IS THERE HOPE FOR HOPE

[DISCLAIMER: If you're reading this as a sermon or admonition you're reading it wrong. If you're assuming I'm a theologian, you'll be disappointed.]

UNRELENTING HOPE REQUIRES AN OCCASIONAL GLIMPSE OR GLIMMER OF GOODNESS. At least that’s how it is for me. I have to know that sometimes RIGHT matters. From time to time I need for the bully to lose. I need for someone in a position of influence to call out arrogance and manipulation—even when I am the arrogant manipulator. I need to spend time in truth and beauty.

I’ll admit it, hope is waning for me. Wait. That may not be accurate. Certainly hope in many institutions is spiraling down, but hope in institutions is misplaced anyway. Ultimate answers and meaning are not found there.

So what is HOPE anyway? Especially the durable, unwavering, unrelenting kind?

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Take a look at this picture. This is one of my beautiful Grand-Girls, Nora, a few years ago at her church’s fall fun festival. I watched her play this game over and over. The game goes like this: players walk around a circle of chairs while music plays. When the music stops each sits in a numbered chair. The MC then draws a number, calls it out, and the person in that numbered chair wins a prize.

Nora played round after round. Each time she would look to the MC for the announcement and each time she was not in the winning chair. She didn’t complain. She didn’t swear. She didn’t kick chairs. She didn’t question the fairness of the rules. She didn’t storm off to another game. She didn’t assume there was some sort of conspiracy against her. Here’s the weird thing—she actually seemed delighted for those that did win. And then, when the music resumed, she did too—her little march around the circle.

Then it happened. All the other kids moved on, leaving only Nora. When the music began, and she started her solo trek around the circle. When the music stopped, she sat down and looked at the MC with all the unwavering hopefulness she had maintained throughout. You can see it here, in this photo. I, too, looked at the MC thinking, hoping, surely this time she’ll win. And she did!

Let me quickly point out that this Nora-brand of HOPE is not the same as buying a lottery ticket every week hoping to retire “rich”, or hoping that redemption can spring from narcissism without passing through humility. This is about trusting that there is a certain fairness to it all, that people will ultimately do the right thing, that if you put on your pretty, Halloween costume dress and put your Mimi-made bag on your arm and march around the circle, sooner or later you will win the prize. Frankly, I’m not even sure it was totally about the prize for Nora. She seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience.

Maybe I’m just naive—68 years old and still naive—but I’m now, in new ways, understanding that good doesn’t always prevail.

Can we be hopeful? I’m still strongly on the side of YES. I still see those important, occasional glimpses of rightness, justice, otherness, and true Jesus-following that keep me hoping.

There’s a story in the Gospel of John, chapter 5, the scene is a pool and gathered around: “a great number of disabled people—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.”

One of these is a man who’s been there for thirty-eight years. That’s a long time to march around the circle; so to speak. So, Jesus sees the man lying there and asks him what seems like a really stupid question: “Do you want to get well?” Then the dialog goes like this:

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the music stops—wait, that should be—when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Surely the man had days of hopelessness. There must have been times he cursed something or someone—those new to the pool who would jump in ahead of him, someone from out of town... I’m just guessing.

But what about that weird question Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

Let’s do a self-check: individually, culturally, politically, societally, spiritually. Are we healthy? Are we getting healthier? Now that religion and politics are in bed together (again) are we better?

What if Jesus’ question to us is: Do you want to get well? Do you really?

Maybe true hopefulness hinges on knowing we want to be well and then getting up and walking. Walking in freedom, wholeness, boldness and hopefulness.

If you do; count on this: there will be a chorus ready to say, “Hey, stop that. There are rules against that.”

From John 5:

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

I might have replied with something like this: “Apparently he’s a guy who cares more about a broken person walking for the first time in 38 years than he does about your Sabbath rules.”

Good doesn’t always win. Right doesn’t always prevail. But every now and then... someday... ultimately... I’m hoping.

Christmas Cards

CHRISTMAS CARDS ARE IMPORTANT. I’m just sentimental enough to believe that traditions are important. The keeping of traditions is one of the things I like best about the holiday season. But Christmas cards; they’re special, at least to me, because they are one of the last bastions of congeniality. Remember when people used to write letters, notes and cards? Just last night, following a magnificent performance by one of our Grand-Girls in the school Christmas musical, I returned to the car to find a hand-written note on my windshield. It was a note of encouragement, telling me I should do a better job of parking next time.

