Jul 2, 2011

Fourth of July Weekend

This weekend is the Fourth of July weekend. Originally conceived, Independence Day was a day of national celebration to remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776. We as a nation have also traditionally celebrated the day to recall our memory of the principles for which someone, somewhere founded us as the United States of America. I say this because we are at least as much of an ideal as we are a nation.

The Fourth of July has also become a much needed oasis in the midst of a long hot and unusually dry stretch of calendar (especially this year) between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Fourth is frequently a day for picnics, family reunions, and fire-crackers (depending on burn bans). It is usually one of the hotter days of the year and many of our friends and relatives “let slip,” yet again, some of their well-worn stories about how they did this or that and, by the way, much better than anyone else! We call this bragging or boasting. It seems when people get together, they love to top each other’s stories. We all know those who tell stories that sound like bragging and boasting. Some of us are prone to the activity ourselves! Time for confession: I am the worst offender of all!

But at least genetics wired this character flaw into me. As a child I recall hearing some of the whoppers my Grandpa, who ironically was born on 4 July 1901, used to pull out. My Grandmother would be beside herself, thinking that young and impressionable grandchildren might actually believe anything he might say. One of my cousins said he was surprised to learn that our grandfather was actually born on Independence Day—he had thought it was part of his routine for all those years.

I have a pastor friend who has driven many a parishioner to despair’s boundary by always being able to top their stories of hospitalization. He will go into a hospital room, and after hearing the patient’s narrative about her or his afflictions and maladies, will say, “You think that’s bad? Once when I was in . . .” and he is off to the races. If it wasn’t so painful it would be downright funny. But at least I can say that my friend has taught me what not to do in a hospital room!

We all know what it is to stretch a story to put ourselves in a little better light than if objective history were telling the story. With each passing year, I tell my children a little more about my life’s story. My grades get better with age, as do my athletic skills, my good deeds, and especially my jaunty one-liners putting some dunderhead in his place. If age helps wine, then age surely helps our personal fodder to tell tall tales and brag about the things that might have been. Who is the wiser?

Who is the wiser? We all are! Everyone who has ever heard a bragger knows what is coming next and can see it coming from at least a mile away. I am most confident that those who knew Paul rolled their eyes at times when Paul got started about how much he did or had suffered or had endured for the sake of Christ. If we were honest, and this makes bragging less enjoyable, we all know that big whoppers are really a pleasure, especially when the audience bites on what little part of the truth we happen to include in our accounts of our courageous exploits.

Can you hear Paul? Not to be outdone, he has accomplished more and faster than anyone. To refresh your memory, listen to Paul holding forth right now in Corinth: Feel free to read—2 Corinthians 11:23-28. I am put to shame in my boasting when I hear echoes of Paul saying “. . . in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters . . . .” Do you need more?

Paul, as we know from the New Testament, never does any thing half-way. He does things with greater excellence, and far more thoroughly, and at greater risk than anyone else. And I bet Paul was a real pain to be around.

This 4th of July I pray for all of you that we might, as Paul suggests in another epistle “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

Perhaps we can all leave the bragging for another day.



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