Thursday, January 30, 2003

Tomorrow, we go for the home inspection of the house we hope to buy in Richmond. On the one hand, the house is only 4 years old, so I expect it will be an uneventful inspection. On the other hand, I have this fear that the inspector will find something horribly wrong and we won't be able to resolve the issue...Anyway, I'm just looking forward to seeing the house again.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

We pull into a metro stop, and like every other stop, there is a bustle at the door as people get on and off. The pleasant mechanical voice announces, "Doors closing, " and the doors shut with a bang. An instant later, before the train even begins to move, a voice stretches throughout the car. "Excuse me, good morning," it says. A man's voice with a thick Japanese accent. It has been several months since I've seen him, but I know what comes next. He clears his voice and begins singing a hymn. He finishes up just as the train reaches the next station. "Thank you. Have a blest day," he says and exits, moving on to the next car.

I have often wondered about this man and his curious form of evangelism. He seems to have a repetoire of hymns that are precisely timed to the space between stations. He doesn't have a beautiful voice, but neither is it cloying or unattractive. He works at rush hour, when he has the most "captive audience." He does not, so far as I have ever seen, speak to anyone on the trains. He doesn't hand out leaflets. He makes a spectacle out of himself without being annoying. In the dozens of times I have seen him on the train, I've never heard anyone heckle him. I've heard people snicker and comment after he has left, but no one reacts rudely to his odd intrusion.

Truthfully, this is not my kind of evangelism. While I prefer it to the standard street-corner preacher who promises fire and brimstone, I still don't like the "captive" nature of his presentations. I also wonder about his effectiveness. Can anyone really be converted by his actions? I can't see how. And yet I know that God could be working in many ways with this man. He could sing--slightly off key and difficult to understand though it may be--a song that touches someone's heart. His gentle intrusion could, with the Spirit's help, work it's way deep into a person's consciousness. That person could go to a church the next Sunday; could seek out a minister or a Christian friend; could be saved. I marvel at the ways this slightly strange form of evangelism could change a life. And all of this man's singing--all of his walking from train to train--could be made worthwhile if he manages to help save one soul. I think what I admire most is that this man will probably never know if his efforts pay off or not. He is working for God, not success. I think that's why I imagine him successful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

One of the clauses in the Covenant that my Covenant Discipleship group (aka "Accountability Group") is that we will seek opportunities to take communion more often than the monthly service we have at our church. I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to try to keep this clause. I decided to walk by the churches near my office to see if they might have communion services during the week and, if so, if it was a denomination that isn't exclusive about who takes communion with them. As it turns out, a church right across from my office, The Church of the Epiphany, has Eucharist services several times a week during lunch hour. It's an Episcopal church, so their communion is open to any baptised Christian. The Lord has immediately changed this clause from being very difficult to being quite easy for me to fulfill. So, today at lunch, I will be taking communion with other Christians working in downtown DC.

Monday, January 27, 2003

I'm not a real "huggy" person. That isn't to say I'm not affectionate, because I am. I just am not one of those people who hug on first acquaintance. I feel slightly uncomfortable when meeting someone for the first time with a handshake--say at a dinner party, for example--and then 2 hours later saying goodbye with a hug. It's just not me.

This weekend at my church it was Youth Sunday. The youth group planned and executed the entire service. They acted as ushers, worship leaders and members of the group gave the children's sermon and the sermon from the pulpit. They chose the music, and the youth choir sang and one youth member opened the service with a solo. In a twist, they had adults act as acolytes (and I even got pulled in at the last minute). Overall, it was a wonderful service. I was very proud of them, and I was proud in particular since several of them are regulars in my Sunday School class. The young man who read the scriptures is a regular attendee, and he reads the scriptures in class quite often. The young woman who gave the sermon is another regular attendee, and she gave a very moving message on how faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.

After the service, I wanted to congratulate all of them on a job well done. I went over to the young woman who had given the sermon. She was beaming with nervous energy, and as I stepped over to tell her how much I enjoyed her service and how proud I was, she reached for me with her arms open. I gave her a hug--a rare (for me) completely comfortable, unself-conscious hug--and praised her to high Heaven. I could tell that she was in need of a ministry of hugs--many hugs--and I was honored to be able to minister to her in that way. What I doubt she realizes is how much she ministered to me in those few moments. I recognized in those seconds that my awkwardness and self-consciousness in those situations is often a stumbling block to ministering to people in need. I can't claim that the experience will turn me into a "hugger," but I think I will be more in tune with the Spirit's promptings in that direction.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Maybe I'm a closet Catholic, because I enjoy commemorating Saints' days. Today is the feast day for Saint Francis de Sales who is the patron saint or writers and editors. Now I recall reading that Saint Isidore of Seville has been proposed as (or already is?) the patron saint of Internet users, but I think Francis de Sales might be a good choice as the patron saint of bloggers. Here is one of his prayers that I think I'll try to remember before I write each blog entry:

Lord, I am yours,
and I must belong to no one but you.
My soul is yours,
and must live only by you.
My will is yours,
and must love only for you.
I must love you as my first cause,
since I am from you.
I must love you as my end and rest,
since I am for you.
I must love you more than my own being,
since my being subsists by you.
I must love you more than myself,
since I am all yours and all in you.

