Thursday, August 28, 2003

I met with the new associate pastor at our new church today. I've been recruited (OK, I volunteered) to teach a 32 week Bible study: it is part 2 of the Disciple Series of Bible studies. I took Disciple I last year. It's a 34-week program that provides a broad overview of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. It's focus was on becoming a disciple of Jesus; on taking seriously the teaching of the Bible; on living a life (both inwardly and outwardly) as a disciple would.

Part 2 is called "Making Connections" and for 32 weeks it focuses on just 4 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Luke and Acts. I've only glanced at the materials, but from my discussions with the Pastor, it appears that this will focus on using the disciplines (inwardly) to go out into the world in action, service and evangelism. The materials include some heavy-duty resources that the participants will use to do research during the week between classes. I'm really looking forward to it!

I'll have a chance to look into the materials next week as my family and I take a vacation. It will be the first vacation we've had without extended family since my youngest was born. I'll also be taking along The War: A Memoir by Marguerite Duras which I've just added to my reading list. I finished Pilgrim at Tinker Creek last night, and really enjoyed it. I hope to write some reflections on it later.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

A little over a week ago, this blog quietly passed its first anniversary; so quietly, in fact, that even I missed it. I've tried to clean up a bit--moving old archives just to the archive page, for example, and removing dead links from my blog list. But I also thought it would be worthwhile to look at why I started this blog in the first place. Here is part of what I wrote in my first entry:
Have you ever tried to listen for that still, small voice in the wilderness?
Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night and wonder if someone just called your name?
Do you sometimes think you see, out of the corner of your eye, a bush engulfed in a non-consuming flame?

If so, then we have something in common. We are trying to hear God's call to us amid the tumult of everyday life. The process is called "discernment," and it is the attempt to ascertain God's will as it pertains directly to us...and then to respond and obey. It's a process that I have been struggling with since I became a Christian...
I think much of this still applies to what I'd like to do here, though of course I'm not always successful. I hope in the next year of blogging I may make more headway in this discernment process.

And speaking of the next year...I've been toying with the idea of moving off blogger. Anyone who has done this have any words of wisdom for me? Things I should do or not do? How long it will take me? What platform I should use? Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

Monday, August 25, 2003

It's amazing to me how early in one season we can see the signs of the next. When the crocus begin to push up through the frozen ground, we know spring is coming; a hard October frost can wake us to the advent of winter. But I am most surprised by the early signs of fall that we see in summer.

It's hot now; as hot as it gets all year. Yet the birds are already flocking, nervously, as if doing a head-count to make sure no one is left behind. The geese honk as they fly around and prepare to migrate, and hundreds of other birds will take flight spontaneously from a stand of trees that had looked deserted; the cacophany of their chirping splits the silent of a breezeless August day. The dogwood trees in my backyard already are showing a tinge of red in some of their leaves, and one tree I cannot identify is over half-way through it's color change. Meanwhile, the crepe myrtle are just peaking and the marigolds are glorifying the apex of summer.

This morning was even--dare I say it--cool, though this afternoon looks to be hot and humid. I admit to a shudder when I see the early Halloween advertisements in stores, but I've come to realize that such commercialism of an old pagan celebration is really just a parody of a lost culture that lived by the seasons. One day soon, I'll walk out and feel gooshbumps on my skin; I'll go back inside for my logo-embossed sweatshirt and start watching for signs of winter.

Monday, August 18, 2003

On Saturday, my wife and I went to Staunton, VA to see the Shenandoah Shakespeare Company perform King Lear. To understand the production, you have to understand a bit about the venue. Their theater is the only reproduction of the Blackfriars--a theater Shakespeare's troop used to perform inside--and they have thus limited themselves in certain ways. For example, the stage doesn't move and change like a modern stage. They have a balcony, 2 doors, a large central opening and a trap door. Everything they do on-stage is limited by this. They also do not dim the lights, so the actors can see the audience (and interact with them), and scene changes are done as part of the action. It's not unusual for an actor to be delivering lines while moving a stool or while the other members of the cast (not involved in the scene) roll the couch out of the way. They have a small troop, so actors play multiple rolls. And finally, they have seats on stage, so some people get very close to the action.

