Monday, April 14, 2014

Which will I be?

     One of my favorite storybooks to read aloud has a part where the absent-minded Mr. Pig accidently drives away in Soldier Rabbit’s Jeep instead of his own car. My favorite part of reading the story is indulging in what the poor rabbit is saying as Mr. Pig drives away. I use a weak incredulity, with the voice of a performer who is watching another go off the script.
     “Hey,” he says. “That’s… that’s my Jeep you’re taking. You’re driving away in my Jeep. Hey, you’re… taking my Jeep. Hey, that’s my Jeep. Hey.”    
I wonder if that’s how the owner of the donkey colt felt when a couple of strangers came, untied his animal and began to take it away.
     “Hey, you’re taking my donkey. That’s my foal of a donkey you’re untying and taking… hey.”
     And the answer they gave him was this: “The Lord needs it.”
     Here is where the owner of the animal had a choice. He could go along with God’s plan, for it had been prophesied in the Old Testament that The Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey. If Old Testament prophesy said it would happen, there was no stopping it. Or the man could have argued and tried to prevent it from happening. But he didn’t and the disciples were able to bring the donkey to Jesus.
So did God bend the will of the owner? I don’t think so. If the owner of the animal had not agreed to let his donkey go, something may have happened. But God’s plan was for the donkey to be there, and the owner of the animal choose to let the donkey go. By doing that, he was aligned with God’s plan.
Meanwhile, the donkey colt showed perfect submission. Where God needed him, he went. He carried a burden without fuss and without any pride. People waved palm fronds and shouted praise, the donkey knew it wasn’t for him. He went forward in complete obedience with the plan God had for him.
Compared to the folks Jesus met later that week, the ones who were convinced that they wanted nothing to do with Jesus or his will, who were the real Jackasses?
God has a plan for me and my life. It may be giving up something because The Lord needs it. It may be the least of services, carrying a weight and letting God get all the glory. Regardless of what it is though, I want to be a part of it and not be the one with a hardened heart, a stubborn person. I’ve used the word once, you know what I mean.
     I’d like to think that at the end of the day, the man got his donkey back. (I’m sure there’s an apocryphal fiction story there, that I’d enjoy writing.) I can only imagine that the man was blessed for giving to God. The blessing wasn’t a reward for obedience, or something material. It was the kind of blessing I want, a blessing that comes from being on God’s side.
     Submission or stubbornness, it’s my choice. Donkey or, well you know.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sympathy for the Pharisee

I once told my mom she might go to jail for using her emergency flashers without a reason. In our Volkswagen Bus, hazard light knob was so tempting that I pulled it out once while she was driving down our back alleyway. My mom pushed it back in and told me that she could get a ticket for misusing them. I had no idea that was illegal and I realized that she had gotten a speeding ticket some time back. I thought perhaps the law was draconian enough that any second violation of the law would not result in a ticket, but incarceration. So, jail for having the hazard lights on.
     Back then I had a strict sense of right and wrong. You were not supposed to do wrong, or bad things would be done to you and you deserved it. So one day I was looking at our bathroom scale and asked my dad what the words: NOT LEGAL FOR TRADE meant. My dad explained it meant that the scale was only for people. He did not tell me it meant the scale wasn’t intended to weigh items for sale. But I knew what the word “legal” meant; it meant the law. So months later when my aunt was getting ready for an airplane flight and she put her suitcases on her bathroom scale, I nearly lost my mind. My aunt was breaking the law, how could she do that? All the way to the airport I expected to be pulled over by a scowling policeman to whom I would try to explain that I knew better.
     Growing up like that made me always root for the good guy. I never wanted to be the robber in cops and robbers and I did not particularly like to break the rules, ever. One might think this made me the kind of student teachers like. But I was judgmental. I could not abide others breaking the rules, so I was a tattletale.
     Why couldn’t everyone just follow the rules and be nice to each other? I didn’t get it. There’s a word for people like I was. Reluctant to extend grace, stick fast to the rules, even if it meant sending their own mother to jail for driving down an alley with hazard lights on. You could call us Pharisees.
     I understand how those religious leaders and teachers of the law might have felt. Their identity was fixed into the laws they followed so well. That feeling of security that you’re right and everyone else is wrong helps one sleep at night. No wonder they got so terribly upset when that man from a backwards town came along. People liked him even though he broke the rules. And he seemed to think that all those rules that made them feel so good and secure were a hindrance. Look what he did on the Sabbath, right in front of them sometimes. But worst of all, that right feeling they loved, the identity they found in their rules, that might have begin to feel weak against everything this man did and said.
     So would they give up the old ways, which it turned out were nothing more than a perversion of the original plan? And would they adapt to the new ways, which were in fact, the simple plan God had all along? Sadly for them, they tried to get rid of the usurper to their ways. The source of their discomfort had to go. And three days after they thought they had succeeded, not only had their plans been thwarted, but sin and death had been conquered too.
If I have been living back then, I might have been a nice, law-abiding guy who followed the rules and thought his place was secure. I might have prayed in the temple, thanking God I wasn’t like those others, those luggage-weighing sinners. I don’t know if I would have felt the need for forgiveness or grace. I could have been a Pharisee.   
     Thank God my sin hurt me enough that I recognized my need for Him. Thank God I am broken enough now to know I am right there with every other sinner.
     There are still times where I feel so very comfortable in my life of regulation and control. Which means when the inevitable upset comes along, I become pretty bent out of shape. And I stay that way until I let go of my intense desire for order and replace it with submission to God. Most of the time I can’t do that on my own and I have to coast to the side of the road with my hazard lights flashing. Against such thing there is no law.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Only a minor Quake

