Monday, July 30, 2007

Guests at a Dinner Party

Heidi over at Redemption Junkie was tagged to post a list of the six people that she would like to invite to a dinner party at her home, along with her reasons for including them. Although I wasn't tagged, I thought this would be a fun and interesting thing to do and decided to post my own dinner party invitation list here. If you'd like to play along, please feel free; the only guidelines are that the person -- while they can be living or deceased -- cannot be a fictional character, and that language barriers shouldn't be taken into consideration. Finally, as Heidi said, you can't list Jesus as one of the six -- because if it's a dinner party where two or three are gathered, he is already there!

So, with the rules out of the way, here is my list of the six people I would invite to dinner.

Gandhi: I've always been fascinated by the lawyer from India who became one of the most remarkable men in history. He completely transformed his region of the world, helped his country obtain independence, and fought against both internal divisions and the British Empire -- and all by doing nothing more than advocating peace and non-violence.

C. S. Lewis: One of the greatest Christian apologists in history. I'd really be curious to discuss with him a wide range of issues facing the church today, and the way that religion and politics have become so intertwined as to in some instances be indistinguishable.

Desmond Tutu: Similar to Gandhi, a man who helped to lead his nation out of the shadow of an oppressive and often brutal regime, and who continues to fight against oppression around the world. A true champion for human rights who puts his faith and Christian beliefs into action every hour of every day.

Johann Sebastian Bach: The man who defines one of the greatest periods of musical accomplishment in history. I'd want to know his secret to such an unending stream of creativity, although I'm sure that -- based on the "Soli deo Gloria" he wrote on each composition -- the first and only answer out of his mouth would be God.

Elie Wiesel: Despite surviving one of the most tragic periods in human history and events that most people would be expected to try and put as far out of their mind as possible, Wiesel has instead waged a lifelong campaign to ensure that people never forget the Holocaust, the indignity and atrocities suffered by the victims -- living and dead -- and the fact that such horrible crimes still continue to this day in all corners of the globe. Even after having read the first part of his autobiography and listened to many interviews with him, I still have this need to ask him -- even though I think I know the answer -- what it is that keeps him going in this crusade of remembrance.

St. Peter: Here's a man who questioned everything (even those obvious things that were right there in front of him), who made mistake after mistake, and who often spoke without first thinking about what he was saying -- and yet Jesus never wavered in his patience with him or his faith in his abilities. I think the first two questions out of my mouth would be "What were you thinking?" followed by "How did you do it?"

Introducing a New Blog

I wanted to take a moment to put out an unsolicited (but entirely warranted) plug for A's new blog. She started it a while back on AOL, and decided today to switch it over to Blogger so that more folks can see it. You can visit her over at A Day in Amy's Life and get her point of view on a wide variety of things, from family goings-on to things of professional interest and all points in-between.

I hope folks will drop by and welcome her to the Blogger family; she's heard how much fun I have with this, and I know she will really enjoy it, too. She has lots of great things to say!!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Great Story About Amma

Back in April, I posted a rather lengthy article on Amma, the mahatma from India who travels the world and, as part of her ministry, gives out hugs to thousands and thousands of people. At last count, she has embraced more than 23 million people -- and the hugs just keep coming. The documentary that I had discussed in April gave an outside look of what it's like to travel with Amma and attend one of her gatherings; in today's Beliefnet e-mail (for which I highly recommend obtaining a free subscription), there's a wonderful article written from the first-person perspective of someone who actually waited for a hug.

Who says hugs can't change the world?

Hugging Amma Was Not Nothing
by Valerie Reiss

I did my best to expect nothing. Waiting six hours for anything inflates expectations—much less for something you know will last two seconds and everyone says will change your life. They say she smells like roses, they say you may weep, they say it feels as if the divine mother herself is wrapping you in her nurturing arms and holding you.

So I waited.
(click the link above for the full story)

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Beauty of Midrash

I recently decided that I wanted to take an opportunity to learn a bit more about Judaism, a religion that sadly I don't know nearly enough about. Other than a comparative religion section of my world history class in high school, and lectures during my life on the Judaic roots of Christianity, I have an extremely limited understanding of the "inner workings" of Judaism. As such, I've started stockpiling some well-written introductory books on the Jewish faith and am in the early stages of reading through them.

