I Am a Very Lucky Man

In the great classic “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge says wistfully at the end of the movie, “I am a very lucky man.” As I sit at the end of 2019, I too feel like I am a very lucky man. As an old saying goes, you can’t count on luck, but sometimes being lucky counts a whole lot. I want to share a few of the reasons why I feel particularly blessed at the end of this calendar year.

  • My wife has battled back from cancer, twice! Every follow-up blood test is nerve wracking, but as we have learned, it is the “new normal.” We are so grateful to have been blessed with two oncologists that have given her the strength, and the medical knowledge, to overcome. I realize this narrative can change at any time, and not every battle against cancer ends in victory –  I lost my father to cancer 29 years ago. So, for now I will consider myself very lucky, and blessed, to share in this moment.
  • I have the most amazing, articulate, artistic, and beautiful-in-every-sense-of-the-word daughter. She amazes me more and more every day, in ways that I find hard to explain. One of my long-running jokes with her is that after she was born, the nurses switched babies because there is no way this girl could be mine. Well, in a serious way that is very true – I really wonder how this girl could be the way she is with me as her father. I’ve made so many mistakes and failed her in so many ways. Maybe every father feels that way – but to have her in my life seems to me to just be pure luck.
  • I’ve been given a new “leash” on life. Not “lease,” as the saying usually goes, but a new leash. I’m beginning to realize that I am tethered to something different, something new. I have had to come to grips with some rather hard truths over the past few months, and have had a lot of time to evaluate my priorities. I’ve said good-bye to some long held dreams, and have come to embrace some new (or, at least, renewed) goals. In one sense it is kind of scary – the old was so comfortable and predictable. In another sense it is liberating. Either way, it is certainly real, and I look forward to seeing how 2020 plays out.
  • I have some of the most amazing, thoughtful, and generous friends. Really – some of you reading this are who I am talking about. The last half of 2019 we could not have survived without the financial generosity of many, many people. It was a deeply humbling experience. I’ve already referenced Ebenezer Scrooge, so I guess I might as well mention George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The angel Clarence got it right – every man who has friends is rich indeed. My wife and I are already looking for ways in which we can pay this blessing forward, and our hope is that we can help others in same or similar situations. Whether that happens in 2020 or not, I look forward to being an angel in someone’s life as so many were angels to us.

I am a very lucky man. Maybe blessed is the more proper, biblical, spiritual term, but today lucky just seems to be more appropriate. I did not, and do not, deserve the gifts I have listed (and there are many more!), but I do recognize how my life has been made fuller and richer by having received them, and I do not want any one to think I am ungrateful for having been given these gifts. If I can see anything more clearly or more profoundly, it is because I stand on the shoulders of some prodigious giants.

In the coming year may we all ascend higher by climbing lower.

Back in the Saddle Again – and Thanks for a Great Year

Okay, so I’m not Roy Rogers or whoever it was who sang that old western standard, but after 4 months plus some days I am once again sitting in a “saddle” of sorts preparing to serve a congregation of the Lord’s church. It’s been a long, hard stretch, but there are always some silver linings that come out around dark clouds, and not to say that I want to do it again, but I have learned some things in that four month stretch that I can appreciate now.

I want to take this time to thank my readers for a great year. Every year I play a little game with myself – or challenge myself – that I will increase the number of views to this blog over the course of the year. I was hoping to surpass last year’s total viewership sometime in December, or if I was lucky, maybe in November. Well, thanks to you all, I did not just surpass my 2018 total, I smashed it – in August! I have to admit a minor technicality– I think a lot of those views were related to my search for a new preaching position and people were “checking me out” to see what kind of a nut I am. Whatever the reason, the total number of views for 2019 went way beyond what I was expecting and for that I am truly grateful. It also humbled me and impressed upon me the need to present solid, useful information.

