**Originally published June 4th, 2011 ~ wishing you personal reflections this weekend as well. Peace, and thanks…to all those who gave their lives so I could write this. RDK
On Memorial Day I reflected. When I was young, I cut my teeth on WWII movies where war was glorified. John Wayne in The Green Berets made me zealous for militarism.
On Memorial Day I reflected. I remembered the day I learned that war was not the glorified world of the movies. The very first funeral I ever attended was for a son of Apache. PFC James McClure was killed on May 2, 1967, the day before my 11th birthday. He was 19.
On Memorial Day I reflected. I recalled the message I had delivered to an over-flow crowd of mourners in the early spring of 2008. The governor of Oklahoma sat on the front row, along with a very young widow and her toddler son, Gage. As I stood before the men and women gathered at that funeral, I found myself confronted with the very real issues of honor, duty, courage, and sacrifice that Memorial Day represents.
I have been working for the better part of my professional career in distinctively Christian organizations. I’ll call it vocational ministry. In my jobs I’ve enjoyed working with gracious, unselfish people. My jobs have been overwhelmingly positive, but not without some stumbles and quirks.
Here and there I’ve seen a few controversies emerge from “differences of opinion.” There are some big things to get worked up about, e.g., deity of Jesus, authority of Scripture, one omniscient God, and other major tenets of the Christian faith. – – – Schisms, Diets, Councils, and Wars have famous names because of the big controversies.
There are other things. In my experience, there have been plenty of other things. I can tell you stories that would make you laugh and stories that you cause you to drop your chin and shake your head. (Like the family that left a church because the pastor used The Wizard of Oz as an analogy in his sermon.) I’ve got more, but that’s another day.
Tis the season to poke-a-stick at Santa Claus. For some the jolly fat man is completely innocuous, like Garfield the cat or Dennis the Menace, while for others he has become a cultural annoyance. And then there are the haters. “We don’t allow any pictures of Santa Claus in our building,” stated one Christian friend, and he said it with conviction and shoulders squared against such worldliness. “We don’t believe in Santa Claus!?!” You’ve heard it, and you may have heard it from me somewhere in the past. But I’ve flop-flopped on the issue. Continue reading Santa Claus for Christians→
This is Mother’s Weekend. I’m pausing my new series on addiction to write for Mother’s Day. I have gone to The Source . . . Mom. I called my parents phone number in Apache, a very familiar number; it’s been their number for 50 years.
Saturday morning, 7:30am.
Me: Hi Mom, how are you this morning?
Mom: Oh, just getting around to help with a funeral dinner. (followed by a discussion of the community of Apache, friends, and small talk)
Me: Mom, I’m writing my Red Dirt Chronicles article for the weekend and I want to interview you, is that okay?
Mom: Um, well alright, if you need to.
Me: How long have you been a mom?
Mom: How old are you?
Mom: There ya go, I’ve been a mom for 56 years and 10 days.
Me: How many kids do you have?
Me: So, what’s the big deal about being a mom, I mean, what is the blessing?
Mom: Oh wow, there are so many. (pause) You know, I think the best part is just being ‘Momma’. When the kids are little they need you and depend on you. Getting to be Momma and take care of all the little things, that’s a blessing. Then, when your kids get older there’s just a lot of pride.
Don’t run with scissors. Play nice. Don’t throw rocks. Eat your vegetables. Don’t talk back! Sin was simple back in kindergarten, and so was expiation of that sin. Break a rule, you get a whoopin’. Very simple.
By my teenage years we added Don’t Do Drugs. Of course back then, in the Sixties, only the hippies and un-American types did drugs . . .or so I was told. The drug and alcohol rehab tells more about drugs.
Becoming a “Church People”
I ran across many kinds of church people as I grew older. Many had an enhanced list of things that were bad — and things that were also bad. This was not ALL church people, but a lot of church people. I remember when I first learned that dancing was a no-no and that things as playing cards, gambling, movies, rock music, and beer greatly displeased God. This was all very disconcerting because at age 18 I liked all that stuff – a lot!
After graduating from college I was swooped up by the grace and mercy of God. I decided that I needed to become one of those church people. In the process, I started to try to differentiate between church offenses, cultural taboos, morals, preferences, bad habits, social gaffs, and what God actually views as SIN. It can get confusing.