One of the aspects of Judaism which I have already developed a strong love of is that of Midrash, which started early on as the name for collection of ancient Jewish stories and legends and now represents the method by which stories from the Torah are studied in order to get at their deeper meaning. The rabbis who through the centuries have added their own studies and interpretations to the Midrash often wrote in beautiful, almost lyrical style, and the few stories that I've read are absolutely wonderful.

A magnificent example of one of these Midrash interpretations is used in a book that I'm currently exploring (and which A checked out of the library for me), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism, written by Rabbi Benjamin Blech. It concerns a conversation between Maimonides and one other person, an atheist, about the creation of the world. As told by Rabbi Blech:

"Maimonides tried to convince an atheist that there had to be a God who created the world. When hours of debate proved unsuccessful, the nonbeliever excused himself for a few moments to 'take care of some personal business. When he returned, Maimonides took out a parchment on which was written a beautiful poem with perfect rhyme and meter, expressing brilliant ideas. 'What a strange thing happened while you were out of the room!' Maimonides said to his guest. 'The ink happened to spill over on my desk and, as it blotted, it created these words by accident.' The man laughed and asked Maimonides why he wanted him to believe such a foolish impossibility.

"'Why do you reject what I'm telling you?' Maimonides asked. 'Because,' the man answered, 'these words so carefully thought out with such great sense and meaning, obviously had to be composed by someone with great intelligence. They didn't appear here by accident. Somebody had to do it.'

"'Let your own ears here what your mouth has said,' Maimonides answered. 'If you can't believe that a simple poem could have come into being by a quirk of fate, how much more so the entire universe, whose wisdom encompasses so much more than these few words and whose profundity surpasses all human understanding.'"

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Order of Good News With a Side of a Parable

Our family was thankfully the recipient of some really good news today, as A. received a job offer from a company with whom she had recently had a series of interviews. They were very impressed with her background and education, and she was equally impressed with the quality of the employees and management at the company -- and especially with the fact that it was the first company she had seen in a while (as either an employee or an applicant) where everyone genuinely seemed happy to be there and actually enjoyed their work. Obviously, we don't know what the future holds for us, particularly with my ongoing search, but this is great news and a great move in the right direction. Now she gets to enjoy just a few more weeks of vacation before she heads back to work -- and two more weeks before our youngest begins her foray into the world of daycare.

I also had one of those parable moments today, where an incident that I witness suddenly hits me with a different, deeper meaning. MB has been going through an extremely trying phase lately -- trying for her parents. I'm convinced that she skipped over the terrible twos and held out until recently, and we've been feeling the full effect of her tantrums, mood swings, and preschool testiness. Sadly, one of the victims of her mood has been her little stuffed doggy, who has been her closest companion since she was old enough to grab a toy. In the past few days, every time she gets angry about something, doggy is the first one to feel her wrath -- usually being thrown to the floor while MB angrily shouts, "I don't want doggy!"

She did it again today, and not long afterwards her grandmother said, "Well, doggy will still be there when you need him." That was when the parable moment hit: how often do we ignore or throw God aside while we try to do things on our own, or in a way that we shouldn't be doing them, and yet when we get tired, frustrated, or realize that we can't do things on our own, God will still be there when we need Him?

It's a simple message, but one which we often forget. Once again, a little child shall lead them -- even if the "them" is nothing more than our thoughts and our comprehension of the deeper things going on in our lives.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Something for My Daughters

One of the things that I inherited from my family from the moment of my birth was a great love of and appreciation for both my family's own history and the importance of overall world history. Now that I have two daughters of my own, I want to be able to pass something on to them when they're grown that's representative of my personal interests, the period in history into which they were born, and the men and women who were important in the development of that history.

As a part of that, and reflective of my recent reading of Wiesel, I recently wrote him a letter and, among other things, asked for something from him that I could give to MB and E as a remembrance of that part of history which he has passed through and which he has worked tirelessly to keep people from forgetting. As I said in my letter, "As the father of two small daughters ... I am very much looking forward to the day where I can share these books with them and explain that, even in the midst of the tragedy and fear that often grip the modern world, there are men and women of great dignity and honor who continually work to bring about peaceful and positive change."

