Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

“And It Was Good?”

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image,
in our likeness . . .”
So God created mankind in His own image,
in the image of God He created them;
male and female He created them.
(Genesis 1:26-27, NIV)

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image,
make them reflecting our nature . . .”
God created human beings;
He created them Godlike, reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.”
(Genesis 1:26-27, The Message)

For years I have stated that God has a sense of humor because God created me . . . and, Chicago Cub fans.  The scriptures tell us that God created humankind in the image of God . . . pretty much in all versions of the Bible that we Christians hold so close and dearly to our hearts . . . it is the “truth”.  We are all created in the image of God . . . male and female . . . all of us.  We are all “ol’ chips off the block” in our likeness of God . . . the Bible tells us so.  AND!  And, like all the other days of the Creation story, it was good . . . meaning God was pleased with what God had created.  Looking in the mirror . . . well, I have to smile because if I represent the image of God . . . God has a great sense of humor!  I am kind of goofy looking!

Now, I am not a biblical literalist.  I also know that this statement of creation . . . of humankind being made in the image of God . . . can be taken literally, yet at the same time (through the invention and practice what literalists would call “liberal theology”) it can also be taken metaphorically.  I guess that  is probably why I used two translations at the start of this blog . . . one kind of takes it literally while the other implies the metaphorical . . . you decide which one you like for yourself.  The point is, whether it is taken literally or metaphorically, the writers want us to understand that we are created in one of the literal likenesses of God or that we are a reflection of the likeness of God.  I am sure that there is at least one blog somewhere in the confusing statement . . . and, I am sure that there have been literally thousands of theological theses written on the topic throughout the history of humanity.  Whichever camp you fall into doesn’t really matter, what matters is the implications of idea . . . created in the image of God.

That makes all of us “holy” . . . all of us.  If this is the case, well then, what does this say about how we view and approach the “holy”?  What does this say about how we value and treat others who are also created in the image of God, thus considered “holy”, in our lives?  What does this say about what we consider to be beauty as individuals, communities, and societies?  If we are all created in the image of God . . . or as a reflection of God . . . as being “holy” . . . we ought to be thinking about these implications and questions.  Also, it raises some other thoughts and questions:  How do we approach God and/or the “holy” in our lives?  How do we approach one another?

When I have actually paused long enough in my own life to consider and discern what the implications of being created in the image of God means . . . I am ashamed of myself.  Ashamed because I have failed miserably in doing what this passage implies.  I have not always treated the “holy” that has been in my presence with much reverence or awe . . . shoot, not even respect. 

For example, my commute to the big city to work at the university . . . a 45 minute commute with every other person in the world who has to make the same commute . . . to and from . . . five days a week.  Everyone is attempting to get from here to there safely and in one piece.  For the most part it can be frustrating experience as there are levels of expertise and ability behind the wheel of every vehicle on the road.  Some drivers are crazy and maniacal in their abilities to drive and often put others at risk as they do things that even the most grizzled NASCAR driver wouldn’t attempt to do at the Daytona 500.  Some drivers are overly cautious and put everyone else at risk as they putt along the highway gazing off at the distant mountains, daydreaming of that next ski trip or hike.  Whatever the case, each of those drivers are represented as human beings.  Human beings are created in the image of God . . . hence they are “holy”.  Often my approach and attitude to these “holy” individuals . . . these “chips off the ol’ block” . . . is far from being reverent, respectful or even being in awe . . . “awful” yes, but not awe.  It is not a “holy” sign I am flashing.  Is this the way I would treat God if it were God behind the wheel?

I guess that would depend on whether or not God was that terrible of a driver!  But, no.  Therein lies the kicker . . . if I would not treat God that way, why would I treat the image of God that is reflected through another in that manner.

See what I mean.  Looking around at the world and the way that we as individuals, communities, and societies treat one another . . . we have a long, long way to go before we live up to what this brief passage of scripture is telling us.  God loves us all . . . so, why can’t we love one another?  We are created in the image of God . . . and God said that it was good . . . don’t we trust God?   Can’t we learn to laugh and love with God and one another?  Apparently God thinks that it is pretty funny . . . after all, God created me.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

“My BFF . . . Facebook”

It took researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University to introduce me to and confirm my newest “best friend forever”.  These researchers released a study indicating that Facebook may be better at judging people’s personalities than their closest friend, spouses, and in some case themselves.  Using scientific methods and lots of computer science researchers discovered that Facebook outperformed any human, no matter what their relationship to the subjects.  What I am gleaning from this research is that Facebook knows me better than anyone else . . . including me.  In my book, or is it my head . . . or heart, that makes Facebook more than a great friend . . . it makes it the “perfect” friend.  Facebook is my BFF!

