Before I tell you... let me tell you about this particular box.
I found it when I was in college. It wasn’t much to look at but it was cheap and sturdy. My dad volunteered to see if he could clean it up a bit. He loved tinkering in the garage on ‘projects’.
The box was perfect for storing something that I didn't want broken but I was reluctant to use it until my dad finished with it. It just didn't seem fitting. But, after he sanded and stained the wood, it was impossible to see what the original purpose of the heavy box was...
The box is the perfect size to hold my nativity set.
Each year I wrap the individual pieces up and tuck them away for safe keeping.
Each year, I think of my dad and all the little things he used to do for me...slipping me a twenty for gas money, checking the air pressure in my tires...cooking an extra chicken on the grill for me to take home.
Back to what the box used to be...
It used to be an ammunition box.
It stored bullets designed to maim and kill....now it holds the symbol of forgiveness.
Last year, my family made the decision to not exchange Christmas gifts any longer.
I was pretty nervous about it...aren't presents the very definition of Christmas?
So I've spend most of the year thinking about how to replace this custom.
I've been trying to come up with something fabulous.
A helicopter ride?
Fancy dinner downtown?
Something that will appeal to everyone.
A Christmas play?
It was stressing me out.
Which is exactly what we were trying to avoid when we made this decision.
So I gave up making any plans.
And that felt incredibly right.
Here's what won't happen this year.
My son won't spend half of a day doing his last minute shopping during the short time that he's visiting.
My daughter won't arrive looking anxious as she tries to please both sides of her new family and attend all planned events.
We’ll cook... drink... watch Christmas shows and we’ll talk.
And I can’t wait.
Recently, when my son was in town I went to the George Bush Presidential Library. Right there amongst the documents from diplomats and gifts from visiting dignitaries was a letter from Bono to President Bush.
For those of you that don’t know, Bono is the lead singer in a little band called U2, otherwise known—in my husband’s opinion—as the greatest band on earth.
I had to know more…so I started reading up on how this relationship began. I’m going to explain it with a timeline.
UNICEF puts out a report that states 5.4 million people were newly infected in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. Over 2.8 million people died the previous year.
Billy Graham begins to mobilize evangelicals in the US to address the HIV/AIDS problem.
Republicans were skeptical about foreign aid to Africa and felt like Africa should handle their own problems.
Colin Power, the Secretary of State, had other concerns. He believed that the AIDS epidemic would wipe out an entire child-bearing population, leaving behind instability and a climate ripe for terrorism. He didn’t consider this a health crisis…but a National Security crisis.
Bono’s popularity increases and he’s on the cover of Time magazine.
The US is getting criticized by other nations for contributing so little to the epidemic. President Bush wants to increase foreign aid by 50% over a three year period.
President Bush has a secret meeting with Dr Jean Pape, a physician who cared for AIDS patients in Haiti. The doctor told the President that “our arms are totally broken” and “there are things we could do if we had the drugs.”
He must have made an impact on the President because…
In his State of the Union address, President Bush says “…tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief…I ask Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years.”
Meanwhile, America is split on the war in Iraq and the President Bush has his hands full trying to revamp Social Security.
Later that year, Bono confronts President Bush about the gap of promised funds versus actual money sent to Africa. Only two million dollars were actually approved to aid the crisis.
Bono tells reporters that he is depressed about the situation.
U2 enters the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Live 8 is a string of benefit concerts that precede the G8 conference. More than a 1,000 musicians perform to “make poverty history”.
U2 plays London and the world hears more about the crisis.
Bono meets with President Bush. Beforehand, he tells the news media that he is not afraid of meeting world leaders because “they will be accountable for what happened on their watch. I’m representing the poorest and the most vulnerable people. On a spiritual level, I have that with me. I’m throwing a punch, and the fist belongs to the people who can’t be in the room, whose rage, whose anger, whose hurt I represent.”
Bono contacts Karl Rove, the senior advisor to the President to try to get Bush to agree to be on a cover in Vanity Fair.
Bono gets some people together for a special edition of a Vanity Fair edition. Annie Leibovitz is the photographer for a host of famous people including: George Clooney, Oprah, Obama, Brad Pitt and...George Bush. The common thread? People who are passionate about what’s happening in Africa.
Bono writes the “Pres” a note…
And the President of the United States writes back…
People living with HIV/AIDS : 33.4 million
2.1 million of those are children under the age of 15.
President Bush is regarded as “uncool” and “deeply unpopular” but Bono makes it clear in an interview that he believes the man can get results.
And he does.
The United States becomes the largest contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, providing $200 million in seed money. The US challenges other international donors to increase their donations.
The private sector gets involved with advocacy, philanthropic contributions and private partnerships.
Bono is named Person of the Year along with Bill and Melinda Gates.
The tide is turning in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A report states that deaths have decreased by 20%, new infections were down 21% and 6.6 million people were placed on antiretroviral therapies.
It also said that, “Few, if any, global health or developmental assistance programs in US history have been able to initiate such a wide range of activities in so many resource-constrained settings in such a short period of time.”
Bono writes another note…
This one was a bit hard to read so let me help…
Hard to take in what you have accomplished in at least 8.3 million lives.
What a gift to the world.
Bono hangs out with G.Man on his ranch. (see picture) President Bush writes on Instagram, “Bono is the real deal. He has a huge heart and a selfless soul, not to mention a decent voice.”
Bono is awarded the inaugural George W. Bush Medal for Distinguished Leadership for his work combatting the HIV/AIDS crisis and poverty in Africa.
Here’s a Rolling Stone video for you.
So that’s the story I could piece together about G. Man and Bono.
But one more thing.
In an interview, Bono was asked how he got the attention of so many world leaders. He answered it wasn’t anything to do with him being an Irish musician it was because “They are afraid of our audience.”
It wasn’t just the celebrities that made this happen.
It was all of us.
My intern year I spent Thanksgiving taking care of children on the oncology unit. No turkey from the grill (my dad’s specialty) No cranberry sauce or homemade pumpkin pie. It was the first time I was alone for a holiday. It’s impossible to feel sorry for yourself on a ward where parents would give up their turkey dinner…their cars and bank accounts…even body parts… for a chance to save their little ones.
The oncology unit has a surreal feeling about it. Children are still children, no matter what the circumstances. They play, sing, dance... oblivious to the fact that they are facing down a life-threatening condition.
Bald-headed, they dart down the hallways, clutching IV poles as they head toward play rooms stocked with pretend kitchen sets, bouncing balls and board games. Disney videos run endless loops, almost drowning out the constant beeping of the monitors that measure heart beats and blood pressures. They shriek with happiness when a stuffed animal is pulled from a gift bag, pout when vegetables show up on their lunch tray and whine it’s nap-time. These kids giggle, snort and pretend to fart.
But sometimes those noises...those completely normal childhood noises...invade rooms where they don’t belong. Rooms where a pale child lies too quietly, taking breaths that are too fragile. Rooms where a mother muffles her sobs and a doctor struggles to find one more treatment plan.
In those rooms, desperation and hope are so thick in the air that it's hard to take a breath.
This Thanksgiving I’m thinking about the children who will spend the holiday in the oncology unit. Nurses who will be too tired to even care what’s on their plate. Parents who will make the best of time spent in a strange and scary place. Doctors who will be forever touched (and changed) by the privilege of caring for these beautiful kids.
Every year 300,000 kids receive a diagnosis of cancer.
Once a death sentence, now 90% of kids with the most common type of cancer will survive.
Those cures exist because of research.
I'm thankful for Alan Ridenour. He's doing more than just thinking about children with cancer, he’s committed to supporting St. Baldrick’s Foundation--where they work to cure childhood cancers.
HOW ABOUT THIS?
You can help him here...
I had a restless night. This morning I stood impatiently by the tea maker only to realize that I’d forgotten to add the water. It was while I waited, yearning for the rumbling that meant the water was starting to boil that I realized the back of my thigh was tight. A quick stretch didn’t help.
It was cold outside and my favorite running socks were missing. I was down to one functioning flasher and it was still very dark. It would be hard for cars to see me, crossing streets would be dangerous.
All good reasons not to go for a morning run.
Yesterday, I saw a teenager with worsening depression. She’d been on medicine for a while and initially seemed better. And then she wasn’t.
I took a big breath and opened the door. Her eyes, wary and tear-rimmed, followed me as I walked into the room. She said nothing. Her mom spoke instead. I heard what she said but I also read her eyes. They said what I’d already recognized, “SAVE HER! She’s in a cage with a lion!”
The mom didn’t even realize that the lion had taken a swipe at her too. I could see the rivulet of blood streaming down her sleeve as she described to me what had been happening. Parents often get injured when they try to stand between their children and this beast.
