Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chaos and Grace

An Inkling
Have you ever noticed how easily ordinary life is interrupted by chaos?  All who “weathered” yesterday’s storm were just reminded.  Power outages and trees in odd places have a way of disrupting all semblance of normalcy.  Sarah Marsh has had that reminder in spades.  The attached picture is of her house, with a tree across her bedroom.
Have you ever noticed how God’s grace is never interrupted by chaos?  In fact, chaos seems to open both new avenues for its expression and our eyes to its presence.  So Sarah Marsh described, as she recounted how she was safely not in her bedroom when the tree fell, how neighbors she had not yet met came to help, how an irreplaceable art piece was spared, how Jim Whetstone knew just the right tree guys to do the work, and so on.
The chaos was certainly there, plain as day.  Gratefully the Lord gave Sarah eyes to see his grace in the midst of it all.  That goes a long ways toward dealing with the chaos.
What are you seeing today?  Just chaos?  Look again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

All the Way to the Top

An Inkling
Genesis 11 made the headlines here in Virginia yet again today.  Remember the story?  The proud and able folks of Babel decided to build a tower all the way to heaven, and with that tower also to build their fame.  But before they reached their imagined heights, the Lord judged them with confusion – babble broke out in Babel, and their ambitions came to naught.
As it turns out, the Genesis 11 tower was only tower number one.  Humanity has been building them ever since, and it turns out the same every time.  Call it the Babel Principle:  no tower of human endeavor can continue to rise for long without confusion breaking out.  It’s how life works in a fallen world.
This week’s headlined case in point:  the University of Virginia’s brouhaha over its Board’s decision to fire its President.  As best as I can tell, all of the players are very able and gifted people, and they all have ambitions to build yet higher the lofty tower of learning that Mr. Jefferson envisioned.  But now confusion has broken out. 
It’s no one’s fault in particular, and everyone’s fault in part.  And if the confusion had not come in this way, at some point it would have come another.  It’s how life works in a fallen world.  Partially built towers stand as testimony in every direction, surrounded by confused and angry people.
It’s why we need a Savior – and not just a Savior who can instruct us in how to build better towers.  We need a Savior who can break the power of our inevitable confusions, and of our hearts’ capacity for making our worst spring forth even from our best.
We have such a Savior, whose towering ambition was to be laid low for us.  Thereby he really has risen to the heights of heaven.  And now he sends his Spirit to abide in his people in ways that break the power of confusion.  Acts 2 displays the ground floor of his towering plan.  As those earliest Christians were filled with the Savior’s Spirit, confusion fled, so much so that those who spoke different languages could understand each other – babble (Babel) reversed.  And he’s only begun to build!  And we get to work for him – all the way to the top!
No higher calling,

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Thumbs Up

An Inkling
It’s the time of year when I hear repeated reports about those grand moments that we call “recitals.”  I’m between recital seasons – between the a jillion dance and piano recitals of three daughters, and the recitals yet to come with grandchildren.  But I well remember the drama of “The Recital.”
There we see children as a mixture of ham and self-consciousness, concentration and distraction.  The adults are a mixture too, of sweaty palms and relieved sighs, as they sport the same mix of beaming smiles and furrowed brows as their children.
The customs of such recitals are well known:  as video cameras whir and flashes blaze, girls in fine dresses and boys with combed hair dance, sing, or play their more or less memorized pieces.  Then they conclude with obvious relief, and curtsey or bow as everyone claps wildly.
I guess it’s possible that some of the parents wish all of the children ill except for their own little Johnny.  But I think it unlikely.  At the recitals I’ve attended I sensed a common pulling for all of the children, a hope that each child would remember his or her pieces and do it up proud.  I remember once when a little girl got stuck on her first piano piece, and with tears streaming finally gave up.  You could sense knots in every adult stomach in the room.  But then she proceeded to play her second piece quite well, and was hailed with thunderous applause!
I wonder if God’s palms sweat as he watches us trying to do our best.  Does his brow furrow or his stomach churn as he hopes for us?  I think not.  Surely his love is not so closely knit with anxiety as is ours.  But I know he’s pulling for us.  And I feel certain that despite our frequent mis-steps and sour notes, he beams with joy at our performance.  Such is his grace.
Be sure to look to your proud Father.  He’s trying to catch your eye to give you a wink and a thumbs-up.  Therein is the greatest joy of the recital.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Faith Portrayed

An Inkling
Traffic was thick at the corner of Malvern and Grove this past weekend.  It was the annual Greek festival at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and thousands came.  Since we live nearby, Sarah and I walked over to join in.
What fun!  It’s no wonder that this annual festival has become a Richmond event not to be missed.  The “Greeks” serve up marvelous Mediterranean cuisine, and sell their arts and handicrafts.  Troupes of various ages deck themselves in traditional Greek outfits, and proudly exhibit their culture’s music and dances. 
For those with an observant eye, the festivities themselves point to a common life our Greek friends have in Christ.  But to make the center of their life more apparent, they also offer a tour of their sanctuary, which Sarah and I took.  If you’ve not been to an Orthodox sanctuary, I recommend it.  It’s not just a meeting place; it’s an architectural creed, a right-brained confession.  And the cathedral on Malvern is a particularly lovely expression. 
Our tour guide was a laywoman who clearly loves the Lord, and delights in the particulars of Orthodox worship.  She explained the candles and icons in the narthex, and how they use these aids to prepare themselves to enter a holy place to worship.  She explained the iconostasis (the front wall with all of the icons, shown in the attached snapshot I took), and the sanctuary behind it, where only the priests may go.  She also showed us the large baptismal font where they dunk their babies!  To Protestant ears it was a different sort of testimony, but clearly a testimony to the same One we honor a few blocks west on Grove at St. Giles.
We Presbyterians have our own strong suits, and our own ways of demonstrating the life we have together in Christ.  But our Orthodox friends serve as good tutors in what it means to combine fun, fellowship, and proclamation.  May we learn and do likewise!
And may God bless the Orthodox!