Through the Looking Glass

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Our pathway was clear. We had a plan. Then I changed the plan. We were headed from Leavenworth and the Frontier Army Museum to St. Joseph and the Pony Express Museum. Then I saw a tiny note that Atchison Kansas, which was only 30 minutes out of the way, was the home of the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. We were following the path of great explorers, Lewis and Clark, and I was excited to throw this pioneer of aviation into the mix.

We headed out through the flat back roads of Kansas. From horizon to horizon all we could see was crops. It was like we were driving through a huge shag carpet. We approached Atchison from the West. We passed the Dairy Queen and the Pizza Hut and then crossed the railroad tracks. We slid down Main Street and right before we turned the Missouri River opened before us. The river and flood plain stretched for nearly four miles.

We turned sharply north and and the road turned into a steep climb. Then at the crest of the hill we turned on Santa Fe Street and drove right to the edge of the hills overlooking the river. It was a breath taking view. Standing on this high hill we could see the water stretched out as far as the eye could see north and south. The hills four miles away testified to the immense water that had flowed past the place for thousands of years.

What a place to grow up. At the corner of Santa Fe and Terrace. The Santa Fe trail had it roots and beginnings right here. The other settler’s trails started just across the river. The wind was pushed up by the hills and as I stood at the top it felt like I could reach out my arms and fly. We toured the home and looked at the artifacts. I stood gazing out of this window and thought of a little girl who believed that her horizons were open. She believed she could. She imagined discovery and exploration. It was inspiring.

We are all shaped by our environment. By the physical realties certainly, but more so by the spiritual, intellectual and emotional landscape of our lives. May we all lift those around us to see hope, possibility and a better future.

Badlands

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The first time Cindy and I traveled to the Badlands it earned its
reputation. It was B-A-D. We were headed from Mt Rushmore to
Yellowstone via Devils Tower. It was going to be a long day. Then we
decided to add a side trip to quickly see the Badlands National Park.
We got up very early, packed up the tent and drove the opposite
direction of our destination of the day. The miles and prairie slid
past the window. What we saw was underwhelming. We turned around and
headed back the other direction. The three-hour side trip made a full
day overflow with tension and frustration when the gate of Yellowstone
was closed and we had to add another two hours to our trip. I was
uncertain if we would ever go back to the park. It was low on my
priorities.
This week we went back. Our mission trip lead us through the park and
we stayed just on the southern edge of the park. Somehow the park had
been transformed. Rangers explained to us that the sweet clover was
blooming. This happens on a three-year cycle when enough rain has
fallen. Enough rain had fallen and the prairie is ablaze in yellow.
The canyons were hued with reds and browns. It was beautiful. We saw
buffalo, prairie dogs, big-horn sheep, and birds galore. The sunrise
comes early and the last light of day happens at nearly ten at night.
We drove to overlooks and watched lightning storms. I got up early to
film sunrise at 5 am. The rains would come and clean the air.
We stopped by Wall Drug and were inspired by the story of one family
who began offering free iced water to people coming out of the
Badlands and turned it into a huge successful business (Buckees before
Buckees). We had two great visits to the place. I would call the area
Goodlands after our visit. I cannot imagine two completely different
trips.
Have you ever had two different experiences at the same place?
Sometimes a place can be great. Sometimes it can be disappointing.
Church can be that way. Sometimes we don’t get our needs met and we
decide never to return or to turn off or to lower our involvement.
However, giving a place a second chance might be what is necessary. On
my second visit, I came with a different attitude and I got a
different result.
We saw this empty and abandoned church on the prairie. I wondered what
had happened that emptied the place. I wonder if it was disappointment
with church because Jesus has not changed. I wonder, if we all had more
grace for each other, would we get a different result? Why not give
church a second chance?

Home

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On the way to the South Dakota mission trip, we took a detour through Kansas City. We stopped to see a couple of museums and then followed the path of Lewis and Clarke up the Missouri River. On the second night, we were headed to a classic Kansas City diner. Google was taking us off the main road because it was rush hour. I was completely helpless without the guiding hand of the regular updates.

I turned obediently and scanned the neighborhoods. We saw big houses and little houses. We saw boarded up businesses, thriving communities, and some urban blight.

