Thursday, October 4, 2018

That Old Gypsy Man

One of my favorite poems, which has only gained traction for me as I age, is by Ralph Hodgson.  It begins and ends with the refrain:

Time, You Old Gypsy Man
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?[1]

The poem speaks of the relentless march of time through the ages, and the longer I live the more time does seem to be relentless.  Having just returned from our vacation with a slew of photographs, I look at the pictures now and wonder.  Each image is a fleeting moment of time captured like a bug in amber.  Once I looked forward to this vacation.  Now, in the blink of an eye, it’s all past.  Time, that old gypsy man has moved on.

In the office we have a collection of photographs from the past of Maple Avenue.  All of those pictures were real moments in time.  The children dancing around the Maypole, the women dressed in their black long sleeved dresses and elaborate hats, the former pastors who served going back to Albertus T. Briggs (who served here in 1882).  All of these are moments in time that have slipped into the quicksand of yesterday.

And this moment now will soon be gone.  You will stop reading my words, and they will fade into a memory – if that.  But in the inexorable march of time there is the seed of eternity.  And as the present drifts into the past there is something that lasts.  Jesus Christ says this in the final chapter of the final book of the Bible:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
(Revelation 22:13 NRSV)

Not all things slip away after all!  And as we move onward to our Omega, our Last, and our End, there is a light that has always been there and always will be there.  There is Something that doesn't fade. 

Time may pass us by, but we're still part of something that is eternal.  This moment will cease, but the work we’re involved in will continue.  And not even that old gypsy man can outrace the Alpha and Omega of the cosmos.

As time relentlessly marches forward why not make yourself part of an eternal presence?  Why not make a lasting difference in this world?  Why not give yourself to something bigger and better than yourself?  Time marches on, but the Kingdom we’re serving will outlast time itself.

Eternally Yours,
David Rockhill

Friday, August 31, 2018

Don’t Be Fooled By The Imposter!

 Last week I started receiving Facebook messages from people wondering why they were getting a friend request from me when I was already their friend.  It turned out; I was the victim of what has become a very common thing on Facebook and in social media:  Somebody was impersonating me without my knowledge or permission.

Someone had lifted an online picture of me, and some other public photo’s of mine, and put together a Facebook page, using information about me available online.  That person then opened a Facebook account pretending to be me.  The only thing the phony got wrong was my gender.  For some reason he/she listed me as a woman!  This last mistake was a red flag to people who actually knew me. 

Why do this? Why pretend to be someone else online?  There are several reasons someone might want to impersonate you in social media.  If someone is tricked into accepting an imposter as a “friend,” then that phony friend has access to information posted for friends only.  It’s a way of data-mining, as the practice has come to be called.  It also gives the imposter fake credibility, since he/she can make comments or give advice pretending to be you, thus tricking people into taking the imposter seriously.  More disturbingly, it can be a way of smearing someone’s character, since a person impersonating you can post things supposedly from you that make you look bad. 

I reported it to Facebook several times, and when some of my friends started reporting it, the fake account was closed down.  A big “thank you” to my friends who reported the imposter!  So if you have a friend being impersonated, report it right away.

You may think this is a new problem, but it goes back to Jesus’ day.  There are many books claiming to be written by Paul, Peter, Andrew, Judas, Mary, and a whole host of early followers of Jesus.  These books were almost certainly written by people pretending to be them.  If you’re interested in reading these books check out one of the online collections of “Pseudepigrapha” – the fancy name used by scholars for the library of ancient books written by imposters.

.Jesus himself warns against those who would impersonate him!

Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray (Mark 13:5-6 NRSV).

Not everyone speaking for Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, or the Apostles, is really speaking for them.  And to spot the imposters, there are some simple things to look for. 

