Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Today I listened to this song by the inimitable Michael Kelly Blanchard and the tears came. As Michael has it, "I miss you, Pops." I miss my Dad. And things are never the same. Others I can look up to, and do -- but none can take his place, or should. Others give guidance and wisdom and example, but none like my Dad. Others give inspiration, but his life and memory give insight and help when I am at a loss.
"Springtime flowers", as the song says, will indeed bloom and renew, but there are times the heart aches and Spring is too far away. But as Dad would tell me and the song says so well, "You're gonna make it through." Yes, I will, but I still miss you, Dad. Thank you for all you gave to me, easily overlooked at the time, but deeply treasured today. There are no words, except, "I love you."
I pondered this reasoning and decided this is an elementary way to argue ethics. Simply avoiding a practice which you find harmful is not enough. The goal of any society should be to seek whatever is truly good and best for its citizens. Freedom and live-and-let-live are certainly values, and yet the whole effort of civilization involves deciding where personal freedoms conflict with societal good. The debate is waged at that very point and it is not enough in something as fundamental as the definition of marriage to simply avoid what you find to be objectionable. The question of what is good for all must be pressed.
Sexual mores are enormous in life, and to relegate defining marriage to a matter of personal preference is a new low in unthinking. Our culture prohibits polygamy, marriage between or to minors, human-animal sex, and marriage between close relatives. These laws have to do with how we are going to understand what is moral in the relation between the sexes.
And so now we hear "if you don't like gay marriage don't gay marry." How does this apply to other behaviors? My neighbor doesn't like my messy backyard, let's say. "If you don't like messy yards, keep yours clean." Is a clean back yard a societal good? Probably. Should the town make me keep it clean? Most say that the town should have a minimum standard so as to protect the interests of the most people as well as keep a high standard in the community.
Does defining marriage as possible between same-sex people protect the interests of the common good? Is there anyway to decide this question without religion? Ah, surely this is the foundational question and the answer, I believe, is "No". Negating religion is a stance, suggesting that there is no ultimate personal being that gives origin, meaning, and order to life. Thus, ultimately, anything goes. If humans are the ultimate judge of the good, then humans can decide what they want -- everything is up for grabs.
It comes down to the fundamentally religous questions of what we believe about human nature, how we were created (or evolved -- ugh!), what we are intended to be, and whether our behaviour here has any absolute and real consequence, now or later. Ethics always sticks up its head, fallen human nature doesn't want to listen, and so one of various ways we deal with it is by saying, "If you do not agree with x, then avoid x." But some x's cannot be avoided and the issue of same-sex marriage is one of them. If we relegate it to an amoral question we drastically devalue marriage and family, further undermining the foundation upon which society is built.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Be Still my soul, the Lord is on thy side...
Look to thy God to order and provide...
Through every change He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul, thy best thy heavenly friend
...leads to a joyful end.
So goes a timeless song, timeless because it anchors the soul. None of us really know what tomorrow brings or what the answers are for the crises that continue to develop on a national level. I am struck to realize the divide that is among us. I look at folks who supported our current President and I feel as if they are from another planet ideologically -- I cannot comprehend. Do they see me the same way? What holds us together if such polarizing is common? Are we really as divided as that, so different on fundamental outlook that common ground disappears?
I think so but I am struggling to affirm what I know. I know I love my family. I know life is hard and requires work, and sacrifice, and death to self. I know there is no hope -- none! -- if there is no God, a real, infinite, personal, holy, loving God who sees and cares. And unless this God is "God with us" hope is a farce.
Hope is not a farce because God is with us and so tonight I renew my faith in Him. I repent of any sins -- what are they Lord? Show me! I trust for the enabling to lose all in order to better serve my family and others. I kneel and pray and listen -- to a God who is with us in every season. I believe that today, in this season, I will be a faithful man. Full-of-faith means I rely on God, I do not worry, I work hard because He makes it matter, I love my family in word and deed, and I really live each day as if God is watching, is interested, and will reward accordingly. I want to be faith-ful like that.
And so tonight I am saying, "Be still my soul; know there is a God in heaven. He cares, His way will ultimately prevail, and He is always working, working, with love and redeeming graciousness until that great and happy day when the Maker of all makes all things new." I am looking forward -- looking forward -- to that day!
Saturday, October 27, 2012
How easy it is for me to believe in You!
When my mind is distraught
and my reason fails,
when the cleverest people do not see further
than this evening and do not know
what must be done tomorrow -
You grant me the clear confidence,
that You exist, and that You will take care
that not all the ways of goodness are stopped.
At the height of earthly fame I gaze
with wonder at that path
through hopelessness -
to this point, from which even I have been able to convey
to men some reflection of the light which comes from You.
