Morning by Morning (9/11/17)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Joshua Stewart, a friend from ACU and friend from Southwest Central whom I appreciate and love watching grow into his marriage and fatherhood.  He’s a very good man.
  2. The compassion of my mother in law Belinda who will always jump to action to love on Ryan and Aiden (and Elana and I) when they are sick.  She is great and so sweet to them both.  We are blessed to have someone so close who will take good care of our sick boys.
  3. Barbara Brown Taylors book, An Altar in the World, which has been a very moving read in challenging me to see the life I experience with different eyes.  What a fantastic book!
  4. Balloons. They’re fun. Ryan loves them.  I love them!

Bread and Kindness From a Greek Stranger

Over the last couple weeks, I have been reading a book called the Kindness of Strangers, which appealed to me in title alone because of my fascination with travel and my personal emphasis on hospitality.

It didn’t take long to get quite interested in the book- stories of random children helping a stranger to a destination, a desert dweller guiding a lost traveler through Sub Saharan Africa, or a family hosting a unique traveler for dinner. These are the stories that my childhood dreams of travel and the world were built upon and drove me to live overseas for all but two weeks of a year and a half stretch in college.  And when I travelled, not just in Europe and Asia but also in the US, I have found strangers and people whose hospitality and kindness are worth treasuring. 

I remember the bartender at Luigi’s bar in Florence Italy who showed great kindness and hospitality as though he were my friend- Luigi was kind and nice and even though sometimes I was not a patron at his establishment he welcomed me with a drink and conversation to practice my Italian! I remember a family in Montana who let me stay around and get to know their local scene and let me be at home in their house.  I remember a kind Italian in Rome whose calming presence after a robbing attempt brought me equilibrium, peace, and reinstilled my love of people.  But my best story is one that I share with three friends:

I was a senior in college at Pepperdine and chose to fly out to Heidelberg Germany to see Emeshea and Cambry (two of my best friends) and Cambry’s lady friend at the time.  We traveled as a group from Heidelberg to Florence to Venice to Athens to Corinth to Thessalonika to Constantinople and back to Rome.  A glorious and fun trip it was! 

We did have a hiccup though- the weather was so awful that the train to Constantinople could not be continued on the day we had scheduled so we had to adjust.  We instead decided on what would be one of the best parts of our trip- a train over to a town of amazingly shaped mountains and cliffs that monks had built into.  It looked fun and even more fascinating.  But it was not a large train stop like Thessalonika or Florence, so Cambry, Emeshea, Alyssa and I did our best to get off at the right station but those stations were not exactly English friendly, and we did have some Greek skill through our Biblical Greek studies. We got off at a station we couldn’t pronounce and realized after much conversation, that we got off a couple stops early, but too far for a taxi.  It was 5pm, and the next train at this tiny station wasn’t till 8:30. Well, let’s find food we thought.  It wasn’t a bad idea considering the time.  But the town seemed 15 minutes of walking away and we were growing quite hungry.  When we arrived, there was not a soul in sight, no happenings in the town, no movement to speak of.  We walked around wondering if there would be a cafe or any place to get food, and after walking another 15 minutes, we felt dejected and a little worried about the ghost town we had seemingly stumbled upon.

 Just then as we decided to head back to the train station in the fast moving darkness, a elderly lady came out of a home like building and spoke in hand gestures and not so Biblical Greek to us.  Not quite sure what was going on, we could make out a gesture of hand to mouth as though she understood we were hungry, and we recognized a word in her language, artos, bread in Greek. We took her up on her offer and she beckoned us into a small wood floored area full of small tables, perhaps a small community gathering hall.  She then invited her daughter, who spoke some minimal English to help serve us.  She served incredible home baked bread, with honey and cheeses.  I was certain she was using the finest of what she had. They had none other than Xena Warrior Princess playing on the television, and the daughter, about 35 years old as we could tell, asked about our travels and how we had come here.  We are our fill, conversed as best we could for an hour or two, and knew we had to head back to the station.  We thanked our guests profusely in our Biblical Greek and they laughed at our poor but courageous attempts, but nevertheless I could see such joy on their faces. As we left, they have us a flyer for their town celebration the next night, a dance party, and extended an offer to us if we were down the monastic mountains in time.  We were very grateful, overwhelmed by the hospitality of strangers and the fun of communicating with limits of clarity but such depths of care and joy. That little night was the best of all the days and adventures of that trip, and remains one that I cherish.  The kindness of a stranger is what I can truly celebrate.

