351. Christmas Songs Like Cookies

Favorite Christmas songs change as you age, I think, just like childhood cookie choices and Christmas activities. And every year one or two are added to the standards list.

As a kid I could gorge on oatmeal cookies, Oreos, or even plain old sugar cookies, or ginger snaps. My favorite was chocolate oatmeal no bakes, which really are candy not cookies. Also a good bowel super charger. As my triglycerides float higher in later life, I have to pass on these sugar factories, fatty foods, salt, and useless white flour products. As I get older and wiser, I have to choose healthier foods… and songs.

The Christmas song book goes on forever with hymns and old standards that go back a hundred years. Some are sad and slow, and some are joyful. It takes a lot to wiggle into this musical encyclopedia.  John Lennon’s So This is Christmas is sort of an anti-war Christmas tune.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

By the end of the song he slips in the War is over line. Maybe that’s why I don’t get the Christmas spirit out of this song.It’s political.

When you think of traditional Christmas songs, Silent Night and The First Noel saturate the sad and slow market. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Oh Holy Night are still home runs in my book, but I decided to research the most popular Christmas songs. After an exhausting 10 seconds I found a list of the top ten without any explanation of their metrics. I thought I’d share and seek your feedback as I offloaded mine.

The source is About Entertainment, if it matters to you. I can’t argue with their #1 The Christmas Song by Nat king Cole. One of my faves also.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

How many songs mention our Indigenous Arctic Natives? I challenge you to name one other song with Eskimo in it. So far, so good. Love that saturated silky smooth calf’s skin voice of Nat Cole. Soothing. I bought one of his records at the grocery store for 99 cents when I was a kid. Still have it.

#2 is a sad one from a sad time… World War II days. It’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, made famous by Judy Garland

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
Our troubles will be out of sight (my Lord)
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on
Our troubles will be miles away
Note the focus on troubles. Sad as it is, this was a rewrite of the original because the movie producer of Meet Me in St. Louis thought it was too depressing. I appreciate the song, but I have a hard time endorsing it in the top ten. Tying Christmas to historical times or politics, well, misses the point, I think. Which brings me to #3, Lennon’s So This is Christmas. I’ve already addressed this above. The message of Christmas, the birth of a redeeming savior, ought to override the blues of the day, the wars and the human failures.
#4 I think should be #1. Oh Holy Night, a tough song to sing, is transforming when sung well on Christmas Eve. It’s the first one in this list that mentions Christ or Savior. I am biased toward the original reason, the pre-commercialization purpose of Christmas: to re-create and commemorate the original epic story, before it became Santatized. I have no problem with gifts and Santa and the familiar myths that have sprung up alongside the original story of a savior redeeming mankind. I just want the original to have its place at the center of history, minus reindeer and Santa and elves. The God of the Universe met humanity in the humblest of places. He did not fly in on a sleigh full of presents.
#5 is Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Okay, I like the Boss and it’s fun to rock the holidays. I like to hear this once per Christmas. That’s it.
#6 Baby Please Come Home For Christmas. Baby, please don’t. What the heck is this doing on the list? So  wrong.
#7Jingle Bell Rock. Again, contemporary Yulishness. It belongs in the secular song book of early rock and roll. Not this high, folks. Not worthy.
#8 Little Drummer Boy. No, no, no. Parumpapumpum. No, no, no, no, get outta here son.
#9 Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Get outta here. Kids, okay. Adults, no. Sing this at the kids’ table.

#10 White Christmas by Bing Crosby. Hard to dis. The man could croon. What if he and Nat Cole did a duet? Liquid cheesecake. Heroin addicts would stop to listen. Good juice.

So, everyone has their favorites. What are yours? Joy to the World, needs to be up near the top of my ten greatest. My buddy Eric loved this song and I loved him, so it’s a safe top three in my book. I’ve always been partial to The First Noel and Silent Night, so we’ve got a top four. I’ll throw down with Nat Cole’s Christmas Song to round out my top five.
Sure there are many others to debate, but that’s for you to do. I’ve already chiseled my choices in stone.
Have yourself a Merry Christmas, big, little, medium, secular, sacred, commercial or not.  May your days be merry and bright, and may all  your Christmases be white.

