The Christian Hospitality Blog

Formerly the Irreverant Reverend Blog, the focus of this blog has been changed to ideas for promoting Christian Hospitality.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jesus Buried With Wife and Kid?

That's the idea at the center of a forthcoming documentary directed by James Cameron of Titanic fame.

"The Lost Tomb of Christ," which the Discovery Channel will run on March 4, argues that 10 ancient ossuaries -- small caskets used to store bones -- discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the Discovery Channel.

Archeologists and Biblical Scholars, for the most part, are scoffing at the film's sensationalistic claims. The CNN story continues,

Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film's hypothesis holds little weight.
"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," Pfann said. "But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."
"How possible is it?" Pfann said. "On a scale of one through 10 -- 10 being completely possible -- it's probably a one, maybe a one and a half."
Pfann is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun."
Kloner also said the filmmakers' assertions are false.
"It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave," Kloner said. "The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time."

Those of us over forty have lived through several of these sensationalistic media blitzes, designed to provide their originators with fame, quick cash, or (usually) both. Since Cameron lacks for neither fame nor money (as far as I know), it is possible that his motives are pure, even if his theory is unlikely to win over many people.

Though this story of Jesus being buried with the wife and kid is likely not true (and lacks the probability of being proved true even if it is), it begs the question of, "What if?" What if Jesus did not die and later resurrect? What if he somehow managed to slink out of the limelight and settle in the suburbs with a wife (Mary Magdelene) and have a kid before dying of natural causes? What if the whole persecution and execution of Jesus never happened? Would this, as some claim, drive a stake into the heart of Christianity, causing the religion to disintegrate?

Christians are of two minds about this. In the book The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, liberal Biblical scholar Marcus Borg and conservative Biblical scholar N.T. Wright attempt to demonstrate that it is possible to bridge the gap between those (like Wright) who feel that the Bible is literally true and those (like Borg) who feel that while much that the Bible records did not literally happen, Christianity is still a viable religion. Wright and Borg are friends who have agreed to disagree and who feel that their individual faith journeys have been enriched by their ongoing dialogue. I've never met N.T. Wright but I did spend several days at a conference where Marcus Borg was a keynote speaker. At one point, Borg related a story about a joint interview he and Wright did. The interviewer posed the "what if" at the heart of Cameron's new documentary--what if the bones of Jesus were found, and were proved to be real by DNA testing, thus demonstrating that the resurrection didn't happen (or at least didn't happen exactly as described in the Bible, with Jesus ultimately ascending into heaven afterwards.) Borg was startled and even shocked to hear Wright say that under such circumstances he would find himself another line of work, because Borg's gut response was, essentially, so what? As I seem to recall (and I may be wrong about this part of the story), both men were surprised by the response of the other.

I can sympathize with both men, with Borg's feeling of, "How can you care about that?" and Wright's feeling, "How can you not care?" The fact is, the Christian Church is a big tent. It contains both of these varieties of Christians and many who are somewhere in-between these two extremes. For some of us, this is okay and maybe even a plus. Others would like to either find a way to bring the others to an experience of conversion to their point of view, or failing that, root out those who disagree with them. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, is famously "liberal." Each member of the church is bound by their own conscience, nothing more and nothing less. This is true when it comes to matters of faith, such as the truth and significance of the resurrection.

Though we Christians don't talk about it much, the church is always potentially one generation away from extinction. While the Christian faith is still is gaining converts worldwide, many have fallen away from the church, either switching to some other religion such as Islam, or becoming the kind of Agnostics who spend their Sunday mornings sleeping late and doing crossword puzzles. I doubt there is a "magic bullet" that can destroy Christianity, although infighting between Christian "liberals" and "conservatives" generates more heat than light. Ultimately, though, the real enemy of any religion is indifference.
Read about the UCC concept of Christian faith at

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Monday, February 19, 2007


Sermon preached 2/18/06

Luke 9:28-36
9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.
9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
9:32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
9:33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.
9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.
9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
9:36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Yesterday was a rite of passage for me. For the first time I took the kids to a film of a book that one of them had read. Lida picked up a copy of Bridge to Terabithia shortly after she started school last fall and with my help began to read it. At first she struggled word by word, and after a page or so I would read the rest of the chapter to her. Eventually she could pretty much read on her own, though I still read some parts to her. In November we learned that there would be a major motion picture of the book released in February, so we made it a goal to finish the book by then. We finally finished a couple of weeks ago.

