Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Economic Realities

This week some of our friends and neighbors lost their house. It came as a surprise to me when they came over on Monday to tell me that they had moved out over the weekend. We have been neighbors for 12 years and my kids babysat their kids. We shared many a chat over the backyards and have shoveled more neighborhood driveways together than I would care to count. And now their house stands as a silent sentinel to dashed hopes and dreams, as well as the current economic realities.

More than the shock that the foreclosure crisis has reared its ugly head on the street where I live--and with good, solid, hard-working people--is the shock that I knew nothing of their distress. I don't know what I could have done, but I feel like there must have been something. Even if it would have been to let our friends know that they did not need to face this crisis alone.

Now it makes me wonder how many other people I know who look just fine on the outside, but are experiencing gut-wrenching hardships beneath the surface. I fully understand the whole, "I will take care of it myself" mindset. In part because I would probably be my neighbor--no one would know about the difficulty until it was a done deal. Self-disclosure, particularly of things that smack of failure to me, just doesn't happen. Some would say that I am missing the opportunity for support from those who care. I do not disagree, but I suppose that I am not yet convinced that it is worth the personal price.

Something makes me think that the early church would not have been caught unawares. Not that they were perfect, but that they were invested and involved with each other that a world-shaking crisis would not pass under the collective radar. I both want and need that kind of friendship. My current small group (the best in the universe) may be the environment for that kind of friendship. It sure feels like it has more promise than I have ever felt before. We seem to be able to be open and candid with each other about things that matter--the good and the difficult. The group is a breath of fresh air and I will miss them while I am in foreign lands the next few weeks.

I should let my group know how important they are becoming to me--and perhaps that will be another step toward real community.

Pressing On!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our Last Week Together

Last night someone in our small group prayed that we would have a great last week together this week. This Saturday my eldest daughter will be marrying a wonderful, godly man who seems to be a perfect match for her. I do not believe that I could have picked a better man for her to spend her life with. Not to mention that the path that they took to meet each other and fall in love has been amazing. They will not live far away, but it feels very much like life is changing in a substantial way. As much as I am happy for her, I will miss her--lots.

There is a certain kinship among firstborns. Even with our differing generations and circumstances we share some things that I will never share with my other daughters. I can never say to the others, "I have an idea how it must feel as the second or third child." I have always been, and always will be, a firstborn--as will Kelsey. In many ways she was the experiment. She did not come with an operator's manual or a parenting guide. We tried our best, but everything was for the first time. And everything that she did was the first. The first steps. The first split lip. The first to be enthralled by Go Dog Go! The first to fall asleep to Tell Me Why. The first to fall asleep in her soup. The first to conquer Bouncy Bee. The first whose team I coached. The first to send off on a missions trip. The first to use my chain saw.

Kelsey has always been my "Handy Andy"--pretty eager to help with anything involving wood and power tools. And a tough one too. I will always remember with great pride when she hoisted the other end of the 20' 4X12 and we carried it around to the backyard for the deck. And when I asked her to dig a hole for a tree in the side yard and she thought that the hole should be as deep as her shoulders, when I was showing her a much shallower point on the shovel handle. I got home with the tree and she was up to her shoulders in the hole! (And the tree that went in the hole is the happiest in the whole landscape.)

I'm not sure who will laugh at my jokes now or trade silly song quotes or finish sentences with Princess Bride dialogue. I suppose that I will just have to save them up until she and Nate come to visit.

None of this takes away from the other transitions of the upcoming summer--a high school graduation, a second wedding, sending my last off to college--it is just the first of several pieces of my heart being carved away.

Despite my incipient sadness I am truly happy for Kelsey and Nathan. They are one of the few couples whom I can envision shuffling down the street, hand in hand, at age 85. They will be that cute old couple that everyone looks at and knows that their love for each other and life together have been a special story. And with that confidence, my own bittersweet feelings can move more from the bitter to the sweet.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Green WOW

It never fails that I get surprised and amazed by this time of year. Seemingly overnight the trees go from sky-scratching sticks to green-flocked velvet sentinels. They don't make a big self-proclamation of their transformation, because their green splendor shouts for itself. Also, if it just rains, the trees do not do so well--nor if it is just sunny. It takes both.

