Saturday, July 25, 2020

I Know We Didn't Squander It

One day several months ago, to our surpise, our then-twelve year-old dug out our old video camera and found ancient footage from when he and his brother were babies.

What else can you do but melt, and wonder where the time went?

I don't know about you, but when I start wondering where the time went, it's only a short step to the guilt of convincing myself that I must have squandered the time that seems to have vanished.

But that isn't true.

I know we didn't squander it.

No, we don't remember all of these moments captured on video, and yes, many of our "memories" from those years are probably composite sketches manufactured from feelings and distant glimpses, but I know we made the most we could have made out of those moments as they came and went. We were often distracted, usually juggling, sometimes pining for the future, occasionally frustrated, but we knew the moments were special, and I believe we infused them with the best of ourselves, at least the best we had to offer in those moments.

What gives me the confidence to claim this?

The fact that our son brought the videos to us to see and celebrate. The fact that our sons are interested in our stories of past events they can't remember. The fact that our boys still smile when we make eye contact. The nature of our relationship now, as they enter adolescence, is the reassurance I need that I haven't wasted this time.

No, I'm not saying, like Job's friends might say, that parents who experience conflict with their teens or grown kids must have squandered the time. That's not what I mean at all, and I can't possibly know what all goes into the parent-child dynamic from the earliest days to the empty nest. I'm sure there are many parents who did the very best they knew how to do, and for reasons they'll never understand, feel rejected or left behind by their sons or daughters.

I pray for comfort for everyone who suffers in this way. I can't begin to pretend to know how this feels, or what words would help. Probably none.

But I do know this: With all the prayer I can muster, I will resist the temptation to feel guilty about letting time slip away without appreciating it, and accept the fact that, no matter how much you do appreciate it, the time still slips away, slow and fast at the same time, but "away" all the same, leaving you wondering how you possibly got here from there.

Look into your loved ones' eyes today, and know that you're not squandering this moment.

Look at an old picture of a loved one, and cherish the moment anew.

You didn't squander it.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Gonna Put a John Prine Record On...

The first time I ever heard of John Prine was when he was referenced in the song "Thrift Store Chair" by Everclear. I was intrigued.

This happened to be during the heyday of Napster, so I downloaded a few John Prine songs, but never sat still long enough to give him a chance. So, he continued to be a name that was familiar because of the Everclear song, but that was it.

Not long ago, I learned that John Prine was in the hospital for COVID-19, and later learned that he died. A day or two later, he was discussed on a podcast, where I heard a few of his best songs for the first time. Now, I've run several miles listening to his first album, and let it play while working a jigsaw puzzle.

If I'm going to become a legit John Prine fan, I still have a long way to go, but there is something haunting about playing an album from 1971, for the first time, in 2020.

Isn't that magical?

A human being records something from within, and that something becomes a message in a bottle that might go anywhere, could be received by anyone, who knows when. And it might mean something special to someone at a unique time.

"Hello in There" hit me differently after my widowed father-in-law's passing than it might have at some other time.

Is this random?

Does God somehow connect us with things we need to see and hear, if we are watching and listening?

I don't know if He does, but I do know this: He is with me when I am feeling whatever I am feeling, He gets why things connect with me the way they do, and for His understanding, I am grateful.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A New Mascot

What a difference a few decades can make.

I have no connection whatsoever to the NFL team in Washington, D.C., other than having been elated when my then-L.A. Raiders defeated them in Super Bowl XVIII.

But I distinctly remember, in my early adult life, rolling my eyes at the calls to change the D.C. team's name to something other than "Redskins".

I genuinely believed people were too sensitive, just looking for controversy, that the name itself was meant to honor and not to disparage, that most people of Native American descent took no offense at the mascot, and that this was just another case of the tail wagging the dog.

One of my college professors assured our class one day that many people's feelings would be much more sensitive about a hypothetical team called the "Whiteskins".  No one responded out loud, but I privately filed this statement away as sentimental pandering from what people would now call a "snowflake".

People just needed to get over themselves.

So, what sense does it make that I feel so joyful at the recent news that this name change is now likely to happen, after all these years, even after the team's owner once vowed it never would?

I guess minds can change, and for that I am grateful.

What seemed ridiculous to me back then seems reasonable now, and my onetime scoffing has turned to sympathy. It isn't mine to decide whether another person should be offended by something that might seem OK to me. It isn't mine to decide for another person whether they should make that offense known, when I might feel that I would keep my hurt feelings to myself.

