A Visit To Soopers: Getting It Right And Getting it Wrong

I don’t know about your town, but in mine the main grocery store has become a very large employer of special needs folks. The spoiled rich kids call these people “specials” for short and because they have enough wealth to not have to understand things like life on planet Earth. Given that I was the spoiled rich kid too, I was embarrassingly uncomfortable when I saw this hiring trend. But over the last year or so, I have come full circle with such force that I am often dizzy. I didn’t do it by choice. It took the Word of God. But I think I now see what Jesus meant when He said, So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit…Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 

Despite what the world often tells us, the goal is not homogeneity–the goal is the glorifying God our Father through building the Kingdom of Heaven as proclaimed by the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Here’s another thing. As an adult, I still produce the thought, “I just am uncomfortable because I don’t know how to act around them.” H- has never evidenced that she has of yet had that thought. Don’t misread me. It’s not that she has “acted” perfectly around all people, it’s that she just acts. H- is a child. Jesus also said, truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 

My point: Our problem is we do not readily discern between child-like, dogmatic, immovable, and unshakable faith in Jesus Christ and NOT child-like, dogmatic faith in the things that we build on this foundation. But the distinction is real. And now is a good time to start making it. Jesus also said, therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock

Now for some fun. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this display just now at the store. Transformers will always have a special place in me because my helicopter was the first transformer in the first movie. But that place just got smaller and more remote. Could they get it more wrong? When I need a recommendation for which razor-maker is doing the best these days at ensuring I don’t accidentally bleed-out next time I shave, it will only and ever be accepted from man-flesh. Sorry, Prime.

TF

One Sentence Writing Challenge

I’m still in Tolstoy’s short stories. Again, one particular sentence just struck me as perfect. So here’s the challenge: In the below comments, let’s see if we can write with similar excellence. (One sentence.)

The bonfire was extinguished, the forest no longer looked as black as before, but in the sky the stars still shone, though faintly.

****

Here’s my attempt: The young boy stopped running, the city moved even faster, but he still felt her hand in his, though now she did the squeezing.

Piles Equal Happiness

If by ashamed you mean ‘to chuckle’, then “Yes” I am ashamed when I see your eyes notice all the piles as you enter my home.

Immediately to your right, you see what is quite possibly the most random pile. It consists of a bowling ball bag, winter gloves, hats, and ski goggles. You next notice a kitchen table and chairs that reorient the word ‘messy’. As you gather your bearings, you see that under the kitchen counter there is an overstuffed book shelf, upon which sit more books and beside which rest two stacks of even more books. Recoiling a bit, you scan left and conclude that there must be at least one child living here because there is a small chair surrounded by children’s books and a panda bear and a remote control car with two pony passengers. The 88-key electronic keyboard and its bench have items upon them, as does the adjacent Steinway B and the instructor’s stool. Somehow that piano’s bench is without pile.

(Before walking down the hallway you pretend not to notice one more bookshelf and end table too ceased their resistance long ago.)

If your visit surprised me, I may not have had a chance to close the bedroom doors. In my bedroom you won’t see a massive pile of clothes at the end of my bed, because it is under a king size comforter which H- recently managed to place on top.

(If she’s anything like me, carrying something that big and soft from her room to mine was probably a delightful chore.)

In disbelief as you roll your eyes, H-‘s room snags your attention. Though admittedly more pink-themed, her bedding is likewise piled on her bed, and at every spot where the walls meet the floor there are piles. They are either piles of books and papers, piles of junk, piles of stuffed animals, or they are piles of clothes. Piles, piles, piles.

Why? you wonder. Why so many piles? You speculate that surely one of the books has to include both teaching on the importance and the ‘how to’ of cleaning.

