"Shut the door, Randy!" My older sister could be bossy sometimes and I could certainly be lazy. The sliding door on the VW van hung open and I wasn't about to leave my comfortable seat to close it. "You've left it open before!" I said, happy with my logic. Her retort was immediate, full of primal reason: "That makes no difference!"
Sunday, September 10, 2023
The very gifted Malcolm Muggeridge said, "Writing isn't hard: you just sit down at the typewriter, slash your wrists, and bleed to death." A suitable metaphor no matter the particular difficulty one has with writing. Mine are multi-faceted, arising in too many ways to deter the simple lifelong love I have had for writing, coupled with the human wont of lack of discipline, motivation, ability, We are born with deficits and we feed them such that they make themselves known. And we have the soul-making task of overcoming, refusing to let various normal lacks dim our vision and drag us down. And so the best among us demonstrate that mettle by normal daily means and the worst sometimes are not so pronounced in their failings but are failing nonetheless. Someday the tide will go out and, as one Warren Buffet says, "We will then know who was swimming naked." Or to apply an apt western metaphor: "We will know who was 'big hat and no cattle.'"
All that to address the problem of writing, in a blog about ministry remnants? I suppose, because it is always easier to think about writing and see where that goes than to actually write about the matter at hand. Diversion is so much easier. Could we play a trick on ourselves so we allowed the diversion to be the thing we actually needed to produce? No doubt that is the sum total strategy of many a very successful person, and plumbing that strategy would be fascinating indeed, while very difficult. At base it seems the diversion, for some reason, is something more appealing. Maybe, then, my own writing, such as it is, should be all about the random diversions that come up when ever I sit down to write. I may be on to something there!
I used a bag of salt pellets to illustrate a burden and talked about what that burden is like for a truck of that size. The bag weighs maybe 40 pounds. The bed of the truck is about 1/3 the size of the congregation seating area. Setting the burden down in the bed of the truck would be like dropping a leaf in the back of my neighbor's F-150.
These trucks are large with a scale of capacity that boggles our mind. But compared to God's ability, they are child's play. Reckon God can handle our burdens? Reckon we can rely upon Him? Reckon when Jesus says "Lose your life for my sake and you will be OK" he meant what He said because He can handle anything that comes our way? Not only is He more capable than the truck, He made all things that go into that truck, including the ability of the geniuses that engineered it.
They say a sermon is supposed to have one main idea. The main idea I worked toward was this: God is reliable. He will not let you down. He can handle any burden you have. And I closed, as I began, with the incomparable piece from the oratorio Elijah, echoing several verses of Psalms:
He never will suffer the righteous to fall:
He is at thy right hand.
Thy mercy Lord is great, and far above the heavens.
Let none be made ashamed, that put their trust in Thee.
Sunday, June 18, 2023
by Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
The Day I Almost Died
Reflections after a Near Drowning in February 2018
If you swim in the ocean you know the push of water. Water allures, and like all powerful things, deceives.
I was going far out forthefunofit. Overweight, I was still strong in mind if not body. I could touch bottom easily between swells and was not concerned. It was fun to go further a bit. I swam but grew tired quickly. I knew the current was pushing sideways but didn't worry as long as my toes could reach the sand.
Deciding to return to shore, I lay face down and swam for 15 strokes or so. I stopped and could not touch bottom. I dog-paddled for a minute or so, unaware I was going nowhere. Soon I realized my right leg was caught in a fisherman's line. He was waving his annoyance, about 80 feet away – no more than 100 feet away beyond pounding surf. I kick and paddled but could not loosen my leg, though the string was the least of my worries. After about 2 minutes' effort I was free of the string but moving sideways still, drifting beneath another fishing line as I paddled.
Unknowing, I was caught in a sideways rip-tide. I could not touch bottom and my paddling toward shore produced only exhaustion. I realized I may need to cry for help. “Surely I can make it!” I thought. My muscles ached and I tasted seawater. I thought of floating, but I have never been able to float. There was a most dim awareness I might die. My lungs burned as I treaded water.
Devin, my 12-year-old nephew, was 25 feet away on a boogie board. Dare I cry for help? Would I pull him down with me? I didn't want to be needlessly dramatic. But somehow I knew I must wave and cry for help.
The first time he didn't hear me. I waved with one hand and yelled weakly. From the shore no one could hear. I knew by the time I was truly desperate there would be little energy left for flailing and shouting. I struggled on, going nowhere. I learned later that drowning nearly always happens quietly. The fight exhausts the swimmer and all that remains is to sink beneath the waves. In a few minutes I would have done exactly that. By the time anyone noticed my absence it would have been too late.
Devin was still not far off and he was watching me. Devin is an unusual young man, one of those people who knows more than most, and knows it in ways unavailable to most. His care for people is plain and real and on the surface. He knows what matters without trying, and he is a gift to all who know him.
I think he knew I may need help and so he stayed nearby. He was looking at me intently as he drifted with a hand on the boogie board. I raised a hand and called for help. He heard me and called back, “Uncle Randy do you need help?”
He quickly pushed his board in my direction. We met in about 30 seconds and both held to the board. I was worried I might drag him down but the board did its job. After a minute or so of kicking I felt bottom and better, the push of a wave lifting me toward the beach and life. A minute later a crashing wave pushed me forward and I knelt in the rocky sand as the undertow returned without me. Barely able to stand, I shuffled toward the frustrated fishermen and tried to explain. Then I half stumbled, half walked the 200 feet to my wife, son, friends and family, sat down, still breathing heavily, and told them what happened.
