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.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Stagnation Is Easy. Satisfaction Takes Work

“One does not surrender a life in an instant - that which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.” --- Jim Eliott

“In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac

The mountain top and the therapists chair are lonely places. Places where baggage is left behind or stripped away. That avocado green Tourister with the extendable handle and Teflon wheels for instance. The angry self-protectiveness that stems from---where?  The crowd isn’t clamoring to give up the perception of safety. Not hungry enough or hurting enough.

The lie is this; satisfaction will come easy. A glimpse of a thing is not the thing itself. The river is beautiful seen from valley’s edge, but you can’t taste it.  Beautiful but it won’t slake your thirst, clean your face, soothe your feet, shake you awake. Have we always been so naive?  Feeling ‘in love’ isn’t the core of marriage; spilling semen isn’t sex. Rendered skin deep we call it beauty.

Time and self are difficult to give up. Deepening relationship requires both. Stagnation is easy. For now the mountain is a picture on your desktop. Personal growth hurts and leaves hollow. Reward seems nebulous.

We commit to the not-yet tangible. Remind ourselves. Short ascents where we push hard, feel shale and smell pine. At home we’re willing to have those deep, tough talks; play and wine with the mate. We do the difficult work. Sit in the lonely places. Listen in the lonely places. Stagnation is easy; satisfaction takes work.

“In a sense everything that is exists to climb. All evolution is a climbing towards a higher form. Climbing for life as it reaches towards the consciousness, towards the spirit. We have always honored the high places because we sense them to be the homes of gods. In the mountains there is the promise of… something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness, a spirit that soars. So we climb… and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery.” ― Rob Parker

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


We swim in an alien atmosphere. I remember early voyages. Passing through a white, steel gate; walking down a narrow corridor you smell it. Chlorine saturated water steams from wet cement. An adult beckons; parents push. The first step into clear blue water; foot feeling the tension as it breaks the surface, then the other.  Oh, the cold!

I’m not comfortable entering a pool.  My asthmatic lungs seize up with quick temperature change. I can barely breathe. I’m leaving the safety of air and firm footing. One step down; bathing suit gets wet and heavy. Two steps down then hold to the side, hold to the side! 

Grasping tight the pool’s edge over there is a pile of rectangles; like tops from Styrofoam ice-boxes. Bright colors; cherry red and cobalt blue with corners cut-off. For what purpose?

Inside the pool a line of children hold to the edge. An adult towers over us in a red bathing suit. “Pretend you’re in a big bathtub.  Face down and blow bubbles.” Easy. Each is given an ice-box cover. Trembling and terror, we leave the side. Grasping kick-boards we shove out across the shallow end a line of stick men without arms.

The new house has a pool. Neighbor girls hurl us into cold water. The sink-or-swim school. Dog paddles stave off drowning. Paddles turn to superior strokes. What was fearful now’s freedom.  Summer days spent swimming til cool water constricts blood vessels. We turn purple.

We swim in an alien atmosphere. The sink-or-swim school. Bright colors bid us leave the shallow end to the scary deep. Perhaps freedom awaits!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Guilt Is The Thing Missing From The New Testament

The two-a.m. terrors came again last night.  An hour-long window when I’m awake but not energized.  Flashbacks come in that window.  People I’ve hurt long ago.  Venom I spewed not meaning to poison. The poem I wrote to manipulate the girl. The what-ifs run right along pressing in with tangible weight. Palpable pressure in the chest.

Guilt is the thing missing in the New Testament. Peter does not refer to his big blunders. Paul doesn’t apologize for holding coats to give stoners of Stephen better elbow snap. No 12-step program; no making amends to all he’d harmed. Paul’s perfectly Jewish without the guilt!  It’s as though those things have all been set right.  Trajectory changed; no skeletons in the closet. What sets them free?  What’s the skeleton key?

“…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Knowing Christ matters.  Past sins, what-ifs, should-have and shouldn’t have’s out with the trash.  Yes, we make amends.  We seek peace. The past is a place we’ve left; Christ is the future we have.  We live here.  Rejoice in an all sufficient Christ in the present. Those dead skeletons; crucified and buried with Christ.  That’s the truth but not the experience.

Like buried hearts in a horror story they beat their way back. Try fight them off with denial, the fact is we are guilty.  As Spurgeon has said, “Your sins are so gone that they cannot be laid to your charge.” This is what Paul and Peter understood. Cry to God and fight. Cling to what is now a clean slate. Skeletons of the past will reach out to grab hold. Look forward to the future. The refrain is true; the cross has the final word.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Cabinet Keeper

The stubble on his face was razor sharp.  Not his memory.  That was growing soft---not growing really but diminishing. He couldn’t remember what he didn’t remember. Wasn’t sure that what he recalled was ten years ago or ten minutes. Frustrating. He didn’t mean to lash out in anger. Irritation comes as he tries to tether to the old memories and connect with the new.  The rope keeps unraveling before he can tie it all together. Hair and memory both graying out.

