Feedback

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A very brief one tonight.  Nothing on the Superbowl.  Except this:

Ha!

Okay, only that one thing on the Superbowl.  And this:

That was the gutsiest call I’ve ever seen in a Superbowl.

Nothing else.


Today, I got feedback.  Sometimes feedback is the best.  I try to affirm people because I believe words have power.  Motivation through criticism over the long haul bears bad fruit (just as guilt and shame do, in the long term), and as a coach, a mentor, a teacher, a preacher, and as a dad, I’m interested in lifetime impact, not short-term results.  I have moments when I lose sight of this, but I try to carry this view front and center in all my roles.

Today, the mom of a great athlete gave me feedback on my coaching.  I could have cried.  First, her child told her everything I said, exactly what I said.  That means the words sank in.  That means it’s working.

Second, this young person accurately grasped and repeated that I was affirming something I saw in the person’s character, not merely athletic ability.  Athletic ability is nice.  It’s a gift.  It’s fun and a little like being good-looking (I’ve heard): you can be all proud of it if you want, but you didn’t do it for yourself nor do anything to earn it.  You just won that cosmic lottery.  Maybe.*

Character, on the other hand, is the long term fruit.  Character matters.  “Character and competency,” as my friend Erik likes to say.  When I get to see a kid’s character coming out on the field or the court, that’s huge.  That matters more than throws and catches or shots and steals.  I still believe sports can build strong, godly character.  I’ve seen it happen.  I’m seeing it happen.

So that’s what I got to recognize and affirm: character growth, the kind I know will transfer over into other areas of life.

Here’s what I also got in the deal: I learned this great athlete is very sensitive to criticism.  I had no idea.  I didn’t find out because I’d screwed up (for once! Yay!), but because I did it right, congruent with my own values, and through our conversation, the mom let me know this and how much her athlete appreciates my positive approach.

I also don’t like criticism.  Yes, I know, sometimes it’s necessary, and if you can’t take criticism, etc, etc.  I’ve heard.  I also know that I hear one criticism louder than 5 10 a bunch of affirmations.  Bummer, I know, but that’s my stuff and I live with it.  I didn’t know this young person felt the same way.*  I’m not that insightful…or maybe my intuition actually works.  Possibly.

Here’s my conclusion: in retrospect, I’m going to say the moment when I thought, “I should make a point of going over and looking that kid in the eye and saying this” was a nudge from God.  It didn’t feel like divine intervention, just one of those impulses that I acted on because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Maybe those are the same thing.

But I will tell you this: that nudge will be easier to act on next time because of the feedback.

Maybe that’s exactly how faith works.

 

*How you choose to develop your athletic ability–or not–and how you use it, these are very much character questions.

**You’re going to ask, “Isn’t everyone sensitive to criticism.”  No. Not in the same way.  Some people are very thick-skinned.  Some people simply don’t care what you think.  And some people will pay no attention to affirmation at all and will only listen to critique.  It’s a weird world.

Two Views on Social Media, Part 2

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This second view on social media is a guest post by Paul Brown, a best friend of mine since elementary school days.  Paul’s views are, unapologetically, his own.


There is a portion of the population who are completely entrenched. There is always that portion regardless of whether you are talking about the President or science or religion or economics or whatever. A small fraction exists on either side that is totally intractable.  Realizing that and realizing that I am in fact powerless to influence those people has helped me quite a bit in keeping my peace of mind and in withdrawing substantially from social media. We are powerless because THEY, Those intractable people, must first WANT to find the truth. Until they do none of the methods people use to communicate can persuade them because they believe they already have the truth.

I have come to the conclusion that these people are not the targets for those wanting to reach out and change minds. The targets are the ones outside that group.  They are a much larger demographic with which we may have some success, though not without much work.

There are quite literally millions of people that ARE potentially reachable. To concentrate on the much smaller unreachable, intractable group is to invite failure, depression, anxiety and cynicism, just as concentrating on the news gives people a false impression that there has been a massive deterioration of the world’s moral character and that we are in constant peril.

At this point I want to address cynicism. I can come off like a cynic, and of course I am cynical in some respects. But I am not nearly as cynical as I appear to be. No matter my rhetoric, I still cannot stop believing in people, even though I want to quite often. The way I live my life is not great by Christian standards, but everything I do and believe is based on treating people well and that good systems of government, social programs, healthcare etc., will work if given the opportunity. And all of that relies on enough people doing the right thing if they understand the issues involved.

 

What I think has damaged so many people recently is that those who want not to be cynical or want to be optimistic have seen a whole bunch of walls crash down during this last election. Even many pessimists like myself never really believed that this large of a percentage of our friends, relatives and neighbors could or would gleefully abandon almost every moral tenant they not only claim to have held, but that they have also used to judge others for decades. I think this has been a much harder blow to optimists. It was pretty damaging to me, and I already had a dark view. Unfortunately it lends some credence to the belief that optimists often blind themselves to reality and that recognizing reality for what it is, is not actually cynicism, a belief I contend is valid. And I do realize that is a tough and fine line to walk.

 

Back to social media. Here is one of the things social media has done to us.  I think if most of us were in a crowd, or at a kids football game or an amusement park and we heard someone espousing stupid sounding political bullshit (not bullying someone with it or attacking a person) we would just simply be pissed but ignore it.  Probably move away so we wouldn’t have to listen to it. How many people would chime in or confront those people? But on social media not only do we feel empowered to comment on anything all the time, but we have actually been conditioned that if we don’t address it we are complicit. As if everything that is said is now our responsibility to correct to our own viewpoint. I maintain that these differences in viewpoints have always been there, we are just now much more aware of them because of social media and 24-hour news saturation, and having become aware of them, they are now a matter of emergency action when in reality they have always been there. And this detracts from the real enemy, which is the attack on truth across the board and the control of all aspects of the country and it’s systems by powerful, wealthy interests.

What social media has revealed about people’s hearts is really hard to deal with, though. It shows how easy it is to deceive people, even the ones you interact with on a regular basis or think you know well. The platform and the seemingly all-consuming need to use it to comment on everything has exposed people’s dark interior and there is no denying it now.  There are however still far more people that are simply deceived by the information they have. At least that is my belief. President Trump didn’t win the election because of his core, he won it because many people didn’t vote because they were truly disgusted with the choices and because some were so disgusted with Hillary Clinton that they were willing to vote for what they considered the lesser of evils. (And because people have been conditioned to two parties for too long.) Many of those people are uncomfortable with what has been going on.  I think it’s obvious, though, that the Democrats are also so corrupt and out of touch that they may ruin their possibility for gains in congress. They clearly have learned nothing from the HC debacle and are turning the screws on independents and moderates rather than attempting to reach out and embrace them.  They (Democratic leadership) are attacking everything instead of offering solutions that perhaps independents or moderate Republicans could get on board with.  They are not taking the high road but the low road.  They are doing exactly what they condemned Republicans for doing with Pres. Obama. Which rightfully stokes the fears of Republicans and gives validity to their claims of massive Democratic corruption.

 

All of this to say, because we are given a voice on social media doesn’t always mean that is the best place to use it. Picking and choosing battles is important too. While social media may have started as a way for grassroots activism to work more quickly, I believe that time has passed.  Social media is every bit as powerful as regular media or more so and is now part of the same system that is causing most of the trouble in the world. (BTW, I am not talking about the media system, I am referring to the whole corrupt thing) It is beginning to become like The One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings: can you use the devices of the enemy for good? Maybe, but even if it doesn’t subvert you it will likely destroy you in the process.

Sharing Jesus–Manuscript

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[Note: I underline Scripture in my manuscripts to make certain I read it word for word. I’ve left it underlined below to avoid confusion, since I’m reading through all of John 6]



I posted this comic this week in a Far Side group. For those of you who don’t recognize it, who were born like last year, this is a comic strip called The Far Side. I see two schools of thought on interpretation here. First, people running amok in the world are an accident. We were supposed to stay in a bottle in God’s chemistry set, but God bumped us with an elbow, knocked us off, and the rest is history. The second is God intended to set us loose, but wasn’t actually finished fine tuning us yet, which would also explain a lot. I understand this is not 100% theologically accurate with the Genesis account of Creation. But it is funny. If it isn’t funny to you, um…

 

We’re starting a series today on Sharing Jesus. I want to tell you this is not a series on evangelism, but it is…but it isn’t. Evangelism is sharing Jesus, but Sharing Jesus is greater than evangelism.