I read my Bible daily. I studied the Scriptures and prayed for insight. Mostly, I devoured the words of Jesus Christ. The beauty of God’s love and the antidote for sin was simple. A theme emerges in Scripture, Christ died for our sins, and arose from the dead for that we might have life – FREEDOM.
I didn’t know I was a sin addict until I tried to stop!
If you do wrong, it’s called a sin. If you sin you go to hell.
That’s simple enough. Don’t do bad things, don’t make God mad — just maybe you can avoid eternal damnation. I’ve tried to stop sinning. But it ain’t that easy. I grew up appreciating the fact that Jesus was a good role model. He was sinless. My task was to follow His example and try not to sin. But the older I became the tougher and tougher it was to not sin. I became frustrated by the notion that I could be like Jesus.
I had (have) a sin addiction. Oh, I’ve tried to stop. I’ve tried going cold-turkey and I’ve attended a LOT of meetings with other addicts. We’ve confessed, regressed, and professed. It’s not that I enjoy sinning (well, as much as I used to), it’s just easy. It just comes so naturally.
Now, I’m not talking about the easy-cheezy sins such as R-rated movies, cussing, drinking beer, or wearing a fanny pack. I’m not talking about the hard core sins — murdering, adultery, stealing, and sports talk radio. What I am addressing is that which Jesus addressed, and if you read his story carefully, you’ll find that He was always addressing matters of the heart. (A brief thought — when Jesus said, You guys think it’s enough that you don’t murder, what I’m say is that you should let that unloving attitude take root in your heart, you see, that’s where the idea begins.) *See the Sermon on the Mt., Matthew 5.
I like the Bible. I like the whole story. To me the Bible is an extraordinary work of art, masterfully painted with exacting strokes, contrasting colors, and the most amazing Light source we could ever know. There are parts of this painting, certain parts of its composition that I don’t like in and of themselves; there are dark, foreboding shadows that I don’t even understand. However, when I see the finished piece, Genesis to the Revelation, I marvel at the simplicity and complexity.
The first time I carefully studied The Last Supper (da Vinci) it came to life. I had seen a print of this famous work hanging in Grandma Caldwell’s dining room many, many years ago. I never knew why the disciples looked upset, I didn’t know the context. These days I have to be honest and admit that I don’t really like the painting, mainly because I don’t like this part of the Jesus story–I know the darkness that is soon to come. I do like the technical ability of da Vinci and am amazed at the creativity and skill it took to paint this story. Leonardo allows us to see biblical drama; he tells a story with his brush.
I have spent much of my Christian life just learning to see. That’s a request I share with a blind guy whose request of Jesus was simply, “Lord, I want to see.” That’s a pretty good request, to see. The crazy thing about it is, Plato claimed we could only see lines and shapes; he was certain that true form was beyond our paltry five senses. I suppose he was correctly guessing that there must be something more, something eternal. The theme of our humanity is just that, there must be something more. The Scripture explains it this way, “God has placed eternity in our hearts.”
I’ve often thought of my life as a painting. For one thing, that’s the only way I can understand my choices against God’s almighty plan. Continue reading The Truth in Art→
One of my mom’s favorite hyperboles was in reference to my bedroom. My little brother and I were roommates growing up, and yes, we could get a bit disheveled. Mom would declare, “Boys, you need to get in there and straighten up your room, it looks like a tornado has been through there.”
I’m not sure how old I was when I saw my first tornado, but I do remember the sirens announcing imminent danger. We didn’t turn to Doppler radar in those days; we went out in the backyard and surveyed the clouds. Over the past 50 years I’ve seen more tornadoes than I can count. I have NEVER chased a storm. I never will. (I figure if you wait around in Oklahoma, one will come to a city near you.)
As a kid, high winds and lightning could scare me. But after Mom and Dad built a new home out north of Apache, a brick home, I had no concerns over tornados. A house made of straw or sticks — now THAT could be a problem. A brick home? Heck, I figured a tornado would bounce right off.
