Different Boats…

We are all in the same storm but we are not all in the same boat.  I read this recently and thought it powerful.  The storm is a metaphor for life.  Today, it is also a more specific metaphor for SARS CoV-2; the disease and the economic devastation.  The thought was followed by this acknowledgment.  The condition of our boat to handle the storm is radically different from person to person.

It is, I think, an excellent and accurate visual.  Your experience is likely quite different from your neighbors.  External, out of our control, circumstances are real and have a big impact on life.  Ultimately however, to succeed and conquer life, we cannot let circumstance dictate. Ours is to rise and overcome. Conqueror vs Victim – you alone will determine which!

Faith in God makes me feel that the storm in this season and, in fact, life itself, is temporary and but a test.  From there I think it important to work to your natural passions, serve others and make prudent, long-term decisions. I also believe that humility and gratefulness are imperative virtues to pursue.  The 2,000 year old Stoic philosophy also helps.  It urges its students to step back or elevate from their troubles or a problem, and to view it, not with passion or emotion, but rather, objectively.  What can I learn from this rough spot?  How can I best use this?  And better yet, what new opportunities are now available as a result?

As many have already reminded, Shakespeare reportedly wrote King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra in 1605 and 1606 during the plague years when much was restricted.  He turned disaster in his favor.

Storms have tremendous power!  Boats built with storms in mind harness the power and thrive.  Instead of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome, set yourself up for Post-traumatic Growth.  Grasp the tiller firmly!  Be the architect, craftsman and captain of your boat!  Then, use it to help others tossed overboard!

Of Hitler and Lions…

Is there anything fundamentally different between humans and other animals?  Without an intelligent source for our existence we cannot, with intellectual honesty, strive for human rights based upon anything better than our personal opinion.  Their would be no fair or unfair.  If we say that is unfair, we are appealing to what we believe is a broader and understood rules for behavior.  Without a law giver, there would be nothing that we could reference to make our case.

Our country is inextricably hinged to each individual’s inalienable rights.  It is far more than a country’s laws.  Many countries have abominable laws. We have had horrible laws.  Think slavery, not allowing women to vote, etc….  Laws are a flawed source.

Let me illustrate the difference between humans and animals…  Young male lions will fight older lions in order to win his pride.  It is incredibly harsh.  Among the first act of the young victor is to kill the young offspring of his predecessor.  It is nature’s way.

Sensible people do not believe the young male lion needs to be punished.  This is Darwinism.  This is how lions have evolved. The strongest survive and pass on their seed.  We accept the nature of nature.

Compare the young lion to Hitler.  Elie Wiesel wrote The book Night which won the Nobel Prize.  It is his account of his Jewish experience with the Nazis.  At one point he describes getting off the train at a Nazi death camp.  They were separating the men from the women.  From the women’s line they were then separating the mothers from their infant children.  The Nazi guards were ripping children from their mother’s arms and flinging them into a huge pit of fire.  It is so ghastly I quite literally can’t comprehend.

We rightly think, all those associated with this act deserve the most strident and severe punishment possible.  Those cowards deserve to die.

We have two similar acts – one of lion and one of human.  If there is no God and we are a random act of evolution then we cannot, again with intellectual honesty, look at Hitler’s Nazi Germany and judge their actions as bad.  If we are no different from animals then the Nazi’s could do whatever they could get away with. Might would be right.

Inalienable rights mean that we have inherited something special from our maker.  We are not like all the other animals. We should not be brutalize by those who are stronger, more committed or simply more organized.  Each individual, regardless, has inherent worth and value.  We are different from lions and all the other animals. The young, male lion was right; Hitler was wrong!

Our civil rights require God.  #MeToo requires God.  The law of nature is harsh and it rules all of the other animals of the world.  The Old Testament prophets and then Jesus changed everything.  It was the birthplace of democracy, civil rights and equal opportunity.

If you are not a believer, think before you denounce something.  On what authority?  If there is no God you can only state that you don’t like something; that it is not your personal preference.  The wrongdoer can’t be wrong, only displeasing to you.  There is a transcendent or higher source for our moral and ethical opinions.  We can state, with perfect confidence, that Hitler was wrong.  It comes from God.

I danced with Lucy!

We held hands and danced, along with everyone else, through her new home.  It was powerful!  Emotional!  Unforgettable!

