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Friday, October 26, 2012

I Ain't Afraid of No Grim Reaper

I plan to join a band after I'm dead...
I see a lot of introspective, end of life weblogs being written by my peers lately. It seems that as soon as the old peak becomes fully snow-capped, we wax nostalgic and start looking back at our legacy.  Presidents and old people do that a lot.

Psychologist Erick Erickson says coming to terms with your life is the big deal psychological task of people nearing the end of their lives.  You look back fondly at the good stuff you did or experienced and try to make a story out of the heaps of steaming horse manure that inevitably decorate your life with unpleasantness.  It's natural, when we look at the ending of our lives that we want to know whether or not we will be well-remembered and whether or not we'll be the hero of our own story.

My son, Micah, asked a friend once if the friend though anyone would remember him if he died.  He had struggled for 14 years with a seizure disorder and I suppose he was always  aware of his own mortality. Two weeks after he posed that question, he died in his sleep.  There's not a day I don't think about him and miss him. He was 28, six months from graduating from college with his life before him.  He didn't get the luxury of ruminating over his accomplishments nor have the time to write his memoirs.  Yet, he lived his life well, left behind good friends, countless kids he was a mentor too and so many great stories, that his memorial service got more laughs than some standup comedians do. 

Not every old guy does all that ruminating. I suppose, if you figure this life is all there is, you'd like to be remembered for at least a few years. A lot of evil has been done in the name of gaining a place in history over the several millenia of recorded human history.  Being monumentally bad is the cheap way to be remembered in this particular iteration of the world.  Being remembered for good deeds usually requires some form of martyrdom to get your name on the final exam for World History 101.

Me, I have a hard time really getting my mind around the idea of being dead and no longer being busy doing things in the world. I haven't seen everything and done everything yet.  Death would be a monumental hinderance to my plans for world conquest.

It's my Christian faith, you  see.  When Jesus said that if you have faith in Him you have eternal life.  Note: He does not say you will have eternal life after you die and sleep and He comes back to get you.  As my grandpa once noted, "If you're going to wake up from it, then it's not really death."  It's like Burgess Meredith described it in Grumpy Old Men - a dirt nap!

So if death is nothing more than an extended nap in the dirt, then why in the world am I worried about my legacy.  I am, to quote Dan Fogelbert, "a living legacy".  So rather than spending my golden years searching for the meaning of my life, I rather believe I'll just keep on trying to make some meaning out of my life right up until I pitch over nose first into the dirt for that little nap.

Of course, I kind of hope Jesus will come and we can go straight on to the real work of shaping the universe in partnership with God.  How much fun will that be?  So, I currently plan to tool along doing the sort of thing I'll be doing in the New Heavens and New Earth - building things, taking care of the gardening, making music, telling stories, that sort of thing.  I plan to skip dying altogether, but if I do croak, I plan to die busy with all kinds of unfinished projects going.  I plan to wake up busy too.  I figure since I have eternal life promised, I'm already living forever and I really ought to act like it.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Whiskers on Kittens - The Good Life in Lists

The woods in the morning - definitely on my list!

We’re all fascinated with lists. Pick up the TV remote and cruise through the cable channels. It’s the top ten this and the top 50 that from the top to the bottom of the channel listings. Even the inimitable Mary Poppins had a list of her favorite things.

If you were to sing about your favorite things just now, it’s not likely to include raindrops on roses or doorbells, though you might rather enjoy those things. You might mention hot dogs and baseball, bikinis on beach babes or the smell of new shoes. Everybody’s got something that tweaks their nostrils or warms the cockles of their hearts.

Psychologists have learned that smells are powerful memory triggers. The other five senses can draw old memories out of your head as well – for good or ill. If you’re not careful, if you’ve lead a traumatic life, if you’ve experienced something horrific, it’s a good idea to learn to control the brain’s troubling little popups or you can wind up a basket cases, curled up in your bed trying to avoid seeing, touching, smelling, tasting or hearing anything.

