Monday, May 27, 2013

The Shattered Bottle of Wishes

The twist on the old story goes like this: A man is walking down a beach when he spies an old looking bottle. The moment he picks it up, a djinn appears is a puff of blue smoke, bows and speaks:
“And what is your third wish?”
The man is startled, but has enough about him to question what became of his first two wishes. The djinn says that the man already wished his first wish, his second one was to undo it and make it all as before. Now his third and final wish remains. The man thinks for a moment, then tells the djinn his final wish.
The djinn’s face curls into a smile as he brings his hands together.
“Yes,” he says. “That was also your first wish.”
Little stories like that can provoke deep thought. I can’t help always wondering what I would wish for if I had three, or just one wish. A shoebox full of 100 dollar bills would be a good start I think. I would love to have my truck fixed. And while I am at it, have it never break again. And why not have it so that the tank never runs out of gasoline again? Could I fit that into one wish?
That’s pretty selfish to wish for that when there is so much need in the world. Three wishes could include clean water for the world’s population, and end to human trafficking and no more natural disasters ever. That would improve on a lot. I don’t know how something like that could be pulled off though. If I was a djinn I would just clap my hands and make the world disappear. No more want for anyone.
How about wishing just to make people nicer? I could wish for that. Is it ethical to transform people and just make them nicer? I don’t think it is or God would do it.
And then I bring God into this. I used to think that God was like the djinn in the bottle with unlimited wishes. Maybe it’s easy for a kid to think that God is like Santa Claus with a big bag of cool stuff for everyone who’s good. Prayer seemed like wishing for what you want. And this mindset didn’t end when I grew up.
I don’t have a grudge against the spirit-filled church that I went to when I first got back with God. But it fostered a mindset where God would answer all prayers according to my will. But here is where the djinn in the bottle vanished. Because if my prayers were not answered, then I wasn’t praying hard enough or needed to examine my own life somehow. It was encouraging to feel myself a prayer warrior and actually see prayers answered. The real tricky thing was this: Wishes were not free at all. I still had to be worthy and work for them.
But then Naomi got sick. Of course I didn’t panic when she got cancer. I thought that if enough prayer was lifted up for her, she would be well. For three and a half years I kept believing that she would be healed through the power of prayer to God. Over those years I did something else, every time I saw a falling star, I wished on it.
So then when Naomi died, I got pretty mad at God, the stars and just about everything else, including myself, big time. The magic bottle fell to the ground and burst into slicing fragments of broken hope. It took years to overcome the hurt and anguish that came from thinking that I had somehow failed. It’s still something that can drag me down once in a while. It is taking a lot of un-learning and re-learning to understand some key truths.
First, it is the human condition to believe that there must be something that one can do. That was the flaw in the wishing machine, being good enough to get a stocking full of shiny stuff. I had to work and perhaps even suffer for it. I held tight to that belief. And I have only recently come to realize that thinking that way is idolatrous. Only one person truly had to suffer. All I have to do is accept that. But it’s not for shiny stuff.
On the subject of the wishing machine, God has never been that. God put laws into place like gravity and motion. He did not create cancer. That imperfection grew out of the fall of man. And God doesn’t just clap his hands and make all cancer vanish. Just like changing bad people into good, that would violate His laws. Not to say He doesn’t. A miracle is when God does indeed by-pass the laws He made. That didn’t happen with Naomi. Was it then God’s will that she die? When God was drafting up His master plan for creation for all eternity, did he have her life cut short of her 7th birthday, regardless of any prayer I lifted up?
And while we’re at it, was it God’s will that monstrous tornados would rip through cities and kill children? How many people prayed for their lives before they died? Did God hear them, and shrug and say: “Sorry, that’s not in the plan”?
There is a stand out word there. Shrug. People shrug when they are confused or at a loss. God cannot be portrayed like a person who doesn’t know what He’s doing. I think one of my problems with faith is that I tend to anthropomorphize God. Picture him as a djinn, Santa Claus, a wishing star or a detached force of nature, or anything like an imperfect person and I’ve got an inaccurate look at God. And when I read about who God really is, he never shrugs and says “oh well”.
Part of my unlearning and relearning is admitting I’m powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing. And I personally have to admit that I’m powerless about forces beyond my control. If I admit that, then I need to believe that God is powerful to control what does. As soon as I do that, I start to become disillusioned and wonder how a loving God can allow all of this.
But I want to believe that God is a loving God. And that is what I will pray for. Because another step in this healing process is surrendering to His will. This isn’t an empty wish made in a fairy tale. This is my passionate desire to align myself with God and understand His will for me. Against such thing there is no law.
The last wish for the man on the beach was probably something self-serving. But maybe not. Would anyone take back a wish to have God’s will done in their life? Maybe. The renewing of the mind should come first.
Here is what hints to me that this is indeed a prayer that will be answered. Denial is easy. If I could just deny all my doubts about the goodness of God and live in ignorance then it would be easy. I know how easy it is to deny things. But this is not easy. These doubts I have are hurdles that I have to overcome. But I’m praying for something now that isn’t a wish for more convenience or shiny stuff. I’m asking God to take me away from what I want and help me to do what He wants. In spite of my doubts, God will take me as I am and start that renewing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dissapointment at a Red Light

