Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Edgy Gospel

“My father left my home when I was young, so when I was introduced to the concept of God as Father I imagined Him as a stiff, oily man who wanted to move into our house and share a bed with my mother….” Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

Edgy: adjective; having a bold, provocative, or unconventional quality .

Mine is a unique age whereas those that I once considered edgy now seem status quo. Certainly I see through a clouded lens. Edgy isn’t measurable. There are variables. I am now familiar with those I considered edgy. The teachers I grew up with are now older, many being in their seventies and eighties (Swindoll, MacArthur, Sproul). Age sometimes smoothes the edges off---teachers, pastors and pundits not being immune.

What I am not saying (Lord keep me from thinking this) is being different and unique for the sake of standing out is a good thing. What I am saying is that using new media, a fresh writing style or balls out speaking style to challenge people in their complacency is a good thing.

Truth and transparency are edgy. Those that are seeking to grow and go deeper will respond to truth in a medium. They are used to hearing, “blah, blah, blah, status quo,” over and over. When somebody comes and speaks truth they will hear it. For example look at this text from Acts, “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” The message penetrated because it was seasoned with truth and transparency.

The challenge I face as a communicator and that we face in proclaiming truth is to be not only relevant but thought provoking. God doesn’t fit inside a box. Neither should the way we present Him.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Scheduling and Serendipity

Shhh---I’m writing this while the wife isn’t here. Don’t tell her I miss her. She’ll probably feel funny about it…

Since our marriage she has been substitute teaching. Two years she has been able to adjust her schedule. Two years she has worked less than five days per week. The first year she decorated and rearranged the house—numerous times. She made dinner---numerous times. And for the most part when I arrived home from work, there she was to greet me with a kiss and a hug. These two years have spoiled me.

The wife has landed a full-time teaching position. This is a great thing for her soul. She delights in teaching; ala Chariots of Fire, when she teaches she ‘feels His pleasure.’ An added boon is the additional paycheck which will provide necessary breathing room. Getting the contract has been an answer to prayer.

We have to rely on more planning and less serendipity. To avoid the temptation of fast food we plan our dinners. Calendaring is crucial not only informational. Scheduling time with the teenage daughter demands flexibility and forethought. Planning date-nights and weekend getaways allows both spouses assured connectedness and passion.

Even in the good things its easy to slide and let gravity and life drive us---usually to the couch and television. Making time for the important things will take a little more energy. The payoffs both short term and long term are worth it. Still I miss those lazy weekday afternoons...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Travels of The Trunk-Lidija's Demise

Two things cause people to perish; lack of vision and lack of community. Grandma Lidija moved into her small apartment alone. Having spent the previous years raising her granddaughter and caring for the horses, dogs and house she now had all day to herself. That is the thing we often say to ourselves, “If only I had all day to myself.” We fail to understand that ‘all to ourselves’ is a death sentence.

The walks started out as a good thing. Grandma would walk to the mall or to a local restaurant. She would spend mornings exercising and exploring the local community. My mother and I would drop by her house to find it empty but she would return for lunch and would touch base. The walks went from fit to fugue. She would take walks and forget how to get home. She would take walks and forget lunch and dinner.

I had a number of dogs growing up. Once in a while they would dart outside in search of adventure. On occasion we were forced to walk around the block yelling the dogs’ name over and over; widening the search until the dog came running or returned home. This is what we ended up doing with Grandma. The occurrences increased and the anxiety mounted with each experience. Gradually it became obvious that Grandma needed to be taken care of. So we moved her into a facility.

I vividly remember her last years as her mind slipped away along with her health. The grandma that fed hay to horses and ran a household now spent hours in a wheelchair.

Grandma was raised Lutheran and her church experiences impacted her worldview. Somehow my conversion to Christianity converged with her early experiences and when I would visit she oft mistook me for a priest. I would spend hours with her and she would often request that I “lead her to the blessed hope.”

She was ushered into that blessed hope in her 92nd year. Her belongings, boxes, books and letters were all ushered into my mothers’ garage. So it was that my Grandma Lidija and the travelling trunk finally found their rest.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Travels of the Trunk Part 1-Grandma Lidija

In my memory it was always there like the linoleum in our kitchen. Truly it could have arrived, filled with books and papers, after grandmas’ death. It sat in our garage for years; out of the way, under the work table. It wasn’t practical to hold onto the thing but it seemed wrong to get rid of it. It was afterall the trunk that carried everything my grandfather, grandma, mom and uncle owned. It was the trunk they carted with them as they fled Latvia eventually ending up in the United States as sponsored immigrants.

