One-Armed Guitar Playing

This past week was one of many amazing sights, sounds, and experiences. I had the privilege of taking two 5th and 6th graders and their moms to Orlando to experience Group’s Week of Hope Preteen Week. They have an incredible program that partners with local organizations in each city in order to provide practical service needs in fields that deal directly with individuals. We served at Orlando Health and Rehabilitation Center, a place that held 425 residents that ranged from temporary rehab visits to long-term care. I cannot imagine myself working there as that kind of work is so far beyond my comfort zone, but the care, and gentle strength of each nurse and staff member inspired and impressed me.

My girls took time out of their summer to spend time with these residents. They read to them, sang with them, played games with them, baked cookies for them, and even sorted laundry for them. (Laundry day was the hardest for me just for the sheer number of clothes and people coming to claim them.) Regardless of the challenge or task, my two girls stepped up and did whatever was asked of them and did not complain once. To say I am proud of them would be an understatement, and to say their parents are proud of them would be even more of an understatement. I enjoyed watching the moms experience their child’s explosion of service, leadership, and worship. I call it an explosion, because for one student in particular, if you had told me she would be willing to lead 25 people in a devotion by herself before this trip, I would never have believed you.

We also took an afternoon to visit Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney.) The camp had given us an afternoon off where we could go and visit the local attractions after serving for half a day. We had a blast tasting international Cokes (including Beverley, yuck!) and ate a delicious meal at Portobello. The highlight of my afternoon (besides watching the students experience Disney, my first poutine, and the exquisite gelato) was watching Nicholas Marks perform on his classical guitar. I know you’re thinking, “Classical guitar was your highlight? NERD!” And, in some ways, you are right. However, just watch this guy and tell me you aren’t impressed. (Skip to 2:40 to see the one-handed technique.)

This man impressed all of us, and even got our two students to sit quietly and watch in utter fascination while listening to beautiful music. I could try to go into detail about his skill, but, really, it would be useless. His talent and skill was in sharp contrast to the muscular atrophy and lack of control we had seen in the residents up to that point. Here was a man in the prime of talent and skill, whereas I knew I would have to see Donna again the next day.

Donna was a resident at OHRC who was confined to a bed at all times, and who only had control of one hand. And, goodness, if she got hold of you with that hand, you knew it! But she had a sweet heart and an eye for Scrabble that was misleading. She managed to trounce several of us the first few days. Later on in the week, though we received something from her. I brought my guitar (which I play with only a smidgin of skill) in order to sing with/to the residents. Several of the students from the multiple crews with us decided to come along as well. As we traveled the halls, we landed in Donna’s room. Now, one more thing about Donna is that she has trouble speaking – everything sounds slurred and loose like soup going through a strainer. But when we struck the first chord and sung the first word of Amazing Grace, Donna’s face lit up and she began to sing, recognizably, along with us. Many of us there suddenly had allergy trouble and our eyes started watering, but to see that face singing as strongly as she could with her good arm wrapped around the hand of one of our adults seemed as amazing as a one-armed guitarist.

In that moment, that one arm, which still gave her fits, played our heart strings with the skill of Nicholas Marks. God was in that moment, reminding us that worship is so much more than skill, that love is so much more than demonstration.

Where in your life do you feel inadequate to the task? How can you let go of your insecurity and allow God to be present in your life? When do you celebrate God using your weakness at home?

How Marvel’s Civil War can teach us to talk about race

With a lofty title like that, you’d think I would at least have some kind of real credentials for this sort of thing – a degree in race history, history, or social psychology. Nope. I’m a white guy with glasses, a laptop, and a mug of funny-sounding tea beside him. (It’s Numi Chocolate Pu-Erh for those that are curious. Rich, flavorful, and energizing.)

Anyway, so I never really put up any kind of review of Marvel’s Civil War, which my wife and I saw, in costume, as a female Captain America and Tony Stark, respectively. We both enjoyed the movie, though we still hold to the sides we went in supporting. I supported Tony Stark (Iron Man) in his push for more supervision of superheroes, while my wife supported Captain America and his push for continued liberty in the way superheroes could and should respond to situations. Both sides had pros and cons, and, in the end, side is irrelevant. The main thrust of the movie is depicting what happens when two sides draw a hard line in the sand and begin shouting at the other side, “no, you move.” Both sides care about people, about individuals. Both sides are legitimately trying to find the best way to do what they believe is right. Both sides make painful mistakes by responding emotionally and irrationally, despite peaceful solutions being within their reach.

And here’s where we start talking about Dallas, Baton Rouge, and every other racial problem we have going on in this country right now. At this point it would be naive to refuse to recognize that there is still inequality and that there are issues inherent in the system. As a white guy, I have to come to grips with the fact that the system is weighted in my favor.

I read a piece on the Slate website that discusses how we could better address the race issue. (Click here to read.)

Saletan, in this article, describes a bait-and-switch situation into which we are all seemingly falling. Much like Stark and Captain America in the film, the general population is assuming that there are only two groups at play here. Yes, we would be amiss to not rightfully point out that there are tensions between blacks and whites but we also need to understand that the grand majority in both parties would much prefer a peaceful, fair, just solution to the problems at hand than more violence. There are also groups who claim membership on both sides who enjoy violence and want things to come to a head in a confrontation for the ages. Much like the agent of division in Civil War, these groups want to see someone destroyed and division is often the greatest weapon.

