It is sometimes hard not to get sucked into the vortex of current events. As I write this post the United States is a week from our presidential elections. You can’t turn on your television without seeing non-stop political advertisements. Political ads are now popping up on-line everywhere as well so you can’t even escape them on your computer. Here in Iowa, which is a swing state, our phones are ringing off the hook with recorded messages and survey takers. Newspapers and television news media are talking about little else. To be honest, it’s all a bit of a crazy maker.
One of the things that I love about our daily trek through God’s Message is the much needed perspective it often provides. This morning provided a good reminder for me. The truth is that I hold dual citizenship. I am at once a life-time citizen of the United States and an eternal citizen of the Kingdom of God. Presidents will come and go every four to eight years and God will still be on the throne.
It’s easy to feel a certain amount of anxiety and fear when we’re in the climactic hoopla of a national election. This is especially true when advertisements from both sides are telling you that the alternative to their candidate is doomsday. Yet, God reminds us time and again to step back and remember that things are all ultimately subject to His eternal control.
Sweet. Which way to the nearest monastery? I think I’ll become a hermit for the next ten days or so.
Chapter-a-Day Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT)
For a kid raise in landlocked Iowa, God gave me a sailor’s heart. My mom will gladly share stories with you stories of my childhood when I wore a sailor’s hat all the time. I would go to bed with it on and even jumped into the pool a few times forgetting it was still on my head. Perhaps my sailor’s heart is why I can still remember the old sea shanty “Blow Ye Winds” that we learned in Mrs. Gross’ 3rd grade class at Woodlawn Elementary School. In fact, it came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter.
In case you didn’t hear about it, earlier this week an Italian court held two scientists guilty of manslaughter because they failed to accurately predict the severity of an impending earthquake. I can only imagine the ripple effect of this decision among scientists and meteorologists. Fearing the possibility that they might face legal challenges should they fail to predict the severity of an upcoming “act of God,” they will constantly cry wolf in a public game of C.Y.A. (aka: Cover Your A$$).
I often feel as if our culture has become one of fear, but we do it in the name of public safety. Schools start canceling classes, not because snow is actually falling, but because of the meteorologist’s threat. It’s as if our culture has become the helicopter parent who dresses her kid up like the marshmallow man because the temperature might just drop to freezing.
Forgive my little rant this morning, but I so appreciated the opening lyric of today’s psalm. Those who walk the path of faith are called to an eternal perspective that recognizes the sovereign designs of the Creator. Earthquakes and hurricanes will come, yet our trust should always trump our fear. I’m all for public safety and reasonable precaution, but I’m also against irrational fear and the cultural insanity it produces (remember Y2K?).
So blow ye winds of fortune, and blow ye winds heigh-ho! I’ll be alright.
Listen to me, O royal daughter; take to heart what I say. Forget your people and your family far away. Psalm 45:10 (NLT)
When it comes to family, I have come to believe that our life journey is a never ending process of separation and union. We get this picture at the very beginning of God’s Message when it says a man will leave his father and mother, the woman will leave her home, and the two will become one. Two individuals separate from their respective family systems. They cut the apron strings. They join together in spiritual, emotional, relational, and functional union and begin the process of establishing their own family system.
I have observed over time that many (if not most) conflicts and struggles in our lives, marriages, families, and communities can be traced back to a failure to get this process right. The system becomes over protective and possessive of the individual, and refuses to let the child go. The individual becomes to dependent on the system or the system becomes dependent on the individual. There is a refusal (often an unconscious one) to fully separate. Subsequent union with another individual can’t successfully be accomplished because one or both individuals are still entangled in their respective family systems.
Separation is not, however, alienation. It was never intended to be. As an individual, differentiated from my family system in a healthy way, I am now even more capable of returning and creating a new and different union with my family which is critical for that family system’s growth and continuous development. I am able to help the system continue the never ending process of refinement because I can approach it with a new, objective and healthy perspective.
From the time our daughters were young, I can best describe my approach to fatherhood as: “catch and release.” I sought to captivate my daughters’ with my love, but it was always with the knowledge and intention that I was preparing them for Father God to captivate them with His perfect love, and perhaps for another man who might someday captivate them and take them away from me. Despite my strong desire to cling and not let go, I realized that this was the way God designed it. For a critical stretch of their own journeys I was there to catch them in their stumbling and falling away. I was also there to constantly instill in them the truth that they were lovable, valuable and capable of more than they felt or knew, and to release them into the world to discover the truth of it for themselves. My job was to release, to launch, and to let go with the knowledge that they would return to me as even more capable individuals and we would both be the better for it.
