Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Clashing Worlds

August 15, 2019

She is very young.

In the language of today, which must constantly judge and categorize, she would undoubtedly be called privileged.  Sheltered.  But that is to some extent the condition of the young.  And here she is on the other side of the ocean from her home, interning in the court system in our town for a few weeks as part of her course of study in law in her home country.

She arrived home harried, which is not uncommon, but also agitated.  Today I went someplace I never want to go again.  I guessed where she had been before she revealed it – the jail.

Not as an inmate, but as an observer.  Her first time in a jail, and the first time is always overwhelming in one fashion or another.  It was terrible, she said.  It’s easy to know what the law says and know that if I break the law I could go to jail.  But people think they won’t get caught, won’t go to jail, and if they do, it won’t be that bad.  But it’s bad.  It’s terrible.  

I think back over my many years ministering in jails.   Yes, it’s bad.  But what you learn over time is that there are worse places.  That for some, three squares a day and a bed and a shower and a lot of regiment are just what they need.  Far better than the uncertainty of addiction or crime.  But that first time, well, the first time you simply know it’s terrible.

And by extension, you know the people there are terrible.

Why else would they be there, right?  For all the media talk about misjustice and injustice and all manner of very serious and very real issues, the vast majority of the people behind bars are there for very sound, real, good reasons.  Most of them will admit this to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s easy to see only the crime and not the person.  Probably as easy as seeing the person without seeing the crime.  And of course there is a tension between the two, a relationship to be acknowledged, a dance that must be completed and hopefully not repeated.

She gathers her dinner plate.  Mostaccioli and salad and toasted garlic cheese bread.  We’re eating out back on the patio tonight.  It’s cooler than inside and we have three extra guests tonight.  Three women, at least one if not all three who were at some point or other – perhaps very recently – in jail.

Repeatedly.

Addiction does that.

But they are gathered for dinner at our house tonight because for the time being they are working very hard to beat the odds and their addictions in hopes of a life free from jail in the future.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.  A statuesque blonde.  A young Hispanic woman with beautiful long straight hair, though she looks with admiration at the naturally curly hair of my wife and daughter.  All three of them laughing and carrying on together like girls and women do together, enjoying food and the cool evening air.

I wonder what she would say if she knew.  Knew that but for a glitch of timing she might have met these ladies in jail, in that terrible place with terrible people who have done terrible things to themselves and others.  Her  disgust and disdain are palpable, but she’s happily engaged speaking in another language with one of our resident guests.  She doesn’t know.

I pray that as she enters the field of law she will be able to walk the difficult tightrope of never forgetting the law but also never forgetting the people.  That she will remember that ultimately our hope is not merely punitive but restorative, and that her faith – however perfunctory it may or may not be – will guide her to give  both thanks and praise to the Creator.  The God who created her in her youthful inexperience, as well as the people in the jails and prisons of our world.  People who perhaps need to be there, but hopefully don’t have to be there forever.  I pray that she never loses hope that lessons can be learned, debts to society can be repaid, lives restored, and glory given not to the magistrates or parole boards or wardens but to the God who alone has the power and will to restore life from death, hope from ashes.

And I pray that if she can be sustained on that tightrope, she won’t be adverse to sitting down with people she may have been required to put in jail at one point or another, in anticipation of an eternal feast where our places are guaranteed not by the purity of our lives but by the grace of our Creator through his Incarnate Son, who pays the penalty for our sin that we might be set free.

We Are What We Are

July 31, 2019

I drive a 14-year old vehicle.  It’s been paid off now for a couple off years which helps make ends meet in our expensive little community, but it has the quirks and oddities of any mechanical device that old, let alone one as complex as an automobile.  Most recently, the retracting radio antennae no longer retracts, perhaps because it partially melted and fused into place during a recent sojourn  in Las Vegas for the world billiards tournament.

These things happen.  Things age.  You can’t expect a 14-year old car to function like a brand new one.  It would be foolish to think that somehow a vehicle – or any other thing – could remain independent of it’s actual age.  It’s a reality brought home to me more  and more, as some of my other possessions – particularly books – begin to show their age.  This was brand new when I bought it, but despite hardly being read, the pages are yellowing and the binding is cracking!  Duh.  I bought it brand new 30 years ago.  Things age because  they are what they are.

