Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Musings around an Insignificant Birthday

So I turned 47 this year. It’s a kind of ho-hum birthday. And I don’t mean that in a bad way – it’s just one of those in betweens – not a milestone if you like. Earlier in the year, we celebrated the 100th birthday of Aunt “Mert” (or Ellen – don’t ask me). THAT is a milestone! More recently, we gathered to mark her passing – and while Mert will be sorely missed by us all, I count myself lucky in at least two ways, 1) to have known her, and 2) that I get to celebrate another birthday – every day is a gift.

We celebrated it in our traditional way – birthday celebrant gets to choose where we go for dinner to celebrate. This year I chose an old favorite haunt – The Breakfast King, noted in a restaurant award one year as “Best Place to Feel Like an Unpaid Extra in a Tarantino Film”. This is a great old fashioned dive (must check if it has featured on that Food Channel show about Dives). They have great green chile, plates of food that would satiate NFL linemen and my favorite for breakfast, made from scratch corn beef hash (which narrowly beats out the chicken fried steak). The setting alone (next to a seedy strip joint on Santa Fe, a busy road complete with a huge derelict rubber factory, partly demolished behind it) tells you it has to be good – would not have survived this long otherwise.

So why did I choose this for dinner you ask? Well Joy and I stopped in late one night (it’s a 24 hour dive as all the best ones are) and had coffee and pie – which was of course good. We figured one of these days we needed to check it out for dinner. That’s it – no other reason…

But I digress, birthday dinner, and not forgetting the usual enthusiasm of my girls seeing me enjoy opening their gifts which are always thoughtful is not what I initially set out to write about. I had three profound thoughts / experiences surrounding my birthday this year. You may disagree that they are profound – and that’s OK too – you probably wouldn’t choose the BREAKFAST King for birthday DINNER either…

My first thought concerned visiting the doctor. I don’t watch much television, but do enjoy the relatively new show, “Men of a Certain Age” – probably in part because I can relate to it. As an odd coincidence, even as I write this, Brian, a good friend of mine and I are communicating via Facebook chat to organize meeting for breakfast – our “Men of a Certain Age” breakfasts – if you watch the show you’ll know what I mean.

Anyway – as we have established, I am a man of a certain age and while I probably should have started going to the doctor for an annual checkup a year or two (maybe several) ago, I have been avoiding it (typical male… yada yada yada…). I have no particular reason why – my general health seems to be OK, but I guess like many, I’d just as sooner not know if there is something dreadfully wrong – makes no sense at all I know but hey – that’s the way some of us are wired. My dad got onto me a bit this year, having suffered a stroke himself last year – I don’t know if that’s what finally the tipping point was, but I went. And it turns out I have a clean bill of health – in fact – other than my knees and back, most of me is OK for my age – maybe even holding back a year or two.

What was profound to me about this was the amazing sense of relief – or perhaps in a sensory fashion, a great weight was lifted off me. It just felt some incredibly damn good to hear the doc say the words (both in the office, and a week or so later when various lab results came back). It reminded me of the feeling I’ve experienced over and over again with Jesus – just as He says to the woman of poor reputation in Luke’s account of Jesus, “I forgive you sins”, and “Your faith has saved you, go in peace”. Perhaps the most overwhelming sense of freedom has come when at various points, guilt which like an unknown disease holds you back, is recognized for what it is – a big fat lie, and is washed away forever. Forgiveness in Jesus is complete! You don’t have to hang out in the shadows, ashamed of you past – or in some cases, wondering if because of the guilt trip others put on you, you are supposed to be ashamed.

This is grace, fitting perhaps having just celebrated the anniversary of the reformation.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
(Romans 8:1, The Message)

My second thought came early on the morning of my birthday. We got our first snowstorm of the year and about the only think that lived up to the hype was that it was a wet heavy snow – somewhat uncharacteristic of the light fluffy powder we so often enjoy in the Rocky Mountains. And although we didn’t get much in terms of snow fall or accumulation, the early season combination of many trees still with leaves and the weight of snow trapped on the branches by those leaves resulted in a lot of power outages in the Denver area.

