I Declare, Sir, I Believe You’re Trying to Turn My Head

I was born and reared in Texas. It’s not the deep south, more southwest, but it has a lot of deep south customs and sayings. I say this with some authority since I have lived in the actual deep south for several years.

Southern women are prone to declaring. We declare to indicate we are surprised or caught off guard. In truth, we probably are not as surprised or caught off guard as you might think. It’s possible we want you to think we don’t already have a well thought out plan that you’ve been led into head first.

Southern women also like to refer to a person (usually a man) turning their head. This comes from the concept of pulling our attention in another direction, presumably the man’s direction. At times it means this person has made us think in a new way, but when said in a flirtatious way, it just means that we are beginning to notice his attractive aspects which could be a fine mind, or a handsome face, or a healthy bank account – all of which make for a very acceptable suitor.

“I declare, Sir, I believe you’re trying to turn my head,” is actually a Southern woman’s way of saying, “Keep going. I like what I hear and see. I’m about to start (or in Texas, I’m fixin to start) paying real attention to you.”

Our most ardent suitor, whether we are women or men from the north or south or somewhere in between, is God. God is constantly calling to us to turn our heads. That’s pretty much what repent means, to turn. To turn back in the direction of God. The people of God have been looking away and heading off in a different direction since the beginning of time, but God’s deepest desire is to turn our heads (and our hearts) back to God.

Jeremiah was one of God’s most ardent prophets. He tried and tried to get the attention of the people of Israel on God’s behalf. But Jeremiah 7:26 tells us, “yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did.”

The people did not turn their heads. And not only that, they stiffened up their necks so there was even less chance of their heads turning. They were even worse than their ancestors, at least in the eyes of Jeremiah. All they had to do was loosen up a little and turn to the sweet voice calling them home, but nope.

I declare! I believe God is still trying to turn our heads. Repent! And return to God.

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I Fought the Law and the Law Won

I remember several years ago enjoying a program aimed at children that was actually interesting for all ages. I wish I could remember what it was or who the host was, but alas, I cannot. Still, a couple of things have stuck with me all these years. One was an explantion with illustrations of how a piston engine works, and the other was the statement (made in an extremely authoritative manner) “Gravity. It’s the law!” It made me laugh. It still makes me laugh. But laws in physics are not quite the same as laws that govern the actions of people. You can’t really choose to break the law of gravity, but you can choose to break the laws that govern the actions of people.

God gave us free will when we were created. Free will is simply the ability to act at one’s own discretion. We can and do make choices. Some of those choices are good, others, not so much.

But when people make their choices based on what they think is right for them without taking into account what is right for other people as well, we start to run into problems. We find we can’t get along. It becomes hard to live in close proximity. Most people, though not all, enjoy having the benefits of civilization and community, but many find it hard to obey laws they find too personally limiting.

We have a lot of laws and they are constantly changing because we amend our laws, add new laws, and repeal laws which are no longer beneficial. Yet God’s law remains. We interpret God’s laws and understand them in the context of their time and situation, but the law as a whole remains.

Not long after God first gave the law to Moses, the Hebrews began to question God’s law. Some used their free will to choose to follow the laws of other lands and other gods. In Deuteronomy 4:7-8 Moses said to them, “For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?”

Moses was reminding the Hebrews that the God that gave them the law by which they should live was the same God they had known for generations. This is the same God who brought them out of the land of Egypt and freed them. This was the God who was leading them to a new home where they would truly become a nation.

This is the same God we love, worship, and serve today. This is the God who gives us laws that teach us how to love – how to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and how to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the God of love.

Love. It’s the law!

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It’s a Hospital for Sinners

I was in the hospital just for a few hours recently to get a routine test. Nothing to worry about, but very few of us ever want to be in the hospital. I have to say though, that this experience (the part actually in the hospital, not the prep the night before and let’s just not get into that) could not have been better. Every single person I dealt with or even spoke to was friendly, kind, and gentle and most of them were also humorous. They did all they could to put me at ease.

But wait, there’s more. About five days later I received a Thank You card from the team at the hospital. The card was printed, but it was personally signed by all the people who helped me. I was blown away. That was way above and beyond what I expected. What a great way to run a hospital!

Years ago Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) said, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I loved it at the time and every time she repeated it. I still love it. It’s a great reminder that just because we and others are part of church does not mean that we don’t sin anymore. In truth, many of us have been deeply hurt by people in the church, the place we went to be healed. We are hurt in ways that do not heal quickly or easily. Sometimes it hurts all the more because we forget Dear Abby and we don’t expect the people of the church to hurt us. We are blindsided by the kind of treatment and attitudes that we expect outside the walls of the church. We think we should be safe inside the church. We think we should be safe from sin. Well, it doesn’t work that way. And Jesus calls us to forgive. It’s a tall order.

Matthew 18:21 tells us, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’” If you remember this story then you remember that Jesus did not dismiss this question with a quick, “Yeah, that’s good enough.” He said, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy times seven (or 77, the Greek is unclear).” Whether he meant 490 times or 77 times, it’s a lot. In fact, it is so much that what Jesus meant by this is that we are supposed to forgive until we lose track of the number of times and then keep on forgiving. If you are still thinking about it, then forgive some more. If it happened again, then forgive again.

