Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Apple

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 3:

In his memoir Teacher Man, Frank McCourt, who was a high school English teacher, recounts some of the excuse notes he would receive from his students.  The ones he always appreciate the most were the ones that were clearly forged and told such outlandish stories as to cease being credible.  The notes sometimes got so good, that he began keeping the best of them, and what he found was that the forged excuse notes exhibited the best of American writing.  They were, in McCourt’s words, “fluent, imaginative, clear, dramatic, fantastic, focused, persuasive, useful.”  He began to wonder why it was that his students whined and complained about getting any writing assignment, and tried to avoid them for as long as possible, and when they did them put so little effort into them.  But when it came to forging excuses they suddenly became brilliant and creative.  And to try and capture this untapped potential, he decided to give them an assignment to write an excuse note from  Adam to God or from Eve to God.

“They didn’t look around,” he said.  “They didn’t chew on their pens.  They didn’t dawdle.  Pens raced across paper.  They could do this one… with their eyes closed….  The bell rang,” McCourt says, “and for the first time in my three and a half years of teaching, I saw students so immersed they had to be urged out of the room by friends hungry for lunch….  [The] next day everyone had excuse notes, not only from Adam and Eve but even from God and [the snake].”  And it was then that McCourt said he realized “there was enough material in human history for millions of excuse notes.  Sooner or later, everyone needs an excuse.”

That is most certainly what we find in today’s story, which may be one of the most famous not only in the Bible but even in Western culture.  While it is a story of beginnings that seeks to explain why things are the way they are, such as why snakes crawl and why women experience pain in childbirth, the story is also really about human nature, about who we are at a fundamental level and who we are today is not really all that different from who we are told that Adam and Eve are.  God has created this garden for humans to exist in, and in the garden are trees that of which they can eat, but there are two other trees in the garden as well.  First there is the tree of immortality, and it’s not really clear what this tree does.  Is man in the garden mortal or immortal?  The tendency has been to say that we lose immortality when we are expelled from the garden, but if Adam, and then Eve, are immortal to begin with why is that tree there?  That is a question that is never really answered.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kudos to Levi's

One of the problem with changes in weather is that I have to buy new clothes for my daughters. Last Friday we went out to buy some shorts for my oldest, and one of them was a pair of Levi's. As I was preparing to wash them today, and stopped to read the washing tag just to make sure they weren't calling for anything unusual. But what I found was unusual.

At the bottom of the tag, it said to remember to donate the clothes when we are through using them. How cool is that? I do enough complaining about corporations for all the things they do wrong, and so I like to also point out when I catch them doing things right. So thanks to Levi's for this corporate message of responsibility.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Second Creation Story: Marriage

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 2:4b-25.  If I wasn't already reappointed, this one might have gotten me reappointed:

Today we heard the second creation story we find in the bible, which stands in contrast to the story we heard last week and find in chapter 1.  These two stories are very different and cannot be reconciled, and they also have very different meanings.  The first creation story ends by saying “thus the heavens and the earth were finished,” and the second story begins with   “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”  The first creation story starts with the heavens and goes to the plants, animals and then concludes with the creation of humans, both male and female at the same time, from heaven to earth.  Today’s passage reverses that order, and man is created first after the waters begin to flow over the land.  But that’s not the only difference.  God also creates differently.

In the first account, God creates by fiat, God says what is going to happen and it happens, God is transcendent, but this time God fashions man from the dirt by actually forming the man together, and then breathing into him the breath of life, and it is upon receiving the breath of life that he becomes living being, God is immanent.  The word translated here as man is actually Adam, which is the masculine form of the feminine word earth which is adama.  So in the translation we miss a word play from the Hebrew, which we actually find a lot of in scripture, so that adam is created from the adama, or we might say, as Amy Jill Levine notes, that God creates the earthling from the earth or the human from the humus.  But Adam, and Eve, do not get their names until later in chapter 3, here they are simply referred to as the man and the woman, but we haven’t gotten to the woman yet.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Oh Boston, You're My Home

Even though I live in New Mexico now, I spent the prior 8 years in Boston and the surrounding communities.  My daughters were both born in Boston, born in one of the hospitals now treating victims, and since my youngest daughter's birthday is tomorrow, had this happened 5 years ago we would be right in the middle of it.

