Do you every worry about sending your children or grandchildren off to school? I do. I grieve over what will happen to their wonderful imaginations? Slowly, in the name of society, in the name of practicality, we will begin to stamp out the glorious child of God we so cherish.
I remember watching the development of my youngest son Take’s artwork. As a child, he used to draw these marvelous pictures of people and creatures and houses and buildings. There wasn’t a whole lot of realism to these pictures. He hadn’t been pressured into using perspective yet. But they were marvelous, intricate pictures in which what was important to this child loomed forward and captivated my heart. I learned from these pictures what I had forgotten in growing up
As Take grew older, he learned to use perspective in his drawings. He got so good at it that he was asked to do the designs for the major sections of the grade school yearbook. Of course, I lavished praise on him, for his imaginative grasp of the realism of the world, but I also grieved for what was now missing from his drawings.
No more flying worms in his drawings. After all, everybody knew that worms don’t fly. Bees and butterflies fly. Birds fly. Even airplanes fly, but worms crawl. Everybody knew that.
Nobody laughed at his drawings anymore, saying “That’s not real.” The houses in the distance are smaller than the ones up close…no more buildings that bloomed like flower. No longer would other children and even most adults say, “He broke the rules. Rules are rules. Nail him. Nail him.”
I Want, I Want
Learning to wait is critical, no matter what our ages. When I was old enough to have a paper route, I wanted a BB gun. Guns were dangerous and my Mom didn’t want me to have one. I kept nagging my Dad. “I want, I want,” I said. Finally, I took my newspaper money, went to the hardware store and bought a Red Ryder crank action.
That same night my father came home and surprised me in the ditch behind the house where I had been shooting at a tin can. He had a very stiff face, so I knew he was angry. I followed him to his car. He opened the trunk, and there they were–two boxes with rifles in them, one a Red Ryder crank action and the other a Daisy slide action. The slide action was the more expensive rifle and the one I really dreamed about.
“You can keep that one,” my Dad said, indicating the one in my hand. He slammed the trunk. “I’m returning these.” And he climbed into the car and drove off.
There were two rifles in his trunk. Were both for me? Or one for him and one for me? My Dad returned the two rifles and I never saw them again.
I was the eldest son and he wanted me to have what I wanted. But I had offended him greatly. He was the father and I was the son he had told to wait. I had waited as long as I could, then lost faith. I had taken matters into my own hands, and our relationship became broken.
All living–Advent, Christmas and everyday–has to do with waiting: Waiting in a way that makes us hospitable to something new and radically different. Waiting has to do with hospitality to the promise of wholeness of life in God’s love.
In the Faces of Those We Meet
How many faces have I looked into this past week? Have I lingered and looked into them, into the eyes? Have I seen the hurt and isolation in those eyes? Have I said, “Hello. Are you hungry?” Have I taken the time to see the living Christ in any of those faces?
One Sunday evening, a man came into Faith Church in Northwest Denver. I was in my senior year at seminary, and I was local pastor.
I interrupted our youth group meeting to talk to the man. I led him upstairs and we sat and talked in the sanctuary. He said he was 77 years old, recently from out-of-state. He was of large stature, with a full head of white hair and a white beard. He carried a cane.
He said that after 48 years of marriage he and his wife had divorced. He said he had two sons, neither of whom cared at this time to have him around. He showed me a scar on his forehead where one of his sons had hit him.
He said he lived in an apartment complex with people who used drugs or who were mentally ill. He said he and his well-behaved dog wanted to move out of those undesirable quarters.
He said he still did some commercial art which he would like to show me. He said he received a small Social Security check. He had a van which he used to collect things.
Then came his proposition. He said he wanted to move into our church with his dog, to sleep right where we were sitting, in one of the pews, in exchange for being a watch person. He would be there to protect the church’s property and at the same time have a quiet place to stay.
I admired this gentleman’s ingenuity. How had he thought up this scheme? But I said that I didn’t think I could work that out. There were liability concerns. Not only our congregation met in the church, but also a small Catholic fellowship. It was too complicated for our church to allow anyone to live in the church building even temporarily.
