Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sandhill Cranes . . . New Beginnings

One of the things that I miss about Nebraska are the Sandhill Cranes.  In late February, early March, the Sandhill Cranes migrate north from their southern confines, landing in Nebraska for a mid-migration pit stop . . . thousands of them land along a corridor between Grand Island and Kearney to refuel for the northern journey.  The cranes were also a symbol of spring for me . . . that and road kill (particularly skunks and raccoons).  When the cranes arrived Nebraskans could count on two things, one more big snow storm and the arrival of spring.  The arrival of the cranes was always an annual ritual I loved to witness . . . and, I miss it.

Montana is a long ways off the beaten path of most Sandhill Cranes . . . but, we do get them in small numbers.  In our area they usually show up in pairs and quite spread out in the area . . . but, as I said, we do get them.  And, yes, they are a sign of spring here in Montana.

Between the darkness of Good Friday and the light of Easter . . . the Sandhill Cranes have arrived.  Could this be a sign from God . . . a movement of the Holy Spirit . . . as we reach the climax of the season of Lent?  I don’t know, but I do know that they give me hope . . . lots of hope.  As I said, the cranes have always been a sign of new beginnings . . . such as spring . . . where all things start over.  Things are slowly turning green, the birds are coming back, the babies are being born, and the temperatures are slowly rising.  Yeah, spring can’t be too far behind the cranes.
The day between Good Friday and Easter . . . what some call “Holy Saturday” . . . had always been an awkward time for those of us who follow Jesus.  It has always been a time when none of us is really sure what we are supposed to do.  Are we supposed to be remorse, knowing that Jesus was nailed to a cross the night before . . . or, are we supposed to be anxious and excited since we know the resolution of the story . . . how Jesus rises from the dead?  I don’t know. 

All I do know is that it was a beautiful day to head out and check out the area . . . to make the most of what God had bless us with as we waited.  It was a great surprise to stumble upon two Sandhill Cranes strolling along the lake.  A sign of hope . . . a sign of new beginnings . . . a blessing.  I cannot speak for anyone else, but under the bright Montana sky, between the gloom of Good Friday and the joy of Easter morning, I found hope in two Sandhill Cranes.  There are new beginnings.  Life is good . . . life is good even when the winter of life lingers on and spring seems so far, far away. 

Sometimes the signs of Easter have nothing to do with the empty tomb or cross on a hill.  Sometimes it has to do with a sign . . . the cranes are back.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Still Here

Amazingly . . . we are still here.  We are still here despite the fact that I was the one who hooked up our new gas dryer up to the gas line today.  There have been no funny smells in the house . . . no explosions . . . nothing!  The house is still standing.  Once again, I have risen to the challenge of being a handyman . . . and, I have lived another day to tell the tale.

What a tale it has been. 

It begins with our adventures . . . no, misadventures . . . with a major retailer (whose name I will not name, but it rhymes with “ears”).  We have had our bouts with this major retailer, but mostly we have had the run-a-round.  First, when needing their assistance to repair a broken appliance, they put us off for a month . . . then, when deciding to replace the defective appliance, they give the wife the big spiel for an appliance that we cannot even install in our house—which we end up waiting a month to get and discover that we can’t use it . . . so, again, the call to get the defective appliance repaired—again, a month wait.  But the repair guy did show up, spent an hour trying to fix the appliance, threw his hands up in disgust, and wished us “good luck.” 

So, for about six months we have been making the appliance make do . . . but, the time came . . . it had to be replaced.  This time I went to the major retailer—whose name rhymes with “ears”, to order a new appliance, a gas dryer.  I explained to the salesperson that I wanted a gas drier.  No problem, he said.  I picked out the dryer I wanted, and again, emphasized that it was a gas drier.  No problem, he said.  We went through all the paperwork to buy it . . . even brought in the manager . . . and, I reminded both of them that it was a gas drier.  No problem, they said.  They assured me that they could install it with no problems.  “Even a gas dryer?” I asked.  No problem . . . they promised.  Then they gave me the delivery and installation date . . . one week, between 2:00 and 4:00PM.

