Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Star wars, the story of a lifetime:

Okay, any time we hear news of an entertainment deal over worth over 4 billions dollars, our ears perk up.  George Lucas is selling his brainchild to Walt Disney, reportedly for 4.1 billion.  I personally remember seeing the first Star Wars movie when I was in elementary school.  I'm pretty sure in grade school I didn't know the word "billion."

Have you stopped to ask why a company would pay that much money (besides the obvious reason they are in business and this will make them handfuls of money)?  Why fork over billions for a studio that's niche is aimed at geeks? It's all about the power of Story.  It's that simple.

Stories are the most powerful, influential, sacred, influential and valuable transaction in the world (or this case the Universe).  Jesus is revealed not on a flowchart, but in the narrative of the Gospels.  Businessmen who try to swing the big deal don't just hand out a pie-chart with dollar signs on it, they present a story.  Even the nightly news has a "lead" story.  We are addicted to stories.

George Lucas was heavily influenced by Joesph Campbell's work on mythology and story.  Campbell is the one who uncovered the "Hero's journey" as a recognizable pattern in all the great epic stories.  The hero faces a choice, or a door he must enter.  The first time around he declines, but then forces overpower his choice and he goes through, think of Luke's aunt & uncle being murdered and then he flees their farm.  There is always some type of mentor in these stories, think Yoda or Obi-Wan.  There's a talisman or magic weapon, think light-saber.  Facing the villain, in the first movie's case it's the Death Star Luke defeats in the end, the hero is changed.  Then in the end the hero returns, but changed.  Well, after reading his material that's my interpretation of Campbell.  Once you read Campbell it's hard to read a story or watch movies and not see the "hero's journey" too.

Stories touch us, they move us like no other form of communication.  The way a good story grips us and transports us into another realm is valuable, and in Disney's case, it's worth billions...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Be a hero:

Note: This blog post comes from my religion column in the Kingsport Timesnews on 10/26/12, "Follow the Golden rule, donate blood"

Much of what happens in this life is out of our hands.  No, I’m not saying we are “victims of circumstance” or that we are cosmic pawns.  We have free will, self-control, and a personal responsibility to choose right from wrong.  Actually, the examples that come to mind here are more like not having control over our height, eye color, the family we were born into, or how you didn’t choose your kindergarten teacher.  And, consider how many friendships simply “happened” in the course of life too.

If you are a parent, there are even more examples.  Try as we may, we can’t always insure or guarantee our children will follow the path we prefer.  Sometimes they might not choose the career or college we think is best.  Then comes the time they choose a spouse.  Just trying to advise your teenager on how to pick a hairstyle should be proof enough we can’t always decide every facet of our children’s lives either.  

There are other examples of how much of this life is out of our control, like the weather, economy, or politics. This fact of life, that so many aspects are out of our control, has pleasant as well as painful elements.

Let me share a great example of how life brings enjoyment our way when we don’t deserve it, but we appreciate it.  Earlier this month, my wife and I, we were tremendously blessed by being taken out to dinner at The House on Main in Abingdon, and then later that night to see Cosby perform at the Barter.  But wait, this story gets even better.  

The gracious family who treated us to a wonderful evening of “dinner & a show” passed out our group’s tickets randomly, and, my wife and I ended up with seats mere feet from Bill Cosby.  We had front-row, center seats!  Cosby actually dialogued with us for a few minutes during his routine.  He asked about our marriage proposal and how long we’ve been married.  He had us laughing so hard as he picked on us, we had tears rolling down our cheeks.  

It was a spectacular evening!  We didn’t do anything to deserve such an amazing night.  We certainly appreciated being warmly and graciously invited, even though we we were unprepared for how wonderful the evening progressed.  I could write an entire column here on Cosby’s performance and on how much we appreciated that special night.  But I share that night with you to illustrate how good experiences come our way, often times more than not, undeserved and unexpectedly.  

There’s a flipside to this is in life, tragedy hits us just the same and we are equally unprepared.  Catastrophe can and does strike, and to get straight to the point, in our region we have a shortage of blood.  My goal here is to encourage each of us who are eligible, to consider donating blood.  

Understandably, not everyone can donate blood due to health prohibitions.  No pressure.  But the reality is, a mere percentage of eligible people will donate blood.  The stat for current donors hovers around 5% of the population.  Yet, if just one more percent of our population would donate, we could eliminate our current blood shortages.  

As good neighbors, we have a moral and ethical obligation to donate blood.  People in scheduled surgeries or in traumatic situations require blood, daily.  Does a day go by when you don’t see an ambulance or hear sirens?  Not giving blood, when you can, is like turning a blind eye to the suffering and loss that can be alleviated.  

More importantly than our moral responsibility, we have a Biblical obligation to donate blood when we are eligible.  You know the Golden rule, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).  Jesus is saying the meaning of the entire Bible up to that point (In Jesus’ day people didn’t say “The Bible” to describe the Scriptures, they said “the Law & Prophets”) is summarized in treating others the way we want to be treated.  When you need blood, and many of us will need blood in our lifetime, you hope that it will be there when you need it.  