I am so grateful for the wonders of this world, many of which we don’t expect and come from such wonderful people who aren’t like us!

Morning by Morning (4/21/16)

My daily gratitude for:

  1. Glenn Harper, who I know from church.  He is a very good man and very loyal and devoted to those things he is passionate about, including his faith and commitment to the elderly at our church. I am blessed by him.
  2. Keyshon, a teen at church.  Keyshon brings an element to our church youth group that I wish others got to see.  He has a phenomenal sense of humor and is able to develop a relationship with everyone in the group, from laid back seniors in high school to nerdy junior high boys.  He is gifted in showing care and being supportive.
  3. The book I am currently reading, The Kindness of Strangers. I will blog about my own fun story of the kindness of a stranger to me (and my friends).

“The Man in the Rockefeller Suit”

No, that is not my title- oh that I wish it was.  But I cannot lie about it…but the book that carries that title, “The Man In The Rockefeller Suit,” portrays a man who not was willing to tell a lie like that, but essentially led a life of lies and deception.  The world is full of lies, and lies often drive our world.  But this?  This is indeed out of the ordinary.

Have you heard of the man, or the book of which I speak?  I am stunned by the story of German immigrant Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter turned San Marino California royalty Christopher Chichester turned Connecticut film director and English royalty Christopher Crowe turned New York securities banker and American royalty Clark Rockefeller turned world sailing millionaire Chip Smith.  That sentence alone says a lot, and it truly is an amazing story.  He came as a seventeen year old immigrant, and pretended his entire life in America to be have some royalty in his family and lots of wealth to his name, adding high and royal titles to his name from real life royal and wealthy families like Mountbatten and Chichester.  He conned people to believe that his family owned a giant cathedral that he wanted to move and bring from England to San Marino; he conned people that he was the producer of an Alfred Hitchcock film series; he conned people into believing that he was a part of the Rockefeller family and got entrance into all the private, exclusive, and outrageously expensive  clubs in New York and Boston and San Marino; he conned people into believing that he had a swanky art collection of classic artists worth many millions of dollars; he conned his wife into living off of her entire 3 million salary because his Rockefeller trust fund was tied up.  Yes, there is even more than is truly stunning and unbelievable.  But he was intelligent and very smart and all his lies had some kernel of truth (there was a Rockefeller with his name; there was an actress with the same name as his claimed mother’s name, etc…)  Honestly, my descriptions can do no justice to the shocking lies that he told, and all the b.s. that people bought without questioning.  He even used phony social security numbers in resumes to get into a managerial position selling securities, social security numbers that were tied to a serial killer in New York.  People never researched even small things, not even resume stuff that would have dead giveaways.  He lived an entire life without working but claiming to have royal and respected family bloodlines.  Truly amazing.  His downfall came when he kidnapped his only daughter whom he loved more than he ever thought he could.  He was convicted and imprisoned for five years for his kidnapping (the deceptions cannot be prosecuted because no matter what he did, he never stole or appeared in place of a real live person) and is due out in 2013.  Really you should read it and become entranced and stunned as I am.