It has become clear to me that I don't know what it feels like to have some element of my identity used as a mascot by someone who doesn't share that identity, especially if that identity included a clear line to recent ancestors who suffered loss, injustice, and humiliation, and even if that mascot were intended as an honor and not as an insult. If that ever happened to me, would I be offended? I'm not sure I can even guess at that. But even if everything lined up just right to where I took no offense at this scenario, how could I know whether every other person who shared that same identity would also be OK with the mascot?

As a youth, I remember a few of my fellow church members feeling they could not participate in the modern American traditions surrounding Halloween, because they perceived the origins of Halloween to be inconsistent with Christianity. Of course, I had no interest in sitting out the fun of Halloween, and luckily for me, my family felt that the origins of Halloween were less important than what Halloween had evolved into in our time, and what it means to us now.

I don't believe for a moment that anyone who has taken a name from Native American history to serve as a mascot for an athletic team has ever done so with malice or out of a desire to hurt. Probably quite the opposite, in fact. But pure intentions from the past do not necessarily translate across the decades as culture changes. Maybe it's less important what the founders of a team had in mind at a different place in history than how that decision lands today in our minds, and in the minds of our neighbors.

And maybe we just aren't entitled to take something that isn't ours and use it for our own purposes, no matter how pure our intentions are, and no matter whether we see any harm in it.

Maybe it's just not for us to say.

And maybe it's not even all that as much it is just the empathy that a few decades of working with real people can bring. I truly don't want people to hurt any more than people already hurt in this world.

Could it really be that knowing someone is offended is enough to make a change?

The Apostle Paul wrote that he was willing to give up eating meat altogether to avoid hurting anyone who would be offended if they thought he had eaten meat that had been sacrificed to an idol, even though he knew it made no difference at all. Was he ever called upon to cash that check? Not that we know of, but that's quite a statement to make.

I don't know if I could make a vow like that myself, which brings up an obvious challenge:

I'm not a Washington Redskins fan. I have nothing personal invested here. Would this all be harder to swallow if we were talking about my favorite team? A team I had cheered for all my life, whose logo I had worn through several different eras of fashion? A team for whom I had wept?

Yeah..that's a lot harder to imagine, and I can see how much I might resist this change in that circumstance.

But I guess that's where this becomes real.

What is more important to me?

The freedom to ignore another person's feelings for the sake of my perspective, or the fellowship with another person that might require a change in my perspective, perhaps even a change that is painful to me?

The freedom to carry on, knowing I am causing offense, or the trust that might be created by removing the cause of offense, even if I don't see it as offensive?

I pray I am able to see the answer as clearly when I am the one in the Redskins' position.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Kobe, I'm Sorry

Kobe Bryant:

I'm so sorry for what happened to you and your family today.

As a faraway, devoted, nostalgic, weepy, greedy, lifelong Lakers fan, I loved you in the way you love people you can never know, and I judged you in the way you judge people who operate on a different plane from your own.

Today millions of us mourn for you, even as we are aware that there is a grief we cannot know, and dare not intrude upon, within your family, for you, your young daughter, and your friends.

We pray for the repose of your soul, for comfort and peace for all who knew and loved you, the real person.

In the summer of '96, I celebrated when Shaq came to L.A., because I believed he alone would carry us back to the Finals. I was wrong about that; we only got back there once you came into full form as a star alongside him.

We Lakers fans are spoiled, as you know, and nothing else matters to us besides the banners. Our dream is that someday we will have more of them than Boston has. We're awfully close now, thanks largely to you.

Five titles.

Same as Magic.

The greatest Laker ever? It's hard for any of us who grew up in the 80's to let that crown be taken from Magic, but for the generation who came up later, it's only you. And how could anyone blame them?

Thank you for helping make the Lakers matter again. It had been a long drought when you arrived, and it meant so much in the early 2000's to see the purple and gold back on top.

I'm sorry for my longstanding discontentment and inability to be satisfied with your success. I always wondered whether our team could have, might have, accomplished more.

What if you and Shaq had been able to make it work?

Did we really have to lose to the Pistons in '04?

Was there really no way to make anything out of Dwight Howard's first stint with our team?

How much did your intensity elevate your teammates, and how much did it drive them away?

Is there anyone who could have been committed enough to earn your trust as a teammate?

I'm sorry for never being excited about the 81-point game, as I had let my heart grow cold by that time. I didn't feel that game even mattered, because it's all about the banners.

