Incomprehensible thanks

My heart is full.  So thank you.

Those of you who serve our country, thank you.

If you have served and gone to school on the G. I. Bill, then you join generations building an incomprehensibly astonishing country, complete with shortcomings the whole world can see.  Please continue building.

If you returned broken, marred, missing parts of body or soul, then you join a long line bleeding in blues, khaki, and camo: striving to rebuild bodies, minds and lives in countless re-enactments of America’s miracle.  Please don’t give up rebuilding.

If you’re eating turkey, or an MRE, or you’re quietly hungry again tonight, then fall in.  Queues of hungry men and women reach back to Valley Forge’s freezer, doing the impossible in Inchon or sweltering in malarial silence.  Please don’t shirk attempting the impossible with your wearied best.

And if you’re quiet in flag-draped box, ferried home by those who cannot flinch at your final high cost paid.  Come take a place with the mighty and abased, heroes with names on small white crosses and stars in quiet, landscaped hills.  Hallowed by you ransoming my dream.

No less so, Christ lovers, who were not surprised when those fearing your faith ushered you horrifically into eternity.  You, did John certainly see in his Revelation, crying to God at justice delayed to the last chance for those martyring you to come to His grace.

Incomprehensible. Price.  Possibility.

If you served my country or Lord, thank you.  May my courage in these dearly bought days, address my debt to you at a Banquet to which we’ve been invited on death’s other shore.

What Dya Think?

I was a preacher in training at Oklahoma Baptist University.  Oklahoma was staging its version of fall’s shades of brown, orange, and splashes of red and yellow just to prove their existence.

Upstairs on a yawny Wednesday.  Shawnee Hall.  James Timberlake (Lumberpuddles) presided over Systematic Theology as if any of us might think systematically.  Most boys in the room (you heard the silence correctly, no girls) were merely stamping what they already knew: and firmly believed they knew more than Dr. Timberlake.  Not only did the boys know more, they were better at believing, stronger and wiser than this dinosaur trying to connect dots for the room’s brilliant non-learners.  Timberlake: what we believe is more than “getting it right” and more than “notching the grips on theological guns.”

What we believe; how we fashion believing into coherence guides our faith, shields our lives, and strengthens our resolve in the face of — life when ragged.

Few in the room suspected how ragged life can be, is, will be.

So in the middle of Kierkegardian Existential Epistemology (See?  You do have reason to be impressed!), boys talked, being flagrantly disrespectful, sharpening theological knives to carve up some whelp named Soren. With a side dish of dinosaur.

He paused.  For a second he was a wet-behind-the-ears Army Chaplain in the advance of Patton’s troops to close the pincer on the Battle of the Bulge and he said to the rude children, “When you are in a column of soldiers, and the Major stops your jeep to point a little Belgian boy with a Mauser marching a German soldier in the direction of where we are marshaling prisoners.  And the boy and the soldier skirt behind a building and then the rifle shot rings out; and you know he shot that soldier, you may not be as certain what to believe as you are in your comfortable chair now.”

Many of the fifty never dropped a beat.  Never heard him. They already had correct beliefs, no; not beliefs, knowledge.  It took no faith to espouse the answers on the exam, you only had to memorize answers.  They were super-pastors in training; here to merely time stamp their wisdom and move on to establish the Kingdom of God in growing churches that would love them, maybe worship them a little.

For a second, the disheveled hair vanished, the gray suit faded to olive drab in layers against the 1944 unbelievable cold, and the crew cut kid with glasses still sat in the jeep with the rifle shot ringing in his ears, for the rest of his life.

He was trying to tell the deaf that a checklist of certainties, an inventory of what you know because you have never needed much faith, real faith, faith in the face of the overwhelming — that parts of life will rock your boat.  Blow you out of the water.

Systematic is not so systematic.  Theology strips down to a ringing question of faith . . . what do you know, what do you therefore think when all else echoes hopelessness?

 

Time

I don’t run from myself.  I don’t wish to be someone else.  I don’t spend time trying to be other people, but the guy in my mirror keeps changing.  His glasses have changed, and he is more nearsighted.  Liver spots.  Even when frozen off, tend to find new spaces on his face.  He is getting older, but the guy in my head still talks and sounds at most 30ish.

And yet, the Christian scriptures describe God as the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Timeless.  Not subject to the ravages of time.  Hmmm.

Just sitting here, I am replacing myself.  Cell for cell, and not quite replacing each cell as wondrously as I did in my first few years of life.

I now own five toilets in three buildings.  All functioning again after yesterday’s work by Paul.  No, all five flushing again after the nice plumber came out for four hours today.  He said tree roots don’t mind “gray” water, but they don’t help toilets to flush without sending relics into showers.  My wife hates relics.   Wait, the one in the guest end of the house sounds like a small machine gun when filling, and rattles pipes in the kitchen.  So, after one more servicing, they will all be maintained.  Not improved.  Just maintained.

And yet, for forty years the Israelites making an extended, generation-wiping detour in the desert never had shoes or tents, or clothes wearing out.  Timeless.

I have pains that take longer to heal.  Some never will.  I didn’t make life choices to bring pain, I thought.

And yet, heaven supposedly tolerates neither pain nor tears.

In the last 2,000 years, we’ve left nothing unchanged, unedited: governmental forms, trade, technologies, medicine, science.  Many changes are wondrous.  Some bring bad effects.

And yet, no one has said anything as lasting, as improbable, as heart-stoppingly hopeful as a carpenter-cum-late-blooming rabbi that authorities unsuccessfully rubbed out.

Did you ever feel as if time does not make sense?  As if time itself is somehow not right?

It could be that our weirdest acceptance of the incongruous is that we take time for granted, as the given.

When it is not.

