The Bells  

Posted by BT

If any of you are interested, I'd like to read (hear) your thoughts on the thirteenth chapter of Romans. Thanks, Brandon, for the articles you posted. They are helpful. If anyone else has any thoughts they'd like to share, please post them on the comments section on the previous message.

Now, a new topic...

Last Friday night, to celebrate our anniversary, my wonderful wife took me to Kemper Arena to hear Steven Curtis Chapman and MercyMe in concert. We have heard SCC before, and we think he is a gifted songwriter. MercyMe we had not heard, and I was really only familiar with a couple of their songs (primarily the overdone "I Can Only Imagine"). Here are some highlights from the concert:

  • Steven Curtis making fun of himself by playing bits and pieces of some of his older songs, including "The Great Adventure" (can't you hear that first line? "Saddle up your horses...")
  • MercyMe singing "I Can Only Imagine," which was incredibly worshipful and ushered the crowd into the Lord's presence quite nicely
  • The two artists talking about Shaohannah's Hope, the adoption and orphan care ministry started by SCC and his wife
  • The two artists sharing about some time they recently spent with soldiers who were wounded in battle in Iraq. Bart, the lead singer for MercyMe, said that when he asked two of the critically wounded soldiers how he could pray for them, their answer was so simple: Peace. Pray for peace.
  • Listening to MercyMe's original song, "Joseph's Lullaby," off their new Christmas album, "The Christmas Sessions." This song is amazing and has even more profound meaning than ever since I now have a son. An interesting, not-oft-seen look at the Christmas story from young Joseph's perspective. I recommend it.

And then this...Bart told the story of the lyrics to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." This song was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War, and learning the story behind the words gave the song incredible new meaning. Apparently, when the bells were rung on Christmas day during the Civil War, there was a cease-fire for the day. There was peace for the day. Christmas day.

Here are those lyrics:

I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familar carols play. And wild and sweet the words repeat of "Peace on earth, good will to men."

I thought as now the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom had rung so long the unbroken song of "Peace on earth, good will to men."

And, in despair, I bowed my head. "There is no peace on earth," I said. "For hate is strong and mocks the song of 'Peace on earth, good will to men.'"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with 'Peace on earth, good will to men.'"

Amen. So be it. And, in the words of my friend Kyle, "Do it."

Interpretation, and a note from Sojourners  

Posted by BT

Not trying to start a firestorm here (but recognizing that I may do just that), but I was wondering if some of you would enlighten me (I don't mean that as sarcastically as it sounds) with some interpretation of Romans 13, which I read this morning.

On a separate note, I read this in my weekly email from Sojourners and was moved.

One man, Stanley "Tookie" Williams, faces execution Tuesday, Dec. 13, at San Quentin State Prison in California. With him our belief in human redemption also sits on the gallows, pending a decision in the clemency hearing conducted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.Williams, a founder of the notorious Crips gang, is charged with the murder of four people in the Los Angeles area in 1979. At the time of the trial, he proclaimed his innocence, a position he maintains today. A jury convicted him wholly on circumstantial evidence; in other words, no eyewitnesses or incontrovertible material evidence linked him to the murders, according to attorney Verna Wefald’s appeal.

In one of the robberies that led to a murder, an accomplice was given clemency for pointing his finger at Williams for the murder. Beyond the self-interest involved, the accomplice's reputation as a truth-teller was less than stellar. The prosecution produced a shell casing tied to the murder weapon found at the motel where Williams was staying. But the science that matched the casing to the weapon was speculative and its results have not been revisited in the intervening years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

I revisit the facts of the case because Schwarzenegger's decision to grant Williams clemency will depend more on the possibility of his innocence - or at least the uncertainty of his guilt - than it will turn on the contribution that Williams has made to society over the last two decades.That's tragic, because Williams has become a major figure in the gang peace movement. He has co-authored 10 books from Death Row. The message is clear: Violence is never a solution. He urges young gang kids to get out before it destroys them and the lives of their family members. That's a powerful message from one of the founders of the Crips.Williams first made a public plea to hundreds of gang members who gathered at a Los Angeles hotel in 1993 for a summit called Hands Across Watts. He did not hide his early role in the Crips, but on a prerecorded videotape filmed for the summit told the young gang members that he lamented his history. Recounting this first public event to the San Francisco Chronicle, Williams said, "I told them I never thought I could change my life, that I thought I would be a Crip forever. But I developed common sense, wisdom and knowledge. I changed."

Williams has gone on to build on this witness. In his 1998 prison autobiography Life in Prison, he directed young people to seek an alternative life beyond violence. Prison, he stressed, was no place to spend a life. Two years later he launched the Internet Project for Street Peace. His memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, and the movie, Redemption, came out in 2004.Williams has a bevy of supporters calling for his clemency. They argue that he has changed thousands of young people's lives, and if allowed to live will continue to be a force for good. His street credibility with gang kids is high, so he can reach them in a way that a teacher or social worker cannot.

