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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Idea of Religion

by Paul Hettinga

I like the idea of religion, of believing that there is a God and that this God was revealed to us in the life of Jesus. I further like the idea of church, of being in the community of those who want to believe, want to live as if it’s all true and who want to be conformed to the image of Jesus in and through our lives. More days than not, I lean into this faith and it gives me a sense of joy, comfort and purpose.

But then there are other days when I wake up from this hope and I wonder, how can any of this possibly be true? Is Jesus, God? And is he the full and total reflection of both who God is and all that he is? Isn’t there a kind of arrogance in all of this – us Christians thinking, believing and acting as if we ‘know’ God, that he is ‘Our God’?

If I let my mind wander on this path for long, a sense of dread and depression starts coming into my mind, my heart – my soul. Imagining my life without this belief that Jesus is real leaves me feeling abandoned and alone and, for the most part without much purpose to my life.

So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" 68Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.69"We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God."… John 6:67-69 NIV

And like Peter my answer is, but Lord, to whom else can I go – your words have the authority of life, God and eternity. Indeed, where else can I go to find the ring of authentic living – of having a life call or purpose that is big enough to capture my mind, my heart, my soul and my talents, but small enough to be attainable and real, allowing me to become more fully me – the way God imagines me to be.

Fortunately, God’s steadfast love continues to reach out to us drawing us into his love and into his quiet but certain call on our lives. Leaning back into that gentle call, even in the light of our own doubts gives meaning and purpose to our lives and unites us with God and his community of fellow ‘leaners’. Thanks be to God for his steady love that reaches out and gently draws us in.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

You Claim it Was a Squirrel

by Tom Pappas

One of my holiday traditions is to haunt the hardware stores starting the day after Christmas to buy lights at seriously reduced prices. We go through lots of lights because we leave them on all year. There are three evergreens that we light up every night in addition to what I call the “chandelier”. It’s a bundle of branches that dangles from a sturdy branch by a cord. (It looks better at night!)

We chosen to do this mainly because winter is so bleak. Laurel once said, “If you leave those lights up in the darkest part of winter, I’ll write a letter to the paper explaining why we leave them on.” People like me don’t need additional reasons to NOT take down the lights.

Weather, squirrels, and the fragility of twinkle lights reduce their life span to a disappointing 1-3 years. Last season, the chandelier lost a string and it was time to relight it, so when I opened the box marked 100 Solar LED lights (75% off) I found I had made a significant mistake. There was no plug, but four feet from the first bulb was a solar panel which measured about 4”x6”. This was not the right product to suspend from a tree hoping that the sun would mostly hit the array.

Happily, we do have a garden arch between the driveway and front door that is about 60% covered with bittersweet and the solar string would be perfect for there. Look at the picture carefully and you’ll be able to see the installed lights, the bittersweet, and a bird nest. If you squint at the top of the nest there’s a trace of yellow, which is an ear of field corn I found in the nest while working on the lights. Yes, actual field corn - the hard stuff that the garden stores sell to people who fabricate harvest decorations, or heaven forbid, feed squirrels.

The public events of these days are being hard for me. It’s difficult to feel hopeful about government’s ability to serve us all. Policing practices are dividing us. Religion is being misused to terrorize people. We can’t agree on science. We can’t agree on how to care for our world.

I find hope in that impossible ear of corn. What are the possible explanations about how it got there? Raccoon? – we have them, but I think raccoons are not savers for later. Opossum? – we see them too, awkward climb for an opossum. Prankster? – why bother? Squirrel? – probably, but I am switching to an alternative answer that makes sense for my need - Angel of God. An angel was sent to deliver a bit of mystery and surprise. We Christians occasionally explain our beliefs in this very way. Why wouldn’t God send Clarence Odvody (see It’s a Wonderful Life) to help me see that things are better than the way my foul mood distorts them. Why wouldn’t God distract me with an extraordinary moment of daily life to put daily life in perspective?

Aren’t we all called to treasure the small delights and surprises?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gentle Prayer for The New Year

by Angier Brock

I spent the last two New Year’s Eves on Chincoteague Island, a place familiar to many because of the beloved classic children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague. The first trip, a spur-of-the-moment one, was prompted by the fact that my then 11-year old granddaughter was reading Misty—but was made all the more enticing by our discovery, when we checked the website, that there would be a midnight Horseshoe Drop at a park on Main Street next to the town library. A Horseshoe Drop! It sounded like the kind of small-town community event that would be too good to miss. And so on the afternoon of December 31, a friend, a dog, my granddaughter, her brother, and I threw a few things into the car and set off on the two-hour journey across Chesapeake Bay and up the Eastern Shore of Virginia. 

The sun had set by the time we checked into our lodgings. Chincoteague is an even smaller town in the winter than in the summer, with only a few shops and restaurants open for business, and so I asked for a recommendation about where to eat dinner prior to the Horseshoe Drop. The young woman at the desk suggested Bill’s Seafood. Would we need reservations? Oh, no, she said. Not even on New Year’s Eve? I pressed. No, not even then. She was local and emphatic, and so I believed her. She also suggested that we try one of the coffee shops the next morning where we might glimpse Marguerite Henry, author of the Misty books, having breakfast.

Though I am sure she meant to be helpful, it turns out that the young woman wasn’t much on accuracy. Marguerite Henry died in 1997. And if one wants to eat at Bill’s Seafood on Chincoteague Island on New Year’s Eve, one needs to have made a reservation well in advance.

But the Horseshoe Drop itself—preceded by a costume promenade and accompanied by holiday lights and hot chocolate—was so much fun that we returned this past December 31 for a second year, a sort of a do-over, this time with dinner reservations at Bill’s. (Worth the year’s wait.) After dinner, there were again the lights, the costumes, and the hot chocolate. And again, just before midnight, expectant eyes turned to the large lighted horseshoe glowing with promise at the top of the flagpole. Ten! It moved down an inch. Nine! It stopped. Eight! It bounced up a little. Seven!  Another inch or two down. Six! It was clearly stuck. Five! It jiggled again, this time rather more vigorously, and then Four! — A gasp went up from the crowd as the golden horseshoe not only stayed stuck but also went dark. Oh, no! Three! Two! One! Time had moved on, and even unaccompanied by the lighted horseshoe, 2015 had arrived.

I don’t know how it was where you were just then, but on Chincoteague Island, my merry little band of travelers shared with one of Virginia’s all-time great small towns a moment that was merry and magical, filled with laughter and grace and hope, and with cheering and hugging and applause. Then came the icing on the cake. At 12:03 a.m. (my 10-year old grandson noted the precise time), as the crowd milled about, exchanging good wishes and blowing party horns, the still-dark horseshoe finally dropped. It tumbled down the flagpole so fast it seemed to be trying to make up for lost time. Affable revelers whooped and clapped, perhaps even more delighted by the dark, delayed drop than they would have been a timely, well-lighted descent.  

If there is a point to this story, it is a gentle one having to do with the goodness of small communities celebrating together. Or perhaps it suggests something about staying open to possibility rather than obsessing over arrangements. Or maybe it has to do with remembering that whether or not I have reservations, whether or not the horseshoe drops as planned, grace abounds. In any event, my hope is to live into the rest of 2015 the way I was spent New Year’s Eve on Chincoteague Island—open to playfulness, grateful for serendipity, and filled with joy.

Meanwhile, a billboard we passed on the way home got my same merry little crew of travelers thinking about next New Year’s Eve. We just may check out the Crab Pot Drop at Cape Charles, another of Virginia’s wonderful small towns. Anyone want to join us?