My grandparents Lidija and Augusts Mitrevics were famous actors in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Sensing and seeing the effects that the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty would have on Latvians the family fled. Obtaining sponsorship while waiting in a refugee camp my grandparents took up residence in Connecticut where my grandfather worked as a janitor. Grandpa does not live in my memories; dying while I was still a child of four years old.

I remember Grandma Lidijas’ apartment in North Hollywood with its’ wood floors and the stand that held the black and white television ever broadcasting Days Of Our Lives (Like sands in an hourglass…). A visit to Grandma’s meant Hershey’s mini-chocolate bars. If my sister and I were really fortunate there would be “Roommates’ Bread.” I don’t remember the roommate yet she got credit for making the bread. Roommates’ bread is a traditional Latvian sourdough rye whose real name is Saldskaaba Maize, which I will go out of my way for even today.

Some years later Grandma Lidija left the invisible roommate and went to live with her son and his wife aka Uncle Ed and Aunt Audrey. They bought a house in Shadow Hills with horse property and a dog. These were soon followed by the appearance of my cousin Tiffany. While my aunt and uncle worked Grandma’s days were full. She took care of the horses and raised my cousin. In my mind life went along like that for my grandma many years. Life changes and dreams evolve. Ed, Audrey and Tiffany took up their trunk and moved to northern California. My grandmother gathered her belongings and that infamous trunk and moved into a small apartment in Woodland Hills. This was the beginning of the hard years for Lidija--- to be continued tomorrow.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Be Kind

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”---Ian Maclaren, author and theologian

Some face the battle head on. Some go AWOL hoping it will just disappear. Many fail to recognize it exists; instead they tell you life is just moving on from one big party to the next. Many of us have spent our time in each camp, even returning from leave to fully engage again and again.

Being kind seems like an easy assignment. For those gentle souls that recognize they are in a battle and are being hammered by life it is easier to be kind. The difficulty I have is with the many that choose to be bitter and angry. Worse still are those that pursue evil. There is an arrogant evil where individuals and groups prey on the poor and the helpless, widows, orphans and strangers. Faced with hearts cauterized by evil my gut reaction is to war with them—not recognizing that the war lies elsewhere. Still “Be kind” is the command, “Be kind to all”that“they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

So it is incumbent upon us that see clearly to be kind. We that understand the fight, yay, some of us have suffered some serious wounds. We have seen evil wielded and been slapped by darkness. The battle is difficult for all. Kindness is one weapon in our arsenal.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Peace I Will Both Lie Down and Sleep

All I can remember of the dream was a girl going off to school, something about kissing and a 70’s model muscle car parked at the curb. Yet something about the dream triggered in me some serious angst. All morning long I felt these strong troubling emotions about mistakes I’ve made in the past---in life at large and in relationships. Not knowing what else to do I prayed and quoted scripture.

In my spirit I perceived it was spiritual warfare. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis we make two mistakes along these lines: We dismiss these instances as having to do mostly with what we ate for dinner and watched on television or else we ascribe everything to an attack of the enemy.

I have had similar instances of the same mental and emotional trauma related to my past. It is a ridiculous path to travel down because on its face there are only two paths; to change the past or to wallow in guilt and shame. Fortunately in Christ neither path is necessary. I simply grabbed hold of the fact that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. On top of that, the icing on the cake, is the promise that even the worst of paths God has promised to use for His glory.

The dread feelings of that morning slowly abated as I prayed and praised throughout the day. The rest of this week both sleep and waking have been better for as the Psalmist says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

The High Cost Of God's Holiness

Conceived in violence and through a king’s abuse of authority the child was marked from inception. God says to the king, “the sword shall never depart from your house because you have despised me,” and “by this deed given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.”

It was not the type of behaviour expected from a military leader and Type A commander. The text reads, “Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house…” We know the rest of the story. David sees Bathsheba bathing and determines to have her. Have her he does. The first consequence is hammered out in three words, “The woman conceived…” David has her husband, Uriah, struck down by sword. God parries in return. Despite David's fasting and prayer the baby dies.

