Thursday, April 30, 2009


For the Bible study some guys come along to at Rockefeller Center, we're having a mini-series on the Psalms.

The Psalms are deep, and yield treasure each time I come back to one that I think I know well enough.

Today we considered Psalm 65, and how the Lord meets us in our sin, in the spectacular and in the everyday rhythms of life (about a third each of the psalm). Anyway, there is abiding joy that the psalmists convey, of the security and protection in knowing God.

I love this photo as a visual image of that notion. The lighthouse keeper has his hands in his pockets, not holding on for dear life as I would have guessed with that storm surge on!

Walking from my son's school down to midtown this morning, I was thinking about our plastic society, in which presentation trumps substance; and this clip (1 minute, 16 seconds long) came to mind, in which a PR firm invents a disease to rescue the career of a politician who has fallen out of favor in the public eye. It's crass, but humorous, and reminds me that we need truth, not spin, to sustain us.

Lighthouse photo, Jean Guichard

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More than a Feeling

Getting ready to speak on 1 Peter 1:13 - 2:3, I've been amazed at a little tidbit that I won't have time to explore much in the sermon. It's that love is "more than a feeling" as the song title of the 80's megagroup Boston describes.

Love and indeed desires grow, organically and inevitably, from a changed heart. That much I'm used to reading in the New Testament. It can't be forced by me.

Yet alongside these very clear images are commands to love, and even a command to desire something appears in 1 Peter! That is very counter our cultural view of love in America in the early 21st century. It's even counter some (according to the New Testament, apparently counterfeit) versions of Christianity out there.

The same passage gives the sense that there is unselfconscious activity, growing naturally from a relationship with God (a loving Father we seek to please and emulate, a loving Saviour whose kindness fires our hearts to serve Him, etc.); and alongside this, also the clear command to love, and to have new desires.

Gosh, love is commanded. More than a feeling. And feelings (or at least desires) are commanded, too! Certainly something outside of a person must be at work to make this true -- it cannot possibly be self-generated.

The only similar thing that comes to mind is teaching novice crews how to row. I had to command from the outside something that would become second nature to them. They lacked a vision for what was possible, because in their pre-rowing state, they did not consider certain movements to be normal. A fresh word consistently applied from outside was required to make the new thing endure. And more often than not, it was necessarily to physically move the rowers shoulders, hands, back, etc.

What do you think? Or am I in the clouds here?

My favourite version of Boston's "More than a Feeling" is the Scrubs lip-sync band, check it out here.

photo: Reuters, of Chris Nilsson, coach of the Cambridge University Boat Club.

Friday, April 24, 2009

42 disgusting grams

Having last worked from a study in the rear of my house, the lunch run consisted of about twenty paces to the kitchen, where more often than not I joined the Authoress and our brood for soup and a sandwich, or cheese, fruit and bread, or whatever.

Nowadays, I work out of church office in midtown Manhattan. This helps with meetings immensely, as we are twenty paces or so from thousands of people working nearby, some dozens of whom come along to our Bible studies during the week.

However, it's been years since the high-rise office building has been my experience, with the attendant time and economic pressures on lunch. Do I buy a sandwich for eight bucks, or bring one from home that is mushy by midday? A friend here recommended a protein shake as a way to get the stuff the body needs while having a cost of only a couple bucks per shake.

I was game because it was chocolate flavored. But it turns out having as many grams of protein as a steak in a milkshake is about as pleasant as, well, drinking a steak milkshake. So I'm glad some people like these things, but I'll try some other way.

So I feel a bit French today as I disdain the notion of a quick meal in favor of sitting down to enjoy the goodness of creation in culinary form.

There is every indication in the New Testament that such things will be banished from the heavenly banquet...

Monday, April 13, 2009


I wonder if this resonates with you:

I showed up last week at my daughter's basketball league, where I expected to sit quietly on the sidelines watching her try out for the team in the youth league, and when she wasn't playing, trim a minute or two out of my sermon for the next day.

