Saturday, January 11, 2014


PC Time

Every family has their traditions, and ours was no exception.  Like most good CRC families, Sunday afternoon was nap time for our parents.  There were some fairly strict rules set for our behavior during nap time, the number one rule being “don’t do anything that will wake up Dad.”  Our family consisted of 6 rambunctious boys and one little sister who came later (as the crowning glory?) and nap time put a definite damper on our Sunday afternoon playtime.  Being quiet was not one of the things we did well but the punishment we would receive for waking up a parent was a strong deterrent to loud behavior.

One of our favorite Sunday afternoon traditions shared by us kids was what we called PC Time.  Today PC is an abbreviation for Politically Correct but for us back then it was much simpler.  PC meant Potato Chips.   My parents would buy one bag of Jay’s potato chips each week and Sunday afternoon was the time set aside to enjoy those salty delights.

One of the older brothers would make the announcement “PC Time” and we would all gather around the kitchen table.  One of us would then open the bag and we would share the chips right out of the bag.  It may not seem too special now, in a world that has Chicken and Waffle Potato Chips, but when you only get one bag of chips a week and you have to split  it between six children, PC Time was awesome.

To make it even more exciting we did what kids do all the time.  We invented a game to go with our chip-eating.  We had a weekly contest with a variety of winning criteria; first whole potato chip, last whole potato chip, smallest whole potato chip, and largest whole potato chip.  There were no prizes but the competition was fierce and it was not unusual for someone’s winning chip to be crunched by an opponent before the chips were gone.  I remember once finding a moldy chip between the kitchen window and screen, someone’s bid for Last Whole Potato Chip from the week before that had apparently been forgotten.

In this day and age PC Time may seem like a boring game.  Most of us can now buy potato chips whenever we want.  And entertainment is just a button push away on any cell phone or I Pad.  But it wasn’t the chips or the contests that we invented that made PC Time special.  It was spending time together as kids, brothers (and a sister) of various ages meeting at the table and sharing a snack together.  What we were eating wasn’t important; it was the time we spent, gathered together as sibling, building memories.

Friday, December 20, 2013

                                                                       SAVED
 
A golden blanket of leaves cushioned the path, swallowing the sound of his footsteps.  He followed the route mainly by intuition, wandering between the blackened trunks of dead trees and fallen branches.  Each time he found a trail marker it was a small victory that caused him to wonder who or what was guiding him.

 

Down, down the hill he went, down to the lake hidden beyond the forest of stumps and dried marsh grass.  The trail curved along the ridge of the hill and then descended, following what in springtime would be a rushing creek but now just dent in the ground filled with the detritus of late autumn.  He followed the path until it turned and opened up along the shoreline.  There he found a recycled plastic bench with a metal frame that had been anchored with concrete feet against the eroding waves of time.

 

Sitting on the bench he peered out over the lake and let his troubled wander.  A strong northeast wind churned up whitecaps across the lake.  There were no boats out today.  It was too late in the season, too cold and rough to risk being out today.  A flock of geese gathered mid-lake defying the wind.  A hint of blue sky and sunshine to the north teased him with a promise of sunshine with no guarantees of making it to where he sat.  The restless water reflected the shadows of trees, reflecting and refracting them in the waves as they rolled against the shore.

 

The weather mirrored his mood, cold and dark and rough, any joy he could see hiding on the far horizon well beyond his power to reach.  He felt he was carrying the weight of his own world on his own shoulders, on his own head, in his own heart.  He tried to pray but the cold wind sucked the breath and prayer from his lips.  Behind him he heard the threatening sound of branches dislodged by the wind and crashing into the woods.  Rain began to fall, a wild mist that the wind turned into thousands of little needles that stung his face and hands.  A single word echoed in his head: hopeless.

 

Maybe I should just walk into the lake, he thought.  Just wade in and keep on wading until the water reaches my waist, until it covers my shoulders and fills my lungs.  But then what?  Peace?  The end of feeling dragged down and defeated?  Would his troubles be gone or would he just be leaving them for someone else? 

