Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Confirmation Field Trip

Our confirmands and mentors went on a "church history field trip" this past Saturday to Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell United Methodist Church in Harrisburg. We were delighted to hear from Rev. Bradley and Mrs. Davis about the story of the church - located on the site of the largest Civil War training ground, a Civil War hospital that served both the Blue and the Grey, and the story of the merging of an historically Anglo and historically African-American congregation. And, they are involved in some powerful ways in their community, including providing housing for homeless families.

Making Meaning (2): Timing Is Everything

Mark 1:9-11 (moments with the children)

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (message focus)

The beautiful poetry of Ecclesiastes 3 invites us to consider the important questions of time and eternity. St. Augustine devotes 27 pages, Book 11 in my printed edition of his long-form prayer, The Confessions, to these very themes, “Time and Eternity”.

He writes:
In the eternal, nothing can pass away but the whole is present. . . . Who will hold the heart of man, so that it may stand still and see how steadfast eternity, neither future nor past, decrees times future and those past? (285)

What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know (287).

My mind is on fire to understand this most intricate riddle (294).
Most of the time, though, our focus is not on these kinds of philosophical questions. We’re focused on getting through the day – work, dinner, household chores, music lessons, sports practice. And, a small delay – an auto accident stalling traffic, a missing back-to-school form, the kids needing attention – throws everything off. We’re so focused on getting through the day that we fail to enjoy it.

Or, we’re obsessed with deadlines – the term paper, the quarterly financials, the newspaper. We’re so obsessed with deadlines that we fail to live.

Or, we anticipate being, if not elsewhere, then elsewhen. Maybe it is the future: Things go poorly and we wait “for the other shoe to drop”. Things go well and we can’t wait to do it again. I have a friend who tells me that whenever he is eating one meal, he is thinking about the next one. Maybe it is the past: I wish that things could be the way they “always” were – a sentimentality that Ecclesiastes calls “unwise” (7:10). C. S. Lewis, in his The Last Battle, describes Susan as being in a hurry to get to a certain age and then, once she reached that age, trying in vain to stay there as long as possible.

“Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)”, by Pete Seeger

Dinner Church

Enjoyed our final - of two - dinner church experiences scheduled on Sunday evening August 21. Thanks to Khris for handling the meal prep and to Michael for leading musically!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Making Meaning (1): Chasing Wind

08/21/2011 Bethany (Holy Communion)
John 3 (moments with the children)
Ecclesiastes 1:1-14 (message focus)

I love Ecclesiastes. I’ve turned to it – for years – when I’ve felt depressed. And, no, that’s not why we’re looking at it today; I set this focus months ago during study retreat. But a depressed or sad person reading this book? It seems counter-intuitive; the book is such a downer. Even ancient rabbis weren’t sure whether this book should be included in the Bible at all (Davis, 159). So, I appreciated the note by one of the scholars, Ellen Davis, who reports that one of her students, who suffers from clinical depression, says that Ecclesiastes is like “slipping into a warm bath” (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, Westminster Bible Companion, 2000, Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, p 159).

It is full of cynicism about life and meaning. Death is the ultimate leveler, and death is the end – the writer imagines no life after death, no resurrection, no ultimate justice. Since fools and wise men both die, since the righteous and the wicked likewise perish, neither path is superior, both are pointless, “vanity of vanities”, “empty of empties”, a “chasing after wind”. Since death is the end, you might as well find some way to enjoy life, to eat, drink, and be merry, because it is the “gift of God”. Or, to put it in the cynical vision of Ecclesiastes, it’s the best God has to give. Or in the words of Jack Nicholson in the movie, “as good as it gets”, so go with that (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, 3:19, 5:18-20, 8:14-15, 9:7-10).

I love a joke from Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: A man travels across the world to meet the wisest man in the world, a guru in India. After many trials he finally finds this man in his mountain top retreat and asks him his pressing question: “What is the meaning of life?” The guru’s response, “A teacup.” “A teacup?” “Well, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”
I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind (Ecc 1.14).

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail before she can sleep in the sand?
How many times must the cannon balls fly before they are forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Of all the things that contribute to my formation as a disciple of Jesus Christ, being part of a smaller group is one of the most significant. Here at Bethany, we talk about discipleship in the overlapping spheres of “worship, community, and mission”. In smaller groups, we live in Christian community and grow together in the likeness of Jesus. We have lots of opportunities to do this: Sunday School (soon to launch the fall season), the Cottage Bible Study, men’s lunch or breakfast groups, and evening home groups (soon to launch an additional group this fall). A couple groups that I am connected with have been reading from the Bible’s wisdom tradition, a lunch group from Proverbs and a breakfast group in James. There’s plenty of thematic overlap.

