Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pedro the Wise

(For any who aren't regular readers here, Pedro the Spikey Bikey is, bikey)
God has funny ways of teaching us, myriad methods of revealing who he is and what life is about. Last week, my teacher was Pedro the Wise.

I learn a lot from my time biking. I have gleaned tremendous lessons about perseverance, and about how we can do far more than we think we can sometimes. Attacking a killer hill has taught me a lot about what it means to refuse to quit. This time around, on a rather rocky stretch of single track, Pedro offered a lesson on perspective.

Now, I still have a lot to learn about navigating rocky trails. Sometimes I hit them at awkward angles. Sometimes I brake at the wrong time. Sometimes I chicken out (errr...make a wise decision?) and walk over them. But one thing I do know about navigating obstacles on a bike: where your gaze is fixed, there your front tire will go.
It isn't natural, that principle. We want to place our focus on the rock or rut we are avoiding, as if keeping our eyes on it will help us make sure we don't end up there. Stare at the obstacle, however, and you are guaranteed to feel your front tire slamming up against granite or slipping into a crevice. The trick is to not look at where you don't want to go, but to fix your gaze squarely on the one safe passage, on that narrow stretch of trail that doesn't cry disaster. It feels unnatural, like I said, but it works. Even if the back tire does it own thing, you have pretty good odds of gaining control at that point.

Nasty terrain isn't unique to mountain biking, however. Sometimes I get stressed out by the rough stretches of everyday life. I get obsessed with looking out for the million ways I could fail, all those obstacles on the way to walking the narrow road of discipleship. I want to keep my eye on them just to make sure I'm not meandering that way, but it often backfires. Like with biking, most of the time our actions follow our gaze; we act on the things we give our attention to, even if the whole point of giving them attention was for the sake of avoidance. It's like trying to clean up my thought life only by keeping an eye out for the thoughts I don't want to have. Talk about tripping over rocks; it just keeps those very things lingering in the back of my mind.

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep an eye out for stumbling blocks. We need to be aware of stretches of rough terrain in our lives. But I imagine that sometimes Jesus is standing there saying, "I want you to look toward me, not all those potential failures. Keep your eyes fixed on me, set my love always before you, and your feet will begin to follow."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

side streets and doorsteps

The message of Proverbs features two leading ladies: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. One gives life, the other brings death. One is a faithful guide, the other a treacherous adulteress. It's no surprise that Proverbs tells us to embrace Wisdom and avoid Folly. Sounds simple enough.

Still, we know that "simple enough" has never been simple enough for us. Humans have been wandering away from Wisdom and into the arms of Folly from the very beginning, and we are no different. Both women are calling out to us all the time, their messages ringing out from their doorways and from the gates of the city. In, fact, if you read 9:4 and 9:16, you'll see that their messages get off to the same start: "Let all who are simple come in here!"

What's a disciple to do? How, I have been asking the Lord, do I cling to Lady Wisdom and avoid that adulterous Folly--how can I distinguish her voice? My own tendency to wander Folly's way, to either mix up their voices or just plain make a bad choice, scares me sometimes; the question is a crucial one. And as I ask that question and take a good long look at Proverbs, I do learn one thing: it's all about side streets and doorsteps.

When warning against Folly, Solomon offers this advice: "Keep to a path far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel." (5:8-9) Later, a poor youth falls right into the adulteress' trap because he "was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house, at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in." (7:8-9)

But Wisdom also calls out: "Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway." (8:34) Blessed are those who walk in her direction.

Living a life of wisdom, finding life instead of death, is not just about momentary repsonses to the call of Wisdom or Folly. It's about where we walk, the front porches we spend time on, the doorways at which we sit and wait. It's about knowing better than to walk through Folly's neighborhood at dusk, knowing that we are all a little more susceptible to her message when we do. It's a lifestyle of finding out where Wisdom lives and hanging out on that street.

I still don't know exactly what that looks like, but I do know this: it seems that much of my life as a disciple will be all about the side streets and doorsteps I choose.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

one man's rembrandt, another man's rent money

I have to laugh sometimes about how a person's place in life affects the way she sees things, particularly money. Take my household, for example, given the possibility of recieving $1,000:

Roommate #1 thinks, "That's gonna buy a lot of Jimmy Choo's."
Roommate #2 is thinking, "I wonder if I could get a ticket to Uganda for that?"
Roommate #3 is asking herself the same thing, but wants to visit Russia. Dollars to rubles, that's what she's thinking of.
Roommate #4 is considering something practical, though none of us can guess what that is.
Roommate #5...that's me. And I am thinking, "Do you know how many credit hours that could cover?"