Imagine my surprise when they actually showed up at the house on the delivery date . . . two hours early!  Usually they are four weeks late, but for the first time ever they show up two hours early!  Then they proceed to tell son number two that they cannot install the dryer . . . because it is a gas drier!  They can bring it down and plug it in, but they cannot hook it up to the gas line . . . nor can they remove the gas line from the old dryer . . . so, basically they are willing to unload the dryer and come back to pick up the old one once the new one is hooked up.  Of course, this flusters number two son . . . who calls mom . . . then calls dad . . . both of whom are at work. 

I rush home . . . the two guys are waiting to unload the new dryer . . . and, they reiterate that they cannot hook up the dryer because it is a . . . gas drier!  I tell them what the people at the major retail store told me, yeah, the one that rhymes with “ears”.  They tell me that they must have been new . . . or idiots . . . they do not hook up gas dryers.  They tell me that they can come back when I have someone who can hook it up . . . in another week.  They tell me that they can unload it, let me find someone to hook it up, and come and get the old drier . . . in another week.  The hook-up was not their problem . . . take it or leave it.

By then I had had enough . . . those were fighting words.  I stormed to the basement, pulled the old dryer away from the wall, examined the set-up, determined that it couldn’t be too tough, and decided, the heck with them and the major retailer who rhymes with “ears”—I’d do it myself.  Something sparked the handyman in me . . . something scary and reckless.  Up the stairs I stomped, into the garage I stormed, to grab the necessary tools . . . let’s see, a hammer, screw driver, and various wrench-like things.  Actually, I just grabbed a bunch of wrenches.

I turned off the gas . . . I heard somewhere that that would be a safety precaution.  I wrenched off the gas line from the old dryer . . . pushed it out . . . stomped upstairs and told the two guys hired to unload, but not hook up, to come on down with the new dryer.  And, so they did . . . with a lot of caution when they learned that I was the one who unhooked the gas line.  Fifteen minutes later they were long gone . . . I imagined they wanted to get far, far away from the impending explosion . . . and everything was hooked up and ready to go.

With trepidation . . . and lots of nervousness . . . I was ready to give the dryer its first run.  I could smell no gas . . . I wasn’t dizzy . . . the dog was still alive . . . the time had come, I turned the knob . . . and, waited.  Within a few seconds . . . swoosh!  The igniter did its job and lit the gas . . . swoosh . . . and, no explosion!  It worked!  It worked!  It worked!  The handyman had struck again!  Actually, it wasn’t too bad.  After I looked it over I determined it was no more difficult than hooking up a new propane tank to the gas grill . . . as long as one remembers to turn off the gas!

We are still here.  We are still here despite the presence of my dark shadow . . . the handyman.  I am not a handyman by any stretch of the imagination . . . not even close.  The family will vouch for that, especially the wife.  But, I do find some pride in succeeding from time to time with my handyman skills . . . call it dumb luck, but we are still here. 

I have learned a lot in my attempts at being a handyman . . . wisdom I want to share with others.  You can take it, or leave it.  So, here goes:

1.   When unable to find a screwdriver, use a knife—the wife will understand.  If the tip breaks off, you have just made it a better and improved screwdriver.
2.   Work alone . . . audiences rarely help . . . unless you enjoy unsolicited advice, laughter, and ridicule.
3.   Remember, above all, if what you have done is stupid, but it works, then it isn’t stupid.
4.   If it is electronic, get a new one . . . or go ask the twelve-year old next door.
5.   Stay simple: get a battery—replace the bulb or fuse—see if the tank is empty—try turning the switch “on”—or, just paint over it.
6.   Always take credit for miracles . . . the world needs more miracles and family members will be impressed.  If you dropped the alarm clock while taking it apart and it suddenly starts working, you have healed it.
7.   Regardless of what people say—especially the wife—kicking, pounding, throwing, and swearing profusely DOES help.
8.   If something looks level, it is level.
9.   If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success . . . grab another beer and try again.

