Monday, August 30, 2010

Fishtank


"Do you think our fish is happy?" my wife asked me. I wondered if she was being rhetorical. Can fish be happy? Once I heard their memory spans two whole seconds. Then again, I heard that the spotless mind enjoys eternal sunshine. Memories die hard, like the hammer to a bird's skull. What a shame.

My wife's concern was genuine. Living conditions for our fish were far from ideal. It came to our house in a bag with a brother--birthday presents for Margot. The brother did not survive a week. It is lonesome.

The fish has not one name, but three: Fishy, Fluffy, and Lisa. It is gender-challenged and confused.

And FFL's diet consists of expired food, dropped through a hole in random proportions at random hours of the day. It is malnourished.

Worst of all, the fish tank is covered in scum. Every time I walk by I mentally commit to clean it... on the weekend. My memory spans a whole five days. By the weekend, my mind is spotless and the sun is shining. It is neglected.

Obscured by a green curtain, the fish darts up and down, side to side. Scavenging or forgetting? Exercising or wandering? Who knows? Who cares? It's a fish, not a human soul.

At least we, bipeds on the terrestrial ball, live in ideal situations: never neglected, never malnourished, never confused, never lonesome. Those of us, that is, without a memory.
_____________________________________
Create in me a clean heart, God...
Do not cast me away from Your presence... (Psalm 51)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shirtless

My daughter took her shirt off at hole number fifteen. This was her inaugural golf outing. She was hot and flirting with boredom.

I did not tell her it was against golf etiquette to go shirtless. Or climb on the cart. Or talk during a tee shot. Etiquette is for country clubs and fancy restaurants. She was enjoying nature with her dad and Papa, two brutes with clubs attacking a little white ball.

Her highlight was spotting a frog in a dirty stream. Her highlight was riding on the back of the golf cart. Her highlight was a package of M&Ms and pressing the GO pedal.

Earlier in the day we had been in church together. Claire was tired and flirting with boredom. She spread herself listlessly across the chairs during the worship music. Margot kicked chairs and clung to her mom's side. I didn't tell them it is against church etiquette to kick or sprawl about in church. At least they kept their shirts on.

Their highlight was eating donuts. Their highlight was dancing in the aisles. Their highlight was making paper crowns and chasing one another through crowded hallways.

Singing praise and playing golf with my children is a hilarious lamentation. I love the inclusion and teachable moments, but finding that line between permission and enforcement is slippery. And singing about the love of God while suppressing my parental wrath ruffles my theology.

In the end, I suspect golf and church have too much etiquette. The point is to enjoy the game.
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Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever
(Westminster Shorter Catechism).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Converted and Barefooted

A man runs past my house in his bare feet. He drinks orange Gatorade. He wears a headband. His heels are sullied, calloused, black. I want to know this man. I drop what I am doing and race to the garage. My wife says, "Go get 'em." I mount her bicycle and take off down the street to find the running man.


By the time I reach him, his bare feet have carried him six blocks. I am not short of breath, but neither am I twenty. He is on the sidewalk; I take a parallel position on the street.


"Excuse me," I say. He glances at me, as I continue to talk. "I'm not trying to interrupt your run. I just noticed you go past my house in your bare feet. How long have you been doing that? Running barefoot?"


"A year and a half," he says, stopping for a breath. He wipes his brow and asks, "Do you do it? Run barefoot?"


I want to say yes, but barefoot running is more of an interest than a practice for me. I considered myself a seeker or potential convert, but the comfort of calluses is not earned without pain. This is why spiritually curious people don't attend church. This is why conspicuously unhealthy people don't exercise. This is why lonesome addicts don't join recovery groups. Comfort is a profound enabler.


My initiation with barefoot running started with a book: Born to Run. The author lays bare his personal transformation, brushes with death in the Copper Mountains, accounts of ultra-runners, and scientific debate surrounding the value of running shoes. An audio version of the book entertained me during morning jogs as I trained for a marathon. By the closing chapters I was unlacing my shoes and running small clips in my socks.


Then I entered the woods. Sticks jabbed my soles. Fallen acorns pricked my flesh. Within five steps I turned around, wincing and tiptoeing out. Conversion was painful.


