Grumpy

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On Friday, “Grumpy Cat,” the internet sensation, died from complications of an infection. It made me think of this cat that I met in Ireland. These two cats might have been able to tolerate each other if they had ever met. It also made me think our grumpy cat.

The cat that I shared a house with while growing up was called Tippy. She was almost completely black except for her paws which were mostly white, and a face patch that was white leaving enough space for a dark black mustache. She moved in to our lives and took over when my parents lived in Germany. My mother found her clinging to the back screen door. Mom freed her and then fed her and Tippy assumed she had found an obedient servant, which she had. I was born into the house she ruled.

We got a dog when I was three. The puppy came bounding into the house. The cat swatted him on the nose instantly. The dog hid and the pattern was established. Tippy never walked, she always stalked. She never purred, she grumbled. Her tail never swayed, it always slashed. When I was little she seemed to get enjoyment out of riding in the car and was an occasional guest in our tips. One day, she was standing on the top of the back seat and my Dad had to slam on the brakes. Tippy reached out and grabbed my brother right behind the ear and nearly tore it off. We rushed to the doctor for the stitches to reattach it. He had that scar his whole life. It was Tippy’s last joy ride. All the rest were in a cage to go to the vet. Tippy had two rules: “Feed me on time,” and “Leave me alone.” We complied with her wishes.

When she died we all cried. We longed to have a better relationship with her, but were never able to break through to her. Her death meant our dreams died. We always hoped she would mellow with time and enjoy coming to sit by us on the couch. One time, we found her in the living room sitting right in the walkway. we thought this might be the moment. It was the winter and for several days we gathered in the living room around the mantle my father had made and the warm glow of a fire. There the cat sat in our midst. I got down on the ground to see if Tippy was in the petting mood (which she rarely was). I quietly laid down next to her. You had to approach her very slowly. As I lay on the ground I noticed it was very warm. I invited my Dad to come feel the floor. The hot water pipe had broken in the slab. Tippy was looking for warmth, but not from us.

Being grumpy is a path that many people take. They decide to complain and gripe and see the worst. They treat people with disdain and slowly over time that get more and more alone. Proverbs 29 tells us, “A fool lets it all hang out; a sage quietly mulls it over” (Pr. 29:11 Message). Grumpy cat could not help what her face looked like. We, however, get to choose our response to the world around us. Choose joy and thankfulness over grumpy.

What do you see?

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Last week I was hiking. I was not looking for anything, I was just looking. The fog gentle caressed the earth. A light breeze made the leaves lift and fall like wings. The birds soared above on wings and the songs soared from below. I stopped and felt a huge rock. The sharp edges of the crystalline granite grabbed by fingers. It was cool to the touch. Then I lifted my eyes, and saw the heart. I took the picture. I love it. I love the greens and blues of the lichen. I like the red of the underlying granite against the water stained granite behind.

I have lots of pictures of hearts that I see in the natural world. I have lots of rocks that I have slipped into my pockets while hiking that are heart shaped. One I remember clearly was from a black sand beach. Cindy and I were celebrating our 20th anniversary and walking and listening to the sea. There was a bright white piece of coral that had been tumbled by the waves and smoothed into the shape of a heart. Whenever I look at that photo, I remember the joy of the discovery.

I also remember that as a boy I had been on a black sand beach with my family. I was in the 3rd grade. We were skipping rocks, and juggling coconuts and running to the waters edge like sandpipers and then running away as the water lapped at our heels. Then suddenly it happened. A huge wave rose up and tendered ashore and took my brother and my mother from their feet to their faces in a flash. What came next really matters to me. There was laughter.

My mother and my brother were shaken, but not distressed. They looked like wet rats. The dry clothes were miles away, but the response was joy. We picked them up and took a few health steps away from the water and laughed and kidded about it for as long as I can remember. Years later, I was walking with Cindy and Steve Akin along a rocky shoreline and the same script was repeated. They both got drenched with water and the giggles.

What are you looking for and what do you see? I think we take a perspective with us wherever we go. Some people see the darkness others the light. Some people hear the birds and others the noise. Some people feel the bumps and the scrapes others sense the age and the wisdom. Some people see love wherever they look. Paul proclaims in the book of Romans, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (1:20). I think it means that you can look around and see the fingerprints of God. In the world and in the people around you. You just have to be looking for it.

Sing

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The first thing I saw was his red underbelly. It was just a flash in the undergrowth. Then I heard him sing. It’s a chaotic song that goes up and down and the falls apart in a tangle. I could hear him sing over and over, but I could not see him. 

Then he showed himself. A Painted Bunting is one of my favorite birds. My mom loved them. When I was young we searched for them. This was the first one that I had seen since I got my new lense. I really wanted him. 

