Chapter-a-Day Luke 11

“No one lights a lamp, then hides it in a drawer. It’s put on a lamp stand so those entering the room have light to see where they’re going. Your eye is a lamp, lighting up your whole body. If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.” Luke 11:33-36 (MSG)

This week I am a grown adult playing a child’s game of dress up and make-believe. Having shaved my head, I will put on a costume and pretend I am a wealthy, 20th century industrialist living on 5th Avenue in New York City. I am quite certain that some people think I’m silly, but for me it is about living wide-eyed in wonder and belief.

While I enjoy the stage for the fun and camaraderie, it is more than just an amusement to me. Acting helps me maintain a child-like wonder and playfulness about life. As I research a character I am digging deeper into the human condition, gaining greater empathy for others, and acquiring a more thorough understanding of my own humanity. In Oliver Warbucks I’ve learned a little more about greed, lonliness, isolation, loss, drive, and ambition. Most of all, Oliver has spoken to me about redemption. Warbucks is the incarnation of Jesus’ teaching about gaining the whole world at the risk of losing your own soul. The two and a half hours of Annie has become, for me, the story of Oliver’s journey from the darkness of isolation to the light of love. That story is simply a reflection of the great story, of God’s story, of the Christmas story.

In two weeks the show will be over, but I know from experience that these few months of wide-eyed wonder and the willing suspension of disbelief will have made my own life a little less murky.

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Chapter-a-Day Luke 10

Painting by Bueckelaer via Flickr and Jim Forest

As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen

. Luke 10:38-39 (MSG)

My wife, Wendy, and I are blessed to spend more time together than most couples I know. We both work out of a home office, so a normal day is spent in the house together. We eat breafast together, we eat lunch together, and we eat dinner together. If I take a break from my work, I usually walk down stairs to talk to Wendy. Much of our free time is spent working together on stage or in administrating the local community theatre. We worship together and serve together on the visual tech team at church. Wendy and I have an intimate relationship that is built on the foundation of shared time, shared space, shared interest, and shared conversation.

The story of Mary and Martha, and the simple lesson of it, keeps popping in my path the past few weeks. I was reminded of it once again in worship yesterday morning. So often I approach my relationship with Jesus like Martha, in which my relationship is really about doing things around him. Yet, Mary had the more initimate relationship with Jesus because she spent time centered on conversation with him.

My relationship with Jesus and my relationship with my wife are really no different. If I want to find intimacy in the relationship, then it’s going to require a foundation of time, proximity, and focused communication.

Thanksgiving 2010

The VWs Thanksgiving 2010. We didn't think about taking the picture 'til after the girls left 😦

Thanksgiving week started with Madison’s return from college. She arrived on Monday night and we planned a big birthday celebration dinner for her on Wednesday night. She promptly contracted the flu, and spent all Wednesday morning throwing up and all Wednesday afternoon sleeping. Sooooooo….

Taylor, Clayton, Wendy and I enjoyed a nice meal together on Wednesday evening while Madison slept. She was feeling well enough to come down and sit at the table for a while and sip on some chicken noodle soup that Wendy made for her. But she quickly pootered our and missed the Wii bowling extravaganza with the rest of us. We plan to make it up to her during Christmas break with a belated birthday meal of epic proportions.

Thanksgiving was at the Vander Wells this year. We made some fresh Italian bread in the morning and took the warm loaf with us. The meal was wonderful, and everyone ate their fill and then, as hobbits would say, “filled up the corners” with Bonnie’s cranberry cookies, Jody’s dutch letters, Grandma’s cinnamon rolls, and Tim’s figure eight cookies.

The only member of the family who didn’t make it was our nephew, Sam, who is going to school in Spokane, Washington. It was quite a feat to get 16 of us around the table, but we managed. It’s a good thing we love each other.

It was a pleasureable afternoon of conversation, Apples-to-Apples, and laughter. Madison was spending the night with her mom before heading back to the Twin Cities to work the late shift on Black Friday. Wendy and I headed home about 5:30 and enjoyed a leisurely evening together.

