Thursday, June 16, 2022

Go, Ms. Marvel!

 A month or so ago, I enjoyed one of my favorite days of every school year as a high school principal: 

Scholarship interviews for outstanding seniors!

Imagine a day spent hearing the stories of young people who have overcome and achieved, whose journeys have taken them all over, who have earned accolades while carrying heavy loads, whose smiles outshine the sorrows of life, and whose dreams make you dream again.

If you're imagining being inspired, uplifted, sharing laughter and shedding tears, then yes, you've got it. 

It's an amazing day, and a privilege to be a part of.

Our most recent round of scholarship interviews included one of our Theater all-stars, whose record spoke for itself. This is someone you would readily hire for any job in any organization, and someone I'm confident we will see on the stage or screen someday.

But the thing I remember most from her interview was her comment about the series Falcon & the Winter Soldier.

Our committee was so accustomed to seeing this student command the stage with confidence, that it was surprising to hear that she had grown up wondering whether there could be a future in acting for her, because she didn't see people who looked like her on TV or in movies.

But then she saw Falcon & the Winter Soldier, and there was actor Erin Kellyman on the screen in a major role, and suddenly this high school Theater star in central Texas saw her dream in a different way, as something that can really happen, and something she must and will pursue.

All because of seeing one actor in one show.

My family has enjoyed the first two episodes of Ms. Marvel, and we really wish the whole season had dropped at once so we could just binge it. :-)

Our younger son shared with us that there has been some online criticism of Ms. Marvel, claims that its Muslim protagonist and her family are merely representation for representation's sake, just some kind of disingenuous gesture to score some kind of diversity points.

I have zero sense of how to judge the quality of a TV production, but here's what I will say about this criticism:

The first thing I thought of when I heard it was our scholarship winner's comment about the impact it made on her to see someone who looked like her cast in a serious role in a major production.

It was so important, it made it into a short conversation with a scholarship interview panel.

It meant everything to her.

And it's not like we're in the 1950's anymore. It's 2022, and it still matters.

I grew up watching Sesame Street and integrated sports, and it still matters. (Though I'm old enough to remember it being rare to see a black NFL quarterback...)

I refuse to be swayed by cynical responses to expanding representation of people in popular media.

To me, it comes down to the fact that since every example of representation matters a great deal to someone, it deserves our most open-minded, good-faith reception, even if it's not an example of representation we had ever thought about before, even if we don't like the show, and even if, perhaps especially if, we hear voices casting doubt on the sincerity or validity or appropriateness of the representation in question.

Lack of representation has never been a point of hurt for me; I've seen people like me in popular culture my entire life, and have never doubted that I belong in this society. It didn't come naturally to understand that there are lots of people who don't share that experience, and it's past time to embrace the need for every person to share that fundamental feeling of belonging that often comes through seeing people who look like you accepted and featured in popular culture and positions of leadership.

Go, Ms. Marvel!


Sunday, May 29, 2022

It's the Culture

I've always been haunted by the statement made by Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Unforgiven: "It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man..."

I still remember a sermon Dad preached sometime back in the mid-80's.

The main idea of the sermon is gone now, but there is a line that stands out. I can still hear it in Dad's voice:

"...and I'm sure if someone came into this assembly today with a gun, telling us we would die if we didn't turn our backs on Jesus Christ, there's not a person here who wouldn't say, 'Fire away'..."

This was in the days before, but not long before, American gun culture and American evangelicalism became so intertwined as to become more or less one and the same. I'm not sure if my delayed awareness of gun culture was a regional thing as a Southern California kid, but we were not quite up with the speed of the move toward people thinking everyone should be able to carry a gun with them everywhere they go. 

(I still remember the first time I ever heard this idea, as a freshman in college in Texas in 1991, and I was so shocked I questioned the professor in front of the class, certain I must have heard him wrong.)

But back when Dad preached this sermon, his assumption was, like mine, and like that of everyone in the congregation that day, that if someone entered an assembly threatening the people with a gun, it would be for some discernible ideological reason, (renounce Jesus or die), and that the victims would be more or less at the mercy of the shooter.

