Monday, May 26, 2008

Sonnet for Memorial Day

You can listen to Garrison Keillor read it here

We're here to honor those who went to war
Who did not wish to die, but did die, grievously,
In eighteen sixty-one and in two-thousand four
Though they were peaceable as you or me.
Young and innocent, they knew nothing of horror---
Singers and athletes, and all in all well-bred.
Their sergeants, mercifully, made them into warriors,
And at the end, they were moving straight ahead.
As we look at these headstones, row on row on row,
Let us see them as they were, laughing and joking,
On that bright irreverent morning long ago.
And once more, let our hearts be broken.
God have mercy on them for their heroic gift.
May we live the good lives they would have lived.

Friday, May 16, 2008

There is no Crying in Baseball (or Softball)

I have recently been honored to assist in coaching my girls’ softball teams. I’m ok with the little ones. Six year olds don’t require much in the way of coaching – in fact almost anything you can tell them is useful to them. It ends up being a lot of encouragement, and just getting them to pay attention. I’ve been told that the attention part is even harder with boys. I believe that.

The older one actually requires some real coaching. I tried coaching third base for part of a game. It wasn’t pretty. I played some ball as a kid and let’s just say my career was relatively undistinguished. I enjoyed it, but baseball (like team sports in general) just never really captured my imagination the way it does with many boys. So there are a lot of things about the game that I never really paid much attention to. For instance, in a force play the fielder must tag the base, not the runner. Not knowing this leads to some poor coaching, unfortunate outs, and crying girls.

Since, as we all know, there is no crying in baseball, and since there are two other dads who are much better at coaching in the field than I am, I opted out of coaching on the field, and have adopted a new position. I am now the official scorekeeper.

If, like me, you have never kept score in baseball before, you should know that there is much more to it than counting runners crossing home plate. You must account for balls and strikes, walks, batters hit by the pitch, singles, doubles and triples and home runs. You must also track bases stolen, and RBI’s. And don’t forget to record the play that got the batter out, whether it was a grounder to 3rd thrown to first for the out, a pop fly to the outfield, a 2nd base to 1st base double play or any other possible combination. It all must be recorded.

Thankfully, there is a system for this. It is a complex, but very logical, ménage of lines and marks and numbers drawn on a mini diagram of a ball field. When done properly, you should be able to literally reconstruct a game by reviewing the score sheet. I am extra grateful that at the level of game at which I am working, much of the aforementioned complications are not common. For my girls, a walk is the most common way to get on base, runners can only steal one base at a time on an error by the catcher, and the likelihood of making an out with an actual play is relatively low. Therefore, I am getting good practice in the method of baseball notation in a relatively stress free situation.

I have to say though, that proper scorekeeping requires a very high level of focused attention over a number of hours. When the game is done, I’m pretty tired out, even though I’ve spent a few hours only making little pencil marks in a book. It’s not the physical effort – it’s the mental effort. I am surprised at what it takes.

I understand that many true believer baseball fans keep score at games as a matter of course. I can actually see the value in this. If you do it long enough patterns of the game will certainly begin to reveal themselves almost intuitively. I actually find it kind of fun. It relieves the head coach of a chore that he considers a bit of a headache, and allows him to focus on what he does best which is instructing, directing, teaching and encouraging the girls. It keeps me out of trouble, and helps to insure that I don’t make anybody cry. That’s a good thing.

Seasonal Accommodationists

From We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich.

It may be a little late in the season to comment on winter, but I found this an engaging passage in a wholly engaging book about life in the deep north woods of Maine in the early 40’s. I recommend it for fine stories, winsome style, and worthy reflections on both the things of nature, and the nature of things.

After I grew up, I still hated (winter), and I think that now I know the reason why. In civilization we try to combat winter. We try to modify it so that we can continue to live the same sort to life that we live in summer. We plow the sidewalks so we can wear low shoes. And the road so we can use cars. We heat every enclosed space and then, inadequately clad, dash quickly from one little pocket of hot air through a bitter no-man’s land of cold to another. We fool around with sun lamps, trying to convince our skins the air is really August, and we eat travel0worn spinach in an attempt to sell the same idea to our stomachs. Naturally , it doesn’t work very well. You can neither remodel nor ignore a thing as big as winter.