I'm sorry for my faint interest in the free throws you hit with a torn Achilles, and for the grudging nature of my goodwill at your retirement, as I held against you the Lakers' struggles in the twilight and the aftermath of your years with the team.

Many teams would love to have one championship title during a star player's career, yet I have spent more time than I am proud to admit wondering why we only got five while you played. I'm sorry for that.

What amazes me now, and what I probably misinterpreted at the time, is the fact that you knew how gifted you were. You knew what you could do, and you knew you were willing to work harder at it than anyone else. You embraced your gifts, worked to hone them, and made no apology for them. If only the rest of us could learn this from you.

At the time, I saw this as arrogance, and maybe some of it was. But compared to so many of us, who can't seem to accept God's gifts and put them to use, you are an example and an inspiration.

It's also clear from your career that no one can succeed by going it alone. It was a dark, frustrating time, toward the end, when the Lakers just didn't matter anymore, despite the presence of a living legend on the team. I'm sorry I unplugged. I just couldn't take it.

Kobe Bryant, you captured the hearts of the entire Laker Nation, and you even won over most of us whose hearts will always really belong to Magic.

Embrace your gifts, embrace your teammates. And work at it with all your heart.

Thank you for teaching us so much.

Thank you for giving us such amazing memories.

May you rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

His Gifts

My two sons and I noticed it on the drive to their school this morning:

In the pinking eastern sky, a row of round, gray clouds, strung out like islands in the sea. Perfectly centered between two of these clouds, like a gem set by a jeweler, a bright star still holding its own as night faded away.

This unique and beautiful sight was fleeting, as the movement of both the clouds and our car almost immediately threw the star off center, and then obscured it completely, losing the perfect alignment that had fascinated us for a moment.

Lord, let me remember this sight for years to come, as it's not often a parent and kids share a moment of common awe.

It's also rare for a parent and kids to share a common observation from such a moment.

So, how cool was it that we noted together how those two clouds and that star have no awareness of each other, share no common space, really have nothing to do with one another, other than both existing in God's creation, yet wove themselves together so perfectly for just that instant, just from our perspective and from nowhere else in the universe, to create a picture we never would have imagined?

Could we learn to love our Maker more this way?

Could we bask more richly in the beauty of God's blessings by weaving together different combinations of His many gifts, to view from this perspective and that, wondering at how He gives and gives and gives, and at the way one of His gifts seasons another in a way we had never noticed before, though the gifts arrived at different times, in different places, and, we thought, had nothing whatsoever to do with each other?

How often do we perceive our woes this way?

How much more dreadful our fears when complemented by this thorn, that claw, that trauma, those disappointed expectations, our broken hearts? How much more bitter our regrets when framed within those unfulfilled dreams, even though none of these pains ever existed in the same time and space in our lives?

Our hurts have a way of becoming more than the sum of their parts, while His gifts, when we fail to count them, can easily seem scattered and isolated.

Father, show us Your gifts again. Let us see them in new ways, in new combinations and arrangements. Let one cast light on another, making it sparkle in a new way, even if just for a moment, and let us rejoice in the sight and love You, simply for who You are, and because You love us.

In Your Spirit, give us the wisdom to carefully take apart the fearful arrangement of our hurts, forcing each one to exist on its own and be laid at the foot of Your Son's cross.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Speech His Brother Didn't Hear

There he is, feeding pigs far from home.

Finally humbled in the wake of his foolish adventure, finally broken after breaking his father's heart, the younger son, the one we call The Prodigal, comes to his senses and makes a statement to himself that we read as a model of genuine penitence:

"...Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants."

When he arrives at home, he manages to deliver most of his rehearsed speech, through his father's embrace, but the speech not only has no effect; it seems not to have even been heard by the father, who doesn't even respond to the words of repentance, but responds only to the fact that his son is finally home.

Whether the son's penitence registers with his father, or whether it even matters, the father's only response is to restore, to leave behind the sorrow and loss he seems to have already forgotten, to celebrate, and to invite everyone within his reach to celebrate with him.

The father embraces his lost son before the speech is given. He isn't waiting for a speech; he's waiting for his son.

Reunion matters; restitution does not.

The older brother doesn't hear the speech, either. He comes along after the celebration is underway, and sees what is undeserved: A party thrown for the one who threw parties; restoration for the one who broke a family apart; lavish spending for the one who spent his inheritance; good standing for the one whose stories of prostitutes made it home before he did.

