Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Goose is Loose

Some things never cease to amaze me no matter how many times I witness it. One of those is the actions of a white male goose that lives along the route I take to work. This old bird thinks he is invincible, and to prove it, he will strut his stuff right out into the middle of the highway without any warning. Now, that wouldn’t be so bad if he stayed near the side of the road, but he insists on standing smack dab in the middle—perfectly balanced between the twin yellow lines. Not only that, if you come near him or try to ease by him, he will stretch out his neck, cock his head just a little to the right, and then he spews out a stream of expletives in his particular dialect of goose (or least that’s what all those noises sound like).

I am amazed, not at the fact the goose is in the road, but that he is convinced he owns the road simply because he’s standing in it. Did I mention the road is a paved county road—a main thoroughfare for traffic in this part of the world? This is not some unpaved farm road out in the middle of a pasture near a duck pond on the backside of nowhere. Did I mention I’m in a truck that outweighs the goose at least a thousand times? Did I mention the goose always chooses to take his stroll in the middle of the intersection to declare his ownership of the road during the morning commute for work, at which time most of us who travel that way are already late?

You can toot your horn. You can race your engine. You can roll your window down and yell. You can do whatever you want, but that foul fowl just stares back at you with that blank “how dare you” look. He thinks the road belongs to him and you are nothing more than a hindrance—a pain in his tail feathers—as he takes his daily promenade on the asphalt pavement.

Each morning, I fully expect to see piles of ruffled feathers and tiny puddles of goose grease scattered all across that intersection, where someone has finally put an end to the habit of his sorry carcass waltzing against the flow of traffic. Let’s face it the goose is selfish, self-absorbed, arrogant, and conceited, and he deserves whatever happens to him. But alas, judgment day has yet to dawn. Perhaps the goose is invincible or the drivers too tolerable. Perhaps it amazes everybody else as much as it amazes me. Or…perhaps the goose is like looking in the mirror, and serves as a daily reminder of our own intolerable levels selfishness and stupidity. Perhaps it’s God’s clever yet humorous way of telling each of us to slow down and shape up.

But, for whatever the reason, if you happen take this route, please slow down. That goose is still loose.

Lose the Label

The "ME" Label

I detest (secretly the real sentiment is hate) labels. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the turmoil of the cultural upheaval of the 1960’s and 70’s. That would be an easy default excuse to use, but then someone might want to stitch the label “rebel” in my collar and my distaste for pigeon-holing unique people in mediocre groupings gags on that like a chicken bone. No, I just like being an individual who is finally comfortable with the fit of my own unique skin.

I’m not the only one-of-a-kind wandering around on this planet—you are too. None of us are alike and yet, we are all human beings. We were created in the image and likeness of a Creator who revels in the degrees of diversity, but loves unity—just not uniformity. If you have a label sown on the nape of your neck or under your arm, blame someone other than God, because the last time he sutured anything  it was Adam’s ribcage.

Labels label. That one is obvious. You probably carry a moniker that someone other than you thought would fit you perfectly. They tend to divide us into categories and grouping that follow us all our life. Slow…Hyper…Weak…Strong…Smart…Loud…Introvert—you get what I mean. I may be slow because I process differently than others. I may be loud because I don’t feel like you hear me. I may be introverted for a time because I am not comfortable or a little uncertain of myself in this present atmosphere. There may be a sufficiently valid reason I am what I am at this very moment and that should not classify me in some arbitrary grouping. I know people who are wearing labels someone else tacked on them as children and that label is who they have become.

Labels also limit. They limit us to a fleeting success, a passing failure, a brief phase, or what someone else has chosen for us. They place a subjective ceiling on how high we can go—a fence of finality around how far we might roam. No other person living or dead has the right to limit you in the areas God has chosen to leave unlimited to you. We limit ourselves by dressing in the tyranny of restrictions that the faithless have imposed on others because they themselves have slipped comfortably into the noose of self-imposed limitations. Stamp a label on something and you automatically limit that person or product from being everything it could, would, or should have been

Ultimately, labels lessen. They leave us looking in the rear view mirror wondering what might have been. They haunt us as we get older and realize we have settled for far less than God intended. In some things less is better, but not in life. Life was meant to be lived full out and not half-way. Labels discriminate, berate, delegate, intimidate, and assassinate. But in the end, a label simply castrates our ability to step into our divine destiny.

