Monday, August 21, 2017

Weeping?

Have you ever seen a machine weep for another machine when it breaks down?
But I see you weeping for your friend in pain.
You must not be a machine.
Tell me you are not a machine.

We speak of dysfunction, of breakdowns, of human resources,
Of being finely oiled and tuned machines.
We should beware the direction our analogies take us
Lest we forget we are human.

We may build machines and energize them with electricity,
But God created man and breathed the breath of life in him,
and man became a living soul.
Better to be one with God than one with machines.

We speak to Siri and Alexa as if these “its” are “theys”.
We listen to Alexa and Siri as if they are people.
God speaks but we do not hear,
Others speak but we do not listen.

If we look at others as parts
In a complex organizational machine,
Then let us not pretend that they matter as people,
When they wear out we will order replacements.

We are provided motivational speakers not to improve our characters,
But to improve our production.
We are too busy to care if one has lost a son, one a daughter, one a spouse.
Let’s keep our lives compartmentalized.

When the organizational machine falls on hard times the parts are expected to perform,
When the parts fall on hard times we replace them.
There are places where one can find used auto parts,
Are there places for used people?

Cynical? Perhaps. But is it cynical to describe what one sees?
Is it cynical to observe the isolation? The frenzied activity?
The pressure to perform and conform and not to think too much?
We are not resources, we are people…I think…maybe I am wrong.

Did I come from an assembly line?
Am I an interchangeable part?
Am I a function key on a keyboard?
When we cease to function do we have worth?

If we have our doubts let us not hesitate.
Let us flee to those with the answers.
Let us close our doors, ponder our deep questions…

And ask Siri and Alexa.

Opioids


The tragedy of opioids is touching so many lives, shattering families and communities. We think “treatment” is the answer. We think prevention will help.

But what use is treatment without hope? What use is prevention without hope? If we approach the problem from the perspective that we are the products of time plus matter plus chance then we are simply machines trying to temporarily repair other machines – we are all headed to the unfeeling landfill of deceased humanity.

And if we are the products of a great cosmic accident without purpose, then who is to say whose “reality” is the better? Whatever we may be thinking or feeling is accidental – it has no transcendent meaning or purpose. Whether we live one day or two days or 90 years does not really matter…not if we believe what we have been taught…not if we believe what many of us have taught others.

We have been fools in thinking that we are simply chemicals and matter – for if we are but matter then nothing really matters. But who really lives like this? If we do not live like this then let us admit we are hypocrites and ask the hard questions – who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why do we love? Why do we have a sense of justice? Why a sense of emotional pain? Why does hope matter?

Prevention and treatment without hope in a life that has transcendent-eternal meaning is like me giving you a check for one million dollars drawn on a bank account with no funds.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

More on Food Storage

   
A correspondent told me that she once threw out all of her miscellaneous containers – Cool Whip, butter tubs, everything she had. Then she purchased a set of green food storage containers. However, because they were all green and looked the same neither she nor her husband had visual memory of what they put in them – in other words, when they used the Cool Whip container that was so old that only the “p” remained in the name they knew it had leftover liver, but a green container is a green container. Plus, having all containers the same color lacked the excitement of wondering, “Now what’s in the Smart Balance container? What’s in the Land O’ Lakes container?” A green container is a green container. 

There was also an unforeseen problem with the green containers. When the lids were opened and the food was inspected the food all looked green; what was green because of the hue of the container and what was green because…well…because it was spoiled? Debates between my correspondent and her husband ensued, arguments about who was going to remove the food to inspect it, questions about whose day it was to taste the suspect food in order to verify whether it was safe to eat. Tension in the marriage began to rise. They have gone back to reusing butter tub containers, they say it makes life more interesting and it has reduced tension in their marriage.

This same correspondent told me about her friend’s husband who, being unable to correctly identify the substance in a butter tub container decided to eat it – after all it looked good. Do not eat what you are not certain about, if you do not recall eating it with your spouse do not assume what you are looking at are leftovers. It was moist dog food. This is a good argument for dry dog food, it is less likely to be mistaken for human food.

This reminds me of an afternoon some years ago when we lived on Beach Road. I arrived home from work before Vickie and I was quite hungry. I saw summer sausage on the kitchen countertop and sliced it and ate it with saltines and mustard – it was quite good. When Vickie arrived home and asked me where the summer sausage was I told her that I ate it.

“Didn’t you see the teeth marks on it?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, “why?”

“It rolled on the floor this morning and the dogs got it, I left it on the countertop rather than throwing it away so I could give them more later. Didn’t you wonder why I left it out of the refrigerator? Surely there was dog fur on it?”


