Responding to Tragedy

12 dead, 50 wounded, all shot in a movie theater. No, this isn’t somewhere in the Middle East, it’s here in America. Not that that should matter, but to be honest, I guess it does to me. I suppose I’ve found some way to emotionally disconnect myself from the tragedies that occur in places where I’ve never been. So when I hear the news stories about 12 dead or even 12-hundred dead in places like Syria, or Iran, I just divert my attention to something more pleasant like, say, a snack maybe, or a “King of Queens” rerun. Surely it’s on somewhere.

But this tragedy hits closer to home. Just two states over, in Aurora, Colorado. I’ve been there or at least I’ve driven through there on my way to somewhere else. The point is, this affects me more personally and therefore I’m more willing to connect emotionally and allow myself to even grieve a little.

I realize this makes me sound like a narcissistic jerk, but I’m just trying to process this honestly. And honestly, I am very narcissistic in how I live my life and view the world around me. It’s pretty much all about me. I know it’s not supposed to be, but it is. I have sought to change this in my life and I have made some pretty good strides in this area, but I suppose it will be a lifelong struggle for me.

Anyway, the point of this blog was not supposed to be all about me. (See how sneaky narcissism is). But I guess I’ll just go with it since I don’t want this to be a real long blog.

Tragedies like these tend to change our perspective on our current reality. They mess with our priorities. Thinking about the families of the dead and injured victims has stopped me from obsessing over my sore toe, at least for now. It’s caused me to think more about my family. I want to talk to them… to hug them.

Just before Sally left for work this morning, she remembered that she needed to deliver a message from someone at church who had a minor complaint. It bugged me and made me grunt under my breath. About an hour after she left, I realized I didn’t kiss her goodbye. Today, of all days, as our nation grieves over the senseless loss of life, this is the day to remember to cherish those we love.

I’m stopping here, because I need to head to Sally’s work and make things right.

 

 

This is America

The boat sends shivers of ripples along the surface of the calm waters. Everyone on board is quiet and reflective as we pass through the tropical lagoon. It’s hard to imagine this beautiful place being the scene of such violent devastation. But he doesn’t have to imagine. It’s as real to him today as it was seventy years ago.

The deep creases in his weathered and whiskered face tell only a hint of the old man’s story. Perhaps, many of his stories have never been told; stories too unbearable to share, yet too painful to forget. He has done his best to move forward; marrying his high school sweetheart, and going to work every day to provide a safe home for his growing family.

Everyone rises to their feet in honor of this old man as he disembarks the boat setting his weary feet on the hallowed ground of the USS Arizona Memorial. One of the last living survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack that occurred December 7, 1941, he represents what is best about America. He helps us remember the Day of Infamy.

The crowd respectfully follows this American hero on to the platform suspended over the sunken ship that entombs nine hundred of his fallen brothers. Flowers fall into the dark water of the harbor, floating on the blue surface stained with black tears bubbling from the watery grave.

But even in the somberness of this memorial scene, I am delightfully surprised to discover this ship graveyard has become a living reef for the beautiful schools of fish that swim here. Nature has turned that which was dead into a living sanctuary of new creation.

I am grateful for these heroes, both dead and alive, for the sacrifice they made for their country; for their courage to face the enemy and for their perseverance to rebuild and redeem the tragedy and devastation of war.

Yes, I am grateful. As I return home from my memorial experience, to reengage my everyday life of job and family, I reflect on this elder hero with deep appreciation. Because of him, I have the opportunity to pursue my personal happiness in a free and prosperous nation.

As I travel the well-paved highways of our country to celebrate our independence with other members of my family, I am grateful. Many American heroes made this possible with their sweat, their blood, their very lives.

As I gather with family and friends, enjoying the bounty of burgers and barbeque, I am satisfied far beyond my expanding waistline. Cold bottles and red cups filled with ice cold relief are raised in honor of the men and women throughout our country’s history who made each and every feast possible.

My heart explodes with every “oo” and “ah” as we sit under spacious skies illuminated with spectacular displays of color and sound. I delight in seeing the fireworks reflected in the eyes of my children and grandchildren as we gather together under the booming ballet of light. I am grateful.

This is America; generation after generation, inheriting the blessing of freedom and passing it on to the next.

Here’s to All the Human Dads

I feel I must include the word “human,” not as a way to differentiate from other members of the animal kingdom, but as a way to distance ourselves from our own narcissistic expectations of superheroism. All human dads are just that, human; imperfect, fallen, sinful, messed up.