“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” God’s desire to be seen as holy, pure and set apart is also seen in the New Testament. When Ananias and Sapphira are struck down after lying to the Holy Spirit God is purifying the early church. A bad beginning would mean an infancy giving occasion to blaspheme. Better to strike down this couple.

In this present age of grace it is so easy to give occasion to blaspheme without dire consequence. I sat at lunch today with some fellow co-workers. One turned to me and apologized for the gossip I was about to hear. Then she spoke to the others about a woman committing adultery, “I can’t believe she was banging him. It wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t so very religious. She even says she can only listen to God music.” So the same God that struck down David’s son puts up with rebellion because of the blood of His only Son.

In Psalm 51, penned by King David, he cries out for God to, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness…For You do not delight in sacrifice…You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Our blaspheming acts of rebellion may give others opportunity to mock the most high God. Doing what King David could not do for his own son God does through Christ. The sword which we deserve pierces the King---and His own children live forever.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Deck Chairs And Death

Though happy for her I think this change will kill her. The Service Deli manager announced today that she is retiring next month. Beyond that she sold her house and is moving from the high desert in California to Nashville, Tennessee. This is a woman whose pride is that she never missed a day of work and was only late once. She’s been in the business since high school. Her husband passed last year. I hope I’m wrong but the statistics bear me out.

According to an article in Freakonomics, early retirement is “bad for your health.” “The study showed that for every extra year of early retirement, workers lost about two months of life expectancy.”

I know that after my dad retired I watched him slowly decline. Though it can be argued that health issues played a large part I saw him lose joy in living. He gave up music and his beloved photography and simply sat around the house. Had he worked longer and not retired at 55 I think he would have remained more agile in spirit and thought life.

One can’t help but think of John Piper’s illustration from Don’t Waste Your Life. He tells the story of a retiree who walks up and down the beach in his Bermuda shorts throwing stranded star-fish back into the surf. His life isn’t invested in anything that matters. Having that investment can be life saving.

I can’t cite statistics but gut level it seems investing your life in a cause greater than you will keep you alive. One of the elders at our church says he’s busier now than he ever was when he was working. I suspect his vision for the church and the energy he expends will add years. It’s the retiring to the armchair or the deck chair on the beach that will kill you early.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Four Key Components To Happiness

In the country song, Letter To Me by Brad Paisley, the author writes to himself as a teenager offering his young self advice. One wishes such a thing were possible. So what would be the next best thing?

In 2011 David Brooks of the New York Times published “The Life Reports.” In these reports readers over seventy years of age evaluated their lives. As summarized by Readers Digest there were key themes cited by “his happiest respondents.” These four key themes are; resilience, commitment to family, predilection to risk and realization that life gets better decade by decade. Readers Digest notes that, “by their 60s many contributors had found their zone.”

For me these are byproducts of faith in Christ. Yet we all know people of faith that mirror none of these traits. So it must be something else. These key components of happiness are not easily distilled. We can define resilience as bouncing back when you are knocked down. How does one come by that trait? A sense of humor plays a part as do tenacity---and some aspect of hope.

How is predilection to risk a good thing? Seems rebellious and counter-culture at best. Is that the type of person we should be? It seems the message these seventy-somethings are giving to us is to live a life without asking, “What if?” Right? I’m guessing that the more you are willing to risk (which is a huge range from asking that cute girl out to climbing Everest) the less regrets you will have when you are older.

These are some deep waters. Brooks spent significant time in his blog exploring these numerous responses. The challenge to us lies in pursuing these keys to happiness. The pursuit will look different for each one of us. Pursue we must for we can not forego such deep time-forged wisdom. We’ve got to risk it—It is after all one of the keys to happiness.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dignity Always Dignity

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.

I've had one motto I've always lived by: Dignity. Always dignity."—Singing in the Rain

I was twenty something years old and working as a bank teller. A woman that had just had facial surgery approached me. Her face was covered with gauze; what wasn’t covered was battered, black and blue. I processed her transaction all the while treating her as I did every other customer. At the end of the transaction her eyes connected with mine and she said, “Thank you for looking at me.”

