Head Case

About twenty seconds into a twenty-mile bike ride, I thought, this is foolish.

The mid-40s temperature lowered dramatically when I started the ride because cyclists create their own wind chill factor. Brrrr! Good news: the streets were dry. Bad news: California’s San Joaquin Valley has Tule fog, and looks like a soup tureen filled with thin gruel. The good news about the bad news was the fog wasn’t terrible on the day I shidled* for about an hour.

Cold as it was, I did one smart thing.

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – for January 23, 2011

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… (I Corinthians 1:18)

Ah, but the day before, that was a foolish day. In the final moments of my wife’s winter break from teaching we cross-country skied. We wanted to put the San Joaquin’s Valley’s dismal fog in our rear view mirror. We selected the snow-covered road that led to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove for our adventure. Two miles down this road awaited the fabled sequoias. Just. Two. Miles. Alas, since California’s had a zillion inches of moisture in the last month, the snow depth on the usually pleasant road rivaled the Sahara Desert’s sand dunes. But freezing! Brrrr! I fell. Often. Several times, in the endless, powdery snow, I feared I might drown if I wasn’t careful.

Here I am, shidling.*

Cold as it was, I did one smart thing.

See that picture of me on my two-wheeler? I may look like a dork, and I may be a fool to pedal in the winter, but do you notice how good my hair looks? No. You don’t. When I bike, my helmet’s strapped on. Of the 714 bicycle-related deaths in the United States during 2008, 616 (86%) of those cyclists were helmetless. Boys and girls, don your dorky headgear!

Here’s another stirring statistic: approximately 40% of the body’s heat “escapes” from the head. Your noggin will “lose” more heat while struggling in cold conditions than arms, legs, and derriere combined. And so, even though I fell early and often on the snow-choked road to the Big Trees (which on that day I never saw), I was also a mostly toasty lad. I wore a cap. My ears were covered.

Don’t call me no fool! I guard my thinning follicles and vanishing brain cells. If I fall off my bike, I’ll probably be able to talk about it the next day. When the wind howls across the Sierra ridges, I’ll adjust my comfy hat and bravely smile.

In my physical activity, I’m good at protecting my head. And yet, in my spiritual life, my head often gets in my way.

I read Paul’s statement in I Corinthians—the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God—and smile. What a clever use of words he has. And then I cringe. If Christians are fools for Christ’s sake, I will often do everything possible to avoid looking faithfully foolish.

I prefer to think about God. Me? I’ll read the Bible. Or I’ll read scholarly insights about the Bible. Or I’ll even read commentary about commentary about the Bible. It’s all so, well, interesting to ponder what I’ve read about God. And safe. Continue reading →

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Why follow Jesus?

Certainly Jesus’ birth didn’t answer that question for the Gospels. As his adult ministry begins and fellow Galileans become aware of him, no Gospel—even Matthew and Luke where the nativity accounts are located—has anyone say . . .

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – for January 16, 2011

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

“How ‘bout that youngster from Bethlehem? Born under a star and now he’s becoming a star!”

“First some magi and their wow-factor gifts, and then later Jesus slips Herod the Royal Pain’s clutches, and now he’s here among us. Sure, I’m gonna pay attention to him.”

“If Gabriel visited his Mom, well, an angel’s blessings good enough for me to fall in step beside Jesus.”

Why did people follow Jesus? In the Gospel of John, in particular, one answer was quickly provided. People followed Jesus because John the Baptist vouched for him and Jesus was quickly identified as “the Messiah (which is translated Anointed).” How could one not consider following the Nazarene known as—before the first chapter ends—the “Anointed?” Drop everything! Let’s get going!! Let’s follow Jesus anywhere and everywhere!!!

So. Darn. Easy. Not because of his star-crossed start, but because of the Baptist’s claim and good old boys like Simon saying, “We have found the Messiah.” Really? Here I’m wary; here my faith is salted with doubt. I simply don’t believe it was that easy for the first disciples. However, in the midst of all the “easy” decisions those first followers made, Jesus asked a question that was and is one of the hardest questions of faith . . .

“What are you looking for?”

How did the first disciples answer that question? According to the Gospel of John, they never did. How would you answer it? How would I? I think, as a faithful doubter and humble believer, that following Jesus, in the first or twenty-first century, is all about asking that question and deeply, honestly listening for answers.

When people have followed me, that question has been pivotal. Continue reading →

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One Is Sufficient

There are a thousand and more ways to describe baptism. All will be inadequate. For every major Christian “division”—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant—there are a variety traditions and rituals that celebrate baptism.

The Baptism of the Lord – for January 9, 2011

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

Water . . . Sprinkle or dunk? Living water or from the tap?
Age . . . Infant or adult? Adolescent or when God calls?
Words . . . Metaphoric or literal? Traditional or modern?
Tradition . . . Catholic or Anabaptist? One baptism or many?
Where . . . In worship or not in worship? A sanctuary or river?

The mystery called baptism is just that. Mystery.

I’m a United Methodist. I have papers to prove it and people that’ll vouch for me. So please trust me when I say one baptism is sufficient in my denomination’s tradition. If you’re United Methodist and reading this, I’m right, right? If you’re a Protestant of a different ilk, or maybe live in the so-called None-Zone (the Pacific Northwest where around 2/3 of the residents claim “none” as a religious affiliation), I guess you gotta trust me. Though, if you’re a None-Zoner, trusting others about religion probably ranks low in the order of likely responses.

But one baptism it is.

And yet, the mystery called baptism is just that because I’ve been baptized not once, but a thousand and more ways. To use language as comforting as it is unsettling for some, I’ve been born again. And again. And again. And again. There has been literal and symbolic water throughout my life. You get the point.

Continue reading →

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