Saturday, December 18, 2021

One Man's Trash


In the start-up days of my shop in Camp Verde, the trash truck driver would go out of his way to scold me weekly for an empty dumpster. Every Wednesday morning, I would hear him pull up at the side of the building, rev the hydraulics to hoist the dumpster over the truck and then bang it against the top of the cylinder stroke a couple times to make sure it's contents were not merely stuck. Next, I would hear the dumpster land with an angry thud, the truck engine drop to an idle and the driver door open and slam shut. "You should have a flag that you put out when it needs emptied and if I don't see it I won't stop," he would say with strained professionalism. "Traffic is really a pain in the butt. These Main Street idiots don't care what's backing out in front of them. They won't give it any room" I would sympathize a little and he would go on his way marginally satisfied.

These days, my business is well established and my dumpster is satisfactorily full when he comes... all be it every other Wednesday. I can sense his happiness to hear all my scrap bicycle parts clanging through the transition into his truck and my dumpster lands with careful precision in front of the designated parking block. Even the occasional overflow item at the side of the dumpster gets taken without complaint. The traffic is as bad as ever and my parking lot is still a tight maneuver for his truck but, with a legitimate purpose for his stop, he leaves with a smile and a wave if I happen to be out front at the time, as I often am.

We all hate busy work (and it's counterpart, rework), paid or not. And God himself knows having something real to accomplish even in a mundane task is a big deal! Likewise, our lives are not a mere going through the prescribed motions. The Gospel presents us with lives of great consequence, especially in how we choose to handle the mundane things. There really is stuff in the dumpster and it's meaningful to the shop owner and neighbors who use it illegally that it gets emptied. There really is an excited kid on the other side of that trashy bike their grandma just brought in for me to fix. There really is a trash truck driver who's whole morning was better than usual because a polite driver gave him plenty of room to back out this time. So, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Hazards of the Soul


To those pacified by pleasure as it dulls the mind,

To the sleeping soul ambition has left far behind.

Whom comfort ushers quietly into the night,

May pain restore your sight.


To those motivated ones who have attained,

To the racing heart that leaves the spirit sore and strained,

Whom thrills consume but leave the crushing debts to pay,

May sorrow change your way.


To those lofty ones with throngs at their command

To the power drunken fool who overplays his hand,

Whom privilege robs the taste of life and makes it bland

May weakness help you stand.


To those trained by hardship and refined by pain

To the stricken one whom sorrow calls upon by name.

Whom pride has overlooked and privilege never came.

The Most High knows the same.


Friday, December 10, 2021

Trouble from God

 "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" Job asked his wife after her advice to, "curse God and die." No doubt, she was speaking from her own extreme grief and distress after her and Job had suffered the sudden, catastrophic loss of all their livestock, servants and children. Her words came during the second wave of God-sanctioned testing that covered her husband's entire body in painful sores after he had already fallen to the ground in worship with his robe torn and head shaved in response to the first wave of trouble. And all this began not with Satan pursuing Job but rather with God directing Satan's attention to "the most blameless and upright" man on earth.

Trouble from God? It's a provocative question. We tend to read the book of Job as an account of great faith when our own lives are troubled. We also tend to land back in the mentality that trouble does not come from God. "I am angry with you and your two friends because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has", God reprimanded those who had defended his character in much the same way some do today - unless you've offended him, God is the source of good, not trouble. We may feel the need to point out that it was Satan who actually administered the trouble. Job had no such need as he spoke the truth, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."

When Satan later set his eyes on the apostles and requested to sift them as wheat, Christ again allowed the test to happen but, knowing they would fall away, he made Peter the point man for restoring them. Shortly after his restoration by the risen Christ, what Peter had learned was shown through a prayer in response to persecution. His request was to be enabled to speak the word of God with great boldness, not to be spared the trouble of persecution. Later he spelled out that all the trials of life "have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Likewise, Paul recognized his "messenger of Satan, to torment me" as a gift from God to perfect God's power in his life.

If we can stand to be honest about it, we base our faith on a book full of temporary trouble and evil spirits perfectly metered from God to make the most of our eternal life with him. Does your life include hardship you would rather not endure? Your high priest can sympathize. And even when his request was for the cup to be taken from him, he also acknowledged it as the Father's will, not a mere allowance to the will of the enemy. So even while we follow Christ's example to plead with the Father in our suffering, may we also follow his example to embrace our trials as useful tools in the Father's hands, not merely defects of a sinful world or even passively allowed troubles. They are his gift to perfect our faith and pave the way for our share in his perfect and eternal glory that he acquired through the same means. "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world", Christ encouraged us. So let us answer hardship as Job answered his wife. We are not those who curse God and die. Let us rather be those who praise God and live.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Enough


Through every toil every day,

Through every flaw do not dismay.

How short you fall can never stain

Your righteousness in Him.


The only debt that still remains

Is love and freedom in His name.

Our weakened flesh is not our claim

To what He freely gives


So at the end of every day,

"It is enough", each one should say.

