Archive for March, 2016

The Parable of the Brooding Brother

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on March 27, 2016 by timtrue

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Who are we supposed to identify with in this very familiar parable?  Are we supposed to be the prodigal?

How many of you have ever gone against your father’s wishes?

Well, maybe not to the extent that this young man went.  Maybe you never asked for your inheritance early, to go spend it all, partying—or—how does the KJV put it?—with riotous living.

Maybe you’ve never journeyed far from home.  His journey, by the way, was both literal—he went to “a distant country”—and figurative.  While he was there, in that distant country, after living riotously until he had nothing left, and after a famine swept over the land so that most everyone was in need, what’d he do but hire himself out to feed pigs?

Pigs!  Swine!  Unclean beasts!  Not kosher!

So he’d sold off all his inheritance, which was most likely land, a commodity more precious than gold to Palestinian Jews; and he’d spent everything partying; and now, as if he hadn’t distanced himself from his people enough already, he was feeding unclean beasts!

Effectively, he’d become no longer a son of Israel or even of his own father.

Maybe you’ve never journeyed this far from home.

Literally, anyway.

But what about figuratively?  Have you ever journeyed so far from your heavenly Father that you effectively cut yourself off from him?

Have you ever sensed God calling you to do something and instead of doing it you ran in the other direction?  Have you ever been so upset at God that you shook your fist at him and wished you’d never been born?  Have you ever denied your Lord Jesus when others were putting pressure on you?

Well, so did Jonah, Job, and Peter—if that makes you feel any better.

But, to return to my question for today, so is this who we are supposed to identify with most closely in this parable, the prodigal son?

Or are we supposed to identify with the merciful, benevolent, gracious father?

Now, you’ve got to understand, this guy, the prodigal’s father, breaks with all convention.

He’s a Palestinian Jewish man.  Convention says ancestral land is something you must hold on to with all tenacity, like a bulldog with a lamb shank bone.  (Or like Rocky, my friend’s Boston Bull Terrier, with a Frisbee.)

When your son whines and wheedles his share of the ancestral lands out of you and then goes off and sells it in order to live selfishly, against all you’ve ever taught him—well, that’s got to be the end of it!  Convention, not to mention common sense, demands that you disown such a profligate, rebellious, and riotous son!

Besides, have you heard what the neighbors are saying?

But what does the father do instead?  He watches for his son: he keeps vigil, like Aegeus straining day after day to see Theseus’s white sails crossing the sea.  (Greek mythology tells the story of Theseus sailing off to kill the Minotaur and thus save his own land.  While he is away, his father, Aegeus, watches day after day for his son’s ship to return.)

And when his prodigal son is still far off—who cares what the neighbors will say!—he runs to greet his son, embraces him, and weeps for joy over him.

Faugh on convention!  His son was dead but is alive again; he was lost but now is found.

And so, is this what we’re to learn from this parable?  Are we supposed to be like the father—merciful, benevolent, and gracious beyond all convention?

It doesn’t matter that none of us really is this way, or that none of us will ever be this way during our respective lifetimes.  That’s not my question.  Rather, are we supposed to try to be like the father here?  Should we strive to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect?

Who are we supposed to be in this parable?

Oh, but there’s a third character, an often overlooked, or maybe ignored character: the older son.

He’s the one, remember, that has obeyed the rules.  He’s the one who did not ask for his share of the inheritance, but instead kept to convention.  He’s the one who remained faithful and loyal to his father throughout his younger brother’s selfish time of foolishness.

And yet what thanks does he get?  Has his dad ever thrown him a feast for all his years of faithfulness?  Has his dad ever even served so much as barbequed chicken for him and a few friends?  No!

Yet when his profligate partier of a younger brother returns home without a penny to his name—he’d spent all his inheritance, for crying out loud!—he’s receives no punishment at all but a full prime-rib feast!  What the heck!

I wonder, are we supposed to identify most closely with him?

While it is certainly true that we identify with the prodigal son, at least to some extent; and while it might be true that we aspire to be like the father, isn’t it actually the case that we are more like the older son than anyone else in this parable?

Let’s review.

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable.

Ah, there it is: tax collectors and sinners.  Here are the people, surely, who represent the prodigal son.  And I’m a sinner.  I have no problem wearing that label.

Okay, so far so good.  But are you a bookie?  Are you a drug dealer?  Are you a prostitute?

Tax collectors, in Jesus’ day, were nothing short of extortionists.  Normal John-and-Jane taxpayers hated them.  Tax collectors were social outcasts.

Prostitutes were outcasts too.

For that matter, so were the demon-possessed, the lepers, the blind, and the other so-called sinners Jesus welcomed and ate with.

Is this you?  Are you a societal outcast?

For most if not all of us, the answer to this question is no.  We’re not societal outcasts.  We’re not drug dealers.  We’re not bookies.  We’re not sinners in the sense meant here.  And so, as much as we might like to think so, we’re actually not much like the prodigal son of this parable.

So then, what about the father?  Are we like him?

Well, I think this answer is a little easier for us to see.  The kind, watchful, benevolent, merciful, and gracious father who breaks with all convention is a picture of Jesus.  And as much as we try to be like him, we all know we are not him; and thus the prodigal’s father is not really a picture of us.

Thus we are left with the older brother.

He’s the one who has tried to be faithful throughout his life.  That doesn’t mean he’s been perfect; that he’s never messed up.  On the other hand, faithfulness suggests repentance.  When he has messed up, both in big and little ways, he has repented of his sins and mistakes and turned to press forward.

Just like us.

Yes, we are the older brother in this parable.

But here’s the rub: if you look at the parallels to the parable’s three characters, then we are effectively Pharisees.

Am I right?

The Pharisees were grumbling because Jesus was eating with and welcoming tax collectors and sinners.  So Jesus told them—the Pharisees—a parable.

Now the Pharisees couldn’t have been the tax collectors and sinners—i. e., the prodigal son.  Nor could they have been Jesus—i. e., the father in the parable.  For these were the very people they were complaining against!

That leaves the older son: the faithful, obedient older son who was left in the end saying, “What the heck, Dad!”

We can’t avoid it: we must identify with the older son; and the older son here is the Pharisees.

But, we protest, the Pharisees are the bad guys!

To which, I answer, maybe they are.  Or at least maybe we’ve been conditioned to think so.  On the other hand, they were the established “church” of their day.

But so what?  Let’s not allow our conditioning to distract us from the point!

In this parable, what the older brother decides to do in the end is left unsaid.  Will he celebrate with his father and younger brother, because his little brother was dead but is alive again; and because he was lost but is now found?  Or will the older brother continue to brood and sulk?  We don’t know: the answer is not given; Jesus doesn’t tell us.

History tells us, however, that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day chose the latter: to brood and sulk over Jesus’ dining with and welcoming sinners.  Their brooding and sulking led to hatred, bigotry, and death.  Obviously their brooding and sulking was the wrong choice.

But, despite our connection to the Pharisees here, our history has not yet been completely written.

We are a church that has tried to serve our heavenly Father faithfully and obediently, not nearly perfect yet repentant—a lot like the older son.  But how are we going to respond when convention is thrown off—when things are no longer done in the same way they always have been?

Will we brood and sulk over it?  Or will we rejoice with our heavenly Father as he throws a prime-rib feast in celebration of the one who was once dead but is now alive?

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day no longer have a choice.  We still do.

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Why the Manure?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , on March 27, 2016 by timtrue

Luke 13:1-9

What makes you angry?

In college I had a roommate who made me angry.

Scott was the quintessential only child.  His mother had always picked up after him, apparently; and done his laundry; and his dishes; and cooked for him.  And, apparently, he figured his new roommates would show him the same treatment.

I didn’t know this about him when he and I and two other guys agreed to rent an apartment together.  But I figured this out by Christmas break.  So did my other two roommates.

In the academic quarter following Christmas, Scott decided to PELP.  That is, he took advantage of UC Davis’s Planned Educational Leave Program, to take a quarter—or two—or a year—off to write a book.

In other words, he stayed in the apartment for long hours on end playing computer games and dirtying vast, vast quantities of dishes.  Oh, and maybe he’d put in an hour a day on his book.  Maybe.

Anyway, this behavior began to annoy me.  My other roommates too.  Especially Brian, who shared a room with Scott.

It became particularly maddening for Brian when he couldn’t even walk across the floor of his room to climb into his bed because of the plates, bowls, silverware, glasses, and mugs that lay everywhere strewn like so much shrapnel.

Brian began to sleep regularly on the living room couch.

So, our temporary solution was to hide a single place setting each—one plate, bowl, glass, mug, fork, knife, and spoon—where Scott wouldn’t find them and let him deal with the rest of his mess.

Still, this made me angry.  Why did we have to take such measures just to enjoy a hot meal?  The injustice!

So what makes you angry?

Is it something petty, like dealing with a messy roommate, or like someone cutting you off on the freeway?  Hey, I feel you.

Or, maybe, it’s something more substantial, something like politics.  Do we have to listen to someone spout off their ideals seemingly every night these days, ideals we just know are going to mess everything up more than it already is?

Or maybe it’s something deadly serious, like ISIS or mass shootings.  There’s evil in the world.  But ours is the land of the free and the home of the brave!  Why can’t we do something to stop it—and preferably before war comes to our shores?

Kind of makes you want to go out after church and eat a nice, thick, juicy Anger Burger.

You know, made of 100% certified Anger beef, it’s one of seven offerings on the menu of Deadly Sins, that new yet timeless restaurant on the other side of town.

Granted, by itself, the Anger Burger is a little strong, a little difficult to stomach.  To enjoy it by itself requires something of an acquired taste.  But, oh, when it’s covered in a healthy helping of sautéed self-righteousness—mmmmmm, delicious!

Yes, that self-righteousness sauce helps you say angry things yet maintain an air of superiority.  So it’s okay.