Jesus is all about love (of even enemies), forgiveness, healing, and grace.  Anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities isn’t speaking with the mind of Christ.  And since Jesus is a reflection of God, anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities isn’t speaking on behalf of God.  And since the Holy Spirit is the power of Jesus and God at work in the world, anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities isn’t speaking on behalf of the Holy Spirit.  And since the Apostles were filled with and moved by the Holy Spirit, anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities probably isn’t speaking on behalf of the Apostles. 

When it comes to me, and other friends of yours, don’t be fooled by an imposter.  And when it comes to Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, or any aspect of your faith, it pays to be extra careful.

In God’s Peace;
The Real David

The Joy Of Losing Things

I recently decided to clean out my cell phone.  I have used it to take numerous photos over the last couple years, saved many documents, taken notes, etc.  I even had a whole file devoted to the 2018 Indiana Annual Conference filled with relevant material. 
Most of this stuff doesn’t mean anything to me now, I don’t really need it, and if it had disappeared suddenly a week ago I wouldn’t have noticed.  Yet, as unimportant as my phone clutter may be, I have a hard time pushing the “delete” button and getting rid of it for good.  What if I accidentally delete something important?  Some of those photos may turn out to have historical value!  And besides, it’s not like they’re taking up space in my house or office. 

So, instead of deleting them, I found an old thumb drive, and simply transferred them over so I can throw them into a corner and forget about them.  I now rest easy in the knowledge that they’re still around if needed, even though I probably will never need or see them again.

Human beings have a natural tendency to view losses as far more significant than gains.  If you find twenty dollars you’re naturally happy.  But if, soon after this, you have a five dollar bill fly out the window and disappear, your regret for losing the five dollars completely overshadows the joy you should have at being fifteen dollars to the good.  In Psychology and Economics this is called “loss aversion,” and it is a verifiable part of our human wiring.  It may make sense from a survival point of view, but in the modern world it can lead to a host of problems including spiritual and physical hording. 

Our fear of losing can get us into trouble because there are things in our lives we ought to lose; things that we cling to unnecessarily.

We walk around with anger, carry grudges, focus on our failures, are bitter over past disappointments, and feel anguish over our own shortcomings.  Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to lose a few of those things after all!  Maybe, in fact, we need to constantly remind ourselves of what really is important, and what doesn’t matter in the end.    Maybe we should be a little quicker to push the “delete” button in our lives.

There’s a story of a man who lost all his investments and money in the stock market crash of 1929.  Soon afterward his pastor paid a visit, finding the investor slumped in his parlor obviously depressed.

“I’ve lost everything,” he said to the clergy.  “Everything.”

The pastor replied:  “I’m sorry you wife has died.”

“She’s not dead,” said the investor.  “She’s as devoted and loving as ever.”

“Well then I’m sorry something has happened to your children.”

“No, they’re fine.  They’re playing in the other room.”

“And your friends have all abandoned you?”

“I still have good friends who are very supportive.”

The pastor concluded with this:  “You haven’t lost everything.  You’ve only lost the least important part of your life.  The important things are still there. Embrace them.”

We can accumulate so much junk in our lives that the good stuff gets buried.  Periodically we need to clean things up.  Like my cell phone’s internal storage, we need to sort things out before we become overloaded with rubbish.  And in this process we must inevitably lose some of the things we cling to.  The Bible challenges us to do this.  As Colossians 3:8 NRSV puts it:  “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”

The least important parts of our lives can interfere with the most important parts.  Let’s take a moment to consider what really matters.  The important things are definitely worth keeping, but this summer might be a good time to lose some of the clutter.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Becoming Our Parents

There is an insurance commercial currently running which shows a group of men and women attending a “Dad” support group.  The group is wrestling with the fact that they’re all turning into their parents, saying things like “I text in complete sentences”, “This hat was free, what am I suppose to do, not wear it?” “Why is the door open, are we trying to air condition the whole neighborhood?”  One man holds up his flip phone and says, “Why would I replace this? It’s not broken.”

