Preacher’s Kid: Honest Faith, Real World

Whenever I hear someone exclaim, “Christ on a crutch!” I usually point out there are at least a couple reasons the expression fails in the imagery department.

First, scripture tells us he never had a broken bone. Second, if he had broken or even sprained a leg, don’t you think he might’ve healed himself?

Christ in a chip? Or just too long in the frier?

But what people think they see of the sacred in everyday, even crude items and unspectacular places exasperates me. Not Christ on a crutch, but Jesus in a potato chip, perhaps. And his mom, Mary, she’s showing up every place, from water stains to pretzels . . . and of course that infamous grilled cheese sandwich (minus one bite) that sold for $28,000 on eBay some years ago

For some folks, it’s a matter of faith. The image of Mary in a tree in Salt Lake City had local Latino Catholics flocking to the gnarled pine. Flowers, dozens of those cheap votive candles sold at grocery stores, pictures of deceased loved ones, balloons (for crying out loud) appeared almost overnight once someone spread the word.

Within a couple weeks, someone had built a set of wood stairs and a small platform for the faithful to approach closer, kiss the image, genuflect or just stare.

Then some miscreant, rumored to be a neighbor tired of the influx of devotees, hacked away the image. That was that.

I visited the place once. Try as I might, I couldn’t see the the Queen of Heaven peering out at me from the twisted bark and knots. I thought, for a second, though, that the late Jerry Garcia was mugging for the many cameras flashing . . . and no, he did not look to be Grateful about being Dead.

Still, I won’t diss people’s desire – and who knows, perhaps personal vision – to see the sacred in, well, whatever. I suspect, however silly the origin of the spark may seem, it would be cosmically careless to disregard the sincerity of anyone’s inspiration.

The Emperor Constantine, after all, saw the cross in the sky and conquered for Rome, and as a result, Christians ceased worrying about being dinner for big, hungry felines in the Coliseum.

I’ve seen some pretty cool things in the sky, too. Shooting stars, clouds shaped like elephants, sailing ships, the Pillsbury Doughboy . . . and shafts of golden sun slicing through thunderheads that took my breath away, even as I mentally offered a prayer of thanks to the Maker for that moment of beauty and awe.

No one’s immune. And thank God, for that.

Our Lady of Grilled Cheese?

The Chicago Tribune recently offered a slide show of various “sacred” images in food, etc., starting with the famous Our Lady of Grilled Cheese. Impressive.

But like everything supposedly sacred, good old capitalism has found a way to duplicate and offer for sale the means for producing, on demand, your own epiphanies in edibles. Little Drummer Boy, drum roll, please:

Enter the “Jesus Toaster.” No waiting for chance or the supernatural to bless your toast anymore. You can produce whole wheat icons, by the loaves, I suppose.

I don’t this is what the Lord had in mind when he referred to himself as the “bread of life.”



Prehistoric 'Dork Fish'?

I was puzzling over the mysteries of Creation vs. Natural Selection, Old Earth vs. Young Earth, and the perceived dividing lines between faith and science and the Origin of All Things the other day when I had an epiphany . . . from “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” standup Bill Engvall.

Kinda put the whole cerebral debate at rest. Nothing like laughter to give you perspective about just how strange and self-absorbed a species we are.

Seems there was this prehistoric porpoise fossil found in the desert that had a what would’ve been a rather pronounced overbite. Scientists were embroiled in heated argument over what it meant: why did this creature have such a elongated snout?

Was it somehow an evolutionary adaptation that later disappeared? A hunting-related mutation? Maybe a means to attract a mate?

I guess the female porpoises of that time might have been impressed by large probosci. Some things never change, and apparently cross species’ speculation, as it were.

Engvall said that was all silly. A human with an overbite is still a human, after all. He might be ugly, but he’s still Homo sapien.

So, the answer to this cosmic mystery? He was, obviously, a “Dork Fish.” Watch a video of his explanation by clicking here.

Hey, maybe when God created this beastie, He just felt like having a good laugh.

'Redneck Guru' laying down the Word

As for redneck comics in general, sometimes they do have a way of cutting away the verbal and philosophical detritus of life. And, since I’m a preacher’s kid with memories of more than one rural church congregation buried within my memories, I also suggest taking in this musing on the “Dee-vine” from the “Redneck Guru.”

Enjoy. Being a believer doesn’t require leaving your since of the absurd, or humor, at the church doors, after all.

Give the gift . . . of faith.

Christmas 2011 will not be, as the song assures us, “the most wonderful time of the year.”

But for those who still have work and homes, enough to eat and warm clothes to wear in the depths of winter, it can be the most wonderful opportunity of the year – to reach out to our fellow humans.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in a working-class parish of Rome and acknowledged this will be an especially tough holiday season for many. America, and many other nations struggle with the continuing economic recession. Joblessness remains unabated, and many are reaching the end of unemployment insurance checks which sustained them after they lost jobs.

The Holy Father told his flock that they could still have a happy holiday, if they remembered its true purpose – and that is not gift giving. Real joy at Christmas, he said, comes from something far deeper . . . from foundational, sustaining faith.