The older brother doesn't hear the speech, and by his reaction to the celebration, we wonder whether he would have wanted to hear it anyway. It appears with the older brother that reunion might only be possible after restitution has occurred, to his satisfaction, and only then on his terms.

In fairness to the older brother, we'll never know what his reaction might have been had he encountered his younger brother and heard the speech first, rather than walking into a scene of restoration already in full bloom.

But that is a touchy spot:  Who is the speech for? And who has a right to require it? The father, and only the father. Yes, the older brother has been impacted by what the younger brother has done, and impacted not just in a slight way. When the size and health of an estate are in play, people get angry, and to some degree, they have a right to. And yes, we would expect the younger brother, given the opportunity, to apologize also to the older brother, for the impact this caper has had on him.

But the offense still isn't primarily against the older brother. The offense is against the father.

And the father restores without hearing the speech.

He assumes penitence without proof of it.

He embraces first, and kisses without question, because...because this is his child.

The older brother, on the other hand, is unwilling to assume the best about the younger brother's intentions when he happens upon the celebration. In the older brother's eyes, the younger brother is taking advantage of his father all over again, proudly bringing his sin back home, strutting right back to his seat at the table as though nothing had happened.

But this isn't true.

The younger brother is overcome by the shame and grief of what he has done, and has come home asking not to be restored at all, but to be hired on as a servant. The younger brother is just as surprised by his father's restoration as the older brother is appalled by it.

But the older brother doesn't hear the speech, and the future of these brothers' relationship is left to our imagination.

Father, what do we do with this story?

When we stand in the shoes of the older brother, we think of all the ways in which his thinking could be accurate, even though out of sync with Your love:

*The younger brother's penitence might very well be shallow and rooted in the desperation of the moment.

*The younger brother might very well return to his prodigal ways and abuse the father again.

*The older brother's inheritance might very well be diminished by what the younger brother has already done, let alone any future escapade.

*The community might very well judge the family harshly for welcoming back The Prodigal.

We've all had moments when we, like the younger brother, have crawled back home, and been overwhelmed by Your mercy and restoration.

But what about when we are in the older brother's shoes?

How do we reconcile this story of unconditional forgiveness, which we are happy to receive when we need it, with our increasing sensitivity to the pain and loss suffered by those impacted by the folly of others? With our increasing awareness of the need for boundaries to protect loved ones from our selfish decisions? With our concern for the elderly, and how they can be taken advantage of? With the victims of abuse, and how they may not ever be the same, even if their abuser sincerely repents? With the children and grandchildren of these victims, who often repeat patterns they have seen without ever knowing the origin story of their pain? With the barriers to faith so many experience, because they or someone in their family tree was once on the receiving end of some prodigal's foolishness?

How do we reconcile Your knowledge of the heart of every person, Your awareness of our true motives before we even sense them, with the all-too-common reality that we often don't get to hear the speech? With the fact that we may very well walk upon a scene of restoration, and not really know whether the one who caused the break is sincere in the effort to repair, or whether all the mess caused by the break can even be cleaned up to our satisfaction at this point?

With the fact that You are just as willing to restore every other person who has ever lived, who might have done things I don't believe I would ever do, as You are willing to restore me, even though there are people who have been hurt by my sin?

Father, when we are in the shoes of the older brother, help us to trust You, just as we trust You when we are The Prodigal.

Help us to trust that You can see what we cannot see, that You can make a way when we cannot see a way, that Your Spirit can reach those our apologies do not move, that You follow the path of every tear we shed and every tear we cause, that, no matter how deep the pain we feel here, no matter how much we lose at the hands of any foolish Prodigal, it cannot compare with the glory of eternity with You.

Lord, help us to trust Your restoration of The Prodigal, especially when we are the older brother.

Especially when we don't get to hear the speech.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Saddest Mom on Mother's Day

An evil mother is a tragedy, an absent mom a heartbreak.

Their babies bear scars that may never heal, and are likely to pay the pain forward.

God help everyone touched by stories like those.

But God help, too, the mom who gives herself fully and freely, who prays for her kids continually, but whom doubt plagues with a conviction that she doesn't measure up.

Not motherly enough.

Not spiritual enough.

Not creative enough.

Not social media enough.

Not __________ enough.

God help this mom to see that she is fully enough, every bit of enough and then some, that You have made her enough for her little ones, her big ones, her grown ones.

Everything her kids need her to be, just by being herself.

Give her some sense of the imprint she is making, and don't let doubt take her joy.

Let her thrive in Your joy on Mother's Day, and every day.