 My sister and I have shared the same moments…and we have different memories.  I can access complete experiences if I see a picture. Blocks of my childhood are absent along with chunks through my twenties.  A snapshot or a story will open those files—sometimes. Raising my daughter; full soundtracks and photos filling my personal memory cloud. My brain has archived trillions of tidbits; rock and roll lyrics, Monty Python skits, facts about writers; quotes and quirks—all easily accessed.

Memories are stored in the brain in multiple file cabinets; back of brain, front of brain.  Current events we toss into the back brain cabinet (hippocampus). After a while we give it a manila folder. Every ten years the files are shuttled to front brain storage (frontal cortex). Simple.  Unless there’s a disruption. There’s always a disruption. Current memory must be reinforced; the little file cabinet guy must scribble onto that folder. The folder properly placed in context. To retrieve it the incoming query must be clearly understood; “Okay, brain, find me the actors in eighties movie files.” Over time the little file cabinet keeper gets tired and just throws those memories into a box.

It came time to move him to smaller quarters, the movers were oblivious, the children miffed and mystified. The ‘new’ boxes in den and kitchen were filled with Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs, Hollywood Bowl librettos, miscellaneous mail along with important letters from the IRS, postcards from friends abroad and medical bills. The boxes in the backrooms were neatly organized; photos of grandchildren and family, notes from mom, lists of knick-knacks, tools and finances to be distributed ‘when the time comes.’ Temporary amusements and current finances not held tightly; not filed rightly.  Kinships and clan, close connected friends and things done by hand---these the keeper stores in the strong room.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
 "Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."

Water had hold of his mind. Water; our landlord was convinced one of us was stealing it.  We shared the meter with two other tenants. First came the personal interrogations. He insisted we use the same amount of water as our neighbors though there were three of us vs. single guy and married couple. Then came replacement to low flow plumbing. Rants continued every time contact was made.  Then a list of suggestions such as ‘do laundry once a week,’ ‘hand-wash dishes,’ and ‘limit baths and showers.’ He could have simply raised the rent. Water was available in ample supply; but the landlord didn’t want to pay for it.

My morning shower is a ritual; like morning coffee. The average ‘American’ shower uses 17 gallons and lasts eight minutes.  My wife would have you believe mine take twice as long. Taking my water use out of the equation; the average American uses 80-100 gallons per day. Meanwhile, “Yasmin Dawood is working hard to stick to her limit of 13.2 gallons per day for individuals...”

Cape Town, South Africa is to run out of water in July.  The government is shutting off the supply. The dams are empty. The original shut-off date was April; but through conservation and water borrowing the taps now will go dry in July. Four million people (between the census of 1996 and 2011, the City of Cape Town grew by 45%) scrounging for water. Worldwide, 663 million people lack access to improved drinking water.

 When your ‘small l’ landlord messes with your water you can move.  When the Lord of all withholds water you can pray, utilize your resources and hope like crazy for solution. We can be part of the solution. These 5 non-profits have a healthy focus on water.  Pray with them.  Hope with them. Think of them with your coffee, shower and shave.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Seasons Mundane and Seasons Exuberant

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say,
 “I find no pleasure in them”—

An alpine climber leading summits of Aconcagua and Everest; a couple visiting each National park while living out of their RV; a witty, well published, motivational speaker; and a handful of professional photographers regularly appear on my Instagram feed. This morning I hit the snooze button twice and poured myself two cups of coffee before my morning reading and writing time.  I’ll write words for soul satisfaction only then head off to work that I do for the paycheck….’a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones.’

Autumn’s season sneaks up on her. My 85-year-old mother in law’s mind and muscle don’t respond as quickly as they once did.  Things that were once crisp and clean go hazy.  Eager exploration gives way to tiredness, frustration and afternoon nap. Entropy relentlessly pursues. Staying in bed is easier. TV easier. Decline is gradual.

Life has its’ seasons.  I’ve canoed the Colorado and submitted Whitney. A summer spent working with teens in inner-city Chicago.  Countless road-trips; sleeping under lightning sky and seeing countless shale streaked wildernesses by car.  I’ve quit taco-selling jobs after three weeks; had Summer jobs and jobs to make ends-meet. I expect all seasons to be like those seasons of exuberant exploration.

As axial tilt brings Earth closer to the sun; the choices we make and outside forces spin us throughout the year. We bend toward old age; bodies give in to gravity. This spring will be a different Spring than when I was Thirty. The tension remains. To find pleasure; and so there is a seeking.  To find contentment; and so there is a letting go.