Friday, September 19, 2008

It was through an unrelated unfolding of circumstances that I became a privy to the expounding of the same event by two different individuals. With the one I share a gut-level personal and vocational history while with the other I live under the same general umbrella of external commonalities. My introduction into the story came first from the gut-friend. Then my umbrella-friend came by and casually related their observations of the same events. The disbelief about how different the story and the take on it was superglued my feet to the floor! As my umbrella-friend chatted away, a word came to me I couldn’t ignore, They are only telling you what they think you want to hear. What?! Are you talking about me? Or my friend? I almost muttered loudly. As I listened to the chatty account, a growing sense of sadness filled my mind and heart. I wondered why anybody would tell me only what they think I want to hear. Are they afraid of how I may respond? Do they not want to hurt my feelings by giving me a piece of harsh reality? Is there a privilege that may be lost by exposing the truth? Is it simply easier to keep polishing the veneer and ignore the messy chaos churning underneath? And how can anybody presume upon knowing what I want to hear? Where is the truth then? It is sacrificed on the altar of happy talk and mutual back-patting. Maybe next time I talk to a friend I need to ask, Do you want me to tell you only what I think you want to hear or do you want to hear the whole story? And the other way around, Are you going to tell me only what you think I want to hear, or are you going to tell me the real story?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There is a song we sing in our classroom I absolutely hate, Mom. I want to get up, take the CD and break it in two! complained my son as he munched on his blueberry mini-wheats this morning. Visualizing this getting up and breaking the CD in two while his first grade teacher is watching in disbelief immediately got my attention.

What song is it, my dear?

It’s that song, We got the whole world in our hands, we got the whole wide world in our hands... I hate it. It’s not true.

Aaah, it’s a variation of that song, He’s got the whole world in His hands, isn’t it? I said and proceeded to sing the original version. He nodded enthusiastically and started singing with me. Then he said, See, that’s why I hate singing it in school. We don’t have the whole world in our hands, God does!

Chuckling on the inside to observe the frustrations of the prophet-in-training plaguing our entire gene pool, I pondered how to respond. In a split second I was immersed in my own dilemmas of being a follower of the Jesus way in a world that out of ignorance or arrogance rejects His way and establishes its own. I also remembered my own childhood when I cheerfully sang blatant communist propaganda rhymes to the tune of Ode to joy (of all things :-)!) without even realizing that there was a God-centered original that lost its core in the take-of.

Then I slowly but deliberately walked over to him, scooped him up into my arms and as I begun to tickle him and kiss him all over, I kept asking, In whose hands are you now? In whose hands are you?

Yours! He giggled and wiggled, And God’s, too!, I added. See, the whole world IS in God’s hands, but He has also given it to us, to love it and care for it under His guidance and provision. So, in a sense, both are true – the whole world is in God’s hands, but He also has given it to us so we can learn to care for it the way God intends. We don’t have to break the CD, or cry out, Foul! when we hear the distortion of His songs (although we may feel like doing it!). What we need to do is lovingly show what it is like to care for the little piece of God’s real estate entrusted to us, the part “we hold in our hands” not in our own but in God’s way.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Vacation n. (from Latin vacare, to be empty) 1. freedom from any activity; rest; respite; intermission 2. a period of rest and freedom from work, study, etc.; time of recreation, usually a specific interval in a year 3. the act of making vacant

Vacant adj. (from Latin vacare to be empty) 1. having nothing in it; devoid of contents; empty, void; 2. not filled or occupied; 3. not filled with activity or work; free; leisure

Getting away for a vacation this summer was like attempting to get off I-4 at the right exit during Friday afternoon bumper-to-bumper traffic. As June and July rolled into August, we kept missing one exit after another, moving further and further away from a chance to spend some valuable time together as a family while the off-ramp of the beginning of the school year was approaching us like a freight train. The main culprit for this congestion has been Doug’s work load which, rather than diminishing, exploded with the beginning of the summer. Twelve new language recordings of a recently produced movie Magdalena – Released from Shame started spinning on his plate like 12 miniature hurricanes, all ready to make a landfall in the early fall.

I felt a growing sense of urgency to step out of this crammed-up tunnel where we are (or at least we think we are) in charge into that Reality in which it is hilariously obvious that God is God and we are not - the spacious universe of empty and void where the Spirit of God can hover over the deep of our souls and speak again the Word of Life, re-creating and re-newing, enlarging and energizing our shriveled-up, tunnel-vision existence.

Against all hope, exactly one week before school started we loaded up the car and headed to Englewood, Florida where some dear friends graciously allowed us to use their trailer. Having resisted the internal pressure to jam-pack our time with all the fun and exhausting activities suitable for an average vacationing family, I still felt restless and unsettled upon our arrival. As we were unloading the junk from our car, I grumbled a prayer, There, God! Here we are. If You wish, show Yourself to us. We sure NEED it!

