|Shrill--and Getting Shriller
|Thursday, September 24, 2020|
Shrill—and getting shriller.
Such is the state of our digital demeanor. Have you noticed? Our public discourse is often just coarse. If you’re a conservative, every democrat is despicable. If you’re a liberal, conservatives are kooky.
Those who disagree with some of the data presented by the Climate Change crowd are “science deniers.” That’s right! They deny 100% of everything scientific. No middle ground—who needs it?
We have all but lost our capacity to disagree, let alone discuss much of anything with others. Civility is dead.
In our posts, texts, and media, we celebrate the crass, specialize in the snarky, and cherish the choice to demolish. What was once a stream of anonymous attacks from strangers in a chat room is now publicly endorsed online and on television.
We are shrill and getting shriller. Profanity—proudly used. Vulgarity—very in vogue.
This is hardly a surprising assessment of our secular culture. Unredeemed people will act in unredeemed ways.
But my concern is not so much for the wide wicked world out there as it is for the world inside the Church. I'm seeing an acceleration of Christians attacking other Christians for their views on the election, climate change, and social justice. Worse, we express our opinions with the same meanness as those outside the faith.
How in the world can we call any of this Christian? What makes us think our Savior would possibly sanction such savagery?
We are shrill and getting shriller, rather than kind and getting kinder. But please note. The song never says, “They’ll know that we are Christians by our tweets.” It’s our love, folks. That’s what we’re to be known for.
Shame on us!
|Methuselah and Me
|Thursday, September 17, 2020|
Conversations with a 969 Year Old Man
Some people have happy dreams—others, nightmares. How to describe this?
I found him outside town perched on a rock at an intersection locally known as Three Corners, named for the three counties that come together on three roads emerging out of a forest.
It’s not like I was staring at him or anything. Okay, maybe a little. How could I not? His body gave the appearance of a distressed pup tent—saggy and poked out in places where fragile bones attempted to prop up his shaky limbs. His skin cascaded down those limbs like melted candle wax—ancient and drizzled and lumpy. His robe looked more scratchy then comfortable and reminded me of a revolutionary war tent I'd seen.
Just who was this relic? I wanted to meet him, talk to him. But how? Could a guy that old even hear? Or see? And if he could, would he even give me the time of day? Curiosity prevailed.
"Excuse me, Sir. Have you got a second?” I managed to squeak out.
"Maybe. Maybe not. At my age, very little is certain." He chuckled at his own humor in a voice that was equal parts gravel and whisper, and I felt myself exhale. At least the guy could hear.
“Sir, I don’t mean to be forward, but do you mind my asking….um….how old are you?”
"Months?" I mumbled (an odd way to tell someone your age, I pondered, doing some quick math). "That'd make you…about eighty." But he looked older than that.
“Years,” croaked the old guy, poking a crooked walking stick into the ground below.
“That can’t be. Nobody ever lived to be 969 years…”
“One has,” he smiled, jabbing a thickly knuckled index into the air—and then at himself.”
“Wait a minute! You can’t be—you couldn’t possibly be….”
“Methuselah," he half-wheezed half-whispered. "Name's Methuselah.”
Frankly, he almost looked like he could be 969. Rather than argue, I decided I’d humor the guy and play along.
“What’s it like being 969 years old?” I asked.
“Lots of answers, depending on your angle,” his voice graveled. “What’s yours?” His eyes pierced mine, his wrinkled brow showing more of a dare than an invitation.
“Okay,” I said, seizing on his dare, still wanting him to prove himself. “Tell me about your righteous grandson.” A fake Methuselah would struggle here. Not this geezer. A smile creased his creases deeper still.
“A good boy, that Noah. A godly one. We live today in tough times. Killings. Rape. Sexual extremism. Brutal violence. But Noah—my grandson—he loves the Lord. Obeys Him fully. He's the only God follower in his generation,” Methuselah trailed off, looking down.
I was sold. "So—if it's okay to ask—why do you think Noah's the only one in your family to follow God?"
“I’ve puzzled over that question for a century or two, boy. I suppose only the Lord Himself knows. Be nice to think some of it was related to good parenting—making God a priority. Faithful prayers of a grandfather, maybe?” He chuckled.
“I really can’t say. But one thing I do…”
Abruptly, he grew quiet as his head craned skyward. “I pray for him. Every morning. Every day. Every night. I pray for him.” Tears pooled as his voice cracked. “I pray for all the kids. All the grandkids.”
It was an awkward moment, and it felt like something needed to be said.
“Sounds like you, um….recommend that to others, then?” I mumbled, feeling immediately like Captain Obvious.
“Praying for them? You bet your life, sonny. At my age, prayer is the only thing I’ve got left. But think about it. At any age—it’s the best thing.”
With that, I watched him slide down the rock with surprising agility.
“Let me ask you something,” the old guy said, catching me off guard.
“Do you have children?”
“Yes, I do. A son and a daughter.”
“Do you pray for them?”
“Well, sure I do,” I answered a tad defensively.
“Probably not every morning. But….”
