“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Luke 12:40
I thought of calling this piece, “Defensive Living.” I wanted to write about being prepared for such things as drivers who run red lights, or for checking out where the emergency exits are located or even for preserving your teeth by flossing. Jesus spoke about defensive living in his parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids. The wise bridesmaids took enough oil for the lamps, plus some in reserve. The parable concludes with the same exhortation as today’s parable: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” We need to be prepared for the crisis that is to come (we are all too familiar with devastating fires, earthquakes and El Niño floods). We need to keep our gas tanks filled, our cell phones charged, our bicycle tires inflated. We need to keep our emergency pack handy (ours includes a flash light with spare batteries, a wind up radio, a can opener and a space blanket among other things). But I find “Defensive Living” is already taken as the titles of a couple of books whose message is that you need a handgun to protect yourself. (more…)
There are a lot of clichés associated with this gospel passage, about how possessions don’t do us any good after we die. Fairly often we hear people say “You can’t take it with you.” Sometimes people facetiously say, “The one who dies with the most toys wins,” and presumably they don’t mean it literally but as a commentary on how empty that philosophy is. More creatively, there was a country song a few years ago that said, “You’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.”
Those clichés have value as far as they go. Death is a reality for us and we have to come to terms with that as human beings. Piling up possessions, for those who are able to do it, can be one way of trying to hide from our mortality. Life is short, and we don’t know when it will end, and we need to see our lives in the light of eternity. (more…)
I tell you, even though he won’t give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will give it to him.
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This passage has a special resonance for me now that I have a three-and-a-half-year-old who’s a master at the dark arts of negotiation and stalling.
I actually wonder if she’s been reading this passage. “They might not give it to you because they’re your parents, but at least because of your persistence they will give it to you!” This does work sometimes. Some of the things I’ve been asked for in the last several days include: permission to eat a strawberry before washing it. Permission to eat the dessert watermelon before having at least two bites of squash. A real jump rope. Seven different toys from a small toy store in Guerneville. Not to have to take a bath. I’ll let you guess which ones I gave in on. (more…)
I had never seen a snow-plant until I was walking in a grove of sequoias a year or two ago, up at Lake Tahoe, and there they were, two or three of them, poking up from beneath the pine needles, looking like red torpedoes, or fat red asparagus, or some kind of lumpy red mushroom. I stopped in amazement, and crouched low over them, with my hands clasped behind me, to look closely without disturbing them. And someone, it seemed, had taken the trouble to make sure I didn’t disturb them, because around them was drawn a circle in pinecones. (more…)
I spent this Fourth of July at a local celebration in the neighborhood Julia grew up in in Palo Alto. It’s a festival we’ve been to many times before, almost exactly the same every year: the neighborhood band playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” and sometimes a Queen or U2 song thrown in for variety; floats kids and their parents build out of wagons; dogs and bikes and babies on parade, sack races and three-legged races and a balloon toss; the adorable drill squad of six-year-olds moving their flags in unison, with the only change in the routine from fifty years ago that boys are now on the team too. The first time I went to this celebration I almost couldn’t believe it existed, so perfect in its quintessential Americana-ness. I almost expected to see Harold Hill from The Music Man walk around the corner. (more…)
I don’t know how many times you’ve moved in your life. Some of us here today may have lived in the same place our whole life. Others may move from place to place each night looking for a safe place to sleep. And for others of us it may be in between, moving around every few years or so.
By my count I’ve moved about 14 or 15 times in my life. Growing up, my family moved roughly every three years. So I’ve had a lot of practice with the winnowing process of what to bring along and what not to. And yet all that practice doesn’t make it easy. I once had a Halloween costume with a pirate hat and plastic sword. I only ever wore it one time, but for some reason that hat and sword made it through more than one move. It just kept making it into a box. I might need it someday! (more…)
They wanted to be somebody. To be big. To be famous.
So they decided to make a big tower.