In Christ, no debt remains to pay

Except to freely live.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

"I won't do what you tell me"

 


As a few friends and I hustled to get an exposed roof covered before the encroaching monsoon clouds dumped their torrent on us, the radio in the back of the pick-up chose to encourage our efforts with the song, "Killing in the Name of" from Rage Against the Machine. As we listened to Zack de la Rocha repetitiously scream, "F#%k you! I won't do what you tell me!" with the synchronized pounding of the band behind him, something unexpectedly struck me funny enough that my friend asked what I was quietly laughing about.

"They did what they were told," I answered in relationship to Rage's COVID canceled tour. And if you want to attend their next show, you'll have to do what you're told as well. I know that's out of context for the song's genuinely noble intent but that's where humor lives sometimes. Rage's rage is radio only for now.

The radio is a powerful communication tool but it doesn't provide the same sense of being part of something big as when a booming concert moves us in shoulder-to-shoulder unison by the thousands. My wife and kids had never been to a big name concert before we attended a Newsboys show a few weeks ago and it was a blast to see them get carried along with the pulsing excitement of the crowd. It's a version of why many of us enjoy singing with the crowd in a church service more than by ourselves at home. We all love a manifest measure of unity with like-minded others. Without that, not even a ground shaking amount of rage makes the stage worth it.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Variant


Each week on my drive to Flagstaff, the giant marquee sign over I-17 North tells me to "Join X million Arizonan's. Get vaccinated." My news feed regularly ques up articles for how to win over the "vaccine hesitant".  A steadily increasing stream of alarms about new variants and restrictions to manage them strives to leverage the tide of society ahead of the curve. It all had a familiar ring to it as I contemplated the history of evangelism in my time. I remember being a Pentecostal teenager and being taught how absurd the reasoning of the heathen world was (we'll call them "Gospel hesitant") and what the best strategies where for winning them over. The emphasis was on converts, for their own good of course, but the important thing was they came around to our way of thinking. Every success at legislating our faith into laws that restricted the Gospel hesitant from acting too far out of line with our worldview was loudly praised.

Evangelists for every movement and cause through all of history follow the same pattern. Whether they're trying to save the world from people or save people from themselves, they're always plagued by the hesitant who just don't see things the "right" way. And then, just when you think you've got the offender boxed in, some minor change let's a nearly identical version of it loose on the world again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

As far as examples to follow, you generally have two choices. Either strive for power and influence in favor of your cause until the next variant gives you something new to squash or live out your own convictions and let the world run it's course. There is obviously some balance between the two but if Christ is your example, it's obvious that the wisest and most powerful leader did the good he was here for and let the world run it's course. And he aimed evangelism specifically at following his example, not squashing every variant in the world. You can insert Gandhi or Buddha or whoever you like and largely get the same result to differing degrees. Or you can insert the average, echo-chamber politician and perpetuate the strife.

The world may indeed hang in the balance of humanity's collective behavior but we don't own the scale. We don't set its weights and measures or the times that it's reconciled. Authority over those things belongs only to the One who created them and none of us can summon him through science or faith to validate our cause. Even as we may rightly work to win the fight, long live the variants, those evasive and everchanging things that flaunt our limitations and refine our focus. Even as we try to convert each other in a world that inevitably returns us all to dust, may you have all the success of any humble virus at adapting to the world you're in. And even as it's dawning on us that life may be different than we imagined, let humility temper the shock that what we have strongly regarded as self evident no longer appears to be so.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Rednecks in Heat Waves

God loves rednecks and I can prove it. Our central AC breathed it's last early in this most recent and newsworthy heatwave. We're cheap and at the moment broke, but mostly cheap so some of our fellow rednecks gave us a couple beat up window units they had lying around like ordinary rednecks do. They were literally stacked between the broken down car and the chicken coop. We were thrilled! The first unit was installed right away and, to fill the gap left from it being the wrong unit for the window, I cut a proper size piece of dirty, weathered plywood from the nearest scrap pile (I have several right now just to make sure we're not mistaken for HOA types). My fortune was so good that a single cut yielded the perfect board and our new-to-us AC is now securely roaring the last hours of it's marginally efficient life away cooling our living room to a chilly eighty five degrees or so. 

"But what of the second unit," you ask? Why, I installed it improperly in a window on the opposite side of our house this very day! And when I went looking for the correct size board to make up the difference, I stumbled across the trashy plywood scrap I had saved from installing the other unit and, guess what?! Perfect fit with no cuts! Now we're enjoying the cool breeze and death rattle of cheap AC units in stereo! Life is good! The last part of this story is that I realized I could remove a panel from the ugly, crooked, broken, central AC on our roof and make it suck huge volumes of fresh night air into the house when it's cooler outside than our window units can accomplish inside.

I feel like we just won a championship game against the heat and I should thank some people while the cameras are on me. Thank you to my redneck friends who kept trash knowing someone like me would be stoked to call it my own one day. Thank you to my redneck wife who shamelessly cheered me on every time I solved a problem related to doing things wrong in the first place and who couldn't be happier to use someone else's trash to death with me for the thrill of a barely adequate, cool breeze. She even contributed the solution of stuffing the small whole in the board with cotton swabs so it no longer serves as a mosquito portal. And, of course, thanks to the God who has the foresight to arrange who I marry, who my friends are, what trashy board I grab at random and how I cut it to get an accidently perfect two-fer on the installation. Take that, you oppressive heat wave!