What Others Say

Every time I read one of your columns, I am always always touched and moved in some way. Your heart and spirit come through clearly in your words. It's an oasis of comfort and serenity in a time when everything is so chaotic and unsettling.
- M Gardner, Deputy Managing Editor, Galveston Daily News

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Eyes Have It


We have entered a new era unfamiliar to us all.  We are greeted by family, friends and strangers wearing masks everywhere we go.  Some masks are like my own, a dull and unremarkable: black, white or gray. Others, like my wife’s, are bright and cheerful.  Her mask is decorated with little birds.  The designs and decorations are unlimited.  But all of them have one thing in common.  They hide our faces.  We cannot determine if someone is smiling, frowning, sneering or simply dead-pan.  We cannot read lips.  A significant percentage of our normal public face-to-face communication has been stolen. 

My wife and I were watching an old black-and-white Gary Cooper movie the other night.  When the villain suddenly pulled up his bandana to mask his face we were struck with how familiar he looked. Once upon a time, meeting a masked stranger on the street might create shivers of suspicion and fear. But, today, it is normal, expected, even required.

But one facial feature remains:  the eyes.  Even with masks, the eyes communicate. They seldom, if ever, lie.  They portray innocence, beauty and wonder; the sparkle of imagination, compassion and love.  They can also convey anger, fear, suspicion, even deceit.  Our music recognizes this fact:  The Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes,  Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, and the Beatle’s Close Your Eyes and I’ll Kiss You, to name a few.

Our eyes are the window of the soul. Whatever we choose to see, to read, to watch on TV or the internet floods our soul with images that enlighten, inspire, encourage or corrupt.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when He said, “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eye is healthy your whole body is full of light.”  The eyes not only fill the soul, they also reflect the soul.  Our secret thoughts, the things within our heart are often reflected in our eyes. 

One of the great treasures of the human experience is to find favor in the eyes of another, as when a groom lifts the veil and looks on the face of his bride.  Or when a mother beholds the face of her newborn child. The eyes can bestow unimaginable and unforgettable blessings.  With the eyes we can bless, and we can be blessed by another.  

Most important of all is how we are seen by God.  The Bible says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 14:2).   And again, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

The Bible tells of a young man who came to Jesus wanting to go to heaven.  In response “Jesus looked on him and loved him” (Mark 10). Unfortunately, the young man turned away and missed his opportunity because he loved wealth more than he loved God.  I have always loved the old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in his wonderful face, and things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”  What are we choosing to see with our eyes?  Whose eyes do we seek?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Class of 2020


Every May, when trees splash green lawns with shade and wildflowers fill the air with fragrance, we celebrate one of the significant rites of passage for each generation.  Normally young men and young women robe themselves in their school colors and don mortar-board-caps with dangling tassels to accept diplomas signifying their educational achievement.  But this year isn’t normal.  Not for the class of 2020. 

Some are watching commencement speeches online in the same way they completed their course assignments with their teachers and professors.  Some will dress for photos taken in their living rooms with family, or outside with their school building in the background.  Family and friends will do their best to make it special. But it is not the same.  The pressing crowd of friends with whom they once played on playgrounds, with whom they studied, competed, worked and grew to adulthood, will be missing. They will not stand shoulder-to-shoulder, searching the crowd to locate parents who search for them.  They will not walk the stage when their name is called and they will not pose together for a class picture.

I feel a sense of grief for the class of 2020.  The coronavirus pandemic has stolen something precious from them that will be difficult to replace.  Rites of passage are important.  But even if the pandemic restrictions take away the pomp and the circumstance of the moment, it cannot steal away the love and admiration we feel for these graduates. I hope in some small way, the words of this weekly column can add to the affirmation for this special Class of 2020.

My best friend’s granddaughter is a member of this class, one of the brightest young women I have known. When she was seven-years-old and entering second grade, I said to her, “You are very smart. But it is important as you grow up to be wise.” I asked, “Do you know the difference between being smart and being wise?” Without hesitation she said, “Sure, smart is knowing that 3 + 3 equals 6. Wise is doing the right thing.”  This month she graduates from high school with the Class of 2020, a very wise young woman with full scholarships to college.  I want to shout congratulations to Gillian and to the entire Class of 2020!

