The May 12th Derecho

The May 12th Derecho

I was at work in my shoffice and, situated as it is on the north side of our home, I did not notice the impending storm building and rolling in from the South. It was my wife’s frantic knocking that drew me out. As I wandered into the front yard, my annoyance by the intrusion into the work I was doing disappeared in the shadow of the roiling cloud of dirt and debris that seemed a tidal wave of power about to slam into our midst. I suppose we all experienced the storm in our own unique ways – one friend was trapped in a tractor whose windows were shattered. I read the story in our local paper of a seven year old girl, stopped in their car on the side of highway 44, who was sucked out of the door she had accidentally opened, blown across the highway and into a tree – it was a miracle that she survived. Our kids were at track practice and just as the storm was about to hit and our daughter came sprinting down the road from school. Her brother had not yet returned from his 40 minute run when she’d left and so we headed to our basement in the helpless state of wondering if he was hiding in some ditch in the country or if he’d found his way into the basement of a stranger along his route. We beat back the worst case scenarios swirling in our minds with our prayers for his safety. In those desperate moments of waiting we called out to God and when the phone rang and he informed us he’d sprinted the last four blocks to the school as someones rolling trash can flew past him in the air, the great knot of fear we’d been bound in was released.

The derecho of May 12th, 2022 is not a storm we will soon forget. The reminders of its power lie in the ruins of grain bins littering the state and in the blue plastic tarped roofs and the 50 foot pine tree lying on its side in our neighbors back yard. We are thankful it was not worse – our prayers for safety are transformed into prayers of gratitude.

Here is a time lapse video of the storm rolling in.

image credit

Waiting in the Terminal

Waiting in the Terminal

For the second time in three weeks, my late night flight home has been delayed. I’m not sure if it’s me or Delta, but tonight’s already late flight – 10:35 pm – has been delayed until 12:45 am. I’ll pull into the house around 3:00 am if I’m lucky.

G.K. Chesterton said that, “An inconvenience is just an adventure wrongly considered. An adventure is just an inconvenience rightly considered.” I’m looking for the adventure in the evening. They’re giving away free snacks and water and I’ve grazed liberally. I’ve cued up Eric Clapton’s “After Midnight” to play as I walk down the jetway to the plane.

Jesus encourages us to not worry about tomorrow, that tomorrow has enough worries for itself. It seems the older I get and the more life experience I gain and the more I learn to live with a radical trust that God has my best interest in mind in all things – even delays at the airport – the easier it becomes to live in tune with Jesus’ teaching on worry.

It will all work out. God is for me. He’s for us.

Wandering Through the Sea of Fog

Wandering Through the Sea of Fog

The wind howls through the trees outside our living room window and the thermometer has dropped to negative two degrees and it’s not done yet. It is winter proper here in South Dakota and we’re experiencing one of our first true snow storms of a fairly mild winter. We watched a movie tonight as a family and now, the girls write letters as I type out a few thoughts bouncing around in my head.

I wonder sometimes what it must have been like to endure winter before electricity, before all the modern conveniences that tempt us to disregard the rhythms of nature. When the sun went down early, the work day came to a close as families headed inside to be together – there were no other options. It was a forced pause that lasted months. Nature forced sabbath rest upon us whether we wanted it or not. Now we rush through winter like the rest of the year, wall to wall busyness with hardly a moment to rest. It seems we have perhaps allowed something important, essential even, to be stolen and we’ve not put up much of a fight. Tonight at least, I’m enjoying the pause.

Casper David Friedrich’s painting, “The Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog” has captured my attention these last few months. I first saw it in book I finished in December, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. The book was interesting and quite good, but the painting seemed to capture something of how I’ve felt in this particular stage of my life. I’m 48 and I’m in between. My oldest is in his last year of high school. and preparing to launch. I’m at the age where we begin transitioning on from those we love – those both older and younger are moving into new homes – some to heaven where life is as full and good as it can possibly be, and some to new beginnings, to new lives and new dreams and new adventures. It is a time that is filled with joy and sadness, excitement and fear. The mountain climber is both the center of the painting at the top of the world and also utterly insignificant amidst the landscape rolling away in every direction as far as the eye can see. Some aspects of the landscape are clear and distinct; others shrouded in fog. Is it analogous to life? Filled with hope and yet shrouded in mystery. Important and insignificant. What will the next years hold? Where will we be three years from now when both kids have moved out of the house? For them and for us there is the potential and excitement of the next thing and yet that thing is floating just beneath the fog.

How will we live into this unknown future?

In Jonathan Roger’s book, The Bark of the Bog Owl, a mythological retelling of the story of King David, the main character Aiden Errolson, who has just been anointed as the future wilderking, asks the wisened old prophet Bayard the Truthspeaker, “What if I am destined to be the wilderking? How should I live?