I do not want to be just another voice in an echo chamber. I hope that my training, my experience, my education, and my own unique personality can be used to further God’s kingdom. I’m not the world’s greatest evangelist or the world’s greatest speaker. But, I have been given some incredible blessings through the course of my life and ministry and I hope I can pass a little of what I have learned along to others, so that they can take whatever is beneficial and add that to their special experience, training, education, and personality. This blog helps me to do a little of that, and, once again, I thank all of you who visit this space for sharing a little of my world.

On a related note, I am tossing an idea around in my head and I am wondering what level of interest there is out there for a video version of this blog. I don’t mean to replace it, but to supplement it. I was thinking about posting a 10 minute (give or take) video to my YouTube channel every week exploring some aspect of theology and/or life in general. It would not be anything special, that’s for sure. I just have a basic computer video camera. It would give me an outlet to present some of my thoughts via a visual outlet, and for me I think it would be fun and perhaps, just maybe, a little more personable than just reading my thoughts on a screen. I may give it a shot and see what happens.

As always, I have a few more issues and thoughts to discuss, so I look forward to a great 2020. So many of you have expressed support for me and my family as we searched for a new ministry position, and I want to thank you so very much for your love and concern. I believe we are in a good place, and we look forward to many good years here in our new church home.

9.11.19

Today’s thoughts are going to be more along the lines of “stream of consciousness,” so please bear with me. I have written about this before, so I apologize if it sounds a little like a re-run.

I was in a unique position on 9.11.01. I was flying an airplane. I was flying with a company check pilot on a FAA mandated recurrent check ride (something we had to do as commercial pilots every six months.) We announced our arrival and intentions to the airport to which we were flying (no control tower, just announce where you are and look for other traffic), and a voice came back (which was very unusual for that airport at that time of the morning), “Well, you can land but I will not let you take off again.” Well, the check pilot (an experienced pilot with a major air carrier) got kind of huffy and said back, “What do you mean, we cannot take off again?” (or words to that effect). The strange voice came back, “Because of the attacks on the towers in New York, all air traffic is grounded by order of the FAA.”

Shock, and dumbfounded silence.

What do you do when your happy place is turned into your casket?

I grieved for all the victims of that horrible attack, but I guess my heart went out to the pilots and their families just a little bit more. There is a kinship among pilots, a kind of social attachment that only can be experienced by someone who has commanded an airplane. Talk to a pilot and he or she can tell you exactly when and where he or she first soloed. I had a pilot friend who took everyone out to eat every year on the anniversary of his first solo. We all understood.

In 2001 the doors to the cockpits were not secure. In the cockpit of a major air carrier the space is extremely cramped. The pilots had their backs to their attackers, and stood no chance to defend themselves. They probably fought as best they could – but with multiple attackers coming with complete surprise, they really had no chance.

A group of people gathered around the TV and watched the towers fall – again and again and again. In somewhat of a stupor I walked out onto the parking ramp where my plane sat, almost as if it was saying, “Hey, we have a job to do – why are we not in the air?” I looked up. At that moment not a single airplane was in the air – except for our nation’s air defense planes.

Not one single airplane in a nations of hundred of thousands.

A co-worker and I were housed in a hotel for the next several days (three, if I remember correctly). Finally the FAA allowed planes to fly again, but under extremely strict guidelines. We had to file very specific flight plans. We had to use a special call sign. There would be no deviations, no special requests granted.

As the city of Albuquerque came into view the Air Traffic Controller in the regional center “handed me over” (as pilots say) to the Albuquerque approach controller. Because we flew in and out of Albuquerque daily, we sort of knew the controllers by their voices. There was a tenseness and a kind of sadness in everyone’s voice that first day back in the air. The voice who responded to my initial call was a familiar one, although I could never know who I was talking to. After the required information was exchanged, I said, “Sure is good to hear your voice again.” He responded, “Sure is good to hear your voice too.”

I lost it.

