And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, August 24, 2009

August 24, 2009 A Delayed Response

Certain events during our lifetimes stand as benchmarks. It is as if our lives are immediately transformed into clear-cut divisions of Before and After; the very people around us undergo a metamorphosis depending on their responses at the time. We may forgive those who failed us at the time, but we can never forget that at the point of our greatest need, they were measured and found wanting.

King David may have had many such circumstances in his passionate, roller-coaster ride of a life, but one comes to mind. In Second Samuel 16, David has fled Jerusalem because his own son, Absalom, has come against him. After he’d allowed personal weakness to pull him in a downward spiral, he had been forewarned by the prophet Nathan that this day would come, and with resignation and pain, he watched it unfold.

As David fled Jerusalem, a relative of David’s predecessor (and father-in-law) Saul…a man by the name of Shimei… taunted him with curses, throwing stones at the troubled king and his party as they passed by. One of David’s chiefs was incensed. “Just say the word,” he cried, “and I’ll have his head.”

But David stopped him (see verses 11-12): “My own son wants me dead! -- how much more this man who blames me for all his problems! Let him alone --maybe God will reward me with something good because he’s cursing me for no reason.”

God was faithful to his promises to David--soon David was again enthroned in Jerusalem. In time, knowing death was imminent he passed his reign on to his son Solomon. A man’s dying words are, historically, given extra weight. One supposes that a man’s last words will be especially important and meaningful, that he has been saving up for that moment all the wisdom he wishes to leave as a legacy. Vital unfinished business may be addressed. Blessings.

David was true to this model, charging Solomon to follow God, but then he got a few matters off his chest. We can imagine that lying there, old and feeble, he had relived significant events over and over in his mind, making note of the good and bad, wanting to make certain there would be, even after his death, appropriate responses. A general had dishonored him, requiring punitive action. Another man had helped him during his worst days and should be rewarded accordingly.

And then there was Shimei…“You know what to do.” David ignored Shimei at the time of the offense, knowing that God was at work, accepting the fact that his own misdeeds had brought trouble upon him. But his memory was long. Shimei’s hatred predated David’s problems with Absalom or his sins. He was Saul’s loyal follower, whether God was with him or not. David’s troubles had merely given him a public arena in which to vent his anger, an excuse to cast stones and hurl insults. Compared to Absalom, Shimei was small potatoes…but David remembered.

We all have benchmarks, or will eventually. No one is exempt from trials and tribulation. It is important that we respond in godly ways to those who are undergoing their own difficulties, that we not add to their pain by thoughtlessness or actual hurtfulness. It is equally important that in the midst of extreme circumstances, we find room for forgiveness for those who let us down.

I remember one such situation in my own life. At my very lowest, broken and bent to the ground, I made an easy target for the sharp-edged stones that came flying at me from directions I would never have dreamed possible. Vicious insults were spoken to my face and behind my back. I still remember them and the seering pain they caused, remember feeling as if all the air had left the room. I could hardly breathe, much less speak and confront coherently.

Have I forgiven, as Jesus commanded us to forgive? Sometimes I think I have…and perhaps at that moment, I have forgiven as much as I am able to at that moment. With one person in particular, reconciliation and restoration appear to be a real possibility. And then God peels back another layer and I realize it’s still a work in process. Just as I am a work in process. I can only cry out for grace and strength and pray that those I have hurt…the targets of my own stones…will cry out for grace to forgive me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

August 10, 2009 It's All in the Way You Look at Things

Philip Parker is a wonderfully whimsical poet whose delightful performances for children are just as enjoyable for the adults who take them. His poem “An Utterly Ugly Day” goes like this (I've indicated his pronunciation):

What an utterly ‘ug-a-ly’ day!
Mr. Sun … will you please go away?
I’m a frog , and I’m mad On my hot lily pad ,
‘Cause you’re burning my toes with your rays !

What an utterly ‘ug-al-y’ day!
Mr. Sun … come back some other day!
I like wetness and soggy –You’re toasting my body
And burning my toes with your rays !

What an utterly ‘ug-al-y’ day!
Wait a minute; I’m covered in shade …
From that dark cloud above – Hey! It’s raining a flood!
What a wet… clammy…icky…sticky…slippy…drippy…slimy…sloppy… soggy… boggy…
beautiful day!

To you or me, a rainy day may not hold the same appeal (unless we’ve got an empty house and a good book to enjoy) but to a frog, it’s the best! In the same way, because we are all different and have different needs and desires, what’s a blessing to you may or may not be a blessing to me. We have to allow room for such differences without judging issues that, in the eternal scope of things, don’t amount to the proverbial hill of beans.

We get into trouble—and Christians are especially prone to this, I’m afraid—when we hear the Lord guiding us into one direction and take it one step…one giant leap…further. If God wants me to do this, or stop doing that, he must want everyone to, right? Not necessarily.

Some things are absolutes. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the only begotten son of the Father who lived a sinless life, offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the sin (and sins) of humankind once and for all so that we might have an open door back to fellowship with God, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will return again for his Bride, the Church. What he looked like, how he might dress in the 21st century, and whether or not he prefers hymns or choruses…these are peripheral things unworthy of argument or even much discussion, unless it’s very late at night and you’re sitting around with roommates munching on cold pizza.

Just before a storm comes, there’s often a wonderful feel of the air, in the smell of it. Something cool and delicious passes through, signaling change. Whether you welcome the change or not is a matter of your own preferences, but you can’t argue with the fact that something is about to happen. You can’t stop it, either.

Down through history, learned scholars who should have known better have argued about how many angels will fit on the head of a pin and other nonsense. Sacrificing truth for detail, such people still get so hung up, like Philip’s grumbling frog, on the temperature, that they are prone to miss the change in the weather. Sometimes they find a hole in the ground to hide in from the hot climate they want to escape, and end up missing the coolness of the rain that has come altogether.

We interpret the weather in different ways, but we can’t stop it. We have a choice to make when the wind turns—do we welcome it? Are we prepared for it? Can we see its beauty even if we’d rather have a cloudless afternoon? Some things never change—Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 13—but very much in the world, in the Church, in our own lives will be in a constant state of flux. Our heart will determine our response.

For more poems by Philip Parker, contact him at