Friday, September 26, 2014

A Night at the Races

I work as an EMT in a rural area. As such, I sometimes go out on standby to special events. One of the assignments that our crews go on weekly (in the warm months) is to stand by at the local NASCAR dirt racetrack. To be perfectly honest, I've never been a race fan. Growing up I'd see an occasional Sunday afternoon race on TV, but only paid full attention if there was a crash. Maybe that propensity suited me for this assignment.

To keep myself entertained during my race shifts I started bringing a camera along. This also gave me the chance to learn more and hone in my photography skills, especially working in low light and taking action photos. The best vantage point for shooting cars going up to 120 mph is the roof of the fire truck next to our ambulance. And I get to learn more about each specific driver from the firefighters, who carry an abundance of knowledge about the sport.

The track photographers shoot with DSLRs and high-powered flashes as the cars go by. My hot shoe flash isn't powerful enough to reach out very far so I've had to improvise without it. There is a delicate balance between a shutter speed quick enough to capture the cars in focus and slow enough to let in light, while still keeping ISO noise at bay. At first I was frustrated because I was getting a low percentage of good photos. The solution was a handy feature in my Canon G15: the HQ burst mode. I'd find a single car in the viewfinder and follow it while holding the shutter button down, and get up to 10 shots in the span of about a second. While not every photo turns out, this has improved my success rate enormously.

Since becoming part of the pit personnel I've gained a new appreciation for the sport, but also for the racers and race fans as people, not just a bunch of beer-drinking hillbillies as they are widely painted by more "sophisticated" people. Race fans come to see their driver win, for sure, but they also want to see a fair race and for every driver to get home safely after the dust clears. And that is where my partner and I turn on the lights and get to work.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Blogging

If you have checked this blog page at regular intervals for updates in the last few months, I have one thing to say: I'm sorry.

I'm sorry because as time goes along I find myself with less and less to say online, and less and less time to say it. And the funny thing about having a blog is the pressure to keep it up. No one likes reading stuff more than a few days old (and with things like Twitter out there, a few days might as well be a few years).

The blogging territory being carved out these days seems to be between those who make money by doing it, those with recipes and DIY ideas, and those simply reposting stuff from the aforementioned. This is neither. This blog is pretty much just musings.

I have kept track of my recent musings on whatever little notepads are at hand; here are some of the best of those, in chronological order. Keep in mind this is a random sampling of mostly unrelated thoughts; some quotes, song lyric ideas, some deep notes, and a few general observations. So without further ado, step into my notebook.

"Not too many people get killed doing this; they just get hurt really bad." — a guy named Nick, in reference to mountain biking

"That's the thing about pressure; it can either refine, or destroy. You choose." — my friend Ben, on fatherhood

"In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In everything, charity." — Philip Melanchthon

"Never be afraid of failure. The same Spirit that's got our backside is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead." — my uncle Gary

"Be ready to wade through a huge pile of crap today." — my friend Jeff, on counseling people

My love language is Holcomb.

Sleepers only dream of being awake.

"The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice." — WWII RAF airman

" The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." — Friedrich Buechner

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." —Gil Bailie

The most meaningful things in my life are the things that I've committed to. And those things aren't things; they're people.

And I'll kiss you like the war's over.

Christianity has a marketing problem. Christianity is marketed; that's the problem.

The question about marriage is really, "Who says?" It is a matter of who ultimately decides what marriage is.

I've got a song for every day.

Everybody's thinking it but no one stops to ask
Is the world moving too slow or are we moving too fast?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Communities

In 2006, a man named Charles killed five elementary students and then himself in an Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA. Five little lives were taken in their classroom while their teacher and the other children watched in nightmarish horror. A close-knit community was rocked forever by an outsider who unleashed all his fury of reasonless evil upon it, and the grief-stricken parents were left to bury their little ones in the Pennsylvania soil.