She was so desperate to get her daughter out of the cage that she didn’t recognize the bars were enclosing her also. As long as her daughter was in the cage…she was just as trapped.
The lion was pacing from one side of the room to the another. It’s was a slow, lazy saunter with an occasional insolent turn of the head. I kept my eyes on it—I don’t trust it.
But I think the teenager does. I think there are times when she curls up in a fetal position and this animal encircles her body with his. I think she weeps into his soft fur and I bet she falls asleep with the sound of his rumbling purrs. I’m worried that she believes the beast is comforting her, that he understands her sadness. She’s wrong. He loves no one.
I hold a whip and I’m pretty good at displaying a lot of bravado but this is a lion. He’s unpredictable and ferocious. And he’s killed before. I don’t want to be there. This scares me and makes me feel inadequate. I’m constantly afraid I won’t react fast enough or move the right direction…that he will pounce and I will have failed her.
The only thing more frightening… is doing nothing. Letting them face the beast alone. So I do the best I can.
I don’t run for exercise—that’s just a bonus in my book. I run when I’m tired and hurting and cold so I can prove to myself that I can do it. To make myself believe that I’m strong, resilient and determined.
I ran this morning because I have to.
I never know when I’m going to be stepping into a lion’s cage.
Last Thursday was the 2018 Champions for Children Breakfast supporting the Children’s Advocacy of Denton County. Aly Railman was the featured speaker. You probably remember her, she was the first American to win the gold in the floor exercise and a silver in the All-Around competition. But another event also makes Aly a memorable individual.
She survived sexual abuse in the hands of Larry Nassar. Larry was accused of molesting over 250 girls from as far back as 1992. He was a serial child molester…and he was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor.
I found Aly to be a disagreeable person.
She felt like USA Gymnastics and the Olympic committee did a poor job of supporting the girls, had issues with how the investigation was conducted by the police, and was outraged that a doctor would molest the very girls he was supposed to be caring for. Aly explained how she’s gone through multiple therapists without finding one that could help her. She failed to answer a lot of questions that the interviewer asked and kept going back to the same themes.
Now, before you attack me for calling her disagreeable… Let me explain.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, said “Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention." It’s clear that Aly not only wants to change convention, she insists on it.
Aly is incredibly frustrated.
Shockingly, when she reported the sexual abuse, Aly was told by USA Gymnastics that they were handling it. Furthermore, she said she felt ‘threatened’ to be quiet and not discuss what had been happening. But they did not report it immediately, and Nassar still had the opportunity to molest other gymnasts. Steve Penny, who headed USA Gymnastics allegedly tampered with evidence regarding the case and eventually resigned. There were others involved who knew or suspected what was going on—and they’re still part of USA Gymnastics.
Aly was betrayed.
One would assume that law enforcement would have been immediately involved but that wasn’t the case. This article in the Washington Post questioned why, with so many allegations of sexual assault and possible cover-up, the issue was treated as a ‘internal’ inquiry. Sally Jenkins, the author of the article, asked, “Where are the prosecutors and attorneys general of those states, and why aren’t they investigating the failure to report and whether it led to other preventable crimes?” and “And where in the world is the FBI?”
Aly lost faith in the legal system.
Aly spoke about Nassar and how he got away with it—the man was intelligent. As Rachel Denhollander, one of his victim’s said, “He has the personality, he has the skill, he has the knowledge, and he’s using that to prey on people.” Nassar sent photographs of the girls to their parents, becoming a link in families forced into separation while their children trained. He brought food to girls too busy to eat and claimed to ‘have their back’ when they needed help. He was granted such trust that he actually performed bogus ‘pelvic massage therapy’ on girls with their parents in the same exam room.
Aly lost trust in doctors.
Aly explained how she’s been in therapy for a long time and has been through several counselors so far. I wasn’t surprised. I imagine they don’t understand what they’re trying to treat. Aly doesn’t have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) because this is not a past event for her…she’s still living it. She travels around the country talking about it, educating people, insisting that the curtain be pulled back and everyone take a hard look at what has been going on.
I would be defeated and demoralized if I were Aly.
But instead, Aly’s forcing us to listen. Gladwell said disagreeable people are “willing to take social risks—to do things that others might disapprove of.” But maybe you still don’t like that term disagreeable? What about another word to describe her…
For me, going to a Josh Groban concert is like Christmas… and my birthday… and an unexpected snow day all tied up with a bow.
