09.24.2021 – Tell Me the Story…

Grandkids love to hear their grandparents tell stories, especially stories from when their moms and dads were young.  Among the currently most popular stories for our grandkids is the long-ago story of finding a scorpion in their mommy’s sleeping bag. I come across more heroic than I may deserve, but I did, in fact, wallop the poor arachnid with my shoe and flush the carcass down the toilet. Papa saved the day!

Good stories well told nurture the imagination, widen horizons, and, especially family stories, tell us who we are.  Stories are important and telling them is one of a grandparent’s most important jobs.

Stories tell us who we are.  A nation’s story tells its people what it means to be a citizen of that nation.  One of the marks of the present age is the scarcity of common stories and disagreement as to what the few remaining stories are meant to teach us.  Are our nation’s founder heroes or are they scoundrels? Are the better angels of our nature really villains in disguise?

A couple of days ago, Becky came across a wonderful article, a story, in the Christian Science Monitor. “What does it mean to be American? How 9/11 changed one Queens family” tells the story of September 11, 2001, through the eyes of a four-generation family in New York, beginning with the 102-year-old World War II veteran father. It is a well-told story and succeeds well in answering its own question. It is a story worth reading.

Maybe not so much worth reading or hearing is the story that seems to have held the nation’s short attention span this week; the story of Gabby and Brian, the young couple who set off on a cross-country road trip. They intended to chronicle their expedition with frequent posts on social media and by means of YouTube uploads. Apparently, they garnered a variety of vicarious vacationers who followed their every step. But now their once-vacuous story is the story of a murder and a disappearance, young love gone tragically wrong, and much speculation about what “really happened.”

To be sure, the story is heart-breaking for the families of the couple and for those who may be in a small circle of friends, and I mean no disrespect to them in their grief and confusion.

But what does the story of this sad story tell us about who we are? Nothing good, I think. Why are we so taken by it? Maybe this sorry and seedy little story distracts us from wondering what we are to do with the stories coming from our southern border. Our fascination with the tragedy of young love gone wrong may keep us from deciding what it means to love the stranger suddenly in our midst. Speculating about what “really happened” allows us to put off any serious thought about the very real consequences of living in a time of cultural decay.

The stories we tell and the stories we hear matter.  The Psalmists instruct the sons and daughters of Abraham to tell their children stories of deliverance and blessing, and of disobedience and punishment (Psalm 78, for instance). The followers of Jesus are to tell the stories of Jesus and his love, of a cross and an empty tomb.  They are to tell again the stories Jesus told, stories of lost sons welcomed home and kind strangers on dangerous roads.

It’s hard to avoid the story of Gabby and Brian.  It will take intent and discipline to find the stories of Moses and Pharoah, Ruth and Boaz, David and Goliath, the cross and an empty tomb, a lost son or a kind stranger.  Those are the stories we must tell and hear.  Along with the story of the day Papa smashed the scorpion in Mommy’s sleeping bag.

09.17.2021 – Upon Entering the “By Reason of Strength” Years

We will be heading to the shore of Lake Michigan today as at least some of our family will gather for a long weekend to celebrate my seventieth birthday, Monday being the actual day.

More than any other, this feels like a milestone birthday.  According to Psalm 90 (printed in full below), traditionally held to be a prayer of Moses, seventy years are what we might expect of life, perhaps eighty “by reason of strength.”  Improvement in medicine, nutrition, and technology may have nudged the scale slightly, but Moses’ truth still holds.

With the great day approaching, I have read, reread, and meditated on Psalm 90 each day for the past couple of weeks.  John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon were helpful guides as I made my way slowly through Moses’ words.  It has been a rewarding experience. Continue reading

09.10.2021 – 9/11: How Shall We Remember?

We will remember September 11, 2001, and we should.  From thoughtful analysis to social media memes, we are being reminded to remember that day twenty years ago tomorrow.  Young adults will remember their parents’ reactions to something awful and those of us middle age and older will recall exactly where we were when we first heard the news. The memories will be somber.

How will we remember 9/11 and what should we remember about it?

The President’s speech writers were already preparing for a remembrance that would no doubt honor victims and first responders, but which would also be a celebrative occasion for scoring political points.  We assume all first drafts have been shredded.

Among the things I will remember is a community service that same Tuesday evening in September when the pastors and the people of the churches and the town in Beaver, Pennsylvania, gathered for a hastily planned but profoundly moving time of prayers and hymns.  I remember how, having been in front of our television sets all day, we were hesitant to leave the company of friends and strangers. Long after the final benediction, people lingered in hushed conversation on the sidewalks outside the host church. No one wanted to go home.

Three years ago, one of the members of our pastors’ group in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, wondered if we should start planning a service to commemorate the Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11.  Back in 2001, they, too, had called the community together for a service of prayer and hymns.  But as we talked, it seemed as if we mostly wanted to celebrate the last time the church had anything to say to its community.  I am no longer in Langhorne or a part of that group, but it looks as if there will be no event. That is probably a good thing. Continue reading

09.03.2021 – On Knowing When to Hold ‘Em

I don’t play cards much, though just this past week we got out the old UNO deck when our granddaughters spent the day with us.

I don’t play cards much, but I know cards teach us about life.  We learn to keep our cards close to the vest and that we must play the hand we were dealt. We should be on the watch for the person with an ace up the sleeve. We’ve got to be ready for a wildcard and aware that no matter how well we’re doing someone may play the (little t) trump card and end the game.

And, as Kenny Rogers taught us, we got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away.

The granddaughters got the basics of UNO pretty quickly but are still learning the best strategy for when to play the wild Draw Four card.  You don’t want to hold it too long, but neither do you want to use it too soon. Continue reading

08.27.2021 – Our Interest in Afghanistan

This piece was written prior to yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Kabal, but has not been altered in response to them. 

Last Friday President Biden addressed the nation regarding the situation in Afghanistan as the United States ends its 20-year mission there.  A thousand wiser minds, along with some others, have commented on what the president had to say. I will leave the punditry and the politics to them.

Something the President said, though, has had me thinking all week.  About halfway through his remarks, Mr. Biden said, “Look, let’s put this thing in perspective here. What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with Al Qaeda gone?”

The “what interest do we have?” question is rhetorical.  The President believes we no longer have an interest in Afghanistan.

To paraphrase one of the President’s predecessors, however, it may depend on what the meaning of “interest” is. Continue reading