It’s hard not to press Jesus further saying, “But! But Jesus, when it’s someone in the church who has sinned against us, even then? We should be able to walk away from them, or better yet, toss them out. No one in the church should behave that way.”

Ah, children, in the immortal words of your sister, Abby, “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” It shouldn’t happen? Well, it shouldn’t happen anywhere, but it does and you yourselves are also sinners.

Then he began to tell them a parable: The Church is like a hospital that is filled with sinners all in need of healing and wholeness. Not everyone in the hospital heals as quickly as everyone else. Some patients are there for a very long time. But some in the hospital tend to the patients with mercy and grace. They are friendly, kind, and gentle, and they work to put the patients at ease. They greet the patients with a smile and patiently listen. They watch out for the patients when they are not fully clothed and in their right minds. And after all that, instead of expected thanks themselves they thank the patients for the patients have provided them an opportunity to be loving and generous servants.

No, it’s not necessarily a parable I want to hear either. I’m one of those people who have been deeply hurt by members of the Church. I often struggle to forgive. Sometimes it takes years. It’s not easy, but it’s part of what we have been called by Christ to do.

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I Wanna Be In this Hoi Polloi

Even if you only know me from reading my blog posts, you’ve probably figured out that I am a fan of musicals. Well, actually I’m a fan of pretty much all music. I constantly have some song or another playing in my head. I wake up with a song and I go to sleep with one. Rarely are these songs of my choosing, in fact they often seem to appear out of nowhere.

Right this minute the song in my head is from the musical Wicked by Stephen Schwartz. This time the song, “One Short Day”, did not start playing in my head without warning, but it did instantly occur to me after reading Psalm 84 this morning.
“One Short Day”
One short day
In the Emerald City
One short day
Full of so much to do
Ev’ry way
That you look in the city
There’s something exquisite
You’ll want to visit
Before the day’s through

The two main characters in the story have just one day to spend in the Emerald City, a place which they’ve both heard about their whole lives but neither has ever visited before. They are immediately entranced and can hardly decide what to do next, but they are convinced it will be the best day of their lives so far and will only be surpassed when they are finally able to live there permanently.

Are there really places like that? Well, maybe not exactly like that, but close. There are certainly places they are advertised as being like that. Sometimes they live up to the hype, often they don’t or at least not completely. There are also some places that you discover quite by accident that are so wonderful that they feel almost magical. You hate to leave and can’t wait to return. Yes, there are places like that.

Psalm 84 talked about a place like that. It is the court of God, or maybe we should say the Kingdom of God. The psalmist tell us, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.”

One day in the Kingdom of God is better than a thousand days anywhere else. Even better than the Emerald City. Even better than Disney World. Even better than New York City. Even better than Austin, Texas.

Yeah, it’s that good. And one day we will live there permanently.

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It’s Alive!

In 1947 the Sons of the Pioneers made it all the way to number 4 on the charts with a song titled, “Cool Water”. That was way before my time and yet that song is one of my earliest memories. It starts out:
All day I’ve faced the barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water, cool, clear water

When you hear them sing this song, you can almost feel your own throat get parched. Just reading the words “throats burned dry and souls that cry for water – cool, clear water” makes me want to go get a tall glass of water. Being truly thirsty is truly a torment. You can live about three weeks without food, but only three days without water.

The Bible talks about water quite a bit. One of the primary reasons for this is that in Palestine there isn’t a lot of either water or rainfall. All water is precious. When I did Jan-term there in 1987 it rained one day, and only one day, the whole month. Everyone told us that rain is always a blessing and they never complain about it.

One day we went out to the city of Nablus and visited Jacob’s well. This is the traditional site where Jesus told the Samaritan woman to give him a drink from the well. The water is cold. Most of us there that day had a drink from the water which comes up from a depth of about 135 feet. It tasted very good. I can only imagine how wonderful a cup of that water would be on a very hot day.

But although Jesus wanted a drink of water from that well, the water he began to discuss with the Samaritan woman was a different kind of water, living water. He told her that if she had living water she would never be thirsty again.

In John 4:15 “The woman said to [Jesus], ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Eternal life is like a spring of water gushing up. This water never dries up and is always available. Sweeter words were never spoken to those with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water – cool, clear water. The living water. The water of life.

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We’re Not Worthy!

Public access television was created to give the general public an outlet to create their own content and broadcast it on specialty cable channels. The bulk of these shows turned out to be notoriously bad, sometimes entertainingly so.

I remember one from the 80s when I lived in Austin, TX. It was a fishing show that had a guy sitting in a rowboat. The boat sat, not on a river or lake, but on the floor of the studio. The guy sat there with a rod and fake fish. Every once in a while a guest would walk over and climb into the little boat with him and they’d talk about fishing.

I can’t tell you what in the world we found so funny about this, but my friends and I would laugh about it for hours. I was not a kid at the time. I was a college graduate with a full-time job.

