Saturday, September 10, 2011

A 9/11 Story

Christmas morning.  1974.  The house is numb with the overwhelming melancholy that crashed the party just as the last gift was opened.  My mother has initiated a slow reawakening, stirring the air with the smells of a holiday meal and the anticipation of friends and family to arrive.  I am huddled in a corner reading a brand new Nancy Drew.  I put my cheek against the cool, crisp pages and breathe in the pungent aroma of unspoiled type. 

As long as I can remember I have been a bibliophile.  In fifth grade I became so engrossed in "Harriet the Spy," I wanted to be her.  I began taking notes on the activities of my neighbors.  Scribbling the least interesting tidbits on an old 5 and dime store tablet, in hopes that sooner or later the pieces of my puzzle would tumble into place, revealing some sinister wave of crime on our sleepy little street.  The result was Mrs. Wooster, our school principal, calling me to her desk to discuss my punishment.  It seems my neighbor and classmate, Larry Nell had gotten a bit tired of my snooping, and when he found one of my little observances in a library book I'd recently returned, the die was cast.  This particular missive read, "Mrs. Wooster gets on my nerves."  Mea culpa.

In all my years of gorging myself on book after book, it wasn't until adulthood, as a homeschooler in fact, that I began reading some of the best literature of my life.  "Cry, the Beloved Country."  "How Green Was My Valley."  "To Kill a Mockingbird."  "Shepherd of the Hills."  And most recently, "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  When a good story gently unfolds before your eyes...  When experience and symbolism are so carefully and consistently woven throughout...  When the universality of the tale is so evident...  That is literature that speaks to more than the eyes or ears of the reader.  That kind of literature speaks to the heart, the heritage, the essence of humanity.  To be lost in the story of man's struggle to rise above, to follow the rolling hills and muddy waters of ordinary existence straight to the feet of Justice herself, to see victory as attainable for all mankind -- that is what draws me to a good book.  It is with such conviction that I pause to examine the "story" of 9/11.

A solid week of biographical and autobiographical accounts.  Documentary after documentary on the "rebuilding."  Endless speculation over 2001, and prognostication and suspicion over the possibility of attacks in 2011.  But where are we as a nation?  Are we better off than we were ten years ago?  Have the stories of heroism and loss made any difference at all?  As the tragedy of 9/11 continues to play before our eyes, does it speak to our hearts of justice, courage, kinship or America's struggle for God's blessing?  Ten years ago, stadiums full of U.S. citizens tearfully sang "God Bless America."  Did we mean it?  Do we care for God's blessing?  Do we even recognize the existence of God any more today than we did when we watched thousands of our neighbors perish in what some have said was a wake-up call to our backslidden country?  What have we, as a people done with the story that was written that clear blue September day?

The flags are in ribbons, or lie somewhere underneath the outdoor Christmas lights.  The simple kindnesses we witnessed for so many days and weeks after the attacks, have been replaced by rage at our airports.  The heads that were bowed in deep reverence for the pointless loss of life and a desire to find a Foundation on which to rise again, can't rise above the pillow on Sunday morning.  Eyes that shed tear after tear for those lost and those who had lost, now watch hour after hour of ego maniacal athletes and celebrities as they live and die in excess.  Multi-colored hands that were joined across "fruited plains," bi-partisan lines and societal classes, no longer reach out to raise up another, but crash down in frustration at the negotiating table, or wield the gun that generates yet another statistic in gang related news.  Where is Justice?  Where is Equality and Fraternity?  What has been our heritage, or even worse...

What will be our legacy?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

See, I Told You So!

And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)

Yeah, I know, I just used this verse.  Well, as I said, "The memory is the first to go!"  Actually, I just realized I'd had this one saved in my Drafts folder, and it really does put a somewhat of a different spin on things.
No secret here, I burned a lot of bridges in my late teens and twenties, and thirties, and probably even  my forties.  I lied, cheated, abandoned, blah, blah, blah.  In short, I did a lot of really dreadful things.
But, now I've changed.
So, how on earth do I begin to mend fences?  People don't forget. 
When it's time to go back to that business owner and ask for a job... When it's time to return that looong overdue phone call to a faithful friend... When it's time to make a public statement of faith in front of a congregation of people who remember the "old" me... When it's time to tuck my tail between my legs, and go back home...
The spin is this: Though people may judge you, though people may question your sincerity, God looks at the heart.  And, if you have asked his forgiveness, if you have repented of those past misdeeds, God remembers no more!
How ironic that we, as people called to love one another, with no right whatsoever to judge another, can't seem to forget "the time when..." or "the days when she..."  But Almighty God, omnipotent and omniscient, with the power and position to judge, and knowledge to see the heart -- forgives and forgets!
Then, He turns around and grooms us, equips us, refines us for His service -- the honor of doing His work!  He doesn't hide the till.  He doesn't give us a trial run, "just to see how things work out."  He doesn't lock up the whiskey.  He is armed with a batallion of reformed weaklings.  He communes with former alcoholics and anorexics.  He receives tithes from convicted embezzlers and transformed gamblers.  He calls liars to proclaim His Truth and commands gossips to spread the Gospel! 

