Backstory

backstory headingFor Sunday, September 15, 2019

 

Lectionary Readings

Numbers 21:4-9  • Exodus 32:7-14  •  Psalm 51:1-10; 78:34-38  •  Jeremiah 4:4-9 

I Timothy 1:12-17  •  John 3:13-17  •  Luke 15:1-10 (C)

Backstory

A People, A Prophet, and God

Exodus 32:7-14 – After the people had experienced God’s act of freeing them from slavery in Egypt, parting the sea, constantly providing, naming them his ‘treasured possession’ and instructing them to be ‘a priestly kingdom and holy nation’, and, after he gave the commandments which began with ‘You shall have no other gods before me’, the people turned from God to other gods.  While Moses was on the mountain speaking with God, the people became impatient waiting for Moses and built an idol like they had in slavery. A heated debate between Moses and God, in response to the actions of the people, ensues.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Once again we see these same people failing to remember God.  This account takes place after the people have proven they did not trust God enough to enter the Promised Land and are now wandering in the desert until the next generation is grown.  Much like most of us, this group of humans are frequently unpleasant to be around – the become dissatisfied with Moses’ leadership and God’s provisions.  They complain about Moses and God.

Hopelessness with Hope

Jeremiah 4:11-28 – We have been looking at the persistent refusal of the people (centuries after entry into the Promised Land) to turn back to God.  Through the warnings of the prophet of Isaiah, and then Jeremiah, the people have refused to see and hear what God is communicating through these prophets.  Instead, they have continued a false Godless religion while progressively turning to the untruths of the politicians, religious leaders, and false prophets who who say things much more pleasant to hear.  Now, the time for cautions and warnings has come to an end.  It is the end of opportunities, and God is not changing his mind, however, his proclamation of doom comes also with a promised hope.

And then there is Joy

Luke 15:1-10 – Jesus is surrounded by religious leaders who are complaining and grumbling about the company that Jesus keeps.  They cannot grasp the fact that he is hanging around with ‘undesirables’.  Jesus responds to their negativity by pointing them to the Joy of God which he desires for us to have in our lives.

Joy Revealed

Psalm 51:1-10 – Our responsive reading this Sunday focuses on the personal experience of Joy that takes place in our own life when we turn back to God. In this Psalm, written by David, we see his recognition of his sin and need for reconciliation with God. It is an experience of repentance, joy, and hope.

Transitions are Tough

hungry birdsOver the past few months we have had the honor of witnessing the birth of several birds in nests scattered outside our house.  

About two weeks ago, there was an even greater thrill as we happened to be watching as three little birds prepared to leave the nest outside our bedroom window.  We realized this was taking place as they began to take turns flapping their wings while jumping around the nest.  

Then it got interesting. The largest of three walked to the edge and stood there.  Teasing us with many “will he fly off now?” moments.  Finally, he took the leap, and it was truly a leap, straight to the ground with a thud.  The remaining two birds, a bit more hesitant, followed the example, and seemed to have the same failure as their larger sibling.  From what we could see, none of the three succeeded in the art of flight, they all just fell to the hard earth. We were certain that this was the end, they had all failed flying and we would soon be in the bird burial business.

Even in the surety of their failure, we continued to watch, often having to run to windows in different bedrooms.  We saw the squirrels coming closer as if they had been waiting for this moment.  We also knew that there were other, more aggressive and larger, birds witnessing this embarrassment, or, should I say, opportunity, unfolding.

We, in our infinite wisdom, were sure that these little birds we had become intimately attached to, had not been ready to attempt flying and had met their doom.

As we continued to watch, however, we noticed their mom and dad.  Neither was grieving or blaming the other.  Instead, Dad was watching from the highest branch on a bush near the back fence, while mom was standing on the ground, strategically positioned between dad and the babies.  As she stood there you could see her aggressive stance ready to attack the other opportunistic creatures.  One at a time, mom escorted the tiny poor fliers to the bush by our back fence, their new home, where dad received and congratulated each one with the bird equivalent of a high five.  It was not long before all three ‘not yet ready for flight’ birds were back with mom and dad and ready to continue their journey and their training….only now with more privacy, at least from the nosey Anthony family.

I have to be honest however, for the four humans watching, it was a pretty scary process. We gave up hope many times.

Later, as I thought through the experience, I remembered I had been awakened that morning to a very busy, and noisy, mom and dad.  While I had grown accustom to the parents feeding the birds early each morning, this morning, the morning of the kids’ first attempt at flight, mom and dad seemed to be executing the feeding process with a special and intense urgency. The children were receiving an extra portion of breakfast with a veracity that, as to yet, had been unseen. Don’t be fooled, they had always enjoyed feeding time but nothing matching the intensity of this day.  Mom and Dad knew the kids were going to need even more strength and power than ever before.  The kids, for their part, were taking advantage of this preparatory process for an adventure that was far greater, and riskier, than anything the nest had ever offered over the course of their entire lives.

The preparation before, during, and even after, was calculated and amazingly exhausting and emotionally draining.  At least it was to us humans, we were exhausted and spent even after having only experienced it from the spectator seats.  As the five birds disappeared into the bush, we four humans headed to the kitchen to feed ourselves and to prepare for the semi-calculated and amazingly exhausting and emotionally draining adventure of our average day that lay ahead.

I cannot claim to have any real empathy with a mom and dad watching their children take a necessary and deadly leap in order to move ahead in life. 

I can, however, say I watched my oldest child walk up the ramp to enter pre-K at Monroe elementary in August of 1998 and then, not too much later in the day, driving by the school to assure myself that he was not standing in the middle of the busy street (my wife later admitted to having done the same thing).  I actually remember watching, and hating, the transition, as each of my five kids walked the same ramp over the next five years, and driving by later just to make sure they, too, were not standing in the middle of the street.