Of course they did, right? It’s classic. Powerful people build things—particularly powerful men. To show how important you are, build something. A statue, a pyramid, a skyscraper, whatever it is, but make it huge. The bigger the better. Bigger than anybody else’s. That’s how you know you’re important. That’s how other people know you’re important. (more…)
Back when I was doing a yearlong residency as a hospital chaplain in Seattle, and then again during the years I was working on a doctorate in Berkeley, I often used to serve as what church lingo calls a “supply priest.” This is a priest who’s available to cover Sunday services when a congregation’s regular clergy aren’t available. It’s sort of like being a substitute teacher, except with vestments on, and with usually a better-behaved clientele. (more…)
Last year I met a youngish woman named—well, let’s call her Naomi. Naomi arrived at the church office one afternoon and politely asked for help charging her cell phone. She was in the process of making a long list of phone calls, looking for a place to live.
After years on the waiting list, Naomi had finally received a Section 8 housing voucher. Good news—or so it seemed. Because having a voucher can help you pay the rent … but only if you can find a vacancy with a landlord willing to rent to you in the first place. In California, unlike many other states, it’s legal for landlords to simply refuse to take Section 8 vouchers. But if you don’t use the voucher within a certain period of time, it expires. At the time I met her, Naomi had three weeks to find a place to live, or else be sent to square one to start all over again. There are 26,000 people on Sonoma County’s Section 8 waiting list. There are only 3,000 rental properties known to take Section 8 vouchers. And each year only about 300 of those actually turn over. The odds didn’t look good. (more…)
I hear these sheep passages differently since moving to Sonoma County … because I see sheep more often.
I didn’t see sheep too much in Berkeley. As the old radio ad said, Berkeley has cows, grazing up in the East Bay hills, but the only sheep I used to see there were petting-zoo sheep at the Little Farm in Tilden Park.
But here they’re just kind of around more. I saw flock after flock driving down Lakeville Highway toward a meeting in Vallejo last Friday. Last fall we went to the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol and my daughter Abby watched a sheep-shearing demonstration, starting with a sheep shaped like a barrel and ending with a skinny buzz-cut sheep and massive, luxuriant piles of wool all over the ground. This is a place where people really raise sheep. (more…)
It doesn’t take a whole lot of time on pilgrimage in the Holy Land before you begin to learn to take some of the historic identifications of the holy places with a grain of salt.
It’s not that there aren’t holy sites that archeologists think could actually be historically authentic—like the Church of the Resurrection, as I said two weeks ago at Easter. But when twenty centuries have supplied enough piety, pilgrimage, and potential income, holy sites tend to pop up exponentially. So there are at least two birthplaces of John the Baptist; at least two sites where Jesus and his disciples held the Last Supper; and no less than four contenders for real Biblical town of Emmaus. Those who visit Israel and Palestine looking to find places to venerate the mysteries of the faith … tend to find what they are looking for. Those who go looking to pinpoint THE spot where they happened … are often disappointed. (more…)
This is the gate of the Lord; whoever God makes righteous may enter.
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It’s been said that there’s only one monument in the world that was built over an empty tomb.
There are many, many monuments over tombs with bodies inside. New York City has Grant’s Tomb and Arlington National Cemetery, has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can go to Red Square in Moscow and see Lenin, his body still eerily preserved, lying in state. The tombs of the ancient pharaohs in Egypt are empty now, mostly, the remains inside fallen victim to grave robbers over the centuries; but they weren’t built to be that way. (more…)
Thus says the LORD: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?
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There’s a saying you hear a lot in the world of interviewing and hiring: past performance is the best indicator of future results. In other words, if you want to know what someone is likely to do if you hire them for a future job, don’t pay attention so much to what they say they’ll do. Pay attention to what they’ve done in the past. Someone who’s shown leadership skills in previous situations is likely to show those skills again. Someone who’s been resourceful, or flaky, or creative, in the past is likely to act those ways in the future. (more…)