 

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275. The expansion of love

Empty Chair/Empty Net /John 21

 

Do you have room at your earthly table for those in need? I have observed over and over that many churched folks like to keep their dinner table just the way it is—Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Bill, Aunt Sarah, the kids. If the table seats 8, then 8 is the magic number and homeostasis sets in, which means there is an internal balance to keep things just as they are. Equilibrium was the title of my last post… it seems like a positive that is achieved by negatives cancelling one another out for a sum of zero. That is control not love.

Now it is wonderful to have close family ties, to huddle up in a comfortable and secure manner every Sunday afternoon or evening. Many families do this, and God bless them.

My concern is that when your family is huddled up, is there room for another? Or is the newcomer, the stranger, the foreigner only shown your backs?  Do you practice hospitality by opening your self and your home to others?

I believe that many folks hold a mistaken and sometimes pathological belief about love—that it is a finite thing. In other words, love is diminished if given to too many others. To control and conserve the love, it is parceled out to immediate family only. In-laws are treated with a watered down love that depends on the immediate family spouse. In a similar way I’ve known a few parents who chose not to have a second child because they could not conceive of sharing their parental love with another being, as if loving a second child would dilute their love for the first child. And then I knew a man who said he had all the friends he needed for life—3, and unless one died, he did not need another. In this view, love is a fixed amount like a law of physics. No expansion is permissible.

There is a difference between being content with who is in your life and barring the door against anyone else, as if someone late to the party is an intruder.

And what if you have no room at your table? Is it okay to add a leaf and grow the table?

Can you extend your table or add another table to your intimate gatherings? A good hearted brother told me once that his wife was uncomfortable with sharing their home, their table. Consequently they were not hospitable outside their family boundary line. I responded that I didn’t think Jesus called us to comfort. I know He promised to comfort us in our pain and mourning. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. The brother told me that I was stepping on his toes. I agreed that maybe his toes needed to be stepped on.  God does not call us to comfort and happiness. He calls us to serve Him, to be holy, and to worship Him. Happiness and comfort may come later, but if you seek those first, you miss the point of it all.

I explain it like this. When we wanted to see dolphins in Tampa Bay, the boat captain explained that in order to see dolphins, he needed to bring the boat up to a certain speed that attracted the dolphins. Once we achieved that speed, lo and behold dolphins appeared next to our boat, jumping and winking at us. It was a magical moment I’ll never forget. My take away lesson was this:  if you go directly at dolphins or happiness, i.e., take the shortcut, you’ll ram them and ruin the mission. If, on the other hand, you go forward in faith and pursue holiness, dolphins and happiness will show up. It’s not magic but miracle.

I met my buddy Dave in Honduras 12 years ago. We clicked and just enjoyed each other’s company. Once back in town, we continued to develop our friendship by meeting each other’s families and spending time together. Over the past years we have vacationed with Dave and his wife’s family on several occasions. They have room at the table and I have been blessed by their hospitality. It’s this way with most of our church family: we spend time in one another’s homes for prayer, fellowship, comfort, and material help.

Are there empty chairs at your table?  Maybe you are a widower who is alone, recalling your deceased husband’s presence. Maybe you are a single guy who craves the presence of a soul mate across the table. Or you are a childless couple who desperately want a child to care for. The empty chair can be filled with grief over a divorced spouse or a broken family relationship.  Whatever or whoever you believe should be in the empty chair, consider this:  invite Jesus to your table. Make Him the first guest, your primary relationship. And knowing that His spirit resides in all believers, invite someone new to your table, someone in need of comfort or companionship or joy.

Once you make room for Jesus, you will find that people show up and fill that precious place.

Now let’s pause and go to John 21.

“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathaneel from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.”  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord!” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

The disciples ate breakfast with Jesus, finally recognizing Him. Then Jesus reinstated Peter, telling Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

The disciples had fished all night in futility. Not one fish did they catch. But once Jesus appeared, they brought a bounty to shore, 153 fish in all.

