Monday, May 29, 2006

A Mere Blimp On the Horizon

I was probably about 11 years old.  My dad told mom and us to get in the car and to not ask any questions.  We lived north of New Orleans in Metairie, and we drove for an hour or so south and east to a spot I had seldom seen.  We drove right out into a large open field.  At some point we spotted the Goodyear blimp.  It loomed huge as we drove near it.  I remember wondering why Dad was so secretive about us going to see the blimp.  We had seen it before flying lazily along above a vast Mardi gras crowd.  It was certainly a special treat to see it up close.  But why all the secrecy?

My two brothers and I sat in the car with my Mom while Dad got out and walked up to some guy and chatted with him.  After a moment he walked back and said, o.k. let’s go.
We piled out of the car and walked toward the blimp as several guys struggled to hold it in place with ropes that trailed down toward the ground.  Underneath the blimp was a little passenger compartment that seemed about the size of a VW bus.  Steps were tossed down and we climbed in!  For reasons I could not fathom, my mom chose to stay behind at the car.  Soon I saw the guys holding the ropes letting us ease up higher off the ground.

They can only do this if there is very little wind, explained my Dad.  So he didn’t want to get our hopes up and then find out that we were canceled out due to weather.  He had worked for Goodyear for a long time.  This was a little perk that a few employees got to enjoy when the blimp was in town and not busy flying over a parade or a football game.

The blimp rose up rather slowly. I was seated just behind the pilot who seemed as if he were driving the VW bus.  A low rumble turned into a loud roar as the propeller engines that pushed the blimp were throttled up to push us lazily along.  It was the first time I had flown. It is the only time I have flown in a lighter than air vehicle.  My most vivid memory is one of seeing kids playing on a swing set down below us.  We were high enough that they were tiny and seemed to be rushing forward and backwards beneath the pole of the swing set.  For however long the flight lasted, we were absolutely transfixed by the sights rolling slowly along below us.  I have flown on many airplanes of various sizes in the decades since.  I have never experienced anything quite the same.

Tonight I have taken some time to remember that flight. It was so absolutely unexpected.  To this day, when I tell the story, I have never met anyone who said, “Oh yeah, I did that too when I was a kid.”  As I consider the years since, I realize that many other equally unexpected things have happened.  Some of those things have been wonderful.  Some have been terrible.  Many, many things that I could never have predicted!

Why then do I fail to understand that the next minute may hold a surprise still greater than all those so far?  Why do I feel that I am plodding along a well defined path when every step I take is new territory, time never lived before.  The number of possible outcomes for each moment is vast beyond knowing.  I am hurling through space at thousands of miles per hour.  It is impossible that I will ever be mired within the small scope of my imagination.  I praise God for the adventures ahead.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


con·spire Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French conspirer, from Latin conspirare to be in harmony, conspire, from com- + spirare to breathetransitive senses : PLOT, CONTRIVE
PLOT, INTRIGUE, MACHINATION, CONSPIRACY, CABAL mean a plan secretly devised to accomplish an evil or treacherous end.

Let me begin by assuring my reader that I do believe that many conspiracies have been devised throughout history.  However, what strikes me as very odd is how willing we are to believe that complex, decades or even centuries long conspiracies account for much of the evil we see in this world.  The latest conspiracy to gain such credence forms the basic premise of the DaVinci Code.  The idea that relatively small groups of power hungry men have deceived all of Christendom for more than 16 centuries is ludicrous.

The government of the Soviet Union did its best to suppress religious belief altogether.  But a decades long effort seems to have yielded little more than a pent up desire on the part of the former Soviet citizens to know more about things spiritual.  Once the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a sort of stampede by the citizens toward embracing various religions.  One suspects that a great deal had been going on all along and was simply not publicized.

It is my experience in a large multinational corporation that human leaders are completely incapable of concocting and sustaining the sorts of elaborate plans that a world shaking conspiracy would require.  The best corporate leaders can generally hope for is to set a direction and hope that employees stumble a bit more in that direction than they formerly did.  The idea of a precisely executed ballet involving tens of thousands of people is laughable.