The next day we grabbed a handful of sand toys, PB&J sandwiches and some drinking water and trotted off to the beach. When we got there, we encountered no burning bush (although the sand was pretty hot under our feet) and no lightening or thunder (whew!). What I did notice was how BIG the beach was – much bigger than our kitchen or laundry room, our house or the back yard, or even the sprawling Campus Crusade for Christ Headquarters! It stretched out endlessly as far as you can see in both directions, and it offered (free of charge!) unlimited supply of sculpting material which, during the course of our vacation we formed into a giant sea turtle and a bona fide Florida Snowman :-). There were nesting grounds of sea turtles lovingly marked off with yellow tape triangles and hidden treasures of seashells, baby crabs and shark teeth buried all around!

There were no guards and no gates (at least not the kind of gates to keep people out). The only rule spelled out was Swim at Your Own Risk with a map of what to do if caught in a rip current. No No Diving, no No Running, not even Wear Your Swimsuit at All Times. But nothing could have prepared us for the shock of seeing six-foot foaming giants relentlessly pounding the shore which sent dread up and down our spines. For a while, we just stood there in the shallows, hopelessly trying to secure our footing in the constantly shifting sand. But, as we watched the bodysurfers and people on boogie-boards having a time of their lives, the dance of the ocean emerged, beckoning us to jump in. Within minutes we were completely won over by this wild beast, getting drenched again and again, seaweeds hanging over our heads, submerged and surrendered, going down and popping back up, going down again, following its intrinsic rhythm, dancing according to its beat. We were like newly hatched baby sea turtles who have struggled their way down the hot, dry sand to the refreshing home where they truly belong.

And even though we were so small in this all-encompassing vastness, it was as if our joy and the dance, our fear and surrender mattered immensely; as if at least some of the ocean’s many mysterious purposes were being fulfilled in this free interplay between its waves and both big and little children frolicking in the foamy hem of his garment. Of course, it is hard to have fun in the ocean standing at a safe distance on dry ground, trying to keep your hair from getting all messed up or even trying to keep your head above water. We have to let go, we have to get dunked, we have to get drenched. And in the dunking, in the drenching, the hard shell cracks and the new life of another baby sea turtle joins in the dance.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Last week we went to our favorite Farmer’s Market and bought a few plump, “please-bite-into-me” handfuls of cherries. I love cherries. As a kid (and not just a kid!) I used to climb on our neighbor’s tree in a village near Belgrade, sit on a big, sturdy branch and eat to my heart’s fullness, my legs dangling down, waving at the ground at least ten feet below.

I must admit that while enjoying the fruit of the tree it didn’t even cross my mind to consider the intricate connections between the fruit in my mouth and the stem to which it was attached – which, in turn, was attached to the twig, attached to the branch, attached to the tree, attached to the root which, with its elaborate system of capillaries was attached to the loamy soil beneath – all this in just one direction. In the other and all around there was the Sun, the rain, the air; alterations in weather in their slow yearly rotations - the seasons, as we like to call them, which with their periods of growth and dormancy, blossoms and the harvest produce this amazing juicy feast – a delight to the eyes and the taste buds, a celebration of life and an excavation of joy laying dormant in seemingly simple, ordinary experiences.

The inescapable but often overlooked fact is that somebody must have planted and taken care of the tree with love and patience (and lots of hard work!) – pruned it in its season, maybe grafted in a better, more durable or blight-resistant variety, sprayed it against harmful insects and disease so that over a number of years the tree became not only a quiet fruit producing factory, but also a refuge from the heat; a home for the baby swallows; the place for the children to hang an old tire and swing around and around, their laughter bouncing off other trees in the orchard; a firm pillow to lean against while taking a Sunday afternoon nap in its shade; purifying lungs for the entire neighborhood; a quiet secret-keeper; an ever-present, non-judgmental confidant to the brokenhearted and despairing.

My ego-centric, consumerism-driven appetite saw none of this but the cherries – something created for sole purpose to satisfy Me and give Me pleasure. Somebody much wiser saw an entire universe of mysterious connections – fruit being just one (delightful nonetheless) by-product of this monument of grace and mercy.

From there my thoughts wandered into even more fascinating universe of God’s revealed Word and the cherry picking approach I so often have as I consume my pet verses and passages for my own pleasure, mindlessly spitting out pits on those who are passing by – twisting the meaning and misinterpreting the Author’s intent; misapplying the truth, carving the self-serving nugget out of God-purposed context, in a single motion amputating the word of God from the Person of the Triune-God and reducing His glorious majesty to a cherry-producing vending machine. As if this is not bad enough, more often than I care to admit I have participated in “bowls of cherries” parties where this cherry-picking practice as it relates to God’s word is perpetuated in the entire communities of those who are called by His Name. This approach may be understandable and permissible for those who are new to the life of grace, to the babies in Christ; but, to remain there indefinitely would mutilate beyond recognition the family resemblance the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit desire to manifest through our broken lives…the family likeness that would transform our self-serving existence into a nesting ground for the swallows… a faithful branch attached to the Tree of Life, on which carefree children could clamber up without fear and thoughtlessly pluck out soul-satisfying cherries, oblivious to the wondrous universe all around.