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Releasing the Knot

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

My poor little daughter, Bis, slept in a wierd fashion on Dec. 23.  The next morning she had a stiff neck and couldn’t turn it.  Even if I gave it a little massage it wouldn’t get any better.  Poor little thing.  When she’d turn to look at something her whole upper body would have to turn – breaks your heart to see it.

Then, in the middle of the night her little voice would cut through the night.  She couldn’t move and needed help.  We didn’t sleep well on the 24th, 25th, 26th.  And in the middle of the night on what would technically would be the 27th I decided a trip to the doctor was in order…we needed to get this knot out…and…I knew what I would preach on for New Years Day.  God spoke to me.

This little girl slept between mom and dad, knotted up neck that kept her from being herself – kept her from exerting all her energies, all her power, all her joy, all of what makes her our Bis.  And in the glow of my alarm clock God made it clear that I am the same way.  I have a knot that has been keeping me from everything that God has made me to be, and it was time to get the knot out.

So I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon after having written two letters addressed to different parts of the United States.  As I wrote them I found that my knot began to smooth out.  I released over 1,000 days of anger and resentment and rage and hurt that I’ve been harboring against a couple of people.  They will be surprised to receive a letter apologizing for sending three years of evil thoughts in their direction, I’m sure, but I felt I needed to say I was sorry.  No blame.  None of the words I dreamed up for them over the years – just one paragraph letting them know that I am now moving toward wishing them well.

Bis has been to the doctor a couple of times.  She’s turning her head both ways and starting to jump around the house and jump on the couch when she thinks I’m not looking.  She’s coming back.  I can already feel the same is true of me.

I’m hoping for some good sleep tonight.

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Calluses

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I’ve been enjoying my mandolin.  It sits in a stand right next to my couch, beckoning me to play.  My friend, Steven, who chooses songs for worship on Sundays, gives me a couple songs on Monday or Tuesday.  Then I sit on my couch and play the same two songs all week – trying to get ready for worship, learning a new chord or two.  My bride is a patient woman who, I think, is enjoying this new hobby.  My kids, on the other hand, find it more than a bit annoying.  I think I’m cramping their TV watching…bummer for them.

My left hand is picking up a few calluses.  This is a peculiar feeling…or lack of feeling I should say.  Primarily my pointer and middle finger are getting calluses so far.  This is undoubtedly due to the simple beginner chords I’m learning that only have two fingers being used.  As I type or as I rub my thumb across the tips of them I get a strange sensation, numbness.  Right now it’s a strange sensation.  I feel the pressure, but not the difference between soft and rough surfaces.  I’m confident that soon I will not even notice the loss of sensation and they will become “normal.”

Normally, a callus will form on any part of the skin exposed to friction over a long period of time, but I’m thinking they can form elsewhere, too.  Take the heart for instance.  With repeated exposure to friction over a long period of time, the heart can become callused as well.  Pharoah repeatedly rubbed against God’s call on his will (to release God’s people), but his heart became callused.  If there was a moment when he was truly feeling God speaking through Moses, it soon ended as his heart stopped being sensitive to God’s words.

I’m not too far removed from Pharoah.  There have been instances when I have felt God moving in my heart, calling me to act in a certain way or stop acting in a certain way – and unfortunately I have disregarded that call.  I’ve rubbed against the grain of God’s movement, and when it happens for a prolonged period of time I find it harder and harder to make a connection to God…I can’t feel the gentle voice of the Spirit.

I went in to a music store and asked if they had anybody who taught mandolin lessons.  They did.  Lance.  Lance is an older fella who looks the part.  Full on bluegrass grandpa.  He’s great.  I could go on and on describing him, but I just want to tell you what he said about calluses: “Don’t ever play with wet fingers.”  Apparently if you play with wet fingers you can make those calluses fall off (something you don’t want, I guess).  Which makes me think that entering the water softens the skin and allows an opportunity to rid myself of the callus.

In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis, a young boy with a hard heart transforms into an ugly dragon and can’t rid himself of his “dragon suit” until Aslan submerges him in water and painfully, beautifully removes his scales.  This is the move I must periodically make – remind myself of my baptism and the freedom from hardness that has already been given to me.  I repent and allow God to submerge me and soften my heart, remove my calluses, and give me renewed purpose and the voice of the Spirit to direct me.

