Monday, March 7, 2011

the stranger

From Matthew 25
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

Once again, in a moment where I might have shown some of the sacrificial love Christ asks of us and is modeled by the early Church, I chose my own comfort and convenience. Here's the story...
I was driving home from my job a couple nights ago about 10:45p.m. and passed a man walking on the shoulder of the road. I was on a limited access section of Route 30, driving at about 60 miles per hour. By the time any real recognition of the scenario entered my brain, I was ½ a mile past him. He was wearing a black leather jacket with a well-worn, sleeveless denim jacket over it. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I should see if this fellow needs a ride. But, what if he's drunk? What if he smells bad? What if he's going somewhere way out of my way? What if he's an axe murderer? And, now I'm 2 miles past him, so I'd have to get off the next exit, go back the opposite direction, get off, back on. As the next exit came into view-the one I'd need to take if I was to act on this idea- the debate in my mind became more urgent. Is this one of those hungry/thirsty/stranger situations Jesus spoke of?

I did not take the exit. I continued home, with the Christian contemporary radio station playing some song with lyrics something like 'where you go I will follow'... Apparently for me, though, as long as it isn't out of my way.

Would you have stopped? Would you have backtracked? How would you feel if your wife told you she, in that same scenario, had given him a ride? What if he looked, or was dressed differently? Where do we draw the line at this 'love your neighbor' business? Me? Obviously not where Jesus would want it drawn.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Much ?

I was sitting in the car on my lunch break listening to the news yesterday, and one of the lead stories was the president's budget proposal for the next fiscal year. The proposed spending is 3.7 trillion dollars.The news reader said that number quite nonchalantly, and I guess, in matters of government, we've all become accustomed and numb to what should be astounding numbers.
When I was in elementary school, and we discussed presidents, there would always be someone who would raise their hand and say, in response to the question of who the second president was, Abraham Lincoln. The first was George Washington, the second Abe Lincoln. I suspect our understanding of the size of these figures used to describe government spending is about the same. A trillion is bigger than a million, and bigger than a billion, but it's next up the scale-just a few places after a million, and we can get our heads around a million.

Well, I thought I had an understanding of what a trillion was, and set about trying to build, here, some analogies that made sense so that we might all collectively gasp at the budget figures. In playing with some examples of “trillion”, or 3.7 trillion, I quickly learned it was far, far more than I understood.

Case in point....A Starbucks “tall” is 12 ounces. We can all see that. It takes 682 of them to fill the green garbage toter I see out my window across the street. It would take 7,035,600-that's seven million-of them to fill an Olympic size pool. An Olympic pool, obviously, is not the typical back yard variety, it's 50 meters by 25 meters! It would take-are you sitting down?- 526,000 pools – five hundred twenty six thousand pools- to hold 3.7 trillion Starbucks Talls. I was ok with grasping this until the final division problem-I can't envision 526,000 Olympic pools.

Second attempt...I wanted to reduce this to understandable personal spending. I started with the premise “you go to the mall, and spend $10,000 per hour, 24 hours per day, every single day, 365 days per year....” But that didn't work-it would take over 42,000 years!!! So, I tried a different way-suppose you went to the mall when King David was alive-3000 years ago, roughly, and shopped 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, how much would you need spend to get to 3.7 trillion. In case you're wondering, there are about 26,280,000-twenty six million -hours since King David. It comes out to $148,000 per hour!!! (give or take)

OK, I give up. I can't get my head around 3.7 trillion. And neither, I suspect, can those who propose and ultimately spend that sum. It's a meaningless figure to us, just really big. They know full well we don't really understand how big.
One more try at putting D.C. budgeting into meaningful terms...Suppose a family attempts to heed the advice of the late Larry Burkett, or radio personalities Dave Ramsey and Clark Howard, or the nauseating Suze Orman and sits down at their table to do a budget. Using the D.C model, the family would say, ok, we will bring in $50,000 this year, so we should spend $83,500. And the same next year!

The U S of A, in 2009, took in 2.1 trillion, and spent 3.52 trillion. That's a shortfall- a defecit-of 1.42 trillion how many Olympic pools of Starbucks talls is that? Never mind.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Street Corner Talkin'

York's annual bike night was this Friday, when hundreds of motorcyclists from all over the region converge on downtown York. The official event kicks off with a parade of bikes through the city. Then the four blocks surrounding Continental Square are closed to traffic to accommodate an antique motorcycle show, food vendors, live bands at several locations, and pedestrians. Even if that scene holds no appeal, it's nice to see the oft-maligned downtown York thrive, for at least one night, and become a crowded destination.

The motorcycle sub-culture, I guess like any other wide appeal pastime, is made up of a broad spectrum of participants. There was a seventyish gent with a nineteen-fortyish Harley Knucklehead dressed in the riding attire of the era when his motorcycle was new. He wore a clean white shirt with a bow tie, calf-high, shiny black boots, and a cap with a white visor. There were heavily inked folks on ''outlaw'' style motorcycles, the younger sport-bike crowd on GSXR's, Hayabusas, and Ninjas, and many many many regular Joes (and Joettes) on modern Harley Sportsters, Softtails, Wide Glides, and Electra Glides. Clearly, I was there for only a limited time, and could only observe a limited area at a time, but I witnessed no hostile, rude, or offensive behavior. No one (not counting exhaust pipes!) was particularly loud or making a spectacle of themselves. With one exception.

On the southeast corner of the square there was a group of sidewalk evangelists. I don't know who they were, but I guess they are from a local congregation. Now let's get the disclaimer out of the way....I in no way dispute their right to be there, and to preach however they see fit. And, theologically and philosophically, I am probably closely aligned with them. I credit them with having the courage to attempt to spread the gospel in an environment most of us would not elect. But I was embarrassed by their methods, and dismayed that they may well do more harm than good.