In the eyes of the criminal justice system, a redeemed criminal is simply another criminal. I recall my first visit to a federal prison back in seminary when starting a prison chaplain residency. The warden of the prison came to the orientation I shared with other interns. His message was clear to us: "I want you to remember that the prison system today is not about reforming criminals. We are here to punish them."Redemption, in other words, has no place in our justice system. We do not offer a path for conversion. Once marked for condemnation, an offender's destiny is fixed.Elsewhere in the world, four Christian Peacemaker Teams members are marked for execution by a radical terrorist group in Iraq. The circumstances are dramatically different, so I hesitate to make the connection. We are appalled by the blind ideology that drives the terrorists and leads them to cheapen the value of human life. In this ideology, the individual is a tool for political expediency.

Don't we want to offer our citizens more in a democracy?

Now reading: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis
Colts: 12-0

A Charlie Brown Christmas  

Posted by BT

Last night, Kari and I snuggled up by the Christmas tree and watched the 40th anniversary special presentation of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." I've always been fascinated by "Peanuts," Charles Schultz...the wisdom of Linus, the mean streak of Lucy, the carefree Woodstock. A few years ago I picked up a couple books, "The Gospel According to Peanuts" and "The Parables of Peanuts," both of which contained fascinating insight into the spiritual life of Charles Schultz. (Incidentally, in a totally unrelated matter, I also learned a bit of trivia yesterday...the three dead people who earn the most money each year: #3 was John Lennon at about $24M, #2 was Elvis at about $48M, and #1 was Charles Schultz at over $60M.)

Anyway, I found it interesting that Charlie Brown and Linus were complaining about the commercialism of Christmas. It never registered with me that this was created in 1965...So Christmas has been "commercialized" for that long? Then I started to wonder, how much longer than that has it been commercial? The '40s? The '20s? Who knows...

But I always rejoice when I hear this dialogue:

Charlie Brown (screaming): Doesn't anyone know what Christmas is all about?
Linus: I know, Charlie Brown. (walks to center stage and clears throat) Lights please. "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone 'round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. " (walks back over to Charlie Brown) That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

From the lips of babes...

May we not forget it Linus. May we not forget it, Lord.

Now reading: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis
Colts: 12-0

An article...  

Posted by BT

...from the Ashland (KY) Daily Independent.

"There is hope for faith yet" by John Clarke

Last week was the 30th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. There were 29 souls aboard her.

The shipwreck inspired Gordon Lightfoot to write a song about her called "The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald."

I love the sea and I love sailboats. I've had the opportunity to sail in about eight and even was allowed to take the helm for a while aboard a schooner on Puget Sound.

Each time aboard a sailboat was a magical experience. After purring out to sea there comes the moment when the sails are raised, the motor is shut down, and, aside from the occasional sound of the line whipping against the mast, it suddenly becomes conspicuously quiet.

But as much as I love the sea, I can imagine no greater fear than being held captive in a vessel in 30-foot waves and a bone freezing spray blinding my eyes and awakening the fear of my own mortality.

There is a line in Gordon Lightfoot's song that says, "Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?" My agnostic friends have often used this argument to defend their position. They ask, "How can a loving God allow bad things to happen?"

My argument in return is that free will is no gift. It is a burden that carries terrible responsibility and consequences. I somehow feel that the granting of this free will is very much like that of a parent letting go of a child.

As my father slipped away from me, I made a deathbed promise that I would seek faith. Little did I know the burden of that promise.

I have no difficulty in seeing the hand of God all around me. I feel his presence in the stars and in the wind, I hear his voice in the whispering pines along the lake, I witnessed his majesty during the birth of my two sons.

I have no difficulty in belief. I just can't seem to find faith. I have attended Protestant churches off and on for my entire life and have studied the Bible, as well as the history of the Bible. Best I can tell, Jesus was all about love, acceptance, and forgiveness. If the goal of organized Christianity is to become more like him, I see little evidence of it. I cannot see the good works of the Church because I am blinded by hypocrisy.

The Protestants have Robert Shuller in a scuffle on an airplane, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker's indiscretions, and more recently, the apparent insanity of Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of the Venezuelan leader.

The Catholic Church is plagued by its own troubles of priests molesting children.

Whereas Jesus accepted the whores, the lepers, the children, the tax collectors and almost anyone else, Christianity so often seeks to exclude. They exclude people from communion who do not share their own beliefs. They also exclude homosexuals and sometimes couples who have been divorced. It seems as though organized religions ponder more on whom to exclude than to include. As far as forgiveness and acceptance, I can't see it.

But the most unsettling thing by far is how so often churchgoers abandon their humanity in return for church doctrine. They would rather convert a soul to their faith than feed a hungry person. They would rather goad their children into their spiritual life than have a frank discussion with them about contraception or drugs.

I drive around our area and see millions of dollars worth of church buildings, parsonages and vehicles, and wonder how much goes from these churches to help the poor, the tsunami or hurricane victims. One church had a flashing sign that said, "Anyone can honk. Tithe if you love Jesus." They had a nice building, too.

My mother would say that I should place my faith in God and not in people. Little wonder Jesus talked about faith the size of a mustard seed. I was beginning to think faith is like chicken's teeth: a rare commodity.

But then, on a dark moonless night, as I was walking down the drive to my mother's home, I spied her through the lighted window. Before retiring to her lonely bed, I saw her kneel in prayer.

There is hope for faith yet.