Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction & The Guardian

If you go to Will Ferrell movies for the sophomoric humor and pratfalls, Stranger Than Fiction is not for you. Ferrell was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of sad sack Harold Crick whose existence is simply an exercise in mathematics until one morning in the midst of his exactly 76 strokes of brushing his teeth, he hears his life’s narration. The narrator is obviously omniscient regarding his life, so now Harold Crick must discover if he is in a comedy which ends in a marriage or a tragedy which ends in death.

I loved this movie. The Christian analogy to our lives is blatant – will we be in a comedy which ends in a marriage, part of the bride of Christ (the Church) or will our lives be a tragedy which ends in our death? The centrality of Harold’s watch and numbers in his life is reminiscent of Jesus teaching that the very hairs on our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7) and Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Costar Emma Thompson gives her usual wonderful performance and Dustin Hoffman adds another quirky character to his resume. Harold Crick's life is a rather satisfying one to watch.

Every field of military service has their heroic movie – this is the Coast Guard’s. Kevin Coster and Ashton Kutcher aren’t names that usually draw me to movies, but we gave this one a shot.
My hubby summed it up pretty well, “This is Top Gun on the water with a little Officer & A Gentleman and Heartbreak Ridge thrown in.” He is exactly right. The movie is formulaic, but for me, it didn’t matter. I knew what was going to happen, but I still enjoyed the ride. There are some nice, albeit under-developed, themes and subplots in the movie. After watching The Guardian, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the work of the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmers.

For a factual recounting of the heroism of these men and women, check out the book, “So Others May Live” by Martha LaGuardia-Kotite.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Notes From The Book Club

Sunday afternoon, the Pastor's Book Club met for a discussion of A Table In The Mist by Jeffrey Meyers. Our hosts, Paul & Judy Pugh opened up their lovely new home for us!

I really enjoyed reading this book. I needed Ecclesiastes. More than ever I realized.

Some “scholars” want to say the book is just a lesson in the futility of life without God and it’s only in the conclusion of the whole matter that we find Truth: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

But that truncated view misses the whole point! Solomon is NOT writing as a worldly weary, recently converted pagan. As Meyers establishes, Solomon is writing as the Shepherd King of Israel, God’s appointed ruler – his words speak wisdom to us, but, unfortunately, we often don’t have ears to hear.

Some points from the book:

Faith does not mean ignoring the “living death” as Augustine put it of our cursed world. It means trusting God while confessing our own bafflement with the world.

Wisdom is not like getting to be in the train station or the air traffic control station of life. It doesn’t give you insight into God’s providence. Biblical wisdom doesn’t really give us control either, but it presupposes our inability to gain control of our lives. That’s the message of Ecclesiastes. That’s why we have to walk by faith, not by sight, because the world will remain to us a mystery.

True wisdom means to fear God and keep His commandments, receive the gifts He has given us, all the while knowing we can’t understand His ways and we can’t play God.

Solomon’s words shouldn’t be translated as vanity or meaningless, but as vapor, which is something that defies out attempts at comprehension and control. The point is there is no advantage or ultimate leverage in our work. Hebel the word we translate “vanity” or “vapor” is the word from which we get Abel whose life was basically a vapor. God has given us a burdensome task as a result of the curse. The result is we can’t shepherd the wind. We can’t rule it or control it. Our frustration at trying to shepherd the wind causes us to turn to the One who rules the wind. In spite of life’s vaporous nature, God can be trusted. Life can be enjoyed despite the fact that it can’t be mastered.

Not everything can be fixed. Not everything is a problem to be solved. Some things must be borne, suffered and endured. In fact, trying to gain wisdom that will give you control may make you worse off because you can’t and it will just frustrate you.

In other words, Christian wisdom advocates celebration, rejoicing and enjoying what God has given for you to enjoy. To cherish the small gifts that comes your way

I think for a long time I wrongly perceived Christianity as an “If-Then” proposition: If you do right – then you win. Good triumphs over evil. White hats always defeat the black hats. Hard work is rewarded, frivolous living comes to naught, etc. I really didn’t believe the Preacher in Ecclesiastes who says: The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.

Prosperity isn’t always what it seems. We should fear God and be content with what He has given us. Solomon challenges the American way of looking at life that thinks that the one with a long life and the wealthy person lives the good life. Wealth is not automatically a sign of blessing from God.