He changes us from the inside, moment by moment working us toward perfection, yoked with us, carrying us if necessary, but looking at us as if we were BRAND NEW!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Memory is the First Thing to Go!

And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)

As I sat in Sears, watching Olivia and Christine goof around in the shoe department, another weary shopper joined me in lamenting our increasing lack of shopping stamina.  Apparently, this affliction struck her with the advent of internet shopping.  "It's just so much easier!" she exclaimed.

Hmm...all this time, I've been blaming it on my age.  I liked her explanation a lot better.  And truthfully, I can be a real junkie.

Time after time I have told myself, I can quit.  "Just don't think about it," I say.  And, as anyone knows, the more you don't think about something; the more you wind up thinking about it.

But not God.  He makes a conscious choice to forget who we are, who we were without His intervention, without His sacrifice.  How does an omnipresent and omniscient God forget?  He wills it so!

Even when our dearest loved ones find themselves in need of our forgiveness, how readily do we offer them our "forgotness?"  And as eager as we may be to restore them to relationship, how quickly do we revert to our old suspicions when something appears a little less than legitimate?  How often do we find it necessary to re-establish or re-work boundaries, simply to maintain the relationship in a way that we all can be comfortable?

Not God.

And do I really have to mention those "less than dear ones" who just always seem to be asking for it?  Just when I seem to be making progress -- they're at it again!  How can I forgive -- much less forget -- when everytime I turn around...?

Jesus said, "...seventy times seven."  And really, I don't believe that means a literal 490 times.  The point is, A LOT!

Enough that you are absolutely, exclusively reliant on Jesus to handle the situation.  Enough that this becomes more about you and Jesus, than it is about you and the person who has harmed you.  Enough to forget the offense and be ready to receive the reward!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It's a Fight!

In my limited public school experience, I remember hearing the cries of, "Fight!  Fight!" as students gathered in a circle overlooking two scratching, scuffling creatures struggling to gain the upper hand in childhood.  This is not to say, by the way, that the terra firma of our local Christian school has not claimed the  hide of two or more combatants in its day, but at Christian school we tended to keep it on the DL -- tolerance for such shenanigans being so much lower, and consequences being so much more severe, and all that.  No cheering; no ring girls -- just a lot of looking over your shoulder.

Anyhoo, these fights were almost always preceded by a period of verbal taunts.  Not the "your-mother-wears-combat-boots" kind; even we were too hardened for that one.  (What did that one really mean, anyway?)  But the type that began with vague allusions to "the last guy," and ended with some pretty specific boasts about how little it would take to wipe up the asphalt with today's chosen target.  (Yes, that's right -- asphalt.  No recycled tires or sanitized wood chips here, Kiddies.  This was the Wild West.  True Grit.)  My favorite was, "I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back!"  Everybody always said it; I've never seen it.  That is, not on the playground.

God has a way of whittling us down to "nothing."  Nothing, that is, but Him.  Think Gideon with his army of 300 going up against an army of 135,000 or more, likely more.  Think Abram refusing to take the spoils of Sodom's kingdom.  Think John the Baptist, Isaiah, even Jesus Himself and their "wilderness experiences." 

Think those of us who watch the Sunday morning offering baskets go by (or worse -- drop a dollar or two in for appearance's sake) because "we just don't have it this week."

It's not my job to beat anybody up (no pun intended) or convict anyone (allow the Holy Spirit to do that work in us).  But, I just want to tell you what amazing things God can do with one hand tied behind our backs!  When we are at our weakest, we allow God to be strong.  When we crowd Him out with all of the things we are able to do, our opportunity to sit back and enjoy the show, is lost.

I challenge myself as well today, to "taste and see the Lord is good."