Sunday, December 27, 2020

Arizona Alligators

The unmistakable image of a large, fast moving alligator surfacing a few feet in front of me bypassed every controlled thought as my whole body tensed in unison and lunged several steps away from the waters edge. Then my rational thoughts made me laugh out loud as instinct yielded and I turned around to watch the mistaken log splash and bob downstream in the flood waters of the Verde River behind my Arizona home. The pounding in my ears quieted. The quivering muscles in my limbs steadied and I marveled at how irrational my reaction was and how little that matters at first to our instinctual mind, or at least to mine. Perhaps yours would do better at distinguishing an inanimate chunk of dead wood from a living, breathing terror of dinosaur proportions.

Wild, Arizona alligators are only real when they "escape" from homes that kept them as ill fated pets. That may not change whether they'll tear your limbs off in a bad situation but it does change our comfort level getting into our favorite watering holes. Same as Jaws didn't really keep people out of the ocean, even combined with some real attacks. These represent the successful transition from instinctual to rational.

But perhaps more often than we realize, we fail to make that transition. Lately, my wife and I have been working through some relational baggage in the family. The people have changed but some of our now instinctual responses to them have not. As a result of some obsolete sense of self preservation, we find ourselves in fight-or-flight every time a relational log floats by. The good news is we know the alligator isn't real and perseverance will retrain our instincts.

The same is true on the societal level. Perseverance of truthful reasoning is the necessity of being more than merely instinctual creatures chronically fooled by appearances. There's always plenty to keep us irrationally distant from each other, resistant to the unifying truth because of some political or religious 'gator it moves us closer to. Don't fear it. Time always shows those things to be merely ill fated pets you shouldn't keep anymore, and likely shouldn't have had in the first place. They'll end up in the zoo or the Everglades and you can meet at the local watering hole in peace.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Self Talk

I blame God that we talk to ourselves. I've avoided blaming him for other things in spite of his all-knowingness and ultimate creatorship, but this one's inescapably on him. For five days, he simply spoke things into existence as he had in mind and by his own account "it was good". Then the later part of day six rolls around and what's he do? Stops to talk to himself about what's next! And that next thing of course was, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,...", complete with self talk.

Lest we wrongly imagine effortless agreement to God's self talk, consider the following. 1) The disparity between Christ's interests and the Father's interests when it came to crucifixion. 2) The internal conflict of Christ represented in statements like, "How long am I going to put up with you?" 3) The many times throughout the Bible a Spirit-led person (a.k.a. God-led person) like Abraham or Moses appealed to God's alternate sensibilities to fend off his destroying some certain people group. Love it or leave it, here lies your assurance that God can relate to the internal conflict of being a parent or long suffering friend.

Some additional value to that exercise? Ever feel like there's more than one person in your head. Not only can God relate, he's just like you! Or you're just like him. Whichever seems more proper to the majority vote of your personalities. It's good to be able to see his likeness in even the crazy guy ranting to himself as he paces. I know that crossed a line but here's another thing. Scripture teaches us that spiritual nature abhors a vacuum just like physical nature. Christ is the eternal vessel for the Father and the Spirit. And you have the choice of being a vessel for Christ or you have his assurance you'll house things more similar to the crazy guy. Think of it as complicated real life version of those nesting, Russian dolls.

So self talk away. And realize that, through his Spirit in us and Christ's intercession for us, God's day six conversation never stopped and never will. Through his own self talk, we benefit from God modeling his own instruction to pray at all times with all kinds of prayer. When our attention is on him, following his example abundantly includes our own internal conflicts and conversations. Now go redeem that self talk. You're not any crazier than the God who made you.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

That Stupid Chair

"I still talk to that stupid chair sometimes," says Josie with good humored helplessness. While we're trying to figure out if she's eighty seven or ninety seven, she laughs as she continues, "I'll be reading something and say, 'Oh you've got to read this' as I look up and realize nobody's there. But now I've learned to just go ahead and say it anyway." Her eyes search the face of my son and I through a pause just long enough to be awkward. "That's where he sits now," she laughs again and points to a cheap looking box overlaid with gold foil on a fireplace mantle heavily clad with family pictures, mementos and some odd bits with yet to be explained connections to the pictures. "I don't know what to do with it. I guess I'll just make the grand kids deal with it."

Josie is one of the regular volunteers at the local food bank. Her job is moral support rendered as a welcoming and eclectic stream of consciousnesses aimed indiscriminately at the crowd of workers swirling around her. If she grabs your arm as you pass, it's expected that you give her one or two minutes of your time before walking away mid sentence, as usually you must. She simply grabs the next arm and continues as if the audience never changed. Grave or encouraging, trivial or newsworthy, her conversation makes you smile. Mission accomplished.

Today, we ended up at her house on her insistence that that was the best way to get bread. After the morning's work of prepping the food bank for tomorrow's lines, we followed her home, though we drove considerably straighter. She opened the side door of her otherwise empty garage and the hunger inducing aroma of pallets of assorted bread spilled forcefully from it. She grinned as she watched the crazed look come into our faces. It's a point of pride that her garage is the solution to unattended bread being stolen from the food bank. "Take as much as you want," she says guiding us to the most sought after items as she shares a collection of memories as assorted as the bread. We got what we wanted and looked for a break in the conversation. Leaving mid sentence was becoming the only option.

