Thursday, March 27, 2014
Heads Bowed, Jamestown, NC
Crucified, Jamestown, NC
The delicate blooms of a slender dogwood tree are not only a welcome sign of spring, but also a symbolic remembrance of the crucifixion of the Son of God. The blooms generally appear just above eye level and form a cross with nail rust and red stains on the outer edges. A crown of thorns in the center complete the image of a Savior’s blood sacrifice for the redemption of all mankind.
The apostle Luke records that there were an enlightened few bowing at the foot of Jesus’ cross who understood the meaning of this literally earth shattering event. This small gathering included his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene who Jesus had purged of seven demons and the beloved disciple John. Many others had deserted him for fear of their lives, but these few chose to support him and pray for him.
The Lenten Roses presently blooming under the dogwood trees in my backyard present a symbolic remembrance of those gathered at the foot of the wooden cross with reverent bowed heads. They seem to gather together in humble worship and you are drawn to bow with them as all nature morns the events leading up to God’s sacrifice on that Black Friday over two thousand years ago. But once you are drawn to their ground level countenance, the beautiful faces of these roses of Lent will open the eyes of your heart to the promised hope of Easter resurrection reflected in the symbolic form of the coming dogwood blooms! And wherever in the world today that Christians gather in a sanctuary of worship, you will find them with heads bowed at the foot of the cross.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Communion Cup, Greensboro, NC
Once again we’ve entered into the season of Lent leading up to the celebration of the resurrection’s power over sin and death. And the Easter sacrament at the epicenter of this celebration is Holy Communion. Because the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion consist of the physical elements of water, bread and wine, they provide us with a very tangible experience of faith—if we’re in the right frame of mind during these times of worship. By invoking the presence of God, common water in baptism becomes a gracious water of life and a spiritual cleansing. By invoking His presence in communion, the spiritual substance of the body and blood of our Savior are manifested in the signs of divine grace by the bread and wine. Although we use these elements in daily life without giving them a second thought, when they are introduced into the sacraments at worship both our physical and spiritual senses are elevated.
It’s imperative that we enter into these sacraments with a sense of purpose and a right mind. John Wesley has written that to do otherwise is meaningless; “Before you use any means of grace, let it be deeply impressed on your soul: separate from God, it is a dry leaf, a shadow”. I have to confess that I have participated in communion on occasion and returned to my seat without any recollection of the meaning of the sacrament. In essence, I have to reprimand myself because I have just had a light snack and nothing more. The moment was squandered.
I’m reminded of a somber Lenten evening service where I had been asked to assist in serving the communion elements. I was given a basket of bread cubes sanctified as “the body of Christ, broken for you”. As the members and guests were filing up to our station, I was mindlessly presenting my basket of bread to those in worship. After making eye contact and doing this for just a few people, I turned back toward the next person and didn’t see anybody. Then I glanced down into the full gaze of a warmly smiling elderly woman who was looking up in full anticipation of sharing in the sacrament. But this person was gently holding out both cupped hands to receive the body, not take it. Embarrassed that I had not been handing this element to folks, I immediately placed a cube of bread into the woman’s hands and she knowingly passed by. I then made certain that everyone continued to receive the body of Christ.
The small woman with the warm smile must have been a guest that evening, as I never saw her again because I was looking to thank her for the subtle reminder. And we should always be gracious to strangers, as you never know when you might be entertaining angels.
Mountain Top Memory, Vail, CO
I recently ran across the results of a small study in the journal Memory of people aged 59 to 92 that suggested we make most of our important memories by age 25. In fact, they concluded that major life transitions such as college, military, moving, marriage and children are even more focused in early adulthood between the ages of 17 and 24.
I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t study me, as my results would have been tossed out as an apparent anomaly. I did experience similar early life experiences, but I continued to log in wonderful memories in mid-life and I’m certain that I’m still not finished in my senior years either. Sitting down with a pen and paper or an electronic keyboard and listing your own life highlights can be revealing though. First of all, the everyday, mundane moments when we are “in the eye of the hurricane” don’t register very high on the Richter Memory Scale. But it’s those hours of reading a good book or engaged in good conversation and simply being that notch the stress of life down to tolerable levels. They’re not memorable, but they’re good for the soul.
You really have to pause life in an effort to open the saved files of your life. Our magnificent and mysterious human brain and mind and soul quite likely contain literally every moment of our existence. The mundane and bad moments do seem to be on a longer leash than the outstanding and good times, however. Times like mountain top experiences, life-changing incidents, loving moments, and major milestones can be re-membered and can sustain us, especially later in life.
Even the haunting lyrics of memorable songs sung years ago can still be retrieved by those suffering from severe memory loss. Songs like Memory invoke mental replays of good times experiencing the musical together and the reflection of “Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I smile at the old days…Let the memory live again. When the dawn comes tonight will be a memory too. And a new day will begin”.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it’s a memory”.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Black Friday, Internet Domain
As we start the season of Lent and move toward holy week, Good Friday looms ahead prior to Easter Sunday. I prefer to use the alternative name for that day which occurred over two thousand years ago as Black Friday. The sun stopped shining and darkness came over the whole land for three hours in the middle of that day as all nature mourned the impending death of its Creator. For the first time in all creation, the Father was temporarily separated from relationship with the Son. The temple curtain was torn apart in that hour. The curtain symbolically separated the court of the people and the Most Holy Place where only the high priest could enter once a year to atone for the sins of the people. Now, Jesus’ death removed the barrier between human beings and God so that His sacrifice could pave the way for the atonement of all sins and the promise of eternal life through the grace of God.
