Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Wonder of Children

There is nothing in the world so remarkable as a child, and nothing so special as the time you spend with that child. My daughter is really into the phase now where she is learning how to speak, and the words she uses are absolutely wonderful. Truthfully, I wouldn't care if she learned another word, as long as she keeps screaming, "Hi, Daddy!" when I get home from work -- running up to me with arms outstretched for a big hug, and then starting to talk about "Blue's Clues" or her friends from school or wanting to watch "Lazy Town."

Everything is such an amazing experience for her, and I sometimes forget that I'm seeing things that I've experienced my entire life for the very first time through her eyes. Try sometime to explain to a person who doesn't have children how wonderful it is; you can try and explain it until you're blue in the face, and you get the impression they never really quite understand. And then, by contrast, try it again after they've had their first child -- and you'll see that look of, "Oh, yes, I UNDERSTAND!" has crept into their eyes.

Benjamin Franklin once said that beer was God's way of letting us know that he loves us and wants us to be happy. I think that a CHILD is God's way of letting us know he loves us -- and of giving us something wonderful to love.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jesus as Baptizer

After years of totally missing out, I discovered an interesting fact today: along with John the Baptist, Jesus also baptized folks in the early part of his ministry. Go to John 3:22 and you'll see it for yourself: "After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing." It's an amazing thing, and gives me so much more to consider in terms of the significance of the rite of baptism than I thought was already there.

And it's all part of an amazing book I'm reading now: The Jesus Dynasty, by Dr. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. If you enjoy archaeological history and books that take a deeper look (even deeper than we get on Sunday mornings) at what actually happened in Biblical times, it's a good read. It's one of many good ones that have come out in recent years in this newest phase of the quest for the historical Jesus, and I would commend it to everyone.

A Life Ended Too Soon

I recently went to the funeral of a 20-year-old young man -- someone I had known since he was a baby, I had babysat, I had given piggyback rides to, and had watched grow up into a really great guy. He had been killed in a car accident -- a senseless tragedy in itself, but made even worse because he was his parents' only child, was engaged to a beautiful young girl, and was himself the father of an infant son.

I've had a difficult time with it, and it's one of those times when I have felt extremely inadequate in the support I've tried to give to his family. It's always hard enough to know what to say to folks when they have suffered a loss, but it's even worse when there's a personal connection between you and the family AND the one who has been lost. I know being there meant a lot to the family, but I always feel like there's more I can do or say -- and in 36 years, I've never figured out exactly what that is.

One of the things the pastor mentioned at the funeral was the fact that this young man never left from a visit with his family without saying, "I love you." That's a lesson we should all take to heart -- when I was growing up, I used to feel really weird about saying that to folks (I guess I didn't think it was cool to say that to anyone). It's a completely different story now that I'm older; I always make a point of saying it as much as I can my wife and daughter, my parents and siblings (except for my brother, who I've never heard say it to me and who I think would be uncomfortable -- even at his age -- if I said it to him).

Saying that you love someone shouldn't even be limited to family; say it to your friends. I've done a lot of stupid and irresponsible things in my life that have aliented some people and cost me some friends, and I don't think there's anything I'd be able to do -- or should try and do -- to bring those back. I am lucky, though, that I have some friends who have accepted me despite my faults, who have stuck with me through my stupid AND non-stupid times, and who I know love me. I hope they realize I love them, too -- and I should work on saying that more.

It sounds cliche, certainly, but I think if people said, "I love you" more, this might be a happier place.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jack Spong at the National Cathedral

As many opportunities as there are in the D.C. area for great lectures, concerts, and other cultural events, it's not too often that I'm able to get out and enjoy any of them. However, I was able to go out last week and attend a lecture given by the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Newark (NJ), which was hosted by the Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral. He's definitely been a controversial figure, and I really wanted to take the chance to hear what he had to say. I didn't have any opinions already formed before I went, since I've read little of what Jack has written and only knew him from what my parents told me about him from his time as rector of St. John's in Lynchburg (VA).

There was a fairly sizeable crowd in attendance, and I was curious from the outset to see how folks would react to what he had to say. I sat next to a young, second-year seminarian from Virginia Theological Seminary with whom I had a very pleasant chat. While we agreed on much -- the importance of outreach in the life of Episcopal congregations being the largest topic of discussion -- I could tell that we had a difference of opinion regarding the recent ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. In fact, Jack's position on the ordination of gay and lesbian priests over the years has been the source of a great deal of controversy. I was pretty sure that some folks in the audience might seize on that when it came time for questions and answers at the end of the lecture.

I was amazed by Jack's lecture, the topic of which was billed as "The Promise of Jesus: Abundant Life for All." He had said that he was going to take examples from three of his books, but in fact he focused a lot on his life and on those points where he wondered whether the church was headed down the right path (points that he referred to as pebbles in his shoe). He definitely made some powerful points -- talking about how he was raised in a time and in a place where people were anti-Semitic, anti-women, homophobic, and racist. The "pebbles" to which he referred were points where he began to confront each of these -- both through incidents in his own life as well as in the life of the national Episcopal church.

I do have to agree, after having listened to him, that undoubtedly many of the folks who have criticized him over the years have never taken the time to read what he has written or listened to what he has to say. I've been prompted to buy several of his books (aside from the ones I already owned and which were sadly gathering dust on my shelves) and intend to read more fully his opinions on a variety of topics that I know are impacting the church. I may even decide to chat more about some of that in future posts. But there was one really powerful statement that I took away from all of this: "If truth can destroy faith, you never had any to begin with."

New Beginnings

This is an entirely new ballgame for me -- I've watched folks set up and maintain blogs for many years, posting their thoughts on any number of topics (politics, religion, family, sports). This is my attempt to do the same -- it may be chaotic and disorganized, but I'm going to give it a shot. I look forward to your comments, criticisms, and suggestions.