24 December 2007

A very merry Christmas to all.  Your comments and thoughts over the last several months have been rich gifts to Amy and I.  Thank you.

craig

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Liberace

In 1987 I was a nervous twenty-one year old preacher wannabe.  At the time I was living in Commack, on Long Island,  as a missionary apprentice.  In May of 1996 I  moved to New York, along with five others, as a part of the Adventures In Missions Program out of Lubbock, Texas.  Our original destination was Staten Island.  There we labored for eight or nine months with a wonderful church.  However, we spent the reminder of our eighteen month committment on Long Island due to circumstances beyond our control.

One day we received a call from our friends on Staten Island.  A member of that congregation had died suddenly.  The church there was without a preacher so they called to ask if the minister we were now working with could travel to Staten Island to conduct the funeral service for our brother.  He agreed to do so.  Then he got sick.  That’s when he “asked” (told) me to do the funeral. 

 I had been to my share of funeral’s,  but I had never preached one.  I was terrified.  What could I say?  I asked for help.  Basically my boss wrote the sermon for me.  One of the points I was to make, for the sake of the audience, was that death is no respecter of persons, so you better be ready.  To illustrate the point I was to mention a person everybody knew who had died in spite of their celebrity, wealth, etc.  At the time there were several candidates  who had recently died.   I chose to talk about Liberace for reasons unremembered.  But regretted nonetheless.

So, we’re at the funeral home.  And I’m scared.  Furthermore, my balance was thrown off due to the fact that the funeral home workers insisted on calling me “Reverend Hicks.”  As a good ol’ church of Christ boy they might as well have called me Beelzebul.  I kept thinking, “Am I going to hell for not correcting them?”  Consequently, it was with thoughts of my everlasting condemnation that I began the sermon.

Soon enough I began to find my rhythem although my voice was several octaves higher than normal.  I was feeling pretty good about the lesson by the time I got to my “death is no respecter of person’s point”.  This was how I planned on making the point- “What can we learn from Art’s death?  Blah, blah, blah and finally death is no respecter of person’s.  For example, consider Liberace.  Here’s a man who had it all.  World-wide fame.  Great wealth, cars, mansions, jewels, and just about anything else he wanted.  But, you know what?  (Pause for dramatic effect)  With all of that (pause) Liberace was not able to buy one more second of life (pause) because death is no respecter of person’s.” (Homerun!)

So, I’m winding up and on a roll.  Everything is going as planned.  I swing for the bleachers by saying, “World- wide fame, great wealth, cars, mansions, jewels, and just about anything else he wanted.  But you know what?…”

 During my pause for dramatic effect the widow’s sister hollered out as loud as church bells…

“HE WAS GAY!!!”

It took every bit of self-control I possess to not crawl in the coffin with Art and slam the lid shut. 

And I should have done so because  her initial outburst, for some reason,  loosed that crazy woman’s tongue.  From then on she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut.   It was made worse by the fact she was sitting with the family, not three feet away from me, on the first row.  For the duration of my sermon the family was literally trying to gag her mouth shut with their hands.  But she was a tough ol’ bird (the crazy one’s always are) and  fought them off long enough to maintain a running commentary on the rest of my remarks.  Which I severely curtailed.

To this day I refuse to use Liberace as an example of anything.  Let the dead bury the dead.

He meant well- I think.

For the last umpteen years several youth ministries in the Tulsa area have hosted an event called Kingdom Seekers.  The kids who attend are selected to do so by their youth ministers or others.  Attendance is also limited to juniors and seniors.  It’s an intense weekend meant to encourage and challenge leaders to lead.

Anyway, eight or nine years ago I was teaching one of the classes at Kingdom Seekers.  The classes were set up on a rotation basis leaving the kids free to choose three or so out of however many there were.  Many of the kids had no idea who I was (not that it matters) so choosing my class was a gamble.  And I, being out of my comfort zone, was a wee bit nervous.

