Books and Trees

20121204-081129.jpgAspen trees are practically synonymous with Colorado, but I can’t for the life of me get one to grow in my backyard. Stubborn trees, they grow where they will, and they flourish in the scarred and broken places. Try and put one in a nice sunny spot with lots of water and specialty garden soil, and no roots sink deep, no branches stretch high. But in the wild places, where fire has swept through and destroyed everything, or miners have stripped the earth and left it forsaken, aspen thrive. They grow up like a white-robed throng of angels, undeterred and unstoppable.

Seems to me aspen have a lot in common with good characters. If you want a compelling story, with people whose voices are strong and clear, you can’t tend them too carefully. You have to let them go where they will. And they will put down deep roots and grow tall only in the scarred and broken places. Let the fire sweep through, and what remains is what will last.

Life is like that, too. Though we would keep the drama out, when the heartache has passed, what fills the empty place is stronger, more beautiful. Something to keep in mind on bad days… Let the storm come, let it rage.  Then, wait for the aspen.  They will come.

10,000 Ways That Won’t Work

Thomas Edison is known to have said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

10,000? Here are a few.

1. Whining doesn’t work. Just makes yucky things take longer.
2. Being crabby. Ditto.
3. Being prideful. Love falling on my face, but perchance a little humility goes a long way?
4. Keeping score. (The winner never really wins.)
5. Making the wrong thing the main thing and missing the moment that counts.
6. What is the opposite of faith? Snatching the reins and going the wrong way? Much harder to go blind with only an invisible hand to guide, but you’ll never have to backtrack.
7. Being really, really cautious. Sometimes you just have to take the risk.
8. Procrastinating. But wait, I like that one! Maybe I can procrastinate just a little.
9. Taking things for granted. Every day is a miracle. Just ask the guy who lost everything — you probably know him.

10,000 ways that won’t work, one that will. Today may we live faith, hope, and love.

Let the regifting begin!

English: Rubber band ball (this is a new versi... So our daughter has been saving her pennies for Christmas gifts — a $2 rubber band ball for her brother (spot-on for the little inventor), a ballcap, perhaps, for dear old dad. She is too cute, so excited to give her hard-earned allowance for the thrill of making someone smile.

Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda starred in the 1994 movie, “It Could Happen to You,” the story of a down-on-her-luck waitress awarded a stingy tip: one-half of a lottery ticket. How amazed she was when the ticket won, and the cop who made a promise came back to give her half of the winnings. But the best part of the film is what the pair of them go on to do. Exuberantly, overflowing with amazement akin to the Prodigal Son’s, they hit the streets and begin giving their money away. The initial gift from policeman to waitress inspires dozens more gifts, from stranger to stranger, all given with infectious laughter and sweetness, none deserved.

It is more blessed to give than to receive. Even this, the ability to give, is a gift from God, the very first we see in Genesis. God, as we are introduced to him for the first time, is uncontainable, lavish, joyful, creative, spontaneous, intimate, bursting with life, wit, whim. From his fingertips spill star, Saturn, swordfish, platypus, hummingbird, cow, sunflower, live oak, seaweed, Adam. How much was required for a sustainable planet, and how much was just gravy?

God gives, gives freely, gives abundantly, teaches us abundance not by stockpiling the gifts but holding our hand to scatter them all loose in the world, regifting. To give is to spin wild in a circle, child in the father’s hands, fearless. Who fears to give when all is manna raining down, inexhaustible?

We always struggle to reign in the holiday spending, but maybe just as important is to savor the giving, really pause and feel it, remembering God who freely gives, who freely gave — this is how I am loved! Extravagantly.

Light of the World

Milky Way
Milky Way (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live with my family in an impoverished sector of the sprawling Denver metro area. In 1995, I spent a summer here, my first summer immersed in inner-city life, inner-city ministry. I lived with 17 other college students on old mattresses in the dusty back rooms of an urban church, housed in what had been a supermarket before neighborhood violence and an awful murder shut the store down completely. The words for the church in Pergamum might have been for this church: “I know where you live — where Satan has his throne.” For weeks, I passed out animal crackers to barefooted immigrant children, laughed with gang-banger teens, fed homeless, toothy old men, and prayed brazenly against the devil. I fell completely in love with the people, with the city, with the thrill of serving Christ.

 

But there is a downside to inner-city ministry, one I didn’t entirely grasp that first summer, something I have had to swallow as a bitter pill in the years since. In order to love the least of these, you must live among them, on mean streets, in dirty alleys. The blocks without fathers become your blocks, the neighbors with violent tempers become your neighbors, the filth in the gutters blows into your yard. And if you live in a large, high-traffic city, you will know, too, that it is hard to see the stars for the street lights.

 

I remember going with our intrepid little collegiate group up into the mountains after weeks in the city. At night, I was transfixed to see again the stars. The entire Milky Way, glorious across a pitch-black sky, unobscured by high rises and police lights, was truly amazing — literally breath-taking; the flash of meteorites made me gasp.

 

The beauty of Christ is easily obscured by the flashing lights of the world. It takes intentionality to find a quiet place to see. And without seeing, without peering, studying, meditating, it is all too easy to “lose your first love.”

 

Tell it like it is.

Writing
Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

They say pastors need soft hearts and thick skin. Don’t we all?

So you write a book, you put it out there, ay yay yay! Here come the critics. And you can stick your fingers in your ears and sing it out, “I can’t hear you…” or you can take a deep breath, listen attentively, and grow a little, as a writer, and more importantly, as a person. It is hard to be critiqued, to let someone take aim at you and brace for impact. Hard, too, to not let that thick skin turn into a hard heart in self-defense.

But it’s also hard to offer critique. How can you tell your best friend they are a little… well, wrong? How can you tell your son that his sorrow is turning into self-pity? How do you tell a writer that chapter one needs an overhaul.  Most of the time, we just don’t. But faithful are the wounds of a friend.

Today, I had to return a review on authonomy. The fellow gave me a nice review and then badgered me for my opinion. Honesty is the best policy, but I was careful to balance out my needs-improvement comments with some great-job. Sigh. He was not a happy camper, and promptly rescinded all of the nice things he’d said about me. Now I am afraid to speak my mind (never easy for spineless me anyway).

But here’s the thing — praise is meaningless if it’s false, and the habit of ear-tickling brings the whole sorry stew to a new level of stink. If that’s not bad enough, it only delays the inevitable public humiliation when the much-applauded work (writing or whatever) receives its comeuppance from on high. (The day will come!)
This is hard in parenting, too. Tell your kid too often that he’s perfect and he will begin to believe it. Chances are he’s not. But it is so much easier to woo with over-vaulted compliments than hold a high standard.

At the end of the day, whose advice do you value most? Whose critiques have shaped you?

Anne Lamott on writing…

“This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of–please forgive me–wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious. Try walking around with a child who’s going, “Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!” And the child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, “Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!” I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world–present and in awe.”
— Anne Lamott

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