Why I Know so Little

As a young scholar I said trite things like, “We learned about Calvinism today,” and “I studied relativity last week”.

It turns out that Calvin’s voluminous Institutes inspired commentaries, opinions, and reactions to fill hundreds of thousands of papers, books and ministries.  It also seems that papers and experiments pursuing all Einstein laid out amount to untold billions of dollars.   Trillions if you count weapons.

I barely caught an introduction.

It helps, though, if someone reduces it for me, so I pass a short quiz or pay for a short course and skip the quiz.  In a world influenced by academia: I “learned it”.

We memorize Kubler Ross’ stages and think we know death.  We say amazing silliness like, “I got married last night!”  No, you took a first, possibly easiest step in a journey of a thousand miles and you don’t “know” marriage until you come to the end of yourself and your failings and she somehow, amazingly decides to travel on with you.

“I bought a house last week.”  So, you paid cash?

“We were in New York last month.  I love New York!”  Yes, you love the tiniest sliver, and even those who love her a lifetime cannot live a thousandth of the City.

In seminary, I was thrilled to “learn” the word for “know” is the same as a husband and wife enjoying their most intimate times together that they share with none others.  You scratch the surface of that knowing in a decade or so.

I need humility, and out of that a bent to life long learning: in this life and the next.  I know that.

To Mrs. Scott

Jill and I moved to Miami to be youth minister at University Baptist Church in Coral Gables.  The kittens learned to respect the iguanas in the trees.  The electric company came to cut back the ficus from the electric lines every nine months.  The services were translated into Spanish and Patois and our staff reflected that composition, and Mrs. Scott was one of my Sunday School teachers.

Her first name was Mrs.  for all of her students, and that went for me as well.  The dress and address were both regal. Formal but not stuffy or priggish or feigned. She had a ready smile and cool wit, and she and Mr. Scott were that evanescence we know as Jamaican. Coping with challenges in life was built-in, and even when the laugh lines around the eyes were getting a work out from a good life, she somehow conveyed that gravitas, which communicated she chose to laugh, chose to believe, even after having seen life.

Mrs. Scott’s children were reserved and brilliant.  Except for Jonathan who was one part ADHD before we knew the term, one part Robin Williams, two parts anywhere from the BeeGees to Hank Williams to Madonna, one part Billy Graham, and all of it kindled such that he appeared to have his hair on fire, even when calmly talking to you face-to-face.

Many, many a girl measured this Scott, and not a few took his measure with great hope, but there was a girl name of Kathleen, and if she chased him it was with a stunning shyness that entwined him and drew him to her.  Effortlessly.

When Jill and I left Coral Gables, I left the youth ministry in Jonathan’s and Wes’ hands, and expected the announcement of their marriage, and were devastated at the news of her MS.  Devastated alongside an entire church reeling with a second pastor’s wife with the dread prognosis.

Could Jonathan have had a larger music career if he had travelled more?  Undoubtedly. Could he have had a larger speaking career if he had spent more time on the road?  Assuredly.  But with the rock-solid resolution of the first Mrs. Scott, Jonathan stayed close to the second Mrs. Scott until last week.

She is Home, now.

Sigourney Weaver made a choice a few decades back.  She was looking at her mantle and wondered if she would want more Oscars on there or pictures of the grandkids.  She stayed home for the kids and grandkids.

Jonathan’s and Kathleen’s kids will be able to put the pictures of their parents together on their mantles and say the mystical, magical incantation with just that Jamaican lilt,  “And she loved him with her dying breath, and he no less.”

Love Field North Pole

37 years ago.  Love Field, Dallas Texas — people pulling carry ons, saying hellos and good byes on a Friday afternoon while a Southwest Air stewardess places a pewter tray with a pewter chalice on the North Pole of the world map in the huge foyer, and then Paula (Rader) Wims places a diamond ring under the chalice and stands guard.

Cold water in the chalice awaits a blindfolded cowgirl on the arm of her soon-to-be fiancé as they draw closer, and Paula disappears to a distance to watch and not intrude.

He kneels, and says, “You can open your eyes, now.”

Jill Kathleen opens her eyes and takes it all in, and then looks down to take in me down on one knee, the tray, the chalice, the echoing vast space and people walking by to casually take in the turning point in our life together.

We had both read, A Severe Mercy by Sheldon VanAuken, and were struck by the VanAukens’ intimacy, tragedy, and reminder that all time is fleeting.  From that book, I asked, “Do you want a cup of cold water?”   For Sheldon and Davy, it was proper to ask for a cup of cold water in the night, and proper to go fetch it for the one asking.

Jill said, “No.”  She holds so many ways of insuring that we go off-script.

I returned, “Think about it.”  She did.  She picked up the chalice — looking for a ring in the cup.  It was not there.  She sipped.  She stooped to place it back on the tray and there in the middle of the tray was my ring, her ring, that ring.

She gasped.   Picked it up, and put it on her finger.  She admired it and turned back to me.

I then said, “I do not love you as the Number One in my life, but because of Who I love as Number One, my Number Two will be better than most guys Number One.”

So sitting in Life.Church this morning to hear Craig Groschelle talk about prioritizing our marriages in our lives just behind God I laughed when he said, “God is Priority One and your spouse is Priority Two.”