I asked if there was any other way I could be of help to him. He didn’t seem to be in need of food, nor did he seem in immediate need of shelter.
I mentioned our senior program. Perhaps he could join that for a light meal and fellowship. Because he said he was a commercial artist, I mentioned the writers’ group I convened. We actually had a world renown muralist in the group. He didn’t seem interested in these possibilities, but said he would be back, asking that I try to work his proposal out with the people of the church.
Two nights later, during my writer’s group meeting, the man showed up again, at the door of the crying room. Looking up from our discussion group, I said I was sorry but the church couldn’t have someone living in the building. The man left, saying that he had experienced other disappointments in life.
He was gone, and I wouldn’t see him again. I felt badly about this last encounter because I hadn’t thought he’d return and had essentially blown off his proposal. In the two days following his first visit I hadn’t even shared his story with any of the members in my congregation.
The living Christ is in each of us. I believe this. But had I looked for the living Christ in this man? Had I been present to him, as Jesus would have been present to any of us? And, more importantly, what did this man see in me, to return a second time to the church?
Did he see beyond the student pastor too busy facilitating a meeting or writing a sermon or preparing a bulletin or designing a wedding ceremony or preparing a Sunday School lesson plan? Had he glimpsed the living Christ in me, waiting to stop doing, waiting to simply be?
When I was an undergraduate, to help pay for my college expenses, I worked as a surgical technician in a hospital in Salt Lake City. I had on-the-job training, which amounted to scrubbing with phisohex, donning a surgical cap, mask and gown, learning to stuff my hands into latex gloves, and observing a number of operations. Soon I was assisting at an operation table under the guidance of a surgical nurse, learning the names of the various surgical instruments, and handing instruments to the surgeon.
A whole new world had opened up for me. I assisted at a number of operations, but the one I remember most clearly was a Caesarean section. The anesthesiologist had given the mother a local, a saddle block, if I remember correctly, so she was awake during the procedure. A large circular mirror had been moved in overhead, so she could watch what the doctor was doing.
An incision was made, and there was a call for a number of hemostats. It didn’t take long for the baby to appear and to be handed to the anesthesiologist, who used a suction bulb to get the baby breathing and crying. No holding the baby upside down and smacking it on the bottom. I was also surprised that the baby was covered with a grayish grease, which was being carefully wiped off. The baby was then laid in the mother’s arms while the mother’s incision was being closed. I will never forget the joy in the mother’s face.
This birth reminds me of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus being birthed in a stable. Yes, there were angels, and wise men, and shepherds, and we have our children put on these wonderful pageants for us…but there was also a real, flesh and blood birth that took place in Bethlehem. Mary greeted with joy her new baby from God, the Word enfleshed in human form. We call this the Incarnation. With the birth of Jesus, God was no longer in some distant place, but God, the Word, had come to live among us. Our relationship with God had been permanently altered. He was not only God-with-us, but his final goal was and is to be incarnated in each of us, to become God-within-us. But we humans don’t take to incarnation easily or well, and Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross, and be resurrected before we could begin to welcome him as a presence within.
0n the windward side Oahu, in the Keolu Hills, God provided me with a chance to ride…more accurately, perhaps…to walk a horse when I was a boy. I wanted the horse to walk because I hated the trot. A trot would bounce me about and jolt my brains. I could barely stay in the saddle. Like a wimp, I had to hold on to the pommel.
I did experience a gallop once or twice, with the help of a friend who cares for the horse. I guess he was a friend. I think we were showing off to a girl, when I offered to sit on the horse backward. God knows what got into me.
I sat behind Anthony, my back to his back, holding on to a couple of leather straps. I thought we were going to walk easily up the hill. But soon we were trotting, and I began to protest. My eyes grew big and rattled in their sockets. I couldn’t sit up straight and began to tilt forward. The horse’s behind, including its hind hooves, grew huge in my face. It was then that Anthony urged the horse into a gallop.
Hanging on for dear life, I experienced the wild power of the horse, a force so other, like God Himself, and so amazingly more powerful than myself, so incomprehensibly relentless. Hanging almost upside down, praying the ride would end before I got kicked in the face, I kept muttering, “Stupid…how stupid, 0 God, can I be?”