We arrived late. Two different couples begrudgingly stood up to allow us to pass by as we made our way toward our seats. Idina Menzel was the warm-up for Josh and she was in full swing. I didn’t blame them for their disapproving looks, Idina was flashy and dynamic…but I came to hear Josh.
His music soothes me. When we’re traveling and I get overwhelmed with the crowds, the noise, the delays and inconveniences of travel, my husband will slip his head phones over my ears and play some Josh for me.
Josh introduced most of his songs with a personal story. At one point, he described how he’d been a shy, awkward teenager. He took a moment to thank all the teachers that had supported him during those difficult years. The woman on my right clapped really hard. Her bracelets jangled and her rings flashed.
She’s a teacher, I thought.
His introduction to one of his newer songs was even more serious. “A lot of attention is placed on cancer, heart disease, and AIDS,” he said. “This song is to draw attention to those that are depressed and feel like there is no hope. Depression tells you that no one cares and you can’t possibly get better. But that’s not true.”
Was it my imagination or was the teacher surreptitiously wiping her eye?
Then he sang his song titled River.
It was not my imagination. She’d lifted her glasses and rested them on the top of her head. She was wiping both eyes now.
Her friends (I’d seen them talking earlier) did not seem to notice. Maybe they weren't really her friends. Maybe they were just chatting as seat mates. Maybe they don’t know what to do either.
Her shoulders were trembling and I felt torn. I wanted to pat her arm. I wanted to give her a full body hug. She was hurting. It wasn’t getting any better and I couldn’t even pay attention to what Josh was singing anymore.
I didn’t know what to do.
So I prayed.
Not like I should…not like my mother would.
But with force.
Do you know this verse? “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37.4)
It’s tempting to focus on the give you the desires of the heart portion but the two phrases are linked and Delight yourself in the Lord comes first.
In other words, I think it means that if I work to make God my source of happiness…he will grant me that which I desire.
Well, I believed that God would want me to have compassion for this woman.
So I asked him to DO SOMETHING and then trusted that he would.
And then this happened…
The lights went down.
People in the audience lifted up their glowing cell phones.
If you don’t go to a lot of concerts, it looks exactly like a Christmas candlelight service.
Josh started singing another song.
Perhaps you’ve heard this one in church…
It’s called You Raise Me Up.
The teacher leaned forward in the chair and then staggered to her feet.
She tilted her head back
raised her hands
and started singing.
And that’s when I had to wipe my eyes.
I’ve returned from another writer’s conference. Another lesson in humility.
I’ve had lunch with an award winning poet…
Listened to a author that can take the English language and shape it into intimately personal memories I’ve not actually experienced but would swear I recognize…
It makes my heart beat faster when I sit in class and hear so many terms and ideas that I’ve never heard before. It’s like swimming in a murky lake and enjoying the coolness of the water on a hot day but having the constant chatter of doubt in the back of your head.
How deep is this water?
What just brushed against my leg?
Maybe I should head to shore?
Maybe I’m above my head.
But then this…
Our instructor asked us to write down secrets about ourselves.
Then she asked for volunteers to relate what they wrote down.
If you sat next to me, you might have heard the soundproof walls come crashing down around me.
Secret (definition) : something that is meant to be kept unknown.
I’m just assuming she didn’t understand the term.
Interestingly, several classmates were willing to confess their darkest secrets to complete strangers. Theft, sleeping with a married man, pornography….Wow.
In front of me, a girl in her early twenties. She’s wearing a jean jacket embellished with patches that are curling at the edges. (ironing these on doesn’t work as well as sewing but who has time?) Next to her was a girl with an asymmetric hairstyle—the longer, curly strands had faded from blue to metal-grey while the shorter, cropped side revealed her darker roots.
To my right side, an overweight man (late twenties) in a too large chino jacket with his hair pulled into a pony-tail. His disclosure sounded like a declaration of defiance.
“No one knows who I really am.”
The blue-haired girl immediately nodded in agreement. I heard her whisper to her friend, “I don’t even know who I am.”
On my left, a man leaned back in his chair as he listened to the comments. He had a full head of grey hair that was swept away from a faintly lined face. Long legs, clad in faded blue jeans, stretched out leisurely in front of him. A hint of a smile crossed over his lips.
Maybe he shared in their confusion… he wondered who he was, too.
Or maybe he knew the answer.
I’m betting it was the later. He looked a little smug.
I know the answer too.
