Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Carry the Load

                                                        Carry the Load

When he read the story of Clint Bruce and how Carry the Load was started, he knew what he had to do. His experience was similar. As a combat vet with three rotations in Afghanistan he had seen the same thing Bruce had seen. Memorial Day had become just another party time, a day off, a beginning of summer. For Jake it was  more. He had buddies killed in those far off places. He found it hard to party on Memorial Day so he decided to walk instead. He couldn't go to Washington and walk to Dallas, but he could meet them there. So he joined the organization, got some pledges, got a  Carry the Load tee shirt for the remembrance in Dallas, laced up his boots, filled up a pack and started down FM 422 from Seymour toward Archer City. He was carrying Danny Horsch. Jake called him 'Shoe" as in "Horsch-Shoe."

Jake took two days of vacation plus the weekend to make the 165 mile trip. He planned to actually walk about half of it and ride with friends the other half.  He had been getting ready for it with long hikes after work and weekends. He didn't have to go by himself, he wanted to. He could have gone down Hwy 114 but instead he wanted the solitude of the old  farm to market road. Day 1 would be the hardest and the easiest both. Hard because he planned to go the whole distance, 38 miles to Archer City, in one day. Easier because he could start early, was fresh and he had a good friend he would spend the night with in Archer. Jake figured a little between ten and eleven hours of walking would get him there. Walk ten miles, rest half an hour and eat. Walk ten miles, rest one hour and eat. Walk ten miles, rest and eat. Then eight miles to finish at Rusty's house around 8:30 if all went well.

About 15 miles out of Archer City Jake needed another break. All had gone well. The thinking, the remembering, the outburst of laughter at something goofy Horseshoe did or said, the miles of not thinking and not remembering. It was good. A few people on that road had stopped, offering rides and hearing a quick version of what he was doing, support, then drove on. It was good but now it was pretty hot. Jake had made good time and figured he could work in a short break in some shade if he could find any. Right about the Parkey Lake turnoff Jake saw a convenience\ bait store. He didn't remember seeing it there before. But it being there was a sight for sore feet.  A cold Dr Pepper, some cold water and a shady side of the building were just what he needed. Perfect.

Jake went in and tried to purchase the drinks. The clerk heard what he was doing and wouldn't let him pay for them. "Take 'em and whatever else you need, son."  These west Texas folks, can't beat 'em. Jake slumped down in the shade of the building and put his pack under his head. He must have dozed off for just a few minutes. When he looked up, he had company. A few feet down the side of the building was a long, lean stranger resting in the shade.  He looked kind of hard, tough even. "Who are you carrying?'' he asked. His voice had an aire of knowing, of sensing, maybe he was carrying someone too. "Danny Horsch. We called him 'Shoe.'"
 "Your squad?"
 "Yeah, but he was killed a couple of months after I left. IED got him. I told myself  not to get close to the new guys since I knew I was leaving soon. With Horseshoe I couldn't help it. He was goofy, funny, sad, pitiful, dumb, and occasionally brilliant.  One minute you wanted to strangle him, the next he had you laughing 'till your stomach ached. He had a sad background. Busted up family...learning disabilities, not too good with school stuff,  surprised he got in the Army... but the Army was about all he had. So I'm walking for Shoe. Can't help but miss the little bug.  You carrying?"
"Yeah Jake, I've got quite a few names I'm carrying. Been at it quite a while. In fact, I'd better get going. Thanks for the shade. Don't worry, Danny's okay. He had a long talk with the chaplain about a week before the blast.  Thanks for your service and care. It won't be forgotten. With your permission, I'll add you to my list."

He held out his hand to shake and then the stranger got up and moved to the front of the building. Jake was too stunned to talk.  "That was odd. Did I tell him my name? How'd he know about Horse-shoe and the chaplain? " Jake picked up his pack and loaded it on his back. He moved around to the front to ask the stranger his name and how he knew these things. He was gone. As Jake moved out to the road to push on to Archer City, he glanced back. Looking back west he thought he saw the stranger moving on down the road carrying....what? what is that? A cross? Jake blinked and saw nothing. "I guess the sun got to me."

Or maybe the Son did.

Memorial Day Weekend 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Foreign God and How I Became a Radical

It has finally happened. I have lived long enough that now I am a radical. Radical-ness is suppose to happen early-- late teens, maybe twenties, I thought. Idealism mixed with anger mixed with new found ideas mixed with a taste of freedom to be rebellious and viola, radical. Usually, local radicals settle down and get busy living, working, and having a family. Some times their ideas for change and challenge take hold and new forms of work, finance, government, and other paradigm shifts takes place. Mostly they get domesticated. But me, radical?  I didn't think I changed that much that fast, yet here I am, radical. How did it happen?

