28 January 2010

the author of the worst book i ever read is dead.............

When I was thirteen I read "catcher in the rye". I wasted at least a semester of my life trying to be as depressed as the lead character, henry something. He is survived by a dwindling army of 60ish, still-depressed,  junior high english teachers.

26 January 2010

One parade ends, another begins

Around 1983 I attended the first school program for one of my children. Rachel would have been almost three. I don't remember the date but I remember sitting with other young parents for a series of songs or nursery rhymes at a preschool in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We were the parents whose daughter was not only proudly up on the stage but also was singled out as being the first to know her ABC's and the sounds of all the letters.

I remember thinking at the time that it was the beginning of a long road of school programs and that my life would no doubt be very different at the last one than it was for the first one. Last night was one of those last programs. A choir concert. I love watching Caroline sing, even when I can't pick out her voice. No one I know shows an expression of joy in singing like she does. No one that I have ever seen. When she sings it fills her heart, her voice, her face, her hands.

Over the years I have been priviledged to watch my children on a parade of accomplishments and activities. Sometimes as one of the best in class, sometimes simply doing what they loved. Baseball, football, acting. Piano recitals, skits, public speaking. Band concerts, scouts, Indian Princess and Indian Guides. Nothing compares with watching them do what they love..

Last night was a reminder that the long string of school performances is drawing to a close. How many are left? A couple more this year, a half dozen next, and then gone. No more rushing to the school or a ball park from work.  No more waiting through all the others for my child's turn to perform. No more checking off items on school programs. It is almost over.

But the really fascinating stuff is just starting. Things I won't usually see. Day by day work to become "all that God intends for them to be", a big phrase made up of countless hourly and daily pieces. To be great workers and ponderers of problems carving out a way to earn their living. Turning some of this creative stuff we have into something they can exchange for a meal, or four walls, or a smile from a loved one. Perhaps they'll do this as spouses and parents, watching their own up on stage. Regardless of how it happens I know they'll fall into some of the same joys and mistakes and pains that I did, and probably invent some new ways of suffering and celebrating along the way. 

I expect that each of them will do a lot to guide others through this life. Sharing what they've been given. This long parade of programs has been wondrous, some of the real stuff of life, but also practice. Practice for the real show, where they write the program, and they decide what act comes next. The grand parade, on the stage that matters, and the performance that counts.

24 January 2010

Stars and Stripes

This is a picture of my church, which I copied from another website. I love this place. Click on the picture and you'll see the American flag, on the front stage to the speakers right from the podium. That is the subject of this post.

I don't like national or state flags in my church, or any church, or any country's flag in any Christian house of worship. This has been bugging me for years and I'm surprised I haven't written about it before.

Hear me out and think about this. A church building exists for one purpose, to bring glory to God. It does not exist to bring glory to governments or temporal leaders of this world. What does the flag have to do with this? How does honoring a country glorify God?

I live in the United States and I think most people in the world would recognize that the US has done many, many good works. More than most countries, probably any country, since its inception. It has fed more hungry, clothed more of the naked and freed more of the oppressed. The message of Christ is spread in many parts of the world because Americans have died for their freedom, including freedom of religion all over the world. So what's my problem with the flag?

The flag on the stage says to me that somehow we connect our citizenship with our worship of Christ in this building. While I don't for a minute think anyone believes that being an American brings one closer to Christ we do seem to have this sense that our country is somehow special in the eyes of God. Does that mean that someone in our church who is a citizen of Iceland or New Zealand must pay homage not only to Christ but also to this country, and this flag, to fully participate in our worship? Of course not. So why is it there?

Jesus doesn't seem to have given a lot of thought to countries. No one can read his "render unto Caesar" statement and get the impression that Rome had anything to do with salvation or was entitled to the total allegiance of the citizens of his day. His thoughts about governments and citizenship merely instruct us to be good citizens.

There is of course a different perspective. Maybe the flag is there as a way showing gratitude to God for the blessings bestowed on this country. Thank you God, that we live in America. Of course if you turn that around it also means, thank you God that I don't live in Jordan, or Cuba, or Scotland. What about churches in Cuba that put their national flag in their church, and pray as we do, "thank you God for all the blessings you have bestowed on Cuba and keep our leaders safe and in your care". What is our attiitude toward that prayer and their flag? It's a hard one to wrestle with.

At times of war we view our allegiance to God and country as almost one and the same, as do the Christians on the other side of the battlefield. This is of course an observation that is as old as my religion. 

I think for every Christian, regardless of political philosophy there are times when your view of the world as a follower of Christ comes into conflict with the policies of your government. Our allegiance to Christ is paramount. Our allegiance to a country doesn't even come close. It's not on the same stage, not in the same realm.

I suppose God knows that I am an American. I find it inconceivable that He has ever given it a thought.

Stars and Stripes, wave them proudly outside. 

Inside, remember the star of Bethlehem, wonder and mourn the stripes on the back of our Saviour.

20 January 2010

Out on the ice

There is this thing about ice fishing that is starting to get to me. On the one hand, it's a bit of a pain. I have a manual ice auger and as much as I hate to admit it, drilling a hole in ice a foot thick is a chore for someone in their fifties. Like normal fishing, the weather is probably the biggest factor in determining whether you are having a good time. The company you are with plays a huge part as well.

When I lived in Missouri, I once invited a friend to go fishing. He was newly married. We met at one of my favorite spots a few hours from the house, in the hills of north Arkansas. He brought his new wife. "Hope you don't mind, I brought my wife". (Still to this day, one of the stupidest things to come out of the mouth of a human being) She sat in the boat with us. About 30 minutes into our fishing she asked, "how long are we doin' this?". We never spoke much after that. It wasn't so much that he brought his wife without asking, it was that he ruined the day by dropping a non-fisher into the boat.

My oldest daughter and I went "hard water" fishing this weekend. I've been half a dozen times, about once a year. This was her first and probably my favorite. The weather was perfect. 34 degrees, the first day above freezing since December 2. The lunch we cooked on the ice was superb. The company could not have been better.

We didn't catch much, though we did pull in a couple of little walleye. She referred to our fishing rods as "cute", but coming from a hard core fisher, I knew it was coming and did my best to laugh it off. She's a fisher and there's a big difference between us making fun of our sport and taking it from a non-fisher. Her boyfriend stopped by later, met us out on the lake in his truck, and had his first taste of ice fishing as well. 

There is this thing about being out on the top of the water, and witnessing the awesome power of nature. One that will easily freeze a foot-thick layer of hardness and strength on top of every lake and pond in the state. I like to think that it takes my mind off everything else, that I don't worry about the markets, or family matters, or other stuff. I do, I just don't worry as hard, fishing takes alot of the hard edges off of life.