Well, you asked, so I’ll tell ya. For me, piles equal happiness. Here’s the mathematical proof. If I begin to clean my piles, I’ll eventually decide to clean H-‘s piles. Half-piles do not exist. It’s all or none. And therein lies the problem. You see, H- and I spend very little time together in this junked up home. But when we do, she behaves like a Tasmanian angel. Whether coloring books, stuffed animals, reading books, or dolls, she is constantly relocating everything as she plays inside. To suggest that she “put them away” as you might think, is not really an option she would understand. And I wouldn’t know how to answer her striving for obedience, though honestly inquisitive, response, “Where, Daddy?”

This entire situation is adorable to me. Just watching her play is endlessly fascinating. How is she determining what to play with and for how long? Does she get a thrill out of not having to “clean” like I do? I’ll never know.

Anyhow, the point is, when I’ve tried to clean these piles in the past, it’s unbearable. I cannot touch her toys without thinking of her and I cannot think of her without remembering, as strongly as fire remembers hot and as ice remembers cold, that she is not here. And I cannot think that, without being sad–very, very sad.

So I maintain piles and I maintain that piles equal happiness.

We’re Looking For Chocolate

He listened as H- dryly read, “And what was my life like? The heat burned me in the daytime. And it was so cold at night that I froze. I couldn’t-”

“Hold up, H-,” he interrupted at last. “Remember how we are focusing on reading with gusto? This is a good place to put some gusto into how you read the story.”

Partly frustrated by his broken record, partly curious, H- watched her father. His eyes widened and as he drew in a breath, his head bent back as well. Then he snapped it forward, his open hand slapping his chest.

“And what was my life like?”

H- smiled, beginning to understand.

“The heat,” he continued, feigning to wipe sweat from his brow, “burned me in the daytime.”

H- couldn’t remove her eyes.

“And it was so cold,” he began, shivering.

They both laughed.

“Or maybe it’d be better like this,” he offered. He then looked at frost-bitten fingertips which he rubbed together furiously and blew hot breath upon.

Laughing, she joined him.

“No, you should have done-” she began; then she huddled over, shivered and said, “Brrr, I’m sooo c-c-cold. Let me pour some hot chocolate.”

His laughter almost scared her.

“I don’t think they had hot chocolate back then, H-. Remember Jacob and Laban lived a long, long time ago,” he corrected, chuckling. “But you’re getting the gusto right. Good job. Now let’s keep reading.”

H-, now seven, turned back to the sacred words and promptly struggled to locate where she left off.

“We’re looking for ‘chocolate’,” he proposed, unable to resist.

H- laughed with her voice, but her eyes seemed to say something else.

Excerpt from Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans

I couldn’t help but perk up when I heard my pastor mention “London” as he led us in prayer this morning. My folks are in London vacationing. I just figured he misspoke, but then he also mentioned Manchester. Having not checked the news since early yesterday, I inquired of my pew-mate. Then I cried. My parents are fine. But this scene from Cooper’s classic came to mind.

****

So long as their enemy and his victim continued in sight, the multitude remained motionless as beings charmed to the place by some power that was friendly to the Huron; but, the instant he disappeared, it became tossed and agitated by fierce and powerful passion. Uncas maintained his elevated stand, keeping his eyes on the form of Cora, until the colors of her dress were blended with the foliage of the forest; when he descended, and, moving silently through the throng, he disappeared in that lodge from which he had so recently issued. A few of the graver and more attentive warriors, who caught the gleams of anger that shot from the eyes of the young chief in passing, followed him to the place he had selected for his meditations. After which, Tamenund and Alice were removed, and the women and children were ordered to disperse. During the momentous hour that succeeded, the encampment resembled a hive of troubled bees, who only awaited the appearance and example of their leader to take some distant and momentous flight. 

A young warrior at length issued from the lodge of Uncas; and, moving deliberately, with a sort of grave march, toward a dwarf pine that grew in the crevices of the rocky terrace, he tore the bark from its body, and then turned whence he came without speaking. He was soon followed by another, who stripped the sapling of its branches, leaving it a naked and blazed trunk. A third colored the post with stripes of a dark red paint; all which indications of a hostile design in the leaders of the nation were received by the men without in a gloomy and ominous silence. Finally, the Mohican himself reappeared, divested of all his attire, except his girdle and leggings, and with one–half of his fine features hid under a cloud of threatening black.

