Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Skinscraper Jesus

It was a wooden go-cart. Kids down the street had built it; all wood with rope pulleys to turn the wheels.  I jumped in at the top of the hill. Began my descent.  Rope pulleys are not precise, and precision comes with practice.  I careened downhill, pulled the rope and over corrected.  Over the go-cart went taking me along with it.  Knees bloodied and full of black-top.  

In life time and trial scrape away façade so that you’re living skin to skin.  Life with Jesus is like this---He’s both friend and skin-scraper.  At the outset this was my jumbled idea of who God is. Him who created the stars but knew me by name.  Wrathful god with stern standard.  Suffering savior dying for my sin and shame; genie that would do what I want (if I did the right thing).  Top this with the naivete that youth brings; I expected little skin scraping.

Life’s turns come quick.  Slowly I saw how little control I had.  Friends with cancer, foolishness in friendships and fatal flaws that I’d not seen scraped heart against the macadam.  And in that scraping a funny thing happened.  God put on flesh.  He became; more friend and flesh; less religion.  The Skin Scraper was connecting; skin to skin, flesh-to-flesh.  And so it goes on still this wonderful scraping.

"For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Not About The Farting Contests: An Eagle Scout Looks At Girls In Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts filled a hole in my life where manhood was empty.  In the formative years from 13 to 18 I craved maleness in all its permutations; bear hugs to farting contests; mental to physical challenges; moral to bodily growth.  Home provided little of this. Scouting provided most of it.

As a ‘males only’ institution Boy Scouts moved me from timid boy to early manhood.  Even the oath seems gender biased, ‘To keep myself physically strong...’ A co-ed environment would have shaped me differently.  This played out in a thousand ways. 

Guidance: Men don’t easily step into leading in volunteer organizations.  There is something unique in being led by men; and by the jostling together as men as a team.  Boys don’t see enough of this today.  Girls in Boy scouts will change that dynamic; women will take to those leadership roles and the men will step out. 

Camaraderie: You’d be a fool not to see it.  Men relate differently in all-male settings. In healthy settings we joke differently; usually in the midst of serious talk.  A twelve-mile hike in the Sierra or runs up the sand dunes at Port Hueneme elicit male responses.  “You carry that pack like my grandma,” evokes effort and laughter.

Leadership: We met on Thursdays.  Lines formed by rank and patrol. At times the older leadership would cajole the younger less experienced ones as drill sergeant to cadets. Leadership benefited by rank. On backpack trips camp set-up fell to those with lower rank.  Rank has rewards.

Servant Leadership: It’s the flip side. Merit badge skills are learned by men teaching men.  Old scouts scaffold younger scouts in skills---sewing, cooking, first aid, communication and management. Teaching comes by example. On a grueling backpack trip weak-kneed and novice couldn’t handle pack and trail.  The older leaders unloaded the packs from those tired shoulders and strapped them on top of theirs.  Rank has responsibility.   

When my wife goes on women’s retreats chocolates are placed on the pillows. Women sometimes sleep in the same bed. We don’t do that on men’s retreats. Camp cooking would have looked quite different with girls at the grill. Girls on the grill or girls on the trail change the dynamic of Boy Scouts.

(BTW I wasn’t a challenger in the farting contest. I was a judge.)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Church Hunting

“The local church isn’t a piece of the heavenly church—like a tiny chunk broken off a big cookie. Instead, it’s a miniature realization of the whole heavenly thing.”

Searching for a church is like dating to find your spouse.  There are the must-haves, the willing compromises, and the pleasant surprises you hadn’t thought about.  There are mediocre dates and the complete bombs. Then there’s that one church that makes you hungry for Sundays.  Like that first date, the introduction to a church can be online or through a friend; “The pastor’s a Calvinist just like you.”  Once you’ve made that initial connection it’s time for the first date.

There’s the first look; the initial encounter.  How about that building?  Woo-hoo!---or could she use some paint?  The encounter is both cognitive and emotional.  Are you greeted with warmth and a joyful smile?  For some churches the service is like speed dating.  Up front they tell you it is an-hour long service.  Quick music set, collection, announcements, sermon and out the door.  Your eyes meet, you’re connecting; there’s some energy there and…that’s the darn bell again. Speed dating doesn’t allow for depth; neither does the hour-long service.

There are churches that cater to everybody.  First off they have those big comfy theatre chairs (not yet recliners).  Come in, be comfortable; part of the audience, no commitment needed.  Concert seating; concert lighting and in the hall concert coffee.  The pastor’s witty, well-read and articulate.  You ‘learn enough to stay afloat but not so much to rock the boat.’ She’s like the girl with the heavy make-up (lookin great on the outside!) whose goal is to get you to walk down the aisle. 

 A shared heartbeat is crucial.  If being outdoors centers you but she’s hates dirt you’ll have a problem.  The bible should be that heartbeat.  In some churches nobody reads it; the congregants don’t carry them.  We chose a church that has a Bible app on its website; where it is opened and read during the teaching time.  