In the woods, we don’t try to. We just let winter be winter, and any adjustments that have to be made, we make in ourselves and our way of living. We have to. The skin between outdoors and indoors here is so much thinner than it is even in a small town, that it’s sometimes hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. We can’t dress, for example, for a day in the house. Such a thing doesn’t exist. We have to go outdoors continually – to get in wood, to go to the john, to run down to the other house and put wood on the kitchen fire, to get water, to hack a piece of steak off the frozen deer hanging in the woodshed, or for any one of a dozen other reasons. Outdoors is just another bigger, colder room. When we get up in the morning we dress with the idea that we’ll be using this other room all day. When we step into it we make the concession of putting on mittens if we’re really going to be there
long enough.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Worship: Call and Response

Worship is a conversation. It is a formalized, ritualized conversation, but it is nonetheless a conversation. There is that about worship that involves a give and take, a reciprocation. It is a progression of call and response between the God Almighty and His people.

I say “Marco!” You say……
I say “Thank You.” You say…..
I say “Peace be with you.” You say….

This sort of call out and reply is woven into the very fabric of every liturgy in numberous ways. Look at the bones of a liturgy. Any liturgy that is God-centered, and properly structured around the character and work of God as displayed in scripture will have 4 basic parts.

Gathering and Adoration
Confession and Absolution
Thanksgiving and Giving
Receiving the Word and/or the Sacraments.

There are many variants as to how each of these sections is accomplished, and the terminology used, but at it’s most basic these are the parts of a liturgy. And each of them is includes elements of God calling and His people responding. In fact, each element is a call, to which the next element is a response. They are layered.

It works like this:

God’s Work: We gather together
Our response: We offer our voices in song or our thoughts in meditation and prayer as the service begins.

God’s Work: We hear (or take part in) the proclamation of aspects of His character (power, majesty, holiness, lovingkindness, mercy, etc.) or his work (creation, freeing Israel from Egypt, sending his prophets, miracles, resurrection, etc.)
Our response: We offer our voices in song, or we pray to acknowledge the truth, and/or we stand to acknowledge His primacy.

God’s Work: God reminds us of His character and work through the scripture.
Our Response: To confess our own character and work, which are sinful.
God’s Work: He proclaims us forgiven.
Our response: We offer our voices in song, we acclaim His mercy, we give thanks in many ways including offering our gifts back to Him.

God’s Work: He speaks to us through his Word
Our Response: We pray, we meditate, we listen, we go out to live in obedience to his commands and in communion with His Spirit.

If we are worshipping with purpose and intent, we are listening to God speaking, and watching His acting, and we are responding with speech and actions of our own.

All of this flows from God’s revealed message to us, the Holy Bible. The Bible is our record of God’s call to us. In it he reveals to us his character and his deeds. The job of the Worship Leader is to point you to God’s call, to draw your attention to it and make it easy to hear by declaring God Work and His Character in many different ways. Because Jesus is God made manifest to us, the very image of the Father, we center our worship around Jesus, but through God’s Holy Word. If we, as leaders have done our job properly, the whole service will be infused with the scripture, and therefore, with the Holy Spirit, and God will work in us according to his will thereby.

Now here is one of the deepest layers of this whole call and response structure. Sunday is one day. It is the day set aside for God’s call to meet with Him. The rest of the week is our response to what God does to us and for us when we gather to meet with Him. Sunday worship is just Response Practice for the rest of the week
We are training ourselves to hear God’s call and respond throughout the week

And our gathering to worship is part of that weekly cycle of call and response. If you went to church today, it was because God called you. Your attendance was no accident, and it was no mere acting out a habitual behavior. Whether you realize it or not, you were specifically called to worship. Your response was to rise, dress, eat and go. Even such mundane things as rising from bed, dressing and eating are are acts of worship. They are made holy by God’s call and by our response.

This is also why our actions in worship include such mundane and material things things such as eating bread and drinking wine. Our faith reflects the Great Miracle of the incarnation at every level. YHWH is the God of all of life, there is nothing that does not belong to him, and everything that He created is good. All has been bent by the fall, but when He emptied Himself to take on the flesh of a man and live as one of us, He changed the rules, and raised His creation to a higher level of holiness. We eat bread and drink wine, in part because God is telling us that He meets us in such things. It is not all wooo wooo spirit this and ooo oooh spirit that. He made us to be the place where spirit and matter meet in an ineffable mystical union. He perfected that union by partaking in it, and He invites us, even commands us, to partake in it with Him.

So we come together to hear his call, and when we leave, what we do for the next 6 days is our response. Our rising up and our lying down, our eating and drinking, our labor and our play, it is all an offering to Him. It is all of it our worshipful response to His loving call. Be aware that every act on any day is an extension of our worship on Sunday.

Let us then approach him with joy, and solemnity, with boldness and humility, for He is both great and kind and his love knows no end.