Sunday, October 9, 2016


He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet, for just a moment…*

As I write this, there is a hurricane heading my direction. I’m not terrible concerned for myself, although there are those nearby who dread the approach of more rain just a week after a good bit of localized flooding around town.

In the eye of a hurricane…

In the context of the musical, the hurricane to which Alexander Hamilton refers is a crap-storm of his own making. The decision he’s about to make in this pause will create winds that will blow him even farther off course and deeper into trouble.

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet…

My hurricane is much more mundane: a day at work that was long, yet not long enough to finish the to do list, followed by an even longer list of chores at home, not to mention the lesson plans for next week that are due before I go to bed.

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet, for just a moment....

I stop in the midst of my busy-ness — no, actually, I don’t. I find two errands that I can do on the way to a local church. It’s the first Thursday of the month and the doors are open to anyone who would like to walk the labyrinth set into its sanctuary floor. I’d like to leave the to do list and anxiety about the impending storm at the door but the thoughts swirling around my brain enter with me. I start to walk, seeking in vain to focus on my breathing, focus on my steps, focus on the path, focus on anything.

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet, for just a moment…

I am in the eye of the hurricane. Here in this place, this moment, there is quiet, however brief. There is space to put aside life and just be. When my thoughts begin to intrude I play the phrase from Hamilton on a loop in my head and mentally sing along. This one lyric, this one short line of melody, becomes my mantra as I seek the center and then retrace my steps back out. I stay in the eye, in the quiet, as long as I dare, soaking it in, holding back the raging storm of an unfinished to do list, just a moment longer.

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet, for just a moment…

The moment is past, and now I must get home and figure out what I can fix for supper, what my students will learn next week, what I need to get at the grocery store tomorrow if, indeed, those more scared of the storm than I have left me anything on the shelves. Yet I hope I can face it a bit better now for having taken a step out of the raging wind.

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet, for just a moment…

In the midst of the storm, there is always a calm place somewhere, even if we have to drive to it. The hurricane always has an eye, and if that pause is made possible by a musical theater lyric, so much the better. I’ll listen for the voice of God in whatever form it takes.

*“Hurricane” from Hamilton, words and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Changing History

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)

“The Aztecs” is one of the better-known stories from the William Hartnell era of Doctor Who, partially because it is where he utters one of the First Doctor’s most famous lines: “You can’t rewrite history, not one line!” The TARDIS lands in 15th century Mexico, specifically, inside an Aztec tomb. When the Doctor and his companions are discovered, their imminent arrest turns into something altogether different when Barbara is mistaken for a reincarnation of the tomb’s occupant, the High Priest Yetaxa.

While it does allow her to make sure that her friends are not mistreated, Barbara’s newly acquired god status also requires involvement in practices that a 20th century woman just cannot stomach. The Aztecs have been in a severe drought, and a human sacrifice is planned to the rain god in hopes of reversing the situation. Now, since Yetaxa has returned to them, she gets to preside over the ceremony herself.

Once alone with the Doctor, Barbara voices her opposition to what she sees as a barbaric practice and declares her intention to stop the sacrifice, not only sparing the life of the victim but also perhaps steering the Aztecs away from the path that she, as a history teacher, knows will very soon lead them to disaster. The Doctor, however, strenuously objects (uttering the aforementioned famous quotation) and urges Barbara not to interfere with the proceedings.

She can’t do it, however. She can’t stand by and watch while another human being is murdered in what she knows to be a futile attempt to affect nature. Even though the intended victim still dies (upset at being robbed of what he considered a great honor, he throws himself off the side of the pyramid), even though the Aztecs don’t change their barbaric ways, even though the Doctor is proven right in the end, Barbara stops the ceremony and prevents the priests from performing the sacrifice..

It would have been easy to be an observer and let things play out the way she knows they will. It would have been so easy to follow the instructions of the experienced time traveler. Barbara didn’t settle for easy, though. She saw the opportunity to make a difference and she took it, even though it didn’t produce immediate, noticeable results. She did what she saw as the right thing despite the fact that nothing really changed in the end.

Barbara did the right thing despite the fact that, as far as she could tell, nothing really changed in the end. Who knows what small, subtle changes might have happened because someone saw her take action? Who knows what good she might have actually brought about? The truth is, often we don’t see immediate, noticeable results, especially for our efforts in the spiritual realms. That should never stop us from speaking out, taking a stand, and doing the right thing. Even when it seems that nothing has changed, we never know when we might just have rewritten someone’s future history.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Aaron Burr, Sir

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:...I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)

As we have seen before, one of my longtime fandoms is musical theater. Lately, I have been geeking out about the Tony-winning Broadway sensation, Hamilton, in which a racially diverse cast raps their way through a retelling of the early history of the United States with a specific focus on Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who tends to be known today only as “that guy on the $10 bill” or “that guy who was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.”

Indeed, a major focus of the show is the development of the antagonistic relationship between Hamilton and his “frenemy” Aaron Burr, the narrator and self-proclaimed “damn fool who shot him.” We don’t have to wait long to find out the reason for Hamilton’s frustration, as the the show’s second song reveals Burr’s motto: “Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”

Talk less, smile more. Well, that’s a piece of advice Hamilton, and indeed many of us, should heed more often. We spend so much time running our mouths when so many problems could be averted if we listened instead, and Biblical writers like James and the psalmists provide much evidence in support of this position. But what about the rest of Burr’s statement?

Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for. Now, that’s where Hamilton begs to differ, a complaint against Burr that he makes so often that, as the musical tells it, it ends up getting him killed. From the beginning, Hamilton recognizes the danger of what Burr is doing and calls him on it, using that old adage that I remember hearing countless times in youth Bible studies as a teenager: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”

It’s one thing to be reticent when deciding whether or not to openly support an uprising that will get you hanged for treason if it fails, but even later on, when Burr is campaigning for public office, his motto has not changed. He seems nice enough — “like you could have a beer with him” — and he’s popular with the ladies (“tell your husbands, vote for Burr”), but we still don’t know where he falls on the critical issues of the day. When it comes to decision time, as portrayed in the show, the thing that ends up swinging the presidential vote to Jefferson is the endorsement of his bitter political opponent Hamilton, who would rather support someone with whom he has “fought on like seventy-five different fronts” than someone who won’t come out and state his position on anything.

The moral of the story, then, is to stand up for what you believe in. We should definitely talk less and smile more — it’s hard to hear the voice of God when we’re constantly running our mouths. But we should never be afraid to let the world know clearly what we stand for, either. Our words, actions, and attitudes should clearly proclaim that what we are for is our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Strange Gifts from Odd Places

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19-22)

For her first trip through time and space, the Doctor takes Rose Tyler five billion years into the future. They land on a space station called Platform One, where the richest beings in the universe are gathering to watch the death of planet Earth. As the dignitaries arrive, they are introduced and then they exchange gifts of peace with others. A tree-alien named Jabe gives the Doctor a cutting of her grandfather, and, in a comedic moment, the Doctor, with no gift to give in return, presents her with “the air from my lungs” and blows a gentle breath in her direction.

We’re supposed to laugh at what the Doctor comes up with when forced to think on his feet, and to wonder what is going to happen when he doesn’t get away with it. Instead of being expelled from the event for his cheekiness, however, Jabe takes the Doctor seriously, responding with gratitude and thanking him for such an intimate gift.

Jabe gets it, even when the Doctor does not. Breath is personal. To feel someone’s breath, you have to be physically located very close to that person. Jesus, too, gave a very personal gift, not to a stranger he had just met, but to his closest friends, when he breathed the Holy Spirit on them. Although he would soon leave them, he gave them the gift of himself, his life and presence to continue with them even after his human presence had gone.

To those of us who are willing to bring ourselves close enough, God will breathe the Spirit into our lives as well. “Breathe on me, breath of God, Fill me with life anew,” is what Edwin Hatch wrote in a 19th century hymn that is still familiar to many of us. If we are willing to bring ourselves close enough, that is exactly what God will do.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Breaking the Cycle

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

The climax of the Doctor Who series 9 story “The Zygon Inversion” comes with a face-off: Human versus Zygon. Kate Stewart and Bonnie, the Zygon copy of Clara Oswald, each stand next to a box with two buttons, each with the ability to destroy one race or the other - or both.