The sermon is the crux of church.  God has given us a banquet in His word.  We come for the teaching.  We come for worship.  My wife likes modern songs; I lean toward hymns.  The bible says we are to be provoked to good deeds; stimulated, motivated, goaded.  We seek a relationship that affirms us in Christ and goads us toward Christ likeness. 

The first date always takes courage. Church hunting isn’t easy.  It takes time and research.  You’ll have to step out of your comfort zone.  But when you find her---.  Your days become bearable; your steps grow lighter.  She’ll put new songs on your lips; and challenge you with new insights into old truths.  Yes she’ll take your time and money; but oh what a reward.  Once you find her she’ll feel like home.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Why God With Us Matters

Darkness pursues him. Running, running, he can’t keep it up.  His feet stumble; you can see he’s tired.    Darkness will crush him.  Darkness is gaining; the hero is tiring.  His heart too; losing hope.  Alone.  Not going to make it.  Out of the shadows; someone else coming.  Running the same direction.  Running toward the hero.  Running with the hero he shouts encouragement.  They gain strength; darkness lags. 

To persecuted, fearful, world-worn travelers God’s consolation is this, “I am with you.”  The solution isn’t escape from the pain. It is supernatural accompaniment through it.  I don’t fully understand it. But one can catch glimpses.  In the Lord of the Rings when Frodo tells Sam he is going to Mordor; Sam responds, "I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I'm coming with you.” During my divorce I had some close friends that walked through the fire with me.  Barad-dûr, back-stabbing and bitter days are more easily faced when strength is encouraged by---and borrowed from—friends.

We desire lives free from trauma.  That is not realistic Let’s face it. The darkness comes.  If it finds us alone we despair.  God’s heart is to draw near.  The Psalm says God draws close to the broken-hearted.  It is this knowing that this is His heart that speaks to our heart. God who has a name for each star that He created is moving with us through each situation we face.  That is our solace and our delight.  The creator of the cosmos is a refuge for us. 

“Though I walk through the valley…Thou art with me.”  The famous Psalm.  God is not aloof and we are not alone.  That is why it makes a difference.  There is a knowing that God is with you and in Christ He has felt everything.  The pain has a purpose.  God is in your corner.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Noise Breaks Upon Us

So tell me why I should run for cover
At the sound of the coming thunder
All I hear is the cry of my lover, So take your shot, I won’t turn back .   

Some sounds suit the way we live and some sounds jar the psyche.  The wind chimes in their tinkling rhythm kept me awake.  Now I feel their fit with the ocean breeze and night-time fog.  The dog next door barks.  I hear its yelp at six a.m. I enjoy dogs and have no quarrel with the occasional bark. This early I’m in REM and the bark finds its way into dystopian dreams. The ice-cream-man is a universal sound.  The calliope bell, Farmer and the Dell, means popsicles in every neighborhood.  Other easily recognized noises are not so pleasant.

Downtown Pasadena working with Dr. John Perkins (Let Justice Roll Down) Erik slept to the sound of sirens and police helicopters.  In Joshua Tree, near the Twentynine Palms Marine base, local bombing practice shakes the basin.  Late Summer is monsoon season. Hard rains and wind-slanted showers pelt the aluminum bathroom fan alerting us to present storms.  One such storm washed away our front yard, changing ever my response to downpours (Oh, Texas!).

A simple sound; the two-a.m. phone call can change everything.  That same sound mid-morning confirming a new-employer has a completely different tone.  Perception of noises determines my response.  What I hold to and what I let go.  Camping outdoors I sleep terrifically.  Those who fear bugs, bears, snakes and storm won’t find rest in a tent dependent on nature.  Though perfectly secure; when focus is on fear the peace won’t come. 

Noise breaks upon us from the outside-in. May we hammock (resting with full-weight) in the sounds we hear as symphony.  Let us not fear in chaos and cacophony.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Healing From Anger

“Why must you be such an angry young man, when your future looks quite bright to me? How can there be such a sinister plan, that could hide such a lamb, such a caring young man…” Fooling Yourself, Styx

“Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools.”  Ecclesiastes

The vow; to never be like my father.  My father broke things in his anger.  One door in our house had a hole in it the size of my childhood.  His actions at home were often violent.  Even his jokes had a vicious edge. Though I vowed, I didn’t escape.  The anger was now mine.  I carried it forward into adulthood.

I tried to be the nice guy.  A nice guy filled with insecurity and anger.  It would burst forth uninvited.  Discussions became heated debates.  Youthful zeal for good things had a red edge.  I got physically violent with a girl I dated.  Even in the bedroom my passion came with a fury.

There’s a whole lot of anger out there today.  You can read it in the morning paper.  Co-workers consistently complain.  Like the waters of Marah their bitterness affects the camp.  Angry voices and attacks abound.  Peacekeepers are hard to find.  Few Francis’ are out there (Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon).  The waters of anger are not easily stilled.

Oh, that healing came easy!  For me the possibility of peace came in with the Gospel.  Then God hit me hard.  The girl broke up with me.  In that breaking up I began to realize I was broken.  I was all about me.  And the unpacking began.  Years of it.  And the anger slowly peeled back-onion like.  I had to realize what love was.  That I was often the problem.  