Now, you are probably wondering how Facebook got to know you and me . . . us . . . so well.  Simply put it is all based on our “likes”.  Using the number of “likes” found on entries revealed personality habits and traits . . . the higher the number of “likes” the more reliable the statistics.  Using computers compiling this data and super complicated computer science formulas, Facebook is better able to predict an individual’s response than friends, spouses, and even good ol’ mom.  Using this information Facebook knows us better than we know ourselves.  Facebook is the perfect friend.

Researchers, though they would not call Facebook a “friend” because a computer cannot truly have a heart-to-heart intimate relationship, imply that computers (which Facebook actually is) are better friends than any of our human companions ever could be.  They base this on a few simple facts: computers don’t forget; computers are not judgmental; computers are not prejudicial; computers take people for who they are.  Computers accept us; yet, at the same time—because they are computers—they do not like us or hate us.  We just are who we are and computers take us for who we are.
Being an introvert I do not have what I would call a whole lot of friends . . . probably not anyone I would even call my “best friend” . . . people just clutter up the world I live in and complicate things.  That being said, I would admit that I have friends . . . lots of acquaintances . . . and, yes, they do clutter and complicate my world.  But, I can honestly state that I do not have that individual in my life that I would call my “best friend forever”.  The wife comes close, but that is expected . . . we said vows, signed a license . . . and proclaimed our undying love to one another.  She is not too bad and comes pretty close to being my BBF.

Even as introvert I still have the same longings as any other individual . . . I still long to have those personal connections with other human beings . . . still long to have that person in my life who knows me, understands me, and will put up with me (yeah, I know, I just described a spouse).  I want that person who remembers to acknowledge my birthday without any prompting, remembers the good times . . . shoot, just plain remembers.  I want that individual in my life that is non-judgmental about me and my life.  That person that knows what I think, laughs at my jokes, understands my moods, and is willing to walk with me through life . . . always be there for me. Knows my “likes” and even my “dislikes”.  Who doesn’t want someone like that in their lives?  Extraverts are not the only ones with hearts and feelings!

According to the research Facebook is that and so much more!

Facebook never forgets a birthday . . . mine, yours, or anyone else’s.  I get daily reminders of who is having a birthday with the gentle suggestion that maybe I should acknowledge that those birthdays with a loving message.  Facebook knows my birthday and the birth dates of all the members of the family.  Facebook remembers who the members of my family are, who my friends are, where I live, where I work, and what my favorite things are from music to food.  Facebook understands and knows me so well that it even fills up my page with thoughtful and considerate advertisements to ease the burden of me having to think and surf the Internet whenever I have a hankering to do a little shopping. 

Facebook doesn’t judge me if I want to put up some out-of-this-world liberal or conservative garbage no matter what the subject matter is . . . politics, religion, sports, music, of even seven thousand pet pictures.  Facebook doesn’t care one way or another . . . it just accepts my asinine postings for what they are—asinine.  Facebook doesn’t care what I do in life . . . good or bad . . . because in the micro-chips of its soul, everything I do is of equal weight.  My life is just what it is as far as Facebook is concerned.  Facebook loves me for who I am.  Isn’t that what a “friend” supposed to do?

Shoot, Facebook knows me so well that it even tries to complete my sentences for me . . . already knows what I am going to say most of the time.  That is how well Facebook knows me.  Facebook is my constant companion (thanks to modern technology like cell phones and tablets) and everywhere I go, Facebook is right there.  That is a good “friend”.  What more could any of us ever desire when it comes to that companionship we call friendship?

I’m not sure how I missed it all of these years . . . this intimate relationship between Facebook and myself.  I want to thank the researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University for opening my eyes . . . and, my heart . . . to this friendship . . . this perfect friendship.  My life is so much better now that I have that “best friend forever” . . . I am never alone.  I bask in the warm glow of the Facebook page as it brings light into my life. 

As an introvert, this is great.  Facebook understands.  When I need that quiet time . . . that alone time . . . Facebook understands and will not bother me (primarily because I turn the computer off).  Facebook is not offended or willing to throw a guilt trip on me if I disappear for a few days . . . no!  No, instead it welcomes me back with open screens, updates, and a ton of wonderfully stupid games to play!  The more I think about it, the more in love I am falling with Facebook . . . could Facebook be my soulmate?  I don’t know . . . in the meantime, I will bask in the glow of my new BBF.  It is wonderful to be loved . . . I think? 

