Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Echoes of Fathers Day

Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
June 25, 2016
A sermon manuscript

A psalm of David. Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle's!
The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone--as though we had never been here.
But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children's children
of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!
Psalm 103

"You parents--if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?
Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!
So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
"Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:9-12

I walked into a jeweler's store near my house to get batteries replaced in a couple of Karin's watches.  The woman behind the counter took my watches and looked them over. headed toward the work bench. The last time they replaced batteries it had taken a little while, so I  asked if I could leave them and pick them up later in the morning. I said I was just around the corner working at Starbucks . She asked what I was doing at Starbucks.

 “Writing,” I said.

 “What are you writing?”

“I'm working on a novel about a preacher and his son. The preacher is a man of great integrity. Kind. Generous. Devout. Honest. Now, in his old age he is facing an excruciating dilemma. His son has died in a car accident. Tomorrow, Jim is going to preach his son's funeral, and Jim, the preacher has to choose between the gospel he has preached for forty years and his son.

The son, Keith, was a good man, but not a believer. Because of his integrity, Jim cannot even hint that his son will be saved, not unless he also admits the gospel he has been preaching for forty years is inadequate.  If it were a funeral for anyone else, Jim could hide behind the idea that judgment is up to God and leave it at that. He could say that only God knows the heart. But this was his son. And Jim did know his heart.  And Keith did not believe. They had talked and talked. Keith knew the gospel and had decided it did not ring true. He understood Romans and refused to believe it was the word of God. If Jim preached hope of eternal life in the face of what he knew about his son it would be a denial of the gospel he had preached through four decades.

So Jim faces the terrible choice of saving his religion or saving his son, a terrible, awful dilemma.

 “I know people like that,” she said. “One of my friends has been devout all her life. Now her son has come out as gay. She doesn't know what to do.”

I left the watches and headed back to Starbucks where I lived with Jim's agony.

Working on this sermon, I replayed that conversation in my head. As a dad, if I were faced with the choice of saving my kids or my theology, which would I choose? Which do we love more, our religion or our kids?

This past Sunday was Father's day. One of my girls gave me a card, the sweetest possible card. According to her card I was the perfect dad. She did not mention the time I swatted her across the room when she bit my leg. She overlooked the times I was an hour late picking her up from school. She graciously neglected to mention other failings and imperfections. For the moment, and in that beautiful card, I was the perfect father. That's what we do on Father's Day and Mother's Day, right? We celebrate the good stuff. We omit reference to failures and inadequacies. We recall the best. We practice selective attention.

The Bible builds its vision of God on similar selective vision.

In Psalm our Old Testament reading this morning we heard these words

The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. Psalm 103

Not all fathers are tender and compassionate. And even tender and compassionate fathers are not unfailingly tender and compassionate. But we build on the goodness we have observed in fathers we know and imagine a God who is even better.”

Karin talks of the special relationship she had with her father. Her mother was strong, smart, and good. But when Karin needed some tender compression, when she needed empathy, she went to papa. When she had messed up, she knew she could find sanctuary in papa's presence. An embrace. Understanding. Shelter.

God is like that. God is the perfect father, the daddy we who are older wish had been, the kind of dad younger men aspire to be, the kind of father some of us wish we had.

The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate

Throughout the Bible, the most frequent metaphor for God is Father. Old Testament and New Testament. Moses and the Psalms. Jesus. All repeatedly invoke"father" as a word picture of God. Which raises the question, what kind of father? Answer: God is the Father's Day dad. The sum of the best we can imagine a dad to be.

Regrettably, I acknowledge there are other kinds of dads.

My friend John Benedetto used to tell me  stories of abuse he received at the hands of his father. I still shake my head in disbelief and horror when I recall John's stories.

My friend Russell endured unspeakable abuse from his mother and beatings from his father throughout his entire childhood. I don't know how he functions as a human being. It is difficult. He has fractious relationships. No wonder.

I tell these stories just to make it clear that I am aware of the dark side of fathering. if we are going to understand God as father we must decide what kind of father we mean. Not every version of father is worthy of serving as an illustration of the character of God.

Rooted deep in humanity is a conviction that fathers are supposed to be protectors and sustainers. As the Psalm states, the natural, good character of a father is tenderness and compassion. It is when fathers are like that that they serve as reliable illustrations of God.

This human knowledge is endorsed in the Gospel. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus frequently pictures God as a father. In every instance, Jesus assumes that "father"means the Hallmark version of father. Every time Jesus mentions God as father, Jesus is offering reassurance, confidence, and hope. Jesus does sometimes speak of God's authority, but when he does, uses other metaphors like kings and  judges. “Father,” for Jesus is not an "authority figure." Father is an attentive provider.

 When we drink deeply from this vision of God, we view some traditional religious concerns in new light.

The question: what do I have to do to be saved, gets turned on its head and becomes what could I possibly do to be lost? Can I be forgiven changes into "richly forgiven I am!

In the most famous “father” story in the Bible, there is a father and two sons. One, the younger son, son is a total jerk. He asks his father for his share of the inheritance. He can't wait for dad to die. He the wants the money now. Dad gives him the money. And this younger son goes off to a foreign land where he blows all his money on parties, drugs, and women. When his money is gone, he ends up working for a farmer feeding a pigs—the ultimate come down for a Jewish young man. He is so destitute he envies the pigs their slop.

He suddenly thinks, “Wait. Even the servants in my father's house eat better than I do. I'll go home and ask for a job as a servant.”

He heads home. Entering the neighborhood, while he's a long way off up the road, his father spies him. Dad races down the driveway to meet him. Embraces him and welcomes him. Dad orders a calf to be slaughtered and preparations for a feast started.

Meanwhile the older brother is out taking care of the farm. He comes back to the house, sees all the preparations for the feast, and learns it is a welcome-home party for his ne-er-do-well brother. The older brother is ticked off. He refuses to come into the house.

