Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rain, Renewal, and Reason

How long has it been since we have had a rainy day that lasted all day long in Texas?  Hmmmm, it has been so long that I cannot recall such a day.  I remember one about three years ago.  It happened in April and we were visiting my mother and having a picnic at a park because her sister from Florida was visiting her.  My brother and his family were there as were my cousin and her family.  Our daughter did not go with us but she was at our house keeping watch over our animals.  About mid-day, she called us and told us to be careful coming home because there was a huge thunderstorm happening and the streets were already flooding in Houston and in the Weimar area.  We would have to travel  home through Houston so she wanted to be sure we knew that a big storm was going on even though it was not currently raining where the picnic was happening over toward the Louisiana state line.  We finished with the picnic and began our drive home, which usually takes about 3 hrs to complete.  When we were just about in the Houston vicinity, suddenly the rain began falling so hard that we could barely see in front of our car.  It rained just like that all the way through Houston, with cars slowing down to about 40 mph, and then all the way home, 75 miles west of Houston.  It rained off and on all the rest of the day and into the night.  The rain total after all ended was over 14 inches of rain in one day. 

We encountered a similar situation in Boston just a few weeks ago when we were ready to fly home from our vacation we had in the northeast.  It was raining so hard that I could barely see in front of the rental car we were driving so we made our way to the airport and turned in the car so we would not be at risk of an accident in it.  We had to sit for 3 hours in the airport waiting for our flight but we were glad to be out of that car and the traffic that was creeping through that rain.  I asked my wife that day, "How long has it been since we had a rainy day like this back home?"  I guess the answer would be three years ago.  Of course, I have a short memory, we may have had a huge rainy day 2 years ago but I cannot remember. 

There are signs on churches and businesses all over Texas urging people to pray for rain.  Our illustrious governor organized a huge prayer rally in the big stadium in Houston this past summer and prayed for rain and it is drier now than it was before he and his buddies prayed.  We have prayed for rain as have countless other churches and the sky still is as beautiful every day as it has been for many months now.  I had one person ask me why God does not grant our request for rain since we are praying so much for rain and the only answer I could come up with is, "I don't know."  That seems to be a reasonable answer in the face of insurmountable issues. 

I think the lack of rain goes into the same category with questions about why God allows evil to happen to good people or why God cannot prevent huge tragedies from occuring or why God cannot stop a tornado from hitting a town and killing countless people or why God cannot stop a wildfire from burning up over a thousand homes.  Doesn't God love us anymore?  Can't God hear any longer?  Has God become immune to our pleas and does not care any longer what happens to us? 

I think that God's love is as real as it has ever been and that God is not involved in bringing about any thing that could do us harm.  That is not the kind of God that I believe in.  I do believe that God allows humans to make choices freely and that our choices come with consequences.  When we make choices, we choose the consequences that go along with the choices.  Rain is part of the creation that God put in place when the world began.  God has not cancelled that out, obviously, because there are people in the northeast US who cannot turn the rain off.  They wish they could pump some of it down south where we are and share it with us.  God did not arrange for El Nino or La Nina to be part of the natural order--it just happens.  We do not know why it happens but it does and we have to live with it.  When the cycle changes that is now in place, the rain will come again and we will be happy once more. 

One thing that many people do not consider, however, is what we humans have been doing to the planet that may be having an effect on the weather patterns.  We are pumping lots of things into our environment that may have an effect on the sky and the clouds and the weather.  We drive millions of cars and run millions of air conditioners and have paved over many places where grass once grew and cut down many trees that once stood and who knows if all that could have an effect on our climate.  I know that there are politicians who do not believe in global warming for whatever reason and I am not writing this to convince anyone to believe or disbelieve that idea but I do think that we humans have changed the planet so much in the last 100 years that it looks very different than it did before that time period.  Maybe weather responds to what we do to the earth since the earth is a living organism and we are living beings on it. 

We can make changes to modify our negative actions such as driving less or running the air conditioner less or planting grass and trees once we have rainfall again.  We can try to look upon this planet as our home and not pollute and destroy it.  We are stewards and caretakers of the planet and we are in charge of it but we are the ones to decide what will be its future.  As we decide for the earth, we also decide for ourselves and for future generations.  We can pray for rain all we want and God is listening and cares but if we do something to prevent rain from falling, God cannot reverse what we humans have done to make things the way they are.  Perhaps God wants us to be the ones to bring about positive change so that the earth will be the place that God intended it to be. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


When I was a teacher, I often had children come to me complaining that other children were "copying" them.  No, they were not concerned about people cheating or copying their work.  They were annoyed because others were playing that game that children will play where they repeat everything that someone else says or do actions that others do.  The person who is being "copied" often yells at them and tells them not to copy them which is exactly what the copycat says back to them.  That annoyance sometimes resulted in fighting between children so we had to put a stop to it immediately. 

