Sunday, May 28, 2006

Playing Poker

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(Podcast works best if you let it get a head start on downloading. hit play... wait, then hit rewind and start playing. I think this file will work better than my previous attempts.)

Elvis was fat.

As he walked, his belly swung from side to side.

I blamed Brenda.

I kept telling her not to give him snacks. She loved feeding him bits of cheese at bed time. Toward the end, before we put him down, he had such saggy parts folks had trouble telling his gender. (Sorry for the mental image.)

Now we have Rocky. He’s six years old, acts just like a puppy, and weighs a hundred pounds.

For six years I’ve told Brenda not to give him snacks. She’d sneak them to him subtly, and sometimes not so subtly.

Ticked me off.

She’s turning this dog into a flabby geezer like the last one. Can’t she see I’m right? Doesn’t she respect what I think and feel? Isn’t he my dog too? Why is she defying me on this? (Sounds a little like primitive chest thumping, doesn’t it? It is.)

We don’t always see eye to eye. And not because I am four inches taller.

When I was younger it was a bigger problem than today. Our disagreements seemed larger (they weren’t, we just felt they were). They seemed bigger because there seemed more at stake. I wanted to count, to be important.

We live as if we are playing poker. We put much value on every interaction, every conversation, discussion, debate, and argument, as if important hands are being played, showing all the world our true worth. We want to win. We need to win, want to make sure our points are made, that we get the shortest line at the checkout, the best seat in the theater, the sweetest piece of the pie.

When we talk with those close to us the stakes are higher. We are hurt easier. We hurt others more easily. We avoid tough talk with those we want to impress, talk tough to those we feel owe us.

I try to be fair, honestly I do. But I want to win. It is some sort of default setting. I like winning. I must win. Who I am, my value, my worth, depends on it.

This blog is a good example. My statements are made in a voice of authority. I write as if I am pronouncing great truths, instead of the ramblings of a middle aged man living in a moment of no particular significance. I’m pompous, self-important. (That’s what is cool about a blog... here I have full control.) As if these words are important.

It isn’t just in our personal lives. We judge what we say in meetings, in conversations in the produce section, in the aisles of church, with an eye to what others think of us. We want to seem wise, intelligent. We want to be respected. We want something persistently elusive.

What is so important? Why do I, we, feel we must win? Why do we feel slighted by trivial things? Why do I sometimes feel my position as the head of my home is threatened by a tone in her voice, some trivial act? Such as giving a piece of cheese to a dog.

Because, secretly, deep down inside, I, we, suspect we aren’t important. We want to be, but we suspect we aren’t. Perhaps we can convince everyone we are, and so convince ourselves.

For men it seems even more important. Perhaps it is biology. Perhaps culture. Men tend to get angrier over disagreements. They seem to have more ego involved in having their words tested, seem to be told from an early age that they must always be right (hence our reluctance to ask for directions). Men tend to abuse more, demand more, posture more. We seem to feel that those we love, those we have within our homes, must demonstrate their proper role, their proper position. There can only be one alpha. (It’s true, but it isn’t us.)

I’m sure this is an exaggeration. I mention it because it is something I struggle with, probably from trying to measure up to an overbearing father.

I am consciously trying to break out of my father’s mold. I want to embrace the philosophy that I am a servant of all.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as better than yourselves.” --Philippians 2:3

It kind of goes against the grain, doesn’t it?

The truth is we haven’t much to be proud of... but we are extremely important.

We are craven creatures... We are selfish sots, lazy liars, deceiving doubters, pernicious peeps. We are ever failing, ever self-motivated, ever less than we are meant to be.

And that is the good news. We are less than we are meant to be because we are so much more than we dare to admit. Animals do not fail. They are just as they are designed to be. They do not cheat, or are less than they are.

We are wondrous creatures. We have souls. Though we have a base, an animal nature, we have a divine element that is precious. We have the ability to fail, the predilection for screwing up. That would not be possible if we weren’t endowed with free will and a soul.

If we consider what we mean to Him, we will see we are extraordinary creatures. We haven’t the single-minded focus of angels, that purity of devotion which can carry us through centuries, millennia. They have souls, but they haven’t the free will.

Which makes us precious.

Ah... there it is. We suspected as much! It is exactly as we have been ineffectually trying to tell ourselves, tell others.

Something deep inside tells us we are important. The problem is the evidence denies it. We number in the billions, we aren’t all that rare. We are impure, unlike the divinity we sense in our spiritual lives, or even in the purity of the beauty of our world.