However, on arrival, I was given a clipboard and told that I was a coach of one of the teams! I recall answering an email from The Authoress who asked if I was interested in coaching, but replying by saying no, I didn't think I could this year with all the transitions but would try to help out next year. The matron of the league, a friendly and quite bold ruler of the fiefdom that is Yorkville Basketball, took the mere expression of possible interest as a definite commitment.

In the UK, this is called being nobbled. It has the sense of being won over to another side, or of being kidnapped, but usually both senses of the word are in play simultaneously. The American equivalent is to be "roped in".

So, having coached girls crew in the past, I now found myself scouting players with the assessing eyes of parents upon me, who wondered if they would be happy to have their daughters on my team. Fortunately, the mercy of the other coaches landed me with the equivalent of the first draft pick, a girl who scored half of our points in the first game (a victory). I initially resented being nobbled, and part of me still feels that resentment. But I also am coaching, something that another part of me looks forward to doing.

On balance, do you like being nobbled, or does the resentment overwhelm the good thing you've been called upon to do. This is something I am very careful of as a clergyman, trying to give people the opportunity to say "no" but still needing to put requests out there.

If you are a praying person, please do keep my two older daughters on your rota as the level of competition is pretty intense, and they are just learning the rules of the game. Being tall only goes so far, and we'll need some grace all around!


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bono, Progress & Joy

Yesterday I happened to be in Philippians, where I was struck afresh by a statement Paul made from prison to these people he loved and to whom he longed to return. People imprisoned are ultimately broken down by being cut off from love and fellowship with others. Paul wrote that he was confident he would be released and be restored to the Philippians so that he could continue to aid their "progress and joy in the faith" (Phil 1.20).

Paul addresses their common life together, including quarrels and disputes they had, and encourages them from his suffering that what they experience in this life has eternal value. But what stood out to me yesterday is from (a rather famous) passage at the end:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What was striking to me was that Paul (at least in part) commands joy. And Paul himself didn't know the surprising ways that God would give the Philippians progress -- it didn't turn out to be through a return visit he made (he was executed eventually, and we have no record of his going back to Philippi). It would be others who would help these people accomplish what he longed for them to experience, even as his teaching them was the foundation.

When I went to see U2 in concert for the Zoo TV tour, I wouldn't have guessed that when Bono sang with a belly dancer in front of him that he meant the song "She moves in mysterious ways" had allusions to the Holy Spirit. But that's what he meant, along with describing a man's experience of a woman, physically and emotionally. Except for calling the Holy Spirit 'she', Paul was pretty much on board with some of this. He knew that the love of God and the goal of life was predictable but not necessarily all the things God leads his people through to get there.

Maybe that accords with your reading of the Bible maybe not, and maybe it accords with your experience --- that life is directed to an end and purpose, but the route is not what we'd expect.

Click here to see a wonderful Comic Relief spot showing the tension in Bono's charitable/political bent versus the band wanting to be a big rock band. Larry Mullen's line when he flips out learning an upcoming tour's proceeds will go to charity was classic: "I was saving up to buy Andorra!"

Kudos to anyone who can get the Easter-themed reference to the flower photo...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tartan Sheep

As mentioned in a previous post (the Silent Monks "singing" the Messiah), I really love a silly idea/slightly humorous joke that is spun out to the extreme.

The BBC have a wonderful April Fools Day story of a farmer breeding sheep with tartan wool to assist in making patterned clothing.  This was accompanied by the enclosed photo.  The famous recent video was of a naturalist discovering some penguins who could fly.

The British are especially good at this, but we Americans can get in on the fun, too:  In 1996, Taco Bell announced that it had purchased the Liberty Bell, and that henceforth this national treasure would be known as the "Taco Liberty Bell".  White House spokesman Mike McCurry quipped that the Ford Motor Company had purchased the Lincoln Memorial, which was now called the "Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial".

Any good April Fools stuff out there?
There was a funny story on LarkNews (which pokes fun of American evangelical culture without being disrespectful to God) had a funny account:  "Rapture Joke Provokes Heart Attack".  That story is as amusing as this send up of postmodern cool Christian lingo.