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A SERMON ABOUT GRACE

I HAVE A REASON TO BELIEVE WE ALL WILL BE RECEIVED IN GRACELAND

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16      August 8, 2010

FAITH

There are four guys in a car trip across country. One is from Iowa, one is from Florida, one is from New Jersey and one is from Pennsylvania. After hours in the car the man from Florida says, “I’m sick of looking at oranges.” And he throws oranges out of the car. The man from Iowa says, “Yeah, I’m sick of corn.” And he throws corn out of the car. The man from Pennsylvania is inspired by all of this so he throws the man from New Jersey out of the car.  There are lots of state verses state  Ohio and Indiana, Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, California and the rest of the country.  It’s a way of saying there are some who are in and some who are out.

The scene is the office of the newly elected President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. He has assigned white men who used to be in the secret service in the oppressive white regime to work with his security staff.  When his security man protests Mandela says, “We must leave the past in the past and focus on the future.  Forgiveness starts now.  We have a chance to be a shining light of grace to the world.”

 Some are in. Some are out. Is that a part of our faith? In some sense it is. When we get serious about following a crucified Savior we cannot expect that the culture will support us.  But how do we decide who is in and who is out?  Maybe it is not up to us.

The unknown author of Hebrews, sometimes called the preacher, starts by offering a definition of faith. The assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. It is beyond sight and beyond understanding. It is believing with confidence in that which is not yet.  The assurance of things hoped for is inward assurance. It’s singing, “We Shall Overcome.”  The conviction of things not seen is the outward manifestation of that belief. It is marching on Selma knowing that someday change will come.  “Deep in my heart. I do believe that we shall overcome some day.”  That does not mean that we will sit around and wait for it to happen.  We believe with conviction that it will come. Like the mom who has circled the date on the calendar and written, “Best day of the year!”  It’s on the first day the kids go back to school.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Well preacher that is a fine definition of faith. But I go back to my original question, “How do we decide who is in and who is out?”  There are those around us who proclaim that salvation is only achieved one way.  They spell it out for you like an algebra equation.  A+B+C-D= Salvation.  There is no other way.

But maybe we need to look at the bigger picture. Maybe faith needs to be understood from a wider perspective than just a fundamentalist prescribed form. The preacher in Hebrews takes us all the way back to Abraham.  Well actually he goes all the way back to Adam, but in this text he is dealing with the faith of Abraham.  He tells us that Abraham believed in the LOGOS of God before the LOGOS ever took human form. The divine expression of God’s love is co-eternal with God. It was there before Mary conceived.  Abraham had faith. And he was called God’s friend.  So the “who is in and who is out”, question has to be re-examined.

Faith is not adequately defined by a single individual or a single community. It must be seen in light of the bigger picture. A pastor in her first call doesn’t really learn to incorporate theology into ministry until the first time she is standing in the funeral home. The widow of the man who never gave any evidence of any interest in church or religion asks her, “My husband was a good man. Do you think he is in heaven?”  If she is wise and honest, she will say “I don’t know.” I don’t think any of us knows who is in and who is out.  It’s not our call  That is God’s business.  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen or understood. There are three things that will be heard in heaven. One is “Where is so and so?”  The second is, “What are you doing here?” And the third is “What am I doing here?”

MORE THAN ONE WAY

You know there is nothing more exciting than church history.  (kidding)  But there was a churchman in the first century named   He was condemned as a heretic because he believed that God’s love was so overwhelming that all humans were ultimately gathered into God’s eternal care. He was a Universalist. I am not.  I believe that there are wrong ways to try to get in touch with God. And there are wrong ways to interpret what God wants from us. 9-11 for instance. The Spanish Inquisition for instance.  I do believe that there is truth. I just don’t claim to have such a clear handle on that truth that other ways of approaching the truth should be automatically dismissed just because they disagree with me.