Bridge to Terabithia is a rite of passage book. It tells the story of Jess Aarons, a poor son of a farmer and his wife who dreams of a better life. At the beginning of the year in fifth grade he befriends a city girl from Washington, DC whose novelist parents have moved her to the country because they think it will be good for her. At first they get off to a rocky start, but soon the boy who is a gifted artist and the girl who is a gifted writer become close friends and begin swinging on a rope swing over the nearby creek and hanging out in the woods near their home. Soon they imagine it is really an imaginary kingdom with trolls and such, and that they are the king and queen.

Eventually tragedy strikes—Leslie dies in a tragic accident. It is the first major loss of young Jess’s life, and it is a learning experience for him. His parents take over his chores and make him pancakes. His 5th grade teacher, normally stern, takes him aside and speaks gently to him about grieving when he misbehaves in class. The transformation that began in him when he became friends with Leslie turns out not to be dependent on her physical presence. Leslie is gone forever, but the transformation in his life that began with their friendship continues. He is beginning to see things differently. He has realized that both grownups and his annoying little sister May Belle are human beings too, just like him and Leslie. In the end he builds a bridge over the creek and he brings his little sister with him to the imaginary kingdom.

The experience Jess goes through has striking parallels to the experience of Peter, John and James in today’s lesson from the gospel according to Luke. The three of them are traveling along with Jesus, most likely enjoying the ride and not even thinking that it will end, let alone imagining how it will end. It must be an exciting time—Jesus is preaching and healing, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable everywhere he goes, and his following is growing. Then they are taken up to a mountaintop and experience theophany—a direct experience of the presence of God. It can’t get much better than this, they are imagining.

What they are not thinking is what is about to happen—that things will get worse-much, much worse-but they are becoming equipped to handle what is coming by the transformation process that started on the mountaintop.
The truth is, most of us don’t set out to be transformed. Most of us aren’t seekers, those people who go to India to find a guru who will help them get on the path of enlightenment. Most of us are just seeking to avoid pain and trouble, to do the best we can with what God has given us. What most of us desire most of all are creature comforts—a nice place to live, a loving family and caring friends. We like to have a little fun now and then. We want to have our health for as long as we can. That sums up most people’s lives, and it summed up the lives of these three disciples up to the point that they met Jesus. When they met him, they were doing their jobs, just making a living. The path to transformation really began for them then, but it was still possible for them to be basically the same guys they had always been as they followed Jesus.

Sara Miles was a person in some ways like Peter, John and James. She was the person her parents had raised her to be—a liberal atheist who spent Sunday mornings sleeping late, cooking brunch, and reading the New York Times Book Review. And then, like the disciples, she found herself drawn to Jesus. Since it was the 21st century, she began going to church. In an excerpt from her new book published in Salon, she writes,

My first year at St. Gregory's would begin, and end, with questions. Now I understand that questions are at the heart of faith, and that certainties about God can flicker on and off, no matter what you think you know. But back then, I thought "believers" were people who knew exactly what they believed and had nailed all the answers.

My first set of questions was very basic. I covertly studied the faces of people at Saint Gregory's when they took the bread, trying to guess what they were feeling, but I was too proud and too timid to ask either priests or congregants the beginner's queries: Why do you cross yourselves? What are the candles for? How do you pray? And, more seriously: Do you really believe this stuff?

My next question was not about God or church; it was nakedly about me, and my fears. What would my friends think?