At the age of sixteen I was on a bike ride up the coast from Santa Barbara to Solvang, California. At one point on PCH there were a number of storm drains grated the same direction as the road. My bicycle wheel dropped into one; stopping my bicycle and throwing me over my handlebars sans helmet. I stopped ten feet later. My septum was deviated, my face and shoulder looked like hamburger. After a couple of days of healing I returned to high school. For a week I heard, “What happened?” For a week I was exceedingly aware of the face I presented to the world.

James recently developed a cyst by his ear. The cyst grew to envelop the entire side of his face. Being on public insurance it took him a while to be able to get treatment for it. When they finally did operate they had to shave his head and cut him open from the top of his head to his neck. They removed the cyst but left a bag of skin where the growth had been.

James did not want to leave his house. He has been subjected to people who in their own discomfort have said things to him like, “You look like you have Cerebral Palsy. What’s wrong with you?” People have treated him as a leper. Still he manages to find the courage and strength to leave his house and lead his life.

Christ’s healing for the leper was two-fold. First He touched him, then He cleansed and restored him. If we have health and look normal it is a blessing. May God always give us the grace to look—and see the person underneath the skin. Dignity, always dignity.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Would Mom Use The Internet?

Mom owned many cookbooks and had a lifetime subscription to Sunset magazine. What she did not own was a microwave. She wasn’t big on current technology. She finally conceded to an answering machine which she never used. If you wanted to talk to her you needed to call, let the phone ring ad infinitum, hang up and call again. All that makes me wonder if mom would have used the internet.

I am in search of a recipe for a jerk rub for fish. Unlike mom I have few cookbooks that would contain such a recipe. The wife had suggested I seek out recipes on the Food Network. So search I did. The Food Network must have been infiltrated and broken up because I could not access it at all. Mr. Google sent me to a place called Yummy---a place I was eager to go.

I understand my moms’ bent well. A child of the 60s I prefer ink to apps, books to Kindle. Most walls in my house support a bookshelf. Logically a Kindle would make great sense for one that reads so much. And I suspect that I will convert at some point. I do in fact get most of my news online.

Nah. Mom would always be more comfortable with ink. There’s something innately satisfying about scribbling, “good,” or “Christmas, 1985” in a margin as opposed to an electronic earmark. That being said, I’m adding ‘Yummy’ to my internet favorites list.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Personal Growth Is a Three-Fold Process

Where does the Professor who is top in his field go for advice? It seems that he must both be surrounding himself with peers that wrestle with ideas and theories and he must be constantly reading. Ever reading and wrestling seem the only way to keep from growing stagnant.

Becoming Christian in California spoiled me. I had multiple opportunities to listen to the best of Bible teachers both live and on the radio. Attending seminary and church gave additional chances to soak in scripture. My wife had similar experiences in Huntington Beach. Having been raised in such fertile soil we desire this depth all the time. Though a great desire I am not certain it is a good goal.

If we are diligent there comes a time that we will cease to be students and become peers with our teachers. At that point we mustn’t bemoan the fact that there is little new to challenge us. We must take it upon ourself to seek out those with like hearts. We must cry to the Creator to answer that deep longing in our hearts. We must continually expose ourselves to those that have gone before as well. Though they be dead their thinking will most likely have gone deeper than ours ever will.

The challenge then falls upon our shoulders for depth. In that seeking we will also become the teachers. So growth is finally a three-fold process, reading, wrestling and teaching. It is therein that we find our fulfillment.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ocwen And The Loan Modification That Wasn't

Ocwen’s motto is, “Helping homeowners is what we do.” I suspect the motto is true for the small percentage of homeowners that fit Ocwen’s desired profile. We didn’t. The house in question is no longer lived in by me due primarily to a divorce. We now rent out the property which has two existing loans on it. The house is worth less than the amount of the loans. We are, as they say, upside down.

I prayed very much about the house as it is a large financial burden. Based upon significant counsel the first plan was to do a short-sale. However the banks desire that first you try a loan modification. To be eligible for a modification the first thing you have to do is miss a payment. We did that. We then applied for a loan modification with both Ocwen and Wells Fargo. Then it begins; the banks assign you a representative that tells you what hoops you have to jump through. For my ex this meant creating a P&L statement. For me the paperwork was easier. None the less we filled out all the paperwork and set up numerous phone calls with each banks representative. Each one would tell us the next step and then schedule a follow up meeting. This process went on for over six months.

