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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Spring Planting

It has been a long hard winter.  We have hunkered down and worn our masks to survive Covid.  Like the disease, winter has resisted letting go its grip.  A month ago, Texas was plunged into the harshest winter on record. Two weeks ago, snow swept across the nation’s midsection from Colorado to New England. And a week ago the Rockies and the Astros played baseball in a snowstorm. Nevertheless winter, like Covid, is waning.  The trees are beginning to bud. The daffodils are blooming. Fans are cautiously, and joyously, returning to baseball stadiums. Families are planning vacations.                        

As we have done from time immemorial, farmers are plowing the soil and sowing their seed while the rest of us dig in the dirt and plant our gardens.  We know that spring will come, and summer will follow.  

There is something about digging in the earth, sowing seed and burying plants in the freshly turned soil.  It is an act of faith, of hope and expectation. It is an ancient ritual of believing. It is a way of interacting with life’s mysterious miracle.  I wrote a poem about the experience. 

I have bedded them,

laid them down to sleep,

dug shallow graves

and buried them

beneath soft soil,

dark, moist, rich dirt,

gently padded and patted.

 

They have been accepted

by the earth,

their burial signified by stick-markers

on which are written their names,

not in remembrance but in expectation,

waiting for them to wake,

to spring from dormant death into full flower:

pink and red and lavender,

yellow and white

the funeral-ritual of spring.

 Gardens are like cemeteries, the name markers signifying the faith and hope with which the bodies of those who have gone on before were laid to rest. What is buried appears to be dead and lifeless. But the dead in Christ will rise again!

Paul had this image in mind when he wrote, “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.  … So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ … thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:37-54).

Winter has passed.  Spring and summer and life will prevail!


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

How We Deal With Guilt and Shame

 This Sunday evening the world will watch the Academy Awards.  It is an odd year, with most theaters closed during Covid and many productions hampered or postponed. The event itself will be adjusted for Covid precautions. Still, careers will be made, and new movies will become instant classics.

 In 2017 Casey Affleck won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “Manchester-By-The-Sea.” When the movie received numerous Oscar nominations, we decided to watch it. What could be more romantic than sunrise over the bay, New England houses lining the shore and boats gently resting in the harbor?

 But “Manchester By the Sea” turned out to be no romance.  It is a tragedy that slowly unfolds through flashbacks in the mind of Lee Chandler, the main character played by Affleck, as he wrestles with his brother’s death and guardianship of his brother’s son.  To fulfill his brother’s dying wish, he must move back to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the site of his shame.

 As the movie unfolds we eventually learn the depth of Lee Chandler’s shame, a shame so deep that he despises himself.  His personal sense of shame prevents him from receiving love, acceptance and forgiveness from others.  Lee Chandler is incapable of loving or being loved.  He is a tortured soul.

 This is what sin does.  We not only feel guilt for our sins, we also experience shame, guilt’s more devastating accomplice.  This is what happened to Lee Chandler.  His shame causes him to hide in Boston, bitter, alone, cynical and angry.  Sadly, in Lee’s case, he is not able to overcome his shame to receive the love of others or of God.

 The Bible has 198 references to “shame” and to being “ashamed.”  We first see evidences of shame after Adam and Eve willfully disobey God’s command.  When God created man and woman, the Bible says, “Adam and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:24).  But, after their sin, they are ashamed and hide themselves from one another and from God.

 God comes looking for us.  Just as He searched for Adam and Eve who trembled with shame in their hiding place.  He comes to remove our shame and restore our relationship to God and to one another. God gently and tenderly clothed them as we clothe our children.

 For this reason, God sent His son to search for us and to die for us.  Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”   And Hebrews exhorts us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).

 All our guilt and all our shame can be removed when we accept God’s redemptive love through His Son, Jesus Christ. We need no longer be crippled by shame.  His sacrifice is greater than our sin. We can again love God, ourselves and others.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Marriage

 Last week Prince Philip died at age 99 after 73 years of marriage to Elizabeth.  They met when she was 13 and he was a dashing young naval cadet. They married 8 years later, 5 years before she unexpectedly ascended to the throne as queen.  Their marriage has been an enduring love story for almost three-quarters of a century.  

