Randomness, Coincidences, Divine Providence?

Some very bright theologians and scientists gathered this week at Fuller Seminary in California to discuss if and how randomness can harmonize with divine providence. It got me thinking about coincidences that happened two years ago on a New England vacation. Here is the story:

Our airplane to Boston was an hour and a half late in landing. We told our New Hampshire hosts to go ahead with dinner, because an overturned beer truck on the interstate would now delay our reunion even longer.

Massachusetts State House
Massachusetts State House in Boston

The traffic’s snail pace gave me time to muse about coincidences. Does a beer truck spill have a divine providential impact on me or is it just randomness? I tried to think of some biblical examples of unexpected interruptions: the Ethiopian eunuch puzzling over scripture on a dusty road came to mind. It just so happened Philip journeyed to that exact place and time and was able to answer the eunuch’s questions and baptize him. Abraham’s servant was sent to a foreign land to find the right woman for son Isaac. After the servant prayed, along comes Rebekah to water his camels. Finally, I thought of the Apostle Peter, released from jail in the middle of the night. He knocked on the door of his startled prayer intercessors.

Yes, I concluded, there is biblical evidence that God has a hand in the geographic “coincidences” of our lives. Little did I know God was going to use these thoughts to give me two joyful surprises.

That Sunday, we joined our hosts at their Chichester (NH) Church, a congregation of about 200. On the same row as my husband and myself were seated a young man and his wife. After the service the young man asked, “Are you from Cincinnati?”

We nodded, “Yes, we used to be from there.”

He said, “Mr. Boy-ell, I think you were my high school math teacher when I was a freshman.” Recognition came, and we laughed at this pleasant “coincident.” This young man had even worshiped at our first Cincinnati church of about 120 people.

But the coincident grew. Part of our vacation was for my husband to meet his cousin Jeannine for the first time. The two had corresponded for years with a mutual interest in genealogy.

Rep. Tacky Chan  in the Rep. Chamber

Jeannine works at the Massachusetts State House, and she insisted we let her arrange a tour. She said something like, “Rep. Tacky Chan gives the best private tours; I asked him and he said yes.” So there we were having a first-time meeting with energetic Jeannine and enjoying the State House with a gracious Rep. Chan.

Cousin Jeannine
Cousin Jeannine


In the middle of the tour Jeannine said something like, “My Rep. Keiko isn’t in today, or I would have had you meet her. She’s a great boss.”

“What’s Keiko’s last name?” my husband asked.

Jeannine said, “Keiko Orrall.”

He said, “Oh! We know her!”

Jeannine said, “You mean you’ve seen her on Facebook?”

“No,” he replied. “We went to the same church in Cincinnati about 18 years ago.” (It was the same 120-member church mentioned above!).

I chimed in that we were good friends back then but had lost contact over the years.

Rep. Keiko Orrall with Chuck Boyll
Rep. Keiko Orrall with Chuck Boyll

Jeannine was almost speechless at this coincidence. But she recovered to call Keiko immediately, and we arranged a special reunion lunch.

During the conversation I said, “Keiko, the last thing I knew about you was that you were home schooling your children near a cranberry bog.”

Keiko nodded. “Yes, I know. It’s amazing. A lot has happened.”

Amazing indeed! Representative Keiko Orrall is the first Asian American woman to serve in the Massachusetts’ legislature. She is passionate, caring and smart. Go Rep. Keiko!

The next day Jeannine sent us an email that said she felt like she had received a big hug from God in this coincident of her cousin knowing her boss. Indeed, we all felt that way.

So as the Randomness and Divine Providence meetings wrap up in California, this story is one for the supporters of divine providence.

I know there is so much sadness and evil in this world. It can seem insanely random. Yet, there is also purpose and joy. God gives hugs and surprises– sometimes when we least expect them. When these loving gifts do pop up, we can be reassured of the Giver’s care for us.

Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)

I drove the Amphibian Duck!
I drove one of Boston’s Amphibian Ducks! Quack!


“Fast and Furious 7” Flies High

Fasten Your Seatbelt! As the sunlight hours increase, I hope you are finding pockets of fun this summer. One enjoyable outing I experienced was seeing Fast & Furious 7. Because of thousands of other moviegoers, FF7 is roaring to global record-making millions for Universal Studios.FullSizeRender

Yes, this seventh film in the Furious franchise is a predictable story with its beefy street dudes, sexy chicks, muscle cars, and arsenal-packing bad guys. So, why are so many people going?

One answer is the movie’s real life tragedy. What happens when one of your major actors dies as a passenger in a one-car accident before you are done filming a car movie?

FF7 was shelved as Paul Walker’s family and friends grieved the actor’s death, Nov. 30, 2013. Afterward, writer Chris Morgan and director James Wan altered the script, preserving what Walker had already filmed. Walker’s two brothers, Caleb and Cody, filled in for screen shots of Walker’s character, Brian O’Connor. The top selling song See You Again by Wiz Khalifa from the Fast and Furious 7 soundtrack is a tribute to Walker:

“It’s been a long day without you my friend,

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

We’ve come a long way from where we began.

Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

When I see you again….”

