A walk to remember

One of our children is going through intensely difficult anxiety and depression. Each day seems like a battle to keep suicidal thoughts at bay. A few days ago, we went on a walk together near our house, accompanied by one of our dogs.

It was in the evening when the temperature was lower, and there was a bit of a breeze. We had intended to ride bikes but one of the bikes had a flat tire and I couldn’t fix it. So one of us rode a bike with the dog on a leash and one of us walked.

Walking is a good form of exercise, and I need to do it more regularly. Physical exercise is good for combatting anxiety and depression as well. We didn’t go very far, but as I was walking along a busy road next to a swampy area, I happened to notice a wild iris in bloom.

Isn’t it beautiful? I realize wild irises aren’t particularly rare, but they usually can’t be found in areas that are very accessible. This is the first one I’ve ever seen in my area. Seeing it made this a walk to remember.

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:27 NIV)

An update on Fall planning

The picture of what is ahead for Fall at my institution is gradually becoming less opaque. As noted before, I am not a fan of a “we’ll all be together again” spin on what is to come.

The fact is that there is even more hard work ahead this summer than previously realized, and with even less payout, perhaps, for the Fall on campus experience. And even with the positive spin on Fall plans, I learned yesterday that enrollment numbers for incoming freshmen are much lower than planned. If my quick, back of hand calculations are anywhere near accurate, this represents millions of dollars in lost revenue just for the next academic year.

It is quite sobering and disheartening.

Equally disheartening is when I hear that incoming and returning students are saying how much they are looking forward to “being together again” when the reality once they get to campus will be starkly different. I think a good portion of students will be in for a rude awakening.

In the meantime, we are scrambling to figure out classroom space. It is again sobering to realize that in the Fall, a lecture hall normally seating ~150 people will only be able to have 30 people. Library group study rooms are now too small to allow their use at all.

Also, a significant minority of our students, as well as some faculty, will not be on campus at all due to health concerns or socioeconomic factors. This will especially be true for international students. Again, it is hard for me to see how all of the work to enable “being together again” is worthwhile when we most definitely will not “be all together again.”

When I articulated this jaundiced view to someone else the other day, they sensibly asked, “Well, what is the alternative?” Honestly, I am not sure. But the near future does not look good on many levels.

The problem

Since the day the person currently occupying the White House was elected, the following thought has kept coming to me, over and over again.

The problem is not the person in office; the problem is the millions of people who put him there and who continue to support him.

The part that really gets to me the most, though, is that the most dedicated base of support apparently comes from white, evangelical Christians. For shame.

Yes, I pray for and about him, but I pray especially for and about his followers. May God sovereignly move in their hearts and minds, as I hope he will in mine. He has done it before and He can do it again.

I believe God is in control.

Jesus wept

Jesus wept (John 11:35 KJV).

Known as the shortest one in the Bible, this verse has stuck with me all my life.

Lately I have wept a lot, too. I’m learning how good it is to do so, even if the reasons for this emotion are mostly negative.

We all have troubles, although many face greater troubles than I ever will. Weeping is a release and an expression of a softened heart. It is a God given way to help us heal or at least, to be able to get through deep difficulties. And we are going through very deep difficulties.

Another verse that always comforts me is Revelation 21:4 (NLT): He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

Numbness and inertia

Two words that come close to describing my state of being lately are numbness and inertia.

It is like I am infected with some sort of drug that makes it hard for me to feel, and hard for me to do. Intellectually I see these things and am aware that there is a problem, but physically and actually, I don’t seem to be able to move beyond it.

There are many reasons for this state, some that long predate the coronavirus lockdown, but I think the lockdown itself has exacerbated it. Many people talk or write about feeling a lack of productivity while at the same time, urging us to be kind to ourselves, to release our concerns and just try to do our best each day and be satisfied with that.

I suspect there are hundreds of thousands of people who are experiencing something similar. There is a collective and sometimes palpable sense of trying to come up for air. This, as wave after wave of difficult news, difficult relationships, difficult health problems, difficult financial burdens, difficult moral and ethical situations repeatedly crash over us and attempt to drag us backward into a deadly, suffocating embrace.

It is a hard time, and it is oh so easy to lose hope. The book of Psalms is written for times and situations like this. Just one example is Psalm 42:11 (NIV):

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Or how about this passage from Isaiah 40:31 (NIV), which is famously featured in my favorite film, Chariots of Fire:

But those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

I believe these things and hang on to them with every fiber of my being. But some days, honestly, I struggle to see them as more than platitudes.