Madison gave Ellie, & Emma a make over!
Celebrating a small and rare victory in Apples-to-Apples
Everyone loved Madison's portfolio from Photography class.
Scott & Jody laughing at a joke Tim got in his email.
Madison and Wendy looking at Madison's portfolio.
Lots of conversation around the table.
Tay & Clay
Kumi helping set the table for the feast.

Terry talking with someone on the couch. Conversation happened at the table, around the table, across the table, and over the table!

Chapter-a-Day Luke 9

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Image via Wikipedia

The apostles returned and reported on what they had done. Jesus took them away, off by themselves, near the town called Bethsaida. Luke 9:10 (MSG)

One time when Jesus was off praying by himself, his disciples nearby…. Luke 9:18a 9 (MSG)

About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray…. Luke 9:28a (MSG)

Jesus often used the phrase “he who has ears, let him hear.”

Be open.
Pay attention.
Keep your antennae up.

Earlier this year, I told Wendy that I wanted to be more intentional in spending time together in prayer. As we’ve spent hours in the car between home and the lake, I’ve attempted to prompt us to spend a little of that time praying together.

This past week my daughter Taylor and I were doing a study wrapped around the painting Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer. In the course of our conversation, I once again felt the conviction to be less of a busy-Martha and more Mary-like in spending time with Jesus, sitting and listening and spending time in conversation.

Today, as I read the chapter I couldn’t help notice the recurring theme of Jesus getting away by himself to pray.

I find that lessons from God’s message are sometimes those things which are woven through the text; His callings then weave those lessons through life in a recurring theme. I’ve found that when God promps me, it often comes in whispers as a still-small voice, but we have to quiet our lives enough to hear them (and, if you’re like me, turning your hearing aid on helps, as well).

I hear you, God. I hear you.

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Chapter-a-Day Luke 8

Gollum in Peter Jackson's live-action version ...
Image via Wikipedia

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Mob. My name is Mob,” he said, because many demons afflicted him. And they begged Jesus desperately not to order them to the bottomless pit.

A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged Jesus to order them into the pigs. He gave the order. It was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the lake and drowned.

Just the other day I finished a trilogy of books by Brent Weeks [I plan to write a post about them]. They wove an amazing story of good and evil and within there was a character who made conscious choices to embrace evil, yet those choices were ultimately woven into the climactic good of all. Wendy and I ended up in a long discussion about the theme of good and evil in some of our favorite stories.

In the Lord of the Rings, the character of Gollum is a mischeivous, evil character. To the very end he is offered opportunities to turn from his ways, but instead chooses into his lust for the ring. Yet, without that choice, evil would have ultimately have triumphed.

In Harry Potter, the character of Wormtail is a despicable character who has chosen into the darkness, yet his actions ultimately pave the way for good to prevail.

I thought of these literary reflections of the Great Story as I read today’s chapter. I found it interesting that Jesus had the power to cast the mob of demons into the abyss and the demons knew it. Surely they deserved such and end. Yet they pleaded with Jesus not to do so and Jesus acted with compassion.

I’m perplexed at his decision, and challenged.

The further I travel in the journey, the less likely I find myself to render quick judgement on any person. I can’t see all ends, and I find that God weaves His good  purposes through despicable individuals and their acts.

Today, as I mull over these things, my heart whispers the serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the the things (and persons) I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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Chapter-a-Day Luke 7

St. Mary Magdalene in the House of Simon the P...
Image via Wikipedia

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume…. Luke 7:36-37 (MSG)

Having lived in a few different towns of different sizes and I’ve discovered that there are community archetypes. Within any community I find the respected local politician, the business leader/power broker, the local pastor or priest who is the community religious leader, the high school star athlete who never quite got beyond his glory days, the person with special needs for whom the entire community looks out, and etc.

Years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the ruins of some of the villages along the northern shore of Galilee where Jesus carried out his ministry. They were small fishing villages not unlike the small farming towns in which I’ve lived. Through today’s chapter I get a sense of similar small town archetypes to the familiar ones I know: the Roman captain who represented the occupational civic authority, the town’s poor widow for whom life has been an on-going tragedy, the proud and pious religious leader, and the town whore.