Well, the best I can figure it, the whole world packed  up, picked up, and moved away from pretty much everything I thought was normal. I was left as a stranger in a foreign land. I used to think God was involved with the world- caring, concerned and wanting to bless. Nope, turns out he is not involved much, hardly cares at all- based on the amount of human suffering, and is therefore unconcerned. I thought humans were suppose to get to know all about God and have a relationship with him based on grace and faith. Nope, just call on him in emergencies or to question why he doesn't do more to help in our tornadoes, hurricanes, wars, and diseases. I used to think humans were of great intrinsic value because they were made in God's image, redeemed at the cost of his son, and deeply loved by God. Nope, turns outs humans can be bought and sold on the slave market, sex market, and the stock market. Your value is in what you produce and contribute and is only as high as the bottom line plus your ability to share the same opinions as everyone around you. I hold that followers of Christ were called to a life of holiness and righteousness that can only be lived in faithful surrender to and loving obedience to the Spirit of God. Radical me, I didn't get the memo that life is about self and being happy. God apparently is somewhere up there, not to be worshipped and served, but to make me happy.

I used to think a family with an involved dad, nurturing mom, both being faithful to one another and kids learning values like integrity, responsibility, faith, hope, love, and sacrificial service was a normal, good thing. Boy was I apparently off base. Dads are good to produce kids, send child support checks, and teach sports. Moms can now have it all from kids to careers to play dates with wine and each can have other relationships with either boys or girls when they "fall out of love." See how weird and radical I've become, I thought love grew out of faithfulness, commitment, and patient endurance. I thought that God had a say called "his will" about marriage and sex and righteousness in peoples lives and loves.  Nope, turns out love is all about chemistry and physicality and there is nothing much spiritual about it. Turns out I am now, by many standards in society, a hate-filled bigot with my radical views on God, love, marriage, and family.

Let's don't even go there with my radical views of the ways we worship entertainment, sports, politics, celebrities, and mother earth. I have the now radical idea that only God is worthy to be worshipped and we are to be stewards of all the resources of earth for the benefit of humanity which helps the planet, too. My society tells me I should eat, drink and be merry! I, the radical, tell my society also to eat and be grateful to God for the food and share with those in need; drink, and deeply at the fountain of grace and mercy being filled with God's Holy Spirit; be merry in knowing that though this world will one day pass away in judgement from a righteous God whose loving redemption was rejected, you may live forever in His kingdom by faith in His son.

Yep, it has happened. I lived long enough to become radical because I worship a foreign God. All this time I've been becoming a radical. Well, as a member of this radical minority sect of Christ followers aka Christians, I guess there's only one thing to do-- which is the exact thing the church of the first century did after Jesus' ascension: Love this world and all who are in it with the same love of Christ; proclaim that sin is real but is forgiven in Christ Jesus; model Jesus' compassion and service to "the least of these''; display in our fellowship the same unity as the Trinity; and pray that our "foreign" God reveals Himself to sinners everywhere.

God himself knows what it is like to be a foreign God. John's gospel proclaims that " He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." (Jn. 1:10) So what did He do? "For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  John 3:16

So here I am, a radical serving a foreign God in a strange land. (Phil. 3:20) It's actually quite an adventure.

Want to join me?

I Guess I'm Getting Old

I guess I'm getting old.
 I say that to myself a lot now. I say it to myself a lot now, especially when it come to churchy business strategy stuff. The writer of Ecclesiastes said "of making many books there is no end..." ( Eccl. 12:12) I might add in our world the adding of a seminar after your book is successful sees no end either. A book is written, then is made into a dvd for a small group Bible study, then a seminar is scheduled in a nice city where the author of the book teaches you how to teach it- all for $399 (early registration knocks off $100) The seminars focus on neglected Bible admonitions and patterns, such as holiness, mission, obedience, marriage, etc. They are excellently produced and worthy of attention. Other seminars focus on sociological trends, faith (or the lack of it) trends, and mindsets and worldviews at odds with current theology and church practices. Problems are assessed, hope dims, but wait, there is a new way to look at and "do" church. Hope rises if we will just adopt this strategy and these causes then the lost, hurting world will find Jesus favorable again and our relevance will be restored and our churches thrive. Again.

Ministers should go to these conferences and seminars now and then. It is pure hubris to think one knows it all and can't learn more. There are excellent scholars, teachers, and pastors who present excellent material. The fellowship and dialogue with other ministers with differing yet similar circumstances is invaluable. The break away from the daily grind is refreshing. Go when you are young. Stay fresh. Put the new wine in new wineskins. Go even occasionally as an old minister. You need to see the young ones, hear their hearts, and minds and they need to hear yours. Old wine taste better.

Then go back home and read scripture. Read Jesus' strategy. Plain. Simple.Free-- Love God with all your heat, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Seek first the Kingdom. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me. Take up your cross and follow Me. Go and make disciples of all nations.

I worry less about the next big thing telling me what the world is like and how the church should respond. The response will vary and change but the heart of the matter stays the same. Love Jesus. Love people like He does. You will figure out "the how." He will help. Yes, inform your caring with knowledge. But I've come to see the truth that most people don't care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.

But like I said, I'm getting old.