Category Archives: words

Posts and writings related to other words, including definitions, literature, etc.

My Luke 10 Dilemma

For years I’ve struggled with how two gospels seemed to portray the same moment, the same exchange, in such radically different ways. Perhaps there is truth to some peoples’ assertions that each is a different encounter; perhaps truth to the idea that each author recalled the same exchange differently. My struggle has been with the radically different portrayal of the expert/teacher of the Law who asked Jesus about which commandment is the most important, found in Mark 12 and Luke 10.

In Mark, I have always and read that the teacher is portrayed fairly positively. He asks Jesus, Jesus responds, he affirms Jesus’ answer, and Jesus then gives him a positive word:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mk 12:28-34a)

In this telling, the expert saw that Jesus gave a good answer. This seems to inspire him to ask the question burning in his heart (akin to the Samaritan’s woman question about worship in John 4), one he would ask of God if he could. And Jesus answers, and answers well. The expert sees the wisdom, agrees with Jesus, and Jesus speaks a word of affirmation we might all long to hear: “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”

I think these are words we long to hear, like another affirmation Jesus shares elsewhere – “well done, good and faithful servant.” A divine affirmation!

But in the gospel of Luke, I’ve always read/understood the character of the legal expert in a very different way. In this, he stands up to “test” Jesus. Jesus turns it around on him, and while he can answer the question himself, when Jesus affirms him, he seeks to “justify” himself; to prove himself right. In reply, Jesus shares the amazing story of the “good Samaritan”:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he[Jesus] replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

(29) But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers…” (Luke 10:25-30a…)

After the story, Jesus asks the expert, “who was a neighbor to the man in distress?” And, of course, the expert responds, “the one who showed mercy.” To which we read Jesus’ exhortation, “go and do likewise.” In short, Jesus shares a story that tells the man “don’t worry about who is your neighbor; go and be a neighbor to others.”

As I prefaced, I generally have read this version from Luke as portraying the legal expert negatively. He was, as were others, trying to catch Jesus up in saying something inappropriate; in violating the Mosaic law, or their existing traditions. When Jesus affirms he does know what he should do, he wants to trap Jesus in sharing that his neighbor would be his fellow Israelites; he wants to “justify” his existing behavior; he wants to prove he is already righteous… because how could Jesus respond otherwise?

And yet, Jesus does respond otherwise. But, when I read Jesus’ response, there is no critique. There is no condemnation upon this questioner as he sometimes places on others who challenge or test him. No sense of exasperation in his response. He answers the question with a telling story, and then exhorts his listener to go and do likewise.

My friend Kevin made a comment in his podcast (LoFi Lectionary) about this story that put me in to researching the Greek word used in v. 29 and translated as “justify”: dikaios (dik’-ah-yos). It can be translated as “just, righteous, impartial” and often is used for “innocent.” It refers to being approved by God, one who observes divine and human laws.

So, it could be read as I have generally read it – that this was another self-righteous Pharisee who wanted to be affirmed that he was holy. BUT… it could be read another way.

I think it could be read, though, that he desired to be righteous; that he wanted to be right with God. Retranslated as such, v. 29 might read:

But he wanted to be right with God, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Doesn’t that change the exchange? Suddenly it is no longer another nefarious Pharisee, but it is someone more like Nicodemus. Someone rooted in a tradition, but truly desiring to know and follow God. And Jesus’ response makes more sense: there is no critique, because none is needed. Jesus answers the question, with a radical and telling story, because here is someone who wants to be right with God, who truly is seeking. And when this one can identify who was a neighbor, Jesus encourages him to go forth and do likewise.

Maybe this reading is wrongly influenced by my own perspective. Maybe I’m reading Scripture, of late, with Pollyanna’s glasses. Perhaps it is because I want to see the good in people – and am tired of the spiritual people of Jesus’ day always being seen only in negative terms – that this slight variation in how a single Greek verb is translated has seemed so insightful to me.

But I find greater hope in the narrative this way. The story of the “good Samaritan” has always been read as intended to be challenging; to present to us the idea that goodness can come from unexpected places and people.

If I’m honest, I am one of those unexpected people. I know myself, my heart, my life; I know to some degree the darkness I’m capable of… and yet, I often find, through my (always growing) faith, sometimes I do good, instead. Sometimes I am patient with the kids rather than just short-tempered; sometimes I am gracious to others instead of just defensive; sometimes I am generous instead of selfish.