     Show and tell at school was usually tedious because it often meant that I had to sit through other first graders going on and on about something. But one day I didn’t even hear what the other kids shared. I was too caught up in the awesomeness of the story I had to tell. When it was my turn I went to the front of the room and launched into the story of my family visiting Phoenix.
     We went to Phoenix every month or so. My grandparents lived there and my dad had district meetings. I didn’t share that or anything about the drive down. I just told them that we had gone shopping. But the shopping wasn’t the story either.
     “And then,” I gasped to the class. “Right when we were walking out of GemCo, a great big fire truck went by! With its siren and lights on! And it was honking its horn! It was loud!”
     I’m sure my sharing was probably loud too. With my story done I went back to my seat. I didn’t notice or care if anyone was impressed. I thought it was neat. If I had been any kind of writer back then, I could have painted the picture better, with less exclamation points. It was night and the streets were wet with rain. The red lights of the fire truck blended with the red and white of the rest of the traffic. The truck sort of emerged from the rest of the lights, mostly in its noise. It blasted its horn, the kind unique to fire trucks and perhaps locomotives. But the story I told to the first grade that morning was emotional and not descriptive. I had been thrilled and needed to share that.
For most big city-dwellers, it was nothing special. But the town I lived in at the time had only a volunteer fire department and I lived on a quiet suburban street where the loudest thing was the neighbor’s Corvette. At a young age, I wanted to be a policeman only so I could drive a cool car with lights and a siren. Later on, perhaps starting from that night, I wanted to be a fireman. I didn’t care about fighting fires, squirting water or anything else like that. All I wanted to do was drive fast, have a siren and flashing lights and run red lights. How much more king of the streets was that?
Sometimes my blog is like that. I get caught up in something that maybe thrills me or just sparks my imagination. I rattle on about it and post it. Later on I look back and wonder what I was thinking. I have gone and re-written a couple of entries, making improvements, being more descriptive and trying to make better sentences. I think it’s growing as a writer.
I kind of miss the times that all it took to thrill me beyond words was a speeding fire truck. And not only thrill me, but inspire me. I wanted to do what they did.
A year or so after seeing the fire truck that night, I was riding with my dad and we approached an intersection. Out my window I heard the wail of a siren. We had a green light but my dad came to a stop anyway. I looked out my window and saw an ambulance speeding up to the intersection, where it had a red light. I bristled with excitement at the thought that they would blast through and run the red light.
The ambulance slowed, came to a quick halt, then proceeded through the intersection. My stunned heart sank. They had stopped for the red light. The disappointment I felt was crushing. I asked my dad why they had done that and he explained that they were just being safe and careful.
Careful of what? Could someone actually not hear the siren and mosey out into the path of an emergency vehicle? It was inconceivable. But yet, I saw the ambulance pause. At that moment, I didn’t want to live in a world where ambulances were not free to run red lights.
Well I pulled through that disillusionment that time. There were more significant betrayals of my innocence and trust later in my life that I am still working through today.
And then last Wednesday I was driving the family van to the bank in my hometown. Coming up to a busy intersection, I heard a siren off to my right and stopped at the green light and waited as an ambulance came up, made a complete stop and then sped on. The shock of recognition hit me. I hadn’t thought of the ambulance at the light for years and was taken back at the sight of that replay. I got to the bank minutes later and was thankful I had my notebook and pen. I wrote “the ambulance at the light” on the first blank page I found. I thought about the fire truck when I was coming out of the department store and I remembered sharing it for show and tell. Then I anxiously awaited the time I would compose my blog. I would write about the loss of innocence seeing the ambulance stop at the light.
Then as I wrote this I realized that there is another recurrence. Again, I saw something so awesome that I had to share it. I usually tell the story without being able to really gauge any reaction. I was pretty impressionable back then and thought I was less so now. But not being impressed by things does not make for a good writer.
The goal of Roadwalker isn’t just to be writing every week, but to be looking for things to write about. They’re out there, sometimes it’s a noise out the right-hand window that recaptures the picture of an old memory. And sometimes that memory brings on a string of others, and finally a realization. That kid telling the story to the first grade hasn’t changed that much.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Glorious Noise Going Nowhere

