Friday, November 21, 2008

busyness and sacred rest

I thought it was pretty amusing when reading my last post (Oct. 2) I began by writing that it had been a long time since my last post, well, once again I find that it has been a long time since my last post. I have discovered that there is altogether far too many things going on in life such that there is no time for true intentional rest, or at least I have not created that sacred space in which I can take the time to breathe and truly listen in silence. We are altogether a far too busy society running around and doing so much that we never take time to breathe. We simply pump more legal addictive stimulants (coffee/caffeine) into our veins and move through life at break neck speed. We rarely take the time to sit still and to "smell the roses" as the cliche goes. At the risk of sounding cliche, I think we do not take enough time to rest, to contemplate and to take advantage of opportunities to center ourselves and remind ourselves of what is truly important. I surely hope that our drive to get things done is not undertaken with the intention of being remembered for having done a lot of things. I hope that we are driven to act, and yet concerned to be remembered for our loves, our relationships, our passions, and our dedication to that which we believe to be right and true. Life is too short to fill it to the brim with so much activity that we never get the opportunity to sit back, rest, and grant ourselves sacred space to just be. My sermonette to all who read this is: create some space for rest, and listen, and don't be surprised if you start to think things through more clearly or hear still small voices that have been speaking all along.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Learning...

It has been too long since I last posted something to the blog, so here it is. The school year began with a bang two weeks ago here at the seminary. There has been lots to do, and I have been kept really busy by classes and field education at a small church 25 miles or so north of Princeton.
I have been reflecting a lot lately on what I have learned both over the last two years and in just the last couple of weeks. During one session of reflection I recalled something my dad said to me once about learning. He said: "Once we stop learning, we stop growing." This short but pithy phrase has stuck with me for years and has often challenged me not to be stagnant, not to just get by in life, but to pursue growth, challenge myself, and seek wisdom and understanding.
Blessed Lord, please teach me to live as you would have me live. Please grant me wisdom and courage. Please speak to me for I long to hear your voice. In all things may my life bring you praise, honor, and glory. Amen.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Hope Bell


An inscription on The Hope Bell. A gift from Great Britain after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, on September 11, 2001.

visiting ground zero...

My friend Josh Wittmier came to visit last week and since he had never been to New York City, we thought it appropriate to take a jaunt into the city to see some of the sites. We made a stop by the old and new Yankee Stadiums, as well as a stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The most impressive and probably most impactful stop during our tour of the city came when we took a subway down to the site of the World Trade Center. You can't get too close to the site itself except for walking around the block since there is a lot of construction going on there right now. Josh and I made our way to St. Paul's Chapel, a small Episcopal church that stands right across the street from the site where the two towers fell. This small church was not only filled with amazing historical significance, but as a structure it has witnessed its share of disaster. This building survived a great fire in New York in the late 1700's, and was the place where George Washington came to pray after his first inauguration in 1789. On September 11th, 2001, this small church witnessed first hand the terrible site of that fateful day. What is trully amazing is that for its proximity to the building collapse it sustained little or no damage in fact when many tall modern buildings around it sustained terrible damage to windows and structure, this small church did not have a single broken pane of glass in the entire building! Below I have included a photograph of what remained of a tree that stood on the corner of the church property closest to the World Trade Center. You cannot see a lot from the photograph, however, imbedded in the flesh of the stump are countless small objects. There are dozens of coins, staples, some piping, and a host of other small objects that fell from great heights and were driven into the tree by the force of the collapsing buildings! It is truly difficult to fathom the force involved and even harder to fathom the reality of how many people were involved.

I have also included another photograph of an inscription on the Hope Bell, which stands in the front yard cemetary of the church. It was a gift to the United States by Great Britain after September 11, 2001. In light of the pictures in the church, the stump with all of its scars, and the sheer weight of the place in which we stood this inscription spoke volumes that could not be verbalized and for much of our visit neither Josh nor I talked all that much.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