Adults sometimes copy others, many times not even realizing that they are doing so.  When one is around another person for an extended period of time, some people often find themselves repeating words that the other person says often or saying the words in the style that the person uses when they talk.  Many people pick up the accent of the region in which they live.  They can often be identified by the accent they have that others in the area use. 

When I lived in East Texas, people in that region of Texas had a distinctive way of saying certain words.  Sometimes a long I sound would replace a short a sound OR an aaa sound would replace a long Y sound.  The people in East Texas do not notice that they say their words in the distinctive way that they do, but once you have been removed from East Texas you may notice it when you return there.  When I have traveled in other parts of the country, some people will tell me that they knew I was from Texas because of the accent I have. 

This Sunday we will be looking at the book of Philippians during the sermon, specifically chapter two.  Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, urging them to be more like Christ.  He quotes from what many believe is an ancient hymn of the church, a hymn to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  It tells what Jesus did that makes him worthy to be worshipped as God, Lord, and Savior.  "...though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."  (Philippians 2:6-8)  Paul was telling his readers/listeners that Jesus had every right to claim the benefits of being God when he came to the earth but gave all that up so that he could live a life that other humans lived and could identify with the human condition, even the most dreadful fate that humans during that time period could suffer. 

Paul encourages the Church to imitate the humility that Christ exhibited and to strive to serve others even as Christ served all as a slave to all.  Christ's full obedience to all that humans would suffer gave him the right to be exalted so that all humanity would recognize his sacrifice and obedience someday.  Paul tells them to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (2:12) so that they would lead lives pleasing to God. 

People who are Christians tend to live similar lives and exhibit characteristics that are similar in many ways.  They do not always agree on all the details but most sincere Christians desire for peace to reign and for justice to prevail.  They want the poor to be helped and the stranger to be befriended.  They want life in general to be good for all persons.  They want discrimination to end and equality to be the way of life.  We may not agree on social mores at times but we tend to agree on social issues that will bring about a knowledge of God's love in the world around us. 

"Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind..." (2:2b)  In other words, copy the good things you see in life as you live among one another.  Encourage one another to do good works and to think about good things.  And the God of peace will be among you.  Amen. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Looking Beyond Ourselves

Last Sunday we had the opportunity to see the new movie "The Help" that is currently playing in theaters.  It is based upon the book of the same name that has been on the bestseller list for the past two years or so.  Our church book group had read the book together and discussed it and I was anxious to see how closely it followed the book.  The producers of the film did an excellent job of translating the book into movie form.  The actors chosen to play the characters seem to fit the written description well.  It was a very entertaining and at times heartwarming movie.

In case you are not familiar with the book or the movie, it is about the 1960s era in Jackson, Mississippi.  A young woman named Skeeter decides to write a book about the lives of the black maids who help to raise the children of white families.  This was during the era in our country when black persons had to use separate restroom facilities, had to drink from separate water fountains, had to eat in separate restaurant rooms, and had to attend movies using the balconies rather than the main floor.  The Civil Rights movement had not been achieved and the movie briefly mentioned the death of Medgar Evers and the beginnings of the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King.  It also mentions the death of President John F. Kennedy with a scene of the family watching the funeral on television.

Skeeter is connected to a group of young socialite women headed by a cynical and mean spirited woman need Hilley.  This woman is promoting a plan she wants imposed upon citizens of Mississippi that would require anyone with a black maid to build a separate restroom for them as she does not want black persons to use the same restroom that she uses.  She believes that white people can receive diseases from touching black people or using the same restrooms that they use so she is very enthusiastic about her plan and wants others to join her crusade.  This is all going on at the same time that Skeeter is interviewing black maids so that she can write a book about their lives. 

The movie focuses on these two women and the crusades in their lives which push them in opposite directions resulting in the dissolution of their friendship.  Neither can see life from the point of view of the other because their individual interests become the central focus in their lives.  The character Hilley reminds me of Jonah from the book of the Bible by the same name.  Jonah is told by God to go preach to the people of Ninevah because God planned to destroy their city and God wanted to give them the opportunity to repent before this happened to them.  Jonah hated the people of Ninevah because they were the enemies of the people of Israel.  He did not want them to repent.  He wanted them to be destroyed. 