Most years the long coldness of winter ponderously plods into the dampness of a wet spring. But not this year. Lots of sunshine and much warmer than normal temps have made this a spring to remember, but only after the rains of the past couple of days are we getting the green WOW.

As much as we Minnesotans enjoy our sunny days, without the rain the plants cannot thrive--and we like that even more. Someone recently said that the best parts of running are looking forward to a nice run and then recalling it once it is over. The run itself--not so much. Not sure that I would totally agree, but there is some truth there. Even for those of us who draw our fullest enjoyment from the full experience (rather than mostly the fitness results or companionship of running with friends), long runs are still long.

Just like the trees need both the unpleasant days and the pleasant to grow strong and tall, so we runners need the challenging days along with those that are downhill with the wind at our backs. So too in other areas of life. Do you know any of those people who were told that a life with Jesus would be all sweetness and light? Are you that person? (If so, I apologize that someone did not have the courage to tell you the whole story.)

Jesus told us that in this life we will have difficulty--the rainy days. And most people who try to live out their faith in real and engaging ways find this to be true. In some ways we do have troubles. But Jesus also promised the sunny days--but I will never leave you or forsake you. Like the trees, I need both types of days to grow stronger. The troubles are the test and His presence is the rest.

I wonder what the next green WOW will be in my faith journey? I really have no idea, but I am very curious. What is your next green WOW? Are you willing to embrace the rainy days for the prospect of the sunny ones?

Pressing on!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Opening Day

Today is the first regular season home game for the Minnesota Twins in their new outdoor stadium. Needless to say it is an exciting day. After a long hiatus in the shade of the Metrodome, outdoor baseball returns to Minnesota. (Exciting today, but not quite so sure about outdoor night games in late September.) To look around at the people going into offices and walking around downtown this morning, one would wonder why so many people are wearing the same kind of clothes?

Fully 50% of the people that I saw on my 20-minute walk from the parking ramp to the office were wearing some sort of Twins garb. From hats to jerseys to ties to jackets--everyone is a fan today. Do they think that their clothing will make the Twins play better? Or is there something more fundamental to the human condition going on here? Is the opening day clothing more about heroes and belonging?

The utility infielder's jersey is not much in evidence--lots of Mauers and Morneaus, but very few of ... What's his name this year? For some reason we want heroes who can inspire us and who, at least in our minds, become our champions--as if they are playing and winning for our vindication. Nothing wrong with having heroes, but we must be cautious about how much faith we put in these other humans. Our heroes may be exceptional at hitting or throwing a ball, or playing a violin, or writing poetry, or decorating cakes; but these who are heroic performers in one area usually are every bit as human as you and me in other areas of life. The thing is, in real life, our heroes are not power tools that we pull off the shelf to do a job, then put away until next time. They go home and have families and cut their grass and buy groceries--just like the rest of us. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they get it wrong.

So when our heroes "fail" us what does it say? Perhaps we have been unwilling to understand that great success in one area means noting in other areas of life. Perhaps we have expected too much from our heroes. Or, perhaps they have truly failed to live up to the reasonable hopes and expectations that we have of our role models.

I believe that the answer is not to avoid having heroes--but instead, to admire our heroes for what they do (and in some cases for who they are), while not expecting them to be god-like in all aspects of life. Not that we give a free pass for irresponsible or destructive behaviors, but that we honor and worship only those (the One) who is truly worthy of such. Admire our heroes, but worship our God.


Pressing on!

P.S. (What Number Would Jesus Wear?)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Monuments and Legacy

You cannot go far here in DC without running into a monument to someone or something. People come from all over the country, and even the world, to see many of the monuments here in DC. (In fact, the group of high school or middle school kids that are making themselves very much at home here at my hotel would probably enjoy the monuments more if they would stop running in the hallway, slamming the doors, and talking outside my door and get some sleep.) Some of the monuments are unobtrusive markers that recall some noteworthy event. Others are far from unobtrusive. The skyline out of my hotel window is dominated by the George Washington Masonic Monument--an enormous temple-like structure made famous to the popular mind in Dan Brown's latest thriller. Why do we build monuments?

