Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Plane Carcass, An Empty Field, and A Day Gone By.

On the way to my old school, I pass by McDonald's, Dick's Sporting Goods, and my friendly neighborhood airport. It's kind of strange to see the landing strip right from the main road, but there it is. Sometimes, when I need to go to the airport to pick up a friend or get dropped off for my own adventure, I pass by what looks like an unused portion of the airport property, which is pretty much just an empty field. However, sitting right there next to the edge of the road that borders the field is a giant metallic tube, which I'm pretty sure is the remains of an old plane, chopped in half to show it's gutted insides.

After all these years, I'm still unsure as to why it's there. It doesn't look like it serves any purpose. Because of its obscurely random placement in a field of dead grass, I doubt it's an attempt at modern art. Whatever it may be there for, I'm positive that it's served its time as a commercial airliner in its glory days. What kind of people have been aboard this bird? Where were they going? What great adventures did this aero-bus facilitate? Who was connected to their loved one because this plane got them there? Did it soar during the Golden Age of Flight?

I don't know. All I know is that this plane's flying days are over.

I recently made my way to my old school, from which I've recently graduated. Just a few short miles from this plane carcass lies the empty field that used to be home to another kind of life. In a former time, it was known as Chapel by the Lake - a place that I've written about many times before. The church that used to own the property sold it to some investors, and I imagine the spot will get used for another high-rise that'll block the view of the ocean waters, but whatever the case may be, this outdoor, open-air cathedral was once home to many of my great thoughts, stretches of worship, and moments of crying and desperation. They tore it down shortly after I graduated and now it's just an empty field surrounded by a parking lot. I can't imagine how many people had been blessed by sitting in those fluorescent-blue seats throughout the years, how many people found a best friend in Jesus there, or how many had been welcomed into the family of God through baptism there.

I don't know. All I know is that this chapel's church-ing days are over.

There was one time, shortly after I graduated, where I sat in those blue seats and thought about the journey I'd been through. College had been pretty much all I wanted it to be, and a lot I didn't expect it to be. Many friends had touched my life in a way that's unjust to put into words. I'd found gifts and talents that I didn't know I had. Nights full of fun and tear-inducing laughter with friends gave me something to miss. Spiritual encounters and a winding, broken, narrow road took me on a journey with God that I didn't think I'd experience if you'd asked high-school me.

It was during these years that my soul learned that a simple joy was not threatened by the changing of the seasons, and so I was ready now. The college years which I had pedestal-ized and longed for when I was a wee one were now over and it was time to step into life as a working man. It was time to leave those times behind and cherish the memories they left for me. I'm not sure what the future holds. I wonder what journey I'll be on a year from now.

I don't know. All I know is that this young man's college days are over.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven... (Ecclesiastes 3)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Speedo Priest's Freestyle Prayer

This past summer's trip to Israel left quite a few impressions on me. Something about piggybacking onto a Romanian Eastern Orthodox tour of the Holy Land as Evangelical Christians created this strange tension. And although it was something that I've never experienced, (and will probably never experience again) I'm definitely thankful for the opportunity to hang out with a group of people that had a very different perspective on faith than I did.

I should start by explaining that we had two tour guides. One of them was your typical week-long excursion-type guide that gave us historical background and other insights at each of the sites we visited. Since many of the tourists were Orthodox church members from roughly the same city, the other guide was actually the priest that presided over the congregation from that area. He was tasked with guiding everyone from a more spiritual perspective.

The first time we got on the tour bus, the priest began the trip with quite a lengthy prayer. I'll be the first to tell you that I don't agree with a lot in the Eastern Orthodox religion, but this was actually a really beautiful prayer that contained a lot of Biblical truth. My dad even mentioned to me how much he liked it, and the trip started off pretty hopeful.