My assumptions about the durability of a brick home were set straight one afternoon. I was riding shot-gun in my dad’s pick-up truck and we were driving from Apache toward Anadarko. We were exactly seven miles north of town when Dad said something like, “Looks like the tornado when right through here.”
I looked to the west and saw the power of a tornado. Large trees, as big as we have in Oklahoma, had been pulled up by their roots and lay in a row. Big trees! Fully mature trees!! The tornado had plucked them out of the ground much like I would pull a weed. I couldn’t believe a tornado or ANYTHING could do that.
“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear… looks ahead.” Screwtape
The Hunger Games and Screwtape
Recently I saw an amazing performance of the classic C.S. Lewis novel, The Screwtape Letters. The play, brilliantly performed by award winning actor Max McLean, follows the schemes and thinking of a demon named Screwtape. The story is based on a view of spiritual warfare from a Hell’s point of view as told to a Junior Devil.
So, a few days later as I sat in the movie theater watching The Hunger Games, I was thinking of the psychology of evil. More particularly, the lies and temptations wrought by the Evil One. I couldn’t help but view President Snow as the Devil himself, a schemer.
The strategy of Screwtape and the artfully manipulative plans of President Snow seemed eerily similar. Much as Screwtape offered careful advice to his protégé, Wormwood, so too we see President Snow mentoring his henchman, Seneca. In a scene that was particularly “Screwtape-ish” we hear the genius of evil:
“…why do we have a winner?” President Snow asks Seneca. Then Snow answers his own question, “Hope.”
“Hope?” Seneca replies slightly bewildered.
“Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous,” Snow declares.
“Spark is fine, as long as it’s contained. So, contain it,” Snow warns.
I wanted to stand up during the movie and yell, “Did you hear that!”
I wanted to stop the movie and talk about hope and fear. Moreover, I wanted to yell at the Devil and say, “You can’t contain it! You tried. You scattered the followers of Jesus Christ and watched them hide in fear on that dark Friday. You laughed when they brutally executed Him and put Him in a tomb. Ha! You thought you had contained Hope. You lose!” Continue reading The Hunger Games meets Screwtape→
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Acts 4:32
The first time I read this passage I thought, “Wow, that sounds pretty idealistic, a community that could share like that.”
The word common is found in many important words: Commune, Communion, Community, Communication, Commitment, and yes, Communism . . . For your rumination this day I simply offer the idea behind all these words — BELONGING.
To whom does it belong? What belongs to us? Where do we belong?
Across the Red Dirt State there are a fantastic number of communities. I haven’t lived in Apache, Oklahoma in over 38 years, and yet I am connected, I belong. I am most familiar with the western part of the state. These communities are beautiful; they are a tapestry of hard working, caring people. It takes people to act and demonstrate the meaning of each word in my little word-bank above.
Do you have a community? Are you committed to it? Do you commune there?
Why community? The first community is the Holy Trinity. God has always existed in relationship and we are created in His image. We know there something beautiful about:
Unity – Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace Ephesians 4:2
Shared labor – Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Harmony – And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14
Belonging – Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. I Corinthians 12:27
Connectivity – they had everything in common.” Acts 4:32
As we approach Easter weekend, let’s pray that church communities will come to life in a revival of sorts. The best individual revival is communion with God, through Christ, convey through the Holy Spirit. When this brings us wonderfully to our knees, I pray we can look to our left and to our right and there see others in communion too.
“Ave, imperator; morituri te salutant” These words were supposedly the salutation of Roman Gladiators, “We who are about to die salute you.” It is a homage of sorts, a tribute to the mighty State. Two-thousand years ago it was Rome. Today it’s Survivor or American Idol. However you want to cut it up, the outcome is the same. Sure, you get a hero, but the entertainment is watching the pain and suffering; it’s about watching one contestant after the other have their dream, their hope finally put to death. After all, “The Tribe Has Spoken!”
What’s next? In Suzanne Collin’s future world, next is Panem, and the made for TV mega hit, The Hunger Games.
I have spoken with several parents of young adolescents and they voiced a common concern. “My kid really wants to read The Hunger Games, but I just can’t let them.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“All that violence, I skimmed through it,” a very responsible mother confided to me, “and I just think the premise of children killing children is horrible!”
