Are You Serious, Jesus?

Mt. Whitney

Ask me about hiking to California’s Mt. Whitney’s 14,505 feet summit, the highest peak in the United States (outside of Alaska).

“So, Larry, how was it tackling ole Whitney?”

“Rugged. Miles of uphill and the oxygen thinner with each step. Went with a group and we did the trip in two days. On the first day we reached 12,000 feet and camped in a stark, treeless meadow with granite spires looming above like skyscrapers in a stone city. And there, as we set our tents for the long alpine night, in the merry month of August, snow started fall–”

Wait!

Stop me before I exaggerate too much.

That backpack adventure with a church group long ago was a grand time. I retain vivid memories, and I’ll happily boast about the mountain beauty and my hardy companions. But I’ve told the story in the past to folks who were sometimes interested and sometimes bored, and almost always I casually (but emphatically) mention the August snowfall. I don’t dwell on the white stuff—I might even add that a late summer snow wasn’t unusual in the high country—and I’ll quickly move on to the other adventures.

But was there really snow? Was there cold, white danger in the high country? Continue reading →

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Where No One is Different

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. Mark 9:37

My friend invited me for dinner. A prayer would be said before the meal and guests like me were reassured we wouldn’t have to join, but were welcome to gather with our hosts in praising . . . Allah.

A few years back, I was a non-Muslim invited to gather at Fresno’s Islamic Cultural Center to enjoy a meal and share with neighbors during Ramadan.

Ramadan represents the holiest time of year for Muslims. Among the Ramadan obligations is daily fasting. From sunrise to sunset, a person does nothing (including eating or drinking) that represents pleasure. The day’s final meal takes on significance. On every day the devout Muslim prays on five separate occasions. But during this time of celebration and sacrifice, the prayer before the dinner (the Maghrib or sunset prayer) is likely more keenly felt . . . if only because of a growling stomach!

I don’t understand much of this. Raised in a 1950s American suburb, I wasn’t aware of any Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. The oddest religious expressions came from Roman Catholic classmates or the very few Jehovah’s Witnesses I knew. Along with other elementary school students, I remember being jealous of a kid who didn’t stand or say the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Why?” we asked. Continue reading →

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The Words of My Mouth

T.S. Eliot began his poem East Coker with “in my beginning is my end” and concluded it with, “in my end is my beginning.”

When I read Psalm 19, I try not to hurry to the end, but I usually do because it’s my beginning.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Yes, all the words before the final verse are powerful and eloquent. As with all 150 Psalms, I am forever amazed at how these ancient phrases, written thousands of years ago by persons with daily experiences alien to my twenty-first century world, speak to me. The Psalms are like fingers wagging in my face, hands slapping my back, arms enveloping my shoulders, palms pressed together in prayer, fists threatening my complacency, shouts waking me up, and silences urging my attention to the movement of the Holy. What of just these words from Psalm 19 . . .

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye.

Rejoice. Enlighten. Indeed! Continue reading →

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