Labels fly at us from all directions. They often seem harmless in the beginning, but can quickly bog us down or cripple us outright. Labels only stick as long as you allow them a surface to land on. As my father used to say, “Shake it off and get shed of it.” You can be Velcro for labels or you can be whatever you have the ability to dream. Lose the label and leap into life.

Seeing with New Eyes

What we see with our eyes may or may not be reality. Sometimes our vision is clouded by our own perception—what we think we see or want to see. At other times, that fog lifts either through a direct experience or by divine revelation, and we behold a true representation of that which is actually being manifested. In other words sometimes we see what we want to see, but occasionally we see what is truly before us.

Nowhere is this more common than when we look at another person who may or may not be like us. Our perception of that person is formed too often by prejudice, culture, half-truths (which by the way are “whole” lies), folk, family, or faith beliefs, and plain old ignorance. We look at a person, issue a verdict based on bad or no information, and then pigeon hole that individual, group, or race into a narrow perspective and record that faulty file in the memory of our mind. Then each time we see someone who fits that profile, we dial up that defective folder and presto change oh—we see what we want to see rather than the person who is actually standing before us.

This defective vision not only affects those who claim to be followers of Christ—it’s effects blind almost all. Conservatives see raging devils intent on destroying the country in their liberal counterparts, who see the exact same thing in conservatives. Blacks and whites eye one another through the foggy lens of suspicion and mistrust, while both groups stare at those who are brown skinned with fear, distrust, and animosity. Likewise the brown skins keep to themselves and in turn trust no one outside their community. Militant homosexuals and fundamental Christian heterosexuals have drawn the battle lines and used the little shovels in their backpacks to erect their fortifications and foxholes from which to lob verbal grenades back and forth, intent on seeing the other side utterly destroyed or languishing in a fiery hell.

This faulty perception soon turns into an out and out attempt to paint the other group as insensitive, racist, warped, old fashioned, or intolerant. In other words, we demonize those we don’t agree with, understand, or care to get to know. We retreat rather than confront. Confrontation is not a bad thing. We can agree to disagree, but we cannot refuse to see one another as human beings. When we do, we lose far too much of our humanity.

Most of these trite little categories dehumanize a human being. That then makes it far easier to ignore, villainize, and even hate that other person. That’s why political advertisements pit us against one another with their garbage-filled commercials. They know that if they arouse those old sectarian, racial, or regional biases, that this passionate flame will effectively separate us into special interest groups intent on seeing our own specific agendas fulfilled rather than what might be best for one another and ultimately this country.

How do we change this? It’s impossible you might be thinking. That’s the way it’s always been. I agree, it has been that way, but I disagree it has to remain that way. We will never all agree, but we can stop judging one another based on categories, beliefs, and behavior, and start seeing one another first as human beings. What we do does not define who we are. What we do or don’t agree on does not define who we are. What we believe does not necessarily determine who we are. That has been effectively proven by centuries of the same old same old and countless generations who have ignorantly perpetrated the same old crimes of bigotry and hate upon one another.

Reality states that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. I didn’t make that up, God declared that! That means every one of us is a human being first and foremost. Things could possibly change if we started looking at one another with new eyes—eyes that see the person hidden beneath the color, the choices, or a thousand other categories we seem intent on hiding behind.

Hey! Look at me—the human being—instead of what I seem to be doing as a human being. That’s the first step in learning to love one another. We may agree on everything, but we do have to love one another—especially if any of us want to label ourselves as followers of Christ.