I'd like to think that if such a thing had happened, we would not have just sat there and been shot, that people would have at least tried to subdue the attacker, risking being hurt or killed in the process. It seems like that would have been the normal human reaction, rather than a dramatic, conversational scene playing out according to the attacker's script, as Dad presented in his sermon.

Of course, I'm glad we never had to find out.

But how the world has changed since that time.

A few years ago, a congregation from the same denomination in which Dad once preached, nearly had a mass shooting in their assembly, but the shooter's attempt was snuffed out when several church members pulled their concealed handguns and shot to kill.

As American gun culture became our very heartbeat, and mass shootings became so common we can't remember most of them, it makes sense that this scenario went from an obviously fictitious hypothetical in a mid-80's sermon, to a very real part of life. It's no wonder a church would go from never contemplating this at all, to having an actual plan for what to do when this happens.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but part of me wonders: Did we even realize we had made this move? Did we talk about this? Did we discuss a shift away from saying "Fire away" if we were ever threatened for our faith, to saying instead that if anyone comes in here with a gun, we'll send them to meet the Maker we happen to be worshipping right now?

I don't recall any evolution here, just suddenly being in a different reality than we were before. Again, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I do find it...I don't know...it's something...that we made this shift, from not contemplating the taking of a human life, perhaps even the assumption that we never would take a human life, to the other end of the spectrum, an automatic assumption that we will kill without hesitation and not be much bothered about it.

What I've said so far is already enough for some to cast me aside as a fool, and I get it.

No, I'm not saying that it would have been better if the would-be shooter had had free reign to conduct a massacre. I am greatly relieved the worshippers were spared.

I'm asking whether we have wrestled with what this transition means, and why we made it.

I understand that to even question being ready to kill someone nowadays is laughable to many, but...there's still something here that I just can't shake.

In the denomination in which I was raised, in which Dad preached, and in which the would-be mass shooter was put down, we fervently believed that we were under constant pressure, if not outright assault, by "the culture", "the world", the "winds of doctrine" that threatened to blow us about and fracture our foundation. The world out there was not anchored in Scripture, but was constantly evolving with the self-seeking whims of man, as people drifted further away from the truth and further into the darkness of their own thinking.

We cautioned constantly about the mindset of the Israelites in the Old Testament, who turned to idol worship while Moses was on the mountain, then later wanted a king like all their neighbors, then later, when they had no king, did whatever they all saw fit, all of which were mindsets we recognized in everyone around us, from our neighbors next door, to every wrong-party politician, to many celebrities, to much of society's popular entertainment, and especially in so-called Christians who allowed themselves and their churches to cave and conform to the culture.

In my experience and upbringing, this always meant that some group of believers had gone liberal.

Yet here we are, like frogs realizing the water has already boiled us, having made a 180 on a matter of life and death without anything like the kind of scriptural and theological deliberation we have applied to so many doctrinal disputes that we can't even remember them all, and may not even be sure anymore which ones we've divided ourselves over.

The conviction that we are entitled to shoot to kill, even in what we believe to be self-defense, is not something we arrived at through careful scrutiny of Scripture, open debate among believers, or consultation with the older and wiser among us.

It is a conviction we adopted from the culture around us.

It is culture, pure culture.

It is culture, just as much as every worship innovation, scriptural translation, clothing style, family dynamic, popular song lyric or movie script we ever agonized over, as much culture as anything we ever told ourselves we'd better resist for the sake of our children and the future of our faith.

Just because it's Dirty Harry instead of Harry Potter, doesn't mean it's any less "culture" or any less of a "worldly" influence on us, on our thinking, on our faith and our practice.

In fact, it's even more "culture" than all those things, as it has greater potential to define us in the eyes of our neighbors, who are supposed to know we are Christians by our love.

Is our call still to resist "the culture"? If so, what does that mean? Do we think it means resisting only the cultural influences we happen to find offensive at our moment in history, while conforming to the cultural forces that turn us on?

It's interesting to me that since American gun culture became one and the same with American evangelical culture, I don't see the old 90's "What Would Jesus Do?" wristbands much anymore.

I really don't even hear that phrase anymore.