I know the gospel of John has Jesus declare I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but through me. But John sees Jesus as the LOGOS, the divine expression of God’s love throughout his gospel. Is it possible that John is saying that it is only through the divine expression of God’s love that anyone is saved? I think it’s possible.  What about Abraham? What about the Jews?  See Romans 11: 26.  What about Native Americans who worshipped the Great Spirit and revered the land and human dignity?   What about people that you and I know who demonstrate the fruits of God’s Spirit even though they are not religious?  You observe their lives filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Is it possible that the Divine LOGOS can bring people into the presence of God without knowing the story of Jesus of Nazareth?

I don’t know. I have enough assurance of faith to leave that all up to God to sort out. I know the gospel message. I believe that Jesus was the incarnation of God’s Spirit. I believe that by the cross, I am saved from sin and death. And I know that I do not deserve God’s love or God’s salvation or God’s gift of eternal life.  But I wonder if there couldn’t be more than just one way.

GRACE FOR ALL

I’m not providing you with any answers here. I’m just inviting you into the struggle that I share with old Origen.  God’s love is so enormous. Is it possible that God finds other ways to bring people in?  My faith says that I really don’t have to know, because I believe.

So I get on the plane and sit down and read a magazine. I know nothing about aero-dynamics or the workings of a 747.  But I trust that there is a guy sitting up front who knows. And I put that conviction to the test by sitting there and believing that he will guide the plane safely to our destination.  I’m pretty relaxed when I fly.  Not everyone is like me. Some of the passengers are white knuckled and convinced that we are all going to crash. Others use alcohol or sedatives to keep from thinking about it. But we all land and get off the plane and go on with our lives.

John Calvin said that faith was the firm knowledge of God’s The preacher in Hebrews says that people who are running around lost are still God’s people.  God is not ashamed to be called their God.  It is not our effort or our ecclesiastical status that saves us. It’s God’s grace that saves us. And that grace is extended to everyone.

The title of this sermon, the longest title of any sermon that I have ever preached is taken from a Paul Simon song called “Graceland” He says Poor boys and pilgrims with families and we’re all going to Graceland.  A lonely man divorced because his wife said he was boring, now alienated from his son, the woman who is used by men and now feels like life is meaningless, the poor, the searchers. I have a reason to believe we all will be received at Graceland.

There is no exclusivity at this table. It is open to all who simply come in faith.  The same is true of God’s love. But what if he is a communist? What if she is gay? What is he is a Muslim? What if he is in prison?  What if he has AIDS?  “For reasons I cannot explain, I have a reason to believe that we all will be received in Graceland.  Is it possible that no one is expendable, no one is hopeless, and no one is beyond God’s love and grace? Jesus Christ, I hope so.

LET’S BE REASONABLE

Politics always brings out hyperbole. But in these times of deep division. I think we should try to avoid saying things that are just plain stupid.

For instance, you would think from listening to some Democrats that Donald Trump caused the Corona Virus outbreak. He did not. To try to blame him for this is wrong and stupid.

Now if you want to question his handling of it or the state of our preparedness for it, that is fair. Drastic cuts to the Center for Disease Control have not helped. Calling it a hoax didn’t help his credibility. But this outbreak was going to happen no matter who was President.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Donald Jr. saying that Democrats are hoping that millions will die so that the President looks bad is wrong and stupid.

Both sides are trying to score political points while our attention should be on prevention and care for those who are sick. There will be lots of time later to point fingers and scream hyperbole. Right now would be a good time for all of us to be reasonable.

That would be a good posture for all of us in this election year. Stop trying to say that your candidate is perfect. Stop trying to demonize the other candidate. Listen to facts instead of propaganda. Listen to people on the other side. Be willing to change your mind. Be willing to vote for the lesser of two evils because there are no perfect candidates.

Just what the facts are has become an interesting issue. One of the problems is that we gather our information from sources that support our preconceived  bias. If you are a Trump fan, you watch FOX. you believe everything you hear there. If you are not a Trump fan, you watch MSNBC and take every word there as gospel.

