Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

The Bellizzis and the Richardsons had a nice Memorial Day weekend. After several days of cool and rainy weather, by Friday it seemed a lot more like Spring in Connecticut.

Ben had a baseball game Friday evening. Chloe, my oldest, worked two shifts at her part-time job. And Monday morning, three of the six kids marched in two different parades. So it was busy, but good.

We worked in the yard, worshipped the Lord, jumped on the trampoline, had a cookout, remembered fallen heroes, rode bikes, and played in the water. That leads me to pray:

Dear Lord,

What a great God and Father you are.

Thank you for the beautiful world you created. And thank you for those happy, memorable times that I can share with those I love best.

After a long weekend, now refreshed, I ask that you'll help me to do good work and to be responsive to you in all things.

Just after Memorial Day, I'm especially mindful of sacrifices made, sacrifices that were necessary because of a sinful world of which I'm a part.

So as I revel in and give thanks for what is good, I ask you to finish your new creation in Christ and fulfill the hope of all who trust in you.

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

Today I'm praying with Kierkegaard,

O Lord Jesus Christ,

I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth.

I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of tradition, nor through the eyes of today's values and prejudices. I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be.

I want to see you as an offense to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of men, and yet as the savior and redeemer of the human race.

Amen.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Trip to the City

Okay, I know. . . I didn't post a "Prayer to Start the Week" this week. But it wasn't because I didn't try.

Actually, I put together this really great post about Soren Kierkegaard (trust me, it was one of the better things I've written) that concluded with one of his prayers. But then, I couldn't leave well enough alone.

Sitting back to see that all I had created was very good, I thought, "But wouldn't it be even better if the statements of Soren were in block quotes? You know, set off from the rest of the text?" And that's when the trouble began.

By the time I had managed to turn the text into a jumbled mess, I abandoned all hope in prayer and wound up sort of cussing instead; in that Christian kind of way.

That said, all prayer has been suspended until further notice. Now I want to talk about that other main plank of real religion: Major League Baseball.

My son Benjamin and I had been looking forward to last Friday for a long time. Every so often we'd have to open my sock drawer and just look at the tickets.

"Shea Stadium . . . New York METS vs. St. Louis CARDINALS . . . Friday, May 13, 2005. . . . 7:10 PM"

Starting last year, we began a tradition of seeing our beloved Cardinals play in Queens, the Bronx, or Boston at least once every season. Last Friday was our first and probably only chance this year. That morning we strapped ourselves into my 1991 Toyota pickup and headed for Flushing, Queens, New York.

Now, I would never dream of driving into Manhattan. But a trip to Shea Stadium is a different matter. Driving from Connecticut into Queens isn't too bad. I learned a few years ago that if you get to the Stadium mid-day, you can park in the South parking lot--between Shea and the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open--for $3.00, which in New York feels like stealing. What's more, from the south parking lot it's just a few steps over and up to the subway platform.

When I first moved to Connecticut twelve years ago, subway rides in New York were only 75 cents. But since then, it's gradually gone up to $2.00. If you're going to be in and around the city for a day or two, it makes sense to buy a Metro Card with more than one ride's credit and get the price break. Ben and I would be there for only two subway trips, so we wound up buying the single-ride passes. (By the way, what used to be the best transportation deal in New York, the 50-cent ferry to Staten Island, taking you right past the Statue of Liberty, has been made even better. Now it's free).

From the Shea Stadium subway station, we took the inbound Number 7 train. It's a long ride into Manhattan (20 minutes or more) with lots of stations along the way. But it's a good way to get a glimpse of what daily life is like for a lot of the residents of that part of Queens. By my guess-timate, most of the riders on our train were either Hispanic or Chinese people. Some of them were clearly on their way to work in Manhattan, going to jobs that pay better than what they'd be able to earn in the neighborhoods where they live.

Going into the city on the 7 train, the last three stops are Grand Central, 5th Avenue, and Times Square. Pretty good options. We've seen Grand Central many times and decided to stay on the train all the way to Times Square, the end of the line and the beginning of a rush.

Marching up to ground level and stepping out onto the sun-lit sidewalk always brings for me a feeling I can hardly describe. Yeah, the faces of most of the people around me speak the assurance that if I did this everyday, it would cease to seem so special. But to me, it's still foreign and fun. Immediately the sights, sounds, and smells--some not so good--of Manhattan are all around me.

Once above ground, Ben and I walked over to one of our city destinations, the ESPN Zone at the south end of Times Square. Coming in the front door, we immediately looked to our left to experience again that great baseball-card mosaic in which you see the face of Babe Ruth. (I know, hard to imagine, but go check it out yourself). Then it was up to the fifth floor, home to a sports-game arcade that you have to see and play in to really appreciate. It was a complete experience once Ben had struck out a life-sized video image of Barry Bonds. I absolutely love watching my son put his big heart into something. It's pure joy.

From there, we thought about walking over for something to eat at Hamburger Harry's (145 W. 45th St), which should also be on a list of things you gotta do sometime. But we really weren't that hungry and wound up at the huge Modell's Sporting Goods on West 42nd Street. We bought a pair of sunglasses for him and new Cardinal shirt for me, and strolled about the streets for a while.

Soon it was time for us to jump on an express train back to Shea. I like the way the guy on the train PA says, "Ex-press. Exxxx- SPRESS." He likes the way he says it too.

We made it in time to see batting practice, and then took in a pitcher's duel of a game between Jason Marquis of the Cardinals and future-Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine pitching for the Mets and looking that night like he was ten years younger.