I lifted the camera. I focused on his eye. I pushed the shutter. Nothing. I scratched my head and tried several times and then realized. My battery was dead. I had to leave the bird and make my way back to the car. I got anew battery and then tried to require contact.  

I stopped and got quiet. Then he sang. Slowly I threaded my way through the trees stopping and listening. Each time I would adjust my course as the bird toyed with me.  

Finally, he came out and stood on a top branch. He sang and sang and sang. I thought of my mom and could almost hear her voice in the song. I snapped a slew of pictures.  

Praying is listening. It’s reconnecting to the voice that called you into being. God spoke and the world was created. Sometimes we have to get quiet to hear his voice and then we have put ourselves into position to hear him again and again.  

Found Him!

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The year my oldest son was born, 1987, was the same year that a Waldo was turned loose upon the planet. People have been looking for him ever since. We have for different, “Where’s Waldo?” books on the shelves with the books we kept form our kids childhood (which is all the books). I have spent hours with my boys in my lap watching as they trace their finger across the page trying to find the elusive Waldo.

The pictures frequently had eye traps designed to fool the reader into mis-identifying the elusive traveler. His books spawned an empire and a TV series. I had lost touch with Waldo and had not even wondered about his location for a number of years.

Three weeks ago I was in Austin. Cindy and I were walking with friends when it happened. Waldo came walking out of a cafe. There he was just standing on the street. After such a long and meticulous examination he was in Austin. We were all stunned. Then we jumped into action. They sent me.

“Could we take our picture with you?”

He smiled, “Yes.”

The next time I’m on game show and they ask, “Where’s Waldo?” Il’l be able to answer definitely, Austin, Texas.”

Looking, seeking and finding-that is the journey of life. It starts when we are young as we explore the world. We see, we hear, we touch, we sniff, we taste (always with babies is the taste and the drool). Then we advance and explore further afield. We ask the questions, “Why?” “Where?” "When?” and there always seems to be another question. Then we start to ponder the deeper questions of life, faith and pain.

Sometimes we settle on and answer and it is a watershed for life. Other times we rivets the question over and over turning it in our minds. Occasionally we just stuff the question down deep in our soul and try to ignore it. Then come the surprising moments when the encounter with life posits and answer to a deep question. We watch someone suffering in grace and we are able to trust God a little more. We see the rippling consequences of actions and realize that life does not feel very accidental, but instead it feels like we have been created for a purpose. Then our deeps doubts are revealed and faith hangs in the balance and a moment of transendence a momentary miracle occurs and we are brought back to Jesus fresh and new.

Last week we met the risen Lord on the shore of the sea of Galilee. He did not announce himself with a band or a parade, but a bit of fish cooked over a fire. It was in the ordinary grace that they reconnected with Jesus. It was in going back to where it all began that they found Jesus. The women answered the disciples when they wondered where Jesus was saying, “He is in Galilee.”

Maybe you need to look for Jesus again where you met him the first time. He has something to share with you, friendship and love and he is waiting for you there.

Crawfish

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I walked over toward the roaring fire and watched the process of the crawfish boil unfold. 90 pounds of writhing, pinching agitated crustaceans filled a wheelbarrow. As I got close this one fellow rose up and looked me square in the eye. His claws came up. He was ready for a fight. Others in the stew did the more typical backing up behavior.

Behind the home where i grew up was a lovely little creek. It was lined with blackberry vines and I spent many summer evenings with my friends wading in the water and fishing for crawdads. We would tie strings to sticks and then bacon to the bottom fo the sting. Slowly we would submerge the tiny piece of fat and wiggle it gently outside one of the holes dug out of the side of the creek bank.

Then it would happen. I tiny claw would carefully emerge. First it would hesitate and then it snap closed on the meat. All that was left was to pull up the string. The beast would not let go to save its own life. It would hold on, protecting this tiny piece of bacon not realizing that the longer it held on, the more likely that it would be the last thing it ever held. It could not see an inch beyond its claw.

Without the bacon, the crawfish would act in a complete normal way. It would jet backwards and away from us. We spent so many hours in the water wading and chasing the aquatic life. We caught tadpoles and frogs. We had jars of wiggle things we found in the water. We ran from snakes, but always came back to the water. I don’t think we ever caught a crawfish by chasing it. It was only the lure that worked. Mostly, it was just catch and release with us. It was not until I was an adult that I actually ate one (not my favorite). I vastly prefer bacon and would not waste any to try to catch a crawfish.

I’ve been think about that brave crawfish in the wheelbarrow and the wise ones in the creek. Sometimes it is necessary to stand and fight. Other times it is better to flee, but its ridiculously hold on to an idea that is destructive and counter productive. So often, we start defending our ideas, our opinions, our territory and injure ourselves. We refuse to say we were wrong, we are sorry, we blew it. We stick out our big claw and hold on to a pretend purity. Everyone can see us clearly swinging from the string and could yell at the top of our lungs, “Let Go!", but most of us will cling on until it is much too late.

