Friday, March 18, 2011

March is National Cheer Safety Month

When I was in high school, a cheerleader in the class behind me fell during a stunt and broke both her elbows. It was a terrible injury, and she struggled for months just trying to live her life with two broken elbows. That was 1988...and things have gotten a lot more dangerous since then.

Cheerleading is now the most dangerous sport at the high school level, with about 60% of all serious and/or catastrophic injuries. At the college level, it accounts for 66% of all college women's athletics injuries. And cheerleading injuries are often serious and/or catastrophic, involving concussions, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, and internal injuries.

Every parent has to decide whether to allow their child to participate in an activity where they could get hurt. I let Sabra be a cheerleader for a couple of reasons. One is that the coach and cheer squad are very attentive to safety concerns, and no lifts or throws are allowed that aren't set up for maximum safety. The girls themselves are very attentive to this, and if a cheerleader even hints at cutting corners, the others override her loudly.

The other reason is that if we kept our kids from doing anything where they might get hurt, they'd never do anything. We're not supposed to be teaching them not to take risks. We're supposed to be teaching them how to manage risk in their lives. We can't keep them safe; we can only keep them as safe as possible. I know people who won't let their sons play football, because it's too dangerous. I can't judge that. I can only do the best I can.

Anyway, for obvious reasons--namely my daughter and a few friends of hers that I love like daughters--I am very concerned about cheer safety, and I do all I can to manage the risk of their involvement and keep them as safe as possible. The National Cheer Safety Foundation is set up for just that sort of thing, directed mostly at middle and high school parents and coaches. They have resources for safety and emergency plans, reporting injuries, and even health and heart screenings.

If you haven't given much thought to the health and safety of these women athletes, I don't blame you--I might not have, either, if my daughter weren't a cheerleader. But these girls and women, like all athletes, put a lot on the line in order to represent their schools, communities and squads, so during National Cheer Safety Month, I hope you'll say a prayer for their safety.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

El Chupacabra Spotted in Texas?

You might not know what El Chupacabra is--although if that's the case, your knowledge of the unexplained, or of retread Scooby-Doo episodes, is sadly lacking. El Chupacabra is a cryptid, a creature roughly analogous to Bigfoot who is said to live in Mexico, Puerto Rico, South America, and the southwestern US. Its name, chupacabra, means "goat sucker," because it feeds on the blood of goats and other livestock.

There have been hundreds of sightings of El Chupacabra since about 1990, and some have been proven to have purely natural explanations. For example, 3 bodies of bizarre, ugly, doglike creatures were found in Texas, and while the local population were quick to call them chupacabras, DNA testing proved that they were actually a breed of coyotes, though they must have been severely diseased to look as they did. Other sightings have never been explained.

The recent sightings in northern Texas involve an animal control officer finding a couple of scary looking creatures. From the AOLNews article:

"All I know is, it wasn't normal," Animal Control Officer Frank Hackett, who shot one of the animals in a local rancher's barn, told WOAI. "It was ugly, real ugly. I'm not going to lie on that one."

Scientists are sure that when DNA testing is complete, these creatures will prove to be simply deformed coyotes, like others before them have been. Some others, at least. People who have experienced these frightening creatures aren't so sure.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bruce Rahtjen, 1933-2010

You can read more about Fr. Bruce here, if you like. He was fishing in a lake outside Topeka Sunday, when he disappeared. Searchers looked for him for 2 days, and his body was found this morning (Tuesday).

Fr. Bruce was the pastor of St. Mary's when Matt and I started going there. He married us in 1993, as well, and helped us get to seminary. He was a renowned Biblical scholar and former professor, who had done some groundbreaking work on...was it Ephesians? Anyway, if you read any contemporary books on Paul's letters, they all quote Bruce Rahtjen's work.

I hope he finds the peace he was seeking. Please pray for him, as well as for Joanne and his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We probably won't go to the funeral, but I'm sure it will be a lovely one.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

John Adams and the Pursuit of Greatness

John Adams and the Pursuit of Greatness

I've been reading and watching a lot of stuff about John Adams, our second president. It was a John Adams Christmas at our house, and I received the old PBS documentary from 1976, The Adams Chronicles, as well as the new HBO miniseries starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney. I also got several books, including 1776 by David McCullough, and America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918, by Richard Brookhiser.