At this point, we realize the prime villain in the story is not the younger son. He has already been redeemed. He has seen the light and come home. The villain is the older brother, the responsible one.

Noticing his son's absence, dad goes out and begs the older brother to join the party. The older son huffs, “All these years I have slaved for you and did you ever give me a calf or even a goat for a feast with my friends?”

The story ends with one of the most magnificent speeches in all literature. The father says, “Son, everything I have is yours.” --the rest of the inheritance, the entire farm, the whole operation. It's all yours.--  Son, you're being a jerk. Still, everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate. Your brother who was dead is returned to me alive.”

Everything I have is yours.

In this story who is saved? In the end, who is at home in the father's house? Everyone. The only question is, will the older son join the party.

The Father's Day dad is perfect. A paragon of strength and virtue, compassion and hope, faithfulness and understanding. And this kind of dad is successful. He saves his family. He saves his kids. All of them. This is the best picture of God.

 After last week's sermon, someone asked me in the lobby. “Are you a closet universalist?” I said, No, I'm not a closet universalist. I'm a very public “for all practical purposes universalist.” If someone genuinely, with informed consent, preferred damnation, I'm sure God would honor the request. But who, I wonder, would actually make such a choice?

In Corinthians 15 we read that all will be changed. At the last trump. No one is ready—as we are—for eternal life. So, at the Second Coming all must be fixed in preparation for their life in paradise. Everyone who enters Paradise will be changed to prepare them for happy citizenship there. How many people, given the option of repair, would decline it?

When we view God as father, the divine, perfect, Hallmark father, it is natural to ask who is God unable or unwilling to fix? Who is so messed up that God cannot heal them and create for them a welcome place in his house?

After writing this sermon I was back at campmeeting Friday evening. Pastor Mika and I were standing together talking when a young woman walked up. “You guys are from Green Lake Church, right?”

We did introductions. Then she jumped straight to it. Her uncle had told about a sermon I had preached. The uncle said she should hear it. She hadn't gotten around to watching it, but she wanted to know how Green Lake Church treated gay people. We talked for a few minutes. Her family had connections with our congregation a generation or two in the past. She talked about several non-Adventist congregations she had investigated in her search for a church home. But she was Adventist. No other church would do. Initially, I had thought her question was theoretical. I imagined her as a young person putting her church under the microscope of youthful idealism. But as she talked I realized she was asking a personal question: is there room in the Father's house for me?

What would you tell her? What would you have me tell her? Do we love our religion more than our kids?

The minister I described earlier, Jim, has preached Paul's gospel for forty years. That Gospel rescued his soul from darkness and gave him hope and purpose. Like the majority of Christian theologians through the centuries he had imagined the machinery of salvation that worked for him was the only apparatus available to God for the salvation of his children. If you did not believe and confess just the way it is described in Romans 10, there can be no salvation for you.

So Jim's son who could not believe Paul's theories was necessarily damned. Anyone like the young woman at campmeeting who could not embrace Paul's sexual ethic was damned.

I imagine traditional expressions of the gospel to be like a lifeboat discovered by floundering, shipwrecked sailors. As they clamber into the boat, they give thanks for their salvation and immediately fret that everyone who did not make it into the lifeboat must necessarily drown. But what those inside the boat cannot see is that God has an entire armada of whales swallowing people and spitting them up on the beach while the good folk in the life boat are still waiting to be picked up.

The preacher's son, Kieth, is outside the lifeboat of the church. That is true. He is outside the historic Christian formulas for salvation. He is not beyond the reach of God's whales.

The young woman at campmeeting is outside Paul's sexual ethic. Like nearly all of us she disagrees with some of what Paul wrote about sexuality. (Remember, according to Paul the highest spiritual life requires celibacy. Marriage was allowed only to hormone-driven people incapable of sustaining celibacy.)

Neither Keith nor the woman fit inside our understanding of good and wholesome religion. So what do we do?

Will we guard the door against the unworthy or will we join the father in scanning the distant road for the slightest hint someone is heading home? Will we, when we notice an absence in the party--will we leave the party, leave the comfort of our secure religion and go looking. And when we find a son or daughter outside will we remind them and ourselves, all that we have is theirs.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

In the Presence of Evil

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists
Sabbath, June 18, 2016

Psalm 130
Revelation 6:1-11

Sunday morning Karin and I were sitting in the kitchen when Bonnie came downstairs with the news. There had been a shooting in Orlando, the most horrific mass shooting in modern American history.

I felt sick to my stomach.

It was like the morning when my son came in and told me planes were flying into the World Trade Center. I have never watched video of the event, but my imagination shows me planes and flames and people leaping to their deaths and other horrors.

It was like the day I heard on the radio that America had begun bombing Baghdad. And I felt the tearing of flesh and the devastation of families.

I sat there stunned. Silent. I did not look at video. I did not listen to the radio. I did not need to. People were killed. Huge, painful caverns were being created in families and circles of friends.

Evil was afoot.

Over the next hours I read comments by various people, friends on Facebook, the president of the North American Adventist Church. Over the next days, I heard on the radio and read in the newspaper comments by political figures, preachers.

I am a writer. I put things in words. But last Sunday, I hesitated. What could I say that would not be misunderstood? What could I say that I might not later regret when more information came to light? Were there any words that would not add to the storm of hurt, outrage, and horror? Finally, late, sitting on my porch in the twilight, I found in my heart these three sentences:

I am grieving. Holding my words, sensing they cannot be large enough to carry my grief, fearing they might say things unworthy or unwise. So tonight I grieve.

Today, a week later. I have only slightly more to say.

