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Shades of Schadenfreude

[Jonah] prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
Jonah 4:2 (NIV)

As I get older, I’ve grown to enjoy etymology, the study of words and their origins. I find it fascinating how these building blocks of communication become part of our everyday conversations, and how they wax and wane in popular usage. I also find it fascinating how cultures ascribe certain significance, power, and meaning to certain words, while others don’t. Our kids in Scotland have a few great anecdotes about uncomfortable social moments when they discovered that a word they used, which has a benign meaning in the States, has a very different meaning in the U.K.

There is a word I first noticed a few years ago, and I’ve found that it’s growing in popularity: schadenfreude. It’s a compound German word that comes from the root words meaning “harm” and “joy“. It means to take pleasure in another’s person’s misfortune.

There certainly is a natural and rather harmless way that we enjoy seeing the bad guy get his comeuppance. I was one of the many who watched the entire series Game of Thrones. The series was masterful in creating really bad characters who I wanted to see come to a nasty, bitter end and was happy when it eventually happened.

At the same time, there is a dark side of schadenfreude that I feel like I’m witnessing more and more in our current culture. It’s not enough to disagree with another person’s political, religious, or social worldviews, we have to publicly call them names and post antagonizing memes on social media. Just last night I found myself shutting off social media and walking away. I realized how mean-spirited the posts were that I was reading and it wasn’t having a positive effect on my psyche or my feelings towards others.

In today’s final chapter of the story of Jonah, we finally learn what was at the heart of Jonah’s mad dash to flee from what God had asked him to do. Jonah didn’t want God to be gracious and merciful with his enemies. Jonah wanted to wallow in schadenfreude and watch his enemies, the Assyrians, suffer.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took five common statements about matters of relationship and then told His followers He was raising the bar. Jesus’ expectation for me as a follower is that I behave in a way that goes against the grain of common human behavior:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”
Matthew 5:43-47 (MSG)

Reading Jonah’s story this week has caused me to do some real personal introspection. You can see it in the common ways my posts have ended the past few days.

As I was reading about the etymology of the word schadenfreude, I learned that many cultures and languages have a word that means the same thing. I recognize that there is a relatively harmless pleasure that I take when my favorite team’s rival loses. C’est la vie. I don’t, however, want to wake up someday and find myself in Jonah’s sandals. Following Jesus means loving, even those people who wish to see me suffer; Even those who actually act on it.

“Forgive them. They don’t realize what they’re doing.”

God, make me more like that.

The Aftermath of Life’s Unexpected Transitions

Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:2 (NIV)

A year or two ago our daughter shared with us the news that the company she works for had been sold. The news caught Madison and her fellow employees by surprise. In her initial shock, she naturally wondered what this would mean for her, her employment, and ultimately her career.

In my own career I’ve had the experience of working with multiple companies who have been acquired. So, I talked Madison through what she would likely experience. “Nothing is going to change” is usually the initial mantra, followed by transitional leadership in the executive and upper management ranks. I’ve also noticed that the first year after an acquisition there is usually a natural exodus of employees looking for, and finding, other employment before they can be laid off or experience the changes they fear are coming. Cultural changes are often the first things to be noticed on the front-lines. Significant changes in structure and operations often start, if they start, about 12-18 months after the sale.

I talked through my observations with Madison and discussed her options. It was another one of those forks in life’s road that I wrote about on Friday, when one asks “Should I stay or should I go?”

In today’s chapter of Jeremiah, we read about a very different kind of transition. The chapter continues to tell of the aftermath of Babylon’s hostile takeover of the nation of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Just as there is a pattern I’ve observed in what happens after a business acquisition, there was also a similar pattern to how ancient empires handled the aftermath of their successful siege victories. The King of Babylon and his army take the best and brightest captive back to Babylon to celebrate victory He leaves behind a governor and small military contingent to manage the mostly old, poor, and destitute citizens who are left in the area.

In all of the destruction, chaos, and transition there remains among those Judean citizens left a heady mixture of fear, anxiety, rage, and opportunism. A distant member of the royal line of Judah takes out a vendetta against the new governor appointed by the Babylonians. He arranges dinner with the new Governor, and then assassinates the Governor and his guard, taking the rest of the household captive.

An army officer and his men form a posse and chase after the assassin and his men. They rescue the captives, but the assassin and most of his crew escape. Realizing that they could easily be held accountable by the King of Babylon for allowing the governor’s assassination, the army officer and his men make plans to flee to Egypt. Talk about a whole lot of chaos.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions that I’ve experienced along my life journey that were out of my control. Transitions in family circumstances, unexpected tragedies and death, transitions in church leadership, transitions of companies for whom I worked, and transitions in organizations with whom I was involved. Transitions are a natural part of life. When they come suddenly and unexpectedly they create a certain disorientation among those effected. With the disorientation there can be all sorts of chaos and crazy-making. It’s that disorientation and subsequent chaos Jeremiah chronicles in today’s chapter.

