Monday, April 15, 2019

The Fire at Notre Dame and the Way of the Cross

. . . and Holy Week begins with the world turning their eyes to Paris watching in horror as the cathedral of Notre Dame burned.  So many friends posted on social media about their heartache with photos from dream vacations.  Stories on the news channels considered the tragedy in terms of the loss of irreplaceable works of art and architecture. Callous speculations were offered about causes. Images immediately were shared.  Over and over we watched the collapse of the spire as it burned and crashed down into what was becoming the carcass of the church building.  There were too many moments when the pictures were communicated by reporters, but we really needed chaplains.
I couldn’t watch the coverage of the fire at Notre Dame without thinking about churches in Louisiana that were burned two weeks ago.  Their losses, however, were the results of someone’s hatred.  What is shared by people in France and Louisiana is that the sacred spaces of communities of faith have been destroyed.  Parishioners in both places hurt over the loss of the places they’ve called home.
A couple of images stand out.  Burned Bibles and hymnbooks on the floor of a Louisiana church building.  In Paris, with the roof and spire gone, a cross still stood above a building engulfed in flames.  And I thought about this Holy Week.  We are called on to ponder the way of the cross, and here it was in too overwhelming a snapshot. 
                I imagine the awe and wonder inspired in worshipers and tourists who got to see Notre Dame.  The stained glass windows, the woodwork, the statues and so much more have been destroyed.  The cathedral held deep symbolic meaning for many people.  But I think especially about the faithful who showed up daily and said their prayers.  Their home, a place of beauty, the magnificent attempt of architects and artists to speak of God’s glory, has been utterly destroyed.
                The too easy response might be to say, the building is not the church.  It’s true, but our cathedrals and sanctuaries become the places we associate with our connections with God and each other.  They are places where we experience the holy.  We even point to the buildings and call them church.  Buildings can be rebuilt, even while mourning the loss of works that cannot be replaced or re-created.
                I’ve carried a piece of wisdom for many years now that was blessed to me by Fr. Mario DiLella, Georgia Tech’s longtime Catholic campus minister.  As he summarized the church, he told me, “It’s all about the Body.”  With the loss of our sacred spaces, the Body of Christ is still very much alive, even though it is suffering.  We will hurt with each other, Protestants and Catholics alike.
                On Good Friday, we focus on the death of Jesus.  Certainly, we must see in the crucifixion the utter destruction of matchless beauty.  The cross is agony, pain and horror, but we insulate ourselves from its terror simply saying Jesus died for us.  Do we consider the deep reality of that?  Watch Notre Dame burn and hear your Savior cry out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”
                Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow him—to give our whole selves in living and dying for the sake of others.  When it comes to loving with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we don’t get a pass on heartache, pain and indescribable loss.  We love as Jesus does, and you can’t really do that without coming to know Jesus and his suffering.  Yes, he died for us, but he also dies with us in every moment of our own agony.  And we love one another as much as he loved us.
                When I was a chaplain in the hospital, I was called to ICU.  An elderly woman was dying.  As I approached the room, I saw two women outside, the patient’s daughter and granddaughter, looking in through the window.  They held each other and wept quietly.  I introduced myself and tried to offer a word about what I saw, “This must be so hard.”  The granddaughter spoke up, “Yes,” she said, “but it has been worth it.”  I didn’t have to explore that any further.  To love someone in their living means that you will take on the agony of their dying.  We either love that extravagantly or not at all.  Such is the way of the cross. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

Keurig Eleison!

with apologies to Mr. Mister. . .  and Mr. Coffee

Keurig eleison!  Keurig eleison!  Keurig!

I woke up grumpy on the bed’s wrong side; crossed the room and stubbed my toe!
I reached the restroom just too late to find no more paper was on the roll!
My head’s a fog.  My mind is still asleep.  My body craves a roasted bean,
And in the kitchen is a smart machine that’s keeping me from getting mean!

Keurig eleison!  
In the morning when I wake up.

Keurig eleison!  
Punch the darkness from the night!

Keurig eleison!  
Pump some magic through this K-cup!

Keurig eleison!  
Put caffeine into my life!

