A Food Truck Explodes in Lakeville, Minnesota.

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(Based on a story in the Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper)

The Sixth of March in Lakeville will not soon become forgotten,

When the food truck blew up – shredding metal into cotton.

Nothing but the steering wheel remained in place that day;

Ev’ry other particle was blown to Mandalay.

 

The ev’ning had been peaceful, with most folks tucked into bed,

While visions of the Weather Channel or hockey round them sped.

Sidewalks had been shoveled, and a thaw was on its way;

The quiet bourgeois neighborhood in guiltless stupor lay.

 

But forces beyond man’s control were working late that night,

Preparing to give man and beast a brobdingnagian fright.

(Of course the ladies are included in this epic tale;

Common gender nouns in English tend to often fail.)

 

The clock had struck eleven when the detonation brought

The residents of Lakeville underneath a juggernaut

Of sound and fury so severe that many thought a rocket

Had targeted their wardrobe down to the very pocket.

 

Condiments in packets fell like sleet, and bread rolls too;

Had there been a sheep about there would be Irish stew!

But miracle of miracles, although the wreck was vast,

Not a living soul was injured in that lusty blast.

 

The angels, or the dybbuks, or whatever you may please

Protected all those innocents from looking like Swiss cheese.

But sadly not a one of them was ever heard to claim

That a higher power had preserved them from the flame.

 

The crater quickly filled with slush and ketchup, while the smoke

Of the embers glowing still the firemen did choke.

Shards of glass lay scattered round about like gemstones freed

From the hoard of misers who repented of their greed.

 

Authorities swarmed over the explosion site with care,

Examining debris under the microscope’s stern glare.

They broke for coffee often (and to have a little smoke)

And with their rods and rulers they did prod and they did poke.

 

What caused this fulmination is debated with contention;

Was it cooking gas or was it terrorist invention?

Was there sabotage by a competitor’s paid lout,

Or had there been a discontented jar of sauerkraut?

 

No one knows for certain why catastrophe made sport

Of such sober people who but rarely did cavort.

But just remember food trucks, though they serve a menu broad,

Can suddenly and noisily become the hand of God!

 

Alma: Chapter 5.

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To Zarahemla Alma went to bear his testimony.

Reminding all of their divine and righteous patrimony.

He spoke of chains unlinking and of hearts burst into bloom,

Of garments washed in sacred blood to wipe away sure doom.

 

He warned of pride and envy, twin devices of the devil –

Who wants to bring all mankind down to his own sorry level.

Mocking others for their humble lives and steadfast living

He explained would not persuade their God to be forgiving.

 

Alma saw the future, and the past, as prophets do;

He testified a Savior the whole world would have to view.

Whether they accepted him or turned their back in scorn

Decided if they were to die or rise as newly born.

 

 

 

Alma: Chapter Two. The Amlicites.

amllicites

The Amlicites did revel in the mark upon their head;

A dot of paste compounded out of clay and blood so red.

It was a sign of kinship with their fellow Lamanites;

Who also claimed revenge for the great theft of all their rights.

 

They battled with the Nephites on the river Sidon’s shores,

Rejecting peace as folly and embracing death and wars.

Twelve thousand men with dots of paste upon their heads were slain.

Twelve thousand souls were sent to God to plead with Him in vain.

 

Their refugees fled to the hills of Hermounts, where wild beasts

Chewed their wounds and bit their flesh in predatory feasts.

No sign is ever left upon the whitened bones of sin

That is the heritage of those who let the devil in.

Sunday Essay. Part Two: Reconnecting with Faith and Community.

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“Together is harder, but together is better.” — Rabbi David Wolpe.

Why do people belong to religions? Some inherit a religion at birth while others may convert to one. But at one point or another people make a conscious decision whether to participate in their religious communities. In fact, the root word for religion is the Latin “religare,” which means to reconnect or bind. In an age that magnifies personal freedom, what could sound less attractive than “binding” oneself to the quirks and idiosyncrasies of a large group of people?

And yet a principle found in many religions is that there is little separation between you and the people around you. Jesus Christ put the charge quite simply: “love thy neighbor as thyself.” In other words, your well-being is much more than aloof personal freedom; it is tied to your neighbor’s well-being also. And so, religious institutions can be helpful junctures where two cooperating impulses meet — the desire for individual purpose and the desire for communal belonging. Like all human goods, these impulses fit within a balance.

Institutional religions are certainly not the only source of all that is good in the world. Individuals can have fulfilling lives while quietly living out their own beliefs in private. But throughout history nothing has rivaled organized religion in its ability to foster commitment to concrete people who live in concrete places. It is in this sustained engagement with neighbors that religion makes its lasting contribution.

Being part of a church is much more than just going to church. It fills people with identity, opportunity, aspiration, learning and many more personal blessings. But these come to individuals insofar as they look beyond themselves to others. Religion instills social responsibility and covenant-making in our lives, based not on self-interest but as a promise to God. This act of “binding” is one of the rare things in history that forges social obligations beyond family or tribe. Fellow believers are often in the best position to care for an ailing person, repair a neighbor’s house or fill in countless other gaps that we ourselves cannot fill. There are few, if any, organizations that can substitute for the community of a church.

