21
Jul
19

“The Eagle has – in fact – landed.”

Man on the moonAs most of us take a moment today to celebrate the 50thanniversary of the landing of human beings on the surface of our moon, nearly 20 million of our neighbors are standing up yelling, “Fake news!”

That’s right. According to a post on today’s Voice of America: English website (which you can read here), a full six percent of the U.S. population still believes that Stanley Kubrick and some of his Hollywood cronies faked the entire Apollo 11 mission on a secret sound stage back in 1969.

They point to different spurious and easy-to-disprove pieces of evidence to support their claim and warn us not to be taken in by our government’s devious designs.

The good news is that this figure is down from an all-time high of 30 percent of the population who cried “Fake!” when a survey was the year after the moon landing in 1970.

Lord knows, Hollywood has the capacity to pull off a stunt like this. At the time it was made in 2013, the movie Gravity (starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts stranded in space) reportedly cost more to produce than the nation of India spent that same year on an actual, real life space mission.

Setting aside, for now, the slap in the face to the more than 400,000 women and men across the country who worked on this epic endeavor, my question to the conspiracy theorists is, “Why? What would conceivably be gained by our government from fabricating a moon landing?

  • Was it so that we could declare victory in the space race with the Russians without actually having to do the heavy lifting?
  • Was it to help us puff out our collective chests with a little false bravado so that Americans would feel better about ourselves?
  • Was it a sinister plot to boost the sales of Tang breakfast drink?

More than likely this theory emerged from the same fertile womb that has given birth to other, similar conspiracy fantasies.

It comes from the same mechanism that is compelled to find the cloud behind every silver lining, that knows that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that casts a jaundiced eye upon anything that seems implausibly good.

These are the folks who see evil, impure motives in anything our government does and who believe that pulling the wool over our eyes is the central, unstated mission of Uncle Sam.

In a wider sense, it shows me that some of us are wired to, “doubt first, believe later,” while others are just the opposite.

Incidentally, I include myself in that latter bunch.

Yes, there are definite downsides to being part of the “Believe first” crew. We get hoodwinked now and then.

We get buffaloed.

We get taken.

No, I have never emptied my savings account and sent it to a Nigerian prince who emailed me with his sad story. But I have extended trust to people and later wished I hadn’t.

But still… even considering the occasional losses and burns we suffer, I will choose to line up with the “believers” every time. I want to see the best in life and in my fellow humans and if I am not looking for it, eagerly anticipating it, I am not certain I will recognize it when it comes along.

It really just boils down to a choice to take God at his word when he spoke the universe into existence, stepped back, looked everything over and pronounced the whole thing, “… very good.” (Genesis 1:31, NRSV).

And somewhere along the way, I think God might have even hoped we would burst out of our little earth-bound bubble here and take a walk on a planet that we weren’t born on.

18
Jul
19

“Am I Safe Here?”

Frightened person“Am I safe here?”

Think back; how many times have you asked yourself that question… today?

… in the past week?

… in the past month?

Can you even remember the last time you asked this question?

If you are a member of my demographic cohort, your answer is likely the same as mine.

My answer: I can’t honestly remember when I last showed up in a situation, looked around, and wondered about my personal safety.

Unless, of course, it was a situation where I voluntarily endangered myself… like scuba diving, rock climbing, or hang gliding… none of which I have done lately.

However, if you are a woman, or a dark-skinned person, or gay, or someone who wears any type of ethnic garb, your answer is very different.

Even though it is not yet noon, you have likely already asked this question one or more times.

It might have been in a neighborhood store, at the post office, on the bus, in your workplace, or just driving your car down the road.

You noticed the gaze of another person lingering on you a little longer than made you comfortable. You saw their eyes narrow slightly as they seemed to be sizing you up. They might have drawn a purse a little more closely to their body, shifted uneasily in their stance, or even crossed the street.

And you asked – as you have so many times before – “Am I safe here?”

Freedom from questions about personal safety is one of the hallmarks of privilege.

That’s just a fact.

But the question is: what will we do about it?

How can I, today, let people know they are safe around me?

16
Jul
19

Picnic Power

Picnic picYes, “hot weather,” “swimming pools,” “no school,” “sunscreen,” and “baseball” are all worthy candidates, but I’m afraid none of them say SUMMER quite as well or convincingly as the word “picnic.”

