Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Do We Feel When Something Bad Happens to Someone Bad?

Many people know that my favorite movie of all time is "The Wizard of Oz."  I have pretty much memorized the entire movie's dialogue and can sing all the songs in the movie including "Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead".  If you are not obsessed with this movie, then you may not know that the song is sung when the Munchkins come out from wherever they are (another song) and discover that Dorothy's house has dropped on top of the Wicked Witch of the East (not to be confused with her evil sister who will plague Dorothy throughout the movie until the witch meets with her own disaster).  Upon learning of the death of the wicked witch, the Munchkins break into song, "Ding, Dong, the witch is dead!  Which old witch?  The wicked witch.  Ding, Dong, the wicked witch is dead....She's gone where the goblins go, Below, below, yo-ho, Let's open us and sing and ring the bells out, Ding, Dong, the merry-o, sing it high, sing it low, let them know the wicked witch is dead!"  At that point there are great shouts of glee from the little people and they begin to rejoice greatly only to be silenced when the sister of the dead witch, the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, appears in a dark cloud of smoke. 

What great rejoicing there was in the Land of Oz when they learned that the Wicked Witch of the East was dead!  How wonderful to know that someone who has threatened the world and its inhabitants has finally been eliminated!  I wonder if people felt that way when they heard of the death of Adolph Hitler after WWII ended.  I know that people felt that way when Osama ben Ladin was killed earlier this year.  And now, we have the death of the leader of North Korea--Kim Jong Il.  Did we hear strains of "ding, dong...." in our heads at hearing that news?  Did we just up and down and rejoiced and say, "Good riddance" to ourselves? 

It is a mixed reaction for many of us who call ourselves Christians.  We follow a leader who instructed us to "love your enemies" and to "pray for those who despitefully use you."  He told us to treat others the way we would want to be treated.  What does that mean for us when we know that someone who died had never tried to follow Jesus' teachings but had apparently be cruel and maniacal toward his own people?  It is very difficult to mourn the loss of a dictator but the newscast has shown us throngs of North Koreans who are now weeping openly and mournly loudly.  Are they really moved that much by his death or were they threatened into that reaction by their government?  Who is to say...but we still face the quandary...how do we respond to the death or destruction of one who has been a menace to society? 

I hate to admit it but I did feel a bit of glee when I learned that this dictator was gone.  I think I remember thinking, "Good...now maybe those North Koreans will be free to live the way they want to live."  I forgot that he had a son who now will take over the government and we know nothing about him.  Will he be just like his dad or will he have more common sense and practicality in reigning over the country in a benevolent manner?  Time will only tell us that answer but my brief moment of glee was replaced by some serious reflection about how Christians should respond in such a time of this.  I have to admit that I am still torn as to what my answer should be.  As a Christian, I do want to love others as Christ has loved me.  As a person who cares about others, do others I care about include those who are inherently bad or seem to be that way? 

I think that the answer for myself and perhaps others may be found in allowing God to be in control of the situation and not worry about what is the ultimate fate of dictators or evil persons, knowing that in God's timing, all things will be worked out.  There have been many evil persons throughout the history of the world.  Even when Jesus was appearing as the baby in the manger in Bethlehem, there was a tyrant named Herod who did not want him to live because he could not stand the threat of another "ruler" in his country.  So, Herod ordered the murder of all the babies under the age of two to be sure he could stamp out the threat.  Mothers mourned for their lost children and Herod smirked that he had destroyed the new king of the Jews, not knowing that he had been taken to Egypt to find safety.  Herod eventually died and was replaced by his son, who was just about as bad as his dad had been.  It seems the world remains much the same, decade after decade.  Evil fathers often have sons to replace them....

So, singing a song of joy at the death of a tyrant may be a form of release but saying a prayer for those who now find themselves with a new ruler whose actions we cannot guess may be an even better way to bring a wish for peace to the world.  In this time of remembering the birth of the Prince of Peace, the words of another song come to mind, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."  Shalom. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thinking About Ultimate Things

I went to the dermatologist last week and had a thing removed from my arm.  It was not actually a mole or a wart or anything describable, just the remains of a bump that had appeared and then had come off and then left a small crater of sorts in my skin.  I was not really worried about that at all but the doctor seemed to think it should be investigated so he drew a circle around it with his pen and then deadened the area and carved out a chunk to send to the lab to be diagnosed.  He said he would call me when he received the results.  When I got home from work last Thursday, there was a message on our recorder from the doctor asking me to call him on Monday since they would be closed on Friday through Sunday.  That does not seem like a very practical way of sharing news that could be possibly negative--to tell someone to call you after a long weekend so you can get news of that nature.  Anyway, I did call this morning and found out that the area removed is cancerous, but obviously not a worrisome kind of cancer, as I need to go back to him and have more of that area removed but it can wait until after Christmas.  So, now the waiting and thinking about all the "what-ifs" concerning this situation. 

