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February 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


“On Ainslie Pond”

Anyone who has visited Christian Temple over the past six months has seen a new geographical feature winding its way through our playground- the Christian Temple Pond. Or maybe we should call it the “Ainslie Pond”.

While the origins of this new Catonsville body of water are still mysterious it presence is very real. Once in that space there were parents slipping their toddlers into the chairs for their first swing set ride. Now there is a pond surrounding a twin A-frame work of modern art painted fire engine red.

The pond seems to be fed by water oozing out from the railroad ties at the top of the swing set bay. While the source is difficult to pinpoint the runoff is strong and steady, running through the cut we made in the sidewalk and cascading down the hill where it is once again absorbed into the ground. Some people pay a lot of money for such landscaping.

Possible sources of our new water hazard?

Some would say an abandoned water line that once serviced the Carriage House that sat half way up the hill is the culprit. Could be.

Others wonder if there once was a water fountain for thirsty boys and girls in the middle of the old equipment- a water fountain that had been capped until last year? Longtime Catonsvillians say no.

A few neighbors say they remember a drain pipe that poked out of the hillside just above where our pond has formed. The drainpipe could have been capped when they renovated the playground and dug out the swing set bay twenty years ago. This sounds interesting.

But just about everyone who sees the pond and ventures a guess as to its robust and very steady runoff down the hill will conclude their favorite theory by making reference to 2018 being the wettest year on record. Especially since the pond was born in July, the wettest month of 2018.

“We did get a ton of rain this year. Maybe all that rain still needs a place to go.”

So, while our brightest and best lean into solving this riddle we have a pond at our church. On the one hand it is a nuisance and a liability. On the  other maybe our natural baptismal pool can be seen as a metaphor for what lies at the heart of what we believe as Disciples of Christ: God’s grace is mysteriously given to the world and fills the low places of our lives until our cup runneth over.

If you haven’t seen the Ainslie pond yet, “Come, walk beside its still waters, and see how Moses wasn’t the only one who brought water from the rock. But you better hurry. Our pond won’t be around for long.

Shalom,

Rick

 




January 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


January, 2019

Blessed or lucky? The distinction is important, don’t you think?

September, 1957 was when the musical West Side Story opened and those nine African American   students bravely walked into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. These important national events explain why the world didn’t pay more attention to the birth of Charlie and Susie’s fourth and final child. How lucky was I to be born into such a family and at such a time. Lucky, not blessed.

A few years later, summer of 1966, while our family was vacationing in central Illinois the phone rang in my Aunt Lynette’s house where we were all playing cards. The voice on the other end delivered the news that my dad would be deployed to Viet Nam. A month later the Air Force decided my dad had served his time in conflicts overseas and allowed him to retire instead of shipping out. We all felt so lucky. Lucky, not blessed.

In April, 1968, we shook our heads in sadness when Walter Cronkite told us of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the evening news. But we were gathered in front of the TV in our home located in a bucolic all-white subdivision where life pretty much went on as usual the next day- while the nation’s capital just up the road    began to tear apart at the seams. We were lucky. But we weren’t blessed.

How lucky are most of us who are reading this? Where we were born, who surrounded us in our early years, who took an interest in us in the classroom, who forgave us when we didn’t deserve it, who saved for our college, who decided to go to seminary the same year we did, and all the calamities that could have happened to us, but didn’t. Lucky, yes. But blessed? I don’t know.

As we look around us in January of 2019, we see beauty everywhere. But we also see so much misery. How do we suppose the refugees who were forced to leave their homes with no real place to go rang in the New Year? I wonder if the Florida family that lost their little girl this year while she was standing at her hallway locker stayed up all night to see the ball drop. Were there any celebrations this New Year’s Eve in Paradise, California?

Life unfolds for all of us in so many ways. Sometimes we get lucky. Other times not so much. But, in the midst of our lives let’s all be careful when we use that word “blessed”. To be granted a blessing implies a grantor of some kind- which is fine when things go well, but a little harder to reconcile with a loving God, when things go south.

And while we are being careful with our language this year, there’s nothing that should stop us from BEING a blessing to others who are lucky enough to cross our paths!

Shalom, Rick

 




November 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


So, what do you think? Would Jesus be on Social Media?

He would have tons of followers were he to choose to post; regularly liked and retweeted. Can’t you imagine the video meme going viral? The one of a lonely widow dropping a coin into the money box unnoticed by all the big givers wearing their phylacteries and fringes? Caption anyone?

Or what about the way Jesus had of turning a phrase? “You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemies. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Attached is a GIF of a Roman Centurion emerging from the Jordan River baptized, while Peter holds his helmet.

Jesus caused quite a stir without social media. Imagine his message being only a click away.

On the other hand…

I’m not sure Jesus would have been too big on selfies. While he had a way with words, the gospels suggest that he didn’t rant too often. His best work was done in rather quiet out of the way places. And it only took him seven words to change the course of history.