I recommitted to running with unshod feet, but I would stick to grass, sidewalks, and roadways. Once a week, when feeling inspired, I would finish a run with my shoes in hand. Unfortunately, without accountability, weekly bursts of inspiration were not enough to complete my transformation. To become a barefoot runner, I needed to run with someone whose feet were calloused.


Which brings me back to my wife's bike and the man on my street. He has asked if I run barefoot. He is waiting for my response.


"I've just started," I admit. "But I want to get a barefoot running group going in Warsaw."


The plan is audacious. We will run barefoot on Saturdays. We will wear shoes on our hands and shirts on our chests. The shirts are white with a red footprint, each bone detailed, x-ray style. Our name, BROW (Barefoot Runners Of Warsaw), is emblazoned across the front.


A week earlier I chased down Scandinavian Don, a regular pavement puncher in my neighborhood, and I unveiled my intentions for BROW. His shoes pounded the ground as he muttered, "Good luck." He was not interested. He won't get a shirt.


The barefoot man, however, is a candidate for BROW because he is a convert. Then again, conversion does not guarantee commitment to a club. The average evangelical can find many reasons to skip small group and Sunday gatherings.


"Have you read any of the barefoot forums online?" he asks.


"I've glanced at a few, but I did read Born to Run by McDougall," I explain.


He smiles. McDougall made barefoot running mainstream.


"We should run together sometime," I suggest.


He agrees. We exchange information before he resumes his course. And I ride home feeling good about myself, having pursued an idea with feet. I am one step closer to conversion.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Plots and Voices

In a particular line on a particular page, I felt like God called me to tell stories. The moment was revelatory, though, absent were scrolls, bowls, and fiery wheels from heaven. God's calling was a thought: Be a voice. Tell stories... but mostly Mine.

Now, for a living I recycle other people's stories. Sometimes I exaggerate the details. In college I learned from my friend Rick that embellishment and nicknames make common tales legendary. Stories of "Positive" Scott and biology experiments-gone-wrong are shelved in my memory.

The art of story-telling, however, requires more than attention to (and extension of) detail. Narration sizzles or falters based upon the voice of its author. Engaging story-tellers lean in to whisper, stand up to shout, pause and posture, blink and stare; voice is incarnated.

Some stories are impossible to exaggerate. One that I often tell is an old, old story... It begins with a voice that could have been a whisper or shout. C.S. Lewis and modern scholarship envision the Genesis voice as a song. Ken Ham and New Creationists consider the initial utterance as a scientific statement. (Literary criticism has killed many a good tale.)

This Story is the grand narrative of the Bible. Its central characters are God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and God's covenant people. Its plot line unfolds from Creation, Curse, Covenant, and Cross (and Resurrection!) to Church and Culmination. The biblical plot is not static; it moves. The biblical plot is not linear; it spirals. The biblical plot does not resolve; it rises from the dead.

Every plot is a version or perversion of His. In the beginning... spawned Once upon the time... He is risen! birthed Happily ever after. Plots and stories permeate our world. God is not dead. We must tell.

____________________
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
(C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fat pastors...

I want to write a book about pastors. Fat pastors are not the only one's I'll poke fun of, but their fleshy mid-sections summon jabs from my bony finger. Some pastors are fat. Some are flatulent--at the mouth or otherwise. Some are lazy. Some are exhibitionists. Some exploit. Some steal (sermons and sheep). Some play favorites. Some play dumb.

All pastors are people. Each one has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The sins listed above, however, are pardonable. (Aren't all save for blasphemy of the spirit?) Actually, for pastors these sins are more than pardonable, they are promoted. To succeed in American churches, clergy must practice some iteration of these pardonable sins.

Now, the reader might wonder: "Is he serious?" Usually not, I retort.

"Seriousness is not a virtue," Chesterton wrote. "It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do... For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy; it is hard to be light."

Perhaps that is why pastors are fat. So I must write a book to help some of them lighten up.

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NOTES:
  • Chesterton was also fat, weighing over 300 pounds
  • I really do want to write this book, but I don't know who would read it
  • My list of pardonable sins excluded 'boring' because I'm not sure translates to success