No matter how we rationalize it, I can't see Jesus pointing a gun at anyone. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Year

 Dad,

Over the last few weeks, I thought a lot about today, the first anniversary of your passing.

I woke up from a dream shortly before 4 am today, and couldn't go back to sleep.

In my dream, I heard your voice in a voicemail message, but I can't remember now what it was you were saying. It was random, as dreams are, nothing coherent or of consequence. But still, it was nice to hear your voice at such a time, and the dream prompted me to look up your blog and listen to one of your sermons this morning. I found one from about five years ago, and it's really nice to hear you.

I didn't really have the opportunity to be alone with you at your funeral, but I did have the chance to tell you, silently, with people all around, how sorry I am that I hurt you.

In fact, that's when I finally broke down.

It's not just imaginary or sympathetic; I know firsthand how I made you feel when I left the fold, and I know there was nothing anyone could have done to make it better or easier. I know what I did was unthinkable, too taboo for discussion, and that all we could do for the last decade of your life was step around the broken glass and pretend the wound wasn't there.

I know those were just the realities, and you couldn't change them any more than I could.

I wish that could have been different.

I longed to share my spiritual journey with you, and would have loved to spend hours, years, comparing our lives and perspectives, sharing where the Spirit was leading each of us and why our paths were so different, yet so much the same.

This right here is why the resurrection means so much to me.

It's no longer just about "seeing" my loved ones who have gone before. Now, it's about having the conversations you and I were never able to have. 

Part of me is confident we never could have been real with each other, no matter how long each of us had lived in this life. But then, part of me wonders if maybe it could have happened, if maybe it was in there somewhere, and you just couldn't open that door for some reason. 

I don't know.

But I know this: If the resurrection is real, and I believe it is, when I see you again, all that inhibition and barrier will be gone, and we will finally be able to be real with each other. (That is, unless you're right, and I'm lost, and we won't see each other again at all, but my chips are all in that you're wrong about that.)

I promise you this: Being real with me will be worth it, and we will both wish we had put our shields down long ago. And I think being real with you will be worth it for me, too.

As I remember Samuel's text that day, telling me you were gone, it's ironic to me that I'm currently holed up in a room, isolating from my family because I have the same virus that took you away. Only, for me, instead of shredding my lungs and leaving me without hope of survival, it's just been like having a cold.

My experience with this plague has been totally different from yours, mainly because I had the protection of a vaccine that was still a few months away when you got sick. I imagine it would have saved your life if it had come in time, and this makes me sad.

And I wonder if my experience with life, especially with spiritual things, is different from yours because of protections I have had that perhaps you didn't have. And how ironic that you were one of the main providers of those protections and benefits that shielded me and then equipped me to go in a new direction, even a direction you couldn't contemplate.

There's a great lyric in a song that goes, "I know I took the path that you would never want for me..." and I have always thought of you when I heard that song. And even as I continue on this path that you were certain was folly, going even further than you feared, I know I owe you a debt I can never repay:

Thank you for your love for the Word of God. I know you think I turned my back on it, but I promise you I didn't. Your esteem for the Word was imprinted upon me at the earliest age, and it will never cease to be a part of my DNA. I wonder how different this was for you. Your love for the Word was something you learned from others outside your childhood home and came to through your own devotion. I don't mean "works" in that way, lest anyone should boast, but this is something you worked for, not something you inherited, as it was for me. It's something you built, and then I grew up in, and growing up in something will always be different from building it.

Thank you for you and Mom's marriage. Life was good in our home. There was never a day when I didn't know where I was going, and where I was coming home to. There was never an awkward moment at school when I wasn't comforted by the knowledge that I would soon be home again where I belonged and where everything would be fine. There was never a meal missed, never an occasion uncelebrated, often a cause for laughter, always a routine that was life-giving, always hope that the future was bright. No, every moment was not pleasant. Your temper and brooding were difficult, often scary. I often assured myself I would not be that way when I grew up, even as I copied most of those behaviors. A lot was never said that needed to be said, for fear of you, and it has taken most of my adult life to unlearn the inhibition that was often needed to stay out of your way. But as hard as that was, it was mold in a house that kept us safe and warm, and that's not the same thing as losing it all in a fire, or never having a safe home at all. We were never without recourse or hope, and I confess I have little idea what all it took for you and Mom to provide this for us. I am grateful.