Personally, I’ve learned that managing these times of unexpected transition requires drawing on faith and spiritual resources I’ve built up along my journey. First, I draw upon my faith that I can trust God amidst my present circumstances. God has led me thus far, and there’s no reason to stop trusting that God will continue to lead me because of an unexpected curve in the road. Second, I have confidence in what I’ve been promised. God is not going to leave me or forsake me. I can cast all my anxieties and fears on God and trust God’s plan for my life journey. Third, I have good companions who will walk with me, listen to me, encourage me, and remind me of what I know to be true even when I’m tempted to forget.

I can’t always control life’s transitions, but I can develop the spiritual and relational reserves necessary to handle the transitions when they come.

A Spring Weekend in So Cal

It’s been a week since my last post and I’ve been on a bit of an unexpected hiatus. Last Thursday Wendy and I arose at 3:30 a.m. to catch an early flight to southern California for a long holiday weekend. We spent Thursday and Friday in La Jolla where we had a chance to spend some get-to-know-you time with our company’s newest Board member and his lovely wife.

Winter seems determined to hold its icy grip on Iowa, and so it was lovely to enjoy the warmth of the California sun. After checking into our room at the La Valencia, we got to stroll along the ocean in La Jolla and watch the seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. We enjoyed some amazing gelato at Bobboi Natural Gelato as we walked, and ended up at the back deck of We Olive & Wine Bar where we enjoyed a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate as we looked out over the ocean. Tony and Joy joined us for a few minutes to make introduction and secure the plans for the evening.

We dined Thursday evening at Catania where we sat on the deck and watched the sun set over the ocean as we dined. Thoroughly enjoyed our meal and conversation with Tony and Joy. After dinner we strolled through some of the galleries in La Jolla. One of the galleries was dedicated to the work of Dr. Seuss, who lived and worked in La Jolla. We learned that La Jolla was the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ “Hooville.” There was also an amazing National Geographic gallery in which their award winning photography was transformed into amazing works of art. By the time we got to bed it had been a 20 hour day.

On Friday morning we had breakfast at Starbucks before rejoining Tony and Joy. Joy and Wendy spent most of the morning in a local book store while Tony and I talked business in his office. We gathered back together late in the morning spent some time chatting on their rooftop deck before enjoying lunch together at George’s at the Cove. After lunch Wendy and I checked out and headed to Palm Springs.

Traffic was completely nuts, so Google Maps took us on a circuitous route through the backroads of So Cal. What would have been a 2.5 hour trip without traffic ended up being about 3.5 hours and we arrived in Palm Springs about 5:30. We dropped off our rental at the airport where friends Kevin and Linda picked us up. We dropped our bags off at their place and then headed to the Tropicale for dinner.  We adjourned back to Kevin and Linda’s for a nightcap and cigar on their deck.

On Saturday we enjoyed a lazy morning with Kevin and Linda. Kevin and I did a read through of Freud’s Last Session by the pool. We headed to Maracas for lunch. We’d been there last year and fell in love with their queso with chorizo. We’d really looked forward to having it again and weren’t disappointed. Wendy and went to the hat shop and bought new chapeaus (I think that’s going to be a tradition!). We napped in the afternoon and then got ready for dinner at Il Giardino. We strolled up the strip after dinner and grabbed Ben and Jerry’s for dessert before retiring back to Kevin and Linda’s for the requisite conversation and night cap on their deck.

We were up early on Sunday and spent a long Easter Sunday flying back to Iowa.

It was a wonderful weekend, though I’m learning that age is catching up with me. The long days and short nights took more of a toll than I expected. It’s taken a few days of extra sleep to get caught back up and my morning quiet time and chapter-a-day routine has been sacrificed. Hoping to get back into the normal routine starting tomorrow!

Refreshing

I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also.
1 Corinthians 16:17-18a (NIV)

Wendy and I just arrived safely home from a short week at the lake. This past weekend was what has become an annual rite of early summer for us, as we spent the weekend with our friends at the lake. The agenda is very loose, but no matter the activities the entire time is woven with great food, great drink, and great conversation. I will admit that my body arrived home a tad sore and short on sleep, but my spirit was completely refreshed.

In this morning’s chapter, Paul makes the final remarks of his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth. Three men from the Corinthian believers had traveled to meet Paul, presumably to hand him the letter to which he references and is responding in this response. Paul remarks that his spirit was “refreshed” by their visit and letter. This is a common word that Paul liked to use. He used it again in his subsequent letter to the Corinthian believers. He also used it as he corresponded with believers in Rome, in a letter to his protege Timothy and in a letter to Philemon.