a baseball disgrace

Recently, a couple of friends of mine and I took a trip down to Baltimore Maryland where we went to see the Baltimore Orioles baseball team take on the visiting New York Yankees. Upon arriving in Baltimore we found the downtown area around the stadium to be quite pleasant. It was actually very pretty. After eating lunch at a nice little restaurant called the Wharf Rat. We made our way to the game. What we found turned our previous hour long experience of Baltimore on its head! It was a shocking and grotesque atrocity!
Outside the stadium there were more vendors selling New York Yankees memorabilia than Orioles memorabilia! On top of that, by observing the masses moving into the stadium you could easily wager that nearly two thirds of the fans were wearing Yankees jerseys, hats, or other clothing! We were even more disheartened to find that when anything happened to go the way of the Yankees during the game, the stadium would erupt with cheers and excitement! Every single inning played host to a chant repeated over and over: "Lets go Yankees!" "Lets go Yankees!" This experience flew in the face of everything baseball is all about! Where was the home town pride? Where were the faithful fans decked out in their orange and black coming to cheer their team on, and heckle the highest paid team in baseball!? They didn't even sing the traditional seventh inning stretch song Take me out the Ball Game. This was probably because of the line: root root root for the home team, if they don't win its a shame. There was acutally a section of the team store dedicated to New York Yankee player Alex Rodriguez! AHHHH!!!! What a stupid idea!
All this is to say, that I was deeply saddened by the lack of enthusiasm for the home team, and I wondered how hard it must have been for the Oriole players to try to mount a worthwhile competition when the crowd would erupt with positive noise every time the opposing team got a hit or turned a double play. I just hope that somehow, some way Orioles fans band together to fight this injustice, and that everyone takes pride in the team they support, never giving in to the gilded and shallow pinstripes whose talent is simply bought and paid for every year and never won through hard work and a team mentality!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

a prayer

Dear Lord, I sometimes wonder what I am supposed to do, and maybe it is silly to think that way, maybe not. Either way I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with doubt and frustrated by mistakes I have made. I ask for wisdom to know what I should do in all situations, and the courage to do it. I ask for the humility that allows me to laugh at myself so that I don't take life too seriously. Above all of this I ask that you would speak, for it is in those moments where I sense your presence that I find the purest and most substantial joy. May my life, in all of its complexity and simplicity, bring you praise, honor, and glory. May I be ever aware of the moves you are making in the world around me, that I might seek out opportunities to share in the work you are doing. You are grace itself, and eternal mercy. This prayer I leave in your mysterious and ever present care. Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Philadelphia - a cultural experience

Recently, a friend of mine (Aaron Twicthell) and I made a trip down to Philadelphia to immerse ourselves in the culture of this historic and storied city. We began our trip by visiting one of the most important sites for citizens of the United States; Independence Hall. We were able to see the liberty bell housed nearby, as well as partake in a guided tour of this famous and historic building. We saw the chair upon which George Washington sat when the continental congress convened to sign the United States Constitution. We heard the Centennial Bell ring atop the spire of the hall marking off the hours and we inhaled the musty air of a room where name after name of founding father strode, sat, debated, and forged a nation. Benjamen Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and many others. It was surreal and amazing!
The next leg of our Philadelphia journey took us to the area near South St. to two well known eateries across the street from one another. Ask any local and they will tell you, the only place to get real Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches is at either Geno's or Pat's. Legend has it that neither owner as set foot on the other's property. Aaron and I availed ourselves of the culinary masters and each sampled the cheese steaks. It was a delectable experience. Both were amazing! However, if we were forced to choose we had to lean ever so slightly toward Geno's. There was something about the meat that was just a little richer, just a little more tasty.
The final stop on our runaround tour of the "City of Brotherly Love" was the local major league baseball park. It is called Citizen's Bank Park and it is home to the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. This was an unforgettable experience. The game was delayed from the beginning by rain, thunder, and lightning; however, after waiting for two hours the game began and the sun broke through the clouds! On the mound for the Phillies was former Seattle Mariner Jamie Moyer. The highlight of the game had to be our seats which were in center field just above the grass and right next to a TV camera man! Although in close second to the seats was Jamie Moyer's bunt for a triple in the third inning which was made possible by two Pittsburgh Pirate errors. Aaron and I went to a Mets game at Shea Stadium in New York and during the game there were at least 10 fights in the crowd that had to be broken up by security. I thought that was pretty bad; however, the fans in Philly proved to me that they could one up Mets fans. I kid you not there was not a single inning where the entire left field section chanted at, yelled at, and cajoled the left fielder for the Pirates. I was blown away at how crazy they were! They didn't cut this poor guy any slack, and to make matters worse he dropped a pop fly in the 6th inning and they let him have it twice as bad for the rest of the game!
All in all this was an awesome outing to the home of Will Smith and Rocky Balboa! If you are ever in Philly I recommend taking in the sites, the sounds, the tastes, and avoiding any confrontations with the athletic fans!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ruby

This picture of red flowers was taken off our front patio here in Princeton, NJ. It is titled Ruby. You can see this and several other of my photographs in my online portfolio at http://www.redbubble.com. Search for Samuel Schaar or schaas.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Torn between a Twin and a Miracle...

