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, March 21, 2011

March 21, 2011 The American Dream

Today is my father’s 80th birthday. He spent the afternoon yesterday surrounded by family and friends, enjoying the spotlight, eating well, laughing, watching great-grandchildren play. There must be a wonderful sense of accomplishment just to reach the age of 80, to have raised children, watched grandchildren come along, be married to the same woman for all these years. He was never wealthy, but growing up, we always had enough and then some. His health is not what I would prefer, but he is alive. He can still beat anyone at Trivial Pursuit. He walks with God. He speaks French like a native Parisian. He loves (and tells, endlessly) corny jokes. If he is no longer able to travel the world or build furniture or have the kind of flower gardens I remember from my childhood, he still has the satisfaction of living, still, even with some health issues, a good life.

In 1931, the year of his birth, James Truslow Adams expressed the idea of the American Dream: "Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of
social class or circumstances of birth. The question that comes to mind is “better and richer and fuller than what, exactly?”

Should each generation expect one’s life to be better and richer and fuller than that of one’s parents? One’s grandparents’? In today’s texting terms, do we, as Americans, have a right to expect life to be BRF (better, richer and fuller) than the lives of anyone living anywhere else? Do parents have a responsibility to work to provide the BRFL to their children, or is the responsibility that of the government…or churches…or social agendas…or the kids themselves?

What does the Bible say about living the good life?

According to Proverbs 18:22, the man who finds a wife has it “good.” I knew a retired missionary who disliked the translation that said “he who finds a wife finds a good thing.” He felt it was disrespectful to women, who are not “things” at all. The problem was with the translation, not the sentiment. Biblically, marriage is a blessing, part of the full life God intended for his children. But not everyone is married. Not every marriage lasts. Surely those who are single can hope for a fulfilling life as well.

Solomon—who had a thousand wives but is, oddly, considered by many to be the wisest man ever to live—wrote in
Ecclesiastes 5:18 that what is “good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him” (ESV). Note that he did not say anything about all those women! Apparently, quantity isn’t everything. The concept of work, though…that’s a key. A good life involves the joy of accomplishing a task, enjoying the fruit of one’s labors...not being handed everything on a silver platter or through a government direct-deposit check.

Peter wrote in his first letter (3:1)) that whoever “desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” Peter points to the personal responsibility aspect of happiness. If you want the good life, practice good behavior. Not a bad hook to hang one’s life hat on, as long as we realize that bad things happen even to the best of folks. When tragedy comes, however, those who have made it a lifestyle to live responsibly are better equipped to face the day than those who have chosen lives of selfishness.

The American Dream can easily leave us thinking that we are entitled to more, to better, to lives of ease. My father’s generation knows better, having learned the lessons of the Great Depression instilled by their own parents, participating in the second “war to end all wars.” Even so, Daddy and his peers tried, as all loving parents try, to offer their children better lives than their own. Every generation does this, not because of the American Dream, but because of love.

Good lives are possible because we have a good God, not a certain government or national identity or gender or ethnicity or career or spouse or parent. But I am so very thankful that I have the father I do.
Happy birthday, Daddy-Herb-Bobba Pendergraft with wishes for many, many more.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7, 2011 Not Just a Cinderella Story

When Don Richardson and his family joined the Sawi tribe in what was then Dutch New Guinea, he tried sharing the gospel with them. He soon discovered that in their culture, Judas was considered the hero, not Jesus. As the Richardsons prayed for ways to communicate God’s truth in the face of such cultural bias, they came upon the tradition of the peace child.

From Wikipedia:

“Three tribal villages were in constant battle at this time. The Richardsons were considering leaving the area, so to keep them there, the Sawi people in the embattled villages came together and decided that they would make peace with their hated enemies. Ceremonies commenced that saw young children being exchanged between opposing villages. One man in particular ran toward his enemy's camp and literally gave his son to his hated foe. Observing this, Richardson wrote: ‘if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!’ From this rare picture came the analogy of God's sacrifice of his own Son. The Sawi began to understand the teaching of the incarnation of Christ in the Gospel after Richardson explained God to them in this way.”

Richardson wrote “Peace Child” in the 70s, but recently came out with an updated version. He also wrote “Eternity in their Hearts” which also deals with the redemptive analogies, as he calls them, found throughout the world that tell a type of salvation story. Jesus used stories to teach truth. C.S. Lewis used fantasy and mythology to teach truth. Missionaries do well to find ways within a culture to point out eternal truth as well, by studying the stories that already exist there, that are well-known to the people.

What about in our culture? We are such a multi-cultural society today. Is there a redemptive analogy in America that transcends our differences? I think so, but you may think it’s a little silly. Silly in a Disney sort of way.

As a teenager, I spent a fair amount of time at the mountain cabin of my pastor and his wife, joining them for family vacations or as part of a larger group such a as a church retreat. One day, I was washing dishes alone in the open kitchen area as another visiting minister walked past. “Cinderellen!” he said with a smile.

The story of Cinderella didn’t start with Disney, however. In fact, there are over 350 versions of the story dating back as far as ancient Greece and Rome. Wherever the story takes place, however, in Germany with the Brothers Grimm (and it was grim, too, with birds pecking out the stepsisters’ eyes!) or in China, there is a young girl, beautiful but mistreated and abused who is rescued. There is an element of “happily ever after” which our own culture has latched onto so tightly.

But think about the marriage feast of the Lamb the Bible teaches. The New Jerusalem, the Bride without spot or blemish. Believers together forming the Body of Christ, the Bride of which Jesus Christ is the Head. Are we not toiling upon the earth today, sullied by sin, abused by enemies spiritual and physical until the truth of God’s love for us breaks through the sad, sad story?

The Father (King) sends the Son (prince) to find a bride (Cinderella) and bring her back, in time, to heaven (palace). The Holy Spirit isn’t given to exclamations of bibbidybobbidyboo but serves as the counterpart to the fairy godmother (in some stories, the spirit of the young girl’s dead mother helps her).

If that sounds blasphemous, lighten up! To me, it is only additional evidence of God’s purposes and plans, dropping folk tales and traditions throughout history and all over the earth so that eventually, someone will have a lightbulb moment and snap his fingers and say, “Oh! That’s what it was really about!” He will go to any and all means (obviously, or Jesus would not have had to die on the Cross) to win us back to himself.

I mean, if the shoe fits…