Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Reason For My Paranoia

“Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why his is right not to sacrifice himself….As for me , I kept silent for one further reason: because those Muscovites thronging the steps of the escalators were too few for me, too few! Here my cry would be heard by 200 or twice 200, but what about the 200 million? Vaguely, unclearly, I had a vision that someday I would cry out to the 200 million.”---Alekandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
There is one key reason for my paranoia. Of the forty books on World Magazine’s Top 40 Books of the 20th Century about half have to do with the failure of government when government exceeds its God-given authority. So it is no wonder that I have such difficulty with Obamacare or even with the new Core curriculum for schools. It doesn’t take any imagination to see America moving that direction (see The Life of Julia).

I’m currently reading “The Gulag Archipelago,” in which Solzhenitsyn describes the horrors of communism. Some years ago I read Manchester’s, The Last Lion—Alone, the biography of Winston Spencer Churchill. History is full of many that complacently follow their leaders into evil and ruin. However in any age there are only few voices willing to say that the prophets lie when they say, “Peace, peace when there is no peace.”

If you followed me around for a week, besides being bored, you would see little evidence of my anti-state, anti-union mentality. It is only inside my mind that I store up these grains for winter. I am fairly certain the storm is coming.

What of it? We are not to be paranoid. We are to be aware. We cannot all be the voice of a Solzhenitsyn. Yet we must be a voice.
“We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to repress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep with us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future.”---from The Gulag Archipelago

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Strong Currents Beneath

A young boy of about twelve years of age I stood on the bank of a river with my parents and commented about how easy it would be to swim to the other side. My parents adamantly informed me that although the river looked calm at the top there were strong currents moving below its surface. I was reminded of this as I took a walk through our local preserve today. Sunday Morongo valley had been hit by a flash flood. The wooden walkway through the preserve was covered with mud. Waterways alongside the walk were now deeply rutted and the ferns which grew straight and tall were gone or flattened. What power there is in moving water!

While hiking in the Grand Canyon in 2012 we were told by a volunteer that they had just fished out the bodies of two Boy Scouts that were playing near the river; a third death of an adult that tried to save them was also reported. I came across the tragic story of Kaitlin Kenney, a 21 year old Colorado woman that was an accomplished fiddler (Colorado Sate Teen Champion) and lover of the outdoors, “friends told investigators that they shared whiskey with a passing group who visited them at their campsite while kayaking. In the days leading up to her disappearance on the night of January 11, Kenney had eaten some of the hallucinogenic mushrooms that she brought with her, but their effects would have likely worn off by the time she walked away from the campfire that fateful night.” There is some doubt as to the mushrooms but an autopsy revealed a significantly high blood-alcohol level. Newspaper stories speculate that she may have got up in the night and fallen into the river.

On every internet news page I pulled up there was a picture of Miley Cyrus on the sidebar. Brant Hansen has a great blog post where he apologized to her on behalf of all adults.

Life looks safe but there can be savage undercurrents that are not initially visible. On occasion the raging waters just suck us out into their vortex. More often than not we fail to heed the warnings from parents, friends and counselors to be careful. “Guard your heart with all diligence,” says the Teacher, “for from it flow the waters of life.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

We Groan Inwardly

There are days we groan inwardly. We may understand our grey mood or it may come upon us seemingly unprovoked still “we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” It is the universal experience of all mankind.

I groan for the woman married last week who I heard say today, “You men all want to get away from your women and go drinking or to a strip joint.” I can only hope her new husband will be better than her experience so far. I ache for those old and bitter that have lost joy and those young and searching that don’t know where to find it. These are minor groanings.

Then there are the groans for those life situations that seem so unfair; the loss of a child, the loss of a mother and the questions that echo down hallways and into bedrooms that are more quiet now than they’ve ever been.

Sometimes the grief just rolls down and our hearts cry with Amos “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” We cry out and pray but justice doesn’t roll on in a flood or even drip in a trickle. Some days these things hit one harder than other days.

On these days I seek solace in the Word or glean from the field of others that have spent time there. I find I am most encouraged through stories and songs of those that have persevered through trials and groaning and come out singing on the other side---or are singing in the midst.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who could be against us….But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

Sunday, August 25, 2013

God's Steadfast Goodness In Parenting

It’s the thing that should have freaked me out most of all. Along with the anxiety I’ve had regarding finances, jobs, marriage, divorce, marriage again and all the rest of life thrown in I find the thing that should have caused me the most fear hasn’t. I stand on the brink of seventeen years raising my daughter and God’s been faithful each step of the way.

The stereotypical picture is that of them handing the baby to you on the hospital steps without an owners’ manual. Some at that point can point to experience---perhaps their parents did a standard job of raising them so that they have a framework. I had no framework. I had snapshots I’d gleaned; other families that did it right, sermons I’d heard and books I read after the initial hand-off. That little fragile package should have sent me into paroxysms of fear.

The daughter just announced to me that she in her first male-female relationship. Today I quake just a little. Not for fear springing from who my daughter is. No, I hesitate because of who I was. All teenage boy with no boundaries.

There are, I confess, some significant past life events where I still question outcomes and providence. Yet in the raising of my daughter God has had extensive mercy toward my feeble frame and lack of framework. It’s as if God has said, “Having proven myself in this small thing shall I not show Myself faithful in the larger things?” Life is full of things that cause me to quake but today the faithful hand of Providence bids me be still and be at peace.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dependence, Pride and Psalm 5

Listen to what I say, LORD!

Carefully consider my complaint!
Pay attention to my cry for help,
my king and my God,
for I am praying to you!
LORD, in the morning you will hear me;
in the morning I will present my case to you and then wait expectantly for an answer.

Dependence doesn’t square neatly with my pride. One of the continual tests since getting married has been our finances. There are a number of factors affecting the money situation. I dragged my wife to a new city which means that to teach she had to establish a new network to get a job. The other is a rental property that is upside down, owned with my ex-wife and a fiscal fetter around our necks. These burdens and day-to-day living are depleting all our finances.

Life can turn on a dime. A teaching job could open up tomorrow. The house could…heck, I’ve no idea how anything good can come out of that situation. All these situations are out of my box, out of my control. So what’s to do?

King David prayed. In the morning, when he finished, he eagerly waited for an answer.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Baptist Preacher, A Rapper And Two White Guys

What does a 60 year old Baptist preacher have in common with a Rapper and two guys that play acoustic guitar? It seems there was a time when older people like myself only listened to music that they grew up with. Travelling in a car with older folks meant stodgy old music. This would have been true for me if my daughter hadn’t encouraged me to listen to her local pop station and “embrace it.”

“I hate rap music. Rap is crap. Rap isn’t really music at all.” These are the comments I hear when I tell my peers that I like Lecrae. “Le-who,” they say. To which I say he’s a rapper. Then it begins. Funny thing is that I was exposed to Lecrae through John Pipers’ Desiring God website. His lyrics are deep; his theology spot-on.

This week Piper introduced me to Shane and Shane. They have been playing for a while but I’ve not heard of them til now. I was moved by the song, Yearn. It’s the prayer we all have. It doesn’t matter which point you are at on your spiritual journey. It’s the cry that Moses had, “If I have found favor in your sight, let me know your ways that I may know You…Show me Your glory.” It’s the common groan we share with all creation. I am dust and clay—but I want to yearn for You. Enjoy.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Friends, Family and Transparency

Unique access to our hearts is given to friends and family members. My cousin celebrated his 50th birthday last weekend. At the party were some relatives I’ve not spoken to since my teenage years. Upon introduction the conversation rapidly sped forward. Though we touched on the trivial there was an ebb and flow from surface to deep as we shared.

It makes me wonder. With those with whom we have connection we can skip decades and start up the conversation as if there’d never been a break. We open up our hearts with ease. It’s surprising we open up at all. We are capable of building such nice walls just as easily.

A teacher of mine (Wally Norling-see the link for more wisdom from Wally) was fond of saying that we should live transparent lives. Talk about a tension! It’s a scary world full of scary people. We want our privacy and our safe little front-yards. To cultivate openness and transparency is counter-cultural. Wait! Weren’t those early Christ followers a little counter-cultural too?

It’s a process; both becoming transparent and being transparent. Because not only does it go against the grain of society but it cuts against the self-protective skin I live in.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The End Of Vacations

There is dissonance in coming home. You have had a hundred adventures in one week. Everybody back home has been doing the same thing they always do day in and day out. People will ask about your vacation. When you begin to tell them that you saw God working or that you saw His power in Creation; a rock slide 100 feet at 500 Cubic Feet Per Second, you get a blank stare. How do you explain that this one week instead of watching television you had reserved seats for the Perseid Meteor shower?

A missionary friend related how a husband had gone to the mission field for a short-term work while his wife stayed at home. When he got home he was exuberant with emotion about experiences he’d had. To her it felt as if he’d had an affair.  Coming home feels like that.

The vacations end but the adventure continues. Whereas it’s great to see God in creation it’s deeper and more real to see Him work through difficulties in the workplace, sickness in souls or struggles with finances. Therein we get glimpses of Jesus’ heart and of those that pursue that same Spirit. These are the places where, as they say, the rubber meets the road.