A tree which has been partially or entirely stripped of its bark is said, in the language of the country, to be “blazed.” The term is strictly English, for a horse is said to be blazed when it has a white mark.

Uncas moved with a slow and dignified tread toward the post, which he immediately commenced encircling with a measured step, not unlike an ancient dance, raising his voice, at the same time, in the wild and irregular chant of his war song. The notes were in the extremes of human sounds; being sometimes melancholy and exquisitely plaintive, even rivaling the melody of birds––and then, by sudden and startling transitions, causing the auditors to tremble by their depth and energy. The words were few and often repeated, proceeding gradually from a sort of invocation, or hymn, to the Deity, to an intimation of the warrior’s object, and terminating as they commenced with an acknowledgment of his own dependence on the Great Spirit. If it were possible to translate the comprehensive and melodious language in which he spoke, the ode might read something like the following: “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! Thou art great, thou art good, thou art wise: Manitou! Manitou! Thou art just. “In the heavens, in the clouds, oh, I see Many spots––many dark, many red: In the heavens, oh, I see Many clouds. “In the woods, in the air, oh, I hear The whoop, the long yell, and the cry: In the woods, oh, I hear The loud whoop! “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! I am weak––thou art strong; I am slow; Manitou! Manitou! Give me aid.”

At the end of what might be called each verse he made a pause, by raising a note louder and longer than common, that was peculiarly suited to the sentiment just expressed. The first close was solemn, and intended to convey the idea of veneration; the second descriptive, bordering on the alarming; and the third was the well–known and terrific war– whoop, which burst from the lips of the young warrior, like a combination of all the frightful sounds of battle. The last was like the first, humble and imploring. Three times did he repeat this song, and as often did he encircle the post in his dance.

At the close of the first turn, a grave and highly esteemed chief of the Lenape followed his example, singing words of his own, however, to music of a similar character. Warrior after warrior enlisted in the dance, until all of any renown and authority were numbered in its mazes. The spectacle now became wildly terrific; the fierce–looking and menacing visages of the chiefs receiving additional power from the appalling strains in which they mingled their guttural tones. Just then Uncas struck his tomahawk deep into the post, and raised his voice in a shout, which might be termed his own battle cry.

****

And these scriptures.

But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Pray for mercy. Preach Christ.

Writing So Good You’ll Want To Quit

I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s shorter fiction and almost each story contains writing so good that I want to never make the attempt again. Here’s a few examples.

From The Death of Ivan Ilyich:

Ivan Ilych knows quite well and definitely that all this is nonsense and pure deception, but when the doctor, getting down on his knee, leans over him, putting his ear first higher then lower, and performs various gymnastic movements over him with a significant expression on his face, Ivan Ilych submits to it all as he used to submit to the speeches of the lawyers, though he knew very well that they were all lying and why they were lying.

From The Kreutzer Sonata:

“What is wrong with education?” said the lady, with a scarcely perceptible smile. “Surely it can’t be better to marry as they used to in the old days when the bride and bridegroom did not even see one another before the wedding,” she continued, answering not what her interlocutor had said but what she thought he would say, in the way many ladies have. “Without knowing whether they loved, or whether they could love, they married just anybody, and were wretched all their lives. And you think that was better?” she said, evidently addressing me and the lawyer chiefly and least of all the old man with whom she was talking.

From The Devil:

During coffee, as often happened, a peculiarly feminine kind of conversation went on which had no logical sequence but which evidently was connected in some way for it went on uninterruptedly.

Well done, Count.