On guarding our speech:
When words are many,
transgression is not lacking,
but the prudent are restrained in speech
Proverbs 10:19

The tongue is a fire . . . a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
James 3:6, 8
On anger:
Fools show their anger at once,
but the prudent ignore an insult.
Proverbs 12:16

Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
James 1:20
And, from James, on both themes:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
James 1:19
The Scripture is a living text in which we hear God speak today. I encourage you to make plans to be part of one of our smaller groups this fall.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Turns of Phrase

While away on our long weekend, Robin and I read from G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown mystery tales. It is our first foray into the writings of this distinguished "man of letters" a century ago in England. A couple remarkable sentences:

The moon with her scimitar had now ripped up and rolled away all the storm-wrack ("The Secret Garden").

The menu . . . was written in a sort of super-French employed by cooks, but quite unintelligible to Frenchmen ("The Queer Feet").

He had never done anything - not even anything wrong ("The Queer Feet").

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Robin and I enjoyed a wonderful long weekend away at the shore. Thanks to Shirley and Chris for preaching and to our staff for their great work! (In the second pic, a horse is centered in the distance ... visible when you view the larger file.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lasting Legacy: Kids, Moms, and Dads

Psalm 127 (call to worship)

2 Kings 2:1-15 (moments with the children)
Deuteronomy 6:1-13 (message focus)

Read an article this week on the civil disobedience of Israeli women who bring Palestinian women out of the occupied territory so they can swim in the Mediterranean Sea. Despite living only an hour from the shore, these Palestinian women could not otherwise cross the security border and had never seen the sea. The inspiration of these Israeli women? Rosa Parks and her leadership in the Montgomery bus boycott. And where did the inspiration of the Montgomery bus boycott come from? Martin Luther King, Jr., a pastor in the community, learned a lot about civil disobedience from Gandhi. And, Gandhi read the gospels and modeled many aspects of his live on Jesus. That’s quite a legacy.

The Scripture is full of legacy stories and legacy training, though – as I mentioned last week – not a ton on parenting (at least not in the categories in which we are familiar with discussing parenting). Last week, we explored the parent-child attachment with the basic relational guidance sketched out in the Scripture. This week, we look at lasting legacy. For those of us who have children, that work of crafting a legacy begins in the relationships at home, begins with our children. For all of us, though, this is an important consideration. We each have a desire to “make a difference” in the world, the workplace, the kids’ sports program, the flower bed. And, it is little things that make a difference, not frenzied effort, over work, or noses to grindstones:
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.
Psalm 127:2

If you see me as I am being taken from you it will be granted.
2 Kings 2:10

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dinner Church

We had our first Dinner Church experience on Sunday night. Our text was Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestling with the LORD and walking away blessed and wounded. It ends with the tradition of not eating meat around that portion of the hip which corresponds to the location of Jacob's injury, his pain. As I reflected, in our group reflection process, on what God was saying to me . . . I heard the need to look at pain in my past with fresh eyes, to look for the presence of God where I may not expect to find it, and to find in that pain a memory of God's touch.

Then, on Monday, while reading in Eugene Peterson's memoir, The Pastor, I came across a poem he wrote during a time of pain in his own life:
Flash floods of tears, torrents of them,
Erode cruel canyons, exposing
Long forgotten strata of life
Laid down in the peaceful decades:
A badlands beauty. The same sun
That decorates each day with colors
From arroyos and mesas, also shows
Every old scar and cut of lament.
Weeping washes the wounds clean
And leaves them to heal, which always
Takes an age or two. No pain
Is ugly in past tense. Under
The Mercy every hurt is a fossil
Link in the great chain of becoming.
Pick and shovel prayers often
Turn them up in valleys of death.
(2011, pp 206-207, New York: HarperOne)

Trust versus Mistrust: Kids, Moms, and Dads

Ezekiel 18:2-4

Ephesians 6:1-4

Grandma’s joke:
The 10 year old butterfly collector
Bookstore purchase: How to be a good Moth-er

When I turn to the Bible for texts focusing on parenting, I come up short, a little like the young man looking for butterfly advice in a book on being a “mother”. The list is very short, and it seems to include a number of difficulties, like the instruction to kill (by throwing stones) any children who are disrespectful or disobedient to their parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). There’s no record of that happening. Maybe the instruction was a way to say: “Solve your own household problems out of court.” Anyone here ever been disobedient or disrespectful to parents?

So much of the conversations around parenting (and to all of us who are someone’s child – the conversations around adjusting as adults to what we experienced as kids) have very few, if any, connections to Scripture.

Do you let your child cry herself to sleep, or do you pick her up when she cries? We received some very definite and authoritative advice on this question, and it didn’t work one bit. And there isn’t any advice in Scripture on this one.

We hear a lot today about age-appropriate toys, games, books, movies, and even discipline. What kind of consequence is appropriate to permit? You cross the street holding the hand of your five year old, but you give your 18 year old a license to drive a car. Somehow, in the intervening years they are supposed to acquire not just the physical and technical skills to drive a car, but the ability to anticipate what others will do on the road – including some downright crazy maneuvers – and the ability to separate risks. If we never stop hand holding, they will never learn. But the Bible gives us no concrete guidelines for age-appropriate processes. In the ancient culture of the Biblical world, adolescence didn’t even exist. You were a child or an adult; this in-between experience of adolescence is fairly new in human culture.