     My broken Toyota pickup truck has been sitting in our yard for over half a year. I see it each day and think, my poor truck. It’s not my truck that’s feeling bad at all through. It’s just a motor vehicle with no feelings. Pathetically sitting there, covered with cobwebs and leaves that shows blatant age and stagnation, it’s going no-where and has no reason to go anywhere anyway. When I think how sad the truck looks, I might be thinking of myself. I feel like I’m just sitting still doing little more than whining.
     I haven’t exactly had a stagnant past 7 months. It’s only lately that I’ve felt burned out, like a car running on vapors sputtering and coasting. It has started to show in my blog. If you read last week’s lame entry, you know.
     And I just think, if only my truck was working… if I could just get out on the road in it, everything would be alright. I’ve been feeling bugged, burned out and bilious for awhile now, not all the time, but more frequently and for no apparent reason. I keep thinking that it’s because I need a sabbatical. That’s when I wish my truck was working. If only…
     I reminds me of a story where the prevailing thought was “If only the car was working” and “I just can’t wait until that car is done and then…”
     Back in 1985 my good friend Eddie had a car in the works. Works, meaning it was having a lot of restoration and body work done. It was supposed to be a stock 1967 Mustang Fastback. But the bored out 302 motor replaced the stock 289. It was rumored to have a limited slip differential too, not stock. Eddie and I dreamed of the day the car would finally be done. What frustrated us was how the shops doing bodywork and paint seemed to be taking their time.
Eddie had a road nemesis named Martin with a blue Dodge Dart. Martin provoked Eddie with his own souped-up hot rod acting like he was king of the road. We knew the Mustang would blow the doors off of anything existing on the road. Whenever I saw Martin in his Dodge all I could do was think, if only that car was working. And the months went by.
The summer of ’85 was young. The whole summer was. I was at the beach with a group of friends one morning. Then one friend’s eyes widened and he pointed. Pulling up in the parking lot was a dark metallic red 1967 Mustang Fastback. The engine sounded like artillery. Eddie was usually as cool as the other side of the pillow. Today was no exception as he casually stepped out.
We all were at the car in moments. The car’s vanity place said: 1Trick. Eddie drove me around the parking lot playing George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone. The inside of the car was clean and white. There were turn signal indicators in the reverse-facing hood scoops. Built in a year before they were the law, it had no seat belts.
Eddie let me out and took two girls for a ride. I followed in my dad’s Mazda sedan. At a shopping center parking lot, Eddie got out and I saw one of the girls bounce into the driver’s seat. They tooled around the parking lot and then headed out toward the avenue.
The universe, time, and space did a magic twitch of the hand at that moment and things came together. Looking right at the stop sign, I saw Martin in his blue Dodge. My first thought came automatically. I wish Eddie had his Mustang… Then like a hard dope-slap to the back of my head, the next thought came. Eddie does have his Mustang.
Eddie saw Martin too. His head was out the passenger window and he was calling Martin’s name in a long noise like a roaring volcano. Martin gunned the Dodge engine, answering the challenge.
No-one got out of Eddie’s car. The girls both tumbled backwards into the rear seat and Eddie dove into the driver’s seat. The One Trick vanished after him in a cloud of tire smoke. I figured they were headed to an empty stretch of highway to officially have it out. I didn’t bother to try to follow.
The center of our universe back then was the Ihop, so we waited there. Eddie pulled up in the Mustang a little later. The girls were quiet and dazed and went to the ladies room. Eddie sat and filled his coffee cup.
“Did you win?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Eddie didn’t sound that thrilled. He wasn’t being his usual cool self either. He looked a little disappointed.
I asked for details. In the cool of the restaurant, Eddie said that he had beat Martin in the race, but probably not in a quarter-mile. He had burned out for too long and the Dodge had gotten ahead. Posi-Track or not, he must have floored it right away and just sat there making smoke. Eddie eventually moved forward and got past the Dodge, but if it had been on a regulation track, it probably wouldn’t have been soon enough.
The excitement leading up the events may have been better than the actual thing. The best part of it all for me was the slap of realization that Eddie did in fact have the Mustang.  And in the years following, it made a great story to tell. I can still hear the sound of Martin revving the Mopar motor being drowned out by Eddie’s battle call. 
The bored 302 with chrome accessories

