Holding On

If I Had Been an Apostle on that terrible Holy Saturday,

… would I have gone into hiding? Yes, I would.
… would I have sunk into despair? Yes, I would.
… would I have wondered if it all had been for naught? Yes, I would.

Because I am fickle and uninspired and weak. Because all I had dreamed of and hoped for had been crushed. Because I would have known, with the surety that I knew the sun would rise, that I was bound for the same fate.

Despair
Sometimes all we can do is hold on. (Image: “Despair,” by Lloyd Morgan, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

And yet, when the next day dawned for the Apostles, all was not as they feared it would be. The world was the same, but their lives were radically changed. They held on long enough to see the new dawn, and sometimes — when we are hiding, in despair, and wondering if what we’ve done is for naught — all we can do is hold on, as well.

Wherever you are, whatever you may be going through … hold on.

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What’s in the Details?

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Happy Birthday to my publisher, Kevin J. Anderson, and to Firefly leading man Nathan Fillion. And to you, if it’s your birthday!

Today is also the birthday of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (27 March 1886 – 17 August 1969), who in 1959 was quoted in The New York Herald Tribune as saying,

God is in the details.

You might also be familiar with the saying, “The Devil is in the details,” so there seems to be some contention there. I poked around a bit and found that the van der Rohe quote could perhaps better be expressed as “God dwells in the details,” and I quite like the way that sounds.

Details
As we look deeper, we see more and different details. (Image: “Details,” by Tom Magliery, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I like to think of it in terms of systems: as we pull a system apart into its subsystems and components and parts and materials, we uncover additional details about it and hopefully come to understand it better — but in some ways the system becomes even more mysterious the deeper we go, the way the subatomic quantum world is stranger and harder to fathom than our everyday world. But there is still order and beauty there, and where we struggle with the details as we try to create (or re-create) something orderly and beautiful we begin to find God, the creator of order and beauty.

But we can get trapped in the details, too, which is where the Devil whispers to us that the details are all there is and we’ll never get the details right. So it’s important to back away sometimes, to once again try to apprehend how all the details work together in the whole.

I guess I would say that God dwells in the details and permeates the whole. But when we focus too much on the details and lose sight of the whole, we can also lose sight of God. It’s a matter of perspective.

I hope you have the chance to see God in your world this week!

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Doing Good, ‘Slowly, Gently, Little by Little’

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Four years ago today, Pope Francis was elected to serve as the 266th Pope. So far he has proven to be one of the most popular and inspirational people to hold that sacred post.

Just a few weeks after ascending to the Papacy, Pope Francis said at Mass:

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists?” Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. “But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!” But do good: we will meet one another there.

do good
Sound advice, here. (Image: “do good,” by potential past, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I love all of that, from the principle that the redeeming work of Christ was sufficient to redeem everyone — even those who don’t accept it — to the point that we can make the world better and more peaceful the more we (as Scripture says) persist in doing good.

I hope this week that we all make the most of any opportunities we have to do good! And as always I wish you and yours the very best.

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Monday Morning Insight: 230 Years of Religious Freedom

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

On this date in 1786, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted the “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” into law. Thomas Jefferson had drafted the statute in 1777, and it was first introduced in the assembly in 1779. Jefferson considered the statute so important that he asked for it to be included as one of three accomplishments listed on his tombstone, along with the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia.

I love the way it begins:

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free

Indeed, and God wants us to use our minds well! There’s a reason the prophet Isaiah says, “Come, let us reason together.”

Religious Freedom
Detail on a monument to Thomas Jefferson in Louisville, Kentucky. (Image: “Religious Freedom,” by Don Sniegowski, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

The statute declares that punishments or burdens enacted to try to influence people’s thinking

tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do

“Hypocrisy and meanness.” Lord knows that often we cannot help but be hypocritical, but I pray God will forgive us if we persist in it and if our religious practice is either unkind or shabby.

As someone who believes that science and faith agree more than they disagree, I find this clause amusing:

… our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry

And given the unfortunate antagonism we face from time to time, no matter which side of whatever divide we find ourselves upon, this part is encouraging:

And finally, … Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, … she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict

Unless we disarm Truth by restricting “her natural weapons, free argument and debate.” Let’s try not to do that, shall we?

And, finally, the act declared that

… all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and … the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

Religious freedom: It’s a marvelous thing. I hope you have opportunity to practice yours this week.

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Monday Morning Insight: New Year, New Things

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

It’s the first Monday of 2017 — and for many folks it’s still a holiday, so that’s not a bad way to start the year!