That would be OK if it were not for the inconvenient truth and there are some things that are facts. Sorry Kelly Ann, there is no such thing as alternative facts. Some things are just true. We must be allowed to seek for truth. Unless you have taken a big dose of the Kool-Aid, you can see the flaws and the good things in any candidate or policy.

I watched the documentary on the Freedom Movement in Mississippi in 1963, 64.  A free press reporting on what was really happening there was an essential element in allowing people to know the truth. If you claim that the media is an enemy of the people and tell your followers not to believe what they see and hear, you are moving the country in a dangerous direction.

Here is a unique idea. Tell the truth. Forget about spin. When you make a mistake admit it, learn from it and move on. Don’t try to hide the truth. When people are allowed to see things as they really are, then they will make good decisions. Quit calling people names. I often think some of our leaders are still in fifth grade.  Stop being mean. If you are an adult, you can have a conversation without attacking the other side. Please, for the sake of our future, lets’s be reasonable.

ECONOMICS 101

I am trying to remember my Economics courses from college. (Two certainly does not make me an expert by any means.)

As I remember it, capitalism,  communism and socialism are ways in which goods and services are  produced and distributed. In capitalism, private ownership produces goods and services. They then sell these on the open market for whatever price the market will pay for them. In pure capitalism, government has no role in production or distribution.

Communism is the opposite. In this system the state is in charged of production and distribution. The prices are set by the government.  There is no private investment or private ownership.

Socialism is a kind of hybrid system. There is room for private ownership of the means of production and distribution. But the government plays a much larger role in  this system than in a purely capitalistic system.

There are some who think that socialism and communism are synonymous. They are not. This is complicated by the fact that countries that have tried a communist system have been totalitarian and authoritarian governments. In the U.S. we were taught that communism was the enemy. I still believe that communism is a bad economic system. It almost requires a totalitarian government to make it work and even then, it does not work. It takes away too many freedoms and it eliminated the incentive to work hard and be bright so that you can make a better life for you and your family.

But pure capitalism is cruel. It is based on greed. It separates people into the haves and the have-nots. It would have a working class stuck in poverty and hopelessness while a few with the means to invest would become more and more wealthy. This economic system often degenerates into what is called an oligarchy. Then a very few wealthy people control the entire system with no regard for the human needs of those who are poor. This can be just as totalitarian and mean as any communist system.

But as I stated, socialism is not the same as communism. Nor is it the same as pure capitalism. It seeks to blend private ownership of goods and services while building a system or regulations that make it a more humane system. The U.S. is already a mix of capitalism and socialism. If you drove on a road today, If you slept in the knowledge that there is an army and navy protecting us, if you know that the police and the fire department are there if you need them, if you went to a public school, if you are getting or (hopefully) will get social security, if you ate food that was safe to eat, if you drank clean drinking water, f you are a minority who was allowed to rent a house, if your bank did not go belly up striping you of your life’s savings, if  you were not forced to go to work when you were 10 for a dollar a day, if you are driving a car that is safe, and many more things that we take fro granted, then you are already enjoying some of the fruits of socialism.

Gas and electric and cable and water and sewage are all regulated by the government. That is socialism. So the discussion now about capitalism and socialism is not new. We are trying to find the correct balancing point. And the issue that gets my attention the most is medical care and drugs. If utilities are regulated by the government, then why should drug companies be allowed to charge whatever they want for medicine that people need to survive? If the electric company must get government approval before raising prices, why should it be any different for the company who is making insulin?

Now we are hearing that the price of an inoculation for corona virus will be expensive once it is ready. Does this mean that we will cling to capitalistic ideas and let the poor die while the rich are protected and the drug companies make an even bigger profit? I think we as a people are better than that.

I don’t know if socialized medicine will work or not.  I have friends in Canada and family in England who thinks it does. They pay more taxes, but they spend nothing for prescriptions and doctor and hospital visits. I DO know that for many, a pure capitalistic approach does not work. Can we find some balance? Maybe it would help if we quit labeling and demonizing other systems as un-American.

