Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hazel by Bob Dylan

I've acknowledged many times that Bob Dylan doesn't have a great voice.

It doesn't matter to me, because he happens to be a great musician who composes great songs.

Part of the power of Dylan's music is how he plumbs the depths of human experience and expresses it in often memorable ways, lyrically and musically.

This song is on Planet Waves, the same LP that features Forever Young (both versions). Hazel is really simple. But even here, Dylan expresses what may be universal yearnings, in this case the yearnings of every man contemplating the one he thinks may be the woman of his life or of every woman considering the one she suspects is the man of her life.

Dylan doesn't idealize the physical here, but the woman herself. He starts:
Hazel, dirty blonde hair
I wouldn't be ashamed to be seen with you anywhere
I think it's true that when we look for mates, we look for people who won't shame us in public or among the other's friends or ours, among our families or theirs.

We look for someone we know that we would never shame because of, not just our love for them, but also our respect for them.

The other lines that particularly strike me, though I love the lyrics of the entire song, come in the bridge:
Oh no, I don’t need any reminders 
To know how much I really care 
But it’s just making me blinder and blinder 
Because I’m up on a hill and still you’re not there
To me, these are the words of someone who may have achieved success, who is applauded by others for a job well-done. He or she is "up on a hill." But it means nothing because, as Dylan says to the one he loves, "still you're not there." 

God made us for relationship. Not all are called to be married. But for those who are, the simple aspirations of a potential husband looking for in a wife or a potential wife looking for a husband. 

Not perfection. 

Not a blind admirer. 

But someone whose love and respect honors and humbles and inspires and comforts us. 

Someone we want to honor, inspire, comfort and respect. 

Someone willing to go in the same direction in which we're going. 

Someone we care about so much that when they call, we'll show up.

Someone to whom we're committed and who will be committed to us.

Someone who changes us with just a little touch of their love.

This is a great love song.

'The Onion' NASA conspiracy guy no different from the 'Jesus never existed' people...Goofy

The next time a friend hits you with a conspiracy theory, tell them that they sound as silly as this guy.

Slow-Witted Conspiracy Theorist Convinced Government Behind NASA
Posted by The Onion on Friday, June 12, 2015

Most conspiracy theorists are as goofy as this one presented by the satirists at The Onion. Whether they're the Truthers claiming that 9/11 was an act of the US government, the assassination conspiracists who say that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone in killing John F. Kennedy, or that small band of ill-informed New Atheists who claim that Jesus Christ never existed, this is how conspiracy theorists sound: Heedless of facts, intellectually challenged, lacking in common sense.

Don't misunderstand. Conspiracies are hatched all the time. But eventually, conspiracies that do exist, are found out, especially big ones involving lots of people. Someone talks. Motives change.

And big conspiracies have an especially short shelf life in our hyper-mediated age. You can get away with being a white woman who claims to be black for a little while, for example, but eventually the digital trail leads to your door.

Conspiracies usually fall apart under the weight of counter-incentives. In other words, a group of people may hatch a conspiracy. But when potential pay-offs or the threat of prison or death come along, the conspiracy falls apart. Someone cracks.

This is why the present assertions from some that Jesus never existed are absurd. It posits a gigantic conspiracy surrounding the Christian message: that God was born into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, that He led a perfect life, that He died on a cross, that He rose from the dead, and that He ascended into heaven, where He lives now. (And that all who repent and believe in Jesus have life with God.)

The New Testament reports that thousands saw Jesus. It also reports that more than 500 people encountered Him after He rose from the dead.

If all of it--Jesus' life, His resurrection, and everything else--is a big conspiracy, it would be one of the world's strangest.


Because none of its "perpetrators" had anything to gain, from spouting such a message if it weren't true.

And they had everything to lose: their lives, whatever property they possessed, their chances for success.

Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman does not accept the Lordship of Jesus, nor His divinity.

But he recently wrote an interesting piece making mincemeat of the assertions of some of today's New Atheists that Jesus didn't exist.

Here's a portion of what he wrote in response to these conspiracy theorists on The Huffinton Post:
With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) -- sources that originated in Jesus' native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus' life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus' closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.  
Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the "pagan" savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).  
Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? 
Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus. They invented the idea that the messiah had to be crucified. [Here, I disagree with Ehrman. While Jewish popular culture didn't accept the idea of a crucified Messiah, I believe that such a Messiah is anticipated in the Old Testament.]
One may well choose to resonate with the concerns of our modern and post-modern cultural despisers of established religion (or not). But surely the best way to promote any such agenda is not to deny what virtually every sane historian on the planet -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you -- has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence.  
Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.
The theory that the assertion of Jesus' existence is all the result of some elaborate conspiracy, is no different from all the other silly conspiracy theories that people use to deny reality. And like many such conspiracy theories, deeply destructive and ignorant.

Saturday This and That

Things that caught my eye this week.

Secretariat versus American Pharoah...
...In a race, which horse would win? By the way, the name of the latest Triple Crown winner throws me off. The title of the Egyptian false deity/king was Pharaoh. But hey, if misspelling was good enough for the Beatles, it's good enough for a winning racehorse.

5 really bad reasons to leave a church...
...from Relevant magazine.

How to know you're from the Midwest... case you forget, I guess.

It absolutely rings true! (Thanks to my daughter for sharing this with me. By the way, I was just told that I have four cans of opened pop in the refrigerator.)

Want to get obese?...
...Spend one year ordering one signature item from one of these places just once time a week.

How can liberal arts education be saved?...
...By proving its utility.

Happy she didn't go to law school...

Is Lindsey Graham the candidate for president people are looking for...
...while no one is really really looking at him? Chris Cilizza has an interesting take on the South Carolina Republican. (No endorsement implied. I don't do politics here, although I sometimes observe it.)

