Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The World According to Calvin (and Hobbes)

American cartoonist and recluse, Bill Watterson, has never given permission for Calvin & Hobbes to appear in anything other than printed form...newspapers, book-form collections of the strips, and most recently, the on-line publication by strip owners, Universal Press Syndicate. Even in the face of hundreds of offers to license his characters to be used on lunch boxes and pillowcases and posters and plush toys, he never "sold out".

All of that is to say two things:

1)  The following use of one of Watterson's C & H strips is completely unauthorized, but I'm hoping that the lack of any financial gain or loss on my part or the syndicate's part will preclude me from any serious repercussions.

2)  It's a fairly safe bet that Watterson himself has an attitude toward life that is in direct opposition to the one expressed by Calvin in these panels.

Truth is...there is no need for further commentary by me, right?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Winning at Life

Gilman High School in Maryland has an unusual and highly successful football team. And its coaches have a few unusual rules, according to this excerpt from Jeffrey Marx’ book, Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood.

"I expect greatness out of you,” [head coach] Biff [Poggi] once told the boys. “And the way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people's lives.”

How would the boys make the most impact? Almost anything Biff ever talked about could be fashioned into at least a partial answer to that question. For one thing, they would make an impact by being inclusive rather than exclusive.

"The rest of the world will always try to separate you,” Biff said. “That's almost a law of nature – gonna happen no matter what, right? The rest of the world will want to separate you by race, by socioeconomic status, by education levels, by religion, by neighborhood, by what kind of car you drive, by the clothes you wear, by athletic ability. You name it – always gonna be people who want to separate by that stuff. Well, if you let that happen now, then you'll let it happen later. Don't let it happen. If you're one of us, then you won't walk around putting people in boxes. Not now. Not ever. Because every single one of them has something to offer. Every single one of them is special. Look at me, boys.”

They were looking.

"We are a program of inclusion,” Biff said. “We do not believe in separation.”

The boys would also make an impact by breaking down cliques and stereotypes, by developing empathy and kindness for all.

"What's empathy?” Biff asked them. “Feeling what?”

"Feeling what the other person feels,” said senior Napoleon Sykes, one of the team captains, a small but solid wide receiver and hard-hitting defensive back who had already accepted a scholarship to play college football at Wake Forest.

"Exactly right,” Biff said. “Not feeling for someone, but with someone. If you can put yourself in another man's shoes, that's a great gift to have for a lifetime.”

That was the whole idea behind Biff and Joe's ironclad rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another Gilman boy – teammate or not – eat lunch by himself.

"You happen to see another boy off by himself, go sit with him or bring him over to sit with you and your friends,” Biff said. “I don't care if you know him or not. I don't care if he's the best athlete in the school or the so-called nerd with his head always down in the books. You go get him and you make him feel wanted, you make him feel special. Simple, right? Well, that's being a man built for others.”

Ultimately, Biff said, the boys would make the greatest overall impact on the world – would bring the most love and grace and healing to people – by constantly basing their thoughts and actions on one simple question: What can I do for you?

"Not, what can I do to get a bigger bank account or a bigger house?” Biff said. “Not, what can 1 do to get the prettiest girl? Not, what can I do to get the most power or authority or a better job title? Not, what can I do for me? The only question that really matters is this: How can I help you today?”

Biff and Joe would constantly elaborate on all of this as the season progressed.

"Because in case you haven't noticed yet, we're training you to be different,” Biff said. “If we lose every game of the year, go oh-and-ten on the football field, as long as we try hard, I don't care. You learn these lessons, and we're ten-and-oh in the game of life.”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Truth is...The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Jesus - Matthew 23:11-12)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Turning Loss Into Loveliness

One of the most-loved and comforting hymns ever written was penned by a man who had plenty of personal experience with loss and grief.

In 1819, Joseph Scriven was born in County Down, Ireland, and as a young man wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Royal Marine, but his relatively poor health prevented him from following that dream.

When he fell in love and was engaged, his fiancee drowned before the wedding could take place. Perhaps to distance himself from that tragedy and get a new start in life, Mr. Scriven moved to Canada...where he once again became engaged to be married and once again lost his love to death.

Rather than stow himself away in loneliness and grief, he seems to have devoted his life to serving others. He was especially known for carrying a saw with him and cutting firewood for anyone in need.

When he got word that his mother was gravely ill, he could not afford a trip back to Ireland, so he wrote his mother a poem and sent it to her in hopes of comforting and encouraging her. It is that poem that was later published in a religious journal, set to music by Charles C. Converse, and became the song we know as "What a Friend We Have in Jesus".

What a friend we have in Jesus, 

All our sins and griefs to bear:
What a privilege to carry
Ev’ry thing to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear–
All because we do not carry
Ev’ry thing to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a Friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our Refuge,–
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer:
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Truth is...Creatively turning pain into an artistic expression is nothing new; neither is turning worry and grief into prayer. It wouldn't hurt me (and perhaps you, too?) to do more of both.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Simply Jesus

To be completely truthful, N. T. Wright's book, Simply Jesus, did not rock my socks off. Nothing in it to really turn me off or make me give up reading it, but not the "breathtaking vision of Jesus that more than matches the needs and complexities of our time" that the dust jacket promised, either.

So, in preparing to sell my copy on craigslist, I was looking through it to see how many sentences/passages I had underlined...and was surprised at the number of statements I found to be noteworthy; a few of which I now share:

p 23-24.  So how can we go about the task of trying to understand Jesus himself? There is a whole other book to be written about the kind of evidence we have for Jesus and how we can use it responsibly. What are the gospels? What about those "other gospels"? What sources did these books use, and how can we evaluate them historically? ... There is no place where we can gain a "fixed point" from which to begin. The way you treat the sources will reflect the way you already understand Jesus, just as the way you understand Jesus will reflect the way you understand the sources.
p 58-59.  It may be time to be skeptical about skepticism itself. In Jesus' own day, there were plenty of people who didn't want to believe his message, because it would have upset their own agenda. For the last two hundred years that's been the mood in Western society, too. By all means, people think, let Jesus be a soul doctor, making people feel better inside. Let him be a rescuer, snatching people away from this world to "heaven." But don't let him tell us about a God who actually does things in the world. We might have to take that God seriously, just when we're discovering how to run the world our own way. Skepticism is no more "neutral" or "objective" than faith. It has thrived in the post-Enlightenment world, which didn't want God (or, in many cases, anyone else either) to be king. Saying this doesn't, of course, prove anything in itself. It just suggests that we keep an open mind and recognize that skepticism too comes with its own agenda.
p 70.  No point putting the world right if the people are still broken.
p 148.  [Jesus] wasn't teaching his followers how to rise above the mess of the world. He was training them to be kingdom bringers. ... In first-century Christianity, what mattered was not people going from earth into God's kingdom in heaven. What mattered, and what Jesus taught his followers to pray, was that God's kingdom would come on earth as in heaven.
p 173.  The disciples wanted a kingdom without a cross. Many would-be "orthodox" or "conservative" Christians in our world have wanted a cross without a kingdom, an abstract "atonement" that would have nothing to do with this world except to provide the means of escaping it.
p 184.  The point was not to rescue people from creation but to rescue creation itself.

Truth is...reading these snippets again makes me want to rethink my former evaluation of this book as not being breathtaking.