But it seems that our perspective on money goes deeper than our paricular place in life. To some extent, I think God has purposely created us with unique lenses for seeing all of life, including money. This becomes clearer and clearer in my own life as time goes by.

I spent some time in a rather expensive home earlier this week. You know the type: gargantuan spaces, leather and oak everything, patios and waterfalls and wrap-around decks. A few months ago, I was in an even crazier house, complete with a small indoor basketball court. Growing up near Aspen, I saw things that one-upped even that. Pretty exorbitant, if you ask me.

Though it's hard, I know I can't judge the heart in these situations. These people may have amazing hearts, and they may use all that money in a lot of other generous ways. Instead of judging, I am trying to learn to listen to voice of the Holy Spirit speak through my gut reactions. I want to open my ears to let him tell me how I've been made to see the world.

Tuesday morning, I sat at the table in one of these huge houses. For a while, I stared at a huge painting on the wall. It was a nice piece of art, really, complementing the room well. But all I could think was how that painting alone could pay a few months rent for a low-income family. My gaze shifted to a gizmo on the wall that tells the outside temperature and several other weather details (there was another upstairs). I sepculated about how much they had cost, and whether or not it would pay the bill to heat up a home that was as cold inside as the gizmo said it was outside. I glanced down at the large table in front of me. I wondered if it might be better used in a home where the family is too large to fit around their much smaller table.

Great art, cool gizmos, fancy furniture...these are all nice things to have. They aren't inherently bad. In fact, if I am honest I will admit that part of me would like to have them, too. Still, unless I squelch it, the Spirit's voice is loud and clear. The lens he has given me is tuned to see the poor. There is nothing superior or inferior about it; that's just how I'm made. Now, the task is to see what God wants me to do with how I see the world.

So I ask you: When you are giving the Spirit room to speak, how do you see the world? Now what are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

fancy meeting ewe here

Today I took a bike ride up "the scar", a Bighorn Sheep preserve, with a friend. Renell is one of my oldest friends, and we hadn't seen each other for far too long, so it was a perfect way to catch up and embrace a beautiful day. Twice in the journey, we crossed paths with a large group of ewes (I would have taken a picture, but I didn't want to stop halfway up a killer hill). And we had a view of the whole city from the top.

I love where I live. I'm pretty sure Pedro the Spikey Bikey doesn't mind it either.

(a statue at the Bighorn Sheep reserve)

small town Sunday: Oscar

This weekend, I had the joy of having more than just a small town Sunday. My folks came to visit and, having heard me talk about Green Mountain Falls, decided that they'd rather stay there than in the city (see where I get it from?). So we rented a cottage for the night, a cute little abode overlooking the lake and gazebo. With the onset of sheer exhaustion following finals week, it could not have come at a better time.

There were many highlights for the weekend. We discovered that the town literally has no store (the old one is for sale). I ate some of the best prime rib I've ever had, which one doesn't always expect to find in a town that doesn't even have a store, and whose current public bathroom is a porta-potty. In church, the visiting preacher gave one of the most long-winded prayers in known history, and he asked the kids if they had ever heard the term "teacher's pet", while I sat there thinking "They've never heard the word "term", silly." Later, after the service, we dined at the counter of a cafe where we were served by an energetic woman with a classic, rapsy diner voice.

But the true highlight of the weekend was Oscar. We met him walking through the park by the lake, dressed in overalls and slightly hunched as he leaned on his walking stick. He approached us, commenting that he could tell our dog was walking us, rather than us walking him. He was deaf as could be and willing to admit it. Still, he'd just say, "I didn't hear that" and keep talking anyway. Oscar is a 91 year-old Swede who has lived in Green Mountain Falls for over fifty years. He has shod over 30,000 horses in his lifetime, he told us (and my dad noticed he still had strong hands with an iron shake). Looking at the lake, he said, "Years ago, there would be 20 fisherman sitting around this lake every week. Now there are about 2 every month, because everyone is at home watching TV and taking pills. I'm 91 years old and I've never taken a pill in my life! Excercise is the best God damn medicine there is." (Excuse the language for the sake of quoting a hilarious old man.) Oscar was a delight, one of those rare jewels, more full of life and feistiness than most people half his age.

I may never shoe a horse, but I sure hope that when I'm 91, I'll be walking around a small town in overalls, telling my story to those who still have their hearing.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

for the sake of their Redeemer

I have been thinking a great deal about the Christian's responsibility to the poor and to social justice. More to come, but for now, a few words for thought:

"The poor wretch cries to me for alms: I look and see him covered with dirt and rags. But through these I see one that has an immortal spirit, made to know and love and dwell with God to eternity: I honor him for his Creator's sake. I see through all these rags that he is purpled over with the blood of Christ. I love him for the sake of his Redeemer."

