Monday, March 26, 2012

The Book of John

One of the highlights of my day is walking to my office from the bus stop. While I enjoy the walk (usually), and look forward to my stop at the Starbucks outside my building for my morning chai, what I really enjoy is being greeted by John on the mornings he occupies the corner opposite Starbucks. He sells copies of the latest weekly paper focused on the homeless. Regardless of your age, his greeting of “Good Morning, Young Lady” (or in my case, “Young Man”) rings out over the traffic to everyone who crosses his corner and a broad smile lights up his face. He makes my day.

I don’t know much about him. He’s wandered around the US a lot, lived in Chicago and Minneapolis for a while, and finally came back to Seattle. It’s friendlier here, though still just as hard. He came here once when he was a younger man and enjoyed the people. I would have to say he has done more than his share returning the favor.

What little I know of him I learned one day on a bus ride from a visit with a client I was doing some pro bono work for. We noticed each other after I got on the bus and after sitting down a few seats away, decided to introduce myself and let him know how much I appreciated seeing his smiling face and warm greeting every day. He was on his way from the shelter where he lived. He told me a little about his travels, how he came to Seattle, his hopes for a future job, how often he was at that corner and the reason for his jovial greetings. He sees a lot of people selling the same paper, standing on different corners, but silent, almost sullen. John decided that regardless of whether he sold someone a paper or not, they deserved to be treated well. Some might refer to that as “karma”; I see him sewing what he hopes to reap. And it makes a difference. He has more people walking away from that corner with a smile on their faces than anyone I’ve seen. I’ve even noticed women blush when he refers to them as “young lady”.

After we met on the bus that day, I now get a personal greeting from him - a man hug and a hearty “GOOD MORNING, THOMAS! How are you today?” Every day, whether he is there or not, I’m reminded to pray for him. I buy a paper and ask after his health and his plans. When I didn’t see him for a few weeks, I worried and was glad to see him when he returned. He’d had problems with his feet and the doctor told him to stay off them until they healed up.

But it doesn’t seem enough. I feel like I’m telling him to be “warmed and filled”. I’d like to buy him coffee at the very least. I’d like to invite him for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. But I don’t want him to feel like he’s a project I’ve taken on. I want him to know that he is missed and that he is loved. I want to walk past that man throughout eternity.

Lord, help me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Got clothes?

She stood, casually chatting with a friend in the street behind our offices. It was not her looks that attracted attention. She was good looking, without a doubt. It was her posture. It bespoke an attitude about her life, her worldview. Insouciant, cavalier, without concern. Proud of her looks and charms.

What struck me as ironic was the fact that she would have never stood that way if she had no clothes on. She would have been less carefree, and more concerned with her nakedness. Much as you and I would be if we knew how naked we really are.

You see – her stance, her attitude reflected what so many of us think about ourselves. We are comfortable in the conceit that once we have clothes on, nothing matters. Our “selves” – at least our bodies – are invisible. Unless we choose to expose our bodies, no one can see what we are like. What we choose to wear provides only a glimpse of the person underneath.

What we do not realize is that we really are naked. Our credit limit at Nordstrom or our eye for fashion means little to God. Regardless of how we try to disguise ourselves, He sees right through to the core of who we are. He sees the Truth of who we are. He sees the Reality of who we are. Moreover, He sees exactly what we need and He has provided it. His concern is for our nakedness in His presence, not for His ability to cover our nakedness and shame.

You know what is interesting? He is not repulsed by our nakedness. He does not hide Himself from us in our most embarrassing moments in life. When we’re exposed, He covers us.

I remember my son’s first efforts to dress himself when he was little. He knew he needed clothes and he knew where they were. His first appearance before Mom, fully dressed for the first time – all by himself – brought a chuckle. The intent was right, but so much else was not quite right. Colors. Buttons. Belt. Socks. Size. But all that mattered little. My wife scooped him into her arms and carried him back to his room for some much-needed assistance.

The Father does the same for us. God could be angry with our attempts to do it ourselves, but He is not. He is saddened at our efforts to always try to do it ourselves; He is compassionate in providing what we need, not just to cover our shame, but to remove it. And He is willing. Willing to remind us of our nakedness and our inability to cover ourselves. Willing to remind us He can dress us and that only He can take away our shame, not just cover it up. So let us put on Christ.

If she had only known. If she had only understood. Then, she would really experience a carefree insouciance, a care-less-ness born of the knowledge of God’s love, His mercy, His forgiveness.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yes, I'm waiting

My brother-in-law is about to leave this world. He's been battling pancreatic cancer for almost three-and-a-half years. The battle is almost over.

He's 53. And married, with a four year old daughter. His wife has had to watch the slow and now sudden decline of the man she loves. Of a husband who used to run circles around her, so full of energy. He feels 90. Now, he has to use a walker and for help. It is very sad. It is heartbreaking.