Suddenly, as if she sensed our dilemma and cared nothing for it, she took hold of my son's arm and was dragging his towering figure into the house as he looked over his shoulder for a rescuer. I followed. The obligatory couple of minutes lapsed over and over as she tugged us from one point of interest to the next until we ended up back in the driveway talking about the neighbors. Just when we were getting desperate enough to try for another mid sentence escape, the neighbor lady came into sight headed our way along the fence. Suddenly we were irrelevant. Her attention shifted to the approaching lady with the bread crazed look in her eyes and Josie juked us like athletes who had lost track of the game. We got in the van and drove home smiling and laughing. Mission accomplished.

Monday, August 10, 2020

At Risk

A friend recently reminded me of an old joke about a man hiking in the dessert and he gets bitten on the butt by a rattlesnake. His hiking partner makes a phone call for emergency help and gets the advice, "make an incision between the fang marks and suck the poison out."

"What did they say!?" the man asks anxiously as his condition worsens.

The partner lowers his head solemnly and replies, "They said you're gonna die."

These days it's easy to see that our value for our fellow man's life is often shallower than we would like to think. Based on our disapproval of someone's response to the latest crisis management protocol, we're quick to blast each other as having no concern for our fellow humans. There's something innate that says that argument should have some leverage. I would argue that we've overestimated ourselves in that regard since Adam.

This is no political statement about our current situation. It's an appeal to all of us to probe that daunting intersection of practicality and compassion and be honest about what we find in ourselves. Straw men burn easy. Nobody cared about those "at risk" until they believed it was a threat to themselves. Before then we just stuffed them in nursing homes and waited for our inheritance. Clearly I'm overstating the case but I'm sure you get the point. Do you really care? It takes more than a mask to prove it and the opportunity won't disappear when our current crisis ends.

Roll over, buddy. We're making an incision.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Every Day New

Let every day be new

Though every day alike

Will test if faith is true.

That’s part of the design.

Let every day be new

Though old is there again,

The force we tire against

That forges greater strength

Let every day be new.

Bring only what is good

From one day to the next.

Let old die as it should.

Let every day be new.

Let Mercy meet you there.

Let Grace forget your flaws,

No guilt remains to snare.

Let every day be new.

Now give what you’ve received.

Enrich another life

With mercy, grace and peace.

Let every day be new.

Remember just one thing,

That over every day

The Son is still the King.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

You Versus You


You verses you.
What it really is.
What we really do.

Not who we despise
When we roll our eyes.
Just you versus you.

Not, "They make me say..."
Or, "They make me do..."
Just you versus you.

"But I'm mad as hell.
They don't treat me well."
Still you versus you.

"God made me this way.
It's his fault today."
Not really the truth.

"I'm just throwing stones
They already threw."
Not righteous. Not new.

There is no excuse.
Just me versus me
And you versus you.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Tenanites

In biblical history, the Israelites have had to deal with a lot of other "'ites"; Canaanites, Jebusites, Hivites and and a host of other people groups that spell check doesn't recognize. As a family, we've been studying our way through the parables in the book of Matthew. While narrating back what he remembered from the parable of the tenants, my nine year old son identified a new group.
"...then the owner of the vineyard turned it over to the Tenanites to produce its fruit."

After we all had a little laugh and continued our study, the nature of the slip became somewhat profound. A targeted portion of the audience for Christ's parable was the religious and political authorities whose forefathers played a role in driving out all the different enemy-ites. Now those authorities had become the object of Jesus's metaphor about people who will be driven out. They had become the enemy-ites. It went over about as well as Jesus's teachings about them usually did. They looked for a way to arrest him.

So here we are today with a tendency to feel rather confident about the rights we associate with being Christian. We're well established to say the least. That's partly because of the privilege we've inherited from righteous forefathers. I know our nation wasn't forwardly founded on Christianity but it was close enough that Christians have naturally grown to expect a high level of privilege and influence.

 A prominent point in the parable of the tenants is that God's "vineyard", the resources he has invested for the purpose of getting a return, are only for those who have returning it to him in mind. I say all this to pose a question for myself as much as anybody. To any degree and at the risk of fighting God himself, has privilege and influence turned my faith into the means of preserving my privilege and influence? Faith may well result in both but I see the need to keep scrutinizing my own motives to make sure they're focused first on what God expects from his investment in me. It's easy to become a "Tenanite".

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Hot Potato

I'm on an Old Testament kick again. It's so interesting to study God through the context of historic examples with a specific nation, Israel, designated as his people. That's something we don't have in quite the same way today. It lets us see God without the modern ambiguity about what he's directly responsible for. It's not all tidy and flattering but it is all a truthful glimpse of who he is.

My most recent musing comes from the the book of 1 Samuel where the Philistines are playing a panicked game of hot potato with the ark they stole from Israel after giving them a sound thumping. It seemed like a great victory to the Philistines until deadly illness almost immediately started inflicting whatever town they tried to keep the ark in. As the pattern became clear and the loss piled up, they returned the ark to Israel and their life presumably returned to normal, worshiping the pagan god Dagon in relative health with no immediate doom at their door.

Not to be taken as a God who plays favorites, when the Israelite's got the ark back, God also killed seventy of the them who looked into it. Apparently, if God does lead you to put some real semblance of him in a box, you had better not look too closely.

Anyway, this account carries a couple interesting points for me. One is that God shows favor but not favoritism. Even if you're fortunate enough to be the ones who really do have God in your box, you still have to be careful, perhaps even more so. And that leads to the second point. The Philistines were spared simply because they returned the ark, not because they turned to serving the God of Israel. Sometimes the only thing needed to get out of acute trouble is to stop actively fighting God's people and stealing their stuff. He'll deal with them harshly enough on his own.