“Fair enough, and if I thought that was the crux of the story I would agree, but I think the book is about something good, something true, and something beautiful.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Love,” I responded, “it’s a story about this dark and painful existence in a world gone wrong — still, there is love, a I Corinthians, chapter 13 kind of love.”
It’s likely that a young person is going to read this book or watch the movie and like it . . . a lot. The question is “why?” A few weeks ago I sat with a group of about twenty-five kids who had read The Hunger Games. They came in on their lunch periodto discuss the book with some adults. Here is what we unpacked:
There is a clear and distinct villain in the story. We talked about violence, oppression, fear, poverty, indulgence, manipulation, and how that the “bad people” in the story put us off. Sure, there is the evil President Snow, but what about all those shallow people who have succumbed to the violence and oppression? The teens had no trouble seeing through to the hollow souls of the citizens of the Capitol. Say, these young kids are pretty smart.
The clear and distinct heroine of the story is Katniss, a wonderfully strong female character whose skills simple and beautiful. These talents represent her relationship with her father. Though this fact was a small offering at the beginning of the book, the students all nodded their approval when a freshman girl said, “I just liked the way Katniss and her dad related.” Her skills were used for sustenance, hunting for food — daily bread. The kids liked the relationship between Katniss and her father. Katniss is awkwardly good with relationships, and that seemed altogether good according the group of kids I talked to. (Every teen can relate to feelings of being socially awkward.)
Truth and Love
The MOMENT OF TRUTH is early in the story. Katniss’ young sister, the delicate Primrose basically receives a death sentence, and the good, true, and beautiful words are cried out, “I volunteer!” She is NOT volunteering to go kill other children; she IS laying down her life for save her sister. In that moment we see a life poured out. It’s sad, but it is beautiful.
We talked about sacrificial love. We discussed giving, serving, helping and caring; the idea of sacrifice was brought up and a student quickly noted how parents work and sacrifice to provide for their children. And the teens talked about the love of Jesus. He too sacrificed much. The Son of God looked at the judgment of the cross, the price to be paid for sin, and those words resounded, “I volunteer!”
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” After all the pretenders and all the fakes have come and gone (the movie did a great job of re-creating a the outward facade of the shallow/lost cosmopolites) , only the Son of God will reign supreme. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games, think about all that the Capitol represents. Base entertainment, acquiescence to outward appearance, and selfish indulgence, it’s a world gone bad, fake, and grotesque. “Truth” is what is left after all the facade is pulled away. Katniss is who we hope we can be in the face of all that is wrong. She is an aggressive protector, but it’s hard to interpret her as a violent character.
Teenagers are not put off by the violence; they see that kind of violence everyday in middle schools across America. It’s the violence against every person’s soul (but that another blog).
Katniss is pulled from her world of family and a very stark existence. Welcome to the Capitol where appearance is everything and substance is a rare commodity. Welcome to the real world, except, there is not much that is real. (Do not love the world, neither the things in the world…” I John 2:15) Katniss is introduced to indulgence at the grand level; here is the outcome of a world without truth — a society that is anesthetized by entertainment, food, and appearances (“…for all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.” I John 2:16)
Though her world may be stark, we learn that Katniss is rich in what matters most. She is rich in relationship, she is rich in spirit, and she has empathetic capacities that matter in this story. Mostly, she demonstrates selfless love.
There are a hundred other little nuances of The Hunger Games that cause me to reflect on my faith and the virtues of personal identity, character, strength of will, and hope. I have learned this, you might be surprised to learn what you can learn from a teenager and The Hunger Games.
GROWTH — I’m a Papa. I have grandchildren and a garage full of all the right tools. I am 55 years old growing. I have been reading my Bible, praying, serving, and trying to honor God for the past 35 years. I don’t always like it, but I am still growing. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up. God is still working on me. Yes, there is still plenty of room for growth.
I think of my desire to continue to grow and mature. I want to become the right kind of follower of Jesus Christ. I want to reflect the love described in I Corinthians, chapter 13. It’s what the Apostle Paul calls, “a more excellent way.” As an educator I picked up on the biblical standards for growth that a Stanford psychology professor applies to adolescent brain development.
