Holding hands is for more than romance

I remember the excitement of holding the hands of girlfriends in youth.

I remember the connection when holding the hand of the woman I came to love. Not like the others, she remained from day to day.

I remember the tenderness of holding the hands of our babies; small and soft, they grasped your finger.

I thought of hand-holding this morning when listening to a song by David Kauffman — “A Hand to Hold.”

It reminded me of another hand-holding song first heard when I was 8 in 1963 — “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by The Beatles. The excitement of that song thrilled and laid the foundation for the excitement that would come a few years later when I held the hands of girlfriends.

But, excitement is only part of life. Kauffman’s “A Hand to Hold” points to something deeper.

“Someone asked me what I want, the question sent me spinning off in circles. I could not see. Seems like so much of my time is spent chasing what my mind invents, that my heart lost its way.

“It took stripping away every plan in me to understand the simple things I need, a hand to hold, a heart that knows, a soul that welcomes and makes a whole, a smile that warms what’s grown cold ’til I’ve become a hand to hold.”

To hold a hand is one of the great joys of life. Yes, it can be exciting, but more joyously it can become a true connection with genuine tenderness, and it’s not just about romance. To rephrase Kauffman’s words:

We all need hands to hold.

We all need hearts that know us.

We all need souls that welcome and make us whole.

We all need smiles that warm us when we’ve grown cold.

We need real love, the Jesus kind of love. The love that touches our hearts, warms our souls, makes us whole, and smiles upon our lives.

We can receive these spiritually, directly from our Creator and Sustainer, but we also need to receive these from the people God brings into our life path.

God may touch our spirits, but God knows that flesh is important and needs to be touched, as well. Jesus became flesh so he could actually touch people. What might it have been like to walk a path in Palestine holding the hand of the one who loved perfectly and would one day give that hand to be assaulted in crucifixion?

And, as Kauffman’s song says, when we have been touched and changed, we will “become a hand to hold.” We need others to hold our hands, and others need us — the power of touch.

(David Kauffman has been one of my favorite Christian songwriters for years. “A Hand to Hold” is on his album by that same name.)

 

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Oh, the friends you will make

When first told I had cancer, my initial thoughts were these: This could kill me. This will cost me. This is going to disrupt the lives of my family and me. I did not think of how God would bless me through the process.

One of the blessings is that I have gotten to know a bunch of great people — competent and caring. They’ve brightened my life.

Today marked the 31st day of my 38-day radiation treatment. I get to see the folks at Urology Austin’s radiation center every morning at 7 a.m. to get zapped.

Dr. Garza is the ring leader, but there’s also Isabel, Kristianne, Angela, Erick, Katherine, Que, and others. They rotate. They’ve become my friends. In the brief moments before and after they leave the room we get to share tidbits of our lives.

They know their stuff, which is critical, but they also show they care, and that is just as important for me. I’m going to miss them when this is over.

I would have preferred to forego the cancer, but I am surely thankful for the people — the blessings — I have encountered through the journey.

Trustworthiness is tied to truth & actions

Trustworthiness is so important. Understanding it can help us understand why lying and deceit are so damaging.

I want to simplify a sentence from Christopher Hall, quoting Robert Wilken:

Authority sometimes refers to power, but it can refer also to trustworthiness. One way we establish trustworthiness is through “teaching with truthfulness,” which resides “in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence.” A person’s “trust is won not simply by words but also by actions, by the kind of person the teacher is—in short, by character.”

Hall and Wilken were referring to the pursuit of truth and trustworthiness in the Christian tradition. It is, I think, something that can be applied to all of life. We win the trust of others not merely by our words but also by our actions — by being a person of high character, by being trustworthy.

The paraphrase and quote come from Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (p. 28). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Making sense of a personal past

Reading about others can help you see yourself better.

I was reading this morning about the differences that emerged during American slavery between house slaves and field slaves. I cannot begin to compare my heritage to the black experience, but I as I read knowing my own heritage I realized that in many ways I’m from the white field hand tradition.

One of my grandfathers was a sharecropper. Both of my grandfathers were eventually land-owning farmers (thanks, in part, to the women they married). I still see the field hand in myself. I’m not comfortable in the world of fancy; I like to dress more simply and behave more casually.

But I went and got a bunch of education, so I don’t really fit in with the field hand world either. I would rather talk about ideas than the weather.

So now I see a little better why I sometimes feel alone. I’m not alone regarding people; I’m a bit alone within myself — connected, yet disconnected from my past and in my present.

That may sound like a sad thought. It’s not, because I know there are lots of people who are like me in feeling disconnected from something old and yet connected to something new.

Introducing a hero — Mary Scott Skinker

Mary Scott Skinker helped change our world, but most of us have never heard of her. She started by changing Rachel Carson’s world, who then rocked the whole world. And most of us do not know of Carson today either.
 
Mary Scott Skinker died sometime in the 20th century; I’m not sure when. She does not have an entry in Wikipedia, but she does have a phrase. “At the urging of her [Carson’s] undergraduate biology mentor Mary Scott Skinker, she settled for a temporary position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. . . .”
 