God is love, he had learned in Sunday School, and His grace is deep and wide.  Could grace, could God, reach deep enough to find him in his despair?

 

Movement in the trees to his left drew his eyes.  A small bird hung suspended from a branch, a red-headed woodpecker, checking the branch for movement and looking for a meal.  Its bright red head and black-and-white body stood in contrast to the gloom that surrounded him.  He sat as still as possible, certain any movement would spook the small bird but it was too busy searching for food to even notice him.

 

Not finding any insects the bird flew to some marsh grass where small white berries hung from dying twigs.  The woodpecker pecked them off one by one and, now fed, flew away, singing as it flew.   And in some strange way he felt the weight of his burdens lift with the bird, lift as if someone had reached down and lifted them from him.  The woodpecker’s song of content reminded him that if God cared enough to feed this little bird that late November morning, how much more would God care for him?

 

He left the bench and followed the path again, still leaf-buried but somehow much more obvious, up and over, away from the gloom of the forest.  He followed it back to his campsite with a fire burning in the fire ring and his wife sitting in a lawn chair with her book and a cup of coffee.  And as he settled into the chair next to her, whistling the song the woodpecker had taught him, he thought, it is well.
I came across a couple of terms today describing a type of new religion. They are both terms related to a religious belief system that started with a single letter to a school board in 2005. I had never heard these terms before so I did what most of us would do, I Googled them to find out more. The root of the religion is something called Pastafarianism. They believe that the world was created by a big Flying Spaghetti Machine (FSM). There were pictures on the Internet of people who created FSM wreaths, knit FSM tree toppers and ornaments. There was even an FSM in a manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph. They celebrate a variety of holidays, including Pastover (pasta and Passover) and Ramendan (ramen noodles and Ramadan). People who believe this aren’t called agnostics; they are called Spagnostics. They believe there is no omnipotent God but a delicious-looking and smiling Flying Spaghetti Machine that created everything. They also believe that Pirates are the true bearers of their religious beliefs, and that the decrease in Pirates in the world is a lead cause of Global Warming. Satirical doctrine or tongue-in-cheek agnosticism? I believe it crosses a line. It is one thing to believe there is no God, to argue that science is the supreme answer to all of our questions, to argue against the historicity of creation and the Bible, to ask questions and have doubts (which are often the seed of faith). It’s another to make fun of people who do believe in God, who believe in intelligent design and in a Divine Designer. Pastafarinists are sort of saying, “how stupid can you be, if you want to believe in a God who created everything you might as well make your God a giant Flying Spaghetti Machine. I wish I could say I would never stoop so low that I would make fun of someone’s firmly held religious beliefs, but… So when the Pastafarians get together, do they get sauced? What do they call Christmas, Pastamas? When they talk about Pastafarians who have died, do they speak of them Pastahumosly? Would it be fair to say that Spagnostics can get a little cheesy> Do you want to even think about what the meatballs symbolize on the Flying Spaghetti Machine? Pastafarianism started with a simple email questioning the teaching of Intelligent Design in the Kansas Public School system. It took on a life of its own once it hit the Internet. Maybe we should question Intelligent Design when we think of people creating a religion around a Flying Spaghetti Machine. If you want to question Intelligent Design and cast doubt on an Intelligent Creator, please try to do so in an intelligent way. Leave the parmesan on the side.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

One Heart At a Time- Reflections on My Own Racism

My wife and I have a strong belief that one of our goals as parents is to raise kids that are less prejudice than we are. I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, in a pocket of white, Dutch Christian Reformed families. Many of them had moved from an area in Chicago called Roseland to the suburbs where I grew up. In the 50’s and 60’s Roseland had been a thriving Dutch community, with several Christian Reformed churches. But when black families began to move into the neighborhood, drawn by the affordable housing and seeking the American Dream to own their own homes, the area experienced “white flight”.