Its kind of hard to fly an airplane through tear filled eyes, but I managed to get mine down. The day was absolutely beautiful, a splendid example of a September day in northern New  Mexico. The airport was overflowing with parked jets. The contrast in feelings was surreal. The beauty of the day was beyond description. The sadness and the bitterness of the reality of a world gone mad was palpable.

We were all, pilots and air traffic controllers, just happy and comforted to hear the voices of people we had never met, but upon whom we relied for our lives and livelihoods on a daily basis.

“We will never forget” is so often said, and is genuinely expressed, no doubt.

I will never forget 9.11.01, nor the day I flew back into Albuquerque and heard those words that I never expected to hear.

I wonder what it will be like when we see Jesus, and we can say, “Sure is good to hear your voice!”

But, even more, I wonder what it will be like to hear Jesus say, “Sure is good to hear your voice again too.”

Let’s be careful out there today, okay?

Not Every . . .

Not every mountain is a molehill . . .
Not every molehill is a mountain . . .
Not every misspoken word is a heresy . . .
Not every thought needs to be acted on . . .
Not every major news story deserves a sermon on Sunday . . .
Not every sermon deserves discussion on Monday . . .
Not every change in worship order represents a rejection of truth . . .
Not every prayer is answered the way we want it . . .
Not every answered prayer is met with gratitude or thanksgiving . . .
Not every gift is a blessing . . .
Not every hardship is a curse . . .
Not every truth is benevolent . . .
Not every lie is malevolent . . .
Not every kindness is returned . . .
Not every act of evil needs to be avenged . . .
Not every person who dies goes to heaven . . .
Not every Bible is read . . .
Not every sin is confessed . . .

And,

Not everyone is perfect.

Why can’t we learn these things?

Some Times There Are Just Not Enough Rocks

What a difference a year makes. This time a year ago I was on the top of cloud nine. I was on the 9th peak of cloud 9. I was going to return to my beloved Colorado, in a place where I once truly felt like I was home – close to the mountains, in a veritable Garden of Eden.

I have always loved Colorado. When I was younger we would spend weeks up near where I am now, fishing on one of southern Colorado’s best, although not that well known, trout streams. When I am here I feel a connectedness not only to the land, but to God as well. There is a line in John Denver’s song, Durango Mountain Caballero that says, “I can hear my mother speak to me and hold my father’s hand.” Well, I can hear and feel my parents, and I can hold my spiritual Father’s hand as well. I am truly, deeply, alive when I am in this place.

So, on Tuesday I was dismissed from the position I had dreamed about having for two years, and where I have served for one. It was sudden – I had no clue it was coming. No reason was given either, save for a generic “it is just that you are not a good fit for this congregation.” Hmm. Too much of something? Not enough of something else? There was, at least to this point in time, no explanation, and I do not anticipate one forthcoming. It is my experience in a long, long history of preacher dismissals. We love you right up to the day we fire you. Next!

I have to say the past three days have been a roller coaster of emotions. Crushing sorrow, bitter tears, enough anger to fuel an aircraft carrier, utter and total confusion.

In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest and his friend Jenny are walking along and come out of a line of trees in front of her childhood home. It was the place where she had been abused, and all the bitterness and anger came flowing out of her as she hurled everything she could at the house – her shoes, rocks, rocks, dirt, and rocks. Finally she collapses in a heap and Forrest, who is watching in silent shock and confusion, slowly walks over and in tender compassion sits on the ground near Jenny. The scene ends with his slow drawl,

“Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

I always understood that scene, but I never really got it until this week. Sometimes, there are just not enough rocks.

But, there are some moving John Denver lyrics about this beautiful country.

You know I love the trail I’m on and the friends who ride with me,
The country that we’re passing through is a paradise to see.
A haven for my spirit, the homeland of my dreams,
My heart flies through the wilderness, and on an eagle’s wings.

