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“On Second Thought” 

Because our first thoughts are not always our best.

Anybody out there like Kevin Costner? I love his characters. They live ruggedly and honestly with great questions, and they don’t let go of what they love. 

Costner’s movie Black or White (2014) wasn’t a big box office hit. But I think it’s going to become an American favorite.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that it is a yet-to-be discovered classic. And with all the racial tensions in the United States right now, it should be watched by everyone who wants to learn how to make things better. 

I loved this movie, and so did Kevin. He actually paid for it himself ($6 million). Mike Binder, the writer and director, hooks the viewer from the opening scene. A woman has died. A man is grieving. It becomes the story of a hard-drinking widowed grandfather named Elliott who is suddenly left to care for his beloved granddaughter, Eloise, who is 7. She is the child of his deceased daughter and a black man who is hooked on drugs. 

When Eloise’s paternal grandmother seeks custody, Elliott fights back. The precious girl is torn between two families who love her deeply. Both families fight for what they feel is right and eventually have to confront their true feelings about race and reconciliation. 

The have-to-watch scene takes place when Elliott is put on the witness stand. Pressed to expose his innate racism, he admits that when he sees a black person, his first thought is that ‘he’s black.’  But then he adds, “But it’s not my first thought that counts. It’s my second, and third, and fourth. Those are the ones that will define me as someone who is tolerant or ignorant or even a racist.”

Touché. 

St. Paul would agree. In Romans 12:2 he exhorts every Christian, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How do we do that?  

The answer lies in making sure that Jesus’ teachings actually appear as our second, third, or fourth thoughts.  Do we dare stop to compare our thinking with His? And then we have to be sure that no matter when the “Jesus thought” arrived (thought number 12?), that’s the one we act upon.  

When we practice what Jesus gives us to live by, a wonderful transformation begins to take place. Little by little, it is less of “us” that is alive in us, and more and more Jesus Himself.  And that possibility alone should give us pause, and offer the world the hope it so desperately needs. 

  

Reaching for that special “Crunch”

This has been written about already, so I’m late to the show. But there was a creative Doritos advertisement during the Super Bowl that’s worthy of reflection.  It shows a pregnant mother getting an ultrasound. The father is there watching, too, holding a bag of Doritos chips. He takes one out and eats it. “Crunch.” 

“Really?” the mother asks. “During my ultrasound?” But each time he pulls one out, the baby on the screen reacts, reaching for a chip himself. The father gets a kick out of it. The mother is not amused.

I won’t describe how it ends. You’d have to see it. It was great, at least I thought so.

According to the Denison Form*, not everyone thought so. NARAL Pro-Choice America immediately tweeted their complaint about the ad’s “antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses.” Their complaint was logical: when people see a fetus acting human, they are less likely to support abortion.

But ethicist Robert Joyce says this: “At any given moment, a whole living substance—be it a peach tree, a rabbit, or a person—either is or is not alive. . . . There is no such thing as a potentially living organism.”

Again, according to Dr. Jim Denison, by the fourth week of a baby’s life in the womb, the brain, spinal cord, and heart begin to develop. At six weeks, the skeleton is complete, facial features begin to form, and brain wave patterns can be recorded. At eight weeks, all organs are functioning and all systems are intact. At twenty weeks, the unborn child has functioning vocal cords, sucks her thumb, kicks, and grasps with her hands. She feels pain more intensely than we do.

In other words, we don’t need Doritos to “humanize” fetuses—God made them that way. If we don’t appreciate this fact we will fail to honor and value the miracle of life as much as our Father does. 

Here are some ways you can honor the miracle of life:

One: Treat every person you meet as a unique creation of God. 

Two: Help provide for mothers and children in need.  

Three: Pray for women (and men) to learn to abstain, to not put themselves into the position of creating a new life until they are ready to nurture and to protect it in a stable home. This is God’s will and plan. No harm ever comes from it.

Four: See yourself as God sees you. Psalm 139:14 declares that you are “wonderfully made” You matter to God. Your heavenly Father considers your eternal life worth the death of his Son.

This Lent, hold together the miracle of life, its brevity, and the truth of God’s love. Embrace Lent like you were going into training: with a spiritual diet of God’s Word, stretching your faith, firming up your zest for life, and deep knee bends (repentance) for doing what is most convenient, instead of what is most godly.  

Fr. John

*The Denison Forum on Truth and Culture is written by Dr. Jim Denison. The above material was taken and edited from that blog.  

Amazon and Google and Facebook

What do Amazon and Google and Facebook have in common? Want the simple answer? It’s You.

When you want to look up a question, you turn to Google. When you want to share an important event with your community of friends, you use Facebook. When you want to shop online, you use Amazon.

Each company has its hooks into us because they have studied human behavior thoroughly. They know a lot about how to create habitual use. Using complex algorithms, they repeatedly offer us “Triggers” to invite “Action” and “Investment.” They continue to entice us with ease of use and “Variable Rewards” that make us feel successful or gratified (at least for a few minutes) when we’ve used their products, and a bit anxious or unfulfilled when we don’t.

If you consume these products (as I do) and really want a new start to a new year, I suggest that you create Triggers, and Actions, and Investment in something besides them. For instance, God.