Time and chance happen to them all. There isn’t a checklist we can follow which guarantees a specific outcome every time. A life of ease doesn’t signify God’s favor anymore than a life of trouble signals His displeasure.

Ecclesiastes is a call to faith. It is something we need to hear. We always think we can control our fates and we work hard to do so. If we maintain our prosperity and blessing, that says nothing about what God thinks of us. We can’t tell by God’s treatment of people whether they are the objects of God’s love or hatred. Death comes to the wise and the fool. Wealth, poverty, health, sickness, whatever. None is solid evidence of God’s love or displeasure. If you can’t tell God’s attitude toward you through providence, then what you have to do is listen to the word of God. In other words, believe the gospel. You are righteous in God’s sight.

We easily attribute good to God, but what happens when the bad comes and you can’t figure out God’s ways? We have to attribute that to Him too. The point of Job is that man cannot understand why God runs the universe the way He does. We just have to trust Him.

Wisdom is valuable, but its real value lies precisely in its willingness to admit its limitations. Sometimes judgment is delayed. That doesn’t mean anybody is going to get away with anything. That’s why we have to trust God’s going to make things right in the end. When the state doesn’t believe that, it tries to be god-like and spy on everyone, regulate every bit of life and punish every little infraction. Even if there is no poetic justice on earth in history, God promises there will be at history’s end. (I bet Uriah would attest to that.)

Solomon also has a lot to say about Christian community and wisdom. He presents us with biblical realism of Christian wisdom. We can’t relinquish confidence in a person just because they erred. Everybody, even the wise man, does it. If you are wise about yourself, you will overlook faults in others. Wisdom gives the ability to live in a world of sinners, but that’s not the same as being able to explain or comprehend sinful human nature.

Solomon warns without godly speech with humility in words and tone, human community will not last a minute. Few words are a sign of wisdom, because the wise speak only after reflection. Almost the entire substance of foolish speech can be reduced to hasty, uncharitable judgments against other people in the church. Many think spirituality is judged in terms of how much people point out the faults of others, but the Bible teaches the opposite is true. For example, don’t get too worked up about other’s talking about you – just think about the times you’ve done it yourself. If you are wise about yourself, you will overlook faults in others.

For some, Solomon’s counsel about work, our spouse, feasting and drinking seems too physical or worldly. Maybe it is time for us to get a grip on what the Bible says is truly spiritual. The overarching point is that while some things are prohibited in the Bible, everything else is left wide open to pursue if your heart so desires.

In order to rejoice, you have to set yourself free from worry. You don’t control the future – God does! Solomon concludes that what we are supposed to do is fear God and keep His commandments, but that is paradoxically the way to live without fear. Since we can’t control or predict the future, we have nothing left but to trust God because He does control it all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lulu Love

My hubby says our bird Lulu thinks we're just members of her flock, not her owners. These photos may prove his point!

Lulu would rather perch on us than on her cage. She also prefers sleeping on Bobby than on her cage:

Monday, March 12, 2007


In the 1970s, the South End of Louisville was a blue collar haven. I also knew it as “North Parnell” because so many of my relatives had moved from Wayne County’s Parnell to Louisville and lived within blocks of each other. While my Dad worked for the Navy, my Mom worked in a factory like a lot of our neighbors. I remember sitting on picket lines in the summer with Mom. A favorite cousin got in trouble with the law for going after a “scab” while on a picket line. [Disclaimer: As an adult, my economic views would differ from my family's at that time.]

Dad loaned other relatives money to pay bills while they were laid off. For a lot of people, the 70s were tough.

After work, Dad and the Parnell crew would throw back a few at the Three Way Tavern, much to my Mom’s consternation. Weekends, the crew would gather in someone’s garage to listen to Lanny play the guitar and, if he had had enough to drink, maybe sing Hot Rod Lincoln.

It could be because I grew up in that setting that I loved Invincible. It’s the story of Vince Papale, a laid off teacher and star of the neighborhood football games, who is given the improbable chance to try out for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles football team. At 30 years old, Papale becomes Philadelphia’s Seabiscuit – a source of pride and hope. It’s a Rocky story, the underdog who beats the odds, which everyone loves, but it was more than the heartwarming local kid makes good element that endeared the movie to me. It was revisiting that sense of neighborhood. The movie’s local watering hole, Max’s bar, felt a lot like the Three Way Tavern of South Louisville. The camaraderie with Papale and friends seemed so familiar. I saw the men from South Louisville in the men of South Philly.