Thank you for our church life. No, I didn't stay there, I know. But a church family is a necessity in my life because of you and Mom, and again, this mindset is something you built and I grew up with. So many people made loving imprints on my life through church, and I am grateful.

Thank you for cheering on your favorite childhood teams when I was a kid, and making room for me in your bleacher seats. I know this was not nearly as important to you later in life, but it still was when I was young, and I am so glad it was. My childhood trips to Dodger Stadium are right up there with Disneyland in my mind, and I am so grateful. You got to see both the Dodgers and the Lakers win another championship before you got sick, and you even got a Cameo video from Dave Roberts! :-) You were never as into the Rams coming back to LA as I was, and that was sad to me, but it's OK. After you were gone, I got myself a USC shirt for the college football season, and I plan to keep an eye on them for you for years to come. I know sports don't really matter, but like the guy in City Slickers said about talking baseball with his Dad, "that was real", and I am grateful.

Thank you for taking us up to Big Bear, up to Sequoia, out to Arizona, up to Oregon. Man, for people on a limited budget, somehow we traveled! I wish I could have taken you to NYC and shown you how to ride the subway. You and Mom made it real to go see unfamiliar places, and I am grateful.

Thank you for something I overheard you say to Mom: 1983, all five of us walking out to the driveway, getting into the car to go see Return of the Jedi. You turned to Mom and said, "Don't worry, we'll take it out of the savings." I wasn't supposed to hear that, and I only understood it years later. You didn't really have the money for this outing, but we were going anyway, because you knew how important it was to us. My friends and I had been sharing rumors for months about the movie, and how we had heard that Darth Vader's helmet was going to come off. (How did rumors like that spread before the internet?) I have never forgotten how you somehow made this important moment happen for us when it wasn't easy to do, and I am grateful.

Dad, I wish the cultural winds of the last 30+ years had not pushed us so far off into the political ocean. For a very long time, I was right there with you, adjusting the sails of our ships for maximum wind. And I know you were proud. And I know you didn't think our politics and our faith got too intertwined or became indistinguishable.

But...I became convinced they did. I became convinced of a lot of things.

As I caught a different wind and changed course, I'm sure it broke your heart as much as it did mine that our courses kept growing further and further apart. Some parents and kids find each other again in later life, in their 60's and 40's, after having grown apart earlier. We were the opposite, it seemed. The times of the world post-2010 just seemed to become more polarized than ever, and by then, we weren't seeing the world much the same way at all, and weren't talking about these things at all, either. There wasn't much "common ground"-finding going on, and finding common ground that didn't readily present itself was never one of our strengths.

I'm sorry we couldn't resolve this while you were here. If we had tried, I don't know that it would have been possible. But I do wish we could have tried.

Since you've been gone, I have found myself dwelling more on a younger version of you, a version I was just old enough back then to remember now. A version of you that still had most of life ahead, that was convinced ministry was the way, and was determined to pursue it, even though that meant leaving behind a military life in which you thrived.

I treasure this young man's smile and laugh, his Gospel preaching that was simple and unencumbered with partisanship, his Snoopy tie pin, his left-handed softball swing, his mustache, his handwriting, his '78 Chevette, his hair part that he imparted to me, with neither of us ever imagining I would go bald.

Dad, I know I don't know what all went into making you the person you were, especially the things that were difficult, but I have thought about you every single day for the past year, and in all of it, what turns up the most is that I am grateful.

If you have awareness of me now, and when you have awareness of me again later, I pray our wound will be healed. Not gone as if it never happened, but your heart left stronger for having been broken by a son, and then healed again by a Father. 

May God's rest continue to be upon you, dear one.


Friday, December 24, 2021

Are You Sure You Want to Come Here?

It's Christmas Eve, Lord, and I want to ask you:

"Are you really sure you want to come here?"

