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November 2008


Wednesday evening I bought a car!  A 2008 Corolla.  I got a great deal and am very happy with the vehicle.  I've named it Winthrop, after John Winthrop, the first governor of Plymouth Colony.

Thanksgiving Day Michael and I hosted both of our families.  We worked all day getting the house ready and cooking.  My parents came early and hung out and helped us get ready, as did Regina, Michael's sis.  We had twelve people total, with Jacob providing the entertainment.  I'll post pictures later.

Yesterday we drove with my parents to Grove to see their new property where they will build their retirment home.  It is a fantastic piece of property.  We also drove around Grove, sharing stories, looking at places we used to live, eating, etc.

I had thought today would be a mostly lazy day (I still need to write a sermon!) but it seems now like we will be running all day.  We need to hang out with Michael's mom, shop for tomorrow's centerpiece auction at church, do the second round of post-Thanksgiving kitchen cleaning, do laundry, and attend a OU-OSU game watching party.  We had wanted to go see a movie, but it doesn't look like we'll have time.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon A Time

Matthew 7:13-29

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

23 November 2008



    What do you think of when I say, "Once upon a time?" Does it invite you into a wonderful, magical world? A life of adventure and excitement? Maybe the sort of life you have always dreamed of?

One of the most popular and imaginative fairy tales in this decade is the novel The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Every once in a while you hear a rumour that they are going to make a movie out of it. And as much as I might like to see it on the screen, I think there is no way for a film to capture the magic and the power of this story.

    Just in case you haven't read it, I'm not going to give anything away, because that would most definitely spoil the experience. But I do want to read the paragraph which the author himself says is the core of the story.


I can well imagine an atheist's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God! – and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, "Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain," and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.


    I believe we are looking for the better story. The good life. The beautiful, the adventurous, that which brings meaning and substance to our living. "Living large," we have called it.

    Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary General of the United Nations and author of the spiritual book Markings, described this yearning thus


I am being driven forward

Into an unknown land.

The pass grows steeper,

The air colder and sharper.

A wind from my unknown goal

Stirs the strings

Of expectation.


Still the question:

Shall I ever get there?

There where life resounds,

A clear pure note

In the silence.


    Shall we ever get there, there were life is lived to its fullest and we have become our best selves? Shall we ever get there? And how will we get there?


The Sermon on the Mount will get us there because the Sermon on the Mount is true.

    The Sermon on the Mount is true because it is spoken by the one who is truth – Jesus the Christ.

    The one who did not consider his equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself and took on the form of a slave.

    The one who prayed, not my will, but thine be done, and died upon the cross.

    The one who rose again, in power and glory, that we might have new life.

    Yes, this is truth, a deeper truth than "dry, yeastless factuality."

    Death is not the end of this story. This story has no end.

    C. S. Lewis put it this way at the conclusion of The Last Battle, the final volume in The Chronicles of Narnia:


But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. . . . we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.


    To live as Jesus describes it in the Sermon on the Mount is to live this neverending story. To be in touch with the deeper truth that directs the universe. And in so doing to live our lives as part of the great story that is God's dream for each of us.


    One of my college roommates used to talk about the great adventure stories that we had grown up on and how he kept expecting some great adventure to come his way in life. The normal, mundane existence just wasn't satisfying him. I expect many of us feel that way. We want to be like the characters in the great stories who in going about their normal lives get caught up in a great adventure. Like Dorothy, riding along in a world of black and white, waking up in a Technicolor wonder.

In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy and her friends finally make it to end of their journey, expecting to receive great magic from the terrible and powerful wizard, only to discover "a little bald man with a wrinkled face." It turns out that the gifts which they were expecting, they already possess. According to the popular Christian writer Frederick Buechner,


they have already acquired [the heart, the brains, the courage] by their conscientious pursuit of them and their defeat of the wicked witch. By bringing out in them the best that they are, their faith proves to have been an end in itself and not a means to an unimaginably greater end. Like a skilled psychotherapist, the wizard helps them to an inner adjustment that makes them better equipped to deal with the world as it is


The moral of The Wizard of Oz, he concludes, is


that hard and conscientious effort and a little help from our friends pay off in the end, and faith is its own reward. The most important thing to have faith in is ourselves, and that is also the chief magic.


This is conventional wisdom. This is the chief magic of the world in which we currently live.

And many Christians think that is enough. They come to church to learn how to become a better person. They go for parenting classes or relationship retreats, studies of self-help books that will give them tools to live more positively. Now, these aren't bad things. They can be good things.

But, I want to agree with Frederick Buechner who says it's not enough, "but for all of that, both we and our world remain basically untransformed. . . . the Wizard is not able to open up for them or inside of them a world of transcendence and joy because although he is a very good man, he is not really a wizard at all."

It is not true the Dorothy's home is simply back in Kansas and the farm. Nor is our home simply this world as it currently is. We are not transformed by tips for better living. We are transformed when God's wider world is opened up to us. Buechner continues,


[We are from Kansas.] But we are also from somewhere else. We are from Oz, from Looking-Glass Land, from Narnia, and from Middle Earth. If with part of ourselves we are men and women of the world and share the sad unbeliefs of the world, with a deeper part still, the part where our best dreams come from . . . we are also all of us children still. No matter how forgotten and neglected, there is a child in all of us who is not just willing to believe in the possibility that maybe fairy tales are true after all but who is to some degree in touch with that truth. . . . The child in us lives in a world where nothing is too familiar or unpromising to open up into the world where a path unwinds before our feet into a deep wood, and when that happens, neither the world we live in nor the world that lives in us can ever entirely be home again. . . .