They don't try to do everything with complete "authenticity." Recognizing that we don't know much about Shakespeare's productions, they give themselves freedom within these restrictions. This production they did in modern business dress, thus emphasizing the play's focus on greed and power. The actor playing Lear (Craig Wallace) was younger than most, and he played him as more of an invalid. His anger was often choked off by fits of coughing and chest pains, as he sank exhausted into his wheel chair. His fool--played wonderfully by Kate Eastwood Norris--offered him pills and medicine along with the witty tonic that Shakespeare wrote into the play. Other roles were well played, including particularly James Konicek's Kent, and I was only disappointed in Edgar who often rushed through his lines.

Staunton is a nice little city with lots of history. We stayed in a small hotel called Frederick House which was nice, though I think I'd rather stay in one of the cottages. Next time, I think we'll try to stay at the Belle Grae Inn.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Yesterday, my wife and I celebrate 8 glorious years of marriage. Happy Anniversary, honey! I love you.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Have you ever wanted just to get away from it all? Take a few days--or even a few minutes--just for yourself or for you and a few close friends? Now, have you ever felt that way and had the needs of others intrude? Of course you have, or why else would you need some time for just yourself?

Jesus faced similar feelings in his ministry. According to Mark's Gospel of the events, Jesus tries to go off to a secluded place with his disciples. A large group of people watch him go off in a boat and rush off to meet him where he lands. Far from town, Jesus didn't get the R&R he was looking for; instead he faced a mob of people who were starved for teaching, healing, and before long, food. It is in this context that Jesus performs one of his most famous miracles: feeding the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

Another famous miracle comes immediately on the heels of this one: Jesus walks on water. In Mark's version, Jesus sends his disciples ahead of him to Bethsaida so he can dismiss the crowd. After doing so, he takes a few minutes to himself to pray on the mountain. Then in the evening he decided to walk to Bethsaida, taking the most direct route across the water. As Mark says, "he meant to pass them by." In other words, Jesus still wanted some time alone; still craved that little escape. But just as the 5000 needed him desperately, so did his disciples. They saw him and were frightened. They thought he was a ghost. So he changed his plans, stepped into the boat and said (as he so often does), "Be not afraid."

I don't think these stories just tell us that we often--perhaps even usually--need to set aside our own wants and needs to minister to others. No. I think a key moment occurs in verse 46: Jesus takes what time he has for personal prayer and reflection. He doesn't give up all claims to "Me Time" (as our culture would have it); instead, he makes time for it. Yes, he perhaps would have liked more, but he makes do with what he has and responds where he is needed.

Monday, August 04, 2003

I think it's instructive that the description of Jesus' temptation falls right on the heels of his baptism and the descent of the Spirit upon him. No sooner has God proclaimed "this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased" than this son is forced to undergo challenges the likes of which he won't see again until Gethsemane. That sign of peace, the Dove, that comes down to him quickly turns to a scourge that sends him out to desolate places to face the Tempter.

There are some clear parallels with our own lives: how out of seeming triumph can come difficulty (and vice versa, as the resurrection makes clear); how those things that are blessings to us are also often the crosses we have to bear; how we cannot afford to bask in God's apparent pleasure in us and be left unprepared for the next stumbling block on our path. But I think moments such as these--what I might call the interaction of the Trinity--help us discover something of the nature of God. For here we have all the Trinity in a brief tableau: Father commanding and affirming; Spirit blessing and provoking; Son standing in for us and teaching. If we mean to know God, then of course the Gospels are vital. Within the Gospels these scenes of the interaction of the Trinity deserve focussed attention.

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