And perhaps, too, the expert is one of those unexpected people. Perhaps he, too, contained the seed of goodness – a true, heart felt desire for holiness with God. Perhaps there was hope, even for him. I prefer the narrative this way over just another self-righteous holy man trying to challenge Jesus…

Advertisements

A new word

I just read/learned a new word today, and it connects with some stories to tell.

In translating Psalm 63:1 – “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul shirts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” – into Welsh, William Morgan

“used a passionate and evocative word… hiraeth. (To pronounce the word, imaging adding the sound at the middle of ‘python’ – without the p and on – to the English word here: the result would be something like “here-ayth.”)… which might literally be rendered as “my body is homesick for you.” …Hiraeth is a powerful and emotionally dense word in Welsh… Hiraeth speaks to the heart’s longing for its one true home.” (The God Soaked Life, p. 81)

Not too long ago, my last entry on this blog was about a dream I had with a deep sense of loss. In a conversation with friends Cecil and Sandra Lackore about this sense of loss, Cecil wisely shared that home is where we choose to make it, with one another. That was inspiring; enlightening. My sense of home is being with with Lynn (and the children, I suppose!). When I’m away – when I spend long hours apart or, worse yet, travel, I feel disconnected. I feel an inner longing for home that is not a desire to sit in my LaZBoy or watch what’s next in my Netflix queue. It’s to be in proximity with those I love, and with whom I make my home.

Back in 2009 I was attending the third session of the Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation, sometime within the first 12 weeks of Kate’s joining our home. That particular time away I felt a stronger sense of loss and absence – a stronger sense of hiraeth – than ever before. Because my family had grown, my sense of home had suddenly expanded, and so its absence seemed that much stronger.

I’ve used the same concept before to speak about our heart’s longing, our inner desire, for God. I’ve quoted and misquoted Augustine; “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.” But somehow tonight, as I read this word – hiraeth – and thought of my longing to be with my family even while I am engaged in meaningful conversation and relationship with others, it seemed to click in a new way. Tonight, this concept went beyond making sense in my head, and spoke to my heart.

Think of it this way:

My own longing for home (with my family) is present even in the midst of other things that are good; but my sense of hiraeth suggests that there is a hint, a promise, that things could be better. Visiting this camp might be better, if I had the evening to share and debrief with my children after they explored the Maine woods. Meeting with my colleagues might be better, if I could take an evening walk debriefing it with Lynn, or paint a ceiling tile with Kate, or drop Will in the freezing lake. Experiencing the shops and lighthouses of Maine for the first time might be better, if I were sharing the experience with my family; with those who fulfill, for me, that sense of “home.”

My life is good; but there is a hint, a promise, that things could be better. Walking this life might be better, if I chose to spend it with God more than I do. There is always, somewhere in the back of the moment, some sense of this – this hiraeth – this deep, heart deep longing for “home” with God.

It’s to easy to say “hate has no place”

I think it is too easy to say “hate has no place” in our lives.

Be we Christian or not.

As I pondered how to respond to events in Charlottesville this week, I actually began to wonder: is there any role for hate in our lives?

Perhaps; against the SYSTEMS that perpetuate injustice, division, discrimination, racism, sexism, or any other -ism. We can hate systems that lead to and perpetuate evil. My religious tradition includes an exhortation to “hate what is evil,” even while instructing me to love others with sincerity (Rom. 12:9).

But I stand firm there is no place for hatred toward other people. Period.

Because, and here’s the thing: evil is insidious, and it escalates easily.

When challenged about divorce, and/or during his Sermon on the Mount when he challenges long established law, Jesus made clear that some Old Testament / Hebraic Torah law was specifically because we are hard hearted as people, and evil escalates. “Eye for an eye” was needed to hinder our otherwise bent toward extracting greater revenge when someone wronged us, eg “you took my eye, I will kill you.”

But non-escalation isn’t enough for Jesus. He teaches us to go further, to truly find the angels of our better natures and love. To love not just those who love us, but to love our enemy; to do good to those who would harm us.

Evil escalates. No one just suddenly decides to hate.

Evil escalates. Self-righteousness in our own goodness leads to pride. Pride leads us to think we are better than others – particularly “those people” who aren’t as good, or as holy, or as… “whatever”… as us. Such pride leads to division, discrimination, bigotry, hate…

Evil escalates, and can rise from something as simple and insidious as our bent to normalization.