His eyes meet mine without judgment, drawing honesty out of me:

"More than ever before, I look around and see doors closed to you. We love our wealth and our weapons. We're not willing to sacrifice for one another. We won't work together, not even to save people's lives. We celebrate killers, liars, and con artists. We scorn 'outsiders'. We just want power, and we'll burn up every good thing we have in order to get it...Where do you even fit in here?"

He listens as always, absorbs my heartbreak as always, unflappable as always:

"Sorry, I lost track...are we talking about 2021 in the USA, first century Judea, 1930's Germany...some other verse of the Rolling Stones song? Seriously, where's this coming from? Of course I don't fit in here. Of course there aren't doors open for me. I'm used to that; I don't need much of a gap to squeeze through, don't worry. I always find a way in, the last place anyone would expect."

He senses I'm still sulking: 

"You really think I haven't seen all this a thousand times before? You really think I don't know what I'm getting into?"

His hand is strong on my shoulder, but somehow not heavy.

"You really think you're the only person who thinks my mission is doomed? The only person here who gets it? The last one left? Eh, 'Elijah'?"

This breaks me into a short laugh. His smile reassures me, even though nothing has changed.

Then, dead serious:

"If you had any idea the number of hearts inclined to me all over this world...people who are free and who freely love, who have nothing here to keep them from me...people you'll know someday with me on the other side...oh, my friend, my brother...if you could see them, you would look right into the face of all this ugliness and not despair. In fact, you would love all those you are despising right now."

The gentleness of this piercing...

His love for me...his love for all those I'll never know here...his love for those I thought made his arrival here a hopeless cause...

Yes, Lord, please do come into this mess.

This mess that I would call "God-forsaken", except somehow you never forsake it.

I'll never understand why.

And I'll never stop being thankful.

Monday, October 11, 2021

I Still Can't Believe He Said That

"...how else is the son to continue living if he must not also forget—that no matter how hard we try we can never entirely know our fathers.”  -- Hisham Matar, The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between

************

Sometime in my late teens or early twenties, I ran across a story about a controversy that happened with The Beatles in the 1960's, something about being more popular than Jesus, and church-going people being offended to the point of protesting and burning records.

I am a lifelong Beatles fan, but I was a late arrival to the party, born three years after they split up.

But Dad, though...he was legit.

He was a young teen during the British Invasion, collecting new music on vinyl, both singles and albums, relics he kept the rest of his life.

I must have asked Dad about this story of people protesting The Beatles, because I remember him telling me that John Lennon had replied to an interview question by making an observation about young people's church attendance compared to their devotion to The Beatles, followed by the poorly worded comment about being more popular than Jesus.

Dad was no wilting lily when it came to a defense of his faith, but it was clear to me in this conversation that he felt the unfortunate comment had been taken out of context and overblown by people looking to be offended. Of course, he himself was an ardent Beatles fan when this comment was made, so he wasn't exactly an unbiased observer of the controversy. Who knows whether his response would have been as moderated if this type of remark had come from a celebrity he wasn't a fan of, or perhaps even some entertainer whose work he really did find threatening.

But the part of this conversation I remember the best was something Dad said that shocked me. Nearly 30 years later, I still don't know what to make of it.

Dad's story about the John Lennon quote came to a head with his response to all the hullabaloo at the time, which apparently stirred up his own church and his parents. He didn't say how pointed this issue became in his household, but he did tell me that he told his parents, "You guys aren't throwing away my stuff."

(First of all: "You guys" is exact and correct. This was ages before he ever dreamed of living in Texas, and he would never have said "y'all" at that stage of his life.)

But what he said to his parents stunned me. I didn't react at all, just listened, let him finish his story, and I guess moved on to other things. I don't remember ever speaking of this again.

But that statement: "You guys aren't throwing away my stuff."

I still can't believe it.

I can assure you, without the slightest exaggeration, I have never, in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, ever addressed my parents in this way.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I guess I gave my parents as much bad attitude as any other kid, but openly directing them that they would not have their way in a situation taking place under their roof while I was a child under their authority? 

Never, literally never. 

When Dad told me he had said this to his parents, my immediate sense was how unthinkable it would have been for me to ever say such a thing to him. Had I ever addressed him in this way, I am confident he would have lost control. It would have been an absolute scene. And, without painting an unfair picture, I would say that I'm not even sure he would have been able to control himself physically if I had made such a statement to him.

