Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Walk the Line

I saw Walk the Line last night with my wife. Wow. One of the best movies I've ever seen. I loved it. I'm usually a hard critic, too.

Amazingly accurate to Cash's autobiography. The "live" performances of his music were incredible. You should see this in the theater, don't wait for it to come on DVD unless you can rival the theater in sound (and in picture, I guess). Pheonix and Witherspoon were marvelous.

Men will like this movie more than women, I think.

I connected with this movie on so many levels. My wife and I talked about it for hours afterward, and it brought out so many family / childhood / relational issues for us.

A Cuban friend of mine (who is a Cash fan) told me he took his father to see Johnny Cash in concert live in the mid 1970s. He told me his father had never heard of Cash before, and had never listened to music with English lyrics before. His father instantly became a big Cash fan. This same friend took his wife (never listens to Cash music) to see the movie. She is now very interested in Johnny Cash and his music and his life.

After the movie, my wife wants to learn more about Cash, his music, his life. The movie ends abruptly -- perhaps for this reason. I would predict that Cash will be more famous and influential after death than before -- and that is a bold statement.

Best movie of the year, no doubt.

Go see it, and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Homily

This is a homily I gave at the Thanksgiving Ecumenical Communion Service at Baptist Hospital today (the day before Thanksgiving 2005). The text is Psalm 107:1-16, but I don't mention the text in the homily. For those who know about this stuff -- I'm curious what you think. I think the homily brings out the message of the text (which was read aloud) but does not prove the point from the text. The audience is friendly to me and my message, so I don't feel bad about not "proving" my point from the text. Time pressure is another reason here. We had staff folks who were on their lunch break, and the service had to be very quick. Anyway, enjoy --

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the wonderful gifts that God has given us out of his immeasurable supply of grace.

Thanksgiving began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. Of course, he was remembering, and we remember the first Thanksgiving, in the fall of 1621, more than 200 years earlier.

We remember the pilgrims who came to this land on a boat called the Mayflower. They landed the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock about this time of year, just before the winter. There were no cities, no houses, no grocery stores, no shops that sold blankets or clothes or even wood to make a house or a bed. God helped them to survive through the cold cold winter of what later became Massachusetts. They met some Indian friends who were tremendously helpful. When springtime came, their new friends helped them plant corn and cranberries and other vegetables. God helped them all along the way and when November came around again, they were so thankful to their Indian friends and especially to God that they had a special celebration. The pilgrims invited their friends and had a party that lasted for 3 days. They ate fish, chicken, turkey, corn, strawberries, grapes, beans, walnuts and a variety of other foods. This was the first Thanksgiving.

On this special holiday we remember all the things we are thankful for. What were the pilgrims thankful for? Why did they start the tradition of Thanksgiving? Well, to answer this question, we need to remember their story.

Before the pilgrims lived in America, they lived in England. Now in the early 1600s England was a very different place than it is now. This is shortly after the Reformation and religious tension is high. There was no such thing as religious freedom – the state dictated how and when and who you would worship. Our future pilgrims were caught between their conscience and the King, which meant that many of them were killed for their faith.

The pilgrims were desperate. They dreamed of a free country, but they needed a lot of money to sail all the way across the ocean to America. God performed a miracle to provide a boat called the Mayflower. It was a risky venture to travel on the open sea, especially for amateurs.

Now, the trip from the Old World to the New World took about 2 months. The Mayflower was not a big boat; really, it was pretty small. Many of the pilgrims got seasick, but they prayed to God, and they knew that he was in control. In the end, none of the pilgrims died on the journey, which was a small miracle in itself.

So what were the pilgrims thankful for when they had the first thanksgiving meal in 1621? Certainly they were thankful for the good food, and their friends the Indians, and for the safe trip on the Mayflower, and for their families. But most of all, they were thankful that God saved them from a country where they could not worship him.

Today we are also thankful for good food we will enjoy tomorrow, for the company of family and friends, for the safe journey of those who have traveled far. But more than all of this, we are thankful that Christ saved us from a place where we could not worship him. All of us were once enemies of God, but Christ, by his life and death and resurrection, has brought us into a relationship with himself. We have been brought from death to life, from darkness to light, from oppression, to liberty.

In a few weeks, we will celebrate the time when Christ became a human to die in our place so that we could know and love him. The pilgrims were given the life-giving freedom to worship by the dangerous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. We have been given the freedom to worship for eternity by the fatal crushing of Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And this is love, not that we loved him, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the substitute for our sin so that those of us to believe in Christ and call on his name, should not perish, but should be adopted as sons of the living God. This is what we are thankful for today, above all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Katherine and I saw this movie last weekend. I was happy mostly. I especially liked how they set up Neville for the next movie. The final scene was terrific, the special effects were awesome. The movie is definately worth seeing, especially for fans. I'd be curious to talk to somebody who has not read the book, but saw the movie -- did you understand what was going on?