Spurred by some realtors who used the influx of black families as a scare tactic to convince white families that they better sell their houses soon before the property values fell, hundreds of families left the neighborhood and moved to the suburbs. Apparently the decision to live in an integrated neighborhood was not one they were willing to make. The end result was a deeply-rooted racism among that Dutch community, a seed of racism that carried through generations. I hoped that the prejudice of my generation would be a little less, and that each following generation would learn the truth of racial and ethnic equality.

The church I’m currently attending was doing a series on overcoming our prejudice. Along with the series were some specific plans to work towards integrating the church, both racially and ethnically. While I had some questions on how they planned to accomplish the second part, beginning the process with recognition and confession was a good first step. Along with overcoming our personal prejudices are the broader justice issues, overcoming systemic racism and prejudice. It’s a noble battle, and one that needs to be fought. There has been some headway in this battle in the last decade, but we have a long, long way to go. But are there things we can do as individuals to chip away at racism and prejudice?


Several years ago I was gassing up my van at a local gas station. I had finished pumping and was hanging up the nozzle when I heard someone shouting. I looked up to see a young black man running down the sidewalk. He was hollering at the city bus that had stopped at the intersection, trying to flag down the bus driver. He was only a half-block away, and was yelling loudly, so I assumed the bus would wait for him.


The bus door was open, having let a passenger off at that stop. I saw the bus driver look up at the young black man, look right at him. Then he closed the door and drove away. The young man stood there, shoulders dropped, head down. I felt an anger rise up inside me. I knew deep inside that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and do something.


My oldest son was in the van with me that day, and I reacted to what I had seen. I drove over to where that young black man stood and told him I had seen what the bus driver had done. I told him I would give him a ride and try to catch up to the bus. He gave me a strange look but was apparently desperate enough for a ride and climbed in my van. I drove like a bat-out-of-you-know-where, doing my best to catch up to that bus. I wanted to put that bus driver in his place. The young man told me he was going to classes down at the Community College. I told him if we didn’t catch up to the bus I would take him down town to school.


We caught that bus a few miles down the road. I pulled in front of it just as it was driving away, forcing it to stop. I watched in my mirror as the bus driver let that young man on the bus. I could see his stare in my side mirror.

I never asked the young man his name and don’t know what the impact of this incident was on him or on my son. I don’t think this single act atoned for my years of prejudice. This was no world-changing event. And yet maybe this is precisely the way to overcome prejudice, one ride at a time, one attempt at a time to overcome overt acts of racism and prejudice. Maybe the solution to systemic racism isn’t changing the system; it’s changing our hearts.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Message I Would Have Given

I heard about the message at the funeral. If you listened you probably got it loud and clear; hell is a bad place and you don’t want to end up there. See, I was able to give you the gist of the message in one sentence.


But I must tell you, that’s not the sermon I would have preached at Aunt Bernie’s funeral. Too much judgment and not enough hope. No, the sermon I would have preached would have been quite different. I would have picked these wonderful words of Paul in the letter he wrote to the church in Rome.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[h] And by him we cry, “Abba,[i] if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 9:14-17)


I love this verse! We know that the Spirit lives and moves today, that He came when Jesus ascended to continue the work of Christ, to bring about the Kingdom of God. We know that the Spirit works in all of our hearts regardless of where we are in our faith journey. The very fact that each of us is on a faith journey bears truth to His work.


And if the Spirit is working in each of us, and we become aware of His presence and allow Him to begin to lead us, then we are Children of God. Not slaves to the things everyone tells us we better do or we will go to hell. No, we are ADOPTED by God.


I love adoption. People who adopt practice a whole new kind of love. When you have kids the old fashioned way, you love them. You have to; you gave birth to them, you’re stuck with them, you have to love them. But when you adopt a child you make a decision to love that child. You have a choice in the matter, and you choose love. God chose to love us.