The truth is, many of us have watched with fascination and surprise as we slowly grow to be like our parents.  We enter the cocoon of adulthood only to emerge as butterflies suspiciously similar to the moms, dads, and guardians before us. 

Young children left on their own will not survive, and because of this nobody grows up entirely alone.    All of us have had our lives shaped by the people who were there to nurture us and walk us into adulthood.  And those people leave a lasting imprint on us, for better or worse, whether we know it or not.  We’re not doomed to become like those who have gone before—especially if we suffer abuse and neglect—but if we don’t actively resist it, we naturally and subconsciously grow in that direction.

This is true of our concrete human relations, but it also seems to be true in a spiritual sense.  We tend to grow into our image of God.  If we see God as cruel and judgmental, we tend to become cruel and judgmental.  If we see God as compassionate and forgiving, we tend to become compassionate and forgiving.

This is one of the lessons we can learn from Jesus in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount).

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.   (Luke 6:32-36 NRSV)

For Jesus, this idea that we should be kind to people regardless of whether they’re kind to us rests on his image of God.  We should be that way because God is that way.  And being kind to all, even the wicked, will make us “children of the Most High” because God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”  The way Jesus saw God was reflected in his life and his teachings.  And when we share Christ’s vision of God, it will be reflected in our lives and teachings as well.

This creates something of a ripple effect.  Embracing God as merciful tends to make us merciful, which in turn tends to make our children merciful.  Children grow to be like us as we grow to be like God.

We do have a merciful God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, it’s just that we often make the mistake of portraying God in different ways, and this mistake can have unfortunate and long term consequences.

I wish all our women a happy Mother’s Day, and all our men a happy Father’s Day.  We are blessed by many loving parents who have grounded their lives in a loving Divine Parent.  May we all build on the same foundation. 

Yours in Christ;

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Our Journey of Exploration

May is a month chocked full of special events.  Not only do we have Mother’s Day on the 13th reminding us to thank and cherish the women who bless us in so many ways, but there’s also May Day (May 1st), Star War’s Day (May the 4th be with you!), Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) and Memorial Day (May 28th).  And I’m sure the young people wouldn’t want me to forget about National Clean Your Room Day on May 10th!

And then there’s May 14th, which in 1804 marked the beginning of an important event in American History—the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis and his friend Second Lieutenant William Clark, to lead a group in exploring and mapping the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  So the small group left St. Louis to travel 8000 miles over a period of 2 years, four months, and 10 days.  It’s a famous journey, but we sometimes forget that these early explorers didn’t always have it easy.  For example: 

  • On at least one occasion, Lewis and Clark got lost.  In June 1805 they unexpectedly came upon a fork in the Missouri.  Since the Missouri was their route through the mountains, they had to figure out which fork to take.  After a week of investigation, and two separate expeditions, Lewis and Clark decided to take the south fork.  Everyone else in the party disagreed with them, but Lewis and Clark turned out to be right.
  • On April 29, 1805, Lewis and another hunter killed a large grizzly bear.  Grizzly bears were still largely unknown to science.  Another grizzly bear got some revenge on June 14th, 1805.  While exploring the river’s edge, Lewis shot a bison and as he was waiting for it to die, a grizzly bear snuck up on him and chased him into the river.
  • The party usually lived on wild game, but when food got scarce, they would frequently dine on dog meat.  At one point the starving group was reduced to eating horses, candles, and portable soup.
  • On the return trip, Lewis got a little behind in his work when he was accidentally shot in the posterior by a member of the team named Pierre Cruzatte.  Cruzatte was nearsighted, and mistook Lewis for an elk. 

Explorers were essential in the exploration and settling of the American Continent, and I’m not just talking about the European settlement of the land.  When the Pilgrims arrived to settle Plymouth Colony in 1620, they were touching down on a continent already inhabited by native people who had themselves explored and pioneered America 10,000 years previously!

Explorers are essential in the life of the church as well, and this is a good time to notice and appreciate the explorers among us.  So our hats are off to those people who have broken new ground, and led us through uncertain times.  Maple Avenue is blessed with an unusually large number of talented and innovative people, and we celebrate all of them!  

