Friday, February 25, 2011

Can You Hear the Music?

Some can hear the music; others cannot. August Rush is an improbable, yet moving story of three musicians who acted under impulse and were separated in time and space by events and circumstances beyond their own choosing. Each in his own way could hear the music, one as a child prodigy.

Somehow each was drawn to the music of the other in a mystical way. In the end there is intimation of reunion.

I do not call myself a musician. Yet in my family of origin and in the family that my wife and I created, there are those who hear the music. Some are able to express that music creatively and movingly. Others of us, as my college roommate suggested, "play for our own amazement."

I am reminded of a different kind of music. Call it celestial music, if you will. It is the voice of God that flows ceaselessly from the galaxies, from the wind, and, in time, from the first cry of one's own flesh and blood. And in these last days, it flows from His Son.

Not all can hear the music. Some ferociously and vociferously reject it. Others seem mostly oblivious to it. But here and there, all across the globe and the sands of time, there are some who hear the call of the music. They are drawn irresistibly to it. And they find community with those who, like them, have heard its irresistible harmony and melody, and have embraced it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Stranger

A few years after I was born, my Dad met a stranger who was new to our small Texas town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around from then on.

As I grew up, I never questioned his place in my family. In my young mind, he had a special niche. My parents were complementary instructors: Mom taught me good from evil, and Dad taught me to obey. But the stranger...he was our storyteller. He would keep us spellbound for hours on end with adventures, mysteries and comedies.

If I wanted to know anything about politics, history or science, he always knew the answers about the past, understood the present and even seemed able to predict the future! He took my family to the first major league ball game. He made me laugh, and he made me cry.. The stranger never stopped talking, but Dad didn't seem to mind.

Sometimes, Mom would get up quietly while the rest of us were shushing each other to listen to what he had to say, and she would go to the kitchen for peace and quiet. (I wonder now if she ever prayed for the stranger to leave.)

Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions, but the stranger never felt obligated to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our home... not from us, our friends or any visitors. Our longtime visitor, however, got away with four-letter words that burned my ears and made my dad squirm and my mother blush. My Dad didn't permit the liberal use of alcohol. But the stranger encouraged us to try it on a regular basis. He made cigarettes look cool, cigars manly and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (much too freely!) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing.

I now know that my early concepts about relationships were influenced strongly by the stranger. Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents, yet he was seldom rebuked... and NEVER asked to leave.

More than fifty years have passed since the stranger moved in with our family. He has blended right in and is not nearly as fascinating as he was at first. Still, if you could walk into my parents' den today, you would still find him sitting over in his corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.

His name? .... we just call him 'TV.'
P. S. He has a wife now....we call her 'Computer…'

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

That Foolish Cow

The other day my wife and I were driving northward through the Flint Hills of Kansas from Cassoday toward Matfield Green on Highway 177. We have had an abundance of rain this spring. I commented that we would never see the pastures greener than they are right now. She agreed.

As we drove on, we spotted a cow grazing next to the fence. That cow was insane. She was straining to seize mouthfuls of grass through the fence! Behind her, meanwhile, were multiplied acres of the lushest prairie grass anywhere in the nation. But that wasn’t good enough for her. She had to push her boundary, because the grass beyond the fence was obviously superior to the grass behind her!

How much like that foolish cow many of us Americans have become. God has blessed us with more natural resources, more good weather, more food, more freedom, more wealth, than any almost any other nation.

And we understood the source of those blessings. They came from God. We stated in our Declaration of Independence that God and His blessings were self-evident – “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ....” Since 1789 we taxpayers have paid the salaries of Christian chaplains for the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives. In 1845 we believed in a “manifest destiny ... allotted by Providence.” We printed “In God We Trust” on our coins and our currency. John Jay, one of the framers of our Constitution, and the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, wrote, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” As late as June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower authorized the addition of the words “under God” to our national Pledge of Allegiance.

And yet, turning our back on God and his blessings we have become like that foolish cow, straining to get outside our boundaries. We have excommunicated God and His standards from our science, our public schools, our public buildings, and most of our public discourse (except when abusing His name for emphasis). We look outside our nation for morality, manufacturing, natural resources, food, financing, energy, and the interpretation of our own Constitution.

One begins to wonder if all the problems we are facing, from flooding, to inflation, to soaring energy costs, to dysfunctional homes and education, to high-priced energy, to a sea of public and private red ink, are not somehow connected to our excommunication of the Almighty.

