Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where Does the Bad Stuff Go?

Maybe I'd like to forget it, but I know I never will.

On the other hand, I have gotten so many good laughs out of this moment, I'm not sure I really want to let it go.

I was in my late teens, and we were visiting my grandparents. I don't recall all the circumstances now, but I was riding in the back seat of my grandparents' car, and we stopped to check on some work my grandpa was having done out on a section of his land. While we waited, Grandma opened her car door to let some air in.

Little did she know what else she was letting in.

One of Grandpa's employees, an older man, came over to visit, and hunkered down in the dirt on one knee, just inside Grandma's open car door. We made small talk with the pleasant workman for a few minutes, and then it happened:

Without warning, comment, or fanfare, as a chuckle wound its way down, the man looked down to earth, snorted deep and long, reared his head back, turned to his right, and spat the biggest loogie you ever saw, right smack in the middle of the inside of Grandma's window, not three feet from her face.

I guess it was just one of those moments where you forget where you are.

But in his defense, the ol' boy wasn't totally insensitive to the mess he had made. After a surprisingly slow moment's delay, he suddenly realized his error, and with his usual jovial spirit, declared, "Aw, lookee here what I done..." and began using his filthy shirt sleeve to smear the mucus and spittle all around the window, doing as much harm as good. But he tried, bless his heart.

What to do with a mess like that?

There's not enough Windex in all the world.

It matters where the bad stuff goes, doesn't it?

The spitter in the story obviously broke some critical rules, rules we live by, care about, and expect everyone around us to know and obey. In fact, we tend to judge pretty harshly those who fail to abide by those rules, and probably won't choose to spend time in their presence. And who could blame anyone for feeling that way?

But what if we tried something a little different?

What if we took the rules governing phlegm, gas, and earwax, and applied them to the most toxic, germ-infested forms of human interaction?

What if we practiced the most careful hygiene with:

*The scandalous story about another person.

*The offense taken at someone's stray comment.

*The hurt caused by a friend's oversight.

*The disagreement with a point made in the Sunday sermon.

*The complaint against a child's teacher.

*The bitterness over an age-old slight.

Or, to put it another way: Would we really want to explain to God why we are so careful to keep our noses blown and our ears clean, but so careless, or perhaps vicious, with words and emotions containing sickness far more contagious than any bodily fluid?

Few have actually suffered the misfortune of being spat upon by another person, but who hasn't felt the sting of the wrong word at the wrong time?

Few have actually spat upon someone else, but who hasn't taken advantage of an opportunity to twist the knife just to make the wound bleed a little more?

Some are as careless with hurtful words as that poor workman was when he spat on the window.

Some of the careless are oblivious to where the loogie landed; some realize it, but choose not to care. Others realize the mess they made, but prove as inept as the workman at cleaning it up. (Assuming it's even possible to clean it up.)

A small minority of the careless spitters realize their error, repent, and in humility clean up the mess, restoring trust in the process.

Still others actually spit on the window on purpose, relishing the chance to maximize the damage of hurtful words.

But what if it really was different?

What if we were actually as careful with our words, especially our angry words, as we are with a used Kleenex?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Is It Oso?"

In the last few months, our boys have gone crazy for a new cartoon, Special Agent Oso.

"Oso" is a teddy bear fashioned after James Bond, and he is routinely sent out on missions to help young kids trying to complete random tasks. Oso arrives on the scene out of the blue and lends a hand, much to the appreciation of the child who needed help.

For kids who just can't get enough of Oso, parents can go online and sign up for a personal phone call in which Oso will call your child by name and assign a special mission to complete around the house.

A few weeks back, my wife Kristi lined up both of our boys to receive "the call" from Oso, and it went over big. Both Benjamin and Jonathan were blown away by the phone call, listened intently to Oso's message about replacing the batteries in the household flashlights, and talked about the phone call for days.

I'm not sure we had fully grasped just how excited our boys were by Oso's call, until a few days later, when Kristi's cell phone rang and 2 year-old Jonathan, snapping to attention, asked, "Is it Oso?"

Now, that is a kid who is eager to hear from his favorite cartoon character. He just can't get enough.

Isn't that how it is with those we love, while we are apart? We want to hear from them. We look forward to any word that might come, and we appreciate the message when it arrives. If the message is written, we don't stop at reading it once. We just can't get enough.

"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord, "when I will send a famine through the land -- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord." -- Amos 8:11

God's people, throughout history, have not always demonstrated love for Him in their appreciation of His message. In fact, in Amos's time, God decided He had had enough of seeing His message ignored, and told the people He would withhold it for awhile, knowing it would be sought again:

"Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it." -- Amos 8:12

Sometimes we don't know what we have until it's gone.

Have you forgotten the taste of the Word of God, the taste described as being "as sweet as honey"? (Ezekiel 3:3)

Has the hearing of His message become so commonplace that your ears no longer perk up and give attention to its reading?

Can you imagine the irony of camping next to a fresh water spring, and never quenching your thirst with its water?

Or, forgetting you're thirsty altogether?

Is God's message greeted with eagerness from listeners who can't get enough? Or with apathy, from people who think they've heard enough?

The proof lies in what we do after hearing. (John 14:15)

I'd better go see about those flashlight batteries...