“The Final Cut”

Recently a church in Colorado refused to hold the funeral of a young woman when her family refused to “edit” a video of her life because four of the images had her showing affection to another woman—her wife.  The deceased was a lesbian who was married with two children.  Apparently the four slides were of her proposing to her wife and them kissing one another.  The leadership of the church stated that they did not agree with her alternate lifestyle.  Unfortunately the problem came up when the funeral home delivered the video to the church prior to the funeral, but no one in the church had time to look the video over until right before the service.  Coming across the four images of the woman showing affection to her wife the church offered a compromise . . . take out the four images.  The church, mortuary, and family worked hard to resolve the issue to everyone’s desires but both sides stood their ground . . . the service was canceled fifteen minutes after it was set to begin.

This story seemed a little strange to me.  As a pastor I have done lots of funerals . . . a couple of hundred.  Prior to all of those funerals I took the time to sit down with the family for several purposes: to console them in their loss of a loved one; to learn more about the deceased from their experiences; and, to plan the funeral service.  In my mind all three are important, but the last one is especially important . . . so, how in the world did this funeral service in Colorado get all the way to the point that the church or its clergy did not know that the deceased was gay?  Had they known that the deceased was gay from the beginning—which is an alternate lifestyle they did not agree with, wouldn’t they have refused the service in the first place?  Sounds to me as if someone wasn’t doing his or her job.  It seems to me that the pastor did not take too much time in getting to know about the deceased or her family.

I do not agree with what the church “did” in this situation.  Nor do I agree with their reasons for doing it.  I believe that all of God’s children have a place in the choir.  What they did bugged me because I did not think that their actions were too Christ-like; but what bugged me more was the gall that they had in asking the family to “edit” the video of the deceased individual’s life.  Basically, after watching the video, the church said that it was okay as long as a couple of images . . . a couple of seconds . . . were cut out of the final cut.  It did not matter that the four images . . . the couple of seconds . . . that they were wanting to “cut” were also some of the most defining and important parts of that individual’s life.  That bugged me.

There have been moments in my life when I have contemplated that final scenario in my own life . . . that moment when everyone in my life gathers to celebrate my life and usher me into the great eternal party in the sky.   I have wondered what it would be like . . . who would speak . . . and, what would be said.  I have also thought that I can pretty much control how that final scene will play out if I take the time to sit down and plan the whole thing out while I am still living.  And, as I have said, I can pretty much control it . . . except for what people will say . . . except for what people will share.  When that time comes, I will be long gone and out of the discussion.  The situation of censoring a person’s life video prior to a funeral service made me think . . . not so much about the censoring, but about what might be said or shared that I prefer not even be dug up out of the ground where I buried or dragged out of the closet where I hid it.

Now you are probably thinking . . . What!  The preacher has secrets!  You are darn tooting that I do . . . we all do.  Most of us prefer not washing our dirty laundry out in the public arena of life.  All of us have embarrassing experiences in our lives that we would rather not have exposed whether we are alive or dead.  All of us have done things that we regretted and were ashamed of that we would rather not have repeated.  We all have our skeletons in the closet.  When that day comes and everyone gathers to celebrate the lives that we lived . . . what will they say?

Of course, in all actuality, it really won’t matter.  The dead cannot be embarrassed.  The dead cannot feel regret.  The dead cannot laugh.  The dead won’t even be there . . . because they are dead!  The wife is always telling me what the kids and I can do at her funeral if she dies before the rest of us.  Like a good husband I always shake my head in agreement, but I remind her that she won’t be there and we will do what we need to do.  She just winks, then smiles, and tells me that I had better not die before she does. 

So, what will be the “final cut” of my life that will be shared in the end?  Who will have the “final word” that wraps my life up?  Who is going to lay it out there for the whole world to see?  I imagine that I could write my own eulogy and hope that someone would share it, but I also know that it would be a heavily edited piece of work as the wife and kids would “correct” it from their experiences of life with me.  If that is the case, why bother? 