After the Dallas tragedy this weekend, I watched as people began pulling into groups, one side for and another side against the police. Can we all agree, that policemen, in general, are trying to do the right thing? And can we all admit that there are a worrying number of bad apples in the bunch who ruin the character of the whole, and that there are some rectifiable training and systemic issues that create problems?

But, on the other hand, can we also support peaceful protest for change while understanding that there are those seeking to cause trouble that can initiate violence on that side prompting action from law enforcement?

Basically, both sides contain real, breathing, feeling, dreaming human beings. We all make mistakes and can all make great strides toward making a better world for everyone. We can grieve for both sides at the loss of life. We can be angry with both sides at the problems we have all created over years of complacency. We can give support to both sides without compromising who we are as people, as believers, as God’s people who strive to heal this world.

I have also been warmed by the outpouring of love on the ground for those families who have lost loved ones this week. We should all watch for those opportunities to seek after healing, forgiveness, and, importantly, building a better world for tomorrow.

The ending of Civil War leaves the viewer with an uncomfortable tension. There is no resolution. Relationships are not healed in any meaningful way. Each individual now carries with them the memory of conflict, of felt betrayal. One character, though, extends an olive branch, giving a ray of hope to the broken Avengers. This olive branch is a cell phone, and the giver offers his help in a time of need. The phone isn’t used right then, but we’re left with a hope, however small, that healing is possible. I have to hold that same hope for America right now. The phone is sitting there waiting for someone to call, to ask forgiveness and start the process of healing, rebuilding. Maybe we’re not ready for that kind of honesty, yet. So we wait, fitfully, for that day.

How have you talked about this past week’s events with your family? Have your kids asked questions about why there’s so much violence? How have you responded? How do your children hear you discuss issues of race, violence, and conflict? Do they know which side you’ve chosen?

Take Five, or 48… just think before you post this weekend

I’m writing this from a lovely balcony of our favorite bed and breakfast (The Blue and Gray Bed and Breakfast in Marietta, GA) on a cool morning in July. A nice breeze is blowing, and there is a peace in nature here that makes life worth pressing through in order to experience. The taste of quiche florentine and walnut muffin still linger in my mouth with the tartness of my herbal tea, dancing fitfully between savory and sweet. Life is lovely.

Except for some people this morning, minds are drought with death, prying questions from children and tears. This morning has few answers, more frustration and some have taken to voicing their opinions online.

I, too, am tired of the violence and disunity in these United States so soon after celebrating our nation’s founding…

But, please, before posting contentious articles claiming this or that, pause to consider the implications of these tragedies. These are human beings, like ourselves. There are sons and daughters without daddies. There are wives and girlfriends coping with empty chairs at the dinner table. There are mothers and fathers who will have one less car in their driveway at Christmas this year.

Please mourn with those who mourn. Save your politicking for Monday morning. Make this a Sabbath of peace, of space to grieve, mourn and reflect so that our next discussion will have less raw emotion or words for which we must apologize.

Treat others as you would want to be treated. Consider the children. 

Faith, Trust, and Biting the Dust

One of my recent sticking points has been a focus on defining faith, for myself, as trust. Listening to the podcasts I listen to (“Unbelievable?,” etc,) gives me look into the way people view religion from outside the fold. Often, most people only hear faith outside a religious context in the realm of marriage. And remaining faithful is remaining true, trustworthy, to and of the promises made during the wedding ceremony.

I have also been noticing a large downhill slide in American society when it comes to trust. Philosophically, and scientifically, there has been a trend the last century or so of proving that nothing can be trusted, even our own thoughts and brains. I am not so certain why we as humans need so desperately to prove that trust as a social construct is naive at best and foolish at worst. The idea is so far removed from anything that could engender connectivity and, well, faith in humanity.

I have see this distrust manifesting itself politically and economically as well. Consider the current two party system where one is highly distrustful of large corporations and the other is highly distrustful of government. (And a smattering of smaller parties that are distrustful of both sides, plus corporations and government.) Watching each side tear down the other with all the ferocity of a ravenous bear certainly makes me question whether any side really has the right viewpoint.

But, maybe, this goes to illustrate a deeper point about the state of our world and what God is doing in it. Consider that having trust in another human will almost always lead to disappointment, one way or another, small or large. Being flawed beings, we take most chances to prove ourselves such by unintentionally, or otherwise, hurting our friends, family, acquaintances, constituents, customers, or congregants.

The Psalmist reminds us that: “Man, his days are like those of grass; he blooms like a flower of the field; a wind passes by and it is no more, […] But the Lord’s steadfast love is for all eternity toward those who fear Him…” (Psalm 103.15-17a)

While we as humans might fail, God continues to work in and through our fragile “clay pot” bodies in order to build the Kingdom. God’s plan may not be entirely visible, but He never fails and we can trust God no matter what. In some ways, this allows us to have some forgiveness for those who do not live up to the standard. On the other hand, we also can see where injustice and selfishness are rampant and work to bring them to and end.

How do you talk about trust and faith in your home? Do you focus on the person, or on the action, the injustice, the mistake itself? Do you give chances to repent and restore in your home when trust is broken? How do you work to rebuild trust when a mistake is made?