I have listened to the swirl of words. Outrage, anger, impatience, denunciations, ridicule, bombast, shouting. Gun control. Gun rights. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Young men. Gay rights. The evils of liberal thought. The noise is understandable. When we are suddenly confronted with horror, we react instinctively. So when I hear loud, angry voices in connection with Orlando I think, it's only natural. But it is not wise. It is not beautiful. Mostly, it is not helpful. Anger is a blind guide.

When we are in the presence of evil, if we are not careful, our words and actions will be shaped more strongly by the evil in our environment than by the holiness of our faith. It is possible, if we engage to quickly with evil, that our own efforts to fight evil will be tainted, permeated even, by the very evil against which we war.

Sunday, as I heard the news from Orlando, I found myself in the presence of evil. So did you. How shall we respond?

First, silence. And in our silence, grief.

People died. People were killed. Shot. Lots of people. Everyone who died created a circle of loss, a circle of pain. In our grief we connect with the mothers and dads, the sisters and brothers, the lovers and husbands and wives and grandmothers and friends and co-workers and colleagues who were bereaved by bullets on Saturday night.

As Adventists, we understand our grief as an echo, a mirror, of the grief of heaven. God is bereaved by every death. God's living intimacy with his human children is interrupted by death. Their voices have been stilled not just on earth, but in heaven itself. They no longer pray or worship. Every death leaves God with an emptiness. The emptiness of a mother. The aching grief of a father. God is bereaved. We are bereaved. Our grief is a participation in the grief of heaven.

The first words appropriate to grief are silence.

In our silence we pay attention to the loss. We acknowledge there are no words adequate for the loss. No words “can make it all better.” In our silence, we keep company with those struck dumb with grief. And our awareness of the sweep of grief includes even God.

If we discipline ourselves to be silent. If we take time to grieve in the face of evil, I think we will feel the terrible contradiction between our faith and the world around us.

As believers we hold to the vision of God: The promise that justice will triumph, the promise of redemption. We know the words of Scripture:

The lion and the lamb will feed tranquilly together.

They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.

The high and exalted will be brought low; the lowly will be exalted.

There will be no more sorrow, crying, grief, or pain.

The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as waters fill the sea.

In all things God is working for the good of those who love him.

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will establish a kingdom that will fill the whole earth and he will reign forever.

When evil leaps suddenly into glaring attention in our world, if we take a few minutes to be quiet, we will be struck with the contrast between the news and the good news, between reality and the Gospel. We will be troubled. We SHOULD BE troubled. This is not how it should be.

We will direct some of our anger and frustration at God. Where was God? Where is God? By raising our questions in the presence of God, our natural anger will be elevated. Our impulses to strike and wound and kill will be tempered by holiness.

Evil often does invade our lives. News media specializes in bringing evil to our attention. Sometimes the horror that confronts us is unspeakably evil. We are dumbfounded by the monstrosity of wickedness. When this happens, if we will quiet ourselves as our first reaction. If we quiet ourselves and seek company with the God whose world is the venue of this evil . . . If we refrain from immediately starting to shout about all those other people who are wrecking the world . . . If we give attention to the difference between the world of God's hope as pictured in the visions of the prophets and the world that is tangibly with us . . . We may hear the question: What can I do? What can we do? How can I help?

One of the common characteristics of the presence of evil is the way it swamps our mind. The noise and horror of evil can be so powerful that we react as if it were everything, as if it were the whole of reality. If we start speaking and acting while this sense of overwhelming evil is still with us, we risk being seduced by the very evil that we loathe. Our actions may mirror the evil we hate.

It is appropriate for us to allow our outrage at particular instances of evil to goad us out of complacency and into action. But let us find our guidance for what to do in the beautiful vision of the prophets not in the ugly horror of the evil that is present with us.

We cannot escape the presence of evil. If we turned off our TVs and refused to read the newspaper and disconnected the internet, evil would still find us. It is part of the inescapable reality of this world. This truth lives at the center of our faith. Jesus was crucified. Our master, the Holy One, was executed as a criminal. We live under no illusions that our privileges or even our virtues make us immune from horrific evil.

On the other hand, as followers of Jesus we embrace a radical commitment to the pursuit of goodness. We may die, but we will not become killers. We may be mistreated, but we will not become haters. We are vulnerable. We grieve. But we will not allow fear or outrage to dictate our words, to own our lives.

In the presence of evil, we remain committed to the ideals of Jesus.

Stubbornly. Resolutely. So help us, God.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Exam

Sermon manuscript for Sabbath, June 11, 2016
Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists

Texts: Daniel 1; Matthew 25

Seminary programs are designed to begin in the fall. I started in the spring. In the seminary bulletin the class descriptions frequently came with footnotes about prerequisites and proper order. You could not take exegesis classes until you had taken Greek and Hebrew. You couldn't take Old Testament Three until you had taken Old Testament One. I, of course, blithely ignored all these stipulations and signed up for classes that looked interesting.

Two or three weeks into the quarter I was summoned by the dean. When I was ushered into his august presence, he was not smiling. In fact, he was rather huffy bordering on irate. What did I think I was doing signing up for New Testament exegesis classes before taking Greek? I replied that even though I had not been a theology major in college, I had taken Greek. And had pretty good teachers, thank you.

That was NOT good enough. Everyone entering seminary was required to take Greek or pass an exam proving their competence. His scowl deepened. He was clearly offended that I was messing with his system.
“I'm happy to take the exam.” I said.
“But you have already enrolled in classes. You can't continue in the classes you are taking until you've passed the exam.”
“No problem, I said. “I'll take the exam now. Do you have one ready?”
He wasn't ready for that. “Well, you don't have to take it today. We'll schedule it.”
“Whenever you like,” I said.
He set the exam date for a couple days out and I went back to class. I took the exam and then heard nothing. A couple of weeks passed. Three weeks.
Finally, I went back to see the dean. The secretary sent me into his office. “I was wondering if my exam has been graded yet.”
He glowered at me over his glasses. “Do you speak Greek?”
“What do you mean? I took Greek in college.”
“I'm working on some Greek manuscripts doing collation—that is compiling a comprehensive catalog of variants. I have a grant to hire a few students. Would you be interested in joining our team?”
“Sure. That sounds great.”