Well, that is my story, and I am going to stick to it.  We are still here . . . the handyman has retired for the day . . . another miracle performed.  The wife is relieved . . . maybe I should apply to be a handyman for the major retailer whose name rhymes with “ears” . . . nah!  They wouldn’t let me work on gas dryers!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sounds of Silence

One of the most difficult parts of being a person of faith has been discerning the will of God . . . understanding God’s will for my life.  I firmly believe that God created me for a purpose . . . for a reason.  That I am unique in what it is that God wants from me . . . just as I believe that God created each of us for a certain purpose.  And, I believe that God calls me to be who God created me to be . . . in that way, I reach perfection.  That is the journey of faith . . . to be all that God created me to be.  It just would have been nice if God gave me a book of instructions to follow in getting there.

Yeah, I know . . . the Bible is that instruction book, but I think you know what I mean . . . I wanted the specifics . . . the step-by-step details: after all, I am human and desire the easiest path.  But, no . . . God did not make it that easy.  Instead God has decided that the it would be best if I—we—learned the fine art of discernment.  The problem with discernment is that it is not easy . . . it is never, ever, easy.  Even at my age, I have not yet mastered the art of discernment.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell stated that if an individual found his or her bliss that there was his or her purpose.  What he did not say, or maybe he did and I just wasn’t listening, was that sometimes that purpose is not what the individual wants to do.  That he or she struggles against that purpose despite all the signs pointing to a perfect match.  That he or she does not see him or herself in that role . . .

How does one respond to the voice of God when one is not sure that he or she wants to listen?  As we enter into Holy Week we are reminded that Jesus struggled with God’s will . . . he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and finally declared, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”  Peter, too, struggled with his love and allegiance to Jesus, and in the end, denied Jesus three times.  Responding to God’s will is not always a neat and clean process . . . nor is it quick.  Peter later redeemed himself . . . but not before realizing what he had done.  I think that most of us are somewhere between the two . . . I know that I am.

It has been said that hindsight is 20/20.  I would agree.  Looking back over my life I have determined . . . no, discerned . . . that there is a fairly clear path that God has called me to trudge down.  The ministry is a part of that path.  From a young age, when I had to write an essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up, ministry was on the list.  I had to pick three occupations or careers . . . I chose the military, teaching, and not being able to think of anything else, I chose ministry.  No, I was not drinking in the fifth grade!  It was a whim to get the assignment done.  Several decades later, I am about to celebrate my 30th anniversary of being ordained into the ministry.  More than 50 percent of my life has been as a minister . . . I am probably where God wanted me.  Yeah, the whim became the call.

The other call upon my life is one that I have tried to ignore . . . that is in the area of disabilities.  Having grown up in a family with siblings with disabilities and witnessing the crap they endured . . . our family endured . . . the second class (if that) they were placed in . . . I was determined not to fall into that trap.  Then I had children with disabilities . . . went through the same crap . . . watching them be thrown into a lower class than everyone else . . . I was even more determined not to hop into the fray.  Yet, surprisingly my voice is strongest in this area despite my efforts to not jump into the fray.  Instead of wholeheartedly embracing this call upon my life, for the most part, I stand back and remain silent.

Richard Bach used the term “reluctant messiahs” in his book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.  Basically he was referring to the fact that often people do know and understand their purpose in life . . . God’s call upon their life . . . but chose to either ignore it or to step into it with reluctance.  To use my father’s phrase, to do it half ass . . . with, reluctance.  I understand that . . . I understand that because I dabble in the second half of God’s call upon my life . . . to be an advocate for those who are disabled.  More often than not, I stand in silence.

It is only with reluctance that I step into the fray . . . only when I am dragged into the discussion . . . into the fight.  It is only when it affects someone I love, someone I care about, that I get involved.  Otherwise, I remain silent.  Silence does not get the job done.  Silence does not solve the problem.  To remain silent is to ignore the voice of God . . . it is to refuse God’s will . . . it is to refuse to be whole and holy.  That is the sucky part of discernment.  To know God’s will and to refuse to participate.  The sounds of silence are deafening . . . they kill.