Unclasp your claw.

"Time goes, you say? Ah no, Alas, time stays, we go"

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Henry Dobson’s pithy line, from his poem the "Paradox of Time" is the inspiration for a monumental statue in Washington Park. This beautiful green beltway is directly connected to the campus of the University of Chicago. The statue features a single figure, “Time,” standing in opposition to over 100 other figures who appear to be walking past his gazing eyes.

Completed in 1920, this statue was made with a specially formulated mixture of concret and pebbles. The harsh winters, the relentless rain, the cycle of freezing and thawing have slowly taken its toll on the fountain. It has required frequent renovations over its nearly 100 years. This reality seems to perfectly fit the theme of the sculpture. The figures tell the story of our lives-birth and love, vocation and celebration, war and peace, youth and age. The tangle of humanity flows like water.

It reminds me of the Arab proverb that they tell tourists in Cairo, 'Man fears time, time fears the Pyramids.’ These huge structures have stood tall in the desert while empire after empire has come and gone. Almost the opposite of the Chicago statue, the pyramids shake off the dust heaping at their feet, not noticing the passage of time.

The first statue calls to the ephemeral nature of life. The second to the eternal. Part of our life comes and goes. Part of our lives remain. I worry that too many people spend too much time on that which does not last-pride, position, opinion. Instead, we should live for love, mercy and Jesus. All the time we spend defending, all the time we spend arguing our position, all the time we spend trying to be right is such a black hole (did you see the first picture this week?)

Every moment I have spent listening, that is like eternity in a bottle. The encounters of heartfelt prayer lift me and transcend space and time. Sharing the loving words of Jesus always puts everything else in greater perspective.  Spend your time wisely.

 

I'M HERE

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I stand at the sink flapping my hands trying to silently scream, “I’m here, I’m here, I”M HERE!” The faucet is nonplused. It ignores me completely. I look in the bowl trying to discern if there is any remaining water to indicate if the sink is actually active or just a lure for a great big game show experiment. I shift the left and flap. Again, I am ignored. Three sinks to the right a man walks up and begins to wash his hands.

I covet his sink. I look at my teeth in the mirror to buy some time as I wait for the sensitive sink. The crowd thins and I slide across the room like I’m about to exit and then make a hard left to the sink. This time I’m cool. I slowly extend my hands as if to offer a fragile flower to the wind. I make gentle stirring motions under the faucet cradling my hands in the shape of a cup. I start to cry on the inside. This faucet has colluded with its friends to deny me water.

A guy comes to my initial faucet and it spouts out water like an elephant trunk. I concentrate very hard on the silver top. I bring my hands down like a curtain closing off all the other light. Not a drop. I bend my arms into the shape of pretzel and try to fill the bowl with a lot of Kyle and somehow a miracle occurs and the water froths out on my forearm. I retract my legs and feet and shoulders to try to get the water to connect with my hands right at the moment when the water is choked off like it was all a dream. I let the water run down my forearm and try to use it. I reach over to get some soap out of the dispenser and the faucet spouts like a whale.

I leave a little bruised and sad. Why do these things ignore me? How are they supposed to work? Why can other people seem to make them work standing right next to me and I struggle like a fish flopping on the beach.

Have you ever felt invisible, unnoticed and ignored? We visited a church last week. It was a small church 40-50 people in attendance. We knew the preacher. We did not know anyone else. This is a group of people who know each other. A couple of people spoke to us. To most, it was as if I was invisible. We should talk to more people. We should go out of our way to talk to everyone we can. We should make sure the water turns on for everyone who walks through our doors. I don’t want anyone to ever leave our place and feel like they have been invisible. Jesus says he is living water. We are the faucets. People have their hands cupped looking for a refreshment, looking to wash out the stain of life, or trying to get enough Gospel to grow. They should not have to flap, and make a scene to get noticed. Lets just turn on the water.

Burger

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I went to the cashier. I ordered what I always order. “I would like the Ranch Hand.”

She starred at the cash register. She looked up at me. “What is that?” I was afraid of that exact response. The Ranch Hand has not been on the menu for a number of years. It used to be on the menu, but someone decided that it no longer measured up and deserved a spot on the regular posted bill. 

I have a vague sense of what is on the burger, but it is only that, a vague sense. It had Ranch dressing on it. That is the “Ranch” part of the “Ranch Hand.” It has bacon on it. I remember that. It was not just “Ranch,” it was “Peppercorn Ranch.” I remember cheese. The cashier at the next register waded into the conversation. She described a burger, but it was not my burger. A supervisor came next and immediately read off the description of the burger, “bacon, peppercorn ranch and cheddar cheese.” 