I can’t think of a more dramatic small town scene. A regional celebrity comes for a visit. The entire town is buzzing with news and gossip. The local coffee shop is churning with stories about this Jesus and what they’d heard about him. Jesus is scheduled to go to the house of Simon for dinner. Of course he is. Simon is the town’s religious V.I.P. He is wealthy, he is powerful, and when it comes to spiritual matters in the town he calls the shots. Simon is the final word; God’s local judge, jury and executioner. Of course Jesus would go to Simon’s house.

Then she walks in. They all know about her. In fact, truth be told, some of the pious men in attendance at this private dinner party know her, in the Biblical sense, if you catch my drift. Publicly despised, privately used, and generally dismissed as dirt, she is known by all the town as a simple whore. Then, in a bold move guaranteed to turn heads, the sullied slut walks right into the religiously scrubbed crib of the local holy man. Imagine the snickers, the glares, the gossip ready to drip off the small town lips of the onlookers.

She carries expensive perfume purchased with lust money (we all knew where she got the money for that), and she falls at Jesus’ feet. Her river of tears pour across her cheeks and drip onto Jesus’ feet. They mix with the perfume she humbly, and gently spreads with her hands across his toes.

For each person in that moment, and for each archetype, Jesus is present. For each there is a lesson. For each there is a blessing. For each there is a crossroads and a transformational opportunity. That’s the way Jesus is. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves on life’s road, Jesus dramatically meets us right where we are, turns us away from where we’ve been, and points us where we need to go.

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Chapter-a-Day Luke 6

FAIL stamp
Image by hans.gerwitz via Flickr

The religion scholars and Pharisees had their eye on Jesus to see if he would heal the man, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. Luke 6:7 (MSG)

A professor of mine once showed our class a videotape of a locally televised theological debate between himself and another scholar. Both men were from mainstream Christian denominations, but held different views on particular doctrines. The debate became an argument as my professor smugly baited the other scholar, then went on the attack which was subtly personal. The other scholar was shocked, then angry, then became increasingly unglued. After clicking the stop button, my professor chided his opponent for losing his cool and defended his own arrogant attacks on the other scholar. He dismissed his opponent, explaining that the other scholar’s differing theological views made the man’s faith and salvation questionable. My professor’s actions told me that he believed the other scholar was undeserving of his love and respect.

Twenty-five years later I can still remember that class vividly, but I don’t think the lesson I learned was what my professor intended. My professor had a test, a theological checklist, by which he judged others. If you didn’t agree with every minor theological item on his checklist you failed the test, and he felt justified in quickly dismissing you. It seems to parallel the religious scholars who watched for Jesus to fail their own test of appropriate theological behavior. If Jesus failed their test, they could dismiss him and did not feel any obligation to love or respect him.

I’d like to think that I don’t have a test (or tests) of my own. This morning I find myself searching my heart. Jesus didn’t tell me to love only those who pass my test for political correctness, theological correctness or behavioral appropriateness. He makes it pretty clear that those who fail whatever test I might have are to be on the top of my “to love” priority list.

Today, I’m asking God to love everyone well – especially those I might easily dismiss. 

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In the Spotlight

Hannah Emmert as Annie, stands in the Spotlight

I took this picture with my phone on Saturday at Tech Rehearsal. It was the beginning of the second act and we were doing a lot of standing and sitting around on stage as we waited for the light cues to be set. I loved the dramatic effect of the lights shining on Hannah. The view from on stage in a show is a sight most people never get to experience. I never cease to find it breathtaking.

Click here to view the other pics I took on Saturday.

Get the Razor Ready!

Annie opens two weeks from tonight and everyone is asking when I plan to shave my head. I’m thinking it’ll happen over Thanksgiving weekend. Wendy isn’t sure about this.

Me: I think I’ll shave my head over Thanksgiving weekend.
Wendy: [sigh] And, tell me again, why does Daddy Warbucks have to be bald?
Me: Because the comic strip and every one who has ever played Daddy Warbucks has been bald!
Wendy: [sigh] okay.

Rehearsals have been long and rough this week, but two weeks before opening night you expect things to be rough. If everything was ready for an audience you’d be worried you were peaking too early. For now, there are brief moments of brilliance followed by long periods of everything falling apart. But, that gives us plenty to do the next two weeks.

Tickets are selling fast (see for info).