Friday, October 26, 2007

the last days of this autumn

The rain of these last two days is surely bringing down the remaining seasoned leaves of the fall, and I'll be sad. It is my wife's favorite season, but autumn always arouses bittersweet feelings in me. I associate it with the end of summer (fun, vacation, no school) and the beginning of another year of work. However, I find the colors of the leaves as they change and die to be so brilliant--even to my colorblind eyes--that it makes me marvel at creation and contemplate my own place in it in a way that few other aspects of nature do. I think Annie Dillard was onto something when she wrote about the complete unnecessary extravagance of it. I've almost driven off the road several times just trying to take in the views because I know they're so fleeting. One day of gusty wind and we'll be left with nothing but gray twigs against the sky. Just a few weeks ago, however, they were ordinary green trees. I wonder if other drivers are equally as taken aback with it as I am. But then I think: they're just leaves! What's my problem? They'll probably be more dazzling next year, as long as there's not another drought. Changing color like this is what deciduous leaves are supposed to do. Why get caught up in it? It's the extravagance, I think. There is no reason for this beauty. And the temporary nature of it is a large part of what makes it beautiful. Thank you, God. But why is part of me disappointed?

I ran across this poem by Luci Shaw and, although it's subject matter is nature of another season, it struck a chord:


The maple seeds have spent themselves;
their wings lie mute and brown and tattered
along the grass. The peonies
have let their bloodied white be scattered,
and all this windy afternoon
I've grieved as if it really mattered.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Dives must be rolling in his grave

It always catches me off guard when, in the course of the children's sermon delivery, the gospel is sniffed out by some young theologian before I've planned to reveal it.

Let me explain my children's sermon from Sunday: I found on-line and printed out photos of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, two people I thought most people would instantly recognize as wealthy and influential. Even though I figured the kids at the children's sermon wouldn't know Bill Gates to look at him, I figured they may have at least heard of his name. Oprah, given that she's on T.V., might get a few more nods. I also printed out a photo of a random beggar that I located simply by googling "beggar." My plan was to contrast these pictures by explaining that everyone knows Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey but no one knows who the beggar is. Whereas we know the names of famous rich people, we couldn't dare to guess the name of the poor. This is because, I suggested, a lot of people think people like Mr. Gates and Ms. Winfrey are important and worthy of emulation because of all their money and, in the cases of those two, how much good they choose to do with a lot of it. The beggar, on the other hand, has nothing and so no would think of him as important or noteworthy. He is, essentially, forgettable. Then I went on to explain how money and fame do not really matter to God; it is human need that makes someone "important" in God's eyes and therefore compels us to care for all, especially the needy.

I began by showing them the pictures. They always respond to pictures. As I had expected, no one recognized Bill Gates, but some had heard of his name. Then I showed the picture of Oprah Winfrey. Again, silence. So then I had to explain who she was, too. Some acknowledgement in a few faces. Then I showed the picture of the beggar, expecting (and wanting) more silence. A little second-grade boy shouted out, "That's Lazarus!!!" A little stunned, I said, "How do you know his name is Lazarus?" He said, "Because he's begging beside a gate." Alrighty, then. Children's sermon ruined? Of course not, but I did have to make some accomodations.

This child had not been in Sunday School that morning, nor does he attend church very often. His father was clueless as to how he knew. All I can figure is that when he came into church that morning he read and remembered the bulletin cover, which featured a similar photo of someone begging for money. Go figure. Apparently not quite everyone ignores Lazarus.