There come moments in the lives of individuals where we are faced with frustrating and seemingly impossible decisions. I was faced with one such decision recently as I turned on the television to watch the Major League Baseball home run derby which is an annual event that comes the day before the All-star game usually near the middle of the baseball season. I was elated to discover that one of my favorite players for my favorite team (Justin Morneau, of the Minnesota Twins) was participating in the home run derby. As I watched the first round of the home run derby I found myself entertained as batter after batter hit home runs and the crowd lept every time they heard the swift crack of the bat on the ball. Batter after batter came to the plate and each one did fairly well hitting anywhere from 4 to 8 or 9 home runs each. It was near the end of the first round that slowly but surely I became aware that this was not going to be your garden variety home run derby. A young player from the Texas Rangers baseball team stepped up to the plate, his name was Josh Hamilton. After several pitches he seemed to be on track to making it to the second round of the derby. And then it happened....
He started to get hot, blazing hot in fact. Crack, crack, crack came the sound as he swung the lumber and sent baseballs to their deaths a veritable ocean of human beings. He reached the mark of about 15 home runs and all of the sudden it dawned on me: this twenty something year old baseball player had tens of thousands of baseball fans on their feet and chanting his name at the top of their lungs. And if that wasn't enough to make this scene a crazy frenzy he kept hitting home runs. The record for most home runs hit in the first round of the derby was set in 2004 by Bobby Abreu of the New York Yankees at 24 home runs (no small feat!). However, the young Mr. Hamilton went on a freakish tear cruising right up to and passing the 24 mark. It was at this point that I found myself being carried by my adrenaline. Every crack of the bat made my eyes open wide and my mouth drop even lower. I watched as the rabid fans who packed the stadium to the brim were on their feet chanting "Ham-il-ton! Ham-il-ton! Ham-il-ton!" and every time he hit a home run the immeasurable surge of decibels filled the stadium and I am convinced probably most of New York City as well.
While this near super human display of physical strength and power was being unleashed on the teeming masses, the commentators began to fill in some rather insightful and emotive background on this young slugger. He had been a first round draft pick to the major league baseball a couple of years ago and when he came up to play he eventually made some poor choices one of which was using heroine, he eventually left the major leagues and found himself hopeless and out of touch with what was once his dream, playing baseball. It was in the lowest of the low that Josh Hamilton said he found God speaking to him. In an interview after the derby he explained his belief that his faith and the grace of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ carried him through the rehab process of getting rid of the drugs in his life. He rediscovered his love for baseball and at one point during the derby it was reported that he had a dream after coming back to baseball that he would one day participate in the all-star home run derby at Yankee Stadium. This was long before they had picked the site for the 2008 All-Star derby and game! As I sat and watched this amazingly talented baseball player crush balls into the center field bleachers as well as into the upper deck I found myself overwhelmed by his story. I was seriously brought to the brink of tears. I saw redemption. I saw God's faithfulness to never leave us nor forsake us, even when we are faithless and make mistakes (which we all do!). I saw a young man, who had been given another chance to realize his dream of playing baseball and do something that God gave him the gifts and talent to do. Some people might think that hitting a baseball over a fence, or playing a game is not ministry or that you can't play baseball and serve God at the same time, well, I would have to disagree with those people. I would have to say that I believe you can use your status as a baseball player to bring awareness to important issues, inspire giving to charitable causes, and you can play baseball for God's glory.
The entire experience of watching this indescribable scene was amazing! When Mr. Hamilton had reached something around the 28 home run mark, one of the commentators who had been retelling Mr. Hamilton's inspiring story said: "Look at this kid! All I can say is that it is a hard night to be an atheist!" I chuckled.
Mr. Hamilton chose to ask his city league batting coach from back home to come with him to the home run derby and be his pitcher (each slugger can choose who they want to have pitch to them during the derby). This coach was over 70 years old! All told, by the end of the derby the coach had thrown more pitches than years in his life, and more pitches than most starting pitchers throw in a major league game!!!
Well, the story of this home run derby ended with Josh Hamilton actually losing the final round to Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins. Honestly, I love the fact that Justin Morneau won because I am a huge Twins fan, but inside I am so torn, because Josh Hamilton did something amazing and I believe God did something amazing through him. What an amazing story and for baseball fans/disciples of Jesus Christ?! What a tale to tell?! Thus the story of my being torn between a Twin and a Miracle will be one that I will look upon for inspiration and with fond recollection for the rest of my life!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The book titled The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho was recently recommended to me by several friends and relatives, and what seemed to be a mere coincidence at the time may actually have been orchestrated. I began to read this short 167 page novel Sunday afternoon and by Sunday evening I had finished it. I found myself glued to its inviting and creative narrative, and I also found myself carefully watching the choices and moves of the young shepherd who plays the main character. I won't give away much of the plot nor the ending for any and all who still have not read it, because I would be doing you a grave disservice. It was one of my favorite novels to read, ever. Probably in the top five of my entire life. Without a doubt my favorite part of this book is the clear focus on the power of our decisions. We have freedom to make choices in this life and the main character learns that often it is our choices that come to define who we are, who we will become, and how people will remember us. I absolutely loved the subtle quotations of scripture that are peppered throughout the narrative and the inclusion of several creative and multifaceted characters throughout the journey of the text. I have heard it said that C.S. Lewis called the book Phantastes by George MacDonald the "baptism of his imagination." The Alchemist functioned much the same way for me. All five of my senses were engaged in my imagination as I travelled along with the adventure! I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone who might have a chance to read it and I am looking forward to the next opportunity that I have to read something from this altogether brilliant author.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why does freedom cost so much?