So, I had my first group of twenty, twenty-five risk takers and I was off and running.  I can’t remember the exact lesson but I’m willing to bet it was about Jesus.  I’m wound up- going full speed ahead- no time to breathe.  The kids (some adults too) are on the edge of their seats.  A teacher knows- knows when he or she has the audience in the palm of their hand.  I had them.  Abruptly, a young man leaped to his feet.  Simultaneously he shouted, “YOU SUCK!”

Stunned silence.

I wish I had a picture of the shocked expressions on the faces of everyone in the room.  Their eyes almost bugged right out of their sockets.

My first thought was his next line is going to be sic semper tyrannis and then he’s going to shoot me.  In the head.  My next thought was along the lines of,  “This event is for selected leaders only, so how did this nut get through?”  Then I met his youth minister and knew…just kidding.

Everyone was staring at me wondering how I would handle it.  So I asked, “What do you mean?”  He said, “You suck!  You suck my brain out like a vacuum cleaner.”   I wasn’t following. 

“Is that good or bad?” I asked. 

He said, “That’s good.” 

“So, that’s a compliment?” I asked. 

He said, “Yes, that’s a compliment.” 

I accepted his “compliment” and let it be.  Everyone else relaxed and started breathing again.  To this day I have no idea what he meant but I think his compliment puts me in rare company.  I doubt there are many who have been told they sucked at something but in a good way.  Like a vacuum cleaner.

 Have you been weirdly complimented?

Christian Benefits

I love being a Christian.  For lots of reasons.  You’re one of them.  I can’t imagine trying to get by without my brothers and sisters.  Yesterday and today I talked for quite a while with one of my favorite people.  John Dobbs.  The first time we talked for real was at a teen retreat seveal years ago.  We sat on a wooden picnic table and that was it- we became fast friends.  We’re kindred spirits in many ways.  Both geeks.  People like John make me so glad to be a part of a church.  I feel sorry for people who live without the wonderful support system we have in one another.

The other night Amy and I went out to dinner.  Right after we sat down someone came from behind me and asked for a hug.  I haven’t seen him in awhile but I didn’t hesitate to hug him.  He’s my friend.  He’s my brother.  He’s a fellow vagabond.  His name is Jon Priest.  He wasn’t ever an official part of my youth group.  He went to another congregation here in Tulsa.  Who cares?  We’re family.  Jon and I had some serious conversations at church camp and he wrote a revealing letter to me once at our last camp session  together.  I love him a lot because he’s a struggler- like me.  He’s still a struggler.  So am I.  I’m glad he’s in my life even if I only see him from time to time.  Hey, Amy and I even got a free shrimp cocktail out of the deal.  Jon’s treat.  I love being a part of the body of Christ.  I hope you do as well.

Where am I going?

I’m really glad that I’m going to heaven.  It comforts me in so many ways.  Especially the older I get.  Sometimes I wonder where I would be today in a career or position if I had made other choices.  If I knew then what I know now.   I believe I would have made a good teacher or professor.  I wanted to be a doctor for the longest time.  Doing p.r. for a company would have been interesting and politics too.  I’ve often told Amy that my experience at McDonalds made me realize that my true calling was to be a social activist.  But I have no idea what they get paid.

The last several years I’ve lived with the sadness that fills the gulf between what a person dreamed for their life and the reality of that life.  I don’t think I’m the only one either.  Nor am I speaking only of careers.  Sin does have a way of grounding dreams mid-flight.  I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t believe my life is what it could have been.  Or what God fully intended.  I made silly decisions.  I made selfish decisions.  I didn’t pray enough.  I wasn’t ambitious enough.  I was lazy at times I needed to be pushing myself and other times when I wish my tongue was lazy it was working a mile a minute which led to needless sorrows.

Sometimes I have the feeling that I’ve blown it.  And I’ll never be 18 again (nor do I wish to be , thank you just the same).  My life is blessed.  Especially because of Amy.  Yet, I think there is something in the heart’s of men that yearns for achievement.  To accomplish.  To build.  To excel.  To be the best.  So I find myself going to work, coming home, doing a bit around the house, eating, sleeping.  The next day I find myself going to work… More and more, of late, I’ve been saying to myself, “This is it?  This is my life?  This is what my dreams have come to?”