In all hubris I smiled at the cowgirl sitting next to me and got misty eyed.  Flooding in to me came a myriad of times that I failed her as my priority, selfishly abused it, wanted it without continually earning it, and yet.  And yet, she sat next to me, the ring, that ring on her finger.  And she was smiling.

If not for grace, the conundrum that is Christianity would be completely out of reach for us mortals.  And I got misty eyed again.

 

The Threshold

For years I have whispered a fleeting prayer when I see someone walking on a prosthesis.  My first personal encounter was with a beautiful 12-year-old who lost her left foot and half her shin that we amputated in surgery one winter night.  She came back a few months later and we danced a little in the hall of the hospital — her on her new prosthesis.  I never got over the courage in a smile from that child.

Wars and accidents have increased the number of friends and new acquaintances sporting the latest in prosthetic fashion.  All face pain: mental, emotional, actual, continual, and memory based.  All must make daily overcoming part of their diet and regimen.

So my prayer is for their daily courage.  Courage to face the pain.  Courage to gear up for battle for the new day.

Courage to cross the threshold of his or her door and go out into the world and live life.

It takes continual courage, a reservoir of bravery, a small surplus of audacity to leave the womb or nest and cross the threshold into exposed life, doesn’t it?

And so for us all.  Even being down for a couple of days with a virus, and then we must get up and go back out to work.  Go back to school.  Go back to the project running over budget with no answer on the drawing board, yet.  Go back to fighting for a marriage.  Go back and face today’s battle.

So today’s whispered prayer is:  help me cross the threshold and step back into life, if not fearlessly, then swallowing my doubts and smiling enough to keep everyone else guessing! And help me use my abilities well, rather than as if someone only strapped them on to me yesterday in rehab.

 

Inconceivable

It is Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  What happened today?  Nothing, but today describes much of life.

We wade through a flurry of planning, spending, and staging a wedding.  We endure/enjoy the BIG day; the honeymoon and return to … quiet … close to nothing is happening.   We return to work, wondering what we weaved into our life.

We pitch, talk, ask, work and sleep on cots while launching a business and … it’s quiet.  We await people returning our calls.  We await excited customers; to finally place orders.  We await lawyers’ and CPA’s bills.  We wait to know if the market will really like us, and wonder, “Was this the right thing?”

We buy — us and friends — a ton of equipment and toys.  We hope we’ll lose “baby poundage”.  We decorate, move furniture, and attend Lamaze classes to learn to say, “Give me my epidural!”   We labor for hours (days!); deliver; and bring a little one home to start sleep deprivation, and it is not quiet, but it leaves us asking, “What were we thinking?”

Peter is kicking himself.  He DID deny Jesus three times.  John lets Mary rest.  He wonders why Jesus’ family isn’t caring for her.  Mary of Magdala wonders if demons return if the one who vanquished them dies.  Judas’ body sways at the end of a rope.

And nothing is happening.

Guards laugh!  No one has stolen Jesus’ body!   Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus get the first calls asking, “Why?”  Asking for the body of a criminal, Jesus.  In Herod’s night terrors, Jesus returns with John the Baptist.  He awakens relieved.  Nothing is happening.

Unless.

Unless you heard Jesus talk of the Kingdom.  He spoke counter intuitively of it.  He said it’s like a farmer who sows seed in a field and — goes to sleep.  The seed does what it does as he goes about life seeing nothing; and continuing after green shoots mysteriously, wondrously push out of the ground.

On Saturday, Friday’s horrors are almost echoes.  Well, still horrors, but moving inexorably toward echoes.  We hope for that.

On Saturday, Sunday is inconceivable.  It’s inconceivable twice.  Once, resurrection is too good to be true. We can’t imagine it before it happens, just as we can’t unimagine it once it happens.  Twice, it’s tomorrow.  We say we imagine tomorrow, but it’s only our sanguine safety version, or our feared folly that’s worse than what happens.

We haven’t shaken yesterday, and can’t imagine tomorrow.  Saturday.  In between time.  Where we spend most of life.

So, let Good Friday’s sorrow wash through you and take out the garbage.  Celebrate the first Sunday with wonder, tears, or stunned silence, but inbetweenthem.  Consider this.  Jesus told us the Kingdom is like seed He plants.  We only imagine a body losing heat on a cool stone slab, but far from our eyes He’s preaching in Hades; leading out those awaiting Him, and updating a conversation with Satan as to who really holds the keys to Death now.

In between Friday and Sunday, Saturday: a day to seize what He promised; said; and did to indicate what to expect tomorrow.  How to live today if tomorrow is inconceivable.

Thaksgiving and Platitudes

What does it mean to be “thankful”? 

I know, it means having a distended stomach, and wondering if you will live until leftover sandwiches!  Watching TV and playing like all the people in the house are not getting on your last nerve.

The truly simple and strangely absent definition is that “thankful” means what we do tomorrow. 

Some people will return to risking everything they have to build a new business.  Some will turn and continue to invest their fifth, twenty-sixth year or more into their marriage and family.  Some will go back on patrol of our borders or in other countries.  Many will go back to work in stores, hospitals, police and fire stations, governmental offices doing jobs we really don’t want to know about. 

Thanksgiving and thankful go way beyond any specific emotion, ultimately to some form of courage or grit where I return to life, roll up our sleeves, and do what needs to be done, that has fallen to me.  Glorious or mundane, courageous or grinding, I do what falls to me to do. 

However tired, full, joyous, or achingly empty, it shows us all how ‘thankful’ you are and for what, really.