     Last Friday night at a few minutes after nine I was walking toward the glass door to the foyer of my church, ready to lock up, when the door rattled like someone was banging on it from the inside. But I could see through the door and there was nobody there. The rattling was brief, but furious, and I heard neighborhood dogs start barking. I knew what was happening. I froze in place, but felt nothing. But 50 miles away a 5.1 earthquake had shaken Orange County and surrounding Southern California. I went into the building with the plethora of glass all around and checked all the doors, a little nervous now because this building creaks and shudders even when the earth doesn’t move. But nothing else happened, so I went home to Facebook and Twitter.
     I know earthquakes are part of living in Southern California. I enjoy the media’s depiction of typical Californians casually sitting through the minor temblors while sipping their half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon. But I haven’t turned native yet and quakes still make me nervous. I don’t really care for them.
     I was fascinated with natural disasters as a kid. Tornadoes terrified and intruded me. I kept magazines with articles about earthquakes. One cover showed the Golden Gate Bridge buckling and cars spilling off into the bay.
I watched a kid’s TV show that had adventuring teens dealing with emergencies and natural disasters. One time, when they experienced a quake, a few of the kids tried to run for shelter. Another one called to them to stay out in the open. The shelter the kids had been going for collapsed and they stayed safe in the clear space. I took this as an important lesson. If and when an earthquake hits, don’t run for cover, get out from under anything.
Then one evening when was living in Hawaii, I was about 8 or 9 years old and lying on the living room floor. Something started. I noticed that it felt like there was a vibrating machine underneath me. The floor was trembling. My mom saw hanging plants swinging and declared that we were having an earthquake.
Panic slammed into me. I jumped to my feet and ran for the door to get outside before the house came down on me. It was for only a flash, but I had never been more scared in my life. My mom called to me and I stopped and looked back, suddenly aware that I was almost crying, but the house was intact and there was no more shaking.
Up until that evening, I had never known that there was such a thing as a minor earthquake.
Who would have thought that the same thing that tossed cars of a bridge and turned buildings to rubble could also do no harm? I don’t blame my parents for never telling me this. I learned the fact that night, even though I could barely sleep. But before that, my young mind never grasped that there might not be a worst case scenario in everything. Quakes happening with no damage. Someone escaping injury hurt in a car accident. Tornados ripping through empty land without ever sucking kids into oblivion.
Someone might have told me that the world is not that inhospitable. Maybe I would have believed them. But the barrage of disasters in the media might have made me doubt.
At least last Friday I didn’t panic, I’m grateful for that. And I’m glad that today my kids know that minor things happen and no-one gets hurt. Real life taught them that. Maybe it’s too bad the media never reports a perfect day where nature is nice and everyone ends the day unscathed.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What thrilling heroics

