Boiling Down the Commandments

In Mel Brooks’ 1981 film History of the World-Part 1, Moses strides down the mountain with three stone tablets.

“God gave us fifteen—”

Oops! Moses (played of course by Brooks) dropped one. It shattered. Hmmm?

“God gives us ten commandments.”

Charlton Heston, surely closer to Moses’ appearance than Mel Brooks, witnessed the commandments being created, word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase. A holy fire blazed and cut each rock-bound letter. How many people are more familiar with Cecille B. DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments than the Bible’s top ten list? I mean, isn’t DeMille’s film really a documentary?

Long ago, at my regional United Methodist annual conference, with a thousand clergy and laity in a tense debate over the values of faith, a young pastor stood and declared that all churches should have the Ten Commandments visibly posted in the sanctuary. Every parishioner, every Sunday, would be reminded of God’s laws.

With loudspeakers amplifying his voice, he declared, “It should be exactly as the Bible said!” Continue reading →

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Communion for the Wounded

The farmers’ hands were scrubbed clean and yet still dirty.

The creases on their palms were like dark rivers flowing through callouses and scars. Black streaks of grit and grime were permanently etched around nails.

Fingers were missing. A pinkie gone, leaving three digits alongside the thumb. Or the upper part of a ring finger ended at the knuckle. I recall a few pointing, perhaps giving directions to a neighbor’s place, but there was no index finger to aim.

Is farming the most dangerous job in America? Oh sure, others could protest that distinction. Soldiers face bullets and bombs. Who wants to be a cop or firefighter rushing into a building ablaze with angry citizens or fires or both? Loggers with chainsaws always make the danger list. Don’t forget the construction workers atop half-built skyscrapers, a stumble from experiencing gravity in a bad, bad way. Continue reading →

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Saying the Right Things at the Right Time at the Right Funeral

In a chapel at a local mortuary . . .

I had never met the dearly departed.

In my first year of ordained ministry, interning at a church with three full-time clergy, I got the leftovers. Who preached on the Sunday after Easter or Christmas? Why not the kid? With a lone exception, none of the church members wanted the youngster for their weddings. I saw numerous baptisms, but had no hands-on, wet-and-wild-in-the-Spirit moments. They all preferred experience; a minister with gravitas. Being only a Christian witness does have its downsides.

However, there were those desperate calls from families, perhaps tangentially connected to the congregation, searching for a pastor’s help with a funeral.

They’d take anyone.

Grammy died. A favorite uncle died. The mother’s brother’s son’s girlfriend’s step-father died. The church secretary would answer the phone, gleaning enough of the family’s needs to pass them along to the senior pastor. The senior pastor, a fine fellow by the way, might quietly commiserate with the grieving caller. They beseeched him to preside over the graveside service or share kind thoughts at the funeral parlor. Alas, Rev. Senior Pastor was busy on that particular day. But good news! He had a young pastor that would be . . . perfect!

Would they want to talk to said young pastor?

You betcha! Continue reading →

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