No, that was not by burger. The cheese was wrong. It was Pepper Jack Cheese! I got the order correct and then waited for my burger. It was perfect.

I order my life with choices and love that some of those choices are already made like what I order at one of my favorite burger joints. I don’t like that they have taken my burger off the menu. I don’t like that it has so fallen out of the consciousness that the cashiers don’t know what I mean.

I have become one of those old people who like the, “Good old days.”

The burger that got me here is not the burger that is going to take me forward. I looked at another burger on the menu. It has goat cheese. That is what I’m going to order the next time. It is time for a change. 

We are in a story that is changing. I want to be in the stream. I want to see what is downstream. Jesus says, Behold I make all things new (Rev. 21:5). 

Under the 8 -ball

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We were on the way to a funeral. We were driving the roads of rural Missouri. We saw the tower in the distance. From as far away as the tower is visible it is clearly and 8-ball. It was a grey windy day and I was not thinking about much, but getting to the service on time. Cindy insisted that I stop and take a picture. We did and then went on our way. We made it to the funeral with plenty of time to spare.

Later I was going through my photos and came across this odd tower. I wonder who decide on this paint job. When aI saws the billiard ball floating high up in the air, I thought about a pool table, but almost immediately thought of one of the other meanings of the word, “8-ball',” which is a measure of cocaine. I wonder if the person or persons who painted it knew that?

I asked Google. The town of Tipton, MO used to be the home of “Fischer Manufacturing was at one time the largest maker of pool tables. The company sold more tables than Brunswick Billiards in 1964.” The tower was built in 1968 as part of the fire suppression system. In 1977 the factory was closed and was later bought and repainted to look like a normal tower. That plant closed in 1989 and the tower was given to the town. A year later the people (Pop. 3378) lobbied the city to repaint the billiard ball which it did. One resident said that when they had been gone ways from home it was the sight of the 8-ball tower that let them know they were home. According to Wikipedia it is recognized as the larges 8-ball in the world.

It’s funny how we can all look at something and see something different. It is a game? drug? home? All are legitimate understandings. We can know that the original paint job had a meaning. It was advertising and pride in workmanship. Then when the new company took over, it was a reminder of failure and the past, so they painted over it. Truckers who passed by used it as a landmark on their journey across the state. Eventually, it was painted as a symbol of nostalgia and the love of home. Young people passing by smirk at the tower knowing that their parents probably have no idea that is has a dark and nefarious meaning.

What we intend, what we meaning, what we think is filtered by the world and what they see and what they think it means and how they think about what they see based on their own expereince. Communication is hard because there are so many layers, so many places for misunderstanding. Sometime the Bible is misunderstood because people read it through “American Eyes” when it was clearly written through “Middle Eastern Eyes.” Our job is try to understand it in the context that it was offered and then try to understand what it means today.

We have been reading through the book of Corinthians and encountering some ideas that are so bound up in the world of the first century that our modern eye turn the meaning all upside down. This is great book to consult helps and resources to try to crawl back to the first century and see it like it was meant. The first people the read the book felt like it was liberating, freeing and powerful. That is the way we need to read it again today.

Can we forgive?

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We don’t buy many souvenirs when we are traveling, we used to, but not now. The stuff we got just hung around and the guilt associated with getting ride of the things was too high to make it worth the effort. Therefore, the stuff gathers dust and takes up space. Occasionally we buy a deck of playing cards which are consumed at a relatively high pace when we play some of the competitive card games popular at our house, especially “Pounce!” A nativity set is enticing, but se already have so many so they are even less interesting than the used to be.

On our ecumenical dialogue trip in January I found the perfect souvenir. It was useful, an eraser. It was interesting, it had a label in Latin on it. It was about forgiveness, at least self forgiveness. It was the first three words of a famous saying, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” I bought two of them. One was a gift, the other has been hanging around my desk at work.

I have picked it up and turned it over and over in my hands recently. It is true. As I sometimes hear,
”people are highly overrated.” People are a sinful mess and sometimes the mess is very messy. What should I do about it in the moments when the fractures and flaws become common knowledge? What do I do about the musicians who’s lives have been revealed as deeply sinful? What do I do when one of my mentors, a pastor, Bill Hybels is shown to be deeply flawed? What am I supposed to think when a politician’s personal life so deeply reveals an aversion for the ways of God? What am I to do with the legacy of our founding fathers like Jefferson who had children by an enslaved women and then sold the child away into bondage? What happens when the director of the movies I like reveals himself to be calouse to the pain and brokenness of the world making fun of the abuse of women and children?