Reagan said that government is not the solution to our problem, Government is the problem. That is probably true if you are wealthy enough that you don’g need help. But for the majority of us that is not the case. Government can’t fix everything .But then again, neither can a few greed driven few billionaires and the lackeys they put in office to protect their interests.

I do not want us to be a communist economy. I also do not want an uncontrolled capitalistic system. So if we want to talk about economics, let’s do so with reason and openness and concern for all.

 

A SERMON ABOUT SPIRITUAL VISION AN INCLUSIVITY

DO YOU SEE THIS WOMAN?

LUKE 7: 36-8:3        JUNE 12, 2016

SHALLOW HAL

How attractive are you?  That might depend on who is looking at you and what kind of vision they have.  A middle-aged woman was looking into a full length mirror and said to her husband, “Look at me. Just look at me. My hair is turning gray, my skin has brown spots. I’m sagging and wrinkled. Please say something positive about me. And the husband said, “Well, there is nothing wrong with your eyesight.”

I think there is something wrong with the eyesight of many people that has nothing to do with optometry. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. And real beauty is in the SPIRITUAL eye of the beholder. Have you ever seen a really attractive woman with an ugly man? I have a picture here of one such couple. You have to ask “what did she ever see in him?” Oh wait; this is a picture of Prudy and me. Never mind.

There was a movie a few years ago called “Shallow Hal.” Jack Black plays a very shallow man who only sees the physical attributes of a woman in determining her worth. Then he falls under a spell where he sees women for their inner-beauty. He falls in love with a woman who is very overweight. But when Hall looks at her, he sees Gwyneth Paltrow.  We learn that there is more than one kind of vision.

This story in Luke is about the ability to see. The commentators called it a story of two sinners. Simon the Pharisee would not have approved of that title. He had vision problems. He saw himself as extremely righteous.  Never mind the fact that he had invited Jesus for dinner and then failed to offer him the required hospitality. He didn’t see that. And he saw this woman who came uninvited into the open house and knelt at the feet of Jesus. But he didn’t really see her? He saw a SINNER.  Luke doesn’t tell us the nature of her sin. But it was very public and made her ritually unclean to the judgmental Pharisees. Maybe she was a   Whatever her sin, Simon doesn’t really see the woman.  In fact that is what Jesus says to Simon.  “Do you SEE this woman?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is clearly NO. And it has nothing to do with his eyes.

CATEGORIES

The problem with Simon is that he saw people in terms of categories. People were either sinners or righteous; right or wrong. He truly could not see this woman who is so extravagantly honoring Jesus with the kind of hospitality that Simon had failed to offer.

Simon is not alone in his poor spiritual vision. Many people see others in terms of the category to which they are assigned. Some see people as just black or Hispanic or Muslim or gay and draw conclusions about the person based on that category. And when that happens, you don’t really see the person Every human being is an individual first rather than a member of an identity group. The moment we forget that is the moment we enter a phase of moral descent. Dr. King dreamed of a time when a man would be judged not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character.

Jesus saw people as they really were. He knew that every person is mixture of saint and sinner. He didn’t deal with people in terms of categories. Look at the people he chose to be his disciples. They were fisher men and tax collectors and radical zealots and Luke lets us know that a number of his important followers were women; unheard of at that time.

Jesus even refuses to categorize Simon. To Jesus, he was more than just a Pharisee. Of course he would eat with him. Though Simon probably saw Jesus as belonging in the category of trouble makers and outsiders, Jesus would not pass up an opportunity to break bread with him and try to teach him about spiritual vision.

GRACE VISION

Jesus tells Simon a Two men owe the creditor money. One owes a small about. The other owes a huge amount. The creditor forgives the debts of both. Jesus traps Simon by asking which one would be more grateful. Simon condemns his lack of spiritual eyes by giving the right answer. The one who is forgiven much loves much.  It’s a fantastic story.  Creditors almost NEVER forgave any amount of debt; especially if it was a huge amount of money. That’s something that has not changed.  What if the bank came and said, “Hey, you know that big mortgage on your house? Don’t worry about it. The debt is cancelled.” Yeah right!

