A Tree That Feels Like Me

Charlie Brown Tree 2

 

We have three Christmas trees in our house this year.  I know, weird. 

One is fancy and stands in our living room.

The newest is beside my desk in my study – a sale-tree that I bought on Black Friday.  I couldn’t resist.  It is an aluminum tree with a color wheel.  Yep, I guess they’re being made again for all of us boomers.   Did any of you have one of those at one time?

But my favorite tree is in our Hearth Room – it’s the one you see above – our Charlie Brown tree.

The fact that I have both an aluminum tree and a Charlie Brown tree is a bit ironic since “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special first shown December 9, 1965, was more directly responsible for the death of aluminum Christmas trees than anything else.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” resonated with 1965 audiences in a way no other children’s programming had before.  

It still resonates with me.  

Charles Schultz’s characters have been a part of my life since I was 9 years old when someone, I don’t remember who, gave me the book, “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!”

I wish I remembered the name of the person who opened up this world to me. I’m thankful for them. 

Everything I like about Charlie Brown is contained in “A Charlie  Brown Christmas” and that little, lonely, pitiful looking tree.  

It is real.  Every other Christmas special has in it some element of fantasy.  

A snowman that comes to life.  

Flying reindeer. 

But not in Charles Schulz’s story.  The story is build on the reality of sadness.  

Charlie Brown is sad.  “I know no likes me,” Charlie Brown says, walking along, “so why do we have to have a holiday to emphasize the fact?”  Charlie is us.   We want to be liked.  Not just loved.  It’s hard to feel loved when we’re not liked.  

Linus recites Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.  But, even with this spiritual element, God doesn’t swoop in to rescue Charlie Brown. Neither does Santa, or Frosty. There is no Elf to bring back the spirit of Christmas.  There is Charlie Brown dealing with kids who are mean to him.  And why?  He was only trying to do something good.  When he brings his tree to the group, the insults are launched:

“Boy, are you stupid Charlie Brown”
“I told you he’d goof it up.”
“He isn’t the kind you can depend on to do anything right.”
“You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown.”
“You’ve been dumb before, Charlie Brown, but this time, you really did it.”

How many watchers of that special see themselves in Charlie Brown? How many have heard, still hear, those same insults?  Insults and attacks for only trying to do good. 

And no one steps in to defend him.  To advocate for him.  

He’s alone.  Like the tree he picks.  Charlie Brown and the tree are parallel characters.  Each of them is considered by others to be defective, unwanted, worth-less than other trees or other people.

“This little one needs a home,” Charlie Brown said when he saw the tree on the lot.  

Charlie Brown provided that home.

Charlie Brown was the only one who really saw the tree. Who saw the value in the tree. Who loved the tree.  He thought others would see the tree as he saw the tree.  They didn’t. 

The rejected boy took the rejected tree to his home.  When he hangs a single ornament on it’s tallest branch,  the tree droops to the ground.  Charlie Brown cries out, “I’ve killed it.  Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined.”

Have you ever felt like you can’t do anything right?  Then you get Charlie Brown.  

Linus’ Bible story inspired Charlie Brown to decorate the little tree, in spite of what others said, but it doesn’t heal Charlie Brown from the pain he feels.  What heals him is the other members of the Peanuts Gang coming out into the cold to rescue the tree – with love.  As Linus says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree…Maybe it just needs a little love.” 

And love is what the gang gives the tree.  Show a tree, or a person, some love, and look what happens!

It may be a story from a comic strip, but it’s a story about realness.  

Real sadness.

Real loneliness.

Real rejection.

Real prejudices.

Real comparisons.

Real realization of judgmentalism.

Real love.

Real community. 

Real change. 

And it’s really good.  

Have a really good holiday.

  

Bringing Kindness Back in Style

Kindness Stories

I read two stories Monday, October 7, about kindness. 

Story #1 was from USA Today.  The story in the print edition is titled: “Kindness is trying to make a comeback.”   

 

It’s kind of like that Ella Moss Bell-Bottom Button Down Jumpsuit that I bought for Denise last Christmas, 2018.  The fashion world said Bell-Bottoms were making a comeback. Not for Denise.  They’re hanging in her closet with the price tag still attached. 

 

Well, she’ll be ready for Halloween!

 

Kindness has been out of style for a while.  But a few people are bringing it back.  

 

A Los Angeles police officer recently posted a video of a homeless woman singing a Purccini aria in a deserted subway station.  The video went viral.  Emily Zamourka, the “subway soprano” is a classically trained violinist from Russia.  She moved to the United States about 30 years ago. Three years ago she became seriously ill.  That illness bankrupted her, forcing her to the streets.  

 

Now, thanks to that video taken by the police officer, Emily, with a recording contract in hand, is on her way to becoming a professional singer.  In the wake of this overnight turnaround, Emily said,

 

“I want to thank the police officer who was so kind to me and  made me gosh, I don’t know, so famous.”  

 

Then she gives us all a sobering perspective and challenge:

 

“I am so grateful, but I also wish that the kindness I am experiencing now I might  have felt when no one knew of my singing…There are people out there and do need to be reached out to, and they’re waiting to be helped.  We’re all the same, and some just need to be reached out to and given an opportunity.”

 

Story #2 is the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the famous Preacher of Hate at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  Megan, in a Ted Talk, reminds us that “We are all a product of our upbringing and our experiences.”

 

Her upbringing was in a religion of:

  • “Us vs. Them.”  The “good guys” were her church.  Everyone else made up the group of “bad guys.”
  • Fear. Her mother summed up the Bible in three words, “Obey. Obey. Obey.”
  • And hate.  Such hate. Megan joined her family on a picket line for the first time when she was five years.  In her little hands, she held up a sign that she was too young to read, much less understand: “Gays are worthy of death.”  Maybe you remember other signs: “God is Your Enemy,” “Your Rabbi is a Whore,”   “God Hates Jews.” God Hates________Just fill in the blank), on and on.  

 

The hate coming out of her family and church was so vicious and disgusting that even   the KKK called them extreme!  Now when the KKK calls you hateful, that’s saying something.  

 

Megan has written a book, “Unfollow” – her story of growing up in hate but choosing love. What turned Megan around? Kindness.  

 

Megan was in charge of the church’s Twitter account.  While others attacked with protests and signs, Megan would attack with Tweets.  

 

She said she was prepared to argue online with the same passion, anger, and self-righteous assurance she was used to when picketing.

 

“What I wasn’t prepared for was kindness,” she said. 

 

She reached out to David Abitbol, the founder of Jewlicious.  

 

She says, “I got to tweeting about how Jews really need to repent for their sins…I accused the Jews of killing Jesus.  David’s response was swift, cunning and angry, exactly the response I expected…but soon after his initial foray, something changed.”  

 

She said she kept sending hateful messages, but he replied differently.  “His responses went from angry insults to friendly bars.  He started asking me questions, and I started asking him questions about Jewish theology, both of us genuinely curious how the other had come to such different conclusions about the Bible.”  

 

Kindness led Megan from hate to love.  

 

Here’s another story of kindness from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis was riding his horse in the countryside when he saw a leper walking toward him.   His instinct was ours – to turn around and head the other way – to avoid the leper at all cost.  But something happened within Francis. He rode directly toward the man with parts of his face and hands eaten away by the horrible diseases.  Fancis got off his horse, walked to the man and then, hugged him and kissed him – on the lips.

 

Francis writes, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure, but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them…After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.”  

 

No, he didn’t die.  That’s not what he meant by “leaving the world.”  St. Francis left the world of meanness to live in the world of kindness. 

We live in a mean world of harsh words and rude behaviors.  

Let’s leave that world (kingdom) and become residents of another.  

Let’s write our own stories of kindness.

…of kissing the leper.

…of listening.

…of seeking to understand.

…of showing kindness.

 

Let’s bring kindness back in style.  

 

Seeing Through Jesus’ Glasses

Aniumal glasses

I was raised in a culture that taught us to develop a “Biblical worldview.”  If we break that down, I guess it means to see the world through the lens of the Bible.  Or, to allow the Bible to  inform and influence the way we:

 – see the world.

 – talk about the issues in the world.

 – respond to the issues in the world.

 I appreciate the intent of the instruction. But, I wonder if the instruction falls short? If it is misguided?

