Monthly Archives: April 2012

No One Erects Statues to Honor Critics

 

In an old issue of Leadership Journal, Haddon Robinson retells the story of a very talented young musician who was crestfallen as he sat reading the critics’ reviews of his recent concert. The negative words stung his soul like fire. It was an older and more accomplished musician, the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, who comforted the young man by patting him on the back and remarking, “Remember, son, there is no city in the world where they have erected a statue to a critic.”

Maybe that’s at least partly what Jesus was saying with his well-known words from what we know as the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-3).

J. B. Phillips, in his paraphrase, just puts it this way: “Don’t criticize people, and you will not be criticized.”

That’s hard, isn’t it? But it says something we need to hear.

We’re all familiar with Jesus’ words, but we easily push them to the backs of our minds when we take up the role of critic. We allow ourselves to become the self-appointed judges of our neighbor next door or our co-worker on the job or the lady sitting on the other side of the pew. Criticism, you see, is the most common form of judging.

But Jesus makes fun of judges like us: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and fail to notice the 2 X 4 plank in your own?”

It’s one thing to offer kindly advice to someone we’re charged to teach or train (and someone who has also regularly received our genuine encouragement and affirmation): “I really appreciate the work that you do. Have you ever thought about how this particular part of your work could be more effective?”

It’s another to spend all of our time looking down our noses at others and appraising them with jaundiced eyes, quick to offer criticism, spoken aloud or not, but “donating” encouragement about as often as we donate kidneys.

The eye, Jesus says, is “the window of the body.” If I’m looking at the world through dark glasses, I shouldn’t be surprised if the whole world takes on a dark hue. It’s altogether too easy for me to become the self-appointed judge of everyone and everything around me. I sit up in the reviewing stand watching the world go by and writing down the marks I award to each person who parades by for my inspection. Without the benefit of a court or Presidential appointment, and certainly no divine mandate, I ascend to the cardboard bench of my own making and judge while the world goes by.

For most of us, judging ourselves should be task enough.

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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Real Joy Is Found in the Presence of Heaven’s Prince

 

I guess I need to see an Eye, Ears, Nose & Throat specialist. Or maybe a neurologist. I keep getting things stuck in my head.

I got a frog stuck in my throat at the end of a recent sermon. (Better for it to hop in at the end than the beginning.) Allergies, I think. Exacerbated by the fact that it never rains here anymore.

I often get songs stuck up there. Sometimes they’re really good ones. But the more pernicious the song, the longer it seems to stay stuck in my cranium. Stuff like “Achy Breaky Heart” pops in unbidden. Or the theme song of hell: “I Did It My Way.” (Great. Now it’s back.)

Sometimes literary quotations get stuck up there, too. Maybe I read the book this week. Or maybe three decades ago. But a quotation jumps into my brain and starts bumping around.

The way to replace songs lodged in my head is to listen to some music I love and replace the stuck stuff. And the way to get the quotation dislodged is to write about it and/or get busy reading something else.

This morning the dismal words of poet Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) in his “Hymn to Proserpine” began replaying in my head, and I will now proceed to remove them.

In the poem Swinburne ruminates on what a “philosophic” pagan might have felt as Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire (declared so by the Emperor Constantine in 313). Constantine’s nephew, Emperor Julian the Apostate, died in 363, the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. Julian had wanted to take the Empire back to the “good ol’ days” when paganism ruled unbridled and being a Roman was fun (my phrasing). The death-bed “last words” attributed to Julian (probably falsely) were, “You have conquered, Galilean.”

Thus Swinburne writes, “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.”

That view could hardly be more mistaken, but I think I understand why some adopt it. Real “holiness” is never loud. Real piety has no need to be pretentious or “self-conscious” at all. Spend much time with folks more sanctimonious than sanctified, whose “holiness” could well be described as condescending, tiresome, persnickety, frenetic, manipulative, boring, burdensome, unsmiling,  self-righteous . . . and you can count on your world quickly going grey as all the life is chased away. (God help us not to be those folks!)

