May 31, 2006

Raspberry Beret & Handicap Parking

I have a feeling that today is going to be a strange, random day.

As I sit here in the coffee shop, getting ready to finish up the small group study that I am writing for our discipleship ministry at South, the song Raspberry Beret is playing on the radio. Now, know that such a song has no significance for my life, other than the fact that it came from 1985--the year of 8th grade. Rather, I find it odd that a song over 20 years old is beaming over the radio station and invading my "second office" here at Il Bacio Cafe. I certainly don't need "She wore a raspberry beret" running constantly through my head all day, like it is at the moment.

My mind is already challenged today. I have been up and moving since 6:00am, though I really only now feel a little awake after a nice strong cup of Jamacian Me Crazy. Even when my mind has been awake and moving, it has struggled to stay focused and on the right path. I have been easily distracted.

For example, as I sit here, singing "she wore a raspberry beret" in my head, a man pulls into the handicap spot outside of the coffee shop. I sit in side and watch, to see if he is really handicapped or not. He hops out of his minivan and strolls in to buy his morning "red eye" (a triple espresso laced with coffee, I think), full of coolness and hip. He's certainly not handicapped. As he opens the door, I want to ask him a simple question: "Dude, do you find it hard to park two spaces over in the EMPTY parking lot and actually follow the rule of not parking in a handicap parking spot since you are not handicapped?" People like that make me want to scream. From there, my mind jumps to Carlos Mencia. I sit and run through things he would say to this guy. They aren't nice. Funny, but not nice. I won't repeat them.

Now I'm distracted by the trio of old people sitting a couple of tables away discussing property, retirement, vacations, and money at hearing aid volumes as Shania Twain beams,
"we will be together always," across the messed up radio station they have playing here. Oh look, another non-handicapped handicap space parking person.

On days like today, when it's really hard to focus and not curse at people, I find hope in the fact that for some reason God loves each of these people with everything he has. He weeps for them some times, especially when they park where they are not supposed to. He hurts for those too full of themselves, like Prince, to understand that they are simple, created beings in the shadow of the Creator. It is easy to wonder why he loves them so, to struggle with the shear ridiculousness of such love. But, then, I realize that I am no better than them. While I don't park in handicap spaces, I struggle with the same darkness that others wallow in.

I think our biggest challenge as God's people is to see and love others as God sees and loves them. This is a scary and difficult thing to do. To see others through the eyes of God, we need to see ourselves through the eyes of God. We have to admit that we are spiritually bankrupt and empty without him. Yet, as we get better at that and realize our need to bask continually in God's grace and love, our anger and rage for people will fade away. Our eyes will be open and our hearts will hurt and love just as God's does, for ourselves, and for those around us--discussing the Oprah book of the month.

May 12, 2006

A Tale of Two Kitties

After reading today's installment of Calvin and Hobbes, I wondered if I could find a Hobbes doll for my daughter. I love the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, and it would be only fitting that my daughter have a Hobbes doll, even though she is nothing like Calvin . . . yet.

To Google I went in search of a stuffed animal. However, I did not find any. It seems Bill Watterson wanted to keep his comic strip a comic strip, and did. What I did find was an article about A Tale of Two Kitties.

Never in a million years would I have ever complained about a stuffed animal being made from a cartoon or comic strip until I read the article. It helps me to understand what I've heard some say about C.S. Lewis not wanting his stories put into a movie format. While, I'm glad they did, there is a sense of mystery and imagination that will ever be gone.

At the same time, I have always been frustrated with the scads and scads of Christian trinkets that are continually overtaking the Christian bookstores. I will admit, a few of the things are very nice. But the ugly and gaudy things definitely outnumber the nice. Even more, the person who created Testamints needs taken out behind the woodshed.

Please note that I am not standing on the soapbox pointing fingers with this. I am just as guilty of this as the next guy. I have tried to entertain with some of the things I've done in ministry, rather than pushing to be real and honest about what we are to be as Christians. I've followed the fads. Even more, I own a bobble head Jesus. It was a gift from my Sr. Minister. It was meant for a laugh. Now, today, it is a reminder of how we've lost the true understanding of who Christ is.

May the God of all creation show us grace with how we've sold the church. May we learn to focus on living holy lives and loving others and shy away from the glitz and glamour of what the world has told the church it needs to be. May we think theologically about our billboards, our flashy mailers, our catchy sermon series, our fancy $30,000 church signs, and our ostentatious buildings. May our walk with God as his people and our desire to live out the words of his Son reshape our very existence. May it change every breath and every step.

May 7, 2006

The Bird Man

Lansing has its share of interesting figures around town. Some of them are more notable than others. ONe of the more recognizable people is the singing Elvis. He is a man who walks around singing Elvis songs with his Walkman headphones on. He looks like an Elvis impersonator, complete with chops sideburns and the big, kingish sunglasses. If you are in a place like Meijer, you can hear him a row or two over. He seems like a normal guy, other than the fact that he sings Elvis songs all the time. I checked out behind him once at the store. When the clerk gave him his change, he said, "thank you, thank you very much." No lie.