I first fell in love with John Adams in high school, when a friend introduced me to the Broadway musical, 1776 (the director's cut DVD was one of my Christmas presents this year). It starred William Daniels as Adams, in the role he originated on Broadway. From the first time I heard that soundtrack, I took one of Adams' principles as a guiding force for my life: Yet through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory.

It helped me to understand, young as I was, that pain is temporary and sacrifice in the service of something higher is worth it. Here's the full quotation, which John wrote to his beloved wife Abigail, on July 3, 1776, the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed:

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means; that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even though we may regret it, which I trust in God we shall not.

In my renewed, adult study of John Adams, I have come to love him even more. As a youth, I saw him as a hero and a romantic, the ultimate patriot and husband. As an adult, I see more of his faults. He was a devoted but absent husband and father, adoring his wife from afar, and often feeling forced to choose between his duty to his country (even before it was a country) and his love for his family. He felt he should use his gifts for Justice and Liberty, but what he wanted most was to let other people deal with it while he stayed home and enjoyed the comforts of home, hearth, and family. He knew he fell short of his ideals in the private arena due to his pursuit of his ideals in the public arena.

He was so very human. He was cranky, resentful, petulant, and insecure. But he had a strong sense of duty, an ideal ingrained in him from birth and before, that those who have been privileged with a good family, decent means of support, and a good education had a reponsibility to achieve greatness. According to Brookhiser, "The Adams family wished to be judged, and constantly judged themselves, by the standard of greatness...Great men have large and positive effects on their times and on the future, either through their actions or their thoughts." (p 9)

All of John's hard choices were based on this ideal. He was in a position to have a large and positive effect on his fellow man and on the future of the whole nation; for John it would have been the worst sin to turn down greatness for his own preference or comfort.

I think we've lost this ideal of greatness in our time. In Adams's era, people were encouraged to make their marks by improving the lives of others to the greatest extent their gifts and influence allowed. Ambition was encouraged and engrained in young people, because the more you develop your gifts, and the higher you rise personally, the more good you can do for others—even if you have to sacrifice to achieve that level of success.

I don't think our culture teaches this ideal any longer. If someone declared that they had ambitions to be "great," we would only hear, "greater than you." I see everywhere the opposite ideal, that people are entitled to be considered just as good as anyone else simply because they exist. But that isn't right...not everyone's as good as everyone else. Everyone is equal before the law, but if anyone wants to be as good or great as someone else, they have to work for it. It won't just come because they were born.

In other words, the world doesn't owe you anything. A great person, such as John Adams, understands that he, in fact, owes the world, and spends his life trying not only to repay that debt, to give back all he's gotten from society, but to give society even more than he received. For Adams, birth, social status, inherent gifts and talents, and education, made him a person with a huge debt to pay, and he would only achieve the greatness he desired when he had gone far past simply repaying it.

Those were the values our country was founded on. Every one of our heroic founders felt it was his duty to work for personal greatness, so that the whole society would be better when he left it than it was when he came. We've come so far since those days...and that's not a great thing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Which would be worse...

...never being able to laugh, or never being able to cry?

For all that I love to laugh, and laughing is very good for you, I think I would say never being able to cry would be worse.

There's a lot of laughter in our house. My kids are very funny and are always performing for us, and my sweetie and I still make each other laugh and we have a great time.

But the profound moments of our life have always been marked by tears more than laughter. Abby graduated from 8th grade last week, and is now officially a high schooler--I cried through the whole ceremony. I cry at every choir concert, gradeschool program, and centimeter of growth. It's not only sadness; it's also joy, pride, heartbreaking love, and an overwhelming sense of time passing too fast. Every one of those ordinary moments is one more moment slipping through my fingers.

I also think it's important to cry for those who have nobody else that cares what happens to them. For instance, a friend of Abby's ran away from home this weekend because his father beat him. The sheriff's office was sent out after him and took him home again. Back to his abusive father. I know these kids, and I cried for him. That isn't all that has been done, some parents have contacted DFS and the town police and made plans for if it happens again, but if we can't cry for the ones that get hurt again and again, what will happen to us? I think the worst thing would be to lose our collective ability to cry at someone else's pain.

I guess the question doesn't say that just because we don't cry or laugh means we don't have the associated feelings. I hope not, because I hate the thought of never laughing again, too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prayer for Pentecost

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come:
And from thy celestial home send thy light and brilliancy.

Come, thou father of the poor,
come who givest all our store,
come the soul's true radiancy.