You say things like, “Can you believe her audacity?  Who does she think she is?”

Or things like, “Did you hear about his addiction?  One thing’s for sure: I won’t be spending much time with him anymore, not if I can help it anyway.”

Mmmmmmmmm, so good!

So good, that is, until you learn there’s a secret ingredient added to the self-righteousness sauce during Lent—the Lenten special.

Right now, during this particular season in the Christian year, Anger Burgers are a little different.  Right now, during this time of the year when we omit “alleluia” from our vocabulary, there’s something about the sautéed self-righteousness that tastes a little funny, a little off.

You’re just sure of it.

So you ask your food server about it.

And he says, “Oh, didn’t you know?  During Lent we mix some manure into it.”

“I’m sorry,” you say; “I’m not sure I heard you right.  Did you say manure?”

He stares at you incredulously for a moment before answering, “Um, yeah!  Duh!” like it’s obvious.

Confound Lent!  It’s always messing with the menu!  We give up chocolate.  We give up beer.  And now we’ve got to give up our delicious Anger Burgers smothered in self-righteousness sauce!  (Unless, of course, you’d like to try to stomach the manure!)

What we’d really like to say is:

“Hey, Jesus, did you hear about what Pilate did to our Galilean people?  They were in the very Temple, a place where Pagans aren’t even allowed.  And yet he waltzes right in and cuts them to pieces right there at the altar.  Can you believe it?  The audacity!  Doesn’t that just make you angry!”

We want Jesus to be self-righteously angry and superior right along with us.

We’d also like to say:

“Hey, Jesus, have you heard about ISIS?  Why do you allow it?  Why do you allow such evil to take place in our world?  You’re God, after all; so why don’t you do something about it?”

Or:

“Hey, Jesus, what about all the shootings we keep hearing about?  It’s sheer idiocy!  Do something, quickly.”

Or:

“Hey, Jesus, why does my sister have cancer?  She’s lived such a good life!  Why do you have to take her?  Why can’t you take someone else instead, someone like ol’ Benedict over there?  He’s been drinking, smoking, and cussing for ninety-seven years.  It’s just not fair!  Am I right?”

All this is what we’d like to say to Jesus.

But we don’t.

Because it’s Lent.

And we can’t.

Because of the manure.

Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Now there are different ways to interpret this parable.

One interpretation says that we, as Christ’s disciples, are the vinedressers.  Both as individuals and churches, we are the ones who must do the hard work of digging and aerating the soil; and the smelly and dirty work of spreading the manure with our hands, of mixing our sweat with the dirt and muck of the world until it is wedged into our fingernails.  We are called to do the difficult work of preserving and tending to the sterile tree in the hopes that it will produce fruit.

Another interpretation, however, says that Christ is the vinedresser and his disciple is the tree.  In this picture, Jesus Christ mixes his sweat with the muck and dirt and manure of the world!  And, as for us, his disciples, we are effectively stuck in a pile of manure.

So, which interpretation do you like better?

As for me, I like the second one.  Not only is it a wonderful picture of the incarnation—of God mixing his sweat with the world’s muck—but also it offers a better insight into repentance, which is really what this whole episode is about.

But here’s the thing.  Whichever interpretation you happen to like better, in both cases we can’t escape the manure!  In the first, our hands are covered in it; in the second, we’re buried up to our knees in it.

Let’s face it: manure is a part of our earthly sojourn!

Why is there evil in the world?  Why do politics make us so angry?  Why does a family member have cancer?  Why ISIS?  Why mass shootings?  Why all the manure?

I don’t know!

But it’s here.  We have to deal with it.  It’s a fact of life.

And I do know this: through it—whether our hands are dirty with it or we’re buried up to our knees in it—through it Jesus works with us so that we might bear fruit.

Will you harden your roots to the manure all around you and remain a sterile tree?  Or will you allow the muck, sweat, and dirt that everywhere surrounds you—and the manure—to work new life within?

Seeking New Life

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2016 by timtrue

FatherTim

Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Amen.

We say this together, yes.  And we’re happy to be saying it—alleluia!—after setting it aside for the past 6.5 weeks.

But I wonder: do we mean it?

Christ is risen.

But do we tire of hearing the same old story?

Don’t we come back to the same old place at about the same old time of the year to engage in the same old service and hear the same old story?

Think about Mary Magdalene.  Not what you know about her today, in 3rd-millennium America; but how it must have been for her when she approached Jesus’ tomb on that dark morning and saw, incredibly, that the stone had been rolled away.

Can you do that?  Can you remove yourself from our twenty-first century mindset long enough to put yourself in Mary’s place?

What must have gone through her mind when she saw this?  What did she think when she entered the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was not there?

Did she think someone had stolen Jesus’ corpse?  That’s what the Gospel of John suggests.

Whatever the case, here in Luke she didn’t have much time to think it over.  For, suddenly, she found herself standing in the midst of two other-worldly beings, “men in dazzling clothes”!

What must she have thought then, at that moment?  The passage says she was terrified and bowed her face to the ground.

