God.  Neither was purely good or evil.

So it is today.  It’s no secret that there are good people in each of the three Abrahamic religions, and there are jerks as well.  So we need to resist the temptation to paint each other with broad good and evil brush strokes. 

Secondly, we need to refrain from violence against one another.  Christians and Jews trace their spiritual heritage through Jacob, but in spite of the fact that Jacob was no angel and took advantage of Esau, Esau refused to harm Jacob. When Jacob returned home, afraid of his brother’s wrath, instead of seeking vengeance Esau welcomed his brother with hugs and tears.

The older brothers of Joseph came close to killing him, but they eventually decided against it, selling him into slavery instead.  Ironically, this decision to let him live had the unforeseen consequence of saving their own lives and the lives of their families!  There was no way they could have known the end results of murder or mercy, and thankfully, they let him live.

Even though the descendants of Abraham didn’t get along, (and still don’t), mercy outweighed violence (and still should). 

Third, we need to seek peace.  Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father Abraham in the cave of Machpelah.  Esau embraced Jacob, kissing him and weeping when he returned home. Joseph forgave his brothers, and the family was reconciled.  Dysfunction was part of Abraham’s legacy, but so was forgiveness and grace.  It’s that forgiveness and grace that we need more of today.

The Hebrew Scriptures say this:

Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as [you love] yourself. I am God.
(Leviticus 19:18 The Living Torah)

This sound a lot like this story from the hadith – oral traditions regarding Mohammed:

A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: "As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them. Now let the stirrup go! [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]" (Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146)

And this in turn sounds a lot like Jesus’ words, spoken almost 600 years earlier:

"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 NRSV ).

I think it’s time we all took this idea seriously.

David


Monday, May 23, 2016

Why Young People (Alone) Are Not the Future of the Church


A few weeks back we celebrated the birthday of the church, when 120 people (Acts 1:15) were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and took to the streets sharing the good news of Jesus (Acts 2).  All of Christendom - currently around 2.2 billion people! - grew from that small group, and this humble beginning made me wonder about two things.  First, how many of these 120 were young people?  Of course, we have no way of knowing, but it seems likely they were all adults, and many of them were probably older adults (by that day’s standard).  The second thing I wondered was:  “Did their age matter in any way?” and the answer to this second question is much easier.  It didn’t matter a bit. 

The growth of the early church, fueled by the Holy Spirit, is a matter of simple mathematics.  If more people join the Church than leave, the Church grows.  This is true regardless of the ages of those in the Church, and those joining.  By the same token, if more people leave the Church than join it, the Church dwindles.  Again, regardless of the ages of those involved.

So a church full of young people will die if it doesn’t have more people joining than leaving.  And a church full of old people will grow if it does have more people joining than leaving. 

I point this out because there is a widespread notion that “young people are the future of the church” and this partial truth can be dangerous for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it places the entire weight of the future on a certain age bracket, and that’s too big of a burden to dump on any one group.  And secondly, it absolves all older people from any responsibility to be the future.

To be clear, young people are the future of the church, but so are old people, middle aged people, and those generations yet to be born.  Everyone who walks through our door or shares in our fellowship is our future. 

You who are reading this are our future as well.  Even if you keel over dead upon finishing this article (please don’t!), you are still part of our future.  There is a neglected Christian doctrine called “The Communion of Saints” which says that all believers, past, present, and future, are connected in the community of faith and part of our fellowship.  All believers shape us throughout the past, at the present, and deep into the future.  In other words:  Those who have passed on continue to shape us in powerful, and mysterious ways, and are still very much part of our fellowship and our future.

So none of us is allowed to dump all the responsibility for the future on “young people”, or any fraction of God’s kingdom.   We all share that responsibility, and we all matter together.  And whoever you are, whatever your age, there’s no excuse for sitting on the side lines. 

I suspect that some congregations, by embracing the idea that “young people are our future” are disappointed when a visiting older person walks through their doors.  “We need young people!  How can we grow if we don’t get young people?”  People can sense when they're met with disappointment and they won't come back.  Instead we should be thrilled to pieces when anyone walks through our doors.  We should welcome, honor, and enjoy all people God sends our way.