As the crew at Max’s Bar cheered for Papale, I saw the hope of a better tomorrow that people were clinging to in that time of layoffs and gas lines. I saw the hope of a way past what Jimmy Carter told Americans was our “national malaise”. Mostly I saw the grit of some hardworking blue collar types who were determined to get beyond whatever obstacles life threw at them by hard work and with loyal friends. I saw my childhood in the characters of Invincible.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


My Dad passed away two years ago tomorrow. I asked a friend of mine who lost her father, "When do you stop crying?" She said you never really do. And she's right. I still cry when I have moments of almost picking up the phone to call him or bouts of missing him. But, I now have more and more moments when I'm smiling, even laughing, remembering him. I feel sorry for people who didn't know my Dad. He really was terrific. And funny.

Bobby gave the eulogy and preached Dad's funeral. Below is the eulogy to help those of you who knew him remember and others to get a glimpse at who you missed:

". . . a life is a lot more than a list of dates and places. It’s a person – a personality. I want to share something personal about Bobby, but I hesitate to do so, because, for one, he’s my father-in-law and I don’t know where to begin or end. For another, I know that the things I remember about him, or appreciate about him the most, are likely different from many of things that are special to others. More than that, I know that many of you knew Bobby much longer than I did – some maybe all his life, or perhaps all your life. Besides from all that, I understand that the man I knew later in his life was very different from the young man I’ve seen pictures of and heard the stories about.

The man I knew was a new creation, because Christ had changed his life. So I encourage you to reflect on your memories of Bobby, as I share with you just a few of mine.

When I think of Bobby I especially remember a big man with large hands. That’s one of the first things you noticed about Bobby when you were a young man wanting to date his daughter. It was kind of intimidating. But I quickly got over that because Bobby had a way of carrying a conversation, and making a total stranger feel just like an old friend. Bobby liked to just sit around, enjoy a good conversation and a cup of coffee. He had a good sense of humor. He could tell a joke. He could make a face. He told lots of stories about characters with the most colorful nicknames that you felt like you knew by the time the story was over. Bobby enjoyed simple pleasures. He liked to “piddle” around in the garage. He took pleasure in nature. He liked to watch birds and animals. He liked to root for the Wildcats. And he enjoyed country music. Those are the things he liked to do. Alisa and Karen were always trying to expand his horizons. They used to say he was in a rut. I said it was more like a trench. But Bobby seemed to understand something a lot of people don’t now-a-days: those things were enough to make him content – and that’s a good thing.

More important, Bobby was a kind and gentle man. He was always willing to help out others. He was a person others depended on, confided in, and looked to for advice and strength, especially during hard times. He had a reputation of being tighter than bark on a tree, because, much to Mary’s chagrin, he would make due with anything, and absolutely would not throw anything away. I later found out that his reputation wasn’t true; he was a generous man who simply did without so that he could provide better for his children – who he was so proud of. That’s the man I knew. That was the man redeemed by Christ. That’s the one I remember.

As I just mentioned, late in his life Bobby returned to his faith in Jesus Christ that he first professed as a young man. He made that faith public when, at Christmas, in 1997, he was baptized into the body of Christ at Southeast Christian Church, in Louisville, Kentucky. Of all the things that Bobby did in his life, the one thing that is most important today, the one thing that makes everything else seem trivial by comparison, was to place his trust in Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, that aspect of his life that we will especially commemorate today.

As it so happened, it wasn’t long after Bobby’s baptism that his health problems became apparent. Over the years his health decreased, until at last both his body and mind were destroyed by disease. In the end, however, he fought the good fight, he finished the race, and he kept the faith.

Bobby lived the three score and ten years allotted to him. He died old and full of days. Bobby passed from this world on Friday, March 4th, at 4:50 pm, at Norton’s Suburban Hospital, in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was appropriate that as he was gathered unto his own he was surrounded by his own. In the final seconds of his life, I read from Psalm 16. And as I read the final verse – “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Bobby breathed his last, and serenely departed from this life, as if to say that he had at that very moment entered into that eternal joy.