So, It’s true

Or Jill was right.

I was reading in the Old Testament, through a minor prophet, Zechariah.  It is not essential for you to know, but when he is called a “minor” prophet it does not mean he shunned certain keys when playing music.  It does not even mean he could not share the stage with “major” league, prophets.  It simply means he wrote less, and in some cases, I am thankful for that.

Anyway, he is barely getting started in his first chapter when he shares this startling image.

Verse 7: On (Feb 15, 519 b.c.), the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet … as follows:

8:  In the night I saw … a Man (an Angel or an image of God) was riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees that were in the ravine; and behind Him were horses: red, sorrel, and white. 9:  I asked, “O my lord, what are these?” And the angel acting as my guide said, “I’ll show you.”  10:  The Man standing among the myrtle trees answered, “The Lord sends these throughout the earth and patrol it.”

11:  And the men on the horses answered the Angel of the Lord, “We have gone throughout the earth and behold, all the earth sits at rest.”

It reveals a startling thing.  One, Tolkien may have simply read the text more closely than the rest of us.  Strider’s job description is clearly outlined here!  Two, the word “men” is implied in the text.  It could be that “they” were the horses answering, which makes Lewis correct in the Horse and His Boy.  Which means Solomon was right, and there are precious few possibilities under the sun that qualify as “new”.

The rest of the chapter talks about God’s heart to restore Jerusalem, but does not mention Elrond or elves, in case you got your hopes up too far.

Half Rack, the Survivor

He stood in the backyard, his black nose flaring, sensing.  His eyes darted. He stood motionless, perfectly blendingly brown against the ravine falling away behind him.

His regal bearing halted me, held me.  He watched me, stand still in my kitchen watching this buck, who possessed . . . . it was odd trying to count his “points”.  He possessed five points, but no.  Not correct.

Maybe his camouflage worked well this early.  I again counted antler points from his side, knowing an odd number of horns isn’t impossible, but incorrect.  That was the word, incorrect.  Not five.

He turned.  Looked at me, assessed me and I stared back open-mouthed.  His left side rack was “correct”: five points, beautiful, elegant.

His right side was gone, unlike any deer, elk, or horned game I’ve ever seen.  All of them had two racks, one per side, or nothing.  Maybe I thought boys grow new antlers each year, and then drop by the Antler store to leave both sides with a valet.

Life does not come at them balanced, aesthetically perfect on both sides.  A buck can loose a side in a fight, fence, or blunt force.  I wondered if it was tricky to hold his head level, and then he ran to vanish.

Tony, doctors say, will be gone before morning, and he lost bits of himself toward the end in a fight, a fence, or an invisible force.  He, too, studied me for years while living next door, and I’ll miss him more than Half Rack.

And it’s not actually losing this capability, that speed, or these kinds of recall.  No, unlike Half Rack, I sense the end of my days here, and knowing separates me from Half Rack.  Enough like God to know my days are numbered, and yet lacking so much that I can’t dismiss all my glory at once in a place I choose, that’s right, or good.

It’s another reason I love that Baby in the manger, who identified with us, and then died to make us unlike Half Rack forever.

Holy Day: Black Friday

The holy day or holiday is upon us.  Say all you can about Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving and the rest; the heavy weight American holiday is Black Friday.

To attract worshippers on this holiest of shopping days everyone rolls out the trimmings.  Walmart rolls stock around (you noticed it’s all on rollers, right?) to make lanes where you stand in line longer than for a ride at Six Flags over Botswana to pay for their must-have treasure.

In fact, just as with Christmas where we push the celebration into the day before and name it Christmas Eve, Black Friday deals start at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.  Isn’t it great?  Otherwise those poor sales clerks would be stuck at home eating with family, being thankful, and watching this year’s football version of Everybody Hates Dallas!

And like other religious rites, Black Friday’s millions of devotees have a special designation conferred on them: consumers.  You know, like pigs and other species gobbling up everything without being sated.  “Consumers”.  Our economy would be kaput without them!  This holy day is for you!

Please enjoy places for you to commune with manufactured things in the aisles and end caps!  These cardboard worship spots spring up to enable our most sacred transaction: impulse buying!  Staying home?  Our online, private worship version begs your attention in the page margins you’re viewing, but wait!  Google puts what you looked at online in the past weeks in the margin: that last nudge you need to click “Put in Cart”!

It does not matter your creed, ethnicity, or gender!  We can all fight over that last toy, apparel item equally, all hoping to consume that most wonderful possibility: something new to me!

But wait there is more!  If your consuming can wait a few days, then you can be overcome with the chills of “Winter Clearance” that runs through the twelve days of Christmas!

Enough cynicism.  I have to go put what I want on Amazon for my family to get it right this year.

Which Pappaw?

I escaped from Walmart’s widened aisles awaiting a deluge of Black-Friday-on-Thursday night shoppers.  Sky: dazzling blue.  Wind: minimal.  Temperature: perfect for sweat shirt.

I parked close, a great benefit in coming before the storm.  I approached my truck, triggered the locks, opened the door, and had three bags in mid hoist when it caught my eye, sitting in the back seat, with a seat belt trailing across it.

A bright yellow card was addressed to “Pappaw” in Claire’s handwriting.  She’s great at birthdays, and who-wants-what-for-Christmas.

I first thought, “How could a card addressed to Pappaw, to the man who adopted my mom, to a WW1 vet returned to Texas to build an F.W. Woolworth in Temple TX, who was a chair of deacons for 20 years, who toured the west with Mammaw, my sister and I in a trailer, and whose funeral I conducted forty years ago leave a card addressed to him in my truck?”

Avalanches of thought tumble out quickly.

My daughter-in-law who never met my Pappaw, addressed my birthday card using the “grandparent” name I chose for me.  The envelope had fallen into the seat as I collected the fleece and card two nights ago.

And I missed him.  Ached.  And I thought I’ll never attain to his stature in my life in my grandkids’ eyes.

And in missing him, I saw my hope of heaven is far deeper than I admit.  From this year’s bumper crop of people dying to leave this world, few will be missed by their own family in a generation.  The memories of the remainder will recede in the future’s busy world.

If Pappaw’s story continues to affect anyone on my passing, his story must remain his to tell in heaven.  Think of it another way.  If many remember JFK, Luther, Newton, C.S. Lewis or Tolkien: that’s nothing to them, meaningless with no heaven.  Legacies do nothing for the deceased.

One of his hopes is certain.  He never wanted to burden Mammaw.  So, he wrote my sister a letter @ 5 a.m. that Saturday, dressed for work (at age 78!), sat in his rocker, and was gone.  No burden: granted.  His other hope? Was to sing in heaven.

Picking up the yellow envelope I prayed once more his hope is confirmed, so I’ll see him again and apologize for slip streaming into both his names: Thomas L. and Pappaw.

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.