The first quote I’ll present in this series this year is a promise from the 21st chapter of the Revelation of Saint John:

He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Sunrise!

(“Sunrise!” by Larry, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

 

Other translations render the verb tense a bit differently, but I like this one because it’s a statement of intention and purpose: not “I would like to” or “I am in the process of” but “this is what I do,” specifically, “I make all things new.” And not some things, not most things, but all things.

If we believe the one saying that is the one through whom all things were made in the first place — as the Gospel of John presents in its first chapter — then it is no great stretch to believe that he can remake the old into the new and even that he intends to do so. We might even go so far as to think that he delights in doing so.

And that’s a nice thought with which to start this New Year.

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What is the Secret to Being Content?

I was thinking last week, as we celebrated Thanksgiving, that contentedness seems in short supply these days.

I admit, it’s hard to be content when the marketing geniuses on Madison Avenue produce alluring advertisements that promise us immediate happiness, robust health and so forth if we only buy their products. And it’s hard to be content when for decades the Rolling Stones have powerfully expressed a feeling so easy to parrot: “I can’t get no … satisfaction.” But even the poorest among us here in the US, compared to many (if not most) people in many other countries, actually have quite a lot for which we can be thankful and with which we might … just might … be content.

One approach to contentment was suggested by St. Paul to the church in Philippi:

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

And in Richard III Shakespeare poetically expressed how discontentment can be alleviated by the arrival and ascendance to prominence of a cherished friend or loved one: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York.” It’s not that the winter of Richard’s discontent is now occurring, but that it’s now been turned to glorious summer — though Richard clearly does not know the secret to true contentedness, as his discontent returns and his ambition asserts itself.

“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” LAO TZU .. (Explore )

(Image: “Be content with what you have…,” by Nick Kenrick, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

I saw a “meme” on Facebook a few weeks ago that said, “… be content with what you’ve done and be proud of who you are.” It’s available with a variety of background images, and sometimes attributed to mainstream writer Steve Almond, but that idea seems backward to me.

To me, it’s better to be content with who we are and proud of what we’ve done.

The other formulation puffs us up, gives us inflated egos or overlarge senses of self-importance even if we have done very little. It seems healthier to approach life with as clear an image of ourselves and our capabilities as we can develop, and to put in the effort to produce things we can be proud of, whether things we do for hire or sale, or things we undertake out of love or enjoyment — not perfect things, not necessarily “great” things or “better” things than what others have done, but things we can look upon with satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

But beyond that, and part of why I’ve been thinking about all this for the past few days, it seems best to be thankful for who we are and what we can do — to look back at what we’ve done and be proud of it, yes, but to continue to live with gratitude in the present and look forward with anticipation to the future.

I don’t know if that’s the secret to being content, but I’m giving it a try.

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Thankful for All the Nouns

Good Thanksgiving morning to you and yours!

Every day I try to find things to be thankful for, but I’m glad our nation sets aside a special day for expressing thankfulness. In the spirit of the day, I sat down this morning to make a list of things for which I’m thankful, and realized that I could work for hours if not days trying to remember every individual person, place, or thing for which I could rightly say, “Thank you.”

I would never run out of nouns, and so I’d never run out of thanks.

I hope you can say the same.

Thanking God, 2016

(Image: “Thanking God, 2016,” by Martin LaBar, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Whoever you are, wherever you are, I’m thankful for you — and I hope you have a fantastic day!

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Monday Morning Insight: Proclaiming National Thanksgiving

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

On this date in 1789, President George Washington — based on a resolution passed in the Congress — proclaimed that Thursday, 26 November 1789, would be set aside for the people of the nation to unite in devotion to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” The proclamation began with a statement that seems quite bold today, especially for a public official:

… it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.

Congress had recommended “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Washington’s proclamation enjoined the people to offer “sincere and humble thanks” to God for several things, including:

  • “His providence in the course and conclusion of” the Revolutionary War,
  • “the great degree of tranquillity [sic], union, and plenty” they enjoyed,
  • “their civil and religious liberty,” and
  • “all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Gratitude changes the way we look at the world

(Image: “Gratitude changes the way we look at the world,” by BK, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

President Washington also encouraged the people to beseech “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations” to forgive “our national and other trangressions [sic],” and, in particular,

to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.