And you will enable me to go on doing
as much as needs to be done.
And in so far as I do not manage it -
that means that You have allotted the task to others.
There was a man who lived 2000 years ago in a tiny country in Mesopotamia. Does he really have the answer? I had to ask because I have always believed he does and when one is troubled about the future one must examine foundations, again. Will this house stand? Is it built for the long run? If the worst imaginable happens, will I be OK? What did Jesus tell us?
In this world there will be troubles -- understatement that! But I have overcome the world. Let not your heart be troubled...I am going to prepare a place for you that you can come and be with me, Jesus said. These afflictions, whatever they may be -- even the worst that life may or will bring; all of it is but for a brief moment in the big picture.
I do wonder about that when I imagine the suffering of war prisoners or the life-long suffering of so many with physical or mental ailments that never leave. What of economic hardship that keeps one mired in grueling poverty? How can I sit in my office in comfort and write about the question of faith in the midst of suffering?
To be honest, my answer is sheer hope based in faith in Jesus. I cannot base my faith in myself, my accomplishments, the government, even my best friends or family. My hope and faith is in God for He is the only one who both cares and is able to carry me through anything. In a few short years this life is done. I meet the elderly all of the time, those in their 70's, 80's, 90's. They will tell you life has been a flicker. In thirty years I will be nearing 80, and thirty years is a very short time!
So this life does not last -- we know that. But reflecting on it with perspective is nearly impossible. As Pascal said, "We make an eternity of nothing [give ultimate values to the present cares and worries] and we make a nothing of eternity." We easily neglect this basic fact that life is over very soon and eternity is the place we should give our ultimate concern.
So today matters and the election matters and the well-being of my wife and children matter. It all matters because.... Well, tell me why? Because we are made in the image of good God who is always at work redeeming the world. And we are in the thick of that whether we like it or not. Learning to embrace it is the path of surrender. It really is the letting go of self which Jesus preached, the losing ourselves that we will find ourselves. We let go because we cannot redeem ourselves. Only God can do that.
I confess that this is a bit much for my head these days. I gladly surrender the 'answers' I have had. Jesus is the answer, and if He is not I have no other. So I am resting in Him today, I really am. I cannot explain it all to the skeptic...I can't explain it all to myself. I must let go and rest in Jesus, and that is what I am doing while planning a happy day!
Sunday, July 22, 2012
There are few gifts in life as fine as a brother. I am blessed with three brothers, one whose birthday is today.
I first knew about him on July 23, 1970. I could take you to the place in Miltonvale, Kansas, just down the hill from the old Miltonvale Wesleyan College, near the street by the home where we lived, the old Gathers Hall which had served as a college dorm before our family of 5 moved there. The house was a mansion to me as a 5-year-old boy – long stair case, high ceilings, two floors, old basement, large porch, claw-foot tub, two bathrooms, a parlor.
But on that day I was outside, mid-morning, and my Dad pulled up in our 60's-something Galaxy 500 and called out to me through the window. I still see his smile as he said “Happy Birthday” and tossed me a ball glove. That glove went straight to my heart and is still there. Then he said, “You have another birthday gift – a baby brother! Mom is still at the hospital but she will bring him home in a day or two.”
Being only 5 I probably didn't know how grand this was, though I knew it was special to have a brother born on my birthday. And, happily, I never remember regretting it, like I had to 'share' the day or something. To me it was always a neat thing to get to share it with him. And more than ever, now at 47, I know how grand it is to have a brother born on my birthday, a brother like Rick. He, too, went straight to my heart, and is still there.
If you know Rick you know the kinds of things I could say. I could talk about his strength and steadiness, his smarts, his tenderness and commitment. I would remember his concern for truth and humility, the keen hurt he feels at losing our Dad and the way that loss feeds his love for others. I might boast about his exploits, among them various academic and professional achievements, basketball prowess, climbing three 20,000 ft.+ peaks to celebrate turning 40. I would be happy with you for his recovery from a heart attack last year and the love and determination and restored health that keeps him with us and makes us glad of it. And I would marvel with you about his beautiful wife and family and all he has done to be a blessing in his church and community.
You might hear me echo the words of others who call him a 'rock', a steady influence of integrity in work, family, life.
If you know him you know all that and more. But I have one on you. I got to grow up with the guy and have a nearby seat on his life ever since. And I am glad of it. At various times he has shared words of love and appreciation with me, words that I treasure and draw strength from across the years. But I do not think he can know how much I appreciate him and admire him for the man he has become.