In America, I knew exactly one person who was a Christian. It turned out that my friend Mark Pritchard, an introverted writer with a tongue piercing, attended a Lutheran church with wooden pews where he sang old-fashioned hymns every Sunday. So I took some walks with Mark, trying to draw him out, but despite his orange Mohawk and wild sexual politics, he was a fairly Lutheran guy, not much given to discussing his emotions or spiritual life. "Sure, well, I believe in first principles," Mark said to me, cautiously, when I probed him about his beliefs. He might as well have been speaking Greek. "Oh," I said. I didn't know anyone else who went to church.

That sense of confusion, the feeling of “what’s it all about,” must be very familiar to Peter, John and James. I imagine they are feeling this most of all in the wake of the Transfiguration. Jesus has given them hints of the changes to come, of his crucifixion and resurrection, but I’m betting that the disciples don’t understand these hints, except in hindsight—“Oh, that’s what Jesus was talking about.” The disciples have not fallen in with Jesus to be transformed, any more than most of us have. We are here because it is where we have always been, or because, as in the case of Sara, what we were doing before isn’t working for us anymore. There might have been people like that who followed Jesus, but the Bible doesn’t record him as choosing that type of person as disciples, although I suppose some of the less famous disciples might have fit into that category. Jesus seems to favor regular, down-to-earth people as disciples, people who are mostly concerned with earthly things like making a living and fitting in with their families, people who do not seek transforming experiences, at least, not when they first encounter Jesus. Some of us have dramatic, transformative experiences, but most people, looking back, find that they changed over time and in response to life’s events. Paul advised the early Christians "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."

He saw transformation as an ongoing process, even though his process of transformation began with a dramatic event and a total turnaround of his life. One thing is for sure—the lives of these three fishermen didn’t not end up as they, or anyone, would have imagined before they met Jesus. All became leaders in the early church. Peter is considered to be the first Pope. All but John met violent deaths because of their faith. In a way, disciples have given transformation a bad name. Some might find sacrifice romantic, but most of us have families to think of. We are willing to change—if we have to--but we are hoping it will only go so far. Odds are very, very slim that any of us will become martyrs. We are not pioneers of the faith, like these men. But the process of transformation can be less than smooth. Sara Miles, who converted at 46, writes,

“…even as I kept going to church, the questions raised by the experience only multiplied. Conversion was turning out to be quite far from the greeting-card moment promised by televangelists, when Jesus steps into your life, personally saves you, and becomes your lucky charm forever. Instead, it was socially and politically awkward, as well as profoundly confusing. I wasn't struck with any sudden conviction that I now understood the "truth." If anything, I was just crabbier, lonelier, and more destabilized. “

“The child I was, protected from religion by her parents, at some point had become the woman crying at the communion table. Those tears weren't a conclusion, or a happy ending, just part of a motion toward something. It was still continuing. God didn't work in people according to a convenient schedule, by explaining everything or tying up the loose plot lines of every story. Sometimes nothing was settled.”
The walk of faith can sometimes be unsettling, but it can also be worthwhile, as millions of faithful who have gone before us can testify. May we continue to be transformed by it.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Beatitudes

This is a version of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 11.