For some reason, while all this was going on in my head, I began to sing John Denver's song, "Poems, Prayers, and Promises."  In case you don't remember it, it begins, "I've been lately thinking about my life time, all the things I've done and how it's been, and I can't help believing in my own mind, I know I'm gonna hate to see it end..."  Not really a holiday thought but a practical one.  When faced with the reality that one's time on earth but not be forever, then one has to decide how one feels about it.  I like that song because John Denver says more than once, "I have to say it now it's been a good life all in all, it's really fine to have the time to hang around, and lie there by the fire and watch the evening tire...and talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in, how sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care, how long it's been since yesterday, and what about tomorrow, and what about our dreams and all the memories we share." 

I am a cancer survivor, not a big major kind of cancer but a melanoma that I had removed from the back of my neck about 15 years ago.  Same kind of thing happened then as is happening now--a mole looked suspect so it was removed and sent off to the lab and the doctor called me and said they needed to remove more so they did and stitched me up and that was the end of that.  So, I have been getting a "mole check" regularly since then and all has been clear up to now.  This was no mole, a sneaky bump that came and went and left a small crater and I figured it was just nothing but obviously it was something.  So, now the final removal of its remains will greet the new year and maybe that will be the end of that. 

But...the "what ifs" will be present all through the rest of the holiday season and into the new year.  What if that isn't the end of it?  What if there is more cancer?  What if this is just the beginning of the end?  I am not a pessimist and I generally think positively about life but when confronted with the possibility that life may end, what is the way to deal with the issue?  There are many people who are dealing with cancer and other dread diseases that are much more serious than what I am dealing with but still there is the concern that this could be more serious than imagined.

I guess I like the John Denver song because it is one of giving thanks for what one has received over the years and being satisfied that life will be enough regardless of length of life.  The simple pleasures are praised and the enjoyment of relationships are the ultimate fulfillment of life.  Perhaps that is what the message of a meaningful life is about--Living each day to the fullest and being thankful for each day of life that we are given. 

I remember when I heard the news about the death of John Denver a few years back.  I was stunned and saddened.  I mourned as if I had lost a personal friend.  I became obsessed for a while to learn more about him and to listen to his music once more, much more than I had been before that.  I had always thought of him as someone that spoke to me because he spoke of what was important to me--ecology, life, friendship, simple pleasures.  John Denver was not a perfect man and maybe he could not even be called a good role model to many, but in his music I found inspiration that spoke to me as he sung.  In his music is the message--make the most of life and enjoy what we do here and tell others how important they are to you.  Maybe that is a gift to give to others at Christmas because it reflects the love of God for all of us in what is important and valuable and worthy. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Messengers of Light

Imagine--if you can--standing in the darkness on a lonely beach early one summer morning, the waves constantly crashing on the shore, with the familiar sound that is both soothing and strange.  As you stand on that sandy beach, you can feel the cool ocean breeze sweeping across your face and through your hair.  As you look out into the darkness of the ocean, staring at the churning water, suddenly a small sliver of orange light meets your eyes on the horizon.  You stare at the orange intently realizing that the sun is beginning to rise in the morning sky. 

As you keep your eyes on the horizon, little by little that orange glow creeps up higher and  higher until suddenly the entire sky seems to be lighted up with the orange and yellow and purple hues of  the morning.  As you look at your surroundings, everything looks different to you.  Where there had only been darkness, you can now see fishing boats on the ocean waves and people moving about on the shore.  The light that illumined the sky had made plain what was hidden.  The morning light had revealed what had been present all the time.

That was the experience our family had when we camped on the beach at the Outer Banks in North Carolina in 1983.  We woke up early purposely to see the sunrise and we joined many others who had done the same.  People actually cheered and clapped and shouted when the sun began to rise over the ocean.  The beautiful sight of the light brightening the sky enthused people as if they were seeing it for the first time.

John the Baptizer stood on the banks of the Jordan River and preached to those who would listen and urged them to repent and be baptized.  John the Gospel Writer spoke of him as the one who was testifying to the light that was coming into the world.  The true light was coming--the world had been waiting for the light to come for countless generations and now the time had come when the promise had been fulfilled. 

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," spoke the prophet Isaiah, "those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them the light has shined."  But he did not stop at just saying that the light was coming.  He also spoke to those who would receive the light.  "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you."  Go and shine the light on others, he meant, so that others too could receive the light of the Lord.

This is the season of light.  This is the season that we share the light with others in our world so that they too can rejoice in the birth of the child who brought light into a world of darkness.  Tell the good news to all you know so that they too will experience the light of the Christ.