(From a sermon by John Wesley, 1703-1791. Wesley was a leader in the Methodist movement, which made great strides in using the gospel not only to minister to souls, but to the practical needs of social justice. Wesley himself spent his life ministering to the poor.)

"He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." ( Proverbs 14:31)

For words from a more familiar face, I cannot more highly suggest checking out Bono's acceptance speech at the NAACP awards, posted on a friend's blog. The last two minutes are astounding.

Monday, March 12, 2007

small town Sunday: Field of Dreams

I laughed when I drove past this sign on the way into Green Mountain Falls yesterday. I had noticed the run-down, less-than-manicured field many mornings. In fact, I had thought several times that it would be great to get a group of people out there to play some Sunday. But when I looked closer and saw that this bedraggled diamond was the town's Field of Dreams, I just chuckled and thought, "That's awesome." I vowed to come back for pictures after church (which I was running a little late for).

I wonder if they ever came....

The irony of this sign was just too much....

That can't be comfortable...

This base had seen better days and was cast aside. Poor fella'.

When most of us think "Field of Dreams" we imagine that utopian field of green in Kevin Costner's corn field. Or perhaps we just picture some incredible, lush field of our imaginations, freshly chalked with an infield of the smoothest dirt.

But the funny thing is, there are those of us who fell in love with the stubby grass and dry dust of the Sandlot. We come alive during a schoolyard pickup game in a way that goes a lot deeper than enjoying a good seat at a Rockies game. Personally, I played many late-night games of baseball with the rag-tag kids in my mountain neighborhood, and later coached little girls on a slightly overgrown middle school diamond.

That's the part of me that, long before I saw the sign, had fallen in love with the sight of that ball field as I drove by. What to name it just depends on who's doing the dreaming, I suppose. For those who love a day with friends on a small town, simple baseball field, it really does live up to its claim: it's a backyard ballplayer's field of dreams.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

grief is never quickly gone

I read Psalm 8 today, and was reminded again that it was a favorite of my friend Jeannie, who died of cancer last August. We sang it at her funeral, and I think it will forever remind me of her. Anyway, I pulled out a poem I wrote not long after she died, and figured I'd let it be today's post.

I didn’t know.
The last time I heard you laugh
when you joked about growing old,
and when you greeted me with a hug-
I didn’t know then
that I should have been memorizing it all.

I would have taken a million mental snapshots:
The look on your face as you led us in song,
hands rhythmically directing our voices,
your eyes ever reminding us to smile;
I would have framed that picture.

I am making mistakes more freely now,
trying to sing my wrong notes loud and long and strong,
trying to learn to throw my head back and laugh,
to fully enjoy the humor of my own foibles.
I heard those words before,
but I’m listening more closely now.

And how I want to sing!
To raise my voice to keep you near.
“May your gifts always include music,”
you wrote to me.
I’ll do my best, Jeannie
to never live a life that’s void of melodies.

I just didn’t know you would be gone
so soon,
long before I could call to say I’m in town,
long before I could fill you in on every major milestone.
I didn’t know how hard the tears would fall
once you’d left.

The gifts you said I have,
the strength you saw in me,
the life of love you lived…
I heard those things before, Jeannie.
But as they echo through death’s silence,
loud and clear,
I am listening a lot more closely now.

Monday, March 05, 2007

How to Get a Heachache: A Layman's Methodology

1. Go out to retrieve something from the back of your truck (if you own a sedan, read the rest of the instructions and think of a creative subsitute). Flip up the hatch of the topper. Then, gripping the closed tailgate, place your foot on bumper and propel yourself upward so as to be able to reach inside. If you align yourself properly, the edge of the topper will serve to completely halt all upward motion, sending a jolt across the top of the head and down the spine. (Warning: large knots may result from the use of this particular method).

Utter a few choice words, and return to the house with retrieved goods.

2. If, by chance, your landlord has chosen a that day to spackle and prime the walls (this is hypothetical, of course), make sure to tell him NOT to open any windows or turn on any fans for ventilation. For full effect, allow the fumes to build up over several hours and permeate the entire house. Eat lunch, change clothes, check email...however long it takes for the chemicals to soak into your brain and cause it to throb.

But in order not to lose too many brain cells, leave the house...perhaps for a bike ride.

3. When you get on your bike, immediately choose a hill that is far longer than you remembered. Push yourself until you think you might throw up and your heart rate rivals a drumroll. Do not stop. If your stomach ceases its complaint (or empties), your head will take up the call.

Allow the breeze of the downhill to help ease the pounding and continue on.