Many high schools and colleges are hoping to carry out graduation exercises later this summer.  I hope they can, although most expect it will still have social distancing restrictions.  Whether they do or not, my hopes are high that these youth will lead the world forward to a better day.  There is so much that needs to be accomplished in social justice, equal opportunity, environmental stewardship, global cooperation, and mutual respect among all peoples.

I am reminded of Paul’s instruction to his young friend Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).   And Jeremiah’s prophecy, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Children and the Secret of the Kingdom


Children are found on every continent in every culture. Without them the human race would be doomed to extinction.  They fill the air with laughter, like the sound of water gurgling in a happy brook. Their capacity for imagination and happiness is almost boundless. 

They make friends of complete strangers.  In a matter of minutes they are playmates making up imaginary games. They are as happy and excited to kick a half-deflated soccer ball in a back alley as any player in a World Cup stadium. They see the world with wide-eyed wonder, and they are blind to color, race or social standing. Even the Carona crisis cannot stifle their spirit. 

We are born reflecting the eternal light that enlightens every man. (John 1:9).  But, somewhere along the way, the light dims. The carefree joy of childhood is lost. 

Too often, and too soon the children will learn the lessons of prejudice and competition. They learn it from watching grown-ups around them. They learn it from pressure to perform in sports, pressures to live up to the expectation of adults who too often measure life by fame, fortune and winning at all costs.

Jesus treasured the innocence of childhood.  He once took a child and stood her in the midst of his grown-up disciples who were arguing among themselves about which one of them was the greatest.  Holding the child in his gentle hands, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2).

We all were children once, full of hopes and dreams with boundless imagination.  We are prone to lose the magic, exchanging laughter for worry, innocence for anger, expectation for resentment.  But somewhere, down deep inside, is the child we once were.

I have known adults living into their eighties whose eyes still twinkle with the joy of a child, whose faces are wrinkled with lines of laughter, who seem to wake up each morning with a child-like excitement for the next day’s adventure. We need not surrender to the bitterness of disappointment.  The wisdom of experience can serve as seasoning for the joy of childhood.

Regardless of our circumstances; in spite of our difficulties, set-backs and disappointments; Jesus invites us to enter the Kingdom as a little child, to be filled with a faith that expects to be surprised by glory.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Changing the Way We Live


A strange thing has happened in our neighborhood.  Two months ago we barely knew most of our neighbors.  We would recognize familiar vehicles leaving for work, shuttling kids to school. But when they returned they either disappeared into their garages or quickly ran inside not to re-emerge.  Their lives were centered elsewhere, with their co-workers, their teachers and friends. 

But then the Covid crisis hit. Schools and businesses were closed.  We were told to shelter in place, which meant “stay home.”  We became desperate for a friendly face and a familiar voice.  We introduced ourselves to one another on our neighborhood walks, keeping a respectful 6 foot distance. And our neighborhood began to change. 

Today young mothers go for walks together, pushing their strollers.  Parents and kids play baseball in the front yard.  A young couple across the street eats their dinner on the front porch, waving to passers-by and chatting with those who stop to talk.  Neighbors offer to pick up groceries for neighbors.  And bikes.  Bicycles are everywhere: children, teenagers, adults of all ages, small bikes, big bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, expensive bikes and bikes, like mine, that are over 20 years old.  Whole families: children, parents and grandparents ride bikes together. 

Churches are changing.  Instead of gathering in buildings to listen to a worship team and hear a preacher, families gather in their living rooms to stream their local church service and meet in small groups during the week through zoom.  Instead of shuffling their kids off to a Sunday school teacher, parents are opening the Bible and telling Bible stories to their children.  Church is no longer about a “performance” on Sunday morning.  It is increasingly about ministering in neighborhoods, helping those who are hurting; caring for those who are sick and dying; comforting those who grieve, finding ways to create community.

We are all anxious to get back to work and return to school, to see friends and co-workers, to shop without fear.  We look forward to eating out at our favorite restaurants with smiling wait staff.  We long for the day when we will again hear the laughter of children on the playgrounds and in the park, to stand in the bleachers and cheer our home team.  We can’t wait to return to our churches without masks or distance restrictions, to greet one another with hugs and handshakes.

But in the meantime, God may be teaching us something.  Under the Covid restrictions we are learning to relate more closely to our neighbors and our families, to be “church” in community.

The admonitions of Scripture give guidance: “Each one helps his neighbor and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’ … Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:6, 10).