When I was young I’d grab a cup of Joe, my family shared a 12 cup urn,
But now that single serve’s the way to go, I guess I’ll have to wait my turn!

Keurig eleison!  In the morning when I wake up.
Keurig eleison!  Punch the darkness from the night!
Keurig eleison!  Pump some magic through this K-cup!
Keurig eleison!  Put caffeine into my life!

Warms up slow.
I’ve got to go!
How’ll I know?
Where’s my Joe??

[a cappella with overhead claps]
Keurig eleison!  In the morning when I wake up.
Keurig eleison!  Punch the darkness from the night!
Keurig eleison!  Pump some magic through this K-cup!
Keurig eleison!  Put caffeine into my life!

Keurig eleison!

          Chip Reeves
          October 2017

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Heavenly Phenomenon

        The sarcastic question of the morning was, “Did you see the eclipse yesterday?”  Of course I had to also reply with at least an equal measure of mockery, “Whaat!  There was an eclipse yesterday??”
                A lot of us, obviously (that’s kinder than “Well, duh!”), saw the eclipse yesterday.  We planned our days around it—been planning it for years!  At the bare minimum, most folks were at least prepared with those special glasses.  Some of us skipped that step.  On a grander scale, there were plenty of parties complete with thematic snacks of Moon Pies, Sun Drop sodas and shaded Krispy Kreme donuts.  Yes, right up there with Thanksgiving, the eclipse was celebrated with the easy opportunity to eat a lot and, hopefully, take a nap once it was all over.
                I’ve seen a couple eclipses before.  I knew the basics which I could expect.  Shadow and eerie light.  Crescent shaped projections in the shadows on the ground.  There had also been plenty of information from the experts on television and shared on social media.  Many people were well prepared about what to expect, how it would happen and why it would happen a certain way.  All of that, however, was only one big science project.  There was much more to see.
                In so many places, the eclipse was an occasion to have a party.  There were plenty of gatherings of friends.  Families got together and the eclipse became enough of a distraction that they didn’t even fight with each other.  It was interesting to me how an astronomical event revealed a more heavenly phenomenon.
                The party I went to was unplanned.  It just kind of happened.  Colleagues in the church office slipped out the back door into the courtyard.  We started watching together.  Some church members were already waiting for us, and more joined in.  We were in awe watching the moon passing in front of the sun.  We laughed at how silly we looked in our eclipse glasses, and then we made someone else take our picture wearing them.  We marveled at the shadows and the light.  Our experience of near totality was greeted with smiles and laughter… and fellowship.
                Back the clock up a little more than one day.  As First Baptist Church of Augusta gathered to celebrate their 200th anniversary, I coulnd’t help but notice how that happened.  A large crowd was anticipated.  I showed up expecting to see people selfishly  jostling for the good seats in the sanctuary and saving seats for their families and friends.  I even expected to see some folks in a huff that others were sitting in their spots.  I looked around.  I was blessed to see something different.  In the pre-prelude moments, I saw clusters of church people clogging up the aisles… visiting with each other!  Friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while were catching up, and hugging and taking photos together.  This was happening all over the room.  I pointed it out to my pastor who labeled what was happening with this beautiful and immediate deduction, “That’s what’s supposed to happen every Sunday.”
                It happened again on Monday.  As the moon was blocking out the sun, you couldn’t help but see the light of the world.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Where Are You Staying?

