Friday, December 29, 2006

Infant Messiah - Infinite Messiah

(Details finished - click to enlarge)

I was nervous. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I was.

I was at church an hour before the service. I was sitting in the Prayer Room. I had candles lit. I had said The Lord’s Prayer twice. I was trying to wrap my mind around what it cannot.

The previous day I had set the easel and canvas in place. All the paints were at hand, brushes ready.

I had a clear vision of what I would do, how I would skimp on details so it would be “finished” before the services were over... but the reality behind the image, the Truth I recognized in the image, was, is, larger than my mind and heart can hold.

Fourteen years ago my son was scheduled to portray the infant Jesus in a little reenactment at a friend’s stable... but he died three days before that was to happen. Now he was to play that role on Christmas Eve in a way I had never foreseen, and I was preparing my heart in the solitude of our prayer room.

It is a small role, a little pretending, merely a model for his dad’s work who was attempting to speak a prayer, paint a prayer, on the wonder of God squeezing into reality, into a mere four dimensions, so He could love us more dearly, hold us with hands of flesh, look into our eyes as we are accustomed to looking into the eyes of each other.

But the truth of this is so hard to describe!

Born to love and heal and care and teach and hold and suffer and die...

My pastor and friend came in, we prayed as we usually do before the service.

And I went out to join my family. The Advent candle was lit, I walked up to the canvas.

Sometimes painting can be a struggle. It can seem a battle to get the colors right, push them where they should be. It wasn’t this time.

I was relaxed as far as the image itself went. I really didn’t care overly much what the finished product was going to be. I knew it would fall far short of the reality I was feeling, and since I was already so far behind The Truth of it, what did it matter if the colors weren’t exactly right, or there was a line or shape not quite where I wanted it?

The Truth was so much more than I could contain... it was some relief to let it spill out onto the canvas, to get it out of my heart.

My son’s face is there, but it is only a stand in for The Truth...

A golden infant... floating in cerulean blue... bearing terrible wounds, the evidence of a fallen humanity, of evil inflicted upon innocence... and deep eyes squinting above a mouth open in joy and laughter. The events of His mortal life, the Nativity and the Crucifixion, mingled in a single image, floating in an eternity beyond the reality of this world.

It was the smile... I kept thinking about it.

Pure joy flowing out, rushing out, laughing, shouting a wordless call of love and companionship to all of Creation, welcoming us all into a relationship with divinity.

At one point during the service I began to tremble. That smile... that smile of love and forgiveness, there before creation, there long after these hands which grip brushes will be turned to dust...

Too often I write in this little blog words which are fine sounding, authoritative... pompous. That is all they are, words, sounds blown from a self-centered, self-important ego of a little man, a small part of such a larger creation! How little those words mean. I am merely a shadow, a ghost of the reality of what is The Truth of Creation. There is a Lord of lords who loves me more than I can possibly understand. A being of infinite grace and glory Who is so far beyond the poor splash of color I have made that all that is are mere refections of the pure creative glory of Him.

Oh worthy Lord! Almighty Lord! Thank You sweet King of all creation! God of Wonders! Holy, Holy, Holy Master of all things. I am so honored... Grant me the privilege to live my life for You! Eternal God, immortal Son of David... I love You Lord! Thank You for the thousands, millions of blessings You pour into my life! I am Yours Lord. Do with me as You will. --Amen... Amen... Amen...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Infant Messiah

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven. So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs. -- Hebrews 1:1-4

(as usual, click on pictures to enlarge)


Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

For Sunday

No witty post tonight. I just wanted to share this...

My pastor has asked me to do another painting during the services this Sunday. I am posting a photo of a sketch I have made (just click on it to enlarge).

I think it will be a blue background with the skin tones in gold.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Surf's Up!

Yesterday’s post was an entry to mark a low tide in my year. It is a day where I look at the tidal charts and note how the sea has rolled away once again to reveal what is usual hidden beneath the waves of my everyday life.

Today is another point on the tidal charts marking my life. It was fourteen years ago today that my sons boarded a plane and left a life of misery, a journey which brought them to my home.

Tides are simple and complex. The tides of the oceans, and to some extent lakes and rivers, swing to and fro, following the dictates of Earth, sun, and moon. The highest tides directly follow the moon, pointing to that great silvery disc in the sky. On the other side of our world the smaller high tide floats outward, responding to the off-center balance of the Earth/moon system, and both tides are strengthened or weakened by where the sun is currently in our lives.