Perhaps wisdom really does come with the onset of silver strands.
You are the sum of decisions you have made.
That’s it. That’s exactly who you are.
I’m not discounting what has happened to you as a child.
But even in extraordinary circumstances like child abuse, counseling can do a lot to restore children. (Thank you, Children’s Advocacy Center!)
But what truly defines you lies in an almost endless series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that you’ve made. It’s also why you can’t possibly know who you are when you’re still young.
Don’t get me wrong, the big decisions count too. Deciding to go to college, accepting the first job, moving out of state…those have an effect.
But what I’m talking about is more subtle.
Paying for the item the cashier forgot to ring up.
Going to work when you’re bone-tired from a late night
Volunteering to do a job when you’re already feeling overwhelmed
Giving that speech even if it makes your palms sweat and your heart race.
Smiling when you don’t want to
Forcing yourself to run a little further than yesterday.
Drinking tea instead of coffee
Being courteous to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Returning the the twenty dollar bill that slipped from a stranger’s pocket
Honoring your commitments, even if others don’t
Writing a check for a charity, putting money in the collection basket, collecting food for Thanksgiving.
Having a deep belief in the powers of chocolate
Staying up late to study
Admitting when you’ve made a mistake
Turning the other cheek when you’d rather return the attack
Making cupcakes for your child’s classroom
Making no excuses
Going on a mission trip
Holding up your friend when she grieves over the loss of a marriage, a job…a child
It’s a lifetime of decisions that you’ve made.
And one day you will realize that…
You’ve become an honest, reliable, tea-drinking, strong, kind, chocolate-addicted, hard-working, and brave person.
Something else altogether.
It’s your decision.
I went to a wedding last weekend and it was different than I expected.
The wedding venue was in campground and we stayed in cabins with wide porches and rustic charm. We kept a fire going in the fireplace the entire weekend.
The wedding was for a friend’s daughter. Once I arrived and made sure that my apparel was correct for the occasion... my job was done.
It was really quiet on the property.
There were no radios or television. No cell phone or internet service. Only towering pines and a meandering stream.
With the exception of when we drove to town for shopping or lunch, we were not connected to the outside world.
It was unnerving at first.
I couldn’t receive any messages about mom in her memory care unit.
No emails with work problems awaiting my response.
My husband’s texts updating me on his travels went unanswered.
We were living outside of our normal lives.
The rhythm of our days was different too.
We woke up without alarms and went to bed when we were tired.
With the exception of the wedding events, our activities were flexible.
We had coffee in our pajamas and made spontaneous short trips to explore local towns.
Mostly, we did a lot of talking.
Around a table with filled with snacks from Trader Joe’s,
sitting in Adirondack chairs with glasses of red wine cradled in our hands,
while sharing hair spray and primping for a special occasion.
Perhaps because of my inability to use my phone or computer, I felt deeply connected to those around me. More than that, I felt happy…
I know that being around friends and family can make you happy…but what was so special about this weekend?
Here is what I think...
I did a lot of listening. We all listen (especially at work) but this time…it wasn’t my job to fix anything. I could be curious and simply acknowledge what my friends were saying. It did no good to think about anything beyond our cabin because there was nothing I could do…so I was more focused on our discussions.
We talked of politics, economics and home design but there were also personal stories of abuse, infidelity, courage and strength.
Despite knowing these people for years, I saw them with new eyes.
Once I got home, I spent some time trying to figure out what was so unique about the weekend.
Meditation is all about focusing on your breathing and living in the moment. That’s what I was doing...living in the moment. And it felt good...really good.
Instead of the superficial connection we have by cell phones, email and texting...I felt really woven into the experience that was taking place around me. Appreciating each moment as it occurred. At the end, I felt…nourished.
At the reception dinner, on the final night, I listened as conversation and laughter mingled with the sounds of a nearby gurgling stream. Once the sun descended, the temperature dropped quickly and the air was crisp and sharp with only the faintest smells of our evening fare. I leaned back in my chair and looked up. You tend to forget how lovely the evening sky is when you’re away from other light sources. The stars glowed in a vast dark velvet sky.
And I was a part of it all.
Everyone knows Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers).
But after reading about his background and accomplishments, I wanted to know…how did he become the man he was?
And then I found a copy of one of his letters listing ten books that influenced him.
Here’s the list.
Fred Rogers was a ordained Presbyterian minister so I’d be really surprised if the Bible wasn’t on his list of influential books but why are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible listed separately?
