Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stepping Lively in the Valley

Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more … (or) to make God love us less. Philip Yancey

I had the pleasure of taking in a clergy conference near Prescott, Arizona recently. During the course of the conference I learned that people are encouraged to maintain physical fitness for their health and well-being. That sure made sense until they suggested that a fitness regimen might include such things as walking or doing things.

It was even suggested that a person ought to strive to get in 10,000 steps each day and, to indicate how serious they were that we should do so, the conference leaders even gave us each a small pedometer to wear on our belts. Well, I can certainly belt out a tune, but was highly offended that they would try to make us walk more by giving us such a tawdry bribe as that.

I assured them that I am as fit as a fiddle, although I wouldn’t want to play any fiddle that was built like me – and I certainly don’t want anyone pulling my strings. It’s bad enough when they push my buttons.

Anyway, I have tried wearing the pedometer with me wherever I go and have discovered that it is extremely limited; it seems not to be aware of how much work I do at my desk.

I may not be active in the academic sense of the word, but certainly I get quite a bit of exercise. I jump to conclusions; I punch out sermons; I take a Leap of Faith getting up each morning; I run my mouth every day of the week and twice on Sundays. All that has GOT to count for something, doesn’t it?

But my poor pedometer just doesn’t understand my kind of activity. It is very imperfect that way. In fact, I sometimes have to shake it just so I can read the display – and need I tell you there is a bit of exercise involved in just sucking in my six pack abs so I can see that tiny little device down there on my belt. What’s THAT all about? Shouldn’t they have designed a larger pedometer just so the walker could look svelte in comparison? Where the heck was their Marketing Team when THAT design came down for review?

Well, the fact is that maybe I could stand to be a bit more active. While I do have abs of steel, the steel is more like the soup that sloshes around in the bowl at the smelter than the hardened variety one finds at the end of the line. Perhaps it is time to examine my physical regimen more carefully and begin adjusting my work-a-day habits so as to involve a bit more movement.

Why should I take better care of my body? Well, for one thing, it’s the only one I’ve got.

I’ve got plenty of clothes I can change into if I get wet or dirty, but I’ve only got this one carcass. It’s got to last until I’m done with it. So there is that.

For another thing, it’s a gift from God. How I treat it indicates to some degree just what I think of the giver, eh? If I toss a gift into a drawer and forget it, or never use it or wear it, that says something.

The best way to say “thank you” is to put the gift to work for its intended purpose. We don’t strut our stuff for the world to ogle at; stepping lively is simply a friendly wave to God above – a simple thanks to our God of love.

I think one’s spiritual life is like that, too.

To be spiritually fit requires spiritual exercises, such as getting up and going to church, breaking open the Bible (and reading it), praying, and finding things to do that promote the peace and well-being of the community.

It has nothing to do with being better than one another – morally superior or any of that guff. It has to do with recognizing we are spiritual beings as much as physical beings, and all things work together for those who love God, and who are called according to God’s purpose – and that purpose is grace, forgiveness, and walking peaceably with God and neighbor in this, our valley.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hooked in the Valley

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken – Oscar Wilde

I went to visit a parishioner the other day. When I approached her house I was greeted by a swarm of flying critters. It turns out they were salmon flies (or a close relative), and the good news is they aren’t carnivorous – otherwise I would have been a goner in a matter of seconds.

I have no idea what they were doing around her house. She doesn’t live all that close to the river and her house isn’t blue, so it didn’t make sense for the creatures to be swarming her home the way they did. I was surprised the fish didn’t leave the stream to go chasing after those protein-rich wing-dings, but such is life.

I karate chopped my way through them and it turned out to be good exercise. Even though they aren’t a biting insect, they were quite pesky. When I was done with my visit I remembered I had left my truck windows down partially (as it was warm) and was afraid I would have to do battle with those rascally varmints while I was “on the fly”, but fortunately only one of the beasties had bothered to enter the truck, and she left when she saw me climb in. I suppose I wasn’t her type, although I did “shag flies” as a kid back in the day.

The flies helped explain the sudden influx of outdoor-types to our local eatery. I had gone in for our usual church-men’s breakfast at Yesterday’s CafĂ© and the place was packed. I had no idea who the strangers were, and upon reflection they certainly did look like folks who would delight in walking the length, breadth, and depths of the Madison  River in rubber waders in hopes of snagging some aquatic denizens of the finned variety.

Why anyone would choose to stand on a riverbank or in the river while being swarmed by bugs is beyond me. I confess I just don’t “get” angling. As a child, I enjoyed fishing Puget Sound with my brother. We were always catching something – rock cod, flounders, soles, dogfish, and the like – so we were never bored, but neither did we eat what we caught. The quality of marine life from the Sound wasn’t all that trustworthy, so we just tossed them back (and they no doubt thanked Poseidon for the grace extended “to” them – and for not having grace said “over” them).

I am reminded of Jesus once saying to some of his early disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Of course, folks in his day didn’t use hooks, lines, reels, and casting rods; they used nets.

I’m sure Jesus wasn’t thinking of Catch and Cook (or even Catch and Release), but intended the metaphor to go deeper than that. Otherwise the world – like any trout worth its salt – would be wise to be cautious.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about how people interpret that Fishers of Men imagery.

“You catch ‘em, God cleans ‘em” goes the old bumper sticker, but that doesn’t sound all that inviting, does it?

It’s as if what’s meant is that God intends to gut you and eat you, hmmm? I know it is a play on words (clean, as in wash up, versus clean as gutting and boning), and yet it makes it sound like we “believers” can’t believe God can stand the sight or smell of you until God’s had a chance to fix you up, and that hardly qualifies as “Good News” (i.e. Gospel).

Jesus said, “God loves you.” He didn’t add strings or fine print to the deal.

I think churches, like the kingdom of God, should be places where people can come to be fed – not to become the main course; where people can find joy and happiness – not be objects of judgment or ridicule; where people can live into their passions – not just fit into slots.

Maybe Jesus, who said, “This is my Body, eat; this is my Blood, drink,” was suggesting we should be flies – not hooks – drawing all people from out of the depths, providing safe haven for all who’re floundering, as well as food and drink for the nourishment soul and body.

The fish are hungry and God has given us wings; that’s how it should be in this, our valley.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bats O'er the Valley

Talk will not boil rice – Chinese Proverb

Well, it finally happened. I had to take a business trip this past week and the only reasonable way to travel was by air. I am not overly fond of air travel. It’s not that I object to being scrutinized by the TSA. The men and women in blue at our regional airports appear to be well-trained professionals, quite courteous, efficient at processing all sorts and conditions of ticketed passengers and their full-bodied massages are NOT to be missed.

No, the problem with air travel is not the security, but the means by which it takes place. As we all know, airlines have made certain cutbacks to keep costs down. Passengers are granted access to seats just slightly wider than the small end of a baseball bat (and with about as much cushioning as a two-ply bathroom product might provide).

My trip to Arizona was uneventful. I was treated to a cup of coffee with about the amount of flavor as the third or fourth use of any one scoop of budget-grade coffee might be expected to provide in a twelve cup pot. If the cup had been glass instead of Styrofoam, I believe I would have been able to read the in-flight magazine through it.

I am sure Juan Valdez himself should have parked his donkey on the side of his coffee-growing mountain and addressed the flight attendant in a strongly worded infomercial about his handpicked products being so badly misused, but alas, he has apparently been grounded (an ironic end for a coffee farmer). Perhaps they discovered he was just a washed up old has-bean, which would explain why we haven’t seen him in any coffee commercials in ages. Or maybe he and Mrs. Olson eloped and ran away to Java. Who can know such things?

Outside of the coffee issue, though, the trip was pleasant. Sitting on my bat, I thought about baseball and wondered how my Mariners were doing. I shouldn't have bothered. The good news is they are only two games out of first place in their division. The bad news is that it appears they will be twenty games out by the end of August. Oi vei!

I was going to watch a movie on my tablet but the drone of the plane’s engines made that impossible. Even on full volume, I couldn't hear the dialogue or music. I am sure I would have liked the movie. It included some of my favorite actors and actresses and appeared to have some comedic moments, as well as spots of profound meaning and revelations of deeper truths. I didn't have access to closed captioning, so ended up putting my electronic device back into my carry-on bag.

I will also tell you I tried watching the film later at the airport, but the noise of people coming and going, and the constant reminders not to leave packages unattended or to not accept packages from complete strangers also impeded my movie watching pleasures. I may have to invest in those special noise-canceling headphones some day, but have no idea if they would work any better than what I was using.

So, the flight down was flavorless, noisy, and uneventful.

Such goes life. It has its ups and downs. No matter how poorly we may consider an experience, it helps us appreciate more what we have when that experience has ended. If it was good, we are left with happy memories; if it was hard, then we are relieved when it has ended.

I think that was some of what the apostle Paul meant when he said he really didn’t let things get him down. When in prison, he and his companions belted out their songs of faith; when flogged, beaten, stoned and left for dead, Paul was glad it was for sharing Good News, and not for some sordid crime (like murder).

While we like to think good things happen to good people and bad things to bad, the fact is there is often no correlation between the two. We simply keep our seat belts fastened, roll through the turbulence with our insipid beverages of choice, and rejoice when we land. I rejoice in its landing for that tells me I’m nearly home!

Anyway, I’m just glad to be off the small end of the bat in this, our valley.