You see, The point of the Bible is to guide us to Jesus – at least that’s what Jesus himself says (John 5:39)

So, why settle for a Biblical Worldview when Jesus invites us to a Jesus Worldview?  

Honestly, we don’t really follow the Biblical worldview of stoning disobedient children, sacrificing animals to appease God, slavery, silencing women, and on and on.  So, I really don’t get the “Biblical Worldview” thing.  I can more easily grasp a “Jesus Worldview.” 

Jesus invites us to “Follow me”(Matthew 4:19).  Not a book.  Him.  

“All authority has been given to me,”  Jesus says as an introduction to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Did we catch that?  Jesus did not say all authority was given to a book that some guys were going to write.  All authority is given to Him.    

At the close of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged the hearers not with “The one who hears the words of Moses, or Isaiah and acts on them is like the wise man, but “The one who hears and acts on (does them, practices them) my words is like the wise man” (Matthew 7:24).

I want to wake up each morning with the thought – “Jesus, let me see all things, all people, through your eyes. Give me your worldview.”

I’m teaching a series called “What Would Jesus Say About…”.  We’re diving headfirst into a deep pool.  One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the discussion about these issues from Christians sound similar to the discussions about these issues from people who don’t claim to follow Jesus. We tend to repeat the views and even prejudices of whatever news source we listen to or group we hang out with.  

I’m inviting people to join me in discovering a Jesus perspective of what is going on today. 

I’m asking myself, and encourage others to ask as well:  

“If following Jesus does not influence or transform the way I see and talk about the issues of our day, I wonder what good religion is?” 

The Creative Power of Words

Words create worldsWords matter. 

Words have power.

Words are creative.

 

The poetry of the Bible colorfully expresses the creative power of words:

And God said, Let there be light… (Genesis 1:3).

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made  (Psalm 33:6).

…the worlds have been prepared by the spoken word of God (Hebrews 11:3).

 

With our words, we create worlds.  

 

I had a phone conversation yesterday with someone very close to Denise and me.  The call was on speaker so Denise and I could both participate. We are both involved in the sad, tragic situation which was the topic of the conversation.  The voice on the other end of the call told me that he was “done with me,” that I am, “dead to him,” that as far as he is concerned, I “no longer exist.”  

 

When the “goodbyes” were said. Denise and I looked at each other – in a state of disbelief – and she asked, “Does your stomach hurt?”  “Like a mother,” I answered. 

 

Words wrecked my world – at least my stomach. 

 

We create worlds with our words.  Maybe our words are not just a response to the world around us.  Maybe the world around us is a response to our words.

 

What kind of worlds are we creating with our words?  

 

A lot has been said and written since the shootings in El Paso and Dayton about our “environment of hate and racism” – our “world of hate and racism”.

 

Here’s my question:  

Have words created this world of hate and racism?

 

Yes. How can that be denied?  

Just read the manifesto of the shooter involved in the El Paso massacre.  

In it are words.  

Words of hate and racism. 

He refers to Latino/a immigrants as “invaders” who could only be stopped by deadly force.  He argues that interracial relationships are a reason to “send them back,” referring to second and third genertion Mexican-Americans.  

 

His words were fueled by hate.  His actions were fueled by words.  

 

Luke records the story of another terrorist in the 1st century who was fueled by hate.  The objects of his hate, the victims of his hate, were people of the Way – the Way of Jesus. Christ-followers.

Luke writes in Acts 9:1 that Saul was breathing threats and murder. The Greek word for “breathing” is “empnueo” from “en” and “pnueuo” – “in breath.”

 

Saul breathed the air of hate. He breathed it in. He breathed it out.

Inhale hate.

Exhale hate.

Commit acts of terror. 

 

Saul was a terrorist who lived in an atmosphere of hate.  His atmosphere changed when he “was blinded by the light” (Acts 9:3).

 

Whenever we speak we put words in the air.  

We create the air that others breathe.  

There are homes, schools, places of business and houses of government and worship where the air is polluted with hateful words. 

 

We can change the air quality.  We can create a better world.  Shed a little light. 

Yes, I am a master at mixing metaphors.  But you get the idea. 

 

Remember, this is not so much about the other guy as it is about me.  As it is about you. What are you and I doing to create with our words a better world?  