My musings however came about as a result of comments on the seemingly endless weather updates on the morning news advising to take a broom or something and shake / brush off – whatever really to cause the accumulating snow on tree limbs to fall and prevent the branch from breaking. It occurred to me that this is nature’s way – and like so many other things, we just can’t help ourselves and we have to mess with it. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t act to prevent your power supply being cut (although those branches are probably out of reach for most of us), but we have learned that many natural disasters are very important to the eco-system. They clean it out – get rid of old, possibly dead or at best dying stuff, which makes way for new.

As it turned out, I had a foot in both camps. I looked at and left alone some limbs on the pine trees out front of my house drooping to the ground under the heavy load and was surprised that they survived. But we have a plum tree out the back which I pruned moderately last winter. It is perhaps more fragile than the pines and looked also like failure was imminent. I quite like that tree – both for its beauty and the shade it affords me on our back deck, so I used a broom to lightly shake several limbs and release quite a pile of snow.

What I don’t know – and now never will, was whether nature felt a need to thin that tree, of just like my muscles in my infrequent trips to the gym, having perhaps survived the load, the branches and tree would in fact be stronger? I wrote recently about how we often try to shelter and protect our children from hurts, both physical and emotional.

Sometimes Holding Them Has to be Enough

That was a tough week – thinking about it still tears me up some, but you know what? My daughter is a stronger person because of what she went through. I’ll take the liberty of sharing her view of it bittersweet.

that happened to me today. only, it all kind of happened at once. I walked away from something important in my life, and it began to rain. but the sun was shining. -Mallory Paige

Oddly, the third thing that impacted me ties both medical visits and my daughter together. Given the snows and general poor conditions out on my actual birthday, after dropping my younger daughter to school with only one minor slip (lesson 1 – don’t downshift hard in a rear wheel drive sports car on snow – but no harm, no foul) I retired to the warmth and comfort of our house purposing to work from the very desk I am now writing. An hour or so passed and I got a call – Mallory was clearly in pain – there’s no mistaking that sound in your child’s voice and it kills you every time. She had spent some time the night before volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity pumpkin patch, which included lugging a lot of pumpkins around. She is tall, and may have inherited some of my structurally imperfect back and to her utter confusion, in the act of standing up to take a paper to the teacher, suffered painful and debilitating back spasms.

As you do when that happens, you drop everything. You become singularly focused on one thing and one thing only – doing whatever it takes to take care of your kid. It was not how I would have ever envisioned spending my 47th birthday. But after we had done some rounds getting x-rays, doctors thorough examination (including a really thorough and patient discussion on the whole situation) and some muscle relaxing medication, it occurred to me that although she was hurting and not her usual chipper self, I was still blessed to spend a good part of my day attending to her and in her company. Of course I am happy to report that a day or two later, everything was back to normal.

I didn't really have a thought on this last item - just a fitting way to close out my birthday week. Dinner date with my bride including a very enjoyable beer - Yeti Oak Aged, from Great Divide. Sláinte...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Beneath Whose Hand…

I was reminded of this phase from a poem by Rudyard Kipling while flying over the Rocky Mountains yesterday. I don’t know how many times I have flown over this majestic creation, but I never tire of it.

I am a geoscientist, a mining engineer by profession. I find geomorphology or the study of landforms and the processes that shape them fascinating. I love looking at the beauty of the passing countryside as I am driving through it, or in this case flying over it, and picturing the events and changes that have sculpted it into what I see today. I marveled yesterday for example at the long parallel striations I assumed resulting from the movement of billions of tons of ice that had flattened a long stretch of land in a landscape otherwise churned by massive upheavals and erosion.

In all of this, I see the creator’s hand. My faith is that a creative God formed the earth. I know many people struggle with that, and that is OK. My faith is simple – I do not. I am constantly in awe of the amazing creativity and diversity I see in the people and world, and am truly greatful that I have seen so much of it.

God of our fathers, known of old --

Lord of our far-flung battle line --

Beneath whose awful hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine --

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

(credit for the photographs belongs to others - just picked a few out randomly on the web)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sometimes Holding Them Has To Be Enough

You are strong
You are smart
You are incredibly beautiful

I probably won’t have a chance to talk to you before the game and there were a few things I wanted to say.