We all tend to normalize our experience, and assume others’ experiences and resulting behaviors should be similar. When, in reality, we don’t know others’ situations, and their behavior – even that which we might judge – might have been normalized for them. (As the old saying goes, “be kinder than necessary, everyone is fighting some battle.”)

We normalize our experience, and then judge others whose experiences may have been – in fact, likely have been – very different.

Then, we respond out of our perspectives, and our responses differ. I may look at a particularly rowdy bunch of kids as “disrespectful” and question my commitment to sharing God’s love with them; and because evil escalates, someone else may look at the same bunch of kids and judge them needing correction, or punishment; and because evil escalates, someone else may look at the same group and judge them as wanting… and because evil escalates, someone else may look at them, from whatever has been “normalized” for them, and hate…

To truly follow Jesus’ command to love, and to avoid allowing evil to escalate to hate in our lives, we have to bring our differences to bear to help one another. We have to share our stories, risking vulnerability, to share our perspectives.

More importantly, we have to listen to others’ perspectives and experiences, to what is “normal” for them; whether that is our experience or not. We have to walk humbly enough to know that our own story is not the only story. We have to love mercy enough to extend to it others who we may want to judge wanting in some way. We have to act justly toward all.

At times I have to be jarred out of my provincial myopic perspective of life. I have to encounter others who challenge me, who rub me a little raw, who help me to see the world a little bit differently. If I want to know peace, and help my community and world know peace, I must be willing to love. As Frederick Buchner so well put about Jesus’ thought about peace (shalom): “For Jesus, pease seems not to be the absence of conflict, but the presence of love.”

If we want to be peacemakers – if we want to be those called “children of God” who follow after the example of Jesus – we have to be bold and courageous enough to love; to love even when others hate; to stand up for justice even when the situation seems foreign to us; to extend mercy to those who seem so radically different than us. If we want to be peacemakers, we have to love God and love others, and hate those systems which devalue or divide or destroy.

Sitting With Sparrows (1998)

(This is an old one – a story reflection on communion. But I don’t have it posted anywhere here, so thought I’d share!)


He believes the sparrows know him by name, he has spent every morning with them for so long. He sits at the corner table, just far enough under the canopy to be clear of rain but open enough to be in the warming rays of the morning sun. Each day he arrives five minutes before the coffee shop opens its doors, and sits quietly with a book du jour, while the sparrows flock around him as soon as he sits. The shop’s serving staff has become so accustomed to him that they bring a hot cafe mocha and muffin to him just as the doors are unlocked. Silently drinking his coffee he splits the muffin in half, then patiently breaks off pieces to feed the swarming, fighting birds.

It was a spring morning, free of the chill that often settled in the desert air. The sun was shining brightly and warmly through a cloudless sky as the man walked up and took his seat. Closing his eyes for a moment, smiling at the constancy of the old man, William turned from the counter and began mixing the man’s regular cup of coffee. William selected a fresh muffin from the day’s assortment and placed it on a small plate he carried with the coffee to the door. Jenna smiled at him, unlocking and opening the door that he might step into the sun himself.

The old man was reading as William walked up, but looked up from his book smiling. Upon seeing William the man tilted his head, his smile fading, and he lowered the book to the table as William placed the muffin and coffee before him.

“Good morning, sir,” William said with his customary lopsided grin, beginning to turn to return to the counter.

“Just a moment please, son,” the man responded. William looked back at him. “Do you have a few minutes, son?”

William’s mouth and eyebrows undoubtably showed his surprise for a moment, for in the year and a half the man had been sitting at the table every morning he had rarely spoken much to any of the staff. His first visit he had come into the shop, waited in line, and demurely asked for the cafe mocha “and a nice muffin, please.” Midway through his third week of visiting the shop the staff members had begun to take a secret joy in preparing his coffee and selecting a muffin for him just as he arrived. The man always smiled and thanked whoever served him, paying an even six dollars each time, leaving his server a seventy-five cent tip and a feeling of joyful consistency. “Just a few words with an older man?”

“Certainly,” William said, pulling a chair from the table and settling into it. The sparrows chirped as they hung from the wall or sat atop the roof looking down. Beginning to unrwap his muffin, the man looked at William.
“My name is William, sir.”

The man stopped and offered William his hand. “Charles O’Rourke. Nice to meet you, William.” William shok the offered hand, smiling.

“I don’t think any of us have ever known your name,” William commented, then felt a pang in his stomach that this was a stupid thing to say.