Frankly, I think everyone is too hard on human dads. I guess it’s easy for me to say, since I am one. But really, nearly every time you turn on the TV all you see are dads being portrayed as the doofus, the villain or the butt of the joke.

But not only does our popular culture like to belittle dads, I see the church doing the same or worse. While the media likes to make fun of dads, the church seems to get off on shaming them. If you don’t believe me, go to church on Fathers day. Often you’ll hear shame-filled sermons masquerading as pep talks for dad’s to “step it up.”

Yes, I know dads all have room for improvement and it’s important for us to be challenged. But challenging us is not the same thing as shaming us. We are all human men who cannot live up to the high biblical standards 24/7. We are not perfect. We are forgiven.

We are men who struggle balancing our time between marriage, family, career and church. We get it wrong much of the time. We feel the pressure and tension of trying to provide for our family financially while also giving our time and our selves emotionally. We struggle with our friendships and our relationships. Most of us don’t really have close friendships. We feel isolated. That isolation can trigger temptations in our lives. We find ourselves tempted with lust, greed and power. We fall into temptations that bring us more shame and cause us to isolate ourselves even more.

So, if all we are going to get at church is a big heaping dose of shame, why bother? We’re good at shaming ourselves; we don’t need any assistance in that department.

So, here’s to all the human dads out there. I want you to know that God loves you just as you are. He sees your crap and loves you anyway. He knows you’re not perfect, but he thinks you’re priceless. He sent his Son to pay the price because he knew you couldn’t keep from breaking the law over and over again. My challenge for all human dads is that we reject the shame and embrace the grace, freely given by the only true Perfect Dad.

Happy Human Fathers Day!

The Pulpit and the Bobcat

As Sally and I started on our Saturday morning walk, we noticed a fox run across our street heading toward the creek behind our house. I think it’s pretty cool having wild critters running around our neighborhood. But as a little kid, that would have freaked me out. I still remember the recurring nightmares about wild animals under my bed.

When I was around six-years-old, we lived in the parsonage behind First Baptist Church of Oakville in South St. Louis County. Oakville was your typical post-World War II suburb that had been developed in the middle of farmland close to where the Meramec ran into the Mississippi river. Along with the acres upon acres of undeveloped woods, there were many other great places for a six-year-old to explore; including a goat farm, a privately owned dump and a ravine full of stuff thrown out of the original church building when we built our new sanctuary with the steeple.

Local legend, as reported by my older brother, was that a wild bobcat lived in the woods surrounding the ravine. My friend, Dennis and I loved to explore the ravine. We treated it like an ancient archeological site, but we also knew we needed to stay alert to the possible attack of “the bobcat.” Anytime we heard the rustle of a leaf or the screech of tires from the nearby traffic on Telegraph Road, we would stop what we were doing and look around for the mysterious cat.

In the middle of the ravine, filled with old Sunday school records and worn out and broken furniture, sat a humongous pulpit. This was not your ornate, high and mighty Catholic or even Presbyterian pulpit. This was an orangey-beige with speckles-painted particleboard, beat-up old Southern Baptist pulpit.  It sat cattywampus next to several boxes of old Life magazines that my dad often regretted having thrown away. It was so big, that my buddy and I would both crawl in it and hide whenever we felt the presence of “the bobcat.” We’d sit in there, sweating from the lack of air, browsing through old Life magazines until we thought the coast was clear.

As I pondered that memory this morning on our walk, I asked Sally what she thought could be the theological take-away from that story. Her only response was that it just sounded like a couple of stupid boys playing. (Maybe that’s why girls were never allowed in our pulpit-fort).

Yes, we were just a couple of “stupid boys playing,” but at least we had the sense to know where to go when we were afraid.

What would you say is the theological and/or spiritual lesson from this childhood story? Or do you have a childhood story/theological lesson that you want to share?

Lessons from my Dog

We got her Christmas of 1998 and named her Silver Belle. Sally and I weren’t crazy about getting a Siberian Husky but it was what our 16-year-old daughter had always wanted. And being the wonderful codependent parents that we were, we figured we could perhaps use this little fur ball of a puppy to entice Jolee into hanging around the house more often. So Belle came home with us that Christmas and life around our place would never be the same.