We are blessed at Maple Avenue because we do have folk of all ages sharing in our fellowship, and that is exactly as it ought to be. Young people alone aren’t the future of the church.  We all are together.  So let’s roll up our sleeves and start shaping a future worthy of God’s Kingdom.

Yours in Christ;
David

Saturday, April 30, 2016

To Helsinki and Back



If you’ve ever lost your wallet then you should appreciate this story.  Back in 2013 the Readers Digest magazine tried a fascinating experiment in honesty.  They went to 16 different cities around the world and in each city left 12 wallets lying around as if lost.  The wallets were dropped in parks, near shopping malls, on sidewalks, etc, and in each wallet was a name with a cell phone number, a family photo, coupons, business cards, and the equivalent of $50. 

Overall, 47% of the wallets were returned, (although some cities faired far better than others) and contrary to what some may expect, age, gender, or economic status seemed to matter little.  There were honest, and dishonest, people in every pigeonhole. 

The top six cities included the only American city (New York) to be tested.  They are: 

1. Helsinki, Finland (Wallets returned: 11 out of 12)
2. Mumbai, India (Wallets returned: 9 out of 12)
3. (TIE) Budapest, Hungary (Wallets returned: 8 out of 12)
3. (TIE) New York City, U.S.A. (Wallets returned: 8 out of 12)
4. (TIE) Moscow, Russia (Wallets returned: 7 out of 12)
4. (TIE) Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Wallets returned: 7 out of 12)

The bottom six are as follows:

7. (TIE) Bucharest, Romania (Wallets returned: 4 out of 12)
7. (TIE) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Wallets returned: 4 out of 12)
7. (TIE) Zurich, Switzerland (Wallets returned: 4 out of 12)
8. Prague, Czech Republic (Wallets returned: 3 out of 12)
9. Madrid, Spain (Wallets returned: 2 out of 12)
10. Lisbon, Portugal (Wallets returned:1 out of 12)

I’d love to try this wallet experiment in Terre Haute, although I’m not particularly keen on putting $600 at risk.  But if I were to do it, I would expect the people here to rank among the top 6.  Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think this is a good place, full of good people.

What I found especially interesting were the reasons the honest 47% gave for returning the wallets.  Most of them said things like this:

“Of course we returned the wallet. Honesty is an inner conviction."

“My conscience wouldn't let me do anything wrong. A wallet is a big thing with many important documents [in it]."

"I am convinced that people should help one another, and if I can make someone a little happier, I will."

“I saw the photo of the mother with her child. Whatever else is important, a photo like that means something to the owner."

"My parents taught me how important being honest is. Once I lost an entire bag, but I got everything back. So, I know what it feels like."

"If you find money, you can't assume it belongs to a rich man.   It might be the last bit of money a mother has to feed her family."[1]

Nobody said: “I returned the wallet so I can go to heaven when I die,” or “I had to do it because God was watching.”  Nobody said “I returned the wallet because the Bible told me to,” or “I wanted to impress my minister.”  In fact, while many of the honest folk were almost certainly Christians, they didn’t tend to refer to their faith at all when explaining their moral choices. They did the right thing because they wanted to do the right thing, and because they had feelings of empathy and concern for the person who had lost the wallet.

Christian morality is really about becoming that kind of person, one who sympathizes with others, and genuinely wants to make the world a kinder place.  I’ve always seen the heart of Christ-like morality to reside in two of Jesus’ core principles:  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31 NRSV); and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  (Mark 12:31 NRSV).  These are really two ways of expressing one truth, which is basically “empathize with people and treat them nice.”  And in practicing these principles, it’s ironic that some non-Christians are more “Christian” than some Christians.

If you find a wallet, return it.  If a cashier gives you too much change, say something.  If you can prosper by harming another, resist the temptation.  And don’t do these things out of fear or selfish desire.  Do them because God, through Christ, has changed you into the kind of person who wants to do these things.

And in this way we people of Terre Haute can give Helsinki a run for the money.

Yours in Christ;

David


[1] http://www.rd.com/culture/most-honest-cities-lost-wallet-test/

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Place Of The Resurrection


For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NRSV)

One of the holiest sites in Christendom is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is said to be built over the hill where Jesus was crucified (“Golgotha” in Greek or “Calvary” in Latin), and extends to the tomb where Jesus, according to tradition, was buried.  It is, in other words, thought to be the actual site of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Not surprisingly, there is a large influx of Christians from around the world visiting this church every Easter. 