“Perhaps none of the current staff, but Joseph and I spoke a few times,” the man said as he returned to unwrapping and splitting his muffin. Joseph had worked at the shop for two months the past winter; he had been very quiet around the staff and customers, and William knew little about him save that he had an affinity for reading poetry during his breaks. “Your eyes seem troubled today, William.”

“Pardon me?”

“Forgive an old man’s candor, but I find politeness has limits. Did the two of you fight, or is it something else? I am, of course, referring to the pretty blonde who often kisses you as she sometimes gets her morning coffee.”

“Her name is Kristin,” William told Charles. “We…” His mind was spinning at the man’s perceptiveness, and his recent discussion with Kris; he couldn’t put anything into words. She had told him the night before she was in love with someone else. She had tried to allay his breaking heart with words of comfort, to no avail. He could not remember much of what she had said after telling him she loved another, except that she could not see him for awhile. She had met him at a nearby restaraunt and he had left her there, teary eyed over a peach iced tea. “We broke up last night,” he told the man, wondering as he did so why he did so, hearing a finality in his voice he hadn’t known would be there.

“Ah,” was all Charles said in response. William watched as he broke a piece of muffin and held it out to a waiting sparrow. The bird paused, cocking its head to eye William and then, deciding he must be safe, hopped up to the offered morsel. Taking it from Charles’s fingers he winged off to the roof while the man used his free hand to sip his coffee.

Jenna pocked her head out the door. “Excuse me,” she said politely, though there was surprise lurking behind her cordiality, “William, we’ll need your help in a few moments.”

“Certainly, young miss. I won’t detain him much longer,” Charles said, looking up and smiling at Jenna. She smiled back and ducked inside. Charles took a bit from his half muffin, breaking a piece off the other. William thought of the questions that would lay in wait inside the shop.

“My wife used to bake half a dozen large muffins every Sunday and Wednesday,” Charles said as he slipped a morsel to another expectant sparrow. “We would split one while they were still warm, sitting in our kitchen by the picture window. Each with a cup of coffee. We would split another each morning. On Saturday she would crumble the five remaining muffins, and place them in the feeder outside the window. For many happy years we spent our mornings together this way; sharing a muffin and coffee, talking and sitting with one another, watching the birds come to feed off the same bread.”

A plane passed by on approach in the sky, and the man looked up as it flew overhead. William noticed a dampness in Charles’s eyes; the mist that often accompanies memories. He could hear the gentle hum of life beginning in the coffee house; knew the need they had for him inside, but he remained sitting, listening.

“These were always moments of great happiness between us,” the man said, “despite what might have happened the day before or what might be ahead.

“She took sick two years ago. We tried to share a muffin every morning in the hospital, but it was not the same.” The man paused, sipping his coffee and feeding a chirping bird. “There was still happiness and peace in that time together, but there was also an air of unease in the unfamiliar surrounding that we never overcame. When she finally passed away, it was late one morning, and our muffin lay untouched by her bed.

“I’ve felt her presence since then, young man; every morning.” Charles took a bite from his muffin, looking at William. “I feel her with me every morning I sit here, and the joy and peace we had remains. They help me through the day.” He smiled, looking William squarely in the eye. “Bad times are real, but joy and peace, they are more real.”

The door opened and Jenna was there. “Looks like they need you inside, William,” Charles told him. “You have a good day, young man, and find joy where you can.”

William stood, smiling at the old man. “Thank you, Mr. O’Rourke. You have a pleasant day, too.” Charles tilted his head to look up at him. “I will. Thank you.”

William turned, going inside the busy coffee shop. Later, after Charles had left the table behind, William watched the remaining plate carefully. When the crowd of sparrows had finished the last crumbs of muffin, William retrieved the plate and cup; then went on smiling and serving the various souls that came to him that day.

-1998, rvb

The Porcupine Who Howled At The Moon

The Porcupine Who Howled At The Moon (1)

Once upon a time there was a porcupine named Joggi. While Joggi was aware of the great mystery of life that beat within his small chest, he did not think his name – or he, himself – really mattered. He had once had a friend, but their friendship had ended sadly, and that’s a story for another time. (2)

Ever since he had lost his friend, Joggi had grown afraid.

Joggi came out at night, for porcupines are nocturnal, as I’m sure you know. On most nights, after the sun set Joggi would come out of his hole under a tree and root around in the small brush and bushes, snorting and snuffling and looking for something good to eat.