Today, I received back some bookplates personalized for each of them (pictured here, minus their names). I was very grateful for this small gesture on his part, and it will undoubtedly make the copies of his books that I give them when they're grown that much more special. I can say that Wiesel's responsiveness to my letter overwhelms me; here's someone who mingles and associates with political and religious leaders from around the world, and he answers a letter from some unknown guy in Northern Virginia. Two of the people for whom I have a great deal of admiration: Elie Wiesel and Desmond Tutu, and both took the time to write me back. I think the fact that they not only listen to what the average person says, but take the time to respond and seem to genuinely value and appreciate those words, says just as much about the quality of their character as anything else they've done in their lives.

The Discomfort -- and Necessity -- of Legal Documents

There's something very sobering when you realize you've come to a point in life where you must make preparations for when you're no longer here. A and I have been talking for several years about the need to prepare our wills, take care of guardianship issues relating to E and MB, and (for me) prepare a living will. We kept talking, and we kept talking, and we kept talking -- and nothing was ever done.

Last night, we decided that that would be priority one for us this morning, and so we sat down together and finished everything. A had had to prepare a living will just prior to her heart surgery a few years ago, but it was something I had never done before -- and it took me a long time to finish it, despite the fact that it's a very short form. There's no right or wrong answer for these sorts of things, but I knew what I needed to do; it was simply a matter of being overwhelmed by the enormity of what I was doing.

Yet when it was finished, there was a tremendous sense of relief -- it's done, and we no longer have to worry about these sorts of things. For me, there's no longer this nagging worry in the back of my mind about how the girls will be taken care of in the event something happens. Surprisingly, we could also prepare for care for our cats; seems like there's nothing that a lawyer can't help you prepare for these days!

Monday, July 09, 2007

So Where are You?

All anyone has to do is scroll down through several of my recent posts to find that I'm going through a big Elie Wiesel phase. One of the wonderful things about his writing is not so much the powerful message he conveys or the stories he tells, but the beauty with which he writes and the way he makes me think. Today's post is an excerpt from And the Sea is Never Full, one that really made me think and ask myself the question, "Where am I?" After reading it, I hope you'll consider the same question.

A Chronicle has it that the celebrated Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady was locked up in a St. Petersburg prison after being denounced by a foe of the Hasidic movement as an agitator against the Czar.

One day the warden came to see him in his solitary cell, and this is what he said:

"I am told that you are a rabbi, a Master. So explain to me a passage I fail to understand in the Bible. It says in the Book of Genesis that, after having bitten into the forbidden fruit, Adam fled, so that the Lord had to ask him: 'Ayekha, where are you?' Is it possible, even conceivable, that the Creator of the world did not know where Adam was hiding?

Whereupon the rabbi smiled and answered: "The Lord, blessed-be-His-name, knew; it was Adam who didn't know."

And Rabbi Shneur Zalman went on: "Do you believe the Bible to be a sacred book?"


"And that it speaks to all mankind, of all times, therefore also to ours?"

"Yes, I believe that."

"In that case, I shall explain to you the real meaning of the question God asked of Adam. Ayekha signifies: Where do you stand in this world? What is your place in history? What have you done with your life, Adam? These are fundamental questions that every human being must confront sooner or later.

"For every one of us, the book of life goes back to Adam. It is he who embodies the mystery of the beginning. But it is to each of us that God speaks when He says Ayekha."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Paul Potts

Who is Paul Potts, you might be saying? Well, Paul is a cell phone salesman from Cardiff, England, who recently participated in the UK version of "America's Got Talent" (actually, the UK version is the original version). Watch the expressions on the faces of the judges when he first walks out and announces what he will be performing, and watch how their expressions are completely transformed by the end of the performance.

(Oh, by the way, Paul went on to win the entire competition. This is a great story of the underdog being underestimated.)

What Has Changed in 60 Years?

How we can we -- not as individuals or as a nation, but as a people -- ever forget what we have done to each other in years past, and what we continue to do to each other to this day? How can those few on the fringe, with so much overwhelming proof to the contrary, deny those very things that we have done to one another?

