Saturday, January 18, 2020

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today is the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Tomorrow is World Religion Day, which in the Baha’i faith is dedicated to the oneness and unity of faiths in the world. The day happens on the third Sunday in January, was established in 1950 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is in the US.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Snowmaggedon, 26 Years Ago

We lived in Louisville during the '90s. Three inches were forecast but, as this says, sixteen inches fell, paralyzing the city and county for several days. Daughter Emily was little and loved it! I had forgotten about the bitter cold.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Spending Time (Matt. 11:28-30)

A week late, here is my devotion for our church's devotional series, for the first Sunday of January/last Sunday of Christmastide.

Spending Time
Matt 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

This would be a wonderful verse to memorize, or to keep handy on your phone or on a piece of paper.

And yet I have trouble thinking how best to put this teaching into practice. A simplistic response would be, “Well, we should spend more time with Jesus.” But that word “should” introduces a joyless quality into Christian faith, turning it into a list of dos and don’ts--which is the very thing Jesus criticizes in the religious teachers of his time. Some of the most fervent Christians I’ve known were also the biggest scolds.

A clue to these verses comes in the passages before and after. In Matt. 11:2-27, we learn that so many people didn’t “get” Jesus: John the Baptist, Jesus’ generation, and the cities of Galilee. Those who did “get” Jesus, though, were those who know their need for God and who receive Jesus’ message humbly. It’s still true. To these, Jesus assures that he is gentle and loving. Rather than giving these folks more reasons to feel inadequate, he offers his help and his acceptance (11:28-30).

The yoke is a harsh image—a way that domestic animals are led through the fields. I remember a horse collar that my grandparents used in earlier times. It was padded, to be more comfortable for the horse. I prefer the image of Jesus guiding me by the hand or holding me around the shoulder, but the idea is the same. Jesus’ guidance is something very precious, and he guides us with compassion and understanding

Importantly, this passage is followed by Jesus’ teachings about the Sabbath. As modern Judaism teaches, too, human need takes precedence over religious observance. God rested on the Seventh Day so that people—and even animals—could have a happy day of recuperation and blessing. There is no “to do” list on the Sabbath, other than spending time with family and with God!

That brings us to the theme of this sermon series: The Time of Our Lives. Our lives are limited by time, and we spend a great deal of energy trying to fill our time. But then we end up tired and feeling that we have fallen short. I’m very guilty of this.

My own solution is to try to approach spirituality with a sense of enjoyment and spontaneity. If a particular way of serving the Lord isn’t rewarding, for whatever reason, try something else! Not everything in discipleship will be stress-free, but certain things will give you a sense of satisfaction in spite of the stress. Remember that Jesus wants you to have “rest in your soul.”

During this new year, brainstorm some ways that you’d like to learn from Jesus that gives you a new sense of peace, blessing, and relief!

The Funny Company

When I was about seven years old, my dad built a shed for his tools in the backyard. I appropriated the small building as a clubhouse.

During that mid-1960s time period, there was a cartoon show that featured a very cool clubhouse, with a barrel for an opening, and an adjacent tree that was part of the clubhouse. The name of the show had faded from memory, and I didn't remember enough even to do an internet search.

But serendipity!  A Facebook friend commented that she had the theme song of this show stuck in her head--and that she had forgotten the racist depiction of the Native chief whose voice was a train horn.  Then about a week later, another Facebook friend posted something about the show.

According to, "The Funny Company" began in 1963. ( Here is an article about the show by a WGN-TV watcher. The show had been created to fill a dearth in educational programs for kids. I never would've remembered that. I liked the clubhouse---a social precursor to the man cave or the she shed.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Baptism of Our Lord

I’m thinking about the Baptism of the Lord, which in some churches is celebrated on the Sunday following Epiphany. Of course, Jesus approached John to be baptized, and according to the scriptures the Spirit appeared like a dove and proclaimed the blessedness of Jesus, who came to John not to be served but as a servant.

When I was a kid, my relatives who belonged to a denomination that practices only adult-baptism by submersion saw in this story proof of the correctness of that rite. Jesus came up out of the water; John didn’t sprinkle him!

Also, my relatives cited this verse in Colossians:

…when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (2:12).

When we’re buried, we’re not buried with a little dirt on our heads. We’re buried all the way under!

I disliked that argument but didn’t know why. I was relieved when a United Methodist pastor pointed out that the thief on the cross was not baptized by any mode and yet was promised salvation. Eventually, I read a little further in Colossians:

[W]hy do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence (2:20b-23).

While I wouldn’t call baptism a “human command,” the author worries (in this and the whole section 2:8-23) that we need to be careful not to substitute the living Christ for rituals and practices---not to substitute the goal for the means to the goal, so to speak (see also Gal. 5:16-26, 6:14-15).

But my older relatives are long passed away. I’m not sure I could’ve argued doctrine with them anyway, for they were quite set in their views, and I’m not really a debater.

One of my great-aunts expressed mild horror when we joined the United Methodist Church---a “sprinkling” denomination! I wonder what they’d think if they knew I was enjoying an Orthodox Christian prayer book this feast day.

