Friday, June 26, 2009

The Real Measure of a Life

The entertainment industry recently has lost luminaries of varying intensity – Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

McMahon was best known as Johnny Carson’s late-night sidekick and the pitchman for Publisher’s Clearinghouse. Farrah was adored as one of Charlie’s Angels, but guys of my generation will remember her most for her little red, one-piece swimsuit poster. She set many young men’s hearts aflutter. And of course, Michael was the grandest icon of all, already being ranked with Elvis, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra in terms of his musical magnitude and impact on pop culture.

Over the next days and weeks, we will continue to hear reports and commentaries on them all, particularly the enigmatic Michael. An unquestionably talented and charismatic individual, his latter years unfortunately were shrouded by his eccentricities and controversy.

All three were larger than life in their own way, and their departures leave a void. But as discussions of their legacies advance, the most fitting question might be, “What difference did they really make?”

For Michael, it was music and mystery. For Farrah, it was glamour and sexuality. For Ed, he just seemed like a fun kind of guy. They entertained us and offered an escape from reality, but in terms of long-term impact, was there more to them than that?

It may be, in the context of eternity, that the elderly shut-in who faithfully prays for others, the anonymous philanthropist who gives to help others in need, and those who invest time to encourage and counsel others may have as much – or more – enduring influence, despite their obscurity.

In Isaiah 43:4 God says, “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, people in exchange for your life.” That sounds like a life well invested

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back to the Bookshelf

This summer I’m returning to a first love: Reading books. As a boy I always had my nose in a book; that continued well into adulthood. But in recent years, my time with books has diminished dramatically. I’m aiming to change that, at least for a few months.

I used to read 30-40 books a year. Now I struggle to get through a dozen. I read a lot via the Internet and e-mail, of course, but it’s not the same. To me, reading a book is similar to nurturing a relationship. It demands commitment and hours of dedicated attention. Holding a book is tangible, organic; the texture of the paper under my fingertips, the rustle of the pages as they turn.

Reading also requires giving something of myself, unlike passively watching a TV program or even browsing Internet sites. In reading a good book, fiction or non-fiction, I eagerly anticipate what a turn of the page might present – new information to learn, a new adventure to experience. Finishing the last page is like bidding farewell to a good friend.

One reason for my recaptured zeal is that my favorite TV shows are on hiatus. “House,” “Bones,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Mentalist” are taking a break, a respite they and I both need. I have temporarily escaped TV’s gravitational field.

There is no biblical mandate to read books, although we are exhorted to study and meditate on God’s Word. But the apostle Paul indicates he was an avid reader, writing in 2 Timothy 4:13, “When you come, bring…my scrolls, especially the parchments.”

I’m off to a good start. Already I have finished two books and am well into two others. More volumes near my desk seem to beg, “Read me!” I intend to appease some of them during the next weeks.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reflections on Fatherhood

As Father’s Day approaches, we read articles and hear commentaries about the role of fathers. A friend in TV news even asked the question recently, “Dads, do you feel like you get ripped off on Father's Day?” I’m not sure what prompted the question, but I suspect it’s because Father’s Day typically gets less “pub” than Mother’s Day.

I don’t feel “ripped off” at all. It’s not about the cards or gifts I might receive – although those are nice. If they were to hold a “best father” competition, I wouldn’t bother entering because I’ve blown it more times than I can remember. But as the Scriptures say, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Although I have messed up a lot, I hope my heart has been in the right place – at least most of the time.

To me, the greatest Father’s Day gifts I’ve received have been comments from my daughters to the effect, “Dad, thanks for always being there for me,” and the smiling “Pop!” that greets me whenever my grandchildren visit.

It’s sad when TV cameras pan the sidelines during college football games and young men yell, “Hi, Mom!” because rarely do they say, “Hi, Dad!” And that’s an indictment, I think, on many fathers who failed to keep their end of the deal. If more dads had done a better job, maybe their kids – and our society – would be in better shape.

I like this description of a good father: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). If a man can succeed in achieving that, I think he’s doing a good job.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Humor at Others’ Expense

During a recent opening monologue, late-night talk show host David Letterman made a comment that still has people debating its appropriateness.

Letterman said "an awkward moment" occurred for former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin when, "during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by (Yankee third baseman) Alex Rodriguez." Without naming her, the joke apparently referred to Palin's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, an unwed mother. But it was 14-year-old daughter, Willow, not Bristol, attending the game.

When Palin reacted the next day with understandable anger, Letterman offered a weak, halfhearted apology – couched within another joke.

I wonder: What if Letterman had said something like that about Chelsea Clinton while the Clintons were in office, or about one of President Barack Obama’s daughters? Or a daughter or granddaughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? No doubt Letterman today would be among the ranks of the unemployed; at the very least taking extreme measures to demonstrate genuine remorse.

Growing up, and even as late as the 1980s, I heard jokes about various ethnic groups – Italians, Poles, Jews, Hispanics, etc. Today most of us agree such efforts to elicit laughs at the expense of individuals or specific groups of people are unkind, inappropriate, and just wrong.

Perhaps because she is Caucasian, conservative and Christian – apparently the “unholy trinity” for elitist, left-wing wags – Palin and her family are considered fair game. But ideological and political differences do not excuse insensitivity and bigotry.

Once again, the Bible offers a simple, yet profound principle to apply to these situations: “Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). In other words, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Greatest of These…

Last week while on vacation, I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that read, “Faith – Hope – Love.” I’m not sure whether the shirt held spiritual meaning for her, or whether it was just something purchased for “the look,” just as many people today wear ornamental crosses as fashion accessories.

Those words, of course, come from 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” That verse comes immediately after the passage – often used at weddings – that describes love in many ways, including patient, kind, humble, trusting, hopeful and persevering.

Have you ever wondered why love is called “the greatest of these”? I have heard sermons on this, but most seem to just miss the mark. It’s true that love compelled Jesus Christ to go to the cross on our behalf. And love can prompt us to do unusual, extraordinary, even heroic acts on behalf of others. But there is something more.

Both faith and hope pertain to the “not yet.” I define faith as, belief plus trust. And hope as, “earnest expectation” or “confident assurance.” Both are grounded in an inner certainty of the reality of God. But the fact is we still have not yet seen Him. When we all pass to “the other side of eternity,” however, the Bible assures us, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

At that moment, our need for faith and hope will end – forever. All that will remain is love, a profound, enduring love for the One who first loved us, not because we deserved it, but because we did not deserve it – and He loved us anyway. And when we see Him as He is, we can’t help but love Him back.