My wife just returned from three weeks spent with them, helping and serving where she could. She had to come back before she wanted to. She wanted to stay, knowing that these last few days would be the hardest on his wife and daughter. Knowing she could help and wanting to. Wanting to show the deep love she has for her brother, his wife, and their daughter. Wanting God to show them Jesus. I know she wants to be back there now, doing what she can, being Christ to them.

I have wanted to ask him some questions, but he has been very antagonistic towards Christianity. And for some good reasons. He's gotten very angry, derisive, even verbally abusive towards my wife - his sister - when they have spoken about this in the past. I long to have a quiet conversation with him. But he does not have the energy, the strength that it would take to talk for extended periods of time. And I don't want him to waste his energy in anger.

God, have mercy on him. Make yourself real. Draw him to You. Sweep the detritus and the anger and the hurt out of the way. Brush it from the path before him so he can run to the foot of the cross and embrace it. Invade his space and let him know you love him and long for him. In that masterful Way of yours, leave him without defense and be his defender.

You see, my brother-in-law doesn't know if there is a God, but he wants there to be one. I'm not sure why, but I think it is because he wants to see justice done. I think he wants to know that some Where, some When, Someone will confront his Dad. But if he doesn't really know if there is a God, why? If there is, won't He judge everyone fairly? Me? My wife? My father-in-law? My brother-in-law? Doesn't he understand that this must be so? God is even-handed, just. But God is also merciful. Compassionate. Providing a Way when, and where, we cannot.

Something about...

Waiting. Expectantly. Cautiously. Patiently. Purposefully. Dreadfully.
Weighting the wait... A? B? C? NC? How quietly can you wait?
Windows weight. And filter. Is it Hamming? Cosine? Tukey? Your front door?
Why filter? Is it just too much to handle? Not inside our bandpass?
What do we filter? What is swept away and what remains?
Waiting the weight... will it lift? What will it leave? Will I see its path?

Even God filters. We cannot know what He knows; cannot see what He sees;
Cannot grasp what He holds in the palm of His hand. The Universe. The Quanta.
We cannot even grasp us. In the palm of His hand.
So we wait...
Expectantly. Cautiously. Patiently. Purposefully. But
I am a dreadful waiter, in spite of outward appearances.

Thursday, December 31, 2009


In very short order and somewhat simultaneously, I just finished reading "The Death of Adam", "Home", and "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson.


I have to go watch the rain fall, soak the earth, and leach into the aquifer.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Santa, Washington, and Public Religion

I took my daughter to visit some friends at a local mall the other day. They had some business to transact regarding speech and debate for the upcoming year. While they met, I did some work on my laptop, chatted with a person I didn't even know (He started it!) about my laptop, and watched people go by while I also enjoyed some rather good coffee (NOT the locally-owned and internationally recognized brand of course - it was good coffee).

This isn't one of the big mega-malls in the area. It's much smaller, all geared towards the neighborhood. When my son and daughter were younger, we visited there regularly to browse the library, the bookstore, and the bread-making company. In fact, we took both children there at separate times for a "behind-the-oven-door" tour of the breadbaker's business when they were in pre-school.

All in all, it's a neighborhood mall, one that sees itself as part of a community where people live, and not a destination where your money disappears easily.

As I entered and left the mall, I noticed the number of families coming in, with the children all nicely dressed, and most of the parents as well. "Ah, it's Christmas," I thought to myself, "and they are going to visit Santa." Fond memories wafted through my mind as I watched them stroll by.

Something seemed out of place, however. Here, in one of the least churched places in the US, I was watching a fair number of families come to visit a modern representation of an ancient believer of Jesus Christ. Nicholas, after all, was a prominent bishop in the Middle East prior to the elevation of Christianity to a formally recognized state religion. He gave away what he had to help the poor and needy; he bought slaves on the open market and gave them their freedom; he suffered imprisonment and torture for his trust in God and the life that trust caused him to live. It was his generosity of spirit and material wealth that earned him his reputation and ultimately led to his popularization as the entity we now call Santa Claus.

That entity today, of course, is known to check his list to see who was naughty and who was nice. He knows if you've been sleeping or if you're awake; he knows if you've been bad or good - so be good for goodness sake.

To me, that sounds an awful lot like the God Nicholas served wholeheartedly, minus His omnipresence, omnipotence, transcendence, immanence, and everything else that so poorly defines God for us. Like God, Santa has (presumably) the power to reward and punish.

In a region that (for the most part) at best ignores God, Santa is quite popular. I wonder, why do people come to visit once a year? Is it to seek absolution? To remind Santa (God) that they're not so bad after all? That they deserve his (His) grace and forgiveness? That they aren't that bad after all?

