Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day

I'm going to launch into a little ramble here today. Nothing polished, nothing well thought out, just a few thoughts.

I haven't been my usual blogging self. The fact is, I am extremely busy, and am
pulled in so many directions.

Last week was another Moon
Howlin' Monday with my buddies. We went to a new place, had some great conversations, theology, politics, family, good stuff.

Work is getting faster paced as we slip and slide toward year's end. The kids are getting more distracted and the staff is squeezing in as much as possible. Rock and a hard place scenario.

The challenges continue, and honestly, I am weary of talking about them. There are the legal challenges (green cards & citizenship), psychological (Isaac has been hurting himself, and we suspect he may be slightly autistic), personal (marriage health), physical (my psoriasis is causing me to bleed in several places), and much more. But, as I said, let's move on to another topic.

This weekend was Memorial Day weekend, and for many Americans, an extra day off from work.

But it is more than that. First, more importantly, most importantly, it's a day to honor those who defended, and defend, our freedom. I thank every veteran I meet for their sacrifice and dedication.

For those who sport bumper stickers which read "Support Our Troops" I wonder: "How?"

I suggest we support our troops by fixing the V. A. medical benefits and its care system. I suggest we provide decent death benefits. I suggest we give veterans reasonable tours of duty, especially those who are the "weekend warriors" of the National Guard, who did not enlist to put in years of combat duty.

I'm digressing. I think to honor our vets we need to honor their sacrifice, respect our flag (I always stand and cover my heart when it passes at parades, and I dislike seeing it used as bunting for rallies and car sales). But on to the point.

Memorial Day is also a day for us to honor those who we personally miss. And I failed to do that this weekend. I did not visit Willy's grave this weekend. For the first time in 15 years I did not place flowers on his headstone on Memorial Day.

It's not that we didn't remember. I think it's just that we didn't feel the need. I don't know. It still hurts when I think about it, but... I don't know...

We had Brenda's family over on Saturday. Big Bar B Que. It was fun.

And we did it again on Monday.

And when it was all done, when the
BBQr was clean and the house picked up and my garden weeded I fulfilled something I started 16 years ago when I planted a pair of cherry trees the exactly right distance apart.

I went and bought a hammock.

I took out the latest copies of Scientific American and National Geographic, read a little, and drifted off. Ah... now that is planning. Sixteen years in preparing for that nap!

When I woke up it was delicious. I was still drowsy and a breeze was starting to rock the hammock a little. A brilliant blue sky stretched over the branches above me.

I thought a little about Memorial Day. About those who fought in wars, and how those wars led to so much suffering. About our current war, and how much of the world sees the U.S. as a bully, which saddens me.

Every veteran I have ever spoken to about war has
said it is an enterprise which should be avoided as much as possible. And, honestly, I have grave misgivings over many of the wars my country has been involved in... Vietnam, Korea, the Mexican American War... and even the war that is easiest to defend, World War II, gives me a little pause. I look at the root causes of it, The Great Depression, the punishments heaped upon Germany after The Great War, the tolerance exhibited by the world, and the U.S. of the rearming of Germany, I wonder if it could have been avoided by other means...

I have avoided talking politics on this blog. And I am doing so now. I'm not ignorant of them. I have not missed voting a single time since I came of age 33 years ago. But when I think about Jesus, what He stood for, how He would act and think and do, I come to this conclusion:

Jesus would not have even registered to vote.

Politics was simply not on His radar. People tried to push it on Him. They wanted him to be a political messiah. They wanted Him to take a stand. And there were big issues for Him. There was the occupation of their country by the Roman Empire. They had a king (Herod) more interested in living in luxury than in ruling his lands. Slavery, women's rights, simple justice, all large issues which many tried to get Him to take a stand upon.

He was
focused on a larger issue, a larger kingdom.

So, for those who defend my country, who have stood in harm's way, or left loved ones so they may serve a greater good, I offer this prayer:

Heavenly Father, Bless those who serve You, especially those who are followers of You and are standing in the gap. I pray Lord that the deeds they are asked to do are honorable, and bring hope, and solace, and healing to the world. I pray Lord for wisdom in those who lead. May they be granted discernment and given good advice. May they be reluctant to give directives and orders which lead to suffering, and are eager to see solutions which benefit many. Protect all those who are in harms' way Lord, that there be less sorrow, greater love, more joy. Strengthen the families of those who serve, especially the ones which bear the greatest burdens which come from the conflicts of men. Lord, I pray for my nation, that it may lead the world with compassion and understand and sacrifice, bringing healing to the broken, freedom to the enslaved, and prosperity to the impoverished. And most of all, Lord, I pray that the work of those who represent my country be used by You to bring glory to You, that more will find their way to Your kingdom, see a greater truth than the ones which lead men into conflict. --Amen.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fat Man Crawling

Writing that last post was fun. I enjoy focussing on the positive. But as I wrote in the post before it, life is not full of positives and an optimist is sometimes pressed to keep a smile in place.

No need to go into details here and now, but life is still very challenging. Is there a point to such challenges?

I think so.

When life is difficult, faith in an afterlife is comforting.

Before you read any further it is important you keep one thing in mind: I’m a fool. I think a lot, I read a lot, and I put ideas together in odd ways. The chances that I am right is extremely remote. But if you are willing to take what I say with a sack of epsom salt, read on.

Psychologically beneficial or not, I know the afterlife to be real. In fact, I believe in eternity. (Eternity is not the same as the afterlife.) When I die I will shuffle off this mortal coil, this corporeal trap and spread spiritual wings to soar through perpetuity. It will be a realm different than the one I have known, and different than the one that existed before the Lord created our world, our species.

What was Heaven like before we existed? What was it like for the angels before The Fall? What perspective might powers and principalities and dominions and all beings who danced in the eternal radiance of the love of the Triune God have had?

Imagine the scope of their existence!

Our lives are measured in heart beats, the mad scramble of the sun across our skies, the seasonal wobble of gyrating stars. If we are imaginative we can picture longer stretches of time. We can appreciate the dance of galaxies as they rotate four times each billion years. We can deduce the gonging of galactic clusters (B flat, 57 octaves below middle C) as they pulse each 100 thousand years.

How does a being who experiences such a pace of living see the universe? See us?

I would think creating humanity shook things up quite a bit.

Beings which existed before there was physical matter, before there were stars and planets and atoms... beings which contemplated eternity while existing in a realm without the cycles of seasons and epochs... before things swam and crawled and flew, before things consumed and excreted and reproduced... these beings existing in realms of pure beauty and joy would be amazed when suddenly the Lord creates, us.

Mayflies adopted into the eternal family.

Stumbling through The Garden we learned to be selfish, to put ourselves first. These beings must have wondered about this strange new thing, these human beings. Imagine the purity of their lives interrupted by this drama of creatures endowed with an immortal soul within the shell of an animal body, and given mental facilities so they may decide and plan and choose.

I suspect this may have been the reason Lucifer stormed away from those eternal halls. Imagine beings with billions of serene years of experience suddenly faced with the inclusion of creatures that were born!

I can imagine an angelic pride smiting under the offensive concept of rubbing spiritual shoulders with creatures that are nearly animals. I can imagine the indignation of an entity of titanic beauty and grace deeply offended by the proposal that beings which slipped into the universe screaming and squawking be permitted into that august company. I can imagine the argument that we are so inherently corrupt that we could never have a place there.

I can imagine the view that humanity is so tainted that even the Lord God Himself would succumb to sin if He were to inhabit a human body. Why else would Satan think he could tempt our Lord Jesus?

So... why?

Why would God do this? What is the point of all of this, this world where people do selfish things? Hurtful things? A place where people weep and suffer and die... A place of active forces which erupt, and crush, and wash away entire communities.

Could it be that living in such a world, a mortal existence which permits bad choices, allows bad things, lends a dimension to our souls unique to eternity? In short, suffering adds texture to our souls.

What a wonder it must have seemed to all those wondrous beings to see the triune God creep into this realm of sorrow through the body of a young woman and watch Him grow and love and suffer and die! What a wonder it was.

What a wonder it is.

For eternity is not the sort of thing we see it as. We live in a space-time continuum, an experience that forces us to see time as a one dimensional current that drags us all in the direction of entropy.

Eternity existed before the universe, and will continue to do so after our universe is cold cinders drifting into an expanding endless end. Eternity exists outside of time, outside of space.

I am undeserving of living within such a reality. We all are. It is no wonder we are told we cannot see the face of God and live. We are simply not built of such strong stuff. We are not worthy.

When Jesus answered that rich man about how he might earn eternal life, He started by asking him how well he obeyed the commandments.

Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Mark 10:19-20

Don’t we all feel pretty pleased with ourselves when we think about the majority of those commandments? I’ve never murdered, I love God...

But the Lord kept pushing until He got to the place where the rich man’s heart truly rested, his wealth.

I imagine this fellow thought he was pretty special, and that he was doing something extraordinary, offering to follow the Lord, and thereby placing his resources behind Jesus.

Jesus told him to toss it all aside.

That is a tough call, and one Jesus is asking me, asking all of us, to do.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Mark 10:25

I think that living this mortal life toughens us up spiritually. I am not living comfortably in this vale of sorrow. I keep praising my God, loving what is good, but often the sorrows of life, that swinging pendulum, just makes it all a little wearying.

But this life provides me with the spiritual challenges to make my soul strong, wiry. It is good spiritual exercise for me, because though I do not deserve the forgiveness and blessings my Lord grants me, I am heading into eternity with experiences that angels and powers and dominions have not had. I will have character that only sadness and sorrow can bring.

I may not ever be a mighty spiritual being, but I know I am shedding spiritual pounds, leaning up, honoring my creator, accepting His challenges.

How else could this fat man crawl through the eye of that eternal needle?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It Couldn't Have Been Any Better

It couldn’t have been any better.

Arun Gandhi smiled gently at the middle schoolers greeting him in the bright sunshine beneath the azure sky.

Five time Nobel Prize nominee Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson was at our school.

It couldn’t have been any better.

As he moved from room to room smiling students nervously showed what they had written, created, drawn, and painted in anticipation of his visit. His quiet demeanor set nervous students at ease as he waited for his lunch, ate with students, walked our halls.

About fifty people circled the A______ Peace Garden as Mr. Gandhi came out to dedicate the new Peace Pole, declaring peace in our corner of the world in four languages. Students took turns getting their pictures with him, arranging camera angles so the piece of the World Trade Center, which already honors this place dedicated to human harmony, would frame their moment with our guest.

It couldn’t have been any better.

A respectful student body stood and applauded as Arun Gandhi entered. A respectful student body listened closely as the quiet man with the foreign accent spoke tales from a childhood helping his revered grandfather teach the world, teach him, the path to peace.

Those who know middle schoolers would be as amazed as the teachers in this audience to watch these children, marinated a dozen years in video games and fast paced movies, sit quietly, respectfully, honored and appreciative of our visitor.

It couldn’t have been any better.

Students spoke, students led, students shared.

A student operating a computer and projector threw a video he and his classmates had made onto the large screen in the darkened gym. Amid images of famous men and women, and everyday people who do their best in improving the world they posed the question: What makes a hero?”

One student stood before that crowd of hundreds. She spoke spontaneously that with the wealth and resources we are comfortable in using comes the responsibility to help others. Another student shared how Mr. Gandhi was building a school in India. This school, dedicated to the memory of his wife of fifty years, would benefit impoverished children in India. She told Mr Gandhi and her classmates how our school wants to help. She spoke how A______ students are starting a fundraising program to help build that school. She told us that it is the hope of A______ students to create a sister school relationship with that school.

That is a proud moment for me. The children of this school seek to include children in a school on the other side of the world in our family.

Hanging on a wall in the gym was a huge photo montage.

It was made by 24 separate classes, each working on a two foot square sheet of black paper. Each square had silvery lines separating what should be lightly colored, or medium, or dark. Each square filled by independent students in independent classes with words of encouragement, images of hope, pictures of heroes. And when those squares, filled with pictures of firefighters, and police officers, and mothers and fathers and even teachers, were put together, a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi smiled down from the gym wall. His grandson gazed back.

Arun Gandhi turned to a teacher.

“This is the first time I’ve seen such a picture of my grandfather. I’m moved by this unique work of art.”

He kindly placed his autograph on the portrait. It now graces our library.

It couldn’t have been any better.

A fellow teacher asked: “Of the hundreds of schools you must have visited, how does A______ compare?”

Mr Gandhi responded: “This is perhaps the most progressive school I have ever visited.”

In thinking about this day there isn’t a single stand out item. The day was filled with powerful moments. Stories of a man I have respected all of my life. Watching individual students behave with grace and manners and respect. Sharing a meal with a person who is dedicating his life to carry on such a great work. Enjoying the beautiful Oregon spring day in a garden dedicated to peace. Seeing my colleagues shine as they work with their charges in a simply glorious situation.

The testament of this day isn’t about the preparations children or staff made for this visit. The day was a testament to the years our school has placed in making connections between children and the larger world. Our Student Peace Advocates classes (SPA), our Peace Garden, Student leadership, character building programs, the everyday care and love A______ Middle School has fostered a culture, a school family, that makes being an educator everything I dreamt it might be.