I had no idea.
So I asked an expert. Another minister. Let me introduce Charlie Ridenour…
Charlie is the Senior Pastor at Cross Roads Bible Church. I’ve known him since he was a young boy and I have to say…of all the kids I knew at that time…I would have never picked him as someone who would lead a congregation. He was a clever smart-aleck, a mischievous trouble-maker and an instigator of boyish exploits.
God does work in mysterious ways.
I’m not convinced that he’s changed much...but I am sure that he’s exactly where he supposed to be.
Here are the questions I asked and his answers for me:
I suspect that you believe that the Bible was inspired…or, in other words, God influenced the writing of the Bible. But the Bible can be confusing and difficult to understand. Do you view the Bible as a book of inspiration for someone who is not a member of the clergy or who does not feel educated in religious topics?
I do believe the Bible is inspired by God, but whatever your philosophical or religious bent - whether you believe the Bible is inspired or just words on a page - it is inspirational. It’s full of stories of justice, redemption and mostly love.
If you believe the Bible is the inspired story of God redeeming the world, then it takes on deeper, richer level of inspiration. It has specific application for today and gives us hope for tomorrow because it reminds us that our God who loves us is in the process of fixing the mess. But even if you don’t believe in God, stories of love, justice, and redemption are still inspirational - it’s why we love Disney movies - christian nor not.
Why would someone list the Old and New Testament separately as books that inspired them?
The bible is a bunch of books that tell one complete story. It's broken down into two testaments - the Old and the New. The OT has 39 books and the NT has 27 books. Both are a compilation of history, letters, poems, and proverbs that reflect the character of God and tell the story of Jesus in some way or another as God goes about rescuing his creation from injustice.
Even though there is one unifying theme throughout the Bible, the different books and styles of writing inspire people in different ways at different times in their lives.
When I was younger, I was a huge fan of the mid-90’s and early 2000’s R&B music scene. My favorite was Boyz II Men. I would listen to it on repeat, sing along with it, and generally drive my brothers crazy as we drove to school together in my 1988 Volvo with a stereo system that costs almost as much as the car (teenage priorities are the best). I loved the soul in the music and was convinced one day they would ask me to join the group. Now that I’m older, I’m more of an indie-rock music guy - though I’ll always have a soft spot for R&B.
The point is they sing about the same stuff (mostly the power and pain of love), but in very different ways. When different parts of the Bible inspire people in different ways it reminds us of our God-given diversity, preferences, and marks how we’ve often changed over time. So we might have a time in our lives when the Psalms are really inspirational or another time when the gospels are moving us to see God and the world in beautiful ways. All of them are good and they all singing about the same thing as they point to the bigger story of God in scripture.
Do you consider the New Testament more important than the Old Testament?
Nope. I love history - and the Old Testament has a lot of history, so I’m drawn to books like Genesis, Exodus and the books with all the guys names (the prophets). The two testaments tell different parts of the same story, they are different chapters in God’s story of redemption. When we read either the old or the new, we need to understand what part of the story we are in now and how older parts might differ, but inform the chapter we are currently living in today.
For some reason as kids you don’t realize your parents existed before you came along. Let’s call it an innocent immaturity, or ignorance, or pride that all kids share and hopefully grow out of at some point. A few years ago, my Dad’s friend from his Navy days(way before I was around) was in town and we all had dinner. I sat there for hours as they told stories of a man I’d never met. It was amazing. I loved that night. It made me see my dad a little differently and gave more context to the man I knew growing up who he is today.
Now, God doesn’t change or grow like we do, but the more we see, study, and know of the Old Testament the more appreciation we have for God today. The new testament has more direct application for today - so it gets more teaching time in churches - but to just teach the NT without the context of the old doesn’t do it justice and robs us of the richness of knowing previous parts of the story in our present chapter.
Can you name some life-changing themes from the Old Testament?
Growing up, I always thought the major themes of the OT were rules and wrath. It told stories of how people didn’t listen to God and suffered the consequences when their disobedience made him mad. As i’ve grown older, I’ve realized that was a pretty immature view of the Old Testament that simply looks at the what and ignores the why. When I was a kid I thought my parents hated fun - so they set rules and held my actions accountable to consequences. Now that I’m older (and a dad) I realize they didn’t fun, they just hated the idea of me suffering. They wanted more for me than pop tarts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner provided. As I grew up I saw what they knew - the rules consequences existed because they cared.