Yesterday I was remembering a watershed event which changed me dramatically. Today there is the quieter observance of the journey my children began.

We fill our calendars with such observances. Some personal, some public.

This past year I ruefully celebrated my 50th birthday, and joyfully my 25th wedding anniversary. We had our birthdays, and we marked “Family Day” on June 1st to celebrate the day we first laid eyes on our kids. Brenda and I always go out for dinner on the last day of February, marking the day we met, Leap Year’s Day, 1980.

There are also the days of corporate celebration and remembrance and thankfulness. The fourth Thursday in November, the last night of the year, the first day of the year, the fourth day in July...

This isn’t so surprising, this need to mark our calendars and tick of the holidays, and holy days.

All creatures do so (well, mammals anyway), marking times for mating, times for gorging in preparation for winter, following the cycles of sun and moon and seasons. I see the behavioral changes wrought by the seasons daily. Remember, I work in a middle school and sometimes watching my charges is like watching a nature documentary. The creatures of this world carefully note the changing days and behave accordingly.

Perhaps mankind does so to a greater extent because time is the one dimension in which we have no control. We can move about in the other three dimensions, but the temporal one, the fourth dimension, is beyond our control. We are simply dragged along with the rest of the universe in the general direction of entropy.

Perhaps that is one reason we venerate The Creator. God is beyond time, outside of time. He always was, always will be. The Great I Am. He holds all things together and in so doing, demonstrates that He is external to it all.

Which brings us around to the reason for our next grand celebration on the calendar. It is the season we dedicate to remembering the point in time when He was both external and internal to time. When He split the universe apart, and He who was/is infinite became finite, He who was/is beyond material became flesh. We recognize how perfection came to be in a world imperfect.

Jeremiah is a calendar watcher. It is important to him to know what tomorrow will bring, what we will do, what we will eat. He is always talking about the next holiday, the next holy day.

The spinning Earth flings the sun across the sky and we move from day to day. On Sundays, the day named after the sun, my family celebrates the Son. On Mondays, the day named after the moon, we celebrate... well, we generally just go to work (whether or not that is a celebration is an individual thing). The days roll along, and the weeks follow.

I have my monthly moon howlin’s, when my brothers in Christ hold each other accountable, ask tough and ask stupid questions. In the absence of our women we scratch ourselves freely and listen to music and talk of things of great and of no import. It is another part of the rhythm of our lives. It is an iron sharpening iron sort of thing.

This marking of calendars, of honoring and celebrating and remembering, of somber reflection and joyful thanksgiving gives us a sense of control that is entirely illusional.

A clerk in the store where Brenda and I were shopping for gifts yesterday asked me how I was. I told him: “old and fat.” We all laughed. But there is the truth there that time is rolling along and my body shape is less like a Greek god and more like a fuzzy pear than I care to admit.

Still, this is a good time of the year. It’s a time to visit family (I have decided not to visit my crazy father this year --though I may go down to watch his latest suicidal bid at immortality in a couple of months). It’s a time to sing homage to when God crept into our world and changed history into His story. It is a time to hug and eat a little too much and snuggle under the covers as the winter chill creeps through the walls.

I mentioned earlier how the tides are strengthened or weakened by where the sun is currently in our lives. I would add that the tides of life are also strengthened or weakened by where the Son is currently in our lives.

Low tide has passed, the waters have returned, and I am joyfully playing in the surf of another day.

Friday, December 15, 2006

10:30 a.m., December 15th, 1992

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
-- Jeremiah 29:11

Fourteen years ago today I went out with my son to cut down our first Christmas tree together. An hour later he was dead.

What does one do with such memories?

Memories can be awkward things.

That first year after Willy’s death was... beyond describing.

It hurt.

At first there were things I could do. There was the stone for his grave. I picked out my largest piece of petrified wood (I collect fossils) and took it to the only place on the West Coast that had the equipment to properly cut it.

But after setting the stone in place I found it did little to lighten the stone in my heart.

That first year dragged on and on and on. I would wake in the middle of the night and go for walks. I hurt constantly. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. The image of his blue, still face as I awaited the paramedics rolled constantly through my mind, along with all the other images of that day. The cut Christmas tree leaning against the front door, his body lying on the metal table at the hospital, the look on Brenda's face...

