watch out for the snakes

unbelievable-6-year-old-boy-lives-with-anaconda-petI have been running off and on for the last 37 years.  These days it’s mostly “off”….but a year ago, I was getting up every morning at 5 and putting on my running stuff and going out to run in the dark.

It was beautiful….so peaceful running under the moon…so meditative to be out before the rest of the world woke up.

Except for the occasional car flashing their high beams at me, or a deer crashing back into the woods, I was alone.  There is something about repetition and solitude that I love…it seems to just open something inside of me and I can think without any distractions.  I’ve run in the rain…I’ve run in the snow…sleet…any kind of weather…and the response is always the same: running makes me feel free.  I love it.

I told my co-workers about my morning runs…didn’t get into any of the philosophical stuff with them…and I think it was more of a curiosity than anything else.  It wasn’t part of their experience so they couldn’t really relate to why someone would get up so early to do something like that if they didn’t have to.

One of my co-workers asked a question that changed the experience of darkness for me.  She’d grown up in our valley…had been with the post office for a long time…and was a practical woman.

She asked, “Aren’t you afraid of the snakes?”

That was something I’d never thought of.  Of course the giant rattlers would want to lay in the warm summertime night road.  It only made sense that they’d be out in large numbers.

From then on…in spite of the fact that I’d never seen a snake (in the dark, of course)…never heard the rattling warning as I plodded through the night time…from then on, every stick and shadow I passed was a python ready to wrap…a diamondback ready to strike.

DANG IT, MABEL!!! I wasn’t afraid until you told me I needed to be.

I’d seen bears on a few of my morning runs.  I’d seen wild turkeys, deer, racoons…other animals, for sure…but never a snake…but suddenly they were everywhere I imagined them to be.  I gave every stick a wide berth…running out of my way to avoid every silent and still piece of wood that could maybe just metamorphosis into a slithering death muscle.

There have been so many things that I wasn’t afraid of until someone told me I should be.

There’s a line in one of David Wilcox’s songs that says, “afraid of the darkness in the morning”.  It’s pretty true…we’re paralyzed with expectation…dreading the snake that just might be lying in wait.  Most of the things that I fear have never happened to me.  I can think that it’s because I was watchful…a successful guardian, prepared for the worst and able to cut it off before it got to us….but the truth is probably that in reality none of the bad would have happened.

We support each other in our paranoia.  Without someone to remind us of what we should fear, we’d probably miss a lot of things to be nervous about.  “Watch out for the snakes!!”…the fiscal cliff, high wind and falling trees…predatory lenders…lions, tiger, and bears….there is always going to be something to fear.

I have an artistic daughter who’s getting ready to go to college.  I majored in art…spent a lot of time in a studio smudged with paint and graphite…and I have a family now and deliver the mail to make money.  My counsel to her was to get a degree in something that would make her employable…and pursue her artistic interests on the side.

I find the snakes for her to be afraid of.

She would love a studio art degree…love pursuing something creative…but like any parent I want things to be easier for her. There’s nothing brave about my counsel to her…maybe something very practical…but she should be able to pursue her own bliss…like I was given the opportunity to pursue mine.

It’s beyond my abilities to keep anyone safe.  I can grab their arm before they step out into traffic,  we can teach them to use their turn signals…not eat poison…wear a warm coat on a cold day…but in the end we’re all on our own.  We take what we’ve learned and use it to survive.

It is in my power to not encourage the fear of things that won’t affect them.  Fear radiates…so when I get my own under control, I’ll work at not letting it spread.

I want my children to see the possibilities in the world.  I want to raise positive people.  I want to give them a chance at seeing how wonderful this world can be.

I haven’t seen any snakes for years.

 

 

leaking

They say that God is in the details.

Our new roof is leaking.

Our new roof is leaking around the old chimney.  You never notice the old as much as when you start to spruce things up.  Every new bit of trim…every new roof panel replacing a piece of rusted out old tin…every length of fresh siding up against the old…reminds us that things we didn’t notice when that was all there was are looking pretty decrepit.

It is pouring outside this morning. It is raining hard on the day after a holiday, when I’ll be delivering handfuls of absorbent paper soon… it’s setting me up for the expectation of an awkward time of it.

Back to the chimney issue.  The chimney is old and has cracks in the masonry.  When it’s dry it’s not a problem.  When it rains hard enough, the water follows the cracks and migrates its way into the house…and I wake up and step in a puddle when I make my way across the floor to go downstairs to start the coffee.

It’s not really fair to say that our new roof is leaking.  It’s actually our old chimney that’s leaking…to blame the new isn’t really accurate.  It really has to be pouring outside to even notice that it’s leaking…so the project of fixing the chimney is easy to put on the back burner…easy to postpone addressing the problem.

“It’s not leaking now that it stopped raining.”