It was the closing celebration of a week’s worth of hard manual, masonry construction, labor.  The tribal songs filled our ears.  Tears filled our eyes.  We knew not their meaning other than all were joyous and celebrating.  You do not need to speak the language to understand!

Lucy is a member of the Masai tribe in Kenya.  Tall, slender, attractive and regal.  She is a single mom with two children, Cynthia and Mallick.  In the male dominated culture of Kenya, that makes her vulnerable.  She lives with and cares for her mother as well.  She is 80+; no one really knows for sure.  Until we arrived, she had not seen any mizungu – white people.

Lucy’s current home:

Lucy's House

If you type in the name of the small, rural community outside of Nanyuki, Kenya near the base of Mount Kenya you will not find anything.  It is hard to stump google.  We were officially no where!  I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else!  Googs may not know but our Lord certainly does!

What a blessing to help build Lucy’s home.  What a privilege to learn from these happy and open people.

Lucy, her two children and her mother:

Lucy with her Fam

A team selfy with Lucy!

Team Selfy with Lucy

My awesome wife and daughters in Lucy’s partially constructed new home:

Fam Hands Up In House

Dancing:

EY, Lina, Ben & Glendy Dancing

Playing:

Em Playing with Kid

Loving:

Eli with her baby

Crying:

MC with Ladies

Some of the children singing a farewell song:

Kids Singing - Closing

Final team pic in front of new home.  We poured the slab and built the walls.  Kenya Habitat will finish in the next few weeks.

Team Pic in Front of Home - big group

What Lucy’s home will look like when finished:

Habitat Kenya House

My family standing on the Equator:

Fam Staddles Equator

Time for a safari in the Kenyan Maasai Mara.  Incredible experience!!!  We saw 25 lions, a leopard stalk zebra, five cheetahs teamed up, baby hyenas playing, lions mating and a zillion cape buffalo, wildebeest, gazelle, giraffe, zebra, impala, elephant, hippos, etc…

GY Photo Will Photoing a Lion (2)

Dear Lord – thank you so much!  I work hard but I have exactly zero without your grace.  May I endeavor to earn my blessings and privilege!  Please smile on Lucy and her family!

The Long Green Noose

My friend, Karl Travis, was diagnosed with CTEPH a few years ago.  It progressed to the point, a few months ago, that he had to retire from 1st Pres Church where he was the head pastor.  He is my age.  Below is his Caring Bridge journal entry from yesterday.  He is treading a path now that we will all tread. It is worth your time to read!  I love that he is still teaching and leading by example!

The Long Green Noose

Journal entry by Karl Travis — 

I have become a connoisseur of cannulas, which is comical considering that only last year I didn’t know what a cannula is. Then my doctors – I have more doctors than friends – put me on 24-hour oxygen. A humming blue oxygen concentrator provides the oxygen and the cannula is the part that hangs around my ears and peaks into my nostrils. Turns out, there is a variety of cannulas. There are rigid cannulas, and softer ones, and some particularly pliable cannulas that can actually be described as supple. I like the supple cannulas. If you wear something every hour of the day, comfort matters.

My docs are trying to keep me comfortable. I appreciate it except that I’d rather be at work. Transitioning from a more-than-full-time-ministry to sedentary disability is like leaping from a bullet train; the train speeds away while you catch your breath. Or try to. CTEPH (Chronic Thromboembolic Pulmonary Hypertension) makes breathing rather troublesome, which explains why I had to jump in the first place. There is little more useless than a breathless preacher.

I’m adapting to my life on the couch. I have been moved and nourished by so many people, folk who have selflessly traveled, written, called, texted, sent cards, cooked, prayed, and been generally swell at sending best wishes. Frankly, it’s a bit overwhelming. Long ago I set aside the idea that human beings are intrinsically selfish and sinful, and I’m seeing illustration upon illustration in this season of my life. People are good, very good, given half a chance to be.

Boiled down, Christianity is about two things: making earth more like heaven and eternal relationship with God. At some point, commonly in old age, most disciples shift their focus from the first to the second. The shift takes time but not intention as your soul senses the impossibility of having a foot on both paths, so it drags you towards eternity. You can go swinging or you can go smiling. It’s your decision. I want to go down smiling.