According to Carol Dweck (Mindsets and Equitable Education), growth happens best with teenagers when rightly responding in five key areas their lives:
SUCCESS OF OTHERS
That’s great for kids, but I find that when I am growing God is using these things as my “growth agents.” Let me explain…
Challenges must be something I embrace; I learn something new from them; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
Obstacles help me become stronger and build fortitude, think obstacle course; “…perseverance produces character and character produces hope…” Romans 5:3
Effort becomes the active manifestation of the faith I hold. “Faith without works is dead.” James 2:17
Criticism is painful, but I recognize, not only can I learn something, but criticsim won’t destroy my true foundation. “and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” I Peter 3:16
Success of others is to be celebrated. Oh what joy when I trust God so much that I am happy when others receive praise. When I trust God I am free from despair or resentment when others are exhalted, even when they don’t deserve it. “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” Romans 12:15
“I thought I saw boiling dust coming up from those hills behind us.”
“Oh great! I saw it too. You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yes, it’s Pharaoh and his army!”
“He changed his mind, they’re not going to let us go after all.”
“What’s Moses doing?”
“He’s just standing there.”
“Word just came from the front. They said the Red Sea has blocked our escape.”
“Oh, great job Moses, just great!!!”
“Hey, don’t be so hard on Moses, he’s been following God.”
“You’re telling me that after all it took to get us out of there, God brought put us here?”
“Well, Moses does seem to have the Lord’s help and…”
“LOOK! It IS Pharaoh! They appear to have their swords drawn.”
“You can see that from here?”
“I know I saw something shiney.”
The Shore, the Sea, and the Sword
Recently I read a little book* that looks at God’s People as they encounter the Red Sea. The book, along with a lot of Scripture reading, meditation, and prayer, has caused me to think a lot about my anxieties and doubts. Often I feel as though I’m trapped that the shore (my circumstances) and things aren’t looking too good. I am praying that I learn to better apply Truth to my circumstances. TRUTH: God is good and I can trust Him; I’m always going to be fine resting in His care.
The application of truth to circumstances is the practice of faith. I’m not talking about faith in faith, that place too many televangelists tend to abide. I’m talking about Continue reading Rock & Hard Place (sea & sword)→
It’s been over 45 years since Mom gave her first haircut in Caldwell’s Barber Shop. And though so many years have passed, she will tell you exactly who her first customer was and what he said. Mom was a nervous twenty-nine year old and had just graduated from the Lawton Barber School. Dad needed help, especially on Friday afternoons and all day Saturdays.
Mom is quick to remind anyone asking, not hair-stylist, not hair-dresser turned hair-cutter; Mom didn’t take short cuts with clipper attachments and she used a straight razor around the ears. It was in a barber shop after all, not a salon. (You go to a barber shop to get a flat-top or tapered clipper cut; you go to a salon to get highlights and over priced scissor cut. I think much more highly of the barbershop, but I am biased, I’m the son of barbers.)
I like the smell of a real barber shop. Give me some Jeris hair tonic and I’m home again.
The barber shop is the ultimate man cave (though I read recently that “man cave” is passé). My point is, it’s a man’s world inside an old fashioned barber shop. My Mom handled herself quite nicely inside the mancave, she learned to trade barbs with the guys and not to take the smart alecks too seriously. When a fella made a crack about the lady barber, she could crack right back. Continue reading Big Little Words→
Have you ever gone exploring? ex plore /ik’splor/ v. travel in or through an area in order learn about or familiarize oneself with it.
I have explored the winding banks of the Washita River and Cache Creek; I have wandered down meandering cow paths and crawled through a thousand barbed-wire fences on my way to nowhere. Daniel Boone had “Tick-Licker” and Davy Crockett carried “`ol Betsy”— I carried Ole Stickie. You won’t find a lot of tigers or lions or bears around Apache, Oklahoma anymore. I killed `em all. I supposed I had hunted them to extinction by the time I was 11 or 12 years old. I did a lot of exploring by then.