So people think

Evangelism=Sharing Jesus,

but

Sharing Jesus>Evangelism

or


If Sharing Jesus and Evangelism are concentric circles, evangelism is the small circle within sharing Jesus.

 

 

We’re doing a series on Sharing Jesus, the Big Circle. We’ll address evangelism in several ways, but I’m hoping we’ll understand it as part of the larger, more expansive view, the Life of Sharing Jesus.

Okay, if that’s not enough Big Picture for you, I’ll do one more. There are different ways to conceptualize, to picture what all of Life is about. One is to say “All of Life is Worshiping God.” And that’s true. We don’t just have an hour and half of worship on Sunday morning; we followers of Jesus worship God with our whole lives, every minute. That’s our calling and we’re learning to make every aspect of our lives worship. Another perspective is that all of Life is discipleship to Jesus. Life on earth, for us, is learning to follow Jesus, every minute of every day (plus every night, in my case), so we can conceptualize Life as discipleship, learning to live the calling, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” There are strengths and weaknesses to each view. I would say each is true, and useful to think about to help us to grasp that there is no life apart from God; we’re not part-time followers of Jesus. Jesus is our life. C.S. Lewis writes:

“What cannot be admitted–what must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy–is the idea of something that is ‘our own,’ some area in which we are to be ‘out of school,’ on which God has no claim… When we try to keep within us an area of our own, we try to keep an area of death…”

(As always, when I quote C.S. Lewis I’m tempted to read the entire book or essay to you, but I won’t. Read “A Slip of the Tongue” in The Weight of Glory. Please.)

So if you want to understand what this series is about, “Sharing Jesus” is another way to understand that Jesus is our whole lives and must be our whole lives. Imperfectly, of course, because that’s us, and grace abounds, but this is always our intention. Our lives are to be Sharing Jesus, sharing in Jesus, sharing Jesus with one another as community, sharing Jesus with our world, those who don’t know Jesus and those who know Jesus.

Reading from John 6:

6 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

This is one dividing line for people who do and don’t believe in Jesus: do you believe that God literally made more bread and fish, that Jesus multiplied the food so that there was enough for everyone or is this more of a symbolic “multiplication,” in which people shared uncharacteristically because they were inspired by Jesus’ example to be generous? In other words, do you believe in miracles or do you not? Do you prefer to explain events in other ways? Personally, I think John wrote it this way to prevent other explanations. We know how many fish and how many loaves they started with and John says specifically, “So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets” Five barley loaves, whole, don’t fill twelve baskets. John doesn’t say, “and from what everyone pitched in, there were twelve baskets left.” No. From the five barley loaves, all five thousand people ate their fill, and twelve baskets of bread were left over. Likewise the two fish went around: “So also the fish, as much as they wanted.”

Then disciples got into a boat to cross the Sea of Capernaum and Jesus walked on the water. Lots of sermons in that, but I’m not focusing there today except to say that’s how they got across the water. Only the folks in the boat saw Jesus do this, and I don’t think you’d forget it if you were there and saw it with your own eyes. Miracles.

The Bread from Heaven. 

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Just to summarize, those people who enjoyed that miraculous feast come looking for Jesus, which is understandable to me. Jesus says, “you’re looking for me because you liked that feeling of having a full tummy, not because you saw a miracle, an act of God. Don’t put your energy into just getting food that will eventually go bad; pour yourself into getting the food that will last forever, the food only I can give you.” The people kind of miss the point and ask, “So what works of God, what actions of ours to obey God’s Law, do we gotta do? What will qualify as the right obedience on our part?”

Jesus says, “Believe in the one God sent. That’s the work of God which will give you life.”

Then the people are like, “Well, what sign are you going to give us to prove it? Because our ancestors received manna, so what do you got?” And I just think, isn’t this funny and exactly what we’re like? Yesterday, something crazy and inexplicable happened and this much food fed a massive crowd. I had a great meal yesterday and today I’m asking, “What are you going to show me?” When I’m having conversations with God about whether he will provide for us, I’m sure I sound exactly like this. “Just because you always have provided, God, why would I think you will today?” And God is patient and answers me.
Jesus, in the same was, is patient and answers, “Yeah, that manna wasn’t from Moses, but from my Father”—Jesus is big on the my Father thing—“because my Father sends the true bread, the bread from heaven, that gives life to the world.”

Now the people are intrigued. Who wouldn’t be? True bread! Life-giving bread! “Yeah, multiply that, Jesus. Let’s see it! I’ll have seconds! Give it to us always.”

And Jesus says, “Yes, I will give you that bread always. Absolutely.” What is that bread?

Jesus is. 

35 Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

So that’s the Gospel, right? Anyone who comes to Jesus, Jesus will receive and never drive away. Jesus is doing the Father’s will, that if you see the Son and believe in him you have eternal life, and you will join Jesus in his resurrection. You will overcome Death. Jesus will atone for your sins (that’s part of believing in him).

But the crowd doesn’t love this answer: 

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

So Jesus, being Jesus, reads their thoughts, knows their conversation among themselves, and pushes it a lot farther:

43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 It’s not just that Jesus is the bread from heaven that God sent into the world to give people life; to believe in Jesus means that you have to eat of this bread.

 

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Remember, they started out saying, “Sir, give us this bread always.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. [Remember they asked “What must we do to perform the works of God?” This is the answer. There is nothing. You can do. To give yourself life. Jesus. Gives. Life.] The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

 

Sir, give us this bread always. No, wait, I don’t want the bread like that.” Literally, Jesus taught this and they bailed on him. Cause and effect. “Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

And now we’re down to it. We’ve gone through this whole chapter to get here: “Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter has his moments. He rebukes Jesus when Jesus talks about being betrayed and crucified, to which Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.” But here, Peter answers just the way we hope we would in that situation. Truthfully, I have reached this conclusion, many times, when I’ve come to crossroads in my life with God of “This teaching—this suffering—this life is hard! Who can accept it?” In the end, my only real answer is, “Jesus, where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Sharing Jesus. The first thing, the primary thing, the thing we have to say for anything else in this series to make sense, is: There is no life without Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life. We share the bread of life together. With one another, we share the bread of life. We share Jesus. Together.

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

 

Do you believe in miracles? Because I believe this is one. We’re going to do something completely ordinary: eat a piece of cracker, drink a thimble of juice. And we’re going to share JESUS together. That’s what he says. We have life in Jesus, all the sinners in this room, after all the things we’ve done this week, and because we share Jesus, we have life in him. You think multiplying fish and bread was a miracle? This is the real miracle.

 

COMMUNION LUKE 22:14

 When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it [again] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Cycles in Marriage, Part 1: Preventing Wildfires

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I once had a friend, when talking with me about his marriage, say, “I was going to ask you if your wife ever [insert negative here] but then I thought, ‘No, she never has.'”  He was right.  She hadn’t.  I’m not saying my wife never does anything negative.  But the issue he had with his wife, which if memory  serves was around being passive aggressive and manipulative and maybe a vampire, my wife had never done or been.  My wife is neither awake during the night* nor undead.  

Writing about marriage can be tricky because your marriage is different than mine.  One of the truest truths I know about marriage is that you don’t have to make Marriage work, the general category, you have to make your marriage work between the two of you.  What works for your marriage may not work for mine and vice-versa and that’s fine.  It just has to work for you. 

But this also means not all of my experiences will apply.  Some things you assume must be true of all marriages probably aren’t true of mine.  That doesn’t mean ours is broken; it’s just different than yours.  At times I hear something about a friend’s marriage and think “Why don’t we do that?”  More often, I hear something we don’t do and think “Thank God, thank God, thank God!”  (Obviously not about you, Dear Reader.)  

I make a big point of this because I’d guess what I’m going to describe will sound familiar but may look a little different for you.  

Kim and I love each other.  We’re coming up on celebrating our 25th anniversary and have been in this relationship for thirty years.  We’ve have loved hard and determined for a long time now.*  I’m almost fifty and three-fifths of my life has been given to this one relationship.  I have no regrets whatsoever about that.  None.  

Having said all this, Kim and I don’t always like each other. 

I’m a pain in the butt.  Everyone who knows me for any length of time knows that.  No one is surprised to hear that some days Kim has a hard time liking me.  