My lower half posing at the rear of the 1 Trick 

So here I am today, thinking that all could be made right if only this little pickup truck would move. I still don’t know if it’s the differential or a U-joint. One of the tough things about this is that the truck is not an essential in my life. I can’t justify an expensive repair for it if I can take the family van places.
But even broken, the truck has helped me a least this time to recall an awesome story to share and a truth to reflect upon. If I spin my wheels in exhibition and noise, I won’t move forward. Time to quit whining about the truck being broken and move on.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Whose Kingdom?

            The writers of the movie, Kingdom of the Spiders must have had a wonderful time coming up with that title. Titles aren’t my strength. I think that’s an awesome title. I watched the movie on network TV and loved it for only two reasons. It had been filmed near where I used to live in Arizona, and the lead actor was Captain Kirk. I did not care for the images of spiders gone wild. 

            Kingdom of the Spiders was a typical “Nature on the Rampage” film. That era saw a lot of stories like that with the environmental movement becoming more prominent.  Jaws and The Birds could be examples of that genre done well. But for every good movie of that type, there may be a dozen bad ones.
            I don’t mind spiders, even in the shower. I do not care for the poisonous ones. Webs, however, I don’t care for. I have gone around the outside of the church buildings several times a week with a broom and dusted spiderwebs. A day or so later they’re back. I get a little irked that webs give an appearance of disrepair and neglect. My thinking goes to unsaved people glancing at a cobweb on the outside fence of the church playground. These people turn around and head for home, but never make it because some accident ends their life before they are ever saved and it’s my fault for not getting that spiderweb.
That’s a character flaw in me and I’m working on it.  I’ve recently blogged about it. I go on and on about how much I enjoy working alone. Maybe it’s a drawback that I think too much without talking my thoughts out, sorting them with a real person.         
            I have also recently reflected on the megalomaniacal people in the world and the fear they cause. The day I wrote a blog about Freedom from Fear was the day of the Boston Bombing. I didn’t mean to be relevant to the world situation. There were already things to be afraid of besides homemade bombs going off in crowds.             
            I don’t worry too much about the world ending. I used to in the 80’s with the threat of Nuclear War being such an everyday thing. Nowadays I don’t watch the news too much. I know that there are still threats that could end humanity as we know it. It’s like world-ending news never wants to completely go away.
            I might not be making a lot of sense today. But I wanted to write what I’ve been thinking about. Cobwebs bounce back. Earwigs, also known as pincer bugs, seem to spontaneously multiply in order to consume crops. While raptor birds are on the endangered list, nature seems to make up for it in pests. The world is resilient. Humanity could take a lesson from it.
I don’t want to be in denial about what’s going on in the world. But I also don’t want to be paralyzed by fear. Sometimes all it takes is just to look at cobwebs and see how resilient the world is. I brush them away and they’re back days later. And it’s not the spider’s kingdom that is so powerful, but the one who made spiders. It is after all, His kingdom.