     No time for incredulity, the seconds are ticking away and the space pirates are closing in. My converted freighter has broken out of the atmosphere, but must achieve light speed in 60 seconds, that’s how long before the enemy ship will intercept. The passengers are counting on me. Escape is their only hope. Already, a shot from the pirate's directed energy weapon has damaged my ship, and that’s why I’m crawling along the outside of it wearing magnetic grips on my hands and feet.
     The ship’s hull shudders, a result of the damage and I hold my breath inside the space helmet, but the grips hold and I keep moving. The pirate ship, closer now, fires another energy bolt that lights everything around me. Even though it misses, the proximity of the flash darkens my visor momentarily. I hate not seeing where I’m going, but creep along anyway, the seconds are ticking.
     Finally, I reach the primary buffer panel, rattling loose from the enemy fire. Only a quick fix for now, I begin to bolt it back down. The visor goes dark again as a directed energy bolt hits the ship. The deflector shields absorb the blast, but for just a moment, my magnetic grips lose touch. I grab at the loose panel and feel my body tossed up and then slam back into the ship. Pain stings up my left leg, but I keep up the repair until the panel is fixed.
          It takes four rivets to secure it, but I feel the ship stop shuddering. I make my way back. As soon as I’m in, I throw the lever that closes the airlock. When the door clicks and the air begins to fill the chamber, I feel the ship accelerate to light speed. I’ve done it, the orphans are safe. I feel something else too, my foot is injured from being tossed around out there. Well, at least it was for the greater good.
     At least that’s what I’d like to say when people ask me what I did to my foot.
     Waiting at the Grand Canyon for the train to take us back to Williams, a little boy looked at me with amazement and concern as I walked by on my crutches. “What happened?” he asked.
     I did not want to tell him that I had been hanging my foot out of a golf cart, like I did every day, when I drove up against a fence post, unnaturally pointing my foot down, spraining it. So I just told the boy, “I wasn’t being careful.”
His mom seemed to like that answer, she looked at her son, the dad too, with a look of “you see what can happen?”
     So I did the vacation on crutches and I managed. At meals, my family would help me with my food. Most places we went had ramps and the steps weren’t too difficult. There were limitations. Doors were sometimes a challenge, heavy restroom doors especially. And on the train ride, I didn’t try to get up and move around. I still enjoyed it all.
     And I enjoyed the vacation too. It was everything I hoped it would be. And I was really just hoping for one thing, that it would be a good time with the family.
     I used to abhor the idea of settling down with a family. I thought I was destined to be a free spirit, out on the road in a retrofitted muscle car like Mad Max, or better still, out in space executing some thrilling heroics. I dreaded the thought of domestication and a mini-van.
     But all of that changed when I actually became a husband and father. And last week, we as a family took a righteous road trip, saw The Grand Canyon, Route 66, Meteor Crater and The Petrified Forrest. We drove through Winslow, Arizona where I stood on the corner. We took a scenic drive down through Sedona and went through the town where I lived as a young kid.
     Friday night I drove from Phoenix to Yucaipa with only one stop. It was about a 5 hour drive and I loved it. There were no space pirates in pursuit. My passengers were my family and it was interstate 10, not hyperspace. But it was better.
     Even though I wish that I had sprained my foot in a less embarrassing way, or better still, not sprained it at all, I can live with the injury knowing that the thrilling space heroics are nothing compared to what last week really was. Like I said, it was what I hoped it would be, a time that will create memories that last a lifetime. The family together in a van, a hotel suite, a lookout point, or gathered together for a photo. All of that was better than any fiction I could ever compose. Reality, sprained foot and all, at its best.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hurt, Humbled and Healed.

     I love driving the golf cart, one hand on the wheel, once foot hanging out the side, the breeze blowing, and I feel like I’m the king of all I see. I hung my foot out of the golf cart Friday the 7th and passed too close to a fence pillar. It pressed my foot down, spraining it. I was home on my lunch break. Well I had to get back to work, so I elevated it and iced it and then tried to stand on it. There was a knife-like shooting pain. Prajna had to drive me to urgent care. The whole way, I just didn’t want to believe that I had injured myself. I had a busy weekend and an even busier next one. I couldn’t take off from work, I had just come back to work that Tuesday after a week off.
     I was ordered to wear an orthopedic boot and stay off of my foot until a follow up on Tuesday. I went ahead and checked with the doctor, it would be okay though, if I went to work where I do some walking and lifting? He shook his head. There are times when even denial can’t save me.
I didn’t want to accept that I would be unable to go to work for maybe a week. I kept wishing I hadn’t been such an imbecile putting my foot out of the golf cart. Finally, all I could do was believe that God never wastes a hurt. Something good would come of this and I just wanted to actively look for it.  
I stayed in bed for three days with my foot elevated. I couldn’t sit at my laptop to write or blog. I used my iPod touch and kept up with Facebook and Twitter. I listened to a lot of music and I finished a very good book that the author signed for me at the Storyline conference. Love Does by Bob Goff convicted me.   
What was I holding on to as my identity? What did I value so very much? It was kind of easy to see, because I had lost it that week. It’s what I have valued in myself more than almost anything. It’s this: Being irreplaceable.
I have made great efforts to make myself impossible to replace. Maybe it’s easy to understand why I thought that was a good idea. Last decade I lost two jobs. I must have thought that I needed to become inimitable and that would make me bulletproof. Well, it did an awful disservice to the folks who relied on me when I went away to San Diego and they didn’t know how to do things.
Then a week later I was put on bedrest where I had to come to grips with the fact that other people can do what I do. And they did. Two of my kids, Benjamin and Sarah went to my work and took care of things. When the big weekend event came, they handled it. And the reason for that was because they had worked with me before and knew how to do my job.
So I learned a couple of things. First, have an exit strategy. Train replacements, apprentices, substitutes, whatever it takes. Have faith in those I work for that they won’t dismiss me just because other people can do my job.
Most of all, I learned that my value will never come from being irreplaceable at anything. I need to exchange that for humble submission to God. I need to not value such a prideful attitude, lest I end up humbled like King Nebuchadnezzar again, put out of commission for a time to rethink who’s really in charge.