Unfortunately, since this is prime real estate for many Christians, the location is in high demand.  There are six Christian faiths who lay claim to the location, (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox) and through the years they have clashed over its use.  During the Easter season when crowds swell, tempers tend to flare and fist-fights often erupt.  

During Easter prayers in 1970, Coptic monks momentarily left their post on the rooftop monastery, which allowed the Ethiopian monks to swoop in, change the locks, and take it for their own. So the Coptic’s placed a chair outside of the disputed area in protest, keeping watch for an opportunity to move back.  In 2002 this Coptic guard made the mistake of moving his chair into the shade, resulting in a fight that left 12 holy men injured.  In September 2004, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clerics had a fistfight (with at least five injuries) after a Catholic left a door open during an Orthodox service. And as Easter approached in 2007, three of the groups responsible for the 10-stall rest room could not cooperate long enough to repair it, resulting in the stench of sewage filling the building.  In 2008 police were called to stop a fight over a Greek Orthodox priest being ejected from the premises by a rival faction.  And from later that same year you can see a video on YouTube of Armenian and Greek Orthodox worshipers violently clobbering each other during a celebration of the “Feast of the Holy Cross.”. 

All of this highlights the irony of Christians embracing the physical location of the resurrection without actually letting it happen in themselves.  It seems that for many people the resurrection of Christ is only an event that took place in Jerusalem, almost 2000 years ago, and that’s that.  In contrast, the New Testament tends to view the death and resurrection of Christ as an event that also happens to us, and changes us in very dramatic ways.  It takes place in our lives, and occurs whenever we let it happen.  In Christ our old life dies on the cross and we are raised to a new and better life.

Put another way, we’ve reduced the resurrection to an interesting doctrinal belief when it ought to be taking root in our hearts and completely overhauling our lives here and now. 

As you get this newsletter you’re probably thinking that Easter is over, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Easter has just begun.  And it is reflected in the new love and grace that flows from our lives.

Christ has risen, and he lives in you and me! That’s the real power, and glory, of Easter.  And if Christ hasn’t risen in your heart, here today, then you’re looking for Easter in all the wrong places.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Easter and a Controlled Substance



I like to try different kinds of food, but there’s one food I’ve never had largely because it’s pretty much illegal in the United States of America…at least if you prepare it authentically.  If you’re of Scottish origin you know immediately what I’m talking about.  I speak of the beloved national dish of Scotland:  haggis.  Haggis has been illegal in the US since 1971, when the USDA ruled that the lungs of livestock “shall not be saved for use as human food."  Because lamb’s lung (along with the heart, liver, and stomach) is a key ingredient in haggis, it’s been very difficult to obtain legally since then, to the dismay of die hard Americans of Scottish heritage.

 If you’re not Scottish, you’re probably wondering, “Why in the world would anyone want to eat such a concoction?”  Good question!  While the origin of haggis is obscure, a very plausible explanation is that people came up with the recipe out of necessity.  There wasn’t anything better to eat, and so hungry folk took the food that nobody else wanted and turned it into something good.  The same necessity accounts for the birth of “Soul Food”.  Slaves were given the throw-away food provisions nobody else wanted.  So they ingeniously figured out how to make what they were given delicious.

Haggis (along with Soul Food), reminds us that sometimes life can dish out misfortune, and we’re forced to make due with less than ideal circumstances.  And haggis reminds us that at times like that, it is possible for our misfortune to be turned into a blessing.

In a real sense, this is one of the powerful messages of Easter.  Jesus was served a terrible dish. He was arrested even though he’d done nothing wrong.  He was beaten and hung on a cross.  He died, and was buried.  The people who had placed their hope in him were devastated.  They scattered in fear and panic. 

Then Easter came.  Christ rose from the grave.  And the ignoble defeat was turned into a glorious victory!

Easter showcases the power of God to take tragedy and misfortune, and turn these things to the good.  And Easter demonstrates that this power of God extends into human beings themselves.  God can take broken lives and discarded people and raise them to new life.  Just look at Peter and Paul, or any of the 12 Apostles.

Easter is the redemptive, transforming power of God breaking into our world and our hearts through Jesus Christ.  And this life-giving transforming power of God can’t be stopped by all the forces of darkness, or death itself.