But spend time getting to really know the Galilean, and you’ll find eye-popping color, the richest laughter, the deepest joy even in the midst of sorrow, and a genuine breadth and quality of wide-awake life that will dwarf your best dreams of what real life could ever be.

Maybe Emperor Julian longed for the good ol’ days when Bacchus, the god of revelry, and his ilk held sway. But the real joy found in the presence of Heaven’s true Prince is enough to make Bacchus blush and go pale forever.

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Two Princesses Lead an Old Troll to Wonder and Joy

I don’t know exactly when most of us trade our imaginations for calculators, but it happens far too early, and it is a very bad trade.

Once the deal is done, we spend far too many of our days wandering through life with our eyes half-closed, our spirits half asleep, dull and insensible, so witless that we barely notice the grievous loss. But sometimes a beautiful glimpse of the wonder we once had by the overflowing bucket-load takes us back to what is precious.

I think that’s what happened to me on a wonder-filled Easter evening. In the afterglow of the most wonderful Resurrection of all came a much more modest but still “wonder-full” resurrection of my spirit right in our back yard.

Two granddaughter-princesses, five years old and three, and a little eleven-month-young elf, were spending the weekend with us.

“PawPaw,” the princesses begged, “tell us a scary story!”

That presented a bit of a problem. First, my 55-year-old imagination is old and withered and can’t possibly keep up with theirs! I also have a 55-year-old back that soon became a factor. Plus, there’s scary and there’s SCARY. It’s a fine thing when magic seeds sprout into bean-stalks but no grandpa worth his salt wants scary story seeds to sprout into nightmares.

But we got started. In the shed/greenhouse, I sat in my chair and the princesses sat in their little “frog” chairs. I reached back into my own childhood for a story, but I soon found that all I had to do was get things started.

“Once upon a time, two princesses left their fine castle and started out for the forest. Their names were . . . Hmm, I’m trying to remember . . .”

“Alexandria!” shouted the older. “Belle!” interjected the younger.

And off we went. I provided some basic details and the princesses filled in the rest, bouncing up now and again to draw the story in chalk on the shed floor. A bridge. A troll. A witch. Cookies with enchanted sprinkles (because princesses don’t always eat the whole cookie but they always eat the icing and sprinkles). And a rescue by Kings Chris & Jeff and Queens Shayla & Amy. We went all the way to “happily ever after.”

Later in the day, the story moved to the trampoline, a tale my back still tells wordlessly. A troll looking much like me discovered that though princesses on trampolines are invisible, they are not inaudible or inedible. If you bounce them a bit, they soon start giggling and then you can find them and eat their tummies.

As the day was ending, Princess Number One made me promise to tell them another story about the Muleshoe Scare. It is evidently quite a well-known scary story, but I don’t know it yet. I promised to tell it when they come back, so I’m working on it.

“Here at the magic hour,” sings Andrew Peterson, “Time and eternity / Mingle a moment in chorus.” I think we found the magic hour. But I’d never have found it alone. It took two little girls (and a little elf) on Easter to take me by the hand and lead me to it. Yes, indeed, “a little child shall lead them.” No wonder the Lord of all wonder so loved the little ones! They remind us of what really matters. They lead us to Joy.

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“The Most Expensive Hyphen in History”

“The Most Expensive Hyphen in History.”

That was the title I ran across in a Google search as I was editing and designing a recent issue of The Christian Appeal, the monthly devotional magazine my brother and I edit.

The “hyphen” in question was actually an “overbar” (“hyphen” to most of  us) that a programmer failed to properly copy into “coded computer instructions” in the “data editing program” that allowed faulty guidance instructions to be sent to . . . guess what? A space probe! None other than NASA’s Mariner 1.

Launched in 1962, Mariner 1 was supposed to head for Venus for America’s first planetary “fly by.” Unfortunately for the 18.2 million dollar (1962 dollars!) spacecraft, the missing hyphen caused such serious guidance problems that the spacecraft had to be destroyed just 294.5 seconds into the flight. (Mariner 2 would later do the job right.)