This leak is the story of my life.  I don’t mean that I’m not blessed.  I’m blessed in ways I don’t understand…blessed in ways I take for granted…blessed in ways I never see until it’s raining.

What I mean is that I have a pretty good veneer…I take care of the roof…it’s shiny and new…but when it pours it’s not uncommon to feel the puddle in places unexpected.  My “chimney” is old and waiting to be fixed.  It has cracks that I can ignore unless it’s pouring outside.  It’s easier, too, to find fault with the people around me than it is to address the things that need fixing in my life. It’s a wonderful distraction to be able to pay more attention to what’s around me than to what’s inside me.

A masonry crack is easy to live with until the water finds its way in. My faults are easy to ignore until something tests me.

But who wants to think about the cracks?  Surely it will stop raining soon.

 

 

Parents are afraid

Parents jump in headfirst when they don’t know how deep the water is. Parents are afraid.

Can you imagine how afraid Mary must have been before she had Jesus?  She was given peace…but she must have been pretty terrified.  We homogenize the whole story for the most part….make it easy for the masses to swallow, take out the roughest parts, smooth it all over…but it couldn’t have been more scary for a young mother.

We parents don’t have a clue how a child’s life is going to turn out.  We run on faith and, if we’re doing our job right, hope for the best….and that’s if our child is “just” a little wild man…sometimes cranky, always sweet and loved.

If you’re parenting the future Savior of the world I imagine there’d be a lot more pressure to get everything right. God’s hand would have to be involved…the stress would drive you crazy.

We would never begin most things if we knew the end at the beginning of the story. Most of us wouldn’t have let Jesus out of the house if we understood what lay down the road.

Knowing the end of Jesus’ story makes the Christmas story the most precious story we have.

I hope that you and yours have a wonderful Christmas…and that, amidst all the presents and holiday cheer, you get the chance to remember our reason to celebrate the beginning.

celebrate me home

Christmas Eve…I’ll play Santa, delivering packages for the USPS during the first part of the day…and then I’m home for the evening.

This is my favorite Kenny Loggins song.

I had the chance to see him when he opened for Fleetwood Mac in the late 70’s…one of my high school friends who was at the concert said, “Who’s Kenny Loggins?”…I had to educate her about Loggins and Messina.

We’ve finished most of the preparations…ready for another Christmas.

Celebrate me home…

Have a wonderful Christmas.

I could drag this end of the world thing out forever

If I really lacked content for this blog, I could drag this end of the world thing out forever.

Of course, I don’t need to do that.  My head is filled with interesting topics to write about.  If a person is breathing…if a person has any of his senses…there will always be something to write about.  The world is too rich a tapestry to allow me to just stare at my computer screen and wonder, “what today?!”.

But if I was having problems with that…I could really drag out this end of the world discussion a long time…if not forever.

But…the world hasn’t ended yet.  So what’s the point of discussing it any further? To pick an angle on the whole situation and beat it to death would get tiresome pretty quickly.  Who would want to stick around for that? Not me, for one…count me out.

It’s a luxury…the endless discussion…that a real “extinction level event” wouldn’t allow me.  If I sat at our computer blogging away and watched the panicked exodus down our little country road…while meteors plowed into the mountains on the other side of the valley….rifts opened following the creek bed…my family would be P.O.’d with me.  It would be a time of action…not contemplation….time to rent an RV and get ready to do some major stunts to save the clan.

That isn’t the way any of this world ending stuff went down this time, though.  It is irrelevant to talk about any of it now…like jawing about exactly what I was doing when Y2K didn’t happen.  Nobody cares…nobody wants to hear it.

So I won’t talk about it.  What would be the point?  I guess I asked that earlier.  There isn’t any sense in repeating myself, so let me rephrase it: what purpose would it serve to talk about something that didn’t happen ad nauseam? The answer to that question is…no purpose at all.  It would grow hard to listen to and I don’t think I’d be able to sustain any interest in it.

To obsess over something that didn’t happen may just be a strong indicator of a deeper underlying psychological problem.  Think about it : someone talks about an imagined reaction to an event that never happened over and over and over and over…talks about it to the point where the reader or listener or audience feels like they’d do anything to escape it…they would do anything to extricate themselves from the hell of a pointless obsession…and this person doing the talking/writing never clues in to how hard it is to bear the discussion.  That is crazy!

We have bigger things going on in the world than the world ending.

How about Christmas? Now that’s something to celebrate…forget all this Stonehenge weirdness.

 

I’m still standing

The 21st of December has come and, to the best of my understanding at least, gone without anything earth shattering happening.

I haven’t turned on the news yet, though…so California may have slid off into the Pacific…or Paraguay may have evaporated in a puff of cosmic smoke….or any number of appropriately apocalyptic things may have happened that I don’t know about yet.

It is strangely windy outside.

