Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fire From Heaven

Growing up, one of my favorite comic strips was "Calvin and Hobbes".  Who am I kidding?  "Calvin and Hobbes" is my favorite comic strip today.  Maybe it's because I identify with Calvin, the really smart but over imaginative child.  Perhaps it is because I had a stuffed cat that I used to take everywhere with me.  Most likely, it is a combination of those two reasons in addition to how well Bill Watterson was able to use the strip as a commentary on our society.  Take this strip for example:

It can be really difficult for us to be in situations where we are powerless (maybe even victims) to stop wrongs from happening.  This becomes even more difficult when it seems like there are no consequences happening to the person who is committing wrong acts.   How easy is it for us to blame God for not righting every wrong we come across?  How often do we hear (or even ask ourselves) "How can God exist if [insert negative thing here] does?"  Even some of Jesus' disciples had trouble with this.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. -Luke 9:51-56
Like Calvin did almost 2000 years later, James and John wanted some sort of holy retribution against people they've seen doing something they felt was wrong.  We must remember that it is not our place to call down fire from heaven against the "sinners" of this world.  If it were, we all would have been burned long ago.  As we prepare for Holy Week, let us remember that Jesus died for everyone, even those who don't receive him in their hearts (and those who have, but act like they haven't).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

 There's really no wonderful way of introducing this.  I'm going bald.  I'm 27 years-old, and I've been going bald for years.  This may not seem like such a big deal, but my hair (when I had a lot of it) was a large part of my identity.  In fact, I didn't start wearing my hair (what I have left of it, anyway) as short as it is now until late 2009.  Before then, it was common for me to have my hair in all sorts of different styles that required my hair to be at least a couple inches long.  When I did finally decide to cut it all off, a lot of people didn't recognize me.

As difficult as this transition has been for me, I think I've handled it well.  In doing youth ministry, I've had to.  There were some youths I worked with before moving to Dayton who especially enjoyed giving me a hard time about it.  How did I handle such a "sensitive" issue?  I simply turned to the Bible.  When one of the youth started in about me going bald, I suggested she read 2 Kings 2:23-25.
[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria. -2 Kings 2:23-25
When she was done reading, I simply smiled at her and asked her to remember what happened the last time a bunch of kids made fun of one of God's prophets for going bald.   Before anyone gets too upset, I wasn't seriously threatening to maul anyone with a bear.  This was just a way to respond humorously to the situation instead of letting it get to me.  Everyone there got a good laugh out of it, and the issue of my thinning hair started coming up less and less.

There are a lot of funny and weird stories in the Bible.  One of the benefits of doing as much Bible study as I have is that I know so many stories like this.  What are some of your favorite weird Bible stories?

Thursday, March 29, 2012


There are times when I think that the world would be so much better if God could just grant my wishes.  I don't ask for much.  A little extra money to help pay the bills or for the weather to be just right when I have something planned outdoors isn't too much to ask, is it?  Didn't Jesus say to "ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (John 15:7b)?  Why, then, does it seem that I rarely get what I ask for?

We've all heard the saying "if wishes were fishes, the ocean would be full."  Certainly, God couldn't grant every wish or petition we ask for.  If every wish was granted, the outcomes would not be quite what we expect.  For example, the lottery is currently at somewhere around $363 million.  Let's say that everyone who plays the lottery says a quick prayer asking to win.  I have no idea how many people play the lottery, but I think that one million is a fairly conservative number.  If all one million people won, each person would only get $363.  That is certainly not the quick road to being a millionaire that most people would be wishing for.

This brings me to another aspect of wishing.  From a logical standpoint, it would be impossible for all one million of the lottery players to win based solely on the fact that they wouldn't all play the same number.  I suppose that, technically, God could choose to switch everyone's numbers to the same one that comes up in the drawing and rearrange everyone's memory so that they thought they chose the new numbers, but that seems needlessly complex.  Beyond the mere impracticality of God granting wishes, though, I think there's a better explanation to why there's that apparent contradiction from John's Gospel account and our experiences.

As with many things, we often pick up on only a small portion of what's really there.  It is so easy to hear, "Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you," and forget that there's more to be said.  The full verse reads: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7)  This comes in the middle of Jesus talking about the True Vine.  In this, Jesus explains how a branch cannot bear fruit if it is not connected to the vine.  The analogy is quite clear when Jesus explains that He is the vine, and we are the branches.  Knowing this context, it becomes a bit easier to sort out what Jesus means in verse seven.