At least that's what I thought, and I was never willing to test it. And yet, Dad shared this story with me, apparently without the slightest sense of irony, seemingly without noticing the clash between the way he had related to his parents and the way I related to him. 

The very first thing that came to my mind never seemed to occur to him at all. 

When it came to his responsibility and authority as a parent, Dad was not one to entertain challenges to the order of things as he saw them, at least while we were children in his home. He did shift to adult boundaries for his authority when we kids grew up and moved out, but there was still never a sense of his having "chilled out" about this kind of thing.

Most of us mellow over time, and it's true that the older version of Dad was more laid back than his younger self had been, in the years when people are climbing and conquering, trying to prove themselves in this world and fearing that any false move could spell doom for the future. Most of us would do some things differently if we were changing our children's diapers again, with the perspective we have after our kids no longer need us for everything.

So, yes, Dad and I did have a more relaxed relationship later on, with some of my anxiety about displeasing him having dissipated in the mix of my own marriage, parenthood, and career. And yet, this was still a conversation I never returned to, a subject I was never willing to broach with him. It was something I felt I deserved an answer to, but I was never willing to seek it. 

To have borne the strain of being afraid to tell him off a few key times when I really wanted to, and then to realize he had taken this liberty himself when he was a teen, only to make clear a generation later that this same freedom was not available to me was...embittering.

Our family was always big on movie quotes, and one of Dad's favorites was from The Princess Bride:

"Get used to disappointment."

I suppose I made peace some time ago with never really having a clear answer to my questions about this conversation: "Why was I obligated to grant to you a level of deference you did not extend to your parents? Why did the needle have to swing so far the other way when it came to me? It wasn't easy to respect such a difficult boundary, and that burden was not limited to my childhood."

On another vein, is it possible I misread Dad to some degree? Is it possible the kind of pushback he gave his parents, and I could never muster up to give him, might have actually been a good thing in our relationship? Could it be that there was more room for rebellion than I thought, and I just couldn't see it, and he didn't know how to show me, or just never thought he had to tell me? Was I wrong to think he wouldn't have been able to process it?

No answers to these questions are likely to ever come, and I'm old enough now that it's OK.

Along with those questions would have to come the follow-up questions: How much defiance can authority absorb before it is no longer authoritative? How much can a child be allowed to push back before they have breached a barrier that will put their own character at risk?

I suppose humanity will wrestle with those questions forever, and I'm sure I will wrestle with them from now on, whenever I think about Dad.

But as I continue to process my 47 years with Dad, another movie quote comes to mind, but not from a movie Dad ever saw: The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a story of a woman who is wrestling with her relationship with her aging mother.

Toward the end of the movie, one of the older ladies says, referring to Sandra Bullock's character, "She doesn't know sh*t, and what she does know she's making the worst of." This quote has been a salvation for me since I first heard it, a bookend against Dad's mysteries, giving me at least some reassurance that I probably have little idea of everything that went into making him who he was, and I might very well be making the worst of what little I know or imagine.

Yes, the perfect resolution at the end of this movie is idealistic, and probably unrealistic for many, including me and Dad, who never had the kind of full-disclosure conversation that filled in all the blanks, made sense of everything, and ended in a parade with everyone smiling and embracing. But still, unrealistic doesn't have to mean undesirable, uninspiring, or unworthy of being fantasized over. 

I think I will always imagine that conversation in which this gap is bridged, all is made well, all tension is dissolved, and I never feel afraid about anything again with Dad.

"...we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." 

This phrase in the creed often brings tears to my eyes, and I think this is why. Perhaps for the first time, there is something tangible I am banking on happening when that day comes, something that can't happen here, and was probably never going to happen here. 

When things are left unsaid and undone, there is so much more hoped for than some abstract sense of "seeing" someone again.

Or maybe a conversation won't even be needed; maybe it will all just wash away at first sight.

I want it, either way.

And then, as I write this, what comes into my ears but the beauty of the John Lennon song "In My Life" from The Beatles' Rubber Soul album, and tears come, right here in this lobby where I am waiting for my own son to come back out from his appointment.