A former Honors College student who is now a Byzantine Catholic nun commented on Facebook about the beauty of prayers in the Eastern tradition. Unfamiliar with that aspect of the tradition, I asked her for a recommendation of a prayer book and she recommended The Festal Menaion. This edition is translated by Mother Mary of the Orthodox Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, Bussy-en-Othe, France, and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware of the University of Oxford: South Canaan, PA, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1998. For the past few days I've loved exploring this beautiful book with its Orthodox liturgical texts, and praying some of the prayers during personal quiet times.

My most recent post had to do with the symbolism of water and sea, a coincidental serendipity. In Benjamin Britten's operas, returning to the sea becomes symbolic of the cycles of life, the redemption of returning to waters, the vast unknown into which we’re ultimately cast. As I delved into this prayer book, I thought more about water---the reality of God's power over water, God's presence in the power of water itself, the scriptural connections of water with salvation, and water's significance in the rites of churches----as I encountered several readings and tones for the Eastern feast of The Holy Theophany (January 6). These scriptures give me much to reflect upon in the overall context of Christ's baptism:

*  The power of the sea over the Egyptians, who perished once the split sea returned to natural course (pp. 339-340).

*  The day the Jordan River split, allowing dry ground to form as the Israelites with Joshua crossed over into the land, and they “were passed clean” (Joshua 3:7-8, 15-17: p. 341).

*  The power of Elijah’s mantle that also split the Jordan, allowing him and Elisha to pass on dry ground (2 Kings 2:6-14: pp. 341-342).

*  The story of Naaman, the captain of the Assyrian armies, who through the miraculous power of God evoked by Elisha, could bath in the Jordan and become clean from his leprosy (2 Kings 5:9-14: pp. 341-343.).

*  The saving waters of the Nile that carried the ark containing baby Moses to safety (Ex. 2:5-10: 344-345).

*  The dew that appeared on Gideon’s fleece, signifying God’s favor (Judges 6:36-40: p. 345).

*  The story of Elijah soaking the altar and its trench with abundant water, which would not quench the heavenly fire (1 Kings 18:30-39: pp. 345-346).

*  The healing of the waters by Elisha at Jereicho (2 Kings 2:19-21: pp. 346-347).

*  The blessing of water in the post-exilic prophesies of Isaiah (55:1-13: pp. 349-350).

*  Paul’s connection of the waters of the rock at Meribah in Exodus 17, and Christ the Rock with his spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:1-14: pp. 350).

After thinking about these readings, I loved this prayer for The Holy Theophany by Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem (pp. 353-355). Here is a portion:

“O Trinity supreme in being, in goodness, and in Godhead, almighty, who watchest over all, invisible, incomprehensible, Maker of spiritual beings and rational natures, innate Goodness, Light that none can approach and that lightens every [one] that comes into the world: Shine upon me Thine unworthy servant….

“Today the glittering stars make the inhabited earth fair with the radiance of their shining. Today the clouds drop down upon making the dew of righteousness from on high. Today the Uncreated of His own will accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master, but stands before Him with trembling, seeing the condescension of God towards us. Today the waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing by the coming of the Lord. Today the whole creation is watered by mystical streams. Today the transgressions …. are washed away by the waters of the Jordan. Today Paradise has been opened …. and the Sun of Righteousness shines down upon us. Today the bitter water, as once with Moses and the people of Israel, is changed to sweetness by the coming of the Lord…..

"Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world is filled with gladness. The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee and were afraid. The Jordan turned back, seeing the fire of the Godhead descending bodily and entering its stream. The Jordan turned back, beholding the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of a dove and flying about Thee. The Jordan turned back, seeing the Invisible made visible, The Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant. The Jordan turned back and the mountains skipped, looking upon God in the flesh; and the Light of Light, true God of true God. For today in the Jordan they saw the Triumph of the Master; they saw Him drown in the Jordan the death of disobedience, the sting of error, and the chains of hell, and bestow upon the world the baptism of salvation….” (pp. 353-355).

(A post from 2013) 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

"Noisy Night, Holy Night"

This evening, my family and I are all participating in our church's Christmas Eve service. I anticipate that we'll sing "Silent Night."

Last year, when we attended the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert, which ended with a brief sing-along. We sang the verse, "the world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing," and shortly, we also sang "Silent Night" and its line, "all is calm, all is bright." That set me thinking. The image of a calm, reverent world surrounding Jesus' birth is appealing, but what if the city was busy and noisy as Jesus was born? Bethlehem had no guest rooms available, for instance. What if Mary gave birth amid noises of the street beyond the stable area, and no one noticed (except the angel-guided shepherds) because too much was going on in town? What if Christ's birth was a "noisy night, holy night"?

I could make a point that a noisy, crowded Bethlehem would be in keeping with our busy, cluttered lives each December. But then I think: even the shepherds were busy! From what I've read, shepherds had many responsibilities with their flocks, including continual surveillance. The great gift was that God interrupted the shepherds' lives and helped them see and understand. We may seek to prepare ourselves spiritually during Advent, but God's initiative is still everything.

Thus, the images of "silent night" and "solemn stillness" are apt poetically: when God does something, we have to pause and catch up in amazement and relief.

[A post from 2010]

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Plymouth Anniversary

The Pilgrims of the Mayflower first dropped anchor in November 1620, and after some efforts to find a place to settle, landed in Plymouth Bay on December 21 and established their settlement there. One of my ancestors was part of that group, and another English ancestor settled in Plymouth about ten years later.

Worldwide there are about 35 million descendants of the Mayflower group.