 Few marriages are as well known as Elizabeth and Philip.  But, in spite of all the odds against it, more than half of all those who make their vows at the altar remain married to one another throughout their lives.

 Alexander and Jeanette Toczko met when they were eight years old in 1927 and fell in love.  Thirteen years later they married each other.  75 years after they said their vows, they knew they were dying.

 Alexander played golf into his nineties and remained active until he broke his hip.  Their children knew how much they wanted to be together and had their beds placed side-by-side in their home.  On June 17, 2015, Alexander died in his wife’s arms.  His wife hugged him and said, “See this is what you wanted.  You died in my arms, and I love you. I love you. Wait for me. I’ll be there soon.”  In less than 24 hours Jeanette joined her husband. They were buried on June 29, 2015 in San Diego, California.

 I understand a little of how Alexander and Jeanette felt about each other.  My wife and I celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2018.   I married her when she was 19 and I was an older and wiser 22.  In a little church in Freeport, Texas we said our vows and promised to love and cherish each other until death. A few years ago, I wrote a poem in which I tried to capture my feelings:

Where did she come from?

This woman who walked into my life

When I was young,

Who joined her life to mine,

And all the time

My life was joined to hers.

Who bore my children,

Who raised them and taught them

By her example, how to love

By loving me.

 

How did this happen

That she became more than my lover

And my friend;

That she became my very soul?

Marriage is God’s wonderful gift to the human race.  He bestowed it in the garden when He saw that Adam was lonely.  God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, took from his side a rib, and fashioned the first bride.  When he saw her, Adam said, ““This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24).

God gave us marriage as a mysterious bond and endowed us with the awesome power to pro-create.  “Be fruitful and multiply,” God said. (Genesis 1:28).  And so we did.  It is the one command we have been pretty good at.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

O My Soul

 Most of our conversation, it seems, revolves around our bodies and money: how we look, how to stay healthy, how to remain young, how to become wealthy.  We spent 2020 hunkered down, masked up and isolated just to stay alive.  

 Concern for our bodies drives a large segment of our economy.  United States health care expense passed $3.81 trillion in 2019.  Most of this, of course, was corrective surgery and treatment, but elective cosmetic surgery totals more than 13 billion dollars.  This includes liposuction, breast augmentation and hair removal. The fitness industry with its books, talk-shows and exercise facilities is enormous. In 2014 fitness center revenues in the U.S. exceeded $24 billion.

 I can understand this.  Since my body is the only one I have, I want to take care of it.  Of course, I guess there are limits to which I want to do this. I love Blue Bell ice cream and I like to sit in the stands snacking on a hot dog while I watch healthier people compete on the field. 

 I can also understand our interest in money.  We all have to pay our bills, and most of us have ambitions to own our home, drive a nicer car, send our kids to college and enjoy vacations.       

But what happened to the concept of the soul?  We seldom hear the word mentioned, including in our churches.  Jesus taught that, as important as our bodies may be, nothing is as important as our soul. 

Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  

Horatio G. Spafford,  a wealthy lawyer in the 1860s, seemed to live a charmed life enjoying both health and wealth. But, in 1870, he lost his son to scarlet fever.  When his wife’s health began to fail, he decided to move his family to Europe. Delayed by his commitments at work, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. On November 22, 1873, their ship sank at sea. Only his wife survived.  Returning to the spot where the ship sank, Horatio Spafford stood looking over the swelling seas where his daughters drowned and wrote these words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Horatio and Anna Spafford spent the rest of their lives caring for homeless children, the poor and oppressed.

We are more than our bodies and more than our money.  Our “soul” is who we really are, whether rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Our soul is shaped by acts of kindness, honesty, virtue, generosity and faith. The destiny of every nation and every generation is ultimately determined by the soul of its people.