The same way you should live your life if you weren’t the wilderking. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.

What should we do when the fog comes up around us shrouding the way forward in mystery?

Live the life that unfolds before us. Love life more than we fear evil.

The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is a collection of letters between two fictitious devils, “Uncle Screwtape” and his nephew “Wormwood”. This insightful little book follows the letters of advice from Screwtape, higher up in the satanic ranks, to Wormwood, a tempter on earth, on the methods and tricks to steer his patient away from the enemy “God and his kingdom”. This book, like no other, lays out all our tendencies and failings as human beings, while at the same time giving you, as a reader, incentive to rise above them. It opens your mind so vividly to the exponential power and light of Christ, that it can not help but bring you into the ever so real struggle between the kingdoms of Good and Evil, even if only in little ways. As a review in the New York Times put it, “Somewhere in the inferno there must be a considerable annoyance.” 

One of the biggest reasons I think The Screwtape Letters is such an effective and powerful book is because it is written from the devil’s perspective. In this form the book captivated me in an entirely original way. It gave me the powerful feeling of understanding, it was like a breeze in the fog, temporarily forcing me to face the distance. I really believe it is one of the most brilliant books written. The whole idea of Screwtape writing letters on the finer points of temptation to his nephew Wormwood, combined with an opportunity of sitting down with the edited thoughts of one of the greatest Christian thinkers, had an amazing effect on me. The result was, an opportunity for me to clearly face my faults and to see my potential.  By having the stereotypical perspective on Christianity reversed, I had the wholehearted satisfaction of feeling I was in some way outwitting the devil. This in particular had such an effect on me, that in recent weeks when had I found myself frustrated and about to lose my temper or discontent and snappy I would suddenly realize the benefit this would be to Screwtape, which would instantly cause me to check my behavior, and than to smugly feel I had outmaneuvered his trap, muttering under my breath a gleeful cry of “Not today Uncle Screwtape.” 

There were so many sections of this book that either introduced me to a completely new thought or concept, or phrased in clear English a foggy picture I might have otherwise never clearly understood. For example one of the points which hit me as a literal prescription to one of my biggest problems, which is me constantly over analyzing of the past, is the part where Screwtape says of God that, “His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.” Too often I completely miss out on the present by indulging myself in a degrading self critique of every instance where I messed up in the day. I don’t commit these instances of failure, that I was probably the only one to notice, to heaven, then wash myself of them like God wisely says to do. Instead I dig through them all and let them define me. I dont give myself the love or grace God offers me. I unfairly give the past the power to cheat the present. 

Another passage that stuck out to me is where Screwtape says God, (the enemy in the book’s context) “wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.” This passage is by far my favorite. Everytime I read it, it creates wonder in me, adding glorious details to my painting of what hope looks like. It speaks to me of a wonderful invitation, to begin a journey, a journey towards a kingdom that is full, but always has room for one more. Where people build cathedrals and know they are just right. As the passage goes on, it adds that, “The enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbors talents or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man to recognize all creatures ( even himself) as glorious and excellent things.” I love the fact that we were created to create and to someday have the kind of perfect love for our neighbors and ourselves, that we can say of what we have done, that, “It is good.” 

I think The Screwtape Letters is an important book to read. It has equipped me with answers to so many questions I have had and given me no choice but to confront myself honestly and begin to intentionally seek out my problems. It has opened my eyes to so many temptations I fall into daily but at the same time I see the incredible grace and love God has for me more than ever before, so rather than being discouraged I feel grace. Being reminded that if I fall I will be caught has filled me with the courage to keep on leaping forward. As C.S.Lewis says so well in his book,“He wants them to learn how to walk . . . and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.


Today’s article is a guest post written by Sonora Myers. She is my daughter and quite the writer – among many things – in her own right.

The Shoffice Beside My House

The Shoffice Beside My House

I stole my home office from my daughter. 

I suppose that makes me a bad father but when I found her cleaning out the garden shed beside our garage a few years ago – her plan was a clubhouse – I immediately saw the potential for my own home office,  a quiet repose from the upstairs echoes of our basement.  Because it was a shed and is now an office I’ve taken to calling it the shoffice.  I suppose a more exotic name may be in order but it is a quiet place to work and write and read. I had once dreamed of building a strawbale office, but this was less costly and more expedient.

It has been a step by step journey toward completion.  Each successive year I’ve done a bit more to make it an efficient and comfortable space.  At just over five feet wide and nine feet long, it is not an overly spacious office, but as someone who generally works from home four days a week it has been increasingly the right office.   

