26 May, 2008

For all the Worker Bees

This poem is not Christian. In fact, it allegorizes a Christian event to make a point that almost seems anti-Christian. In my opinion, it's just a beautiful, beautiful point and it applies equally to Christian and secular and family spheres.


The Sons of Martha

Rudyard Kipling 1907

The sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited
  that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the
 careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she
 was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without
 end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and
 cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that
 the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care
 to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by
 land and main.

They say to mountains, "Be ye removed." They say to
 the lesser floods, "Be dry."
Under their rods are the rocks reproved-they are not
 afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit-then is the
 bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly
 sleeping and unaware.
They finger death at their gloves' end where they piece
 and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry
 behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into
 his terrible stall,
And hale him forth a haltered steer, and goad and turn
 him till evenfall.
To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till
 death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden - under the
 earthline their altars are-
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to
 restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again
 at a city's drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a
 little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to drop
 their job when they dam'-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark
 and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren's
 day may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path
 more fair or flat -
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha
 spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness
 to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their
 common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed - they
 know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for
 them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet - they hear the Word - they see
 how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and - the
 Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!

24 May, 2008

A Child's Laughter

The little girl and her momma were just close enough that I could hear her laughing as she ran ahead. From across the pond, I could hear her constant stream of giggles, brightening my day as the two of them rushed back to where daddy was fishing and waiting for breakfast at the park.

I was lost in thought, studiously not thinking about the tennis match for which I waited, when the giggling stopped. Almost without looking up, I knew to expect the crying to start. Sure enough, she was tummy-down on the road, lifting up and looking back at her mommy, winding up for a good one.

It's inevitable, isn't it? Giggling and excitement and risk are followed by tears. But it's inevitable in a good way. No amount of money or peace could make me wish that little girl hadn't giggled her way ahead of her mommy and toward her daddy, even if it meant she had to cry, too.

It's called living, and I'm for it.

17 May, 2008


Today I saw a driverless truck, and kind of grinned.

Sure enough, there was the tiniest grandma ever behind the wheel of a brand new, fire engine red, full-sized Chevy pickup with big-ol' step-side running boards. I don't believe she could see me as I passed her, but I kept an eye on her in my rear-view. She seemed almost to notice and slow down a little for the 8-sided sign she rolled through.

And I got a little sad.

In the little town of 3,000 in which I grew up, I'd have marked that truck and made sure it was never broken down by the side of road, or in any danger of being hit if it rolled in front of me at some 4-way stop. Before long, the whole town would have just naturally noticed and made little allowances. I'm sure somewhere in smalltown America, there'd be some wannabe macho man roll through town in a fire engine red Chevy, wondering why everyone seemed to move over a little bit for him.

I'll never see that little lady again.

I wonder sometimes just how poor we really are.

12 May, 2008

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I know, this is a funny topic for me.

I read this book in 1983, and hardly remember anything about it. I liked it at the time, for what it was. And of course, what it was was an anti-Christian bit of cultic and heretical propaganda. :-)

I was studying to be a theoretical physicist (at a local junior college - don't ask), but I about half-wanted to be a mechanic. So this little book offered me a twofer deal I couldn't pass on. It gave me a chance to learn about Zen in a kind of semi-safe way, and a chance to learn about mechanicking from a distance. I would be hard pressed to say of which of them I was most scared. Zen was frightening in an eternal way, but mechanicking was frightening in a very visceral man's-man kind of way that left me feeling quite hopeless. Learning about mechanicking from a Zen mystic seemed about right for a wannabe like me.

I think I remember two things from the book. The first is, "Never by a 2-pound hammer - you might be tempted to use it!" But that phrase may never have appeared in the book, or if it did it might be completely stolen from mechanics all over the world.

The second one I'm absolutely sure of. I won't put quote marks around it, because I am giving you 25 year-old impressions of what it meant to me at the time, and there's no telling exactly what he really said. It went like this.

Turn off your radio. Zen is about being in the now, wholly present in the moment that is. Life is about being in the now. But if the thing that you are doing is fixing a motorcycle, how can the thing you're doing be listening to the radio? And if the thing you're doing is listening to the radio, how can it be fixing the motorcycle? Do what you're doing with all your being.

That hit me hard. I was always trying to do two things at once, and no matter how eternally damning Zen might be, the joker was right. I simply could not do two things at once, and even if I could, I could not do them both with all my heart. I could not do them both to the glory of God.