Well…when you are hungry you are hungry and I guess you don’t always think straight. The only side effect of my eating the sausage was that for the next couple of weeks I’d bark occasionally.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hoarding Containers

         
In the midst of social and political turmoil our attention has been diverted from an issue critical to many Americans; I refer of course to the proliferation of empty Cool Whip and butter tub containers found in the cupboards of many households. The congressional select committee on alternative food storage policy has not met for a number of months and the present administration is seeking to pull its funding. You may recall that the Obama administration fought to retain funding in its final budget in spite of lobbying to dissolve the committee by Tupperware and Rubber Maid.

Industry lobbyists have resubmitted draft legislation that would require $5.00 deposits on Cool Whip containers and all butter tubs. Their hope is that people will stop using these containers for storage and be coerced into purchasing products specifically made for storage. The Center for Disease Control has weighed in on the side of the lobbyists due to the high number of emergency room visits attributed to people eating unidentified leftovers stored in butter tubs and the like. Ironically, the National Institute for Health has opposed the legislation because, they argue, new molds and mutant organisms are routinely found in spoiled refrigerator food and their hope is that eventually this will lead to a medical breakthrough.

The American Institute for Counseling is supporting the legislation in the hope that it will reduce marital stress when it comes to identifying just what is in the refrigerator, who put it there, and how long it has been there. They receive weekly reports of spouses throwing containers at one another while arguing whether the contents are pasta, chicken, or liver.

The Humane Society also supports the legislation because it argues that pets are eating the leftovers that fall on the floor as a result of spouses throwing containers at each other – the spoiled food is making pets sick.

The National Mental Health Counsel supports the legislation due to people entering therapy because they have meltdowns when unable to correctly match a plastic lid to the container in question. Recently a woman in Colorado was found by her husband on the kitchen floor with 278 plastic lids surrounding her, speaking incoherently, picking up the lids and pounding them onto a hapless Cool Whip container. When her husband pointed out that all of the lids appeared to be butter tub lids she attacked him with the dog’s water bowl which was beside her on the floor.

Please write your congressperson about this – tell him or her, “No deposits on Cool Whip or butter tub containers!”


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charlottesville


Amidst the polarization and the fear, whether encouraged by media or by so-called leaders across the cultural spectrum, this is what I know:

The Church of Jesus Christ must stand apart from the world if we are to live in the world and speak into the world; otherwise we will be indistinguishable from the world and we will have nothing to say.

This means that we must have our citizenship in heaven with no competing allegiances. This idea of no competing allegiances applies to all segments of the fragmented church.

Our voice must be one that speaks peace and reconciliation alongside repentance and confession of sin. (I kept asking myself last weekend, “Where is Doctor King?”)

We must look at our collective history honestly without glossing over sin. Since the members of the Church live in the broader culture, and since members of the Church have participated (and do participate) in the sins of the culture, then the Church should have the courage to call sin sin and not to call it other names; such as “mistake”, or “patriotism”, or “they didn’t know better”, or “heritage”, or “they needed to do this for the economy”.  

We must adamantly reject the idea that criticism of our nation is not patriotic; Chesterton pointed out to the effect that if one’s patriotism depends on one’s interpretation of history then that is a pretty poor patriot. As Christians we should know the deep power of sin, not only in our own lives but in the lives of a collective people. The power of sin is perhaps nowhere more evident than in its power to deceive us; individual self-deception is bad enough, collective self-deception is frightening.

An honest appraisal of United States history (as is true with other national histories) shows that we (yes “we”) have exploited and used others to meet our own needs – we have had an insatiable appetite for economic and geographic growth – we devour and devour; we devour others and we devour our own people. This should be no surprise, our nation is not the Kingdom of God. What is the record of the professing church challenging our national appetite for more and more? What is the record of the professing church in speaking out for justice and equity?

If I am a white Christian I must ask God to help me understand the perspectives of my African – American brothers, my Latino brothers, my Asian brothers, and my Native American brothers. I must listen to them. I must stop looking for excuses not to listen, I must stop using justifications not to listen. And I must be willing to put their well-being ahead of my own; I must trust them whether I fully understand their deep feelings and perspectives – for how can I ever truly fully understand their experience?

Do I love my black brothers enough to trust them? Do I love them enough to allow them to “see” for me? Do I love them enough to allow them to take me by the hand and help lead me? Has it occurred to me that perhaps the people who were once enslaved may be the ones to lead me out of slavery?

On August 5, a week before Charlottesville, I wrote the following:

They say states-rights is why they fought
It was such a noble cause
The right to keep black humanity enslaved
Must have been an after thought

Old Jim Crow where did you go?
Where are you hiding today?