I had only seen the first movie of the franchise, The Fast and The Furious, in 2001.  All I remember is car thief Vin Diesel (aka Dominic Toretto)–his silky voice and somewhat tortured machismo.  After the first five minutes of FF7 I almost walked out because of too many roaring cars and skimpy bikinis. “This is so cheesy,” I whispered to movie buddy as the backside of a race-car flag waver lingers more than once on screen. The truth now: I am glad I stayed for the bumpy ride.

Here is why I think FF7 works:

  1. Lead character Dominic Toretto nails it in a toast with his friends, “To La Familia.” This movie is about a stitched together family of likable rogues who care about each other and yet remain incredibly self-made. Don’t most of us want a family that cares as we individually do it our way?
  2. IMG_5610In FF7, there are many beautiful cars that roar and get busted up and exceed the limits of our imagination. The special effects team filmed real cars pushed out of 12,000-foot high cargo planes. One report said the vehicles parachuted on target 70 percent of the time! You have to love people who work behind the camera and come up with such outrageous stunts. Writer Morgan throws everything into the plot to satisfy our “seen-it-all” movie eyes. It’s one thing to have a car crash through a high-rise building in the United Emirates, but three skyscrapers in a row. Crazy, dude!
  3. Okay, there are so many hot babes in skimpy clothing, but it comes in the PG-13 variety. This is obviously Hollywood’s formula for capturing the male market. But at least Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty is smart and at one point rescues herself and another brainy beauty.
  4. Some of my twenty something friends have a favorite FF7 scene of their former teenage wrestling star “The Rock,” aka Dwayne Johnson. A hospitalized Johnson flexes his muscles to pop off an arm cast and tells his little daughter, “Daddy, has to go to work now.” Some in the audience are maturing with the movie’s characters.
Paul Walker (left) and Vin Diesel in 2013

I won’t tell you the movie’s ending, but it is an appropriate one for Walker/Diesel fans and for the newbies. I will say it resonates with the farewell friendship of the biblical David and Jonathan–just in hot-looking cars.

At FF7’s premiere there were many tributes to Paul Walker. His brother Cody said, “It’s bittersweet, but I think Paul would be proud.” Sometimes, Hollywood gets it right even while making its millions.

If your tastes run toward suspenseful films you couldn’t do much better than selecting one of Walker’s last movies, the PG-13 Hours (2013). It’s about a father going the distance to save his newborn baby during Hurricane Katrina. Walker’s PG Eight Below (2006) is a true story about an Antarctica dog sledder and his incredible canines.

Whichever summer film you choose, may your watching be worth the ticket price. After all, you are bankrolling your future flicks.




Rural Pastor Stories (Not Heard from the Pulpit)

If you vacation with a pastor and his wife you don’t expect to hear about the church back home. After all, your clergy friend is on a much-deserved vacation. Yet, interesting stories surface. Here are a few that were recently told to me by a friend I’ll call “Pastor Jim.”

geeseParty Geese: This is what can happen when a parishioner’s geese get into some fermented corn silage. One day, the farm wife looked out the kitchen window and saw her geese collapsed across the yard. Dead! She thought. Something has poisoned them! No good for food now, the resourceful woman decided to pluck the geese and use the feathers/down for pillows. Afterward, she took the birds to the garbage dump. Hours later while the farm couple was eating their dinner they looked out the window to view naked birds staggering home and honking their woes. What a party! What a hangover!

–Make Room: A family moving from northern Minnesota to an unknown destination ended up in Pastor Jim’s town on Christmas. Their truck had numerous crates of chickens and a goat, plus an artificial Christmas tree strapped above the luggage. Because the priest was president of the ministerial committee he received the knock at the door. A motel room for the family was not a problem, but the livestock was another matter. Thankfully, there was a solution. One of the Protestant churches had an unfinished sanctuary. Its walls and roof were up, but the floor was still unfinished. After a phone call between the clergymen, the family and livestock were settled that Christmas day. Imagine the surprise the next morning when construction workers open the church door and were greeted by chickens and a man milking a goat!

–Landing a Plane: Pastor Jim makes lots of visitation calls. One elderly couple recently was so pleased to have a first-time visit from any pastor they gave him $100. I told him, they didn’t get their money’s worth. But he sometimes goes the extra mile. For example, while visiting one nursing home he found former pilot and Alzheimer patient Mike trying to land an imaginary plane. The poor man was sweating from fear. Pastor Jim sat beside Mike and became his co-pilot as they worked to get the craft down safely. After that, Mike was able to have a nice chat with his minister.

–Sing “Hallelujah”: During one service, the choir sang Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from the back of the sanctuary. Suddenly, an elderly gentleman keeled over. Without missing a beat, the choir director motioned for the choir, still singing, to surround the fallen gentleman and thus provide some privacy. That man died right there, hearing Handel’s music.

banana-split-cake-recipe-strawberries-cherries-walnuts-whipping-cream-cool-whip-chocolate-summer-recipe-better-baking-bible-blogDessert Thief:  One Bible study group Pastor Jim taught ate dessert together after the meetings. During one lesson, an attender excused herself during the study, supposedly to use the restroom. Her real destination, however, was the church kitchen, where she consumed the entire pan of dessert. When one of the Bible study leaders found the dessert gone, she became extremely angry with the thief. Her orders to Pastor Jim: “I want you to tell her she is never, ever allowed to come to our study again!”

Here is the part I like. Pastor Jim replied, “I cannot say that, and I will never say that! She has an eating disorder. She will always be welcomed!”

Amen to that.