Nevertheless, one of the defining features of our time is a waning distrust of institutions, including religious institutions. As a result, many people are more isolated from families, communities and society at large. It is so easy to become atomized — breaking into islands of individuals untethered to larger associations. The writer David Brooks lamented the condition wherein “individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices.”

Societies that encourage materialism, individualism and moral relativism may promote what has been called the “sovereignty of self,” but they weaken other values. The social thinker Michael Walzer urges caution: “This freedom, energizing and exciting as it is, is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support, very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members.”

Detached individualism contributes to the trend in society of being “spiritual but not religious.” What this often means is that faith is treated as a personal matter, not the business of other people. But there need not be a contradiction between the two. A person can be both spiritual and religious. In fact, the two are interdependent in vibrant religious lives.

As author Lillian Daniel says, “Anyone can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who has different political views, or when a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon.” Yet these very inconveniences with other people give substance to our faith, enrich our human empathies and bolster our civic foundation.

In this age of falling trust and social disintegration, a return to the sacred commitments of congregations will make our communities more cohesive. When the fabric of society begins to fray, religion with its layered threads of social capital can help bind it together.

 

Organized religion may be the glue to bind a fraying society.
Organized religion may be the glue to bind a fraying society.

 

Sunday Essay. Part One. What is a church?

They always point up to faith and hope.
They always point up to faith and hope.

“Faith empowers us to see the invisible, embrace the impossible, and hope for the incredible.” — Reverend Samuel Rodriguez.

Our modern world offers more choices and possibilities than ever before. Science and technology continually expand our knowledge, and the diversity of religious worldviews keeps growing. Our horizons seem to stretch thinner and faster than we are capable of handling. But in the end we remain the same spiritual creatures. Throughout our journeys the longing within endures.

 

Religions share a common insight: there is something incomplete about us. And so we yearn for fullness. If every question had a ready answer, there would be no reaching in prayer. If every pain had an easy cure, there would be no thirst for salvation. If every loss was restored, there would be no desire for heaven. As long as these needs remain, so will religion. It is a natural part of life. To be human means to experience uncertainty, sorrow and death. Religion, however, is a school for making sense of chaos, a hospital for healing unseen wounds, a lifeline that gives us second chances.

To this point, Rabbi David Wolpe taught that religion “can go into a world in which there is a great deal of pain and suffering and loss and bring meaning and purpose and peace.”

Though religion addresses these needs, it is not created by them. Religion is not merely a human response to hardship. It transcends the human; it comes from a higher source. History shows that men and women, in good times and bad, seek truth outside themselves as well as within. And they follow the answers they receive.

What is more, religion is the gathering of unique persons into a fellowship of believers. But if it cannot win the heart of the one, it cannot sustain its community. The spiritual experiences of each individual can be as different as the individuals themselves. Because we “see through a glass darkly,” most things in life come down to faith. Ultimately, in those searching moments with the divine, it is the individual who filters the details, weighs the evidence, and makes decisions on matters of highest significance. This wrangling is the process of faith. Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “To believe in God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.”

Human life is about meaning. Our nature leads us to spiritual questioning and purpose. Religion provides a space where answers and meaning can be sought, found and passed on. That connection between religion and purpose continues today.

Whether it is healthy lifestyles, social trust or charitable giving, social science attests to a myriad of ways religion benefits individuals. According to one recent study, for example, “those who indicate that they are confident in God’s existence report a higher sense of purpose.”[5]

This is particularly relevant now. Our encounter with modern life is often a flash of images that burn bright and fade away — so rich on the surface, so neglected at the roots. But religion and the spirituality it inspires digs beneath that surface and connects us to the moral foundations that undergird the best of our shared humanity.

Throughout his life Will Durant, a historian of ideas and cultures, marveled at the power of religious faith. He himself, however, came to no definitive belief about God. At the end of his life of learning and observation he turned his mind to the meaning of the church. In his reflections he showed that even an agnostic person can see the abiding appeal of religion in the face of the unknown:

“These church steeples, everywhere pointing upward, ignoring despair and lifting hope, these lofty city spires, or simple chapels in the hills — they rise at every step from the earth toward the sky; in every village of every nation they challenge doubt and invite weary hearts to consolation. Is it all a vain delusion? Is there nothing beyond life but death, and nothing beyond death but decay? We cannot know. But as long as man suffers, these steeples will remain.”

Institutions and ideas flourish when they fulfill real, lasting needs. Otherwise, they tend to die of natural causes. But religion has not died. Writing at a time, in the 1830s, when his home country of France was departing from religion, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that “the soul has needs that must be satisfied.” He has proven correct. Over the centuries, attempts to squelch these needs have failed. Religion provides the structure for this longing, and churches are the household of faith.

Though built of wood, stone and steel, churches represent something deep in the human soul, something we long to uncover. More than anything man-made, religion gives direction and shape to the individual search for meaning.