We’re eager to be angry.  We’re eager to be about self.  Yet Christ left us this example; “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.”  The long answer involves learning to love.  The long answer means knowing your loved. Years in community with others that love well, introspection and hard questions.  Grace; lots of grace.  That's the long answer.  The short answer is this,  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Monday, August 07, 2017

Finding The Beat When Life Isn't In Rhythm

A "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions" (Anon. 1971, 2537).  Rhythm defined (Wikipedia). 

The strong syncopated drum beat.  Now to figure out the symphony surrounding it.  ‘Tusk’ isn’t just the beat, it’s the chorus. Life gives you a beat.  Not necessarily rhythmic.  Not perfect heart-beat. Not flowing.  The two-a.m. phone call.  The job that’s just a paycheck---and barely that.  The mother that needs to be dropped off and picked up. The family coming to visit.  The E.R. visit that comes with a ticket for admission.  

The plan; go bicycle riding around 8 this morning.  I worked until 11:15 last night.  Eight a.m.; still in rigor mortis.  Nine-thirty a.m.; too late now for that morning ride.  I can’t find a daily rhythm.  An age-old challenge.  Made more difficult with a move to a new living situation.  Strength of desire vs. the practical application.

Now the melody.  The strong elements are in place; usually chosen for us.  Adorn the beat.  So many things I want to get better at; so much to get done.  The beat only allows a small space for an echo; for back-up percussion.

Day-to-day life is more chaotic than rhythmic.  The challenge is to give ourselves grace for the ebb-and-flow and be decisive in setting priorities.  I write, I ride, go to church and enjoy the wife.  These are the chorus.  The pacemaker echoes that keep my heart beating beyond the pounding of life.  The rhythm isn’t automatic.  The rhythm is a wrestling.  As if that were a surprise!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fast Trains and Burning Bookcases

Time picks up speed like a freight train on an open plain.  The move that once was far in the distance now comes barreling into view.  Baggage comes with the move; some things get left behind. Decisions will now be tested.  Some great experiences behind.  New unimagined treasures to discover. 

The word is ‘intentional’, as opposed to ‘incidental.’  My daughter lives here.  For twenty years we’ve met face-to face. Now there’s techno-face time.  One to one in real time is so much better. I have some close friendships forged in this high desert. I’m moving two hours away---two hours driving the worst freeways in southern California. I will fight to be in touch.  Aggressively carve out time.  Intentional bonds last; the incidental slip away.

What furniture are we willing to get rid of?  This is the discussion we had over breakfast.  On the list so far---one armoire, two bookcases and a bed.  Easier to burn it or give it away than to store it.  Since we’re moving into part-of-a-house and storing everything else. Perhaps I can convince the wife to rethink our entire lifestyle!  The average railroad boxcar is about 40 feet long, 10 feet wide and 10 feet tall.  “…Third boxcar, midnight train, destination...Bangor, Maine, Old worn out clothes and shoes, I don't pay no union dues….”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My Life Is In Boxes

My ‘will and trust’ is packed in a box to be placed in storage.  The box isn’t marked.  It’s stored with a bunch of other stuff I won’t need ‘immediately.’ To find it will be like that last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the ark is stored in a crate along with thousands of crates that all look the same.  Or like the joke where two fools find a great fishing spot in the middle of a lake and one marks the bottom of the boat so that they can find it again.  The whole experience is unsettling.  That’s a good thing.

Tent dwellers downsize.  I’m temporarily here.  Campers don’t stay in one place for very long; bad weather and policemen make you move.  I’m moving the book collection, the Vinyl, the CD’s, stamp collection, the miscellaneous paper files and five plastic tubs filled with photos.  I want easy access to this stuff.  Placing it in storage feels like it’s gone. 

The Santa Ana river bed runs through Anaheim and out to the ocean.  A bike path follows the river.  A small city of tents has cropped up along the bike path; wall-to-wall tents next to Angel Stadium.  I don’t know anything about the tenants.  I suspect they can’t afford regular housing.  I suspect they didn’t wrestle with moving a book collection.  One thing we have in common is that we temporarily dwell in earthen vessels.

Change is difficult.  Downsizing can be tough.  But it’s a blessing when the packing and moving is an option and not a necessity; when the new real estate is a bonus and the options are all positive options. I’m not boxing up my life.  I’m boxing up my stuff.  I’m living my life—and that often involves choosing change.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Walking Alongside

Six years walking alongside,
And I have hardly any pictures,
Which sucks,
Because my brain,
Can’t recall,
The richness of these many moments,
Walking alongside.

In Downtown Disney we talked,
 Of walking alongside,
Shared dreams,
Scared hugs,
Because the past,
Was a step-stone to a future,
Walking alongside.

Waiting out a hailstorm
We sat on a bench,
Cuddling, cold,
No place we had to be,
But together,
We’ve faced some hail-storms,
Walking alongside.

Sequoia and Slide Rock,
You dove in,
Positive optimist,
When I’m not,
In cold or in hot water,
Buoying each other up,
Walking alongside.

Beach to desert,
Nightmare two-hour drive,
You moved to marry me,
Leaving comfort zone,
It’s what we do for family,
Now it’s my turn,
Walking alongside.