Facts and Theories

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John 14:6: Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

I don’t know how you feel about facts. Maybe you are a Sergeant Joe Friday type and want “just the facts. M’am.” Perhaps you’re more a theoretical person. I believe this world needs both kinds of people, and you can put me down as theoretical or moonstruck or absent-minded or whatever you wish.

The most dramatic example of this collision of two worlds came when I was student teaching with Helen Leach at Oakton High School in 1970. Helen is an editor now for The Manassas Observer. You may hum “It’s A Small World After All” at this point if you wish. Anyhow, as a graduate student, I was full of theories (and other things). Whenever Helen and I were talking about some issue, I’d say something like, “Well, there’s a theory that applies here.”

And Helen would say, “I’m sure there is.”

“What’s the matter, Helen? Don’t you believe in theories?”

“No, I don’t. I believe in facts.”

We never did resolve our differences, but we both survived student teaching and went on to long careers in which we didn’t traumatize too many students, in spite of many of them deserving it richly.

 Anyhow, this pertains to the present situation in that I still like theories and testing them out no matter how crackpot and benighted they may seem or be. Take the idea (that I read on the internet so I knew that it was true) that turning off your car engine at stoplights and at other times when you’re idling saves gas. I tried this method on both my cars for a tankful of gas and found my mileage was worse, probably because of the gas used by restarting the engine. So facts overcame theory in that case. It should have worked, but it didn’t.

 And so, you’d think that would discourage me from trying to prove any more theories correct. You’d be wrong if you thought so, because I started thinking that if I drove at or below the speed limit and not like a banshee late for a goat sacrifice and coasted whenever possible or prudent, I’d save gas. And money. And the environment. It could be a trifecta of theorizing.

 And I’m here to tell you that it worked! My Impala, which normal gets 17.6 mpg, got 20.1 using this method. I haven’t quite rule out a tank on the Mazda, but I’ll tell you about it when I do.

 I was telling our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, Joanne Hazlett this, and she commented that that’s the way they learn to drive in England, where gas (or petrol) costs four times what it does here. So, I now call this method of driving the Hazlett Method. Be sure to tell Joanna when you see her.

 And so, in this case, facts proved the theory. I’m glad they did, because the bigger kids are starting to make fun of me and beat me up at recess. Being beaten up is a fact I can’t handle.

 Theologically, I think that this pertains because Jesus was not just a theory or an idea or a sprit or a concept. His presence here on Earth was a fact, as was his death on the cross, his resurrection, his teachings, the love of God, the provision for each of us at God’s hand and the community of brother and sisterhood under the benevolent care of the Creator. Let us praise the God who created all tings for facts—and for theories.

 

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A Warm and a Joyful Hallelujah

HalejulahPsalms 150:6: Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

I don’t know if you follow what passes for pop music these days. I don’t bother, largely because I consider most of what comes out to be a waste of time, demonstrating neither literary merit nor musical talent. Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. I think I’ve officially gone into curmudgeonhood.

I remember in the days of AM radio dominating the airwaves the various countdown shows, counting down (oddly enough) the records that had sold the most or made the most money or caused the stock market to soar or whatever. There was a version for black-and-white television transplanted from the radio called Your Hit Parade. This featured covers of popular songs with really bad singing, uncoordinated dancing and cheesy sets. Yeah, and we loved it. I would get so excited when it was time to reveal number one, I would hop around our living room like a frog. There are a lot of ways to show anticipation, and that’s one of them, although, I grant you, not too popular or widespread. My excitement was decidedly misplaced, because the number one song was generally the same as the week before, or the number two song from the week before. Still, this occurrence didn’t lessen my thrill at finding out number one.

The people who ran Your Hit Parade had what we might call peculiar sensibilities. I remember one year around Christmas time when “Tom Dooley,” that carol of comfort and joy, was number one. The host (or one of the hosts—they all looked pretty much alike) apologized for singing a murder ballad at such a joyful season, as if listening to it might ruin Christmas for millions of loyal fans. Apparently doing the song didn’t cause a groundswell of demands for the producers’ resignations, because the cast was back in place the next week, looking undistinguishable from each other, dancing like a herd of wounded buffalo and also singing like one. Not a pretty sight.