If you look at the OT as a whole, the major theme that is woven through all the pages is the faithfulness of God. Motivated by a profound love for his creation, he doesn’t stop chasing his people even though they keep running away towards things that kill them.
I just had my first kiddo, and the Old Testament is how I want to love my daughter and is a constant reminder of how much God loves me and chases after me. Sure, there are stories of wrath and rules, but they are part of a bigger picture of a good God who wants good things for his people.
From the New Testament?
The overwhelming story of the New Testament is grace. It’s unmerited favor from God to us. I live and work in an upper, middle class community in Texas and live in a meritocracy. You have because you’ve earned. You work hard and reap the rewards hard word provides. We teach the system of meritocracy to our kiddos at an early age in schools (study hard, get good grades), we live it out in sports (practice more and play), and it apply it in jobs and successes after college (good schools mean good jobs). Now, I absolutely believe in hard work, in applying ourselves fully to every endeavor, and in the idea that we can and should earn success from discipline and good decision. The only problem is the New Testament teaches a very opposite idea about our relationship with God.
The meritocracy guiding our cultural is the antithesis of the idea of grace - or the unmerited favor of God. The New Testament tells the story of Jesus who earned the favor of God for us by dying. It teaches an identity that isn’t earned, but given. In a world driven by the ethic of things earned, receiving something I didn’t earn is more difficult than putting in the hard work. It’s incredibly counter cultural and the stark contrast highlights the beauty, freedom and necessity of grace. The Bible puts it like this in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church -
"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
We don’t earn God’s love. We can’t. Grace is radical. It’s freeing. It’s counter cultural and it’s an idea I too often forget in a world that tells me I add up to the things I’ve done or the success I’ve earned.
Fred Rogers appreciated deep, thoughtful books. Do you believe that the lessons you learn may change or evolve as you read and re-read the Bible?
Oh man, I hope so. At my church, we have a saying - “Growing people change”. As we grow up, our perspective shifts. It’s a simple sign of maturity. I’ve been a dad for about 40 days and I can tell you the way I see parenting and my view of my parents has dramatically changed - hopefully for the better. It’s a necessary part of growing up. People that refuse to change usually are immature people.
I think that’s true for individuals and for the larger church as a whole. God doesn’t change, and sometimes we misconstrue our changing perspectives on issues or what the Bible says and teaches as God changing or as truth being re-defined, so we reject change and don’t ask questions that might cause us to see things differently. As a Christian, we have some “non-negotiables” but our evolving view on some parts of scripture doesn’t threaten who Jesus is or what he did for you and me when he died and rose again. It’s simply a sign that we are growing up. The truth is I’ve been wrong before on what the Bible teaches and history is littered with examples of the church teaching hurtful or oppressive doctrine in the name of God.
I want to continue to grow, use all the resources I have at my disposal, ask the tough questions, and continue to learn how the Bible speaks to us and what it says about God - and that involves change. It’s just a part of growing up into maturity as a christian and as a Church. And that doesn’t threaten a God who doesn’t change - it simply highlights that I have room to grow as I learn more about God.
Ok. Got a little carried away there. I’ll step off my soap box now. Sorry.
It feels necessary to have an interpreter of the Bible—someone who can explain the backstory. Our cell phones and appliances don’t need instruction manuals but it feels like the Bible still does. Why is that?
Most of the bible wasn’t written to you, but it is written for you. iPhones are designed to and for you - with you in mind. Pick up an iPhone a couple thousand years from now and I’m guessing you won’t know how to work the thing right out of the box. Just put a rotary phone in front of any teenager and ask them to use it. After five minutes of trying to text their friends with it they’ll get a bit frustrated. You’d need some help - and sometimes we need help when we read the Bible.
The beauty of the Bible is there is something for everyone - for those on their first read and the people like me who study it for a living. It’s a reflection of God’s character. He is accessible to those who just met him but deep enough for us to never find the end to knowing him.
Let’s stick with the parenting theme here (because I don’t remember anything about life before the last 40 days). The truly astonishing part of having a kid is that the hospital just let’s you leave with this child. I’d been a dad for about 48 hours, and they wheel you to the front, dump you out of a wheel chair, and say, "good luck”. Every day my wife and I look at our kid, learn more, get better at bed times, feedings, baths - all the important stuff - and for those things we truly don’t know anything about, there are our parents, doctors, and friends we can call and figure out what’s going on with our kid.
