Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has always been the storehouse for artifacts and memorabilia that has marked the history of this country. Within its massive walls you will find such things as John Glen's spacecraft Friendship 7 that carried the first American to orbit the earth. The venerable Spirit of St. Louis, the plane piloted by Charles A. Lindbergh, the first flier to cross the Atlantic alone, can be found suspended from the Air and Space wing of the museum. A complete collection of the evening gowns worn by the First Ladies of this country are also on display. Nearly anything with historic value and interest can be found within the Smithsonian's confines. For all of its history, it has been a dignified repository of America's historic pieces.
However, in the last few days, the museum has seen fit to display a vile image of large ants eating at Jesus crucified. The display entitled "A Fire in My Belly," also included other questionable pieces of "art." But this image of Jesus on the cross being consumed by ants is way over the top. To say the least, it is a defilement of an image that millions of people across this land hold sacred because of what it represents to them.
We do have freedom of speech and expression in this country but does that really mean that anyone can say and/or do anything they want and label it as freedom of speech. One of my greatest objections to this display has been the complete disregard for believers in Christ the artist and the Institution have demonstrated in allowing this display. Their freedom of speech seems to completely disregard of countless Americans to worship as they please. Where is the diversity displayed in this exhibition? Where is the compassion and the caring for those with whom you may have a philosophical disagreement?
Certainly the question must naturally arise, would the artist and the Smithsonian permit this exhibit if the victim of the hungry ants was Mohamed? I think not. The Muslim community would raise a chorus of protests and rightfully so. The more extreme wing of the Muslim faith would most likely promise violence as a form of retribution for such a public display.
Is nothing sacred these days? It seems not, especially when it comes to the Christian faith. Those who preach tolerance seem to mean through their actions that they will tolerate only those who happen to agree with their particular points of view. Anyone who disagrees with them is fair game using any method to attack.
There is very little explanation why there is such ignorance in the world with the exception of stating emphatically that this exhibit is yet again a sign of the reality of Satan in the world. There are those who groan and moan and roll their eyes at the mention of Satan, relegating that particular belief to the status of myth that only those who are uneducated and unsophisticated believe. Even the President of the United States joined in in this philosophy when, as a candidate for president, he talked about the masses who cling to their religion and their guns.
We need to pray for these individuals. This is a form of persecution, this exhibition. But we could and should have seen it coming for Jesus predicted it. To paraphrase Him, He told us that we should not be surprised if we were to be persecuted since those of His time persecuted Him for His teachings. What makes us any different as followers of the Master?
Fortunately, late today, bowing under pressure, the Smithsonian relinquished and closed the exhibit. However, the damage to this venerable institution has been soiled badly. We must look to Christ for direction in situations like these. We must condemn the actions of groups like these but we must also remember to treat them with dignity and integrity for they, too, are children of God even if they do not believe.
Is there nothing sacred? Yes there is! And it is the dignity of man simply because we are all children of God. The battle will not be won on some field somewhere with weapons. It will be won with prayer and gentle, yet firm admonishment of artists and institution who are insistent on exhibiting such vile pieces of "art."
Friday, November 26, 2010
I had the distinct pleasure of spending the holiday with members of my wife's family. We were invited to their beautiful home in the Ozarks for a wonderful feast celebrating the things we are most thankful for. That is what the day is for, after all.
When all thirty or so of us had gathered, it was time for grace, to acknowledge God as the center of our lives and the reason for the feast which we were about to partake of. It was interesting how the group gathered for the prayer. We all assembled in a circle. No one directed this, it just happened. It was interesting that we did this because the circle is a never ending thing. It has no beginning and, hard as you might try, you will never find an ending. It is perpetual.
That is what a family is in a way. At one point in history it may have had a beginning with a young couple united in matrimony starting a family. As time goes on more and more members join the unit whether they are born into it or join it through marriage. As the circle grows, it becomes more diverse, stronger. The love that is shared has a perpetual quality about it since the love shared in the present will resonate well into the future. The circle will continue to enlarge or it may shrink, but the love that binds will not diminish.
Family is what Thanksgiving is ultimately about. Sure, we're all individually thankful about various elements in our lives. However, for most of us, the thing we have to be most thankful for are those people we call family. Without family, life is a hard and cruel place. Yes, families do feud from time to time and some may even go years without contact or speaking to one another. But even in these less than acceptable conditions, there is still that familial love that binds and will continue from this world to the next.
As we gave thanks in prayer, our attention was drawn to the center of the circle. There was nothing there but empty space. At least that is what the physical world told us. However, in reality, the center of that circle, the focus of our attention, was the love that was shared for each individual standing around that geometrical shape. And that love, in that moment and into the future, came from a loving God who had gathered us together for this occasion.
So you see, God was and indeed is, at the center of this family's life. May He continue to bless us with His bounteous love and take us well into the future as Thanksgivings continue to come and go.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
This is the traditional time of year that we all look back over the last year in order to take into account what we have to be thankful for. Most of the time for many of us, we like to look over our treasures, both little and large, to gauge just how well the year was for us. But I would like to reflect over the next few moments at something a little different than goods and services that may have in some way improved our lives.
This has been a year of remarkable swings in the fortunes of the families that I am honored to be a part of.
The year began as any other year might. All were filled with hope and anticipation that 2010 would be at least a little better and kinder than 2009. However, as the time moved forward, things took a turn for the worse for my wife's family. Their father, Lloyd Smith, was diagnosed with severe heart problems and operated on in the early days of March. He came through the surgery without any problems, but soon after surgery, he lapsed into a state of unconsciousness that ended, sadly, on April 9. The giant of the family had gone home.