One of the reasons I started this new blog is to introduce a daily discipline of achieving something small. This accomplishment can in turn perhaps spark something more in my own daily walk. Maybe it can serve as a very small catalyst, too, for someone else.

I hope so.

Songs in the brain

The power of music and song is amazing. There are songs and types of music I heard a lot during my growing up years that instantly recall specific times and places. These are songs in the brain, just like snapshots.

Examples:

  • Pretty much anything by John Denver
  • Roy Clark singing “The Green, Green Grass of Home”
  • Olivia Newton John
  • Debbie Boone singing “You Light Up My Life,” which I must have heard a 1,000 times on the radio while delivering newspapers in the early morning
  • Songs sung by Connie Francis, such as “Where the Boys Are,” “Who’s Sorry Now?,” and “Stupid Cupid” (a bit odd because these songs were popular before I was born, but my parents had some cassette tapes of hers that I listened to)
  • “Come On-A My House” sung by Rosemary Clooney, such a weird song when you think about it, but also on old cassette tapes my parents had
  • Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass (permanently imprinted in my brain due to listening to them on 8-track tape, repeatedly, during long road trips in a motorhome)
  • Dolly Parton, especially “Coat of Many Colors”
  • Johnny Cash, e.g. “A Boy Named Sue”
  • Merle Haggard, especially “Okie from Muskogee” and “Mama Cried”
  • Simon and Garfunkel, with the “Sound of Silence” in particular stuck in my memory, as well as “Mrs. Robinson”
  • Glenn Campbell singing “Rhinestone Cowboy”
  • There wasn’t a lot of Christian music we listened to, really, except for music by Evie
  • Oh, and the theme from the Pink Panther movies…unforgettable
  • Nat King Cole — of course, “The Christmas Song”
  • “(How Much Is that) Doggie in the Window”
  • Elvis Presley, especially “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (I’ll never forget hearing of his death on the radio, again, in the early morning while delivering newspapers)

It’s an eclectic mix of genres, artists, and styles, which is consonant with a rather eclectic childhood. And it’s remarkable given the strictures placed on us by the Christian tradition in which I grew up, one in which popular culture was seen as inherently bad/evil and TV, movies, and even radio were technically verboten.

America doesn’t get a vote in the matter

As the United States convulses at the murder of yet another black person, my thoughts return to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times (“Ahmaud Arbery and the America That Doesn’t Exist”), written in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year.

Written by theology professor and minister, Dr. Esau McCaulley, the piece is a searing condemnation of a country built on the foundation of slavery and oppression. I strongly encourage others to read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts I find particularly powerful (emphases mine):

Black folks need more than a trial and a verdict. Our problems are deeper, rooted not in the details of a particular case, but in distrust of the system charged with protecting us and punishing those who do us harm. This cynicism is well earned, arising out of repeated disappointments. To begin to heal this distrust we need this country to take responsibility for its devaluation of blackness and its complicity in violence against black bodies.

There is no bigger rebellion or miracle in the history of these United States than that of the black Christians who saw in the very book used to justify their oppression a testimony to a God who disagreed. There is no greater audacity than their use of that Bible to construct, almost from scratch, a Christian anthropology that demanded a recognition of black worth. That struggle continues.

In the end, the question is not whether this country will finally fully value black lives. America doesn’t get a vote in the matter. It lacks the competence. The question is whether this country will continue to find itself in the dangerous place of having policies, customs and laws that oppose the will of God.

My work, as a minister of the gospel, is not to fix America, but to remind it of what it is not. It is not the kingdom of God, our great hope. Indeed, far too often God has looked upon us and our notions of justice and found America wanting.

I remember, too, the biblical case for lament, although that is not the only thing needed at this time. We need action, too. Lord, help us.

Yeah, I’m worn

I have often thought about the lyrics of the following song, performed by Tenth Avenue North, because they express how I so frequently feel. That is true today as well. Yeah, I’m worn, and my heart is heavy — heavy for so many people. Heavy for ongoing injustices especially against people of color; heavy for those suffering incredible, daily pain in their bodies; heavy for those suffering mental, emotional, financial, and relational anguish; heavy for the millions in my country who are so politically deceived that they can no longer tell right from wrong.

I’m tired, I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn

Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

Anecdotes about The Princess Bride

Many people will agree with me that the movie, The Princess Bride, is a classic. Although not my all time favorite (that honor goes to Chariots of Fire), it is probably within the top five of my favorite films. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve watched it.

Last night I discovered the following interview of Cary Elwes, who talks through many anecdotes from his time as part of the making of the movie. It is enjoyable to watch.