Durango mountain caballero take me for a ride,
on the back-bone of this mighty land, the continental divide.
To the place where earth and heaven meet, the mountains and the sky,
In the heart of Colorado, Rocky Mountain High!

You know I love  the campfire, and the circle that I’m in
The stories and the laughter, they should never, ever end.
Forever in my memory, forever in my song,
On a San Juan mountain trail ride
I’ll carry you along.

Amen.

The Loss of Transcendence and the Death of Humanity

Pardon me as I continue (sort of) my lament from yesterday . . .

We are experiencing, in increasing measure, the slow death of humanity. I don’t mean humans as such (although that might be coming), what I mean is the loss of what makes us human, what separates us from lower animal life. It seems to me that the more technologically progressed we have become, the deeper into nihilism we have fallen. We know more and can do more with greater ease than ever before, and we are far sicker than we have ever been.

What got me to thinking about this was a recent camping trip. Not that long ago it was natural to assume that a family went up into the wilderness (or, at the very least, away from the confusion of the city) to get away from the noise, the hustle, the frantic pace. You left all of that “behind” so you could unwind, relax, shed some of the stress of the “dog eat dog” world. I noticed this past weekend how all of that has changed – and not just a little bit. I was stunned to see that off-road vehicles (we used to call them ATVs) are now almost obligatory for the modern camping family. That, along with mammoth fifth-wheel campers makes most camp sites look like the infield of the Indianapolis 500 auto race. As I stood knee deep in a gorgeous little stream I had to strain to hear the birds and squirrels fuss at each other because the almost constant barrage of four-wheelers on the nearby road made it impossible to hear God’s awesome creation.

It got worse. From time to time I could look up and see the passengers in these noise making contraptions. From what I could tell they were not happy. They were in a hurry to get somewhere, anywhere but where they were. Many had scowls on their faces, but virtually all were expressionless. Here they were in quite honestly the closest thing to the Garden of Eden, and they were either bored, or actually pained. They had to get somewhere else fast, so they could not enjoy where they were or what they were doing. Every so often they would come ripping back down the road they had just zoomed up. In a hurry, oblivious to the world of creation around them. Making noise, and utterly, completely unable to here the birds and squirrels chatter and talk to them.

It was so unbelievably sad.

We, as humans, have created a world where we can control virtually everything. If it’s too hot we turn on the air-conditioner. If it’s too cold we turn on the heater. If we are bored we turn on the TV or the tablet or our cell phone. If it is too quiet we blast our stereos or plug our ear-buds into our tablets and tune out the world. I just saw an article pointing out how there are signs of increasing mental struggles of pre-schoolers because of the increasing use of “screen time,” the fact that children do not interact with their physical world, but are increasingly tied to computers, tablets, or cell phones. It has now become the norm that even when we try to “get away from it all” we pack everything up and bring “it all” with us. We haul around our stress, our anxiety, our utter inability to deal with life if we are not stimulated to the ends of our hair follicles.

We have, or at the very least, will soon lose every concept of transcendence, of the “awesome.” When we do we will have lost the very last vestige of what it means to be human. To me that is not theoretical – I have actually witnessed it. People, human beings, created in the image of the Divine God himself, so completely engrossed in technology that they cannot even recognize, let alone appreciate, the awesomeness and transcendence of God’s most holy creation.

I do not have a Ph.D in psychology, but it really does not take a psychologist to recognize that we are a sick culture. Anger, depression, anxiety – all symptoms of a decaying society are rising at an exponential rate. Children are displaying acts of greater and greater violence at younger and younger ages. Prescriptions for anti-depressants are skyrocketing. Young people are identifying feelings of rootlessness and meaninglessness like never before. And, yet, the demand for the next upgrade for a cell phone or the next greatest app is unending.

I am not naive enough to believe that all of this can be reversed if we only clicked our heels together three times and repeated with Dorothy, “I wish I was home.” But, I am equally opposed to the idea that I should just shrug my shoulders and say none of this matters. It matters, and for future generations it should matter very much.