What do these two themes have to do with one another? Well, empty chairs and empty nets share emptiness, a void, an unmet need. In John 21 Jesus feeds his disciples and commands that they feed others. At your dinner tables you can also cast your nets in a different direction if you hear Jesus telling you to do so.  If you put Jesus in that empty chair, He will bring His blessing to you. It may not be a spouse, but it could be a friend. It may not be a child, but it could be an opportunity to minister to someone else’s child.

When you invite Jesus to your table, you are inviting the source of love, the multiplier of fish and loaves. He did not conserve or control love and limit the distribution of love. Instead, He gave all He had, bled out, so that we might love as He did. Though you are tired and despondent, cast your nets once more. Though you have a void at your dinner table or you feel smugly self-sufficient, invite Jesus to your table so that He may feed you too. Finally, listen to your Lord and be reinstated as Peter was, to feed the precious flock of Jesus.Image result for shepherd with sheep flock pictures

 

 

 

 

221. The wall of excrement

In the movie Slumdog Millionaire there is a scene early on where the main character’s abusive and jealous brother locks the Slumdog boy into a public outhouse to prevent him from experiencing the arrival of a Bollywood movie star in the slums.  Hundreds of poor kids run to meet the movie star as he arrives by helicopter like a divinity descending. All the slum children clamor for his attention and autograph.  Slumdog is desperate to meet this celebrity, so desperate that he takes his only available option to freedom…he plunges about 8 feet into the poop tank below the outhouse. He comes up covered in human waste and runs headlong toward the crowd around the star. Because of his repulsive appearance and stench, everyone moves out of his way, allowing him to meet the star and gain his autograph. His brother is incensed by this stroke of fortune and sells the autographed picture in the next scene, thus stealing his little brother’s joy. This theme of jealous power and resentment versus innocent love and forgiveness continues throughout the film.

However, the excrement covering the Slumdog is not his own. It really just reflects his older brother’s sin. His brother knew exactly what he was doing to the innocent Slumdog. He did not want Slumdog to have this extra-special experience. Instead he greedily sought the whole thing for himself only.  Good old human nature does not vary by culture. Whether it’s Jerusalem in A.D. 29 or Calcutta in 2009, people behave badly. We may recoil at the caste state of India and the hierarchy of Jewish culture in Jesus’ time, but we have our own pecking order in modern America. The great melting pot ideal still excludes the poor, the tired, the huddled masses, and the wretched refuse of teeming (foreign) shores that are welcomed symbolically by Lady Liberty. They can come in the back door, thanks very much, just to do the dirty jobs and then leave quietly.

As I’ve thought about human sin, I’ve thought about excrement. Our sin is like that—repulsive to God and boiling in its own stench. It creates a barrier between us and God, who would love to embrace us. Unfortunately, in our stench and mess we simply add to the barrier with anger, jealousy, resentment, envy, hopelessness, etc. We smear sin all over our spirits, then layer sin over sin like icing on a decadent, poisoned cake. God wants us to abandon the barrier, to disengage from sin. By turning toward God we are cleansed. He wants to autograph our hearts but sin gets in the way. We don’t need to be perfect to approach God, but we cannot continue to sin and gain access to His holy Presence. We must repent.

Salvation is free never earned. Like the movie star’s autograph, salvation is a gift, a sign that the Slumdog met his movie idol.  How great it is to have Jesus Christ’s autograph on your heart!  Others may try to steal or destroy your salvation. Demons may attack you, but they cannot destroy or steal your salvation. Ever. It’s tattooed onto every cell of your existence.

Later in the movie the Slumdog appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  He moves through each round’s question by recalling memories from his life, during which he finds the answers to these obtuse questions tattooed on the folds of his cerebral cortex.  He does not have to provide the movie star, just his name. He does not have to produce a U.S. hundred dollar bill, just the name of Benjamin Franklin. He does not have to produce the gun that was aimed at his face, just the name Smith & Wesson. Likewise, just calling out the name of Jesus Christ is enough. His name protects you, completes you, and advances you. It’s tattooed on every cell of your existence.

 

Slumdog advances round by round and becomes a national phenomenon while the girl he loves seeks him, and his prodigal brother finally repents of his sins. Simply naming someone or something by faith keeps Slumdog alive while his brother sacrifices his own life as a sort of guilt offering to free the Slumdog.  The movie’s plot is told in this fashion, through random questions whose answers create a linear narrative. The driving force throughout the movie is love. Love triumphs over seemingly insurmountable evil, including the rigged t.v. show and its greasy host.