Believe me, I have not been perfect. But then again, neither have my children, or my wife, my parents, my siblings or my in-laws. The process of separation and union inherently creates conflict, but my wife reminded me yesterday that conflict is not a bad thing. Conflict is a healthy part of the process of both individual and relational definition and development. It is the inescapable reality of living together and walking this journey together as imperfect people in a fallen world. Our shortcomings and failures in the process are a constant reminder of our need of both receiving and extending grace and forgiveness. We separate a loved one from their failures and embrace them with unmerited love. Separation and union. Catch and release.
Into this day, the process and the journey continue.
Last week while Wendy and I were on vacation, we enjoyed a wonderful evening on the campus of the University of Missouri. Dr. David Crespy had invited me to present my script Ham Buns and Potato Salad at the Missouri Playwrights Workshop (Since we own a place in Missouri, I guess I’m technically grandfathered in as a Missouri playwright). We arrived in the early evening and were treated to dinner with Dr. Crespy and some of his graduate students at The Heidelberg.
The workshop is very simple. Each Tuesday night students, professors and the public are invited to gather at the Student Union, read a script together, and then discuss it. While Ham Buns has been through a couple of informal readings locally, I was excited to get feedback and critique from both the theatrical and academic community who aren’t as familiar with the rural Iowa Dutch small town culture which provides the setting of the play. Admittedly, there is always a bit of nervousness when you present a script in an open public forum like this.
The reading went really well, and I was very pleased with the quality of the feedback I received. It was enjoyable for me to experience the laughter of the participants and to sense that they were falling in love with the characters. I got a lot of positive feedback. The characters and the story were well received and I was assured that it was an enjoyable show. For some time Wendy and I had felt that there were some things that were not quite right with the script but we hadn’t been able to articulate exactly what they were. The best thing that came out of the workshop for me was the feedback which clearly defined some of the vague weaknesses we’d felt but had been unable to define.
The 90 minute drive back to the lake from Columbia flew by as Wendy helped me process all of the feedback I’d received. I now have a laundry list of things to edit and some fairly major structural changes I need to make. That’s good. The workshop gave me clarity of what I need to do and a renewed vision for where I need to go with the script, and I’m confident that the result will be an even better show for audiences to experience.
A special thank you to Dr. Crespy for his hospitality and to the students of the University of Missouri for their encouragement and feedback. Write on!
Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Psalm 44:23 (NLT)
Go through almost any CD and you’ll generally find a wide mixture music. A fast paced, energetic song will be followed by an introspective ballad. The next song will have driving intensity and a powerful social message, but the following track will be a sweet song of love. Record producers know that you can’t put together a CD with ten tracks that all sound the same. Variety is the spice of life. As life’s journey contains both peaks and valleys, we need music to express the breadth of the human experience.
When reading through the book of Psalms, we can never forget that it is a catalog of musical lyrics. It was carefully compiled by ancient record producers. Like the CD that slides into the dashboard of our car stereo, the psalms contain a diverse selection of songs which speak to an immense variety of life circumstances.
Everyone experiences crushing defeat from time to time. The greatest sports teams of all time still lose some of the time. Watch the Biography Channel and you’ll see that every person who has reached the heights of success has had to experience tremendous loss on their way up. There is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory, and there is a time for defeat.
The lyric of today’s psalm come out of the confusion and questions which rise up in our hearts and minds after a crushing loss. In those acute moments of despair we remember past victories and when things were good. We feel the injustice of the defeat in light of our self-righteousness. We feel alone and abandoned as if God decided to sleep in and forget about us.
Music reminds us that we’re not alone. Turn up the blues and we find encouragement that others have been there before us. We sing along and our negative emotions find a healthy outlet of expression. Keep listening. Keep singing. The next track on the CD reminds us that these feelings of abandonment and despair are momentary. Better times are just a song away.
