Thursday, January 31, 2013


Stars are lighting up the night sky. Not the gaseous, flaming globes placed in the heavens by the creator, but the celebrities created by human adoration and intense market manipulation. A quick review of the trending stories at Yahoo makes no mention of the war in Syria but is topped this hour with yet another story of JonBenet Ramsey, a child beauty pageant competitor who was murdered at the tender age of six, thirteen years ago.  Judging by what is foremost in the media, it would appear that we are more interested in celebrities than in any other subject. People magazine is the most popular magazine in America with 46.6 million readers. That's more than double the news magazine Time, its publishing parent.

Have we been manipulated into arrested development? When I was in junior high I read Tiger Beat magazine for alleged details of the private lives of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy. I'm pretty sure that my mom had no idea who those heartthrobs were. By the time I started high school I was listening to different music and had abandoned Tiger Beat and the other celebrity rags. It seemed the natural order of things.

These days it would be hard to find someone who can't distinguish between Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake. It would be nearly as hard to find any American who can name both the Canadian Prime Minister and the President of Mexico. It seems we have abandoned life as adults in favor of perpetual adolescence where we follow the exploits of the Real Housewives instead of the Real Kids living in our homes.

Celebrities aren't harmful in their own right but they have the power to distract us from things that really matter. It is a short walk from celebrity to idolatry. The celebrities themselves may not be the idols; it is often the lifestyle we imagine they live that we covet. When time spent keeping up with celebrity news takes away from worthier pursuits we may be committing sins of omission, leaving things undone. Another potential result of celebrity watching is the discontent with ourselves and our lives that can be generated. Who still loves their three-bedroom, two-bath home after taking a tour of Oprah's 23,000 square foot home on 42 acres outside of Santa Barbara?

The stars in the heavens cause us to pause and consider their maker. They can dazzle with their brilliance and lift our minds to a higher plain and a longer view. They can ignite our curiosity and inspire awe and wonder. The stars of Hollywood cannot do that. At best they entertain us while at worst they elicit discontent, envy, and distract us from things that are far more important.

I never tire of these words from Psalm 8: "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" Lift your eyes to the stars and moon and give thanks. God is mindful of all us mortals here on earth. . . even the ones we think are stars.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Peaceful Transition of Power

George Washington was quoted at the Inauguration of President Obama this week. The first president said that "the peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world."  It seems to me that this is a good reminder for families as well. We should plan to make peaceful transitions of power part of our family life. After all, in every family, as in every country, eventually there is a transition of power.

Transitions of power, peaceful or otherwise, are going on all around us, all the time. With our children, each new stage of development leads to greater power for the child. Many parents have experienced the inevitable passage of potty training as a not-so-peaceful transition of power. Some children can't wait to be independent and do it themselves, while others don't want to be bothered with taking responsibility for their own bodily functions. Beginning in middle school there are battles for independence occurring nearly weekly. The empowerment of a driver's license or an eighteenth birthday can turn some children from agreeable family members to megalomaniacs.

On the other end of the spectrum, we see elderly parents clinging to power that might better be held by their children. They insist on continuing to drive after their eyesight and hearing have deteriorated to a point where this is no longer safe.  They want to continue to handle their own finances after their memory loss makes this impractical. Some aging parents make plans for a peaceful transition of power, making decisions about how things should be handled if they become frail or have memory issues. Others refuse to acknowledge that they are aging and make no plans, creating a very painful and sometimes chaotic transition of power when decisions need to be made.

We would do well to plan for orderly transitions of power in our families. Look ahead, and prepare our children to be responsible for themselves. Forecast that for them; let them know your expectations for their independence. Examine ourselves and see if we are keeping them dependent, or setting them up to fail, so we can keep them with us a little longer. It is helpful to look to our own experiences of transitioning to independence and avoid the mistakes of our own parents. It is wise to look around for people who transitioned the way we would hope our kids will, and try to imitate their success. On the flip side, we need to prepare for a time when we will no longer be able to have sole charge over our own lives; we need to prepare to make that transition of power peacefully as well.

Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." Most of you reading this are in a season of independence and power. You may be acquiring power as you begin your time as a parent, or your power may be waning as your term as the leader of the family draws to a close. It is the nature of things, and we would do well to make these transitions peacefully.