So the other day I was having lunch at KFC (2-piece, Original Recipe with cole slaw if you must know).  During my meal, the thought popped in my head, “Why in the world would they ask him that?”  This could be further proof that I should not be left alone for too long, or there’s something among those 11 herbs and spices.
                The question I was questioning is in John, chapter 1.  John the Baptist points Jesus out to two of his disciples.  They leave John and start following Jesus who gets a sense he’s picked up a tail.  He turns around and asks them, “What are you seeking?”  They respond with a question of their own, “Teacher, where are you staying?”
                What kind of question is that?  Maybe John was picking a fight with Luke.  One said, “There was no place for them in the inn.”  The other countered, “Oh yes, there was!”
                Perhaps John subtly protests a Gnostic claim against the humanity of Jesus.  Two real, live human beings spent the day with Jesus at his hotel.  They saw him eat and drink and take a nap.  He was real.  The saw him, heard him and touched him.
                Maybe this is simply how a potential student applies to enroll with a new rabbi.  They were John the Baptist’s disciples.  He had announced that one greater than him was coming.  He pointed him out.  Naturally, his students had been prepared to move up higher and study with the new teacher.  It could be some kind of way to ask, “Where is your school? If it’s down by the river, too, we’ve got to tell you we’re not big fans of the cafeteria!”
                These two disciples started following Jesus, and they discovered that they weren’t going to spend the rest of their time at headquarters.  They asked Jesus where he was staying, and they hit the road to see the answer to their question.
                Luke lets Jesus express, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  That’s accurate.  Jesus moved around a lot, and his disciples walked around with him.  Actually staying anywhere for more than a little while was beyond the norm.
                My Bible scholar friends have already beaten me to the punch.  The Greek in this passage that’s translated “staying” is from meno which has nothing to do with temporary lodging.  In other passages meno is translated “abide” or “remain”.
                Andrew and his friend follow Jesus and actually ask a pretty deep question.  Where can we count on finding you?  Where can we go to be with you?  Where can we go to receive what you have to offer?
                “Where are you staying?” This question get’s answered more with a who than a where.  John the Baptist’s disciples were looking for a new teacher.  They spent time abiding with Jesus and they found the Messiah.  Wherever Jesus is staying, wherever he abides, people have the opportunity to believe.
                Where do we meet Jesus?  The simple answers might be at church, in Sunday school, in Bible study and devotions.  I’ve seen Jesus abiding in plenty of other places.  In the “family waiting room” of the hospital emergency department, a young woman wailed inconsolably hearing the news of her mother’s death.  Jesus was there.  He shows up at the homeless shelter—he’s the one standing in line for food.  He’s present during the drought desperate for a drink of cool, clean water.  He could even be working behind the counter at KFC.

                Where does Jesus stay?  Well, where are you?  He’s there, too, but you’ll have to open your eyes and look for him.  Stay with him, and believe.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

“Are You OK?”

In any case, it was kind of you to share in my distress.  –Philippians 4:14

                “Dad! Come here!”  This exclamation is becoming increasingly a part of our household lexicon as my 11 year old discovers more and more fascinating things to see on TV.  I should feel honored that he wants me to join him and share in the experience, but it often interrupts more noble tasks which have my attention at the moment.  A recent “Dad! Come here!” pulled me from the kitchen to the living room.  My son’s channel surfing helped him come across Red Bull Cliff Diving.  Yes, supper would have to wait.
                Here’s the imperfect summary. Competitive divers travel to exotic locations to jump into water from about 90 feet above; best score wins. Some of the athletes look rather beaten up because they hit the water hard—9.8 meters/sec/sec works out to around 65 mph—the telltale kinesiology tape holding their shoulders, knees or backs together for one more dive.
                It was fascinating.  It was hard for us to determine what a good dive was and what wasn’t.  We just watched and followed the cues of the announcers’ ooh’s and ah’s accompanying artists at work.
                I noticed something else.  Safety swimmers waited down below.  Each time a diver hit the water, 2 swimmers went out to him.  The diver would give each of them the OK sign with both hands (4 OK’s in total) before the swimmers would leave him alone, let him swim to shore on his own to make another solitary climb to a perch 10 stories up, from which he would leap again.
                It was a rule.  No OK sign; no more diving; try again on the next stop. They had to tell the safety swimmers they were OK.
                “Are you OK?”  This is another question we often use.  Both cars move over to this side after the fender-bender, and the divers will ask each other.  Bump into someone harder than expected, and you ask.  40 years ago this along with “How many fingers am I holding up?” comprised the entirety of concussion protocol as we knew it.
                “Are you OK?” is also often used in our conversations with people who are suffering.  It is also a query often met with a polite, but less than honest affirmation.  It can be another way to offer a little comfort without all of that complicated obligation to commitment.  It can be another get out of the room free card.  It has become one of those socially acceptable questions fittingly answered with a socially acceptable response. Greetings and salutations.
                Long, long ago, I met with a couple who had lost a baby.  The hopes they’d poured into becoming parents were shattered because of the miscarriage.  We cried together.  They did a lot of talking, and I did a lot of listening.  Then the young woman sought her pastor’s counsel, “Can I ask you something?”
                I was already feeling a fair share of inadequacy.  Deep down I knew that my meeting with this hurting couple would require more than polite kindness and a sweet prayer at the end.  The soul requirement was coming.  Besides, they were positioned between me and my office door.  I couldn’t run away.  So, I let her ask her question.
                She choked back her tears and asked, “Why does everybody I talk to want to know if I’m OK?”
                I could also hear her contempt for the question and her weariness of having to hear it too many times.  My first response was, “Oh.”  It wasn’t the “oh” that typically accompanied shock, surprise or discovery.  It was heartbreak. That would have sufficed as my best answer to her question, but I went on, “They have no idea what to say to you, no words to help with what you’re going through, but they believe they have to say something.  They mean well.  They really want you to be OK, but they can’t make that happen.  If you tell them you’re OK that might make them feel better.”
                “But I’m not OK.”
                It’s interesting to me that in some cultures the gesture we use as the OK sign is used as a more vulgar expression.  I’ll just say sometimes OK is not OK, and you can Google the rest.  Here was a young woman who was hurting.  In her own experience she had hit the water descending at a bone jarring 65 mph.  She didn’t jump voluntarily. And though she was emerging from the dark, churning  sea of grief, she was “pretty far from OK”.   
It was time to listen more.