We went with some friends recently to see a Theater in the Park production of Meredith Wilson’s Music Man and decided to pack along a picnic dinner.

I was certainly prepared to dig in and enjoy the delicious fried chicken Joan made, with a little Waldorf salad on the side. What I WASN’T prepared for was the wave of nostalgia that was also served up.

Apparently, it has been a long time since I have picnicked. (And no, I don’t think brats and a beer at the baseball game really count.)

It reminded me of the days when my mother used to pack up a big cooler full of food for she and dad and us five kids and we would drive to a favorite spot down by the Scioto River outside of Columbus, Ohio.

It was kind of magical to watch her open the cooler and reach in to distribute the waxed paper-wrapped sandwiches to each of us.

With five kids there was no tailoring of the meat or condiments, you understand. Everyone got the same thing, smeared with the same yellow, red, or white goo. And when my brother Douglas complained about what was on his sandwich (as he inevitably did), we got to hear the well-worn refrain, “Well, Douglas, you are free to either scrape it off or go hungry. It’s up to you,” spoken by either mom or dad.

It was always kind of an adventure to find just the right table… the one with a little bit of shade, located close enough to the recreation area and not too far from the public restrooms.

We had some good, basic picnic gear; the cooler for the food, a large plastic tablecloth to spread out, paper plates, but our own set of plastic cups from home, a large drink dispenser, and disposable plastic cutlery.

I seem to remember picnics as always being messier affairs than a family meal around the dining room table. Out there at the picnic site, you felt free to wipe your mouth on the back of your hand (even if you did have a napkin), drop food on the ground, or even burp. Because hey! You were eating OUTDOORS! None of the standard indoor eating rules applied!

And often at our picnics – especially those that fell on a big national holiday such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July – the event was not complete without some spirited Frisbee tossing and the appearance of the hand-crank ice cream freezer.

There is no doubt in my mind at all; picnics made our family closer. They were a kind of approachable adventure in which everyone played a part. They exposed us to The Great Outdoors, they nudged us to play and laugh together.

Picnics regularly gave us the chance to do a little impromptu problem-solving… such as when someone fell and hurt themselves, or when a sudden summer storm appeared, or when SOMEBODY forgot to pack plates.

Next week my siblings and I will be convening for a somewhat solemn purpose. We will be getting together and visiting the eastern half of the five locations my dad requested for the scattering of his ashes.

While I am not entirely sure I would recommend this practice for all families, I think this is going to be healing and cathartic for us. And of course, one of the locations is going to be there outside of Columbus, Ohio down by the river… right next to one of the places the family used to go for picnics.

Mom died in 1970 and dad in 2017, so it will just be the five sibs and my wife Joan on this particular “picnic.” But I have no doubt whatsoever that it will be warm and wonderful and will draw our circle in more tightly.

And as we pray and tear up a little, and remember, and scatter, and celebrate, we will also probably have a sandwich and glass of Kool-Aid and remember the power of the picnic.

11
Jul
19

Those Helpers

RC cola adIt’s really amazing, it just blows my mind
The incredibly helpful people I find.

They don’t even know me, yet they run to assist
Offering wise guidance so that nothing is missed.

One man appeared on my TV last night
Offering sage car buying insight.

Another stopped by – while my show was on break
Giving wise advice on the vacation to take.

If I ever have pains or aches or sore feet,
These generous advisors will hasten to meet

My every need, no matter how small.
From Apples to Zephyrs, they think of it all.

They know me so well, both inside and out
And their words are so gentle, they never shout.

“Send us your money,” they appear and say
“Send all of your problems whirling away.”

“Is it shyness, or stiffness, or worry, or doubt?
“Our miracle product will help you right out.”

“It comes in YOUR SIZE, or can be tailored to fit,
“We know once you try, you’ll be delighted with it.”

“Our talented staff is now standing by,
“Please don’t hesitate… give us a try.”

With all of this amazing helpfulness to be found
It is a miracle any problems abound.

These helpers touch every inch of our external selves,
But maybe what we need can’t be found on their shelves.

Could it be that our real needs are buried much deeper,
Than can be reached by a Dyson vacuum sweeper?