There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. Psalm 43:4a (NLT)
When it comes to giving gifts to our little friends, Wendy and I like to give books. It’s become kind of a thing with us in recent years as the number friends with small children proliferates. We’ve seen the frustration in parents eyes at birthday parties and at Christmas time. Their kids open yet another buzzy, blinky, beeping toy which will hold their child’s attention for a short time while increasing the din of noise pollution in their home to levels the EPA would condemn as hazardous to human sanity. Books, on the other hand, tend to become treasured keepsakes. They promote togetherness and family time. They entertain and inspire over and over and over again.
A few years ago we gave a book to one of our little friends and I scribbled an inscription on the inside the front cover. I later learned from his parents that their son requires them to read the inscription each time they read the book. Wow. How cool. Suddenly what I wrote for an inscription took on a new meaning and purpose.
This past weekend Wendy and I bought an “I Spy” book for a couple of young friends we were visiting. It was cool because it was made up of works of art from across centuries and artistic periods. Children can play I spy with their parents while learning about art. When it came time to write an inscription I wrote an encouragement to our young friends that while God’s Message promises that those who seek will find, it’s also important to be wise in where you choose to search. The choice of where you look determines the quality of the treasure you find.
I thought of my inscription and encouragement to our young friends this morning as I read the verse above. The author seeks out God’s mountain and searches out God’s altar to find God the “source of all my joy.” Every one of us want a little joy in our lives. Who doesn’t desire joy in the midst of today’s rat race. The question is: Where am I looking? What am I choosing to chase after in an effort to find it?
The choice of where you search will determine the quality of treasure that you find.
Wendy and I did just return from a vacation week in the “Show Me” state of Missouri. We headed south late on Friday afternoon and arrived at the Playhouse in the evening. My parents had been there the previous week and had discovered that a break-in had occurred. Burglars not only hit our house, but our neighbors as well. So the early part of our vacation was spent documenting what was missing and dealing with both the local authorities and the insurance company.
There is both good news and bad news in what we found. The good news is that we don’t keep a ton of expensive stuff at the lake. The tv, dvd player and clock radio can be easily replaced. Why the burglar(s) chose to take almost all of my clothes, including socks and underwear, feels a bit creepy and I don’t want to dwell too much on that. Again, the clothes I kept at the lake were mostly old stuff that can be replaced. The bad news is that we had a hand-made, custom acoustic guitar my brother had made which was also stolen. Yes, it is worth a lot of money but the reality is that it’s priceless because of the sentimental value. We’re praying that it shows up.
On Thursday we headed to Kansas City. Wendy and I had been in Kansas City a few years ago when I spoke at a conference there. We liked what we experienced the one night we were there and vowed that we would return to explore the city further. Wendy found us a gorgeous Carriage House rental in the Hyde Park district which proved to be perfectly and centrally located to what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go.
We hit several museums including the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the American Jass Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Art museum. On Friday night we went to the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts and enjoyed the KC Symphony, Chorus and Ballet doing Carmina Burana. We also, of course, enjoyed some great food. On Saturday night we met up with our friends Matt and Tara. Matt was in my youth group when I was a youth pastor many moons ago, and I had the privilege of officiating their wedding several years back. We had not seen them in a long time and we thoroughly enjoyed the four hours we spent sharing a delicious meal which included wild boar and bison meatballs and chocolate cake garnished with bacon. More importantly, it included life-giving conversation which filled us far more than the incredible food.
We found Kansas City to be a wonderful town. Wendy and I did not check everything off the list, so we definitely need to return!
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! Psalm 42:11 (NLT)
It’s not only Monday morning as I write this post, but it’s also the first morning back from a week of vacation. Wendy and I did what we hardly ever do, which is to try and unplug from work. Despite a few frantic e-mails and phone calls from work that I couldn’t ignore, I did pretty well at pushing the tyranny of the urgent to the back burner. It was refreshing, and I would be lying to you if I told you that I was really excited about the pile of e-mails, the pressing deadlines, and the dropped balls which I am facing this morning.
The thing that I noticed about today’s chapter is the juxtaposition of the questions “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” with the clear statements of determination “I will put my hope in God. I will praise him again.” The truth of the matter is that life is full of Monday mornings. The “back to work blues” is a familiar emotion. The important thing is not to exclude God from these moments, but to recognize God within them. When we choose to realize God’s presence in every moment – even a Monday morning back from vacation – and consciously decide to praise God in and through every circumstance, we find ourselves on the path toward both maturity and wisdom.