We have asked, “Are you OK?” with no expectation of having to endure an honest answer. We have asked as a way to protect ourselves from the “not OK” lurking beneath the surface of someone’s suffering.  When people have asked us, we have given them easy outs with our polite responses, and sometimes it’s because we didn’t want to be confronted by our own stories again.  Other times we have detected that they’re just trying to be nice.   The asking and the answering have been convenient attempts at self preservation.  But what if…

  • What if we really wanted to know?  Could we generate the will to ask someone, “Are you OK?” and then sit with them to hear them out as they answered?  On most occasions, we will ask this question to one of our friends. If we have been investing in the relationship with that friend we might develop the good intuition that kicks in to inform us whether she is or is not OK.  We might not finish each other’s sentences, but we know each other pretty well.
  • What if we really answered honestly?  “No, I’m not OK.”  Those could be the magic words which send the pretenders running.  OR they could be the way to let your friends know you are ready to tell them more.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"I'm Praying for You."

“Beloved, pray for us.” –1 Thessalonians 5:25

                “I am praying for you” is a beautiful thing to say.  It is also not a difficult bluff to call.
                Certainly, we are supposed to pray for each other.  That’s biblical.  It’s mandated.  Folks might wonder what kind of Christian you thought you were if you didn’t pray for someone else—especially a friend who was suffering.
Remember this? If you do...
you're old,...
 like me.  
                There have been times when we said “I’m praying for you” and it has been the wrong thing to say.  Learn from them.  Move on, and try to do better next time.
Please don’t say “I’m praying for you” as a way to promote your own piety.  Please don’t say “I’m praying for you” if you believe the other is a heathen.  I don’t think either case proves that your heart is in the right place. 
From this point forward, please don’t say “I’m praying for you” if…
·         You use it to end a conversation.  This one shouldn’t need explanation, but since it’s here, I guess we actually need that lesson repeated.  “I’m praying for you” can be one of our go-to phrases that we use on our way out the door.  If the conversation is awkward, we can’t wait to offer the phrase and probably not the prayer.
·         You don’t actually intend to pray. Please pray.  Talk to God on behalf of someone else.  Present your requests with thanksgiving and supplication.  Say your prayers.  We need it.
·         You’re not interested in praying with the other.  In addition to the work you can and should do on your own, please also pray with someone.  “May I pray with you?” might carry more weight than “I am praying for you.”
·         You’re not willing to listen. There are at least two persons to whom you need to listen.  The first is that other person, your friend who is going through some stuff.  If you are going to pray, ask, “What are some things we can pray about together?”  Of course, if you practiced good, active listening in your conversation, then you already know what some of those things are.
The other person who needs to have your ear when you’re praying is God.  If praying is conversation with God, then we also desperately need to listen to God.  If you practice a spiritual discipline of prayerfully listening, you might hear from God some of the ways that you can be an answer to the prayer you are asking.  God could reveal to you something you can do for someone else.  You might not consider it the most heroic deed you can perform.  Chances are good that God might even ask you to do something that makes plain, common sense.  Showing up with time and the willingness to listen sounds like a pretty good prayer in itself, the invocation to preaching the gospel without necessarily using words.