This is a photograph of an inscription etched into the black granite at one end of the Korean War Memorial which is a few hundred yards from the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. This memorial is quite a site to behold and in many ways does more than a lot of the other memorials to put faces on the story of the events and people it commemorates. When I was walking around the monument and happened to glance up at the inscription it stopped me in my tracks and I knew I needed a picture of such a poignant and succinct phrase.
Within a few seconds of reading it my mind lept away from the realm of American History where wars have often decided who would be free and what shape that freedom would take to another realm; the realm of theology, the realm of faith seeking understanding and investing in relationsihp with God. I looked at the inscription and said it out loud to myself a couple of times. The more and more I thought about it the more I began to ask myself questions about its meaning. The final and hardest question that I was faced with in this moment of reflection was: why does freedom cost so much? I began to ask myself this question from the perspective of my faith. Why did Christ have to die in order that humanity and creation would be free from the tyranny and oppression of sin? Sacrifice is such a challenging and hard concept to wrap my head around. The cost of freedom in any and all circumstances humbles me. And so I simply pose my question to God and everyone else: Why does freedom cost so much?

A trip to Washington D.C.

This photograph is of the statue of Thomas Jefferson (my favorite President!) in the central rotunda in the United States Capitol Building!

My wife and I recently took a trip to our nation's capitol in order to meet up with some relatives and see many of the sites. I had never been to Washington D.C. and I found myself more and more excited by the possibilities of seeing monuments, museums, and other large pieces of American History!

We just about packed as much as you can into our three day trip and it was amazing! For an American history nerd such as myself I was overwhelmed by all of the amazing architecture and sheer size of many of the cities large monuments!

I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite piece of history or favorite experience of this adventure; however, I can say that a memorable stop was being able to sit in the observation balcony above the room in which the United States Senate meets and observe Congress while it was in session! My eyes darted from one place to another in that mammoth room and I was in awe as it dawned on me how many major figures had graced this place over the years and years of its existence! One other awe inspiring experience came when I visited the National Archives. I was able to stand mere inches away from documents such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Bill of Rights! I was speechless when I realized the age and influence of these faded and fragile pieces of paper!

The monuments were huge! The fountains were ornate! The statues were beautiful! The architecture was breathtaking! I bathed in the waves of United States History that flowed freely over the landscape! It was plain and simply a phenomenal experience!




