From Paul’s Pen

Philippians 4:1-9 – The 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, October 12, 2014

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:1)

In the "pen."
In the “pen.”

Usually, in my web wonderings on scripture, I’ll provide a handy hyperlink to the entire Biblical “lesson.” Which is to say, I leave it to readers to find the Old or New Testament reference. I assume certain readers are more familiar with the Bible than me and that by printing the source—like today’s Philippians 4:1-9—they know exactly what it says. And there are probably a few web visitors who couldn’t care less about reading any of the verses that stirred my imagination.

But today I’ compelled to print a lengthier than usual snippet. This is Paul, writing to the community of believers in Philippi:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Many Biblical scholars claim that Philippians was a compilation of at least three letters from Paul to Philippi. Those same scholars would note that Philippi was the first community founded by Paul on European soil. It represented a tenuous harbinger of a regional movement becoming a global church.

Paul’s ancient words are worth printing so they are obvious. They are worth re-reading. They are worth meditating on. They are as intimidating as hell. Correction: these words that poured from Paul’s pen are as inspiring as heaven on earth.

By the way, Paul was likely in the “pen”—behind bars, a prisoner—when he scribed these encouragements to his friends in Philippi. Continue reading →

Faith’s Essential Question

Deuteronomy 30:15-20  – The 6th Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, February 16, 2014

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses . . .” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Choose. Some choices are mostly meaningless.

  • Butter or cream cheese on that bagel?
  • HP or Canon or Epson ink jet printer?
  • The (good) Giants or the (rotten) Dodgers?
  • Coke or Pepsi?

How many choices do we make every day? How many choices have changed the course of a day, or a life?

197924_192589770783069_150319295010117_431311_4488791_nDeuteronomy’s invitation echoes across the centuries . . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may life.

Life or death? Blessings or curses?

My wife, having been told by her doctor to eat more fiber, asks me to buy bran cereal when I next go to the supermarket. I bring home General Mills’ Fiber One instead of Kellogg’s All-Bran and she tells me it wasn’t what she requested. But the odds were against me because there were hundreds of choices in the aisle devoted to cold cereal. At least a dozen claimed (in large, colorful fonts) to solve a person’s fiber needs. How could I not choose the wrong brand?

There are so many choices.

I lead a support group at hospice for those grieving the death of a spouse. At the first session, I tell the eight “strangers” they’ll always be given a choice about sharing. If they don’t want to speak, they don’t have to. One man, whose wife of 50-plus years had died a few months before, never says anything until the second-to-last gathering. I have chatted privately with him; anytime he opens his mouth, he begins to cry. He doesn’t want to cry. Continue reading →

Yes or No?

Luke 18:9-14  – The 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, October 27, 2013

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector…” (Luke 18:10)

Black and White signJack Reacher is one of my guilty pleasures. He is author Lee Childs’ fictional hero of numerous best-selling mystery novels. Strong and self-assured, Reacher travels America with his wits, the clothes on his back, a toothbrush and saves the day by the conclusion of each novel. The former military cop goes where hitchhiking or a bus will take him. With Reacher, author Childs has created pure reading escapism; there’s not much thinking and lots of action.

Last month I finished Childs’ Never Go Back (2013). Perhaps halfway through the novel, one of Reacher’s decision strategies began to irk me. In scene after scene, he claimed the choices he faced were 50-50 propositions. Yes or no. He’d go this way or the other way. The bad guy will appear now or he wouldn’t. The next action will be correct or incorrect. And yet, as irritated as I became with tough guy Reacher depicting such a black-and-white world, a nagging corner of my mind agreed with his logic.

(Or, maybe—dare I say it—his faith?)

Jack Reacher’s stark worldview also crept into my wondering about Jesus’ parable of the bragging Pharisee and lowly tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

The Pharisee touted his accomplishments in the synagogue. He was loud, proud and darn happy to be overheard in a crowd. The tax collector, “standing far off,” simply cried for mercy. He confessed he was a sinner. Or, if you’d prefer fancier language, he’d fallen short of the glory of God. He felt a failure.

Two people.

As is oft the case after reading Jesus’ stories, I wondered . . . which one am I like? Mr. Pharisee or Mr. Tax?

The Bible does this quite often. Cain or Abel? Joseph or his brothers? Jacob or Esau? Moses or Aaron? Thomas or the rest of the disciples? Judas or the rest of the disciples? Peter or Paul? (And, since an inordinate number of This or That choices in the Bible are men, another 50-50 decision for modern readers could be: do I think the only worthwhile examples for faithful/faithless choices are found in the Bible’s male-centric worldview? But that’s an exploration for another day.)

Today, with a catch in my throat, I persist with my question . . . am I more like the haughty Pharisee or the humble tax collector?

One, or the other? Continue reading →