Still, there is an in-between-discipleship, a season of gradual shifting when it’s possible to see a bit of both objectives. You can admire your family members and imagine their futures even while pondering what it will be like to see family members amongst the departed saints. You can recall your life in excruciating detail even while imagining how everything in it will be somehow rejoiced and ultimately redeemed. You can view the world’s fallenness and cruelty – currently on graphic display – while simultaneously anticipating a reality free from selfishness, violence, injustice, and pain. It’s quite a season, this time of shifting, spiritually rich and intellectually pleasing.

I am reminded of my current in-between-ness each time I come to the end of my green 50-foot oxygen line. My cannula pulls like a horse’s bit, my head jerks back, and with exasperation I admit that I have reached the end of my long green noose. I can go no further. I am bound. Limited. Tied down.

The weird part is that I am also connected. Nourished. The very thing that keeps me at home, on the couch, pinned down, is the very thing that keeps me alive.

What a gorgeous paradox.

Life has many such oxygen lines, things which simultaneously limit and nourish us, bind us and free us.

Marriage is like that, at least a good marriage is, a life-giving marriage. We tie ourselves to another and in exchange love’s alchemy somehow molds satisfaction and contentment, even within the strictures of covenant.

I preached a wedding sermon long ago to two very young twenty-somethings. I began the sermon describing single life: the freedom of chasing personal dreams and experiences, the joy of following spontaneous impulses without the encumbrance of another person’s desires, dreams, or dilemmas, etc. Then I paused and asked, “Do you know what you’re giving up? Are you crazy?”

Don’t fool yourself. Marriage puts us in a bind. Adding another person’s needs and vocation atop your own really complicates things. It limits you. In fact, our wedding liturgy admits that marriage presents a bind. In the wedding ceremony, after the Affirmation of the Families, after the scripture reading, after the meditation, finally the pastor looks to the bride and groom and says, “… since it is your intention to marry, join your right hands, and with your promises bind yourselves to each other as husband and wife.”

“Bind yourselves.”

Marriage brings limits and boundaries. It forces compromise and it redefines life’s edges. And yet … a good marriage can also deliver joy and completion, integration and satisfaction. Marriage gives us a partner whose job is to help make us better than otherwise we have any hope of being. I have such a marriage with Jaci. Thanks be to God.

Marriage binds and constricts yet also nourishes and frees. All at the same time. Go figure.

Marriage is a long green noose.

It isn’t the only one, either. Vocation illustrates the same dynamic. There are behaviors not allowed in every job. Doctors can’t share private medical information. Bankers can’t have access to other people’s personal accounts. Domestic workers can’t steal stuff while cleaning a house. Store clerks can’t pocket a percentage of their daily sales. These might seem trite examples but they convey the delicate balance possible when we acknowledge what binds us in order that we share together some modicum of freedom. In exchange, we trust our doctors, we can depend on the banking system, we can hire others to help us, we can depend on merchants, etc.

You get the idea. It’s the long green noose. What limits us often somehow also makes life possible and dependable.

I love the way Tom Troeger puts it in his incredible hymn, “God Marked a Line and Told the Sea.”

We are not free when we’re confined
To every wish that sweeps the mind,
But free when freely we accept
The sacred bounds that must be kept.

I saw a university billboard that claimed that its graduates have no limits. I call bullshit.

Life has limits. That’s the truth. What has always been true has been gloriously illustrated by this piece of plastic tickling my mustache and tripping my family. Such is the grace visible from my couch. Disability isn’t all that bad. Thanks be to God.

I’m fond of St. Patrick’s Prayer, from Ireland. Notice his use of the verb bind.

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity, 
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,

by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on the cross for my salvation.

His bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the star-lit heaven, 
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray, 
the whiteness of the moon at even, the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, 
the stable earth, the deep salt sea
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today

the power of God to hold and lead, 
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay, 
God’s ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward, 
the word of God to give me speech,
God’s heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, 

Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, 
Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, 
Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, 
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name, 

the strong name of the Trinity, 
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, the One in Three, 
of whom all nature has creation, 
eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Preach it, Patrick. Blessed be the tie that binds. Life is a long green noose.

Until it isn’t.

Remember what Jesus said when raising Lazarus from the tomb? “Unbind him, and let him go.”

I’m waiting to hear Jesus say this to me. It’s what I’m living for, too. My life is very different now, but it is still life, bursting with grace and beauty. Shifting from “on earth as it is in heaven” towards eternity with God, well, I’m on the fence, and the view is quite nice. At some point Jesus will look my way and command, “Unbind him! Pull that oxygen line! Yank that cannula! Cut that cord!  Let him go!”