Today the topic is the Beatitudes, one of them most loved, most known, and most puzzling passages of scripture. It is loved for talking about how people who are having a really rough time—the poor, the hungry, the hated—are blessed by God. It is puzzling, though, because most people don’t exactly think of being hungry, or poor, or hated as blessings.
There are two versions of this scripture. One is in Matthew, and is known as the Sermon on the Mount, and the other, the one we heard today, is in Luke, and takes place on a plain. This one, the one that is less familiar, is a little different from the Matthew version. In that version, Jesus doesn’t say, “poor” but instead says “poor in spirit.” By this he doesn’t mean “sad” or “dispirited,” but rather “those who have the same spirit as the poor.” And in this version, it goes on to tell what Jesus said about those in the opposite conditions—the rich, the full, those who are well spoken of—"Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
I can see why the other version of the Beatitudes is more popular—because it focuses on the blessings and leaves out the negative sayings. Why the two versions? It is possible that Jesus had similar things to say on many occasions, since his ministry was, in part, sort of like a tour, and the gospels are sort of like live albums, recording slightly different versions of the same sayings.
Anyway, I don’t think Jesus is trying to exactly curse those who have been more lucky in life—those who have full stomachs and riches and are respected in their communities. Jesus is just observing that over time, everyone experiences plenty and want, experiences good times and bad times, and over the course of history different people have been on the top of the heap in different time. There is often an element of justice in these reversals of fortune. There is a saying that goes something like this—you meet the same people on your way down as you met on your way up. In other words, try to be a good, kind person when you are riding high, because sooner or later you are likely to be laid low and you want people to give you a hand and help you back up.
But where is the blessing in being hungry, or being persecuted for your beliefs? This is a complicated and potentially dangerous idea. In 1998 I took a mission trip to Nicaragua. I had never seen such poverty, people living on the streets and in shacks. It blew my experiences in Appalachia away. Through translators we met some of these very poor people and heard their stories. At the end of each day our facilitator and leader helped the group reflect on our circumstances. The participants were very comfortable, upper-middle-class college students. They had never known hunger or want, and had never seen such poverty either. I spent the trip feeling appalled to live in a world where the world’s resources are so unevenly distributed. The college students, on the other hand, had a different take. “The people seem happy,” they all said, over and over again. It was clear that they felt that the lives of these people were okay. They had no sense of guilt and shame for having easier, more plush lives. They had no sense that something ought to be done to change the world to make poverty like this go away. The facilitator, a native Nicaraguan woman educated partly in the US, tried to push them out of this. “All of these people have problems,” she said, but I’m not sure these young people ever quite got what she was trying to show them. They didn’t see this as unfair, but merely as how things are. It never occurred to them that these circumstances needed to be changed, and not just by some Americans cleaning and painting one clinic in one poor neighborhood for one week. These young women were all to ready to dismiss the real needs of these real people simply by thinking that there is a special blessing in being poor.
On the other hand, many poor people listen to Jesus say “blessed are the poor,” and they do not attack him. Why? Probably because they see Jesus as a person who has known poverty, and who lives a very simple lifestyle himself. They understand that he knows the challenges and the pain of poverty, and that he also knows that there are blessings to be found in every experience. And Jesus wants to make it clear to them that God does not see things the way people see things—that God loves and cares for those who are in difficult circumstances, and those who stick their necks out for just causes, even if the people around them desert them.
Last week on Oprah there was a show about a movie that is supposed to be life-changing. This movie, The Secret, was made by Australian Rhonda Byrne, and she says that if you follow its philosophy, you can create the life you want.Rhonda defines The Secret as the law of attraction, which is the principle that "like attracts like." Rhonda calls it "the most powerful law in the universe," and says it is working all the time. "What we do is we attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we're thinking and feeling," Rhonda says. The principle explains that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fueled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth.

This idea is simple, but of course it is not easy. Lisa Nichols, a proponent of this viewpoint, describes it this way: "If you were at a restaurant and you ordered something, you fully expect it to come served that way. That's how the universe is. You're putting out orders—consciously and unconsciously," Lisa says. "So if you say, 'I'll never have a great relationship,' you just placed an order."

In the Beatitudes, Jesus suggests that true blessings do not come from chasing after riches and popular acclaim. True blessings, spiritual blessings, come out of difficulty and challenges. Jesus is suggesting that people look at their own lives, regardless of their current circumstances and history, and understand that God loves and blesses them.

Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith says that thoughts—which turn into experience, speech and behavior—become the "feeling tone of your life."

"An individual can actually begin to generate a certain feeling of gratitude, of love, of peace and of harmony, and the universe will begin to match that feeling tone—and what will flow into your life will match the feeling that you're holding," he says. "It means that everyone…can release themselves from being a victim and begin to take control of their life's destiny." Gratitude is one example of the magnetic force of the universe. "Basically, nothing new can come into your life unless you open yourself up to being grateful [for what you already have]," he says.