Anyhow, what I was saying a while ago about popular music is not true of all such music. There are some good songs, about every thousand releases or so. One such song is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” released in 1984 and used in a number of movies and televisions shows. If you haven’t heard the song, it basically uses Biblical allusions to King David, Sampson, the Holy Spirit and God to make a point about the difficulty of praise for us in times of difficulty. Several lines go:

(Hallelujah) is not a cry you can hear at night.
It’s not somebody who has seen the light.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

Cohen makes a valid point, I think, that sometimes our hallelujahs are cold and broken, but of course they are not at other points.

Our younger Alyssa had “Hallelujah” sung at her wedding last October, at which point in the ceremony I forget. I thought it an appropriate, meaningful selection.

The point of all this is that sometimes our hallelujahs are cold and broken; at other times they are warm and healed. I pray that this may be so for each of us, as we praise God for all God has done and work to make every child of God’s song such an expression of praise.

One Way

One Way Sign
John 14:6-7: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

I don’t know if you have ever driven yourself to distraction. I used “to distraction” rather than “crazy” in an attempt to be sensitive to mental health issues, but every time I hear either phrase, I think of my mother who used to say to my brother and me, with great regularity, “Boys, you’re going to put me in Staunton!” By this, she meant the men in the white coats were going to take her away to the Western State Hospital, a state run mental facility located in the Shenandoah Valley. I assumed all the mothers whose kids drove them over the edge were taken to Staunton until I met some people from Tidewater who talked about being taken to Williamsburg, the site of the Eastern State Hospital. I don’t recall how state mental hospitals came up in conversation, but apparently it did.

I was thinking about being taken to Staunton about a month ago when I realized I have been driving myself to distraction by trying to multi-task. I know, multi-tasking is the hip and fun thing, and all the cool kids are doing it, but just trying to do so had just gotten to me. (I’m even not sure it is possible to multi-task: some studies indicate that when people are multi-tasking, they’re not really doing several things at once, but rather shifting their attention rapidly from one task to another. And, as you might imagine, it’s rather easy to drive yourself to distraction doing this as well, multi-taking or no.)

I realized I needed to stop trying to do more than one thing at a time as the result of what psychologists call a “precipitating event.” Paul being knocked off his donkey is a classic example of such an event. I had come home one afternoon and, as was my custom, as I climbed out of the car, I took up in my hands the bag containing leftovers from lunch, about three Food Lion bags of groceries, a stray tool that needed to come in from the car and mail for the day. Before I loaded myself down, I had put the strap from my laptop case over my shoulder. And because I had my hands full, I held the key to the door in my teeth (don’t try this at home and don’t tell my dentist) so I would be able to open the door without having to take the key out of my pocket. I did all this because I am a guy and I am too lazy to make another trip. Hence, multi-tasking.

Being right handed, I needed to use my right hand to open the door, so I shifted the grocery bags so that their handles hung from my left wrist, which also had the effect of turning the thin plastic straps into a rather effective and extremely sharp blade. You know what I’m talking about.

So, as I was trying to get the key from between my teeth and hold on to my heavy burden, disaster struck. It was a disaster of my own making, but it was a calamity nonetheless. As I took the key from its resting place, the plastic bag garrote cut into my poor defenseless extremity and then parted in the middle. My food supplies for the next couple of days landed with a crash on the hard porch and, suddenly relieved of about thirty pounds on the left side of my unfortunate body, I lurched to the right under the malevolent influence of gravity and my fourteen-inch laptop. The net result was that I fell over in a heap, twisting my torso to avoid falling on the computer and pulling some very large abdominal muscles in what turned out to be an extremely painful episode.

As I said, it was my fault for trying to multi-task, save some time avoid walking an additional 100 feet and get on to something else. I had no need to hurry: it was a pleasant 70 degrees; there was no precipitation, and I wasn’t being pursued by wolves, jackals, ocelots, zombies or middle schoolers.

It was at this point that I began thinking seriously about doing one thing at a time and doing it well And so I have tried to do so this past month, and I think it has created a remarkable change not only in my behavior and also my attitude. I relax and take my time. As a result, I’m not frustrated or harried as much, and I haven’t damaged $17.00 worth of groceries so far this month. I feel more relaxed, and even find myself driving slightly below the speed limit, that is, if there isn’t a BMW hot on my bumper.

The spiritual implications of this are, I think, clear. We need to relax, slow down where possible, do what we do well and take the opportunity to use and enjoy the gift of each millisecond that God has given us. We won’t do everything God has for us to do in this life, or even half of it the tasks God has for us. God is bigger than that, and because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have all the time of eternity. Amen.