We search and we search for a stylish solution
To every problem, from hives to pollution.

We look high, we look low, we look behind every door,
Every corner of the earth is ours to explore.

We tend to forget the most obvious part
Is to launch our search inward, and begin with the heart.

08
Jul
19

The Overmow

Mowing the lawn“… outdo one another in showing honor.”                                    Romans 12:10, NRSV

My next-door neighbor and I are in a competition.

Not that I’m keeping score or anything, but I think I just went ahead by one earlier today. (Self high five!)

We are competing on neighborliness with a little thing I call the “gracious overmow.”

Here is how it works; if I happen to get out and mow my grass before Tom – my neighbor to the west – mows his, I don’t stop mowing at our property line. I go all the way over to the side of his house… mowing grass that actually belongs to him.

And if Tom happens to get out and mow his grass before me, he does the same.

We never actually talk about it. We just do it.

I have also tried to practice gracious overmowing with my neighbor to the east, but he apparently hasn’t caught on to how the system works.

Honestly, it is a little bit of a pain when I am the one doing the overmowing. It makes my mowing time about 50 percent longer than usual. But when Tom beats me to the punch… it is AWESOME!

Zip, zip! Done!

It all made me wonder… could this be done on a larger scale? Could I find other areas of life in which I might “overdo” a kind gesture?

Could I, for example:

  • “Overshovel” my neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter?
  • Pull weeds from my neighbor’s yard?
  • Fetch my wife a Diet Coke before she even asks me?
  • Graciously allow a fellow motorist to cut in front of me in traffic?
  • Pick up someone else’s dog poop? (Ew, no… scratch that one. Too gross.)
  • Leave that last box of corn flakes on the grocery shelf for someone who might need it more than me?
  • Toss someone’s newspaper a little closer to their house than the paperboy did?

And could I do it, not just for nice guys like my neighbor Tom, but could I do this stuff for total strangers, too? … Or for people that are kind of grumpy, disagreeable, and hard to get along with?

What a concept!

But then, as I was contorting my right arm into a pretzel shape trying to pat myself on the back for having such kind-hearted, altruistic thoughts, I heard a voice. As I listened a little more closely, it seemed to be the voice of Jesus, whispering to me…

“Dude…” he said. “If you call yourself a follower of mine that’s the kind of stuff you should be doing anyway. Routinely. It’s nice, but honestly, it’s no biggie.”

He continues, “Don’t just stop with a few cutesy, quaint little gestures like that. Feed the hungry. Visit the sick. Go to the prisons and comfort those unjustly confined. Locate injustices in the world and become actively engaged in righting them.”

“If you really want to make a difference, take a few risks. Stick your neck out. Try doing something that just might be unpopular enough to LOSE you a friend or two… even though it’s the right thing. Don’t be content to stick to the safe stuff that makes people like you more.”

“Come back and talk to me after you have been unjustly criticized for advocating for the people I tend to hang out with… you know, the misfits, the outcasts, and the people on the margins. I probably won’t give you a medal or anything, but I’ll be pleased.”

Gee thanks, Jesus.

You really know how to rain on a guy’s parade, don’t you?

Think I’ll go mow my yard now.

03
Jul
19

Vegan Evangelism

Vegan pizzaMy niece taught me something about evangelism the other day.

And I don’t think she even realized she was holding class.

This is not the new college graduate niece I wrote about earlier (in a blog post you can find here). This is her sister, Natalie.

You see, Natalie is a vegan.

She is also very serious about following her vegan diet… to the point that she has her own dedicated section of the refrigerator and a shelf or two in the pantry of her parents’ kitchen on which to store her food.

I have known other vegans in my life. Most of the time I have experienced them as passionate to the point of being a tad overbearing in their advocacy of veganism.

I have also – VERY briefly – toyed with the question of whether I might benefit from switching to an entirely plant-based diet… a thought that quickly fades away the second someone in my zip code begins grilling steak outdoors.

After spending several days in Natalie’s vicinity, especially at mealtimes, I began thinking seriously about making much more of an effort to go meatless, at least a couple of days every week…

… all because of the effectiveness of Natalie’s vegan evangelism.

In contrast to many other styles of evangelism you might be familiar with, Natalie’s was very quiet.