Thursday, July 10, 2008

I am sorry Mr. Spider

This is a photograph of a small garden spider in its web just off our front patio in Princeton, NJ. As you can see the small spider got more than it bargained for when it decided to construct its web in our front flower bed. After a week of sawing, sanding, staining, and nailing I finished a small wooden shelf unit upon which now sit five small pots with herbs inside the window sill of our front window. During the week I used the front patio as a work area and as you can see my sawdust found its way into the web of this innocent bystander. It is because of my insensitivity to this little aracnid's home that I respectfully apologize to this little fellow, but it sure did make a cool picture!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fourth of July where it all began!

Yesterday my wife (Rachelle) and two of our friends (Aaron and Erica Twitchell) made the drive down to Philadelphia for the Fourth of July fireworks and celebration! The main fireworks display took place just above the Philadelphia Art Museum whose steps were made famous by the "Italian Stallion" Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone). There was a concert followed by one of the countries most expensive and elaborate fireworks displays! As if the thousands upon thousands of people as well as the amazing architecture weren't enough the thought of being in the city where 232 years prior to the day 44 men gathered blocks away in Independence Hall to sign the Declaration of Independence for the United States of America! Wow, history just seems that much more tangible when you can experience it first hand like that! I was overwhelmed and humbled to be able to be there for such a celebration! Definitely an experience I will never forget!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

god is not great (Christopher Hitchens)

I recently finished reading the book god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. He is a journalist and an atheist and this book deals with some of his thoughts on religion, faith, adherents of faith, and why all of it is useless, meaningless, naive, and mere fantasy. I appreciate reading books such as this one because there are observations, critiques, and insights that atheists have into the heart of religious belief and faith that strike at the foundations and need to be addressed honestly and candidly by adherents of those faiths. Being a Christian I am also quite concerned with how my faith is portrayed to non-adherents, not just by myself but by all of those who claim Christian faith. It is of importance to note that much of what Hitchens chose to highlight in this book was the mistakes, failures, and atrocities made by Christians over the past two thousand years. This recourse has almost become an argument in and of itself against the existence of God. It was this observation by Hitchens and by other authors that has caused me much frustration in my personal devotion. I can often find myself disheartened when I hear these examples used by atheists and critics of religious faith as a reason why they do not believe. While a hospital chaplain in a psychiatric clinic I had a conversation with a person who considered himself an atheist. This person said that they wanted to believe, they wanted to pray, they wanted to claim Christian faith, but they couldn't help but be dissuaded by the actions of Christians they have known or met.
It seems there is a tension that we as believers have to struggle with. We are faulted, flawed, mistake making individuals and communities, and at the same time we are called to exemplify Christ-likeness (Christian means "little Christ"). We are called to live a life of devotion, understanding that we depend on grace. I hope and pray that we can learn lessons from our sordid past that we can look at the mistakes our Christian forbears have made and strive to not make those mistakes, discerning our place in history, and praying for the grace to live as God would have us live in testament to God's love.
Hitchens also seems to thrust a false distinction upon religious faith. He says that religion and faith has strived to keep people in a state of naivete. He cites science as a specific example of a area of human inquiry and study where religion is losing its power to explain because it is no longer in a position of controlling power such as to force its position upon the naive masses. While I fully acknowledge the many mistakes the Church has made in dealing with scientific inquiry and discovery I do not believe science and faith are mutually exclusive categories any more. Why should I be forced to choose between science and faith? They need not necessarily be dichotomized.
I appreciate Hitchens' honest reflections and forthright critique of religious faith; however, I am not persuaded that Hitchens has read enough of Christian thinkers between the 3rd century and the 15th century. There are quite a few (men and women) who grappled with the questions of God's existence and honestly dealt with critique of the Church and the behavior of its leaders and adherents.
Hitchens makes it clear that he sees faith as naive. Faith is not naive, just as long as it doesn't settle for easy answers and remains "faith seeking understanding."

a picture

This is a picture of the moon that I took off our front patio in Princeton, New Jersey. I attached my new camera to my telescope and snapped the shot. I love the moon!

In the beginning...

I want to begin by welcoming all to my blog. It is exciting to express thoughts for others to read and respond to! My hope is that my posts are intriguing, thought provoking, and informative to all who read them! Being that I am in seminary and pursuing ordination for service in Church Ministry I will undoubtedly gravitate to issues surrounding theology, ministry, life experience, philosophy, and various other related topics. I will on occasion post photographs that I have taken for others to enjoy! I am an amateur photographer and I love sharing my pics with other people!