Amazing!

But is all this lost on us?  Do we somehow miss it?

Because if it is, if we do; then surely we’ll miss the best part.

The best part of this story is not as dazzling as the rest of the show.  So if we’re no longer dazzled by this dazzling story—I mean, we’ve heard it so many times now—we’ll pass right over the less-dazzling-nevertheless-more-important part—the most important part—of this story.

It’s what these other-worldly messengers say.

They ask why.

Do we miss that?  Do we miss the challenge that these other-worldly messengers present?

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Now, there’s something in us that desires the new and novel.  There’s something about our humanity that seems to be wired this way.

  • The first iPhone was released in 2007;
  • The iPhone 3G came out in 2008;
  • In 2009 it was the iPhone 3GS;
  • 2010 launched the iPhone 4;
  • 2011, the iPhone 4S;
  • 2012 revealed the iPhone 5;
  • 2013 saw both the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C;
  • 2014 gave us the iPhone 6;
  • 2015 went one step further with the iPhone 6S;
  • And—don’t worry, Apple will not let us down—2016 promises to give us the iPhone SE, with all the capabilities of the iPhone 6S but the more popular and convenient size of the iPhone 4.

Apple keeps giving us new phones—new, expensive devices—and we keep buying them!

Of course, this is just one example.  But what is it in our human nature that likes the new and novel?

And so we come to the Easter story—that same old story.  It’s not new.  It’s not fresh.  It’s the same old thing we’ve heard over and over for the last two thousand years.

And no matter how the church tries to repackage it and resell it every year, it can’t keep up with Apple.

Unlike my iPhone, the Easter story doesn’t have touch screen technology.  It doesn’t cater itself to me specifically, knowing what makes me tick.  It doesn’t interact with me with an almost human-sounding voice.

We’ve all heard it said that Jesus meets me where I am.  And yet Jesus doesn’t close to where my iPhone meets me.

And the same old story Easter and its men in dazzling clothes have, well, lost their dazzle.

It was there in the Garden, you know: this human desire for the new and novel.  Satan, that serpent of old, knew it.  And he capitalized on it.

“You’ve been in this comfortable garden a while now, Eve,” he slithered.  “Hasn’t it all begun to feel a little too comfortable?  A little too familiar?  A little ho hum?  A little, perhaps, mundane?”

And with a focus on the new and novel, he continues to wear Eve down.

“You know,” he says, “God calls it monogamy, when two people like you and Adam are bound in lifelong matrimony.  Sounds to me more like monotony.”

And so on and so forth until Eve actually becomes sympathetic; until,

“Has God really said,” Satan questions, “that you will die?  Surely, you’re not gonna die just from taking one little bite from that delicious fruit.  Instead—let me tell you—it’ll blow your mind.  You’ll know new things, see new things, beyond your wildest imagination.  Just do it, Eve.  Just take one bite—and hold on for the ride of your life!”

There’s something in our human nature that craves the new and novel.  Satan knows it.  Apple knows it.

Now, to clarify, and for the record, I am not equating Satan here with Apple, Inc.

In fact, I will go so far as to say there is nothing inherently or morally wrong in craving the new and novel.

In the story about the Garden I just reiterated, Adam and Eve’s desire for the new and novel was there before they fell into sin.  In other words, it was there in our humanity before sin ever entered the picture, in that part of our divine image that’s not tainted by sin.

So there’s nothing morally wrong when you find yourself craving the next version of the iPhone.

And Apple, Inc. is not in league with the devil.

Nevertheless, sometimes we crave the new and novel so much that we forget about the important parts of life.

Like the same old Easter story we hear year after year.

Or that same old message the “men in dazzling clothes” tell us all: not to look for the living among the dead.

But that’s just what’s going on here; that’s just what the dazzling men are telling us.

This is not the same old story year after year.  This story is new and fresh each time we hear it—or it should be.  For we are not told to look for the living among the dead, but rather to look for the living among the living!  That’s what resurrection is, after all, isn’t it?  New life emerging from the old!

So then, this story of resurrection, rather than being confined to the pages of a book, is alive and all around us.  We just need to know where to look!

For example, how many of you know a cancer survivor who, after getting a clean bill of health, has said something along the lines of, “Now I have a new lease on life!”  Isn’t this a kind of death and resurrection?

As another example, what about marriage?  What married person doesn’t know the truth of dying to self in order to enjoy new life in and with another person?

Now, okay, these are big things—overcoming cancer; deciding to leave the single life for marriage.  There’s a certain sense of death and resurrection in them that’s fairly obvious.

But what about in smaller things?  Do you see resurrection—new life—in these?

Do you see new life in the waters of baptism?  We go down under the water—symbolizing death to self—and come up again—symbolizing new life in Christ.  Isn’t this an expression of death and new life?  And so we renew our baptismal vows, annually, at this service.

Or, did you see it in the new fire and the Paschal candle?  New fire snuffs out darkness with its light.

Do you see new life each time you come to the altar to receive communion?  This is your spiritual sacrifice, where you die to self and live in Christ.

