Thursday, December 02, 2010

Life is Precious

My 84-year-old dad took a fall last week, on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Broke his left arm just below the shoulder socket, took eight stitches over his right eye, might have a cracked or bruised rib, and has some pretty good strawberries on his right knee.

All in all, it could have been a lot worse. He's had a hip replacement already, and he could have done some serious damage to that or the other hip. Funny thing is, his replaced hip feels better after the fall than it did before. He says it was kinda sore for some weeks before hand, and now it feels great.

Go figure.

I went to visit him today before work. I took some fresh coffee, which he seemed to enjoy. Mainly though, he just needed to visit and talk.

He told me again about the fall, how it happened so quickly and how helpless and confused he felt. His left arm is immobilized in a sling, and his vision has gotten even worse since the fall. What vision he did have around the periphery is disappearing quickly into an even fuzzier haze than before.

It's got to hell getting old, ya know?

He recounted how he used to be able to take a fall at a full run and tumble out of it and keep going. He's been on scaffolding that collapsed and sort of surfed it to the ground safely.

That was about 45 or 50 years ago, but the memories of the ability are still there, obviously.

As we talked I was reminded just how fragile we are, as human beings, and just how quickly what we have can be taken away from us.

Life. Health. Eyesight. Movement. All of it can be stripped away in a moment.

I know this holiday season there are others who have experienced even more shattering accidents.

A young man died on Highway 99 in Elk Grove this morning in a vehicle accident.

An entire family I know at work was in a wreck last week in Modesto, putting the dad in critical condition and scattering the rest of the family to three different hospitals.

A good friend at work lost his brother just last week to a brain tumor that came without warning to steal away the life of a healthy and hale man in just a few short months.

Life is fragile. Enjoy it and live it as much as you can while you're here. 

I'm realizing, at 46 years old, that I've probably got fewer days ahead than I do behind.  I want to live them well, and spend them loving on my girls (all of them, old and new), my grandchildren (on the way, after all), my parents and family (while I've got them), and my new bride-to-be who looks to me with such love in her eyes.  

When life gives me the chance, I want to dance, ya know?

How can I do less?

Tim McGraw sang it well when he said, 

I went sky diving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named FuManchu
and I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying
and he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

What if They Gave a (Christmas) War, and Nobody Came?

I began writing this post with a desire to make a statement about the Christmas Wars.

Each year about this time the Christmas Wars ramp up to a fevered pitch. Each year, for the past several years, American news media has had a field day playing up all the faked controversy over Christmas in the public square.

Should it be called Christmas vacation or winter break?

Are Christmas trees offensive in public offices?

Can people say "Merry Christmas" to each other, or is that a remark of such offense that it's nearly equal with the "N" word in some circles?

Oh, I was getting myself all worked up to write a scathing, visceral treatise on the nincompoops* who want to take Christ out of Christmas when........

I just lost the desire. My arms got kinda tired, my eyes began to glaze over, and I began staring unfocused at a fascinating little shiny silver stripe on the side of my boot.

Took me a moment to realize it was a zipper, and that I'd lost all motivation to write about the Christmas Wars.

Or at least I'd lost the motivation to participate in the Christmas Wars.

I got to thinking, do I really care at all?

The conclusion I came to was.... no, not really.

I don't care about competing atheist and Christian billboards, or Oklahoma Senators who won't ride in a parade because the name of the parade has been changed, or Christmas villages in Philadelphia that have come under attack.

I don't care. I really don't. The stuff sucks the life outta me.

I think a great number of people feel the same way, too. Just sucks the life outta ya.

You know who else I don't think cares about these Christmas Wars?


Seriously. I don't think God is getting all worked up over the Christmas Wars.

I mean, God knows who He is, and He's certainly not threatened by whatever we believe or don't believe. God is God, and I think He's pretty confident in His position.

I think all of our righteous indignation and resolute posturing on His behalf is pretty pointless. In fact, I think if God is upset at anyone in the Christmas Wars, He's probably the most upset at His people who try to defend Him - as if He needs defending.

I certainly don't think He's upset with non-believers acting like non-believers.  That's normal.  What's not normal is believers acting like non-believers, and you know what? The world takes note.

Look at what Salon magazine - an on-line magazine admittedly unfriendly to religion - says about the Christmas Billboard Wars going on in New York this year:

"Proving yet again that one arrogant, jerky and desperately attention-getting action begets another, those yahoos at the Catholic League have glommed on to the American Atheists' War on Christmas." 

See, when people of faith attempt to defend that which needs no defense, especially in the public square, the defense will most always backfire. God will never be proven right using the world's methods.


The world will see the efforts as foolish and arrogant, almost every time.

The Apostle Paul, perhaps the best "defender of the faith" there ever was, made the point this way in 1st Corinthians 1:18a -

"I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction..."

Paul understood that most people see faith as sort of silly. Defending something which seems silly appears to be.... well..... dumb.

What Paul goes on to say, though, is what Christians get all riled up and angry over

 "...but we who are being saved recognize this message (of the cross) as the very power of God."

Christians say to themselves, how dare the world trample on God's wonderful message! Don't they understand, Jesus is the power of salvation in the world! How dare you disrespect our God!

Paul understood - the world won't get the message of the joy and hope that Jesus offers until God reveals it to them, and plants it in their hearts. That's what God did for me, and wants to do for everyone.  But, we can't force people to have faith, and let's face it - even with the best evidence and arguments in the world, God's existence can't be proven.

Proving and revealing God to the world is God's job.

I don't think He cares about the Christmas Wars one way or another.

What I think God does care about is His people living our lives, at Christmas and throughout the year, in way that shows God's love to the world.  He cares because this is the kind argument, if you will, that get's the world's attention.

Jesus said, in Matthew 22:37-40

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  The second is equally important.: love your neighbor as yourself. All the other commandments and demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."

Love your neighbor as yourself.  Those are simple, yet deceivingly difficult words to live by.

How do we respond to those who wrong us, or injure us, or just plain make us angry?

How do we respond to the fast food worker who gets our order wrong, and doesn't seem to care?

How do we show love to the person who slips their car into that parking space we've been patiently waiting for, then trots into the store without a single look in our direction?

How do we show, every day, in every action we take, God's love?

My answer is in letting the Holy Spirit cultivate in us the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:

"but when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

That's the kind of Christmas spirit I think God enjoys.  This is the kind of evidence for God that people take notice of, and hold in respect.  Goodness, although sometimes mocked, is never truly frowned upon, and everyone wishes for it in their lives, to one degree or another.

When we love one another, and show kindness to one another, especially to those outside the "Christian family", God uses that kind of love as His billboards to the world.