However, what we discovered the next morning was that, when we got on the bus, the priest gave a pretty similar prayer. By the morning after that, we were sure that this guy was praying the same exact prayer that he had the two days prior. And so we ended up hearing this same, drawn-out prayer for a week straight.
"And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6)
On one of the last days of the trip, we were given basically half of a day to relax and unwind from the hard work that is touring the Holy Land. Considering the blistering heat, on the way back from our morning excursion, me and my brother talked about jumping in the luxurious hotel pool. So we got to the hotel, changed into our swimmies, and got to the side of the pool. And much to our ________, (I'm not really sure what word to put here) the priest arrived by the poolside.

Me and my brother, who had not seen this man outside of his priestly garments the entire trip, soon found ourselves with our feet in the pool talking to a priest wearing nothing but a pair of Speedo's. For some reason, not a single other person from our tour group decided to go swimming aside from me, my brother, and the priest.

In our lively conversation, we covered a lot of subjects ranging from religion, to government, and to culture. After getting over the strangeness of seeing a priest transition from such thick, black, body-engulfing clothing to a bright blue Speedo, I found that the conversation had some pretty interesting points.

Is it not sad that the priest could speak more freely to us than He could to the God he claimed was his Father? Is it not exponentially more sad to know that the Almighty All-Creating God of everything wanted to speak to this priest as a dad does to his son, and yet this man could not see it?

Brother or sister, God does not want your fancy words. If you want to make a beautiful prayer, go ahead. But God is more concerned with connecting with you than He is with receiving a superficial layer of words that have no relation to the status of your heart.

I will give the priest one concession: at the end of each of these lengthy prayers, the priest would suddenly relax and start praying improvisationally, so to speak. The last portion of his prayer was always freestyle.

Brothers and sisters, let you prayers be freestyle.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dumpster Diving for Eternity

For those of you who don't know me all that well, my father is a wood-worker.



Or rather, he probably could fix it - it'll probably just cost a lot more than what you originally paid for the item. Y'know, overhead, operation costs, etc. Sorry!

Anyhow, in one of the previous shops that my dad was renting out, there was a dumpster. I mean, there's a dumpster where he is now, but the complex of buildings he's near at the current time doesn't have nearly the same variety of business as his old shop had. At my dad's old shop, he was near a health-minded cookie factory, baseball bat factory, assorted storage units, a dry-cleaning store, etc.

This may not sound too exciting to you, but what this meant is that there was always interesting things in the dumpster. As a child, I made a practice out of total-commitment dumpster diving, literally climbing into the rusty-green receptacle in order to rummage around in hopes of finding some item or artifact that could fascinate my ten-year-old self.

And boy, did I.

Old record players, TV's, baseball bats, massive cardboard boxes - you name it. Forget playing football, finding hidden dumpster-treasure was probably one of my favorite childhood pastimes!
Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he? (Isaiah 2)
The other day, I was driving out of my neighborhood when I saw some boxes and assorted junk thrown out to the curb. There was a sign attached to this pile of assorted potential treasures: "FREE STUFF." For a moment I considered stopping, but for some reason, I was suddenly filled with thinking, "What if someone sees me?" So, I rolled on by, with the fear of humiliation ringing in my memory.

Friends, having a mind to consider the well-being and comfort of others is a good thing. Being afraid of getting mentally condemned by someone you don't know for an action that is good is a terrible thing.

After all, it was a certain man named Jesus of Nazareth Who decided to make a total commitment to dumpster dive into the rusty-green trash-heap that is humanity. He lowered Himself - why are we so afraid to? Oh, that we may cast off the pride that slows us from pushing the Kingdom of Heaven forward with both feet.

Maybe it's time that we dive into the brokenness and trash that is our neighbor's soul, and in so doing, provide hope for One Who can clean up the mess. Maybe it's time we forfeit the weight of pride tied to our ankles so that we might run to the slums and projects that need our humility. Maybe it's time we stick our hand in the mud and pull someone out, regardless of how dirty we'll get.

Maybe it's time.