Or, to move out of the realm of the sacred, what about in the first-grade classroom, when a student’s eyes suddenly light up with the joy of a new truth discovered?  Do you see new life here?

What about in the smile of a homeless person as you hand her a sandwich?

Any time hope overcomes despair; any time truth defeats falsehood; any time beauty conquers ugliness; any time charity gives selflessly; any time goodness prevails—aren’t these all examples of new life overcoming death?

New life is all around us!

Let’s take the advice, then, that the men in dazzling clothes give us.  Jesus is not here, they tell Mary, where you might expect, in a tomb, among the dead.  Rather, he is risen.  He is out there, with the people, among the living!  Go, seek, and find him!

This “same old story,” rather than being dusty, old, and monotonous—is alive.

That’s because this same old story is about resurrection.  It’s about seeing new life all around you, in and through and with all the living souls with whom you interact day in and day out, all those people who may or may not clamor to get the latest iteration of the iPhone.

Do you see the new and novel in your daily life?  Do you see new life all around you, in the world of the living?  Do you live out resurrection?

Your Conversion Story

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on March 27, 2016 by timtrue

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John 20:1-18

Conversion is not always a one-time experience.

By now you’ve heard parts of my conversion story—how I grew up in a family that meant everything to me.

We didn’t go to church.  So all my boyhood questions about the meaning of life were answered in my family.

That is, until my parents split up.  Which sent me outward, looking for answers to questions about the meaning of life beyond my little circle.  I had to think outside of my family box.

Which led me to Bible studies, and youth group, and a Billy-Graham-Crusade like experience at a camp where I went forward to pray and receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.

I remember the day, in fact, April 1st, 1985—almost 31 years ago today!  I even remember the time: 7pm.

Yes, something significant happened in my life at that moment.  Was it conversion?  Yes.  Another name for it, a more biblical name, is repentance.

Anyway, can you relate?  Do you have your own conversion story to tell?

Maybe yours was the day you were baptized, or even the moment the water first touched your scalp in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Or maybe, like with my wife’s conversion story, you don’t recall a specific time and place where the Holy Spirit grabbed hold of your heart in an obvious way.

Nevertheless, you reflect on your own life and you see Christ at work in you.  You were baptized: you have a certificate at home in your filing cabinet in your garage that says so.  And you know and trust the theology of the church well enough to know that this, too, was a bona fide conversion experience.

Is it okay that you can’t point to a specific time and place?

Well, of course it is!

You and I both know we can’t bank on a one-time conversion experience, as if we’ve checked off a box on our spiritual to-do list, depending on it to carry us through the rest of our lives into heaven.

Conversion, we know, is not always a one-time experience.

In fact, conversion is arguably never a one-time experience.  Rather, scripture, tradition, reason, experience—they all persuade us that conversion takes place over a lifetime.

And don’t we all experience conversion differently?

Just look at the three main characters in today’s story: there’s an unnamed disciple; there’s Peter; and there’s Mary Magdalene.  Each of these experiences conversion differently.

The unnamed disciple hears Mary’s news and runs—races, in fact—to reach the tomb first.  But there, at the entryway, he lingers.  He doesn’t enter the tomb, but just looks in, staring at the linen wrappings there on the ledge.

Peter then shows up and, unlike the unnamed disciple, enters the tomb without reservation or hesitation.

Why didn’t the unnamed disciple enter?  Was he too amazed, too awestruck, too afraid?  We don’t know.

Then something in him triggers.  He enters the tomb after Peter; and, the scriptures tell us, he believes.  He believes, that is, but he doesn’t yet understand the scriptures.

Now look at Peter.  He hears Mary’s words and runs to see if what she says is true.  He races against the other disciple, and loses—I wonder what the meaning is in this detail.

In any event, Peter reaches the tomb and doesn’t slow; rather, he bowls over the unnamed disciple, like an impetuous bull.  He then looks at the linen wrappings, and notices a detail: the head wrapping is folded up neatly by itself.  If Mary was worried about grave robbers, this detail doesn’t fit; for why would a grave robber take the time to fold up the head wrapping neatly?

The disciples then return home.  The unnamed one believes, at least to some extent.  But we’re left wondering if Peter believes yet at all.  The only thing we know about him at this point is that he, along with the unnamed disciple, still doesn’t understand.

There’s something of a conversion experience here for both disciples.  But they leave still confused, still not understanding.  We’re left with the impression that something more still needs to happen for these two.

Then we hear Mary’s story.  She reaches the tomb—and stands outside weeping.  She’s obviously not believing or understanding yet either.

In her remorse, she eventually peeks in the tomb.  And—incredible!—there are two angels inside.  And these ask Mary a question.  “Woman, why are you weeping?”

But even here—I don’t know about you, but I’d be dazzled by the spectacle of two heavenly beings talking to me—but even here Mary simply responds, “They’ve taken my Lord away.”

This whole episode with Mary suggests something of a sleep-like stupor.  My thinking is that she is so grief-stricken that she can’t even see that these are angels.