So a big part of this parable is the forgiveness of the debt. In this case it is the debt of sin. And it is an amazing gift that the debt is wiped out. The woman if forgiven and she can’t do enough to express her love and gratitude to Jesus. Simon doesn’t even realize that he too owes a debt. And so he shows no love. Grace is the beginning of Godly love. We are forgiven a debt we could never pay. And as a result we are called to love God and all of God’s people regardless of category. And to love extravagantly!

Brennan Manning was a Catholic priest who fell into alcoholism, was defrocked and became homeless and constantly drunk. He tells the story of waking up on a Sunday morning in the gutter outside a church. Many people came by. But it felt to him like nobody saw him. One man called the police and asked that Manning be removed because he was disturbing the parishioners.  Far too many church people suffer from spiritual They saw him as a member of a category; DRUNKS. Did anyone see a desperate man in need of help? Or did they just see a drunk. Simon saw only a woman with a bad reputation. But Jesus asked him, “Do you SEE this woman?”

RADICAL INCLUSIVITY = CHURCH

Where do you see yourself in this story? I can’t see myself as the woman with a shady past. I also can’t quite see myself as Simon.  I think maybe I am one of the other guests at the table. I’m trying to learn the lesson that Jesus is teaching. I’m trying to understand the magnitude of grace. I’m trying to improve my spiritual vision so that I can see, really see each person as one who is forgiven by God.  I want to consistently see beyond categories.

I want to understand how no act of love is too great in the face of the debt that Jesus has paid for me. I read that in Calcutta there is a tradition of hospitality that causes the host to bow before his guest and touch his forehead to the feet of the one who is welcomed.  The response of love that is asked of us is unique to each individual. And if you are looking with spiritual eyes you will find those opportunities. It is always a response to grace.  I relate to a line from the hymn by Robert Robinson, “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing.” He begins the last verse by saying, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”

But there is another part of this story. Jesus tells this woman that her sins are forgiven and bids her go in peace. Go where in peace? The only people she had known and the only money she ever had were a part of her old life. What she needed, what we all need is a place to go where there is radical Inclusivity for ALL sinners.

That is what the church is called to be. It’s not a club for the righteous. It is a haven for sinners of all descriptions who have found grace from God and from the other members. One person said the church is like a starving person telling other starving people where they can find food. In order to do that we have to open our SPIRITUAL eyes and see each person as a child of God, whether that person is a Prostitute or a Pope or someone in between. Luke started his gospel with an announcement by angels to shepherds explaining the purpose of the birth in Bethlehem. I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be ALL people. ALL people? ALL?

A FEW THOUGHTS ON WRITING

I have written two books. The first is called Whadda Ya’ Know, Preacher.? It’s a collection of essays based on my experiences in ministry.

The second book is entitled And See All the People. It’s a work of fiction about the members of a church and the pastor. Even though it is fiction, it is a result of 40 years of parish ministry.

Both books are available in print or Kindle form from Amazon Books.

I am not sure why I write. I guess I feel like I still have something to share. I know that these books are not for any mass audience. John Grisham  writes a book and it sells in the tens of thousands. I write one and it sells in the tens. My cousin is also a minister. We go to continuing education events together. He asked if I was going to pay for our accommodations with my royalties. I said yes as long as we are staying in the homeless men’s shelter.

I have thought about trying to find an agent to help me publish so that more people might read them. But I don’t really think my books are the kind that would make money for a publisher. I have written some short stories and I am working on a novel. Maybe those would be worth having an agent take a look. Who knows?

I have this experience and things that I have learned. My problem is, I don’t know that very many people are reading about it. I guess it is just a hobby for me without being very helpful for anyone else.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I enjoy the process whether anybody reads it or not. If you read one or the other or both books, could  you let me know what you think? It would be helpful to get some feedback.

In the meantime, i will continue to post sermons I have preached on this blog. Next Wednesday, I will post another sample of And See All the People.