In the end, I will have no more control over how my life is shared than I have now . . . it is what it is . . . good and bad . . . happy and sad . . . embarrassing and regretful . . . the whole gamut of life.  God already knows it.  God was there throughout it all.  Can’t hide anything from God.  But, in the end, I do not want any individual or church to “censor” or “edit” my life because there is a disagreement over some part of my life that is found unacceptable in their eyes.  I want my family and friends to be able to share whatever it is that allows them to acknowledge our connection to one another . . . to share whatever experiences that we shared that touched their lives . . . to speak openly and honestly about the love between us.  People are going to say whatever it is that they say, and since God already knows it all . . . why should I worry.  I just want to know that they will be given that opportunity without the worry of being told to go and “edit” my life before they plop me six feet under.

What the church in Colorado did was wrong on so many fronts.  People have the right to celebrate the lives of those that they love with dignity . . . with honesty.  Not just parts of their lives, but all of their lives.  If God can handle it, the church ought to be able to handle it too.  In the end the one making the “final cut” is not you or me or the church . . . it is God.  I breathe a little easier knowing that . . . after all, God is loving, patient, kind, and full of grace . . . after all these years God still puts up with me and loves me.  The “final cut” is in God’s hands.  Amen to that!

Monday, January 12, 2015

God Lessons

I have heard the story of the guy who prayed to God to teach him patience.  In return the individual received into his life situations . . . frustrating situations that tested his patience . . . over and over again.  God was teaching the man what he wanted—patience.  God seems to have a wicked sense of humor.  Ever since I heard that story I have made sure that I never prayed to God for patience.

But God seems to have a unique way in teaching us lessons.

One of the hobbies that the wife and I have engaged in is bird feeding.  We have various bird feeders throughout the yard to supply the “least of these” creatures with food throughout the year—especially the winter.  And, for our efforts we have been blessed with a huge variety of birds gracing our feeders: Lazuli Buntings, the Gray Catbird, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, Red Crossbills, Mourning Doves, Cassin’s Finch, Northern Flickers, Goldfinch, Common Gackles, Evening Grosbeaks, a Loggerhead Shrike, Dark-eyed Junco, Magpies, Clark’s Nutcracker, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, Bullock’s Orioles, Robins, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Chipping Sparrows, House Sparrows, European Starlings, Western Tangers, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, and the Pinyon Jay.  I must admit that I enjoy our hobby, and I especially enjoy the way that it feeds into my other hobby of photography.  Over the years the gathering of the flocks has provided me with a bevy of wonderful pictures of some of the most beautiful creations I have ever seen.  For the most part it has been a blessing.

I say, “for the most part”, because of one flock of birds that seems to have created a major frustration in our bird feeding hobby . . . and that bird is the Pinyon Jay (pictured above).  The Pinyon Jay is a pretty bird with a blue-gray coloring and it takes wonderful photographs.  God did some pretty fine handiwork with the Pinyon Jay, but . . . yeah, I know, God doesn’t like us using the “but” argument . . . BUT, the Pinyon Jay is the most gluttonous bird I have ever encountered . . . they are the bird version of the Hell’s Angels the way that they come flying in and making waste to whatever feeder they are at . . . they have no respect for any other of the winged creatures of God’s hand, often bullying the smaller and more timid birds away from the feeders so that they can bring a feeding frenzy upon the feeders.  Pinyon Jays are a “flock” bird.  By that I mean that they mate up and run around in flocks of about fifty pairings . . . or a hundred birds.  In the winter the flocks come together and create communities of up to 300 birds.  There is power in numbers and the Pinyon Jays often have the numbers.

Pinyon Jays also eat anything and everything that is in a bird feeder . . . they have never found a meal that they didn’t like.  They can empty out several bird feeders in minutes and have the gall to sit there and demand more.  All the while the other birds go hungry.  I wish that they could be like the other birds that frequent the feeders by showing a little respect, sharing the feed, and taking turns . . . but, NO!  They have embraced the seventh deadly sin—gluttony—and made it their own.

Pinyon Jays make me mad.  Pinyon Jays have driven to the edge of hatred . . . hatred of them.  In the beginning I took the philosophical route . . . the so-called “Christian” route . . . that believed that God created all these wonderful creatures—these birds—and that they all need to eat . . . so, let them eat.  That sucked.  Pinyon Jays don’t know when to quit eating . . . so they bully the other birds by sheer numbers and they whip through a fifty-pound bag of sunflower seeds in less than a week.  They would make any major league baseball team look like rookies when it comes to sunflower seeds.  Sunflower seeds are like crack to Pinyon Jays.  And, sunflower seeds are not cheap.  So, their behavior is not the only hurting me, but it is affecting my wallet.  I get a little touchy when any of God’s creatures start messing with my wallet.  The heck with let the birds eat!  Heck with letting all of God’s creatures eat!  I say, shoot ‘em!