Today is bittersweet. It will probably be the last time I get to watch you play high school hockey which is something I have enjoyed very much. But I think after that game, you will also be free of a lot of stress, aggravation and pressure, none of which you deserve.

You have done your best and indeed more than could be asked for in difficult circumstances to resolve the situation, for the good of all on the team. You appear to have brought coaches around and it is unfortunate they lack the experience to make the changes in the team environment to make continuing to play worthwhile.

So go out today and play your heart out. Enjoy yourself and let your spirit soar.

I am so incredibly proud of you, words simply cannot express it.

Love always…


Writing this tore me up!

Today, well the past few days really have been hard. Actually as a parent, they have really sucked. As a parent, you hate to see your kids hurting, for any reason. By hurting, in this case I mean emotionally, although the physical kind is just as bad. You especially hate seeing them hurting when it is not something they have really been responsible for or to any great extent, brought upon themselves.

I won’t go into the details (at least not too much), but Mallory, my oldest really enjoys, loves even based on her reflective post on her Tumblr page playing field hockey. She is certainly not a star player, and holds no illusions to that effect. But she does enjoy it. Heck, Mallory enjoys most any sport where there is some opportunity for social interaction. One of the things I love seeing when she goes to games is here catching up – hugging, chatting – all the usual girl stuff with players from the opposing team. Mallory has done the occasional camp, various semi organized drop-ins and even travelled to tournaments with girls from several of the dozen or so high schools here in Colorado. And in here trademark style, she makes friends – and perhaps to the annoyance of her high school team coaches and sometimes no doubt the other teams coaches, when they see each other, they get excited and carry on in that way only teenage girls can.

Last season was tough. I don’t know why, but she and the coaches seemed to not see eye to eye. But she stuck it out, and I was proud of her for that. There are two sides to every relationship and perhaps both sides in this one grew during the off-season – I don’t know, but in processing the current situation, the coaches were one of the few things she had as a positive about playing this year. This year however, something has changed in the team dynamics – significantly for the worse. Mallory has tried different approaches to resolve the issue, and sadly nothing has changed for the better. So today she made the final decision to move on.

I use the words move on very deliberately. Mallory is not a quitter. If she was, in this particular instance, she would have “quit” a long time ago – probably early last season. She has simply reached the point where her time can be spent more valuably doing other things. She has given all she can and there is nothing left to gain. Moving on is something she has not taken lightly, has agonized over and cried through for several days now.

So that’s where the rub is. After a team meeting of sorts last night that discussed (but sadly did not resolve) the issues, which Mallory raised rather than let them keep on smoldering and festering, she came home and explained she her reasons why there was no point continuing. She got though that and as she left the office in which I now sit writing this post, I called her back and offered her a hug. That was it, all the emotion, frustration, disappointment just poured out as I held her, sobbing for a few minutes. It was probably only 2-3 minutes, yet feeling that raw emotion pour out in my arms, my little girl, nearly as tall as me, but still my little girl – it felt like an eternity.

As a parent, you just want to fix it. You want to make the pain and hurt go away. But there was nothing I could do – except hold her. All I could offer was the safe harbor of my arms and a warm shoulder. Sometimes holding them has to be enough…

So as a senior, today she played her last game of high school hockey. She has moved on. She won’t letter in her senior year in a sport she loves. We stopped for dinner on the way home and during a reflective moment after dinner I said something to the effect of

There’s always going to be some part of you that wonders if it was right. But some things are easy and some things are hard. This is hard.

I think I said or meant “some decisions” rather than things, but that is how Mal remembers it and quoted me on her Tumblr post. So that’s how it is. She made her decision, and she made it the right way. I couldn’t be more proud of her, just as her mom said in her addition to my note…

I am so proud of your heart - not just in hockey. You have persevered and shown strength of character beyond your years. It is those things that have humbled me many times.

I love you with all my heart and will be cheering you on today on the field and for the rest of your life.

We love you Mallory – great game!

“But what is strength without a double share of wisdom” John Milton

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Ramblings

It was kind of odd to ponder over a dinner date with my bride last night that this time last week (give or take some hours due to time zones) I was wandering the aisles of a farmers market in Turkey followed after a stroll by an enjoyable light meal on the covered patio of a nearby café. Covered was important as I was treated to a thunderstorm – I love the rain.