Of these moments and memories and questions, Dad, I sing along with John, whose smart-a** comment in 1966 led you to be a smart-a** to your parents: 

"...I know I'll often stop and think about them; in my life, I love you more."

And, Dad: I still cannot believe you said that...


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Repentance on 9/11/21

Like everyone, I remember where I was and why I was there.

More importantly, I remember how I felt as I stared at the screen and watched the first tower burning, then the next, then the Pentagon, then the field in Pennsylvania, and both towers falling.

Forgive me, Lord, for you know my first feelings were anger, hatred, and vengeance, just as much as, possibly more than, grief over the lives lost, for they were strangers to me. You know I had literally never heard of the World Trade Center before that day, despite having lived in this country my whole life, yet I quickly adopted an image of those towers and all they meant to us, so that I would "Never Forget". 

And you know I practically salivated, before the sun set that very day, at what I assumed would be forthcoming military strikes by my invincible nation. You know how it took no time at all for me to shift from shock to visions of mowing down armies of enemies who had no idea who they had provoked, and stood no chance against us.

You know I took this occasion to mock our previous president, expressing relief that he was no longer in office to respond to this crisis while simultaneously pursuing his own sexual gratification. You know I held the naive view that the right things would be done simply because "my person" was in charge.

You know I thought it would be easy, like Grenada.

You know I thought it was just as simple as that, that peoples and nations and histories could be bent and redirected at our will, just because we said so.

You know I rejoiced inside that day when I saw on the news that we were dropping bombs in Afghanistan.

And now, here we are, twenty years later, finally walking away, not only with basically nothing to show for what we have done, not only with a path of destruction behind us so vast we can't even comprehend it all, not only with the possibility that we only sowed the seeds for future terrorism, but, to add insult to injury, with the very same cruel, theocratic leaders in place in Afghanistan that we overthrew twenty years ago, not just people like them, but the very same group, now with untold weapons and resources at their disposal that we left behind.

Father, it's all just sickening to me now, what I see in myself when I think of that day. 

I am sorry for the ungodly feelings and desires I nurtured on 9/11 and throughout its aftermath. I had a choice on that day to reject a spirit of vengeance and embrace peace, and I chose a spirit of vengeance instead.

Lord, it's a mystery to me how twenty years of time can so profoundly change how we view things, yet we don't always get twenty years of time. Why do some people get to live long enough to evolve, while others have this evolution cut short, and simply have to leave things where they are?

And I suppose another question is how sometimes we don't change, or even want to change, even when we do have twenty years of time.

*For the lives lost on 9/11, I pray for comfort, rest, and peace.

*For the lives lost in the twenty years since 9/11 in all the actions taken in the name of that day, I pray for comfort, rest, and peace.

*For the countless lives destroyed as collatoral damage in all this fighting, I pray for comfort, rest, and peace.

*For the wounded and haunted survivors of 9/11 and survivors of our 9/11 wars, I pray for comfort, rest, and peace.

*For the brokenhearted thousands still mourning loved ones lost on 9/11 and in the twenty years since, I pray for comfort, rest, and peace, and for protection against the despair that must come in light of the seeming fruitlessness of it all.

*For Americans, I pray for wisdom and humility, for a recognition that riches and strength do not mean we are right, nor that we understand how every corner of the world works, nor that we can have our way in any corner of the world, nor that we will always be rich and strong. Remind us we are not the only people in the world, and not the only people You love.

*For people not from the US, or not connected to the US, or not fond of the US, I pray that feelings of hostility toward the US may wane, even if miraculously and for no self-beneficial reason, that the door may be open for peace, even if the US is viewed as the opponent of peace and not its author.

*For Americans, I pray that we may stop, slow down our breathing, and be silent before You and before our own self-annihilation in progress at this moment, as we cannot even agree on what is true and what is false, and as we readily accept the deaths of thousands as a reasonable price to pay for our individual freedom to claim that reality is whatever we want it to be.