Salvation is free not earned.  Though a greasy Prince of Darkness would cheat you out of your reward, he cannot. Why? Naming Jesus Christ is the key to each moment, each round, the entire contest of life. Jesus has called us to an exuberant, abundant life with Him not to millions or celebrity. He wants us to run boldly in our faith and not to cower in fear. Understanding that sin is our own hardening excrement is the beginning of wisdom. Repenting and washing it away is the critical first step for us to embrace God’s Holiness and to reflect His Glory.

Satan attempts to condemn us as Slumdogs who are hopelessly covered in excrement, while Jesus redeems us as His precious children, pure and simple. And we each have a choice as to which voice we will believe: the excrement of sin or the sacrament of love.

 

 

 

215. garbage and glory

Looks like spring is actually going to stay true this time. Okay a dip here and there for a day is acceptable as long as the wood stove does not need to be relit. Bulky item drop off at the township dumpsters is a holy rite of rural spring. Though it pains me to dump a perfectly good sink and a usable ceiling fan into a landfill, I’m less guilty about the 50 year old fake Christmas tree and the carpet remnants from my office floor. When is the earth going to explode in a methane gas belch as its landfills and dumps digest all this waste? You know there has to be something valuable in the buried mix, don’t you? Today’s archeologists dig through history’s landfills for priceless treasure. I hope this trend continues, and one day Dr. Reckyclousson of the University of Stockholm finds my petrified ceiling fan.

“Professor, come qvickly. Bjorn have unearthed somesing you vill like.”

“Look! It’s a nearly  complete Harbor Breeze ceiling fan from the 1980’s. Even the viring harnesses are intact. Be very careful with it. We’ll take it back to the lab and clean it wiss pneumatic tools. Oh, yes! I can’t wait to tell my colleagues and publish my findings. This is purrrfect.”

landfill photo: Landfill w/ Truck landfill.jpg

Doubtful, I know, but it distracts me from the Tic Tac of guilt upon the back of my tongue. I want to be a good steward. Even before I  had kids and a grandchild I wanted to work with nature, always believing in her restorative ability. Growing up before all the environmental protections went into law, there was a lot of stupid litter, dumping, pollution, and general disrespect of the environment. It was not unusual to find a mattress thrown off the side of the road or an old television, a freezer, the ubiquitous tires, or even an old car abandoned in the woods. That’s better now.

I remember an old John Prine song from my teen years… “Paradise”

Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River

to the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill

Where the air smelled like snakes

and we’d shoot with our pistols

but empty pop bottles was all we would kill

And Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenburg County

Down by the Green River where Paradise lay

“I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,

Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”

Old Mr. Peabody, a robber baron land rapist. What an ugly legacy to leave behind you in Kentucky. You can’t unrape the landscape. You can just start over again with the spring, trying to teach the next generation the lessons forgotten by your own. But I do recall wandering the woods around my childhood home, and the air did occasionally smell like snakes around damp dumps mostly. We would dig through the mess looking for bottles to recycle for 2 cents each as we walked to the store down the hill on Kings Highway.

But there is less unscarred ground and pure water left. I have faith in nature to redeem itself; I have no faith in mankind to do the same. Men are essentially short sighted, selfish, sucky creatures. That’s our nature, folks. Which is why we need a redeemer beyond nature, or a supernatural redeemer. We can’t do it on our own. When will we get that through our cave man minds? When human beings clean things up, it’s not long before other humans make it a mess again. We do not learn from history, therefore we repeat it it over and over and over.

It’s Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. Passion Week has begun. What a strange upheaval in one short week that shook history. On this Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey like a hero on a budget. His ministry had been up and down for three years, but now “Hosanna” filled the air. The next thing you know he’s saying goodbye to his closest followers at his last earthly supper, washing their feet. We have the advantage of knowing how the story ends. His disciples did not. They seem rather slow to pick up his messages and realize what’s going on. They had not seen the movie yet, where he is arrested and tried and sentenced to a horrible death.

