Thursday, July 23, 2015

And in the End

...the love you take is equal to the love you make. -John Lennon, Paul McCartney

Lennon and McCartney notwithstanding, wouldn't you hate to find that the love you receive in this life is exactly in proportion to that which you give?

How would that work in your marriage, do you think?

Ever spoken hastily to a friend? Ever received loving forgiveness in reply?

Quid pro quo is, I suppose, useful for conducting negotiations, producing legislation, or other areas where a consensus is desired.

But to be involved in a truly loving relationship, mustn't we willing to give without promise of return? To put ourselves out there for the other is, I believe, the essence of love.

And in the end, actually, it's not at all about the love we take, but that love we give, freely, desiring the good of the beloved.

It is, in one sense, the essence of our salvation:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

Having been forgiven much, should we not wish to love much?

The idea, don't you believe, behind our thoughts and attitudes.

The ideal toward which we strive.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Grave

The importance of stories. This was drawn from an afternoon shared with my father toward the end of his life and my sharing in turn with my youngest daughter.

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. Psalms 103:15-16

“It’s supposed to be right here somewhere.”

The two men inspected the tombstones, working their way across an older part of the cemetery. The markers in this section were small, lichen-encrusted slabs of marble, a foot wide and half again as tall.

“Daddy, are you sure we’re looking in the right place?”

“This is where she said it was; third row from the back, but she couldn’t tell which plot. There was a water-stain on the page of the register.”

The old man moved slowly, eyes straining at each weather-worn inscription.

“Here it is.”

The son moved to stand beside his father and looked down.


DIED NOV 3 1926

The old man knelt, pain knifing through arthritic hip joints, and with the wire brush he carried, began to clean the small stone.

The car crept along the asphalt path. The little girl looked to the right where her father pointed. Rows of weather-stained gravestones stretched before her.

“Look on your side. Which one looks different?”

“They all look alike, Daddy.”

“Keep looking.”

She spotted it at the same moment he stopped the car; not quite white, but standing out plainly from the gray slabs around it.

“There it is.”

He opened the trunk of the car and reaching in, came out with a wire brush. She carried the white silk rose, and together they approached the grave.


DIED NOV 3 1926

“Which grandma is this, Daddy?”

“Your Papaw Ray’s mama. She died just two weeks after he was born.”

“She has the same name as Aunt Deb.”

“Yes,” her father replied, “he named her after his mother. He never knew his mom or even where she was buried until ten or twelve years ago. He and I came out here one Saturday afternoon in the fall and he found her grave.”

“He kept it cleaned off?”

“Whenever I came home, we would come out here.”

She hugged her father, tears filling her eyes.

“Daddy, did he miss her like we miss him?”

“Sure he did. I believe it hurt him not having any memory of her. We don't understand how blessed we are, sometimes.”

As she pushed the stem of the rose into the ground in front of the stone, he knelt to brush away the lichen that had grown on it since last time. He halted, as though suddenly remembering something and turned to his daughter.

“We mustn't ever forget, Babe, these folks who loved us and poured their lives into ours. We need to love them while we have them and remember their stories.” The eight year-old going-on-nine brushed away tears from her cheeks.

“You can count on me, Daddy. I won't ever forget.”

He nodded, then began to apply the brush, slowly cleaning the small marker.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

In the Navy

My oldest daughter posted on FaceBook today about the importance of recording memories as shared by our loved ones of their lives, usually long before we were born.

I was moved to share this short piece inspired by my dad's sharing of his experience of his first day on shipboard in the World War II navy.

Of course I have taken creative license in my description of the fight, but all else is pretty much as my father related it.