The neighborhood boys had a favorite place to play called The Canyon. In reality it was only a 200 yard stretch of ditch. It was about fifteen or twenty feet deep and maybe fifteen feet wide. When you’re a kid, a place like that is a canyon. One end of the canyon became a dumping ground for old cars. The canyon held quite a number of autos that were piled on top of each other, and the pile created a network of passages that little boys could crawl through. I can still remember the smell of the musty, rotting fabric from the car seats. It was dark down in the bottom of this stack of cars, but not too dark.
No parent today would ever allow a kid to have that kind of adventure. But hey! We were just doing what we were supposed to be doing, playing outside. (An advantage of growing up in a small town in the 1960’s, we would leave and be gone for hours, sometimes drifting a couple miles from home. Mom didn’t worry, we were in a community.)
The Topic: Go Exploring – N.T. Wright suggests that we should explore four areas of our inner life in order to more fully understand and experience the Christian life.
1) Our longing for justice;
2) Our quest for spirituality;
3) Our hunger for relationships;
4) Our delight in beauty.
Justice: I’m certain that we want justice in the world. We want earthly matters to be put-to-right. We would like for things on the playground to “be fair” too. As we study the life of Jesus, we see that so much of His work is pointing out the difference between the values of God’s Kingdom and and the values of worldly authorities (governments and religious leaders). Jesus is in the business of putting things to right. I want to explore more about my role in joining Christ to seek justice and just-ness.
Spiritulality: The goals of secularization seem to be set on quenching the quest for spirituality. Too many weird things happen with people in that quest and too many impractical “isms” are born there. How many ways are there to be spiritual? Jesus offers the way that is both practical and true.
Relationships: How many books have been written about relationships? Religion is that concern with vertical relationship and the horizontal relationship is how we find one another. It’s always great to allow Jesus to lead us in the How Department of relationships.
Beauty: My wife loves sunsets. She adores them like no person I have ever known. She is gifted in her ability to see beauty in the things we have going on most each and every day. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If that is true, it is true because Jesus addresses it in His words, “the lamp of the body is the eye, when your eye is good, your whole body will be filled with light.” (Matthew 6:22).
It’s important to study the Bible. Go exploring from time to time. Explore your inner life. Get yourself a coffee or a beverage of your choice. Open your Bible and read the words of Jesus. It is a wonderful adventure.
The most wonderful thing about the Living Word, is that you can seek to understand the Scriptures, and be amazed, because the Scriptures understand you.
This past fall I decided that I should steer clear of the Tim Tebow mania. Though I loved the story and continue to admire Tebow’s sincerity and faith both on and off the field, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that much of our day-to-day commentary about “God’s favorite football player” was off. The way I saw it, if we weren’t careful with our words, we might start sounding like we actually believed God was intervening in order to help a corporate business which holds a professional football franchise to score more points than other such franchises.
At first I was mildly amused at the notion of God’s divine favor being poured out on a guy playing a game for a living. Americans love to be amused; we build incredible stages surrounded by ample amounts of seating to coddle our desire to be entertained. Sundays are our day of respite from our work and stress. We file into our rows, take our seats and expect to see talent, sharp performance, jumbo screens, and fog machines. Then we go home and see it again as we watch sports. And let’s be honest, Tebowmania was a great story. But then again, so was Seabiscuit, a horse (but I am unfamiliar with his religious affiliation).
We were barely seated in the restaurant and I had just laid my napkin across my lap. I looked up and smiled at the tops of five bowed heads. My privilege this day was to take the band, [a.k.a. music leaders, a.k.a. “worship team”] to lunch. You may think that all five had bent their heads in prayer. Not so much. Instead, each guy had his mobile device in hand and was either reading or thumbing a message.
Now, I assumed that they were “checking-in” or making straight their schedules for the afternoon. But I waited, and as waiter worked to find out what we would be drinking, the texting/tweeting/thumbing continued. There were peeks up and a clumsy sort of reconnecting to conversation. I was trying to get to know them and create rapport at our table. Oddly enough, throughout lunch, the devices remained at the ready; short vibrations caused the owner to give a glance, often accompanied by a grin. Around the table the fork was intermittently laid aside these young, deft fingers sent out a quick message. It was all very natural and normal for this bunch; I was the only person who was having trouble engaging. I guess I’m addicted to a bit more eye-contact. They proved to be gifted at multi-tasking; they could eat, jab at one another, answer questions I tossed onto the table, and maintain allegiance to their cell phones. I was both impressed and depressed.