We all need times of being refreshed. Our life journeys are filled with stretches that deplete us in multiple ways. Life is often a slog. We tap into spiritual, emotional, and relational reserves in order to press on with each daily trek. Over time, it’s easy for our tanks to run empty. We need to be refreshed.

I also find it interesting this morning that each time Paul references being “refreshed” it is always in reference to a relationship. It’s another person or persons who have refreshed him. I am reminded of the word picture Jesus gave his followers when He washed their feet. Their bodies were clean, Jesus reminded them, but their feet get dirty from walking in the world each day. They needed Jesus to wash their feet, but He knew that He was soon going to physically leave this world. Jesus knew that His followers would need to wash each other’s feet after His ascension. We need the refreshment of having another human being who listens to us, laughs with us, loves on us, and lightens our emotional load for a few days. We need others to fill our spiritual, emotional, and relational tanks for the next stretch of the journey.

This morning I am thankful for a host of good friends with whom Wendy and I share life’s journey. I’m thankful for friends who refresh us and fill our tanks. I hope to refresh others as well as I have been refreshed.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Latest 05-01-2016

This past week was a bit of a return to normal after the long slog of production on Almost, Maine and then a long week on the road. I feel like I’m still trying to catch up on rest. Unfortunately, this week wasn’t much help as we ramped up to celebrate my 50th birthday.

The early part of the week was focused on getting caught up on work in the home office. Mom Hall came down to Pella on Monday to help us get ground cover on the flower bed (currently a weed bed) in the front of the house. I’ve had to mow a couple of times this week. Our new lawn (planted last fall) is still patchy. I’m not very good with green things. I’ve had a “brown thumb” my whole life. Almost every time I’ve tried to grow botanical things they die. So, I’m trying to do right by the lawn and do it right.  I can tell you that mowing a half-acre lot with my trust Lawn-Boy push mower takes a little more time and effort than our old postage stamp lawn on Columbus.

Me and a baby goat.
Me and a baby goat.

Mid-week I had to make a quick turnaround trip to northwest Iowa for business. My co-worker, Nick, is from that neck of the woods and I got treated to some local hospitality with a trip to the farm for steak dinner. I even got to meet the baby goats and the chickens in the barn. I also got a quick visit with friends Trav and Julie Else. It’s been so fun to reconnect with them since the old days at Westview when I played on Julie’s worship team and we were in “Supper Club” together.

The biggest focus of the week was my 50th birthday on Saturday. We actually started celebrating on Friday afternoon. I had a Board Meeting for work mid-day, then knocked off and we joined up with Kev and Beck. Becky’s birthday was Friday the 29th, and Kevin’s birthday had just been on April 17th. The past few year’s we’ve made a tradition out of celebrating all three birthdays together. The girls went for pedicures and to do some shopping. Kevin and I met at Casa Roose to watch the Cubs and enjoy a few birthday stogies on the patio.

The girls returned and the four of us headed to downtown Des Moines for drinks and dinner at Malo. It was an enjoyable time as we exchanged cards and gifts and consumed the scrumptious latin edibles. After dinner we stopped by the Plaza Pub to visit with some old friends of Kev and Beck. We capped off our birthday celebration at Casa Roose with a nightcap. It was the wee hours when Wendy and I returned home and got to bed.

Weather certainly did not cooperate with our birthday plans. The entire midwest was socked with perpetual rain and chilly temperatures. For my 50th Wendy had planned a baseball themed party for a handful of our good friends. The plan was to party here at Vander Well Pub while we watched the Chicago Cubs playing an afternoon game against the Braves. Those who wanted to join us would then head to Des Moines for the Iowa Cubs game against the Colorado Springs Skysox. The blanket of rain across the upper midwest resulted in both games being postponed.

The party commenced as scheduled. We put on the recording of Jake Arrieta throwing a no-hitter last week. Wendy did an amazing job with the baseball themed party. We had hot dogs, peanuts, cracker jack, snack pizza, and chips with salsa. Then there were the cupcakes she made to look like baseballs and a sundae bar. We ate  way too much!

We had specified “no gifts” but it was generally ignored. Let’s just say that the bar at Vander Well pub is better stocked than it had been before the party. The Parkers and Vande Lunes also went together on a framed poster of Shakespearean insults. It was perfect and will have an honored spot among the decor (which we still haven’t hung). I felt both blessed and honored by all of the cards and wishes I received in the mail and on social media. It was a good day.

Capping my birthday with friends at Kaldera.
Capping my birthday with friends at Kaldera.