She didn’t preach. She didn’t berate. She didn’t drone on and on about the amazing health benefits of the plant-based diet. She didn’t throw a massive guilt trip on Joan and me about our willful “murder” of innocent cows, chickens, and fish.

She just went about her business… mashing up chickpeas, blending tofu and various spices, toasting bread, and quietly enjoying herself.

During our visit, Natalie just quietly radiated a sort of health and joy that was magnetic. It made me want to turn toward her and ask questions about her diet, which she answered thoroughly and politely.

It was her conviction, combined with her non-pushy, non-anxious demeanor that very effectively drew me more closely to thinking I might want to give this way of eating a serious look.

And then I wondered; “What if Christians took this same approach to OUR evangelism?” I wonder if we might have the same effect on the people around us that Natalie had on me?

  • What if we just LIVED our faith and let our lives speak for themselves?
  • What if we declined to browbeat, guilt-trip, or shame our friends and family members into believing?
  • What if we tried something like ATTRACTING rather than COERCING people to investigate the life-changing claims of our Lord and Savior?
  • What if we gave up the notion that it is WE who do the changing of people’s hearts and remember it is something much more ephemeral and outside our direct control? (Can you say “Holy Spirit”?)

 

Hmmmm. I don’t know. Sounds way too simple, doesn’t it?

01
Jul
19

Graduation Day

Olivia graduatingAh, graduation.

I remember it… vaguely.

But as luck and family circumstance would have it, I had a chance to relive that magic moment a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were privileged to travel to Corvallis, Oregon to see my niece, Olivia, graduate from Oregon State University.

GO BEAVERS!

It reminded me of how awesome it felt to be able to look at that long list of “To Do’s” and put the word DONE beside them.

Final papers? DONE!

Final exams? DONE!

Final classes? DONE!

Final projects? DONE!

Final cleaning and walk-through of your off-campus apartment? DONE!

Final tearful gathering with college friends? DONE!

Those first few days after walking onstage to receive one’s hallowed sheepskin is a good time to breathe deeply and bask in the warm afterglow of accomplishment.

And so, in that magic moment with her mom, and dad, and sister, I didn’t have the heart to burst Olivia’s bubble and tell her about the NEXT project waiting for her around the corner… the one called “GETTING LIFE DONE.”

It would have seriously rained on her parade to tell her just how slippery and elusive this project will be. I mean, I’ve been working on it for 67 ½ years now, and am just beginning to feel like I understand the “deliverables.”

I mean, what kind of sadistic uncle would show up and tell the new graduate about all the funky twists and turns, the outrages, the injustices, the dense fog, or the surprising GRACE she will bump into on her way to completing this next assignment?

Without a doubt, this is going to be the most challenging project she has ever faced. Fortunately for her though, there is help.

For starters, Olivia has a couple of wise, loving parents to turn to. I know they will devote every ounce of their energy and imagination to helping her navigate the path ahead.

And like any good dad, I know that if my brother doesn’t know the answer to her question right away, he’ll just make something up.

It’s what guys do.

There is also the extended family of goofballs, clowns, and scalawags to provide comic relief, if not actual assistance.

Olivia also has a wise-beyond-her-years younger sister who loves her fiercely she can lean on anytime she needs to.

And because she has actively built a strong network of friends over the years, Olivia will have all of those folks behind her, too… ready to step up and do whatever is needed, whenever it is needed.

I don’t think anyone would argue that getting life done is truly one of the most challenging assignments any of us will ever face. Having family and friends to mentor us along the way is incredibly helpful.

But I hope none of us who needs it ever hesitates to reach out our hand for the biggest, most capable, most dependable, and wisest resource around; Jesus.

True, his original words, recorded in Matthew 11:28-30, were NOT addressed to a 21stcentury, tech, and social-media saturated world. But when he looked out at his audience of first-century peasants and said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” I can’t help but imagine he saw you and me there in the crowd, too.

So congratulations on your amazing achievement, Olivia. Graduating from college is a HUGE accomplishment for which you and your mom and dad should be enormously proud.

Blessings to you as you face the road ahead.

Please know that you have all kinds of help available when and if you need it…

 

… including a zany uncle and a savior.




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