Friday, May 31, 2019

Are These Poppies?

Are these poppies? 

"Yes," he said. "Do you want to hear a story about them?"

He liked to say he was older than dirt. He truly was, I believe.

"I remember the dead," he said. 

"There was an invisible soldier. It was long ago, before you and all of your people. He wasn't really invisible," he continued, leaning in with a smile. "But sometimes people think they are one thing or another when they are not. Do you know you are like that? You remind me of him. He was brave. Who am I kidding? He was naive. That works too, you know," then a subtle nod as if he were recalling something specific, and back to the story.

"His name is unimportant, to you, but its meaning is central to the story. Lion-hearted. He had no fear. He was obedient. If he had an order he followed it. You are like that, getting better each time," he nodded again and smiled. "Lion, I'll call him."

He went on, "Lion was stick thin when he was a child. He was not only small, he felt small. He felt insignificant, invisible, tiny. His voice was a peep. His toys were small. His heart was small. His imagination was small. Oh, but he wanted to be a hero, to fight and overcome."

He paused for a moment.

"No one else saw him coming," he chuckled. "But I did. I was the only one aware of his capabilities. He was not invisible to me!"

He hit his chest like a proud ape. It made me laugh. 

"I'd been on patrol that day with the men. The enemy was hiding all around. They were giant. My men were not. But their size made the enemy easy to see and I watched them. They surrounded us, plotting and planning, waiting, thinking. It would be to no avail, I knew, because at the crucial moment the enemy would not move ahead. They would remain cemented in place and my men would march on by, step by step, without realizing how close they'd been. It can be a good thing not to know. Knowing is sometimes just a distraction."

I nodded. I still didn't know what happened.

He smiled, "I'm getting to that."

With a glint in his eye, he continued, "Lion was the first to see the soldiers, some wounded, some already dead. They were stacked. Yes, stacked. Someone had done this deliberately. They were dragged and placed and unable to move unless the one on top sprang to life. The message was clear: fear us. I saw my men, one by one, assume fear. It blinded them and they began to scatter and search for cover. But not Lion. He couldn't reach the man on top. He couldn't move the man on the bottom. He could not see around them or past them or through them. Lion closed his eyes, bowed his head, and said a prayer in a small, tiny, stick thin voice that became stronger with each word. He was shaking when he started, but not when he finished. 

'What are you doing,' one of his men hissed from the safety of an overturned tree.

Another added, 'Stop!'

'Why?' Lion asked.

Why indeed? Why stop?

He pointed to a tall tree in the distance. It was standing upright.

"That's the one they hid under," he said, assuring me it was true. "It was one of the things changed by Lion's prayers. First, healing for the man holding all the others down, then for the others. One by one. There was hardly a break between his prayers for the injured and for those who were only hiding. Tiny, lion-hearted Lion stood and prayed even when the enemy returned, even when the firing started again, even when the dead soldiers stood up and the living ones snapped back into place, as if their injuries had propelled them. His men began to stand with him, only some of them at first, and then, when they realized the enemy could not hurt them, the others; not bravely, to be sure, but obediently, and each of them became brave because of it."

He paused and asked me if I understood.

"God moves," he explained.

"And the poppies?" I asked.

"The poppies are for remembering those who were lost," he said. "But they also remind me of these men. In the end, we didn't lose even one that day."

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Who is Jesus?

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? 

A reed shaken by the wind?

What then did you go out to see? 

A man dressed in soft clothing? 

Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 

What then did you go out to see? 

A prophet? 

Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, "'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.'

Matthew 11:2-10

A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

Isaiah 40:3

Friday, May 24, 2019

Prisoners of Hope

Return to the stronghold, 
you prisoners of hope.
Even today I declare that 
I will restore double to you.

Zechariah 9:1

I like that. Prisoners of hope. What a statement!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

See in the Dark

See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Isaiah 32:1-2

Darkness is all he can see. It colors everything. It clouds beauty, reality, and truth. He doesn't know it, but he is moving by hearing, by following the sound of your voice. He hears righteousness and it moves him, but he is blind. For now. Until now, this precise moment, when the sky cracks and the light comes pouring in to embrace him. It is the first time since he was a child that he has used his God-given sight. He doesn't quite remember how to do it, but focuses on each of us one at a time. He looks into our eyes and sees life. This is marvelous, he thinks, and his thoughts become actions. Reaching up, boldly, he tears away the rest of the sky. Then, it is just him and the stars. They are not random as he supposed. Each is purposeful. So is he. Not random. Not adrift. On purpose. This is how he becomes a king. 

It had all started when he heard, "You need to turn to the Lord so you can see in the dark." 

He didn't know what it meant, at first.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

How to do Life

...let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, 
which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:4

Friday, May 17, 2019

Abraham the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 

Romans 4:17

This verse is about Abraham and God calling him the father of many nations when he did not yet have any children. We have a famous song that goes, "Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham." There was a time in his life when Abraham would not have recognized himself in that song. 

What would you be surprised to hear in a song about you?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Are We Good?

Is Mankind Good?