I plug the shoffice into the house electricity with an extension cord.  This adequately runs the lights, my computer and a space heater in winter.  I installed a small window air conditioner this past summer making year round work a reality.  I’m still working to finish out the ceiling, the trim work and a standing desk.  Next summer I hope to refurbish the exterior as well and add a small portico over the front door to prevent rain from running down the front door, between the crack and onto the floor.  I’d like to add a window or skylight in order to let in more natural light as well but we’ll see.

The shoffice is the place I go to work.  My family is far too fun to work inside anymore. With two high schoolers studying at home, the distracting temptation to join in the conversations is just too much and so I escape out to my little shoffice beside the garage for much of the day.  It’s my place to get things done.

The Transformative, Shaping Power of Books

The Transformative, Shaping Power of Books

This last year I read significantly more than years past.  Too much perhaps, but reading has become a sort of hobby for me, an activity away from work that allows me to unwind and relax. I’ve heard that hobbies are important.  A few years ago tried to take up fishing but never caught anything and so, whenever someone asked me what my hobby was I’d reply, “casting.”  It seemed right to name it what it was.

While I”ve always been a reader, last year I read more books than any previous year. The final count came in at sixty six books.  I read widely too: youth fiction, biography, Christian non-fiction, personal development, history and increasingly, those books who find their way into the category of classic literature.  A good two thirds of the books I read were audiobooks and I regularly have two to three books going at any one time. I never read more than one book of fiction at a time but I’ll often have several works of non-fiction that I am working through.

C.S. Lewis said, “Those of us who have been true readers all our lives seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our own being which we owe to authors.”  When I think about who I’ve become, my own journey of discipleship and how I think about the world this rings true.  Books are perhaps the single most constant source of my own personal formation.  They’ve shaped me both directly and indirectly.  Besides good friends, books continue to fire my imagination, challenge my thinking and shape the narrative, the worldview of my thinking.  

Dorothy Sayers said that, “the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves.”  There is little in life that allows me to continue to educate myself beyond books.  Youtube can give me the information I need to fix a faucet but little more.  Books however, and good books for sure, cause the mind to work at the task of cultivation, tilling the soil of the mind and the soul, planting seeds of old ideas made new, waiting in patient anticipation for new growth and, if all goes well, a harvest.  Speaking of reading history, John Lewis Gaddis said, “Standing in the past is no sure guide to predicting the future. What it does do, though, is to prepare you for the future by expanding experience, so that you can increase your skills, your stamina, and, if all goes well, your wisdom.

A good book is more than just paper and ink.  It is a vehicle for formation and as Gaddis hopes, for the gaining of wisdom.  And so I continue to read.  Perhaps not at the same rate as last year but I’ll read on nonetheless.  

How about you? What good books have you read lately?

The Ministry of Availability

Availability.  It’s not often mentioned in the list of important qualities of disciples of Jesus but in our strung out western world, it may well be the most important gift followers of Jesus have to offer a broken and hurting world.

Availability.  It is what Moses had when God called him to lead the people of Israel out of captivity.  He was not a gifted speaker.  He made bad decisions.  He wasn’t very brave.  But he was available and in his going back to Egypt he allowed God to work through him to rescue slaves unto freedom and to move God’s redemptive story forward.

Availability is what Gideon had when God called him to lead an army.  Granted, Gideon was hiding in a winepress when God found him, and he wasn’t exactly excited to jump on God’s bandwagon.  Once Gideon’s fleece was wet however, he obeyed even as God reduced his regiment to a hilariously small number that gave all the glory to God in victory.

And Rahab was available too.  She was a woman of ill repute, a foreigner and a prostitute who at the time we can assume knew nothing of the God of the Israelites except what she has overheard; that He had been victorious in recent skirmishes and miraculously parted the Red Sea.  She steps into God’s redemptive story when two of Israel’s spies step into her room and she risks her life to hide them.

If we survey the prominent characters of the Biblical narrative, few are chosen because they are highly qualified leaders.  A few were of course – King Saul, Judas, Saul of Tarsus, but most of these didn’t work out so well.  It seems the highly qualified often lean a little to deeply into self reliance and self reliance usually leads to trusting in man rather than trusting in God.

Relying on his own gifts and abilities and education, Saul of Tarsus was hunting down followers of Jesus to have them arrested and thrown in prison.  It was only when he left his highly qualified self behind that Saul became available to become Paul and the man whom God could use to build his church.

When we look through the hall of fame that is Hebrews eleven, the number one thing each of the faithful had to give to God was themselves.

They said yes.  They were available.

And while Jesus is highly qualified in every way, he models the radical availability that allowed him to say, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”

And that is why Jesus’ ministry looks so vastly different than the successful ministries of today.  His is the ministry of availability, of responding to the interruptions of the masses, of walking miles out of his way to heal a leader’s son, of inviting the children to come to him.

