Thursday, October 18, 2018

Luck Has No Face

Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash

You can’t bargain with luck or argue with luck. Can’t go eye-to-eye or toe-to-toe with it. I throw on a favorite jersey, short and that comfortable pair of socks. There are a variety of socks I wear cycling and certain ones I wear most of the time.  Part comfort, part tradition. Here’s an embarrassing confession. Some socks feel luckier than others.

I’m rational. Intellectual. There’s no luck. So why, when my wife says, “Don’t get killed out there,” do I think I’m more likely to die today? How is it that a mug, a shirt, pair of socks, a pen go from utilitarian to idol? And idol it is.

“Who even comes close to being like God? To whom or what can you compare him? Some no-god idol? Ridiculous! It’s made in a workshop, cast in bronze, given a thin veneer of gold, and draped with silver filigree…” Giving luck a hat-tip belittles God and dehumanizes me. When I have a good day on the bike it’s because I’ve trained well. The muscle that turns the pedals, the blood carrying oxygen to muscle, the tires that hold air, the driver seeing me…all God.

Luck doesn’t have a face. Or heart.  I give to it a face like a little plastic tchotchke or imbue it with ‘energy’. How silly. We are impacted, and impact, the living. God has a face; bloodied and scarred. Friends and neighbors; faces all. If it feels like bad luck came calling; deal with the circumstances. When ‘good luck’ happens in bolt or streak; identify the reality of the event. Then celebrate with those individuals involved—face-to-face. Through it all give thanks to the God that blesses and makes His face shine upon us.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Morning Ritual

On working days and vacation days—one morning ritual. The face gets washed; hot water or cold water; soak the hair, brush it out. Small life-affirming ritual I’ve been engaging in for longer than I’ve been drinking coffee. More consistent than brushing my teeth.

Twenty bucks would buy me a new one! It’s a dark black, solid plastic piece that my dad probably bought from a local drug store. Or the Fuller brush man. I haven’t been parted from it—so to speak. Constant for forty-two years. It wasn’t mine. It was dad’s and it worked pretty good for what I needed. My sixteen years-old long hair needed training and dad’s brush was perfect. When he left the house, he left it behind. Must not have been important. Now I think maybe he knew? How do we lock onto these little things?  

In high school and college I carried a comb in my pocket. Always the brush in the morning. Combs disappeared but the brush traveled with me.  My mom’s pink bathroom to a summer in Chicago; the upstairs bathroom in a house full of guys to the strained and cluttered baths of my first marriage. High desert years alone with my daughter to beach side songs with my beloved. The brush has been along for all of it. In suitcases and toiletry bags; on hotel counters to permanent bathroom drawers. Recently I bought another brush for travel—so nothing happens to the good one.

Why this brush?  Does it feel perfect in hand and on hair (weight, smooth plastic, firm bristles that penetrate to scalp) because it is; or because I’ve used it so long. Is it that ‘one thing’ of my dad’s that I own? I don’t know all the answers.

I do know this. Tomorrow morning the sun will rise.  I’ll get out of bed. Pour a cup of coffee. The face will get washed. I’ll put my head under running water. Then I’ll brush it out with the ideal hair brush. Life goes on.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A Hopeful Call

There are two ways to argue.  The first is to use facts and principles to arrive at a solution.  The second is to degrade your opponent hoping that he will just cave under your attack.  For example in a marriage in the first solution you both are looking to solve the problem so you might say, “Going out to dinner isn’t in line with our budget.”  You are using a solid measure; the budget as a principle and trying to arrive at an agreement.  The second argument might sound like, “You are a stupid moron and don’t care about my hunger!”  In this instance the attack is personal and less concrete. I am dismayed in believing that individually and as a nation we are not principled unless the principal is me.

The John Adams quote, “A government of laws and not of men,” is often heard. We are girded under by law, by principles which find their precedent in the Bible. These are principles of truth and logic which have been held to for thousands of years. As a nation when we argue we should seek solid outcomes based on law. Not based on opinion or name calling. As individuals we should seek truth (and peace with all men) via solid basic facts. Our heart and our feelings are not rational determinants of the highest good for one or all.

The heart is deceitful above all things. As Solzhenitsyn says, “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”  We dare not argue without compass or plumb line. Then we may see only our truth and be guided by our perception; not the highest good of other or outcome. We may sink to name calling; and it is difficult nay impossible to improve if you’re being called a dork—What does ‘not a dork’ look like?  Can we do that?

I hope for more. I think we can argue rationally; honestly, and with respect for each other. I have a friend that lives in Berkeley, CA. He believes it’s impossible to argue rationally because people will cite social media and tidbits. I think higher of my fellow man that this. We have the ability to listen to each other and to hear. It’s got to be more than ‘he said, she said.’ There is truth. 