So we escape the grind of life, the cell phones, the screens and screams to experience God leading beside the still waters. We soak Him in, we find Sabbath rest and allow ourselves to ‘Be still and know’ He is God. If we escaped enough we draw on the week we had while the world was living normal. From that place we are able to engage our culture and encourage them to seek, to know, to “Be still and know.”

Thursday, August 08, 2013

In Line At The Bank: Culture and Personality

Funny what a change in perspective does. I almost laughed. I was at the bank to make a deposit. I stood in line for maybe three minutes. When I got up to the Teller window she thanked me for my patience and apologized for the long wait in line.

My darling wife and I were in Antigua, Guatemala three weeks ago. While there we had to go to the bank to exchange our dollars for Quetzal. It was a Monday and the line went from the Teller counter straight back along the bank wall and then along the back wall until the doorway. We stood in line about thirty to forty-five minutes. When we finally got to the counter we waited another good fifteen minutes until our transactions were completed. Nobody apologized for the wait.

Different personalities as well as different cultures see time and experience differently. Some see everything defined by the clock. Thus one always has to be on time. Meetings start on time and end on time. Get togethers with people are bound by time; “I can give you ten minutes but then I have to run.” Some define life by the experience; by the here and now. Thus when you get to a party is when the party starts. When you stop and talk to someone in the market that is the most important time of the day—not the appointment that you have to be at next.

Guatemalans live much more in the present and the experience as opposed to ‘making the most of their time.’ When you go out for a meal the table is yours until you actively request the check. The waitress doesn’t attempt to shoo you out so the next person can get the table. In my mind it is a more experiential culture which lends itself to person-to-person interaction better than our American culture does.

Since returning I’ve tried to cultivate more of a Guatemalan attitude. I try to not get freaked out by timelines though people push me to do so. That is why I found the encounter at the bank so funny. The wait hadn’t been long. The building was air-conditioned. The Tellers weren’t goofing around—they were assisting other people. Not one of those truly requires an apology. When I got up to the Teller and she apologized I smiled. I told her it was nothing. I was positive and cheery. I hope that gave her pause to step outside of the time pressures of her job and enjoy the moment. That seems the better cultural and interpersonal choice.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Birthday Blessings

A great many people I know have their birthdays in August. My guess is that people with August birthdays are more likely to have celebrated their special day while travelling. Birthdays are cool. Everybody has them. They are unique to families and individuals as well.

During our stay in Guatemala we had opportunity to celebrate with a Mayan family the birthday of their thirteen year old daughter. Juan, the father of this family is discipling many families in the area. The daughter had no idea the celebration was coming. Two beautiful cakes had been purchased in her honor.

I was moved by what followed the singing of ‘Happy Birthday.” Each person in the family, including uncles and grandparents, offered up a pearl of wisdom and a prayer for the young woman. There were deep prayers for her wisdom and counsel for her to heed her parents wisdom. Words were shared regarding having quality friendships and warning was given on the dangers of bad company. The prayers were from the heart and oft accompanied by voices beset with emotion. Tears were shed. Many hugs were given.

It was a sober reminder to number our days ‘that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.’ So often our celebrations are vacuous and hardly worth remembering. This low key celebration was one of the deepest and most significant I’ve experienced.

My heart’s hope is that time can be taken for those August birthdays, and those that follow as does my daughters, is to give thanks to Him who has granted us breath for another year and abundant blessing. Might we learn to give more than a gift card to the ritzy eatery down the street but rather be filled with words which give life to those that give and those that receive.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Taut Muscles And Tan Lines

You may say it’s sour grapes but it’s not. I haven’t seen John in a year. Our paths crossed today. He is looking thin and tan. He said he’s been riding about twenty-miles a day now that he’s moved to the Cayman Islands.

He was one of the top guys running a time-share in Palm Springs. It was bought out by a new company which laid off all the previous management as is usual for takeovers. Apparently John’s new gig is in the Cayman Islands.

If you are like me your first reaction is; “Wow! He just picked up and moved to the islands. Just like that! How marvelous.” But then this thought registered in my brain. How is it that he was able to do that? I couldn’t realistically do that.

My wife’s parents are getting up there in age. We don’t want to be that far from them. My daughter has two years of high school to go. I have a network of people that I hang out with. Even if it were possible I don’t think it would be workable.

I enjoy my present connections. For this season God has placed us in the desert. There’s a great delight in watching my kid navigate High school. There’s hope in watching God lead us in our current careers.

All that is not to say that some day we won’t pick up and move. John’s life doesn’t look like it’s encumbered by these blessings. Mine is---so until God opens the door to Shangri-La our taut muscles and tan lines will be desert gold.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Thinking About Revival

My wife calls it processing. I think about things at work. I think about them on the forty-minute commute in and on the commute home. I started thinking about ‘revival’ today. Revival was mentioned in our small group yesterday which is what got me started.
The dictionary defines it as ‘renewed interest in something,’ and ‘a period of renewed religious interest.’ Spurgeon defines it thusly: The word "revive" wears its meaning upon its forehead; it is from the Latin, and may be interpreted thus—to live again, to receive again a life which has almost expired; to rekindle into a flame the vital spark which was nearly extinguished.