Our failings tell us we are not important. As a species we are destructive. We may be creative in small ways, art, poetry, literature... friendship, family, self-sacrifice... but the majority of our lives seem consumed in hurting and being hurt.

But we feel we must be important... somehow. We should be recognized, honored for our small, miniscule, contributions to this world. People should move out of the way of our vehicle on the freeway, they should wait on us quickly in the marketplace, should respect our authority in our homes. That’s my desk! That’s my parking space! That’s my place in the pew!

Why do we feel we are so important?

It is because of the whisper. There is something inside each of us that whispers to us. That tells us we are special. That we are unique. That despite our failings we are worthy of great compassion, great love, the greatest love. This whisper, the barest hint of a voice, speaks deeply to us. We recognize its truth though we have a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

I have been a jerk. Many times. I have been offended by trivial things. I have let my wife’s views, her opinions, her disagreements, offend me. As if my value is somehow diminished, rejected, by the thoughts and comments of another.

Here is what shows my true value: I am a man, a member of the species which the Creator Of The Universe cherishes enough to sacrifice ultimately for!

(Oh dear Lord God, oh my Master, how can that be so? Bless me Lord with the wisdom to understand.)

I am designed to walk in the cool of the evening with Him, and talk about my day, my way of experiencing what He has given me. I am supposed to be in a place, a beautiful setting, which holds me in honor, as the peak of creation, and share it with The Maker Of All Things.

I have learned that my value is very high, very great, because I am worth dying for. I am worth being tortured for. Someone did that for me. He let Himself be beaten, and whipped, and scourged, and mocked, and pierced, and nailed to a piece of wood.

That scares me.

Something has always told me I was important, and I have tried to act like it is true. But there has been another whisper which tells me that I am a fraud. That I am unworthy of honor. Unworthy of even the merest recognition. Of anyone!

Who am I that people should recognize me? Who am I that someone should stand up in my defense? Who am I that someone should pay my fines, make reparation for my crimes? Who am I that the Maker Of All Things, the being who holds the universe together, should stand before the might of an empire, the condemnation of a society, and say, “I’ll pick up the tab.” That is the truth of the bloody death and the triumphant victory of Christ.

The universe is billions of years old. And, at the proper distance, the proper perspective, it looks like a clump of soap bubbles floating in the darkness.

Drawing nearer we would see the film of those bubbles is galaxies surrounding huge voids of dark energy.

At the intersection of those bubbles the film becomes denser, the galaxies closer to each other, and in one such clump are a couple of spiral galaxies with a few elliptical galaxies orbiting nearby.

On the trailing edge of one of the outer arms of one the spiral galaxies is a medium sized, middle-aged main sequence star with a handful of planets circling madly.

On one of the smaller continents of one of those worlds I live in a valley about 150 miles long. There is a smallish town at the north end of that valley.

I live there. In this time, in this place.

I’m a mayfly on a speck of sand in the greatest of all deserts. An ordinary man who struggles with his own identity.

This ordinary guy, who is proud of all the wrong things, tries to be the alpha male in his own little pack. A silly little enterprise, borne of misconceptions. Borne of the fears of who I am not, the whispers of a dark voice that says I am nothing, and the whispers of a voice of light tells me I am loved.

The tragedy of these misconceptions is the stupid little game of poker I am playing with my life. I am so concerned about what people think of me, how I can hoard up political clout with careful husbanding of my resources, that I am missing the point.

Now, to the awful truth. Because I so crave the approval of others, especially of those I love, I am willing to let them die without knowing that they are loved by the Maker Of All Things. Because I want my dad to like me, to love me, I so crave his approval, I dare not displease him with a conversation about the only thing that is important.

Because I am so full of doubt about my true worth, I am willing to listen to the dark whisperer and believe I am not worthy, that I risk too much in telling my dad that Jesus loves him.


Suzanne said...

I love this post. I have so many of these thoughts from time to time. It helps me not feel so strange just reading them. Thank you for this.

Curious...Risk it...risk it and share with your father. Maybe you do not want me to "compare" this, however, I will. My husband went through very similar with is father. Near the end, they spent time that they had never spent and he shared. Something all but little good came through on this and my husband was very happy he made the move to share his faith. Risk it...otherwise, you sound to me as though, you will regret it if you do not. God be with you.

Fred said...

I like the way this worked out, CS. I find myself acting the same way at times.

Fox's Mom said...

