October 2008

Tonight Susan and I will sit on our front porch and greet with candy and a smile a diverse assortment of Trick ‘r Treaters, ranging from little kids to college students. They’ll be outfitted in costumes sweet to scary and come in cars, vans, and even a hay wagon pulled by an ATV. All harmless fun in which we gladly participate.


Not everyone agrees that Halloween is harmless, of course. The typical fundamentalist Christian rant connects the celebration with Satan, pagan rituals, ghosts and goblins or even sadistic and evil psychopaths. And indeed, those fed on a steady diet of B-movies (“If it’s Halloween, it must be ‘Saw’”) and the Sci-Fi Channel (“31 days of Halloween,” featuring all sorts of horror flicks) would be hard to convince otherwise.


Halloween is about death. But in the origins of day, at least, talk of death is seasoned with hope, not fear; assurance of peaceful rest, not unending pain or torture; and loving remembrance of those who have passed on, not haunting by the specters of those who cling to this life. The original form of the word was “Hallowe’en,” that is, “Hallow Even,” the eve of All Hallows, more commonly known as “All Saints’ Day.”


All Saints’ (November 1) is a time to offer prayers for and bring to remembrance Christians (sometimes called “saints” in the Bible) who have joined the Church Triumphant. Typically, their names are recited as a portion of the Great Thanksgiving at the Eucharist. And they are celebrated in other ways as well, whatever the customs of families and loved ones may be. The following day, All Souls’, brings to heart and mind all those who have died and asks God’s mercy and peace for them.


This year All Saints’ and All Souls’ will be particularly poignant for Susan and me. First we lost our beautiful and beloved dog Penny, a wonderful miniature Dachshund that brought a great deal of joy and laughter to us. Then came the passing from cancer of my sister Carol Ann, about whom I have written in this blog. Along with us, her husband and children, my parents, and her friends continue to feel the loss of her love and service keenly. She was a vibrant woman who cared deeply for the elderly and for those who seemed to be ignored or shunned by others. Finally, just this month, Susan’s dad Neal joined the saints around the throne of God. His example of hard work, integrity, gratitude for the smallest things, and deep love of family inspired us all. Though we rejoice that he is free of Alzheimer’s and reunited with his beloved Elaine and their son Ernest, we miss him deeply. On All Saints’ for Carol Ann and Neal and on All Souls’ for Penny, we will lift up prayers of thanksgiving for the great gift God gave us in their lives.


“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, says the Spirit. They rest from their labors, and their deeds do follow them.”


© 2008 Tom Cheatham



There will be no new posts this week or next.

I will return on October 31.

Thanks for reading!

I’ve played guitar for 40 years, and always in conventional tuning (EADGBE, low to high). For some reason, though, this past Monday I decided to take advantage of having three guitars and tune one of them, my vintage Ovation, to DADGAD (low to high). It’s an easy process, especially with an electronic tuner, that involves adjusting the pitch of only three strings. But the results of this small change are astounding! It yields a sound that is neither major nor minor, hence the other name of the tuning: “D modal.” It’s popular with Celtic and some bluegrass players, as well as modern artists like Pierre Bensusan. I love the richness of the tone, and the way the tuning makes it possible to play a melody over the drone of the high strings.


Making a small alteration in the way I approach guitar playing led me to reflect on how other little changes might enrich our lives and bring excitement and renewal. What if, say, you ate peaches one morning on your cereal instead of strawberries or I put a dill pickle spear on my hot dog instead of sweet relish? Suppose I came home the back way from the gym or you rode a bike to work, and we got in touch with each other by IM instead of email? How about tuning in some John Coltrane one evening on an Internet radio station instead of listening to Keith Urban or Coldplay on a CD? Or attending a Taizé prayer service in a church of a different denomination? (OK, maybe that’s a big one for some folks!)


Small changes–one here, another there. But they open us to larger possibilities. And pretty soon, we’ll be singing a different tune.


© 2008 Tom Cheatham



Recently I was considering updating my Internet browser. I had tried to do that once before, but apparently downloaded the Beta version of the software. Big mistake! My computer was totally FUBAR afterwards.


So I turned to Alston, my friend and go-to guy for IT, and asked about the safety of the program. He told me things should be fine, but just in case my computer experienced problems, I should create a “system restore point.” If the software didn’t “play nice,” he said, I had a way of returning my computer to the way it was before the bugs took over. 


I have yet to try to install the update, but in the meantime, I’ve realized that providing a “restore point” is a pretty good description of what God has done in Christ on the cross. Things are obviously terribly wrong with humanity. The “system” is full of “bugs” or really just one big Bug called “sin.” It’s responsible for everything from the greed and corruption of Wall Street to the anger of parent and teen against each other to the intolerance and hatred of “religious” people toward those who are different or of another faith.


Sin is not wrong acts. Those are symptoms of the root problem, what the Reformed tradition calls “radical depravity.” Sin is a broken relationship with God. Once that basic “operating system” is compromised, all sorts of terrible things happen. We’re alienated from each other and refuse to share in community and harmony with our neighbors. We fail to live out of our own best nature, which is to express the love and justice of the God who made us.


But in some way I don’t pretend to fully understand, the cross of Christ repaired the brokenness. What Jesus did on the cross set in motion the process that will end in the restoration of all creation to the way God intended it to be. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” said Paul (2 Corinthians 5:19).


Obviously, the time when the new creation comes is not yet, though we hope fervently for everything to be restored soon. In the interim, we can still look to the cross as our “restore point” where our faith in God can be made whole again, before doubt and fear took over. When we despair that anyone anymore acts selflessly: look at the cross. When we wonder if God cares: look at the cross. When feel burdened by sin: look at the cross. And be renewed, refreshed, restored.


© 2008 Tom Cheatham