To preach the Gospel in its original power and mystery is to claim . . . that once upon a time is this time, now, and . . . the ones who live happily ever after are [we]."


    It is in following Jesus and living the life laid out for us here in the Sermon on the Mount, that we enter into the great story that is God's dream for each of us. What transforms us is not our own best endeavour, even to live this life. What transforms us is the power of the Risen One. When we live as Jesus lived, then this power is ours. And we live happily ever after in the real story, "in which every chapter is better than the one before."

The Best Game, a dear friend dies, and other reflections on the weekend that was

Yes, I was there.  There at one of the best games I've ever seen, as OU smashed Texas Tech.  The energy of the crowd was incredible from beginning to end as the team played as well as I've ever seen them play.  In a year in which Big 12 defenses have been considered weak, at least in comparison to the outstanding offenses, we completely shut down the "best offense in the country" and then destroyed their defense with an brilliantly planned and executed offense.  It was amazing to watch the stunning way we marshalled our forces in play after play.  Thanks to Bill for the ticket.  And I caught up with Charlie Bates before the game.

We were in Norman for hours, arriving about 1:45.  We went for a potato soup lunch at The Library and toured the new exhibits at the Fred Jones Museum of Art (the travelling exhibit is Russian artists in America). 

I got back to Oklahoma City just in time to shower and dress for the game.  Since the game time temperature was in the 30's I wore multiple layers and filled every pocket with things to add to the outfit to make me warmer -- like the second, even warmer pair of gloves.

About noon on Friday, I realized that I had the window of opportunity to run down to Dallas and see Debbie Williams, the office administrator at Royal Lane, my dear friend and colleague, who has been suffering from cancer and went home for hospice care on Thursday.  I got to spend some time with her and headed home early on Saturday morning.

Today as I was driving up to church in the early afternoon I received the call that she died shortly after noon today.

At church we were giving out our free flu shots.  Many people called in sick tonight, so many that we couldn't field a choir.  We also have some more folk who have bugged out on us and dropped their commitments and responsibilities without ever saying anything.  It continues to boggle my mind the complete lack of constancy and respect for others and the vows that they have made that some people show.  It makes it very frustrating to keep trying to bring your firstfruits.  In fact, it feels like many people who are still around are less precise and careful in their execution, probably because they are so frustrated with the faithless.  Okay, that's a little rant, but I've simply never experienced anything like this in all my years of church.

High Water Rising

Bob Dylan's album "Love and Theft" came out on 9/11, I'm pretty sure I remember that correctly.  I really like the album and many of the songs on it.  "High Water" remains my favourite.  I remember one reviewer found it prescient that this song was out on 9/11.  I don't know how much I felt it fit my personal or the national mood at the moment, but it is a great song.  I used it once in an adult education class at Royal Lane when we were talking about the theology of catastrophe.

some notes on Bach and Haydn

A poem by Charles Bukowski

it is quite something to turn your radio on
at 4:30 in the morning
in an apartment house
and hear Haydn
while through the blinds
you can see only the black night
as beautiful and quiet
as a flower.
and with that
something to drink,
of course,
a cigarette,
and the heater going,
and Haydn going.
maybe just 35 people
in a city of millions listening
as you are listening now,
looking at the walls,
smoking quietly,
not hating anything,
not wanting anything.
existing like mercury
you listen to a dead man's music
at 4:30 in the morning,
only he is not really dead
as the smoke from your cigarette curls up,
is not really dead,
and all is magic,
this good sound
in Los Angeles.
but now a siren takes the air,
some trouble, murder, roberry, death . . .
but Haydn goes on
and you listen,
one of the finest mornings of your life
like some of those when you were very young
with stupid lunch pail
and sleepy eyes
riding the early bus to the railroad yards
to scrub the windows and sides of trains
with a brush and oaktie
but knowing
all the while
you would take the longest gamble,
and now having taken it,
still alive,
poor but strong,
knowing Haydn at 4:30 a.m.,
the only way to know him,
the blinds down
and the black night
the cigarette
and in my hands this pen
writing in a notebook
(my typewriter at this hour would
scream like a raped bear)
knowing the way
warmly and gently
as Haydn ends.
and then a voice tells me
where I can get bacon and eggs,
orange juice, toast, coffee
this very morning
for a pleasant price
and I like this man
for telling me this
after Haydn
and I want to get dressed
and go out and find the waitress
and eat bacon and eggs
and lift the cofee cup to my mouth,
but I am distracted:
the voice tells me that Bach
will be next: "Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
in F major,"
so I go into the kitchen for a
new can of beer.
may this night never see morning
as finally one night will not,
but I do suppose morning will come this day
asking its hard way --
the cars jammed on freeways,
faces as horrible as unflushed excreta,
trapped lives less than beautiful love,
and I walk out
knowing the way
cold beer in hand
as Bach begins
this good night
is still everywhere.

Very nice indeed, don't you think?