Do I listen to the music or try to eradicate from my world? Should I try to get it eradicated from the whole world? Can I listen to Bill any longer? Can I support the politician? Can I cherish the words of the Declaration of Independence? Can I watch Guardians of the Galaxy? What are we to do with the obviously sinful? Should I just make sure I stay naive and never look under the hood of people’s lives. At least that way, I don’t have to trouble my conscience with these pesky questions.

James Gunn was given his director’s job back this week. Disney said,

The social media messages were indefensible, but the filmmaker never did anything but blame himself for poor judgment displayed at a time when he was emerging from [film school] and attempting to be a provocateur. There were no reports that Gunn ever engaged in the behavior he lampooned. Unlike the defensive posture exhibited by Kevin Hart that led him to skip hosting the Oscars, Gunn fell on his sword early and often and never lashed out at Disney. ) Deadline.com. March 15, 2019.

Honesty, the lack of blame, clarity . . . we might call it repentance was the thing that helped. I’m still working out a system for evaluating what I will and will not consume from the obviously broken (I just fooling myself that there is anyone who is actually unbroken), but obvious repentance makes a difference. Now I just have to figure out what to do with those who are dead, or silent, or deluded into thinking they are without fault. What do I do without honesty? This is what consumes my mind when I pick up my eraser.

Noise

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I pulled into my neighborhood and turned my head to the right. At first I thought that a dark cloud was covering the sky. Then the dark mass moved in response to my presence. Like a wave, it rose up and then crashed back on the ground. I rolled down my window and the noise flew through my window. This living mass of feathers would suddenly leap into the air like a blob in a lava lamp. It undulated fell apart then then reformed.

I turned away from my house and toward the birds. I thought of Alfred Hitchcock as I rolled up my windows. I crept my car forward but they were having none of it. The street cleared and the trees filled into my car slipped past them and the cloud returned. I looked down at the the road and the lawn, but could not discover what the fuss was all about.

I have heard the squawking all week. I have heard people talking about the herd mentality. There does seem to be tendency in our world for noise and crowds and chaos to all go together. The airwaves seem to be filled with division. Groups rise up, fly around and make a bunch of noise, but frequently end up right back in the same position.

I was so proud of our community this last week, because some brave souls turned the noise into forward progress. I love that some people tried to raise a contentious conversation to a level of civility and honor. I love that some our our political representatives listened to people and responded. It is rare for anyone to push pause. Our school board did a courageous thing this week. People complain and gnash their teeth about Washington and Austin, that those place don’t listen to the real people. It was awestruck by the leadership expressed by our schools this week. I believe that we will come out of this strong and better.

We should all commit ourselves to not following the crowd, but leading the flock. We should commit our selves to the way of peace. We should honor those who listened and responded. I have heard some chest bumping, some people declaring winners and losers. I have heard condemnation and aspersion. I pray that we could inject peace instead. I pray that we could offer understanding instead. I pray that we can lift up grace instead. There were not winners and looser, just us, just our flock and we all get there together or not at all.

Bird Talk

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When I look at my bird pictures, I often imagine the conversations the birds are having. Last year, I was watching these fire finches. The are beautiful and brightly colored. They almost always seem to be seen in pairs. Frequently I see them in small flocks of 12-20 birds. They are less frightened by people and will often get very close, which makes it a joy to watch them, because you can see their expressions.

This pair was in a tree above my head. In the top picture they seem to both be seeing the same thing. Their eyes are locked onto something. I wonder if it was another bird? another little female bird? She turns away from him. “I can’t believe you would even look at her!”

“What?’ he says. She turns back to look at him, “Don’t even talk to me.” If you were to look at the pictures, what is the story you are telling yourself? “Let’s go out to dinner.” “I’d rather stay home.” “Look, I’ve already got my house shoes on.” “Yes, you do.”

What story can you tell with the three pictures?

How often, when we see things, do we start tell ourselves a story? We think we know people’s motivations. We think we know what is in their minds. We think we understand what their words really mean. How often do we jump to conclusions without gathering enough information?

It is so easy to assume. It is much harder to listen and understand. It is easy to accuse. It is much harder to wait and see. It is easy to react, but much harder to control ourselves and choose. Until we can honestly confront the inner dialogue, our inner voice that fills in the gaps around us, we will never move to a deeper level of community, compassion and love.

Jesus saw people. The pharisees saw people. Jesus saw sheep without a shepherd. He had compassion on them. He wanted to gather them under his wings. The pharisees saw people. They were harsh with them. They tried to push them away. Same people, different narrative.

This week tell a better story when you look at people. Choose to believed the best. Choose to interpret them in the most positive light.

Spots

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Last week, during DNOW many of us were praying for the young people to have a fresh encounter with Jesus. All through the weekend I would see kids and pray a simple prayer, “God reveal yourself to them.” 