Imagine your child or grandchild is trick-or-treating a few days from now.  Sadly, the fact is some children end up severely injured at Halloween; sometimes people simply don’t see children crossing the street as they drive that night.  Imagine now it’s your loved one, a small innocent child, in need of blood.  As you pace the floor at the hospital, waiting for news on your loved one, the ER staff regrets to inform you the blood supply for their type was depleted just the day before.  

This same scenario could apply to your teenage driver on a Friday night, an aging parent who is having hip-surgery, or your spouse having a minor procedure go wrong.  I served as a volunteer chaplain for 5 years and I have been in ministry for 18 years now; I’ve seen pretty much every kind of trauma come through the hospital at one time or another.   Loved ones need blood all of the time, due to no fault of their own, and often times the supply is dangerously low.  It’s healthy to hope for those serendipitous times when we end up talking with Bill Cosby, but it’s unfair to withhold throwing out a lifeline if it’s within your power to do so.

You can help save lives, and in case you didn’t know it’s free to donate blood.  And yes, there’s a small inconvenience of time and an uncomfortable stick in the arm, but that’s a small price to pay to help save lives in our community.  Sure, we can send people to the moon and generate electricity using nuclear reactors, but we cannot manufacture blood.  Sadly, since only 5% of the people who can, donate their blood, many lives are unnecessarily put at an extra risk waiting for blood.

Here are a few practical ideas on how you can get involved in donating blood.  You can walk into the Marsh regional blood bank to donate blood, their address is 102 East Ravine Road, Kingsport.  Or, if you are in management, perhaps you could initiate a blood drive to make donating as convenient as possible for your organization.  Or, you could call Marsh to find a local blood drive that is already being organized, and donate there.  Marsh’s number is, 423-224-5888.  I imagine many of these same ideas apply to participating with the American Red Cross, their number in Kingsport is 423-378-8700.

There are a lot of factors out of our control in this life, but meeting the needs of our low blood supply is well within our collective control.  Join me in donating blood on a regular basis.  Please make it a habit to save lives.  The life you save, might just be more important to you than your own.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

So old it's new

Solomon said there's nothing new under the sun.  Some anonymous person said there's no reason to reinvent the wheel.  Both are right.  Starting tonight, we are beginning a "new" series from an "old" TV show, we'll call our study, "Morals from Mayberry."  If all goes well, I foresee this going through to spring.

When Andy Griffith died a couple of months back, it reminded me of a series of lessons I did, based on the Andy Griffith TV show.  That was at least ten years ago, it was using VHS copies I made from cable, and I've since lost all of my notes... I know there are prepackaged study notes on the Andy Griffith show, but I like to write my own teaching material   It's the idea I've borrowed; I'm not the first person to teach Biblical lessons through the Andy Griffith show.

Here's the breakdown of how our study will go:

  • We'll watch an episode together after our evening meal.
  • We'll pass out a "study-guide" to follow along with.
  • There will be group discussion questions based on the episode, some on the show's plot and then some about Biblical truths that arose from the episode.
  • Each lesson will have a twofold conclusion: #1 Asking a question that has a cultural comparison and #2 There will be a "take away" that has a practical application.

I'm pretty excited about the study.  It's for all ages, and I think it's a study that will be fun enough, you might want to invited a friend to it!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Articles in Wineskins:

If you enjoy reading my blog, here are the links to several articles I have contributed to Wineskins that you might enjoy as well:

“How much help does God need electing our next president?” for Wineskins, October 2012

“Equipping for the ministry of Reconciliation” for Wineskins, September 2012

“Outside-in-inside-out” for Wineskins, August 2012

“Shortcomings when we resist Unity” for Wineskins, July 2012


“Tentmaking with Concrete” for Wineskins, June 2012. 


Saturday, October 6, 2012

What is the "Good life"?

I'm working on tomorrow's sermon.  As usual, while I write, I'm listening to Johnny Cash, and more than likely I'll move to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" soon enough.  Tomorrow's sermon, it's addressing the age-old question of what is the good life.  Deep stuff, probably beyond my ability to do justice to, but who doesn't like a good challenge.

I have a million thoughts flying around inside my head as I try to bring a Biblical perspective to this important question.  Sometimes just blogging about topics helps me clear my head.  So, thank you for being a good listener.

We saw Bill Cosby the other night at the Barter.  He said that atheists should really leave themselves some wiggle room, just in case they're wrong...  The good life is a question both believers and non-believers wrestle with.  Perhaps the answer to this, is where humanity finds purpose or direction. Answering how we as individuals understand what the good life really is, could just possibly be the most defining question of all time.

Can we really all answer this question the same?  Can we reach a consensus of the good life?  Doubtful and as improbable as this is, I think more importantly than reaching a consensus, is asking do enough people even ask this anymore, or do people simply plod along...?  Oblivious to the miracle of life.  Unappreciative of the wonder that surrounds us.  Dull and clouded by the pace of change or the doldrums of the daily grind.

Whichever way you see this, I hope that you'll lose sleep at least once in your life struggling though to find an answer to what the good life is.  If not, ask someone to check and see if you have a pulse.