And in the end, what appears as a long green noose is actually an umbilical cord. It limits us, and nourishes us, and then – snip – eternity begins.

Good Friday

Today, some 2000 years ago, didn’t feel good!  Their friend, leader, teacher, hope and inspiration was captured, put on trial, sentenced and hung on a cross to die.  And die He did.  It was, in fact, the opposite of good.  The sky was dark, the curtain torn.  The followers ran for their lives.  It was the worst possible day.  All hopes and dreams were seemingly crushed under the iron boot of closed minded and small religious leaders who co-opted the authoritarian power of the Roman Empire to do it’s dirty work.

Time and circumstance can change how we frame events.  The worst day was actually a good day.  The best laid plans of men went sideways!  This theme, the opposite of what seems wise, is duplicated time and again in the Bible.  The last is first; least are most; blessed are the meek, persecuted and reviled; a Samaritan (of all loathsome people!) is praised for good work, the near impossibility for the rich to enter heaven, a tax collector and fisherman make up the inner circle, and on and on…  God’s logic is not ours!

What an amazing few days those must have been.  What an amazing few days they still are!  We are forgiven – price paid in full I am unspeakably humbled, grateful and motivated!

Happy Easter!

In the Shallow…

…is a great song by Bradly Cooper and Lady Gaga from their movie, A Star is Born.  Nominally, it seems to be a song about their relationship.  I, however, think there is a better and deeper meaning.  Here are the lyrics…

Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

I’m fallin’
In all the good times
I find myself longing for change
And in the bad times, I fear myself

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired tryna fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keepin’ it so hardcore?

I’m fallin’
In all the good times
I find myself longing for change
And, in the bad times, I fear myself

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

In the sha-ha, sha-la-low
In the sha-sha-la-la-la-low
In the sha-ha, sha-ha-ha-low
We’re far from the shallow now

Hoo, huh, uh, huhh-ow
Huh, huhh-huhhh

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

In the sha-ha, sha-la-low
In the sha-ha, sha-la-la-la-low
In the sha-ha, sha-ha-low
We’re far from the shallow now

Unhappy in the good times and scared in the bad.  Looking to fill a void, longing for change and searching for something more?  We are born with a void – a meaning-of-life pit in our heart and soul.  Too many times we attempt to fill the void with things that are meaningless or destructive.

The Christian faith promotes what seems, at first hearing, unwise.  A few examples –  lose your life to gain it; blessed are the meek, hungry, poor and persecuted to borrow from the Sermon on the Mount; and the dangers of wealth.

To state the obvious – God’s logic is not ours.  The broad path tread by most is the wrong path.  We are in control in shallow water – we can see and feel the bottom.  It feels safe.  Ships are safe in the harbor but are built for the sea.  God is in the deep.  Allow yourself to be swept up in a current that leads where you know not.  Be willing to lose sight of the shore.  There is a plan for you and your talent.  Trust, let go and live a rich, meaningful life in the deep!  Thrive, as the song suggests, far from the shallow!

Her Name Was Beba…

…and she was about three years old.  Soon after arriving in her neighborhood in the Dominican Republic, she found my daughter, Eli.  She would slip her little hand in Eli’s and just hold it for long periods of time.  She was perfectly content to sit on Eli’s hip and in her arms.  She liked to touch her face and handle her long hair.  My daughter doesn’t speak Spanish and Beba didn’t speak English.  None-the-less a bond quickly cemented.  It was incredibly endearing.

Eli & Beba pink shirt

GY, Eli, Beba y mas

We were on a Habitat for Humanity mission trip.  We were doing what Habitat does – changing lives through the building of homes.  It is impossible to describe in words how connections like this happen so quickly and over seemingly impossible obstacles.

Blake & Eli with Kids

The same thing happened to me with a young man in his 20s named Giovanni in El Salvador.  We worked alongside each other for days mixing concrete on the ground.  He practiced his poor English and I did the same with my poor Spanish.  At the dedication he, in Spanish, said, “we worked with our hands and it traveled to our hearts”.  Brilliant insight and words from my friend!

Giovani

In the DR, we helped build new homes in a neighborhood full of decrepit shacks with dirt floors.  Despite the conditions the people seemed happy.  In between working we tossed the Frisbee, kicked around the hacky-sack and played other games.