In order for God to grant whatever we wish, we must abide in Jesus and let Jesus' words abide in us.  If this is true, than we will only wish for that which already accords with God's will.  This is not saying that we have some secret to get whatever we want.  What we have is a simple statement that, if we can learn to desire what God desires for us, we can have that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No More Silence

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Jesus being angry.  Earlier this week, I came across something that made me angry.  So angry, in fact, that I needed to take some time away from it before I could post about it without letting it be just an angry post.  I apologize for not posting something yesterday, but I really needed the time away before I could appropriately address this issue.

I'm sure most of you have heard about the Trayvon Martin case down in Florida.  For those of you that haven't heard about this, here's the short version of the story.  Trayvon Martin was a 17 year-old African-American who lived down in Florida.  On the way back from a convenience store to his father's girlfriend's home on February 26 of this year, he was followed by a community watch captain named George Zimmerman who said Martin looked suspicious.  Zimmerman called the police to inform them of the situation.  When Zimmerman was told that police were on their way and he no longer needed to follow Martin, he agreed.  By the time police arrived, Zimmerman had fatally shot Martin.  Zimmerman claimed that he was threatened by Martin, who was unarmed.  As of today, no charges have been pressed against Zimmerman.

While this story is upsetting, that is not why I have been so angry.  I am angry because this is just one story.  There has been a very similar case here in Dayton, OH that has gone largely unnoticed.  On March 1 of this year, Dante Price, a 25 year-old African-American, was fatally shot by security guards, who fired their weapons twenty-two times.  As with the Trayvon Martin shooting, no charges have been filed.  How many other cases like this are there across the country that we just aren't hearing about?

Another aspect of this that makes me angry comes from a statement made by Geraldo Rivera, a commentator for the Fox News Channel.  He said, "I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was...I'll bet you money, if he didn't have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn't have responded in that violent and aggressive way." (Quote from Geraldo Rivera on "Fox and Friends") 

I'm not angry so much at the statement itself as I am at the picture it paints of our society.  Rivera wasn't saying that the hoodie was responsible for Trayvon Martin's death.  He was saying that a hoodie on an African-American was responsible.  That someone can say something like this and believe it (offering only a half apology in response to backlash) says to me that we live in a time where people believe that someone's skin color can be threatening. 

In my post a couple weeks ago, I asked what it was that made you angry.  This is what makes me angry.  I cannot sit idly in a society that allows this to happen.  I don't know what my next moves will be, but I do know that I can no longer remain silent on this issue.  I hope that you all will join me and break your own silence over injustice.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Priestly Preparedness Kit

Back in seminary, there was a lot of hype about having disaster preparedness kits.  Every dorm had to have them.  Around that time, I started to notice an upswing in "what [insert number here] things can you not live without" ice breakers being suggested for youth groups.  In thinking about all of this, I've decided that I'm going to start keeping a Priestly Preparedness Kit in my car.  I spend a lot of time in my car and/or out of town.  Having something portable like this ready to go all the time would help if something comes up and I don't necessarily have time to stop back at home or the church.  The only problem I currently have with this plan is that I haven't decided yet on everything I'm going to include in this kit.  I found a suggestion for a Spiritual Emergency Home Kit for Roman Catholics:
  • Rosaries with pamphlets on the Mysteries                                                   
  • Divine Mercy prayer cards with image and prayers
  • A small Crucifix
  • Holy water
  • Blessed salt
  • Blessed oil
  • Scapulars with explanation leaflet
  • St. Benedict medals or St. Benedict Crucifixes
  • Miraculous Medals with explanation leaflet
  • A small New Testament with Psalms or your preference
          (have the Bible in a prominent place in your home,
          along with other blessed religious images, Crucifixes and statues)
  • Prayer book(s), Pieta book or prayer cards, Consecration Prayers
  • Wallet-size plastic magnifier for small print (optional)
  • Blessed palms or “palm crosses”
  • Blessed beeswax candles and matches  
  • Small pictures or holy cards of Jesus, Mary, 
  • St. Joseph, St. Michael the Archangel and other saints
  • A small statue of Jesus
  • A list of phone numbers and e-mail addresses of people with
    whom to share pertinent information in an emergency.

That seems a little too involved for me.  I'm trying for something much more compact that will travel easily.  Here's what I've come up with so far:
  • Communion Kit
  • Anointing oil
  • Holy Water
  • BCP
  • Collar (Clerical? Dickie?)
I haven't decided on what I should do for the collar.  Maybe it's not even necessary.  Is there anything else you think should be included in this kit?  Does anyone out there already have one of these?