The most famous (and in my opinion the funniest) public access show has to be the one depicted in the recurring Saturday Night Live Skit “Wayne’s World.” In it, Wayne and his friend Garth, would discuss their favorite heavy metal bands and occasionally an actual metal musician would join them as a guest on the show. Wayne and Garth loved metal.On the rare occasion they were in the presence of an actual metal band, they would fall to their knees and kowtow using one of the phrases that made them famous, “We’re not worthy!” These two uberfans did not feel they deserved to be in the presence of their idols.

Most of us have felt unworthy at one time or another. We’ve had the feeling that we didn’t deserve to receive the award, or grade, or notoriety we somehow got. We might have even felt we didn’t deserve to have someone as a friend because they were somehow better than we were. It can feel very good to be around someone whom we admire a great deal. But it isn’t pleasant to feel we don’t deserve to be there.

One of the ways Jesus taught his followers was to tell them parables. One of the most famous parables is often called the Prodigal Son. Prodigal means wasteful and extravagant, and this son was both of those things. Eventually he ran out of money and wasn’t able to support himself and he decided his only hope was to go back home. But he knew he had behaved badly, and he didn’t feel worthy. In Luke 15:21, Jesus told them, “Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

I am no longer worthy. I used to be deserving, but then I behaved badly, very badly, and now I don’t deserve it any more.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter what we have done. We don’t have to be worthy for God to love us and welcome us home. None of us have truly lived up to the person we could be, but God still loves us. God just wants us to return home.

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Dirty Jobs

WARNING: If you do not want to read a post that goes to meddling both theologically and politically, then do not read this post. Stop right here.

“It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it.” I tried to find the origin of this phrase, but no one seems to know. It’s been around a long while though. Several people thought it was from an old John Wayne movie, but they couldn’t verify it. It does sound like something John Wayne might say. Somebody’s got to get this done, so better just dig in and do it.

Dirty jobs, dirty work, is there a difference? Mile Rowe makes a case for both the need and the dignity of dirty jobs, but dirty work seems to have the connotation of bad deeds. The dictionary defines dirty work as “activities or tasks that are unpleasant or dishonest and given to someone else to undertake.”

Does somebody really have to do it? It depends on the dirty work we are talking about. If that work is to harm another person, even kill, then maybe we not only need to rethink the need to get it done but also to understand that having someone else do it for us is the same thing as our doing it ourselves. Morally, it’s wrong.

Most of us know some version or other of the story of Jacob and his favorite son, Joseph. Joseph had 11 brothers and they were all jealous of the extra love, attention, and gifts that Jacob lavished on Joseph. The brothers finally reached their limit and decided to do something about it. They decided to kill Joseph and make it look like an animal attack. That would be the end of that. The brothers would no longer be faced with the fact that Dad like Joseph best and they would be free to live their lives in peace.

But then Judah rethought the equation and devised an even better (in his mind anyway) plan. Genesis 37:26-27 tells us, “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed.”

Oh what a great idea! We will simply sell our brother into slavery, make a little money, and let him live. After all, he is our brother.

With brothers like this, who needs enemies? I remember hearing this story as a child and being horrified and angry, even incredulous, that anyone could sell their own brother into slavery, except the reality is that we do it all the time. We don’t call it slavery, but it works the same way.

We set up and continue to live in economic systems that make it very easy for people to get into debt they cannot possibly hope to repay. Even when we pass laws against doing this, it is up to the person mired in debt to fight it when those who hold the note break the law. Often those who held the original debt sell the debt for pennies on the dollar to professional debt collectors and let them do the dirty work. I’m not saying all debt collectors break the law in attempting to collect, but you would be astounded at the percentage of debt collectors that blatantly and constantly break the law. It’s much higher than you might think possible. They don’t care. Even when they are taken to court and lose (although they are much more likely to settle the case when confronted with their misdeeds), they have so many cases that they still make an enormous profit.

Worse even than the debt situation is the way we target people for prison. Children, little children, are tagged as bad seeds as young as kindergarten and then are treated as such until they finally get kicked out of school and sent to juvenile detention or adult prison. There’s even a name for it: the prison pipeline. While in prison they are often used as cheap labor. They might be earning a few cents an hour, but the prison then charges them for all kinds of things including food to supplement their meager diets. If you think anyone in prison has it easy I encourage you to go check out a real prison, not a minimum security prison where white-collar criminals are sent to do minimal time.

These are just two examples of ways we sell our brothers and sisters into slavery. The truth is we are awful to our brothers and sisters. Sometimes it’s out of jealousy. Sometimes it’s out of greed. Sometimes we do it because we got the idea that we are better than other people. Sometimes we do it to bolster our own power over others.

At the risk of spoiling the end of the story (in case you have never read Genesis or seen “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”), although the lives of the brothers take a bad turn for the worse after selling Joseph into slavery, in the end they reconcile and become a family again.

It’s about time we reconciled with our brothers and sisters and became a family again.

By the way, you are perfectly free to disagree with any or everything I have said. If so, please post about it on your own blog and not on this one. I have no desire to argue with you about it and I will simply remove your comments and arguements.

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