Some days I don’t like her, either.  Yes, she’s a saint.  It’s not always easy being married to a saint.  My saint doesn’t always have a an easy time seeing when she’s wrong.  Fortunately, that’s only about one in ten times, but those times are difficult.  They happen.  Over twenty-five years, thirty years, they happen.  

We’ve learned, over time, not to spend much effort assigning blame.  It doesn’t bear much fruit.  Most of us want to be vindicated and that involves getting the other person to recognize and acknowledge what was their fault.  I would say occasionally, maybe rarely, this helps.  

Hear this:  I take responsibility for what I’ve done wrong and I apologize.  I apologize a lot.  Frequently.  Daily.  

I’m not saying “Don’t worry about when you’re wrong,” much less “Don’t admit it.”  That would be in my post of best ways to kill a marriage fast.  

I’m saying when neither of you agrees about what was whose fault, digging relentlessly into that is probably a bad idea.  

No, it is a bad idea. 

When we’re irritated with each other and, though continuing to love each other, do not like each other very much, everything appears to be the other person’s fault.  The washing machine’s breaking down or the flat tire is probably the other person’s fault, and if you give me a second, I’ll rationalize how that’s true. 

When Kim and I don’t like each other, it’s akin to a smoldering grassfire.  Those can burn down, the heat dissipates, and they run out of fuel.  Or a strong wind blows up and that same little fire can spread to the forest and burn through thousands and thousands of acres.  I’m from Washington state; we see this annually.  

In my opinion, always needing to figure out whose fault everything was creates a strong wind.  Twenty-five or thirty years (or even two or five) makes for plenty of fuel to burn.  You can’t avoid that.  You’ll hassle and irritate each other over time.  Even saints have bad days.  

The question, then, is how do you keep from blowing little sparks into raging fires?  No automatic alt text available.

I’ve never seen a forest fire in Nicaragua.  We have plenty of forest.  It’s also wet here.  There’s a dry season, but living in the tropics, the forest-y parts stay pretty green, even in dry season.

Continuing my analogy, if looking to assign blame is the wind that blows the fire up, simple kindness is the moisture that protects against fire spreading.  

We lived in a semi-arid region for over a decade; we’re now in our 7th year living where we get 110x more rain.  The difference is mind-boggling.  If you haven’t survived the Eastern Washington smoke, you don’t know how brutal the impact of those fires continues to be for months after the fires themselves are “controlled.”***  You don’t have to watch your house burn down to suffer their repercussions.  A lot of houses burned down.  But everyone else breathed toxic levels of smoke until the first rain or snow finally fell, months later.  

One summer, a massive, season-long, catastrophically damaging fire got started when some teenagers were playing with fireworks.  It hit some dry grass and weeds, the wind blew, and millions of dollars of damage resulted.  Central Washington bans most fireworks and even campfires for long stretches because the threat of fire runs so high.  

Nicaraguans also love their fireworks.  I mean love them.  They spend more than they can afford on them and shoot them off from December 1 to January 1, non-stop (come visit if you think I’m exaggerating here).  But we don’t have forest fires in Managua, even though the rain stops falling at the beginning of December and won’t return until May–by which time we’re praying hard for it. 

At the risk of growing too fond of my analogy here, we choose both

1)whether we make the wind blow strong by looking to assign blame and making certain the other person Knows. When. They. Were. Wrong. or seeking to accept responsibility while forgiving freely and simply letting things go.  Not everything has to be settled and resolved with forty-six percent of the blame placed on you, twenty percent for the kids and a mere thirty-four percent on me.  That’s the wind.  That blows.

2)whether the grass and trees and undergrowth are green and lush and can safely withstand sparks, by showing kindness and patience and gentleness even when the other person is wrong or, I’m going to say most importantly, EVEN WHEN WE KNOW THE OTHER PERSON IS WRONG AND WON’T ADMIT IT.  

That is certainly the most difficult time to be kind for most of us.  We’ve just had a fight, you were wrong and a jerk, you won’t admit to either, and now I’m going to look for ways to serve you? Yes.  I am.  I’m going to pray for grace and extend grace. ]Because I want this marriage to last fifty years, not twenty-five.  

My other choice, the dry ground, is to refuse to budge when I know I’m right.  We may stop talking about it, but I’m not letting it go.  Those add up.  They feel justified and they add up.  They dry things out.  They create tinder and kindling everywhere.  Those fireworks the kids shot in Wenatchee would have done no harm in Managua.  We choose, daily, whether to create an environment in which conflict can burst into something horrible and frightening or simply splutter out with no harm done.  

No one likes each other every day for twenty-five years.  Or if anyone does, I haven’t met them.  Conflict happens, frequently for some, rarely for others, but conflict itself isn’t and needs not be a threat to relationship.  Avoiding any conflict, in my opinion, is dangerous and unhealthy.  Doing so really just means we’re storing them up for later.  Later won’t be pretty.  

Therefore, we create an environment of kindness and grace so that any given conflict is only that conflict and not everything that has ever offended either of you since the moment you met.  We discuss things and let them go.  We keep serving and caring for the ones we love, even when we have trouble liking them.  

Remember:

 

 

*If she is awake during the night, that usually means I’ve messed up.  

**I’m talking about love, not sex.  That’s a different post…that isn’t coming anytime soon.  

***Unless, of course, you’ve lived in a really bad air pollution environment, like we did in Los Angeles in the 80’s or my friends recently did in China, when the majority of days are smog alerts.

An Acceptable Fast Manuscript

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What is the Kingdom of God?

Before you answer that, and it’s a real question, I asked this question to a group of young adults and they all looked blankly at me. One finally raised his hand and tentatively said, “Heaven?” That bummed me out. Severely. If we’re teaching so little about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they don’t know about God’s Kingdom, we’ve really missed the boat.

Okay, no pressure. What is the Kingdom of God?

One more thing: Heaven is part of the answer. It just isn’t the whole answer.

???

Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. That was his stated purpose. Mark’s Gospel, chapter 1 verse 14: “now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, [the Gospel], and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Matthew 1:17 beginning of Jesus’ ministry: from that time Jesus began to proclaim, repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are the same thing, interchangeable terms. Matthew 1:23: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. Luke 4, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has healed a bunch of people and done crazy stuff, healed Simon’s mother-in-law, cast out demons. The next morning, Jesus goes out to pray before the sun comes up. And the folks who’d had a really good day with Jesus the day before went looking for him and when they found him, they said, “That was amazing! Let’s invite some more people here and you can do more of these miracles.” But what did Jesus say? “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities, also; for I was sent for this purpose.” For I was sent for this purpose. Why did the Father send Jesus? The first reason Jesus gives is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. That’s. Why. Jesus. Came.

So Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and in Luke 4:18-19, we get a glimpse of what that means: Jesus stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah ws given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the bling, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then he sat down, everyone watching him, and said, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom. The good news is the good news of the Kingdom. When we’ve told people that the Gospel is “Jesus died for your sins so that you can be forgiven and go to heaven,” we’ve missed the whole what-is-life-here-for part. That’s a big deal. The Gospel is not only “God wants to make you clean from your sin so that you can be with Him in Heaven.” I would go so far as to say that God’s forgiving your sins is just a crucial step to get you started with the Gospel. God definitely wants you with Him in Heaven. He wants you to be part of His Kingdom, here, now.

After John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the coming of God’s Kingdom, was arrested, Jesus began his ministry. And John is in prison. He still has disciples, he’s still trying to live the calling God has given him as faithfully as he can. And he’s hearing these funky things that Jesus is doing. He’s in prison; he can’t see for himself, he can’t go ask for himself. But he’s confused, so he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or are we to wait for another?” Get the gravity of this: John the Baptist went out into the wilderness to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, who was Jesus. He said things like “I’m not worthy of untying his sandals” and “I baptize you with water but one is coming who will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” John baptized Jesus! And now he asks, through his disciples, “Are you really the one? Or did I misunderstand and we should wait for someone else?” This is John’s purpose, John’s calling before he’s born, while he’s still in utero, remember? And how does Jesus answer?

Luke 7:24 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sigh, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.

Yes, I’m the one, yes, these are the signs of the Kingdom of God, yes you got it right, and blessed is anyone who receives the Kingdom of God, not with offense but with joy.

Jesus did miracles. He healed and restored. Now tell me what all these people had in common in Jesus’ time: the lame, lepers, the deaf, the dead (uh, what?), the poor. What do they have in common?

They have need, and they are outcasts from society. They are the unclean. They are the rejects, the disadvantaged, the persecuted, the oppressed. They are the poor.

Isaiah 58

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

We’re near the end of our series in Isaiah and I consider this passage pivotal. I wanted to begin with the Gospels so we could see clearly how this prophetic passage foretells Jesus’ declaration of the Kingdom of God. It also rejects, I would say categorically, a self-centered religion that allows people to pray and go through their rituals while living unjustly.

Get this: Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

These are sins. This is rebellion. Ready?

For day after day they seek me out;
they
seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and
seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

Fasting is, arguably, the most intimate thing we can do with God. We are praying, we are seeking God, and we are foregoing food, so that we can focus exclusively on God. Fasting is not “Okay, God, I’ll make you a deal. I won’t eat for a day and you do what I ask.” Fasting is “I am utterly dependent on you, and I am throwing myself before you.” In the Old Testament, you see five categories of fasting: (1) fasting as a sign of grief or mourning, (2) as a sign of repentance and seeking forgiveness for sin, (3) as an aid in prayer, (4) as an experience of the presence of God that results in the endorsement of his messenger, and (5) as an act of ceremonial public worship. We first see fasting in Exodus 34 when Moses fasts before the Lord.

The way God describes fasting is like, “Okay, you want to seek me, here is a direct route. Here, take this megaphone, not because I can hear you better, but because you will feel more like you’re getting through to me.” When we are desperate, truly desperate, we fast. That’s not a bad thing. God says to. It’s a good way to express grief or repentance. It’s also a spiritual discipline that many people incorporate into their regular rhythm of life. There was a stretch in which I would fast one day a week, and doing so really impacted me. It helped me focus more on God, it brought me into a place of clearer dependence, it actually helped me be more peaceful, which I thought was a surprising fruit of that discipline. I’ve been returning to fasting lately.

But like prayer, we can fast wrong. Can you think of an example of people praying wrong in Scripture? Good. Jesus says, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray int the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Turly I tell you, they have received their reward.”

 

The people of Israel are asking, “Why have we fasted and you have not seen? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” God answers.

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

You are doing the “right” acts of worship, but you are not worshiping! Your hearts are not toward God! You say you’re humbling yourself and going before God, but you’re quarreling and fighting! You’re exploiting your workers! You’re oppressing instead of siding with the oppressed! You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it
only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

What kinds of questions are these called? Rhetorical questions. No, no this is not the kind of fast God has chosen.

You should humble yourself. You should bow your head before God. You should lie in sackcloth and ashes. You should forego food and call out to God.

That sounds pretty good, right? That’s fasting, isn’t it?

The key word here is “only.” Is it only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing your head? For prostrating yourself before God?

Absolutely not. And why not? Because the Gospel is not just me and Jesus, getting me “clean,” going through the right rituals, showing God my piety. That’s not the Kingdom of God.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Do you understand why I began with the Kingdom of God and with John the Baptist’s questions? This is the Kingdom of God. This is not some discarded Old Testament instruction that some old prophet told the people of Israel that doesn’t apply to our lives. This is the heart of the Gospel. Why? Because this is God’s heart.

I didn’t plan it this way, but this is my third consecutive sermon on biblical justice. I don’t know how you’d preach Isaiah 58 without talking about justice—it would be like fasting while fighting with wicked fists. Now I said that fasting is foregoing food for a time of focused prayer and seeking God with your heart. And I do believe that’s a decent short definition of the spiritual discipline of fasting. But our inward spiritual disciplines must coordinate with our outward ethical lives. The Israelites here were bowing and humbling themselves, but rejecting God in their hearts by continuing with their immoral practices.

But hear what God says is an acceptable fast, the fasting God has chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Poverty doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Poverty is a cycle that is both a result of people’s choices and of systemic injustice—which, when you come down to it, is also people’s choices, but powerful people’s choices, usually rich people’s choices, choices of people with something to gain by oppressing others. If you believe that people are poor only because they make self-destructive choices, you have not understand the depth of sin in this fallen world nor the teaching of Jesus about wealth. Hear me, yes, people’s choices play into their condition, but the state of poverty in the world first comes as a result of massive injustice, exploitation, oppression, and greed. When we get out our magnifying glass and look at one household and see that they are making foolish choices with their meager resources, we are choosing to be blind to the bigger picture, to the spiritual battle happening before our eyes.

When I tell you that Jesus is always on the side of the poor and the oppressed, that doesn’t mean merely that he is compassionate and feels bad for hurting people. That means in the spiritual warfare between those who evilly oppress and defy God and those who suffer oppression, Jesus chooses sides. That means he chooses sides for us, too. That means we follow the King by living out his Kingdom in all the ways these passages describe: loosing the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.

That, God says, is an fast he will accept. That is fasting from our power, fasting from our desire to be favored with the wealthy and the powerful and the successful when it means we have to turn a blind eye to injustice, when we have to pretend we don’t notice how things got so imbalanced in the first place—and continue to stay imbalanced.

In case I’m upsetting you here—and I’m okay if God is upsetting you, he does that—having wealth does not in itself make you sinful and greedy and oppressive. How you use your wealth is how God judges whether you are greedy and making the chains of oppression or just and breaking the chains of oppression. We have wealth and power, all of us, and God calls us to use it to make His Kingdom more present here, today. I’m not a legalist, I don’t believe we have to tithe our herbs and spices or that God expects us to eat only bread and water; God is extravagant and lavishes us with abundance. And. And we are called to share, and to use our power for righteousness and justice. Period.

I hope, I actually pray, that you will understand this is not my hobby horse or my soap box. This is God’s heart for his people. God seeks to set the oppressed free, to liberate those suffering poverty, and God seeks to transform us into his image by making us his partners in this purpose. That’s another way to describe God’s Kingdom: our partnership with God to love hurting and broken people and seek justice, through which we will become more like Jesus.

Do you see how different this is than the personal, private, just-me-and-Jesus approach to the Gospel? Because I don’t believe that is the Gospel. If I think the Gospel is only about me and Jesus, then my fast is not acceptable to God. Can you read this passage any differently? [I’m going to go a step further: we can make an idolatry of our ] Because this is acceptable fasting, this is the heart of seeking God:

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

This is a dangerous road. What if we understand the people suffering hunger and illiteracy and depression are our own flesh and blood? What if they are our family? What if they belong to us and we belong to them? How will that change our choices? Our priorities?

God speaks through the prophet to make clear how fasting this way will change us:


8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

I had someone suggest, with a very good heart, that we could preach more on the Glory of God in Isaiah. Okay. This is the glory of God. To share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—who is the poor wanderer?

Yeah, that’s Jesus. That also might be the immigrant, but it’s definitely Jesus. He says so. And God, our glorious, almighty God, cares for all people, and will say especially those suffering—not because he loves them better, but because they have more need. God’s glory is many things, a sermon series in itself, but one thing I know shows God’s glory is the horrible enemy, the Samaritan, kneeling down beside the bleeding, bludgeoned Jew to carry him to the inn and save his life. That is God’s glory, that action glorifies the Almighty God of Heaven and Earth. These matter to God. When TJ’s One World Health opens a clinic and people who were suffering get the medical care and medicine they need, God is glorified. That reveals God’s glory! Can you read this passage any differently? ‘

then, then, your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Two more things and I’m done.

Why will God respond to us when we do these things but call us in rebellion and sin when we do the opposite?

9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The answer is: Because this is who God is. I said this before: Grace is for freeing us to seek God with all our hearts and minds and to live God’s calling, to be free for obeying Jesus’ words and having our joy made complete in him.

God loves us first. God doesn’t wait for us to be acceptable to love us, God loves us and his love changes us and makes us acceptable. But—and this is crucial to our understanding of Grace—when we sin and rebel and oppress and abuse, God doesn’t say, “Welp, I gave you grace, so I guess you’re good.” God says, “You’re killing yourself and you’re abusing my beloved and you must stop!” Grace doesn’t mean God’s turns a blind eye to our obedience, ever! That’s the point of Isaiah telling them their fast is unacceptable—they are exploiting their workers, they are doing as they please instead of as God pleases, they are opposing God’s Kingdom instead of seeking it. Grace means God will forgive you no matter what, and nothing you can do will make God love you more nor can you do anything to make God love you any less. Grace also means that God will keep calling you to repentance. If we’re not living for God’s Kingdom, we’re wasting our lives. It isn’t that God is manipulative and will only bless us when we finally do the stuff he prefers; the true blessings God desires to give us come through seeking God with our whole hearts, we are made in God’s image and He himself is our blessing, is our home, is our treasure. “Christ is enough for me?” Yeah, and also Christ is everything. Everything that matters.

That’s one. Acceptable fasting and grace go hand in hand. They are inseparable. God’s grace leads us to acceptable fasting. We can get there no other way. We only seek God’s Kingdom through God’s grace.

Two: God makes and gifts each of us uniquely. There are, literally, seven billion ways to seek God’s Kingdom, to fight for justice, to care for the oppressed, to love the least. God gives some of us gifts of healing. Then go heal. God gives some of us gifts of preaching. Then go preach. If you love kids, love kids—they need it, so bad. If you can disciple young people, disciple them—they need it, so bad. If you hate injustice, then fight it. If you feel compassion for depressed people, learn to counsel, learn to listen. An acceptable fast to the Lord our Glorious God, to Jesus Christ our Savior, happens when we seek God with our hearts and our gifts and join Him in the work to which he calls us. Yours doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. How can you spend yourself in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed? How can you help loose the chains and set the oppressed free? How can you share God’s love with people who don’t know they are loved and forgiven?

What part has Jesus given you in His Kingdom? Live that and 11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Amen.

Winning, or Something More Important

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 95

This past weekend, I played on the Managua team in Nicaragua’s inagural two-day ultimate tournament (organized by Breaking Borders) and we won.

One of my teammates asked,”Will we see this in a blog post?” Well, I have noticed not all my multitude of readers share my  interest in ultimate and writing about another tournament victory would be rather self-indulgent.

Yes, absolutely I’m going to write about this tournament.

I’m not going to tell you about winning.  Okay, maybe a tiny bit at the end.  I’m going to tell you a few things that were more important.  Yes, you may quote me on that.

At our games, we had a Nicaraguan guy, Israel, keeping score.  He’d never seen ultimate before, much less played.  In theory, keeping score is easy: one team catches the disc in the end zone, the opposing team walks to the other end, you know it’s a score.  Mark one on your sheet next to the correct team.  In practice, he had the score wrong within four points because he didn’t understand that a catch had been out of bounds and thus not a goal.

So I decided, social and friendly person that I am, to talk with him and keep checking on the score.  No, not because I was concerned he would mess up and give us fewer than our correct number of points.  Of course not!  How could you even think that of me?

Here’s the cool part:  as life goes, when I got home Israel had sent a Facebook friend request, which I accepted.  We started chatting.  Then he asked, “Are you Christians?”

I always feel a tinge of nerves when I’m asked that.  What did he see?  What stereotype did I fulfill or contradict?

“I am.  I think all our team is.”  

Hold my breath.  Wait for his response.

And Israel wrote, “Your behavior in the game and the respectable way of dealing with his [sic] rivals told me a lot.”

Yeah.

Christians (or self-proclaimed “Christians”*) are known for some horrible things currently.  Before our team started the tournament, we prayed: “God, help us to glorify you, do our best, and not get injured.”  

We looked to Israel like Christians from how we behaved and treated the other teams?  Could I hope for more than that?

I’m not always on my best behavior playing ultimate because I’m intense and competitive and I really like to win and sometimes I lose focus on what’s most important.**  But I believe you can be both competitive and godly at the same time.  I do.  I even believe I can be.

I think hearing this about our team matters more to me than that we won the tournament.  And I’m really, really glad we won the tournament.


However, at the end of our conversation he asked, “¿alguien le ha dicho que usted se parece a Tom Cruise?”  So that shoots his credibility.  But it was a really nice thought.


Disco Magnets, Campeones 2017!

Next thing I’ll tell you: I loved our team.  We don’t practice together as a team.  They are, however, most of the people who play at our weekly pick-up games against one another.  We never get to play all together at those.  This exact group will probably never play together again (one member is moving back to the States in December).***

But see, that thing my new friend said?  I felt it all weekend.  No one yelled at anyone else on the team.  Yes, strategy corrections and discussion of choices, but I did not hear one negative word addressed at a teammate all weekend.  Not one.  We played 7 games of ultimate together, including an extremely close final in which we were far behind, and we built each other up the whole time.

I received this correction on Sunday:

“You need to play more.”

At age 49, when I’m in my head with self-doubt, that’s amazing to hear and powerfully encouraging.

Not everyone on our team has the same level of ability or experience. These people who in their own imperfect way seek to make the world a better place got to spend one full weekend together playing the best ultimate we could.  Everyone contributed.  People knew their roles.  No one’s ego got in the way.  I’ve played ultimate for 30 years and that last statement, by itself, astounds me.  We got along in Nicaragua blast furnace heat, we laughed and high-fived and gave each other crap (as friends should in sports) and those relationships matter more to me than winning.  A lot more.  And I really like winning.

Our team with the Costa Rica team, Osos Perizosos, after the finals

 

I’ll tell you one more thing.

This may not sound humble when I say it publicly; if you need to balance it with when I write about how screwed up I am, I’ve provided ample material.

There’s a Nicaraguan ultimate team here, Los Tornados de Chiquilistagua. They are not my team.  We may play informal pick-up together but in team tournaments we play against them.  They are our opponents but I care deeply about these guys.

Me and Zeke being interviewed at the tourney

Sunday evening, I was talking with their coach, Zeke, who is a dear friend of mine (and one of the hardest people I ever have to guard).  His players are teens and young men and women growing in their maturity and, some of them, in their relationships with God.  Others aren’t.  They are not middle-class Americans but mostly working poor Nicaraguans, some coming from very troubled homes, and I love these kids, though some are arrogant and mouthy and typical teenage boys in other ways.  But absolutely lovable, too, and walking through some serious challenges.  Zeke invests his life deeply in theirs and though he plays because he loves ultimate, even more, this is his ministry.

Los Tornados

I would love to coach them but that is not my role.  I don’t know their lives like Zeke does, I don’t understand their culture from the inside as he does, and they try not to laugh at my Spanish (and often succeed).  He is their coach and their pastor.  I’m the gringo who loves ultimate and tries to encourage them.  They are the future of ultimate in Nicaragua, which may not seem like a big deal to you but that is a vehicle for helping them break the cycle of poverty and addiction–and then reaching more kids to do the same–and I hope that seems like a very big deal to you.

Cesar, Zeke’s co-leader and a ferocious defender

My role, as I’ve understood it, is to be the foil, the guy whose team sets the bar a little higher so that they grow more and work harder and don’t decide they’re already the best around.  Eventually, they will get better than us; I’m fighting tooth and nail (figuratively) to put that off as long as I can.

Then, as we were debriefing the tournament, my friend told me,

“My team loves you.  And love to play with you… You are not just a great example for them as an ultimate player, but as a Christian person too.  They say this many times during practice.”

And there it is.  That’s why I play ultimate.  Yes, I play for my own sanity and health and because it’s fun.  Yes, I like to win–has that come up yet?–but when Zeke told me that, and putting that together with how loud and strong their team cheered for us in the finals, I got it.  I have more of a role than to challenge the young guys to step up and beat me at King of the Hill.

They are seeing Jesus in me.

Yes, that is more important than winning.

Or, perhaps, that is winning.

 

 

*God knows which, not me.

**And sometimes I’m venting negative emotions in the least damaging way I know how, which my children and pets appreciate.

***NO, it isn’t me.

Who (actually) Let the Dogs Out

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 82

We have dogs.  We have three dogs who serve the crucial function of protecting our house.  We live in an impoverished barrio where a lot of theft happens.  I get that.  People don’t have enough food, people don’t have what they need, so it’s tempting to figure out how to steal things.*  That comes with this territory.  

I get it, but we also have to guard against it (having compassion doesn’t mean it’s good for people to be able to steal from us).  Therefore, we live in a house that has a gate and walls around it.  Therefore, we have three dogs.  

Zoe and Mumford, looking like guard dogs.

Many Nicaraguans are scared of dogs and for good reason. I’ve had many conversations with poorer Nicaraguans who can show me a scar where a dog bit them.  Kim was out jogging once and watched a wealthier Nicaraguan let his dog run out the gate, attack a ragged-looking guy walking on the street, and only when she approached did he call his dog back in.  

 

Mumford helping raise puppy Sunny.

Two of our dogs came from friends here and one was a puppy whose mother was a street dog rescued by missionaries.  Mumford is a Belgian Shepherd, Zoe is a Rottweiler mix, and Sonny is a mutt who looks just like all the other short-haired yellow mutts on the street.  Mumford has an  enormous head; when he opens his jaws all the way, he looks like he could put your head in his mouth.  Zoe has a huge chest (plus she’s a little fat) and a deep, threatening bark.

 And Sonny?  Well, Sonny is the one who would actually bite you if you snuck in and ask questions later.  The other two would wag their tails and lick you, or maybe run out the gate if you opened it.  We joke that we have three guard dogs: two are for show and while the little skinny one would protect the house.  

This morning, we had one of those getting-the-family-to-school mornings.  But this one wasn’t caused by our kids arguing or dragging their feet or falling back asleep.** This morning, Mumford made a run for it.  Twice.

I’d mostly finished making breakfast and was trying to get the dogs fed.  Kim opened the gate to pull the car out…and Mumford saw that the back door was open, so he ran in, and the front door was open, so he ran out–through the open gate, into the street.

Now I have to explain two things quickly:  Kim loves Mumford and we have a new road.  

Mumford and Kim, also providing perspective on just how big his head is.

Kim has adamantly insisted that we are taking our 120 pound giant-headed dog back to the U.S. if and when we ever return.  The kids complain that she loves him more than she loves them.  She denies it.  They produce evidence.  I’m not weighing in on that argument (I saw her give birth to them, so I know her commitment level), but two of the dogs live outside and the third comes and goes through the house as he pleases when she’s home.  He gets to eat separately from the other two because he’s a slow eater.  He’s pampered.  

I’ve chronicled our experience of living on a rutted dirt “road” and then finally, finally having a beautiful new road laid before our eyes.  It still feels like a luxury.  The downside is that people now drive fast by our house when before they had to pick their way through the hazards.   Our son had a near-miss on his bike the other day which I may write about eventually, when it stops making me sweat cold to remember it.  Or I may not.  

Sonny says, “Let them try it. Then we’ll see who’s the real guard dog.”

So whereas before we could let the dogs out and have them run up and down the road a bit–thus getting them exercise and reminding would-be thieves that we have huge, intimidating and not entirely-controlled dogs–now we can’t risk that for the danger of their getting hit.  


People think it’s “a pack” of dogs; the proper term is actually “a confusion of dogs.”

Then there was this morning.  Mumford goes charging out into the street.  Kim doesn’t exactly panic, but it makes her very nervous.  I’m trying to feed the other two less-spoiled dogs.  I go chasing out after him.  For once, he obeys relatively quickly (his training, such as it is, doesn’t usually extend to when he’s out roaming the streets) and comes back.  We’re at the two-minute mark for leaving for school.  I put Mumford in the back, discover that my last piece of French toast is still cooking, then also realize I’ve fed Zoe but not Sonny yet–and Zoe is a bully who will gulp her own food down and go for the others’ in a split-second.  I learn these things because I’d chased Mumford into the street with our dogfood dispenser in one hand and a spatula in the other.  

So I go back out to feed Sonny. I set down the container from the French toast mixture to keep Mumford distracted.  But while I close the back gate (the one between the carport and our outdoor sitting area/kitchen) behind me, I don’t reattach the carabiner that holds the latch closed.  Mumford shoves the latch aside with his massive snout and goes charging by me out into the street, again.  

At this point, our friends the Ndoros, with whom we carpool–we drive in the morning, they drive in the afternoon–are arriving.  They look a little nervous that I’m rushing past them, shouting “Mumford!”, but they’ve seen our crazy before and they get in the car.  I again convince Mumford to come back inside before he’s run over and try to herd him to the back again–but he disappears. I’m convinced he pulled the freeze tag trick of running one way around the car, having me follow him, then going all the way around and out again.  But no.  He’s not back out.  

Then Kim says, “Mike?  He’s in the car.”  

Yep, he’s sitting in the front seat, until I try to retrieve him, at which point he climbs into the back seat, over the kids.  Not our kids.  Because if you’re going to have your huge, muddy dog (did I mention it’s been raining for the past 18 hours? Did I mention he ran out twice?) climb over young people dressed in their clean school uniforms, best to have that be your friends’ kids, for maximum embarrassment.  

It is now T+several minutes past departure time.  Mumford finally agrees to leave the car more or less willingly, apparently somewhat nervous at my (ahem) urging–did I mention I’m still carrying the spatula?–and I can’t even look to see how those kids are doing or what their uniforms look like now.  Our children close the doors, Kim pulls out, and Mumford trots happily to sniff at his food which he still won’t eat yet. 

I’m about to rescue the last piece of French toast when I hear Kim yell, “Mike?  The car won’t shift.”  She’s pulled out, but now it won’t go into gear.  Oh, that car.  A friend had just bailed me out last night by taking the gear shift apart and fixing the problem  when it wouldn’t shift (a clip had fallen off–does not give me confidence about the sturdiness of construction) and this after being in the shop 6 weeks for a broken head gasket and then back with us for four whole days before the starter went out.  

But then it did shift and she got to school okay and the car is also a post for another day.  

The French toast burned solid black.  I fed it to Zoe.  

Zoe, always willing to help with burnt food.

*Before you get on your high horse about hard work and bootstraps and providing for yourself, come see what finding work looks like in a country where there’s 50-70% unemployment.  Then we’ll have that conversation. 

**Hypothetically speaking, of course.  These things never happen at our house.  

The Team on high alert, ready for anything.

On Aging, Confidence, and Sporting Still

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“Do… or do not. There is no try.”  –Yoda

Disclaimer:  For those of you who don’t share my love of or interest in sports, no apologies for this but you don’t have to indulge me, either.  Sports take up about 3% of my blog posts, which is a wee bit less than my real life percentage spent on sports, between coaching, playing with Corin, playing myself, and spectating (happily, that is a distant fourth, as I think it should be).  We will soon return to other topics in life.


Aging is tough in sports terms.  I’ve been holding off saying that until I qualify, but I’m one year from fifty and almost never guard or go against anyone of my own age in my sports of choice.  I don’t mind.  I enjoy/need to be the underdog and this is one sure way, in my own head, that I always am.  I guard guys in ultimate who can run circles around me and I hold my own.  But it gets tougher, by tiny increments.  

I’m not a great basketball player.  I am a scrappy, relentless basketball player, an above average passer, and I just really enjoy the game.  I’m a pretty good shot, but I rarely shoot well in games.  It’s not a mystery.  I’m too in my head.  I’m thinking about whether or not I’m going to make the shot, which is a great way not to make shots.  To make the shot, one should a)think “I’m going to make the shot,” or, even better, b)not think.  Just do.  

That sounds so simple.  It is simple, but difficult.  If you shoot in a game and the first shot or two swish, you feel like, “Okay, I’m hitting tonight,”  and it becomes easier to keep shooting.  If you miss or airball a shot or two, it’s harder.  This is ridiculous, because of course the act of shooting the ball through the hoop remains the same…except it doesn’t.   When you think you can, it’s easier; when you suspect you can’t, it’s harder.  When you know you can’t, it becomes nearly impossible.  Even though it’s the same physical act!  Ridiculous.  

To put this in perspective:  Driving a car, you do some very fine, very precise maneuvering.  You buzz between cars with 12 inches on either side without slowing or flinching.  You don’t think about it, even though it requires precision and screwing up would be extremely costly.  

Walking on a curb is easy.  Walking on a ledge of the same width 100 feet above the ground is, for most people, very difficult and scary.  Same physical act.  Thinking about failing makes the act harder.  Thinking hard about “If I fail, I’ll die” is an extreme version of thinking about failing.  It’s focusing on failing.  

There is a fantastic series of books I read many years ago, by Timothy Galloway: The Inner Game of Tennis; The Inner Game of Golf; and Inner Skiing.  Inner Tennis dramatically improved my game.  If you’ve ever wondered “how intense/competitive/obsessive is Mike?” and you didn’t ask Kim, I do not and will not play golf; I read Inner Golf to improve my disc golf game.  It worked.  I once held, briefly, a course record for amateurs.  I won money in the weekly dg tournament for that round, for which I have ever since joked that I was a professional athlete, albeit briefly.

 Inner Skiing did me no good at all; I still suck.  Go figure.  

The biggest take away from these books is simply that your body knows how to do stuff and your brain, by trying to help, just gets in the way.  If you can learn to shut your brain up, you will perform better.  

Again, this is the simplest of instructions yet can be crazy hard to follow.  Some people’s brains shut up better than others’.  Some people can just decide to focus and carry that out.  Other people will find this impossible even to conceive of*:  “Telling myself ‘don’t worry’ does not cease my worrying!”

In ultimate, by far my best sport, as in, the sport at which I ammost proficient, I can throw very well.  I can hit a moving target 75 yards away.  I’m often amazed that I can simply do this, with no second thoughts, and moreover that my freedom from second thoughts comes so easily.  In contrast, though I love tennis, I can drive myself berserk because I think too much and too loudly, even knowing what I should do.  

Here’s the difference:  I don’t practice tennis enough to have the confidence I need in order not to think.  While not thinking–or not overthinking, if you prefer–improves my game, I seem able to do this (or not do this) only in direct proportion to my confidence to succeed.**

It’s kind of poor-get-poorer, rich-get-richer:  If I think I can’t, then I think too much about whether or not I can, which makes it even more likely that I can’t.  If I think I can, it’s easy enough not to think about whether or not I can, and therefore my rate of success (my canning?) increases.  

If you play sports and you’re out of your twenties, you probably  know what comes next.  You can’t do what you used to do.  You can still play hard.  You might be even better at certain aspects of your sport.  The average age of a Tour de France stage winner is 28, suggesting that nineteen-year-olds don’t have the advantage.  The average age of Mr. Olympia winners is 33 years old.  

But I don’t cycle or body build.  I play ultimate and basketball.  And the latest challenge, I’ve noticed, is keeping my confidence.  This also functions as a cycle:  If I know I can, then I can, and I don’t start overthinking.  When I start wondering, “Am I too old?  Can I not anymore?” then the downward spiral starts spiraling downward.  

Playing sports can be a “create your own reality” show.  There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.  There’s another fine line between competitive and belligerent.  What you think you are capable of doing often–though not entirely–dictates what you can, in fact, do.  I mean, within reason. I’m excluding delusions of grandeur and mental illness here.  Deciding you can, especially if your sport is directly you against someone else, requires both confidence and competitiveness.  

The reality of aging is that my physical abilities are diminishing, (ever so slowly, thank God), and the more I pay attention to that, the less I can create my own success-at-sports reality.  However, completely ignoring my age leads to frequent injury and results in spending more time rehabbing than playing.  Not fun.  

So far, this means I have to train and condition more carefully, less aggressively, more gradually.  I don’t play with the same heedless abandon that I once did–I can’t–but I still feel like I can play all out, and that’s satisfying.  Conditioning and whole-heartedness contribute to confidence.  I’ve recently lost nearly all the weight I annually make a point of gaining when I’m visiting the U.S. (“States Weight”) and less of me makes it easier to move fast.   I can because I feel faster and because I am faster–believing I can do it helps me do it, and seeing that I can do it helps me believe.  You’d think that would be simple physics, but even this is mental as well as physical.  

I’ve enjoyed playing basketball recently, but I’ve also felt frustrated.  Right now, my pre-season for basketball coaching, I’m playing once a week.  I’ve been shooting terribly.  My shot feels fine, nothing off in my mechanics that I can detect, but I’ve been missing most of my shots.  I’m a pretty good shot, though not always a good shot in games, which can be an important aspect of playing basketball (unless you specialize in “H-O-R-S-E.”)  

But lately it’s been ghastly.  Now, at 49, that means I’m wondering if I still can, as opposed to just noting that I’m off at the moment.  I remember Michael Jordan playing in the 2002 NBA All-Star game, missing a wide-open dunk.  In his interview afterward, he said, “You want to do something spectacular, but then you don’t know what you can do, you don’t want to hurt yourself, a lot of things go through your mind, the next thing you know, you’ve missed a dunk.”  I’m not comparing myself with Jordan here, at all, I’m saying even Michael Jordan reached the point where awareness of his age and limitations (“you don’t want to hurt yourself”) impacted his play.***

Then tonight, I was on.  Made most of my three-pointers and other jumpers, hit two game-winners (game point can add another layer to if-we’re-thinking-or-not-thinking), and swished almost everything I hit.  

Where did that come from?  I missed my first shot.  This usually bodes poorly for the evening’s festivities.  But thereafter I “found” my shot and by the end, I had a wide-open three, which can somehow be the toughest shot because it’s the easiest to overthink (“Ohmygosh, I-have-to-make-this-because-nobody’s-on-me-and-it’ll-look-bad-if-I-” CLANK!), and I just relaxed, stepped in and swished that, too.

Was I just lucky tonight?  No.  I wasn’t throwing up ridiculous or crazy shots, only the jumpers and lay-ups I can make (my drives were still off, alas), the ones I usually hit in warm-ups.  And I made them.  

So two conclusions I can draw here, you who have read to the end, faithful sports fans, fellow weekend warriors, and doting sister:  

1)It’s even more in my head than I thought it was, i.e. no matter how I shoot next week, that won’t primarily be a measure  of how well I can shoot or how well I can shoot at this age but how well I think I can shoot and then allow my body to do what I’m capable of doing without more thinking;

2)If I can remember #1, I will enjoy myself more and, regardless of performance or outcome, have an easier time being grateful for the continuing ability to play.  That is, I need not waste energy or kill my own endorphin high with “Am I too old for this?  Do I just suck?” etc.  

Since sanity and emotional health remain the biggest reasons I play, those conclusions help a ton.

Or they should…

 

*”Inconceivable!”

**There is a much deeper issue for me concerning how my ability to do most things rises and falls based on what others think I can or can’t do.  But I’m not talkin’ about that here.  I’m just talkin’ about some sports.

***He also scored 43 points in an NBA game the next year, at age forty, against New Jersey, who would make the NBA finals that year.  So, you know, it’s Jordan.    

A Few of My Favorite Things (and some of the other)

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Nicaragua Journal, Day 79

I took our car into the shop again this morning.  We’d had it back for a grand total of four days after six weeks of repairs.  But now it won’t start.  I think the battery is okay, expert that I am, so perhaps it’s the starter.  That’s unrelated to what they were repairing last time, so no fault laid on the mechanics.  We’re just stuck with a car that is like a bucket with a hole in the bottom–we keep pouring in money for repairs, and then we need to pour in more.

Lest this sound like a complaining post, I’m very grateful that we discovered on Saturday evening that it wasn’t starting.  Sunday morning, leaving for church to preach, would have been a bad, stressful time to learn we had a problem.  Saturday night, though inconvenient, gave us time to adjust and some kind friends lent us their truck so we could get to church without an adventure.   


Thus, we roll-started the car this morning, then drove Kim and kiddos to school this morning where I dropped them off and then headed back to the taller (shop).  I was telling myself, probably audibly, “Don’t let it stall.”  I’m feeling pretty good, gonna walk home after I drop it off which will be 5 or 6 kilometers, still reflecting on yesterday’s sermon.

Then I miscalculated.  I took the more direct route to ESVO (esquela vocacional).  But we’re in rainy season.  That road is a disaster.  It hasn’t rained hard in a couple of days so it’s not muddy or dangerous, just severely rutted.*  So I’m happily listening to the radio, paying good attention that I don’t stall the car when I drive into a deep rut, the front tires hit and bounce back–and the car stalls.  

Of course, because I’m a dreamer, I turn the key one or twice, in case stalling the car also temporarily fixed the starter.  Nope.  So there I am, probably 2.5 kilometers from the taller, dead car.  In a rut, literally.  I jump out, assess my situation, and start trying  to rock it from just outside the driver’s seat.  I can’t move it.  I go behind the car and try to get it rocking back and forth to see if I can get out of my rut.  

I can’t move it.  

Cars and minivans and school buses are going by.  I’m no longer having a pleasant morning.  I look behind me and up on a porch, a Nicaraguan is looking down at me.  Watching what I’m doing.  He nods.  

Less than a minute later, four Nicaraguan men are walking out of the house toward me.  I start to explain that it won’t start, but they just nod like “Yes, go ahead, Gringo, we know the drill.  Not our first rodeo.”  Needless to say, I’ve never seen these guys before in my life.  

I jump in the car, make sure it’s not in gear, and there’s one bounce forward, one rock back, and then I’m rolling.  Fast.  I slam it in first, pop the clutch, turn the key, and vroom!  I’m off.  

They don’t want me to stop and shake all their hands and risk a replay.  I honk and wave back out my window and shout “gracias” loudly (and I am loud) and they’re gone from my rear view mirror.