There is a loyalty in this guy, my oldest kid brother – a loyalty to God, truth and loved ones, properly in that order. I remember once we were working together on a roof job and I was the foreman. One of the guys was having a not-so-good day and wound up refusing to do what I said. Perhaps my day was not-so-good either because my diplomacy skills led me immediately to the radio to call the company owner. The guy backed down, tension was thick, and so when we broke for lunch we talked about it. Rick didn't say much – didn't say anything, really, until the conversation died without resolve. Then he kind of cleared his throat and said, “I've known Randy longer than any of you so I might should say a thing or two. He might have over-reacted but I know he is only wanting to get this done right. I think we just need to put this behind us and finish the job.” Rick was the youngest guy there but they all listened and respected his words. I certainly did, too.
There are many other great memories of course. Working together was always central, especially with Dad. In young adulthood we did some larger projects together and I always admired Rick's hard work and his good sense with money. Looking back I can see a real kid-brother love and respect that fed strength into our relationship and helped me be better. I remember when we still roomed together, me 16 and he 11. And then I got my own room and I was sad for the change, the move that can never be reversed. It was a poignant moment, still fixed in my memory.
One winter in that very room we played a marathon game of UNO. We were happily snowed out from school and there was little else to do. So for several days we played, and played...and played. When we finally quit he had won by a score of 11,000 to 9,500! Not exaggerating. Such is the fun of so many memories. There were also monopoly games but I'd rather leave them in the recollection dustbin!
And so what does one say about a big little brother like Rick? For 42 years he has become a treasured friend, a confidant, an inspiration, an example. He is indeed a rock, a point of reference, someone who shows the way by example and word. So when I am sometimes discouraged, forgetting my blessings, it helps to remember my birthday-brother Rick, 5 years younger but right alongside. I've so often wished I could be more like him, and ain't nothing wrong with that. That's the kind of guy he is.
So today on the birthday we share I send happy words of love and tribute, full of gratitude for the life-gift I remember every year on our birthday, my kid-big brother, Richard Lee Huff.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Leaving aside the apparent possibility that it could also be bad for their non-youth, I am interested in the use of the "bad" word. Amazing that we seldom see this discussed, that human nature is so fractured we seldom make more than a pretense of seeking the truly good if it conflicts with the flesh. And flesh is indeed what this is about. Is flesh bad? Of course not -- that is the point, no?!
The historic Christian approach says the flesh is good, we are made by God, mind/soul and, yes, body. So our flesh is a good to be given back to the one who made it, from which follows a glad living in care of said flesh.
So if flesh is not bad, why the brouhaha over Lady Gaga? Because she promotes the flesh in a way that is bad for people and thus for society. I will suggest one central way in which she does so.
Strong families and strong people require control of sexual desire. This is plain. Faithful husbands/wives save themselves for each other, a good that is universally recognized as a basis for a strong family. Strong families make good children, thus good people, workers, citizens.
Need we say more. Surely it is obvious. Bandying sexuality about, wildly encouraging indulgence of every kind -- this is what many concerts and certainly Gaga's is about. That said, I am increasingly asking myself about Jesus: What exactly would he say? Would he encourage anger and angst? I doubt it. I think his teaching would apply with a few things, at least:
1. Value children. Does one believe this is good for children? How angry might we be when considering the implications of our answer. "It's not children going!" is the heated response. No, but it is parents and soon-to-be parents going and then, the vast majority of us have so much growing up to do that we are still children at heart, certainly children of God.
2. Protect families (thus his teaching on adultery), addressed above.
3. Seek first the Kingdom of God. I am so inculturated, gladly, in Christian understandings that it seems plain that a Gaga concert is not seeking first God's kingdom. But how so? The only answer ready to mind is because these concerts make pleasing the flesh the highest aim. Seeking God first requires we let nothing else be supreme. Rock concerts make pleasing the flesh the highest good.
I am deeply humbled to consider what this means for my own life, for the challenge of the flesh is ever with us. Happily, their are practices in my life that mean I would never attend a Gaga concert. But I battle the flesh and remembering what Jesus says makes me bow again and trust His way as best.
Can I value my children and thus live in ways that will bless them? To do that requires me to deny the flesh.
Can I protect my family from the onslaught of Satan in this world? Yes, if I deny the flesh.
Can I seek God Kingdom's first? Yes, and that path requires denying the flesh.
For me these days this means simple thoughtfulness about how many cups of coffee I really need. And the eye-gate is always submitted by God's enabling, for this world is no friend of grace.
So the flesh isn't bad -- who thought that? The flesh is good, fleshly pleasures abound to be enjoyed. But the good life keeps it in bounds, and Jesus is the one who helps us -- shows us -- how to do that.