Despite our frustration with the Pinyon Jays, the wife won’t let me shoot them.  I can throw a rock in their direction to scare them . . . or slam the door to scare them . . . or run outside like a screaming lunatic (which has worked at keeping the neighbors away, but has had no effect on the Pinyon Jays) . . . but, not only are the Pinyon Jays gluttonous, they are smart.  They have a system.  While the mass of the Pinyon Jays descend upon the feeders, they stake out the area with scouts . . . scouts that warn the flock of impending danger . . . and, scouts that let them know that the coast is clear.  Unless one has an hour to kill it is almost a worthless endeavor to try and scare the Pinyon Jays away . . . there are too many of them.  They out-number you . . . and, they are more patient.  As pretty as they are . . . they have brought me close to the edge of hatred.

Hate is a powerful word . . . one that the wife and I taught our children as unacceptable in relationships and in life . . . but, here I am on the brink of hatred . . . and, I am wondering what in the world God is trying to teach me.  The Pinyon Jays . . . despite the words of bird experts in the big city promising us that they will go away . . . will not go away.  They mock me.  I have tried the philosophical route . . . the Christian route . . . the Zen route . . . the bird lover’s route . . . I have tried to ignore them . . . we have removed the feeders and bought feeders that they are not supposed to be able to get into . . . and, they keep coming.  Nothing works!  What . . . what is God trying to teach me!

This brings me to the second “for the most part” . . . the neighbor’s cat.  We never imagined that our “bird feeders” would become “cat feeders” . . . but, since the neighbors move in about half-a-year ago, we have made a regular buffet of select birds for their cat.  I imagine that the neighbor’s cat thought it had died and gone to heaven when it moved in next door to us . . . birds for the choosing with little or no effort.  At least once a week there is a pile of feathers in our yards marking the demise of another bird thanks to the cat.  But, I have to admit; at least the cat is an equal opportunity killer and has no trouble with killing any bird that makes itself available for a snack. 

The neighbor’s response?  That is what cats do . . . they kill things like birds and mice.  It is a part of their DNA.  The killing is scaring off the birds . . . and, this is frustrating.  It is especially frustrating when the cat comes and lies at the food of the feeders in wait . . . it is amazing how poorly birds see and never see that cat until it is too late.  I have gone several routes with the cat . . . I have scared the cat off . . . I have thrown rocks at the cat to scare it off . . . yelled, screamed, and chased it (darn cat is fast) . . . and yet, it continues to kill.  Like the Pinyon Jays, I am closing in on hating that cat.
So, what is God trying to teach me?  What is the lesson God wants me to learn?

Is God attempting to teach me about the circle of life?  Is God attempting to teach me patience?  Is God trying to show me that all God’s critters got a place in the world?  That maybe the wife and I should give up bird feeding as a hobby and take up something more constructive like planting a rock garden?  I don’t know . . .

Or, is God giving me a solution through the two frustrations . . . through the Pinyon Jays and the cat.  It has dawned on me that if I could only catch the cat . . . keep the cat for a few days . . . and train it.  Train it to kill Pinyon Jays.  That way I could kill two birds with one stone.  The problem would be solved.  All the other birds would have plenty to eat without having to worry about being bullied, and the cat would have its game and food.  There are plenty of Pinyon Jays to go around.  The wife and I would no longer be on the brink of hatred or frustration . . . and, we could hang onto our good “Christian” values . . . we could save face.

The only problem is . . . I can’t catch the stupid cat.  It is scared of me, but not of the birds.  Plus, the Pinyon Jays are too smart . . . remember, they have scouts watching out for each other.  The cat would never have a chance . . . besides, one cat against hundreds of Pinyon Jays would probably resemble something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

In the meantime, I guess I will continue to ponder what the lesson is that God is attempting to teach me.  I will shoo the Pinyon Jays away only to know that they will return.  I will shoo the cat away only to know that the cat will kill again and again.  I will continue to watch the dollars fly out of my wallet.  And, I will go through my mind and think . . . think really hard . . . did I ask God to help me with my Pinyon Jay problem?  If so, will God let me take that prayer back?  Darn, maybe I asked God for patience . . . if so, I hope it comes soon!