Ministry is a part of God’s will for my life . . . I do it well enough.  But, as I have said for many, many years, I am not sure the ministry I do is the ministry that God desires me to be involved in.  That ministry, in my mind, involves working and advocating with those who have disabilities and their families.  As much as many will doubt me, I know that this is a population that is overlooked, ignored, and on the brink of being eliminated . . . even within the church where all are supposed to be welcomed.  I hear God knocking on the door, but it is only with reluctance that I even crack it open when I do open it.

Shame on me.

In Nikkos Kazantzakis’ book, The Last Temptation of Christ, it begins with Jesus running from an unknown stalker.  Jesus can hear the footsteps behind him.  Though he acts as if he does not know who the stalker is, he does—it is God.  Jesus tries to run, but he cannot escape.  In the end, he gives in to God’s will . . . the journey and ministry begin.  The bottom line is that we can run, but we can never escape God’s will . . . God’s purpose for us.  That is another part of the suckiness of discernment.

So, I stand in the sounds of silence . . . the day will come when I can run no longer . . . then God’s will will be done.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Once and Future Rock-N-Roller

“I wanna rock n roll all night
n party every day”
(KISS—Rock n Roll all night!)

The year was 1976 . . . my senior year of high school . . . KISS was just arriving on the scene as a band . . . they were hot . . . and, I got to see them . . . with Mott the Hoople and Styx and some other band I have long forgotten.  It really did not matter because it was KISS that all of us wanted to see.  Their big hit that caught our attention . . . Rock n Roll all night!  It was the class song for the graduating class of 1976 at Wheaton High School.  Apparently it was an anthem for a lot of kids in those days . . . this idea of rocking all night and partying all day . . . but KISS had it back-assward . . . it is party and rock all night.  In 1976, we gave it our best shot whichever way it was meant to be.

Apparently, my generation is now paying for that youthful attitude today.  According to an article on MSN.com the baby boomer generation is now facing the problems of their youth . . . too much rock and roll . . . too much partying . . . too much of a good time.  Seems that it is all catching up with us.  Actually, that isn’t quite the case.  The problem is that my generation hasn’t slowed down . . . we still think we can rock and roll all night, and party every day.  I guess old habits die hard. 

Now, I am not the rock and roller I was nearly 38 years ago . . . or twenty years ago . . . or even five years ago.  No, I am far from it.  Most of my rocking is done in the living room rocker or the recliner . . . most of my rolling is done in the morning when I attempt to get out of bed.  My partying is pretty much limited to a couple of beers a week.  Nothing lasts all night . . . unless you consider hitting the sack by anywhere between nine and ten as the ultimate experience in rock, roll, and partying.  The spirit is willing, but the body gave up on that long ago . . .

Yep, it was long ago . . . in a land far, far away . . . in another time and place . . . as I remember it . . . those were fun times.  And, the older I get, the better those memories get . . . the myths are born.  From time to time, I catch myself remembering.  Bruce Springsteen captured it perfectly in his song Glory Days:

As they, the older I get, the better I was.  Always a legend in my own mind.  Yeah, those were the good ol’ days.

Well, I am not so sure the writer of the MSN.com article is right . . . oh, I am sure there are those of my generation who have not grown up.  But growing up has it ways of slowing a person down . . . marriage, mortgage, children, and now grandchildren . . . aging bodies, slower minds, lousy hearing, and a heck of a lot less hair . . . kind of puts life in perspective.  Rocking and rolling all night . . . partying all day . . . sure, but it just take a lot longer than it used to.  A whole lot longer.  Might not have many of those days left, but it never hurts to remember . . . to dream . . . and, to be a legend in our own minds.  I owe it all to KISS . . . 1976 was a long, long time ago . . . a place where myths were born.  Ask my kids, they’ll tell you.  Rock and roll!  Party!  Yeah . . . right!  I leave that for KISS.