I never forgot that. For a year or two of my ten under the hood, I listened to the radio while I turned wrenches. I spent months listening to a rotation of a handful of tapes and crying to them as often as not. But for the most part, I found I was happier when the radio was off and I was pleasantly cursing the problem at hand. [Mechanicking really is calculated to drive a man to despair. If it were not for the (even if they're sometimes pyrrhic) victories at the end of every nightmare, I'm sure we'd all quit.]

The other night, I told my small group that I'd turned off the radio in my car 2 years ago. You should have seen the jaws drop. But yes, I sit in traffic in complete silence, just listening to the engines of all the cars around me, and the blowing of the heater fan, and how the sounds play off the brim of my hat. Sometimes I play my harmonica, but not even much of that these days.

And it helps.

It's an odd thing. I committed years ago that once I got on the road, I was done trying not to be late. Once I was on the road, nothing I could do would get me there more than 2 minutes faster, so I'd just be an extra 2 minutes late rather than frazzle myself every morning and evening. Once I'm on the road, I pick the lane that is easiest on my attitude, and drive fast enough to keep the guy behind me from getting mad. If I can't drive that fast, I move over. If 6 people pull in front of me, I might speed up, but not because I'm mad. (Yes, sometimes individual morons irritate me, but usually not more than once a week.)

And since I'm not in a hurry, and not on edge, and not looking for that 3 car-length advantage every 10 seconds, I can let my mind go where it will.

The radio kills that mindset, and yes, I mean Christian radio. It takes my mind where I don't want to go. Once or twice in each trip, I might hear a song that connects with me, but more often than not it's a song that connects with where I was last week. I end up being happy the song meant a lot to me last week, and singing it with joy, but it's last week's joy.

I'm not against the radio itself. 4 years ago, just after the divorce, the radio was a near-constant blessing to me, and I listened to it every minute. Today, though, it isn't. The song, "Be Still My Soul," moved me a couple weeks ago. So, I spent a week memorizing it in the car. (Have you EVER known a song to be so hard to memorize???) I did it at my pace, and with my convictions, so it felt like it was mine. It felt peaceful and comforting. At it's best, the radio seems to dangle the hope of something beautiful much more often than it delivers, so I guess I'm against it a little bit, but I'll probably turn my radio back on some day.

So, I thought about all this.

And I thought, "Why does Zen do this kind of thinking, and Christianity doesn't?"

Why does Zen have so much to say about getting up in the morning and making breakfast and getting ready for bed at night, and Christianity doesn't?

It's just something to ponder.

04 May, 2008

Good Luck!

Have you ever wished a brother in Christ good luck, only to be lectured on how luck is no part of a Christian's life?


You know? Who am I to argue, I guess? But into what kind of bind does that force God? I play tennis, and it's traditional with the first serve to wish your opponent good luck. What should I say instead?

"May God grant you the grace to crush the living snot out of me during this match."

"And may His divine sovereignty fix the outcome of this match such that we both reach the eternal benificence of His holy presence due to His providential ordering of all things."

"And since the outcome of this match is ordered in the eternal counsels of I AM that I AM from before the creation of light itself (6,012.5 years ago), let's just go for a prayer-jog on a treadmill and get a beer - I mean lemonade."

It's amazing how some Christians, like me, lose so many opportunities to be a real and living testimony for God. It might change the match a little bit to start it like that, but it might change the eternal destiny of the person against whom I'm playing.

No wait.

His eternal destiny would be something ordained before the dawn of time, too, wouldn't it?

Hmmm. So telling him, "Good luck," probably won't damn my opponent to hell after all.


And it would be a lot quicker, so we could get down to playing tennis.

But, no! God's eternal plans rely upon His ordaining of human means. So, I have to give the slightly longer greeting in order to make sure that all possible means have been exercised in case he might be one of the elect of God, and the means appointed to his salvation include the revelation this very day in his heart that luck is a pagan concept toppled before a living Deity like Dagon was toppled before the Ark of the Covenant.

And the longer traditional greeting might lull my opponent into thinking I'm afraid to serve, which might give me the mental edge - and I love being mentally edged.

But everyone knows that God does not order anything He has not revealed in His holy word. So, maybe I should use something straight out of scripture, and out of the mouth of one of the holy saints, like, "Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well."

Maybe not that one.

"I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel."

Or maybe I'll keep looking.


Good luck understanding this post.