A. and I watched a documentary this afternoon as a continuation of my reading and learning about Elie Wiesel, Elie Wiesel Goes Home, a film which covers his return home to Sighet (in what is now Hungary) and a visit to Auschwitz with a fellow survivor and close friend -- both of which occurred in mid-1996. The main portion of the documentary is sandwiched between footage from the 1993 opening of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington and from his acceptance speech at the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. It was extremely interesting, but what made it so incredibly powerful and emotional for me was the footage from the 1940s that was played along with some lovely traditional music from Eastern Europe and William Hurt reading excerpts from Wiesel's works. Some of the images may have been familiar, but the combination of sight and sound was overwhelming; I got particularly emotional during a sequence of photographs of small children at Auschwitz, accompanied by Hurt reading this passage from Night -- a passage which I had read several days ago but which has now taken on a whole new meaning for me after having heard it and seen those children:

An SS came toward us wielding a club. He commanded:

"Men to the left! Women to the right!"

Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words. Yet that was the moment when I left my mother. There was no time to think, and I already felt my father's hand press against mine: we were alone. In a fraction of a second I could see my mother, my sisters, move to the right. Tzipora was holding Mother's hand. I saw them walking farther and farther away; Mother was stroking my sister's blond hair, as if to protect her. And I walked on with my father, with the men. I didn't know that this was the moment in time and the place where I was leaving my mother and Tzipora forever. I kept walking, my father holding my hand.

Watching this segment, I thought of my daughters. And then I thought of the sons and daughters, grandchildren, sisters and brothers -- all of the children who were the age my daughters are now and who never had the opportunity to grow up. If people knew then what was going on, why wasn't more done? Wiesel has written (combination of quotes here): "The free world, including Jewish leaders in America and Palestine, had known [about the Final Solution] since 1942, but we knew nothing. Why didn't they warn us? ... If other Christians had acted like her [a neighbor who had tried to offer refuge to some of the Jews in Sighet], the trains rolling to the unknown would have been less crowded. If priests and pastors had raised their voices, if the Vatican had broken its silence, the enemy's hands would not have been so free."

The two questions with which I started this post are the questions that were running through my mind at the end of the film. I've been raised with the phrase "never forget" buried in my mind somewhere, a phrase that applies to so many things. But I can't help but wonder how the world turned a blind eye to the Holocaust when it was happening, and how there are so many things to which we're turning that same blind eye today? I've always thought that the most important things in our lives are the things which we experience and which impact us directly, but with the world growing smaller each day, won't nearly everything impact us directly one day? Because of 24-hour, instant news, the problems in places like Darfur and Rwanda aren't as far away as they used to be. More voices are being raised about these problems now than were six decades ago -- but we can do more, should do more, and (I hope) will do more.

Watch this documentary. Even if you think you've heard it all, seen it all, or read it all, watch this documentary. The combination of sounds and images will make you consider the past -- and our present -- in a whole new way.

Wondering About the Theology of Children

Following my recent post about five things I "dig" about Jesus, Sandie posted her own list of five on her blog. All were good, but of the five the last one jumped out at me the most: "The way Jesus called the children to him. I think he knew they would understand before the adults did." This really got me to thinking a bit about a child's awareness of God in his/her life, and some random things came to mind.

As we go through life, many of us often try and find where God is active in/influencing the course of our lives. I've talked about it several times, but during the past several months I've had multiple opportunities to discover that I'm really not in charge of things (despite my best efforts to the contrary); I've also had the chance to see some wonderful things with my daughters during this time as well -- things that I wouldn't have been able to experience with them had I been sitting behind a desk. The further along I go, the more I see God at work in my life.

But after reading Sandie's post, I started wondering about how children -- especially my daughters, even at their very young ages -- see God/Jesus in their lives; do they understand on some level the amazing things that are going on? MB is at an age where she can go to Sunday school and come home with stories of Jesus, but I really don't think that she has a strong comprehension at this age of what she's being taught from the Bible. But does she in fact have a rudimentary understanding of how God works in her life through the things she experiences every day? When she sees a butterfly or lightning bug flying through our backyard and expresses joy at that, I wonder if she realizes at some level that she is expressing joy at God? When she runs up to her mother and me for a hug at the end of her day at preschool, does she recognize somehow that the Jesus she talks about on Sundays is also around to give her hugs? When her sister coos and giggles at the funny faces and sounds we make to entertain her, is there a part of her somewhere that knows she is cooing and giggling with God?