 

A Call to Love in a Culture of Hate

Shootings

I went to bed Saturday night after having read the news of the shooting in El Paso, Texas.  I awoke Sunday morning to news about another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. As a pastor, I felt a responsibility and an urge to talk with the Sunday morning congregation about the events. It wasn’t planned.  It wasn’t part of the “order of service” that had already been set and sent out to the team.  

 

But neither had we planned on these shootings.

 

So, before I arrived at Sunday Morning Venues, I wrote these thoughts and then shared them during our services:   

 

Today we mourn over our country that has once again witnessed the evil of hate. 

We grieve over the state of our land. 

We humbly open ourselves to the real possibility that we have ignited  the flames of hate. As James writes, “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.  A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell”  (James 3:5-6).

We confess our sin. 

We long for the day seen by the prophet Isaiah and fulfilled in the Christ we see in Jesus, when, “Violence will disappear from your land; the desolation and destruction of war will end. Salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there (Isaiah 60:18).

We express our hope.

As children of God we accept the call to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

We renounce every expression of violence.  

Violence of the tongue.  Violence of the gun.  

Violence in the heart.  Violence with the hand.  

Violence with a post.  Violence with a text.  

Instead, today, our mouths will speak blessings not cursings;  love not hate. (James 3:9-10).  

Today, …our feet will move to spread the good news of peace (Isaiah 52:7). 

Lunch Buddy to Life Buddy

 

Water slide

This is the last week of school for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

This is the last week for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

He’s graduating from 5th grade this Friday. The Lunch Buddy program stops at 5th grade.

I always liked the last week and day of school.  Not so much this year. 

He and I were matched his first year at Robberson. He was in Kindergarten. We’ve been “buddies” for 6 years.  

We’ve gone from me pushing him on a swing and him trying to push me and having to call his friends for help, to just walking around the school yard or sitting on a bench talking.  His choice.

I was at his school yesterday. We had been sitting on a bench for about 20 minutes engaged in a good conversation. Other kids were on the grounds playing. His 5th grade class was eating pizza and ice-cream – a special treat for the graduates! Thinking he might be bored and wishing I’d leave so he could go play, I did my best to give him an out: “You know,” I said, “we’ve been talking a while and it’s been good, but if you want to go play with the other kids or go grab some pizza, that’s cool.”  

“No,” he answered, “I’d rather just sit here and talk with you.”

We’ve grown.  We’ve talked over the years about:

-what hurts us and what scares us.  

-what makes us laugh and what makes us sad.

Each time, no exception, over the 6 years, I’ve left Robberson a better person for having spent time with my buddy.

I’ve learned from him generosity – every single time he offered to me some of his lunch.  When I would bring  him a bag of candy he would share with his friends. Everytime.

I’ve learned from him kindness.  His life may not be easy. But his spirit is strong and sweet.

I’ve gotten in trouble some at the school.  Kind of a lot. I brought a football one time to toss around with the kids, only to be told that there are no footballs allowed.  Football might lead to tackling.

I led the kids in the old-fashioned game of “Red Rover,” and was confronted by the playground supervisor telling me that that too was not allowed.  The game I grew up playing was too rough.

I developed a reputation of not always playing by the rules.  Imagine that.

I started taking “Reeses Cups” to her as penance.  It worked.

Yesterday was “Water-Slide Day” for the 5th graders.  After lunch, the kids lined up to take their turn. I stood with two teachers watching the fun.  Each time a kid would climb the steps to slide down the other side, the other kids would chant their name.  

The kid would slide down amidst the chants into a pool of water sending  sprays over the shrieking, happy kids waiting their turn.

I watched my buddy slide down, gave him a hug and left.  I signed out at the office, walked outside toward my car but took a right turn at the edge of the school building instead.  

I wanted to slide.  Was this another breaking of the rules?  I checked with the two adults still standing there – “Is it OK if I slide?” I asked them.  

“Sure!”  No rules against silly adults sliding down the water-slide.  So, with the kids chanting “Phillip, Phillip…” I climbed the steps and in my best cannon-ball tuck, went down the slide.

“Come on, Phillip.  You’re 62 years old.”  I know. to me, that’s even more reason to go down the slide.  As Pablo Neruda said, “A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.”