White Privilege

June 23, 2011 1 comment

My son is finishing his baseball season this week.  He’s in “machine pitch” minor league.  That is supposed to mean that there’s a spring-loaded arm that flings a baseball at a consistent speed to a consistent location over home plate where a little boy stands ready to take on the world.  That’s what it is supposed to mean.  But the league, which has 12 teams, has at it’s use a total of 1 old and broken, inconsistent pitching machine.

Here’s something else to know about this league: the children are placed on teams based on neighborhood.  In fact, within 1/4 mile of our house there are 6 boys on my son’s team.  The coach lives two houses down, and the assistant coach lives three houses down.  We are blessed to live in a really nice neighborhood.  The lawns are manicured, the houses well-kept, dads are playing ball in the back yard with their sons and my next door neighbor, the police officer, plays catch with Alex and me.  In fact my former congressman lives down the street.  I say all to say that we live in a very upper middle class area.

My son’s coach, disgusted by the lack of machines in “machine pitch” basebal,l decided to use some expendible cash and purchase his own machine.  We practiced with it, and the kids got used to the speed.  Each time we played another team there were some significant differences.  These other kids did not have a machine, so we used ours…they were not used to the speed and weren’t able to hit well.  It was clear these kids had not had as much back yard time.  One last difference: these other teams were put together based on their own neighborhoods.  Our team is the only one with no children of color.

The denomination I’m a part of is going through a process of trying to understand white privilege.  As I’m sitting in a task force to lead the denomination in the conversation, I came to think of the Holland, Michigan little league.  My son’s team wipes up the field with about every team they come across because they have a distinct advantage with a machine and, while this is obviously an uninformed blanket statement, plenty of parental back yard time.

As a white male I have many privileges that most people of color do not have.  I’ve outlined one above.  Coming to notice things like this make me uncomfortable.  There are definitely some deep wounds that my denomination needs to address, but also some that I need to address.  The whole idea of white privilege brings about questions of justice.  Do I ask my neighbor to stop using his machine?  That doesn’t seem very “American” and wouldn’t go over well in my neighborly relationship.  Do I, as a white male, offer to purchase machines for each team?  I think there’s a distinct problem with this, too.  Do I attempt to make changes to the way the league is organized – bringing up the idea of mixing neighborhoods?  I happen to like knowing my neighbors in this manner.

One thing is for sure: I’m uncomfortable.  And that is a start.  And that is a good thing.

 

Back Again

May 6, 2011 2 comments

 

Like Bunnies

At the foot of my driveway is a fir tree, big, round, and tall with branches that sweep the ground.  Now that it’s getting warmer, the kiddos will be riding bikes.  So, I decided to trim up the bottom 4-5 feet of branches to give better visibility.

My neighbor told me that the mystery flowers next to the tree are irises, and that the increased sunlight will be good for them.  You know what else the sunlight will be good for?  The other thing growing there: garlic mustard. 

When the settlers came to West Michigan they brought with them garlic mustard.  It is one of the first things up in the spring and makes a great pesto, so I’m told.  It’s a leafy green that smells a little like garlic and not a bit like mustard.  It doesn’t belong in this environment.  In fact it’s detrimental to the environment.  Garlic mustard sends chemicals from its roots that kill other plants in its vacinity.  Oh, and it loves to spread.  It’s like the bunny rabbit of weeds.

Every year I pull them, and every year they come back.  They are super easy to pull – getting all the roots isn’t even very difficult.  So I’m baffled.  Why, when I pull everything up before they seed (and am sure to get all the roots), do they keep coming back?  Why are they so easy to pull and so hard to get rid of?  Why do they spread so easily?  Why can’t I defeat these invasive little beasts?  Why is sin the same way?

The Big Glue

May 5, 2011 2 comments

Dana will remember and point it out to me after she reads this.  I can’t remember where it happened, but I do know when it happened.  It was Good Friday and we bumped into random stranger lady who made a comment about it being strange that the calendar landed on both Good Friday and Earth Day.

Earth Day.  You might know it.  It’s when the hippy community and the Christian community have an extra thing in common – caring for creation.  My first interaction with Earth Day was from my science teacher in 8th grade, Robin Ringland.  I grew up in Stanwood, Washington, and there was absolutely no way Robin could have professed Christ in the midst of her teaching overtly – she’d be out faster than you can say molecular biology.  But she did point us in the trajectory of Christ – especially on Earth Day.