Tossing Stones

The valley of Elah

Back in November 2011, while on a visit to Israel, I was privileged to visit the famous site of David’s epic battle with Goliath. It was here in the valley of Elah that a stone hurled with pinpoint accuracy reversed the outcome of an impending battle between the superior forces of Philistia and the army of King Saul of Israel. Today that battlefield has been transformed into farmland. On the day I was there, the soil had just been plowed and it had rained. As the sun peaked out from behind the clouds, its light was reflected off thousands of small stones that littered the countryside. David would have had an endless supply of stone had he needed them.

No shortage of stones to toss

For days, Goliath had been tossing stones at Israel. His stones were not the small rocks sticking out of the earth—no, his were boulders of accusations and cursing. His stones were words, and those words had struck fear deep within the hearts and souls of the army of Israel. As children we all learned this pithy but untrue limerick: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I wonder if the slap of a stick or the sting of a stone would have been more welcomed than the taunting and the name-calling this army endured each day.

Words are powerful. Words can inspire and encourage. They can cause us to do things far beyond our capability. But, words are also damaging and destructive. A well-place word spoken in anger or frustration is more deadly than a dagger to the heart. The dagger kills immediately, but that word keeps on cutting, penetrating even into spirit and soul of a person. That’s why the Bible warns us to be careful in speaking—our words really do carry the power of life and death.

None of us are immune to the stones being tossed about by others. We will get hit from time to time by some that are thrown directly at us, and by others that have been callously chunked into the air around us. Be prepared, all of us carry scars from jagged edges of the words we have been hit with.

David chose not to get into a war of words with Goliath. Instead, he declared why he was there and then dealt with the issue at hand. Goliath, on the other hand, wanted to get into David’s head with his fiery condemnation. Goliath was a trash talker, but David was not swayed by the giant’s verbal assault.

There is a lesson to be learned in how David achieved his victory against the overwhelming odds of this professional killer. Don’t get caught up in a fight that is designed to destroy you. Don’t react—always respond (a response is a reasoned reply that has been carefully considered). Measure your words and think about how your words will be received. Don’t always say what you think (use the delay God has wired into each of us—that’s what happens when you press your upper lip against your lower one—close your mouth. Think before you speak). If you never say it, you will never have to deal with the decimation those words might release. Deal with the issue at hand and keep your emotions in check. Out of control emotions coupled with caustic words create conditions none of us are prepared to deal with. There are moments when no reply is the best reply.

Today, as I consider what God is trying to teach me about my words, I am reminded of all those stones scattered about the valley of Elah. Most of them have yet to be tossed. Year after year, as that field is plowed, they are turned over and over. Many have never seen the light of day, while others are only partially uncovered. Like those stones that dot that large fertile field, so are our unspoken words. Unless a stone is tossed, it can do no real damage. A word not spoken is one less you have to deal with later. So, be careful what you say little mouth, for the Lord up above is looking down in love, so be careful what you say little mouth. Those stones we toss can be killers of giants or just giant killers, depending on who they hit.

A Framed Reminder

The Tuscaloosa Tornado

There are some images that are scorched in my mind—images that are just as real today as the moment they happened. The images of President Kennedy’s assassination and the subsequent funeral, the assassination attempt on President Reagan, and the July 27, 2012 tornadoes that ripped across my beloved state of Alabama are still fresh and clear even though the first one happened almost fifty years ago. It is amazing what we remember and what we forget.

The image of the monster tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa, Pleasant Grove, Northern Birmingham, and Fultondale is one I wish could be erased, but likely it will never disappear comletely. That evening in April the skies rained what many might call debris (I choose to call it pieces of life). Although we live almost seventy miles from Tuscaloosa, bits and pieces of the people whose homes were destroyed there came to rest on my property as that dark day became an even darker night.

Early the next morning, I climbed aboard my old Ford tractor and began the job of bush-hogging a large field in front of my home. On my way out the driveway I began to notice shards of paper, roofing, plastic, insulation, and wood. For some unexplainable, but irresistible reason, I began to gather each piece I saw, which meant over the next few hours I must have climb off and back on my tractor a hundred times. I stuffed the fragments in my shirt pocket until it was packed so full I couldn’t get another piece in it. Over the next few hours I filled up several Wal-Mart bags with precious portions of what had once been someone else’s life. There were bits and pieces of bills, checks, business licenses, a page from an old annual, pictures, and other reminders of what a normal everyday life looks like.

At the end of the day, what I held in my hands had taken on an almost of sacred aura. I realized there was more to this than I thought. God seemed to be the driving force behind my careful collecting of these scraps of life. I sensed I was to buy a large frame and somehow fit everything I had picked up in it. So off to Hobby Lobby I went.

As I began to glue the slivers, splinters, and chips together I realized each piece

The Collage

was special—a puzzle piece of someone’s life. While I was working, my wife gave me something she had found earlier in the driveway as she went to check the mailbox. It was a fully intact canceled check from the 80’s. What rocked me was the last name on the check—it was Hannah—my last name as well. That check had traveled a long distance and landed in my driveway. Coincidence? I think not. God was talking and in a rather loud voice.

As I finished the tornado collage and stared at its story, the Holy Spirit began to speak in his familiar gentle voice. “These pieces of life represent the lives of people—the people that I love. Use this collage to remind yourself of the endless crowds you come in contact with every day whose lives are decimated, destroyed, and devastated by sin. Don’t just hurry by—stop and help them put the pieces back together through the love of Jesus Christ. I don’t want you to ever forget the field of destruction you walk through every day. Never forget you carry the answer and the hope within you that can restore what the devil has stolen.”

So…I share this story again just in case there is someone out there whose life is coming apart at the seams. Jesus really does love you and he alone can restore what has been stolen. Just cry out from your heart and trust him with your situation!

Simple is Superior

Simple is a word we must define if we plan to use it as a description in or a goal for life. People automatically hear their own definition whenever the word is used regardless of the context. So for this reason, I want to define it and clarify the meaning I hope to convey.

Simple can mean lack intelligence, education, or experience. Toss that meaning in the garbage can; I will not be using that one. Simple can also mean of humble origin or modest means or position. This is a great definition but often misunderstood, so forget that one as well. The meaning I hope to convey is one often overlooked but equally essential—simple means not complex.

Let’s all agree, life would be a lot happier if we were to simplify our lives. We live in a chaotic world—a technological world where we as masters are quickly becoming the slaves to the gadgets we’ve invented to help us cut our work loads. Just look around next time you are out in public (now that will meaning looking up from your texting or web-browsing) and count how many people are staring at smart phone or tablet and are plunging through the day without ever looking up and seeing the world around them. If that’s you—your world is too complex.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a cell phone, I-pad, or nook. Those little inventions are nothing more than tools that have been created to assist us in our day-to-day lives. The problem happens when we can’t do without them—when we become techno junkies who go into the DT’s when the that little screen goes black. Simplify! Cut back a little! Stop and smell the roses instead of googling a picture of roses.

Most of us don’t like to admit this, but we are simple (not very complex) creatures. Now some would argue against this, and if you are debating the intricacy of our individual biological systems, I would agree those are wonderfully complex. But…to really enjoy life and find satisfaction, simple is far more fulfilling than the complexity we are drowning in.

You may be thinking—you must live somewhere in outer space. No, my humble abode is next door on the same street or cul-de-sac on which you live. I have just decided to unplug from time to time. I can only process so much information (likely you are in the same boat), and the fact is, I will never know or understand everything. I’m not God, and I never will be.

I am tired of running here and there—worrying about ten thousand details that really don’t matter and won’t matter ten seconds after I take my last breath. I’m not that important, nor am I in control, and neither are you. So, why do we live like we are? Why do we stop meaningful conversations with living breathing people—put them on hold—to catch a tweet, a text, a call, or an email from a non-present entity floating through the nether world of the web? Let it rest a few minutes—the message will be there when your real life conversation is over, but the real person may turn you off if you allow an interruption to control who you are willing to listen to. Simplify! That’s why you have voice mail and memory on your data plan.