It hurt so badly. I cast about for ways to make it stop. There were temptations to do drastic things.

Fourteen years ago today was a very, very, very bad day.

Fourteen years ago tomorrow was also a bad day, along with each day throughout the following year... But there was something else happening fourteen years ago tomorrow that was to change my life.

Fourteen years ago tomorrow two little boys were getting onto an airplane. They had been deeply harmed, but they were headed to the United States on medical visas. A year and a half later to be adopted by a childless couple in a small town in Oregon.

Isn’t that amazing?

While we were waking up to a day without our lovely child, the Lord was moving. He was guiding. He was doing great things, working to heal us, to make our deepest desires, that of raising a family, come true.

Look at me. Sitting here tapping away at this keyboard, getting misty... but honestly, how can I not love my Lord, my God, my Master, when I see how things have always worked out so well? He is faithful. Far more so, infinitely more, so than this weak servant of His.

I have been reflecting lately about a situation that has been going on in my life that I do not feel free to share here. But I can say these few things... It worked out in a miraculous fashion. Experiences meant to shame, humiliate, and hurt, turned into the experiences which gave me skills and recognition and honors.

So... I jot down these random thoughts in this online journal and look awkwardly inward at the memories that hurt me, remade me.

What does one do with such memories?

They are probably tiresome to others (which makes this a convenient place to put them since all any reader need do is click the “back” button to escape).

But they are my memories.

Brenda and I are taking the day off. No running around to take care of business, busyness. We aren’t going to worry about the kids. We aren’t going to do anything in particular. I suppose we will go to the cemetery. I think I might take a picture of his grave and place it here achingly, gently, in this post. We decided to not run away from the meaning of the day, to fill it up with meaningless stupid things. She has scheduled appointments for massages (we have never had professional massages) and just take care of ourselves.

What to do with such awkward memories? I suppose I am doing with them all that I can do. I reflect on how those events led me to where I am, helped shape me into the man I am. I can reflect on how I now see the hand of God working to turn tragedy into a graceful miracle which healed our hearts and rescued two little boys from a terrible situation.

Though the wound has healed, there is still an old scar running across this heart beating within my chest. A scar running the full length of my heart... a heart that beats with a vitality it did not have when I had no children.

This heart beats with a devotion for my God, my Lord, my Master.

How can that be? Some may wonder why I do not curse God for my pains. Job’s wife told her husband he should curse God and die.

But Job understood something she did not.

The Lord God is good.

The sorrows of this world, even such horrors as oceans rising over sleepy villages and wiping hundreds of thousands of lives away, is all a part of living in a world where there is vitality and choice. For this world to work, for it to live, there must be tectonic plates shoving things about, shoving old material into the interior, fueling volcanoes to pump needed gases back into the atmosphere.
For this world to work, there must be freedom to choose, which means there is evil in the world... a dark side.

The wonder of it all is that there is such a good side. That despite the horrors and pains of this world, I see His hand turning lives around, using the very pain of terrible hurts to bring compassion and love to where there was only sorrow and grief.

So... today I cannot escape the awkward memories. And that is ok. It is part of who I am, and it shows what He can do with such sad, hurtful...

...oh such hurtful and sad...

Perhaps I am just a little tired today...

I’ll get back to you folks later...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Beautiful, But Not Safe

There are three men missing up on Mount Hood. It happens. There have been a number of people who have become lost on our local mountain, and quite a few have not returned.

There was a phone call from one of them a couple of days ago. He was holed up in a snow cave he had made and the other two had gone off for help. It doesn’t sound good.

Rescue Attempts

As I am writing the light is failing, and a storm is rolling in tomorrow.

A week ago there was sad news about the man who had gone off looking for help after he and his family had been stranded in the coastal range here. After hiking sixteen miles he had died of hypothermia.

It made my heart ache to think about his family, left alone in that cold car while he went looking for help. To think of that four year old, that seven month old, nursing on their mother as he went off into the beautiful wilderness to die cold and alone.

I was watching Larry King Live and he was trotting out the survival pundits. Mr. King said something about how “Or-ee-gawn seems like such a safe place (we pronounce it Ory-gun).”

