Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for March, 2008

What Does “Aloha” Mean?

img_0658.jpgWhat does “Aloha” mean?  According to To-Hawaii.com, “aloha” can mean hello, goodbye, love and affection.  But its meaning goes well beyond any definition you can find in dictionaries.  In Hawaii, you hear aloha all the time and you are treated with aloha everywhere.  (Hawaii is called the Aloha State, and for good reason.)  Aloha express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people.  It was the working philosophy of Native Hawaiians; they felt it was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii by one of their ancient gods.

The literal meaning of aloha is “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.”  (It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Genesis, when God created Adam He “breathed into him the breath of life,” and Adam “became a living being.”)  The word “aloha” comes from “Alo,” meaning presence, front and face, and “ha,” meaning breath.  

According to the old kahunas (priests), being able to live the Spirit of Aloha was a way of sending and receiving positive energy, or living in harmony.  Aloha was and still is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect.  

Inspired by the philosophy and the wisdom of the Spirit of Aloha, nowadays many institutions and businesses in Hawaii carry its name:  Aloha Tower, Aloha Stadium and Aloha Airlines.  Many Hawaiian singers write and perform songs about aloha as well.

 

Believe it or not, Aloha Spirit is considered a state “law.”  Although the word law sounds too strong and strict, Aloha Spirit is not a type of law that will get you in trouble if you break it.  Having “the Law of Aloha Spirit” on the books serves as a reminder to government officials (while they perform their duties) to treat people with deep care and respect, just like their ancestors did.   Aloha Spirit is more a lesson than a law.   By learning and applying this lesson to real life, government officials can contribute to a better world, a world filled with aloha.

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So by now you may understand that “Aloha” is more than a word of greeting or farewell, or a salutation.  Aloha means mutual regard and affection, and is a reminder to extend warmth and caring for others with no obligation (payback) in return.  Furthermore, aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person.

Queen Lili‘uokalani said, “Aloha is to learn what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.”

I greet you in the Spirit of Aloha, and pray that you will discover the “breath of life” found in the Person of Jesus Christ. [Both pictures by Lowell Qualls, Maui – 2008 (c)] 

St. Bernard Ain’t No Dog!

st-bernard.jpgBernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the charismatic Catholic abbot of 12th Century France, is credited with inspiring the domestication of a breed of dog that would emulate his loving personality – the St. Bernard.  The abbot was such a lover of men and God that his influence on human history is considered extraordinary.  He wasn’t perfect by any means, confessing later in life that he was immeasurably wrong in preaching the necessity of the Second Crusade – a war that had disastrous consequences still being felt today, but such was his influence.

 

John Michael Talbot, in The Way of the Mystics (with Steve Rabey; San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2005), wrote that Bernard often “condemned churches that were too big, too wealthy, and decorated too elaborately.”  On one occasion the abbot wrote:  “I will overlook the immense heights of places of prayer, their immoderate lengths, their superfluous widths, the costly refinements, and the painstaking representations which deflect the attention … and thus hinder devotion … I, however, say, ‘Tell me, poor man, if indeed you are poor men, what is gold doing in the holy place.’”

If Bernard had lived in my day, he would have fit right in with the rest of us living out the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s and early 70s.  He would have been a hero.

I would want to be known and then remembered as a man who loved men and God.  I would rather be known as a lover than a preacher or a holy man.  I would rather share the sweet honey of God’s love than the vinegar so many associate with the purveyors of “the good news” (which sounds more like bad news in the ears of many).

St. Bernard wrote on another occasion about “spiritual maturity” (and again I quote Talbot), that quality of life that we Christ-followers are supposed to be aspiring to.  He was describing spiritual maturity by contrasting reservoirs and canals.  He said it “would be best if people resembled reservoirs, opening their souls to be filled with God’s spirit and then allowing the overflow to empower their ministry to others.  But instead, too many people resemble canals.  The water of the Holy Spirit flows through their lives, but it disappears as soon as it arrives.  ‘The want to pour it forth before they have been filled.  They are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves.’”

“And unlike vinegar-stlyle preachers who try to keep people in line with threats of fire and brimstone, Bernard believed divine love could inspire ever-deeper devotion.”