The Doctor, of course, can’t just stand by and let them destroy themselves - he has to make them see reason. “You just want cruelty to beget cruelty,” he says. “ You're superior to people who were cruel to you. You're just a whole bunch of new, cruel people. A whole bunch of new, cruel people being cruel to some other people who'll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they're prepared to forgive. Why don't you break the cycle?”

The first time I saw the episode, I labeled this scene as the Doctor’s “Jesus Moment,” because what he is asking Bonnie and Kate to do is the same radical thing Jesus demanded of his followers two thousand years ago. Indeed, it’s the same radical thing he still demands of us today. There are so many conflicts in the world that could be solved if people would just listen to the other side, forgive past wrongs, and move forward to solve problems together instead of engaging in the never-ending back-and-forth of seeking revenge. Everyone wants to save face when instead they should be making the bold move of turning the other cheek.

Easier said than done, I know. Evidently Jesus knew, too, because what he said next just might hold the key to breaking the cycle: I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Vulcan Logic of Killing Hitler

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

In my last post, I discussed how Spock, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, decided that the needs of the many — the Enterprise crew — outweighed the needs of the one — himself. But what if the one to be sacrificed is not the same one making the decision? To put it in terms of a classic time travel scenario, would you murder Hitler in order to save millions of other lives?

In the Tenth Doctor’s final story, “The End of Time,” Wilfred Mott confronts the Doctor with just such a question. They have escaped to an alien spacecraft high above the earth, while the Doctor’s old enemy, the Master, wreaks havoc on the planet below, having turned the entire human population into clones of himself. Wilf does the only thing he can think of to try to spur the Doctor into world-saving action — he offers him a gun. When appeals to the Doctor’s sense of self-preservation fall short (“Kill him before he kills you,” Wilf pleads), he asks what will happen to all the people if the Master dies. Upon learning that everyone will go back to being human, Wilf becomes angry with the Doctor: “Don’t you dare, sir. Don’t you dare put him before them.” Kill the one to save the many, in other words. Their needs outweigh the Master’s.

The Doctor continues to refuse, though. He can’t bring himself to kill the Master, not even to save everyone on Earth. The Master is just one, and a pretty evil one at that, but still he is one who matters to the Doctor, someone who was a friend of his, once upon a time — and someone who might still do something good one day.

Like the Doctor, Jesus demonstrates throughout his ministry that no person is unworthy of help or beyond redemption, not even the one sentenced to hang on the next cross over. When someone finally invents time travel, maybe the first trip back will be not to kill Hitler but to influence him to do good rather than evil. Until then, let us never give up on anyone as irredeemable, no matter how reprehensible he or she may seem to be — you never know when you might be the one who causes that person to change their ways and become a force for good in the world.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Needs of How Many?

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15: 4-7)

A major theme of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan revolves around Spock’s logical Vulcan mantra that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Indeed, it is the driving force behind Spock’s ultimate sacrifice at the end of the movie, when he enters the radiation-filled chamber to repair the warp drive so that the Enterprise may escape the explosion that Khan sets off just before he dies. The way Spock sees it, his individual need to stay alive is not as important as the needs of the many Enterprise crew members to get away from the explosion and certain death, so he does the logical thing and takes a lethal dose of radiation to repair the ship.

On the surface, it seems like Jesus did a similar thing - he died on the cross so that every person who ever lived might have the chance to escape death. But is this actually the case? If we look deeper, we find that, in fact, Jesus didn’t die for everyone. He died for one person - you.

When Jesus told parables about seeking the lost, he spoke of the shepherd who left the rest of his flock to find the one sheep that had wandered off, and the woman who rejoiced when she found the one coin out of several that had fallen out of her purse. I’m sure Jesus thought it was wonderful when his disciples baptized thousands that first Pentecost, but not because of the overall number - because of each one that accepted him that day.

In our world of majority rule, it is easy to see the logic of Spock’s statement, yet even Spock’s friends reject it - in the next movie, subtitled “The Search for Spock,” they are laying their own lives on the line to find and rescue one person, causing Spock to comment on the illogicality of humans. It’s our nature, apparently - and since Jesus was human, it was in his nature, too. We are called to seek out the one we can help, the one who needs to hear the good news, the one we can feed, clothe, and visit. The needs of the many are irrelevant when we focus on meeting the needs of the one in front of us, because that one is the only one who matters.