“Awright, you men, fall out, grab a wire brush and a scraper and bear a hand here.”
Ray stood looking as the other men obeyed the chief petty officer’s orders. Small, dark and wiry, with dark brooding eyes, Ray was not used to obeying orders, and chipping paint didn’t look like a lot of fun to him. His eyes flickered as he cast his glance about for a likely escape route.
“Taylor! I said bear a hand here. Whatsamatter, boy, you deef?”
“I don’t think I really want to chip paint, chief.”
Chin jutting and chest puffed out like a bantam rooster, the short, stocky man stepped over to Ray. There wasn’t ten pounds difference between them, though the scars on the chief’s weatherworn face attested to the fact that he had been in this situation before.
Without warning, he launched a roundhouse right at Ray’s head. Ray’s head was not there to receive the punch as he had ducked and delivered a short vicious jab to the other man’s ribcage.
Caught off balance by his wild swing, the chief managed to partially catch Ray’s blow on his elbow. Ray stepped back, shaking his right hand. The knuckles were already starting to swell.
The chief’s ribs ached and he drew air sharply to replace the wind that had been expelled from his lungs by the force of the blow. The paint-chipping detail stopped work and gathered round to watch as the two circled. The chief hoped to maneuver Ray toward a pile of loose pipe which lay on the deck. Ray stepped back and pretended to stumble. The chief charged in low and Ray caught him with a short chopping left to the cheekbone. Rocked to the soles of his shoes, the chief continued his charge unabated and before Ray could land another punch, buried his head in Ray’s chest, locking his arms in a tackle. This kid could punch like a kicking mule. Time to take this fight to the deck.
As they fell onto the pipe, Ray managed to twist so that most of their combined weight fell on the chief as they landed. Pain shot through his knees and elbows. The steel pipe was unyielding. Jolts of lightning flashed through his vision as his forehead slammed the steel deck of the ship.
The chief landed on his back with Ray on top of him and his lungs were again deflated. He clawed at Ray’s eyes and brought his knee up with as much strength as he could muster into Ray’s groin. Ray grunted in surprise and pain and rolled off him. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs and fought the churning nausea in the pit of his gut. There was a swelling goose-egg on his forehead and blood trickled from a slight cut above his left eye.
The chief’s backed ached as though someone had taken a lead pipe to it, which was, in effect, what had happened. Blood flowed from the wicked gash on his right cheek where Ray had twisted his fist as it landed, grinding it into the chief’s face and tearing the skin. He struggled to stand and struggled even harder to breathe. He was pretty sure at least one of his ribs was broken. A sharp pain lanced through his side when he moved. Ray stood at the same time. Both men were badly battered and looked even worse from sweat, paint chips and rust from the pipes.
“What’s going on here, Chief?”
He and Ray turned blearily to face the starched, pressed uniform of a lieutenant, j.g. The combatants and the chipping crew stood to attention.
“Uh, Taylor here stepped on these here pipes and fell, sir. When I went to help him up, the things rolled out from under me and I fell too. I was about to take him to infirmary to get him checked out.”
“That right, Taylor?”
“I see.” The young officer eyed both men. “Looks like you might need to get yourself checked out, too, Chief.”
The men held their salutes as the officer turned and strode toward the bridge. None of them grinned until he was out of sight.
“At ease, you bums. Back to work, all of you. Come on, Taylor, let’s get you over to infirmary.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Comfort and Joy

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people. -Luke 2:10

Not exactly what we would hear about if we turned on one of the news channels.

Yet the news that we would be shown is no news at all. Things go on as they have since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. We commit the same depredations against one another (we are all guilty to some degree or other, right?) as we always have.

Each time I think I have heard of something new and even more depraved than before, careful reflection shows me I am wrong. Truly, the Preacher said, "There is nothing new under the sun."

I try to read Ecclesiastes once a year to remind me that things haven't really changed in three thousand years.

Ah, but "behold, I am doing a new thing," says the LORD God of Hosts. There is good news. And you and I, my brothers and sisters, have been put here to proclaim it.

God has been working all this time to reclaim fallen creation and redeem a people for himself.

He saved godly Noah from the Flood. He called Abram out of Ur.

He preserved His people down in Egypt. He brought them out again with a mighty hand. He prepared a table for them in the midst of their enemies.

Even when they were unfaithful, He preserved a remnant.

He arranged the affairs of nations so that there be a common language  in the Middle East of the First Century.

That a virgin would conceive and bear a child, "God with us."

That this child, grown into a man would make the perfect sacrifice and God would raise Him on the third day and draw His people to Him.

That there would be Roman roads to travel upon and Roman peace to protect the travelers, so that the good news would spread rapidly.

And so on and on, down to our present day, when the bottom seems about to fall out and many are saying, "Here is Christ," or "There He is."

That, too, is the same as it ever was. We pray for the hastening of that Day and look forward to it as did all the saints before us, and cry out, "How long, O LORD!"

Meanwhile, we have a job to do. There is Good News to be shared. In the words of the old song from my childhood:

"Stop, and let me tell you, what the Lord has done for me!"