I don’t think LOVE is so weak, so non-confrontational, or so flexible or adaptable that the lover holds nothing precious, and avoids holding to principles that might offend some.  I say that because Jesus was the consummate Lover, and yet He never shied away from sharing His thoughts about politics and politicians (see His reference to Herod, “that fox”), or religious bigots (the “hypocrites” and “snakes” that consistently opposed His ministry to those they thought unworthy of God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness).  On the contrary, I believe that LOVE is, first and foremost, when it is its most powerful and most influential, having as its object God, and then Man.  And because the Lover of God loves God’s ways, His thoughts and His take on life, such a Lover will take a stand for God.

But, here’s the rub.  Many (and some most of the) times, God’s ways/thoughts/etc., are opposed to our ways, thoughts, etc.  Hmmm.  What’s a Lover to do?  Be quiet?  Be sarcastic and vinegary?  Or be brave, wise, and always LOVING of humankind, those wonderful creatures made in “God’s Image?”

Think about it.

Resurrection On Maui

maui-sunset-small.jpg Joy!

This morning I was in the ohana (a Hawaiian name for “family room”) getting a cup of coffee, this cozy and welcoming little room being located close to our condominium.   Every morning Rick – our host – makes Kona.  The smell of the coffee was wonderful, deep and rich.

A minute or two later I was returning to our place, walking past the pool, and just luxuriating in the warm, fragrant air, listening to the Mina birds chirping and turtle doves cooing.  The sun was just peeking over the West Maui mountains, causing the clouds to glow light yellows and oranges.  Almost heaven.

A man I had never met came up the path leading to the ohana, heading for the coffee pot I had just left, and he greeted me.  “Happy Easter.”  I replied, “He is risen!”

I’m back in our place, sitting on our lanai, and my son just pointed toward the ocean.  “Rainbow,” was all he said.

This joy that is welling up within me is so pleasurable, so intense.  And I wonder, “Why do we concentrate so much on the problem of pain, and never wrestle with the problem of pleasure?” 

Philip Yancey asks, “If atheists insist there is no God because of all the pain and suffering in this world, why aren’t they held accountable for the ‘problem of pleasure?’” 

“Should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?” he writes, meaning that if Christians must defend the existence of God because there are so many painful experiences in life, shouldn’t atheists have to defend their beliefs because there are so many pleasurable experiences, too?

Why is sex fun?  “Reproduction surely doesn’t require pleasure,” Yancey goes on.  “Some animals simply split in half to reproduce … and … why is eating enjoyable?  Plants and animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds.  Why are there colors?”  All good questions.

Back to Easter morning on Maui.  As I look around, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth itself puts God’s creative genius on display,” says David, the song writer of ancient Israel. (Psalm 19)  I get to enjoy all that I see and taste and feel because there is a God in heaven who created me to enjoy creation.

I’m a happy camper, and a joy-filled human being today!

Jesus is risen indeed.

Think about it.

(By the way, I took the picture above last night … looking out of the Pacific, toward Lanai.  Wow!)

The Spiritual Journey – Belief

Sheldon Vanauken wrote that when he and his wife were studying at Oxford they were rubbing shoulders with “nuclear physicists, historians, and able scholars in other fields.”  What struck them was that these fellow scholars “believed” in Christ, and for that reason “… we must, at least, weigh it (Christianity) very seriously.”  Both he and his wife had assumed that anyone who took Christianity as true must be ignorant, but these brilliant souls who had put their faith in Jesus were anything but ignorant.

Soon the Vanaukens arrived at this conclusion:  “Christianity was a faith.”

“By now,” Sheldon wrote,” we knew that it was important.  If true – and we admitted to each other the possibility that it was – it was, very simply, the only really important truth in the world.  And if untrue, it was false.  No halfway house.  First or nothing.  I wrote (to C. S. Lewis), ‘It is not possible to be “incidentally a Christian.”  The fact of Christianity must be overwhelmingly first or nothing.  This suggests a reason for the dislike of Christians by nominal or non-Christians:  their lives contain no overwhelming firsts but many balances.’”

Once someone believes that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God, that belief must translate into a living faith – faith being the expression of belief in hard, practical terms.  The Bible says, “Faith without action is meaningless, or dead.”

True.  Faith is belief becoming actionable, and expressed through a changed life.

Think about it.