When you choose to let God lead your life, through the work of the Spirit, God ADOPTS you! God chooses to love you. Amazing, isn’t it? Doesn’t say if you’re good enough He will adopt you. It says when you surrender your life to Him and let Him lead, you become his child.


One of the comments I heard at the funeral home was “now we’re orphans.” In a sense, yes, you’ve lost your parents and are orphaned from them. But you’re not orphans if you have been adopted by God! You’re not left alone! You’re Father is embracing Fred and Bernie and He’s telling them, it’s all good, you’re kids are mine, too!


And if we are children, adopted in grace by God, then we are also heirs. We share in the inheritance, the riches of heaven and the kingdom of God. If we learn the truth that the day will come when God will throw down evil and re-create everything new, then we know that we will stand in glory in that new creation. Even death, the reason we’re gathered here, is gone.


Sure there’s a hell. But there’s also a heaven. And part of being adopted as heirs is that we are heirs of the promise, that some day we will live with Him in heaven, like Uncle Fred and Aunt Bernie and countless others who let the Spirit lead them.


So the question today is simple. Are you being led by the Spirit or by something else? I know it was your parents/grandparents/great-grandparents greatest desire that you surrender your life to Him.


Do you give up?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hungry

How do you read your Bible when you are doing devotions? Right now I’m reading the letters of Paul in chronological order. I’ve noticed, though, that I have a pre-determined way to read them; by chapter. Big chapter or small, I read a chapter at a time and stop.


We often view our Bible that way, by chapter and verse. We’ve been brought up to follow the breaks in the passages, breaks inserted by those who edited the Bible. We even preach that way, taking small passages rather than entire chapters or books. Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message broke through some of those barriers, yet for many it’s difficult to get past the structure of the Bible. And while that structure is helpful unfortunately that structure can sometimes get in the way of the Spirit speaking through the Bible.


I had an interesting conversation with an employee at my work last week. He had been looking a little tired, so I asked him if he was OK. He told me he had not been getting enough sleep lately, so I asked him why. He said, “it’s an interesting story if you have a minute.” I hate to pass up good stories, so I took a few minutes to listen.


“I was born and raised as a Catholic in the Dominican Republic. As children we were never allowed to have a Bible in the house. Only priests could have the Bible. The only time we heard the Bible read was at Mass.


"One summer I attended a Vacation Bible school offered by a Protestant organization and as part of that program they gave me a New Testament. I began to read it and couldn’t put it down. I had to hide it from my parents; we weren’t supposed to have Bibles in the house. I would wait until I went to bed, then pull the covers up and read the Bible underneath them. I knew if my parents found the Bible I would get punished and have it taken away from me.


"I couldn’t stop reading. I didn’t worry about chapters and verses, I was reading whole stories. I would start reading and sometimes would read through the whole night. By the time I was in eighth grade and I knew the entire New Testament, having read through it several times.


"Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting enough sleep and it was beginning to show at school. The teacher called my parents and they determined that there must be something mentally wrong with me, so they sent me to a psychologist. I knew then I would have to admit what was going on; I told the Dr. about my Bible-reading. Of course, he made me tell my parents.

From that time on I have had a voracious hunger to read God’s word. I don’t just read a few verses or chapters; I sit down and read whole books at a time. I don’t’ think people realize what a blessing it is to have the freedom to read your Bible anywhere, anytime.”


Our conversation made me wonder; how big is my appetite for the Word? If I’m honest with myself I have to admit, I fill myself up on other things and don’t leave room for the Word. I fool myself by thinking “it’s a Christian book with Bible quotes, that’s the same as reading the Bible, right?” Reading Christian books can expand our spiritual horizons and challenge us in our daily life, but it can’t take the place of reading the Bible.


I pray that God will give me the appetite for His Word that my co-worker has, and that I may read it with the same passion and understanding that in it I find the very words of God.