4. Choose another (equally difficult) hill. While approaching said hill, downshift at just the right incline to throw your chain off the gear. Give your pedals several helpless rotations. This allows time for your bike to decide it should repay you for previous abuse by throwing you into the adjacent ditch. Face first.

Utter a few more choice words and check for blood.

5. Return to fume-ridden house for shower and snack, before moving on to sit through three and a half hours of graduate lecture.

If all of the above fails, just give up caffeine for a few weeks. That'll do it every time.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

small town Sunday: the tyranny of the red light rush

There are no stop lights.

I had not noticed this until last week, when I pulled into town after encountering stoplight after stoplight on the trip up highway 24 to the turnoff for Green Mountain Falls. Of course, I did the stoplight dash again today, as I do on many days. Running a little late, battling the moral dilemma of whether or not it is ethical to speed in order to get to church on time(I think not), I approach each intersection of stop-and-go with great anxiety. When the light is red, I sit in irritation, as if the winds of punctuality are refusing to blow in my favor. How dare that little red bulb get in the way of my journey to peace and quiet! This is ridiculous, of course. It is my own darn laziness that has me running a few minutes behind. I let the pace of life keep me up late again, and I let the resulting weariness keep me in bed a few minutes too long. Now it’s a race against the time I wasted.

But in Green Mountain Falls, no such intersections of anxiety exist. I take it slow into town. If I were to rush, I’d be out of town before I’d noticed I was in it. Fifty-five mph would make Green Mountain Falls into about a 5 second experience.

So I was late, which I figured was just one more good reason to sit in that sunny back pew.

During our second hymn today, I actually found myself wishing for the elimination of the third verse. I was clear within a few bars that nobody knew the song, and the melody was far too complicated for “pick-it-up-as-you-go-along”. Even the choir seemed to be struggling to find the tune. I eventually stopped singing and just read along, so as not to miss what the hymn might have to say. I smiled at the musical(?) cacophony going on around me. It was painful. And sort of funny.

During the children’s sermon, the pastor asked the kids if they had ever heard of the country of Chile. One boy responded rather matter-of-factly that he has eaten chili, but is pretty sure he’s never been to Chile. The Pastor later reminded us that such an answer might also apply when asked about visiting Turkey.

I was thinking today about the fact that so much of my church experience on these small town Sundays is new or different for me, whether it is the quiet recitation of liturgy, or the singing of the selections that have gone unsung in my previous experiences with the hymnal. I’m sure that as time goes by, I will discover both more differences and more similarities between my life of faith and that of those in that little church. As I walked away today, pondering one particular thing that had made me squirm a bit, I realized that I do not want to be the kind of person that runs away from things that are different, or even from everything I might disagree with. I want to know and experience the love of Christ in all the diversity of his people, in their unique triumphs and failures, in the fascinating particularities of their varying lives.

I want to live my life with ears open to hear everything that he might say, whether in my busy week or on my quirky small town Sundays.

all in pieces

It caught me off guard. I was reading an article whose first half seemed to offer no warning for the rather explicit nature of the second half. It snuck up on me. I read a few sentences, realized it wasn't going to pass quickly, and chose not to read the rest of the story.

Later, in a wave of grief I could not have anticipated, I wept.

See, I have been reminded in a thousand ways lately that our culture, and humanity in general, has broken God's gift of sexuality to pieces. I know well that we serve a God who mends the broken places and can piece together that which has been shattered, but there are times when the brokenness seems too much, and I wonder if we have a fighting chance.

I have been thinking of the challenge faced by all the godly men I know, to fight against the lure of pornography and indecency in a culture that constantly waves it in front of their faces. Images and messages taunt them left and right, and my heart breaks for the battles they must fight. Women, as well, are bombarded with such images and with messages that destroy their sense of beauty. The fight to regain and maintain purity in my own thought life is an uphill battle every day. I have been thinking of children who will face a lifetime of sexual confusion because someone violated them, awakened them to things at far too young an age. I think of those who truly love Jesus, yet fight every day of their lives against the agonizing confusion and shame of a same-sex attraction. We all know that the list goes on, all the myriad ways in which men and women either give away or are robbed of the sacred.

Many times in my life, I have prayed that God would break my heart for the things that break his, and as I sat and wept yesterday, I sensed his answer. Not a call to abandon hope--he will always be a redeeming and restoring God. What looks like the impossible task of two already broken people being united, he will make into a beautiful possibility. In the journey toward men and women being able to live out godly masculinity and femininity, he will provide strength and perseverance.

But perhaps it is a good thing once in a while, when we are reminded of all that is broken, to weep along with the One who first created it to be whole.