March 2019 DR Shack

Mission trips are insightful, meaningful and life changing experiences if you allow the full experience to gain entry into your heart and soul.  Through the grace of God and our hard work, we – individually (the vast majority of us) and as a country – are incredibly affluent.  It can easily blind us to the realities of most of the world.  It is dangerous territory for our souls.  Matthew tells us that Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Those are terrifying words for the affluent!

Tears flowed as we walked to the bus to leave. Beba hung to Eli with her head on her shoulder.  Eli reluctantly set her on the ground and boarded the bus to go.  The ride back to the hotel for our team was quiet.  We were all moved.  It felt great to help.  No one wanted to leave; there was still so much more to do…

 

May we work hard, earn much and live nicely.  May we never allow success to dull our mandate to give and help.  May we give more and consume less.  Others are in need.  We can help!  We are called to help!  We must help!

The One Paragraph Bible…

In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.  He so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  We are to uphold His greatest commandments:  Love the Lord and Love our Neighbor as ourselves.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

  • Genesis 1:1                  First sentence of the bible                   Quote from NIV
  • John 3:16                                                                                      Quote from NIV
  • Matthew 22:37                                                                            Paraphrased
  • Revelation 22:21        Last sentence of the bible                    Quote from NIV

Seems to me that if you can believe in this short paragraph – accept it as true and serve those in need, then you are in!  It is that simple!  Do you have to serve? No if you are hanging on a cross, on your deathbed, etc…  All others must pitch in to help.  To me, Matthew 22:37 (paraphrased above) makes it incredibly clear.  That thought is supported numerous times elsewhere in the bible.  Even in the most dire of circumstances things can be done and said that help/bless others.  How we act when in the process of dying, for example, can be a powerful testimony!

I think it likely that the Big Bang version of the formation/start of the universe, space and time is essentially correct.  I believe God set it up and lit the fuse.  I also believe in the version of evolution described in The Language of God by Francis Collins.  He led the human genome project that mapped DNA.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins

Does the biblical creation account cause problems with your faith?  Read, Dr John Lennox Seven Days that Divide the World after you finish The Language of God.  He is a math professor at Oxford University.  http://www.johnlennox.org/   If you want to go deeper, read his God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God.  He delves into popular atheist arguments and takes them on with science and math.  It is compelling!

Want an overall argument for the reality of God, Jesus and the Christian Faith?  Read Mere Christianity by CS Lewis.  It is excellent!  I typically listen to on my way to Chama.  Lewis is, to me, far and away, the most brilliant theologian in the last several hundred years.  He came to God from atheism.  JRR Tolkien helped him get there which is pretty cool.  They were in a small group that regularly met called the Inklings.

Want a more modern argument for God?  Try Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ.  He was an atheist.  He is a journalist and graduated from Yale Law School.  Super easy read.  https://leestrobel.com/

At the end of the day, I do not believe our opinion on such things as evolution, the creation account, etc… make a difference to our faith or salvation.  I will not be at all surprised when my thoughts are revealed as completely wrong.  The moment I learn the truth will be the point at which I no longer care.  I’ll be confronted and consumed by an overwhelming brilliant light, a trillion times more dazzling than anything I can now conjure, which will expel every other thought from my being.  It is, none-the-less, fun to think through such things but down deep, where it counts, keep it simple – Love God and Your Neighbor.

Master’s Chisel

We are like ordinary rocks that occasionally get caught up in the spring storms and tumble, with everyone else, down stream clanking and banging into everything as we go. Only when we are plucked from the rabble can we become notable. Being plucked from the hordes is but the first step in what is a long process.  If we continue to submit, the Master will get busy with hammer and chisel and remove what doesn’t belong.  Picture the beautiful statue hiding in the block of marble.  The sculptor looks at that block and sees what it can become as God gazes upon us and does the same.

The longer we sustain and learn, the more we lose; which is the more we gain.  Less is always more!  In time we become a remarkable and dynamic force in our Lords army.  Chiseled into His image and beautiful in His sight.  Lose your life and your unnecessary baggage to gain your life!

Fire Starters…

The dark does not know the Light

I am building a fire that will burn after I am gone.  Every day I add fuel.  Every day I want it to grow.  Every day I want its light to push back the darkness that surrounds.  The fire-starters light, maintain and grow their fire on earth.  We look to the heavens, see bright shining stars and wonder at their beauty.  God looks down on earth and smiles at pricks of light, like those stars, made by the many fires burning for Him.  Get a match and build a fire!