CS, I thought along the same lines about my father. During his last hospital stay he became furious when a fellow we hired to sit with him while my brother and I were at work begged him to accept Christ as his saviour. His anger was so utter that he ended up on a ventilator

So, I kept my mouth shut out of , well, fear, ya know. I didn't want to be the one to kill off Pop, nor did I want to be the object of his scorn.

I wish I could tell you how I know, but the few people I've told think I'm completely insane. Suffice it to say, after he passed, I discovered Pop and the Lord were good friends, who went back a very long way.

But he still would not have at all appreciated my bringing the matter up premortum. Which is sad, and so I am sad for you now.

I pray that you make the happy discovery I did.

This post is breathtaking-very nearly your best amoung so many bests!

wilsonian said...

CS- you've been telling your Dad about Jesus' love for years. You just haven't told him with words yet. When you do, he'll know its true because he's seen it lived out in you.

Most folks won't believe a Jesus they can't see. I have no doubt that your Dad has seen Him in you.

Christopher said...

i'm keenly aware of my own hidden rage that i try to cover up with a soft smile and laugh . . . i play such poker as well. thanks for expressing your heart here.

Jim said...

Very apt post today. Not about witnessing, but I have some regrets. They don't go away, at least mine don't.

Dogs. Adi weighed 24.3 pounds the last time she was weighed getting her allergy shot.
Son Mike feeds his dogs all they can eat, they kept Adi once, she got to 35.x pounds.
The vet was upset, said she should weigh 25 pounds, and that I should put her on a diet.
Vet says you should be able to feel the backbone and indentions. Also the side ribs should be felt individually, with some loose skin.
Adi is like that now and the vet is happy.
My kids think she is too thin.
Adi would rather eat more.
I need to be dieting like Adi.

Judas Hate said...


First, I must say, nothing is trivial:-)(One of mine and my wife’s favorite sayings.)

Second, I don't want to sound preachy, but I'll say it anyway....

From what little I know of your father (from your "Happy Birthday Dad" post and the similarities in my own father), I would simply tell him that he is loved.

Although Jesus had but whisper his love to you for you to hear it loud and clear, he may be yelling it to your fathers’ deaf ears.

But he did tell him as he told you. As he continues to.

Maybe your father has heard his words, but has trouble believing or accepting them.

Maybe, for you and for him, when you get to look him eye to eye, you only need to tell him that you love him. Maybe then he will understand.

curious servant said...

Suzanne: Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure he would listen. I have spoken to him a little about the Lord after a friend of his died who was a vbeliever. It was clear he didn't want to take the conversation any further. Thanks for your support. Perhaps I will risk it.

Fred: I guess it's a human thing. Probably especially a man thing.

Fox's mom: That can be a concern. Interesting that your dad was a belieever but kept it quiet. Thank you for the long comment and personal tale. I'm surprised you liked this post so much. I was afraid it was too long.

Wilsonian: I think that is somewhat true. He knows I go to church faithfully. He knows that I won't do some things. Perhaps my life is witness enough. Still... am I afraid of offending him for the wrong reasons?

Christopher (Christ carrier): I wish I could shed that part of me. I have been thinking a lot about this passage:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as better than yourselves.” --Philippians 2:3

Jim: I've been watching "The Dog Whisperer" lately. I think we too often treat our pets like they are spoiled children rather than the creatures, companions, the Lord made them to be.

Judas Hate (Justin): You always say the right thing! Well not always (I rememeber that first post of yours I read!). But you always share your heart and say kind things, wise things to me. I appreciate your comment, brother!

MMM said...

just tell him you love him, and tell him why you're able to do so.

maybe he'll get it, maybe not.

David said...

We are all important in our own minds - just not in the minds of all men. Another well written, thought provoking post.

Becky said...

Who am I to say? Who am I to speak? Do I have something that another does not have who am I says the voice. Then another voice, "You have been set apart." The struggle, the doubt, the war rages within. Who am I?


Jada's Gigi said...

A couple of disconnected thoughts....1st you are not responsible for your father...God is...sounds like a load of condemnation on your head and in Christ there is NO condemnation...let the Holy Spirit do His on job. have a piece of Jesus Christ inside of you...actually you have the fullness of the Godhead indwelling you Yes, you are incredibly live a higher life than men or angels because you have divine life inside....
3rd...though corrupted in humans due to the fall, perhaps we are more Godlike than we imagine regarding the need to win...... God always wins....

bjk said...

mY husband and I have been speaking often and much on this...on my manipulative ways and his silence...the silence of Adam....have you read Crabbs book by that title....

the whole of today for me becomes taking all that I know or 'think' I know it has to drop like a stone into my heart........breaking it into doing what I know I need to do....