But some nights, as Joggi made his way out, there would be a great big full moon, that hurt his eyes and made him worry that owls would see him. On nights like these, he would back his way back into his hole, bury his head in his front paws, close his eyes, and wait for the moon to set. For Joggi was anxious and afraid of the moon.

On other nights, Joggi would be out snuffling and snorting and looking for food when a breeze would begin to rustle the leaves. If the breeze began to grow, Joggi would back himself into his little hole, bury his head in his front paws, close his eyes and wait. For Joggi was anxious and afraid of the wind.

Other nights, Joggi would look up from his snuffling and snorting and watch the clouds nervously. If flashes of light and thunderous booms filled the sky, Joggi would back himself into his little hole, bury his head in his front paws, close his eyes, and wait. For Joggi was anxious and afraid of lightning and thunder.

Joggi had not always been quite so afraid, and most nights he still made his way around the brush of the forest floor. But even Joggi notices that more and more, he was hiding in his hole, waiting.

And one night, as Joggi buried his head in his front paws, closing his eyes to wait out the garish light of the full moon, he heard something he hadn’t heard before: a long howl. He opened his eyes, and lifted his head, and peeking through the entrance of his hole he saw a great silver wolf off in the distance, staring at the moon.

The wolf howled again, and his tail flopped from one side to another. He tossed his head, and this time, when he howled at the moon, Joggi had the distinct impression he was greeting the moon as an old friend. Then the wolf hopped up, and briskly dashed off into the forest, playing with the moon.

Joggi buried his head back in his paws, closed his eyes, and waited; for Joggi was anxious and afraid of the moon.

On another night, as the wind howled around the entrance to his hole, Joggi heard another curious sound, like a low growl. Opening his eyes and lifting his head from his paws, he peeked through the entrance of his hole and, once again, he saw a great silver wolf off in the distance.

The wolf squared his feet in the soft turf of the forest, lifted his face, and looked directly into the wind. A soft growl rumbled from his throat, but it wasn’t angry. The wolf’s tail twitched left then right then left, and the growl switched to a quick bark. Then he tossed his head, and briskly dashed off into the forest, playing with the wind.

Joggi buried his head back in his paws, closed his eyes, and waited; for Joggi was anxious and afraid of the wind.

As you can imagine, another night, Joggi saw the wolf again. It was a dark and stormy night, lightning flashed in the sky and thunder echoed through the tops of the trees. Joggi lay in his hole, his head buried in his paws, his eyes closed, when he heard a playful sound in the midst of th storm. Opening his eyes and lifting his head from his paws, Joggi peeked through the entrance of his hole and, once again, saw the great silver wolf.

As lightning flashed in the sky above, the wolf hopped about, his tail twitching. When the thunder rolled, he hopped and barked. He turned left and right, hopping and barking, and soon Joggi saw that he dashed off into the forest, playing with the lightning and thunder.

Joggi laid his head down on his paws, but this time, he kept his eyes open. He waited. This time, he watched as the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled. Joggi was anxious and afraid of the lightning and thunder, but this time he also thought about the playful wolf.

And so it was one night, as Joggi emerged from his hole to snuffle and snort after the sun had set, the he saw the great, garish moon rising over head. As he began to back into his hole, he remembered the great silver wolf, howling to greet the moon. He stopped, and sat himself down, and looked at the moon.

Joggi let out his best howl, but he was not a wolf, and it sounded more like a sqwak. So he thought a moment, and looking at the moon he took a deep breath and called out, “hello, Moon!” And Joggi waited, and the shadows stayed shadows and he saw no owls. And Joggi called out again, more bravely, “hello, Moon!” and the great frightening moon wasn’t so frightening. And standing and walking out under the moon’s light, Joggi found that there was joy in the moon.

And a few nights later, as he snuffled and snorted his way through a tasty blueberry bush, Joggi felt the branches shift and sway with a growing wind. As he walked toward his hole, he remembered the great silver wolf. So Joggi stopped, and he turned toward the wind, his face close to the mossy ground. He planted his feet firmly in the soft turf, and he raised his head to greet the wind. And the wind touched his nose, and it ruffled through his quills, and Joggi smiled. For Joggi found that there was joy in the wind.

Some time later, clouds filled the night sky over Joggi as he made his way through fallen leaves. And instead of returning to his hole to hide and wait, Joggi looked up at the growing storm. He waited, a little tense, until the first flash of lightning. He jumped a bit, and shook his quills, and they rattled and rumbled their own echo of the rumble in the sky above. And Joggi found that there was joy in the lightning and thunder.