The miracle of Christmas is its potential for turning human nature on its head; turning our interests inside-out, from grasping to giving, from “I’ve got mine” to “what do you need?”

We have no little grandchildren to spoil, my wife and I. (That may someday soon change, but that’s how it is for now). But this time of year, we “adopt” some, anonymously, through our church. These are kids from families struggling in these tough times, when a roof and food are hard enough to swing, let alone getting something for kids at Christmas.

My wife and I, and many others, take on Santa lists from mothers and dads gathered through our church’s benevolence ministry. No one ever knows where the gifts come from, which is a big part of the fun; this also guards the dignity and pride of the families involved.

Last year, we had a ball buying for two boys; this year, it’s a 4-year-old girl. There was that particular doll; a warm coat, hat and gloves; snow boots; shoes; some tops and pants. We imagine what it might be like for her when she sees the packages under the tree, and the joy her mom and dad may have on Christmas morning, seeing her excitement.

A Shriner Santa

Imagination is enough for me. You see, I was once one of those kids, receiving a Christmas from strangers who cared about me, and other boys and girls from families fallen on hard times.

I was 8 years old that Christmas, living in a small, rundown house in Yakima, Washington, with the preacher parents and my mentally-disabled sister. Dad was out of work, though he walked many miles every day knocking on doors, asking for anything he could find. Mom worked two waitressing jobs, and her tips kept us fed as we ate in the kitchen, fighting off the winter cold by firing up to stove and leaving the oven door open to heat the room.

There would be future Christmases where my parents, both working then, would shower my sister and I with gifts. But this particular Christmas looked dim – until the Shriners, a fraternal order associated with the Free Masons, put on their program for the area’s low-income kids.

It was held in a high school auditorium. There was music, a magic act and then Santa for us all. Each of us got candy, fruit and other snacks, and a huge, two-foot-long stocking stuffed with toy cars, plastic soldiers, and other gadgets and assorted gewgaws. Along with a ventriloquist dummy I’d asked for – a broken-down castoff loving restored and repainted by my Dad during several, secret sessions in the tiny basement of our rental home – it made for a great Christmas.

I will never forget that. Now, 50 years later, I understand. And I’m convinced that the pure joy of this timeless Christmas transaction just has to be greater on the giving side of the equation.

And that, when you think about it, is a God thing.

Makes sense, then, that it comes part and parcel with celebrating the birth of that innocent child who gave us all He had.

Technically right, politically wrong?

Republican Party insiders have basically been telling anyone who will listen that in 2012, Democratic President Obama will become an one-termer.

The consensus is that after three years of failed economic policy, continued high unemployment and foreign and domestic policy crises, the GOP could even put their iconic elephant on the ballot and beat Obama come next November.

They just may have to, if their current crop of candidates – who have traded leads in the polls like kindergarten kids playing musical chairs as each has flubbed, been exposed for alleged wrongdoing, flip-flopping on the issues or just plain ignorance of them – doesn’t finally reveal a viable candidate.

The latest leader has been Newt Gingrich, the tough-talking, experienced politician whose three marriages and past Congressional ethics probes have oddly been baggage few seem to care about.

Gingrich also is an author and historian, among other things. It is in the latter incarnation he may have made his most serious (current) gaffe . . . even though he technically could be said to be right.

In an interview on the Jewish Channel cable network, Gingrich was laying out his pro-Israel bona fides when he remarked that the Palestinians are an “invented” people, that they are basically no different from other Arabs living in the region . . . Jordanians, Syrians, etc., that they had other places to go, in other words.

His argument is that there were no real Arabic nations, Palestinian or otherwise, until the British and French created them after the Ottoman Empire fell following World War I. The British mandate over what became “Palestine” included Jews, Christians and Arabs. So, historically, Gingrich has an argument.

But since when has history survived modern shifts in cultural, political and ethnic developments, or how people come to identify themselves over generations? (We’re “Americans,” now, but a couple centuries ago we were English, Irish, Scots, Germans, French, etc.)

The Arabs who have called themselves Palestinians for, arguably, a century contend that when Jews – both those who had been long-term residents of the area and the tens of thousands who fled there during and after World War II – formed the state of Israel, their Arabic forebearers were forced from their ancestral homes.

Now, I’m not going to fall into that argument about which of the “ancestral home” claims trumps the other. Each side has claims stretching back thousands of years, and each props up their claims with religious imperatives, as well.

But at some point, you have to accept conditions on the ground, in the now. Lots of people agree, thus the “two state” solution: Israel, as a safe and secure homeland for Jews, and Palestine, as (hopefully) a peaceful neighbor and a homeland for the disenfranchised.

Illusive 'two-state' solution

Peaceful. That’s the key, and it has been an illusion for decades of failed negotiations.

But the United States has, whatever the historical arguments Gingrich may claim, committed diplomatically to a two-state solution. In light of that, Gingrich – being the grizzled political veteran that he is – should’ve known better.

The man who would be President should remember that the words he speaks today, having enraged Palestinian leaders who see mere pandering to their “Zionist” enemies in those words, could come back to haunt him — and our nation — should he be elected.