Thanks for an inspiring read...

curious servant said...

mmm: That is a very good answer. Its focus is on the two ultimate commands that jesus gave us... love the Lord, love others. Thanks.

David: Thanks!

Becky: Thanks!

Jada's Gigi: Interesting comment. I'll have to think on it a bit to unpack all the implications. The post was only partly about having the courage to speak to my father about what is eternally important. The other part is the game of playing poker with each other rather than really communicating. I wish I wasn't so full of posturing. In this place, this blog, I have been fairly transparent... I have shared things that I normally do not share. That may be due to having the time to carefully word what I want to say, it may be due to the fact that I am staring at a computer screen rather than a face, it may be that I am truly trying to be more honest in my interactions with others and this is a first step. But even here, I limit my topics to things that I know, things I care about, and so I am only showing a part of who I am. (Although I doubt if folks could take mych more of me than all the crud I drop in here.) But, I want to be more... more open, more honest, less manipulating, less reserved. Someday we will all be far more revealing because all of thecrud will drop away. I'd like to start living eternally even though I am still mortal.

BJK: I'm glad that you enjoyed this post. I said something along thelines that men tend to be more like this than women. Of course I cannot be certain of that. It may be that women are as you describe yourself, more manipulating. That they want to get their way, to win, as much as men, but are willing to let us think we are winning if they get what they want. It sounds a little like your husband has caught on to that strategy and is withdrawing from the battle field so there isn't a winner at all. We are so complicated, aren't we?! Thanks for the comment.

bjk said...

He read the book....He now challenges me and I love it and hate it at the same time...we women are complicated creatures...but then the more honest is we ALL are.....what if...Imagine if every single one of us became all Jesus wants us to be? That would be the most powerful influence leading others to the Kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

cute dogs! even if they're flabby here and there. =)

why do we feel important? simply because we are. and God loves us...very much.

blessings to you always, CS.

G~ said...

awesome post, CS... sorry about the struggles with your dad, but sounds like some good advice here in comments. definitely don't put off something you may regret.

sometime later i'd like to discuss the "The universe is billions of years old." statement with you. ;)


jollybeggar said...

this is an awesome post, man. i have been waiting for you to share a bit more of your love for science and how that translates into a realization of God's perfect order with us. thanks.

"When we talk with those close to us the stakes are higher. We are hurt easier. We hurt others more easily. We avoid tough talk with those we want to impress, talk tough to those we feel owe us."

an interesting mini-story. i am currently going for counselling. doctor asked me why i was needing a referral and i shared the simple answer first, then elaborated: the breakdown of a decade-long friendship.

those closest to us can insipire the greatest growth or inflict the greatest pain.

but here's a fun quote from bono (the 'passengers' album) that has everything and nothing to do with your dog:

"elvis ate america before america ate him"


curious servant said...

I just dropped in a new post... I'm home now. I'm tired. I thought I'd reply to these comments first:

BJK: Interesting point about the book. I suppose that shows why we need to be cautious of the books we recommned!

Pia: Thanks! Dogs are wonderful. I wish I was half the man my dog thinks I am!

G- I'm glad you liked the post. As forr the age of the universe debate, I'd be happy to discuss it, but I don't think you could share much with me that I haven't already studied. I have a rather large collection of books on the topic, from both sides, and I feel that it is really a side issue. It toucheth not upon the only important truths. :)

I feel restrained to speak too clearly upon the subject. Let me just say this: There are two testaments to God's love... his Word, and His creation. There is nothing that science has discovered which diminishes that truth.

Jollybeggar: Thanks, dude! AS for the science thing, the above reply applies. Though I wouldn't mind taking that up in a careful forum. The honest appraisal of science solidifies the Christian perspective, not detracts from it. So on the one side I feel more comfortable discussing the issue with non-believers. My real concern is over fundamentalist interpretationists who feel that their belief in God is threatened by the evidence the Lord permits us to see. I would hate to say or do anything that would shake that faith.

Well folks... I thkn I need to go lay down... Later!

Mark D said...

Man, what a great post. Regarding the last 2 or 3 sentences, I think it's all about the presentation. There's a big difference between "You're goin' to HELL, sinner!" and "..because I love you, I want to speak with you about Jesus' love for you." Not that the first approach would never work ("Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God" woke people up and got them saved), it's just that one has to be led. I struggle with that too because my father-in-law is not saved. Offend him and it would take the fun out of visiting. Remain silent and, well, I prefer to plant small seeds here and there and pray. It's the right approach...for now.

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