Jesus’ model is not that of the best leadership style but of availability.

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First and foremost, He models an availability to abide.   Despite an incredibly full ministry, Jesus routinely makes time to be with the Father.    He is part of the triune forever relationship of God and Son and Holy Spirit and this carries on into His 33 years on earth.

He is a master of scripture, a mastery that most certainly came from years of immersion in those same scriptures.  He is a master as well of prayer, of interceding on behalf of the sick and the demon possessed and the lost.  There is authority in his prayers.  And Jesus is the master at communing with God, of walking in a living relationship with the Father.  He is the master at abiding and he invites us first and foremost to do the same.  And so while the immediate needs of the masses continually pressed in around him during his ministry on earth, we see the clear model that, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

When Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, the characteristic recorded for all posterity is not that of highly qualified leadership skills or a refined speaking ability.  It was that they had been with Jesus.  The Sanhedrin note that while they were “ordinary unschooled men”, they had been with Jesus.  Peter and John had become masters of abiding with God because it is the model that Jesus gave them.

And so at the forefront of the discipleship journey, we as followers of Jesus must learn to be available to abide with him.  Despite the chaos of our frenzied western existence, we must learn to set aside time to be with Jesus.   It is our first act of availability.

It was from this first lifestyle of abiding availability that Jesus’ ministry flowed.  And in his three years of ministry as recorded in the Gospel, He models again and again the servant heart that makes him available to engage hurting, lost people – even when they interrupt him.

It seems an almost regular occurrence that Jesus responds to a pleading father, a frightened and sick woman or a shouting blind man.  He is regularly going one way and then – in response to a need – heads another way.  It seems at times haphazard and yet it’s not.  His ministry is focused. He went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  There was purpose in his journeys.  He trained up twelve men who would go on to launch His movement.  He gave his followers what they needed – himself – to spread the good news of His kingdom.

Like Jesus we must live strategic lives of engagement with a clear goal in mind.  But the way to do that – as modeled by Jesus – is first and foremost to be with God.  To make knowing God our first priority.  We must set aside regular time to go away and sit at the feet of the Father.  We must practice listening prayer. Immersion in the scriptures needs to be a central part of our daily routines.

 

Repeating The Past

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The original Red Dawn, circa 1984.

It was the mid 1980s when I first saw the American movie classic, Red Dawn.  Set in a small Colorado foothills town, the movie is a classic good guys verses bad guys movie pitting the blood thirsty red army of the Soviet Union against an all American, self-relient cast of characters fighting a guerrilla war of a second independence.

I had grown up on a steady litany of stories of the propaganda machine that was the Soviet Union, of their brainwashed populace; of their inability to know the truth.

We had Hollywood.  And I wonder if Hollywood didn’t do a better job of brainwashing our populace than the Russian KGB did theirs.

They certainly had me.

I spent many a day throughout my elementary years planning the defense of my town from the inevitable invasion of those ‘red devils’, those commies who had plans to blow us off the face of the earth.  I had an active imagination but it had plenty of source material.

Ask anyone over 40 and they’ll tell you that there was deep distrust of the Soviet empire.

And no one knew a single Russian person.

We lived off of myth.  

And then the myth fell down.  It was the Berlin Wall actually, but it is hard to imagine now the fear that so gripped the west for so many years.

So afraid of the communist threat was our nation that we entered bloody wars, we propped up cruel and tyrannical dictators over those who were democratically elected, we pumped millions of dollars in support to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan and we allowed our daily rhetoric to be that of vitriol, hostility, culture assassination, exaggeration and hysteria.

This is not to say that there was not actually a threat.  I’m quite certain there was – competing ideologies by the world’s standards most always lead to confrontation.  And when the two groups holding the ideologies also have a lot of nuclear bombs, then the threats escalate.

I was sitting in a book store under an Istanbul mosque several years ago talking with my friend Serdar about politics and faith and we began talking about the tension between the east and the west.  I was trying to see a way forward, to see a way to better relations, to see some hope but Serdar stopped me.

“People always need an enemy.  If one goes away, they find another.  They need an enemy.”

He said it so matter a factly, as if it were true; gospel fact.

Is it true?  Do we need an enemy?  Do we look for a bad guy in order to make ourselves feel better?

I am not sure that we “need” an enemy but I am sure that we do have one.

Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  So yes, we do have an enemy.

But too often we mistake him for someone else.  Depending on your persuasion it could be the communist or the catholic, the Muslim or the Jew or the evangelical Christian, the right wing conservative or the left wing liberal.

We end up creating gross over generalizations of entire groups based on their very worst examples.  We vilify them as the enemy and neglect any real conversations that could lead to understanding and honoring relationships.

And we keep doing it over and over again.  We keep repeating the past.