Instead of looking at their lives and saying, “I’m poor, I’m nothing, I’m nobody, everyone hates me,” Jesus is inviting those who suffer, especially those who suffer most, to focus their energy towards thinking the one and only God, the glorious creator of the Universe, loves me. I am blessed in the eyes of God.

Sometimes that which we see as a curse, maybe even a curse by God, leads us down the path that we need to go. Some of the finest people I have ever known are among the most modest—modest in circumstance and modest in demeanor. Every worshipping community I have ever been part of has someone whose faith and spirituality humble me, and for the most part these are people who have known many difficulties and are quite humble. In one parish it was an older, widowed woman who coordinated the food pantry donations. She would get up in church and gently explain that while they were lovely, cake mixes were not good donations because most people who visited our pantry lived in their cars. In Bible study class she spoke of a strong, constant sense of the presence of God, and joy in serving him. I suppose you could say she was not exactly setting the world on fire, but that would be missing the point. She certainly set my heart on fire when she spoke very quietly from her own deep conviction. She felt blessed. She was blessed. And for me to understand that has been a blessing.
May we all come to understand that this is the nature of blessing—that it doesn’t come from a fancy house or job or car. Those things, though nice to have, can just become a burden, a distraction that separates us from God. When we become concerned about having nice things and happy times, we lose sight of the need to find meaning and purpose in life, and a sense of meaning and purpose leads to true happiness.

In a recent New York Times magazine article about the academic study of happiness, a class at George Mason University learned that there is a difference between feeling good, "which according to positive psychologists only creates a hunger for more pleasure — they call this syndrome the hedonic treadmill — and doing good, which can lead to lasting happiness." This is the nature of true blessings, and true happiness.

True blessings come from God, and lead us back to God again and again. May you be truly blessed.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Intentional Butterfly

I just discovered this new site, Intentional Butterfly. It is part of Innerlinks, a site that enables you to use virtual angel and mentor cards (Innerlinks requires registration but Intentional Butterfly does not.)

The Intentional Butterfly site introduces itself by saying,

You are important.
Your thoughts create.
Your actions matter.
Your presence changes everything.

Be an Intentional Butterfly,
a participant in the ripple effect of caring.

The features include a virtual sanctuary that invites you to make a blessing, an invitation to join the Intentional Butterfly circle (it is so new that they are inviting participants to help define the implications of that membership), a b-board, and an invitation to submit inspiring stories, etc. for their online library.

I have been using the Innerlinks angel cards for years and have always gotten a good vibe from the organization. You might like to at least check it out.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

It's Groundhog Day!

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 4.

The movie "Groundhog Day" has become a favorite of many since its bigscreen debut in 1993. It tells the story of an obnoxious Pittsburgh weatherman named Phil Connors who is sent, along with a crew, to Punxatawney Pennsylvania to cover their Groundhog Day festivities. Groundhog day is a major event in Punxatawney, featuring crowds, fireworks and a groundhog named Phil that they claim is the same Groundhog that has been predicting the coming of spring, with the aid of the town's Groundhog Society, since the 1880s. Phil the weatherman is none too happy to be part of this, and he goes to sleep at the end of his miserable day anticipating returning to Pittsburgh the next morning. To his surprise, he awakes to the same song on the radio the next day, and the same exact DJ patter announcing "It's Groundhog Day!" He goes out into the hall of the inn where he is staying and discovers that today is yesterday--or yesterday is today--however you say it, it is Groundhog Day all over again, and nobody else notices except for him. This happens to him day after day--he goes to bed at the end of Groundhog Day and wakes up again on the morning of Groundhog Day. He tries everything he can think of to escape it, including suicide, but he still wakes up again on the morning of Groundhog Day.