People are no different, though I think popular cultural mantras try to tell us otherwise.  There’s this idea – perhaps I shared it when I was younger – that we can objectively critique reality and ourselves and those around us.  We can isolate ourselves from what we are and objectively judge reality.

But the reality is that we can’t.  We are what we are, and part of what we are is a product of our time.  We may like that or not.  We may think about it or not.  But it’s true.

Since the radio antenna is stuck on, I turned on the radio today and sought out a station that would have made me shudder 30 years ago.  I turned on the 80’s station.  I hated 80’s  music when I was in the 80’s.  Mostly because it was popular and I saw myself at odds with everything popular and fashionable – mostly because I was neither.  But now, I seek out that station.  I hum along with Duran Duran and even Culture Club, despite hating them in the 80’s.  There is nostalgia there now, and comfort.  I’m a product of the 80’s,  when I came of age and became aware of the artistic culture around me.  I can’t change that.  I can be ashamed of it, I can embrace it, but I can’t divorce myself of it.  When I try, I end up sounding stupid.

Like this article.

I watched this show somewhat when it came out.  Growing up on reruns of the original Star  Trek series, I thought this basically did a good job of picking up the mantle and carrying on while trying to do so in original ways.  Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t.  Not all the episodes were great, but they were overall enjoyable.

So this article is annoying and naive.  It critiques the series by and large for aesthetic issues related to when the series was made – the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It presumes that somehow the series should have been able to create an atmosphere completely disassociated from current cultural norms and trends.  As though the show could be or represent something other than what it  was – a group of actors and writers and designers and producers who were influenced not only by the original series but by their culture at the time.

One can like or dislike aspects of the culture, but to critique the culture for being the culture at the time is ridiculous, and to presume that it is possible to create something completely new and unaffected by current cultural fashions or ideas is arrogant.  We are what we are, and part of what we are is products of our culture,  even if we’d rather not be.

Not being God, we can’t create ex nihilo, out of nothing.  We can simply recombine things that already exist into other things.  This can be done in surprising and impressive ways, but it remains an act of creating from raw materials already there, so there will always be residue of what materials were available or plentiful or desired at the time.  And while I can lament that I seek out music I grew up on even when I grew up hating it, I’m reminded that I am formed and shaped even by the things I reject, and sometimes there is  comfort to be found there.

I’m considerably older than my car.  I shouldn’t expect myself to feel or be otherwise.  Hopefully I find a way to appreciate and enjoy who  and what I am now as I grow in my understanding and appreciation of the One who not only created me ex nihilo, but continues to shape and form me.

Farewell, Rutger

July 24, 2019

Interesting that there has been so little mention of the passing of actor Rutger Hauer.

He is most famous as the villain in the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner.  His closing scene in the film is truly beautiful, and a testimony to his acting chops.  You can watch it – but only if you’ve already seen the film – major spoiler here!

I came to appreciate Blade Runner a bit belatedly.   Hauer will always be bound up in my memory with another film, Ladyhawke.  It could be that it’s an early film of Matthew Broderick.  It could have to do with the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer and those piercing blue eyes.  It could have to do with my personal preference for medieval settings and sword and sorcery stories.  It could be that I was young and it made a big impression on me.   It likely has to do with all of the above.

Regardless, the film is marred by one of the worst soundtracks I can think of, a terrible 80’s synthesizer fusion that doesn’t match at all the scenery or setting and is an awful distraction.  It’s unfortunate because the plot is a very good one.  And Hauer delivers a typically understated performance that still leaves you rooting for him.  It’s a shame his passing didn’t make more of an impression on the media.  But it’s a good reminder that fame is fickle and legacy is more often pursued than achieved.

 

Schrödinger’s Meth-Head

July 21, 2019

Almost exactly a year ago I created a Schrödinger’s Meth-Head situation that is still ongoing.