Simple is superior. Use the media tools. Enjoy the techno gadgets. Just don’t become their slaves. Simplify your life! Red alert—none of us are that important anyway. Slow down a little and take a deep breath. Look at the sky for a few moments. Feel the warmth of the sunshine on your skin. Listen and see if you can hear the rocking tune of a mocking bird. That Bluetooth and BlueRay stuff will be there when you get back, so put it down and grab a cup of coffee and look at the world you live in. If you look around you may just see the problem for which you are the solution.

Dumpster Diving

The Dump (notice the buzzards lined up along the top of the hill)

 

Recently, I made a trip to the dump to jettison our bi-monthly garbage collection. My outings to the local landfill are always an adventure since I am still a kid at heart. Three things utterly fascinate me about the dump: the size of the machinery rumbling around pulverizing the garbage, the sheer number of turkey buzzards lurking on the outskirts awaiting mealtime, and the remote possibility that I might find something useful that has been discarded (one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the saying goes).

As I was offering my rather large sacrifice of big, black Hefty bags on this mountain of refuse, I seemed to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit telling me to look around and pay attention to the scene unfolding. You may be thinking, what’s to see—it’s the dump already. Sacks of rubbish were being shredded and pulverized by the tracks of the large dozer as it methodically ran back and forth across the crest of the pile. Crumpled cans, punctured plastic jugs, broken glass, and a paper menagerie of every shade and color surrendered to crushing force of that relentless Caterpillar D-9. The tortured terrain was otherworldly—sort of like a scene after the Apocalypse.

To make the landscape even more uninviting, a horde of vultures surrounded the perimeter, just out of harm’s way, waiting for the precise moment when the machine stopped compacting so they could begin dining on a smorgasbord of rubbish. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a turkey buzzard up close, but they are big, ugly, and intimidating. They don’t walk—they hop, and here at this dump, they don’t fly unless they are forced to. They just wait…and wait…and wait for something dead.

Standing there on the bed of my old truck I let the scene my eyes were seeing ruminate in my mind, and then it sank like a rock into my spirit. This mountain of debris is the world Jesus came to visit in the Incarnation. This pile of compost is the place we make our home. God created a garden and we traded that divine domain for a rubbish pit. Not a very appealing picture I know, but an appropriate one nonetheless.

It was then the Holy Spirit reminded me of something. What he was teaching me was not an environmental lesson about being a better steward of the earth, but a spiritual lesson so that I might open my eyes and see the reality around me. Every day, we walk through a garbage dump littered with the lives of broken and crushed people. Scattered all around us are the wounded and the hopeless—trash in the minds of some, but treasured in the heart of God. Men and women crushed by the unpredictable tracks of life and hammered by their own mistakes and choices. The scene was ghastly as it unfolded. I could hear their groans and theirs silent cries for help.

In the midst of the ghoulish landscape stood the enemy and his henchmen patiently awaiting that moment when they could swoop in and hell’s jaws would engulf another helpless soul. I was reminded of how Jesus used the city dump of Jerusalem in the Valley of Gehenna to illustrate hell—the place where the worm never died and the flames were never extinguished. His illustration took on life as my senses were overloaded with the sights, sounds, and smells before me.

In that moment, I realized as followers of Christ, our responsibility is not to add to the amount of garbage already on the pile, but to fish out those who have been abandoned, or crushed, or shattered and left for dead on this rubbish heap on which we live. This is not our home—this is our mission field. Jesus plucked us out from beneath the crushing weight of sin, healed our hearts, implanted his Spirit within us, gifted us, and commanded us to be dumpster divers. We are heaven’s treasure hunters sent out to scour the pits, the piles, and the pigsties for those who are beloved of God.

My future visits to the dump will never be the same. What about yours?