As a Christian priest and pastor, I’m invested in the Kingdom of God. What is the Kingdom of God? It’s the rule of God announced, established, and exhibited through Jesus. It was and is available by faith and relationship to God through Jesus.

I have my own Triggers and Actions and Investment in the Kingdom of God. My “Trigger” is my alarm clock on my phone. When I wake up my first thought is my time with God. I begin my Action with coffee and the question, “Where and how will I spend my time with my Lord?” Often my Action is to have a leisurely morning with Bible reading and prayer. Other mornings, my sit-down time is briefer, but then I also listen to Morning Prayer (prayers, Bible readings, canticles) through my headphones as I exercise at the gym. In each case, I try to be real with God about my issues with Him, my feelings about myself and others. I try to be aware that through faith I am face to face with Jesus Christ. I think of His greatness. I pray for others.

The Trigger (alarm clock) and Actions (coffee and early morning regimen) then lead to my Investment. This is the offering of my day and my life to Him, to be used as He wishes. Sometimes I feel led by the Holy Spirit. Other times I feel nothing at all. But my job is to care about the things that God cares about, and that almost always involves people.
God has a great Variable Rewards program. When I meet another person who really loves the Lord, I feel happy. When a person is encouraged or helped, or comes to know God better through me, I am delighted. When I am able to spend focused time in prayer and feel heard, that’s a reward, too. When I mess up (as I often do) and consider that I have been purchased (redeemed) by Jesus’s offering of His life on the Cross, I’m amazed.

Some people think Amazon, Facebook, and Google are taking over the world. They may get a lot of it, but they will never get all of it. There is another “Three-in-One” who knows us better than they do, whose desire is not our money, but the reclamation of the beauty and purpose of our lives. Living a life with God is not as easy as buying from Amazon, though to me it’s easier than using Facebook.

G.K. Chesterton said, “It’s not so much that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, as it’s been found difficult and not tried.” Where will you put your effort in 2020?

Every Good Beginning Deserves A Good Ending

Can you remember learning to count?

Whether you remember or not, when asked how old you were, you solemnly ordered three fingers of your dominant hand to straighten up, and two fingers of that same hand to stand down. “I’m three,” you declared, and pushed the fingers towards the face of the ignorant adult who had asked. You obviously were no longer two.
It was a big deal to count to ten, a bigger deal to join the older kids in learn spouting off the higher numbers. From henceforth, you joined the human race in counting and measuring stuff – including time.
Whether it’s taking a test, or enjoying a date who has a curfew, we like to see how much time we’ve used, and how much we have left. We also use time to measure progress. “At this time last year, I weighed 20 lbs more than I do now,” a successful dieter may say. Readers sometimes count how many books they read in a year.
By the common calendar’s reckoning we are at the end of a year; and not just a year, but a decade. I will turn 60 in 2020. It feels to me like I’m finishing the third quarter of my active life, going into the fourth quarter, so I want to be at my best. In the fourth quarter, you have to focus. No sulking, no excuses. The end of the game is in sight.
Today is the end of a decade. Tomorrow is January 1, 2020. Today is the day for endings, a day to leave things behind. Seize this day! When Jesus was on this earth, he invited people to follow him, to count themselves his disciples. He knew that in order to do that, people would have to leave things behind. “Let the dead bury the dead,” he said to one, because to follow him was life. “Go sell your possessions,” he said to another. “Give it to the poor and then come follow me.” He invited them to emphatically end their old way of life, and to join him in a new life.
What would your life look like if you seriously followed Jesus? How would you connect with him? How would your use of time change? Do you have a sense of where he might lead you?
In William Bridges’ Transitions, he says that in order to have a good beginning, you first need a good ending. So my question today is not, “What is your New Year’s resolution?” But “What are you going to leave in the past?” Make note of it. Bury it. Keep piling on the dirt. Keep replacing it. I’ll be praying for you.

Build this forest, and the children will come!

A recent “National Geographic Magazine” article estimates children now spend less time outside than the average prisoner. This could have some unhappy effects, since, they claim, children need to be exposed to the microbes in the soil to build up their defenses against diseases that may surface later in life.

But it’s not only children.  Despite common knowledge that getting dirty is good for us physically and mentally, the EPA estimates average American adults now spend 93 percent of their lives indoors. It reminds me of a line in Hotel California that goes, “We are all just prisoners here – of our own device.”

How sad. Do we mean to be that tied to our devices? Is that what we really want? 93%?

In Genesis 1:31, the Bible tells us, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” We, too, should be able to gaze at God’s creation with delight. In Texas you might travel some distance to find a pretty spot; or it might take considerable work to get the desired effect we want from God’s creation in our own back yard. But many hands make for light work.

On Easter Day, children at St. Mark’s sowed native Texas grass seeds onto freshly disked dirt in the King’s Forest. The recent rains will soon yield the fruit of their labors.

Let’s take delight in getting dirty, and help me build a forest for the future. And if one of you likes the idea of a forest more than the labor, I’ve got some board openings I’d love to fill.

Build this forest, and the children will come! Their imaginations, powers of observation, and creativity will have fertile ground to grow while they have fun and get strong. For heaven’s sake, why should they – indeed why should we – be imprisoned by any devices at all?