I was talking with a friend in the basement of her church just before Easter. I was there visiting for a musical performance and had not been there before. Parishoners' artwork hung on the walls all around us, many nature scenes, a vivid painting of scriptures scrawled in a labyrinth design painted by a woman I met later, and an intricate looped knot that my friend made. I think it was inspired by the origins of her denomination in the Celtic world. I asked about the loop and how it fit into their theology. I thought she'd say something about the Trinity. That's not what she said. I have to paraphrase from memory and, if she read this, maybe she would add more detail or nuance. But here is the gist of it:

She said simply that it was the idea of all things working together in harmony, all of nature and life, all good, all entwined, and all celebrating together as one. That sounds dreamy, doesn't it? But then she continued that Christian theology says you are a sinner and need to be saved by grace because you are imperfect and decaying. Well, that sounds awful. 

But which is true?

I think any of us can look at the news and see anything but harmony. If we are good, why are there wars? Why do we drive over flowers sometimes? Why do we offend people? What about the little things like selfishness and pride, which are big things, and the big things like murder and hate?

Are we good?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Description of a Palace

I love normal words that paint a vivid picture, a simple set of thoughts, plain, humble, but...well, look:

"It's not a grand house. It's just an everyday house, but everything that's happening in it is good and so that means it's a palace."

Isn't that fulfilling?

(It's from a Jordan Peterson lecture.)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Spy

He stoked the fire and asked her about redemption. His questions made her uncomfortable. It was unlike the boss to discuss such things. He was too open, too interested.

The fireplace was ancient. Paintings and artifacts ringed the room, each older than the next. A table stood in the middle of the floor. It seemed made of stone. She'd touched it once, just to see. It was solid and heavy and cold like the fireplace. 

Why was he building a fire? The room was warm enough. He was an important man. Couldn't someone build it for him? 

On went the questions. What sins can be forgiven? Is there ever a time when sins are too great and will weigh a man down forever? Is there forgiveness for someone who is not sorry? She ran out of answers and suggested he pray about it. He laughed. Given the conversation, it surprised her.

He left her in the room while he went to speak to the staff. Other than the blazing fire the room was silent. The boss returned, placed a pile of papers in the middle of the huge table, and left. 

She waited for what seemed like an entire day, then another, and one more. She stared at the fire, touched the table again, walked around and studied the art on the walls. Some of it had been famously stolen. How had it wound up here? The carpet was worn, probably ancient too. That would explain why it hadn't been replaced. She had a lot of time to think. 

Her eyes were drawn to the papers on the table. What was all of this about?  She tried to see what she could see without disturbing the pile. Not much. A phrase, a notation, subtle strokes of a pen, and the edge of an official document. It looked like a report, the kind she'd seen before when the boss had caught someone guilty. If this was evidence of wrong-doing, it was a lot of it. 

She knew better than to look. If she was caught peering into the secrets she'd be in more trouble than the subject of the investigation, but curiousity got the best of her. A little glimpse. That's all. She peeled back the top paper to reveal a name. She knew who it was. She'd known of this person's guilt for a long time. She was well aware of what he had done, but if it were humanly possible to unwrap a man's sins from him and pull them away, she would have. Compassion settled in her heart.

The door opened slowly and she had just enough time to move silently from the edge of the table and fake innocence.  In walked the boss, and his men, and the accused, a spy turned traitor. Guilty as sin. All of them.

The spy looked deeply afraid. In cases like this, the boss and his men usually did not need an interpreter. Why was she here?

She watched the boss. He said things, important things, all the things. He nodded. He motioned. She began to consider what was happening. Why had he built the fire? Why did he leave her alone for so long with the evidence? Why did he ask her all those questions about forgiveness? She looked from face to face. Everyone in the room was guilty of something, herself included.

The deliberation continued. They were close to proving his guilt. 

The boss must have built the fire for a reason, she thought. He asked me about sin.  I am standing here with crimes written on paper and within my reach.

She was putting it all together in her mind. Suddenly, a sense of purpose moved her. She paused, stared directly at the guilty spy, leaned in, awkwardly grabbed the pile of papers, turned and shoved them into the fire. 

The men were stunned. The boss moved toward her in a rage as she realized he hadn't intended for her to do that. But then why all of this? She was able to hold the men back for a short second, their shock and her suddenness acting in her favor. All of the papers went up in flames.

Now she was the guilty party. Two of the men held her arms while the boss faced her, speechless, angry, and worst of all, surprised.

"Why did you build the fire?" She asked the boss with uncharacteristic boldness.

He stared at her, unable to fathom why she would do this. She had misunderstood him completely.

She turned to the spy, certain they would share the same fate. He seemed as confounded as the boss.

She was sure the questions earlier meant he was thinking of redemption, forgiveness. She thought it was a set-up. He wanted to see if she would do it. But now she did not know. She only knew she had probably saved the spy, who was guilty, and condemned herself. 

He wanted an honest answer. She wasn't a traitor. He knew that. Why would she do this?

"I thought you wanted me to," her voice shaking. 

He paused for a long moment, just staring at her.

"Why?" He asked finally.

"Because," she answered quietly, whispering so the others wouldn't hear. "Your name was on the paper."