Suddenly, a red brick building emerged on the right side of the road. I saw the sign out of the corner of my eye “Holmeswood Baptist Church.” It flashed by. I knew immediately what it meant. This is where my spiritual journey with the body of Christ began. Fifty-seven years and 4 months  ago, my mother and father took me to this church building. Inside were Christ followers. They delivered me to the waiting arms of nursery workers. I was enrolled in the “cradle roll” (I still have the certificate). The people inside that building were the first people outside of my family that loved me in the name of Christ.

We had to keep going to meet friends at the diner, but as soon as we finished, Cindy and I headed back to the HBC. We pulled into the parking lot. An event was going on, but it was not a church event. I wondered if there was anyone still in the church who would have watched me when I was a baby. They could be in there late 70’s.

None of those people who showed up that day so long ago had any idea who I would be. They did not know who I would become. I was not theirs, yet they served me and my family.

The years my family spent in Kansas City were hard years. My mother was recovering from the breakdown that came after the death of my sister during childbirth. My grandmother had cut two tendons on her foot when she stepped on a broken jar in our flooded basement where the family was sheltering from a tornado. My mother was often stuck at home with no car and no friends. The church was their lifeline. The people, that community gathered around the cross, enfolded my family. When my parents talked about the time they spent there, they always said Missouri as though they had said “misery.” The bright light was the Holmeswood Baptist Church.

Each week, volunteers in our church stand ready in rooms to receive babies and children so that moms and dads might find the community they need to survive the brutal realities of life. The single largest volunteer army in our church are our extended session care givers. Everyone ought to  volunteer. It makes a huge difference. Even if you only serve once a year, it is an investment in the future of the body of Christ.

 

Missed it by that much

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Last week, for Father’s Day we got to go to Arlington and be with my Dad. We went to lunch at an old favorite place and then we went to a movie. There was not much on we were interested in until I found out that “Field of Dreams” was playing on the big screen celebrating its 30th year of release. We got in our seats and only one other person was in the theater. Eventually, 6 people joined us.

The movie began and the lights did not dim. Logan got up and talked to the workers. They came in and pushed a button. It was right there by the door. Never again will we have to ask. We know how to turn the lights out. We had just missed it.

The movie proceeded just like it has every time I have seen it, but it was much better in the theater. It got to sit next to my Dad and we laughed and smiled and choked up at all the right moments. It was really fun.

I got interested in the location. I remember that the farm chosen as the movie location did not turn it back into a corn field, but left it as a baseball field. I searched for the information, I got caught in a rabbit hole of the division between the two families, ownership tug-o-war and the eventual buy-out. I clicked on the map. and then saw it.

Last year, on vacation, we had spent the night at Fort Dodge, Iowa. The next day, we drove to Charles Mound and hiked to the highpoint of Illinois. It was a long drive across Iowa. Then I realized that I had been just 2.7 miles from the field. Admission is free, so I could have stopped by for just a few minutes and enjoyed the place, but I missed it. I just did not know that it was only over the crest of a field. Have you ever missed something by being just being unaware?

On the way back from our D6 Mission Trip in South Dakota we were trying to map out a route. I discovered that Fort Hays is right on the path and it is very near the the Nicodemus National Historic Site. We are making the effort to not just drive by in such a hurry that we miss the point of living.

Lift your head up and look around. There may be a place or a person near that needs your attention.

Operation World

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One of my favorite daily apps is “Operation World.” Each day I am sent a short an update about a country. I am given statistics about the country and 4-5 prayer requests for the people. It does not take me more than a minute or two to review the information and then say a prayer for the people.

On Friday June 14 the information and request were from Haiti. First, I had totally forgotten that it shared and island with the DR (which has been in the news for the multiple and strange deaths to American tourists stay there). When I looked at it I at first thought, “How can they share and Island?” Then I quickly thought, “We all have to share the world.” Just that moment was worth engage in the geographical prayer movement started years ago by Brother Andrew. I learn new lessons every time I review one of the countries.