Woody Allen, that great philosopher once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
I’ve always liked that one-liner from Allen. My personal application is the importance of BEING THERE. How much of life and opportunity have we wished away simply because our mind it somewhere else? I spent too much of my childhood wanting to be a grown up, and I’ve spent too much of my adulthood wishing I was a child again. I’ve worked on self-discipline of mind — Be Where You Are. (After all, we are human-beings, not human-doings.)
I wish I could say that I’m such a perfect person, so much without sin that I don’t commit an occasional breach of cell phone etiquette. I have loving family members who have corrected me when tempted to disengage because I have my device out and am checking email, texts, tweets, and anything else available from the outside world. I work at device discipline and etiquette.
Last May I was in Orlando, Florida as a part of my job (sponsoring 60+ high school seniors, tough job, but somebody has to do it). One afternoon I took some time off and met two wonderful ladies. They were once “just kids” in the church youth group (circa 1985). I was the youth pastor. Tisha and Alisa have become godly women who inspire me.
We rendezvoused for a 25 year reunion at a nice restaurant at Downtown Disney. Our lunch turned into a 3 hour conversation that was just a little bit of heaven for me. Toward the end of our time I had decided that one of life’s greatest privileges is meaningful conversation. We spoke openly about our lives and all that God has been doing in our 25 years. Our passion for God, life, and one another is mutual. Our fellowship was rich, rich, rich.
In that conversation Alisa showed us pictures of her kids. They sure are growing. And then she announced that they are expecting a third! What? I was happy, but I thought, “Wow, that’s great, but you’re how old?” By the grace of God I did not say that outloud , no insensitive outbursts… this time. — She was absolutely glowing, and that made me very happy.
Then Alisa said, “Here’s a picture of him.”
A sonogram? No. She turned the page in her picture book and said, “Here he is, we love him so much already!”
It was a photo of an infant. I took a double–take. This baby had a severe cleft-palate. The light went on and I understood. Bill and Alisa were adopting a special needs child. And these words spilled from my heart, “How beautiful.”
This weekend, the first weekend of February, 2012, Bill and Alisa are in China. They have been waiting since last May for the travel documents
that would permit them to go get their son.
I remember Alisa’s famous words to me that day. “We have prayed to be found faithful in doing God’s work. We have friends who have adopted unwanted Chinese baby girls, and then we learned about little boys with special needs. They need families too. We thought ‘if not us—then who?’”
She talked about Bill’s job in the Air Force and the kinds of medical benefits his family receives. They have viewed their assignments in life, their gifts and abilities, as a part of God’s sovereing design. As stewards of all that God has done in their lives, they want to be used as God’s instruments of love, grace, and hope.
This weekend little Mr. Hudson will join his family. After more than ten months of praying and planning for their son, Alisa will hold her son.
To God be the glory.
And by the way, Alisa was firm in the fact that she wanted his name to reflect his birthplace and unique story that is a gift from God. The name “Hudson” is from one of China’s most famous missionaries, Hudson Taylor , 1832-1905.
What does God need? Does He need workers for the fields that are “white unto harvest?” Perhaps He needs companionship, or maybe he needs worship. Nah. It stands to reason that the Absolute does not need anything. Consider “Tomato Guy.”
In Oklahoma there are lots and lots of Tomato Guys. If you live in Oklahoma I’m sure you are familiar with your own local version of Tomato Guy.
Tomato Guy is an autonomous member of an adventitious cult of Oklahoma gardeners. Typically they purchase a cluster of very small tomato plants (3-for-the-price-of-1 deal just too good to resist). If conditions are only mildly favorable, and when the plants are appropriately watered, you can expect a bumper crop of tomatoes. Tomato Guy is very proud of his bounty and he rarely appears anywhere without lavishing sacks, boxes, or plastic bags of tomatoes.
SIDE NOTE: For purposes of food tariffs the Supreme Court has ruled that tomatoes are vegetables. Yes, I know, you watched some game show where some guy said they are fruits. I’m going with the Supreme Court; let’s keep this nice and legal, okay.