She then hears a voice from behind her, from outside the tomb.  And it asks her the same question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Mary supposes it’s the gardener, when she turns to see who spoke.  It’s really Jesus, but she doesn’t recognize him: her grief has still got the better of her.

But then what happens?

“Mary!” Jesus calls her by name.

And now, in that divine address, Mary both believes and understands!

And in the conversation that follows, Jesus commissions her to go and tell the disciples that he lives!

And she does!

And so she is made the apostle to the apostles!

Have you ever thought about that?  Mary Magdalene was the first truly converted person.  Mary Magdalene was the person commissioned by Jesus himself to go and tell the Good News to the very apostles.  Mary Magdalene went and told the Good News to Peter—the Rock upon whom Jesus Christ would build his Church—and the others.

Leaving me to wonder—where would the Church be today without the conversion of Mary Magdalene?

But to return to my first point, every conversion story is different.  Mine is different than yours; Mary’s is different than Peter’s is different than the unnamed disciple’s.

Moreover, conversion is not just a one-time experience: it’s lifelong.

Like repentance.

Wait!  Hold the phone!  Did I just say repentance?

Yes, I did—for the second time, in fact.

Well, why am I bringing up repentance on Resurrection Day, Easter Sunday?  Wasn’t Lent the time for us to think about repentance?  Now is the day of resurrection—alleluia!—so why dwell any longer in the doldrums of our liturgical year?

Just this: repentance, remember, is the biblical word for conversion; and, more to the point, repentance is resurrection.

Repentance means turning away from the old nature of sin and death to the new nature of life in the risen Lord!

And this doesn’t happen just once, at some altar call, check off my spiritual to-do list and get on with my life already, thank you very much!

It is ongoing, daily, hourly, even minute by minute.  Repentance—and thus resurrection—is continuous and lifelong.

So, now, let’s return to our own conversion stories.  Think about your own ongoing conversion experience.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when hope has overcome despair; when truth has defeated falsehood; when beauty has conquered ugliness; when charity has given selflessly; or when goodness has prevailed?  Every one of these is an example of new life overcoming death; every one of these is an example of ongoing conversion.

But Mary’s conversion story is different than Peter’s is different than the unnamed disciple’s.  And yours is different than mine.

But that’s just it: our stories are all different; but new life—resurrection—shines brightly through them all!  It is our common theme.

So follow Mary’s example!  Go and tell your story!

In your conversion, Jesus Christ is calling your name—again and again!  Listen to his voice.  Then go and tell your neighbors, your brothers and sisters, your friends and even your enemies, your ongoing conversion story!

Picnic at Plateau Point

Posted in Family, hiking with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2016 by timtrue

It began with a question.  “Hey, Tori,” I asked my daughter on the phone, “how’d you like to hike the Grand Canyon while on spring break?”

That was about a month ago.

Now here we stood, at the South Rim.

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That’s not just Tori in the picture, by the way.  Emily came along too.

She’d caught wind of my plan and said, “Um, Dad, you know, I’m doing well in school, and, uh, well, I could plan ahead and get my assignments for any days I’d miss.”

And so the plan became more complex.

And my wife posted on Facebook something like this: “A good dad gets his kids to school on time; a great dad pulls his daughter out of school to hike the Grand Canyon.”

And so Emily came to the Grand Canyon too.

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What became more complicated still is that I have more than two kids; and at least one other would have liked to go.  But, you see, only Tori had no spring break plans.  And the others had school obligations.

So, anyway, here the three of us stood (two in the photo and one taking it), at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about to descend the Bright Angel Trail.

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Our plan: to reach the overlook at Plateau Point and make it back to the car before 5pm, 12 miles round trip; and onto home by midnight so that Emily would miss only one day of school.

This was Monday morning, by the way.  We’d driven to Mather Campground on Sunday after church, arriving at our reserved campsite at 8pm.  Having to set up a tent, etc., meant that we were climbing in our sleeping bags by 9pm.

I would have taken a shot or two of the campsite, but the camera lens was frozen.  Yeah, it was that cold!  And, so you know, our sleeping bags weren’t really cold-weather bags, not to mention mine was too short.

We were smiling nevertheless at the trailhead on Monday morning–despite our numb toes!

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You can see our trail, by the way.  Plateau Point is in the middle of the canyon.  You can’t tell from here, but it’s 3000′ below us and still 1000′ above the Colorado River.

To hike to the river and back in one day is not recommended by the NPS.  In fact, anyone doing this is required to obtain a special permit.  That’s about 20 miles round trip.  I figured our planned 12 would be enough.

Here’s one more shot of our trail from the top, with Plateau Point almost exactly in the center:

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I thought about photographing a sign at the top of the trail that said, “Trail is icy.  Crampons recommended.”  But I didn’t.  I don’t know: maybe I still struggle with feeling invincible.  But it struck me as humorous at the time.  I remember thinking, “Wow, these Park people are really going overboard.”

Then, not more than a few hundred yards into our day, we encountered ice.

