Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why I Write

Dorothy Sayers was probably speaking for herself when in one of her mystery stories Harriet Vane says of writing prose, “When you get the thing dead right, and know it’s dead right, there’s no excitement like it.  It’s marvelous.  It makes you feel like God on the Seventh Day.”

Looking over my blog, I noticed that I’m closing in on the completion of four years of blog posts.  While I don’t fashion myself a great writer by any means, the quote above from a Dorothy Sayers novel captures my feeling when I write and preach (which, since I write my sermons, are like two peas in the same pod).

When I began the blog, I wasn’t sure how long I’d do it or if I’d like doing it.  Perhaps I was just putting pressure on myself to prepare yet something else in a life already full of preparations.  I determined from the get-go that I would only write when I had something to say (not a luxury I have in preaching unfortunately).  For the most part, I’ve honored that, and, by God’s grace, I’ve stuck with it. 

Not long ago, a friend of mine, who reads my blog from time to time, was thinking about starting a blog of her own.  She wanted to be sure, though, that cranking out blog posts would be worth the time it took her to write them.  “Do you have a lot a lot of people read your stuff?” she asked.

“No, not many,” I replied.  “If I post on a controversial issue, I get a bigger readership.   But I don’t do much posting like that.  My regular posts get an average read of 150-200 people.”

“That’s it?” she said.  “Then why do you do it?”

“I do it for me,” I said.  “I do it because I love to write.  It’s cathartic and therapeutic for me to get my thoughts out in front of me in black and white.  It helps me process life.  And I also do it as an offering to God.  That’s why I call my blog Life at the Altar.  I enjoy looking for traces of God in the everyday experiences of life: family, work, current events, church, death.  Sometimes God is so thick in things I can’t see anything else.  And sometimes I have to grab my magnifying glass and fingerprint kit, put on my Sherlock Holmes hat, and sleuth Him out.  But I enjoy the process and I enjoy writing about it.”

“You mean you’d blog even if no one read your stuff?”

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had more readers, but I’m pretty sure I’d keep it up even if nobody read it all.  Besides, God reads it, I think, and if it brings a smile to His face, that’s good enough for me.”

So far as I know, my friend has yet to begin a blog.

I began mine in 2009, and 188 posts later, thank you for taking a few minutes two or three times a month to read Life at the Altar.  Thanks for sharing posts that touch you on Facebook and for inviting others to read it too.  The subtitle at the top of the page reads, “Altars are places where people meet God, and because God is everywhere, we can meet Him anywhere.”  I hope you’ve met God in my posts.  I think that, too, would put a smile on God’s face.  And I know it puts a smile on mine.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2001 — A Poem of Remembrance

The rumble of a jet engine
     low over Manhattan, too low.
Necks on the street craning to see
     the source of the noise.
In seconds, the sound of a great collision,
     a fireball in one of the twin towers,
    now gashed and looking like a broken chimney.

Calls are made; sirens roar;
     police and firemen on their way.
Chaos on the inside; chaos on the outside:
     in both human hearts and the broken tower.
What a horrible accident!  It just couldn’t be!

Yes, it could.
     And it was no accident:
In a cave in Afghanistan,
     Osama Bin Laden grins from ear to ear.
And in New York City, hear the rumble of another jet
          barely overhead.

Now two towers, burning, smoking.
     First responders doing their thing.
Bystanders on the street, running for their lives
      and staring into the impossible;
     A nation on the edge of their seats,
          rubbing eyes in disbelief:
               Who?  What?  Why?

What’s that?  The Pentagon too?
     And four new generations of Americans
          taste the bitterness America tasted
               at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941:
                    O God, not again!

At least the worst is over, right?
     Wrong.  The twin towers shiver,
          and crumble into a pile of dust and ash and twisted metal:
               an impromptu grave for more than 3000 people
                    who went to work that day with full calendars
                         and plans for the next weekend.

“I’ll see you this evening,” said the wife to her husband.
     “We’ll toss the football when I get home,”
          said the father to his son.
There was no evening for them,
     they never made it home:
          the football stayed in the closet;
               the boy stayed in his room, his pillow soaked with tears.

And it still wasn’t over: a plane spirals down in a Pennsylvania field;
     “Let’s roll,” says a passenger, and that plane is brought down
           by brave Americans who put the lives of others above their own.
There was a lot of that that day.