Anytime there is a senseless tragedy like this it's hard, but when it happens to a place that you have called home it hits even harder.  I know there has been lots of talk on the news now about Patriot's Day and it's meaning to the city, but unless you have been there it's really hard to imagine.  The town in many ways literally shuts down for the day.  Many businesses are closed, and even those that are open have less staffing because many people have taken the day off either for the things that are going on or because it's the first day of spring break and so they are off to be with their kids.

In addition because there is basically 28 miles of roadway shut down it's much harder to get around town, and the crowds who are there for the marathon make mass transit even busier than normal.  We lived in two places close to the route.  One was three blocks away and was about the 24 mile marker.  The second was right on the route, as in I could walk out the front door and watch people run by, and it was the half way mark.

People are lined up along this route in huge numbers.  Even at the halfway mark, people could be 3-4 deep on the sidewalk, and they are there for no other reason than to cheer on the runners.  Sometimes they know someone who's racing, and it's really hard not to know at least one person who's running, but most of the time it's just to cheer on everyone who is there.  Just thinking about it now sort of brings me chills, because it's something the entire city sort of takes pride in and ownership of.  On Marathon Monday many people just know that this is what they are going to be doing.  So for this to happen sort of tears at the heart of the city.

When my father called me yesterday to talk about it, the first thing he said was "did you ever go to the finish line to watch it?"  My response was that I never did because it was way too crowded.  As I said people are 3-4 deep much earlier in the race, and the finish line it's just crazy packed.  And it is that fact which makes the casualty numbers such a miracle.  The fact that there are only 3 dead and 140 or so wounded, as terrible and tragic as it is, is simply a miracle, because it could have so much worse.

If there is a best case scenario for the worst case scenario, which this bombing is, it is that it occurred where it did.  There were doctors and nurses stationed at the finish line who immediately ran to help, there is a large police presence who ran to help, and they have ambulances lined up as well.  Just watch the video and you can see the first responders do what they are trained to do, and do it so well, and you know many lives were saved right there.

And if that is not enough, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital are all almost literally around the corner from there.  These are not just some of the best hospitals in the commonwealth or even in the country, these are rated as some of the best hospitals in the world.

If these bombs had happened to go off in Wellesley where I lived, they might not have hit as many people, but almost assuredly the death rate would have been higher because the victims would not have been treated as quickly as they were.  It would have taken awhile to not only reach them, but to get them to the hospital, and to do so they would have had to have avoided the easiest route because it would have been flooded with runners making entry and egress even more difficult.

But what we also need to understand is that this is not Boston's event, this is the world's event.  Rev. Steve Garnass-Holmes, a former colleague of mine from Boston, said yesterday that all we have to do as look at all the flags representing the nations that had runners that had to be moved out of the way to get to the victims and we know that this is not Boston, MA, or Boston, USA, this is Boston, World.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families, to the witnesses, to the first responders and the race volunteers who responded so valiantly in a time a crisis, and to all the runners, those who crossed the line and those who couldn't.  Boston will recover and go on, just as they did after losing so many in 9/11 (both towns in which I served had memorials to citizens they had lost in planes that day) and undoubtedly there will be other senseless attacks that will follow this.

But as the Boston University School of Theology is saying, may we run to peace rather than to violence and revenge.  May we not start judging and attacking those we think might be responsible, but instead let the investigators do their work, and then when the perpetrator or perpetrators are caught let us not make blanket statements and judgements about everyone else who is like them.  The good always outnumber the bad, and so it is up to us to be the ones who bring light into the darkness.

Every year our church in Wellesley would hang out a banner for the marathon quoting from Isaiah 40:
"those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint."
May it be so.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Yahoos and the Masters

One of the greatest and most historic golf tournaments in the world is the Masters, which was just played this weekend.  The final round was great, concluding in a two hole playoff in which Angel Cabrera came heart-breakingly close to winning it on two different shots, but ultimately lost to Adam Scott.

But even with that, much of the conversation has swirled around a two-shot penalty given to Tiger Woods on Saturday for something that happened on Friday.  Apparently some yahoo, or better a yah-freakin'-hoo, was sitting around watching the tournament and thought he saw Tiger break a rule and so he put down his drinks and chips long enough to call Augusta National to report it.  And not only did Augusta National listen to this yahoo but they decided to penalize Tiger the next day.  The rule official who was with Tiger did not notice it, nor seemingly did anyone else, but let's not trust the people we pay to do this, let's trust ol' Jimmy sitting on his barcalounger who has nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon then sit at home watching golf.

