Why, big boy,” I forlornly asked, “Are you weeping? Daddy is carrying you!” To cover myself with his mother, whom I earnestly wanted to believe I was not neglecting our youngest charge, I loudly repeated, “I AM carrying you. What else do you want?” “I need mommy, Daddy, I need mommy,” 3-year-old Peter exclaimed. We were on vacation on Matinicus Island, ME, and we were on a long hike. And I was carrying our youngest son Peter. Now, these are sublime words to my quickly tiring arms, but, Peter knew, as I knew, that my wife, his “mommy,” was not above implementing a needed maturity lesson, even on a three year. So I persevered. With earshot of my lovely wife, Karen, I subtly but loudly quipped, “Why mommy? Daddy is carrying you just fine, right?”🙂🙂 “No, Daddy, I so tired that I need Mommy.” Well, that was that. I gratefully handed him to my wife and Peter proceeded to tell her about his woes. “I am tired, mommy. “ “My feet hurt.” What the heck? I took care of those things for him. I was carrying my little boy as well as his mom! But I was missing the larger point . . . His mommy listened to him and hugged him. That is all. I did that too. But Peter needed empathy and love from himmommy. Peter reached a point where he needed his mommy. Period. Daddies are ok but the really serious hurts require the mommies–at least in my family. And it wasn’t just that Peter wanted to be carried; he needed to share his journey with someone who cared and, if need be, someone who would kiss a boo-boo or two. His journey had carried him from comfortable epistemology to uncomfortable metaphysics, a need for empathy, a need for revelation of the nature of being and beings, existence, time and space, and causality and he preferred his mother as a traveling companion on the latter leg of this summer morning journey. Which is one reason I look forward to going to church every week. I want to be with my church family. I want to be with people of faith whose world views extend beyond their epistemology. My epistemology—everyday struggles and challenges—can only take me so far. And in Church, I find again my way to the Cross. I have walked all week to the beach and now I need my church family to help me a little. Lifting my hands in praise and adoration of a God who extends beyond my experience, I relish every praise song, every biblical truth. Out of the fog of doubt and tentativeness, I find in my church, people who can carry me the last 100 yards, who let me be myself, and love me anyway. They let me tell them the woes of the journey so they can remind me of the joy of the journey. And, ultimately, we always make it safely to the beach, together!
My old fence – sad testimony to my procrastination. It needed painting during Clinton’s first administration but I ignored it until the second. I meant to paint it. I remember the day. But that was the day that Manchester United beat Chelsea in overtime in my front yard. My oldest son Timothy scored two goals! I was doing to fix the fence at the end of the last century but that was the day my five-year-old grandson learned to ride his bike. And I… had the paint out in ’05 but you see that was the day we turned the Germans back at El Alamein. In ’08 my granddaughter and I built a royal palace in Timbuktu and in 2014 my grandson and I saved our fort from wild Dakota Sioux who attacked just at the moment we were going to repair the old fence. Today I am ready again to fix the darn thing – but wait – I hear bombers approaching from the NORTHEAST. . . There are way more important things to do than painting fences . . . Most days. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24
I began my entrepreneurial life at age 6 sitting on a big yellow school bus next to my childhood friend Craig Towles whose toothy smile was made even more expansive by a permanent scar inadvertently inflicted by yours truly when we were digging a foxhole to prepare for a Jap nocturnal assault on Guadalcanal and I neatly inflicted a friendly fire injury and five stitches on Corporal Towles with my army surplus trench shovel– when my 8-year-old big brother, who was obviously Harvard Business School bound before he cut his rear molars, grabbed my left shoulder from the seat behind me and said, “Jimmy I am loaning you a nickel to buy two McGehee Times.”. “Why, Little Bill,” I asked, “would I buy one, much less two, McGehee Times–I can’t read yet?” “Sell them stupid and double your money.” And so Bill was right on both counts. I bought two papers for a nickel and then sold them for ten cents! I learned an important lesson. I could sell something and double my money. Amazing! Unfortunately, though I also discovered another wonderful fact: Mr. Woodcock’s Dime Store. I took my dime and bought a bag of candy and a stuffed toy. Amazing! As I return from Giant Eagle with money in my pocket I am grateful that the Dime Store is only in my memory. Mark 8:36 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his/her soul? That is a good question – and this is a deal I do not want to make! I want to invest my life in things that matter – family, church, and DVDs. . . well forget the DVDs–but we need to think about how we invest our lives – And I still owe Bill his nickel.
I don’t just see myself as an author, father, husband, pastor, I see myself a a saboteur of the culture of hopelessness pervading our nation, guerrilla fighter against secular religion (very similar to Baal worship). I see myself as a soldier in the army of the Lord combating mediocrity and so-called toleration which is anything but, masquerading as enlightened candor. My friend, although I was never his peer, and professor at Harvard, Erich Goldhagen, a survivor of the Holocaust told me something I will never forget. “Stobaugh,” Professor Goldhagen said, “Do not think that the Nazis were immoral. On the contrarily. They were veritable Puritans!” Of course Dr. G did not mean the “Puritans” in New England but “Puritans” as in religious, moral people. Committed Nazis in fact practiced all sorts of moral, religious, behavior: sobriety, chastity, honesty, and courage. “The problem is,” Dr. G explained, “the worst sort of people are those who are moral but whose ethics stem from some cause or world view connected to a political agenda.” The Nazis’ morality was divorced from Judeo-Christianity. Again, this week, I see a nation motivated by a cause whose god is a foreign, alien presence to my pantheon and, again, I find myself moving farther away from the Asherah poles. It is with you and our God, Mt. Laurel UCC, that I place my heraldry!