O Beautiful

O Beautiful 2 Chronicles 7:14: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

America

 Founded by eighteenth English colonial aristocrats who used seventeenth century British philosophers and classical figures and forms of government as their guide

 Whose signature foods (frankfurters and hamburgers) are named after German cities, even if they didn’t necessarily originate with German immigrants

 Whose educators educate (or attempt to educate) every child, regardless of origin, status, position, ability or income

 Whose national anthem originated as a poem written under fire by a detainee during the War of 1812 and then set to the tune of a popular British club song

 Where most people welcome diversity of race, culture and religion

 One of whose most beautiful patriotic songs was written by a poet after seeing the vista from atop Pike’s Peak.  She rode up on a mule.

 Whose citizens sacrifice their sons’ and daughters’ blood and lives for the cause of freedom and justice around the world

 Whose troops, once the war is over, do not permanently occupy a land but return home to resume their lives

 Whose people reach out and help rebuild countries they have defeated in war

 Whose political process most closely resembles a free-for-all but which results in progress for the common good

 Whose society has social, cultural and political problems but works to solve them

 Whose people give generously to those in need, no matter who or where they are

 Whose citizens do not live in a utopia, an Eden or even a city on a hill, but who are making progress toward that ideal

 Whose national music was created by those brought to these shores out of their suffering, pain and hope

 Whose music is diverse, energetic and ever fresh

 Whose music was taken in by a bunch of young British kids in the ‘60’s and brought back to these shores in the British Invasion, changing the face of popular music forever

 Whose military serves the people and the President and not the other way around

 Whose system of justice works to guarantee rights even to the dispossessed, the powerless and the unpopular

 Whose people enjoy unparalleled freedom of expression, association and mobility simply by virtue of living here

 Where people come from all over the world for opportunities that do not exist in other places

 Where the airplane, the light bulb, Velcro and Post-It notes were all invented

 Whose scientists and engineers sent men to the moon, not to claim it as territory, but in peace for all humankind

 A place where rags to riches stories do come true

 Whose writers have produced a literature that is profound and authentic, drawing on unique American experiences

 A place of deep faith, hard workers, incredible resources, incomparable natural beauty, and immeasurable blessings

 What a country! God shed his grace on thee!

Brown Thumbs and New Hope

Day Lilies (Not Mine)

Day Lilies (Not Mine)

Devotional #642

Matthew 6: 25-27: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

I don’t know if you recall my mentioning in earlier devotionals that I have a brown thumb. In case you don’t remember this, I do. And I know it, and admit it. So when I got some day lilies last summer to go around the mail box, I wasn’t surprised when the leaves turned yellow and died. Maybe I watered them too little; maybe I watered them too much; maybe I planted them too deeply; maybe I didn’t plant them deep enough. I don’t know. I’ve killed plants off so frequently I just shrugged at this latest example of floracide and went on. The poor plants endured as some dry brown husks.

Then, this spring, I noticed that they were coming back! They had greened up, and one of the two plants started growing. Now it has nice yellow flowers. The other is still stunted but still, it’s green!

I reported my experience to one of our gardeners extraordinaires at church, who also happens to be in the choir, Mary Alice Corder. She knows a whale of a lot about plants and flowers, and I figured she would be impressed with my success at bringing back the flowers. But she said, “Well, you can’t kill day lilies. They’ll live in a ditch by the side of the road and they don’t care if it’s too wet or too dry.” I was glad to hear they were hard to kill, but then was not as impressed with my success in bringing them back. I really didn’t do anything, after all. Apparently, if I want real success with day lilies, what I need to do is dig a ditch by the side of the road, put them there, and ignore them. This would work well for me.

I think my experience with these poor plants has a spiritual dimension. Sometimes we try to get something going, something worthwhile and important. We do our best to try to grow something, somehow, and our efforts come to nothing or just flat out fail. We become discouraged and give up on whatever it was that we wanted to succeed so badly.

But, like my flowers, there is a power at work far greater than our poor pitiful efforts. We now that we plant the seeds or the flowers but it is God who makes them grow. We have to do our part, for sure, but by and large, we do not do the real work. The real work of God’s Kingdom is ongoing, and we have a part in it, but we do not need to concert ourselves with the success or failure of each little project or each little part of the grand design. That has been taken care of by the Master Designer, in whose care we all live and grow. Praise God for God’s providence and mighty power bestowed on his children!