In a 2005 National Review article called "A Movie for All Time," Jonah Goldberg writes,
In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film's clown makeup. On National Review Online's group blog, The Corner, I asked readers to send in their views on the film. Over 200 e-mails later I had learned that countless professors use it to teach ethics and a host of philosophical approaches. Several pastors sent me excerpts from sermons in which Groundhog Day was the central metaphor. And dozens of committed Christians of all denominations related that it was one of their most cherished movies."

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on "The Hidden God: Film and Faith" two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is "a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim's Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos." Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, "It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world."

I know what you're thinking: We're talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, "Don't drive angry," right? Yep, that's the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus—at least that's what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. "The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."
That may be going overboard, but something important is going on here. What is it about this ostensibly farcical film about a wisecracking weatherman that speaks to so many on such a deep spiritual level?...

To me, Groundhog Day is a profound meditation on the nature of existence, and on the role of love in human life. Phil finds himself trapped in an existence in which the good and bad things that happen to him literally repeat on a daily basis. Psychotherapists often advise their unhappy clients to examine their own lives for recurring patterns--do they keep getting stuck in dead-end jobs or relationships? Do they move from one place to another, seeking a change, only finding that they manage to re-create the same miserable circumstances over and over again? At one point, Phil says to a local guy he meets in a Bowling Alley bar, "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?" The man replies, "That about sums it up for me." I know that I was able to take fees for therapy out of my budget only after I faced the fact that my life had become as repetitive as Phil's in Groundhog Day.

The thing is, and I hope I'm not giving away the ending here--Phil doesn't free himself from re-living Groundhog Day over and over again by trying to free himself. He begins to free himself essentially by saying, "Okay, let's say this goes on forever. How can I make the best of it?"

Life is life. The nature of human existence hasn't really changed much. Pick up the Bible or ancient Greek or Roman texts and you'll discover that humans have been prone to the same flaws and virtues at least as long as people have been writing about them. Since the time of these ancient writings, human beings have sought to discover the meaning, the purpose in human existence, and the answers have not changed yet. So Phil, having discerned the repetitive and seemingly meaningless nature of his existence, chooses to undertake this journey of discovery for himself. First he tries to milk his repetitive days for attention. He seduces women. He robs a bank and uses the money to bankroll an extravagant evening out. But soon that begins to feel hollow. Finally, he discovers that there is something he cares about--or, more properly, someone. He finds himself drawn to his producer, Rita, played by Andie McDowell. Day after day he attempts to woo her, and night after night, sooner or later, the evening ends abruptly with a well-deserved slap in the face. He attempts suicide over and over, but each time, he wakes up again the morning of Groundhog Day. Finally, he gets so desperate that he tries something he initially considered ridiculous--he gets real with her and confides his predicament in her, trusting that she will have compassion for him.

In today's reading from the New Testament we hear Paul's brilliant meditation on love, a meditation that rings true to Phil's journey. "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Rita agrees to try and stave off the repetition of Groundhog Day by staying awake with him, but she falls asleep. As she lies sleeping beside him, Phil tells her how much she means to him, knowing she can't hear, but needing to express it for himself anyway. He tells her it doesn't matter if she hears him, or if he ever gets a chance to let her know he loves her. What matters is that he does love. It doesn't stop Groundhog Day from coming again the very next day, but somehow things have changed for Phil, because at last he has truly learned how to love. This is the nature of the spiritual journey that Phil must make in order to escape his predicament--he must learn how to love, to truly, truly love. He begins to think about something Rita said--that maybe what is happening to him is not a curse. Maybe he should try to think positively and make the best of it. He follows her advice and takes up piano and ice carving. He even tries to save a homeless man, but night after night he dies. Undeterred, he seeks others to help, and in these cases, he succeeds. Eventually, Rita responds to his love, and finally, finally he wakes up and it is February 3. Rita is by his side, and together they go outside. The town of Punxatawney Pennsylvania is covered with snow but the sun is shining. Phil puts his arm around Rita, looks at her and says, quite sincerely, "Let's live here."

In a way, life is like "Groundhog Day" for all of us. When we pay attention, we discover that we get a chance to make up for our past mistakes. And that is a blessing.

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