Friday, April 29, 2016

Muddy Waters

Help me learn the art of waiting until the time is right. Melody Beattie

News Flash: I’m outside the communications mainstream. I’m too much a bird-brain to fit into the Twitter-verse, and for a long time I thought Insta-Gram referred to the moment a grandmother dropped in to visit her grandchildren. I am aware of that thing online that is called Facebook, but back in the day, if I used the term, it usually meant I fell asleep at the library while studying, and that was the volume that separated my face from the table.

Life changes, though – sometimes quickly, and sometimes slowly. I think I prefer a quick pace. I know I don’t like to wait, and I certainly don’t like to dawdle.

When I am on my way somewhere, the people driving in front of me are always going about one mile per hour slower than I want to. It’s not so much that I am in a hurry, but our car is small, and it is hard to see around those rigs against which the Big Sky seems to shrink a little in comparison.

I hope you realize that when I go around you on the road, it isn’t because you are too slow; I just want to see what’s holding you up!

But getting back to patience – if you’re still with me, I’m glad you tarried – I’ve found that if the time isn’t right for something to happen, nothing I do will make it right and, in fact, may make it worse or delay it more.

When I was called to serve as the pastor for a couple of congregations here in Madison County, I couldn’t wait to get out here and get started.

I packed up the truck with all my essentials and tore across the seven hundred-plus miles from Tacoma. As I was approaching Missoula I received a text message from my wife (and yes, I violated safety protocols by taking a quick glance at the phone while driving – a practice I strongly discourage; please do as I say and not as I do). She suggested I may have left a tad too quickly; I’d left for Montana without my bag of unmentionables!

You could say I was “SOL” (Sorta Outa Luck); I know I did! Fortunately, I had planned on stopping in Missoula for fuel, so I added a nearby clothing outlet to my itinerary and all was well in the end, so to speak.

But that’s what can happen when one is in a hurry. Beattie (quoting from her book, The Language of Letting Go) says, “If the time is not right, wait. If the way is not clear, do not plunge forward. If the answer or decision feels muddy, wait.”

Speaking of mud, nothing illustrates the art of waiting like making a pot of coffee.

We have a drip coffee maker that is quite the kidder. If you don’t seat the basket properly, the grounds and water will back up like in the times of Noah and the flood. You’ll end up with sludge in the carafe and throughout the coffee maker.

There’s a signal to let you know the coffee’s ready, but when you get there the steam rising from the burner beneath the pot of chewy water almost sounds like it’s laughing with an asthmatic hhheeeeee.

So I’ve found it is very important to seat the basket securely and snugly into its slot. That’s not easy to do when one needs that first cup of coffee to function properly.

Speaking of mud, water, and proper functioning, I must also admit to being a grammar-fiend.

The other day my wife and I were out for a walk; she looked at our yard and said, “We’re going to need to start watering the lawn. It looks thirsty.”

Now, when she says “we” need to do something, I’ve generally found that the “we” in her case is intended to be singular and not plural, and that about half of the parties under consideration are not being considered at all, but that’s OK.

Some people see what needs to be done, and others need help to see what needs to be done. Better to water the lawn than correct the grammar, eh?

Now I can’t hardly wait to see what WILL be done here in this, our valley.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Big Hairy

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Abraham Lincoln

One morning I was in the church yard glancing up at Fan Mountain. She was certainly out in all her glory. The peak was capped in fresh snow, glistening in the sunlight. The sky behind her was so clear and blue you could almost see the stars beyond.

I stood staring, but the reverie of the moment was broken when a big hairy scary dude wandered across the lawn toward me. He was gargantuan, and was covered in long, ginger hair (not unlike that of those Highland cows you see periodically). He looked like Cousin It – only from the uglier, seamier side of the It clan.

I was fairly alarmed, and must have said so as the stranger replied, “You’re skeered, eh?” (“Skeered” – that’s how he pronounced it). “You have reason to be skeered,” he continued. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”

He appeared to be sneering at me from behind the hairy haystack that hung where his head should be. My knees were shaking, but I knew I dared to show no fear to this hombre, so I gritted my teeth with grim determination and stood tall and brave like Marshall Dillon on the outside, while feeling more like Barney Fife on the inside.

“I suggest you build yourself a fortification,” said the stranger, most reasonably.

I looked around, but I had nothing I could use to build a fort or shelter, or even that I could use as a weapon against this fearsome Hairy Scary Dude.

He perceived my consternation, disappeared for a few moments, and then returned with some lumber and tools. Before I could say, “One, two, buckle my shoe,” the two of us began to build a beautiful fence of immense proportions. His carpentry skills were marvelous (against which mine paled in comparison).

“Nothing will get over or around that,” I said with some pride when we had finished.

Big Hairy Scary Dude simply nodded in agreement, adding, “It appears you now have a Wall sufficient to keep out what skeers you.”

But then I stepped back and looked at the great fence and noticed how it now blocked my view of both the mountains and valley. It was gorgeous and effective as a barrier, but it fenced me in every bit as much as it fenced out the world!

I didn’t know what to do, but unbeknownst to me, the Big Hairy Scary Dude had a plan. “Give me a hand,” he said, and we picked up the fence and set it down face-up on a series of sawhorses.

As soon as we had done that, people began to gather from every direction. Each brought a dish to share and began setting the table, which soon groaned under the weight of the bounty that was brought. The fence-cum-table was covered with a beautiful linen cloth and adorned with yellow bees-wax candles (which flickered under the evening stars), and bouquets of the most fragrant lilacs, blue-bells, and baby’s breath flowers.

People sat down and as I looked around, I saw the Big Hairy Scary Dude sitting with folks from every community of faith and civic organization; and he was sitting with the morally upright and the ethically suspect; and he was sitting with both family and friends on the one side, and with strangers and n’er-do-wells on the other. He was sitting with children and elders, and with newborns and the dying – and he was seated with everyone simultaneously!

I wondered aloud how he could do that, and asked him his name.

He smiled, and as he did, his hairy coat began to fall away, and he began to shine more brightly than the noon day sun and with the effervescent smile of the Wonderland’s Cheshire cat he said, “I AM Yeshua ben Nazareth.”

With that, he disappeared and I awakened.

I came to believe in my heart what I had long suspected: this world doesn’t need bigger and better fences or walls, but a people willing to extend their tables to make room for all who hunger and thirst; for when all is said and done, the ultimate reality is that a Big Hairy Scary Dude called God has made and set a splendid table for ALL in this, our valley (and beyond).

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Horse Sense

"If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone." John Maxwell

Computers are a wonderful thing. 

I have always enjoyed them, and especially I have appreciated their odd little quirks and issues that arise from time to time.

I enjoy the thrill of the hunt – having a problem crop up that requires a solution if one is going to continue using the digital beast.  It’s nice knowing that when all else fails, we’ve always got Ctrl+Alt+Del!

A while back I found myself losing the internet fairly regularly so that it became apparent that our DSL modem was on its last legs.  I went out and bought a new combination modem-router and, with fear and trembling, removed the old units and installed the new one and – lo, it worked.  Not only that, it seems to be much fast than what we had before.  Better yet, I didn’t have to resort to Ctrl+Alt+Del.

For that I am thankful.

One of the problems I’ve found with new computers and new operating systems is that they are much more stable.  Having fewer problems may seem like a good thing, and yet I find that my ability to locate the source of a problem – when one finally rears its ugly little noggin – is that I have a hard time remembering how to find the solution.

I remember there’s a way – but I can’t find the path without doing a lot more digging and hacking.

Most of us, I think, would like to go through life with few (if any) trials and tribulations, and yet it seems that the struggles we endure on a daily basis, whether those problems are large or small, help keep us fresh and loose and more functionally fit.

Robert Louis Stevenson once said that we need to “sit loosely in the saddle of life.”

I think it is pretty good advice.  I’ve not ridden horses much in my life.  In fact, I’ve only tried it once, and I was definitely loose in the saddle.  We were quite a syncopated mess out there on the trail.  Since I had the rein and was on top, I think I was supposed to be in charge, but the horse sure didn’t seem to recognize my authority.

Staying loose is important, though.  It helps to maintain balance by staying flexible, and being able to maneuver come what may.

Jesus once asked the question: Why do you fret over so many things?  Can worry add an inch to your height or extend your time on earth?  Each day has enough worries of its own.  Trust God to know what you need, and relax (very loosely paraphrased).

When we worry about things over which we have no control – like the economy, the weather, or the people who surround us on every side – we can’t help but get uptight.  We can’t help but bounce up in the saddle when the horse is dropping down, and bouncing down hard in the saddle as the horse is coming up.  The ride becomes most unpleasant because a horse and rider out of sync is just a horse with a problem.

It is important to be able to ride out life’s little storms and recognize that most of them are just that – little.  There’s not a whole lot to get upset about or fret over.  The economy will do whatever it is going to do regardless of what I put into it or try to take out of it.  The sun will shine, or the clouds will gather no matter how hot or cold my attitude may be on any given day.  People will do whatever it is they do, and think whatever they think, and feel whatever they feel pretty much regardless of my own input.

So, why not just sit loose in the saddle and enjoy the ride?  Be prudent regarding finances and weather, but don’t be alarmed; be alert to the needs of those around you, but not consumed by them. 

If we can bring our own lives under control, wouldn’t that be a move in the right direction?  Wouldn’t that make life better for everyone?

Until then, we can just horse around until we’ve figured it out in this, our valley.