“All throughout the day?”
“Not…all throughout the day, no. I guess I don’t. But sometimes I…” I was defending myself, grasping for something that wasn't there, and Methuselah knew it.
“But you do pray for them every single night, don't you?" His intonation sounded more like sadness than questioning.
There was no point in stating what he already knew. I sort of expected a verbal lashing or a fiery sermon from the ancient. It never came. Instead, he grabbed his walking stick and trudged back into the woods.
How I wished he was back! I wished I could ask him to pray with me. Pray for me. Teach me to pray—like Methuselah.
Then I woke up.
Crazy dream? I suppose. But Methuselah's words about kids and grandkids still haunt:
“Prayer. It’s the only thing we’ve got left.”
|Thursday, September 10, 2020|
As we Midwesterners begin our slow goodbye to summer, we know that six months of all things dark and drab loom ahead. Our descent into the dreary is eased somewhat by the bombastic colors of the fall trees.
As if to dare the onslaught of fall’s overwhelming brownness, the leaves emerge in irreverent hues: electric orange, sun-soaked lemon, fierce red.
My favorites are the variegated shades, like the leaf I saw on a neighbor's driveway. It was small and featured a bright green center crowned with an orange tint that looked as if God was experimenting with Photoshop.
After taking a quick phone pic, I gently pocketed the leaf, intending to show it to my wife. I forgot about it until the next day. Pulling it out of my jacket, I could see that already, the color had faded a bit. More noticeably, the thing had started to shrivel.
What a metaphor. Try as we might, we cannot pocket beauty. We cannot keep it in a jar or hang it in a frame. Or seal it from decay—just one more unintended consequence from the fall.
We can enjoy beauty’s magnificence.
We can take snapshots.
We can inhale its fragrance.
But beauty cannot be frozen in time.
We can only enjoy it in time.
So—take the time.
Your wife’s smile.
Your son’s eyes.
Your favorite leaf.
These are beautiful gifts from a God of beauty who bids us enjoy His creation.
|Butterflies in Distress
|Thursday, September 03, 2020|
It was hard to miss, even walking at the brisk pace I try to maintain on my early morning walks. There on the side of the road was a magnificent butterfly. Black and spotted and iridescent, I saw majesty in every flex of its silken wings.
My friend Chris, an outdoor guy with considerable experience, told me I was staring at an Eastern Black Swallowtail. I had more time to study this creature than I should have. Because when it attempted to fly, it fluttered and stuttered—but went nowhere. Yet the thing kept trying to get airborne anyway. Try after try, it failed to leave the ground.
Why? I wondered. Upon close inspection, the wings appeared to be in great shape—no dings in either antenna. From what I could see, the head looked fine, and the legs seemed in place.
The longer I watched its ill-fated flight attempts, the more obvious it became. This was a butterfly in distress.
Sadly, I was unable to help. So I walked on, wondering what was to become of my non-flying friend.
On the breeze of that early morning, a thought drifted into my mind. There is hardly a day that goes by that you and I don’t walk past butterflies in distress. Not the tiny ones with wings. I speak of the tall ones on two legs.
It’s the lady next door, hemorrhaging over the divorce she never wanted.
It’s the friend who got the disturbing phone call from the doctor’s office.
They are often hard to spot because they look just fine on the outside. Watch long enough, and you'll see that they flutter and stutter—but get nowhere. I submit...
Maybe it’s your spouse. Or your daughter. Or your son. Or even yourself.
We cannot fix them--only Christ can. But we dare not ignore them. Ours is to notice. To care. To call. To pray. To encourage. But it all begins with seeing them on the side of the road.
Butterflies in distress—they’re everywhere.
|Thursday, August 27, 2020|
Feasting on a breakfast of presweetened cereal—the kind kids like me love best—I bumped into a curious bit of philosophy. The back of the cereal box offered advice for your “Biggest Week Ever.”
The box suggested we should be kind, be confident, be adventurous, and a few other “nice” things. One could hardly argue with the list. Nothing wrong with being a dreamer, as was also suggested.
Curiously missing from the list, though, were virtues like honesty. Or perseverance. Or integrity.
Since the audience here is young children, why not introduce them to respect as a value worthy of pursuit?Previous generations did.
I get that these virtues are not nearly as fun. And in fairness, we are talking about a cereal box here. Nobody released this as an official lifetime guide for raising kids. Still, when you sniff the cultural air, it feels almost like there’s a kill order on virtues no longer in vogue.
Have you noticed that virtues like temperance and prudence have all but disappeared from public discourse? One web headline I saw reads, Why be honest if honesty doesn’t pay?
Increasingly, our culture encourages niceness over integrity, agreeableness over principal.
Which leads to narrative trumping facts and tolerance over truth.
As Christ-followers, we must resist the seduction of a lexicon of virtues that ignores biblical principles. Instead, let us endorse what is “true and lovely” (Phil. 4:8) and “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). All this while living “above reproach in a world full of crooked and perverse people" (Phil. 2:15).
God help us live a biblically virtuous life!
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