Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tsunamis, unimaginable pain, and boundaries in my mind:

I posted this on my STTA site, but since it is a longer than usual STTA & since it will stay on top longer here, I decided to post it here, as well.

The earthquake and tsunami that have devastated Japan, and beyond, are off any scale that exists in my thinking. Massive waves that move across the ocean at 500 miles per hour, and tremors that cause buildings to sway like reeds in the wind don't exist in my mind. When "experts" explain these phenomena I gain a new appreciation for their magnitude, but I understand them only in the sense that I learn to parrot back some of what these specialists say. It is not dissimilar to my "understanding" of this computer. I know that when I press the "I" key that the letter appears on the screen in front of me, and that the code that produces that "I" can be stored on a hard drive or sent by digital signals across vast distances. (I'm going to date myself here.) I remember when manual typewriters were popular. I could examine the levers, springs, and gears and understand how it worked. I am confident that if I had put forth the effort I could have explained, complete with pictures, how my old Remington worked. This computer: in broad terms I can explain it, but much of it is a mystery. That is where I am in explaining the cataclysmic events of the past few days--my knowledge base is inadequate.
I think I know enough, however, to be confident that the correct answer to why this tragedy erupted in Japan, is "I don't know." Beware of those who have neat, tidy answers. The vast debris fields that once were neighborhoods in the Island nation, are matched by the clutter in our minds. I'm not sure we can altogether understand what has happened. What we can do, however, is "contain" the disruption in our mind and heart with some reality barriers.
"I don't understand, but I do know this."
What are some of the "this"es we can know?

  • Disasters like the one that struck our neighbors on the other side of the globe, are tragic, in particular, because they are an accumulation of personal, totally real disasters. This morning the estimates are that 10,000 people died in the earthquake/tsunami. Each of them is a mom, dad, brother, sister, grandparent, or friend. Every one of those buildings was someones home, their place of employment, house of worship, school, etc. One of the dangers of the worldwide communication/news environment is we tend to see the devastation as if it were the tide washing away children's sand-castles. People talk of good that can come from this tragedy. We can identify good that has come from past tragedies, and I already hear of God's people reaching out with the Love-of-Christ. That is definitely good. One of the boundaries we must respect is to call things like this bad--in this case bad beyond my scale of reckoning. In the Old-Testament the word "evil" is used not only to describe the morally corrupt, but natural disasters. This kind of evil will be eliminated in the heavenly realm, Revelation 21:4. The natural disasters that afflicted Job were seen by him and his loved ones as evil, Job 42:11. Let us never be guilty of calling bad things good. Romans 8:28 does not say, "all things are good," but, "all things work together for good." Look in the context and you'll see that a short time before the Apostle pronounced the truth of verse 28, he wrestled with the presence of bad things in the world.
  • God is in control. Sometimes we feel like God needs our help. We think that we need to lobby on His behalf and make sure others know this isn't His fault. It is true that God is not the author of evil, but He is in control in this world. His sovereignty extends from the falling sparrow to the culmination of all things. God was not napping when the earth moved with violence. Other than what He has revealed, I don't know why, but I do know the world is in His hand.
  • People are responsible. The choices we make have consequences. When aggregates of people make choices--national policies, the direction of cultures, etc. those decisions have far reaching consequences. Where we build cities, how we provide them power, and how the people there live can have consequences far beyond what we see. The Old-Testament is full of examples of societies that became ripe for the judgment of God. The later part of Romans 1 records a pattern that is all too common. Fatalism is never the answer. We need to make wise, right decisions, and encourage the groups we are a part of to do so as well.
  • We are to reach out with love and compassion whenever we are able. One of the reasons Christianity came to dominate the Roman world was because Christians reached out with compassion to those afflicted by plagues and other disasters. We must avoid being opportunists. At the same time we must, with courage and hope, reach out with the love God in the face of this world's darkness.

There is much that I don 't know. I am able to cope because of what God has graciously made sure for me.

It's STTA.
Some further thought:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A cheering crowd and a bellowing friend:

A friend sent me to this video.
It is great.

It reminded me of a friend that I never really met:

RUN CAREY RUN (c. 1995)

By the time the young women who run the distance events began their last minute stretches, stride-outs and psych-ups the track-meet had taken on a certain subdued character of its own. At any one time you could observe some athlete totally focused on giving his maximum exertion to his event, while nearby another participant would be taking a nap. Groups of participants, who had already competed earlier in the day, stood around and talked. Spectators were hot, hungry, and tired. Their attention to the events was sporadic.
As the parent of a distance runner I had become familiar with the pre-race ritual. The routine had an almost religious regularity. Those of us who knew the liturgy could tell that the girls 1600 Meter race would begin soon. The talk in the stands, among those of us who knew and cared, turned to: "Who was fast?" and, "Who wasn't doing well?" We wondered what kind of time the pre-race favorite, last year's state champ, would have. The parents and loyal fans were moving to places where they could see better and more effectively yell encouragement to their favorite runner. Watches were cleared. The fans have their ritual too.
Then I heard it--not the real thing, only a weak imitation--from out of a group of fans, "Run Carey, run." The three words uttered by a veteran fan brought instant chuckles and conversation from all of us who heard.
"Is he here?"
"I think he's on the bleachers on the other side of the track."
"I wonder if we'll hear him over here?"
Those of us who knew him had no doubt he would be heard--maybe in the next county. Everyone else was soon convinced.

The crack of the starter's pistol had hardly died--the girls were still accelerating; the faster contestants had not yet distinguished themselves from the starting pack--when we heard the voice, the real thing. It boomed across the infield with a power that defied one to not look for its source. The voice, sort of like an articulate chainsaw, the two end words elongated for effect, the last slightly less than the first, "RUUUUN CAREY, RUUUN!"
We were in the presence of a phenomenon, before whom lesser mortals had to shrink. I am loud, and I often yell myself hoarse at sporting events, but this man is the Babe Ruth of cheering, the Sultan of Chant.
Like a fog-horn on a stormy night the chant repeatedly fills the track, the bleachers, the surrounding countryside. The three words of encouragement so fill the air that it is difficult to find the point from which they emanate. Just the other day I found the source.
I was near enough to him that I could hear not only the famous three words, but words of endearment and quiet encouragement he shared with his daughter when she ran near his seat--or standing place--or pacing area. The famous chant came from the heart of a dad who loved his daughter so much that he was willing to make a spectacle of himself to help her run. She chose to run. He was going to do everything he could to see to it that she did it to the best of her ability.

"Run Carey, run!" was still echoing in my mind when I thought about the kid to whom I had given a thumbs up, a "Way to go!" after his event. I remembered another youngster I had congratulated about a good finish. I wondered about the disappointed kid for whom it just hadn't happened that day, or the one for whom everything had clicked; he had the performance of his life. Don't get the idea that these are generic kids, made up to flesh out a story. Each of them has a name. Each of them is real. Each participated in the same track meet as Carey, but there was no one there for any of them.
I had never seen a mom or dad there to yell for these kids. Oh, there were those of us who seek to encourage them to run, throw or jump, but it isn't the same. It can't be. Our cheers are sincere, our wishes genuine; our desire to encourage, console, and challenge is real. I'm sure they appreciate the recognition, but I'm equally sure that all of it together wouldn't measure up to one single heartfelt word of praise from someone who really cares today, cared yesterday, and will still care tomorrow.
Carey didn't win that race. She came in second, behind the state champ, but she ran a good race. I am confident she did her best. I don't know Carey or her dad, but I think she will continue to do so.

I don't know what kind of a father he is. I only know that on race days he models something that our culture, our kids, could use a lot more of: parents who are willing to give their kids the priority in their lives that they desperately need and deserve.

My bellowing friend went to the track meet to encourage his daughter to run. In the process he encouraged me to be a better dad.


"I'm sure that many of today's leaders find it easier to sound evangelical than to be evangelical."

Read more from Ralph White, a guy who had a great impact on my life,