Another notable was the Bird Man. He was known by all who live in the little town south of where I live. If you were to drive by the Quality Dairy, there was a good chance you would see him sitting on the sidewalk beside his three wheel bike drinking coffee and feeding the birds. Those who worked at the QD said he was a friendly man. I never really knew him, only of him. Any time I saw him, I had the urge to stop and buy him a coffee or dinner. I never really acted out on these urges. I won't have the chance now.

The bird man's real name was Gilbert Kolonich. At one point in his life, he owned a gas station and a party store with his wife. He was artistic and musical. The article in the paper quotes his wife as saying "he was successful at anything he tried." He was the father of two boys. But then, a disease took him from them.

For the last 20 years, Mr. Kolonich has been battling paranoid schizophrenia. It cause him to leave his wife and family and become a loner, and eventually, a known interesting figure in a small community. Its really a sad story. This past week, he suffered a heart attack and died alone in his apartment.

To me, the bird man looked friendly and warm, like the ghost of Christmas Present in A Muppet's Christmas Carol. From the distance that I looked, he seemed like someone who could carry on an interesting conversation about anything. Yet, I doubt many people ever stopped to talk to him or learn about his life.

How often do we as humans turn our heads or avert our eyes from those who are on the fringe? Why are we so afraid? It wouldn't have cost me much to buy a stranger a cup of coffee and to learn a little about his life. How much ministry could I have done for him? How much ministry would he have done for me? But I didn't, the same as most of the other people who knew of the bird man, but did not know him.

As I sit here and think, my mind quickly shifts to the multiple accounts in the Gospels where Jesus encounters interesting figures and doesn't change his course to avoid them. Rather, he stops and talks with them; he heals them; he shows them love. He found joy in them. His actions, coupled with the death of this random man that I did not know challenges me to be more aware and loving of those around me, even if it means that I am going to be uncomfortable.

I am sure that you have your own singing Elvis or bird man in your community. What are you going to do? May the love of our Savior challenge you to do something more than averting your attention to something else, acting like you don't see, when really you do.

May 1, 2006

A Book List

Over the last 5 years, I have really been challenged and shaped by the teaching of Rob Bell. I have heard him speak in person two times and I've listened to a dozen or so of his sermons online at Mars Hill. I have also seen a couple of his Nooma videos and read his book, Velvet Elvis. In everything he does there is a frankness about what he has to say. He's right there in your face with the Bible. He always has great Jewish insights to what is going on in the text and in the background of the text.

This morning I went to one of Bell's websites and found a suggested reading list from him. You don't know how excited this makes me. It is like a magician telling a stragner all of his secrets, showing you where his mystery came from. I figured I would share my find with you!

Rob Bell's Reading List

Walking The Bible : A Journey By Land Through The Five Books Of Moses (Bruce Feiler)
Jewish Spirituality, A Brief Introduction For Christians (Lawrence Kushner)
The Jewish New Testament Commentary : A Companion Volume To The Jewish New Testament (David Stern)
Excavating Jesus : Beneath The Stones, Behind The Texts (Crossan and Reed)
Biblical Literacy : The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas Of The Hebrew Bible (Joseph Telushkin)
Understanding The Difficult Words Of Jesus : New Insights From A Hebraic Perspective (Bivin and Blizzard)
Desire Of The Everlasting Hills : The World Before And After Jesus (Thomas Cahill)
Everyman's Talmud : The Major Teaching Of The Rabbinic Sages (Abraham Cohen)
Sketches Of Jewish Social Life (Alfred Edersheim)
Jewish Sources In Early Christianity (David Fleusser)
The Five Books Of Moses : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (The Schocken Bible Volume 1) (Everett Fox)
The Women's Torah Commentary : New Insights From Women Rabbis On The 54 Weekly Torah Portions (Elyse Goldstein)
God In Search Of Man : A Philosophy Of Judaism (Abraham Joshua Herschel)
The Bible As It Was (James L. Kugel)
The Source (James Michner)
The Science Of God : The Convergence Of Scientific And Biblical Wisdom (Gerald L. Schroeder)
Slaves, Women And Homosexuals : Exploring The Hermeneutics Of Culture Analysis (William J. Webb)
The Divine Conspiracy : Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (Dallas Willard)
Our Father Abraham : Jewish Roots Of The Christian Faith (Marvin Wilson)
Following Jesus : Biblical Reflections On Discipleship (N.T. Wright)
For All God's Worth : True Worship And The Calling Of The Church (N.T. Wright)
The Jews In The Time Of Jesus : An Introduction (Stephen Wylen)
Jesus The Jewish Theologian (Brad Young)