Schrödinger is  famous for a thought experiment involving a cat in a sealed steel box with a bit of radioactive material inside along with a hammer and a small glass vial of hydrogen cyanide.  If a single atom of the radioactive material decayed, it would trigger a mechanism that would drop the hammer, shatter the vial, and the cat would die from the poisonous gas.  On the other hand, if no atom decayed, the cat would remain alive.   There was no way to know the status of the cat without opening the steel box.  The cat effectively would remain both dead and alive simultaneously (effectively) until somebody could verify the status.

I have no idea what happened to that young woman.  I still pray and like to think she got on the bus and did the right thing.  Nothing in my experience with recovering addicts in the last year leads me to think this is very likely.  But I can pray it is.  That she’s in recovery, getting the help she needs, moving on with her life.

I’m undecided as to whether I like this status of not knowing.  It is what it is.  And ultimately, regardless of whether she made it home or not, I can pray that her life is better today than it was a year ago when our paths crossed.

So I do.

Travel Thoughts

June 3, 2019

It is still a source of amazement to me that in the span of  a few hours I can be thousands of miles away from my starting point, with nothing more accompanying me than a wallet, a phone, and a change of underwear.

Nothing makes me so aware of the copious room for improvement in my prayer life than those few seconds as I’m sitting on an airplane hurtling down a runway about to take off (or land).

Am I the only one who never outgrows that momentary feeling of excitement and astonishment that I am trusted enough to pay someone else to use their car for a few days and they just hand me the keys and off I go?

 

Missing the Obvious

May 13, 2019

It’s funny how sometimes you don’t see the simplest things right in front of your face.  It’s nice when you can think of it as funny, when missing the obvious doesn’t kill you or cause disaster of one form or another.  But when you can appreciate the irony of how wrapped up we are in ourselves that we sometimes forget who we are.

Thinking through possibilities for the future for my congregation and family, it struck me today that these considerations all come through the aspect of me.  It was not a pleasant thought at first.  After all, who am I?  Certainly, my ideas and hopes and dreams and whatnot should be more objective than that?  Certainly, how I cast a vision for things should be clear to others as the logical, reasonable way forward?

Yet that’s not the case.  Whether I like it or not, and I don’t.

The cult of personality in our culture is so strong and pervasive that I recoil from it as often as possible.  I’m not here to promote me.  Yet in the process of doing what I do, I do it as me.  And therefore, how I do it is different than how anyone else might do it.  This might not be true in some vocations, but it’s true in mine, and I have to deal with it.  Acknowledge it.  Come to grips with it.  Try not to let it destroy me.  Try to determine if what I propose for others is really as reasonable as it seems to me.  The danger of the I overreaching is always crouching nearby, waiting for an opportunity.

So that needs to be taken into account.  The vision I have may not make sense – at least initially to others.  There’s no way to really escape from that.  It may not be a bad thing, but it’s something very pertinent and real to bear in mind.

There’s so much more to learn, even in just the basic, simple, obvious things.

Not An Influencer

April 27, 2019

I’ve begun unfriending people on Facebook.

It’s not that I desire to be unfriendly, but I’ve decided that in the coming weeks I’m going to gradually whittle away the people I’m friends with in anticipation of finally eliminating my account completely.

I can’t say it is an easy process.

I joined in 2008, and to give up on something after a decade isn’t easy in and of itself.  And of course everything about social media is oriented towards gaining friends and followers, not eliminating them.  And for years I thought that an expanding number of friends on Facebook (even a meager number by many standards!) was a sign of my role of influence and importance to these people.  But I’m no social media influencer by a long shot.  (In case you’re not aware, influencer is the term some people use of themselves and others because of a particularly large number of social media contacts and corresponding leverage for advertising or activism).  Social media functions by playing on our needs and desires for approval and status, things I’ve fought against all my life but sometimes not very successfully.

Going through my list of friends I’ve begun be eliminating those whose accounts are inactive – a sign that they’ve already gone down the road I’m starting on and are farther along than I am.  It’s also a demonstration that the connections created by social media are hardly very strong – I  didn’t even realize that half a dozen or so of my friends have deactivated their accounts.

