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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Steps of Abraham

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

And Abraham got all his ducks in a row and went out.  Nowhere is that written.  Then I’ll go out; then I’ll move.  Nope.  We don’t operate that way.  Having the ducks lined up would be proof; would be safety, would be easier.  God doesn’t operate that way.  Convinced of the call we’re moving forward.

“And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”  It’s that step-by-step thing.  God only gave Abraham enough information to get him to move.  There is a sense that we are doing the right thing.  The wife grew up in that house.  It’s her old stomping ground.  It’s alien territory to me.  

We’re moving in with my mother-in-law to provide her support.  We are moving west, from desert to ocean, big house to shared house, wide open space to elbow-room, desert quiet to city hustle, five restaurants to a million eateries.

Looking backward one can see the closed doors. There was the church small group that wouldn’t materialize—though we talked to pastors and placed phone calls. An odd loosing of personal connections. There’s been a gentle severing of ties to all but our closest of friends. One wonders if doors closed for Abraham or if he just woke up one day and shut them himself.

Though the call be from God the sweat required is ours. The house has to be boxed; storage planned, some storage rented.  We have to find jobs in the new location.  Then the actual move.

It can be overwhelming.  Did Abraham’s thoughts whirl in his head in the middle of the night?  Did hearing the call and knowing the Caller make a difference?  For Abraham, it was still a step-by-step process.  So it is for me. “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me, He was a stranger in this land, and I am that, no less than he.”  The same star and same God that created them is the same God that led Abraham. The not-knowing is unsettling. The following is part of a grand adventure.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Some Tools To Battle Anxiety

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?...Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 

Anxiety: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill. 18% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.  One out of every 5 people you know—and everybody that I know.  We all experience anxiety.  We experience it in different degrees with different reactions.  For some, panic attacks completely debilitate.  I want to turn and run. How do we deal with it? 

The issue is doubly troubling for a Christian.  We’re told (commanded, not encouraged), “Be anxious for nothing.”  We are not to fret, fear or be anxious.  If for no other reason than the one given by John Piper---our anxiety makes God look bad (a lack of trust in His consistent goodness towards us).

Problems at work have me afraid of being fired.  Of failing.  Of not performing well in other’s eyes.  I have friends walking through similar experiences. What am I learning?  How to best walk through this?

It’s a perception problem.  Perhaps the data isn’t being interpreted correctly. Like Elisha’s servant what I perceive as reality isn’t correct. I am reminded of the words of Jim Elliott, “Remember that the shadow a thing casts often far exceeds the size of the thing itself (especially if the light be low on the horizon) and though some future fear may strut brave darkness as you approach, the thing itself will be but a speck when seen from beyond. Oh, that He would restore us often with that 'aspect from beyond,' to see a thing as He sees it, to remember that He dealeth with us as with sons.” 

I see the problem but don’t allow for a solution. Years ago, in the midst of my divorce my car died on me.  I needed a car and had little money.  Enter anxiety. The local dealership had a used Saturn with manual transmission that nobody wanted to buy.  I ended up with a vehicle in better shape than the one I’d had.

The feeling isn’t the reality.  In overwhelming circumstances, we feel a gut- wrenching urge to puke.  We feel terror.  Simon Sinek tells how Olympic athletes when interviewed are always asked, “Were you nervous?”  Categorically they respond, “No.”  They all said, “No, I’m not nervous. I’m excited.”  Because they interpret the feelings typically identified as nervousness as excitement.  

Adjusting perception, trusting God for solutions and walking through the feelings are small actions to reduce anxiety.  Like most disciplines it’s a mental battle.  One I can fight today.  As Jesus said, “…Tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

Friday, January 13, 2017

When God Is Difficult To See

Yosemite’s webcam feed was white with slight color around the edges.  Half Dome hidden behind cloud, mist or fog.  A novice, unfamiliar with Yosemite, viewing the web-cam might decide that there wasn’t much to see.  A tourist dropped into that scene would never see the splendor the other side of the clouds if they left the park; would never experience the grandeur if they didn’t wait it out---if they refused to persevere. Psalm 23 might look like that if viewed through webcam.

The wife and I are walking through a valley right now.  We are a week out from her father’s passing.  Our jobs have been difficult this year so that we are stressed about them even off the clock. My bad work schedule means we don’t connect. God’s been difficult to see.  Like the webcam view; He’s visible around the edges. Peace is hard in coming. 

The whiteout condition doesn’t mean Half Dome and Yosemite falls don’t exist.  The anxiety in my chest is a response to what I perceive.  Mentally I meditate; “…Thou art with me.”  There is a trail ahead---though it looks like the mountain drops off.  For a minute the mist breaks---the traveler shouts, “There it is!”---as their view of the valley affirms what they knew to be true all along.  

Thursday, January 05, 2017

No Years Resolutions

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                                                                                            ---NeedToBreathe

 Seasons come with blessings too rich to count and trials that, if possible, push me into bed, under the covers to stay til safe to come out again.  The problem is that fully entering into life brings both the pain and the blessing.  They come at me side by side accompanied by each other.  I am forced to live life battling my fears, banking on my hope, “But hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?”

There are life’s question marks.  The death of my father-in law.  Miscellaneous stuff.  I drive to work with anxiety---assured I will get beat up.  Why fret?  I am a man loved by my wife, loved by my Jesus, by a daughter and by a rich circle of friends.  The anxiety comes.  I cling to bible verses.  I choose.  The new year’s resolutions help.

I’m doing it different.  No year’s resolutions.  Just January.  New goals in February. One month at a time.  Not doing a long list (though one exists). Mostly what I can carry in my brain.  Not doing the whole Bible in a year.  Just Matthew and Mark this month.  Not stressing about work-out goals.  Just trying to fit it in.  Not trying to get it all done.  Just moving in a direction.  Not perfection.  Just more Jesus.

Well I know what's right, I got just one life In a world that keeps on pushin' me around But I'll stand my ground and I won't back down                                            ---Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers