Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Beside Us to Guide Us

in the u.s., we have just celebrated thanksgiving day.  when my wife and i returned from spending time with family in the northern part of the state for thanksgiving, we began our weeklong preparation of our home for advent and christmas.  in the course of our decorating we talked about whether to send christmas cards this year.  as we talked, we considered the expense--maybe we should make a charitable donation with the money we would spend on cards; we considered whether we send them out of obligation to folks with whom we never communicate any other time of the year--maybe these are acquaintances that wouldn't even notice that we didn't send them a card; we considered why we send cards at all--maybe we're not all that sincere in the holiday wishes that we express on our cards.

our final decision was to send cards to a smaller list of family and friends this year.  there are several friends to whom we send cards that have had quite an impact on our lives, yet we don't stay in touch except at this season.  how is it that others who have been huge influences for good in my life are out of mind except when i sit down to write them christmas notes?  reflecting on this caused me to think of the multitude of teachers, co-workers, and friends who have helped each of us in our journey.  there is no way that any of us could have frequent communications with everyone who has been an important part of some stage in our lives; there simply aren't enough hours in the day.  accepting that doesn't negate our gratitude for those who have helped us in so many ways, but i am forced to acknowledge that sending cards to remind them, and me, of how our lives are intertwined helps us both keep those links of love and gratitude alive.

as i ruminate over my christmas card list and those distant, yet oh-so-important, helpers, i've determined to dedicate my advent posts to some of them: the man who was instrumental in my securing my first real job as an organist, the cousin-by-marriage who called me every christmas, the choir director who put up with my youthful follies when i first began working in a church, the older choir members who adopted my wife and me as part of their circle of friends.  the list could go on, but this is where i'll begin next week.

my prayer for each of us today and throughout advent is that we'll extend thanksgiving through the season, giving thanks for all those who have been there when we needed them and helped mold us into the persons that we've become.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To Have and to Hold

ads on tv are often irritating and, on occasion, entertaining.  one has been airing recently that i find disturbing.  it is for an online dating service called "christian mingle."  i have no problem with online dating services in general.  for some people, they provide a much needed opportunity to meet others that would be unlikely, if not impossible, otherwise.  what i find troubling about christian mingle is the suggestion that this service is ordained by God, that since those who participate in it are "christians" that this service has God's blessing and is in fact, in the words of one of the spokesmen on their ad, "God's vehicle" for bringing together two people that God has predestined to be husband and wife.  it is the height of presumption to me that a business would invoke a calvinist God using that business as God's "vehicle" to bring a man and woman together as marriage partners.  God forbid that christian mingle would bring two same sex partners together!

how did men and women find their preordained mates in the past when online dating was not a possibility?  did God somehow arrange for business trips or vacations that would bring these folks together from distant regions or countries?  did God prevent a person from falling in love with someone nearby in order to cause events that would bring distant fore-ordained lovers together?  such a God is very different from the God in which i believe and whom i worship.

i read an article this week about a well-known evangelical preacher whose wife divorced him.  as i read, i thought of christian mingle and the implications of the idea that God has chosen the perfect mate for us.  i wondered if this preacher believed that his former wife was the mate God had chosen.   did he rationalize that because they were divorced that they had misunderstood God's will when they married and that God was now setting things right?  since he believes that he can't remarry while his former wife is still living, does he believe that God intended for him to live most of his life unmarried?  if so, how could he have attained his present status as the pastor of an evangelical mega-church, since it seems to be mandatory that those who lead such churches are married?  is his entire life a misreading of God's will?

i do believe that God loves us and wishes the best for us.  i believe that God is present to help us find a mate and to help us live happy lives with that mate.  i don't believe that there is that one person that God has predestined for us, but rather that through our participation in the spirit of loving-kindness that flows from God we are able to follow our hearts and work with a mate to make marriage work.  sometimes we fail, but that has little to do with "God's will for our lives."  it is more about our own growth or lack thereof.