Being a Lunch Buddy for 6 years has given me the opportunity to play again, to cultivate a “beginner’s mind,” a mind that sees things, hears things, experiences things as if for the first time, like a child.  A beginner’s mind leaves me open to learn new things or to think about old things in a new way.

When I left Robberson School, my lunch buddy asked, “Can you go with me to my new school?”

I wish that were possible.  Maybe it is. One thing is sure, he is more than a lunch buddy.  He is a life buddy.

 

Good-bye Doris Day

Doris Day And Rock Hudson In 'Send Me No Flowers' Doris Day Rock Hudson 2

Depending on your age, the death of Doris Day is either a “meh” moment or an “sds” (so damn sad) moment.  

Here’s why her death matters to all of us.

The impact of Doris Day’s life has its roots in the “rom-com” days of my childhood.

Who is your favorite “rom-com” couple?

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan   (Sleepless in Seattle; You’ve Got Mail)?

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (Birdcage)?

Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (Pretty Woman)?

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days)?

How about Doris Day and Rock Hudson?

Doris Day  and Rock Hudson were the “it” couple in late 50s and early 60s, starring in movies like “Pillow Talk” (for which she received an Oscar nomination), “Lover Come Back” and “Send Me No Flowers.”  

While I was too young to see these films in their first-run theatre releases, they were the “go to” movies we would watch on TV or early VHS tapes.  

Doris Day was a movie blonde.  Not in the Marilyn Monroe sense, but in the “girl next door” sense.  She knew this and embraced it. She said,

“My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness…An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played. But I am Miss Chastity Belt, and that’s all there is to it.”

Oscar Levant, the musician and humorist had this one liner about Doris Day, “I knew Doris before she was a virgin.”  The line reminds us of the distinction between movies and reality.

Here’s what was real in their movies:

The chemistry between them – not a romantic chemistry, but a genuine friendship chemistry.  Hudson said, “Doris and I became terrific friends.  She’s a dynamo – a strong lady. And boy, what a comedienne she is! The trouble we had was trying not to laugh.  Doris and I couldn’t look at each other. You know, that sweet agony of laughing when you’re not supposed to? That’s what we had.”

Here’s what was not real in their movies:

Rock Hudson’s sexuality.  Rock was gay. All of those romantic sparks between their characters?  Not real. Not even close.

Rock played the role of American heterosexuality and he played it well – better than the rest. He hid who he was.  He had to.

Remember the times.  These were the 50s and 60s.  

For Rock Hudson to come out would have shattered  his career. No questions asked.

The public did not know about Rock Hudson’s sexuality until 1985.  That’s where Doris Day steps in. Doris Day had launched a show on the Christian Broadcasting Network and had invited her old movie co-star Hudson to be her first guest.  But Hudson had contracted the AIDS virus. He was in a fight for his life and was keeping the fight secret.

Until, that is, his good friend, Doris Day, extended the invitation.  He couldn’t say “No.” What America saw that day was an unrecognizable, frail, emaciated Rock Hudson. There was a collective gasp. A few days later at a press conference it was announced:

Rock Hudson, the Heterosexual Hunk, was gay and was dying of AIDS.

Yes, Rock Hudson, like many gay men had concealed his sexual orientation from the public.  AIDS was referred to in those days as “Gay Cancer.” The Christian world chimed in with phrases like “God’s judgment.”  In 2001, a Barna Study discovered that only 8% of Americans were willing to donate to organizations that worked toward the education and prevention of AIDS.  Among evangelicals? Only 3%.

In the 80s AIDS victims were treated as if they had a plague.  Charlton Heston called for a “kissing” ban for people in a “high risk group.”  But on that day on that show, Doris Day hugged and kissed her friend.

 Barriers began to break.  Minds began to change. Judgments began turning to understanding. Doris Day helped us grow.  Doris Day helped us be human.

Three months after his appearance with his friend, Rock Hudson died. It was October 2, 1985.  He was 59.

About  that appearance on her show in July, Doris Day said, “He was very sick.  But I just brushed that off and I came out and put my arms around him and said, ‘Am I glad to see you.'”  

I think that yesterday Rock Hudson greeted Doris Day with the same words, “Am I glad to see you.”  The rom-com couple, the co-stars, the friends are together again.