It isn’t safe at all.

Every year people come to look at our beautiful country. The waterfalls, the rivers and lakes, the snow. Every year many such people die.

I love snow. My favorite time to enjoy it is in the middle of the night. When we get our first real snow of the year I get up during the night, about 2:00 a.m., and go to Molalla River State Park. I jump the gate and walk out through the woods and fields.

Every bit of light seems to be absorbed and reflected back again from the snow. Everything is hushed. It is so beautiful it makes my heart leap, and I naturally fall into an internal place of worship and praise.

It is the kind of beauty that can take ahold of one’s heart and recognize that there is something supernatural within that makes our kind the pinnacle of God’s creation. If my dog is with me, he is scampering and playing and laughing. But he has no appreciation of beauty. That is something for me, not for him.

That sense if enjoyment is what calls to people, pulls them to such places as this. They come to Oregon because it is beautiful. It is pretty and it brings great joy.

But it isn’t safe at all.

There are other places in the world which are also very beautiful. I went to Wyoming last summer. Yellowstone was amazing. The animals, the landscape, the geysers and hot springs. But every year people walk right up to bison and are trampled to death. Every year someone leaves the marked paths and the ground gives way, dropping them into scalding pools.

It isn’t safe.

Every year people go to Alaska to watch bears and other wild life. Folks, the world is not tame. It is not simply pretty. It is beautiful and it is dangerous.

The enjoyment I get from nature is something my Lord has given me. It is something which draws me closer to Him.

It is similar to the joy I feel when I worship in church, when I pray...

When I am in such a frame of mind I feel close to my Lord, my master, and I tremble.

When I was young I did not understand the phrase “fear of God.”

Jesus is my friend. Why should I fear Him? He loves me. He cares for me. There is nothing to fear.

But as I have grown older I have grown more aware of the awesome power of my Lord. It makes me tremble.

When I worship I consider the power of creation (read my post “Soot” for more on that). I see my Lord’s supernatural beauty, the source of wonder which I sense when I see anything of great beauty, like that first fall of snow.

And I consider the awesome power of who He is. And a simple thought occurs to me:

He is good, but He isn’t safe at all.


All praises to my Lord, my Master!
All praises to the Creator of all things!
All praises to He who knew me before time began,
Who hold me up, gives me strength.
All praises to the one true God!

Use me Lord. Take my life,
Take this life as a living sacrifice.
Tell me what You want of me...

And I will obey.

-- Amen

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Roboticists

My students have done it again! My four teams of budding roboticists stepped up to the Lego Robotics challenge and did simply amazing work.

There was nervousness. There was tension. There were failures and there were triumphs. In the end, every team got more and more out of their robots and performed well in all four areas of judging (technical [programming & engineering], research [nanotechnology], teamwork, and robot performance).

Two teams won trophies: First Place: Robot Performance, and Runner Director’s Choice.

The Director’s Choice trophy comes with it the prestigious, coveted, long-dreamed of invitation to move their team on to the next level of competition: The State Tournament on January 13th!

I am very pleased with the hard work that these students have done in preparing exceptional research presentations, engineering designs which accomplished so much, and working hard as teams.

Congratulations roboticists!

There were a lot of challenges here. Two of these students I have mentioned before. They all grew a little today and it was a very good thing to watch.

I'm tempted to post pics (they all did sign permission forms), but it just doesn't feel right to do it here (this post already moves quite a bit across the line from personal to professional). So just imagine two photos: a huge group of twenty kids who were able to make it today, and then a picture of a half dozen kids with a trophy held high and huge grins because they are moving on to the next level.

Perhaps this will help:

Well... this post is well past pithy (more like blunt). It does not contain much of the theological, the philosophical, the scientific, or the literary... but it is something sweet none the less!

I love my job!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Prayer for Jenny

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. --Deuteronomy 24:19

Bob Cryder went home one year ago today.

We love you Jenny, and pray for you today as your heart swings back to the memory of that day which hurt you so, when Bob’s suffering ended, and your solitary journey began.

Heavenly Father... bless the house of Jenny Cryder this day. As the pain of memories bitter and sweet tug at her today, may she feel You near. Bless my friend, my sister, Lord. Bless their children today, all adults this year, as they continue their journeys into the world. Gift them with strength and warmth and love as they remember Bob. --Amen