For over six months I dealt with the banks and with the ex-wife attempting to get a loan modification. In one of the last phone calls with Ocwen our representative, that has a significant Indian accent (I believe the calls are all outsourced), informed us that I needed to sign over a quit claim for the property to my ex wife. I told him I would need to check with my attorney and my CPA before making such a commitment. He scheduled a follow up call. At the follow up call I advised him that I was not going to quit-claim over the property as there were significant tax and liability issues associated with it. He barely blinked (this was the sense I had) before saying that this was okay and the loan modification would now be looked at in-house by Ocwen rather than attempting to go under the government program. He said that he felt positive about the outcome. And…we scheduled another follow up call for one week later. I was certain we would finally hear the outcome or the bank would request our first born. Meanwhile Wells Fargo continued a similar process on a smaller scale.

Both loan modifications were denied. We were informed by both banks that they would have been approved had I been willing to quit claim the house over to my ex-wife. Shortly thereafter I spoke with a property attorney. Apparently the rigmarole we experienced is common. The outcome is usually the same.

The law states that a bank cannot foreclose if you are in the process of a negotiation. The minute that Ocwen informed us that the modification was denied they put us into foreclosure.

Had we been residence of the home we would have had a better chance for the modification to go through as we would have had we still been married. We were neither.

Throughout the process loved ones and I felt that God was leading though it was only one step at a time. Thrown into foreclosure the ex fought against a short-sale though it seemed the logical next step. God graciously provided the funds to pull it out of foreclosure. Our plan now is to hang onto it in hopes that property values go up enough soon enough to sell it via normal channels. So it is that we are back at square one less some fees and penalties and a slight ding on our credit score. We didn’t fit the homeowner paradigm; and this is the story of the help we got.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Time For A Paul Simon Revival

It sounds a lot like folk music. If you turn on a popular music station you will hear music by Fun, Need To Breathe and Mumford and Sons among others. If you grew up a around the Baby Boomer generation much of it will sound familiar to you. Listening to a Fun song the other day I thought to myself that Paul Simon had come out with a new song.

I asked my daughter if she knew who Paul Simon was. Nope. Which is why I think it’s time for a Simon and Garfunkel revival. I recently bought the Best Of collection. Just was in one of those moods. Listening to it on a recent road trip I realized that much of it is good poetry set to music.

In high school I was the guy that listened to the lyrics when everybody else was listening only to the guitar. There’s still a dissonance there. The music may be terrific but often the lyrics or the subject matter are horrible. (This is a general principle: There are bands that I love for the music; I’ll listen to Cashmere almost anytime, anyplace for instance).

All you parents with teenagers it’s time to join in the revolution. Give your sons and daughters their music gift cards this season so they can buy whatever they want—but tell them they have to purchase at least one song by one of those old folk musicians.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Ode To Vampires On Labor Day

Vampires don’t attend backyard barbeques. They like a blood-red steak just like the next guy. Sure, they find the garlic mashed potatoes repulsive and opt instead for a plate of beets. Food isn’t the reason they don’t drop by carrying a salad. Backyard bbqs take place in the daylight which is when vampires get their sleep on.

Vampires aren’t the only ones that won’t be making the Labor Day barbeque today. Medjool dates are ready for picking this week (traditional harvest is the first week of September) and the local farm workers in the Coachella valley will be out harvesting. Those of us in retail will be working this weekend. Highway patrol and police officers may be busier than normal working round to clock to secure the community so that those that can’t handle their own personal celebrations don’t ruin ours. It’ll be tough to make your party but we may drop by when we get off work.

Like the vampire our eyes are blood red. We don’t sleep eight hours and we don’t sleep in on weekends. Ours is the 3 am shift, the midnight shift or the long weekend. Like the vampire’s reflection we’re invisible to most everybody. Still we are there lurking behind the scenes.

So I sing a song to those that rise up from bed in the darkness; to those who celebrate lunch as the sun rises. Revel in the mystery of the store shelves stacked to fullness; of the full storehouse at the fast food restaurant (a curtsy to the couriers and truck drivers). Tonight while we sleep they rise in the darkness. Yet whilst the vampire’s life is made full by the blood of his victims these invisible workers give us of their own blood and sleep.

Wait! There’s the moon! The casket opens, the blood flows, another day begins.