*Before I become too proud of my humility, Father, remind me of how long I have been just one more of your children who didn't know their right hand from their left. Remind me of what a blessing it is to see what I now see in my own life, even as painful and embarrassing as it sometimes feels. And remind me that I still don't even get it yet, no matter how far I have come. Keep walking with me, Father, helping me to see.

*For my children, I pray for godly instincts, for a spirit that moves first toward Jesus, flows first with the Holy Spirit, leans first toward love of the stranger rather than first toward suspicion of the enemy.

On 9/11/21, I finally repent of my personal thoughts and wishes on 9/11/01.

Lord, as St. Francis prayed, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Thoughts on Dad

 Comments shared at Dad's funeral service, 1/22/2021:

Thinking About Dad

One of the common themes we have heard from so many is how deeply appreciated our Dad was for his love of the Lord, his devotion to the Word of God, his Bible teaching, and his preaching that touched so many with the Gospel from the 1960’s to just last year.

Some of my dearest memories are from times when I was just old enough to ride shotgun with Dad on the front pew in the assembly, as he waited his turn to either preach or lead the singing. This was a privilege that required self-discipline, as I was on my own once he stepped up onto the stage. I realized years later that our Dad was modeling public speaking and spiritual service and making these things normal for us to picture ourselves doing someday.

In the late 70s and early 80s, our Dad often served as a pinch hitter for congregations around Southern and Central California who were without a preacher. I remember long drives to unfamiliar towns, such as Hemet and Modesto, but in those towns finding people who loved the Lord and welcomed us. These experiences made it normal to go out of the way, even a good distance out of the way, to meet a need when you have the ability and the opportunity.

While our Dad grew up in the city, he was touched early in his life by the wonder of the natural world. His teenage visits to Camp Tanda in Big Bear, CA, led to a lifelong love of the forest. Dad and Mom made travel a priority, taking us boys to camp out in Sequoia National Park. I remember the first time I ever set foot outside the state of California, the summer I turned ten years old, when we went on a road trip around the state of Arizona, seeing the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert. These experiences made it normal to be in awe of creation, to rejoice in God’s handiwork, and to desire a closer connection to it.

 This yearning for a simpler connection to creation was a factor in Dad’s willingness to leave his native Southern California and launch out with his family for a new life in Portland, Oregon, where he became something of a warning prophet, pleading with native Oregonians not to rush headlong into the kind of unchecked development and suburban sprawl that made his native Los Angeles a concrete city. This three-year sojourn for our family in Oregon made it normal to be willing to leave what is familiar and go somewhere new.

It was the pursuit of continuing Bible education that brought Dad to Abilene, a move that made it normal to pursue learning, even if the journey is far, the destination unfamiliar, and the path difficult.

I am reminded today of a poignant moment in my life, which took place on Wednesday, October 28, 1981, in Buena Park, CA, around 8:30 pm, Pacific Time. I was 8 years old, and our beloved Dodgers were in the World Series against the New York Yankees. The Dodgers had gotten the upper hand in the series and were hoping to finish it off that night in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. We attended Wednesday evening Bible class that night, and afterward piled into the car, still parked in the church parking lot, turning on the radio to hear Vin Scully’s broadcast of the game, which was drawing to its close by that time.

I distinctly remember sitting in the middle of the back seat of our 1978 Chevette, Mom in the front passenger seat, Daniel and Samuel on either side of me in the back, as Vin called the final out of the game, a fly ball caught by Dodgers’ center fielder Ken Landreaux. The Dodgers were the champs! In my elation, I looked out the windshield of the car and saw Dad, standing there in the parking lot, stuck talking to someone after Bible class, having missed the entire moment. I felt so bad for him. But there I was, loving something he had taught me to love, holding it down for him in his absence, so eager to tell him all about it when he finally joined us in that awesome little car.

That’s how I feel today, Dad.

We are here, loving the things you taught us to love, making life decisions that seem normal to us because you made them normal, honoring things that are important to us because they were first important to you.

We won’t be able to share these moments with you for awhile, but we know you’re not far away, and that you will be as eager to hear our stories when we see you again, as we will be to tell you all about it.

We love you, Dad, we thank you for how you and Mom showed us the way, and we will see you there someday.