Though constantly saddened by the evil that men do I still have hope. Hope that we will choose light over darkness. That in our striving and arguments we rest on principle, law and the highest good of the other. For law has as its outcome the highest good of man.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Antidote Is Community

Curled up; sorry for self. He lay in his bed. He’d blown through a red light in the company car.  Hit another car; wounded passengers. Put a teenage boy in the hospital. His fault, his mistake. Giving up. Then the phone call came. Somebody needed to talk; somebody else was hurting.  So, he got out of bed. Community gives purpose. Community motivates. Community heals.

Despite the evidence our proclivity is to hide. Like Adam we run from God, we hide from Eve, we hole up. We have so many options to run to. Writing on America’s opiate epidemic, Sam Quinones makes this point; “the drug…makes being alone not just all right, but preferable. I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community.” Studies of mortality consistently show that individuals with the lowest level of involvement in social relationships are more likely to die than those with greater involvement.  One study cites ‘compelling evidence’ linking a low quantity of social ties to physical healing. We must learn to step out when we want to stay in.

We walk into a messy humanity. In church, the local art class, or wherever you go. Community isn’t just rubbing elbows with others it’s going arm-in-arm. But we’re broken. Others more than us, others less. That’s where the beautiful mystery is revealed. When we come alongside each other in that hard season. I’ve had friends walk with me through addiction, through divorce and through parent’s sickness. Friends are there to share my baby’s birth, newfound love and quiet seasons where nothing changes. This is where the healing begins.

It’s been said that we should have as many close friendships as we will need pall bearers at our funeral. And “I’m being placed in an urn,” isn’t a valid argument against community. So that the funeral will come later, so that the wounds will heal faster, so that life will be richer---step into community.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Slipping, Sputtering and Aging

Our mental gearing sputters and slips as we age. Things get muddled. A skinny old lady I know confuses the words genealogist and gynecologist. Granted they’re similar---one looks up your history and one looks up your...

A long life history gets condensed. “It’s from that great little store in the mall,” my 88-year-old Mother in law says.  “We used to pop in there all the time!”  She hands me the battery charger and has me read the product logo---Radio Shack. I inform her that Radio Shack has gone the way of the dinosaur.  Age old events merge with events from last week.

Time-lines shrink so there is only what was and what is---and they connect. A vacation taken thirty years ago is recounted like it was last week. Last week’s adventures have dropped off the time-line altogether. Whatever grey matter tethers time to memory dissipates.  The belts slip maybe or connections misfire.

RAM is disrupted. Roughly 40 per cent of people over the age of 65 experience some form of memory loss. Oddly enough professionals say this isn’t an issue unless you don’t think it’s an issue.  Being cognizant of loss is good. 

“Unfortunately, in most cases, there are no obvious signs a timing belt is near death; it will just break.” For cars you replace the belt before it blows.  We just fray. Experts say routine helps.  An investment in life helps. Both body and brain strengthening exercises.  Then the last seconds; power doesn’t come, engine seizes, body stops with a jar as hitting a wall. Cam, crankshaft collapse. “Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and terrors on the road…For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Dreams, Goals, Shot Glasses and Shakespeare

She spun the glass in small circles. Amber fluid, amber table, amber lighting. He lifts his glass to his lips; less to drink than to think. Sets it down. His heavy mug, her petite shot-glass. He leans in. The band plays the bridge.

“Do you dream?” he asked. 
“Not much I remember. Mostly black and white.”

“Daydream?  If we weren’t here…Where’d you want to be? If you could be…”

Her turn to drink. “You gonna eat those fries, mister?” Eating the fry like a professor using a smoking pipe. “Don’t know. Travel, teach….” Shoulder shrug. “The business, the bills…You? Why?”

“It’s just; there’s gotta be more! The poets and the Instagram people; Acuff, Goff. Different leages? Different card hands?” Speaking of hands; raises his, flags down the waitress. Downs his drink.

“Before this,” she takes a long swallow. “Before this I thought I’d save the world. Make a dent. But it’s hardly a dent. Maybe a ping; if that’s a thing.”

“I think it’s Shakespeare, “The pings a thing to catch a king.” She rolls her eyes. “So if God’s as big as we say; what if?  Is this it?  Should there be an ‘after this?’ Or a ‘during this?’ If so; then what?”

“So does more...?,” her voice trails off. “What does more look like? Is it inside us?  Outside?” She stretches her legs out straight, leans back into the chair. A horn honks in the street. The band plays a new set; saxophone heavy.

“Maybe we’re to constrained; to adult, to serious,” she says. “What if we stretched…? He raises his eyebrows. “Stretched one thing, risked one thing towards dreaming this week?  Worst case…more hop in our step. So? What’s your goal?”

“Stay alive. Then; I don’t know.  Is praying a step?”

“I think so,” she said.  “As long as you’re moving.  Standing still’s not a step.  Unless you’re listening---then it's a step.”

“Praying’s my step then.  Yours?”

“I’m going to research world-changing agencies!  I’ll share Tuesday!”