A SERMON ABOUT REDEMPTION

SWEENEY EXECUTION SET FOR FRIDAY AT NOON.

LUKE 23: 44-24: 2 MAUNDY THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2019

 

Imagine with me. No, tonight I ask you to do more than just imagine. I ask you to BE there with me and feel what it must feel like.

You are in a small cell. Just down the hall is the execution chamber.  You are totally alone. There is a clock on the wall opposite your cell. As hard as you try to can’t help but look at it. Those are the final minutes of your life ticking away.

It has been a very busy morning.  You tried to sleep, but it was fitful and you woke regularly in a terror that this was all real and not a dream.  Your court appointed lawyer came to tell you that the Supreme Court had refused to hear the case. The Governor had refused the plea for clemency.  He tells you that he has made arrangements for your burial. Though he was probably not the sharpest lawyer, Mr. Joseph had tried hard and you thank him as you say goodbye.

Most of the guards have been business like and free of any outward emotion. It’s just a job for them. There are a few who seemed to smirk at you. As the barber shaved your head the guard with him looked delighted to have a part in your nightmare.

Now you wait.  You reflect on the crime that put you here. You were guilty as charged. There is no sense denying it now. Your hands shake. The sweat is rolling down your face. You can’t sit still.  At this point you just wish it was over.

You hear the footsteps in the hallway. The warden is accompanied by two of the guards who seem happy to have volunteered for this job. They handcuff you and manacle your feet. Then they lead you on the short walk to the door that will be the last one you ever walk through.  The room is brightly lit. And there it is. The chair; so prominent in the other- wise empty room. The guards push you into the chair and remove the shackles. They begin to tighten the leather straps on your arms, legs, lap and chest.

A curtain is drawn revealing a room full of people who will witness the execution. Most of them are happy to see you die. You can see the hatred in their eyes.  Humiliation is added to the dread of the pain that will soon take your life. The warden is speaking.  You can’t make out what he is saying because your heart is beating so strongly and loudly in terror. You are breathing deeply and quickly. You assume he is asking if you have any last words. But your mouth is so dry you can’t free your tongue to speak.  You say nothing. The guards place a wet sponge on your head. They attached the electrode to your ankle and the skull cap to your head. You see the warden look at the clock. This is it. Your life will end in judgment for your crime.

Then, just before they place the hood over your face, a man walks through the same door that you just came through moments ago. He is tall and strong looking. You have no idea how he got in here. He is talking with the warden. Then they are joined in the conversation by the Governor and the Chief Justice. What are they talking about? You are afraid to even hope that some miracle has occurred. The wait is added torture. Why don’t they just get this over with?

But then the guards are called over. They return to the chair and remove the electrodes and undo the straps. They help you stand because you are weak in the knees. No one says a word until one of the guards tells you to stand over there and watch. They push the tall man into the chair and fasten him down. They back away and at a signal from the warden the switch is thrown. His body strains against the straps and shudders. It is only a minute, but it feels like an hour. When the current is stopped, he slumps in the chair. But they throw the switch again and he bolts upward; obviously not dead yet. You can smell the burning of flesh. When they stop the second time, the doctor examines him and declares, “This innocent man is dead.”

The guards take you out of the room and down a different hallway. They put you in a cell alone. They seem disappointed that they didn’t get to see you fry. Now alone you begin to weep. Was it relief or confusion or guilt? Or was it all of these? You try to sleep, but sleep escapes you.

You wake Saturday morning. They bring you breakfast. You have no appetite.   You feel nauseous. You can’t stop thinking about that man who took your place. You can’t get the smell out of your nostrils.  You stare straight ahead. Time stands still. You are alone and filled with almost as much fear as you had yesterday. Sometime in the afternoon you fall asleep exhausted. The nightmares haunt your sleep but you do not awaken.

You wake up before dawn. It is still pitch black in your cell. There are no windows and the lights have not been turned on. You see the tray of dinner that they must have brought last night untouched. It takes a moment to reconnect with reality. Why are you still alive? Why is he dead?