We were trying to find a way to make those prayers real and tangible to each person. We wrote each kids name on a ball and asked individuals to pray that simple prayer and when they did, to make a simple mark. I love this picture because it shows in such a tangible way that lots of people have gathered around these teenagers. 

I wonder how often we tell someone, “I’ll pray for you” and then we don’t. I wonder if the tangible nature of these balls connected our promise to our actions. They are like living prayer journals. I wonder how often we tell someone that we are praying for them and they wonder if we actually did  I love each of these dots because they are evidence of follow through on the prayer promise  

On Wednesday, the kids were given these markers to remind them of what we had done. Now maybe we need reminders to keep it up. Why not take this picture and put it in the fridge, or your mirror and everyone you see it pray that simple prayer, “God reveal yourself to these youth (and to me).” 

Why not create your own version and give someone the encouragement of your prayers and the tangible sign of your action.  

When I'm 64

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At the end of the day I do the pat down. I check my pockets for the stuff that has ended up in them. I try to hang my keys on the hook by the garage, my wallet goes in the brass bowl and then I sort out the other stuff. Usually, it’s bits of paper, cough drop wrappers and reminders. Last Wednesday had been a full day. Lots of meetings and a full contact prayer meeting for DNOW led to a late night . When I got home, I sat for a few minutes and then headed to bed. I reached into my pocket. I forgot to hang up my keys on the hook. Then I reached into my left front pocket and pulled out a huge pieces of hardish plastic. It was my number from lunch. I don’t know how for most of the day it had been in my pocket and I had not once noticed it. Sometimes, I am oblivious.

Rewind about nine hours earlier. I sat down at the table and my table-mates asked me, “Where is your number?” I stopped and look around. “I did not get one,” was my reply. I walked back to the front counter. “I did not get a number.” There was no accusation in my tone, it was an admission that I had walked away without the number.

They looked at me. They typed into the cash register. “Your number is 64.” They looked through the cards and found no 64. “Ill just tell they guy delivering the food your number.” I went back to the table and my food appeared on cue.

Later that night, when I pulled out the card, I realized that I lied (“I did not get a card”) and I stole (the card was in my pocket). On further reflection, the cashier knew that I had been given the card. That is how she got the number for my order. She never let it interfere with helping me. On Friday, I returned to the scene of the crimes. I pulled the card out and walked into the lobby. Several of the workers looked at me. The worker that had helped me was not there. I apologized for taking their card and for asserting that I had not been given a card when I clearly had been given a card. I was told that I was banned from the store for two weeks.

Then they laughed at me. They took my order. They gave me a card, it had 64 on it. I sat at the table with the number right next to me. I was humming the Beatles song, “When I’m 64.” In part it reads, “will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m 64.” I’m thankful that they still brought me food. They were good sports about the whole thing. I wondered how many people never bring the cards back?

Sometimes our errors are hard to see layered under our reasons and justifications. Sometimes the evidence is powerful and convicting. I’m praying that I see my errors more clearly and then make them right more quickly.

Kyle's Bad Day

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This watery reflection is a statute of a famous author, Dante. I took the picture in Florence, but thought about him last week in Athens. He is the author of the Divine Comedy, it’s not a book many have read, but one of the most influential. In the book, Dante describes a journey to Hell in a section called the Inferno. His imagery influenced people from the 1300’s to the present. In the book, he describes a long descending journey of pain and suffering.

Monday was just such a day. I went to bed on Sunday night with a mild scare. I looked into my eye and saw what I thought was a worm. I was horrified. I steeled myself and swished it out of my eye. I realized it was not a worm but a long mass of eye goo. I thought I must have gotten a hair in my eye and snuggled in my bed thankful it was not a worm.

I woke up on Monday too early. I’m still not back in Central Time Zone, so I tried to ignore being awake and go back to sleep. I tried not to move, I did not open my eyes. A deep piercing pain made itself known from deep within my right calf muscle. The very first thought I had was, “I have another blood clot.”

My eye shot open. My left eye opened. My right eye stayed glued shut. I crawled out of bed and went to the mirror. A crusty eye residue had woven itself through my eye lashes. I woke Cindy up to look at my eye (isn’t that a great way to wake up, “Hey honey, look at this goo'“). We both agreed I had Pink Eye. I laid back down waiting to call the Doctor for the inevitable appointment. My leg ached.

Cindy wake up an hour later and the goo was in her eye. She had it too. We both went to the same Doctor’s appointment and the eyes were easily diagnosed, and prescriptions ordered. Then I broached the subject of my leg. The pain had been unrelenting. I was sure it was a blood clot. The exam in the room was inconclusive, but due to my history I was hustled off to the hospital for an ultrasound exam on the leg. It confirmed what I believed that I had a blood clot in my right leg. Now both of my legs have had a blood clot in the same place.