“Til Tuesday then,” he says stepping outside with a small hop in his step.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Straw Men and Image Bearers

"The easiest thing to do is throw a rock. It's a lot harder to create a stained glass window."...Jon Foreman, Switchfoot

Straw men garner all our attention. Easier to argue with the label on the lapel than the flesh and bone man inside it. Christian, gay, liberal, Nazi, white, black, homeless we categorize each other. Blind to the Imago Dei; the image of God in you I see myself as a little god and strip you of your humanity. No matter who you are. No matter what you say. Both the transient and the man living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

I have more rules about people than Seinfeld. I judge on the image presented instead of image innate. Seeing all people as image bearers means constant reorienting. My prejudice submits. I consider you more important than myself. When we disagree I don’t call you names.  I seek to understand your point of view.

Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett offered a good rule of thumb: “Until you can state your opponent’s view so well that he himself says, `Yes, that’s what I believe,’ you aren’t ready to debate him.” That takes work and a willingness to listen. More difficult still a willingness to change, or adjust, your view. Its easier to mouth mantras spoon fed to us. Having a different view doesn’t make you less human.

Where to begin? The people across the street with the ‘vote no’ on my yes issue? The coworker that baits me with political talk? The unfortunate that I exchange nods with down by the river? It starts where I live. Extends to wherever I go. All people are created in God's image. There’s a parable like that. Turns out everybody’s my neighbor.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

In The Waiting And The Hoping

Putting life on hold for seven years is a death sentence when you’re fifteen. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel….” Hope is tied to waiting. We wait because we expect an outcome. We save money (hoping). We exercise (hoping). We do chemotherapy (hoping). Jacob waits (expecting).

Probabilities differ. The outcome isn’t assured---hence hope. Money into stocks is a safe bet. She’ll get pregnant. You’ll get hired. Nobody’s hiring. Housing market implodes. Baby doesn’t come. The cancer doesn’t go into remission. Jacob had the sure bet, right? 

Waiting is wired into process. The process has purpose. We want instant. Character grows in the waiting. Jacob for Rachel, Israel for the promised land, mother for baby, the new car, the retirement. In the waiting God is working.

“Put your hope in the Lord,” is a continuous cry in the book of Psalms. In the desire, in the stretching, in the asking, during the doubting this is what God longs for.

The sweetness of the prize colors the waiting.  Jacob opens his eyes in the morning and... it’s Leah!  Laban lies!  Jacob agrees to work seven more for Rachel. One could grow angry and bitter in such circumstances. Yet the story says that it was to Jacob as a few days because of his love for Rachel. How sweet is our prize?

In difficult days and long seasons let’s check our hearts.  Are we hoping in God? Is our prize worth it? Changed for better or becoming caustic? Morning light may startle us with different realities.  With eyes on the prize we’ll look back and see. Our waiting was but a few days.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Burning Bushes, Revival And Rest

Vacation week couldn’t come fast enough. I arrive at this week tired of working.  Tired of people.  Tired of me being tired of people. Tired of all the little things that bug me when they shouldn’t.  But they do. Road-tripping to Utah. Leaving humid beach-cold for dry summer hot. Hoping God would speak. Looking for revival.

No burning bushes. In red rocks, in rushing water, slot-canyons and slick sandstone God’s work is evident. My soul finds rest in nature as always. Replenished joy in desert driving; long talks with the wife. Coming alive through stair-stepping hikes and slow-river walks on slippery rocks upstream. Heat feeling good. Invigorated but not energized for work; for people, for little-foxes that spoil the vines.

Home through arid one-grey-colored desert to attend the sons’ Indian-themed engagement party. To see on my newsfeed that Anthony Bourdain is dead. A post on Facebook tells me cancer took a high-school friend. The miracle of dating; the dire end of depression.

My father had his dark days. He once told me that sunrises motivated him to live. I am fortunate to delight in sunsets (sunrises come too early) and the glories of nature. Laughing with family and friends is a well of the purest water for me. This confluence wets my tongue for more of life.  No burning bush?  Perhaps the fire was there all along.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

This Ache For Home (This Is A Far Country)

You might say it was just a house. I saw it as hope for life-long connection; for community. We bought it with the hope of first marriage; the efflorescence of daughter. I put in sprinklers and planted a little lawn. Walked to school with the five-year old. Got a dog; black and white Australian Shepherd, Collie mutt. The neighbors from around the corner brought over cookies.  The neighbor next door complained about the dog. The grass grew; daughter too.

We had birthday parties in the backyard; Spongebob Squarepants and reptile themed. Invited the cookie-givers children; all three. The daughter played with two boys from down the street that brought their parents. Summer days we’d pull up the cheap plastic chairs and chat in each other’s backyards.  In my heart I thought I’d found it---constancy, Americana, neighborhood, a place of permanence.  I was wrong.

It all frayed at once.  The threadbare marriage showed jagged tears.  The two boys houses down moved North with their parents. A kindred had formed with the cookie clan but job loss here meant a new job elsewhere. With the marriage barely intact Providence thrust us out of the house, out of the area and into a place we did not know.

So it goes. This hunger for permanence and place remains. A perceptible ache that is always there below the surface.  This ache for home; for that far country. For we wander “in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground,” til we finally, God willing, come home.