Just before Jesus was condemned to death on a Roman cross, however, a man named Barabbas had also been condemned to death. It was a Passover custom for the Roman ruler to pardon one prisoner. Barabbas had been convicted as a revolutionary insurgent and murderer. Interestingly, he was guilty of the same false charge against Jesus. Finding no fault with Jesus, Pilate offered the riotous crowd either Jesus or Barabbas to be set free; assuming they would chose the obvious guilty man. But Barabbas was spared certain death on that day and given new life while Jesus was sent to the cross in his place.
The names of many Jewish men of the day were derived from their father’s name. Interestingly, Bar means “son of” and Abba means “father”. Barabbas could be the son of any father--you or me. Jesus was crucified with two condemned men also dying on either side of him. One hurled insults but the other recognized His divinity and pleaded for him to "remember me when you come into your kingdom". And Jesus answered him; "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise". Only this one man was able to see beyond the seeming devastation of the cross to the triumph of the eternal Kingdom of God. As he breathed his last on the cross, Jesus softly spoke, “Father (Abba), into your hands I commit my spirit”.
We are all sons and daughters of our eternal Abba and after the events of Black Friday, we are all now the beneficiaries of His priceless grace. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. We only have to look to the cross to understand the full measure of His love. The condemned Barabbas was given a pardon for a second chance at mortal life, but the unknown dying man on Calvary received a last minute reprieve for eternal life!
Saturday, March 1, 2014
F.W.WOOLWORTH, Greensboro, NC
Civil Rights Reflections, Greensboro, NC
A HAIKU POEM
And a Rather Long Post
I’ve recently been volunteering my Monday afternoons at a local elementary school along with other fellow church members. We’ve been assisting young students with their homework and serving a warm dinner before they go home. As with so many volunteer activities, there are always many opportunities to receive in addition to give. This week I was helping a young boy with his homework and he breezed right through his math assignment without needing much help. But he was struggling with a Black History assignment to write Haiku poems based on his study of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in this country. He had specifically taken notes on Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Emmitt Till. And I had the advantage of a smart phone with access to Google search. As we struggled with the Haiku restrictions of both brevity and structure, we both learned a lot about the struggle and the history of three key figures in the movement. Here was an old white guy who lived during this period, working closely with a young Asian student who wasn’t even born then, trying to breathe life into an African-American revolution for equality.
A Haiku poem must only consist of three lines and seventeen syllables with five, seven and five syllables on lines one, two and three, respectively. That’s not a lot of room to adequately describe the contributions of three people that rallied a nation to dramatic cultural change.
We first studied the very troubling death of young fourteen year old Emmitt Till. He was visiting relatives in Mississippi from Chicago in August 1955 when some other boys reportedly dared him to whistle at the young wife of a white store owner. Four days later her husband and half-brother abducted young Emmitt. They gouged out his eye, beat him, shot him in the head, wrapped a cotton-gin fan around his neck with barbed wire and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River where it was recovered three days later. Emmitt’s mother was the one who insisted on an open-casket funeral back in Chicago and the sleeping giant of righteousness was rudely awakened when the images of Emmitt’s remains began circulating.
Just three months later on December 1, 1955 a resolute Rosa Parks sat down in the “whites only” section of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested for violating a city code that only allowed blacks to sit in the back of the bus. A 26 year old Baptist minister whose birth name was Michael King after his Baptist minister father, assumed a leadership role in a nonviolent, civil disobedient, civil rights movement to begin eradicating these racially discriminatory practices. Michael King’s father changed both of their names to Martin Luther in honor of the great German reformer after he visited Berlin in 1939 for a church conference. Other nonviolent demonstrations now began to occur around the country including the 1960 Woolworth sit-in at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, NC—a location that today has been converted into a civil rights museum to honor the four college students who sat down that February 1 for the first of many days.
Martin Luther’s life and faith was based on Jesus’ succinct response to the religious leaders of his time when asked which was the greatest of all the hundreds of commands they were trying to follow. He stated that we should love God and others, i.e., we should be relational like the Trinity. After all, we were made in God’s image. And it’s much more difficult to simplify things than to complicate them. Jesus didn’t come to conquer the oppressive Romans as a warrior king but as a savior teaching love and right relationships for all mankind. Martin’s leadership placed him in peril for his very life once the movement gained momentum from the streets of Montgomery. His home was bombed in 1956, but he still pleaded for non-violence. Another of his significant influences was Mohandas Gandhi who he quoted when he accepted the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize; “He struggled only with the weapons of truth, soul force, non-injury and courage”.
Martin’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered rather impromptu when Mahalia Jackson shouted that he should “Tell them about the dream!” during the 1963 March on Washington. My favorite line was that “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. Martin told the marchers in Selma Alabama in 1965 that equal rights were imminent because “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. On April 3, 1965 Martin addressed a rally in Memphis, Tennessee after his flight was delayed by a bomb threat. In the ending of his last speech he said “I’ve been to the mountaintop…I would like to live a long life…But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…And I’ve seen the Promised Land”. Afterwards, his last words before an assassin’s bullet ended his life were spoken to musician Ben Branch who was scheduled to perform that night: “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty”.
Discussing these events with a young elementary school child was difficult. Helping him compose a short Haiku that did credit to the lives of these three icons of the civil rights movement was emotional and challenging. But answering a child’s question of “Why did people do all these bad things?” was even more difficult--except to say that what they did was very wrong and it’s good to know there are people out in the world with God at their side that will stand up to them. We’ve been endowed with the free will to do good or evil in this broken world. When folks do not choose wisely, I’ve witnessed God working with others to bring good out of a bad situation. Martin summarized this well; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
I was obviously not in the classroom when the young student was given this assignment, but after he finished composing his three Haiku’s it became obvious why the teacher had assigned those specific people. And it led to my own Haiku:
Three lives converging.
Connected by one man’s dream.
Jesus, take our hand.