If these pages don't reflect my love of God more than my love of myself, then I need to stop writing. If my first cause for writing isn't the Lord; if my end goal isn't to increase the kingdom of the living Christ, then my efforts are wasted. Lord, I pray this prayer that you may guide me as I blog and as I go about my life in other ways.

Blessed feast day, fellow bloggers!

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Last weekend, while visiting friends, one asked me my views on homosexuals holding positions of authority in the church. I know this is a hot issue, and I hope not to provoke a flame war here. I do think it's worth discussing. I told her that I am for it. She said that she was unsure, and noted that the bible does seem to condemn certain sexual practices. I've thought a good bit about these issues, and I'm aware of the biblical verses. I'm also aware of standard stances that defend either the ordination or even just the acceptance for membership of homosexuals.

My take on it is a bit different. I think that the emphasis placed on the question of homosexuality in the Church is misplaced. I get suspicious when a topic generates debate far beyond its place in scripture. What I mean is simply this: homosexuality is not a major topic in the Bible. Yes, it is addressed in passages, but not nearly as often as many other topics. So I find myself wondering why we focus on it so much.

I think part of the answer is that it is a concrete sin. Everyone knows whether or not they participate in homosexual activities. Think about the 10 commandments. Most of them either list sins that a majority of us are guilty of or that are ambiguous in some way. Truthfully, how many of us do not covet, keep the sabbath and--considering the Sermon on the Mount--avoid adultery? How many of us never put another object of worship before God? How many of us universally honor our parents? Naturally, these are not topics most of us want to discuss. But homosexuality: there's a sin people can know they am not guilty of and thus one they can attack with righteous anger and yet without hypocrisy.

I think it is this kind of thinking at a subconscious level that causes the Church to focus so much on this question. But isn't it still a fair question to ask whether homosexuals should have positions of authority in the church? I take "positions of authority" to mean more than ordained positions. I take "positions of authority" to include things like chuch council membership, paid non-ordained roles, etc. It is a fair question, but because I think our focus on the question is a form of displacing a focus on other sins, I think we need to beware how we answer. Because if we say "this person lives in active sin and thus should be excluded from leadership positions," then how far are we willing to go with this answer. The man who cannot seem to prevent himself from watching young women walk by; the successful business person who clearly isn't tithing; the heavily involved person who hasn't spoken to her parents in 10 years; should we exclude these people as well? Ultimately, is there anyone who could pass the test for holding a leadership position. I know I couldn't. So I think instead of asking questions like whether we should allow homosexuals to be members or leaders of our congregations, we should ask how we can create a community of grace where what we see as faults are forgotten and what we see as gifts are nurtured.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

I'm a wine lover. I have a small collection of wines that I keep in my basement. My wife and I have dreams of touring the wine areas of California, France, Italy, and Australia. One day, I'd love to have a small wine cellar.

So I was delighted to find that tonight is the Feast Eve of St. Vincent of Saragossa. St. Vincent is the patron saint of wine makers (see this site for more information). Tomorrow is the day he is celebrated in the Catholic church, but tonight is the night I'll remember him in my prayers and offer a toast to him at dinner.

Friday, January 17, 2003

More snow.

This morning, there was an inch and a half of fine, fluffy carpeting all around my house. Before dawn, I shoveled the driveway and walk and felt invigorated as the sun rose.

Now, though, my back hurts.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

I've come across a couple things this week that have made me think of two of my grandparents.

First, a friend I mentioned in a post below brought up Christina Rossetti's poem "Up-Hill" for discussion. For those of you who don't know it, here it is:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

About 10 years ago, my grandfather died. Knowing my love of poetry, my father asked me to read a poem at his funeral. This is the poem I chose. I find the last stanza incredibly comforting...the idea that all our efforts will be consummated and that there is room at this inn for all who ask.