I can tell you I felt frustrated and embarrassed. The questions people almost always ask are very blaming, “Do you drink enough water?” No, but there is no direct link to this and clots. “Do you walk around on those flights?” Yes, I’m so worried about this that I rarely rest well on planes and get up and walk around ever 2 hours. “Do you wear support socks?” Yes, every day, all day. “Are you on blood thinners?” Yes, I was on an aspirin regime, but now am on Xarelto. I hate that my body is betraying me.

I left the doctor very discouraged. I went to visit a friend who lifted my spirits. Then I went home and got the stomach bug that is going around. The waves a nausea were debilitating. If I had had the courage to expel the contents of my stomach it might have helped, but mostly I curled into a ball and spun in the darkness. The next day was lost in a fog of illness.

Why do I tell you this? Because I don’t want you to pat me on the back and make sweet eyes and nod your head in sympathy. People have heard of my ails already and I want everyone to agree to ignore them! If you need to say anything to me, just shake your head and say, “Bummer.” I’ll know that means you feel my pain and are on my side. Say it real quiet so that my leg will not hear it. I don’t want to give my leg too much attention because it might just try this behavior again.

I praying for better days this week.

Splash

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On the last day or our trip to Italy, I stood in the Piazza Santa Croce, people were walking through the area, shopping and talking. People were huddled in pockets for warmth. The sun was hidden behind the clouds. Many people’s heads were down. Inside the church were some of the graves of pivotal people, Michelangelo (the painter & sculptor), Machiavelli (the father of political science), Enrico Fermi (the first to produce a controlled nuclear reaction), Galileo (the astronomer), Guglielmo Marconi (the inventor of the radio), Bartolomeo Cristofori (the inventor of the piano). In the middle of the square, was one little boy. Dressed in bright red and blue, he stomped and spun and and celebrated the day.

Childhood is a universal language and puddle stomping does not have to be taught. The bright round mirror like disk did not stand a chance against the white soled tennis shoes. They leapt with joy in response to his downward crush. The father who was “watching” the child seemed bored and distracted. The child, however, seemed energized and focused. No puddle was to go undisturbed. He walked around and around attacking with gusto and without need of rest. He reminded me of the people inside the church-delighting in discovery and action.

For what do you have boundless energy? What gives you strength and you hardly ever tire of doing? What drains you and numbs you to life? Watching someone who is excited, thrilled, enthralled in an activity makes me long for those same moments in my life. The task of life is to starve the life emptying moments and transfere that time to the life affirming activities. I hate that sometimes the whirlwind of activities spin so fast and I get caught in it so easily that I don’t take the time necessary to really live life.

I made plans last year and the year before to see some friend and spiritual guides. I never got around to it. I was too busy and too distracted. I looked up and the year was gone and now a whole month is gone and still I have not done what I intended to do. I have projects I love that are sitting untouched.

Looking at that foot poised in the air, knowing that it is going to come down with delight makes me want to put my foot down and do what I know will help fill up my spirit. The confines of life so easily form borders and boundaries that are hard to shake off. The ruts are so deep that it is hard to see the landscape. I need a little more delightful energy, a little more recess abandon.

Maybe you do to? Maybe it’s time to get back to somethings that excited you about life and love and God. It’s time to put your foot down and make a splash.

Rome in the rain

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Rome is not always easy. It can be brutally crowded and oppressively hot. The combination leads to frayed emotions and stress. Our trip was designed to minimize both. Most people travel to Rome in the summer, a huge influx of pilgrims come on the shoulders of Easter. The fall draws tourist crowds trying to avoid the crowds and relish in the Christmas season. No one goes in January. Everywhere we went, we were told how empty the place was and how lucky we were for coming in January. We went to the Roman forum and for a little while there was no one else around. The crowd grew steadily during the day, but for an hour the place was ours.

The downside is the rain and the cold. It rained most days, which I think is a minor inconvenience, since most of what we did was inside museums and churches, but some of our long walks become long slogs. The other problem is closures. Lots of tourist sites close early in January. I was worried about it before we went, but now realize the pace which we kept meant most people needed a break at 5 and were not really wanting the museums to stay open till 8.

To heal the wounded, we often stopped for a break. We had been, in part, on a Gelato (incredible Italian ice cream made from milk not cream) tour. Almost every day we would try Gelato from a different store. We judged and compared and even shared tastes. Our guide told us about a place in Florence that was “the best gelato in the world!” For days our mouths watered in anticipation. We arrived on our last day of touring at our last event and then we were going to end at the Gelato shop. We weaved through the rain covered streets and turned the corner. The guides shoulders dropped. We all stared in disbelief. It was closed for January due to the lack of crowds. Sadly, we boarded the bus for the return to Rome and the trip home. Everyone was a trooper. If this was the only penalty, then we had a made a good trade.