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Yeah!  That’s ice in the foreground.  And to the right is steepness, or plain old abyss, depending on whether you look a few inches or a few feet to the right.  So, okay, maybe the crampon recommendation wasn’t so overboard after all.

Well, we made it through the first ice patch without event.  And so Emily took a picture of me safe in a tunnel.

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That sign behind me says, “Dangerous overlook. Do not climb.”  So, okay, after this first ice patch without crampons we’ll not laugh this one off.

And here’s their token tunnel shot:

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Then–wouldn’t you know it?–a few hundred yards later we encounter another ice patch.  This one transgresses the entire width of the trail.  There’s no way around it.  We’ve got to go right over it.

So, feeling my twenty year-old invincibility boiling to the surface, “I’ll lead the way,” I volunteer.  So what does Emily do but take another picture.

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But she takes it two seconds too early.  For, literally, within two seconds of this shot my feet slip completely out from under me and I go down hard on my left cheek.  And when I say hard I mean it.  Like landing on concrete!

How I wish I’d had crampons!

Now here’s the rub.  When I was 35 (12.5 years ago) I broke my back resulting in an emergency discectomy.  Yeah.  I have no L5 disc.  So a feet-out-from-under-me-left-cheek-concrete smack is disconcerting (disc-disconcerting!), to say the least.

So I’m lying on my back and running through a mental checklist.  Did anything slip?  No.  Did anything jolt?  No.  Do I have feeling from my waist down?  Yes.  Did I fall into the abyss?  No.  Etc.  Etc.

And, slowly, I rise to my feet, and–no twenty-something sense of invincibility now–I say, “Girls, I hate to say this, but I reserve the right to turn around.  We may have to try this hike another time–”

. . . looks of sadness and anger and betrayal and loss and grief and frustration and . . .

“–but, for now, let’s keep going.”

And so we press on, uncertain.

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And somehow we make it to the 1.5-mile waystation:

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And, “I’m good,” I say; “might as well continue.”

And we did.

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And we came to the three-mile waystation . . .

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. . . where a sign read, “Down is optional; up is mandatory.”

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So, do you see all those switchbacks?

Anyway, by now my back felt surprisingly fine.  So, relatively drama free, we continued our descent.

The scenery was spectacular at every turn in the trail.

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From icy pines at the rim to blooming trees and flowing creek below . . .

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. . . to desert-like plateau (and 70 degrees).

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And now we’d made it to Plateau Point and lunch, smack dab in the middle of the Grand Canyon.

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And here’s one for perspective: three college students on spring break just enjoying a lunch–on a cliff edge a thousand feet above the Colorado River!

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From our vantage we could see the trail that continues down to the River . . .

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. . . as well as a reminder of our “mandatory” journey up.

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So, after beef jerky and oranges and gouda and smokehouse almonds and cranberries and ample water, we were on our way again.

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The trek up the canyon was quite difficult.  My back’s pain increased throughout the climb and, to aggravate matters, my head began throbbing and continued to do so throughout the duration and–doggone it!–I’d left the Advil in the car.  Ugh!

Turns out uncomplaining Tori was in a bit of pain too.  With numb toes in the morning she’d not tied her boots tight enough, not knowing for the first half or so of the descent that she was jamming her toes repeatedly against the fronts of her boots, resulting in several blisters each now screaming for her attention like so many needy orphaned ducklings.

But–we took the tortoise approach; who cares about the hares?–we plodded steadily and reached the rim by 4pm, an hour ahead of the plan.

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Then, three Advils each for me and Tori, a change of clothes, and an hour’s drive to Flagstaff and a stop for coffee and a light dinner, and we felt energized enough to make the drive home to Yuma, bonding over Civil Wars and other soulful tunes.

And, yes, good dad that I am, I did get Emily to school on time on Tuesday.

Today, Wednesday, by the way, my left cheek, tailbone, and lower right back are sorer than my muscles and blisters.  I’m not nearly as invincible as I once was.

But it was so worth it.

Pilot Knob for Posterity

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2016 by timtrue

I hiked up Pilot Knob today–the third time this year.  About time I documented this local hike, eh?

It’s named so because it once served as a navigation point for boat pilots making their way up the mighty Colorado River from the Sea of Cortez, a prominent landmark.  That was before all the irrigation canals were built, of course, which leaves the Colorado a not-so-mighty trickle by the time it reaches the Sea today.

But the name stands.  As well it should.  For Marine aviation pilots use the mountain today to let them know international airspace boundaries.  More on that below.

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Pilot Knob is the lone mountain behind the farm in the foreground.  I took this photo just a few blocks from my house.  The mountain is in California; I’m in Arizona; much of the area between me and the mountain is Mexico.  How does that work?  Well, I’m looking to the northwest, if that helps.  Maybe GoogleMaps can give you a better idea.

Anyway, it’s a mere 20-minute drive to the trailhead (I have to drive about four miles to the east and then a couple to the north and then back west for several miles to skirt around a corner of Mexico).  I can hike to the top and back in about an hour, meaning there and back from my house in just over an hour and a half.