One way to take control back is a little trick I learned inadvertently when I was a kid. I make lists of things I like. This morning I was out walking with Daisy and, as is my habit, I began experiencing the walk as though for the first time and making myself aware of the sights, smells, and even the tastes of things around me. I started listing all the things I like about a morning walk with my dog. Here’s a sample of my favorite things from today - in order.
  1. The cool autumn breeze on my face and the smell of autumn.
  2. The bit of blue sky peeking out between the clouds and the little shafts of warm sunlight that poke their way down through the trees ever once in a while.
  3. The sweet taste of rain fat blackberries, plucked straight off the vine.
  4. Daisy’s warm breath against my leg where’s she’s sniffing at the dog treats in my pocket and hinting shameless for a little snack.
  5. I like the sound of the big planes taking off from McCord Air Base just down the road.
  6. I like the crunch of gravel along the path through the woods where we walk.
  7. I get a kick out of watching Daisy’s ears come up when she spots a squirrel or a fat rabbit and the way she gets down on her belly like a commando to try and sneak up on them.
  8. The squirrel sitting on a limb after taking refuge up the tree as he sits and chitters at Daisy, just as mad as an old wet hen. Funny stuff.
  9. The pumpkins and tombstones in people’s front yards where they’ve decorated for Halloween and the arrow sign in someone’s flower bed that points east and says “Diagon Alley”. Even more fun is two doors down another neighbor has a similar wooden arrow that points west to “Hogwarts”.
  10. I even like the raindrops against my face that send Daisy and I hurrying toward the house to avoid a good dousing.

That’s my ten fav’s just for today. Yeah, my life’s a mess right now. I’m still looking for a job. We’re a week from being homeless and I haven’t found us a place to live yet. We're broke and Sabbath may be the last chance I get to go to church for some time, Sheila’s sick and my knees hurt. But for just a bit, life felt good and sometimes that’s all you get in a day and it’s enough.

I remember the passage from Robert Browning’s poem that I learned in Mrs. Creel’s English class:

The year’s at the spring,

And day’s at the morn;

Morning’s at seven;

The hill-side’s dew-pearled;

The lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in his Heaven -

All’s right with the world!

I suspect He is in his heaven and all is right with the world after all, if we could just look at things the way God does.

In the meantime, I’ll remember the cool rain against my face and the taste of fresh blackberries and smile mysteriously. Somebody’s bound to wonder what in heck I’ve got to be grinning about and that's something else I enjoy.

© 2012 by Tom King

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Bullies, Wolves, Sheep and Sheepdogs

If you leave the church, cease to be a Christian and go your own way, all that’s well and good. I get it.  You’re angry and you don’t want to have to deal with all those rules and restrictions. Your choice.  So why stand at the curb and throw rocks at those of us who chose to stay in the church.
There is an increasing cadre of folk out there on social media who have taken up pitching rocks at their former churches like some sort of hobby.  Some have moved on to other churches  and feel called upon by their consciences to destroy their former denomination or congregation.  Some have declared their faith in atheism and chosen to attack religion in all its forms, except of course atheism itself which they declare (as any true believer would), is the only truth there is.
As for the ones who profess themselves to be Christians still, an observation.  A Christian's duty is to win souls for Christ. It would seem to me that tearing down a church you disagree with is like shooting holes in someone else's overloaded lifeboat to prove it's not as safe as yours. It smacks of the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" philosophy. It is impossibly arrogant to take upon yourself the task of destroying a church (or as one ex-church member put it so colorfully, " I’m going to hit continue to go on striking at the church, because if you hit the sweet spot enough times, it ceases to function.")

You know, unless God Himself has spoken to you recently and ordained that you attack one of His churches, I'd want to be very careful about trying to “hit the sweet spot” and kill your former church.  You may find you’ve been working for someone other than who you think you're working for.

Christians are like manure. Spread us out and we do a lot of good, but heap us up in one big pile and pretty soon the place begins to stink. It's why Jesus said, "Go ye therefore..."  Large churches are pretty much a bad idea for that reason.  I love my home town for all the pain it brought me and my family. I've got history there going back to the day the school was founded. My great great grandpa signed the church charter. But the town was meant to support a school, to train young people and then send them out into the world, not to become the old Adventist's graveyard.
  Anytime a church gets too big or dominates a neighborhood or town, there is a temptation for someone to try to take the reins and run things the way they think things ought to be run.  