Back to random stranger lady – the kind of person I like to interact with.  She mentioned the shared date of Good Friday and Earth Day with a big question mark on the end.  We were walking away when I saw the glue that brings the two together.  Reconciliation.  Good Friday and Earth Day are all about reconciliation.  God is reconciling to Godself the creation: both humankind and the Earth.  Why shouldn’t they happen on the same day?

If you are one who calls yourself after the name of Christ, I’m guessing you’re called to be a part of that reconciliation.  We usher in this coming Kingdom of God which has within it a shalom, a wholeness, a complete-as-it-was-in-the-beginning kind of reconciling between God and God’s creation: man, woman, mineral, vegetable, science, truth, beauty, art, hard work, work without toil, sabbath, relationships, clean air, birds, and horses.  World without end.  Amen.  Amen.

Lighter Fare

May 4, 2011 1 comment

Recently there has been some heavy stuff that I’ve had to encounter, and so, just in case you need a lighter story to bring some levity to your day (like I do) enjoy the following story which has absolutely no theological import or social commentary:

When I was in college I worked just about every summer at a Christian camp called Warm Beach Camp in Washington State.  Most summers I was a counselor for the campers, but one summer I was on the grounds crew.  We did all kinds of tasks to help keep the camp running: mowing, gardening, fixing fences, and painting.  This story is about painting.  Dan Snowden and I had the task of painting one of the “mountain cabins.”  Stan, our boss, gave us the paint and brushes and said, “Go for it.”

So we set into it.  We gave the first of four outdoor walls a good coat and could see that we weren’t going to have enough paint to finish the job.  The second wall was even larger than the first, so we went and found some paint thinner.  We, with all the knowledge that is imparted to a college kid, thought that if we just thinned out the paint it would be enough to finish the job.  Thinner goes in, volume of paint in the can goes up.

The second wall didn’t look so great when we were done, but passable.  The third wall found us adding even more thinner.  The wall looked…not so great.  We could see that the weather, which was always a little rainy in western Washington, was about to get really wet.  So, knowing that we were going to run out of time to get the job done, we added more thinner and really got to slopping it on.  And just as we were getting the fourth wall painted the clouds opened up and it started to pour.

Our sad little paint job was getting ruined.  The rain streaked the paint and the whole building looked really bad.  Stan would not be smiling.  Then, as Dan and I stood off to the side under a tree we heard a crack of thunder and heard a voice coming from heaven.  God spoke to us and said, “Repaint and Thin no more!”

So, there you have it.  One of my favorite jokes.  Yup, that’s the kind of thing I find funny.  Happy repainting.

Osama Response

May 2, 2011 13 comments

10 hours after hearing about the death of Osama Bin Laden my response is rather confused.

I see the television scenes of crowds gathering in significant settings (Ground Zero, White House, Etc.).  They are jubilant and full of joyful celebration over something.  I think the confused part of my response comes from the question: “What are they jubilant about?”  Is it the death of a mass murderer?  Is it the completion of a national goal?  Is it the adrenaline rush of revenge?  Is it the breaking of an emotional dam?

Laying in my bed, watching the initial report last night, I heard the news and had an instant response of adrenaline and was confused by it.  You see I recently preached through the book of Esther.  Toward the end of that story the bad guy, Haman, gets trapped and is hung on his own gallows while the man he built the gallows for watches.  In that particular sermon we explored the feeling of joy we have in the execution of justice.  I felt odd about it then, too.  Why am I happy about the death of another human?  Deserving?  I can’t deny it.

I don’t begrudge anyone who is excited and feeling happy today in light of the completion of one of our nation’s longest manhunts.  I can’t imagine the relief that must be felt by those who have lost a loved one in one of this man’s terrorist attacks.  And I DO feel like some justice has been meted out.

I guess it comes down to this: I think I’m sad.  Sad that it has all come to this.  Sad that men turn to bloodshed over words.  Sad that humanity has strayed so far from our original purpose.  Sad that I feel some happiness over someone’s demise.  Sad that I can’t jump up and down with the throng.  Sad that I’m of two minds instead of clear-headed and unidirectional in my emotions.  I think I’m sad that my initial response is to picture Osama on a brimstone elevator heading downward.  Sad that I don’t hope mercy upon him.  But I don’t.  I’m conflicted.  And in the middle of all the sad there is one happy note:

I’m happy that I’m not in charge of justice.  I’m happy that I’m not the judge.  I can pass that buck up the ladder to the One who is clear-headed over the whole matter.  I feel relief that I can trust this whole matter (and the matter of what happens to me at my end) to the One who is an incomprehensible combination of Justice and Mercy.