My biggest problem with the movie -- a couple times they betrayed the fantasy genre. At the Yule ball, there was a rock band! What was that?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Memorial Service

This was my homily at the Fall Memorial Service at Baptist Hospital of Miami -- I'm a chaplain there. We have a Memorial Service every quarter for those family members who would like to return to where their loved one died and remember. A very powerful experience. At every service, people come up to me and remember me with great affection, but I do not remember them. I was with them in one of the most important events of their life, but for me it was an ordinary day.

I am the man who has experienced affliction from the disciplining rod of his wrath. He has driven me into captivity, and made me walk in deep darkness.

He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has made me cower in ashes.
I am deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is. So I said, “My endurance has perished, I have lost all hope of deliverance from the Lord.” Just thinking about my impoverished and homeless condition is bitter poison. When I continually think about this, I become emotionally depressed. But this I call to mind, therefore I have hope: The Lord’s many kindnesses never cease, for his great compassion never comes to an end. They are renewed every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! I said to myself, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance; therefore, I will put my hope in him.”

[Lamentations 3:1-2; 16-24]

I did not understand what it means to fall in love until I fell in love. People told me about it. I saw my parents and many others, I understood something, but not really. It’s not the kind of thing you can learn by reading or watching, you have to participate. I did not understand what it means to fall in love until I fell in love.

I did not understand the thrill of victory until I scored the winning goal in a crucial high school soccer game. People told me about it. I saw my teammates and many others, I watched the Olympics, tennis, baseball and basketball on TV. I understood something, but not really. It’s not the kind of thing you can learn by reading or watching, you have to participate. I did not understand the thrill of victory until I scored the winning goal in a crucial high school soccer game.

I did not understand the faithfulness of my God until a very close friend died. I had studied about the faithfulness of God, I had seen his faithfulness to others, and to an extent, I had seen his faithfulness to me, but God becomes the most real when we need him desperately. God’s faithfulness is not something you can learn by reading or watching, you have to participate. Most of us here have participated.

In our scripture reading, the author has recently witnessed the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, the capital city, by the infamous Babylonian army. The fall of Jerusalem came after a long, hard, bitter war where God’s people were slowly deprived of life. It was a time of monumental suffering in a nation known for great suffering. Our author has witnessed the slow and torturous murder of tens of thousands of people, many were his close friends and family.

And he is so honest. It is hard to understand how he can say, on the one hand, “He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has made me cower in ashes.” And on the other hand, he can say, “The Lord’s many kindnesses never cease, for his great compassion never comes to an end.” In the one hand, he holds despair, pain, suffering. In the other hand, he holds kindness, grace, compassion. This makes no sense to me. And yet, it makes perfect sense to me. I cannot deny the presence of either hand. Some days, I see one hand more clearly than the other. But they are both there, always, and that’s ok.

Some days God sends friends at just the right moment to extend grace and compassion. And other days, it seems never to be the right moment. Some days I find great hope in the resurrection, but others, I struggle greatly.

This evening, as we remember those who have died, let us hold on to both hands. We can, at the same time feel the pain of what God has allowed, and see the great compassion he has for us. At one moment, we may ask him why he has done what he has done, and in the next we can praise him for his faithfulness – because aren’t both hands real? Do you not feel pain as you never felt before? Do you not see God’s compassions as you never had before? In the midst of our pain, are we not learning of God’s faithfulness to us?

My Name is Earl

I recently started watching television again. Not much, but I like The Office.

I saw My Name is Earl -- a new comedy on NBC -- ripe with gospel implications.

Earl talks a bunch about karma. The basis for the show? He has a list of things he has done bad in his life. He now dedicates his life to "undoing" each bad thing -- atoning for his sins. Now, this is a hilarious show. My wife and I really liked the one episode we saw.

But more seriously, in the words of Bono (U2), I'm glad the world doesn't work by karma, but rather by grace. If Karma were real, I'd be really messed up and so would Earl. We cannot undo our mistakes. We hurt other people, and we cannot take it back. However, the grace of God floods our lives because Jesus paid the price that Earl will never pay -- no matter how many seasons the show lasts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


don't know what happened, or why it happened.





Our adventure with the boys is done. "It was not a good fit," I say with a smile I hope will convince you not to ask anymore questions.

Perhaps I can return to my life . . .

For you who are religious minded -- I believe God calls two particular kinds of professional Christian leaders. Elders and deacons. The elders are called to the ministry of the word and sacrament. The decons are called to the ministry of service (see Acts 6). I am an elder, not a deacon.

Still working through lots of family systems stuff . . . I'm still learning that I am not my father -- and I never will be.


Broken but hopeful.

Torn but not destroyed.

Pain but joy.