my prayer today is that we worry less about a fore-ordained "will of God" and think more about how to show the love that is a part of all creation to each person in our lives, including our mate.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You Have Done It Unto Me

here's one last post about our trip to europe.  we took a train from villach, austria, to vienna--the last leg of a trip that began in rome, took us to venice, and then to villach.  we arrived at the meidling station in vienna around 7:30 in the evening.  as we left the train wondering about finding a taxi to our apartment, another passenger struck up a conversation with the other male member of our foursome.  this passenger was an american who worked in vienna, and she realized that as american tourists we might need some assistance.  though she had to go considerably out of her way, she graciously escorted us toward the taxi stand.  before we got there, she ran into a security guard for the station and explained to him in fluent german that we needed to find a taxi that would hold all four of us and our considerable collection of luggage.  with a smile, he assured her that he would take care of us, and with our thanks she was on her way to catch the u-bahn train to her home.  the security guard led us to another exit down the street a little way from the taxi stand, called to another guard to send the needed taxi down to us from the taxi queue and waited with us as a large station-wagon taxi pulled down to where we waited.  he had a quick conversation with the taxi driver, made certain that the driver understood my less-than-perfect german, helped load our bags in the taxi, and turned to go back to his post, as i yelled our thanks to his departing figure.

as we piled into the taxi, i conversed in halting german with the driver and thought about how fortunate we had been that a fellow american took time out of her long day to help us by delivering us to a kind man who saw that our needs were met.  it would have been easy for this lady to have shrugged and gone on her way home with good wishes directed our way.  it would have been easy for the security guard to have told her that it wasn't his job to find taxis for american tourists with too much luggage.  both of these strangers saw that our needs were met, making our arrival in vienna after a long day of travel much easier than it would have been had we been left to sort our the arrangements on our own.

how often we wish others the best without taking action to make the best a reality for them.  my prayer is that each of us, like these two thoughtful strangers, will remember that in doing kind deeds for our brothers and sisters, it is as if we had done these deeds for jesus.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Make Me a Blessing to Someone Today

when we boarded our austrian railway train in munich bound for bologna and from there to rome, we were full of gratitude to the german student who had gotten us to the platform and to an austrian train employee who had shown us to the correct car.  the car had few empty seats; our reserved seats were the only empty ones that we saw.  unfortunately they were at the opposite end of the car, and we had three large bags, one large backpack, and four small bags to find places to stow.  i plodded through the car with my backpack looking for some place to park the large bags, while the other three members of our group waited with the bags.  as i came to our seats, i slipped my backpack off and located an overhead storage rack for it.  i began to lift my heavy back up over my head, and immediately a young man seated in the area of our seats hopped up and assisted me, smiling all the while.  i thanked him and looked for places for our other bags.  once i found spots, i went back to the far end of the car, and we began the tedious process of lugging all the remaining luggage to the few empty spots available for them.

during this process the train pulled away from the platform.  with all the luggage stowed, we settled into our seats to enjoy the view.  what a view it was!  there were beautiful villages, green fields and forests, mountains, rivers.  for us, scenes of picture-perfect magnificence were constantly before us as we gazed out the train windows, taking photos like mad.  within an hour, we realized that we were starving and the two males in the group set off to look for a dining car.  when we returned to our seats after our successful expedition, our wives were chatting with the young man who had helped me with my backpack.

he was a single fellow from romania who lived in germany.  his parents were still in romania, and he was on his way to meet them at his sister's home in turin.  he told his that they were only able to get together once a year, and he was excited at the prospect of being reunited with his family for an entire week.  he was a seasoned train traveler, and we were grateful for his advice about the food service, train etiquette, and how the italian train system worked.  he excused himself, and we talked about how fortunate we were to have such a knowledgeable and considerate traveling companion.  we decided we'd better go eat, and as we walked into the dining car, there he set having a beer.  he waved as we entered, and we waved back.

after lunch, we returned to our seats and continued our conversation with our new-found friend.  we were concerned about our train connection in bologna, as we had only eight minutes to board our train from bologna to rome.  our train was running a little late, and if the time were not made up, we would have little or no time to get to the train to rome.  he advised us not to be concerned, as it was likely that we would arrive on time; late arrivals were rare for austrian trains, he told us.  if we did miss our train because the incoming train was late, he said that we would have no problem getting an exchange of our seat reservations for a later train.  he explained how to go about locating the platform for our next train, since one doesn't know platform locations in italy until shortly before the train's departure.  he gave us advice on how to manage our luggage through the station, which involved having to lug it downstairs, and then back up another flight of stairs to the new platform.

again, we were amazed that exactly the advisor we needed was seated with us as we worried over the details of getting around in what was for us a foreign environment.  when he left us to catch his train to turin at a stop along the way, we were grateful for his presence and his willingness to help strangers he met along the way.  once more we had our worries eliminated because someone cared about people he had never seen before and would probably never see again.

as i reflect on this experience, i pray that i can be such a person, that i will see the needs of others and address those needs without the desire for reward beyond the satisfaction of having been of service to another.  may we all be the helpers others need so that their anxieties are replaced by the joy of knowing someone, even a complete stranger, cares for them.  shalom