We can make all our transitions of power with the assurance that the ultimate power rests in the hands of a loving God who holds us all through all the seasons of our lives, saying, as many American presidents have said at their inaugurations: "So help me God."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Night Lights

A recent trip to a hardware store made me aware of the wide variety of nightlights available. Frankly, the only innovation in nightlights from the nights of my childhood to the nights of my motherhood was the invention of the electric eye which would turn the nightlight on for you. These days there are nightlights licensed for every children's movie, cartoon character, and fairy-tale princess, along with artistic renderings that are truly lovely, as well as functional. It gave me a warm glow to think about the comfort of nightlights and the wonderful metaphor of Jesus coming into the world as light.

My first nightlight memory is from about age five when we had a nightlight in the bedroom- under-the-eaves that my sister and I shared. I would sometimes wake when my mom's shadow blocked it out as she came to take my little sister to the bathroom one more time before retiring. My mother's presence enhanced the safe feeling the nightlight created. I can also still picture the fuzzy glow from the bathroom across the hall from my next childhood bedroom. Faint, barely there, but enough light to reveal where you were; my sleepy eyes could take in the shape of the door set ajar and the light through the transom above. I could see that I was in my own bed, at home, or find my way across the hall in the dark.

There is no underestimating the power of light to comfort a child, or an adult for that matter.  In the church year, we are in the season of light. The season begins with the star that leads the Wisemen to the newborn Jesus, and ends with this same Jesus shining like the sun just before beginning a journey to the ultimate darkness of death. During this season you can find a gazillion ways to talk with your children about God. With a little imagination, you can use almost anything that gives light to start a conversation about faith. Here are a few ideas:

  • Light a candle at dinnertime and at the end of the meal, turn out the lights and have a brief prayer time.
  • Read a story by flashlight, under the covers.
  • Toast marshmallows in the fireplace and make s'mores indoors.
  • Take a late night drive away from the city lights, spread out a blanket, and stare at the stars.
  • Make a dessert you set on fire - like Bananas Foster
  • Count the lights, and the different kinds of lights, you see in church 

You probably won't ignite a big epiphany, but you can plant the idea that wherever there is light, God can be found. In the words of the old camp song, “it only takes a spark to get a fire going.” Ignite your child’s faith in small ways and time, prayer, and the Holy Spirit will fan the flames of faith.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why and what if?

With everyone else, I have been contemplating the events at Newtown. I have wept often in the days since the shootings; it seems so unfair that little children, with their whole lives before them should be torn from life so violently, so senselessly. I have tried to understand why people disagree with simply banning the kind of weapons Adam Lanza used that day. I have discussed the issue of mental illness with many other people. I have lingered in the why  and what if questions for many days.

Again and again I travel around the why and what if circle. Why did the shooter choose that school, that class? What if the shooter had grown up in a home without guns? What if we had spent more money researching solutions to mental health problems?

In the end I come back to the same place every death takes me to - that every person we grieve is evidence of love in the world. We do not grieve those we do not love. It gladdens my heart to know that there is love to be found in all of this. It hurts my heart to know how much these families grieve, but their grief bears witness to love.

Someone I personally knew died six days after the Newtown shootings. And I was reminded of a friend whose elderly parent died on September 12, 2001. She said she felt selfish to mourn just one who had lived a good and full life,  in the midst of the other tragedy. Not so, I said then. Honor the one you loved by grieving your loss. Only those who love someone can truly grieve them.

I cannot grieve the people who died in Newtown - I didn't know them, much less love them. Yet I feel great compassion for everyone affected by this, because I too have know the pain of losing someone I loved. And I feel compassion for the shooter's remaining family, because I too know the pain of losing someone to suicide. I know the guilt that accompanies that kind of loss. I too know the pain of losing a brother.

This is the place where we all intersect: love, and the inevitable pain that accompanies it. Almost all of us think that everything that love brings makes it worth the pain. Apparently God agrees. God loved us enough to bear the pain of coming into the world and suffering beside us. God loved enough to give up the Only Son. God loves enough to walk with us through every painful step, and every joyful one too.

We all share this - love and grief are our common experience. Love and grief transcend race, gender, geographic location, economic status, and models of governance. The great source of that love binds us together with love. Let yourself be bound to neighbor, friend, and family. Yes you will grieve, but first you will love.