By the time everyone left we had just enough time to get things cleaned up before our dinner reservations. Instead of the I-Cubs game, we gathered for dinner at Kaldera with the Burches, VLs and McQs. It wasn’t what we had planned, but it was wonderful to enjoy a laid back dinner with friends and get home at a decent time. We had a brief night cap at McQuade Pub before calling it a night.

From Madison's Facebook post wishing me a happy 50th

We are looking forward to having both Taylor and Madison home next weekend for Tulip Time. I heard from both girls yesterday as they called with birthday wishes. Taylor had a very nice post on her blog honoring my big day and Madison added an equally honoring post on Facebook. I missed having them here with me, but will enjoy a belated celebration next week.

Tulip Time is Thu-Sat of this coming week. The cold, rainy weather has ensured that we’ll have a few tulip left for Pella’s annual festival. The weather forecast is sunny and 75 degrees each day, and it will be perfect weather for the celebration. Wendy and I are, once again, playing Pella’s founding couple. We’ll be Dominie H.P. and Mareah Scholte and will be found at the Scholte House museum late morning and early afternoon. We’ll be riding our horse drawn carriage in each of the six parades. It should be a fun time. Come see us if you’re in town!

Our 10th Anniversary! New Year’s Eve 2015

Our wedding on New Year's Eve 2005.
Our wedding on New Year’s Eve 2005.

Wendy and I were married on New Year’s Eve 2005 at a gala wedding on the ballroom floor of the Temple for Performing Arts in Des Moines. New Year’s Eve will forever be a special evening for the two of us. This year we celebrated our 10th Anniversary at home surrounded by wonderful friends, many of whom were there with us on that memorable evening a decade ago.

Our anniversary celebration actually started earlier in the week on Tuesday. We’d spent the day in Des Moines hitting the after Christmas sales and found a lot of good stuff to make our home even more festive next year. By late afternoon we were worn out from shopping and ready for an evening out. We met Kev and Beck at Juniper Moon, a relatively new wine bar in Des Moines, for a pre-dinner cocktail. It’s a wonderful place. It was packed and a bit noisy for my hearing-impaired ears, but we definitely enjoyed ourselves.

New Year's 2015 - 1

We had dinner at Django, one of our favorites in Des Moines. Wendy’s cousin, Kris, has been managing Django for several months and it was great to see him. He treated us to a little anniversary gift, which was very nice of him. As always, it was great to hang out with Kev and Beck.

We celebrated our anniversary and New Year’s Eve, itself, at our house. Friends brought appetizers to share and Wendy knocked herself out making her own plethora of amazing desserts. People arrived around 8:00 and the evening was spent just as we like it: good food, good drink, and good conversation. There was  plenty of laughter and love to go ’round. At midnight we had the countdown and let fly with a ton of party poppers (that we still had from our wedding night!). People slowly filtered out. Kevin and Linda got the Party Hardy badge of honor for being the final guests to leave. Of course, they had the shortest commute as they left sometime after 2:30 a.m.

Wendy and start 2016 thankful for a wonderful decade together surrounded by wonderful family and friends. And, the best is yet to come!!

No Honor Among Thieves

Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem; and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.
Judges 9:22-23 (NRSV)

I have, of late, been enjoying watching Shakespeare’s Henry IV both parts 1 and 2, starring Tom Hiddleston (who played Loki in Marvel’s Thor movies) as the young prince Henry V. The teenaged heir to the crown has a troubled relationship with his father (King Henry IV, played by Jeremy Irons), and chooses to rebel from his royal life and slum around a seedy area of London known as Eastcheap.

There, in a tavern, young prince Henry (known as “Harry” or “Hal”) parties hard and incessant with a fat, licentious fool of an old knight named Sir John Falstaff. Harry, Falstaff and a band of rogues revel in drunkenness and all around dishonest mischief – sometimes enjoying a dishonest turn against one another. Harry’s friend, Poins, steals Falstaff’s horse from him, causing the old fool to quip, “It stinks when there is no honor among thieves.”

There is no honor among thieves.

That line came to mind when I read in this morning’s chapter about Abimelech’s treachery against his brothers and his grab for power. Not to question the validity of “God sending an evil spirit,” but I wonder if that spirit found it easy work to stir up trouble between Abimelech and his co-conspiritors. There being no honor among thieves, those who deal in treachery and dishonest gain tend to breed conflict and mistrust among their own.

This morning I am reminded of the simple wisdom of keeping good company. When we surround ourselves with those who seek truth, peace, joy, and love then we tend to find our lives rewarded with the fruit of our corporate longing. Young Henry learned this lesson in time. He eventually repents of his folly, restores his relationship with his father, and eventually becomes a legendary hero in Shakespeare’s sequel, Henry V.