Contests and Disguises


I wasn’t anywhere near this cute. I was nearly six feet tall when I wore my costume.

Acts 15:8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.

I don’t know how your family observed Halloween when you were younger. For my brother and me, the thought of going around and receiving candy from strangers made us giddy. Our mom parceled out candy as if it were diamonds, and she wasn’t happy doing it. On Halloween, though, all bets were off, so we raced around our neighborhood and gathered grocery bags full of sweet goodness. Then, of course, it was time to dump it all out of the bags and take inventory of what we got. I didn’t care for gum of any kind, so Ron traded me for chocolate, setting me on a life-long obsession with anything from the coca plant.

Our mom suggested that we save some of our loot for later, and that idea lasted about as long as the candy. We gorged ourselves so badly, we were lucky to have a single piece the next day. Teachers and parents warned us that we would make ourselves sick, but I never was. I wanted even more. It was very sad.

Of course, to trick or treat properly, we had to have our costumes. Mom made them for both of us, sewing them carefully after making sure what we would be willing to wear. I was a ghost when I was five or six, which was a simple costume for me to wear. All she had to do was cut eyeholes and I was off. The costumes because more complicated as we grew older. I was a black cat one Halloween, a pirate the next, and then a French Impressionist painter the last time I went trick or treating. I think I was about fourteen.

Fairfax had a costume contest at that time, with judges and prizes and everything. I was crazy to win a prize since I never won anything. So, we paraded by the judges in a shopping center parking lot. Mom suggested I twirl my tail when I was a cat, ostensibly to attract the judges’ attention and favor. Well, if I had twirled that thing any harder I would have lifted off the ground. Even with that, I didn’t win. I was disappointed, but resolved to try harder the next year.

My Impressionist painter costumes consisted of a blue smock much like French tradespeople wear, a beret (of course), a burnt-cork mustache that looked like I had rubbed some dirt below my nose, a cardboard palette with spots of crayon on it for paint, some French-looking pants and wooden shoes, or sabots. I wasn’t sure where they came from. I think my mom got them at a local thrift shop.

The evening of the contest, Mom told me to pretend that I was sketching the judges. This was guaranteed to win their favor, but it didn’t. First prize went to some little kid in a fairy outfit. How lame can you get? I thought, and gave up on wearing costumes, being in contests and Halloween in general. It was a bitter pill, and I was never quite the same afterwards.

The spiritual application of all this is that just as the judges could see right through my disguises and knew that I wasn’t a cat or an Impressionist painter, God is not fooled by our disguises, and we don’t have to impress God. God knows our hearts, and part of the Good News is that God accepts us for who we are and how we are. And God’s reward which is given to us is far, far better than all the candy in the universe. Praise God for God’s love and forgiveness. Amen.


Watching the Watches


Matthew 25:13: “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

I don’t know if you like watches as much as I do. I have about fifteen of them, for different occasions. I think I’ve always appreciated the craftsmanship and design of a nice watch. You have to remember that I grew up in an era when a gold watch was considered an appropriate retirement present, and maybe that’s why I like them so much. I don’t know what today’s Millennials would do with a watch their company gave them for retirement. Probably throw it away. For one thing, people that age don’t work at one company long enough to earn anything, and for another, they don’t use watches, preferring to get the time from their smart phones.

Because I am somewhat obsessed with knowing the time, I decided not to wear a watch for a while and see what happens. Ten days in, I can report that I don’t miss it at all. There are plenty of ways to find out the time ranging from clocks at home, in businesses and churches, in cars, on ovens and microwaves, as part of broadcasts, smart phones and sundials (I have one in my back yard), the position of the sun, and asking someone the time. Whenever anyone came up to me and I was wearing a watch and asked, “Do you have the time?” I wanted to look at my watch and say, “Yes,” and walk away. But I never did. People also used to rely on trains that passed through their town, along with fire whistles at noon to set their watches.

While there are a lot of ways to find out the time, not wearing a watch and checking it every ten minutes has made me less concerned about how long something is going to take. An event is going to take as long as it will take (a brilliant observation, I know), and staring at a watch 25 times in a half-hour meeting is not going to change how long the meeting takes. I think I’m more relaxed and in the moment. No time is a good time in this case. I also don’t have the dreaded “watch shadow” on my left wrist any more, you know, that patch of skin in the shape of a watch that’s lighter than the area around it.

I think the spiritual connection to my little experiment is fairly clear: not worrying about what time it is gives us a glimpse into eternity. God is not concerned with time since God created it. God is above and beyond time, in control of an incredibly beautiful universe. Interestingly enough, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Physicists tells us that light exists independently of time. (For more on this, you can talk to Mark Dodge or Jim Harris. I can’t do that math for it. Literally.) Light doesn’t care about time. And it doesn’t have a wrist to wear a watch. Or a smart phone either. In other words, light is eternal, just as Jesus is eternal.

No one except God knows if the universe is infinite, but if it is, it currently measures 92 billion light-years across. And the universe ages, the size of the universe will continue to expand to an infinite size at some infinite time in the future. We won’t see that during this earthly lifetime, but we will witness that when we are with God. All praise to God who is light, who is beyond time, who is eternal, who is our Creator, Redeemer and Friend. Amen.

Tarred and Feathered

Bucket of Tar            Feathers

Colossians 3: 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

I don’t know if you ever played with tar. I did, and it was great fun until I went home and faced the wrath of my mother for getting the stuff all over me. The street that ran beside our house consisted of gravel in a bed of tar, which had to be replaced every year. And sure enough, the workers left little pools of tar when they had finished. Inspired by Joel Chandler Harris’s story of Br’er Fox’s attempt to catch Br’er Rabbit with a figure made of tar and turpentine, I tried to make a tar baby out of the leftover tar. Now The story didn’t have instructions about how to make one, and there wasn’t that much of it, so my tar baby ended up being about two inches tall. And it kept falling over. I finally gave up and went home to face the wrath of mom. My diminutive figure might have caught an ant or grasshopper, but not a full-grown rabbit, especially a talking one.

I only recently learned that not all tar comes from naturally occurring tar pits, like those at La Brea in Los Angeles, which I thought were the coolest thing going. I wanted to go there and see them for myself, but, years later, we drove by the site, and I wasn’t too impressed. It looked like a big hole filled with—you guessed it—tar. I don’t know what I was expecting.

Only last week, a crossword clue read, “Tar is made from a distillate of this substance.” I figured the four-letter word could only be “coal,” filled it in and sat back to think for a moment. Who knew? I majored in English, not chemistry. Certainly I didn’t know this, but it only made sense that there weren’t enough tar pits to go around to fix all the gravel roads and lure small unsuspecting boys into ruining their clothes. Not that I needed that much luring.

Since then, I’ve given up on tar and found Play Dough is a lot easier to work with and a whole lot cleaner, but I got to thinking about the spiritual implications of tar and also of feathers, strangely enough. You’ve probably heard of people being tarred and feathered, and sometimes the results were deadly. The King and the Dauphin, two scoundrels ridden out of town on rails in Huckleberry Finn, were tarred and feathered. Huck, with his natural human sympathy, feels sorry for them although they were rascals. As he observes what has happened to them, he says, “Human beings CAN be awful cruel to one another.”

It seems to me that we are all covered with the tar of sin, and we can’t remove it no matter what we do. But God took it off with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And he gave us feathers in the form of wings so that we could fly and sing the praises of the Creator. Thanks be to God for the grace and mercy that washes us clean and sets us free to fly. Amen.