As Forrest Gump would say, “I’m not sure about all of that.” But what is clear to me is that the saving work of the Gospel is more about what we do than what we say- or what we post.

While angry (mostly white) men work themselves into a lather on a Saturday morning over what they are watching on their screens, gentle peace-loving men and women quietly gather to worship their God and take comfort in the Sabbath. While a sleep deprived president gives in to his early morning paranoia and goes for his phone to launch hateful words into an already charged atmosphere, a 75 year old lifelong Republican is off to the bakery to load up his minivan with day-old loaves of bread that will soon find their way into lunchboxes all over the city.

This isn’t a rant about Social Media. I enjoy my birthday wishes way too much go to there. It is a blessed thing to be connected with people we don’t often get to see.

But it does occur to me that there is a purity to acts of justice done while no one is watching, including the web. And the last thing Jesus would want would be for his followers to be absorbed in their screens while the world around them is falling apart.

Those who follow Jesus are called to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly and leave the rest to God. In the meantime let those of us on either side of the aisle who are particularly troubled by this president’s words not despair. Some of God’s best work has been done with less than stellar leaders in power. Just ask Pharaoh Ramses, Kings Saul and Nebuchadnezzar, and Pontius Pilate. They were no match for the grace of God.

Now more than ever, Shalom,

Rick

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October 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


“Hello, my name is Brett Kavanaugh and I have a confession to make.”

I don’t imagine anyone expected that opening line from the Supreme Court nominee at his recent hearing. But his angry denials were equally surprising and almost comical (“c’mon Brett”). Now his testimony more than his past, is shining an unfavorable light on his judicial temperament. Maybe he was just that mad. Or maybe he was advised that this was the best way to defend himself. The best defense, they say, is a good offense.

I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on whether this man should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. I confess to not having read his own opinions extensively, and relied, instead, on second hand news. All indications are that his adult life has been exemplary. Most (including those who don’t agree with his politics) say that he is a good and generous man.

But as I listened to judge Kavanaugh’s fiery testimony my thoughts turned toward the place and the power of confession in our lives.

In the home we are taught to be honest. But in the the world of social interactions we slowly absorb the importance of never admitting to anything even if we were guilty. I remember my dad (who was a very good man) gently telling me as a new driver how it is best not to say too much at the scene of an accident. This was after I had just rear-ended someone and told the other driver, “I’m sorry, I was following way too close.” We have to be very careful about publically admitting ever doing anything wrong. Fair enough.

But then, this. Those who follow Jesus (Brett Kavanaugh included) are constantly confronted with his call to repentance. By all accounts the people who made Jesus really mad weren’t the sinners, but the people who were quick to judge others and who claimed not to have sinned themselves.

This isn’t to suggest that what she said is true. Or what he said is true. But, I do remember how boys treated girls when I was in high school just a few years before the nominee in question. And I like to wonder how things would have gone for the judge if he had said something like what most of us would have to say if asked about our own coming of age. “I don’t remember doing this thing of which I am accused. But I did some things when I was young- but old enough to know better- that I am not proud of. And to whomever I hurt, I am so very sorry.”

Deny, deny, deny is the way to save our skin.

Confess, repent, and be forgiven is the way to save our souls.

Or so we say we believe.

Shalom,

Rick

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September 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


 

Two memories about those first few days after 9/11 linger for me now seventeen years after the attacks.

The first was how the ordinary was pumped full of pure, crystalline miracle. Everything we had previously taken for granted sparkled like a harvest moon. The kids at soccer practice looked like they were dancing before the Lord. Next door neighbors who showed up at the front door were greeted like family we hadn’t seen in ages. Voices that compose the soundtrack of our lives fell on the ear like favorite songs. Sometimes the only thing that kept us from falling to the ground in grief was the hug from a friend. Life suddenly made fragile, became life, beautiful.

The other memory I savor from the days following the attacks is the way it felt to be an American. For the first time in my memory our country was the collective recipient of charity and good will from people around the world. We were no longer the greatest nation on the face of the earth or the big, bad, bully. We were people who needed other people’s help to make it through. A small measure of comfort from the pain of our loss came from the assurances we received from other countries who reached out to us. We were all in this thing together.

We’ve heard a lot lately about American Exceptionalism. But I’m still not sure why it is important to tell ourselves we are the greatest nation in the world. Isn’t it enough to say we are a great nation among other great nations, so often with much to give- occasionally in need of others’ help? Don’t we remember from when we were kids what happened to ABSOLUTLEY EVERYONE who proudly     proclaimed themselves to be King of the Hill. It was only a matter of time.

Let’s hope and pray that we never again need the kind of help we needed seventeen years ago. And if we’re stuck for what we should do to find miracle in the ordinary again, here are two ideas. First, do something for someone you love, but don’t let them know. Second, drive over to Friendship Park by the airport and watch plane after plane after plane gracefully glide to the ground the same way those four planes should have seventeen years ago. Say a prayer for those you love. Say a prayer for those who still grieve.

Shalom,

Rick

 

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