Stories like the DaVinci code suppose that hundreds or thousands of people will remain faithful to a conspiracy for hundreds and hundreds of years.  That is exactly the kind of unity and commitment that God asked of the Jews in the Old Testament.  It is a miracle of God that they managed to maintain a written history over a two thousand year period.  And that very history shows that time and time again they failed to stay on course.  They could not maintain discipline for even a few decades before falling into all sorts of degradation and foolishness.  Despite miraculous interventions by God, they failed repeatedly.

We are flawed. We are greedy and power hungry. We plot, conspire, and collude.  The very flaws that cause us to take such actions, also doom those actions to failure.

We have met the enemy, said Pogo, and he is us.  

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Cup of Cold Water

Matthew 10:42 (New International Version)
42And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."
I have been haunted by this verse for weeks.  I had to check past posts to make sure I hadn’t already written about it.  I stumbled last week as I considered the purpose and impact of my life.  I simply could not imagine that the sorts of things I do each day could matter very much to God or the people around me.  Correction:  I could not imagine that the good things I do matter very much.  My sins have clearly contributed to the debased state of this world and the pain that we all share.  But my acts of kindness, the scope of my love, the purity of my intentions all seemed insignificant.

But the phrase “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water” restores my hope.   Especially since Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward”.  

By the grace of God, I am able to do some few things that are good.   My motives are mixed, but at least they are mixed and not purely selfish.  I pray that God will give me the opportunity and the will to hand out a few more cups of cold water.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Life is hard, then we die

Suppose you ask a friend to describe their life. They reply, “I am hard pressed! I feel like I am being crushed and it perplexes me. I can honestly say I have been struck down. I feel like I carry around death, wherever I go.

I suspect that the response of many of us would be to encourage the person. We might remind them that God loves them. Perhaps we would pray for them, on the spot. I also suspect that some part of us might wonder at their negativity. Surely they realize that the Christian life is full of blessings and victory. Is their faith so small that they are blind to that?

After the best encouragement and prayer we have to offer, imagine the person said, “Well I’m just thankful I’m not completely crushed! I am not in total despair. Many people persecute me, but God has not abandoned me. And I’m still here. Life hasn’t destroyed me. In fact, people can see what Jesus is like when they seem me going through this stuff.”

It is likely that by now you know I am setting trap for you with the scenario above. In second Corinthians chapter four, the apostle Paul lays out a description of the Christian life that closely corresponds with what our imaginary friend has said. I have inserted the text below:

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (New International Version)
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Life really is hard. And it is not hard because we lack faith or fail to pray. It is hard because there is sin in this world. Our own sin. Other people’s sin. Present, past, future sin. And we are too weak to overthrow the reign of sin, even in ourselves. How much less can we conquer sin for the whole world.
What we can do is trust in God with all our hearts. He will guide us. He will heal us. We are only getting in the way when we pretend that everything is fine, just fine. We are particularly obstinate when we will not confess that we have failed. In Jesus’ parable (Luke 18: 9 – 14), the tax collector cries out “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. He is the one who is justified before God. Not the Pharisee who is confident that he is living the victorious Jewish life.
This life is hard. It is full of blessings and also full of pain. We are here for a reason, but we long to go home.

Life is hard, then we die.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Close to Heaven, Close to Hell

An acquaintance recently quoted the following to me:

For those who trust in Christ as their savior, this world is as close to hell as they will ever experience.
For those who don't, this world is as close to heaven as they will ever experience.

I get that it is not scripture and is subject to all sorts of misinterpretations (as is scripture, come to think of it).
However, it caused me to think more deeply about heaven and hell for a few days.

Heaven is being fully in the presence of God and enjoying having all the encumbrances of this sin cursed world and our fallen nature removed.

Hell is being fully removed from the presence of God. No hope of further nudges from the Holy Spirit. No chance to express a change of heart. I imagine it as an endless night in a pitch black room on an uncomfortable bed. Desperately trying to sleep, but instead tossing and turning with my mind seething with resentments, anxieties, hostilities, all the works of the sinful nature.

It is a blessing to know that my readers still have the opportunity to seek God and be assured of finding him.

That is good news, indeed!