It seems a shame that we have let our government get so out of control, and that we seem unable to place people in positions of trust who are wise and just, who respect the Constitution, and who are able to “discreetly and faithfully” execute the nation’s laws. Perhaps if we used Thanksgiving for giving thanks, and for reflecting on our freedom and what it takes to maintain it, we might have less trouble in that regard.

___
P.S. The full proclamation is available here.

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Monday Morning Insight: God and Mathematics

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

Today is British physicist Paul Dirac’s birthday (8 August 1902 – 20 October 1984). Dirac shared the 1933 Nobel Prize with Erwin Schrodinger, and is known as one of the founders of quantum physics.

Dirac was a rather famous atheist — his colleague Wolfgang Pauli was said to have remarked, “Our friend Dirac, too, has a religion, and its guiding principle is ‘God does not exist and Dirac is His prophet'” — but later in life he wrote a quite eloquent statement about God and the mathematical relations that describe our universe. In a piece in the May 1963 issue of Scientific American entitled “The Evolution of the Physicist’s Picture of Nature,” he wrote (emphasis added):

It seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty and power, needing quite a high standard of mathematics for one to understand it. You may wonder: Why is nature constructed along these lines? One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe. Our feeble attempts at mathematics enable us to understand a bit of the universe, and as we proceed to develop higher and higher mathematics we can hope to understand the universe better.

Later still, Dirac was quoted as having said simply, “God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.”

Are we to conclude that Dirac, who in 1927 said, “If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination,” found God in later life? Did something in the nature of quantum mechanics point him toward the divine?

The Beauty of Mathematics

The language of mathematics … it’s more than a little Greek. (Image: “The Beauty of Mathematics” by Peter Rosbjerg, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

It would seem not. Instead of coming to believe in the existence of God, Dirac accepted the possibility of God’s existence, and even the necessity of God in certain circumstances:

I would like … to set up this connexion between the existence of a god and the physical laws: if physical laws are such that to start off life involves an excessively small chance, so that it will not be reasonable to suppose that life would have started just by blind chance, then there must be a god, and such a god would probably be showing his influence in the quantum jumps which are taking place later on. On the other hand, if life can start very easily and does not need any divine influence, then I will say that there is no god.

That’s an interesting idea, though I wonder (a bit playfully, perhaps) if the physical laws of our universe are such that to produce a Paul Dirac (or a you, or a me) involves “an excessively small chance.” There have been, after all, only one of each of us in all the universe.

Even as powerful a mind as Dirac’s could not solve all the equations of the universe, and I certainly can’t. So I am content to let God be God and handle the beautiful and mysterious mathematics of creation.

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Should We Tear Down the Stage?

This is something of a sequel to — or maybe a tangent from — my post about Choir Lofts and Orchestra Pits.

Does your church have a stage?

Some churches have built impressive stages, with elaborate lighting and backdrops and such. Some churches can’t help but have a stage, because they rent space in a theater or a school auditorium or amphitheater or whatever. Our old church had a choir loft in front of the sanctuary — our pastor was always careful to call it a “platform,” because as singers and musicians we weren’t supposed to be performers on a stage — and we rearranged it to put the musicians together, but if you read my last post on this subject you’d be right in guessing that I think now that was probably a mistake.

Anyway, yesterday while worshiping at a small church I wondered how the worship leader, singers and musicians would react if someone from the congregation just walked up on stage while they were playing. Would they panic? Would they stop playing, or keep going?

Worship Set

(Image: “Worship Set,” by David Amsler, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

When I was a worship leader, I think I would have been stupefied. I expect I would have gotten flustered and missed more than a couple of beats, whether I was playing guitar myself or just conducting the rest of the musicians; certainly my attention would have been drawn to the person rather than to what I was doing. I hope that eventually I would have settled back into the singing, and I hope I would have come across as more surprised than irritated (though probably not; I have an unfortunate tendency to radiate my annoyance).

But the more I consider the question, the more I think that the best reaction would be to welcome that new person and keep on worshiping together.

The point of a worship service is not for the congregation to enjoy worship, but for them to experience it — to participate in it. It’s the difference between being a part of and being apart from the worship experience.

I feel more and more strongly that placing musicians and singers in front — and especially separating them from the congregation by having them on a stage (no matter what we call it) — skews the congregation’s experience in favor of observing rather than contributing. From my observations over the last couple of years, often the worship team performs while the congregation watches.

What do you think? If you’re a worship leader, a singer, or a musician in a church, and normally you’re separated from the congregation, would you welcome any worshiper onto the stage, any time? Is your worship team exclusive, and have you made worship the exclusive province of a few people?

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