                Speaking of words, the following is an excerpt from The Little War of Private Post by Charles Johnson Post.  I discovered this book with the help of a homebound member of my church.  She told me the story I’m about to share.  I got the impression at the time she might have been a little fed up with sentiment disconnected from compassion.  I’m glad I was listening, and I needed the lesson.
                The Little War of Private Post is a memoir of a soldier who served during the Spanish-American war.  Post relates a story of suffering in vivid detail.  He and many other soldiers caught Yellow Fever while fighting in Cuba.  After the war, they were quarantined in a hospital camp on an island near New York. Their conditions were not much better than what they had suffered in trenches in Cuba.  They were so close to home, but they weren’t getting better. If you’d like the details, read the book.  Here are a few paragraphs which might help illustrate my point about prayer.
One day another civilian came into the tent.  He was a thin, pale little man with silky, curling first growth whiskers and a conspicuous Bible under his arm.  He had heard us [suffering soldiers speaking candidly about their condition and what they thought about it].
“You men—oh, you men!” he was ejaculating in tones of horror.  “Such blasphemy, such taking the Name. You soldiers who have been so near to death—to use such language!  Oh you, who have been in the presence of death, who have faced your God! I am praying for you.  I am praying for you!”
We suggested, and in unrestrained secular language that less prayer and more food might help.  He turned the thought aside.  Presently he went to another tent, in utter earnestness and in complacent uselessness.  The Bible never left its place under his arm, and he never lifted a finger to help that civilian nurse who was our only attendant, and for some hundred other men too.  At any hour of the day or night, or at dawn, he would thrust himself between the tent flaps and, with rapturous eyes, launch at us his excited prayers.  For this world, for this hospital, he had not time; we were merely a peg upon which to hang his pallid egotism.  The Assistant Postmaster of New York City (my uncle) was not permitted to establish any postal service in that camp, though he made a special and official trip for that purpose.  Yet this pious, worthless nincompoop was set at large to pray upon us.

Here is Post’s account of the civilian nurse mentioned above:
It was after midnight when an elderly, kindly civilian, a volunteer nurse, of which there was one for each tent-street, brought in some food in an iron pail…  He did all he could, faithfully and steadily. If he had not, we would have had nothing; no man, from the beginning of the war to its end, has my greater respect.
Jesus concluded the parable of the Good Samaritan with a good question to ponder, “Which of these, do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
           The lawyer responded, “The one who showed him mercy.”
            Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” 
I like how Clarence Jordan translates this last verse in the Cotton Patch Gospel, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!”
Let us pray.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

“How Are You Doing?” and “Fine.”

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” Romans 16:16

“Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet.” Burl Ives, “A Holly, Jolly Christmas”