I never did find out what my score on the exam was. But I think I passed.

Exams can be terrifying if you're not ready. If you are ready, an exam is a validation.

In graduate education a thesis or dissertation defense is an occasion for demonstrating mastery. Real questions are asked. You better be prepared. But the presumption is that the student will shine. And if the student shines that makes the teacher look good.

Our OT reading today features a final exam.

Daniel, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, had been taken to Babylon along with thousands of other Jews. They were selected for a special program that trained junior royalty from conquered nations in the language, culture, and knowledge of Babylon. It was a three year program with a comprehensive exam at the end.

Right off the bat, the four Hebrews made waves. The king had appointed a sumptuous royal diet and plenty of wine for the trainees. This was part of the assimilation program. If these trainees were going to join the Babylonian nobility, they might as well begin getting acculturated now.

Daniel and his friends said, no. They wanted their own special diet. And only water to drink.

The way I understand this story, it was a question of identity. By insisting on a special diet, Daniel and his friends were keeping alive their distinctive identity. This sense of being special, of being different, influenced every other aspect of their lives. They didn't study like Babylonians. That is they studied harder. Longer.

I was amused at a comment I heard from some culture historian a few months ago. He noted the Enlightenment in England and the explosion of science and innovation in the late 1700s came at about the time coffee houses appeared.

Before that, people spent their days drinking beer. Everyone was slightly drunk all the time. When you switch your beverage from a sedative to a stimulant, it will have an impact on your productivity, especially your mental productivity. Mornings, while their buddies were dealing with hangovers from the night before, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were getting miles ahead in their studies.

If you get a couple extra hours of productive study every day for three years, it will pay off come exam time.

And sure enough. At the end of the three years, in the comprehensive exams conducted before the king, Daniel and his friends shone. Their scores were ten times higher than the scores of those who had tried to study through the haze of drunkenness.

Sometimes, difference is an advantage.

Let me state the obvious: The performance of Daniel and his buddies on their comprehensive exam was not magic. There was no “trick” or gimmick. Neither was it an accident or “miracle.” It was the natural result of three years of wise habits. The exam put on display the persons these four guys had been building block by block over the course of those three years.

Graduates, you have completed a course of study. Eight grades of elementary school. College. A Ph. D. You are already started on your preparation for you next exam. Even if that preparation is simply a respite from the pressure of study.

For most of you school will begin again next fall. You will begin again getting ready for some future comprehensive examination. If you aren't going on in school, you'll look for a job. Where habits will be just as important as they were in school. To a large extent your success or failure will depend on your habits. The exam that matters is not scrutiny to see if you ever goofed, if you ever slacked off, if you ever made a mistake. The exam that matters is the view of your habits. Did you come back to the pursuit of your goals over and over. Did you act in agreement with your true identity? Did you live as an agent of the kingdom of God, a member of the royalty of heaven, a disciple of Jesus?

Thursday evening, after an afternoon working on this sermon, I was headed home and listening to an audiobook. A nineteen-year old woman was at some kind of school in pre-war France that trained young women in the graces and manners of well-bred women. Isabelle had been expelled from a whole series of schools which had tried to squeeze her into their idea of a model young woman.

A teach at this final school was scolding Isabelle. “Why haven't you learned anything?” She exclaimed. Isabelle retorted, “It has been said that if a student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught.”

I laughed and laughed at her impudence. Given her history, I suspect it was not merely defects in teaching that were the problem. But her comment highlights the reality that teachers are crucial. A good teacher can make a huge difference. I benefited from some teachers like that. I left their classes ready for all kinds of things—like a surprise Greek exam. Because of the quality of teaching I had enjoyed, I knew I was ready for any exam. An exam would not be a threat. It would be an opportunity to demonstrate the mastery drilled into my head by Drs. Springett and Holbrook.

One of the values that has animated Mr. Dunston and Mr. Roberts through their years of teaching is a drive to see their students excel. When kids leave Cypress Adventist School and go elsewhere, they outperform their peers. They are a credit to the teaching they have received. I don't know if they are ten times better than other students. But they are measurably, noticeably advanced. A credit to their teachers and their school.

Thank you Mr. Dunston and Mr. Roberts for you long and faithful service.

Our NT reading (Matthew 25) also features a test.

There was a wedding in the works. Part of the custom of that time and place was for a group of bridesmaids to be in waiting. Sooner or later—or later or even later—the groom's party would show up. The bridesmaids would join the parade and they would all head to the groom's house for the festivities.

In this story there were ten maidens, all of them dressed and ready. All of them had little lamps that were essential for the night time parade. They were all beautiful. They were all sleeping.

Then there is a commotion. The groom is arriving. They wake up and trim their lamps. Oh no! They have been asleep so long, the groom has taken so long to arrive, their lamps are flickering. Their oil is running out. For five of the maidens, no problem. They have little flasks with extra oil. They refill their lamps and step out to join the parade. The other five maidens rush out to buy oil. By the time make their purchase the parade has already entered the groom's house. The door is shut and they are excluded from the party.

What made the difference? The foolish virgins lived to the test. They figured how long it would take for the groom to arrive and they were ready for the wait. The wise virgins made no such calculations. They simply did what you do when you have a lamp with limited reservoir capacity. They brought lamps and extra oil. It's like the rule about head lamps. You take a headlamp AND extra batteries. You can go on a hundred hikes and never need those extra batteries. But being responsible means putting them in your pack.

Don't live to the test. Live to your duty. Do the right thing, the wise thing, and the test will take care of itself.