Free Bible images of Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds wave palm branches and shout, ‘Hosanna’. An event remembered on Palm Sunday. (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-17): Slide 19

So why didn’t Jesus just throw down the miracle to end all miracles and clean up the mess that men had made? He could have crucified his crucifiers as easily as cutting his toenails. Where is his force and power?  Our human nature cries out for it. Knock some heads around like Rambo. Round them up for justice like John Wayne. So we miss it again, because we don’t think spiritually. The horrible surrender of God’s son to the ants of the Roman Empire overcame a spiritual not a material kingdom. It was not Caesar’s defeat for a century but Satan’s defeat forever that resulted from his humble acceptance of our sentence. Each one of us will die. Some in awful agony and others in our sleep, and our material lives will end. No matter; he has washed our filth off.

 photo 040219_crucifixion_hmed_2phmedium.jpg

Think of this: you have choices, millions of choices in your life. Imagine a key ring with a thousand keys on it. You can use most of them or nearly all of them. But if you leave unused the supernatural key of Jesus, it won’t matter how many really good natural choices you have made. You will be spending eternity outside the presence of God, whatever that looks like. Even if it’s not fire and brimstone, why would anyone not want to know the God who loved mankind so much that he sacrificed His own son to redeem all of them? All of them, even the sex offenders, addicts, and murderers. Even those folks you can’t forgive… he has.

Each one is a choice every day. How will I live? Why?
Yes, time rolls around again. My body is weaker each year and closer to death. So what? I have chosen that Jesus key which opens the door of eternity. Maybe I’ll see Mr. Peabody there. I’ll be sure to give him my two cents.

 

 

180. Jubba Jubba, Holy Moly!

I like how words sound; maybe I just like sounds. I guess sounds come first and then words result. My granddaughter Leah is 9 months old and just now acquiring her language skills. She can say “MaMaMaMa”, “DaDaDaDa” and other sounds that aren’t yet words. But she demonstrates receptive language way beyond what she can say. If you ask her where daddy is, she looks for the door. Say “Kermit” (the dog) and she crawls over to the dog dishes or toys. The same applies to “ByeBye” “Sleepytime” “More” and other communications. She demonstrates a clear understanding of each word’s meaning, which is kind of magical if you think about it. How do repeated sounds one day cross over and become meaningful units of information? One day, rolling random sounds flow by like meteors from space, and the next day they line up in racks and stacks with labels and measures full of structure and order. Miraculous, if you ask me.

You’ve probably read John 3:16, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God starts as word and then becomes enfleshed as a man/god, Jesus. In His short human life he gave us the language of love, mercy and grace, and redemption. It’s an awesome language if you speak it, but just having the receptive language ability is pretty cool too. In baby land the sounds become words and dwell among us as language. Chaotic noises occur randomly, but a developing brain begins to search for order. Little Leah’s brain associates a sound she generated with an external thing in her view. Her attentive mother reinforces this association once she realizes it’s happening. Grace smiles and claps and says, “Good job, Leah.” I suppose a nonverbal language has already been laid down between mother and daughter. What a great laboratory for learning anything! Surrounding a toddler with loving touch and smell and sound and taste reinforces all the newness she is discovering. Blending these senses into language consciousness through the channel of sound is a staggering concept.

I see a strong parallel between these two examples. God is like a parent who loves us and wants to communicate with us in deep meaning; so He gave us Himself, the meaning maker, in the form of Jesus. My daughter wants the same sort of deeper communication with her child, and so she happily labors to guide little Leah into meaningful language. The result is not always pretty with believers or kids, but now and then the outcomes are miraculous.

We Skype every now and again. Like her mother at the same age, Leah tries to climb into the computer screen to touch her grandparents and Aunt Jess.

Visual representations are beyond her concrete understanding. Unlike the immediate environmental word=noun or word=concept association, the computer image is 900 miles northeast of her. That understanding is going to take many years to grasp. Piaget claimed that concrete permanence is a developmental stage, i.e., when a toy is hidden under a blanket, the child knows the toy still exists. I guess this means that for now we stop existing when the image goes away. I’ll work on that, my Blogglers and let you know how it progresses. I want to be permanent in my granddaughter’s mind.