Growing up in Apache, Oklahoma I first learned about Tomato Guy. My dad was the town barber and we very rarely went without gifts of fresh tomatoes. Of course we encountered Okra Guy and Green Peppers Guy too.
Um, is there a point here?
Yes. Picture this. If I go to Tomato Guy’s house and offer him a couple of puny tomatoes, I’m going to look silly. His wife is canning tomatoes, there are tomatoes galore on all windowsills, and dozens are bagged, ready for delivery at Sunday school. Tomato Guy is all-sufficient (regarding tomatoes).
So too we must consider the All-Sufficiency of God. He is perfect. He is the very essence of completeness. Creation itself cannot add to God, and neither can our moral goodness. I need, you need, but God does not need.
Because God is all-sufficient, complete, eternal and perfect the truth is this — God needs nothing.
Not only is it important that we wrap our faith around this concept, we must understand this — our failures cannot detract from who God is either. And who is God? The Scripture says that God is love (I John 4:8), and God offers grace upon grace (John 1:16). For illustrative purposes I’ll compare God to Tomato Guy (yes, awkward). Continue reading God, Grace and Tomato Guy→
I was in junior high standing a few feet from a group of guys wearing their football letter-jackets. Some were seniors in my high school and a few were recent graduates (or least I think they graduated). They were cracking jokes, talking with bluster, and demonstrating proficiency with cussing. Several had a sizable amount of chewing tobacco cuffed in their jaw.
The biggest fella in the group launched into a story that I only wish I could forget:
“The other night we was all up on main street shootin’ the *!@ when we saw `em drive by. They was three of ‘em. So I said, ‘What the h*!! do they think they’re doin’.’ They drove up and down the main drag a couple of time and then they pull up and start talkin’ to (he names the girls). Then they had the nerve to get outta their car. Can you believe that? Them three soldier boys from Ft. Sill thought they could ride into town with their skint-head haircuts and talk to our girls!
So we walked on over there and kinda circled around ‘em and asked just what they thought they was doing. This one little doggie (“affectionate” local name for army privates stationed at Ft. Sill Army Base) says they don’t want no trouble and that they was just wantin’ to meet some people. What a load of bull @*#! ! They was trying to get ‘em a gal.
Right then old Jack stepped in and spit a chaw of tobacco right in his face, he said, ‘Ya’ll better get the h*!! outta town and take yer sorry doggie butts back down to Lawton while you still can.’ By then there was about ten of us and we had ‘em surrounded.” Continue reading Are You an Insider or Outsider?→
I love the Gospel story. It is the story of a broken world, a place where darkness, suffering, pain, and fear wreaks havoc on the human race. The people cry out, “Why God, why must we suffer?!!!” The people wonder if God knows about the situation down here. Oh, He knows about it alright. We have a Christmas story to tell because not only is God aware, He has come into the mire. The Son came to earth because we need a Hero, we need a Savior.
Can we even begin to count the number of stories there are about suffering and struggle and protagonist who overcomes? I love stories like Shawshank Redemption, The Wizard of Oz, and Saving Private Ryan. I love stories that involve sacrifice and redemption. So did J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings who said, “There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall – all stories are ultimately about the fall – at least not for human minds as we know them and have them.”
It was Tolkien’s friendship with an atheist friend and a shared passion for story that was instrumental in turning that friend to the Gospel story. C.S. Lewis, the friend, came to believe that all great stories have elements traced back to The Story.
In 2011 I decided I should pick a book I had oft seen around the campus where I work. I settled down on a windy afternoon in the early fall and opened to page one of The Hunger Games. Within a few days I had read all three books in The Hunger Games series and MAN! I loved the story!!!
C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity is the story of how a rightful King has landed and is calling us to His great campaign of sabotage.” The Hunger Games trilogy is definitely a story of sabotage, and gives us a character that refuses to be a pawn in someone else’s story.
I’ll stop there. Stop reading this article and start reading The Hunger Games. You will love this story and perhaps reflect soulfully about The Greatest Story Ever Told. And if you’ve already run the gaunlet with Katniss, I would be very interested to hear your insight or Gospel revelation in the story.
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.