I didn’t think that anything would happen yesterday. I didn’t plan…didn’t go to Stonehenge to dance under the waning moon…didn’t run up a big credit card bill that I’d never have to repay….didn’t do any of the appropriately inappropriate things that the end of the world might call for. I wasn’t able to rise to the occasion…it was a big day that I just couldn’t get jacked up about, for some reason.

If the end does ever come in hard…and for some strange reason I and my family do survive it…I hope we can all wear straw hats and weird glasses and dance under a fake street lamp…if only for the moment between aftershocks.  What a cool comment that would make if anyone else was still around to see it.

Remember when Elton was married and wasn’t gay?  Man …those were the days. (Just kidding…I realize that his preferences were most likely pretty ingrained early on.)

I figure that in spite of the day coming off without incident that we should probably give the Mayans a two-year margin of error with this whole end thing…just to be fair.  It was a complex calendar…but it was an old calendar and pretty primitive…so it’s only fair that we cut them some slack when trying to pin down an exact date.  So…for the next two years, I’m on a slow boil paranoia path…something could always happen and usually does.

Here’s another quick question…and then I’ll go:  Are we so bored that it takes the Apocalypse to wake us up a little?  What the heck?  I remember a movie called “Night of the Comet”…a bunch of people standing on the roof of a high-rise building, holding up signs welcoming the comet…big party and much frivolity…woooohoooo…and then they were vaporized and gone, their empty clothes and a pile of red dust all that was left.  The only reason I mention it is that all those bored people seemed to be having the time of their lives…if only for a brief moment.  I guess we better be careful about how we choose to respond to the news that the world is ending…next time.

Did I mention that it’s strangely windy outside?

Does REM get the royalties?

So we live every day as if the hammer might fall at any moment.

If I believed everything I hear, I just might think that something pretty major was going to happen today.  When I say something pretty major, I mean major like THE WORLD COMING TO A CLOSE.  Now I have the option of treating this news like the weird rumor I hope it is…or totally freaking out and shutting this blog down and going outside to yell at the sky and spin in the street.

Maybe it’s the worlds oldest practical joke? The Mayans were a culture known for their sense of humor, after all…maybe it’s just a joke that took a long time to set up. Imagine the glee the little Mayan guy felt when he set it all up….this calendar thing has a lot of room to yuk it up.  Sometimes a good set up is worth waiting for.

But…on the other hand…how embarrassing if it all turns out to be true?  I’m going to have to sit here with my finger on the delete button all day…just in case I have enough lag time before the planet splits apart to get rid of the evidence that I didn’t take it all seriously.  I’ve always felt…at least as long as my blog has existed…that the cultural record provided by my words was going to be invaluable to a future civilization.  It would be a drag to be considered a “false prophet” just because I didn’t support the end of the world.

Another cynical thought….one that just came to me…is the question of REM’s involvement in this whole escapade.  Imagine the royalties they must get just because their song is always included in the end of the world soundtrack.  Why wouldn’t they start the rumor that the world was ending?  What an amazing bit of marketing it all is.

In every “end of the world movie” I’ve ever watched, one of the motifs is that people use the end as an opportunity to set up some major parties.  We spent the night up in Asheville to celebrate our anniversary, and it was amazing how many deals on beer we could have gotten if we’d been able to wait until Armageddon.  I guess the lesson (lost on us…we don’t party hard) is that if you’re willing to wait until the very end you can get a great deal on a pint.  Staring over the rim of a pint of Guinness when you see the flash and hear the boom isn’t as meaningful as spending time with your family…but I guess that for some folks it might not be the worst way to go out.

The Bible talks about the end coming like “a thief in the night”….I don’t think the Mayans were our early (way early, actually) warning system. I don’t think we can pinpoint when it’s all going to be over…but I wonder if we hit a point where “it may as well be over” when we start to worry about the end. I used to be into the “survivalist mindset”…prepping like there really was no tomorrow.  My father’s take on it all was, “I don’t know why you’d want to survive some of that stuff”.  It was probably wise words from a laid back Norwegian. There’s a lot more to life than worrying about the final breath.

We used to duck and cover when I was little…but I can’t live out my whole life under my desk.

I hope you all have a happy 21st of December.

we are our own circus

circus_ringmaster“Ladies and Gentlemen!!….Boys and Girls!!…may I direct your attention to the center ring?!! Now appearing….MEEEEEEEEEEE!!”

Our three year old is some kind of weird profundity savant.

Where does a comment like that come from at 10:30 at night?  “Now appearing….MEEEEEE!!”

He must have seen it on some cartoon…the entire part leading up to the self promotion sounds completely plausible.  He’s like some kind of super sponge…soaking it all up, churning it like a “developing brain blender” to come up with statements like that.  I better be careful what I say next time I bump my head hard.