But then you see a very bright light in the hallway. It does not seem to be coming from the florescent light fixtures. It is clean white light. You hear footsteps; this time just one set. Then he is standing in front of you. He is alive. You are sure it must be a dream. You saw him die. He had the burn marks still on his head and on his ankle. But he was alive and well. You stammer, “How?  Why?” But he just smiles and then you hear the cell keys turning and the prison door opens.

 

A PERSONAL SERMON TO ME

I am not one to have visions or hear voices. I envy those who are contacted by God in sensory ways. That would leave little doubt about the message or the one who sent that message.

Instead I have to depend on the still small voice that is described in Elijah. That is better translated as the sound of silence. That experience is one that I am familiar with. It takes more discernment and faith. I hear God’s voice in Scripture and in a baby’s laugh and in a sunset and in the love of others. But once in a while it comes unexpectedly in a truth that gets whispered to me in the sound of silence.

I was sitting in church. The preacher was sincere if a little too long. The choir did a nice job. I knew and loved all of the hymns. Communion was offered and received. But the message that God had for me that day was not in any of those forms.

I had been spending a lot of time and energy worrying about our nation. I was alarmed by the lack of integrity and the devotion to party above country. I was fretting about the  rule of law that seemed to be losing ground.  For some reason, I fixated on a word in the bulletin at that church service. The word was peace.  I thought to myself, “I’m not feeling much peace these days.” Then the message came to me. It was in words that were inaudible but real just the same. This was the message: “Why are you worrying so much?  It may not be on your time-table but trust me, I’ve go this.” God

All of a sudden the word peace made sense again. I was foolish to put my trust in politicians to solve the conflict that we seem to live in these days. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3: 5,6)

Lord, sometimes I wish you would speak up a little and speak to some of the people who are making a mess of a country I love. But I got the message. Thanks.

MY TAKE ON THE OSCAR NOMINATED MOVIES

I love movies. It is such a treat to be able to go to a theater and be transported to a different world for two hours. My personal preference is for movies that tell a good human story of transition or redemption or courage. I am not  fan of fantasy or comic book movies unless they contain a meaningful story about people.

This years crop of pictures nominated for best picture was not as strong as some years. But here is my take on the seven of the nine that I saw. I have given each one a grade. That is obviously a very subjective assessment. Others will disagree with my take. That’s fine. I hope you will let me know your take. This is the order in which I saw these films.

1917

This movie is set during the First World War. But it is not essentially about the war. It gives us a sense of the ugliness and absurdity of war and it’s inhumanity, But it is really the story of two men who show courage and loyalty and perseverance in terrible conditions. I came to care about these men. The acting was very good. The film was shot in such a way that you felt the starkness of the trenches and battlefields. It could have been best picture. A-

LITTLE WOMEN

This was a beautifully made movie. The screen writer did an excellent job of making this old story seem fresh and relevant to today. The character of Jo symbolized the struggle for women to be taken seriously in their own right. Overcoming obstacles is still a part of any women’s life who wants to achieve something other than being married. It was not a big film. But it was worth seeing. B-

FORD VERSES FERRARI

I went to see this picture with low expectations. I am not into race cars. I thought this might be about that. It was not. The race track was just the  setting to tell the story of friendship and perseverance and courage. It had a way of building suspense in the race scenes. But the strength of the movie was the character portrayals. The acting was very good. The characters were believable and not over-played. I did not know until the end that this was a true story. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Even though it was not given much of a chance, I could have accepted this one as best picture. A

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

This got a lot of publicity. I thought it was a stinker. It was the worst of the seven I saw. I think Tarantino is an overrated movie maker. He should have hired an editor. It was two and a half hours long. There were scenes of Brad Pitt driving that lasted for more than tree minutes and added nothing to the story. Brad won a best Supporting Actor Award. I don’t see it. I thought the acting in general was stiff and artificial. DiCaprio was even worse.  The story dragged. It wreaked of Hollywood self-importance. The only redeeming factor was the creative twist in the Manson murders story.  Best picture? This turd burger? No way. D