The second group I’ve begun eliminating are connections from high school.  I’ll save the friends I was closest to till the end, but the reality is that the connection we had once has severely decayed over time.  I haven’t seen most of them in close to ten years.  One or two I’ve seen more recently, but our connection – if it’s going to remain – won’t be because of Facebook.

I’m amazed and depressed by how difficult clicking Unfriend can be.  Our desire for approval and acceptance and admiration (or is it just my desire) is strong, and admitting that those things – if they’re there at all – are so weak and insignificant as to be of truly no meaning is not easy or pleasant.  It’s getting easier though, and now that I’ve begun the process I don’t think it will be as complicated as I thought to complete it.

It just makes me wonder where I’ll look for affirmation and approval next.  Hopefully more in Christ, and less in myself and others.  I don’t say that as a word of judgment against those of you who continue on Facebook or other social media.  But  rather as a word of judgment on myself.  And maybe only a word of caution to others.

 

Connectivity Doesn’t Stop Loneliness

March 26, 2019

An interesting essay challenging our concepts of success and suggesting that a robust community should be one of our top goals in life.

While I struggle with some of the language towards the end of the essay, it’s a good case study in the importance of people around us.  Not just bumping against each other on separate trajectories but rather walking with one another in and out of the various situations we can find ourselves in.  I don’t know that I would describe community as an “insurance policy”.  While there are elements of accuracy there, it strikes me as too calculated, too transactional.  Yes, community can support us in amazing ways, but it goes beyond just what happens when things fall apart.  Community shapes us, strengthens us for everyday life together as well.

Nor is community an “immunity”, some sort of vaccination that keeps us from suffering “loss and disappointment and rage”.  But it is true that community helps us deal with these things in healthier, more constructive, less destructive (whether internally or externally) ways.  Community is not a means of  “future-proofing”.  Community is a way of shaping today and therefore shaping tomorrow.  In the process today is richer, and we can look forward to a richer tomorrow.

And of course ultimately community in and of itself, with nothing greater within it or behind it or ahead of it is as pointless as any other isolated human experience or endeavor.  What gives community it’s real power is being grounded in the ultimate, eternal community, a God who in his very essence is communal as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is this reality that gives meaning and purpose to our communal experiences here and now, knowing they are preparations for an eternal communion not simply with one another but with Him.

Sad But Not Surprised

March 13, 2019

So scandal has broken loose again.  The rich and famous have been found using their status and money to set their children up with admissions to top universities.  People have been paid to take tests.  Lies have been told.  Money has been paid.  And former starlets have been arrested.

Most of the people I’ve heard talking about this are shocked and outraged.  I can understand the outrage, but shock?  Really?  Are we that naive?  Or are we that convinced that our sinful human natures have been sufficiently remedied by our rule of law?  C’mon, people!  You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, and you should assume that somewhere, in some manner, money is talking and people are listening and systems are compromised.

This is how it’s always been.  Money buys influence.  The rich have access to myriad options that the rest of us don’t.  It’s not fair or right, it just is.  It can and should be illegal but people will still find ways around it.

This is not justifying the behavior and saying we shouldn’t care.  Sure, go ahead and care.  Allow justice to do its work when it gets the chance.  But don’t imagine it has solved the problem or eliminated the practice.  Some people got caught.  Others haven’t and won’t.

Nor is this another argument for redistributing the wealth.  Fiery politicians seem to think they can just take money away from rich people and end all of our problems that way.  This won’t work either.  Corruption conducts business in all sorts of currency, whether monetary or  related to prestige, influence, beauty, etc.  Once again the sinful human temptation won’t be erased, you just change what it looks like and how it plays itself. out.

It’s a shame.  It’s unfair.  But, despite the insistence of some folks, life isn’t fair.  Hasn’t been since Adam and Eve got booted from the garden for pilfering fruit.  It won’t be fair again until God restores it to that status.   In the meantime, be outraged, but don’t be surprised.

Standing Firm

March 4, 2019

We live in a squishy culture.  Nothing is firm and set.  People and ideas and beliefs and practices are expected to be equally squishy.  Like jello or marshmallow, like sponge cake you can poke and push and it will bend and form to the shape of your finger or fist, allowing you to pass through or pass on before it begins to take shape again.