During my flight that day up from South Africa, I got to stop briefly in Dubai and then Doha. And while those skylines (particularly Dubai) were just as amazing as all the documentaries, it was an article I read in an Australian newspaper of all things in the lounge in Doha that kind of weaves this tangled mess of thoughts together, at least in my head, if not on paper.

The article covered the funeral the previous day of one Claude Choules, accepted as being the last known surviving combatant of the Great War as it was originally known – before even greater horrors descended and we decided to number them. Claude served in the British navy, but moved to Australia shortly after the war and lived there the rest of his very long life of some 110 years. So he was not the last “digger” as the Australian servicemen were known, but having lived in Australia for over 80 years the ties are strong. Coincidentally, longevity is at the forefront of our family this past week with the 100th birthday of my wife’s great aunt Mert.

It occurred to me that the changes Aunt Mert and this man had seen over the course of their lives are almost unimaginable. Those I have witnessed in my 40 odd years are amazing enough.

I mean, here I was in Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula. This area had been ruled in one sense or another by any number of foreign powers over the centuries and was the subject of a treaty between the British and the Ottomans at the beginning of the war. I was on my way to Turkey, where I hope one day to visit the beaches of Gallipoli where Australia in many senses found some sense of national identity and as a fledgling nation, stood up and was counted on the world stage. The bravery and valor of the men on both sides is undiminished by the stupidity and the sheer pointlessness of the combat in which they were pitted against each other. I had started the day in South Africa, a country that has undergone tremendous upheaval, and which I had been fortunate to visit some 21 years previous and just after the release of Nelson Mandela from his long imprisonment.

Sometimes I think I am at risk of taking my life for granted. I am incredibly fortunate to have travelled the world, mostly on someone else’s tab. I have had the amazing opportunity to have worked on every continent although I am excluding Antarctica – hardly anyone gets to work there, but that would be awesome. My current passport less than five years old bears stamps to that effect with the exception in that period of Asia. And it has about run out of pages with space for stamps. I guess for me, the travel associated with my job has become normal, at least in the sense that it is something I do regularly – it is a normal part of my life.

But I do realize that for most people, the travels that are part of my job are anything but normal. It is sobering to think that particularly for men like Claude Choules more than 90 years ago, were it not for a war, they may never have seen much in the way of foreign soil. And a long and dangerous journey by sea voyage was more than likely not going to be required. No hopping on a plane on Friday night in Johannesburg to wake up to sunrise the next morning over a middle eastern city for all the world more modern and contemporary than most in the USA.

So this Memorial Day, I will remember a generation now forever gone who gave their all in the Great War and in the peace and hard times of the depression years that followed must have hoped they had done enough to never see the like of it again. A generation who must have felt in some ways utterly betrayed when the world was again engulfed in another conflict of unimaginable horrors. A generation whose own children were thrown into the fray of that 2nd global conflict and have been tagged “The Greatest Generation”.

I am not sure what makes one generation greater than another, but the words of the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley and made famous in a movie of the same name ring in my ear. For me they are a glimpse of how one might have mentally survived the trials and tribulations of these and unfortunately so many other wars waged since. But this is not an argument over who has suffered the most. Has a mother who lost her child to drug abuse, suicide, or being beaten to death for being different suffered any less than the mother of a fallen soldier? Is the person shackled by poverty or prejudice even in this country of such riches and opportunity any less unjustly imprisoned than Mandela? Instead of the haunting strains of Taps or the Last Post then, I find hope and courage for what lies ahead in these words…

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Dream is Deep (Shaw Neilson)

Just something I just felt like sharing…

Sing me the song that never dies,
  Of little Love blinded and bold,
Blossoms unblemished and blue skies
  And the green going into gold.

All the uproarious pipes we played,
  Frenzy and Folly, Fire and Joy,
Carols we caught up for a maid
  And ballads boisterous for a boy.

I hear the blended bells and bands,
  The fiddlers fiddling on the green,
The clapping of a thousand hands,
  The trembling of a tambourine.