****

As for myself, I had a coffee date with a young lady the other day, something I have not made an effort to do in years. As is often the case in situations like mine, I told myself that I was willing to re-enter the dating world for several clear and distinct reasons. Firstly, it is not good for the man to be alone. Secondly, the idea of sexual congress with a woman has not yet become altogether repulsive. Thirdly, and ever present, there is in me still some remnant of fire, quite incapable of scientific scrutiny, that wants to prove–or fail trying–that I might yet possess some quality desirable to a member of the fairer sex.

As for her, she was highly educated, well-spoken, and cultured. And beautiful. On these points there would be no dispute. Not wholly unlike the much publicized cases of celebrity progeny, however, her parents’ more modest wealth still seemed nearest the root of her inability to properly arrange cause and effect. On this point there may be dispute.

Impin’ Ain’t Easy

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, X, viii-x.

Not long ago, a certain boy found himself curiously free from the normal assault that accompanied the end of the school day. His walk home began no different than any day before. While always a bit like a gauntlet, on this day he made his way down the hallway with no interruptions. The uneventful moments were filled with the buzz of weekend plans, clangs of locking metal, and worshipful snickers other boys directed towards Billy as he downed a shooter and lit up before even leaving the building.

****

Teachers puzzled over the boy. He turned in flawless homework, and proved it was his own with perfect in-class test scores. But he would not speak while at school. The walk home, however, was a different matter altogether.

The boy had Christ in his heart, in his mind, and was not afraid to summon Him when necessary. The Devil knew this and called one of his Imps over to him.

“But we are powerless against that Name,” the Imp responded when challenged.

“I didn’t ask about your weaknesses, you fool!” the Devil seethed. “I gave you an order. Now go!”

****

“I’ve tried that!” Billy said. “I told you I’ll do what you ask, Imp, but I will not strike the boy. He has done me no harm. I like being able to use your powers, but this boy doesn’t seem affected by the curses you gave me. His Chri-”

“-Don’t!” the Imp interrupted violently. “Do not say that name. Ever! Do you not know what would happen to us? I’d be done for, and you’d be as powerless as you were when I found you unable to fight off your drunken father.”

Taking a swing at the Imp, Billy screamed, “Say one more thing about my dad and I’ll kill you!”

Leaning back to avoid the attack, the Imp’s eyes lit up as he watched Billy feed on rage. He feigned, “Sorry. I’m sorry. Just don’t ruin this, kid.”

“Okay, okay,” Billy said. “What’s the plan this time?”

“You’ve tried breaking his things?”

“Yes. I’ve broken and torched just about everything he has brought to school. He just replies, ‘You-know-who says, Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth...'”

“You’ve tried insulting him?”

“Yep. He just says, ‘You-know-who says, Blessed are you when people insult you.‘ I’m telling you, Imp, this boy is not like the others.”

The Imp and Billy sat and thought.

Visibly impatient, the Imp began, “Wait a minute, we’re working too hard. Let’s get lazy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Next time, instead of directly challenging the boy, I want you to give him something that will take his voice away.”

“Huh?”

“Yes,” the Imp whispered, as if to himself. Growing louder, he continued, “We’ve been going at this one all wrong. What’s the newest mirror-like thing that all your kind looks at?”

“I’m not sure what you mean?”

“ANSWER ME!” the Imp screeched. “That thing you all stare at when you are with each other? Your kind never used to do that. What’s it called?”

“My phone?”

“Yes,” the Imp said. “Your phone. Does the boy have one like yours?”

“I think so, but he doesn’t seem to care about it.”

“Fine, fine. Here’s what you do. Call him over to you and make friends with him. Tell him you’re sorry and you’d like to be his friend. Do what you have to to get him to look at his phone more and more. We’ll simply silence him.”

“Oh, I see your game now. Silence. Yes, I can do that. I even know just what will work.”

“He’ll be working against himself soon enough. Maybe I can even get that vacation I’ve always wanted,” the Imp fantasized.

****

“Hey, boy!” Billy said, “Can I get your number? I want to text you later about this Bible app my aunt installed on my phone.”