All that being said, it makes me feel pretty good about the lies I have made in my life that I feel quite ashamed of.  As a freshman, I actually (I can’t believe I actually did this) told someone I was recruited as a tight end for USC (USC for heaven’s sakes!) football.  I told him a monster of a lie and followed through with it as I knew him that year.  I am quite ashamed of that.  I have made little white lies in conversation to try to impress others, like claiming I could some Japanese.  Now, there was a kernel of truth there- I had lived in Japan for a summer in college but really couldn’t speak much Japanese at all.  All to say I have lied and felt quite ashamed for it.  And certainly Rockefeller makes me think my lies are almost nothing.  But they aren’t.

Lies are a problem.  Deception is a problem.  I firmly believe that they are problems not simply because they are called sins.  Rather, I believe that we all are called to the image of God we are created with.  When we lie or deceive, we move away from that image.  As people created in the image of God, we are relational people.  In short, lies then are not problematic simply because they are wrong, but because lies keep us from fully investing ourselves in relationships.

Think about it.  When I lied to that guy about being recruited to play football to impress him, I wasn’t able to really forge a true relationship with him.  No matter how much we came close, there was still considerable distance from my end.  When we lie in little conversations, we aren’t able to get to know others very well.  Plus, consider the prodigious amount of effort it takes to keep telling the lie, keep covering the tracks and never make a slip up and letting others know my fraudulence.  We like to impress, but relationships grow from truth and freedom and vulnerability.  In lying, we block the vulnerabilities and imprison ourselves in our little lies and actually may not impress anybody in doing so.

Take this a step further in our relationship with God.  God wants a relationship where we are honest, genuine, accepting of who we are as frail human beings, and vulnerabilities that lead to trust.   When I lie to God and try to deceive him, I suppose I can impress him with my faithfulness or my righteousness or my obedience, when all he asks for is one who fears him, seeks justice and walks humbly with him.   Lies block our relationship with God not because lies are wrong, but because lies that we tell ourselves or others keep us from acknowledging who we are and who God is, and blocks the development of a beautiful, loving and freeing relationship.

This relationship is the stunning thing about Mr. Clark Rockefeller.  Even after he was found out and his fraud shown, he refused to break character and seek any meaningful relationships with anyone.  The relationship that brings relief and peace didn’t mean anything- rather his lie meant more.  And also, the relationship thing did betray him.  The reason it all came crashing down on him was because he did find someone to truly love and truly invest in- his little daughter.  In that relationship, the deception could not mesh with the vulnerability needed, and it cost him.

Go read the book.  And keep thinking about the lies and deception we tell. I pray that you can seek the relationship that frees us from the need to tell lies, the relationship with Jesus the Messiah.

“Bullfighting”

I just now finished another book (number 5 since the beginning of December) by Roddy Doyle, an Irishman, called “Bullfighting.”  Quite a good read with plenty of laughs, and also plenty of poignant character moments.

As a collection of short stories, they cover men (Irish men and their families) and middle age and loss in some shape and fashion.  The loss part is interesting because of the scope of loss- loss of good health, loss of a warm relationship with a spouse, loss of independence, the loss of innocence, the loss of children moving out, the loss of a child’s perfect health, the loss of pets, and the loss of a marriage (lost communication, lost warmth, lost words, lost love…).  Loss has so many forms, some powerfully captivating and others so funny.  As a chaplain, I loved reading through the levels of loss and the tolls they take emotionally.  It is always important to be reminded of how the small things may mean so much to us as we recognize and come to grip with a loss: the telling of jokes, the peace of someone sleeping, the father caught catching poop from his lad’s diaper (nappy for the Irish) so it avoids a pristine wood floor!  Little things matter.

The short stories were a keen reminder to be attentive to all that is going on, to treasure the small things, show my gratitude for them, and try to be aware of their impact on me.  That attentiveness will help me as a chaplain, but it will help me and all of us in our relationships with anyone, helping us to recognize what others value and love and care for.  Like watching my dad and realizing how much a smile means to him and how distant he may feel, even though he doesn’t or may not be able to communicate it, when he can’t get that smile and laugh out of his wife or children or friends.

It is so intriguing just how much life and loss affect us all.