March 2011


No post today. Please check back next Friday, and thanks for reading!

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“Authorities have charged a South Carolina woman with felony animal cruelty, saying she hanged her nephew’s pit bull from a tree with an electrical cord and burned its body because the dog chewed on her Bible.

“Animal control officers said Monday that 65-year-old Miriam Smith told them she killed a female dog named Diamond because it was a ‘devil dog’ and she worried it could harm neighborhood children” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/25/miriam-smith-killed-dog-f_n_813583.html?utm_source=Triggermail&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Daily+Brief&utm_campaign=daily_brief )

Reading the horrific story cited above reminds me of an old rock song by Three Dog Night that wondered “how can people be so cruel?” And, I would add, how can they be so cruel in the name of God?

The dog chewed on Ms. Smith’s Bible, and for that it deserved to be hung and burned? Maybe the woman should have chewed on her Bible herself. What I mean is meditated on and internalized its teaching. The literal Hebrew sense of “meditate” is “chew the cud, ruminate.”

If Ms. Smith had in fact read the Bible and, uh, dog-eared it, instead of just having one, she would have known that Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful.” A farmer in Moultrie, GA , I will always remember, said that such mercy included the way we treat animals. If the pit bull destroyed the woman’s Bible, another could be had for very little from most any bookstore. And if the dog was indeed a danger, she could have called the authorities or at least spoken to her nephew and had him keep the dog controlled.

This whole case reminds me that people will use any excuse to be cruel and heartless, including religion. They hate in the name of God. They exclude those who are different, and quote the Bible as they are doing so. They suspect their neighbors, instead of loving them as Jesus taught.

People may claim to be Christians. They may have a Bible and even read it. But Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

Chew on that.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

Note: This post is adapted from my Ash Wednesday meditation at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS.

What a difference a day makes. One day you’re single, the next you’re on your honeymoon or on the other hand, a spouse dies, and you’re bereft of love. One evening you’re healthy and laughing with friends, the next you’re lying in a coma in ICU, fighting for your life. One day you’re eating tasty, rich pancakes with syrup on Shrove Tuesday, munching on Moon Pies from Mardi Gras, the next you’ve taken up the disciplines of Lent, receiving the sign of the cross with a smudge of ashes. As one of the ancient sages said: “the king of today will die tomorrow” (Sirach 10:10).

“Fat” is the metaphor the Bible often uses to refer to the prosperity of that king and his peasants alike. Eating the fat of the land is enjoying its good things. Peasants in the story of Deborah grew fat from the plunder of battle, reveling in bounty they would not otherwise have known (Judges 5:7). When the people were grieved at hearing the word of God, Nehemiah invited them instead to eat the fat and drink sweet wine, to celebrate, even as they shared good things with the poor (Nehemiah 8:6). Being and eating fat means you’ve got enough; you can turn your attention to other pursuits than daily survival. Maybe you can make art or reflect on a philosophical question or play music because you’re not preoccupied with where the next meal is coming from. Fat is blessing, abundance, goodness. It’s richness, protection, warmth, luxury. We might say it’s the marbling of life that gives it its flavor and juiciness, its appeal to the senses.

But “fat” also stands for the laziness and arrogance that so easily grips us. Those whose hearts are fat forget God; they begin to believe that their own efforts brought them their good things (cf. Deuteronomy 31:20). The arrogant, said the psalmist, have fat and gross hearts, and they smear the righteous with lies. The poet, on the other hand, delights in God’s law, a practice I suppose we could call having a lean heart, a life of discipline (Psalm 119:69-70). Fat and sleek, for Jeremiah, equals “sinful” (Jeremiah 5:27-28).

Along with these biblical images, I tend to think of fat as waste. We love our George Foreman grill because it’s designed to help us eat healthier, with the fat from chicken or a burger running off into a tray. The food is still tasty without all that extra fat; it becomes waste, poured into the grease can we keep in the freezer till it’s full and time to throw out and start another one. Fat of the wrong kind is unhealthy and harmful.

This Lent, I’m thinking of how much of my life is waste. Wasted time and effort for unworthy projects. Foolish choices that cost me money and caused me stress. Wasted resources, undisciplined purchases.

(more…)

Jay: “Well, this is fate! She’s divorced, we don’t want to redo the cabinets, and you need a wife. What do they call it when everything intersects?”
Sam Baldwin: “The Bermuda Triangle.”–Sleepless in Seattle

“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

*****

I was writing a check the other day (yeah, I’m old-fashioned) and noticed that the amount of the bill–$40.55—matched the number of the check I was writing for it—4055. How strange! But also how evocative, because that little surprise reminded me of how sometimes events happen and people come together in the providence of God for salutary effect.

Surely it is not coincidence when scientists on opposite sides of the globe make the same discoveries at much the same moment. When circumstances bring together two people who normally would not have met (a la Sleepless in Seattle).When your friend or spouse says the very thing you were thinking, without your prompting. Or when events in the ancient world came together to create the kairos moment for the Incarnation.

My friend the artist Jane Dalrymple-Hollo (www.janedalrymplehollo.com) talks about those moments when “the universe is being perfectly choreographed” for some purpose. We can all point to them; we have all experienced them. They are as quotidian as my owed bill and check number having the same figures and as gloriously unique and significant as the coming of the Savior. They are the perhaps paradoxical intersection of our choices and an unseen hand  guiding us. They are mysterious. They are real. They are the holy convergences that save and heal and delight.

We come to them and they come to us for such a time as this.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham