Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trials and Tribulations, Restorations and Resurrections

There's no place I can be
Since I've found Serenity
– Theme from Firefly

You may recall that I purchased a large, elaborate Victory Vision touring bike last year.  Because of its color and shape, I call it the Enterprise:

I have been, with a long lay-off, riding motorcycles for many, many years.  I started out more as a horseman, and I still love horses.  Horses will break your heart.  Not that that is a bad thing, it’s just a fact.  Bikes will break your bones and sometimes your heart, as I discovered in the ‘70s.  My cousin and life-long friend, Larry, talked me into going along to buy a motorcycle.  He wanted a Yamaha DT175.  We drove down the dealership on Porter Wagoner Boulevard.  They had two blue DT175s.  These were called “enduro” bikes, street-legal but dirt-oriented.  Now they call them “dual-sport” bikes, and they are a lot spiffier than those Yamaha dinner-buckets.  Anyway, Larry bought one and so did I. 

I got a job out of college and soon bought another Yamaha, an SR500 street bike, the big single, a thumper, tons of torque with modest top-end -- a throwback to the big Brit singles like the Royal and the BSA.  Both the SR500 and the DT175 I had bought new.  I was looking at the paper one day and saw a classified for a used Yamaha TY175.  The TY was an Observed Trials bike, and 175 was, for many, the preferred displacement.  These were really pure off-road machines, despite the head and tail lights.  They were designed to go over challenging obstacles – boulders, vertical or near-vertical outcroppings, climb mountains, ford streams -- all that stuff.  OT competitions were extreme before anyone was using the word extreme. 

I drove by after work to look at the bike being sold by a guy about my age.  The TY looked to be in pretty good shape and was at that time, 1977, only a couple of years old.  It didn’t look much different than this one:

Oh, wait, that is, in fact, the very same bike.  I rode the TY with great enjoyment for several years.  The DT ended up getting sold because I was desperate for money – wives and children are such a burden.  The SR was sadly wrecked, though I actually know where it is.  Hmmm.  Anyway, the TY got very hard to start, and I had little time or money to spend on it.  I fiddled with the carburetor, but I think the problem was probably somewhere in the breathing.  Rather than tear it down, I parked it in my parents’ barn with a promise to it to someday get back and get it going.

Years rolled on and I would see her sitting there in the barn from time to time, abandoned and forlorn, but very, very patient.  I moved a number of times, changed jobs, left the state, came back, and still she waited.

In 2008, my father passed away, my mother having gone on several years previous.  The old house where I was born and grew to adulthood along with the barns and outbuildings transferred to my older brother.  I went over a couple of weeks after Dad died to help clean out Mom’s attic and the barns, and there was the hopeless TY, pushed over on her side as if she were so much junk metal.  Like an archeologist collecting bones and pot shards, I loaded her in the back of my pickup and hauled her to a new barn where she could at least stand again upon the rotted tires that clung to her rims like hair on a mummy’s head. 

At first, she seemed to have regained her hope, but the demands of work, the constraints of time, tools and talent left both of us hesitant and unsure of the future.  I looked up parts on the internet, but the things I could do to restore her seemed rather a waste if I did not know that her finned heart would ever throb again with its rhythmic, keening song. 

Once more I loaded her in the truck and drove to the holy city to ask the advice of a high priest of cult.  He shook his head at the sight of her then, stepping across her spine, he tried the too-stiff crank.  Laying her back down, he offered no hope.   “I won’t take your money.” 

I returned her to the barn to stand again as but a marker, a shadow cast by a memory. 

Some time passed.  Each time I went to the post office, I passed a temple.  It was clearly a place of the dissenters, heretics, perhaps.  Normally, I would have shunned it, but the mute cries of the TY’s pitiable form stirred within me desperate visions.  I called and explained, offering great sacrifices just to begin, asking no promise of success.  These remote and rural covenanters can hardly be as delicate as their priestly brethren.  He accepted my offer, with manly honesty warning me the TY might end worse than she began, scattered and broken, even cannibalized.  It was a risk both she and I seemed to accept. 

The first report came in after about a month.  The challenge was great and the Watchers of the Blue Smoke would deign to look upon the TY but for a princely offering.  I hurried in with my sacrifice and the covenanter smiled upon it.  “The guardians of the ports will be pleased, I think,” he said encouragingly. 

The summer wore on, and I thought of the TY in her state of suspended animation.  I imagined her upon the hills, vibrating with life and rampant as she had once been.  It should be time, I thought, but no word came, and I was left to wonder. 

Finally, on September 14th, glorious day, the covenanter called to say the TY was ready to come home.  It was raining after a summer of drought.  It seemed so appropriate, a good omen.  I arrived at the temple, and there she stood.  I stepped across her, and the little heart screamed to life on the second kick, just like always.  

From a practical standpoint, the restoration was a stupid thing to do.  I could have bought a much newer and probably better bike for what I spent bringing the TY back to life.  It still has a couple of weak points – one being the bend in the exhaust where it meets the block.  Too much moisture for twenty-plus years just about had it rusted through.  They built it up some with a weld, but it’s still thin.  The other question is the oil injection system.  These bikes will run pre-mix, but Yamaha was at the forefront of an injector system with the separate oil reservoir.  I had it on the DT as well.  It’s a much better system, obviously, when it works.  My mechanic warned me that this one was sticking a little and might not give full flow, so I’ll run pre-mix as well was keeping oil in the tank until we see how it goes. 

The bike runs great.  I have been climbing hills and trying out some obstacles.  I jumped a landscaping berm I have along the fence.  My wife said that is not what those are for.  These bikes are geared low and slow and are great for beginners, so I look forward to getting the grandkids on it now and then.  I haven’t done much in the way of wheelies yet.  I’m still getting my balance back.  Maybe I’ll post some pictures if I get the hang of it again.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Test Anxiety

You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. -- Psalms 119:68

Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem, each stanza using the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet to begin each verse.  There is a tradition that says David wrote this Psalm as a means of teach his son Solomon the spiritual alphabet.  It is both the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Christian Bible, having, alone, more verses than some entire books.  The constraints of the structure -- though no doubt losing much in the translation to English, still manage to give Psalm 119 a unique timbre.  It is a prayer, like many of the Psalms, but -- like the Proverbs, its focus leans toward the inculcation of wisdom with the purpose of transformation. 

Like Micah chapter 6 and verse 8, the 68th verse of the Psalm manages to encapsulate a vast panorama of life and religion.  God is good.  He does good.  What He does is good.   This goodness in character and action can be realized by man – by His grace.  When Charles Spurgeon commented on this verse, he pointed out that God’s goodness is active and purposeful.  God means to transform us and even to perfect us.  The psalmist confirms our sense of this world as a place of instruction, development, and growth.    

Thinking about it in this way, we can understand that there is a choice to be made.  We can choose to be negative and resentful of tribulations and afflictions, or we can see them as signposts and lessons to move us in the right direction.   

Sometimes things get written up in Scripture that are purposefully indirect.  Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  We do not know what that might have been, though it is often speculated upon.  By being a little vague on the details, the Holy Spirit enables us to identify with the concept and accept our own humbling flaw – be it spiritual, physical, or psychological – as a thorn in the flesh as well.  We see how Paul dealt with his affliction – submission and acceptance after repeatedly asking in faith that he might have relief – and deal with our own problem the same way.

Elsewhere, we read:  And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas (Acts 16:6-8).   

I know that Paul and the other Apostles often heard from God fairly directly by dreams and visions, but I wonder about the means the Spirit used to direct these men to the particular town of Troas.  What happened such that, writing some years later, Luke could conclude that they had been “forbidden by the Holy Spirit”?  There is no mention here of a more direct revelation – though the vision known as the Macedonian Call is recorded in the very next verses.  Perhaps they were guided by impressions or maybe they just did not “feel right” about going a particular direction.  Maybe they received a prophetic word as Paul later heard from the prophet Agabus (Acts 21:10-11).

Any of those things are possible, but so too would be a course correction born of contrary circumstances, hostile encounters, physical hindrances, missed connections, or any other affliction that necessitated a change in direction.   For Paul and his traveling companions it meant going to Troas and across the straits to Europe rather than to Bithynia.  For us, it may mean a different job or career path than we had expected or a change in attitude or lifestyle. 

For most of us wisdom is not going to come from sitting comfortably in a comfortable room waiting for a nice dinner.  Transformation may happen in a cocoon but only after the caterpillar has consumed a lot of experiences and developed to the point where the cocoon can be created.  Right now God is teaching you and me His statutes.  All this crap that we are experiencing is infusing us with wisdom – if we are willing to receive it – and developing us to the point where metamorphoses can take place.  The grave is, of course, the ultimate (as best we know now) cocoon from which the butterfly may emerge in resplendent glory, but we have the potential for moving through stages within this life.  These transformations may not be objectively discernible or particularly radical.  That does not mean, though, that they are minor or insignificant.  When it comes to final exams, some of us probably just brushed up and reviewed while others crammed.  If you think about life’s final in the same way, a lot of stuff we see happening in and to ourselves and others might take on a different hue.         

The light of revelation does not illuminate all of the details in our path.  Its focus is upon the end -- perhaps it would be better to say that it originates from the end, splashing light back along our road home.  The shadows cast on this side of much that we encounter are deep and impenetrable, but the other side is well-lit.  The course is much easier to understand in the clarity of retrospection.  Sometimes, as we struggle with our shadows and mysteries, we must act with only a small lamp of faith in the darkness.   

God is good, always.  God does good, invariably.   We can pass this test.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Lights of Home

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge – Psalm 19:1-2

At night, the brightest light around is my own security light.  I had a switch installed on the pole when the Co-op put it up so I could turn it out because sometimes there is something I need more than security.  Sometimes it is important to study in the dark.  Sometimes I get my shaky, goofy little telescope out and peer at red Mars or the moons of Jupiter that Galileo saw or the rings of Saturn so far away.  So far away.

But last night I just looked up standing in the deep shadow of a pear tree to see the luminous spill of the Milky Way, countless burning atomic furnaces unified in an ethereal body to my dull vision.  The many dimensions flooded my consciousness in a flash as I transcended the flat sky illusion.  The nearby wanderers are there with the transfixed blinking beacons that have not moved perceptibly in a thousand lifetimes.  In ten thousand years a man may stand on that same worn spot and see the Plough and find true north. 

Who knows?  By then there may be no men.  There may be only whispering ghosts and ruins.  There may be spaceports and ringed, ringing satellites and levitating, talking dogs and wormholes to Arcturus and Buicks bound for Eden. 

Or there may be a white-haired man walking back to his cottage after a long day in the vineyard, his basket laden with clusters to be crushed, broken, and bottled who pauses in sight of his homely light and gazes upward at mirroring planets and misty fixed fires, who loses in a moment the illusion of a flat sky, whose consciousness is flooded with many dimensions, who hears a luminous and holy ghost spilling stillness and whispering of the Way who still loves the deep shade and studies in the dark.    

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Lord is in the Right

The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place. – Isaiah 9:10

This verse and its surrounding text is the basis for a book called The Harbinger by messianic rabbi Jonathan Cahn.  I skimmed through a copy of it, and by skimmed, I mean I read the actual information which comprises probably five pages out of a book of 150 pages or so.  To summarize, Cahn draws a parallel between the nation of Israel and the nation of America.  The quoted verse is not a statement of optimism or hope but of defiance of God.  This verse was quoted by then-Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle immediately after the 9/11 attacks, again by vice-presidential candidate John Edwards on the 9/11 anniversary in 2004, I think.  There are a number of other strange “coincidences” that Cahn documents – including the fact that debris from the falling towers uprooted a sycamore tree on grounds of a church near Ground Zero.  It happens to be the same church where George Washington took his oath of office in 1792.  There is also the somewhat disturbing revelation that the stock market crashes in September 2001 and September 2008 both occurred on a specific date in the Jewish calendar -- the seven-year debt cancellation anniversary called the shemitah.  Or something like that.  Note that I am not recommending this book, I am just acknowledging it.  

Anyway, this information is embedded in a fictional narrative about a prophet who dresses like Neo in The Matrix and a protagonist who turns out be a scribe on the order of Jeremiah’s Baruch.  I have no idea why Brother Cahn did that.  It’s a lagniappe I did not need.  I am pretty sure that America as a nation is not a new version of Israel.  The Israel of God is Christ and His Body and Bride upon the earth is the Church.  God still loves and cares for His Chosen People, and the modern nation of Israel is a sign and a witness to His grace and His mercies, which, as Lamentations remind us, are new every morning. 

God will warn any of us against self-destruction.  We have a critical mass of people in America and in Europe who have given themselves over to greed, selfishness, and materialism – not only in terms of consumption but as a philosophy of life.  The materialists are not limited to the declared atheists and agnostics but include many who would call themselves religious, even Christian.   Anyone who makes success in this world their goal is in danger of being deceived into believing that the derivative material world is the only reality. 

I agree with the writer of The Harbinger that the horrors and destruction wrought on September 11, 2001 were warnings we should have heeded.  This does not in any way minimize or mitigate the guilt of the Islamic demons that planned and carried out the attack.  They were not “doing the will” of God, and they will all rot in hell.  Nevertheless, I believe the attack succeeded only because America had broken down a hedge of protection through sin and the neglect and outright denial of truth.  In response, we should have, as a nation but especially as Christians, humbled ourselves before God. 

For a few days after those horrible events, we did fill the churches in this country.  We did pray.  We did ask why.  Still, from the very first moments, our thoughts were of defiance.  The terrorists, we said, were not going to be allowed to win.  They were not going to get us to change our habits, our lifestyle, our values ...
… except , except ... our values are empty.  Our lifestyles are corrupt and immoral.  Our habits are destructive. 

I am all for revenge.  I am too much Scots-Irish to think there’s anything a good feud can’t settle.  I can hold a grudge with the best of them.  While it is true that I have an explosive, hair-trigger – some would say, berserker, temper, I recognize the value of planning and not trying to fire from half-cock.  Self-assessment is essential to doing anything right.  You have to be able to step back and look at yourself in an objective, realistic way.  After 9/11, I do not think we did that as a nation.  I think we were just like “Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who [said] in pride and in arrogance of heart”, we will rebuild, we have plenty of resources, plenty of money, plenty of military might and firepower.  We can do whatever we need to do.  No one (and, by implication, not even God) can stop us.   

We did not see 9/11 as a warning – not in the nation, not in the Church.  We did not see the market crash in September 2008 as a warning.  We have continued down the path to destruction as a nation, and the Church is not calling people to repentance in a unified or consistent way. 

As far as politics go, neither candidate is willing to say the hard things America needs to hear.  A righteous nation would never have elected Bill Clinton as president.  We were long gone once my generation took over.  We have been defying and challenging God for many decades.  We mock Him daily.  Our gods are the state and our bellies, as Paul so aptly put it. 

As the election draws closer, it is clear that politicians are offering a false and misleading version of hope.  We have more than half the voters in this country who think that government is capable of “fixing things” – that’s across right, left, and middle.   Now, more than ever, it is critical that we have our hope focused beyond the White House, state houses, government, jobs, economic conditions, military power, education, and status.   Truth is not decided by a vote of the majority.  Hope begins and ends in Christ Alone.  There can be only One.  

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.  (Philippians 3:18-21)