Then, this year I watched as that same son walked another ramp to receive his college diploma followed by a drive to Stillwater later in the week to enroll my fourth child in her first year of college.  This means that we will be driving her to live in a place that is not our house in less than two months.  In the meantime, we have taken our third child to the airport to fly away to a summer volunteering experience in Hawaii as number two headed to Colorado for her summer job.  Finally,  I have listened each day as our youngest has gotten himself out of bed very early each morning for cross country practice and lawn mowing.

I lay in bed wandering when we transitioned to a time when he no longer needed me to wake him up and take him to practice or work.  I lay in bed wandering when he, our fifth little bird, approached the edge of the nest.

Maybe I do have a little bit of empathy for my dear mom and dad red bird friends that lived for a short time outside my bedroom window.

Paying Attention,

Rick

totalled Toyota VanOh… and we had to say goodbye to our Toyota van on May 4th due to the fact that we were rear ended by a school bus as I was driving Andrea to school (the irony has not gone unnoticed).  Goodbye to the van that each of our children learned to drive in and where almost 300,000 miles of memories took place.  It was tough to see it driven away on the tow truck.


Transitions are tough.

The Man in the Moon


moon-half-face-singleLast Friday I spent the night with our college kids at their house on Sherwood Street in Stillwater.  It was not my first time to spend the night on Sherwood although it was been over fifty years since my last stay.  In the early sixties, my grandma Bill moved from the farm into town on Sherwood after my granddad passed away.  Everyone told her that she needed to be off the farm and around people.  She only made it a couple of years before the people proved too close and the solitude of the farm too far. 

Now our three oldest kids are a couple of blocks away from Bill’s former house. 

As I lay in bed, I began remembering nights on Sherwood Street.  I remembered, as a four or five year old, standing in the middle of the street in the dark of the night, with the kids from the neighborhood.  Susan and Mary and others pointed out the man in the moon, which I actually saw and was convinced.  This early sighting caused the excitement over Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969 to be fairly redundant. I also remembered my many plans and dreams;  dreams fulfilled and those handed over to those with more passion and better qualifications.  I didn’t become president but I did manage to make one hundred dollars.

More than any of those things, my mind went to the unimaginable dreams that I have lived and experienced. The family I have been blessed with, the friends who have touched my life, the places I have seen…and, of course, the hundred dollars.

Paying Attention,

Rick

Next Door Blessings

lizard 2Around dusk, I ventured up the street to our neighbor’s house.  They are on vacation and we have been taking care of their lizard, fish, plants, mail, and newspapers.   We go up twice a day to feed the fish, water, collect newspapers and mail, and turn on/off the lizard’s lamp.  The lizard still has crickets hopping around so there is no need to feed him (or her, we don’t know) until he cleans his seven-day-old plate.  We love these neighbors.  I have known the husband since seventh-grade, but have really only had consistent interaction with him over the course of our decade in the neighborhood.  The recent interaction has made me wish I had branched out from my own group of friends in high school.  We love the way they live, the way they raise their kids, the way they have integrated their two different faiths, and the way they make you feel very important with every engagement.

Across the street from them is a retired couple who are also wonderful. They are Jewish.  The husband grew up as the son of a Rabbi.  There is a reason I mention their faith. It is Christmas Cookiepertinent and not just my attempt to convince you that I am open-minded.  In all of my adult years, they are the only neighbors who have ever brought us homemade – and decorated – Christmas cookies.  They frequently ask me about our church and our kids.  They are genuinely interested.

Across the street from us are recent transplants from Britain. They are very kind and respectful and join us in our skepticism of the local television weatherpersons when it comes tornado season.  They take refuge in our tornado shelter and, together, we attempt to estimate which of the broadcasters’ rants need to be taken seriously.  They are very smart. He is a physics professor at the local university. Regardless of actual intellect, however, all they have to do is begin speaking with their British accents and we automatically give them credit for great wisdom and discernment. It is like having sat in the living room with soccer goalMaggie Smith at Highclere Castle wondering for weeks afterwards if you were insulted or complimented.

On one side of our house, we have a neighbor with a huge soccer goal cemented in the front yard.  When we initially moved into our house, they invited our soccer-playing children over to use the net anytime.  I have always appreciated the eye-catching net for use as a landmark when giving directions to our house.  I don’t think the previous owner of our house liked the net, or these neighbors.  She repeatedly called the police when they attempted to cut the limbs from her old and gigantic tree which were resting on their vehicles.  The police would inform her that the neighbors were permitted to cut the limbs which were stretching over their property, but she continued to call and complain anyway.  During the first year living in our home, a devastating ice storm toppled that entire tree, causing a section of the trunk to fall and strategically land on three of their cars.  No insurance lawncovered the damage – ours nor theirs.  They never complained to us and have always been beyond gracious.

On our other side is a retired widow who has taught us the meaning of tenacity and determination.  She is always there to express concern and offer help.  She has admitted that one of her chief goals in life is to make me look bad, her strategy is to spend every day either re-mowing or perfecting her already perfect lawn.  Andrea, and the kids, often ask, “Why can’t our lawn look like that?” as we pull into our garage.  When the other trunk of our tree fell onto our roof, this neighbor climbed the ladder to our steep, and icy, roof to help me place a tarp over the holes caused by the fallen tree.

We are very blessed.

I often fail to recognize and appreciate the blessings we have on our street.  I often fail to look around and pay attention.  I often neglect to fathom these and so many other next door blessings.  I often let every nature of meaningless and trivial distractions keep me from seeing what is right in front of my eyes.

I am determined to pay better attention, I’m determined to see those blessings right next door….beginning today.

Paying Attention,

Rick