Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Real News

An Inkling
When I was in ninth grade I was the Editor of our Jr. High newspaper, having worked my way up through the ranks as a reporter and photographer.  As I think back on it, I’m amazed that we were so ambitious – a weekly, 6-pager, printed on newsprint, complete with photos and ads.  I’m sure our sponsor, Mrs. Davis, was the driving force in its scope and success.  I know she was the driving force behind good grammar and accuracy – and that from a bunch of Jr. High students.  God bless her with a dozen stars in her crown for such boldness, and its undoubted “opportunities” for long-suffering! 
Would you venture to guess the most popular section?  It wasn’t even on newsprint – just a mimeographed sheet inserted in the “real” paper.  Neither was it carefully composed.  It consisted mostly of sentence fragments taken from a contribution box in the hall.  Its title was the “Gossip Page.”  Its hot “news” items were bits like:  “Guess who Tony’s got an eye for.  Rhonda wants to know.”  And “There’s a reason Tina looks mopey.  Ask Mike.”  No last names, mind you.  The innocent must be protected!  And Mrs. Davis would nix anything too risqué or mean.  But the students did manage to get in their digs at each other, and especially at the popular kids, i.e., cheerleaders and football players.
The best part of being the Editor was that the Assistant Editor and I got to go through the gossip slips each week and choose which ones would be printed.  That meant that we got to see the risqué and mean ones that Mrs. Davis would nix for everyone else.  I’m embarrassed now to think back on how mature and privileged I felt!
I thought of that youthful episode as I observed the current Tiger Woods media feeding frenzy.  To put a twist on an old saying, “You can take us out of Jr. High, but you can’t take the Jr. High out of us.”  The “Gossip Page” is still the most popular section.  And, of course, the “news” providers excuse their appeals to the worst in us by saying that they only provide what the public wants – which was true with our Jr. High “Gossip Page” too.  Only now risqué and mean is the order of the day.  And if risqué and mean can bring the high and mighty down a notch, fine.  The foibles of cheerleaders, football players, and Tiger Woods are still high entertainment.
All of which is irrelevant for us Christians, since we’re exempt from such lingering “Jr. High-ness.”  Yeah, right!  Don’t we wish?!  The fact that the “Gossip Page” still piques our interest too can itself call us to serve the Lord in our Jr. High society in several ways:
§       First we can be readied to serve by confessing our own inner “Jr. High-er,” and by asking God’s forgiveness.
§       From the posture of confession, we can then pray for our fellow “Jr. High-ers,” including those who make lots of money calling forth the worst from us while disguised as news media – like Fox, CNN, etc.
§       From that same posture of confession we can pray for Tiger (in his shame) and the women (in their shamelessness).  Since we’ve known both shame and shamelessness, we’re well qualified to pray.
§       And we can thank God that he has sent a Savior for all of us perpetual “Jr. High-ers.”  It’s a good thing, because there is no sign of us saving ourselves.  Jr. High-ers can’t save Jr. Highers from their Jr. Highness.
We’re saved only by the One who left his highness to come among us.  Thus we celebrate his birth.
And that’s real news!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Grand Illumination

An Inkling
Friday night Sarah and I went downtown for the “Grand Illumination” at the James Center.  This was the 25th year for this popular Richmond tradition.  It’s a thrill to see tens of thousands of lights come on all at once, filling the cavernous corridors of downtown with their charming sparkle.  (If you haven’t been, you can get a more than this photo glimpse through the youtube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4r9h5cVy-c
Actually I found the people more fascinating than the lights.  Here’s why:
§       I’m guessing that there were over ten thousand people gathered – and this in the cold and dark.  That meant parking blocks away and walking.  We parked seven or eight blocks away, and as we walked we fell in with scores of others doing the same, many with the extra challenge of little children and baby strollers.  When people really want to do something, they will find a way to do it.
§       The crowd was a wonderful cross-section of Richmond, racially, socially, and in age.
§       The crowds displayed a simple, child-like delight in the occasion and the spectacle.  The plaza swelled with “oohs and aahs” when the lights went on, and then continued to buzz as people resonated with Santa’s antics, or the high school band, the brass ensemble, and the mariachi band.
§       The crowds were polite.  The tightness of the space might well have prompted some pushing for the best views, yet I saw people deferring to each other.  There is something about the Christmas occasion that can call forth the best from people.
Were all of the people there for the same reason?  Yes and no.  No, they don’t all know the One who really is “the reason for the season.”  But yes, they were all there out of a natural human delight in festivity, celebration, pageantry, and mutual enjoyment.
Sometimes we Christians get too much on our high horse as we exhort the larger culture to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  Such exhortations are best directed to ourselves – those who know the Christ of whom we speak.  Those who don’t yet know him can only hear such words as stuffy scolding. 
We would do better to focus our attention on finding as many ways as possible to unite with our fellow Richmonders in such festivities, and along the way to show them by word and deed that the season does have a reason – a reason of great substance and joy.  It’s the something more they’re all looking for, braving even in the cold and dark.  We can bring that “something” with us even to cultural Christmas celebrations.  We thereby live in the light of the truly Grand Illumination!
Ooh, Aah,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Little and Big in the Kingdom

An Inkling
There is an extra joy in our family gatherings these days, as a new generation is making its appearance.  Jack, who turns three this month, and Hilton, who is six weeks old, were very much at the center of things at our Thanksgiving gathering.  And I’m sure they’re still seeing stars from the camera flashes.
The picture attached here is of my hand and Hilton’s.  It’s fun to see a hand fully formed, yet tiny.  And the tiny-ness is most apparent in contrast to the big hand.
It’s a visual image of how much the little needs the big.  Little Hilton needs big hands to provide virtually everything for him – food, clothing, protection, cleansing, and guidance.  His hand, though fully formed, is not yet fully able.  And it is very satisfying to be on the big hand end of things, caring in such important ways for the little one.  (Of course it’s also exhausting!  But I’m the grand dad now, and so the satisfaction is more mine and the fatigue more his parents’!)
But in fact the big hands need the little ones too.  Jesus thought so.  He once set a little-handed child in the midst of his big-handed disciples.  They had just been having a big-handed debate about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God.  And Jesus said, “Unless you become as children, you will never enter the Kingdom.”  Big hands posture in power and feign competence.  Little hands can’t even pretend to such.  And thus they are more ready to receive the Kingdom that comes only as a gift, not an accomplishment.
The picture is actually a bit deceiving.  Most of us would see it as the big hand guiding the little hand, but Jesus saw it as just the opposite.  May he give us grace to follow such guidance, and to see just how tiny our hands in fact are.
In his grip,