Scottish and British officials have been after the US to lift the ban on haggis ingredients for years, and it’s currently under consideration.  But whatever the decision, there is good news.  You can make haggis illegal, but you can’t stop God’s power to bring good out of the worst of circumstances through Jesus Christ!

Christ has risen.  So Bon App├ętit.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Meeting Robin Hood Again for the First Time



As a youngster weaned on the The Adventures of Robin Hood (the television series staring Richard Green and the Errol Flynn movie) the hooded outlaw and his merry men were persistent companions growing up.  Like many my age, I read  The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Harold Pyle, and had to see the 1973 Disney movie, (although I still don’t know what was gained by Disney turning the whole cast into animals?)

But Robin goes back way beyond my childhood several hundred years, and one of the interesting things about him is that you can trace the development of his character over the centuries.  From early on, the outlaw was considered a devout Christian, and I think his stories give us a glimpse into what being a Christian meant in medieval times, and may help us think about what it means for us today. 

The very earliest surviving Robin Hood ballad is called Robin Hood and the Monk (from around 1450).  Here’s my retelling of that medieval tale (which can be found in the original Old English at http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/robin-hood-and-the-monk).

One day in early May, Robin Hood (“Robyn Hode” in the Ballad) and his companion Little John (“Litull John”) are talking about what a great day it is.  Robin is feeling pretty feisty and wants to celebrate by going to church.  "Hit is a fourtnet and more," seid he, "Syn I my Savyour see;” or “It’s been over two weeks since I’ve seen my Savior”.  Being a big fan of the Virgin Mary, Robin decides to visit the Chapel of St. Mary’s in Nottingham.  He is warned that he better take 12 men with him, since he’s a wanted man.  But he disregards this advice, traveling only with Little John.  On the way Robin loses an arrow shooting bet with Little John and refuses to pay up, so they quarrel and part.  Robin goes on alone.  At the Church he is recognized by a monk whom Robin recently robbed.  The monk runs to the Sheriff and informs on Robin.  The Sheriff arrives with his men, Robin fights them, and is taken captive.

Little John hears of this, and organizes the Merry Men into a rescue party.  On the way they encounter the treacherous monk, and when they find out what he did, Little John kills him, and Much the Millers Son kills the monk’s “little page” to keep him from talking.

John smote of the munkis hed,
No longer wolde he dwell;
So did Moch the litull page,
For ferd lest he wolde tell.

Or, if I understand this correctly:

John cut off the monks head
And he died,
And Much killed the little page
To keep him quiet.

Then, taking the monk’s papers, Little John goes before the king pretending to be a helpful citizen who just happened upon the dead monk.  The king sends him to fetch Robin Hood from the Nottingham jail.  Little John kills the guard, frees Robin, and they escape.  Robin’s grateful, and Little John affirms his allegiance to Robin, and the story ends with Robin and his merry men good buddies.

What does it mean to be a Christian in this 500 year old story?  Robin loves to go to church!  He’s also a big fan of the Virgin Mary.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a conflict, however, between his faith and not honoring his bets with his best friend, or robbing people—even monks.  His band of merry men also don’t seem to have a problem with killing the monk in cold blood and his page as well.  But they are loyal to each other, forgive each other, and risk their lives for their loyal band.

Over the years one can see Robin’s character grow.  He stops reneging on his bets.  He quickly becomes famous for “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.”  He and his friends stop killing people for revenge, or to silence them.  And every generation tells new stories about him, making the bandit of Sherwood Forest their own, redesigning his character to fit the values of their time. 

I’m not sure what the appeal is.  Maybe it’s our tendency to root for the underdog?  Maybe there’s a bit of an outlaw in each of us?  But whatever the reason, the adventure continues to this day, and I’m pleased that Maple Avenue is hosting the world premiere performance of The Ballad of Robin Hood, by Dr. Tom Johnson! The story and music are totally original, and we’re excited about this addition to the Robin Hood cannon.

I’m looking forward to meeting Robin Hood again for the first time, and checking out his most recent incarnation.  I hope you are as well.  Be sure and get your tickets for our March 4, 5 and 6th showings, and let’s see what this iconic figure has to say to us in this totally new take on a very old friend. 

In God’s Peace;
David