Lennon’s memorial marker in Strawberry Fields, Central Park NY
I watched the most riveting story on CNN of a woman who held the hand of two Las Vegas shooting victims as they died. She wanted to honor the moment of their death with a caring, loving presence, staying with one body for hours until his girlfriend could come and be with him. Meanwhile she was constantly in contact with his girlfriend and his mother, telling them every detail of his passing, listening to their tearful remembrances and stories of his life. She wanted to make his death more meaningful.
At the end of her story the camera slowly faded away with a soft piano musical pad underneath. The first few bars sounded exactly like John Lennon’s signature song, “Imagine.” And I sat transfixed by the idea of that song being played over that story. After a couple of bars the music modulated into other chords, another tune. But I was deeply struck by the lingering idea of the juxtaposition of Lennon’s lyric with the carnage in Vegas: “Imagine there’s no heaven…above us only sky….”
I didn’t realize it, but there is actually a growing tradition to sing or play “Imagine” in the wake of tragedy. The morning after the ISIS-inspired shootings at the Bataclan in Paris a pianist hauled a grand piano in front of the concert venue and played “Imagine” as a plea to end this religious inspired slaughter. The video went viral. How do Lennon’s lyrics and life speak to our motives for devaluing others?
There comes a point where a certain American citizen cannot honor or celebrate what this nation has done. To do so would violate a conscience that simply cannot value what this nation values. Should that citizen be compelled to show honor or celebrate on pain of losing a job? Or paying fines?
Suppose we are not talking about NFL football players taking a knee, but citizens who could not in good conscience honor or celebrate a gay wedding. They could not use their artistic expression to create flower arrangements or make cakes or calligraphy invitations. Should they be fined so much that they lose their business? That has happened to several Christians, and many believers have united in support behind them. Our tradition tends to honor freedom of conscience.
Do we really want to obligate these athletes to act contrary to conscience?
As seen in Europe this summer
After his Tuesday speech at the UN, President Trump was again hit hard and often for being a nationalist. Why are so many so critical? Is it the same as love of country? As believing that America, among the nations of the world, is exceptional? Even superior? Is that so bad?
What is patriotism?
Webster’s defines “patriot” as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” We sing that America is beautiful for “patriot dreams” which evokes the ideals of our founders woven into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They dreamed of a nation where all of us who have been created with equal value and worth in God’s image will receive equal justice under the law. Where we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where our elected representatives will govern with the consent of “we the people.”
Like an opening fanfare we experienced a total eclipse of the sun. As a native Houstonian living in Columbia, South Carolina, now we are writing checks and sending Facebook touches to Harvey-flooded friends back home and lashing down our deck furniture in anticipation of Irma. What are the odds that two of the worst hurricanes in American history would hit back to back? And then there’s Jose coming right behind…
Friends who were headed to Montana this weekend will have to navigate the smoke from fires that have burned over 1,000,000 acres this summer. The schools in Olympia, Washington, where my cousins live, have cancelled sporting events this week because of the smoke from nearby fires. Yesterday the largest solar flare in a decade disrupted communications. And five minutes ago, as I’m posting this, CNN interrupted their coverage of Irma to report on an 8.1 earthquake off the west of Mexico.
Meanwhile, over in North Korea, seismologists suspected an earthquake last weekend which turned out to be a guy barely out of his 20’s exploding a hydrogen bomb.
As pastor friend Jay Sanders writes, “If you read the Bible, you know what all of this means.
“It means that theological con-men will be coming out from under every rock to tell us that Jesus will be coming back on September 23, 2017.”
Ours is truly a privileged planet. That’s what I was thinking Monday as the moon slid over the sun here in Columbia, South Carolina. Could it just be a co-incidence that…
…the moon perfectly, PERFECTLY blocks the sun’s fiery ball?
…the moon and sun are both perfect circles? (Some moons are shaped more like a potato)
…the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but that is perfectly offset by the fact it is 400x’s closer to Earth?
“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other,” (Isaiah 45:18).
I was thinking, He formed it so that we would have a front row seat to see his glory on display like this.
Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist we interviewed for our radio program and co-author of the book Privileged Planet, said he studied all 65 moons in our solar system.
Confederate monument in front of the South Carolina capitol (taken by Lael Arrington)
Last week, as two factions violently clashed over whether to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city of Charlottesville, VA, the movie Selma was playing on TV. I flipped the channel between live coverage of young white men attacking those who wanted to bring the statue down and actual newsreel footage inserted in the movie of young white men waving the Confederate battle flag to mock and harass the Selma marchers.
You couldn’t miss the contrast in the two scenes. In the movie, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King was invoking the love of Christ and his non-violent example as he led many young blacks to march and stand quietly with their hands clasped behind them. By contrast, the faces of the young white men waving their stars and bars were screwed up in hate. In Charlottesville you could see the anger exploding on both sides.
What a difference strong, Christ-following leadership made.