O happy hours, run kindly slow;
  Black lies the night, nauseous and grim.
Who knoweth what a man may know?
  No – all he hath shall die with him. (*)

The man God made he dreameth deep,
  Down in his heart. High in the air
His Heaven lies. How shall he sleep?
  He had a dream, the dream was fair.

* Some early copy has the last line of the 4th stanza reading as:
Not all he hath shall die with him.

Shaw Neilson and Will Olgivie are some of my favorite Australian poets. I don’t know why this one has been racing around in my head this week.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

To The Nurses

Compiling this has been a while in coming and is long overdue, but here we go. As probably most people who know me are aware, my mum (or mom in US lingo) had a very serious accident just before Christmas (2010). After we understood the situation it worked out that I could go back to Australia for three weeks right after New Year.

My life was enriched just weeks before the accident when I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend with an amazing bunch of people loosely known as “Outlaw Preachers”. To feel so connected to 30-40 people, none of whom I had ever met face to face before is an amazing testament to their lives. Perhaps I will have more to say on that another day. In any event, when I am away from home, I tend not to broadcast it widely on Face Book and the like. I’m not paranoid about it and things get posted which is fine, but I just don’t say a lot that way. Other than some rushed direct communication then with various friends before I left for Australia, many were unaware of the whole situation.

There is a very effective bush telegraph however amongst the Outlaw Preachers (whose number is far greater than the 30-40 I met) so along with the ourpouring from my long time friends who were aware of the situation, the love and support from these folk was something I cherished during my weeks in Australia. One of the Outlaws, Rebekah is a nurse, and I was moved by something she posted on my wall and my experiences spending hours at the hospital. So I penned a note and distributed it mostly to Outlaw friends via Face Book message rather than a more public broadcast.

While no doubt there are other nurses I have known who are also very special people, my mind sometimes forgets these details but I will single out longtime friends Kristen and Nancy whom we met in our sojourn in New Mexico, and Debbie whose whole extended family were like a second family to me when I first moved to Colorado so many years ago. This then is a somewhat tidied up version of that message written a day or so after my mum came out of ICU, with a few of the amazingly touching responses tied in.

I wanted simply to share how impressed I had been by the nursing and other care giving staff in the hospital. I’m not real good at knowing how which type of Christian prays particularly – I’ve wandered through many parts of Christianity and have shied away from identifying with anything smacking of denominationalism (wow that is long, is it even a word?). But it occurs to me I’ve heard much prayer asking for God to guide the doctors, which often occurs to me in more cynical moments as “God I’m really not sure You are up to the healing I just asked for, but at least lend a hand would You”.

Apologies if that is sacrilegious or offends, sometimes I try not to be, but you just have to get used to me. Sometimes the nurses get tacked on, but mostly it’s the doctors. So don’t get me wrong, the doctors are vitally important, but I’ve probably seen / spoken to a doctor less than 5% of the now many hours I’ve spent in hospital, and while I haven’t spent a lot of time in hospitals recently, that would be consistent when visiting friends and such in for one reason or another.

But the nurses and other care givers, they are there a lot, and they have to take care of all sorts of things, some apparently trivial, many are routine, some to me at least anything but pleasant. It would appear from some of Bek’s posts / tweets that they see and hear some pretty amazing things as well – requests to “slap the shit out of me” must fit into some special category.

I am convinced of a few things then. God does heal. Sometimes it is out and out miraculous, and often it is through the care of the medical profession. The doctors (mum now seeing in addition to “regular” doctors a bevy of physios, speech pathologists and occupational therapists) have an amazing ability to step into the breach and do incredible things to save a life, reverse the damage of some injury or other and set a person on a course for healing.

But the nurses and other care givers I suspect have the major role in bring a person back to wholeness, especially in an extended hospital stay. I don’t know how many hours I and others in my family have spent at mums bedside these past weeks. It’s a lot for sure and this too is important for her healing, but it pales I am certain compared to the hours put in by the nurses, especially in the ICU where they seemed to have one per patient at times, no worse than one per two patients, but that may just have been when things were “stable” to cover breaks and the like. The nurses love the patients back to wholeness. I suppose there is a whole spectrum of emotion attached to the notion of loving the patient, but I will stand by that statement.

They love them with their constant attention. No detail or request it appears is not worth their efforts.