Jonah finally reached Ninevah (despite a side trip to Tarshish and spending a night in the stomach of a fish) and did what God asked him to do with the result he expected--the people of Ninevah repented of their sins and God decided not to destroy them after all.  Jonah's reaction to this news was that he went out of town and found a big bush to sit under and pout because his enemies were not destroyed after all.  The plant soon died and Jonah mourned for it because it was gone.  God has the last line in the book of Jonah because here is what he said about Jonah's actions: "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not be concerned for Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"  (Jonah 4:10-11)

God was challenging Jonah's attitudes about life.  He could be concerned about a plant that provided him some shade but he could not be bothered to care about thousands of people who may have died.  Jonah had a deep prejudice against the Ninevites based upon their history with his people, the Israelites.  He would have been pleased for them to have been wiped off the globe.  After all, his people were God's people and they were the enemies of God's People.  Obviously, though, God had other people than just the Israelites.  God must have loved the Ninevites also or God would not have decided to give them a chance to repent in the face of their destruction.

In the era from 1860 to 1960, it was okay to many people to treat persons of color as less than full humans because some in society decided that was the approved system of behavior.  That system was challenged by those who did not approve of that sanctioned way of living and finally in the courts of the USA and equal civil rights were guaranteed by law for persons of color as well as others.  Today, that way of life seems so far in the past.  Some persons who did not live in that era may even think that such a story such as The Help must have been fabricated.  It does not take one long to look at society today,  however, to see other examples of how humans continue to mistreat other human beings based upon a characteristic or trait that they find unacceptable.  It may not be based on color now; it may be based upon ethnicity, sexual orientation, country of origin, status of citizenship, or other factors of one's choosing.  We as a society continue to have a long way to go to reach the place where we treat others with equal respect regardless of who they may be.  The question continues to be not if discrimination will be imposed upon some but who will society choose to level its discrimination at next?

Skeeter chose to look at her black neighbors in the Jackson, Mississippi of the early 1960s as equals.  Something in her life equipped her to do this.  Her friends who were involved in the social scene of society were not as well equipped and chose to continue the system that looked upon persons of color as inferior and perhaps even dangerous.  The Civil Rights movement upset their comfortable social system and their lifestyles that were a century old and more.  The end result for Skeeter was that she had to leave her home of origin and venture out into the world where people lived who shared her common ideas.  You may say she was ahead of the times in which she lived.  You may say that she was misplaced or that she outgrew her past.  In any case, you may also say that her life included attributes that others in her hometown did not seem to have, those of compassion, mercy, and grace.           

Monday, September 12, 2011

Forgive and Forget?

Today is September 12, 2011.  Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the attacks that happened on September 11, 2001.  It was hard not to know that this anniversary was being marked.  There were special programs on television revisiting those terrible days when we did not truly understand what was going on in our world.  There were special dedications of monuments to the victims who died in those attacks.  The day was a solemn one, as it should have been, even though life went on with football games and other sports activities that normally are held on a Sunday in our country. 

We had a church service that remembered and reflected upon our lives and our country and what all this may mean to us.  We had special music and celebrated Holy Communion together.  The attendance at the service was a bit more than usual and that was heart warming.  The sermon centered on a passage from Romans where the Early Church was told to love their neighbors and in so doing they would fulfill all the commandments because "love can do no wrong to a neighbor."  We talked a bit about forgiveness and how some people are able to forgive and go on with their lives but some are not able to do so because they have been wounded so badly. 

It brings to mind the question, "Is it always possible to forgive and forget?"  Can we forgive despite not being able to forget or does the remembrance of the pain we have require forgiveness to be granted by us repeatedly as we recall the pain?  Will we eventually move on and think about the circumstances surrounding the pain less and less and eventually be able to truly forgive and forget?  Perhaps human nature and our biological makeup causes us to be more or less able to truly forgive others.  Some persons are blessed with "forgiving spirits" and over look wrongs more easily than others.  Some persons' natures lend those persons to be pained more deeply and they are often the ones who are less about to forgive others.

Forgiveness is at the very heart of the Christian message.  The teachings of Jesus and Paul require forgiveness of those who wear the name Christian and, without it, one cannot truly call oneself a Christian.  Yesterday, we read the passage from Matthew where Peter asks Jesus how many times must he forgive someone and Peter boldly names 7 as a generous number of times to forgive another person.  Jesus replies that 7 is not enough and in fact one must forgive either 77 times or 490 times (depending on the version of the Bible you read).  The idea is that 7 may be a generous number of times to grant forgiveness to someone but God requires an extravagant response by Christ's followers because they have received such an extravagant amount of forgiveness from God.

I have heard people remark, "I may forgive but I will never forget."  That response somehow makes me wonder if that person truly does strive to forgive or if forgiveness is just a concept of a word that they want to embrace but they cannot truly understand how to enact that in their lives.  Forgiveness is not always easy, and when we have been wounded deeply, it is not done quickly either.  Forgiveness may take years, even decades, to truly be accomplished in our lives.  We just passed the ten year mark in the life of our country and perhaps we are receiving some healing but there is still much more that can be done in our lives as we strive to love our neighbors as ourselves in response to God's own extravagant love toward us.