The only Biblical example I could think of is Nineveh. That makes me think that the best way for God to get hold of a people is to have a large fish spew a man onto the beach. Little hope there for the desert city I live in.

Thinking on revival got me thinking on prayer. All my Christian life I’ve wrestled with the way God answers prayer. What if it’s not about the prayer? C.S. Lewis says it’s about the pray-er himself. What if the mix of answers we receive (or don’t) is to keep us on our knees. Maybe the mix is like sandpaper to our thick skin. We are forced to come to terms with the fact that there is no magical formula. We cry out but the result is outside ourselves. If we always got what we asked this would not be so. The same is true if we never got it. So if the answer is to glorify God and draw us to Himself than a holy mix of results is exactly what is called for.

I’m going to keep praying that God spews a man out on the American beach. The hungering and the asking will sharpen me. If there’ll actually be a man heaved up onto a beach or a man dropped onto a farm in Ohio that will be up to God. In some regard the process matters for me. How God gets peoples’ attention is up to God.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Pushing Through The Pain

“ The color of the sky is gray as I can see through the blinds Lift my head from the pillow and then fall again”---Like The Weather, 10,000 Maniacs

And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?---Joshua 7:10

I’ve never felt like an overcomer. I’m more the type of person that sees monsters at the door and decides I didn’t want to go outside anyway. It was one of those days as a teenager that I came across this story in the book of Joshua.

The Israelites go out to war with Ai which should have been a simple victory. Due to sin in the Israelite camp, the Canaanites win the battle. Joshua tears his clothes and falls to the earth on his face. God then gives him this rousing speech and tells him to take care of business.

Christians often have a heart verse that embodies something significant for them; Joshua 7:10 could be my heart verse. There is many a day when life seems daunting. Dreams crash and burn. Foolish mistakes yield foolish results. Most of the time good answers are lacking.

There is a positive side to taking care of what needs to be taken care of. The Proverbs tell us that a righteous man falls seven times but rises. Pushing through the pain allows for God to work in my circumstances.

The victory should have been the Israelites. Joshua saw that but gave up when the battle didn’t go as expected. He cast his heart downward toward the earth rather than looking upward for his help. That is why God was upset. He’d thrown the wrong thing. He threw in the towel when he should have been throwing his hat into the ring.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Outhouses and Toilets

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Nova

Nothing is as common to all travelers as the toilet. I’ve been in many different countries and experienced many different toilets and outhouses. Outhouses have different names; latrine, Andy-Gump, honey-pot and in Boy Scouts we called them Kybos. When travelling through Latvia some years ago there was a wide discrepancy of toilets and outhouses which had no relationship to the toilets’ location. In the opera house in Latvia the toilet was simply a hole in the ground. In French speaking countries and in Latvia the nicer holes in the ground had marked places to set your feet. These were often indicated either by symbol or diagram of a foot. The key of course was to set your foot far enough out from the target.

There are of course Bidets as toilets of which I am not overly fond.  My daughter dislikes anything that doesn’t flush.  Though they have come up with some very nice chemical Honey-Pots in recent years she still will not use anything that doesn’t flush unless there is absolutely no other choice.

Why all this talk of toilets anyway?  I was reminded of the various differences in toilets on our recent trip to Guatemala.  Before we even got there we had a discussion about my previous experience as an exchange student in Mexico, where the toilet was a normal flush-toilet but the paper was put in a trash receptacle next to the toilet and not flushed.  I used the toilet in the Guatemala airport and it was wonderfully nice and clean.  The only thing lacking was a toilet seat but you could still sit on it and flush it.  A great delight!

Where does the waste go?  This is an important issue to date even in my city.  We are switching from Septic to city sewage due to concerns with the groundwater.  At Mercy House in Guatemala they just put in a new outhouse.  The design is very practical and deals with all these toilet issues.  The outhouse is built with a wall separating the liquid (aka Number 1) from solid (Number 2).  Apparently much of the issues re smell and seepage in outhouses comes from mixing the two.  If using the outhouse for poop, the poop is then covered with ash.  After a significant amount of time the waste can be dug up as the outhouse is cleaned and used for fertilizer. 

There you have it---a short post on the joys and experiences of toilets which may seem crass to some.  If you’ve ever had to use the toilet in a foreign country or badly kept gas station stateside I think you can relate---and have some porta-potty stories of your own.