Out of everything, though, I think there is one thing that children do better than anyone else on Earth: they love unconditionally. Isn't that unconditional love at the very heart of everything we've read, studied, and learned about God, Jesus, and the Bible? For me, the answer after typing this is yes -- and, as Sandie said in her post, perhaps Jesus called the children because he knew that they do understand earlier than adults, and the hugs, coos, giggles, and laughter they are sharing with us are signs of their knowing.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

"The World We Create is the World We Live In"

The title of this post is a line taken from what I think is a truly remarkable film. Some of the best movies I've ever seen were brought to my attention either as a result of flipping through the channels on television, or simply turning the t.v. on and finding something already running. Today was one of those days, and I found a real gem: Gideon, a 1999 film starring Christopher Lambert (yes, the guy from the Highlander films) and a tremendous supporting cast which includes Charlton Heston, Mike Connors, Shirley Jones, Carroll O'Connor, and several others.

Trying to summarize the plot of a film is not my strong suit (particularly given my tendency to be as wordy and flowery about things as possible), but I did find this very good comment posted by an anonymous user at

Gideon Dobbs is a man with the mind of a child. Raised in rural South Carolina, his Aunt can no longer keep him when she re-marries. Gideon is placed in the closest institution that can look after him: A retirement home for the elderly. It is the story of a simple, innocent man who comes among a group of elderly people who have lost their lust for life and are merely waiting out the remaining years of their lives. Through the innocent eyes of Gideon, they learn to live again and see that each and every day is a precious gift.

Watching this film, I was struck by some of the strong plot similarities to the Cocoon movies -- senior citizens who have come to the point where they've pretty much given up on life and adopt the idea that theirs are almost over, and who, through the influence of a wonderful new presence, discover they've only just started to live. However, I enjoyed this one much more than those films, and I think it's due in large part to the fact that Lambert is playing way against type in this role, which I think is his best one yet. Heston is great, as always (I could watch a video of Heston reading the sports page to me and I would think it was equally great), O'Connor was really funny (my wife said, "Don't you think this is like watching Archie Bunker all over again?"), Jones was just as classy as ever -- in short, everyone was great. I think it's hard sometimes to watch a movie with a big ensemble cast, but this one was pulled off really well.

Sadly, I see that it was never released on DVD, and thus it isn't available through folks like Netflix. However, with some searching, you can find it on VHS, and perhaps your library or movie store has it in stock. I definitely think it's worth the search, and even more worth the viewing.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Tagged: Five Things About Jesus

Dan tagged me to come up with a list of five things that I "dig" about Jesus. This was an interesting challenge, particularly when there are so many things that I could put here. Let's give it a shot:

1. Jesus picked imperfect people as his disciples, knowing full well they would never be perfect. I often think about how, in today's world, executives who are looking to hire the very best personnel for their companies take the cream of the crop -- folks with outstanding and relevant experience, a proven track record of success, and near-Type A personalities. That certainly wasn't the case with Jesus: the disciples were tax collectors and fishermen, among other professions -- certainly not ones you would pick to help bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth; the tax collectors and fishermen that were picked were either unpopular with their fellow townspeople (Matthew) or not very good at what they did (Peter coming back with empty nets time and again); and they certainly weren't Type As -- if they were, they certainly wouldn't have fallen asleep in Gethsemane.

2. Jesus didn't give up on the people he selected and demonstrated strong loyalty and patience with them until the very end, no matter how ridiculous they acted. He truly had what we refer to as the patience of a saint; if Jesus were to change out his staff every time one of them said or did something that came out of left field, his entire ministry would have been spent filling personnel vacancies.

3. Jesus was a deep thinker who carefully considered his responses to every situation, and he often said more in his short responses than most folks do in long, eloquent speeches. There was no rush to judgement, and he never gave an answer that didn't challenge people on many, many levels. A perfect example to me is the near-stoning of the woman caught in the act of adultery; he sat quietly and wrote in the sand while the crowd questioned him on how the woman should be punished, and then gave one of the most powerful answers in the New Testament -- all in just 12 words: "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone."

4. Jesus was a man who made friends easily, and who never forgot them. You only need to look at his obvious devotion to Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha to see the strong devotion he had to his friends.

5. Jesus has inspired billions of people over the centuries, and did it all despite a ministry that lasted (by many estimates) barely three years. I can't think of anyone else who, in such a short period of time, made such a positive, powerful, and eternal impact on the world. Many have tried -- none have succeeded.

I'm going to break the rule and not tag anyone specific on this one, but I would love to see your "lists of five."