The Bible is full of stories about Judgment Day. Sometimes religious people can get caught up in these stories and live with a lot of anxiety. What if the Judgment reveals some flaw, some overlooked error that they have failed to correct. But this is a misunderstanding of the teaching of these stories.

God is not playing a game of “Gotcha!” The judgment is not about finding that one forgotten offense for which you did not apologize, that one character flaw who failed to notice in yourself.

The message of the judgment is that our lives here and now matter, the entirety of our lives, especially our habits. In Matthew 25, after this story of the ten maidens, there are two other stories of judgment. In both of them the decision of the judgment is based on unremarkable, prosaic labor. There was no drama in the preparation. No gimmicks. No magic formula. There was simple, uncomplicated faithfulness.

For the maidens who had batteries for their headlamps—extra oil for their lamps—the time of the grooms arrival was unimportant. The groom could come whenever he wanted. They were ready for his time table. They didn't insist he bend to theirs.

In the second story, three servants were given money to invest. Two of them got busy and did what they could. And their master was well pleased with their performance. One servant was scared to do anything, so he did nothing. The master was NOT pleased.

In the third story, the winners had no idea there was going to be a test. And even if they had known there was going to be a test, this knowledge would have not been much help because (in the story) they would have misunderstood what questions were going to be on the test.

The final judgment simply revealed the pattern of their lives. The question was: were you generous. Everyone thought the test was about who you gave to. But what mattered was the giver not the recipient. In this story, the crucial question is: how generous are we? How readily did we give? Not how discerning were we in our giving?

You have graduated. You have demonstrated mastery, intellectual excellence. What will you do with the skills and knowledge you have gained? Jesus invites you to be generous. Pour yourself into endeavors worthy of the gifts you have received.

Figure out the universe.

Heal disease.

Feed the hungry.

Inspire holiness.

Create beauty. Make music. Paint pictures. Create joy, health, happiness.

Cooperate with God in extending the reach and impact of the kingdom of heaven.

Do this, and the Great Final Exam—whenever it comes—will be a glorious affirmation of your life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Big and Small

Green Lake Church Gazette, June 2016

Friday afternoon, few weeks ago, I was sitting in a remote desert valley. Twelve miles to the west, the Inyo Mountains soared upward, a stark, sheer ten thousand foot wall cutting the sky. A geologist from the next camp site had joined me and we sat staring at the rocky face across the valley. We talked about the movement of mountains and the depth of geologic time. At one point he waxed philosophical. He wondered about extra terrestrial life and our tiny place in the universe. He told me how unsettling it was for him to confront the span of "deep time." Billions of years—where did that leave us? How could we matter? Our lives are the tiniest specks against the sweep of the eons. How did a person hang onto his humanity when confronting this immensity?

In response I told a story.

I remembered body surfing in my teens. Riding a wave, especially a big one, was pure exhilaration. Even now, when I close my eyes and look back I can recall—and almost feel in my bones--the magic of flying down the surface of a wave as it pushed toward the beach.

Sometimes a wave would grab me, snatch me off its surface and into its mountainous bulk, and then tumble me. I think surfers describe it as being "washing machined." Those moments were terrifying, naturally. I didn't know what the wave was going to do with me. I didn't know how long it would hold me, when and where it would let me go. In those moments I knew my smallness. Still, I returned to it over and over, because in addition to knowing my smallness, I felt something else as well. As the wave was having its way with me, I knew myself as part of the life of the wave. I had become a piece of this thundering mountain of water. I had been transformed into an essential ingredient of the awesome power that held me.

For millennia, devout thinkers have lived with a deep knowledge of both our smallness and our bigness.

"To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?" asks the Holy One. Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. . . .
Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Isaiah 40:25-29

Our awareness of God has confronted us with the fact of deep time--billions and billions of years--eternity. We have practiced knowing that our present life is a speck, a miniscule bit, against the largeness of creation, never mind the eternity of God. We have also rehearsed, week after week in the words and music of our worship and in our prayers and meditations, the glory of our place in the eternity of God.

We are part of the life of God. The Bible pictures God turning his attention our direction with an intensity out of all proportion to the space we occupy on a galactic map or cosmic calendar. God loves us so much he would rather die than live without us. God is like parents who find meaning through the life and well-being of their children, the artist who lives in her art, the shepherd who can rest only when the sheep are safely home, the lover whose affection is so insistent, jealousy is the most apt description of its fire. Just as the wave, having engulfed me was then dependent on my presence for the fullness of its new identity, so God is no longer independent. Our tiny lives and the immense life of God are intertwined. Tumbled, sometimes terrified, still we are swept up in the grandeur of God. We ourselves—not just the rocks and galaxies—are part of "deep time," part of the sweep of eternity. This is the truth we sing and speak every week in worship. This is the truth that comes alive in our service to one another and the world.

I went to bed early that Friday night after visiting with my geologist neighbor. It had been a good conversation, a pleasant exploration of the deep questions that naturally arise in easy conversation in wide spaces. Sometime after midnight I woke. I was sleeping on the ground under the sky, so when I pulled my head out of my sleeping bag hood, the night beckoned. A gibbous moon washed the sandy landscape with ethereal light. Stars poked pinpricks of light through the gauzy glow of the moon. The air was warm. I crawled out, pulled on my shoes, and went for a walk.

Every step was more enchanting than the last. Warmth from the day's heat radiated up from the ground. The sandy track seemed to glow with an internal light it was so luminous. Walking and savoring the the exquisite beauty of the night, I wished all my friends could be there with me. I wished all the angry people and anxious people and those hounded by poverty and disability could be there at least for a little while to taste the glory of the night. For an hour and a half that Friday night, I was engulfed in the glory of the cosmos. I kept company with the stars and with the ten-thousand foot bulk of the Inyo Mountains that loomed in the moonlight. I was engulfed in the sweeping surf of the universe. I was a tiny speck in communion with the immensity. And it was good.