Most of the Bible is pretty straight forward and can be read and applied by anyone. Sure it helps to have interpreters, commentaries and pastors to figure out what the Bible is saying in some difficult areas and add deeper meaning to the text, but just like being a first time parent, it’s approachable, applicable, and you get the big idea.
I’m sure it will be different with the second kid. We’ll appreciate things as they happen more because we know the general story - the way this things works - and it will allow us to see different parts of parenting. As we read and know more of the backstory of the Bible we see and appreciate different parts of God and our faith.
If you are searching for God, should the Bible be the first place you look or would you be better off starting somewhere else?
I’d absolutely start with the Bible - in concert with other resources. The Bible tells the story of God and his plan for redemption, so if you’re searching for God it’s a good place to start. That in mind, It’s also helpful to have other resources to help you think through whatever lens we bring to the text. Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” is a personal favorite of mine. I haven’t read it in years, but “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel has had some staying power for a reason. He approaches the claims of Christ from a unique perspective that is helpful if you’re a bit skeptical (it’s my default position about most things).
Considering that Charlie is a new dad, he spent a lot of time on these answers and I really appreciate
PS. This blog series all started with one of my favorite quotes: "...anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me."
But my hero worship for Fred Rogers only goes so far...did you know that followers of Rogerism believe that Mister Rogers is a holy figure? That he was the second coming of Christ?
Fred Rogers wouldn't have liked that.
Everyone knows Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers).
But after reading about his background and accomplishments, I wanted to know…how did he become the man he was?
And then I found a copy of one of his letters listing ten books that influenced him.
Here’s the list.
So I’ve been checking them out and now I’m on number #8.
You can read my first blog here
Ubiquitous: existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time.
When I was trying to figure out why Shakespeare was such an influence over Rogers, it became obvious that Shakespeare’s works, quotes, themes…are everywhere. How else can you explain that the book I picked up to read last week, One Thousand White Women, featured an army captain that was a “student of the Bard”? Sure, you could chalk it up to coincidence but I don’t think so.
Renee Ann Smith (globalstudentnetwork.com) said that “Shakespeare’s themes still resonate today. His plays delve into the issues of love, loss, treachery, honor, tenderness, anger, despair, jealousy, contempt, fear, courage, and wonder. They raise questions of morality, politics, war, wealth, and death. By exploring what’s dearest to our hearts and most important to our souls, Shakespeare helps us better appreciate life.”
Reading Shakespeare is admittedly hard but I believe that when you focus hard, when the neurons are madly firing in your brain, you are more liable to gain something from what you’ve read. I know it’s easy to get bogged down by the ‘thous’ and ‘doths’ but underneath all of that funny language are lessons that a father might teach. Don’t believe me?
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
And I bet his writing is more familiar than most people realize. You’ve probably heard these quotes:
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorry, that I shall say good night till it be morrow!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
This above all; to thine own self be true.
To be, or not to be, that is the question.
His themes and his stories have been reinvented and reimagined for the past 400 years. George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) said that he used “stuff from the Wars of the Roses” in an interview in Rolling Stone. The musical West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. The sisters in Harry Potter are based on the three witches in Macbeth.
So why did Fred Rogers say that he was inspired by the works of Shakespeare?
I would propose two answers.
First, he clearly appreciated reading stories with complexity and layers—as evidenced by other books on his list.
Secondly, it wouldn’t surprise me if, by reading Shakespeare, Rogers was able to come up with ideas for his own show. Now, I’m not saying the King Friday XIII was based on Hamlet! But if you look at the themes that Shakespeare wrote about: love, anger, jealously, fear…you will see a list of emotions that Rogers taught about. After all….
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…
Rogers was an actor with a purpose. He wanted to teach the children of the world some important lessons and what better idea then to to take ideas from works that have survived the test of time.
In his words…
We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.
Was he successful?
If we were to judge Rogers by his own standard of success, I would say YES.
There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.
Fred Rogers was a ordained Presbyterian minister so I’d be really surprised if the Bible wasn’t on his list of influential books but why are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible listed separately? (I’ve asked an expert for help with this one)
When the Three Rivers Shakespeare Theatre closed, The Pittsburg Classic Theatre was formed in order to give local artists a chance to participate in classic works. In October 2017, Romeo and Juliet were performed in Oakland--in the very studio that hosted the production of Mister Roger's Neighborhood from 1968-2001. I have a feeling Rogers would have approved.