What does this mean? I have spent the last many hours shuddering at what almost was. My wife and youngest son were there, as well as a niece, 3 nephews, and their friends. At minimum my drowning would have traumatized the afternoon and radically changed life for my wife and sons as well as my relatives; and in a much lesser sense, all who shared the beach that day. I almost died. It is certain I would have without help. It is unlikely I could have gotten anyone's attention; certainly in another minute I would have been unable to stay afloat to flail and cry for help. Pride – and a normal reluctance to cause undue drama – nearly cost me my life. And this is right enough. No one wants to cry out when it is not warranted. And we seldom encounter such near-death experiences – how would we know when to call for help? I certainly didn't. So I struggled, almost to my death.
Lack of knowledge, lack of awareness, lack of strength – all together these lacks would have cost me my life, except for the provision of Devin, my nephew. He knew without knowing that his Uncle needed help and he lingered near, saving my life.
I can barely process it. It is easy enough to speak the hubris: “I could have made it.” But that's false. And I ponder what my death would have meant. While I grieve deeply for what I would have missed in future years, I feel more the loss my loved ones would have felt. What is this gaping hole and emotional onslaught we call death. It rips loved ones from our hearts and crushes us with unalterable realness. And when I think how my untimely death would visit that upon them, I grieve.
No one wants to die, and somehow we make death distant and irrelevant, all the while knowing it comes to all. My great-grandfather drowned about 95 years ago. He was in his mid-20's with a wife and young daughter, my grandmother Freida. While his death was a great sadness to his family and close community, it is forgotten by most and will someday be gone even from the record books. Our lives are that way. The most important people die and are forgotten. Take a figure such as Alexander the Great – known of by countless millions over 2300 years of human history. Still his death remains unknown to most who ever lived.
So what matters – being known on a large scale? Nope. Being known at all? Yes – that matters a lot. I do not know what all of this means – I am pushing a rope, trying to understand. If I would have died today, the people I know would have suffered. I would have suffered for a short time, grieving, hopeless, muscles giving out, painful asphyxiation and death, drifting lifeless to sea or shore in time. I would have been no more for this world and those who remain would have been heart-broken. This is the weight of being, the weight of knowing, the truth of 'better to love and lose than never love at all.'
Why do we go on marrying and birthing, rearing and loving, building and caring and working and dying, only to do it again in the next generation? Are the endless waves a picture of this life, landing on shore with no end, no apparent reason except the cycle of being and life, water with mind-boggling volume and power and depth, yet able to sweep a simple human into its lapping arms and lull him to sleep?
Here is Ecclesiastes, of course, a wisdom one cannot know as well before near-death as after. It is easy to see how pointless life can be because, as the writer says, no matter what you do or what meaning you contribute, it all goes down with you at death – you can't keep it or prolong it for yourself after you yourself are gone. And gone you will be.
I almost died today and I have no fancy words. I only have words struggling to find meaning. I believe in God, the One who made all things, who gives and takes away, who cares, who holds funerals for fallen sparrows. That God saw a man almost fall today and sent a nephew to rescue him. "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!"
|My Nephew Devin|
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Sunday, October 2, 2022
“Go large or go home!” The words from my gifted friend stung and made me want to hide. I knew what he meant – “Do your best, be all you can be!” But the implication was more than I could bear. Does everything have to be large? Is value found only in the spotlight where people say, “Wow!”? What about the rest of us, the 99% who live on the sidelines, hoping our lives matter, too?
We remember small things matter at graduation when all the hard work pays off. And we know it is true when a few cucumber seeds overwhelm our garden. We get it that “a small leak will sink a large ship,” and, “Words are small like a match; and they can set a forest on fire.” These things we do well to remember. But in all these cases we value small because we know it has large results. We toss the mortar board in the air, the ship is sound, we prevent fires, and we might even boast of our cucumber harvest!
But is that the final word? Graduation is soon forgotten, ships are supposed to sail, few learn to hold their tongue well, and no one really wants nineteen overgrown cucumbers!
Truth is, when all is counted we are left with ourselves and the quiet daily life of small things. These are the simple disciplines that teach what matters: tend to the mind and soul, sow good seeds, fulfill your responsibilities, give care to your speech, check your anger, don't let money rule you. We learn to do it because it matters, not because it is large.
And this comes around to the surprising truth in that grating challenge: “Go large or go home.” The largest small thing in our lives is, after all, home. Nothing is larger, and nothing requires more daily small attentiveness. In fact, forget large! I want to go home! Home beats “large” any day and pays the richest long-term dividends.
It is true, of course, that home can cause great pain, which speaks to the volatile nature of our greatest treasures: they can bless mightily or hurt with equal weight. But that is not the fault of the treasure, but in how we handle it. Those who find the blessings of home do so because they apply themselves to the vital necessaries of daily small things. When we tend to these everyday cares we become people of substance and blessing, able to make and enjoy a treasured home.
What holds your focus and attention? It is easy to love largeness, and large is not wrong of itself. But it oversells and leaves empty as many celebrities can attest. Small things are their own reward, worth the investment and the rewards. And they help you build your life so even if you never get to go large, you can always go home!
Thursday, December 9, 2021
"Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes." (Annie Dillard, Write Till You Drop)
She is on to something. ;)
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us, every day and every hour.
This old lyric is only true in loving relationship with Him. More than channels only -- we are friends, devoted servants, sons and daughters of our Elder Brother, redeemed Children of Light, "workers together with God."
Yet, if we hoard what we receive it rots like the secreted manna.
Lord, you are the Safe for our lives. Let me not fashion my own private safe, imaging I can keep something there, only to find ashes on that Final Day when all is opened.