On A Day In July

Acts 17:22-31 – The 6th Sunday of Easter – for May 25, 2014

“…I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To An Unknown God…’” (Acts 17:23)

According to the seventeenth chapter of Acts, Paul stood at Athens’ Areopagus and challenged the Greeks about worshiping an “unknown God.” In a city and an era where many gods were worshiped, Paul had stumbled across a local altar with words that declared allegiance to that “unknown” deity.

A modern view of the Areopagus in Athens...
A modern view of the Areopagus in Athens…

I’m impressed by Paul’s first-century speech in Acts. With rousing philosophical arguments, he out-Greeked the Greeks. Paul’s blunt exhortation about worshiping the one true God of his faith versus the many false Gods of their culture was thoughtful, faithful and persuasive.

The God Paul proclaimed was not unknown! God was real, and could never be understood by creating shrines of gold or silver. In a smattering of verses, the author of Acts had Paul recount creation, alluding to Adam and Eden, and declaring a confidence in a God that has “fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness . . .” The past was obvious. The future was set. All things were known.

How dare anyone worship an unknown God!

And yet I do. Continue reading →

Lost Coins and Boxes

Luke 15:1-10  – The 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 15, 2013

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them . . .” ((Luke 15:8)

Raiders_Of_The_Lost_ArkUnlike Jesus’ parable of a woman scouring her house for a lost coin, my mother’s quest for a box didn’t have a happy ending.

In August a year ago, Mom had moved from her home of forty-six years to a retirement community. Many of the contents of her suburban house were donated, itemized for a garage sale or bequeathed to my two sisters and me. She would only bring what she needed to her new residence.

When I arrived for a first visit a couple of weeks after her move, the new apartment had packed and unpacked cardboard boxes everywhere . . . on her floors, piled in closets and also in the dishwasher-sized storage unit in a separate area. Mom had already filled her assigned space with several empty suitcases, Christmas ornaments and more boxes.

After a hug and chitchat and how-was-the-drive-from-Fresno, Mom’s demeanor flattened like air escaping a tire.

“I’ve lost a box.”

A box. There were scores of boxes in Mom’s apartment. It was a condensed version of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones’ wooden box was stored in a government warehouse with a zillion other similar containers.

“Which box, Mom?”

“It’s the one with a thousand dollars in it.”

Ah. That box.

Mom and Dad were born in the first decades of the twentieth-century. That generation survived the interminable “Great Depression” and then saved the world from the tyranny of dictators. Though I didn’t know when I was a kid, as an adult—and privy to a few of my parents’ “secrets”—I’d learned they kept cash hidden in the house. The financial woes of 1930s demonstrated that a bank might abruptly close its doors. World War II revealed that normalcy could shift to panic and only fools wouldn’t prepare for the proverbial “rainy day.” Of course they hoarded a stash of cash.

“I think I put the box in the storage unit,” she said.

We looked. Indeed, over the next hours, we investigated the smallish storage space multiple times. We opened and closed and opened every carton of any size in her apartment. It didn’t matter if a box had been labeled Photo Albums or Kitchen Stuff, we thoroughly searched the apartment’s nooks, crannies and, like Jesus’ woman with the lost coin, lighted a lamp to illuminate the darkest reaches of rooms and corners.

It wasn’t World War II, but Mom’s normalcy had shifted to panic. Continue reading →

Was He An Angel?

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16  – The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 1, 2013

“. . . for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Where angels tread . . .
Where angels tread . . .

Andy*, the Harley-Davidson riding, Missouri-born ICU nurse, entered my mother’s room and gently asked her to lift her head. He flipped her pillow.

“Always good to have the cool side,” Andy said.

Until a few days before, I didn’t know Andy.

And, for the most part, I still didn’t.

Was Mom’s intensive care nurse a stranger?

Was he an angel?

In the Christian Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews cautioned, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Did I show the Harley-owning nurse enough hospitality; did I thank him enough while he cared for my mother? No, I never invited him for dinner, nor did I—as someone might in Biblical times—wash his feet after a long day’s journey or (in today’s world) bring him a Starbucks Grande Caffe Mocha. And yet my thanks were authentic and I made every effort to learn names of the ICU nurses, and to show them respect, and to keep each one within my prayers.

Of course, maybe it’s not fair to think of Andy as “angelic” because I witnessed him turn a patient’s pillow. But his actions were sweet, kind and appeared to my weary eyes to be extraordinarily thoughtful.

What does it mean to be “angelic?”

As I write these words in the middle of August and in the middle of anguish, Mom is non-responsive in a comfort care room at a Sacramento-area skilled nursing facility. On the last day of July, she visited a doctor—another stranger—for more tests, and more attempts to discern the reasons for her bloated stomach, indigestion and constipation. By July’s final moments, she had been handed over to an oncologist’s care—yes, a stranger—and he immediately sent her to the hospital. An “unsettled stomach” was (likely) ovarian cancer.

More in-the-hospital tests were taken. Two days after admittance, Mom faced life-saving surgery to unblock her colon. Without that surgery, she’d rapidly die a miserable death, or so said the stranger who was a surgeon. If the operation succeeded, she might recover enough to eat “normally” and have a quality of life for . . . Continue reading →