Here in South Carolina we have seen that difference defuse the battle over Confederate symbols more than once. Two Christian governors have stood up to tradition and strong emotions at great political risk. Their words speak compellingly to this moment.
Just returned from Oxford where part of the delight was seeing where C. S. Lewis lived, worked and loved. In spite of his superior skills in reasoning, writing and history, Lewis struggled to gain entrance to the great Oxford University. He was pitiful at math.
The central Oxford landmark, The Radcliffe Camera (left, 1749, part of the Bodleian Library), and All Souls College (right).
August is traditionally a time when many of us pull out our calendars, prayer journals and Bibles – asking God to show us where to invest our time and energies this fall. To help provide clarity, today’s guest post is by Lucinda Secrest McDowell, author of 13 books including Dwelling Places which was just awarded the Christian Retailing Best Award for Devotional 2017 (voted by the bookselling/publishing industry professionals). Like my book Faith and Culture, Dwelling Places is rich with sturdy content for the mind (a devo with footnotes!) and deep reflections for the heart. May Cindy’s words challenge you to say yes and no wisely to the opportunities for impact in the months ahead:
She could not have been more ordinary.
Gladys, was also a poor student and had quit school by age fourteen. She grew up to be a London parlor maid with few prospects. But then God got a hold of her heart and after hearing about the needs in China, she was determined to serve Him there.
Only no mission board would accept her.
Yesterday evening we went to see Chris Nolan’s new film, Dunkirk, where the British and French armies were forced to pull back to the beaches in the face of Hitler’s army. The movie powerfully shows the terror of 338,ooo men pinned down on the beach waiting and trying to evacuate to England across the channel. Overhead the Luftwaffe bombed the hospital ships and destroyers loaded with men and strafed those still on the beach or in the water.
But the movie leaves out much of the larger story. Right when they had the Allies in their tank sites, the German army halted their advance for three days. They believed the Allies were doomed and they took the liberty to consolidate their position. A British officer cabled home a curious message that signified nothing to the Germans, but dire distress to the British populace who were familiar with the King James Version of the Bible: “But if not…”
The message quoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they faced the furnace of the Babylonian king (Daniel 3:17-18: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, let it be known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
The troops faced a fiery ordeal. They needed a miracle.
Do you think this is “racist” and “white nationalist”? Do you think it’s Biblical to be this proud of Western history and values? Speaking in Warsaw last week, Trump vilified Soviet Russia and celebrated the sacrifices of the Polish people’s fight for freedom. He also celebrated the culture and achievements of Western Civilization, especially the way we value freedom, God and family. For all that he has been widely criticized. I’ve edited this very important speech for quicker reading and encourage you to read it for yourself…What do you think?
“…This is a nation more than one thousand years old. Your borders were erased for more than a century and only restored just one century ago.
In 1920, in the Miracle of Vistula, Poland stopped the Soviet army bent on European conquest. Then, 19 years later in 1939, you were invaded yet again, this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east.
Under a double occupation the Polish people endured evils beyond description: the Katyn forest massacre, the occupations, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the destruction of this beautiful capital city, and the deaths of nearly one in five Polish people. A vibrant Jewish population — the largest in Europe — was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation.
In the summer of 1944, the Nazi and Soviet armies were preparing for a terrible and bloody battle right here in Warsaw….
On this July 4th celebration, I invite you to join me in savoring these images of America’s Freedoms. Struggling to get his head around how to illustrate President Roosevelt’s call to commemorate such big ideas, Rockwell finally decided to depict them as he and his neighbors actually experienced them in his home town. Here’s the backstory:
“In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to unite the American people to a common cause. Though Pearl Harbor was still a year away, the war was already raging in Europe and Asia. England was on the verge of collapse. Pres. Roosevelt, faced with an isolationist-leaning America and the looming prospect of a second world war, set forth a vision that would inspire citizens to brave the sacrifices and perils he foresaw in the war against fascism. His vision consisted of four universal human rights:
freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. He saw these values as America’s heritage, now threatened and needing to be defended.
June 25, 1977
We were young and deeply in love. Making big promises we had no idea what it would take to keep. Maybe that is part of God’s grace. We don’t know what we don’t know. But before long we began to get an idea.
Jack and I share so much. We are both strong personalities. (“This will not be a boring marriage,” said our pre-marriage counselor-pastor.) We are both thinkers. I love discussing books, movies and ideas, talking theology and politics with him. We both enjoy travel adventures together, and back when I could ski we delighted in riding the lifts and swooshing down the mountains together.
But in other ways we were so very different.
In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs, general editor of Esquire magazine, writes, “Julie [his wife] always told me that things happen for a reason. To which I would reply, Sure, things happen for a reason. Certain chemical reactions take place in people’s brains, and they cause those people to move their mouths and arms. That’s the reason. But, I thought, there’s no greater purpose.”
We all long to know where our lives in particular and history in general are going. Does everything happen by chance? Or is God directing the course of human events with purpose? Are our lives part of a larger story (a meta-narrative) that’s going somewhere?