This is also a good time to recognize that we live in a changing world and our whole congregation is in a real sense engaged in a journey of exploration.  Like Lewis and Clark, we need to try different things, check out new rivers and paths, and find untapped resources.  Like them we need to brave unexpected challenges, overcome setbacks, connecting with people in innovative ways.  And like them we will sometimes take a wrong turn or have to tighten our belts. 

We are on a journey of exploration, but we never travel alone.  Jesus Christ travels with us, the Holy Spirit empowers us, and God continually calls us forward to that Kingdom of love and grace.  It is an adventure.  There are many people in the world who like to play it safe avoiding uncertainty.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But we are explorers and pioneers, and I thank you for traveling with us!

In God's Peace;

David Rockhill

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Jesus is Dead…April Fools!

This year we get to witness a relatively rare event.  Easter falls on April Fool’s day!   The last time this happened was 1956, and the next time we see this conjunction is 2029.  So for me and many others, this is the first time we remember seeing such a thing.  

Since Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, and April Fool’s Day celebrates practical jokes, one might conclude that there’s not much of a connection between the two events, even when they fall on the same day.  This isn’t exactly the case, however.  Many early Christians understood the resurrection of Christ to be a practical joke disguised as a ransom paid to the devil.  As Jonathan Burke explains:

According to the ransom model humanity was held under the power of the devil, until Christ offered the devil his own life and body in exchange for those he held, thus ransoming us by taking our place (substitution).  Christ tricked the devil however, ransoming humanity but also taking back both his life and body.[1]

Not many modern Christians embrace this view, as entertaining as it may be, since it involves Christ making a shady deal with the devil.  But the idea of Satan victimized by a divine practical joke did inspire an interesting Christian practice. 

In the 15th century a number of churches could be found celebrating Easter by telling jokes and encouraging people to laugh.  They called it the “Risus Paschalis”, which is Latin for “Easter Laugh”.  Easter was always a time of great joy, but the introduction of jokes into a sermon was something many of the dower Church Fathers would have frowned on.  And when the Easter joke telling got out of hand, and the pulpit acquired an ‘R’ rating (or far worse) the practice was condemned and discouraged.

Recently there are a number of Christians resurrecting the practice.  One group, The Fellowship of Merry Christians, has been promoting a cleaned-up version of the Easter Laugh since 1988.  Noting that Christians from the earliest days to the present have seen Easter as a time of unbridled joy, they say why not laugh!  And why not tell jokes (clean ones)?

Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy” (John 16: 20 NRSV).  If our pain has turned into joy, who can fault us for a hearty chuckle?  

April Fool’s day is something of a mystery, and nobody is entirely sure where the holiday came from.  But Easter is a different story.  For Christians, it is grounded in the greatest upset in human history, when Jesus Christ conquered darkness and death by rising from the grave.  I don’t see this as a practical joke, but it does give rise to the greatest punch line in history:  “He has risen!”

The 4th century Christian preacher John Chrysostom mocked the grave in an Easter sermon with these words:

It received a body and encountered God.
It took earth and came face-to-face with heaven.
It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see.
Death, where is your sting?
Hades, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.[2]

So tell a funny story, go to a Post-Easter Party, laugh.  We share an Easter faith.  It’s not an April Fool’s joke, but it is our hope, a hope that makes us now and always a joyful people.


[1] Jonathan Burke, Crucified With Christ: The Biblical View of Atonement (LivelyStones Publishing) 10-11

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Non-Leap Of Faith

Ken Baldwin was twenty-eight years old, and severely depressed back in August of 1985 when he decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge (According to a New Yorker article).  “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” Walking onto the bridge, he counted to ten, froze, counted to ten again, and this time jumped over the side.[1]

Baldwin is one of the few people to jump off the bridge and survive, so we know what he was thinking at the time.  “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” Baldwin recalls, and “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

People who jump off the bridge, not surprisingly, often find themselves suffering from “tunnel vision.”  They only see their troubles, their depression, and fail to see anything bright or hopeful in their lives.  They focus on escaping their problems, and the edge of the bridge offers them a path to that destination…or so they think.  One jumper left a suicide note with the simple message:  “Absolutely no reason except I have a toothache.”