When you listen to people talk this is readily apparent.  I hate that I catch it in my writing and speaking as well, though I try to ferret it out.  You know what I mean, the constant prefacing or concluding of any statement with in my opinion or it seems to me, or  in my experience.  The kind of statements that devalue whatever follows or precedes, even though the speaker or writer believes those statements.  It is the assumption that nothing can be stated absolutely, that everything is up for question and grabs, and that any opinion is ultimately as good as another, even if we don’t treat them that way.

Squishy.

It is shocking to people to run into non-squishiness.  It is painful.  But it is necessary.

Last night we had a deep conversation with some of the core people in that community.  People who have been coming every Sunday night  literally for years.  They come because they know us and trust us and love us to some degree.  All things that evolved because in our home they found love and acceptance and respect.  They know we don’t necessarily agree with them about everything they think or say or do.  They know that we’re Christian, even if they aren’t sure what they are at the moment.

Yet in conversations – those rare, deep conversations that I live for – there is the expectation that we will converse like everyone else in their lives has conditioned them to converse.  State what you think or feel.  Couch it in the squishy terms mentioned above, but put it out there and nobody is allowed to question or disagree.  Or if they must disagree, they need to do so in the same squishy terms the original assertion was made.  Disagreement must be couched in dismissive language that softens it for the hearer and, in my opinion, assures them that they can go on feeling what they feel or thinking what they think because I’ve acknowledged that my disagreement has no stronger basis than their opinion.  It’s a self-defeating form of expression that ultimately makes any sort of progress meaningless or pointless as there is no acknowledged objective reality to strive for.  If I asked them to defend a mathematical equation they would leap to it readily and easily.  If I asked for the proper  medical treatment for a specific condition they could provide it authoritatively.  But in the biggest questions of life, of meaning and purpose, of truth and beauty and good and evil – these things are supposed to be squishy.

So there were tears last night because I wasn’t squishy.  Because I responded to assertions with simple nos and you’re wrong and that makes no sense sorts of statements.  No squishy comfort words before or after, simply confronting their statements with hard, abrupt words.  I was reprimanded for it, at which point I assume I was expected to apologize and back down and be more squishy.

And I refused.

I meant to be hard.  Not mean or cruel, but hard.  Unyielding.  Anti-squishy.  I know these people and they know me.  And I rely on that built up relationship of love and mutual respect to be able to be hard and  unyielding when I deem it necessary.  Because when everyone is talking squishy talk it’s easy to lose track of things, easy to discount things, easy to move past things.  And some things shouldn’t be moved past or through or around so easily.  Some things, like Truth, need to be run into and bounced off of.  People need to be shaken at times out of the stupor of relativism and subjectivity which now passes for intellectual discourse.

I am not squishy.  I mean, I am, personally.  But what defines me, what anchors me, what is my rock and fortress is not squishy.  I don’t stand on my own ideas – at least as much as I can avoid it.  I stand on a word I believe with all my heart and mind and experience and observation and reflection  is given by the Creator of the Universe himself.  I stand on a rock that cannot be moved no matter how much simpler life would be for some people if it did.  And it’s my job to stand firm on that rock.  To not be squishy.  To not be hesitant.  To speak with boldness and confidence as God the Holy Spirit allows and leads me to.

NOT to be unloving or uncaring, but to stand firm.  In love and care for others and refusing to allow them the misconception that I think these ideas of truth and reality are soft and squishy and malleable.  And hopefully, in standing firm in the midst of tears and shock and anger, to trust that the relationships we’ve build over the past three plus years will drive us back to these topics for explanation and clarification and discussion.

It’s not easy or pleasant, but by the grace of God, because of His infinitely greater love and care for these people than my own love and care for them, it’s getting easier.  Easier because it’s becoming so much clearer.  Such a fascinating process!  And such a blessing to know that He is at work in all of these things not simply to vindicate my point of view, but ultimately to draw these children of his back into his arms to find the peace and hope and healing they need so desperately.