Many adolescents and adults want to see God steadily. In a sense they have not reached object permanence in their spiritual development, though God is not an object. When they are in His presence through reading His word or worship or fellowship with other believers, they see and grasp Him. However, like my granddaughter, once a veil comes over His presence or the screen goes to black, they stop perceiving and pause their belief. Sure, we’d all like to Skype with God or walk alongside Him regularly. But if that were the case, we would be operating on our senses and not on faith. And our senses are not good at remembering. In AA they say don’t act, HALT. When you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, you should pause and reflect. Why? Because when we are operating only on our senses, we make fools of ourselves. Act rather on faith.

Many folks I know struggle with faith in the unseen God. Yet these same folks believe in and trust their bank, their retirement fund, Social Security statements, and more unseen institutions of mankind. Let’s face it: you have to trust or you’ll never get anything done in life. Not trusting leads to self sufficiency where you have to own and defend your own land, drill your own well, make your own electricity, food, shelter, clothes, etc. Some of these folks have bunkers ready for Armageddon survival. Out on the fringes it gets ridiculous. How much fear energy does it take to build an underground bunker? And then, what do they do as the years go by and the bunker just sits there, a gaping hole full of faithlessness?

“Jubba, jubba” means nothing more than four melodic syllables from a Grateful Dead song, “Mr. Charlie”. It’s the equivalent of Space debris hitting the desert portion of the planet of our brains. But if you add the structure of other contexts, you can arrive at Jubal, a flute playing figure from the Old Testament; or Jubal Early, a Confederate Army Civil War general. With a little Latinization you can arrive at jubilation, a lovely word that means full of joy or exultation. All of this ordering could make you downright jubilant.

Slam that up next to Holy Moly! and you get joyous exultation plus an expression of surprise. Sadly, there is no such thing as a moly, Bloggolies. It’s just a sound that rhymes with holy. But don’t stop there. We are Burrito Nation. We can supply our own contextual structure and arrive at meanings never imagined before. Moly. A liquefied cheese that contains 10% mold, a variant of bleu cheese. Said to resemble moleskin if allowed to congeal. Now that’s some holy moly. Or he could be a French Impressionist painter, Claude Holy Moley, pronounce Mo Lay. No matter the context, my pointillist paint dab friends, jubba jubba, holy moly, looking high, looking low…

121. Solacity

Quiet, fabulously quiet on the outskirts of a city that claims a million residents. Just me and the dog, Sweet Kermit, walking to the dead end of Pima Farms Drive and then up to the trail head that leads into Saguaro National Forest. No traffic, there’s no place to go. Houses hunkered low to the ground blend into the dusty brown landscape. Each adobe finished house is a muted desert color:  cactus green, sand, putty patina, pale sage,  alabaster, salt, bleached bone, rusted iron, ocher, faded plum. Faint sounds only reinforce the ambient quiet. A dove coos on an overhead powerline. Anonymous birds flit fearlessly in thorny bushes. The crunch of gavel beneath my shoes. Kermit’s excited breathing. Tucson, you are as beautiful as a sleeping baby. Which is why I am here, to hold my sleeping granddaughter as she grows by the hour.

A huge hawk sails overhead soundlessly. Thousands of feet high in the blue sky a fighter jet might as well be a snowflake for all the rumble and shake it does not cause down here. The glorious February sun beats down on my dark tee shirt as an easy breeze blows west to east. I love this vast open saucer surrounded by stark mountains to the east and prickly cactus-covered spires behind me. I feel the urge to get higher, to breathe it all in, to gaze on the splendor that God has wraught here in the desert. There is a palpable spirit here, one that the Native people celebrate by burning sage in a fire at dawn to honor their ancestors. Unfortunately for them the European settlers did not embrace them or their quiet spirit, and moved them to less desirable, more arid lands. The new folks burned their ancestors and celebrated, i.e., expropriated, the sage and the mesquite, the land and the water.

Water is everything in the desert here just as it was in Jesus’ time and place. Just like Psalm 1 says,

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—     whatever they do prospers.