The whole hyphen incident seems to have taken on something of “urban legend” status, clouding fact and fiction. But Mariner 1 did indeed become expensive toast, and, though the reality may well be more complicated, a single hyphen has often received the blame.

So, you see, the moral of the story is clearly that, while computer programmers are a dime a gigabyte, what the world really needs are more conscientious English majors with a flare for proofreeding. (Make that “a flair for proofreading,” lest this column go off-course and crash into innocent bystanders.)

I hate proofreading, but what I hate worse is wading through slop published by careless proofreaders. Our little magazine gets proofread at least four times before it hits print. I dare anyone to find a cleaner publication (in any sense). But it still drives me crazy when I’m reading through an issue later and am hit in the face by an extra space that managed to creep in and hitch a ride to publication between two words that needed only one space.

Grammar is another issue, and one that recently almost caused a rift in the family. (You need to understand that my family plays Scrabble as blood sport.) My younger brother Jim wrote the sentence. Editor Me passed it on. Older brother Editor Gene flagged it to be fixed. Here’s the original: “I’ve become acutely aware of the chaos so many ‘loose ends’ tends to create.” The question: “tends” or “tend”? It’s a subject-verb agreement issue. Brother Jim thinks “chaos” is doing the tending. Brother Gene thinks the “loose ends” tend. I just tend to be confused, but I bowed to seniority and went with “tend.” I just hope the issue doesn’t go off course and blow up if that’s wrong.

Mistakes do creep in, don’t they? In print. And, heaven knows, in life. Thank God that he didn’t forget to cross the most important T. We call it the Cross. The gift of God’s Son. Truly amazing GRACE. And, yes, that’s supposed to be all caps. (But Gene says italics would’ve been better.)

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Tsunami of Joy Flows from a Little-used Tomb

“Joy is the serious business of heaven,” wrote C. S. Lewis. Whatever the musical key of “the concert of the age,” on the eternal day when God’s people from across the ages, people of every tribe and tongue, all band together to praise him, joy will be the tone and timbre of every single note.

And we don’t have to wait. Whenever Heaven bursts in unexpectedly right here on earth, joy marvelously overflows the banks of our hearts and spills out in delight.

A tsunami of joy started one morning long ago and has not stopped, its source a little-used tomb in Palestine. Unquenchable Light and Life spilled forth as our Lord breathed new life and death’s bonds were loosed forever. The joy-flood that burst through the mouth of that stone crypt still flows freely, an unending spring of the water of life.

The words of John of Damascus (d. 749) are as true today as they were over a thousand years ago when he contemplated “The Day of Resurrection” and urged, “Let all things seen and unseen / Their notes in gladness blend / For Christ the Lord hath risen, / Our Joy that hath no end.”

Delightfully drenched by that joy-flood, the Apostle Paul exclaims, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message, “the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.”

No, that kind of joy can’t be contained. You can’t successfully ignore it, quench it, throttle it, demean it, crucify it, bury it, roll a stone over it. You might as well try to bottle up the liquid light of the Milky Way in a paper cup, capture Niagara Falls in a Boy Scout canteen, contain and control a nuclear reaction in your cupped hands.

It won’t happen.

Not in this life.

And not in the next.

So it’s a good thing to get an early start praising the risen Lord, tilting our heads back, our faces heavenward, and allowing the flood of his joy to start washing over us right now.

While his blood washes away the stain of our sins, his joy becomes the flood washing away the dust of a drought-stricken world, the grit that would have relentlessly ground down our lives into despair.

While Satan the accuser and a host of less poisonous but still dangerous and depressing finger-pointers and tongue-waggers hurl insults to shatter our joy, hobble our delight, and dry up our spirits, Christ, alive and life-giving, stands at the right hand of the Father defending us, upholding us, proclaiming the truth that we are his, and delighting to claim us.

Yes, the joy-flood started long ago, flowing forth from the angels’ words to the astonished women at the tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”

Because he lives, joy lives! “Our Joy . . . hath no end.”

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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