Part of the answer may be found in the inscription on the face of the National Archives. It reads:

"This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanence of our national institutions."

Do we really believe in the "permanence of our national institutions"? Or is it that we long to believe that what we build or create will outlast our brief time on this earth? This human drive to build monuments does not appear to be an uniquely American thing, so is it a basic human longing to leave a legacy of some sort?

I wonder what someone would think of us if they dropped into Washington DC, "Planet of the Apes" style, long in the future? Would they think of us a culture of great builders? As a people of high and noble aspirations? Would they think that we cared more for bricks and mortar than for flesh and blood?

I am all for leaving a legacy--but for making sure that the legacy we leave is one worth leaving. The week after I die, no one will care what business deals I did or what articles I wrote or what great new systems for delivering legal services I developed. The week after I die, no one will care how cool my truck was or how many frequent flier miles I had accumulated or where I went to school. The week after I die, no one will be counting the number of miles that I ran in a year or care about the titles on my bookshelf. The week after I die, the only thing that will matter is how much and how purely those around me saw the hand of God in my life. No one will care what trivial factoids I could recall at the drop of a hat, but they may recall what I taught them about God and faith. No one will care how nice my grass and landscaping was, but they may smile when they remember our conversations across the backyards or around town.

No one will care that I really liked the Bleu Cheese Bison Burger at Ted's, but they will always slice their pancakes so that the syrup will go inside. :-)

So I suppose that leaving a meaningful legacy really is about the people and not the stuff. Then why don't I spend more time and energy on building the people and less on getting the stuff?

Pressing On!

P.S. -- the school group must have run out of gas because once again the Marriott is my familiar and quiet home away from home.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Learned from a Book?

When people talk about running, you can tell who runs and who just talks about running. There is an authenticity of experience from those who actually run. When people find out that I am running the Twin Cities marathon this October with my girls (and one son-in-law with strong moral support from the other), they sometimes feel compelled to talk about their running "adventures". Sometimes it is a good point of connection and conversation, but the posers are transparent and probably don't even know it. They may have sen a TV show about the Boston Marathon or may have read an article in a doctor's office waiting room, but they are not runners.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with not being a runner. Most of my closest friends are non-runners (that is until my best friend Jeff started running and has been bitten by the bug). Still, many of my friends are non-runners and I am "totally down" with that. They have their own interests and running just doesn't happen to be one of them. What feels so wrong is when non-runners want to make others think that they are runners because runners are so cool (which they are), and fit (which they may be), and attractive (well ... , never mind). Why pretend? Why not just be who you are and call it what it is. Sometimes it feels like people (non-runners) who talk as if they were runners just learned what they know from a book.

Now as you know, I am a bibliophile, so this is not a rant against books (may it never be!). Instead, I am positing that experience gives ground to stand on in a discussion where book learning may not. It is the difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone. I would rather be a runner than simply know about running. And if I had to choose one or the other, I guess I would be just fine with being a runner even if no one ever knew that I was.

Do you ever get that sense when people talk about God? That they just read about Him in a book, but may not have any regular, meaningful interaction with Him? Sometimes I feel that way about myself. Are the things that I affirm about God based on my actual experience or are they simply a modified distillation of something I read in a book? When I say that I believe that God intends ultimate good for His people is it because that is the right answer or because I have come to the place where I can make that affirmation because that is how I live? When I say that I believe that God wants His people to care for the unloved and the unlovely is it because that answer gets a gold star or because I have seen God's power of grace in the midst of serving? And if I am not willing to live what I say I believe, shouldn't I stop saying it? At least until I start living it?

The first century world was rocked by the lives of the early church--to some extent. Where God's people lived like Jesus said, then the surrounding community took notice. What would happen if God's people today did the same thing? If we were distinct--not because of the things we don't do (smoke, chew, or go with girls who do)--but because we actually lived the way that Jesus lived. I wonder what would happen if we lived and talked about God from our experience and not like we just read about Him in a book?

Pressing On!