Water is the universal symbol for life. Along with breath, you have half of what you need to sustain life. Earth and fire, I guess, are the remaining two. I recall a piece of survival literature that showed how long a human can live without oxygen, heat, water, and food. It’s about three– three minutes without oxygen; three hours without a regulated body heat; three days without water; and three weeks without food. Fascinating that survival requires the four prime elements–air, water, fire, and earth (from which we get food). In denying these elements to others, we condemn them to something less than life.

So I wonder about the Native people, when they first encountered the Christian explorers and then settlers… how did it go? Was there respect given and received? Did the first White men in Arizona seek wisdom from the folks who had inhabited this harsh climate for thousands of years? It does not look that way. And did these Christian settlers share Jesus with the Native folks or impose Him with guns, whiskey, and bullets? I’m no historian, but I think the Grand Canyon could not contain all the tears of the Native people of what we call the United States. How ironic that people groups who themselves had fled Europe’s corrupt aristocracies and state religions would deny Native people their culture, their faith, and their lands. And the descendants of these settlers repeat their forefathers’ sins by denying modern immigrants any shelter, food, water or air. Human nature has not changed much if at all since the time of the Old Testament prophets, so it seems to me. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had been the first non-native person in the Southwest, there would be a lot more sage smoke at dawn and a lot more love among the cacti today.

Today as Tea Party Rightists rage on in paranoid frenzy and knee-jerky legislators push for guns in teachers’ hands, I wonder why we can’t just enjoy the silence together. There is beauty and truth in abundance outside this solar kissed city. Breathe it in, again and again.  May my children’s children and yours yield their fruits in season, never wither, and always prosper.

10. therefore

Image result for god picturesFinding God is an inescapable task, even for those who deny God, they have found Him and sent Him into the myth box or the library of fairy tales or the laboratory of science. Those who have lost God know where and when they lost Him. Some of us have simply misplaced God, put Him in the wrong priority level. We know He is around here somewhere.

As a little kid, knowing God helps hold back the onslaught of super complicated reality and all the questions that demand answers. Knowing God holds the barking fears at bay until the child can deal with them one at a time. The problem comes when unexplainable bad things overwhelm the kid and life’s problems outrun the explanations he can understand. The foundation is exploded before it’s even built.

It’s Good Friday in town and the streets are nearly empty. No school or court today. Free parking because Rod the ticket man is off with all the Boro employees. Even Leonard the gas man is home and out of uniform. Quiet. Some folks are finding God, but I imagine most are finding stuff to do–shopping, cleaning, planting flowers, traveling, trout fishing, golfing, drinking beer, baking cakes, walking aimlessly with heavy back packs, hallucinating, waiting for good news, getting hair cuts.

As a teenager knowing God helps counterbalance the power shifts with your parents. When you are so mad or disappointed with your mom or dad, you still have a parent to listen to you. Even orphans can have this parent. Teens are learning to think for themselves and tend toward the idealistic. They hate to hear about moderation and mostly good adults. Somehow they believe that it is possible to be 100% pure and good and kind to everyone. They are optimistic about human nature though they have not witnessed a representative sample of it yet. God and Jesus and Grandma are pure and holy, they reason, so it’s possible for them and their friends and family to be the same…if they all just try harder. Every generation does this dance with idealism.

As young adults you finally figure out that grandma was a good actress; and your closest, purest friend is in an abusive relationship; and your drinking water has some nasty chemicals in it because a trusted protection system failed. Human error all around. God and Jesus remain pure and good and holy, but everyone else sucks to some degree. And you wonder about this great divide between God and mankind. Ah, but it will be completely different when you have kids.

Weddings are perfect opportunities to deny the ugly reality that marriage can be. Weddings are staged and scripted for months, and then marriage happens spontaneously. Wedding snapshots are perfect, and then reality begins gnawing at the edges. Dreams don’t have to die, but they do need to be adjusted, postponed, financed, or reframed. Usually there is a crisis point where one must choose between the ideal dream and the real person snoring next to them. So often we choose the unmitigated dream and sever the imperfect relationship.

But our grandkids will get it right, we hope, as we call for a new deck of cards. Getting it right is the myth, though. Mankind has never gotten it right, which is why we need to be finding God.

Image result for seeking god pictures Take the leap of faith, my Godbloggets.