It was a great performance by both pitchers, the game being decided in favor of the Mets by one Cliff Floyd, who belted two solo homeruns. What a terrific hitter. The final score, 2-0 Mets, the only loss for the Cardinals during their three-game series at Shea.

On the way home, Ben and I picked up my daughter, Chloe, at Rocky Hill, Connecticut. She'd been at a cast party for her all-school production of "Guys and Dolls." The three of us made it home well after midnight. The Cardinals hadn't come out on top. But most everything else that day had been wonderful.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

Soren Kierkegaard lived with a deep sense of humanity's sinfulness, our common need for redemption. It's said that his father spent a lot of time brooding about such things. Like most everything else, theology tends to be a family affair, sometimes adopting, sometimes reacting.

By all accounts, both men lived out their lives under a cloud. What seems clear is that this tendency often got the best of them. In his dispair, Soren sometimes turned to the bottle and then to the brothel.

But then, it's his dour seriousness that gives his writings their weight. It's also the source of his sarcasm and pointed humor. I wonder, how many real prophets would be considered well-adjusted? Aren't they almost always pretty weird?

Anyway, today I'm praying with Soren,

Lord Jesus,

Your love covers the multitude of my sins. So when I am fully aware of my sin, when before the justice of heaven only wrath is pronounced upon me, then you are the only person to whom I can escape.

If I try to cover myself against the guilt of sin and the wrath of heaven, I will be driven to madness. But if I rely on you to cover my sins, I shall find peace and joy.

You suffered and died on the cross to shelter us from our guilt, and take upon yourself the wrath that we deserve. Let me rest under you, and may you transform me into your likeness.

Amen.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Documentaries: "The Thin Blue Line" (1988)

Back on March 8th, I mentioned that I'm a fan of great documentary films and promised to write about some of my favorites. Sorry for the delay. It's just that it takes me a while to accept that, no, I'm not going to do them justice. Here's my first installment.

One title that has to be on a short list of the greatest documentaries ever is The Thin Blue Line (1988). Written and directed by the great Errol Morris, it sets the standard for all subsequent hard-hitting docs.

Morris himself sized it up like this: "There are many films which tell the story of a murder investigation. The Thin Blue Line may be unique in that the film itself does not tell the story of a murder investigation; it is, in itself, a murder investigation."

Most stories of murder and mystery can grab your attention. What sets TTBL apart from almost all of them is that, throughout this film, you deeply feel.

You feel the heat of a Texas summer.

You feel the dread of being an outsider . . . wrongly accused . . . of murdering a police officer . . . in a state that executes people who do that.

You feel the seething anger against the guile and incompetance that makes a mere hapless drifter look like a cop killer.

But do you ever feel the intense relief of an accusation and conviction overturned? Ah, that's why you've got to see this one.

What makes this film so riveting? At least a couple of things:

First, the hard work of Errol Morris. Evidently, Morris is the kind of guy who knows the types of stories that interest him, finds them, and then painstakingly documents them on film. He reportedly put in 2 and 1/2 years tracking down the various people in this film and convincing them to talk on camera. Here's a guy who cares about his craft.

Second, a fantastic original score--almost invariably described with the word "haunting"-- by contemporary composer Philip Glass. It's powerful stuff.

So go out and rent The Thin Blue Line. I think you'll like it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

That "Christian Affirmation"

Easy prognostication: A lot of Church-of-Christ people will be talking about Page 15 of this month's "Christian Chronicle."

It's a full-page ad with the title "A Christian Affirmation 2005." You will find the document, a list of signers, and other information here

So what do you think about it?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Faith Statement and the "Jesus Creed"

Last Tuesday, I was talking about two Christian statements that I'd come across. I really liked them, but also wondered about them. Aside from one reference to the Old Testament, were they a little too Marcionite?

[Historical aside: Marcion was that guy in the second century who wanted to get rid of the Old Testament, and didn't like most of the books that we now call the New Testament, mainly because they seemed so Old Testament.

When you realize how close Marcion's movement came to overwhelming orthodoxy, you're a little more sympathetic to episcopal-type church government. At least some of those people were thinking, "Let's put one orthodox guy in charge of a church or churches, and then we can rest easier. " I know, I know, Jesus said that the gates of hades would not prevail against his ecclesia. But when has that promise ever kept well-intentioned believers from doing what they thought was necessary to "save the church"?

Sorry if this kept you from getting to what you really wanted. But like most preachers I have this expository demon, and it had to be fed].

I decided, No, these weren't bad (I should note that the former actually goes out of it's way to speak of both Old and New Testaments).

I think that it's very normal for Christians to want to summarize the cognitive faith. I also think that that's a hard thing to do, especially when it's by and for a group.

Anyway, you can see the Highland (Abilene, TX) Church of Christ's "Foundations of Faith" statement here

You can see the emergent-church "Jesus Creed" written by Brian McLaren, here

Thanks for your great comments on the earlier post. Now, if you want, go take a look at these two statements and come back to tell me what you think.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

Few have shaped contemporary Christian attitudes as much as Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

Like Augustine, most of Kierkegaard's prayers are found here and there in his writings. They weren't written to be prayed by others. They were written when the author was finally compelled to speak to no one else but the Lord. Those are some of the best prayers, like this one that I'm praying today . . .

There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares.

There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins to you.

But you are stronger than all these forces. We call you our redeemer and savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence. You save us from our foolish fears.

So we thank you, Lord. Amen.