As night fell on America,
     there was much weeping and fervent praying;
          the President spoke, flags waved,
               the strains of “God Bless America” were heard from
                    sea to shining sea.
And America has never been the same.
There are memorials now in all these places,
     where thunder struck and people died,
          memorials made of wood and metal and stone.
And in the hearts of all Americans who lived that day
     there are memorials in our hearts and minds
          composed of images we will  never forget …
                and shouldn’t.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sing to the Lord a New Song

A couple of weeks ago, our church installed our new Minister of Music and Worship.  As part of his installation charge, I included the following reflection.

In his famous song, American Pie, Don McLean sings about "the day the music died."  Have you ever thought about what life would be like if there ever came a day when music died? 

Imagine what life would be without music …  

Parents would have to rock their children to sleep without the sweet melody of a lullaby.

Television commercials would be dry as dust.  It's the jingles that get to us.  It's the jingles that stick in our memories.  See if you can complete these jingles:

·         “The best part of waking up is ….” 

·         What about this one: “My bologna has a first name it’s ….” 

·         Now this one: “Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that ….” 

·         And you may even remember this much older jingle, "See the USA in your …."  That's right, Chevrolet. 

Those are dated, and you still remembered them, didn’t you?  Without music television would be empty.  No jingles in commercials.  No theme songs for the shows.

And without music in life, no matter which radio station you tune in, all you could find would be talk radio.  How could it officially ever be summer if you couldn’t drive down the road with your windows down and your radio blasting as you sing along to your favorite tunes?

Life without music would be strange indeed.

And imagine worship without music …

Well, worship might be shorter, or worse yet, we preachers would probably go longer.

In worship without music, way fewer people would be able to use their gifts in the church.

In worship without music, offertory times would be louder because there would be no music to cover up all the whispering and readjusting that goes on during that time. 

And what about invitations: no music, no hymn, just a preacher standing up there staring at the congregation.  The only plus side about the invitation, I guess, is that preachers would never lie to us again about, "We're only going to sing one more verse."

And in worship without music we would never have the hymns to carry with us out the doors of the sanctuary and into everyday life.  Even though it’s been years ago, I still remember when Oral Hershiser won the World Series MVP for the Dodgers.  He was asked by a reporter, “I see you moving your lips in the dugout when you’re teams at bat.  You don’t appear to be talking to anyone and no one appears to be listening.  So what are you doing?”  Hershiser answered, “I’m singing hymns.  They keep me calm and focused.”  We all have our favorite hymns and choruses that encourage us so much as we go about our lives.

Worship without music would be sterile at best and dead at worst.  I can't imagine worship without music, can you?

How about the Bible without music?  

Did you know that music fills the Bible?  If we were to take the music out, we'd have to get rid of the song of Moses, the song of Deborah, David's song, and pretty much the whole book of Psalms.  Can you imagine the Bible without the Psalms?  How would you ever find the middle? 

And the NT would feel the pinch too.  How about the angel's song and Elizabeth's song and Mary's song?  How about Philippians 2:6-11 where Paul quotes the hymn about Jesus who though He was equal to God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped?  You know that song, don't you?  It ends with the chorus that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  It's a great song.  And Revelation has some great songs too.  Take out the songs of Revelation and about all you have left are ten-headed beasts, scorpions and dragons and stuff.

It's just hard to imagine what it would be like to live in a world and a church that had no music.

Music is a gift of God. 

It comes from the soul and lives in the memory.  It touches our emotions in ways mere speaking never could.  And music expresses our emotions too.  Through music we can sing for joy or cry the blues.  Through music we can express our fear or declare in faith an assurance that reaches down to the deepest part of the soul.  Music is God's gift.  God likes music—all kinds of music.  God put music into nature: bird song, wind whistle, bass drum thunder, coyote moon song, rooster crow at dawn, percussion waterfalls, and so much more.  God also put all kinds of music in the Bible and He put all kinds in our soul.  God even joins in the singing: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zeph. 3:17).  God is the Master Musician, the Singer of singers, the Voice of voices, the Composer of composers.  We’re the Pips to God’s Gladys Knight, the Boston Pops to God’s Arthur Fiedler, the guitar to God’s Carlos Santana, the trumpet to God’s Louis Armstrong.  That’s why the Bible and the human soul are full of music.  God did this so we would learn how to set our faith to music, so we’d learn how to sing a song in the day and how to whistle in the dark.  God did this so we could add rhythm to our lives, poetry to our prose, and help us march to the beat of the great drummer of the universe—Jesus Christ our Lord. 

So "Sing to the Lord a new song … (Ps. 96:1).  Make music in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19).  You’re not singing solo, you know.