Augusta National, where the Masters is held, is one of the most prestigious courses in the world (and I won't comment on the fact that they have only allowed women in in the past year, and their racial record is just as bad), so why are they listening to yahoos on the phone rather than relying on their own officials?  There are people who walk around with the players whose job it is to make these types of rulings, are they not doing their jobs?  Do you not trust them to do their jobs?  Are there not enough of them to do the job they have to do?

We are not talking about some tournament at the local municipal course, this is the Masters for God's sake.  They makes millions of dollars a year on this tournament, so if you need more officials to walk with each player hire more officials, but do not leave the officiating to some yahoo sitting on his couch watching from home.  Can you imagine if the NFL went back and gave a penalty in the 3rd quarter for something that happened in the 1st quarter because Billy Bob saw a holding penalty that didn't get called?  Or how about if MLB called a batter out in the seventh inning and took a run off the board because the umpire made the wrong call in the 3rd inning, and that runner eventually scored, but Bubba watching at home called in and said the umpire was wrong?  Both those scenarios are asinine and so is this one.

This isn't the first time the PGA has allowed this to happen, and unfortunately it probably won't be the last, but it should be.  Either trust your rule officials to do their jobs, get more of them, or get rid of them and get an entirely new group but do not let your officiating be done by the yahoos watching the tournament at home.

And just so you know, Dan Wetzel reported that he was told by a spokesman from Augusta National,"If you call Augusta National you will be put through to whomever you ask for." So go ahead and give them a call, their number is 706-667-6000.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First Creation Story: Sabbath

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 1:1-2:4a:

Today we begin a new sermon series in which we will work our way through the Book of Genesis.  Now one of the problems with these stories is that they are ones that most of us know, and we have known them for most of our lives and because of that we sort of become immune to what the stories actually say, and sometimes what the story actually says does not  match what we think the story says, and so today we begin by hearing the first of two different creation stories, and I ask that you listen to it as if you have never heard it before and listen for things that you had forgotten, or never knew, so here is the first creation story:
We obviously hear a lot about creation stories these days, and it always seems to be pitted between those who believe in the bible and thus a certain view of creation and those who believe in evolution, another view of the creation, and we are told that we cannot believe both, that this is sort a black and white world in which there is no grey.  Well I’m here to tell you that not only don’t you have to succumb to this false dichotomy, but that you can believe both in the Bible and in evolution, as I and millions of others do as well.  But there are several things that we must keep in mind when we are looking at scripture.  The first is trying to understand what the Bible is and what it is not.  It is not a book of science, and was never intended to be a book of science, first of all because the men who wrote it did not understand science, or really anything, the way we do now.  And the second is that they had absolutely no conception of things either being true or false, or fiction or non-fiction.  That is an idea which did not come about until the rise of the enlightenment, so within the last 300-400 years.  Before that no one thought that way and when we try and make things being either true or untrue we again create these false dichotomies.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Roger Ebert and The Boulder Pledge

Yesterday Roger Ebert died after a long battle with cancer, and he will most definitely be missed.  I remember fondly watching he and Gene Siskel every week growing up.  We didn't go and see a lot of movies in our family, but I have a great love of cinema and some of that definitely comes from the two of them.

I knew some of Ebert's background, such as the fact that he was the one who recommended to Oprah that she syndicate her show, and thus made Oprah who she is today.  I did not know that he was an early adopter and promoter of the Internet, including being an early investor in Google.  Nor did I know about his Boulder pledge to save us from spam emails, and more importantly to save us from ourselves.  The Boulder Pledge says:
"Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community."
Consider me a signer, and may it be made so.  Amen and amen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

MLK and Dancing the Night Away

45 years ago today the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  Many people believe that the fact that President Obama could be elected twice proves that we live in a post-racial world, but all we need to do is look around a little to see that's not the case.

In an item strangely appropriate for this day of remembrance comes the story of the first integrated prom at a high school in Georgia.  Now you might think this is a historic recounting of people living into King's dream from a long time ago, but you would be mistaken. Instead this year, 2013, students at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Georgia, will hold their first ever interracial prom. Ever since integration took place there have been two proms every year, one for whites and one for blacks. Every year there have been two different proms based on what color your skin was.

If you want to see a fantastic documentary on a similar event in Mississippi, I highly recommend Prom In Mississippi in which Morgan Freeman pays for the first integrated prom for the school at the town he grew up in, although it took them 11 years to take him up on the offer.

It is truly amazing that things like this still take place, but they do and they are all too common.  But let us also not forget that King also had great concern for the poor and those doing jobs for low wages, a problem which has also not gone away.