The ringleader stood on a box and shouted to the passersby. His associates carried signs, and approached individuals strolling past to try to engage them in conversation, stepping into their path to hand them a pamphlet. Their centerpiece sign-propped up along the curb and hard not to see said ''Infant Baptism...The Doorway to Hell''. I observed the corner for a short while, and saw absolutely no success with their efforts to engage people passing by. Most folks just shook their head and kept walking. When the apparent leader stepped down from his pedestal, I approached him and related I found his sign-the ''Infant Baptism, Doorway to Hell'' one-offensive, and in my opinion was counter productive. He clearly relished the opportunity to engage in debate, and his helpers quickly moved in to shout slogans and well rehearsed rebuttals. It was hard to get through to them that my point, my objection, had nothing to do with the issue of infant baptism. They mostly just urged me to read this verse or that verse relative to baptism. I was able to express to the leader, though he rejected it, that in my opinion, we as believers should be reaching out in humility and love and understanding, and that by being intentionally provocative, adversarial, and theologically arrogant we drive away people who already are suspicious, skeptical and reluctant about all things church. He and his disciples quickly responded they believed it was their duty to be confrontational and discomforting, citing Jesus's lambasting of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. I shook the preachers hand and moved on. We clearly had opposite perspectives, and no consensus was likely. I may be completely wrong here. Perhaps some tract recipients will read it before tossing it, and in time will come to truth. I admittedly have no experience in such an arena, but I think there is a much more effective, Christ like approach to such public evangelism.

Suppose their signage, and more importantly their core message, said things that were no less true, but inviting, gentle, and humble. ''What's the big deal with Jesus?'' or ''Christ offers Love and Forgiveness'' or ''Prayer Works''. Most people, particularly at a secular event like a motorcycle rally, would likely still just pass by. I think, though, they would NOT see those ''witnesses'' as abrasive, loud kooks they want no part of. Among those many people, as in any crowd, there are hurting, lost people. There are at least a few people who recognize they are not the person they need to be. There are at least a few people who desperately need answers. Long before we as believers begin to deconstruct erroneous teaching or pervasive misunderstanding with someone, we must first gently help that person know who Jesus is, what He did, and what their response to Him should be.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Starry Night

On a recent late, moonless Saturday night Lori and I were driving on Route 322 in the Juniata Valley, near Newport, in a convertible with the top down. The highway, there, is sandwiched between a steep forested mountain on one side and the Juniata River on the other. So other than the headlights from other vehicles, and the occasional dusk to dawn light, it was dark- really dark, and the stars were stunning! We spend a good bit of time in that area, and have noticed the intensely starry sky many times before, but even so it's hard not to pause and stare upward for a bit. When we took our exit off of Rt. 322, no one was behind us, so we just sat still at the stop sign for a little while and admired the sky. The Big Dipper was big and bold and right in front of us, just above the windshield. Its pointer stars made the North Star easy to find, which, in turn, located the Little Dipper. Venus looked like a flashlight among the myriad tinier pinpricks of light, and the Milky Way streaked across the sky straight overhead, easily mistaken for a band of thin clouds. As we turned onto our road, Cassiopeia was clearly visible over my left shoulder. It's easy to find, if it's dark enough. It looks like a big ''W'', and is supposed to be a Queen's throne. I've always thought, since my scoutmaster pointed it out to us on a camping trip long ago, it looks more like a barber chair. I couldn't find Orion, though. I think he was still tucked behind the tree line ahead of us, and if we had waited he would have eventually risen into view.

Sunday night, about 9:30, when headed back toward York. The sky was, again, a vast sea of uncountable stars. But somewhere along the way, as we approached Harrisburg from the north, Lori said, ''The stars are gone.''

Indeed, the sky was no longer the deep black, or dark indigo blue it was just 20 minutes earlier, it was now a sort of gray-blue, and as we sat at the first traffic light we hit, near Linglestown, I looked up and could find only a handful of stars in the whole sky! As we continued down Front Street, the sky become pale amber, and I could find only 2 stars! For the rest of the trip, even along the relatively rural stretches of Route 83, the stars never returned, or at least no where near the show they put on up in the valley.

So where'd they go? Obviously, the stars are still there in all their vast numbers and in all their splendor. They still sketch out lions and hunters and dogs and bears and whatever else the imagination of a night time observer can find. But, sadly, in too many places they are faded into invisibility by man made, artificial light. Sadly, too, there are probably more than a few people who have never seen a starry sky, who have never seen Orion, who think the night sky is supposed to be amber.

There was once a time when people needed the starry sky to find their way. When there were no bright reflective green interstate signs, or no Garmin, a skilled traveler could find his way, even across the sea, with the stars. Good luck, though, to someone seeking the North Star passing through Harrisburg! Harrisburg has no North Star. To find it-to find the star that is key to establishing direction, a traveler must get away from the man made light, the fake light, the electric light.

So it is as we travel the dark sea of life. When we seek direction, or guidance, or help, or clarity, we can either immerse our selves in every form of light from every available source, and as a result likely never see the true light, the light that brings truth. We seek to hear a still small voice, and I often lament that voice can be so hard to hear! But we are awash, drowning, in a cacophony of voices that call out advice and guidance and direction, be they friends, or Oprah, or Dr. Phil, or Tony Evans, or Glenn Beck, or this book or that film, or this Pastor, or that teacher, and what we end up with is a vague, contradictory mixture of directions, a pale-amber sky like Front Street at night. If we truly want to hear the whisper of truth, to see the tiny, sparkling, pinpoint of true light that we know points north, we must take ourselves out of the flood of light and noise, and go into the dark, quiet valley. We just may be stunned at how gloriously brightly the real light shines.