On top of that, I can barely comprehend the passage of time.  I say that because it’s going so quickly.  When I was young I had a million “I can’t waits.”  I can’t wait till Christmas.  Till I drive.  Till I shave (boy do I regret that one).  Till I get married.  Till I go on vacation.  Till I…  I paid no mind to the passage of time getting to the “I can’t waits.”  Now they are all ended with the realization that when I get to a certain “I can’t wait” I’m going to be 43,45, etc.  Suddenly I find myself able to wait as never before.

Here’s the fun part.  No matter what, I know where my journey will end.  I find that thrilling.  Comforting.  The excitement I have for being in heaven is beginning to build.  Every once in a while, when I think about it, I get the same tickly feeling in my belly that I would get as a kid knowing Christmas was almost here.  Remember?  It was especilly cool if you kind of forgot about it and then suddenly remembered what time of year it was.  I loved that feeling. 

Heaven is like a failsafe for believers.  No matter how hard things may be-right now.  How big the mess is-right now.  How disappointed the heart is-right now.  How great it is to know Jesus is waiting for us- right now.

I may not be the best choice maker in the world but the choice to follow Jesus was genius.  Pure genius.  At least I know where I’m going.

Finally, one I can read easily.

The first format I used for my blog was working fine till a week or so ago.  Then it began cropping off some of the words on the right margins.  Not good.  Missing words can really change the meaning of a matter can’t they?  Last week I changed my blog’s appearance to fix that issue.  However, the font for the comments was so small I needed glasses over my bifocals (trifocals) to read them.  I like this new presentation for the simple reason the words are nice and big.  I think I’ll keep it.  Have a nice day.

And the word became plastic and was displayed among us.

Part II

Ya gotta read part I first or this won’t make any sense.  Or maybe it won’t make any sense anyway.  Please let me know what you think.  Thanks for reading.

Two thousand years ago Iconjesus was manufactured in a life-size reproduction of a stable.  If anyone had told the “proud” parents their “child” was normal they were lying.  It’s head emitted a bright-white light as it lay upon a pile of synthetic, flame-retardant, antibacterial straw.  The “happy” couple could not have been more perplexed.  Mary pondered the significance of producing the world’s first incandescent light while Joseph silently gave thanks he was not the light’s biological father.  He was more than willing to submit DNA to prove it too.

Meanwhile the wise men and the shepherds arrived.  As wise as they were the wise men were stumped when they saw the glowing thing in the manger.  Before it had a chance to explode they threw their gifts at it and fled.  The shepherds concluded the glowing object was a sheep-eating alien predator so they loaded their sling-shots and slowly backed out of the stable.  The innkeeper, as it turns out, was the only one there who appeared to be genuinely happy.  That’s because he saw unlimited commercial applications in this new product.  In fact, he offered to buy the patent from Mary and Joseph on the spot.

Raising a child with “special needs” is very expensive so no one would have faulted Mary and Joseph if they had chosen to put “it” up for adoption.  Or if they had donated “it” to science.  On the other hand,  if they had sold “it” to a freak show they probably would have garnered some bad press.  However, truth be told, “it” probably would have felt more comfortable among other freaks.  In the end they decided to raise “it”.  They were too afraid of “it’s” biological/mechanical father to do anything else.  Afterall, if he was capable of inflicting his only “son” with such a grotesque apparatus there was no telling what he would do to them. 

Surprisingly, raising Iconjesus turned out to have some unintended advantages.  For one, Joseph discovered “it” made a wonderful work light.  He was able to keep his carpentary shop open for business long after his competitors had called it a night.  Mary, too, found Iconjesus to have several useful product features.  In a pinch, for example “it’s” “head” could be used to re-heat leftovers.  She was also more than delighted to find that when she shoved a custom made lamp shade on “it’s” “head” the room would glow with sparkly lights.  During dinner parties she doubled “it’s” allowance so “it” would twirl round and round.  Twirling, swirling, sparkling lights would then be cast upon the walls and ceilings as a result.  This never failed to electrify Mary’s guests.  In the end the entire family learned to embrace Iconjesus.  Long after Pontus Pilate turned “it” off they fondly recalled the cold winters nights when the family would warm themselves round the “head” of their “brother” and “son.”  Oh, how they missed “it.”