It takes a certain human intentionality and connectedness to sit down and write a note, put in an envelope, address it, lick the flap, apply the stamp and drop it in the mail. Now we text, email, send birthday greetings on Facebook, etc. This season I’ve received a few virtual Christmas cards via email. Next time save yourself the trouble, I’m not buying the sincerity.

MANY CARD-SENDING SEASONS AGO, I was looking through an assortment of boxed, pre-printed, Christmas cards at a bookstore: “I like this one, but I wish it said this… This one is cool except for that creepy angelic creature lurking among the clouds. Surely Gabriel didn’t resemble that!” and so my mind went; on and on. And, then, I thought, “Why not design a Christmas card of our own?!”

There have been several of these homemade, bespoke card designs over as many years now. BTW: If you don’t get one in the mail, don’t despair. Your Christmas will be full and complete without one.

Several times, I’ve collaborated with other designers and artists for the card design. These are my favorites. My all time favorite was with an amazing Japanese/American artist named Julie Robertson, aka: Juuri. Julie and her husband Eric are very dear friends and special people to us.

For the collaboration, I gave Julie a poem I had written and asked her if she would do a watercolor to go along with the poem. The front of the card looked like this—


Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave


The inside of the card looked like this—

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave


Julie is, among other things, an amazing mural artist. She has painted murals around the world, literally.

Julie at work.

Julie at work.

Work in progress.

Work in progress.

DONE!

DONE!

I invite you to visit Julie’s website juuriart.com to see more of her work. Good news—if you would like to have one of her works, you don’t have to have a giant wall for a mural. She has smaller works as well. And, even prints.

So, that was our card in 2010. Now it’s 2018. I struggled more with the design of the 2018 card than I have with any other design. That’s largely because of the inner struggle I am having with the twisting and distorting that I believe is being done to the nature and beauty and truth of Jesus by the religious right. Compared to the card Julie and I did for 2010, the 2018 card may seem like I just threw something together—it’s black and white, looks cheap, and cynical.

That verse though… the one from the Gospel of John… about the Incarnation… It doesn’t need adorning or beautifying. It just needs to be wrestled with. So I’ve been searching my soul and my world for evidence of that mysterious, mind-blowing, heart-changing, soul-searching thing called Incarnation.

In case your copy of the card was lost in the mail, here’s the front—


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And here’s the inside—


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Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him. —Matthew 2:2

Follow that star. Merry Christmas.

Do You See What I See

ONCE UPON A TIME, I had some ping pong skills, and then an optometrist said, “Here, try these bi-focals.”

I guess, technically, I still had the skills, but it helps if you can see the ball. If you’re over 40, you can empathize.

Ping ponging while bi-focaled is hard; heck, stepping off of a curb is an adventure.

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Measuring your skills at things like ping pong, making chili, loud whistling, turkey calling, etc. requires a reference point—something or someone to compare thyself with. For several years in my ping pong career, my reference point was my oldest son, Corey. Early on, I could beat him every time we played (except for when I would “let” him win). And then he turned seven. The table turned, so to speak, and from time to time I got the feeling that he would occasionally let me win.

A vivid memory, and one of the last ping pong games I played: a fairly arrogant fellow (as compared to the norm in my head) come in to a rec center of sorts. Someone came over to me and said,

“That guy over there wants to know who the best player here is.” (They didn’t know Corey was there.) I walked over and said I’m the second-best player here, unless you’re better than me.

He smirked one of those cocky smirks and said let’s find out. He was good. I was better. My life as a human being is more significant for that win that night. Had we played a few more games he would have beaten me—he would have figured out how to return my serve. You see, if you have bi-focals and have a hard time judging the proximity, speed and spin of a ball coming at you, you solve the problem by having a nearly unreturnable serve so that it doesn’t come back over the table at you.