JOKER

What an intense film. It was not fun to watch, Some movies are worth seeing even when they are difficult to watch. The value of the film rests on the performance of Joaquin Phoenix as the demented title character. His descent into madness while the world’s cruelty and indifference pushes him farther and farther into psychosis is a sad reflection on reality. Phoenix is kind of a goofball. But there was no denying that this was the best performance of the year. The setting in comic book land was not a plus. This was and is a real story for too many broken people in our world. This is a film worth seeing. A-

PARASITE

The win for best picture was a shock. I thought it was a good movie. I don’t mind the sub-titles though it does distract from the visuals of the film. It’s a story about class struggle. A poor family has the resolve and cleverness to survive. They latch on to a rich family who is portrayed as being clueless.  It is definitely a tragic story that is all too real, whether in South Korea or in the U.S. I happen to think it was a little overrated. But still a good film. B

JO JO RABBIT

In some ways we saved the best for last. The boldness of presenting comedy in the midst of the terrible last days of the Second Word War in Germany was impressive. The 10 year old boy wants to fit in, So he strives to be a little Nazi.  This same thing can be seen in the lives of those who join white nationalist groups or Neo Nazi groups. They want to fit in somewhere. The boy in the movie has Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend. The director plays the part of Hitler with enough clownishness to let us know that this is not a tribute. It turns out that it is not really a comedy at all. It shows us the redemptive change in the boy. His bias is overcome with a human relationship with a Jewish girl.  The acting was first rate. The story was well told. There are sad moments. You could laugh and cry and think all at the same movie. This would have been my pick for best picture. A

There were two other films that I saw this past year that did not get nominated. One was Yesterday. What a creative story. The other was Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It was a quiet human interest story about the redemption of one man and the amazing quality of grace in Fred Rodgers. Either of these pictures could have been considered as best of the year.

Let me know what your favorites were.

A few thoughts on celebrity

Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash. That is sad. I grieve for his family losing him and his daughter. But I wonder if we have become too obsessed with celebrities in our culture. The news had his death as the lead story for days. It might even seem like the deaths of the other people on board do not matter. Can you name one of them?

And at about the same time, a plane was shot down by the Taliban killing two soldiers who gave their lives serving their country. Do you know their names? Has any sympathy gone out to their families?

Does it ever seem to you that someone somewhere switched the price tags on what should be most important. If you are a star athlete or a movie actor,  your life matters. And if you are a soldier or a teacher or a student, your life matters. Is is possible that we pay too much attention to celebrities? Do we really need minute to minute coverage of the Royal family?  Should we be obsessed with who is divorcing whom in Hollywood? Does this disproportionate  attention to those who are famous skew our sense of the value of all human life?

And while I am on a mini-rant about celebrities, I want to comment on Jane Fonda. She is flying around the country getting arrested at rallies about global warming. I am deeply concerned about the way we seem to be hell-bent on destroying our planet. So he cause is just.

But I have a long memory. During the Vietnam war, Jane went to Hanoi and met with the enemy. She posed at a gun that was used to shoot down American planes. She visited prisoners of war who were paraded before her as if they were being treated well. She even turned a note from one of the soldiers over to their captors no doubt causing them great pain.

Again, it is not the cause that concerns me. Many of us had great misgivings about that war. But I believe that what she did was treason. She should have been arrested for real then. Now she uses jet fuel to fly around getting her picture in the paper saying that she is concerned about the use of fossil fuels.

Celebrities do have a change to do good.  Troy Polamalu played football for the Steelers for 12 years. He visited Children’s Hospital and played with the kids every Friday. There were no cameras present. Jimmy Carter works building houses for Habitat for Humanity and stays with it long after the camera men have gone home.  That is the way celebrities can make the world a better place.

I don’ grieve the death of Kobe Bryant any less than I grieve the death of the other passengers or the two soldiers killed. I don’t grieve for him anymore than the others either.