As Isaiah said, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way ....” And then he recited the only known cure, “But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” May God help us to turn around and face Him, and acknowledge Him as the Source of all our blessings and as the Standard by which to exist as individuals and as a nation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Crisis in Heaven

It was unusually quiet up in heaven. Very few people could be seen walking along the golden city streets, and those who were appeared listless, their heads bent downward, now and then shaking as if in disbelief. Most of the people in that heavenly city were seated in gargantuan New Jerusalem Worship Stadium, an outdoor venue that seated millions. But there was no worship going on just now. Most of those in attendance were sitting there in shock, their eyes glued to one of the dozen massive Big-Screen TV monitors conveniently suspended in mid-air in front of the viewers in that section. Their eyes were riveted on the drama that was being beamed through fiber-optic signals from cameras down on earth.

They had watched in horror as a kangaroo court had just finished convicting God’s Son of high treason. They had accused him of blasphemy – of falsely claiming to be the Messiah – God’s Anointed King! The imposters! Of course He was God’s Anointed King! He had created the earth, the sun, the moon, the vast galaxies. And He had been born a descendant of Israeli King David. He was rightful heir to David’s throne and the King who was to reign as God’s Anointed One over the entire earth. God had anointed Him with His Spirit at His baptism in the waters of the Jordan River. Of course He was the Messiah! The only ones who were committing blasphemy were that infidel high priest Caiaphas and those stiff-necked, unbelieving, arrogant scribes and elders making up the Jewish Knesset! They were the ones who refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah! They were the blasphemers!

The crowd had stared in disbelief when the Knesset had convicted Jesus of the crime of being Who He Was! They had gasped when members of the Knesset had slapped Jesus and spat in his face.

It felt as though they were watching a horror movie. One of those movies when nothing that happens makes sense. One bad thing after another befalls the good guy – it seemed that bad was destined to happen regardless of whether it made sense or not.

Then the crowd watched the drama of Jesus’ mistrial before Pilate, the Roman governor. They overheard his private conversations with his wife Claudia. Somehow they could read his thoughts on the closed captioning text scrolling by on the bottom of the screen. They cheered each time Pilate declared Jesus innocent. But when the mob in Pilate’s court-yard black-mailed him with treason against Caesar if he let Jesus go, the crowd in heaven groaned. They could read Pilate’s thoughts. When the Roman soldiers began brutally flogging Jesus, many in the crowd assembled in the stadium began weeping uncontrollably.

When the Roman soldiers herded Jesus up the hill the vast assemblage in the stadium began to grow agitated. Most of the spectators had no idea what was coming next. But some did, and they hid their faces, not daring to look at the monitors. Many onlookers screamed when they watched the soldiers hammer nails into Jesus’ hands. “Can’t somebody stop this travesty?” a man pleaded. But no one stopped it. The crowd lapsed into silent shock, broken here and there by the quiet weeping of women spectators.

Outside the stadium, a contingent of 12 legions of special forces angels quietly made their way up Worship Boulevard, their heads bowed. The Boulevard took them directly to the massive temple. Silently the ethereal soldiers mounted the steps and respectfully entered the massive edifice. This was the Holy of Holies. With heads still bowed, they lined themselves up in twelve perfectly aligned divisions and bowed themselves down to the ground in front of the throne. Their commanding officer, the Archangel Michael, addressed the One sitting on the Throne. “Oh LORD God, creator of heaven and earth. We respectfully volunteer our services to descend at warp speed to Jerusalem and rescue Your Son, the Eternal Word of God, from those wretched humans. As you know, their troops are no match for the powers you have vested in us.”

But there was no response. Finally Michael lifted his head to ponder the face of the One sitting on the throne. He gasped audibly. He had never seen this before in all the millennia He had been serving in Heavenly Mount Zion. Tears were coursing down the face of the Most High! Time seemed to stand still. As Michael waited in respectful silence, he blinked. The Most High slowly rose from the throne, and with head bowed, he descended the stairs, turned and walked quietly out the back door of the temple. It began to grow noticeably darker.

The crowd in the stadium stirred uneasily. Something bad was happening. It was growing darker in heaven. This had never happened before. Distracted as they were, it took some time for them to notice that the same thing was happening on the monitors. It was growing darker and darker in Jerusalem also! What could it mean? And then they heard an awful, heart-rending scream from the figure on the center cross, “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” After what seemed an eternity, the viewers in heaven heard another cry from the center cross, “Father, I entrust my spirit into Your hands.” His head dropped to his chest, and in heaven it became pitch black for a few moments. Then a dim light emanated from the monitors in the stadium. The crowd watched in stunned silence as the dead Messiah was taken down from his cross and deposited in a tomb. How could the Messiah die? He was the alpha and the omega. At last he used to be. This wasn’t supposed to happen!

The angelic soldiers in the temple rose to their feet and gazed at the vacant throne, then at one another. Somehow, without a word being said, they sensed what was happening. There was not a dry eye among them. At a single command from Michael, they filed out of the temple division by division. It was too late now. They had no power over death. Why would the Almighty permit those wretched humans, for whom He seemed to have an irrational affection, to murder His one-and-only Son? They would never understand it.