As the sun set on that day, I was still the second best player in the building. I know that because I had two points of reference: Corey, the best player, and this old guy with a Baker Mayfield-like obnoxious arrogance, whom I was better than.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching and hearing the stories about President George H.W. Bush. He is being remembered, and rightly so, as a war hero, and a humble and gracious leader who held his family in high regard.

I can’t help but wonder if his quintesscence isn’t somewhat heightened because of the current presidential point of reference. That’s not to take anything at all away from G.H.W.B.’s contribution to our nation through his service. Rather, I’m thinking that in ping pong and presidenting, maybe comparisons don’t tell the whole story at all. Maybe it’s best to remember each on their own.

In my understanding of the Divine, it IS that way. We are not graded or judged on the curve—compared with or to others; although the modern fundamentalist/evangelicals in their myopic, political worldview would have us believe it is so.

Here try these bi-focals or maybe these rose-colored glasses.

"For now we see through a glass darkly.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

I'm With Her

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REMEMBER THAT SONG BY THE NEW SEEKERS? The one the Coca-Cola® marketing department borrowed and mashed up with their own theme song? It seemed so hip in ’71, now it looks like maybe their coke bottles could have been filled with “Kool-Aid”. No wonder the Greatest Generation thought the Baby Boomers were all going to march off the cliff together.

I'd like to buy the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company


Let’s dial back the idealism for a minute; forget about the apple trees, honey bees and snow white turtle doves. Let’s just shoot for a bit of harmony, even if it’s not pitch perfect. 

Before we can talk about metaphorical harmony, we need to spend some time listening to the magical, musical world of real harmony. Let me suggest:

Pentatonix: “Can’t Help Falling In Love”
The Beach Boys: “In My Room” and “Good Vibrations”
The Beatles: “Because” and “Nowhere Man”
The Everly Brothers: “All I Have To Do is Dream”
Crosby, Stills & Nash: “Helplessly Hoping” and “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”
Simon and Garfunkel: “The Sounds of Silence”

I want to give a shout out to my main music sage, Gene “Pops” Chapman. The musical tastes of Gene and myself are in near-perfect harmony, so whenever he makes a recommendation like the one to check out this all-girl trio, I did and was amazed. Click and listen to the NPR Tiny Desk Concert of “I’m With Her”.

Now, can we draw some lessons from the beauty of musical harmonies and apply them to our worlds and the world? Here are a few thoughts I’ve had: 

You must have at least one other person to harmonize with, am I right? Sure soloing is great sometimes, but we’re talking harmonies here. All of the people in the group have to sing the same song for a few minutes at least. They have to sing in the same key and at the same tempo. The notes though, while different, the common notes of the correct chord, have to be present. This is the magic. It’s as simple as one note and the note a third above it and maybe the fifth, and somehow it just seems right, and rich. There is a peace to it all, you can sense the beauty of the divine design of it. 

Unfortunately, today, at times at least, it seems people only know one note, and even if they know more, they just want to sing their one note, really loud. I’m that way sometimes. There are some people I just don’t seem to be able to harmonize with and others I have no interest in harmonizing with. I don’t like the song they’re singing. Usually my song is better (or so I think). 

When you watch a really good vocal duet or ensemble singing in tight harmony it’s sublime. They are synched and connected. And, at the end of a song, there is, at least for me, a sense of purpose, of completion, something worthwhile that makes us all better for having been there.

Sometimes though, singing or playing in unison can be harmonius. Yesterday for example, one of our Grand-Girls, Harper, and two of her friends comprised a cello trio. They sang and played “Jesus Loves Me” in “big church”. There was no harmony, yet there was nearly perfect harmony among the three. You could see it in their six year-old silliness before the service started, in their total trust and dependence on their teacher, and in their common mission. Banded together, there was no stagefright or limelight. Just harmony in unison.

Not to say there isn’t a place for occasional dissonance. This is where I often come in—sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. 

One thing about dissonance: it is so sweet when it resolves, steps back into harmony, and even still amazing when it doesn’t. Listen to “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles. Click this and watch if you want to geek-out on all of this.

One more thing: Watch this video. It’s two sisters from Stockholm, Sweden, singing together a song they wrote, a song about having someone to sing with like Emmylou and Gram Parsons singing “Love Hurts” or Johnny and June singing “If I Were A Carpenter”.