May God grant that our worship, our prayer and meditation, remind us of both our smallness and our bigness, our smallness alone and our glorious immensity as part of the life of God and his people.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Building a Good Nest

Sermon manuscript for Sabbath, June 4, 2016
Delivered at Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists

Deuteronomy 32:9-11, 13
"Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! Hear, O earth, the words that I say! I will proclaim the name of the LORD; how glorious is our God! He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!
"But they have acted corruptly toward him; when they act so perversely, are they really his children? They are a deceitful and twisted generation. Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations past. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Inquire of your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High assigned lands to the nations, when he divided up the human race, he established the boundaries of the peoples according to the number in his heavenly court. For the people of Israel belong to the LORD; Jacob is his special possession.
He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes. Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions. He let them ride over the highlands and feast on the crops of the fields. He nourished them with honey from the rock and olive oil from the stony ground. He fed them yogurt from the herd and milk from the flock, together with the fat of lambs. He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats, together with the choicest wheat. You drank the finest wine, made from the juice of grapes. Then he will ask, 'Where are their gods, the rocks they fled to for refuge? Where now are those gods, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their offerings? Let those gods arise and help you! Let them provide you with shelter! Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!
Moses added: "Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. These instructions are not empty words--they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River."

Luke 15:31-32
"His father said to him, 'Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!'"

Jeremiah 31:22-25
How long will you wander, my wayward daughter? For the LORD will cause something new to happen--Israel will embrace her God."
This is what the LORD of Heaven's Armies, the God of Israel, says: "When I bring them back from captivity, the people of Judah and its towns will again say, 'The LORD bless you, O righteous home, O holy mountain!' Townspeople and farmers and shepherds alike will live together in peace and happiness. For I have given rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing."

Jeremiah 32:36-41
"Now I want to say something more about this city. You have been saying, 'It will fall to the king of Babylon through war, famine, and disease.' But this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says:
I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.

On Monday, Karin and I were in our backyard working on a project when I noticed two barn swallows trying to snatch a piece of chicken down from the air. At first I through they were mates. Closer observation suggested they were competing males, both aiming to score the premier nest furnishing—down! The down finally landed on the ground up against barn next to the door. They still went at it, but were appropriately nervous. Three cats prowl the barn and all of them are skilled predators. I went and moved the down onto the grass some distance away from the barn.

When I looked later, it was gone, taken either by the wind or by a proud barn swallow dad.

Down is a highly coveted nesting material at our place. Barn swallows construct their nests of mud glued to rafters with saliva. Sparrows build their nests of grass and twigs in nooks and crannies. But when it comes to lining the inner cavity of their nests for the well-being of their babies, both sparrows and swallows understand the value of a down comforter. They secure the very best for their babies.

The Bible story begins with God fashioning a nest—the Garden of Eden—for his children. The awful tragedy is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the original nest. Later, in the story of the people of Israel, again we see God working to create a nest, a sanctuary, a nursery for his people. God promises Israel while they are slaves in Egypt, that he is going to take them to a land flowing with milk and honey. The land will be so luxurious the rocks will drip with honey and oil.

Even when God's offspring soil the nest or flee the nest, God continues working to create a community, a culture, that fuels and catalyzes holiness.

This is most vividly demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus' ministry draws people. Jesus forms a community that is devoted to holiness, compassion, healing and truth. Perhaps the most crucial element in the teachings of Jesus is the way he links our human ambitions with the ambitions of God, our ideals with the ideals of God, human nature with the nature of God.

According to Jesus, the highest, noblest human impulses are mirrors of the character of God. God is a model parent, a healer, a forgiver, a lover, a seeker. We are to love our enemies, forgive those who harm us, seek for the lost, and heal the sick simply because that's way our Father is. These are the values of the family of God because they are the very essence of God's character.

We are the community of Jesus, the community of God. So we build a nest to care for the little ones, the injured ones, the weak ones, the disabled ones. This is simply what we do. Because we are the community formed by Jesus, we respond to the human need that surrounds us. A primary way we do that is through creating and maintaining this nest—this building, this community.

One of our primary obligations is to provide a healthy, nourishing community for our children. Whether those children are our literal biological children, or are “our” children in the sense that they are children we have a connection with through friendship, or they are our “children” in the sense that they are people whose spiritual and social needs we can serve.

We have Sabbath School classes to pass on our values and ideas, and even more importantly, to honor the children among us by giving them deep abiding attention.

We provide Explorations in the summer.

We have an orchestra and a junior choir. The Green Lake Singers includes junior members.

As a congregation we reinforce the value each of our families places on musical excellence and academic achievement and physical prowess.

As a congregation we remind our children and ourselves over and over and over again that every advantage we have—brains, good looks, musical ability, a pleasing personality, an American passport, access to education—every advantage is, at least in part, a gift and carries with it an obligation to pay into the lives of others some of the blessing that has enriched our own life.

I guess you could say, one of the primary purposes of this “nest” is to shape people who will build other nests, people who will seek to extend to others the benefits that were experienced here. To say it boldly: the success of a nest is measured by well it launches the nestlings into the world. (Usually we measure churches by how many of its offspring remain in the nest. I think we need to change our measuring stick. The measure of our success is what the nestlings do away from our nest.)

I was reminded of this on Wednesday night. Along with several others from this congregation, Karin and I attended the screening of “The Cameraperson.” A film by Kirsten Johnson. The film followed her work as a cinematographer, more specifically her work using film to work for social justice. Some of the footage was so emotionally charged I had to turn away. I was glad I was not the camera person, responsible for looking unflinchingly at the heartbreaking truth of the human condition.