For the moment (and only for a moment), let's put aside the fact that God has already expressed His love to us at the cross, and He is not willing that any should perish, and that He extends mercy to those who acknowledge who they are, who He is, and that He accomplished all that is necessary to restore us to Himself.

What I can't ignore is the trust that parents put into a man who gave a resounding testimony to the grace of God, and whom they encourage their children to believe in, and write to, and visit, but then ignore the real power behind the symbol. It saddens me.

It seems that Christmas is at once stripped of it's power and majesty and mystery as seen in the Gift of God to us, but is still upheld as a part of our public religion.

I wonder...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

College Pleasures

I finally figured out why I enjoy living in the Great Pacific Northwet. Yes, I like having access to mountains, large trees, snow, the ocean. I do enjoy getting outside and re-creating my soul. I also enjoy the rain. I even enjoy the rain; I especially enjoy the rain. And it is all because I enjoyed college tremendously.

There are the usual reasons that most people think of - the intellectual challenges, the new acquaintances, and new found independence. Although I enjoyed all of those reasons (and a few more that don't deserve additional press), my greatest enjoyment found it's origin in more prosaic pursuits.

When I attended college, and high school before that, I lived in Alaska. In fact, my high school years were spent in a little town by the name of Delta Junction. The true terminus of the AlCan Highway (which many residents of Fairbanks will dispute), Delta Junction is situated about 100 miles south of Fairbanks. It was fairly small (and likely still is), with probably no more than 2500 people in the immediate area (a 25 mile radius). It was also famous for two other reasons. First, it had the second largest buffalo herd in North America which was celebrated at the annual Buffalo Bar-B-Que held every summer. I actually never tasted a buffalo burger or any other buffalo meat until long after I had left Delta. Lots of moose and caribou, but no buffalo.

Delta could get cold in the winter. That was the second reason. Mid-winter temperatures of -30 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit weren't unusual, and we usually had at least one cold snap that would go down to -50 or below. When I was a junior, our cold snap came over Christmas break. It reached -60 degrees and hung there for over a week. The permafrost level was driven further below ground and the school's sewage and water pipes froze and broke - sometime within the last few days before school was supposed to open again. Our break was extended by two weeks while the school dug up the pipes and repaired the system.

Delta was also located near Fort Greeley, Alaska. The Fort was the location of the Northern Warfare Training Center and the Arctic Test Facility. As a training center, that meant the Fort hosted large groups of troops during the winter for winter warfare training. Cross-country skiiing, winter camping, winter camouflage, frozen C-rations, and cold muzzles - all were a part of a new experience for many troops.

Now the cold was also the reason for the existence of the Arctic Test Facility at Fort Greeley. It gave the Army an opportunity to test new vehicles and other technology in the extreme cold of winter. My Dad came to Fort Greeley in the mid-50's with the Army. When he retired, he joined the Corps of Engineers and operated a small nuclear power generator that provided electrical power for the post as well as Delta Junction. The test was shut down quietly without protest or accident.

Although Delta wasn't technically a bush town (somewhere you had to fly to), it was pretty remote. We could drive north to Fairbanks or south towards Glenallen and Valdez or Anchorage beyond. But it was a long drive.

We lived almost five miles outside of town, so the only real "service" or utility we had was electricity. Our water came from a well (it was equipped with a pump and we did have indoor plumbing) and our waste was collected in an underground tank that had to be pumped regularly. Yes, it was a different slice of life.

Because we drew our water from a well, we had to be very conservative in our use of water. We couldn't use too much because we had to get rid of it and we couldn't overflow our tank. So five minute showers and judicious use of toilet paper was something we learned very quickly.

However, this resulted in a very utilitarian view of showers. You got in to get clean. You used only what you had to in order to do so, and no more. And it was always showers - taking a bath used too much water. I never had the chance to enjoy a long, warm shower.

Until college.

Because Alaska Methodist University and the University of Fairbanks had their own plumbing systems and an infinite supply (to me!) of hot water, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I could, and quite often did, take hour-long showers. Just because I enjoyed the feel of hot water hitting my face and streaming over my body. Just because I could. Just because no one was going to pound on the bathroom door waiting to get in or to complain about the amount of water I was using. Just sitting on the floor of the shower stall and letting the water fall all over and around me was almost more than I could stand. It was more than I deserved. Just because.

When we finally left Alaska, we moved to the Seattle area. We had been warned about the winter rains and how gloomy it got, but it wasn't any gloomier than Alaska in the middle of winter. Actually, it was a lot brighter, even in the winter. But the rains don't bother me. Because that is what I longed to hear and experience as I went through high school - long showers. So now, I get to enjoy them. (But now that I have to pay the bills, I still watch my water usage.) But I get to fall asleep listening to the rain hit the roof. I get to emerge from the shower and hear the rain falling on our bathroom skylight.

I get to hear one of the most wonderfully soothing sounds in the world - rain fall.