Besides all the usual adjustments of house training a puppy, we also acquired other new challenges. Belle’s soft white fur quickly took a life of it’s own, forming dust bunnies the size of Texas in every nook and cranny of our house and yard. As she grew into doghood, we quickly realized that no food could be left on any countertop space unless it was at least five feet from the ground. Cakes, cookies, steak and lasagna were all fair game if her big wet nose could reach it. We learned that any leather items were considered food to a dog. Belts and wallets were two of her very favorites. Then there were the souvenirs from far away places like China and Africa; who knew that she would eat videotapes and photo albums? She had quite a diverse palette.

But of all the things Belle loved to do (including eating and destroying), her all time favorite was walking her masters. As soon as she saw Sally or me putting on our tennis shoes, she would go berserk with excitement. It was all she could do to contain herself long enough to get her leash attached.

Recently, Belle has started slowing down. A tumor began to appear on her stomach that grew to the size of a grapefruit. But it hasn’t stopped her from wanting to go for long walks. Then early in April, we noticed her limping. She could hardly put any weight on her back right leg. Even still, she wanted to walk.

We’ve spent the past month loving on Belle and crying when no one was looking. The other day, I was up before dawn reading in my chair and she came hobbling in. It was obvious that she was in pain, but she just stood there with her leg trembling.  I encouraged her to lie down and rest, but all she would do was walk in a circle like she was preparing to land; she just couldn’t make herself do it. When she finally did make it down to rest, she would turn her attention to the tumor. She was constantly licking it. We would scold her. We tried putting a t-shirt on her or covering it with bandages, but she still managed to get to her wound.

As I watched her with tears pooling in my eyes, I thought about how much I loved and cared for my dog. I only wished I could convince her to rest and to stop obsessing over her wound. It reminded me of how God must love and care for me. I thought about the 23rd Psalm where it says, “He maketh me lie down in green pastures.” Even though I’m hurting and I’m tired, I still try and stay busy, but God wants me to rest.

Belle is at rest now. Sally took her on a long walk today and even let her off leash. When they got home, she knew it was time. She had licked her tumor until it was raw and bleeding.  The vet had told us that as a pack animal, she would never show signs of pain, but we knew she was.

So, Belle, I just want to thank you for all the fun and happiness you brought our family. You taught us a lot these past thirteen years. You taught us that family was more important than stuff. You taught us to stop and smell, well, just about everything. You taught us no outfit is complete without a layer of dog hair. And you taught us that no one was above getting a nose in his or her crotch. You were the great equalizer.

Belle, take your rest. You were the best dog in the world and you deserve it.

WhatImLearning.Com

 

.Comparing

I have tended to live my life in a constant state of comparison. How do I measure up to my fellow human beings? I suppose I was hoping it would motivate me to strive harder, but instead it only bred envy and despair.

Everyone became a threat to me because they were seen as my…

.Competitor

Ultimately, it caused me to relate to everyone as my competition. I found this odd, because I had never thought of myself as “competitive.” (envision me making air quotes here). I have always used that word to describe athletes and jerks who stepped all over anyone who got in their way to the top. But I recently became convicted of this character flaw while reading Galatians 6:4, “Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. (CEB)

 Therefore, instead of being a competitor, I am now seeking to become more of a…

.Companion

A companion is described as “one who accompanies another,” or “comrade; an intimate friend or associate.” That’s how I wish to see others who invest in my life and how I hope they see me. I want to accompany others on our journey of life together, sharing myself with them and encouraging them along the way. I don’t want my life to imitate some apocalyptic, survival-of-the-fittest contest where everyone ends up dead before they cross the finish line.  This isn’t The Hunger Games

Because of my competitive and envious attitude, I became very self-centered in my relationships. I always needed more than I was willing to give. I never felt like I measured up, so I became overly dependent on others to prop me up.

I became a junkie, scrounging for the next hit of a…

.Compliment

I found ways to manipulate others into telling me I was adequate, competent, “special.” I fished for compliments from anyone who would pay attention to me. But, I no longer want to be so needy for compliments.

Instead, I want to be ready to be a…

.Complement

While a compliment with an “I” is all about me seeking to fill a black hole of neediness in my life, a complement with an “E” is defined as “something that fills up, completes, or makes perfect.” That’s what I want to become! I want to fill others up with words of encouragement. I want to see relationships made complete and whole. I want to bring out the best in others and I want them to do the same in me.

I no longer want to compete, I want to…

.Complete