Where is the voice of the Church? If it is not a distinct voice of peace, reconciliation, confession of sin, and repentance – then it is nothing.

Maybe God had a point when He commanded that we should have no graven images.




Monday, August 14, 2017

Heritage?



I hope that my descendants will learn from my mistakes and flee from my sin. If they are to celebrate anything in my life let it be the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Prayer by Patrick

Lord, be with us this day,
Within us to purify us;
Above us to draw us up;
Beneath us to sustain us;
Before us to lead us;
Behind us to restrain us;
Around us to protect us.

(Patrick c389-461)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Prayer by Anselm

Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; 
because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself; 
because you have promised so much, I owe you my whole being. 

Moreover, I owe you as much more love than myself as you are greater than I, 
for whom you gave yourself and to whom you promised yourself. 

I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding. I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I cannot render the whole of it to you. Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of your love.

I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in love.

(Anselm 1033-1109)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Two Sons


In Matthew 21:28 – 32 Jesus tells a parable about two sons and their dad. The dad went to the first son and asked him to work in the vineyard but the son said “no”. Then the dad asked the second son to work in the vineyard and that son said “yes”. However, the first son regretted what he had said to his dad and went and worked in the vineyard, but the second son, in spite of what he told his father, didn’t go work in the vineyard.

Jesus asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

While I realize that Jesus told this parable to make a point to the religious types of His day, this is one of those parables that gives me hope. How many times have I told God my Father that I’d do something and then didn’t do it? How many times have I told Him that I wouldn’t do something but then did it? Well, I guess if I was going to play a part in this parable I could play either son. It is quite the warning that we can talk the talk but that if we don’t walk the walk the talk won’t cut it.

I shared this text at my father’s funeral. I officiated at the funeral because we didn’t know a pastor who knew Dad and I didn’t want a stranger going through the motions. My Dad pretty much said, “I am not going to work in your vineyard,” all his life…but then…toward the end…who should appear in God’s vineyard but my Dad. This is kind of like the parable of the workers in the vineyard that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in that we just never know how things are going to work out, but what we do know is that God’s grace is amazing.

Sometimes, at work, I’ll have an employee with an attitude like the first son, but I try to be patient because you just never know, the employee with the attitude may just show up in the vineyard and surprise everyone. I’ve also had employees who talked a good talk but never showed up for work, or if they did show up in the vineyard it was to watch others work. People just don’t get the accountability issue – they think their words are what they will be evaluated on, not their actions.


What about you? What role do you see yourself in when you look at this parable? 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vacuum-packed Coffee


Cousin Clovis purchased some vacuum-packed coffee last week. I was going to write that he purchased a pound of coffee, but not too many roasters will sell you a pound of coffee any more, they will sell you 10 or 12 ounces and package it like a pound used to look and charge you double of what a pound used to cost.

This morning Clovis went to open his little vacuum pack, mind you that he was sleepy, mind you that he needed his coffee, mind you that he had never dealt with a vacuum pack before, at least before 5:30 A.M.

As his blurry eyes viewed the package he saw a little series of dashes across one end of the package and a little pair of scissors printed on the package with a teeny-weeny arrow pointing from the scissors to the line of dashes. Because Clovis ain’t no dummy, even at 5:30 in the morning, he took a pair of scissors out of the kitchen drawer and cut along the red dashes, then he expectantly pulled on that end of the package anticipating that the seal would break, giving him access to the coffee.

Clovis’s expectations were not realized, the package remained sealed. He held the package up to his eyes, yes he had cut right along the red dashes; no, the package would not open.

Once again Clovis got the scissors and cut again, this time tight to the square part of the package, fearing that the entire package might come undone and spill coffee all over the counter and floor…thankfully the package just opened, but now its contents were ready to make their escape because there was nothing between the top of the package and the big outside world.

Clovis carefully balanced the package up against the coffee maker, retrieved a one-pint Ziploc freezer bag (he was smart enough to know, even at 5:30 A.M., that a sandwich bag might break), and carefully emptied the coffee into the storage bag. Then he inserted his measuring cup in the bag to get coffee and…and…and…there were lumps and clumps. What to do?

He tried to break up the clumps and lumps with the measuring cup, no did work. He put the measuring cup down and gently held the bag in this hands and applied pressure – no did work. He laid the bag on the cutting board and gently pressed down, nothing, the lumps and clumps held firm. He got a wooden rolling pin and tried that, might as well have been using the rolling pin to smooth asphalt – it didn’t work.

What to do?

Finally he hit upon an idea.

He ran hot water for a few minutes in the sink and through the garbage disposal. Then he ran the garbage disposal to get the water out and try to dry it. Then he disconnected the drain line from the disposal. Then he put a mixing bowl beneath the disposal. Then he dumped the coffee from the Ziploc bag into the disposal. Then he turned the disposal on, fully expecting the lumps and clumps to be pulverized and exit the disposal into the mixing bowl. The disposal motor whined and whined and groaned and groaned and then it stopped. Clovis found an allen wrench and tried to turn the disposal blades before hitting the reset button, they wouldn’t move.

It was now 6:15 and if he didn’t get a move on he’d be late for work.

He reconnected the drain line. Took the Ziploc bag and the bag the coffee came in, put them both in his lunch bag, put the scissors back in the drawer, and then left for work…stopping at 7-11 on his way to get a cup of coffee. Later that morning his wife, Francine, called him to tell him that something was wrong with the disposal and did he know anything about it. He told her that he couldn’t image what was wrong with it.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Lemuel and Rosa and Duke’s Mayonnaise – Part 4


Lemuel asked, “Rosa, is there anything I can pray for, for you or your family or friends?”

Rosa, thoughtfully looking at her customer said, “I’m having cataract surgery next Tuesday and I’m worried. I don’t know why but I’m worried. I had it done on my other eye a few years ago and it went fine, but I’m worried this time.”

Rosa’s right eye was long overdue for the surgery, it looked like a pane of opaque glass, cloudy and thick, it was the first thing one noticed about Rosa’s physical appearance. She had probably been living with this condition for years.

Lemuel looked at Rosa and stretching out his two hands said, “Here, give me your hand and let’s pray.” She reached her hand across the counter and Lemuel prayed aloud for her – it was a holy moment between Rosa and Lemuel, two people who had been strangers five minutes before.

After the prayer Lemuel picked up his bag with Duke’s, said, “God bless you,” to Rosa, and headed out the door. Rosa called after him, “What’s your name?”

“Lemuel” was the reply.

The only thing better than a mater and sliced white bread and Duke’s Mayonnaise is when you add prayer – that’s a recipe hard to beat.

Lemuel had a business meeting a while later, prior to the meeting getting started he got to share about Rosa with a man he just met. Then a lady arrived to participate in the meeting who Lemuel did not know would be there, he was delighted to see her for it had been at least two years since they last met – she and Lemuel had prayed together before. She and Lemuel both smiled when they saw each other and embraced – the other meeting participants looking on and perhaps wondering, “How do they know each other?”


There is nothing quite like Duke’s mayonnaise. And…there is nothing quite like praying for and with others. If we can spread Duke’s on our sliced white bread, and spread the news about Duke’s to others…surely we can also spread care and concern and prayer in our daily lives. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lemuel and Rosa and Duke’s Mayonnaise – Part 3


Lemuel lifted a jar of sugar-free Duke’s Mayonnaise off the shelf and headed to the checkout area. The cashier at the first register had no customers so he walked up to her station, placed his bodacious Duke’s Mayonnaise on the counter, and as he was saying “Hi, how are you today?” he saw by her name tag that her name was Rosa.

You don’t meet a lot of ladies named Rosa today. When I think of the name Rosa I think of two Rosas, one is a lady I knew way back when who was the mother of my father, the other was Rosa Parks, who on December 1, 1955 refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL. I need to meet Lemuel’s Rosa so I can make the acquaintance of a third Rosa.

My grandmother was born in 1897, which is to confirm that she entered this world before I did. She passed away in 1974. That seems like a long time to live when you go from one century into another; but hey, look at me (and maybe you) – born in the 20th century and likely to leave here in the 21st century – if I make it until the 22nd century I sure hope they fully fund Social Security. One day a grandchild or great-grandchild may be writing the same thing about me – assuming that in the future folks can write coherent sentences; I believe Social Security has a better chance of surviving than literacy.

Rosa Anderson married Caskie Withers (born 1888) in 1912; that means, as I cypher it, that she was 15 years old – that seems awfully young, but that’s what the genealogy says. She and Caskie had their first child, Jean, in 1914. Caskie was in WWI, came home and died of pneumonia on December 30, 1929. 1929 was not a very good year for the country or for Grandmother Withers – she was pregnant with her last child, Aunt Christine, who was born in February 1930.  My daddy was born in 1925, Uncle John in 1927, Uncle Cleve in 1925, there was a baby James who died in 1924, and there were more who were born earlier. I guess in those days having babies at home wasn’t expensive like having them in the hospital. But seriously, it must have been a terrible thing when Rosa lost Caskie – the loss of her husband was bad enough, but think about all the little ones. I wish I really knew her story, but I don’t. When you get on in life you wish that you’d listened and asked questions when you were young and stupid – and when you get older and want to ask questions there is no one to ask.

I didn’t see much of Grandmother Withers growing up. She lived in Northern Virginia and we lived in Maryland. This was before beltways and superhighways and getting from “here to there” wasn’t always as easy as it is today. I know my Daddy went to live with Aunt Jean in D.C. before he went into the Navy in WWII. At some point Grandmother moved up to Northern Virginia from Nelson County, and all of her children except Christine lived in the Northern Virginia – D.C. area. Nelson County, where both of my grandparents were born, is where a few of my ancestors with various last names are from; it is also the backdrop for the “Waltons” in case you didn’t know – I think my family probably knew the Baldwin sisters.

I admire Rosa Parks, the woman had courage. Yes, I know she said she was just tired and wasn’t going to move, but the woman had courage. Mrs. Parks said, “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” We live in a world where no one can make up his mind and where no one knows what must be done – we live in a world of moral cowards, we need Rosa Parks to come back and lead us.

Back to our Mizz Rosa. Lemuel says, “We’re having BLTs tonight and I need to get me some Duke’s Mayonnaise. You can’t have a BLT without Duke’s and the missus won’t let me in the door without it.”

Mizz Rosa, a lady in her mid - to late 70s, smiled at Lemuel and said, “That is the truth, you gotta have Duke’s. I remember I once worked in an office where they didn’t know anything about tomato sandwiches, and they sure didn’t know noth’n about Duke’s. One day I went out to a roadside produce stand and got me some tomatoes, then I went to the store and got me some sliced white bread and Duke’s. I went back to the office and started to make me a mater sandwich. Everyone was looking at me not knowing what I was doing.

“ “What are you doing?” they was asking. I said, “I’m making a tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise.” They ‘aint’ never seen a tomato sandwich…can you believe that? Never seen such a thing...can you believe that? O my goodness. Well, I fixed my sandwich and was a eat’n it when I looked and one of them had two slices of bread out and was cutting one of my tomatoes and putting my Duke’s on the bread and then commenced to eat’n…eat’n my Dukes, my tomatoes, my sliced white bread. And then another started, and then another, and don’t you know that before it was over I didn’t have one tomato left.” 

As I listened to Lemuel’s story I couldn’t help but admire Mizz Rosa spreading culture in her workplace, whether she intended to or not. It sounds like she was gracious about it, which one would expect with a name like Rosa. I think the best way to win friends and influence people is with Duke’s Mayonnaise and some blues music along with bluegrass. Maybe if we dropped Duke’s Mayonnaise on folks out yonder in the Middle East along with blues and bluegrass and Hanover maters and sliced white bread they’d all get along a mite better. Don’t laugh, people with full stomachs tend to be more contented that folks looking for their next meal.  Come to think of it this program might work in our own country with folks a’be’n mean to one another and a’hurt’n one another – might even send some Duke’s up to Washington City in the District of Columbia.

As Lemuel and Mizz Rosa kept talking, with Mizz Rosa ringing up the mayonnaise and taking Lemuel’s money, and putting that sugar-free southern treasure in a bag Lemuel looked at Mizz Rosa and asked….

To be continued…



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

An Old Man On A Bench


As I was walking down a sidewalk, heading into a Kroger, I saw an old man sitting on a bench. He had a red and blue plaid newsboy cap on and his face was chiseled with decades of time. If his face were a phonograph record it would play the blues.

The bench once had advertising painted on it, but the peeling green paint on its slats made it indiscernible. The multicolor lettering was long gone, even its outline was now lost  - only flakes of paint here and there bore testimony to soap, or soda, or aspirin; the purchase of which promised to make life better - the bench was weathered and warped, the old man was weathered and bent.

His eyes saw me, he was aware of what was immediately surrounding him – but he was looking at something else, something I couldn’t see – his soul was looking through his eyes, beyond what I and other passersby could see. I had a sense that he was there and yet wasn’t there. I had a sense that I was intruding.

Reverently I said, “Good afternoon.”

He looked at me, through me, beyond me, and replied:

“When I die I will fly
And when I fly I will soar.
When I soar it will be above this old earth
And my troubles will be far below.”

I don’t think he was actually talking to me, I was just a witness in the sacred place of the old man, for I don’t think he was simply sitting on a bench; the bench was just a prop, a prop for a tired old soul in the tired old body of a tired old man.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5.