And that, arguably, is my favorite thing about living in Nicaragua.  Strangers help you.  I’ve never been stuck in a car without having someone come up and ask if they can help.  We once had a flat, in the road, on a windy, rainy night and a taxi driver stopped in the storm to use his industrial-grade jack and help us get our tire changed.  Kim once unknowingly drove into a manhole (someone had “borrowed” the cover) and we were dead stuck.  Tire in manhole.  A grandmotherly looking Nicaraguan walked by, staring at us.  Two minutes later, six burly Nicas came walking up, saying, “Mom told us to go help the gringoes.”  They lifted the van out of the hole and on we went.  

As I drove, exceedingly, conscientiously aware not to stall the car, a Land Rover came up behind me.  Right behind me.  And made his (I’m assuming here) intentions to pass very evident.  Sigh.  I’m not going to go flying over these bumps and craters in my car that won’t start again.  I wasn’t creeping but neither was I going at Land Rover speed.  So he passed me.  Only semi-recklessly.  Right before a corner.  We then proceeded to the school (the vocational school auto shop is a part of the school campus) and of course he was going to the school and yes, I was right behind him when we pulled into the school.  So he gained one space.  Which I’m certain made all the difference in the success of  his day.  

I know that strangers jumping out to help and people driving rudely are not unique to Nicaragua.  I would say the consistency with which people here stepping up to help is what makes it stand out so much for me.  That, and perhaps the feeling of being more vulnerable here, so the random acts of kindness matter more.  

Conversely, Land Rovers, very expensive vehicles, feel more audacious here.  In real terms, maybe it makes no difference whether you own the Land Rover Discovery in the US or Nicaragua, but when ninety percent of the country lives at some level of poverty and 50-70% of people are unemployed or barely employed, driving around in that vehicle appears, in my (very judgmental) opinion, like conspicuous consumption.  Driving rudely and aggressively in that vehicle is the lemon juice in the paper cut.**


A couple highlights of my walk back home:  as I was walking, a friend passed on his way to work (at the same property as the school) and shouted out his window at me, “Corporate!  Corporate!”  

Now my friend is weird and would do inexplicable things, but in this case, he was referring to my sermon yesterday, which was on corporate judgment.  That was amusing and somewhat gratifying.  Said friend has confided before that he lacks the attention span for my sermons (I’ll leave the interpretation to you), so I count this a victory!  He got the theme!  That, of course, got me pondering my sermon again.  

Nearer home, I passed my beloved elderly gentleman, who with his two metal crutches was out cleaning up the street in front of his house.  We shouted our customary fond greetings to each other.  Today I was “Señor” instead of “Amigito.”  

About a kilometer+ from home, I passed a fruit stand*** that a man runs about halfway down the narrow street.  I’m always walking past him on the way to school, four kilometers to go and not returning home for hours, so I rarely buy from him.  So it was great to be able to buy from him today.  From what I can tell, the narrow street has a rougher culture than ours.  They also have a crowd of borrachos, but these do not seem as neighborly as ours are–they may lack a leader as good as Manuel.  They were shouting and raucously debating prices on naranjas when I approached.  All the more reason to give him my business and I could even tip him the change, since it wasn’t too much and I am not such a regular customer.  Among my other items I bought a fresh bag of mint (hierba buena).  It’s possible heaven will smell like fresh mint.  

The last kilometer carrying 15 pounds in produce in plastic bags increased my workout significantly.  I passed an elderly woman selling food from a tiny table, then went back to see what she had.  I bought a bag of dried beans from her.  Here’s a little tip: if you don’t enjoy sweating, or at least tolerate it fairly well, you shouldn’t live in the tropics.  It’s not my favorite thing, but neither is it one of the other things.  For me it’s just a thing, and I like the feeling of having exercised.  Plus, cold showers are lovely instead of punishing when you’re overheated.  

Eight A.M when I arrived home and time to cross the street to buy my morning tortillas.  I could still be trying to get my car moved from that “road.”  Thank you, Lord, for the kindness of strangers.  On with the adventure.  

 

Post-Script:  Yes, it was the starter.  70 bucks, as long as it’s fixable.   

 

*No, you probably don’t have the right picture from “rutted” unless you’ve done off-roading.  When I say “ruts” imagine driving up one peak and down to the next valley.  That level of ruts.    

**Am I angry because I’m jealous?  No.  Trust me, I’m pretty open about my faults.  I could not drive that here.  I certainly could not park it in our barrio.  And yes, of course life is complicated and they may have good reason for driving that SUV and even for needing to hurry past me.  Maybe.  

***If it seems sometimes as if I spend half my life buying fruit, I do.  Since I eat approximately as much fruit here as I eat everything else combined, that makes sense.  

Simple Errands

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 73

 

A brief one today. Sometimes the simple errands are profound.  

I walked three blocks up to our closest fruteria (fruit stand).  Sadly, our favorite fruteria closed recently, under concerning circumstances.  The owner is the woman who spoke up about the horse we were trying to protect.  Within a week, she had closed her business on that corner.  She and her son now drive around with their own horse and cart, selling produce ambulante.  She told me she can make more money this way.  I hope that is the reason, but I fear she was threatened.  But other than that she tell us, there’s no real way for me to find out.  

When I arrived today, the woman who owns it* was sitting in her chair, kind of reclined with her legs extended.  She greeted me and asked me what I wanted but didn’t get up, which was unusual.  Then she pointed to her foot.  

Her right foot was bandaged up.  

“I just had an operation,” she told me.  “I had an infection in my leg.  They cut out something.”  Except she didn’t say “something,” she said a word I didn’t recognize.  It might have been toe.  I know the word for toe, but that doesn’t always mean I catch it correctly.  I don’t know the word for gangrene, but she described something like it.  She had an infection, it got bad, and she had to have something removed.  

I asked her if she had pain.  She said yes, she has much pain.  I told her how sorry I was to hear it and that we would be praying for her.  

So I asked for my pepinos, my huevos, my piña and tomates and limones (limes, actually, though they use the word for lemons).  First her granddaughter (maybe 8?) helped me, then her adult daughter came and waited on me.  I could see she wasn’t comfortable with the math.  If you’re picturing cash registers, you have the wrong image.  She asked her mom about the price for each item and waited for her to calculate the total, so I started helping her with the running tally.   She grinned at me when my and her mother’s numbers agreed.  

My total was 101 cordobas.  The owner rounded it down to 100.  That means I spent almost exactly $3 to buy twelve eggs, two cucumbers, six limes, six tomatoes and a pineapple.  If we ever move back to the States, I don’t know how I’m going to readjust to U.S. produce prices.  We may have to grow everything ourselves.  

As I stood waiting for the daughter to return my change, I noticed some leafcutter ants, doing what they do–to the one head of cabbage still for sail.  If you’ve never seen leafcutters, they are an impressive variety.  They cut off parts of whatever plant material they’ve targeted, usually pieces bigger than their bodies, and march off with them in line.  And there they were, taking that cabbage off, piece by piece.  I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have gotten away with that if the owner had been on her feet.

I got my change, thanked them profusely, reassured the grandmother that I would be praying for her, and left them with a blessing.  

It’s a daily interaction.  It’s supporting a tiny family business in our neighborhood.  I know this makes a difference.

But this is also the face of poverty:  I’m certain she didn’t go to the doctor until it was desperate.  Did she know how to treat an infection?  Maybe.  I can vouch that cuts seem to become infected before your eyes here.  But for an infection to require an operation, that’s severe.  

Her adult daughter doesn’t multiply or add, at least not confidently enough to attempt it with simple problems.  That may be not wanting to try it in front of the gringo, which is its own issue.  But I’m guessing I’m being too hopeful with that interpretation.  

Finally, I love the inexpensive produce, and truthfully Kim has wondered if they buy the ones that are already nearer the edge of ripe.  That may help explain their prices.  But how much do they need to sell in a day to earn a living?  As an inexperienced missionary, I would have said, “just pay them a lot more.”  Now we have the negative personal stories that we had to learn for ourselves–even though we were warned–about how trying to overpay (or giving indiscriminately) can cause damage and ruin relationships.   

I talk about simple interactions.  I often wish solutions were simple, as well.  

 

 

*Often it’s the woman who runs the business out of the home, sometimes because the man works elsewhere, sometimes because he drinks and works on and off or not at all.