Friday, July 17, 2009

Permission to Slow Down

In a few days my family and I are going on vacation. It’s time to slow down and notice things. That seems to be what summer is about. The Gershwins said it best in "Porgy & Bess": Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. The smell of mowed grass and barbecue, the feel of the sun’s warmth, the glorious sight of baseball under a blue sky, these are a few of my favorite things! Whether packing in as many vacation experiences as possible or just sitting on the porch watching the sun go down each evening, summertime is a time to notice life. It is a time when we let life happen, rather than trying to force it into our own daily constraints.

Typically, the worst part of summer vacation is that it ends. So, here are a few summer ideas that might work in autumn, winter, and spring.

1) Let life happen. Make plans and work hard, but enjoy the passage of time.

2) Rest. A key about summer is that it seems to give us permission to relax, but God already gave us not just permission, but a command to rest. After all, he did!

3) Notice things. Each season has its own sights and sounds and smells that are the stuff of life. Make time to take it all in.

4) Enjoy loved ones. Family reunions, cookouts, ballgames, and vacations don’t have to end with the summer. Whatever it is, it should be shared with the people we love.

5) Worship. God made all of these seasons for his glory and to enrich our lives with their beauty and the lessons they can teach about living more faithfully in the process of life, death, and resurrection.
And right now it’s summer; so fire up the grill, pour the lemonade, and PLAY BALL!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

King of Pop vs. King of Kings?

(Disclaimer: I'm a lifelong fan of Michael Jackson's entertainment--from J5 as a kid in the 70s on up. See this post. But I'm also a pastor who "conducts" funerals and memorial services, which I believe are to be acts of worship of the Triune God. And I'm always considering the questions below. So, please indulge me with a little grace here.)

It was interesting to watch the memorial service for Michael Jackson yesterday. It was mostly a beautiful celebration of a sometimes beautiful, oftentimes odd life. One of the things that stood out most to me was a sort of back-and-forth between messiahs: Jesus and MJ.

There was Mariah Carey singing her rendition of “I’ll Be There,” yet almost putting the words in God's mouth, even singing a “thank you, Jesus” at the end. You had Lionel Richie just coming right out with the song “Jesus is Love”—and he tore it up! And, of course, Stevie Wonder was in another world with his “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer,” but especially his powerful dirge “They Won’t Go When I Go,” which had the entire Staples Center hypnotized.

And there were other moments throughout the service, with gospel choirs and preachers and mourners pointing to Jesus as the true source of comfort and hope.

But behind it all—songs and sermons and soliloquies—were images of the dearly-departed, often in cruciform pose. There were words of the special burden Michael had, to be such a pure man-child in such a fallen world. And, of course, there were the songs—ending on an appropriate note with “We Are the World” and “Heal the World.” The whole thing was beautiful, albeit confused and unusual—like the one memorialized.

Not wishing to trample the man’s grave, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that MJ may have carried a bit of a messiah complex (as well as Peter Pan/arrested development issues), which was only enabled by his entourage and many of his fans.

But it all brings up the interesting question of the role and activity of Christ in culture (about which H. Richard Niebuhr had much to say). Is it beautiful to sing “we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving,” or is it idolatrous? Is it right to tell people to “heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race,” or is it deluded? And if it’s wrong, are there levels of “wrong-ness”—i.e. are such songs at least better than the death and lust and destruction sung about by so many others, or is it all idolatry and sin? In the end, is there room for both the King of Pop and the King of kings?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Believe in Anything

I couldn’t help but notice the headline in USA Today a while back: Psychics Make a Fortune During Uncertain Economic Times. The article goes on to say, “Anecdotal evidence indicates that psychics, astrologers, palm readers, Tarot card shufflers, numerologists and other paranormal specialists have become the rage as investment advisers and brokers appear clueless. After all, if the times aren't normal, why not try the paranormal?”

One would think our churches would be bursting at the seams these days. Those who have placed undue hope in money and the material have found their foundations shaken if not crumbling. This would seem the prime time for folks to turn again to the eternal Lord of heaven and earth, the one true God, the Ancient of Days who is the same yesterday, today, and forever…right?

G.K. Chesterton so perfectly said, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.” It saddens me that it often seems to be the poorer segment of our society that spends the most money on the lottery. Likewise, it is sad to see people so desperate for security and hope and, well, money, dropping their dough on what is only evil and opportunistic.

The article continues, “Nina Melrose, 42, a Dallas soothsayer who reads palms and Tarot cards, advises clients on which stocks to buy, basing her picks ‘solely on my psychic ability.’ She declined to say how prescient she had been. Others steer clear of specifics. They offer common-sense advice—at rates up to $5.75 a minute—that some people wouldn't need a mind reader to provide. Valerie Morrison, who charges $85 a half-hour, has increased her schedule from three days a week to five because of rising demand. She tells clients to buy gold and silver, sell their antiques and pass up new clothes. ‘Anything they can do where they can put cash in a safe,’ she says. ‘If we just hold tight, we're going to get through this.’”

People seem desperate for answers and, even more, for hope. Where is the church? What are we doing during all this? The world needs good news. And we’ve got the best news ever!

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