We had several bumps in the trip, a misplaced bag, a pocket picked, a very bad blister and a traffic jam. The traffic jam triggered a long wait and a ridiculous game on the bus (ask any of the travelers about the pirate alphabet), but my favorite moment of the trip. The tour host and guide both complimented our group on the way that they dealt with problems. no fit throwing, mostly laughter and seeing the bright side.

On the Monday I left for Rome, I hurt my back. It had not hurt this bad in years. Many times I had to stop and rest and take lots of pain medicine. It was a bummer. I tried not to let it interfere, but I was often uncomfortable and people looked at me with worried concern. I felt like a distraction. When I passed a kidney stone in a flying box high above the Atlantic ocean on our flight home (FYI. the roar of the engines mask the sounds of screams) lots of things become much clearer. I woke up today with no back problem and I am celebrating.

Do you see the positive or the negative? Looking at the beautiful art, which I know was created during years of pain and difficulty, plague, famine and war, I was inspired that we can see beauty if we want to. We can’t control much, but we can control our outlook. When I am at my best, I choose to see beauty in the world.

Did Jesus Tell Ya'll to Do That?

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Last year, I read a book that has really stuck with me. It was called, Jim and Casper Go to Church. In it, Jim Henderson (no relation) describes hiring an Atheist (Casper) to travel with him to churches and then give honest unfiltered feedback about the experience. I love the book. I love the two guys featured in the book. They both seem like authentic people. They seem curious to learn from each other. They are not mean spirited, but kindly honest.

During the debrief from the church services, Casper almost always got to a point when he asked, “Did Jesus tell ya’ll to do that?” Since he had had less church expereince, he was often baffled by things people did in church. After attending a “healing” service in a church Casper asked, “If that guy can heal people, why do they need handicapped ramps?” An outsider looks inside and wonders what did Jesus want from his people most of all? That is a worthwhile conversation.

Lat week and Kings Day (Dia del Reyes) ,I was petting Humperdinck, the friendliest camel I have ever met. He was looking over toward the steeple of the church and I thought it was a fun picture. It got me thinking. When Jesus laid in the manger, could anyone have foreseen church buildings made of red brick with white spires reaching toward the sky? It’s funny, that the style of our church buildings follows the Greek temples of Athens from the time of Jesus. The church flows though that area and picks up the architecture of pillars and pediments and then flows though Rome and the Renaissance and then on to England and finally to America and Georgian architecture.

If the camel’s actually got to see Jesus, they would have seen none of that. They, however, would have seen what is most lasting and real about Jesus and therefore the Jesus community. They would have seen love. That, more than buildings, is supposed to be what characterizes us. They would have seen prayer—in a world where women died frequently in childbirth, a mom that survived was reason to celebrate. They would have seen awe and wonder as the strangest assortment of people find their way to the feet of the baby. They would have seen courage for the world did not receive him gladly.

May the world see us not as people under a steeple, but a group devoted in love to each other, calling on a gracious and generous God, including everyone in the circle of our care. May we have the boldness to step out of an ordinary life and to the extraordinary life of Jesus. I pray that is what Humperdinck could see.

A light in the sky

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We stepped out onto the streets of New York. Ever since I was a child New York City has been the image of joy and celebration. I get up on Long Island from the time I was 4-8. My Dad flew airplanes out of Laguardia Airport and we often took him to the city because we just had 1 car for the 5 of us, a VW Beatle. Driving to the city was like visiting OZ. I loved the lights and the bustle. I especially liked the library where I got my first library card and participated in a reading program.  Christmas held the promise of bigger lights and greater celebration. 

I’ve always wanted to go back. This year I had one Sunday of vacation left so we we made the choice to go for the weekend.  Our flight was delayed 2 hours and it had taken a day of travel so my plans were already off the rails, but when I stepped onto the street I was 5 again. The air was crisp and clean. The streets were not busy. I jumped and skipped and danced through the street, at least on the inside. 

Then it happened. The lights dimmed and flickered. Alarms began to ring. The there was light. The sky erupted in blue. All of the buildings took on a turquoise hue. People in the streets stopped and stared. One lady had her phone out and kept repeating the name of Jesus. This was not ordinary, it was a happening. People walked faster. We scurried underground to the subway. 

We texted our son pictures from the sky and Twitter, which was all twitter about it. Later that night we learned it was an electrical transformer explosion in Queens. 

We went downtown looked at lights and ended up at the skating rink in Central Park. It really was a magical night. 

It was fun being 5 again. It’s already been a great rest getting ready to be fully present in 2019 and if he does return in the clouds then be ready doing his work.