“Now appearing….MEEEE!!”

We really are our own circus.  We usually are a little more coy about the self promotion than being our own ringmaster…usually it’s “oh…this old thing?” or “I do the best I can…but thankyou!”.  It’s a rare thing to stand center ring and belt out , “CHECK ME OUT!!!“…that’s bad form and not really accepted by society. But what do we have other than the rings we set up…set up either to dance through or watch from the sidelines while someone else dances in them?

Unless you believe in reincarnation, this life is a one go round proposition.  One shot…one chance…one life to live because while there probably will be a tomorrow for most of us….there is always a possibility that there may not be.

Why not live it wearing the ringmaster’s hat…”Ladies and Gentlemen…may I draw your attention to the center ring?!!!  Now appearing….MEEEEE!!!”

we swim a section at a time

The first contemporary Christian artist that I had the chance to see growing up was Phil Keaggy.

What an introduction.

My friend, John Todd, told me his sister had gotten some tickets to a “free show” (love offering)….I guess I was about 17 at the time and was already kind of a “music snob”.  The Beatles, Todd Rundgren, the Band, Jethro Tull…I was “too cool for school”…figuratively, of course…I never missed a day…and I knew what I liked and stuck with it.  A person is never more set in his ways than when he’s 17 and sure he knows what it’s all about.

Anyway…we sat down for the concert and soon this little guy bounced out on stage with a sunburst Les Paul and shouted out, “HELLO, GROOVY PEOPLE!!!”  John and I looked at each other like “where’d this little freak come from?” and then…Phil Keaggy started to play.

What a transcendent moment.  I’d never heard anyone play like that…never seen it in the days before MTV or music videos…this funky little guy ripped!  Holy Smokes! This video was made when an artist could tour with a full band…so it was a full on “rock concert” experience.

I don’t think I had been exposed to such a casually confident expression of Christianity before, either.  It was different than the Lutheran church…not better or deeper or more heartfelt…but different.

This video features Phil Keaggy and a band called 2nd Chapter of Acts that was made in 1977…so it’s from the same time period that I saw him in a church in Atlanta. The male singer in 2nd Chapter is a guy named Matthew Ward…a long time favorite of mine so it’s good to get a double helping of Christian excellence with this clip.

My first year of college I started a contemporary Christian radio show on the college station.  I had about 20 or so albums and must have worn out my Phil Keaggy albums on that once a week hour long show.

We really do swim a section at a time.  We don’t see the end of the river when we first jump in…we just try to keep our head above the water and keep swimming.  This concert was one of my “watershed” moments…waking up to realize that there are a lot of different expressions of faith out in the world. My faith has remained constant…my expression of it has ebbed and flowed…but I loved those days of new awakening.

I still listen to these guys…they did and do some wonderful music and have been a real blessing in my life.

“WHERE’S MY TEDDY?!!!”

A frantic little voice yelling out in the middle of the night is always an exciting way to wake up.

It is an exciting way to wake up quickly.

“Where’s my teddy?!!! I can’t find my teddy!!  Where’s my teddy?!!”

My wife got up and I could hear her talking to him…getting our youngest son calmed down.  She started laughing softly and told him, “it’s OK….he’s right here.”  Teddy was found…and with a kiss, our son went back to sleep.

I asked her where Teddy had been when she got back to bed…”Right by his arm…about 2 inches away.”

I think that things like that are funnier to me when I’m not the one getting out of bed.

There isn’t anyone left to find my “teddy”.

Losing a parent is a sad part of the process…but it’s the way things work.  Both of my parents are gone now…no one left to find my “teddy” even if I was so panicked that I needed them to do it. I think it probably is a parent’s job, anyway….I wouldn’t  shouldn’t ask my wife to get up and go looking for him if it was me doing the losing. That’s part of the process, too, I guess…outgrowing the need to have someone else fix my problems. I’m still working at figuring out how to do that part of growing up.

Maybe the secret to really appearing to be an adult is never mentioning when you think you’ve lost your “teddy”.  It has to be better to just lay there, wide eyed and frantic…afraid to reach out those last two inches because he just might not be there….or, maybe even scarier than realizing that the solution to the problem was never there when you looked for it…to realize that the solution to the problem was right next to you the whole time.

Most of us can wax poetic over solutions to someone else’s problems.  It’s easier to laugh when it’s someone else getting out of bed.  I know that most of the time, when I’ve been able to finally calm down and someone can point out, “It’s OK…it’s right here” things tend to get fixed quickly.

I don’t have a stuffed bear.  My “teddy” has been replaced with a pantheon of adult concerns…like expensive watches, Italian shoes, and full length fur duster coats.  Just kidding about what I consider adult concerns…the truth is much more down to earth and realistic. No matter how practical and common the needs are, though….I still wake up some nights wondering, “where’s my teddy?”