Come, of comforters the best, of the soul the sweetest guest,
sweetly and refreshingly.

Come, in labour rest most sweet,
shade and coolness in the heat, comfort in adversity.

Thou who art the Light most blest,
come fulfill their inmost breast, who believe most faithfully.

For without thy Godhead's dower,
man hath nothing in his power, save to work iniquity.

What is filthy make thou pure,
what is wounded work its cure,
water what is parched and dry.

Gently bend the stubborn will,
warm to life the heart that's chill,
guide who goeth erringly.

Fill thy faithful who adore,
and confess thee evermore,
with thy sevenfold mystery.

Here thy grace and virtue send,
grant salvation in the end, and in heaven felicity. Amen.

Latin Hymn, 13th century

Sermon for Pentecost

This seems like a really short sermon for me, but here it is:

It is possible to argue that the birthday of the Church was not Pentecost, as we so often like to say, but rather, Easter.

I have argued that in the past, and I know some of you have heard it preached here before, that it was Easter that caused new life to come into the world, it was Easter that allowed a crucified Christ to become a risen Christ, it was Easter that took a frightened band of faithless followers and made them Apostles to the world. It was Easter that gave us a glimpse of just what salvation is, and just what the future holds for those who believe. And if those things don’t constitute the Church, the community of believers, the Body of Christ, I don’t know what does.

And maybe next year, I will go back to that argument, because I like it. Y’all know that Easter is a big deal for me. It’s THE big deal. Easter is the single most important event in the history of the universe, so it makes sense to me that it’s the thing that makes us who we are, and helps us be who we claim to be.

But today, I know that some of you will be relieved to hear, that I am going to argue the other side of the case, that it is in fact, Pentecost, which is the birthday of the Church.

I don’t know that you can say that the disciples gathered together in that upper room after Jesus’ ascension to heaven were the Church yet. They were the Church in waiting, what tradition has called the Church expectant. They knew they were going to have work to do, because Jesus had given them the commission to go out and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But they weren’t doing that work yet. They were waiting and praying and excited.

They needed the Holy Spirit, and they couldn’t do what they were called to do without him. They were waiting for their Comforter, their Advocate, their inspiration. They were waiting for the power from heaven which would enable them to tell the world about the resurrection of Jesus, to declare to the world that Jesus is Lord and that he loves them.

They couldn’t be a Church unless they could do those things, and they couldn’t yet do those things.

One theologian wrote in a reflection on Pentecost that, “Our theology would improve if we thought more of the Church being given to the Spirit than of the Spirit being given to the Church.”1

I like that. I have said before that we should think not of inviting Christ to share our life, but of accepting Christ’s invitation to share in his life, and this seems to be the same kind of reversal. If we think of the Church not as a body that has received the Holy Spirit, but as a body that has been given to the Holy Spirit to do with what he will, our thinking changes.

The same theologian goes on to say, “we are in danger of perpetuating the irreverence of picturing God’s Spirit as a grant of superhuman power or guidance, like a fairy sword or magic mirror to equip us for our adventures. The promised power from on high is not of that kind at all. The primary effect of the Pentecostal experience was to fuse the individuals of that company into a fellowship which in the same moment was caught up into the life of the risen Lord.”

I like his insistence that the Holy Spirit is not just one more tool in our tool box for living the Christian life. Rather, we are one more tool in the Holy Spirit’s tool box…his primary means of telling the world the things God wants it to know…that God loves them, that Christ is risen, that death doesn’t get to win any more, that sin has lost its power, and that Jesus is Lord.

Those things are what the Church is for, what the Church does. Those things are why the Church was born on this day and given into the care of the Holy Spirit who would raise it with gentle nurturing and discipline and help it grow fully into the image of the risen Christ.

We’re not there yet. It may be our birthday, but we’re not grown-ups in the life of the Holy Spirit, and we still need his guidance and discipline. The New Testament makes it very clear that in order to be part of the Church, a believer has to be baptized into the Holy Spirit’s life, and the fact that we are part of his life is what makes us a Church.

That’s the difference between the Church and other organization that do good things. It’s the difference between the Church and the Rotary Club, for instance. The Church has the Holy Spirit—or, rather, the Holy Spirit has us, and in the Holy Spirit, we are called and strengthened to do what the Holy Spirit does—proclaim to the world that Christ is risen, and live a life that declares that Jesus is Lord.