The season of Lent, that period of time between Ash Wednesday (February 14th this year) and Easter (April 1st), is a season of introspection, and a time when we sometimes give up something bad for us (candy, cigarettes, etc.) or start practicing something good for us (praying regularly, exercising every morning, etc.).  Lent is a season for change, but maybe instead of embracing superficial changes, it ought to be a season of significant shifts in our way of living.  And what’s more significant than a shift in attitude?   Maybe Lent is a good time to replace our “tunnel vision” with a wider perspective.  Instead of leaping into despair, or the promise of a quick and easy solution, we should hunker down and face life head on.  Don’t give up, but plan and dream.  Don’t go over the edge, but courageously resist and hold on.  As the Apostle Paul advises:  “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NRSV).  

The French dramatist and novelist, Tristan Bernard, was arrested by Gestapo agents along with his wife, and interned at the Drancy deportation camp.  The agents were at his door to take them away, when Tristan turned to his weeping wife and said:  “Don’t cry, we were living in fear, but from now on we will live in hope.” This seems like an excellent idea for Lent.

Maybe, as Ken Baldwin discovered when he jumped off the bridge, everything in our life that we think is unfixable is totally fixable—if we don’t leap into despair.  Maybe Tristan Bernard is right, and now is the time of hope. Maybe Paul is right and we should stand firm with faith and courage.  And maybe this Lent is a good time to take this non-leap of faith.

Yours in Christ;

[1] From the New Yorker's 2003 article:  Jumpers: The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge, by Tad Friend:

Monday, January 8, 2018

Resolving To Become More Stubborn, Close-Minded, And Obsessive!

After years of making New Years resolutions that always seem to melt away with the snow of winter, maybe I’ll try something different this year.  How about this:  For 2018 I resolve to become more stubborn, close-minded, and obsessive!  After all, I already have some talent in these areas, plenty of experience, and I might as well build on my strengths.  Besides, these aren’t necessarily bad qualities; it’s just that we typically practice them in bad ways.  In fact, I invite you to join me in these resolutions.  Together we can make 2018 a year of stubbornly close-minded obsessiveness.  Here’s what I mean.

Let’s be stubborn, but in the right way.  When we have a conflict with another person, let’s stubbornly forgive and refuse to hold a grudge.  Let’s be stubborn about resolving the conflict in healthy ways.  When we have an illness, or find ourselves facing a stressful ordeal, let’s be stubborn about fighting the illness and working through the ordeal with courage, compassion, and determination.

Let’s be close-minded, but in the right way.  When life refuses to live up to our expectations, let’s not be close-minded about the evidence.  Instead, let’s be close-minded in our refusal to become unloving, or disrespectfully.  Let’s be close-minded about listening to thee evidence and not our desires.  Instead of being close-mindedly inflexible, let’s be close-minded about learning and growing. 

Let’s be obsessive, but in the right way. How easy it is to be obsessed with unimportant things, like the dust in our house, while completely ignoring larger issues like the dust gathering in our important relationships.  So let’s be obsessed with maintaining healthy relationships!  And instead of obsessing over buying that new TV, car, or house, let’s obsess over spending our resources on things that would make our world a better place. 

Jesus invites us to “…strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33a NRSV).  With the arrival of 2018, we have an entire year ahead of us to do this very thing, while at the same time perfecting those qualities in which we already excel.  Let’s make a New Years Resolution to work together in stubbornly, close-mindedly, and obsessively striving first for God’s Kingdom!

Yours in Christ;
David Rockhill