On my side of the family, however, 2010 brought the hope of new life and the future. On September 11, 2010, our fourth granddaughter was born to my son Josh and his wife Melissa. What a blessed event it is to see new life ushered into our midst! Their family, three girls along with mom and dad, have much to be thankful for. About a month later, in mid-October, my other son, Josh's twin, welcomed into this world the first King grandson. Again, new life brought forth new hope.
And there were the minor, almost unnoticed details that make up a bulk of the time of a man's life. Good and bad, they constitute living and living is far better than not being at all.
This year has been a treasure in so many ways. Through the tragedy of the spring, I saw, and was a part, of a family drawing closer together as they bid their father farewell. It was heart wrenching to see the sadness and grief on their faces as they lay to rest their parent. But Lloyd would have liked the outcome. He would have liked the fact that all came together in a celebration of his life as they remember the myriad of stories recalled during the funeral. There was far more laughter and nostalgia during those few days of mourning than there were tears. The fabric of the family was not torn nor was it weakened. Rather, it was strengthened and made anew with the memory of a beloved mother and father as the centerpiece of the life of the siblings.
Through the joy of the fall, I witnessed the hope of new life. I saw the future burn bright for young families who are the building blocks of our destiny. The smiles of newborns are hard to resist because they dispel the darkness in one split second and somehow, the world doesn't seem such a lonely and cold place in which to live. The hope of a future filled with promise and excitement looms before this family and life, energetic, exuberant life, charges forward. And through it all, our spark of life is renewed and rekindled.
And then the treasure of a spouse who you do not know what you would do without comes to mind. Joan is not only my spouse but my friend, my confidant. She, too, gives life and energy to me and makes me understand the important things in life. She is my heart and soul and life is simply unthinkable without her.
So as we gather around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, regardless of whether that table is a magnificent tribute to the bounty that we have been blessed with, or whether that table is a humble offering of the love reflected in the family gathered to give thanks despite its meager contents, may we not forget to pause and give thanks for one another. Then, in the end, but certainly not last, may we remember to give thanks to God for all His blessings large and small. As Archbishop Fulton J Sheen once said, "Life is worth living!" May we always live it to the fullest filled with thanks each and every day for the people in our lives who help to make us who we are.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
As usual, the audience gathered for the show in Oprah's Chicago studio not knowing that this was her annual gifting fest. As far as the audience knew, the shows subject was to be meditation. The adoring fans awaited for Oprah's appearance and she did not disappoint. The audience obligingly rose to their feet amidst screams of adulation as though some great military hero had just entered the room. She began the show by introducing the subject and then pulled the surprise. From here on out, the audience could barely control itself.
As each prize or gift was announced, the audience once again obliged by going wild. Both men and women jumped and clapped and screamed at the top of their lungs as the gifts were either distributed or shown to the audience. It appeared that there was about to be a mass fainting spell at any moment. This orgy of celebratory nonsense went on for what seemed to be hours even though the show is only an hour long with commercials.
This frenzy continued throughout the entire show. It was amazing to me how excited the members of this audience became over these gifts. Mind you, the gifts were not your ordinary gifts. There was a plasma TV and expensive jewelry among other things. But such display of hysteria over mere material gifts was beyond my understanding.
Now there may be some of you who would say to me that I might react in the same way. Since I have never been on the receiving end of such opulent gifts, I wouldn't know how I would react. I would hope that I would be far more restrained than Oprah's audience was. To me, this display was bordering on the obscene. It highlighted the notion for me that our material world has completely hijacked any notion of common sense and robbed us of the values that have made our society envied throughout the world. I have to wonder how many of these people complained about the lavish travels of Michelle Obama to Spain complaining of her spending so much money while millions were unemployed and finding it difficult to feed their families. I wonder, will any of these audience members sell their gifts and give the money to charities who look after the poor, the hungry, and the homeless?
All of us like to receive presents. Its fun. We all enjoy being on the receiving end of someone's generosity. But what I am saying here is that this is materialism gone wild. I am not questioning Oprah's motivation. She may be, in fact, a very generous person. What I am saying is that her gifts to this group of people and their resultant reaction tells me something disturbing about society as a whole. I'm afraid that there are many of us who would react in much the same way. Have we reached a point when materialism has become our god? Or has the drive to obtain things always been this ferocious?
Christmas is the time when we celebrate the ultimate giver, Jesus Christ. He gave His life so that all may live. I wonder if the joy on display on the Oprah show as the presents were rolled out will be duplicated in the churches as we celebrate the coming of the ultimate gifter! I rather doubt it.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
I can count on her for her wisdom and humor. She laughs at my lame jokes and puns and is always willing to accommodate my sudden urges to go somewhere and do something on the spur of the moment.
We laugh together and have cried together. We are truly each other's best friends, not in the adolescent way, but in the way that gives life meaning and understanding between two people. We look to one another for understanding and comfort.
Remarkably, we have faced numerous crises together and have always come out the better and the closer for having done so. In her battle against breast cancer, she taught me the true meaning of the word courage. She taught me that even though fear can run deeper than anyone might possibly imagine, you can face that fear with courage and determination that defines the word dignity. She was determined to overcome this potential killer and did through her faith in God and confidence in the amazing medical staff that saw to her every medical need.
Today is an important day in our lives for on this day we celebrate yet another birthday. She deserves all the happiness in the world on this day because she has brought an abundance of happiness to not only me but to her sons as well as her family and friends. One of the greatest blessings I have experienced in my life is the blessing that God has bequeathed in allowing me to grow older with her. Life is far richer, more interesting, and more meaningful because of her presence. She gives of herself without a word of complaint and loves me despite all my faults.
Happy Birthday my dearest Joan. This day is for you. This day is a day for celebration and looking forward to our lives together in the future. May God bless you with all the happiness you deserve on this day and may our future years together be as wonderful and enriching as the past years have been!