Early in the week the emphasis was on Guinea-Bissau. Honestly, I don’t ever remember ever hearing about this country. Nearly two-million people live perched on the Western Edge of Africa. Most do not believe in Jesus. (just under 11%). Last SaturdayI opened it up and prayed for Guatemala. it also happened that on that day my Tyler family was headed there for admission trip.

If you download just one pray app this would be the one I would recommend. It helps us fulfill the Great Commission and the commands of the Bible, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1, TNIV). pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (Colossians 4:3, TNIV).

The desire for the world forms first in our heart. There is nothing like starting each day remembering that everyone I see needs to know the Gospel. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Mat 28:19-20.

Sinking

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We showed up at youth camp and eventually headed to our cabins to drop off our stuff. The sharp sounds emerged from the bathroom. Clearly there was something unusual in the bathroom. I went to check it out. There in the sink was a scorpion. It was alive and unhappy. It did not invite me to wash my hands. The first group of camp each summer literally has to work out lots of the bugs. The scorpion did not survive the encounter.

Later, I was leaving to come home when Cindy’s father passed away. As I was driving out of camp, a skunk was also walking toward the exit. We patrolled him as he scuttled along in the grass. He did not seem to notice. Then it dissapeared into the zipline tower.

Each morning I was at camp I would go for a walk. The thing that I hate the most is that I would come back covered with spider webs. They were everywhere and I they made my skin crawl. After months of only weekend interest, the camp is open almost every day for the summer and the animals and insects will have to make adjustments if they intend to survive.

Clearing away the cobwebs and underbrush is what is necessary to do the spiritual work of renewal. It is what makes lots of growth possible. The wilderness has been the crucible of spiritual change from the beginning of time. It is there that we take the steps to unpack and unwind from our normal pathways and try on new ways of living. I have been attending church summer camp yearly since 1978 and each year is does me good.

This year was different from all the other years. I went as we moved my father-in-law to hospice care. I left and returned home after he died. I drove bak to camp from the graveside service. I came back from camp after the last night of camp and then prepared for the memorial service. Camp was a beautiful oasis in the middle of that stress. It was calm and quiet and beautiful. I was thankful for the retreat in the middle of the chaos.

The perfect picture.

This is not the perfect picture. There is a version of it that I can see in my head that is. It was a rainy night in Rome. We were out for a walk and we came to the Spanish steps. At the top is an ancient obelisk from Egypt that was placed to guide pilgrims coming to Rome find their way. Standing on the middle landing were these two people under this brilliant red umbrella.  I saw them from a long way off and was drawn to the image. I walked closer and began taking pictures. They were consulting a guide book, so hey were not moving. I really wanted them alone on the steps right in the middle with the glow of the street light bathing them in a warm red glow.  I took the first picture at 9:00 PM. I took the last picture at 9:15. A bunch of people were waiting on me, so I could not wait longer and the rain began to pick up, so I lost my opportunity. Each time I would get the shot framed and free of other tourists, someone would walk right into my frame to take a selfie. This guy walked right past me almost bumping me as I was poised to take a picture. Then he went on to take pictures of himself for about 5 minutes. He seemed very happy with himself.  Last week I was filming for one of the long psalms. We, Wade and I, had gotten up at sunrise to film at Mickinney Falls State Park. The process involves scouting a location, choosing a pathway and then slowly and quietly walking and filming without shaking the camera. It takes concentration.  I started down a pathway. The opening shot was great-flowers and cactus opened on to a vast exposed shelf of rock. The morning sun accentuated the ripples in the rock. We could hear the growing rumble of the waterfall. We try to film for four minutes to get enough usable material. I was three minutes in when I heard a disturbance behind me. Then it happened, a woman on a bicycle came ridding right behind me. She photo bombed the image and it was ruined. Wade had asked her to stop. She did not.  We walked back to the beginning and started to film again. As I got closer to the waterfall, I avoided her bicycle strewn on the ground, but then saw her sitting right in the middle of the falls. Another failure. We took our cameras to take close ups of the water, but most did not come out, because though she could see our cameras she decided to place herself in the middl of the falls as if her feet were concrete. We stayed for thirty minutes, but she never decided to share the space with us.  It says in Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (2:3). Both photos were lessons to me on the amazing self-centeredness of our society and how contrary it seems to the way of Jesus. Life can’t be just about us, about placing ourselves in the middle of the world. We are called to live a life of serve to others.