Watching her film, I was reminded of the work of Sydney, another person who grew up in this church and has gone on to use her privilege as a platform from which to change to world, to make it better. At great personal risk. I thought of Julie, a young person I met when I was pastor of the North Hill Church. She now lives and works in the heart of Seattle. She cares for the mentally ill. She cares for people whose lives are ugly and misshapen, people whose beauty it takes a special gift to see. Thank you, Julie. I like to think, I hope, that her commitment to service was encouraged by those around her in the nest of the church.

My question to us as a congregation and to the larger denomination is this: How do we build our nest, so that the young ones who grow up in this nest are most likely to leave the nest wiser, stronger, and more holy?

A week ago I performed a wedding on the other side of the mountains. I've known the groom since he was a teenager. Why was I asked to perform the ceremony? Because church had been good to the groom. He is no longer involved in church. In fact, he is an atheist. But he wanted the pastor from his church to do the wedding. Because the church had been a very good nest. At a difficult time in his life, church people were good to him. The nest had been a good one.

In the wedding sermon I recalled some of the habits he had learned in church and talked of how those applied to his current life. He and the bride laughingly acknowledged the value of these habits. The nest had done him good. Its values would do them good.
Green Lake Church has launched a capital campaign to fund a couple of different aspects of this holy nest: Housing and staffing. The details can get a bit complicated—like real life does. But in simple outline here is our challenge: We need larger physical facilities to do all the ministry we dream of doing. We need more “housing” for Sabbath School classes for both children and adults. We need to be able to provide emergency housing for people who come from the greater Pacific Northwest for medical care here in Seattle. Part of this dream includes purchasing the adjacent properties on this block when they become available for sale. A number of times in the past when these properties have been for sale, we have wished we had the money on hand so we could take action. This capital campaign is aimed at making sure that the next time these properties come on the market we are able to purchase them. In the mean time interest from some of this money will help with our emergency housing service.

The Adventist denomination has always relied heavily on volunteers. It always will. However, with the change in American culture, running effective church programming requires more paid staff than was necessary in the past. This part of our campaign will help to ensure we have adequate pastoral staffing for the programs and services we want to offer as a congregation.

The money that you contribute to this campaign will help ensure a sturdy, secure nest.

The other part of building and equipping the nest in which our children can be nourished and prepared for service in the world is the cultivation of the values of Jesus.

Let us as a congregation commit ourselves without reserve to the pursuit of truth and the practice of love.

I mentioned that when I saw the swallows chasing a bit of chicken down to line their nests Karin and I were busy with a project. We, too, were building a nest.

The night before, we were sitting on our front porch, enjoying a few quiet minute before heading off to bed. I heard a duck making a racket. I ignored it at first. Ducks sometimes make a lot of noise, but the racket was quite insistent. Finally, I got up from my chair, went inside and got a flashlight and head out to the garden to see what all the noise was about.

A female duck was outside the garden making all sorts of commotion toward the garden. I thought, oh no. I had not seen the duck for several weeks and I suspected she was off somewhere sitting on a clutch of eggs. We didn't really want more ducks, but what could I do? I didn't know where she was. Well, here she was, and I could hear peeping from the other side of the fence. Baby ducks. I shone my flashlight. There was a tiny duckling. No. Make that two.

I called Karin to come help. She grabbed a couple that got through the fence and I began collecting ducklings on my side. Turns out there were nine of them, trying to make their way across the garden to Mama Duck. What to do? Karin insisted them put them somewhere for safe keeping. Between the dogs, the cats, the crows, she figured the ducklings wouldn't stand a chance. After a comic chase, we managed to capture Mama Duck and put her and the ducklings into a large dog crate for the night. Then spent Monday morning building a duck yard. That's what we were doing when I noticed the barn swallows arguing over the chicken feather.

As I was talking about this with Karin yesterday, she wanted me to make it crystal clear that we did NOT WANT more ducks. We built the duck yard because there were baby ducks who needed a duck yard. And we cannot help ourselves, when animals show up at our house with urgent needs, it is our habit to respond. Sometimes with complaints and groans, sometimes with good humor. But just as I could not resist the clamor of the distressed Mama Duck's calling, Karin could not resist coming to the aid of nine little ducklings. It's what we do.

And this is what church does. Church—this building and this community—is a nest. Often those who most need the nest of the church are least able to provide it. Grandmas and grandpas are crucial for providing this nest. Why do we do it? Why do we provide this nest for the nourishment and protection of spiritual life? Because it is our nature to do so. And it is our nature because it is God's nature.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Look Away from the Naked Emperor

Look away from the naked emperor. Just because the emperor is naked, don't expect him to blush or look away. He will still glare at you like you are the odd one. Beware. If you allow either the emperor's nakedness or the emperor's glare to occupy your vision, you yourself will be twisted. So frequently and for long periods of time, look away. Find things of beauty and truth and contemplate them, meditate on them, write them, paint them, cook them, cherish them. There is enough truth and beauty for a lifetime of sweet contemplation, but you may need to stop your ears and avert your eyes to avoid being swamped by the ugliness. Like a boat aiming at a point on a distant shore, bring the prow of your life back to that which is worthy of your attention. Over and over again. 

There is no way to "re-clothe" the Adventist fear of contemplative prayer or geology or Roman Catholicism. But we can may look elsewhere to nourish our souls. We can practice contemplation. We can respect the work of earth scientists. We can discern between the goodness and the perverse that are both so evident in Catholicism. We can let go of our insistence that the "end times" must happen according to our hundred year old charts and cultivate instead a confidence in the God of history and a carefulness to cooperate with goodness. 

We have an obligation to speak truth in the world. We are obliged to resist evil. We will fulfill these obligations best if we have a practice of contemplation of the divine, the good, and the beautiful. We will hinder the spread of evil best if our own souls are saturated in goodness. 

So, most of the time, we do well to simply turn our faces away from the naked, screaming emperor.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Making Tracks

Rough draft of a manuscript for the Sabbath morning sermon at Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists, May 28, 2016.