In last week’s post I reported on our trip to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, a Biblically scaled ark with many thoughtful exhibits. Invoking artistic license, the creators have assigned names and back stories to everyone on the ark. In one exhibit Japheth’s wife (whom they’ve named Rayneh) is troubled by the massive loss of life outside their boat. She ponders these questions as she goes about her daily chores.
On our way up I-75 into northern Kentucky I found myself thinking about a Facebook friend, a Christian and a movie critic who works in Hollywood. Heading into a newly released faith-based film, she’ll post a little movie-critic prayer, “Dear Lord, please help it not be cheesy.” We were on the first leg of my Mom’s bucket list trip, headed to the Ark Encounter, a theme park with a Biblically scaled ark.
I’m happy to report this ark is not cheesy. From the outside it’s too big to be cheesy. It looks…epic.
And a little too gleaming?
God told Noah to build the original out of wood and cover it with pitch inside and out. I doubt it looked as impressive as the 300-cubit, three-keeled, silver-timbered ship perched in the Kentucky hills.
For every thinking Mom who lives in the daily tension between reading Ferdinand the Bull and Philip Yancey, wiping noses and writing articles , running carpool and managing projects, this prayer’s for you:
May you know God’s pleasure as you read widely and think deeply.
Like Eric Liddel, the British Olympic runner who famously said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run,” may you sense his pleasure when you exercise the intellectual gifts he has given you.
Perhaps you didn’t love school or even make the honor roll. But you love to read and could spend your entire Saturday with a book. Maybe the older you became, the sturdier your reading list grew. Picking up Lewis, Schaeffer or Willard, Tolstoy, MacDonald, or Sayers was like sitting down to a rich banquet.
If you are a Christian woman who loves to think deeply about big ideas, the rich symbolism of metaphors, the cogency of well-reasoned arguments, may you celebrate this gift. It’s part of your beauty.
punting on the river Cam in Cambridge
Some vacations recharge us with rest and recreation. Some with natural beauty. And if, like me, you love to learn, some vacations renew our souls with a feast of iron-sharpening-iron teaching and discussion.
Maybe you could join me this summer in England for a week (or two) in the company of kindred spirits who delight in Lewis and treasure both his intellect and imagination. Oxford. Cambridge. Days of speakers and panels. Nights of music, dance and drama. And it only happens once every three years. Even if not, I hope you’ll enjoy these pictures.
From the time I first heard of it, Oxbridge went on my bucket list. (Is it a bonafide “list” if you only ever had one item on it?) In 2008 my sweet Mom gifted me with a trip to the Cambridge week, where these pictures were taken. This summer I’m deeply honored to be invited back as a speaker at the Oxford week. Other speakers will include Larry Crabb and Joseph LaConte. Info here.
If you just watch the first half of La La Land, you’ll find yourself swept into the blue-sky, sunshine, and citrus colors of Hollywood dreams. The opening big production number on the jammed LA freeway introduces us to Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), off to a prickly start but eventually falling in love and cheering each other on. He wants to revive the lost art of pure jazz in his own club; she wants to become a famous Hollywood actress.
Just as Silverado tipped its hat to the iconic features of Hollywood westerns, so La La Land pays fresh tribute to the romantic musicals of the past. The film’s editor, Sara Preciado, put together this fascinating 2-minute video showing a side-by-side comparison:
Part one concludes with Seb and Mia’s Boy-Gets-Girl kiss in an iris fade so typical of bygone Hollywood Happy Endings. But, as in life and postmodern stories, the kiss is not the ending. Life and the movie goes on. The cost of pursuing their dreams rises and each one must choose how much to sacrifice for the other–a tension common to most couples, especially to women.
While we were weaving flowers into the wire mesh of our Easter cross, singing inspirational hymns, and listening to Jack preach the power of the resurrection, my friends Carol and Gene Kent were standing in line, like they do every Easter, to join their imprisoned son at the “church of the razor wire,” as they call it.
I still remember the day sitting in a Barnes and Noble café, when Carol opened her heart to me: “Late one night we received a call that our son was in county jail,” she said, “charged with first-degree murder. He shot and killed his wife’s ex-husband in a Sweet Tomatoes parking lot in broad daylight.”
The first time I saw Robert Doares painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane I was shocked. It was so unlike the image stamped into my imagination–the image at left of Christ kneeling, earnestly entreating his Father to “let this cup pass from me,” one of the most copied images in the world.
Artist Heinrich Hoffman pictures Jesus late Thursday night after the “Last Supper” looking up, somewhat distressed, his hands in a fretful knot. In the dark quiet before the rapidly approaching storm he has tried to get his disciples to stay awake and pray with him for one hour, but exhausted by the sorrowful news at dinner (One of you will betray me…I’m about to be crucified), they fall asleep. So he leaves the disciples about a stone’s throw behind and prays.
His disciples could not imagine what is coming. Neither, it seems, could Hoffman. Can we? Jesus could. A careful reading of the text paints this far more extreme picture: