Cry-Away Home

"Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next." - Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

I don't know if you cry or not. I do. My dad does and I believe it's something I inherited from him. I'm thankful for that. I used to try and wipe them away, but now I just let 'em fall. God'll wipe them all away some day; until then, let gravity work it's magic. I'll cry at a good Hallmark commercial for Pete's sake. I've heard folks, over the years, dismiss that as a shallow sentimentalism. And each time I've heard that, I've braced myself, for what always comes next is someone being mean. I came across the quote from Buechner on Monday and quickly tried to recall the last "tears" experience I'd had. Here it is. Make of it what you will.

I took a break from writing Saturday and came upstairs to see what the family was doing. They had started a movie - Flyaway Home. It stars Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin as an estranged father/daughter combo who join forces to save a flock of geese by guiding them, via aeroplanes, to a refuge on the southern coast. It's not the greatest acting by any stretch and the plot if very predictable. But near the conclusion, I found myself crying.

Paquin's character has to fly the geese in by herself. Daniel's plane crashed and he gives her a "you can do this" speech and sends her off to complete their mission. As Paquin begins to soar with the geese beside her, the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter begins to play. The time sequences slow down considerably and what we're given is a "you can do this" music video of sorts. Chapin's gorgeous voice sings of the miles we all travel, while Paquin and the geese are backdropped by the marshlands at dusk.

Am I supposed to go to the marshlands or invest my life in geese salvation? Oh, I don't know. I don't think that was what was going on. I do know that my children were all around me and they're growing up faster than I'd like. And the old bird's having to let them do some stuff on their own from time to time. I can only go so far with them. But I always believe they can do it. And so far, they have. And allowing the young birds to fly on their own seems to cover a multitude of dad-sins that are committed daily. I can't tell you why that is, I just know it.

Flying away. But flying away home. It makes sense to this old bird. And it makes me cry. Add dusk (my favorite time of the day) and a Mary Chapin Carpenter ballad (another favorite of mine) to that truth and you've got a teary-eyed papa goose on your hands. I can't explain all the aspects of why that is...I just know it.

Good Trip

I just returned from a national pastors convention. I went this time as an editor for the publishing company I work for; prior to this year, I would have attended as a pastor. Then again, I still have pastoral residue in my bloodstream, so I guess there was some kind of dual citizenship stuff going on. I've always been uncomfortable in those convention-settings; there's usually a lot of posturing going on, people talking about what they're doing, folks worshipping speakers and authors like they're the Lord himself, and a I'm-going-to-let-my-hair-down-but-not-very-far attitude that just hangs in the air. It's probably like most conventions, but it's filled with pastors.

The time there reminded me of the number of things I dislike about that environment. I could list them all here and give you glorious justifications as to why they bug me and hopefully persuade you to join in a bitch-fest. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going tell you two things I was reminded of that I love about that environment.

First off, I love the reality that there are a few out there preaching and speaking and writing about what I consider to be the core of ministry. They've got some name recognition; however, I wonder sometimes if people are really listening or reading what they have to say. These brave souls are sharing about the narrow way without being narrow; it's a beautiful combination. A couple of names or so? Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, and Ruth Hayley-Barton. I probably didn't spell Ruth's name correctly, but she's gracious in that regard.

And secondly, I love the way God speaks to me when I attend those kinds of conventions. For some crazy-God-reason, he speaks to me in what's not going on at the convention as much as he's speaking to me in what is going on at the convention. One example. I love boxing. In the hotel room one morning, I was pleased to catch an episode of "Beyond the Glory" - it's an ESPN show about sports stars and their careers. That morning the focus was Sugar Ray Leonard. I love watching Sugar Ray box. Early in his career trajectory, Sugar Ray declared: "I don't have to be number one, I just want to be special." Wow. Thanks, God. I don't have to be number one in this life, but you know what? I do want to be special. Not in some look-at-me way, but in the sense that God created someone named John, a man special in his eyes, and I want to be that man.

Plain and Simple

The soundtrack for my morning commute was Pirates of the Caribbean. It's a lusty, swash-buckling, romp of kettle drums and big horns. In no time at all, you're transported to the deck of a ship or astride Shadowfax, engaged in dream-war against orcs and other fundamentalists (I live in Colorado Springs). Hero-music, plain and simple.

And then I was awakened from my day-commute-dreaming to see them: small people with backpacks and pants that are too long, with crazy hair and glorious smiles. Kids in a school-zone, plain and simple. But here are these children, these so fresh from God, crossing busy intersections and who will protect them from traffic and other possible harms? Why, the crossing guards; heroes, plain and simple.

They are evidently retirees. Their gait and posture reflect the years of life lived. This morning they were wrapped in a different kind of armor: down-Michelin-man type coats with small orange watch caps on their noggins. And their swords? Yep - the bold, red octagon of STOP. I watched as these heroes would stride into the fray, wielding their weapons of cease, and the danger would stop long enough for the children, these so fresh from God, to safely pass. These heroes would then return to their corner, awaiting another opportunity to protect the least of these.

I found myself weeping, for here were the pure of heart protecting the children from bigger people riding Vipers and Hummers, talking to no-one-that-important on cell phones or daydreaming of pirates and maidens while they should be paying attention. Here were the real heroes of the morning keeping watch over the ones that Jesus said, Oh, let'em come and they came. While some of us dream of heroics and others pose in heroic stances throughout the day over spreadsheets or in front of screens, these warriors brave the elements, eyes and ears a tip-toe, to ensure the safety of the little ones, so the little ones can continue to laugh and play and run and sing and dance for just a little while longer. Peyton Manning did perform well in the Super Bowl; but nothing like this. I salute you, crossing guards. Heroes, plain and simple. You are doing the work that really counts!

(there should be a title here...but there's not)

"Satan's seduction of our heart always comes in the form of a story that offers us greater control through knowing good and evil rather than the unknowns of relationship." -The Sacred Romance

I got up to run my three miles this morning and my body said, Let's not; I think I'm in hiberation or something. So I made my way to the button that makes the coffee start dripping and looked up to find my copy of The Sacred Romance. This is a book that I return to periodically; however, it's been a while since I've read it. I had placed a piece of paper, as a bookmark, on page 110, so I took that as a hint and started reading/sniffing for what God desired me to hear this morning.

Do I believe that Satan is trying to seduce our hearts? Yes, I do. And I further agree that it comes in the form of a story; a story offering greater control. The question I ask myself there is control of what? The author of those lines (Brent Curtis) lifts a finger and points at "control through knowing good and evil." A story is offered to me, or maybe chapters or paragraphs or even sentences, that paint the boundaries of this is good and that is evil. But the story God offers me is one of moving beyond those categories and trusting him in that incredibly loaded word "relationship."

Now for some of us, that's enough right there for the brain to freeze up and say, Let's not; go run three miles instead. To talk about NOT trying to know good and evil and then talk about trying TO know God is contradictory at best and blasphemous at worst. But that's focusing on the what and there's a word that proceeds that focus in Brent's sentence - control.

Listen as Curtis continues: "Life is gained by appropriating what we can see with our own eyes...Jesus invites us to thirst. Satan invites us to control through performance of one kind or another."

I'm gonna self-reflect here, so if any of you have clearer insight, then please let me know...or at least, pray for me. I run to keep my heart in good shape. I love doing it and I believe God gains pleasure from seeing me run. But if I'm not careful, I can buy into the storyline that consistent exercise gives me some modicum of control in my life; so the question becomes, "Am I running to keep control or am I running because I love it?" "If I stop running, do I feel...out of control?" That's a fine line somedays and I'm sure they blur often. Or do they? If "running" is a goofy example, then forgive me. But maybe that's where it starts; the seduction of our hearts with the things we deem "good" or "evil" and the supposed control we have over them.

One more and the post is over: "When the adversary is involved, the intensity of feelings provoked by the everyday occurrences of life can be compared to gasoline poured on a fire." Everyday running and traffic and paying bills and interacting with people and helping kids do homework and visits from your mother-in-law. The control voice says to end this post with a take away or wrap-up, some kind of concluding thought. But in this moment, I don't know what to say and I won't be seduced.