Rachel Carson, who does have an entry in Wikipedia. Read this three-paragraph intro, especially the third one:
 
“Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.
 
“Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award. . . Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths.
 
“Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially some problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was the book Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.”
 
Mary Scott Skinker leads to Rachel Carson, who leads to a world concerned about the environment, and rightfully so.
 
I think most of us feel pretty “small” much of the time. We will never have an entry in Wikipedia or any other pedia. But we can be a Mary Scott Skinker to someone. We can encourage, educate, help, promote, and encourage some more.
 
We may be lifting up the next Rachel Carson or the next Mary Scott Skinker. We need each other. And the ones who leave big marks on history need the “little” ones of us to help them.
 
I once wanted to be a Rachel Carson. Now, I would settle for being another Mary Scott Skinker.

Time to resist the ‘cult of self and self-fulfillment’

Here are some words from James Montgomery Boice on this Sunday morning:

“What lies at the heart of family breakdown is the sad philosophy that lies at the heart of the breakdown of American society generally, namely, the cult of self and self-fulfillment to be achieved at the cost of nearly everything else. In other words, the problem is unbridled individualism, which is individualism in the most radical sense (‘me alone; no one else matters’), utterly untempered, constrained by not a single moral absolute.”

Christians today have even fallen victim to this disease. This has happened to the point that “Christian” is coming unattached from what the Bible says about being a follower of Jesus, a follower of the Jesus Way.

Politics reveals this. Many Christians have sold their moral souls for political ideas on both the left (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) and the right (protecting the wealthy not the poor, environmental degradation, immigration).

We need to actually read Scripture more, especially the New Testament, instead of listening primarily to what others say and write about Scripture. That’s what I’m going to do right now.

The quote is from Boice’s Foundations for God’s City, p. 23.

Sirach offers words of Wisdom

We live in a day full of information but often bereft of wisdom.

This morning I read something I had never read before. I went to the Catholic Bible and read from the book of Sirach. Chapter 24 speaks of Wisdom, she who comes forth from the “Creator of all things.”

The Creator, the ancient text says, gave Wisdom a place in which to dwell. The people of Jacob, of Israel became that dwelling.

The passage personifies Wisdom as a woman come to dwell among a people. This paints a beautiful image of what we know from the Old Testament. The writer of Sirach recognized that Israel had been specially blessed as a place for the Creator’s Wisdom to be gradually revealed.

Wisdom speaks of the Creator and Israel:

“Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage” (vv. 9-12, NRSV, Catholic Edition).

Can’t we see this as we read both the Hebrew Scriptures and then the new Christian testament? Wisdom established. Wisdom taking root.

Wisdom “grew tall” like a tree, Sirach says. She could be seen in her majesty, but she was not only seen. Wisdom “gave forth perfume. She was to be inhaled and enjoyed.

“Like cassia and camel’s thorn I gave forth perfume,
and like choice myrrh I spread my fragrance,
like galbanum, onycha, and stacte,
and like the odor of incense in the tent ” (v. 15).

And, in the imperfect but fertile Hebrew soil Wisdom spread and gave glorious delights and abundant fruit. And Wisdom issued an invitation for all who desire her to “eat your fill of my fruits.” She also gave a promise, that possession of her would be “sweeter than the honeycomb.”

“Like a terebinth I spread out my branches,
and my branches are glorious and graceful.
Like the vine I bud forth delights,
and my blossoms become glorious and abundant fruit. [148]
Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb” (vv. 16-20).

And once we taste Wisdom, we want more, because we will never have all of her. And as we obey Wisdom we rise above the sin that so easily ensnares us.

“Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
and those who drink of me will thirst for more.
Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame,
and those who work with me will not sin” (vv. 21-22).

Wisdom is found in the law of Moses, the early chapters of our Bible today, Sirach said. This grand woman, Wisdom, is specially revealed in God’s law.

The law of Moses “overflows . . .  with wisdom” like the Pishon and Tigris rivers in the spring (v. 25).

The law of Moses “runs over . . . with understanding” like the Euphrates and the Jordan at harvest time (v. 26).

The law of Moses “pours forth instruction” like the Nile and the Gihon in vintage (v. 27).

The first humans dd not know Wisdom fully, nor will the last (v. 28). This should humble us. We have a tendency to speak with such certainty about the things of God. Will we every learn that there always is more to learn of the Infinite and of Wisdom?

For her thoughts are more abundant than the sea,
and her counsel deeper than the great abyss (v. 29).

But Wisdom makes a promise.

“I will again make instruction shine forth like the dawn,
and I will make it clear from far away.
I will again pour out teaching like prophecy,
and leave it to all future generations.
Observe that I have not labored for myself alone,
but for all who seek wisdom” (vv. 32-34).

Such a beautiful thought. The Wisdom of Scripture will again shine forth like a beautiful dawn, and her teachings will be poured out to all future generations. And it is not just for the sake of Wisdom herself, but for everyone who seeks her.

 

Excerpts From: Thomas Nelson. “NRSV, Catholic Edition Bible, eBook.” Apple Books. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/nrsv-catholic-edition-bible-ebook/id386605154?mt=11