The WASHINGTON TIMES today reported that the USA is not a happy place. The World Happiness Report, a survey based on Gallup polling data across some 156 countries, has determined that Finland is the world’s happiest country.The United States did not fare particularly well, coming in at its lowest ranking since the survey began. We’re now the 19th happiest people in the world, between Belgium and the Czech Republic. “The years since 2010 have not been good ones for happiness and well-being among Americans,” the survey’s authors write. “Even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009, happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000.”
The survey’s authors attribute scourges like obesity and substance abuse as causes of Americans’ dearth of happiness. Social media is a scourge as well, with Americans spending more time tethered to their phones and less time actually talking to and dealing with each other. Texting is no substitute for talk. I like the texting explanation–but I think the main problem is that we have unresolved expectations–we are the most optimistic nation on the face of the earth and, at the same way, we have lost our way. The Bible Says Happiness Comes From Putting Others Before Yourself. Sin always puts self first. And when self is first, it will keep itself there by every ruthless means required. The only solution to self-centeredness is the only solution to sin in general, Jesus Christ. In Christ alone, then, is there happiness–and the harder we search for substitutes the more unhappy we become.
Good news saints. Carnegie Mellon University Physicists say they found the “God particle.” Yes, that is right. In what will no doubt bring some nerdy scientist a Nobel Prize, scientists said that after a 50 year search they are confident that they have found a Higgs boson, the elusive subatomic aspect sometimes called the God particle. And you thought God created the world in 6 days out of nothing. Silly you. Not so you weary saints! Sagacious scientists tell us that they finally have discovered the definitive, ontological ground zero: the God particle. They suggest that the particle acts like molasses or snow. When other tiny basic building blocks pass through it, they stick together, slow down and form atoms. Well that makes sense. Silly me—I thought God “spoke” matter into existence. What was I thinking?!? A scientist states, “The discovery [of the God particle] explains what once seemed unexplainable and still is a big hard for the average person to comprehend.” You think??? Apparently this little God particle gathers a bunch of little baby atoms together, at random, by chance into an atom of oxygen, that sticks to some hydrogen, like my granddaughter’s Tootsie Roll Pop left by mistake on Christmas, next to the dry sink (don’t tell Karen—it has been my job to clean behind the darn thing), has gathered sundry lady bugs, stink bugs, dust particles, and a dime I dropped on President’s day. This God particle gathers up stuff and shazzam—before you know it–life! Man I wondered how that happened—I am relieved that California Institute of Technology has unlocked the mysteries of the universe. But wait? Pardon me, I am just a poor liberal arts major, but do I not remember from 7th grade earth science class that the best theory, the most plausible theory, is the simplest, most direct, commonsense theory? Right now I am having a really hard time understanding, much less believing the God particle Tootsie Roll theory. What do you think? The Word of God makes a lot more sense to me. But again I do not have the advantage of a Cal Tech degree . . . First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: “Light!” And light appeared (Genesis 1:1-3 The Message). Shazzam! Makes sense to me.
This week In morning worship we finish our study of the Lord’s Prayer. “For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” The theologian writer Fred Buehner writes in his book Now and Then, “When you find something in a human face that calls out to you, not just for help but in some sense for yourself, how far do you go in answering that call, how far can you go, seeing that you have your own life to get on with . . .” You go as far as necessary. You go as far as you can. You go as far as Christ went. . . Perhaps we are called to this place for such a time as this . . . We have come again to that sacred moment when God meets us in Jesus Christ. We are loved into becoming agents of transformation. We now need to take Him to the world. He empowers us to withstand whatever obstacles we may face. Martin Luther wrote, “There is no greater love than God and no more desperate scoundrel than the world. . . His love is greater than the fire seen by Moses and greater even than the fire of hell.” We stand today basking in the glow of the love of God in Jesus Christ. We stand with those facing death. We stand against systems that tyrannize, abuse, demean, and destroy. We stand for life–all life, everywhere. We stand because we know that we are loved . . . That He died for our sins so that we might live, and love others too. We daily dare to search our hearts, minds, and behavior and risk new ways of thinking, speaking, living, for the sake of our suffering neighbors, sisters, brothers, mother, fathers, sons, and daughters. We will not necessarily succeed . . . but we will try. The German theologian Karl Barth urges every church to ask constantly this question, “Is it time?” Could we be God’s instrument? Is this our time? Could we be called for just such a time as this? Finally, I end with a prayer written by the theologian, humanitarian, and writer Thomas Merton who wrote this prayer shortly before his death: “If I have any choices to make, it is to lie here and perhaps to die here. But, in any case, it is not the living or the dying that matter, but speaking your name with confidence in this light, in this unvisited place. To speak your name . . . and the light you have given.” “For Thine is the glory …”