 

Nabeel, faith and noes.

Nabeel Qureshi was a most educated youth minister.  Most never attend med school, maintain the years of A’s it takes to get and stay there, and they don’t face proliferating possibilities like Nabeel faced.  He wrestled to be a doc on three continents, to retell his conversion from Islam on six continents, and encourage this newest generation’s dreams.

I suggested he write a book.  To keep it simple.  To reveal his story as a form other Muslims could follow simply.  Not easily, but distilling complex questions into simple steps Nabeel took to follow God, Allah, he thought.

He grew into a warrior.  I watched postings to YouTube and the web and laughed aloud, “Be the first on your block to merit your very own fatwah!”

Then Nabeel was married, having a beautiful child and dying of stomach cancer as Muslims cheered wildly at life’s cruel judgment.  I prayed God to heal him.  I posted one such prayer to this blog.

God said, “No.”

People apologize for God, and bend the light on the matter saying, “God healed him, He just healed Nabeel by taking him to heaven.”  Touching sentiment.  God said, “No” to healing Nabeel and extending his impact here.  Nabeel died.

How does faith look after that?  For Nabeel, watch his haunting YouTubes on our hope in Christ out of this world into the next.  Beautiful.  Courageous.  Faith-filled.  Watch them.

For me it’s a gut kick.  Worse than watching your college team get man handled by a 3A high school squad.  Having been injured to the point of dying, I know that if I choose who prays for me, I want them praying for me like I’d pray for me to live.  If you hide behind, “whatever is Your Will, Father” in some non-invested theologically secure place, then save your breath.  No one knows if those prayers get answered.

Yes.  It’s harder to pray like cheering for your team, like cheering for mom if she’s sick.  Yes, the let downs are harder, but prayers uttered in wildly cheering faith is what I hope for if it is me, my child, my wife.  Those answers stiffen your prayers for decades.  Will you ride with me?

When we get off, finally, on the other side, I’ll introduce you to Nabeel.  He cheers from the other side now, see?

 

Shocker

Greatness, it may be, is akin to thankfulness.

If you are great, popular, famous or any of the other notions we confuse together, you can’t live in front of a stadium full of people.  Sooner or later you’re home with –.  Do any of them love you for you, or do they all want or need something of your greatness?

And then you’re alone, with your greatness.  Do you even like you?  Can you enjoy hours with just you for company?

You cannot be great all the time for others.  It will kill you.

Thankfulness, may be somewhat similar.  You can be thankful for countries, freedoms, movies, God, salvation, and so on in stadiums, venues, or with a few.

When it is just you and a few, do they sense you are grateful for them, for who they are to you, beyond what they do for you.

And then there’s that being alone, again.  Does gratitude form attitudes with which you face challenges, disappointments, challenges, or life’s raw edges?

Sooner or later, greatness and thankfulness converge in private moments where either humility deepens you, or you must get back in front of someone, anyone.

 

 

Either, Or

George Whitenburg died last month.  Either he built a hugely successful law practice, raised a baseball team of kids in an industrially harmonious house, and well after retirement age had cancer, had cancer and one chemo treatment, died and is worm dirt in north Texas.

Or the God who permeated his existence, Who influenced his decisions and shaped his fierce persona to fight for the underdogs that came to him took him home to heaven rather than watch him waste away here.

Either all of George’s intellect and passion were attenuated neuronal pathways, slight changes in psychoparmaceutical chemistries and all his accumulated wisdom and genius, all his loves and memories are as good as ash — and when all who knew him are dust his entire existence will mire in meaninglessness.

Or that Lion all of us came to love, who rather than waste away walked off with the Creator who built him, and died for him, and has now resurrected him or holds him asleep until the resurrection.

I am coming to believe that one reason I am a believer is that I can’t abide the astonishing waste of an atheist’s hopelessness in the face of death.

Jodie almost died, again

It had been a long time: eleven years.  It had been eleven years since Jodie almost died.

Consider eleven years.  ISIS arose to prominence and to have many of its heads cut off.  Ossama was executed and buried at sea.  Barak Obama served as president between Bush and Trump.  Countless stars fell from their orbits passing into eternity … some at their own hands, others of natural causes.

Jodie finished high school, worked on a guest ranch, dated a few guys, became beautiful, began a career at her dad’s place, and had a profound impact for Christ on many young people passing through her home, her church, and her life.

And I could almost forget.  Forget the doctor’s warning quietly to Greg and Mitz that should Jodie live to age 12, she would have exceeded almost all expectations.

I could almost forget that each sibling and every pet, not to speak of mom and dad arose in the nights at some prodding, to find her cratering at the onslaught of brittle diabetes.

When life is too horrible, when countries fall down insanely seizing and killing any within them, when children enter life addicted to opiates, and other news drones on during CNN; I tend to move on from Jodie, who could simply slip away in a night.

I prayed for her Thursday night before bed, but did not call Mitz and Greg because, I tend to move on from all the hard and frightening things because I cannot hold them all before me all the time, all night, much less all day.

I hate things I cannot fight in this world.  I pray for them, against them, and I feel frustrated that they remind me I don’t have an answer for everything.  I don’t have a solution for everything.  And Jodie or I could either one slip into the night tonight.

So I rely on a bit of forgetfulness.  I rely on a lot of faith to move on, to move forward.  And I must remember, what an astonishing gift every day for Jodie since age 12 has been.  Every hour.  Every minute.  And see?  I seem to have as hard a time holding all that wonder before me all the time as all the unanswerable, frightening things.

So I hold a smaller number of things before me than I pray for in the morning, and make my way through my day with forgetfulness, and faith, and Hope.  All gifts from One with a hole in His hand, as if He knew how few things I can hold in my attention all day and get anything done.