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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Taxes

"The only certainties in life are death and taxes."
~ attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and numerous others

"Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."
~ Jesus

Since I wrote earlier in the year about death perhaps the day after we in the U.S. A. paid our taxes is a good time to reflect on the other "certainty" of life.

In January I basically said that in order to truly live one must first come to terms with the fact that one will die.  Doing so brings a freedom to our lives that allows us to relax and enjoy our days, weeks, and years.  I wonder if thinking of taxes in a similar way would relieve the burden of taxes that so many people seem to feel.

Living in community, whether in a family, club, association, church, city, state, or country, requires communal resources, the source of which are the individuals who make up the community.  If we expect and enjoy the benefits of community, we must also expect to provide our share to the general welfare of the community.  In our civil governments we call these contributions taxes.

If taxes are inevitable, then why not at least choose to see the positive side of paying them?  First, if we are paying taxes this means we have resources that are taxed whether property, income, or purchased goods.  Be thankful we have these resources.   Second, look at all of the things our taxes provide in the way of security, conveniences, services, and peace of mind.   Our collective taxes provide military protection, law and fire protection, highways, clean water, sanitation services, education, arts and humanities, and the list goes on.

Or we could choose to see taxes as a burden and continually complain about having to pay them.

All I'm saying here is we have choices as to how we view the inevitable things of our lives, which include death and taxes.

As for me, today my taxes are done and in the mail and I'm taking a deep breath and relaxing in the benefits they provide.  After all there is also another certainty of life and this is Life itself.  So, why not contribute to it, participate in it, and enjoy it?



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Transformative Beauty



"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
John Keats

"...there's this vision of the beauty of God that transports us and that takes us to a new depth and a new height. It's one of those things about beauty. You can't capture it in a word or a formula. When you get to that humble place where the beauty of God has overwhelmed you, I think it changes everything. You can say the same creed that you said before, but now it's not a creed that grasps God in the fist of the words, but it's a creed that points up to a beauty that's beyond anybody's grasp."
~ Brian McLaren

It is difficult to to be outdoors this time of year, especially in Washington, DC, and not encounter beauty.  Cherry and Japanese Magnolia trees are bursting into bloom.  Forsythia is in full radiant yellow.  And flower beds are beginning to explode with color.

It has also been said that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" which may be another way of saying, "we see what we want to see."  I do believe this is true. However, sometimes beauty catches us by surprise.  I'm talking about wordless, breathless beauty that transcends description that is as Brian McLaren says above, "...beyond anybody's grasp."   This kind of beauty is the beauty and truth of Keats.

Sometimes it's up to us to make room for surprise.  So why not take time today to walk away from whatever seemingly important thing that just has to be done, and create some space for beauty.  

Whatever it is you left will be there when you get back.  But my guess is that it won't quite as importantly pressing as it was before.
  
FYI for those in the DC area, the "CHPC Evolving Christian Faith" discussion group meets tonight at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church to discuss an "On Being with Krista Tippett" conversation with Brian McLaren.  There is also an phone in option for anyone, anywhere!   Please join us if you can.    Get all the details here.

  


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Parables

"Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ Pay attention to what you hear."
~ Jesus, Mark 4:23

I woke up this morning thinking of a story I have heard several times.  It's one of those urban legend type stories that gets told as if it happened to a friend, a relative, or friend of a cousin.  It probably did happen to somebody, somewhere, sometime.  Or, it may not have happened at all and is pure fiction.  Regardless it is a "true" story about several things: perception, non-communication, generosity, greed, scarcity, and abundance. It can be interpreted and appropriated on numerous levels, both personally and collectively. In other words, it is a parable. And like any good parable the conclusion is left to the reader.  Jesus would have probably told this particular parable with a poor widow and rich young man, or a master and servant, or a beggar and a priest. Here's the way I remember it:

An elderly woman, traveling by bus, had a layover during her journey. She purchased a package of cookies from a vending machine in the bus terminal and located a table. She placed her cookies on the table, sat down, and proceeded to read her newspaper

A young man joined her and, to her surprise, opened the package of cookies and began to eat them. The woman, said nothing, but gave him an icy stare and grabbed a cookie. The young man, with a funny look on his face, ate another cookie. The woman again glared and grabbed another cookie. The young man finished the third cookie and offered the last to the woman.

Completely appalled, she grabbed the cookie and the young man left. Outraged, the woman threw down her paper only to find her unopened cookies on the table in front of her.


There are parables all around us!

 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I C U and U C Me


Yesterday, March 25, 2014, was the twentieth anniversary of the death of my sister, Reba.  She was a person who genuinely embraced life.  I still miss her.   

Her death was caused by lung cancer and the end came slowly at first, then quickly.  Her last weeks were spent in and out of the hospital usually in intensive care.   Remembering Reba’s final days sent me back to my sermon files to see what I was preaching during that time, also the season of Lent.  Here are some excerpts from a sermon I gave the Sunday before she died.

“…life lived genuinely is life where death is ever present.  Until we embrace our mortality we can never fully experience our humanity.

I’ve spent a good part of this past month in the ICU waiting room at the Georgia Baptist Medical Center.  ICU waiting rooms are places where life is genuinely lived. Time is suspended in a vigil that cares only about fifteen minutes every two hours. 

While waiting for that fifteen minutes, strangers talk with one another.  They share their stories. They cry openly.  They answer the phone for one another (obviously before the mass use of cell phones).  They comfort one another.

People hug and hold hands.  Families come together.  They pray and cry.  They remember. They make promises.  They comfort each other in the setbacks.  They celebrate the smallest victories.

Individuals reflect on their lives, ask important questions, and wrestle with destiny.

Life in the ICU waiting room is full, real, and intense.  

Why?  Because death is so present!

The honesty of an ICU waiting room is what the world needs.  The honesty of an ICU waiting room is the genuine living to which we are called in the Gospel.  Jesus tells us that until we can live in our mortality, we are not living, but merely existing.

The season of Lent is the Church’s ICU waiting room.  It is when we come together to explore and experience genuine living by embracing our mortality..."

And so I share these words again.  This time with you, and with a present reflection.   I C U in today's  texting code means, “I see you.”   And this is what happens when we accept our mortality and live genuinely with ourselves and one another -  I C U and U C Me.