This is not the perfect picture. There is a version of it that I can see in my head that is. It was a rainy night in Rome. We were out for a walk and we came to the Spanish steps. At the top is an ancient obelisk from Egypt that was placed to guide pilgrims coming to Rome find their way. Standing on the middle landing were these two people under this brilliant red umbrella.

I saw them from a long way off and was drawn to the image. I walked closer and began taking pictures. They were consulting a guide book, so hey were not moving. I really wanted them alone on the steps right in the middle with the glow of the street light bathing them in a warm red glow.

I took the first picture at 9:00 PM. I took the last picture at 9:15. A bunch of people were waiting on me, so I could not wait longer and the rain began to pick up, so I lost my opportunity. Each time I would get the shot framed and free of other tourists, someone would walk right into my frame to take a selfie. This guy walked right past me almost bumping me as I was poised to take a picture. Then he went on to take pictures of himself for about 5 minutes. He seemed very happy with himself.

Last week I was filming for one of the long psalms. We, Wade and I, had gotten up at sunrise to film at Mickinney Falls State Park. The process involves scouting a location, choosing a pathway and then slowly and quietly walking and filming without shaking the camera. It takes concentration.

I started down a pathway. The opening shot was great-flowers and cactus opened on to a vast exposed shelf of rock. The morning sun accentuated the ripples in the rock. We could hear the growing rumble of the waterfall. We try to film for four minutes to get enough usable material. I was three minutes in when I heard a disturbance behind me. Then it happened, a woman on a bicycle came ridding right behind me. She photo bombed the image and it was ruined. Wade had asked her to stop. She did not.

We walked back to the beginning and started to film again. As I got closer to the waterfall, I avoided her bicycle strewn on the ground, but then saw her sitting right in the middle of the falls. Another failure. We took our cameras to take close ups of the water, but most did not come out, because though she could see our cameras she decided to place herself in the middl of the falls as if her feet were concrete. We stayed for thirty minutes, but she never decided to share the space with us.

It says in Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (2:3). Both photos were lessons to me on the amazing self-centeredness of our society and how contrary it seems to the way of Jesus. Life can’t be just about us, about placing ourselves in the middle of the world. We are called to live a life of serve to others.

Sunning

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We got up early with the sunrise. It is one of my favorite things about 30 seconds after I get up. The first few seconds when he alarm goes off, that I have set to get me up at the crack of dawn, is disorienting. Sometimes my slothful side wins and I turn off the alarm. If I can push through that early resistance then I remember why I am awake. I get to greet this beautiful day.

I got into my swim gear, splashed water in my face and then headed to the waterfall. We were trying to film before the crowds showed up, well before the crowds of people showed up. We drove the half a mile to the parking lot and then walked the 100 yards to the waterfall.

Songbirds flitted away from the trees. Water rushed over the rocks with thunderous applause. Two huge turtles plunged off a boulder in the lagoon. A huge heron exploded from the alcove below us. Obviously, many others had the same idea I had. We sat down and started filming. We were taking time-lapse shots so we were still and quite and the area began to return to normal. The song birds alighted in the trees and began to serenade us. The water kept churning. A brave turtle emerged from the depths and hoisted himself out of the water and stretched in the sun. The heron slowly began to wade in the water opposite our location.

Flee and return. This is the way of life. Something happens and we flee. We turn inward and away from others. Maybe it is a misunderstanding. Possibly it was a deliberate offense. Sometimes it is boredom. The result is that our world is out of balance and we end up alone. Then slowly we find a way to return. We find that what drew us in the first place is still in place.

This pattern repeats itself and one of two things happen. One, we flee longer and further away until we stop returning all together. Two, we get more resilient and stop flying away when change occurs. I told the birds they had nothing to fear from me, but they did not listen. I told the turtles they were wasting energy, but they fled anyway. The only way to stay connected to people for a long time is to learn the way of grace and forgiveness. Without it, we will keep fleeing and isolating ourselves until we are complete alone. People are hard work, but worth it.

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

8 Ball Water Tower

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.