The next set of worn out words and feeble phrases I want to take on is the combination of greetings: “How are you doing?” and “Fine.”  I was all prepared to skewer these salutations, but then I realized that I use them quite a bit—actually I use them a lot.
                Now don’t get me wrong.  What follows should not be understood as a defense of “How are you doing?” and “Fine.”  I’m not going to offer any excuses for my own overuse of the terms.  Neither am I going to lambast anyone else with whom I find good company in this category.  What I want to do is at least make myself and others aware of what we are saying.  Hopefully, I might actually get back on course to do my part in more meaningful conversations.  Who knows?  I might also be able to drag some others along with me.
                Many times during the day, I ask “How are you doing?”  On most of those occasions, I use that question as a greeting.  When I encounter someone who greets me the same way, I usually respond, “I’m fine. Ha’yoo?” (I’ve really heard me pronounce it that way.)
                Somewhere along the way, “How are you doing?” became a greeting.  “Fine” became a traditional response of saying “Hey!” back.  Remember My Fair Lady?  Eliza Doolittle was taught to curtsey and say, “How dooo you do?” as a refined way of greeting someone.  Maybe we’re not in such reprehensible company after all?  If we’re lucky we’ll be mistaken for Hungarians.
                 I do hope “How are you doing?” and “Fine.” remain in our language as more than just greetings.  As a greeting and response, though, I guess they are OK.  Let’s not lament that we have lost a good turn of phrase to the department of salutations.   They have become greetings, and let’s settle on that fact.  When we used them that way, that’s all they are.  “Hi, how are you?” is simply the exercise of good manners.  We at least speak to each other.  Keep it up.  Make eye contact, smile, offer some cordial greeting, and don’t get all huffy if you don’t get anything back!
                One thing I want to lament is that we are losing the art of greeting each other.  Instead of following the simple etiquette of exchanging greetings, we can pass each other on the sidewalk or in the hallway and never turn our attention away from our smart phone screens. 
I got all huffy.
                As a greeting and response, they have their potential.  There is the possibility that we want to inquire about another’s well being.  There is also the secret hope that one responding really is “fine”—doing fine, feeling fine, fine as wine, etc.
                “Hello” didn’t become a standard greeting until after the invention of the telephone.  AG Bell instructed folks to say, “Ahoy.” Thomas Edison insisted on “hello”.  The earliest telephone books had instructions on using the telephone and favored “hello” as a standard greeting.  Instead of “goodbye”, however, the instructions told the caller to say, “That is all.”  I guess that is a little more genteel than “over and out”.
                Take a look at this article. 

                Greetings and their responses have been around for as long as people have communicated with each other.  Shakespeare employed a number of different greetings in his plays.  His characters have said hello with “good dawning”, “good day”, “good time of day”, “good even” and so forth.  We have been pretty much doomed since at least the late Elizabethan era.  Hamlet dug up a skull and wondered if it might have been a courtier who could have said, “How dost thou, sweet lord?” (Hamlet Prince of Denmark, V, i, 78).
                The apostle Paul is well-known for “grace and peace” as both a greeting and salutation (1 Cor 1:3 and other similar references).  A lot of pastors now use the phrase to conclude their church newsletter articles.
God called Moses by name, and Moses responded, “Here I am.”
Jesus was most often greeted by name or title or the combination of both (Jesus, Son of David for example).
“Hello” was once part of an extended phrase used to get someone’s attention.  We might be closest to understanding its original intent when were watching Back to the Future.  “Hello… McFly… “
“Goodbye” evolved a contraction of “God be with you”.  “Adios” has the same pedigree.
Once upon a time, greetings and farewells were blessings.  Consider “Hail, Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with you.”   What if we were able to actually greet each other like that again?  We still try to greet and depart with blessings on a corporate level.  We greet the congregation in a worship service. If we are fortunate, maybe we also pass the peace, greeting each other with a blessing, “The peace of Christ be with you.”  At least weekly, if you attend a service that often, we hear a benediction before we leave the sanctuary.
                We often really do mean it kindly when we ask, “How are you?”  To ask with the kindest heart when time is short, though, will probably only get us another “fine” in return. 
I had an aunt who used to cock her head to the side when she greeted me.  She would sigh and ask me, “Chip, [sigh] how are you doing?”  She really wanted to know!  She would wait me out until I told her everything or at least until I came up with something more creative than “Fine.”
If you have the time and you really want to know, go ahead and ask.  I think you could make it sound like less of a greeting and more like a question posed by someone who cares.  Figure out how to communicate to someone else that you really want to hear an honest answer.  That might be more of the product of relationship than of body language or vocal inflection. 

“How are you doing?” might just open the door to more conversation.  If it does, be ready to hear an honest answer.  You just might encounter someone who is not “fine”.  From there, can you listen and receive what someone might tell you?