Then, today, I read Pascale's post on Alzheimer's. My grandmother died almost 3 years ago, and she had dementia pretty severely, especially in the last months of her life. I will never forget the last day I saw her alive. It was my birthday, and it was the first birthday I had since becoming a father. I spent the morning walking around a book store with my son in a carry pack, and then my wife, son and I went to visit my grandmother. We stayed about half an hour, helping her eat, holding her hand, and talking to her. In that half hour, I could only understand two words that she said. One was my name. The other was "baby." If I ever get a more wonderful birthday gift, I'm certain my heart will break.
I awoke this morning to a light dusting of snow. This may be my favorite kind of winter landscape: the woods behind my house look freckled and the few leaves left on the trees crouch under the almost immeasurable weight of the snow. A deep carpet of snow may be more sublime, but I get more pleasure from peering over a hot cup of coffee through windows creased with ice. Every few moments, a sudden breeze swirls the dust into new patterns on my lawn.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Just a brief note today...We had a very successful Open House on Sunday, and I think there are a few people who are seriously considering purchasing our house! We also saw several places in Richmond we liked, so I don't think we'll have too much trouble finding a nice house in our price range.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Part of the reading for today from the Book of Common Prayer is psalm 123:

A Song of Ascents.
To thee I lift up my eyes,
O thou who art enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he have mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Too long our soul has been sated with the scorn of those who are at ease,
the contempt of the proud.

"How fortunate I am!" I said after reading this little psalm. How little, really, I know of scorn! How little I know of contempt! How little I even understand the main metaphor of this psalm. What do I know of how a servant looks to the hand of his master? I have lived a life of relative comfort, through no deserving of my own. I was born into an upper middle class family in the richest nation on earth. We didn't have "servants" in the traditional sense, but we benefitted from the services of many: garbage collectors, mail carriers and the like. We even had the luxury of services few can afford, like housekeepers and painters.

In other words, I have been--and continue to be--one of "those who are at ease." Often, it would not be unfair to say I have been numbered with "the proud." Thinking back, it is hard to recall times when I have been scornful or contemptuous. Honestly, I don't feel those emotions often, and yet I know I have been guilty at times of them. I have been scornful of telemarketers who call with unwanted products, but who is the object of my scorn? Someone trying to put food on the table. I have been contemptuous of the checkout scanner who doesn't seem to know the code for the most common produce items, but who is the object of my contempt? Someone working multiple jobs to keep from living on the streets.

So who am I to live in such luxury, such ease? What have I done to deserve my comforts? Nothing. I'm not saying I'm not a good person, but I've done nothing to deserve my place in life. Like grace, God has given me innumerable gifts. And like grace, I believe these gifts come with responsibilities and expectations. God calls us to spread the grace he gives to us, to bring it to those who haven't experienced it. Doesn't he call us to share our gifts--no matter what kind--in a similar manner? "To whom much is given, of him will much be required, " Luke tells us. I think I understand why Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven. It's not about richness. It's about comfort and ease, scorn and contempt. It's about humility, about sharing, about spreading gifts and grace. Luke also reports Jesus saying "with God, nothing will be impossible." With all my gifts, my comfort, my ease, it will not be impossible for me to pass through that narrow needle's eye.

But only with God.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

It's a small WorldWideWeb after all.
It's a small WorldWideWeb after all.
It's a small WorldWideWeb after all.
It's a small, small WorldWideWeb.

In the comments to one of my posts below, there is a post from someone I know from a completely different Internet context. She's one of my favorite WWW-people: she's smart, funny, and incredibly well-read. Whenever I go to Reader's Paradise, I hope to see something posted there from her. But I never, ever expected to meet her here. She was searching for information on Shakespeare and found this site. Now regular readers know that I don't go on about Shakespeare that often on this site, but somehow Google brought it to her attention. Then she read enough to realize she knew the author of the site from somewhere else. Suddenly, the Internet doesn't seem so vast anymore--and I find that comforting.

For those of you who are interested, I've added a new item in the right column: "Books read in 2003." At the end of the year on the aforementioned Readers Paradise there is always a discussion about how many books one read and which were the best. I can never answer because I don't keep track. For 2003, though, I'm going to try to use this space to keep a list. Then, at the end of the year, I'll see how many I can recall reading :-)

And finally, let me apologize to anyone who now has the tune of "It's a small world" running around in their heads. It will go away eventually.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

We spent a very quiet night at home on New Year's Eve. We had some friends over with their son for dinner, and they left about 8:00. We put our boys to bed and then my wife decided to call it a night early. I poured myself a small snifter of very nice Cognac and flipped through the TV channels. I managed to get hooked into Megiddo, a pretty-cheesy end-of-the-world drama on TBN. The acting isn't good and the special effects are worse, but it passed the time until a few minutes before midnight, when my wife woke up and joined me in a New Year's kiss. By 12:02 I was brushing my teeth...

Then I spent a good portion of yesterday getting hooked into The Sims on our new computer. I SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO PLAY COMPUTER GAMES. I'm watching myself slide into a time sink, and I can't seem to do anything about it.

So, anyone have good hints on playing "The Sims"?

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