But did I say “Lone Mountain”?  Hmm.  I wonder: maybe Smaug’s cousin inhabits it; maybe I’ll meet up with some dwarfs. . . .

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So, a shot at the trailhead.

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A couple shots of a nice ocotillo in bloom.  Notice the RVs in the background of the second shot.  People will camp on this BLM land in the southeasternmost corner of California from September till May.  Cost is $186.  That’s less than a dollar a day.

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Unlike many of my Friday hikes and scrambles, this one has a well-defined trail.  No scrambling today.  Just some steeps.

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More well-defined trail; and a nifty rock formation.

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Looking down (to the west) at my ascent thus far.  That nifty rock formation from the last photo is about a third of the way up from the bottom, right in the middle.  RVs dot the landscape below.

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Taken from the same spot as the previous photo but I’ve rotated 180 degrees.  Still have something of an ascent before me.

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Now at the top ridge nearing the summit, this view captures many desert sights and sounds at once.  I’m facing north.  The tallest peak on the near horizon is Stud Mountain, where I was last week.  To the right a ways on the more distant horizon is Picacho Peak (which I’ve blogged about previously).  Behind Picacho the Colorado River bends to the west (going upstream), with much more water there than the trickle down here, downstream of the Imperial Dam (which diverts the river into so many irrigation canals).  In the foreground you can spy a train on the valley floor, and (with eagle eyes) the interstate complete with agricultural inspection station on the westbound side.

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I’m at the summit now looking southeast.  The town in the foreground is Los Algodones, Mexico.  You can see it come to a distinct corner just to the left of the hill.  Beyond the corner–the fields–is Arizona (my neighborhood is just beyond the green patch in the middle); on this side California.  Los Algodones is a pie-wedge town, bordered by a fence on one side and shallow-bottom Border Patrol boats (and a parched river) on another.

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I took this shot from the same place, now looking directly south with my telephoto maxed (on my cheap snapshot digital camera).  Do you see the fence?  Kinda looks like a wall to me.  Does Trump know about this?  So what’s all his rhetoric about building a wall?  It sorta seems like we’ve already got one.  Anyway, just in front of the wall is a road.  And–do you see the white (late model four-wheel-drive) vehicle with green highlights?–an agent is patrolling it.

Between us–you the reader and me the writer who lives smack dab on the Mexican border–I can’t really grasp whatever Trump’s concept is.

Anyway, now do you get why this lone mountain is a good navigation point for modern Marine aviation pilots as well as the ship pilots of yesteryear?  Flying south of it means leaving American airspace, even if only for a few seconds.

But enough about politics.

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Looking directly east now, Telegraph Peak (another frequently hiked trail for me) is on the horizon.  In between is mostly Yuma, the town I call home.

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Well, no dragon or dwarfs today.  But another mountain conquered in Jesus’ name!

(Not sure how I feel about this. . . .)

Stud Mountain

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2016 by timtrue

So I decided to try to climb Stud Mountain.

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That’s it, the peak in the middle, the one the road’s pointing to.  It’s something like 2150′ and I’m driving along here at something like 150′.  The pavement will soon end and I’ll veer to the right until I find Road 715, which will bear left into a canyon and put me within a few miles of the peak.

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This is my chosen parking spot.  Stud is the peak on the right.

Stud is its real name, by the way.  Leaving me to wonder why.  Did someone once see a stallion on the peak?  Or will I find a two-by-four wedged between some rocks once I get there?  Or do I have to be a stud, as in the eighties-and-nineties slang term for a manly man, to make it to the top?

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The climb begins.  It’s 64 degrees and 7:45am CA time (8:45am AZ time, this time of the year anyway).  With me is a 20-ounce water bottle and this old snapshot digital camera.  Not with me, but probably would have been helpful, is a topographic map, a hat, a snack or two, and more water.  The forecast predicts near record highs, maybe 90 degrees, by the afternoon.

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On my way.

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Starting to feel warm now.  Decide to make for that saddle, to gain my bearings.  No map, remember.  Also, was there supposed to be a trail around here somewhere?

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At the saddle now, looking back (southeast).

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Looking forward (northwest).  Still a ways to go.

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And here’s a nice view (still at the saddle) of Picacho, to the north, where I enjoyed a hike with my kids over Christmas break.

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Continuing on now.

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But–dang it’s hot!–and I’m out of water!–I decide to abandon the adventure for another day.  When I got home later and looked at the online guide, by the way, there apparently is a trail; my makeshift trailhead was a half-mile or so shy.

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Now to descend.

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I follow this wash . . .

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. . . and find some blessed shade.  Got to be 85 by now.

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And this is just a shot of a quartz vein in some other kind of rock.  Cool stuff in the desert!

So I never found the answer to my question–whence this mountain got its name–because I never made it to the top.  Or, wait, maybe I did.  Find the answer, I mean.  Maybe it’s is actually option number three.  But I won’t know for sure until I return to try my manliness another day.