Wolves get among the sheep and start bullying the flock.  Some of the sheep flee rather than fight and that’s fine.  It’s a good idea in fact if you really can't stand the strife. But some of those who leave are little more than smaller bullies who just lost out in the struggle for dominance.  They can’t resist hanging out on the fringes and taking pot shots at the flock because they need to get a little revenge for the pain they were caused.

The problem is, they don’t really aim at the bullies.  They aim at the flock itself.  In the case of my church, a lot of angry ex-Adventists can't resist picking at old wounds. They set out on a campaign to encourage more people to leave their old church – sniping at the flock itself which never did them harm.

Leave it alone people. I remember there was once about a troublesome elder back in my great-great grandpa’s day who was always starting fights for power in the church.  They kicked him out twice, but always felt sorry for him and let him back in.  They wrote a prominent church leader for advice when he asked a third time to come back to the church.  She wrote back and told them, “No, he can be saved outside the church, but within the church he cannot resist causing pain and dissension to his fellows." Apparently some folk just can't handle being in groups where there are a lot of meek people.

I just went through a cycle at a church where the local clique had turned the church into a career-killer for pastors.  That happens because the meeker members of the church don't rise up and stop it. That’s probably because they are, after all, meek. Back home we got backup from the state church conference who refused to move the pastor.  The group that believed itself to be the rightful holders of power in the local church, decided to boycott services.  

While they were busy teaching us all a lesson, we learned one.  We managed to replace them all on the church board and in other positions in of leadership during the boycott.  When our pastor did move on eventually, they all came back.  Our new head elder, however, met them at the door and had a chat with them and explained that things had changed and none of them would be going back to their old jobs anytime soon (if ever).  The whole thing was upsetting to the church as a whole. We loved the people who were boycotting.  They were our friends, but we had to do what was right and we could not in conscious let this go on anymore.  The events of that long year and a half changed the whole character of the church.  What a lovely congregation it became as a result and because of the lessons we learned, no single group of individuals has anything like the kind of power they had before.

Power is where the devil attacks churches. Christ called us "the meek" when he described his flock and while we may be destined to inherit the Earth, there's always somebody out there who wants to lead us somewhere else for his or her own benefit or for the sake of their over-inflated ego.

We're up against that in one of the churches I've been going to up here in Washington. I suspect I may be here in Washington to participate in a little revolution against an entrenched and repressive leadership. I like the church where I'm at, don’t get me wrong, but I'm wondering if God really wants me to be comfortable in any church right now. He seems to have given me rather a lot of experience with churches run by bullies (beginning in my youth back in my hometown). My teaching career ended at the hands of just such a bully church board. One of my favorite people at that church told me before I left, "Brother King, I love my church and I hate to say it, but I think the only thing that will save this church is a visit from the grim reaper."

A friend of mine who was the target of one of these church bully groups told me, “You can’t change the church from the outside.”  Running away and sniping at it from the woods is not helpful.  If you don’t have the stomach to stand up for what’s right, go ahead and run away.  Just don’t confuse guilt over your own cowardice with a mandate from heaven to belittle and ridicule the folk you left behind when you went.  Don’t confuse a system that says “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” with people who are busily tearing down that system from within.

Wolves are not sheep.  They are not part of the flock however they may dress themselves.  Bullies are not Christians, however much they dress themselves up in robes, collars and dangly crosses.  And you don’t defeat bullies by becoming one yourself. 

I love my church and most of the people in it are dear, sweet, kind people. They are the best, hardest working, most meek folk you could ever want to know. We should not be at all surprised that wolves are attracted to flocks of sheep. Rather than running away and abandoning the flock, what we ought to be doing is standing guard over it - actively confronting those who would bully their way to power in the local church. We should protect our pastors and teachers and members. The church member who takes it upon him or herself to point a bony accusatory finger at a tender-hearted, struggling member should draw back a nub.

I'm still in my church despite the procession of bullies I’ve encountered.  I’m here because I love my church and I will not stand by to see it abused by the agents of Satan, sent among us like ravening wolves to sew confusion and discord. It's not the church that’s the problem, guys. It's the devil who is responsible for the wolves among us and I have decided that I am called to be God's own sheepdog!

I’m just saying.

Tom King – © 2012