The Bible's 'love chapter'...
...isn't just for weddings. In fact, it was originally written by Saint Paul to a first-century church riven by division caused by loveless spiritual pride. That's not where the author of takes this wonderful piece, though and it's worth the few minutes will take your time to read.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bonhoeffer and the Sign of the Cross

I'm a Lutheran and have lived with Martin Luther's Small Catechism words about making the sign of the cross--crossing one's self--for nearly forty years. But I never did make the sign of the cross, except as the leader of worship toward the congregation, until recently. This happened after some good friends taught me how important it could be.

Now I make the sign of the cross when I'm fortunate enough to be among the non-presiding minister at worship and after I receive Christ's body and blood in Holy Communion each week.

This is a really good article on why Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who rejected hollow religious symbolism, made the sign of the cross. The author, Joel J. Miller, an evangelical, explains why he does the same.

By the way, this article explains the significance of making the sign of the cross for Christians and includes these quick instructions on "how to" do so...although if you don't do it "right," it won't matter:

“Touch your head at the naming of the Father; then bring your hand to the middle of your chest (over your heart) at the naming of the Son. At the naming of the Holy Spirit, touch your right shoulder and then your left shoulder.”

As instructed by my friends, I add three touches to my heart at the end of this gesture, each touch corresponding with these three phrases:

  • Saved by grace
  • Through faith
  • In Christ alone

Go Cavs...but the NBA drives me crazy

Posted this on Facebook this morning (this is a slightly edited form):
The Cavaliers competing in the play-offs and finals has caused me to do something I haven't done in over thirty years: Watch more than just clips of NBA games. 

I've actually watched about ten minutes of live action in the past three weeks! 
Really happy for Cleveland and for Ohio, of course. That's why I've looked in on the games. 

But I love basketball, which is why I don't usually watch the NBA. These recent brief look-ins have reminded me of why. A defender, for example, almost has to set off grenades in the uniforms of an opposition player to draw a foul.  

Basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport.  
I can understand occasional hand-checks.  
Or brushes and hard stops on pick and rolls.  
But not wrapping arms around opposing players.  
Not armlocks.  
Not barely noted intentional elbows to skulls, resulting in an opposing player's head crashing to the hardwood. 

I don't like any of this and hate how, through emulation, it has infected the college game too. But the NCAA is not yet as bad as the Not Basketball Association. 
Go, Cavs!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Am I a Record Keeper?

The congregation I serve is little more than halfway through the first year of a three-year contract with Navigators aimed at helping us establish a disciple-making culture. The emphasis is on empowering us to live out our faith in every aspect of our lives. The first year focuses on coaching the pastoral staff.

In preparation for my next meeting with the Navigators coach, I'm going through a short Bible study with reflective questions. Several of the questions have been challenging, but one really smacked me and I'm still not sure what my answer to it is. It's a two-parter that asks: "Have you been keeping a record of wrongs? What are they?"

The trigger for this challenging question is a portion of Saint Paul's description of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. Paul is giving a portrait of love here and says at one point, "Love...keeps no record of wrongs."

Now, two things are true in considering this passage.

First, the only being in the universe to live this kind of love is God (definitively revealed in God-in-human-flesh, Jesus Christ). Without the power of God for living that is given to those who repent and believe in Jesus, this brand of love will never be exhibited in a human being and then, only imperfectly, inconsistently, until we die and are raised again with Christ. We must ask daily for an infusion of God's love because love that forgiving and committed is foreign to our natures. At least it is to mine.

God's love is such that when He forgives, He also forgets, something that's impossible for me to do.

Second, not keeping a record of wrongs, does not mean that you leave yourself open to further abuse by people who are violent or hurtful, who have a track record of such abusive behavior.

To me, not keeping a "record of wrongs" means not storing up grievances, nursing them, pulling them out for frequent inspection in order to feel morally superior to someone else, or harming myself or my well-being through bitterness. Keeping a record of others' wrongs toward us is keeping grudges to gain the false assurance of our own righteousness and virtue and stake out our virtuous victimization.

I'm not conscious of holding any grudges. But the question has made me consider whether I am, in far more subtle, and therefore hellish, ways than I realize. I'm still considering it. It seems worthwhile for me to do so. I don't want unconfessed or unacknowledged sin to stand as a wall between God and me or between others and me.

More than that, I want my love to be authentic and of God.

But what is love, really?

I like a definition embodied in a quote from Patrick Lencioni found in the same book that posed the two-part thought-provoking question:
...true love is less about feelings and more about actions and decisions. That's not to say feelings don't have a role in love [isn't that good to know?], but feelings are certainly not the most important or prevalent element. 
I don't change my son's diaper because I feel like it, or because I find him cute; I do it because it's what's best for him, and I'm committed to him... 
Those who wait for their feelings to inspire them to love certainly will find themselves in temporary and fleeting relationships with friends, spouses, and children.
Feelings emphatically do matter. That "in love" feeling (notice I didn't say that in lust feeling) can be a great clue to two people that if they marry, they will be rowing in the same direction through their lives. And anyone who has been married to an uncommitted spouse (read that, unmarried spouse) knows how love (and commitment) can be destroyed, effectively ending the relationship even if "the marriage" continues. But Lencioni's words seem true to me.

In the end, love is what we do. And it doesn't keep records.

God, give me the strength to confront those with whom I disagree or who have hurt me, not from a sense of superiority, but from a desire to do Your will. If I'm keeping a record of perceived wrongs done to me, holding grudges, show this to me. Help me to leave my records of others' wrongs at the foot of Jesus' cross, never to be seen again.  In the name of Jesus.