They love them by genuinely caring for their well being.

They love them in the tenderness with which they attend to them.

They love them by doing their best to give them dignity, no matter what their circumstance.

They love them with tough love, firmly but insistent about doing the things that promote their recovery, or not doing the things that hinder it.

They love them by talking to them about a million unimportant things.

They love them by coming by and gushing over the beautiful roses that came from a garden only recently under their care, their beautiful grandchildren and the like.

They love them in countless other ways I have not begun to think of or realize

To Bek and all the other nurses and caregivers in hospitals here and around the world, a huge and heartfelt thank you.

I was tempted to try and weave excerpts from some of the responses mostly in the form of additional tributes to nurses into my original note, but I’m just not that creative, and it would probably take away from both, so a selection follow:

Sometimes I get really discouraged in my job, and you don't know how much it means to me to hear this.

I can attest to every one of those "love statements". When I was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery, it was the nurses that made all the difference in the world in my recovery. I have a "heart pillow" (used for rehab) that I had them all sign and I will treasure it as long as I live. Rebekah: you and those in your profession are the TRUE "pastors". Bless you all.

In the time I have spent in hospitals and nursing homes, the nurses have been such a source of genuine love in the middle of very difficult situations, as well. I'm sorry for the way that gets taken for granted or ignored as hurting people vent anger at them directly.

Although not a nurse by trade, your words illuminate so beautifully the particularities of this valued (& oft under-noticed) profession. Thank you, Bek & others, for what you do!

And, Peter, your words further highlight how the simplest things can have such profound impact on others' lives... May we each, in various aspects of the caring professions, minister well in the small & large moments given to us.

I have had 4 surgeries in my life...and the nurses kept me sane and saw to my recovery.

It was a tough as nails and loving as all get out nurse who dealt with me in 2006 when I had my heart attack and helped me grow up and also get out of my funk or tasting mortality..which shook me up.

It was a nurse who firmly protected my wife and kicked an a-hole of a doctor out of the delivery room the day my daughter was born and got a more professional doctor to be in the delivery room who would respect patient rights.

It was a nurse who was my partner in crime in keeping my daughter calm when she had to have 7 staples in her head after a gym class injury.

In each of these there is a longer story...but your story is too lovely and heart wrenching...I just wanted to add to the appreciation and love and admiration for the heroes.

And so to wrap up the story…

My mum continues to recover. Shortly after I returned from Australia she was released from hospital to a rehab facility where she has continued to recover. As I understand it (and I don’t know all the exact details) she will soon be released from rehab to home. She had an overnight “home visit” last weekend as an interim step in that direction.
My mum will be turning 70 later this year, so that now being relatively young, in some ways it is hard to accept the possibility that she will never fully recover. But that while hard, it is a very real possibility. It will probably be hardest for my dad, for he has always been both driven and tormented by knowing just how things needed to be, and yet, they may never again be as he had expected. I am more my mother’s son in that regard. As I shared with a friend this morning, “There is a God, and I am not Him”. Perhaps the “serenity prayer” sums that up better for others. That does not mean I do not cry out to God, but I do know that one day, all things will be restored – whether in this life or the next is up to Him.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Makes My Heart Sing

As church this morning, we listened to a beautifully simple dialogue on grace; at least that is what it was for me. The passage was from John’s gospel, the first 11 or 12 verses of the 8th chapter. My bible titles this passage rather austerely; “An Adulteress Faces the Light of the World”. My takeaways from this are:

Jesus doesn’t ignore wrongdoing, but He is so connected at a heart level to us when we have failed and are buried in guilt. He approaches the situation from the heart, in relationship, not via a set of rules or religious principles.

Jesus doesn’t say if you are the senior or most respected church leader, you get to judge and condemn someone who has done the wrong thing.

Jesus doesn’t say if you are the most religious person, you get to look down on someone who has done the wrong thing.

Jesus simply says, “The one who has done no wrong among you, go first: Throw the stone.

Jesus after every one has drifted away asks her, “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?” And when she answers “No one”, Jesus says two things. Firstly, “Neither do I.” Jesus came to mend a broken relationship with us which we were created to have with Him in the first place. Condemnation does not mend relationships, grace does, love does, caring at a heart level does… And Jesus caring about our heart, which does so poorly when laden with guilt or shame, also says, “Go on your way. From now on, don’t do the wrong thing.

Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away

(Warning, awesome song but clips from The Passion of the Christ are a little graphic and may be disturbing to some)

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live life under a continuous low lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. (Eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, first 2 verses)
But here is the thing. It doesn’t matter whether you are the self righteous judgmental type who thinks you have it all right and looks down on others because somehow their wrongdoing is worse than your own, or you know you have screwed up and are burdened with guilt and shame – or really anywhere on the spectrum in between. Jesus loves EVERYONE! It is not conditional, it is not based on anything we have done, or can do.

As the church, we are not always so great at this. Nick suggested this morning that grace is something everybody needs, and that the church should be a place they can find it. OK, maybe “not always so great” is being a bit kind. My gut reaction when Nick said this to be honest was that we suck at it. Thankfully however, Jesus is better than that. Jesus grace is not reserved for any particular person; no type of person, no color of person, no race.

And that is what makes my heart sing.

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Quiet Stroll

I have purposed to take a morning walk. This is not a New Years Resolution. Rather, having arrived back in Australia for a three week period to be a part of my mother’s recovery from a serious car accident, it just seemed like something I could do each day. I have no particular intention of continuing this when I return to sub-freezing temperatures in Denver.

Perhaps part of my motivation lies in the recent trivia factoid I heard before leaving Denver that over the Christmas holidays, the average American will see a weight increase of 7 pounds. I feel like I have been at least average this year! But part of me just wanted to get out in the surroundings that remind me of my rural upbringing. Every time I return to Australia, particularly flying into Sydney, it stirs deep emotions. Yesterday was no different. The muted greens, not the rich green of North American trees, the red tile roofs, the streets that wander with no apparent purpose, the large expanses of water with all manner of watercraft going this way and that, the cricket ovals, even the commuter trains. I am not a city boy, nor did I ever even live in Sydney, but these are part of the kaleidoscope of images that is forever home. If you wonder why not throw in the Sydney Harbor bridge, if not already an icon, made so in those first images of worldwide celebrations as we rang in Y2K, or the Sydney opera house, it is simply because they were on the other side of the aircraft.

So what did I experience on my walk? Leaving the house at six, the familiar strains of the ABC radio news theme were pealing from my parent’s bedroom, and the broad, yet very proper Australian voice that began talking about the floods reminded me that my accent has indeed faded, despite what my people who meet me in the States think. Floods, fires and no doubt the sad state of the cricket would have dominated the news had I stayed to hear the entire bulletin. It will be repeated again more or less verbatim on the hour, so I can hear all I need to know when I get back.

The vistas across rolling hills of cleared dairy pasture land set the backdrop, and the views over the escarpment down to the ocean are always breathtaking, if today a little hazy. I saw almost no cars in what was a short first outing (about 35 minutes), testifying not that it was terribly early, but that it is indeed rural. In the sub-tropical climate, lush grasses and other undergrowth flourish often encroaching on the road. I notice with humor they have painted a white stripe just inside the edge of the black top, as if to say to nature, you can come this far, but no further. Nature in some cases is not listening.

My parents have retired on the Sunshine Coast hinterland. These farmlets and rural hideaways have been threaded through old dairy acreage. Not surprisingly, when you live on Murray Grey just past the intersection of Hereford, the bass notes are cattle lowing. The calls of the birds are perhaps the anchor into my past. Along with the cows, I hear the crowing of roosters, reminding me of our farm. But more prevalent and varied is the symphony of different native bird calls. I see few but hear the laughter of kookaburras, the strident demands of magpies and butcher birds, the peculiar chirping of whipbirds and a host of others that I can not readily identify. And in those lush grasses, rustlings I cannot be certain of. I saw a dead snake in the drain, but perhaps a little early in the cool of the morning for that. Something small then no doubt; mice, perhaps a bandicoot or non native rabbits, or just as likely, a bush turkey.

All of these sensory inputs release a flood of memories, nostalgic memories. The great thing about a memory is it is yours to fashion however you want, or perhaps need. Today, mine are pleasant and deeply comforting. I am looking forward to tomorrows quiet stroll.