The Spiritual Journey – Rationale

One of my favorite books is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1977).  This former atheist wrote:

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians:  their joy, their certainty, their completeness.  But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.  But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them.  Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity – and possibly nowhere else.  If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.” (page 85)

I will put it another way.  The reason many people do not believe that Christianity is true is because so many Christians are false.  There are people in this world who claim to be Christians, and call themselves Christians because they attend church … or because they might pastor a church. 

I am in no position to say who is and who isn’t a Christian … that is, a true follower of Jesus Christ.  I don’t know what is in anyone’s heart … not even my own, at times.

But I would like to offer up for discussion what I believe a true Christ-follower looks and sounds like, hoping my thoughts will lend something positive to the current debate about the impact of religion in the marketplace of human ideas and human institutions.

At this time I will not offer up a defense for the existence of God.  And at this time I will pose that Jesus Christ was not a liar or a lunatic; that He was who He claimed to be.  That is my starting point.

For one thing, I think a Christ-follower is rational.  To follow anyone, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, blindly or carelessly or ignorantly is nothing short of ludicrous.  It is also dangerous.  That kind of followership invites cultist results.  God, the most supreme and extreme Intellect in the Universe, would not expect, much less demand, such a followership.  Committing intellectual suicide in order to “believe” in Him was never part of the deal.  In fact, Jesus Himself invited honest inquiry.  He entered into conversation with the intellectuals of His day, and challenged them with His claims.

Think about that.

Dallas-Fort Worth Airport – Tornados Cancel Flights

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ANABELLE GARAY, an Associated Press Writer, made this report (© 2008 The Associated Press):

DALLAS — A series of storms packing strong winds and heavy rains hit North Texas on Tuesday, grounding hundreds of flights, forcing an airport control tower to evacuate briefly and sending floodwaters spilling into Dallas-area streets.  Winds of more than 100 mph briefly were reported at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where lightning struck a ramp earlier Tuesday.  Airport officials said the strongest winds occurred in microbursts and caused no damage.  More than half of the 950 flights for all airlines scheduled to depart DFW on Tuesday were canceled, airport officials said.  More than 100 incoming flights were diverted.

“This is one of the most vicious thunderstorms DFW has seen in quite some time, especially its ongoing intensity,” said airport spokesman Ken Capps.  “We know it can be frustrating for passengers, but everyone’s top priority is their safety.”

It’s unclear how many travelers were affected by the cancellations, but airport officials estimate about 160,000 passengers pass through DFW each day.

Federal Aviation Administration officials evacuated DFW’s west tower for about 15 minutes after seeing a funnel cloud over a highway.  A funnel cloud was also spotted over Lake Lewisville, just north of the airport.

South Dallas had around 4 1/2 to 5 inches of rain by late afternoon, said Ted Ryan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

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I was on one of those “100 incoming flights” that was diverted away from the dangerous storms that struck the Dallas/Fort Worth area today.  American Airlines flight 343 out of Richmond, Virginia, ended up going to Houston instead of Dallas, and we – the passengers and me – stayed in Houston for six hours before finally arriving at our intended destination.  I missed my connecting flight.img_0537.jpg

Big deal!

Being safe was a lot more important than being on time today.  For me, I think I had my priorities straight in my own mind.  And while sleeping on a cot in DFW International is not as comfortable as my own bed, I’

d much rather be on a cot than in a body bag.  Perspective.

There were a few boneheads complaining about the weather, and cancelled flights … but very, very few.  Most of the people (99.99%) that ended up at DFW this evening didn’t make life miserable for themselves and others.  And I’

m choosing not to focus on that .01% that make you scratch your head and wonder where they were when common sense img_0532.jpgwas being handed out.

As I lay my head down tonight in Terminal D – DFW, I’m reminded of this Psalm:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.  (Psalm 91, NIV, selected verses)

Thank You, God, for protecting me today.

Pray for Eliot Spitzer

12spitzer_600.jpgEliot Spitzer, 48, the Democratic governor of New York, a married father of three teenage daughters, and “Client #9” in a prostitution ring, made clear that his political career is over.  He is quitting as governor effective Monday.

“In the past few days, I’ve begun to atone for my private failings to my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family,” he said.  “The remorse I feel will always be with me.”

Let’s no throw stones, but pray for Spitzer instead!  “There, but for the grace of God …”

His wife and girls need our prayers, too. 

(Photo by Narayan Mahon for The New York Times)