Somehow, someway, in calm and reasoned thought or in pure desperation, we are going to have to learn how to unplug, unwind, and “deconstruct” our over-stimulated lives. Maybe when we run out of fossil fuels and we can no longer drive massive trucks that pull 40 foot fifth-wheel camp trailers we will learn how to live life patiently again. I think learning how to hitch up a horse to a wagon might be valuable for a great many of us. It would, at the very least, teach us that we need to respect and nurture God’s awesome creation.

And, it would be a lot quieter. Maybe we could learn to listen to the birds and squirrels again.

Things Will Never Be the Same (Or, Change is Inevitable, but not Always Progress)

I was going to write a post today, a lament really, about how things have changed, and not for the better. The main source of my melancholy being a recent camping trip. When I was a little boy my family spent a lot of time in the mountains above Santa Fe, New Mexico. Not every trip was a camping trip, we would often just spend a day on a river, fishing and just enjoying the mountains. Several times each summer, however, we would head out as soon as my father got off work and spend Friday night and all day Saturday on one of New Mexico’s many streams.

I have always wanted to give my daughter the same gift that my father gave me. The problem, as I have come to realize it, is I cannot. It is simply impossible. When I was young the opportunities for “primitive camping” were almost limitless. You could drive up a dirt road, find a little pull off or winding little path down to the river, set up camp and enjoy yourself. Slowly but surely those pull-offs and winding paths were closed off and the only way to camp became official “camp-grounds” complete with water and, in some cases, septic services. And, to be sure, ridiculous camp “fees.” Tents and cab-over campers were replaced with pull trailers, and now massive fifth-wheel camp trailers dominate the countryside. When I was young if we heard our nearest camp neighbor’s dog bark, my dad believed we were too close. Now, as dusk settles all you can hear is a cacophony of electric generators providing power for the air-conditioners and satellite tv sets.

Oh, yeah, the noise. One of my treasured memories is sitting on a rock above a stream, watching the little birds and chipmunks play along the water, and singing my favorite church songs. I was struck this past weekend as I stood by the river by the constant, almost never-ending noise of off-road and ATV traffic. The wilderness is not a place to go and to enjoy nature any longer. It is a place to go and be assaulted with the vanity of humans showing off how much money they have – and their utter disrespect for nature and for their fellow man.

I wept as I realized one of my great dreams for my daughter will never be realized – or certainly not as I expected to fulfill it. She will remember our tent camping experiences, but not in the same way I experienced  the joys that my father gave me.

Then, today I was reminded that on July 16, 1969, three men left the confines of this earth to travel to, and for two of them, to walk on, the moon. So far, only 12 men have done so. But I wonder – at what cost? I don’t mean money, and I certainly understand and appreciate the good that the Apollo moon landings have brought to us. But I ask again, at what cost? For millennia humans have looked up at the moon and have wondered. The moon was always mysterious, even as we came to understand more of its power over tides and even animal and human emotions. When Neil Armstrong stepped off of the ladder of the Eagle, something changed, and we will never be able to undo that. The moon’s mystery has now been revealed (or, at least, some of it has) and there is a part of me that wonders if that scientific achievement can fully be described as progress.

We now have robotic machines on the surface of Mars. There is much talk of colonizing the moon, and even of sending humans to Mars. So, I guess it is only a matter of time until the moon is littered with massive fifth-wheel trailers and fee-only campgrounds. Mars will only be a few years behind. After we have finished trashing the moon and Mars, what will be next?

Not all achievement is progress. Just because we have the ability does not mean we have the mandate, nor the justification, to destroy that which is wild. Sometimes the wilderness needs to remain the wilderness, if for no other reason than to serve as a reminder that we are pitiful human beings, and that we are all too often slaves to our stinking, noise making inventions.

Thus endeth my lament, but not my sorrow.