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For many people the nearness and real-ness of Jesus are buried beneath layers of plastic and porcelain, glue and glitter, silver and gold, rubies and diamonds, paper and glass.  His plastic presence graces dashboards.  It dangles from necks on chains of gold.  And once a year the baby Iconjesus lords over the wise-men, shepherds and elves who comprise his lawn kingdom.  Because of the otherwordly glow often portrayed about his head he appears to have more in common with aliens rather than humans.  In his various incarnations Iconjesus is rubbed, gawked at or wielded as a talisman.  He represents everything Jesus repudiated by His Incarnation.  Christians are deluded if they believe the ministry of Iconjesus is harmless…or unintentional.

Iconjesus is the perfect god for control freaks, those who covet convenience and the superstitious.  He may be present on the dashboard but does his nearness have any effect on the driver?  Hey, want to use language you know Iconjesus would not endorse?  Just toss him in the glove compartment.  Poof!  He’s gone.  Doing the sort of things that would cause others to quip, “You’re a Christian?”  No problem.  Just tuck Iconjesus under your shirt.  They’ll never know.  Nor will he.  On your way to interview for a new job?  Want some good luck?  Simply remove Iconjesus from the dashboard and velcro him back in place.  Just be sure not to get him mixed up with the rabbit’s foot.

What has the ministry of Iconjesus done to non-believers?  It’s possible that it has diminished the appealing nature of Jesus.  Maybe it’s hard for them to see Jesus, as He wants to be seen, because of the iconic presence of an imposter.  The Jesus whom many do see is depicted in such a way that he appears inhuman.  Or He is shown to be so holy as to be unapproachable.  Either way, He just doesn’t seem to be real.

Try something.  Ask people you know who don’t believe in Jesus to describe Him.  If you ask enough of them a disturbing trend may reveal itself.  Too often Iconjesus is mistaken for Jesus.   The result is that Jesus Himself is imagined as fake, distant or imposing.  He is about as relevant to the human condition as the tooth fairy is.  Why?

The devil considers Iconjesus to be one of his finest products.  He adores visuals.  A picture of the Virgin Mary is an icon.  Take her clothes off and iconography becomes pornography.  Both images fuel fantasies and distort reality.

Did you know the advent of HDTV has thrown Hollywood into panic?  Why is that?  It’s because our televisions are now showing celebrities as they really are and not as they want to be seen.  Millions of dollars are being spent on devising new techniques for lighting sets and applying make-up.  The stars are keenly aware of the importance of an image.  Their careers are at stake.

How much is a picture worth to a politician?  Nominations have been laid waste and elections have been lost due, in part, to a simple visual.  Ask Gary Hart.  A picture of Donna Rice sitting on his lap shipwrecked his quest for the Democratic nomination.  Ask Michael Dukakis.  A picture of him looking quite goofy while riding on a tank was enough to elect George Bush I as our 41st President.  A job Michael wanted.

And then there is Iconjesus.  From gilded frames he hangs on walls.  His jewel encrusted body is slung around necks.  From mountains He towers over cities.  His feet are massaged for good luck.  From bumper stickers his glow-in-the-dark face smiles.  On Sunday mornings he showers his people with the colors of the rainbow.  He is the Icon of icons.  He is the light of the world…if he’s plugged in.

The devil adores the ministry of Iconjesus.  The devil’s art and craft, his bread and butter,  are in his ability to deceive…to distract.  To this end he finds Iconjesus helpful.  VERY.

The devil understands that humans disillusioned with stained glass and porcelain will seek other talismans.  When Iconjesus has failed to bring good luck…ward of hard times…or comfort by his presence – the devil knows they will search elsewhere.  When the glow about Iconjesus’ head has faded to black he will be waiting for them.

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“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.”