And so it was that the porcupine who howled at the moon grew to be less afraid, as he remembered the way of the great silver wolf.

But that’s not the end of the story. For later, on a night when the wind blew strong under a full moon, Joggi emerged out of his hole. That night he planted his feet, his face in the wind, and looked up at the moon. As Joggi cried out his greeting, “hello, Moon!” he heard a faint echo, “hello, moon.”

Joggi looked around, and saw not too far away little Archie the Hedgehog. Archie was seldom seen; Joggi could not remember the last time he had seen the timid little animal. But there Archie was, a small mirror to Joggi, his paws planted firmly in the turf, his eyes to the moon and his nose touched by the wind, smiling.

And in the shadows of the forest, a great silver wolf, his eyes blazing with light, watched them both, and smiled.


(1) with gratitude to, and inspiration from, Martin Bell.
(2) “The Porcupine Whose Name DIdn’t Matter,” p. 113 of The Way of the Wolf by Martin Bell.


c.f.
1 Timothy 4:12, “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”
Titus 2:7 “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.”
Matthew 5:13-16

     “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life. We never tell them. I don’t know why, but we don’t.
“And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend in us, watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.
“You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

-Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten

“Sacred” Music

We had a moment in worship this morning…

The Cornell University Glee Club visited Flagstaff and led most of our time of worship today. While I know they are capable – and have a repertoire consisting – of far more, they shared a number of selections of sacred music with us, drawing from pieces drafted across the centuries! Ancient Latin alongside modern pieces, all sung a cappella by 40 some male voices. As they sang, a few thoughts came to me that I thought I’d share…

cornellchoir

When I closed my eyes, the music seemed to surround me as though in waves. Maybe it is because of familiarity with the physics of sound being a wave, but I imagined the voices mingled together like the waves of the ocean  – bass voices flowing like the undertow of the beach, baritone the shifting swells of waves, tenor (or higher) like the waves crashing at the top. I could almost see the waves as they sang.

I could also picture some of the great cathedrals I’ve visited in Europe. I remember hearing some choirs rehearse in them as I wandered, decades ago; and the mixture of voices filling our worship space this morning were reminiscent of those choirs I’ve experienced, or of choirs innumerable through centuries of faith.

I was reminded that our ability to express beauty (not to mention divine reverence) in music is inherent, and not dependent on instrumentation. Long before there were base guitars, synthesizers, drums, pianos, organs, trumpets – there were voices. While I in no way want to denigrate instruments or musicians – especially because I hold many of my friends with such talent in such awe – the power of voice on display today was inspiring. Voices raised together in melodious harmonies, they transcend the individual and invite listeners in to a moving experience of community.*

So, today, we had a moment. 🙂


*A few years ago, a book came out titled “We are smarter than me,” which emphasized communal knowledge. Listening to the choir this morning, I was reminded a bit about the nature and power of communal worship; of the lifting power of community.

Peacemakers and “Core Values”

You probably already know Matthew 5:9, which in the more common NIV reads:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

But as I prepare for our 90 Days in the New Testament endeavor this spring, I’ve been listening to Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, as I drive. And I was struck by how he phrased the same verse:

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.
That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have already seen that in early December the LEGO Robotics team that I help coach – “R2-Determined,” from Thomas Elementary School – did well at the local regional qualifying tournament. Well enough that not only did the team advance to state competition, but they won the “Judges Award.” They did great!

Except in one area. As part of the competition, the team goes into a room with judges who give them a task to work on together, and then evaluate their teamwork in relation to a variety of “core values” set by the FIRST LEGO League. These are actually good behavioral values the students need to learn to do well in life… and in that room, that day, they did not do well. At all.

That particular failure was particularly crushing to me, even with the excitement of going on to state competition; given my vocation, how could I have failed so much to help encourage their positive behavior? (I will share that in the mean time, we’ve been working a lot on teamwork, and reflecting on how they work together.)

This week, Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ familiar “blessed are the peacemakers” opened the verse up to me in a new way. Of course, peacemaking is about more than just resolving conflict! Of course, peacemaking has to do with helping people cooperate and live and work together! And, yes! When I am faithful at pursuing peacemaking in this way, I do experience a degree of fullness; I do know a bit more who I am inside; I do experience my place as a child of God.