Many in the Worship Stadium rose to their feet. Sobbing uncontrollably, they descended the stairs and made their way to the exits. But others remained transfixed in their seats. Call it morbid curiosity, but they felt compelled to watch. The monitors now had a split screen. The left half of the screen displayed the dead form of the Son of God. But the right half was now showing the disciples huddled in a spacious upstairs room in a home in Jerusalem. It didn’t take long to determine that these men were utterly depressed. Totally dispirited, their hopes had been absolutely crushed.

A clock now appeared on the upper right-hand corner of each monitor in the stadium. It displayed the month, the day, the hour, the minute, and the second down in Jerusalem. The crowd that remained in the stadium hunkered down to watch. Time dragged on. The followers of Jesus on the screens retired at night time, but none of those who remained in the stadium left their seats. Friday in Jerusalem had become Saturday, and now Saturday became Sunday. Now it was early Sunday morning. It was still hours before dawn in Jerusalem. Suddenly the monitors in New Jerusalem Worship Stadium erupted in light and color. There was no split-screen now. The only picture displayed now was the interior of the tomb. The figure in the crypt suddenly leaped to his feet. He was fully clothed, but not in his grave shroud. It still remained on the stone bench. The crowd watched in stunned silence as the Messiah bent over, picked up the head piece that had fallen to the floor of the crypt, folded it, and placed it on a nearby bench. As they watched, he strode through the dimness of the crypt and walked right through the stone that sealed the entrance, past the guards on duty and out into the night. Then He disappeared from view. The guards hadn’t seen a thing. But the crowd up in the stadium had!!!

Almost as one the crowd leaped to their to their feet also. The Messiah was alive! They began to shout and scream and high-five each other. What had been a dim light in heaven now erupted into the dazzling brightness to which they had always before been accustomed! They began to chant praises to the Power and Majesty and Honor and Glory of the Most High, and to the remarkable victory He had just accomplished over man’s greatest enemy, Death!

The tumultuous noise from the stadium shook heaven! Citizens of New Jerusalem came running back to the stadium. “What’s happened? What’s going on?”

“You missed it! You missed it! You missed the greatest come-back in history. He did it! He did it! You better hope there’s an instant-replay!”

Michael the archangel had a hunch! He had been watching the monitors, too! Now he flew down the stadium steps and out the Worship Boulevard exit. He sprinted up the Boulevard and, rather unceremoniously, up the stairs and into the Holy of Holies. Dazzling light now filled the temple, and, just as he had suspected, there sat the Almighty, back on his throne, all smiles. Michael ran up to the throne, started to deliver a high-five, then thought better of it. He dropped face down and began to worship the Most High for His glorious power and infinitely wise plans. “O Most High, You had me worried for a long while,” babbled Michael, “but You did it! You did it! You did it! I don’t know why You did all that, but You did it! Praise be to Your Holy name!”

Friday, January 25, 2008

Parenting Job Description

(If you had read this job description, would you have taken the job?)

Mom, Mommy, Mama, Ma
Dad, Daddy, Dada, Pa, Pop


Long term, team players needed, for challenging, permanent work in an often chaotic environment.
Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call.
Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities!
Travel expenses not reimbursed.
Extensive courier duties also required.


The rest of your life.
Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5.
Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly.
Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf.
Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers.
Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.
Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks.
Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next.
Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices.
Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.
Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product.
Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.


Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.


None required unfortunately.
On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.


Get this! You pay them!
Offering frequent raises and bonuses.
A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent.
When you die, you give them whatever is left.
The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.


While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered; this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth, unconditional love, and free hugs and kisses for life if you play your cards right.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Heading Home

A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. "I hate you!" she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives a flashy Lexus convertible. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she's ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides – her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the Lexus – she calls him "Boss" – teaches her a few things that men like. Since she's underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.

She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline "Have you seen this child?" But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup she wears, nobody would recognize her. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. "These days, we can't mess around," he growls, and before she knows it she's out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don't pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. "Sleeping" is the wrong word - a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she's hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she's piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

God, why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She's sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, "Dad, Mom, it's me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I'm catching a bus up your way, and it'll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you're not there, well, I guess I'll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada."

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn't she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. "Dad, I'm sorry. I know I was wrong. It's not your fault; it's all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?" She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn't apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams. She's forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City. Oh, God.

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, "Fifteen minutes, folks. That's all we have here." Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice. If they're there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They're all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads "Welcome home!"

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, "Dad, I'm sorry. I know …"
He throws his arms around her. "Welcome home, daughter!. You're just in time for the party. A banquet's waiting for you at home!"

Of all the stories Jesus told, none illustrates the heart of God better than this. God loves every sinner, and He is just dying for you to come back home!

(With apologies to the original, unknown author, whose story I have adapted.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007


"It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish."

- Mother Theresa