Sunday, May 31, 2015

Controlling the Horizontal and the Vertical

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture….We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.” So begins the old science fiction television show The Outer Limits. I was reminded of these words a few weeks ago while walking the labyrinth set into the floor of a local church.

A labyrinth is different from a maze in that there is only one path in and out, with no decisions to be made about which way to go and no chance of getting lost in it. It is symbolic of life’s journey, with its twists and turns and surprises, with a goal that sometimes seems so close only to have the path turn away from it and go in a different direction, and that sometimes seems so far away yet is only a few more turns from the center.

Walking a labyrinth is about giving up control and following a line that someone else has put before us. People set so much stock in being in control, even those who don’t usually label themselves as “control freaks.”  But the labyrinth reminds us that we are not in control at all. We are only following the path set out for us by God. We may feel like we’re in a maze when we come to a fork in the road or a decision to be made, but ultimately every twist and turn leads us exactly where God intended all along. It’s a liberating thought if we allow it to be - the labyrinth frees us from worry about what to do, because all there is to do is put one foot in front of the other along a set path. It frees us to listen, to pray, to rest, to really observe what is going on within and around us.

If we continue to listen to the television show’s opening, we are admonished to sit back and relax because we were no longer in control and then we are told, “You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to The Outer Limits.” Again, how fitting those words are. Walking a labyrinth can indeed be a great adventure, discovering with awe and mystery everything from peace and calm to great spiritual truths that normally can’t find their way through the noise and chaos produced by all the things we do to maintain the appearance of control. And outside of the labyrinth, life certainly is an adventure.

I pray that I may remember the lessons of the labyrinth more often. I need to do more listening, more looking, more following, and less trying to be in control so that I don’t miss the awe and mystery that God puts before me every step of the way in this amazing journey.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Not Lost In Translation

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:5-8)

The ability to communicate is an essential need not only of humans, but of many other creatures on earth as well. It is also assumed that if aliens exist, then we will need to communicate with them too, as shown by the wide variety of translation mechanisms in the worlds of science fiction. From the TARDIS’s Translation Circuit to Star Trek’s aptly-named Universal Translator to the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, people always want to be able to understand what is being said around them, and the ability to overcome barriers to communication is generally seen as a good thing.

Fifty days after the first Easter, God had a message that needed to be communicated to the world, but there was not a translation device to be found. Fortunately, no technology was needed - just the Holy Spirit, coming down in the most spectacular, fiery way. When the flames settled on those that were gathered, they received not only the ability to go out and spread the good news, but also just the right words to say, in just the right language for each person within earshot to be able to understand clearly.

Technology today has advanced to the point where there are few barriers to communication any more - not even time and distance. We can send out whatever messages we want to whomever we want to hear them, and chances are it will arrive virtually instantaneously. It is usually not impossible to find some way to get a message across language barriers, either. God’s message still needs to be communicated to the world; may the Spirit enable us to use our resources wisely to send it to the ears that need to hear it.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Are You Listening?

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25:37-40)

The Ood are a race of aliens who almost always appear in New Who as, at best, servants to humans, and at worst, their slaves. The Ood themselves seem to be a peaceful people, but when the Doctor is around, things are happening that make them aggressive. He and Donna Noble find themselves in the middle of one such event on Donna’s first trip to another world when they land on the Ood Sphere in the 42nd century. 

The Ood have a kind of hive mind, and they are all mentally connected to one another through a central brain. Although regular humans like Donna cannot hear it, psychically aware beings like the Doctor can listen to their communications through song. It’s not a nice tune to listen to, however; it is a song of captivity. After the Doctor tells her about it, Donna wants to listen also, so he does some kind of Time Lord mind meld to her. Just as quickly, however, she asks him to reverse it because she can’t take the heartbreak she feels while listening. The Doctor complies, but afterwards she asks if he can still hear it. “All the time,” he says simply.

The needs are so great all around the world and here in our own backyards. On TV and online we hear heartbreaking stories of natural disasters, war, poverty, and governments that are either oppressive themselves or seemingly powerless to stop those that are terrorizing and oppressing other people. In the face of so much suffering, it is all too tempting to turn off the news and refuse to listen lest it upset our comfortable lives. 

What if we, like the Doctor, couldn’t turn it off and ignore it at will? What if we were always hearing, always seeing? Maybe, if all these needs were clamoring for our attention all the time, we might be better able and quicker to find solutions to all of these barriers to social justice.  Maybe we might be able to alleviate more suffering. Maybe we might even see Jesus.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


“So now, go. I am sending you to Pharoah to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:10-11)

Yoda really doesn’t want to take on Luke’s training when the kid shows up on Dagobah looking to become a Jedi. For starters, he is too impatient - he can’t even sit and enjoy a meal first.
“He will learn patience,” comes the disembodied voice of Ben Kenobi’s Force ghost.
“Much anger in him, like his father,” is Yoda’s next argument.
“Was I any different when you taught me?” says Ben.
“He is not ready.”
Luke himself valiantly protests this one, though it is hard to argue with someone who has been training Jedi for 800 years.

After a brief tirade in which he accuses Luke of being a daydreamer and adventure-seeker (“A Jedi craves not these things,” you know), Yoda comes up with a new item for his list: “You are reckless.”
Ben steps in once again: “So was I, if you’ll remember.”
“He is too old to being the training.” Yoda is grasping at straws at this point, trying to come up with any excuse to get out of doing this task that he clearly does not want to do.

Yoda’s list of excuses reminds me a lot of a similar list that Moses made when God asked him to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites. He didn’t really want to go back - he had found a wife and a good job tending his father-in-law’s flocks there in Midian. Not even hearing the voice of God coming from a burning bush inspired enough awe to obey without questioning.
“What makes me special enough to do this job?” Moses asks.
“I will be with you.”
“Well, what if the Israelites ask me what I’m doing here? Who do I tell them sent me?”
“Tell them I AM…” and God proceeds to give a list of other descriptors Moses can use as well. In fact, he gives Moses an entire script to follow when speaking to the elders and a fairly detailed description of what will happen.
“But, but, but...what if they don’t listen to me?” asks Moses, at which point God gives him three signs involving his staff, a snake, leprosy, water from the Nile, and blood that he can perform for any doubters.

Now Moses is grasping at straws: “But I’m just not a good speaker - I have this lisp and I never know what I should say until I’ve already said something stupid. You really need to send someone else.”
“Fine,” says God, who is now fed up with Moses’s backtalk. “Your brother Aaron will go with you and speak for you. No more excuses. Now go!”

Both Yoda and Moses remind me of myself sometimes when I’m asked to do something I just plain don’t want to do. But what if, instead, I think of Luke who, despite his immaturity and whininess, really does want to learn? Or the Israelites oppressed in Egypt who would be happy for anyone to come along and be their champion, however imperfect? In the face of that, those excuses seem mighty small and petty. I pray I may remember to look at the bigger picture the next time I’m tempted to start my own list.