A couple of weeks ago along with the other Green Lake Church members I was bouncing up a sandy track in southwest Utah. The driver of our 4-wheel drive pickup was Gerry Bryant, Elyse's dad.

The truck fishtailed in the soft sand. In a couple of places I could feel the wheels digging in and I wondered if we were going to have to get out and push. (We had to the last time I was here with Gerry.) After a couple of miles we parked  and piled out. Ahead of us was a broad swale cut in the sandstone. As we walked from the sand onto the sandstone, we noticed the patterns of fine lines crisscrossing the rock. Cross bedding, it's called. The tracks left by ancient dunes. 
But these crossbreeding lines were not what we were here to see. In southwest Utah you see those lines everywhere. The ancient dune field covered 2000 square miles and crops out today as rock called the Navajo Sandstone. This is the rock that forms the famous cliffs of Zion National Park and the unnamed cliffs you see everywhere in the post of Utah.
The reason Gerry had piled 14 people into a pickup truck and driven 2 miles through soft sand was other lines. It took only a minute or two to find these other lines. The outlines of dinosaur feet!
In this swale cut in the sandstone there were hundreds of dinosaur tracks. Some were you to 9 out 10 inches long. Some were beautifully preserved, as plain as a deer print it dog track left in soft mud. Others were more obscure, but the longer we looked, the more we found.
In this part of Utah, there are no beautifully preserved dinosaur specimens. No dinosaur bones. No dinosaur eggs. No coprolite. But we know the dinosaurs were here. The tracks bear witness.
Gerry has turned me into a dinosaur track hunter. When I'm in Utah, I'm obsessed with hunting dinosaur tracks. I spent most of two weeks, constantly on the lookout for more tracks. And sure enough, once you start looking, you see them everywhere. Apparently, dinosaurs had a hard time hiding their tracks.
They were not trying to leave a record of their adventures. They just walked around, and now we, eons later,  come along and read their tracks.
Look, this one was walking up a dune. You can see where every step its foot slid backward a bit. Here you can see where dinosaurs gathered because there are tracks on top of tracks.
After spending two weeks obsessing over ancient tracks, today's sermon practically wrote itself. Tracks. We all leave tracks. Let's make tracks we would be proud to have someone else read.
Our Old Testament reading says,

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether [it be] good, or whether [it be] evil. Ecclesiastes 12

It New Testament reading says,

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by [his] fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.  Matthew 12
I used to think of judgment as a warning that God was worth a hypercritical eye. I now read these same words as a reminder that we leave tracks. Always. Everywhere. To live is to create tracks. Remembering this can help us to live wisely.

Wise living is living today in such a way that tomorrow I'll still be glad about what I did today.

I recall a country song that tells the story of a young man who did something stupid and ended up in front of a judge. The judge asks, "What were you thinking?" The young man ponders, "What was i thinking?"
What was I thinking? Obviously, if he had been thinking, he would not have been so stupid. He left a track that he himself was embarrassed to see in the light of day.

God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil.

We make tracks. The tracks can be read. The tracks WILL be read. Let's make beautiful tracks.
On this trip I met people who have left beautiful tracks.
I met Kevin Lilly more than thirty years ago. He was new to the church, fresh out of school and on fire for God. After a year or two the church made him an elder. To this day he remains the indispensable elder in that congregation. Pastors come and go. Church bureaucrats come and go. Kids grow up and move away. new people come. new families join the church. People get old. Kevin has been the steady source of wise, kind leadership For three decades.
When the history of the Babylon Church is written, an entire chapter will be diverted to the service of Kevin Lilly. If course, he has not served alone. Other people, Carol and Bonnie, and many others have lived out the values of Jesus in that small church community in Suffolk County.
The same kind of story could be told of Gerry, our tour leader. He's a professor of geology. He's run his own business for decades. And he and his wife, Debbie have been the indispensable people at the center of the little congregation in St. George, Utah. Pastors have come and gone. A few of them did better service by leaving than by coming. (Alas! ðŸ˜‰) Through three decades Gerry and Debbie have cared for people, have held together this small community of Àdventists.
They have left beautiful tracks.
We all leave tracks. Let's be intentional. Let's make beautiful tracks.
One evening around the campfire, one of the young people told a story of getting fired. Actually it w was his wife who got fired, and at the time, it was her career which was the center of the family dreams. It was devastating. He told of a kindness shown then by some older church folk, people like Kevin and Gerry. When I checked those people they had no memory of doing anything. they had been completely unaware of making any tracks.
Still the tracks were there, beautiful tracks.
Most of us do not know the name of the person who was the visionary responsible for the building of this church. I know his name. I've met his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. But he is not a living person in my mind. I have no mental image of him. But every week when I walk through this room I see his tracks.
I don't know who created the Adventist tradition of Sabbath School. But when i poke my head in the library or kitchen or fellowship hall at ten o'clock and people engaged in conversation about God and life and the Bible and faith, I see the tracks if someone who insisted that spiritual life and thinking about spiritual life belonged to all of God's people not just the clergy. Beautiful tracks.
Jesus, as always takes the Bible doctrine of judgment and radicalizes it.
Instinctive, unconscious actions.
Let's cultivate goodness. So that it becomes natural.
Working with Gerry, I've learned to read very obscure tracks. I hung and record vague weeks in the rock that experience has taught me are dinosaur tracks. But when people ask to see my pictures, they are disappointed.
But in St George there is a museum. A farmer was doing some excavation. He turned over a giant slab of sandstone and found on the underside beautiful dramatic dinosaur tracks. There were more. Eventually they built a museum over the site. It's an amazing place. They are amazing tracks, worth the price of admission.
May God grant that we in our living and speaking create tracks worthy of a heavenly museum. May we be indispensable people, marking the world with beautiful tracks.