****

“No, no. Stay there another week. Enjoy yourself. The next round is on me. You earned it. Brilliant, I tell you. The boy went from three hundred mentions to just a single mention each week,” the Devil delighted. “The best part,” the Devil paused, wiping a tear as he laughed, “The best part is he thinks we’re losing!”

Ladies, It’s Time To Put Your Pants Back On

“Yes,” I am aware that I am a hypocrite. But “no,” that is not going to deter me from changing my wicked ways and speaking truth to power (that’s right, ladies, you are powerful).

I cannot remember precisely when it began for me, but if I give it a thought, it was probably when I first headed from little pink house-Lenexa to the Rocky Mountains to ski as a teenager. It may have been the drastic difference in how you appeared on the mountain versus how you appeared in the restaurants, that is, the change from puffy snow-pants to form-fitting leggings.

Or maybe it was the cheerleaders’ underskirt attire during cold-weather events. Aren’t cheerleaders the rightful leaders when it comes to fashion?

Whatever it was, as a young man I wasn’t going to say “no”–if you weren’t. More form-fitting clothing, more of the time, I said!

But now, after two or so years of all y’all–no matter how short, tall, fat, or thin–wearing nothing except leggings, I’m telling you it is time to put your pants back on.

Oh, and here’s a tip for the next time this trend surfaces: I maybe could have lasted for a few more months if you wouldn’t have started wearing leggings that have massive patches of fabric missing around your not-naughty bits.

Here’s the tru tru. I have a daughter. As you know, I cannot fight every battle and win the war. So help a brother out! She deserves better from you.

Foolishness

It’s been exhausting, but the Holy Spirit has finally given me the promised rest. I’m not sure why I had to wrestle for nearly a year, but the LORD works in mysterious ways, of that I’m certain.

Summarizing: My seminary’s required course in Christian Apologetics included mentioning/teaching the available logical arguments for defense of Christianity. This included an argument named after the Muslim that developed it. For reasons including the professor’s utterly shameful assertion, “You might be the smartest Christian someone ever meets” and the fact that I lost a war to Muslims, the whole thing did not sit well with me.

Shortly after that, in the media coverage of events happening in Europe and America there was a seeming surge in “Islamic” terrorism that peaked, for me, with the nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who thought I had at least kept the fighting at a distance–and now a Christian seminary student with a growing appreciation for the Word of God, both Jesus and the Bible–I finally picked up the Qur’an to see what it says first-hand. To my shock–and I cannot emphasize this enough–to my shock I learned, not that Islam is inherently violent, but that Muhammad had deduced Allah from the “god” of the Old Testament and New Testament (no different than a Deist deduces some manner of monotheism). And this was exceedingly troubling to me.

Worse than troubling me, it tempted me into foolishness. You see, I believed, and spent the last ten calendar months attempting to persuade others, that logic–or man’s wisdom–must be removed from Christianity.

To what end? In short, Christians that knew this already agreed with me. Christians that disagreed, remained unchanged. In other words, no one budged. I didn’t make a dent.

Then finally–finally, finally, finally–the Spirit spoke. What did He say? Turn with me now to 1 Corinthians 1:19 where these words are recorded, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever, I will set aside.'” Dum, dum,dummmm. Who destroys the “Wisdom of the wise”? The Living God. (How? Through his Word–both Jesus Christ and the Bible.) No man, not even me, can do it.

Therefore, I am officially done messing around with the wisdom of the world which God has made foolish. From now on I am preaching Christ, the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, but also the Weakness of God and the Foolishness of God. 

If you’re aware of the spiritual war, I encourage you to likewise limit yourself to preaching Christ too. To those who are called, Jews and Greeks, Christ. Arguments don’t save souls. The Blood of Christ does. Preach Christ. Christ and only Christ. Or as yesterday’s namesake put it back in 377AD-ish,

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

Amen.