Then something happened. They Nickel Mines community forgave.
Charles Roberts wasn't Amish, but Amish families knew him as the milk truck driver who made deliveries. Last month, it was announced that the Amish community had donated money to the killer's widow and her three young children. (emphasis added)
"I think the most powerful demonstration of the depth of Amish forgiveness was when members of the Amish community went to the killer's burial service at the cemetery. Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance and they hugged the widow, and hugged other members of the killer's family," said Donald Kraybill, a sociologist at nearby Elizabethtown College and co-author of Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. (emphasis added)
In 2012, a man named George shot and killed a 17 year-old named Trayvon, as the younger man punched him about the head after the two got into a fight in a neighborhood. One young life was taken in an awful confrontation, while the other, after a lengthy legal process, went free.

Then something happened. The Trayvon community didn't forgive. In fact, members of the Trayvon community organized protest rallies, threatened George with further legal action, and even threatened to kill George, George's parents, other people named George, and other people with similar phone numbers as George.

These stories are both true. But they are vastly different because of one thing: forgiveness.

The Nickel Mines community knew that even if it retaliated against the killer (if he hadn't killed himself), the killer's family or people like him, it wouldn't bring justice to the loss of their children. They knew that true justice in these times comes in eternity and nowhere else. And in the face of unspeakable evil they were convinced of this truth:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
They did, and their actions testify to their love.

The Trayvon community says it wants justice, but it doesn't. It wants vengeance and more. It wants retaliation on a larger scale. With its current mindset, this community will not receive justice it says it wants; nor will it overcome evil, because it has already been overcome itself.

The question is, will the leaders of this community realize their mistake? Will they at some point see the fruits of their labor (not equality, but hatred) and actually forgive George? I don't know. True forgiveness is not something people make themselves do; it is a fruit of a heart that has known forgiveness itself. We cannot bring true peace to others without first having peace from God, and that is where we all must start.

- - -

This is by no means either an exhaustive history of either case, or a final word on the current situation within America. Time will only tell what kinds of things will happen in the next few months. It is mainly meant to expose the stark difference in these two situations, and to point to the enormous healing that happens when people love and forgive others. Is this difficult to do? Of course.

I hate racial labels. (That's why I've labeled these two groups of people as "communities" and nothing else. The point remains without delving further.) I hate that people have made and allowed divisions based on skin color. All this needs to stop before anyone can move forward.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Leaders: Do You Love?

This morning as I did a few dishes I thought about the church here in America. I pondered, as I often do, how to eliminate bells and whistles and the endless push to do more during our Sunday mornings. I remembered a recent Sunday when the kids choir from children's church sang/led a couple of songs, and how powerful a testimony that was to me. Their teacher played an acoustic guitar and they sang; nothing flashy. One of their songs was actually an old hymn called "Ancient Words," and to hear such young kids singing it was compelling. The powerful thing in that moment was the love I could see the teacher had for her students, and how that was reflected back to her and to us. I'd reckon they would sing any song for her; because she loved them they would follow her anywhere.

Maybe you've seen the movie White Christmas. Do you remember the scene in which a bunch of the men that General Waverly led in the war gathered from around the region for a surprise banquet in his honor? Remember the look on the general's face when he walked in and saw them again, as they broke into this song:
We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go
Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe
We'll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay
Long as he stays away from the battle's fray 
Because we love him, we love him
Especially when he keeps us on the ball
And we'll tell the kiddies we answered duty's call
With the grandest son of a soldier of them all
While this was a tongue-in-cheek song, the movie showed the principle of love at the center of leadership, especially between brothers in arms. While I haven't experienced combat myself, I recently read several interviews of enlisted and commissioned military men in William Bennett's The Book of Man. Several times while talking about the men under their command, the officers talked about how much they loved their guys and how they would have done anything for them. With leaders like that, I'm sure the enlisted men would have gladly done anything for their superiors.

How does this connect to the church? Intimately. I believe if leaders miss this, they've missed it all, and shown they don't understand what they're called to do. And without love, what makes people think they really are leaders? These are questions for you and for me to answer:

Do you honestly care about the people you are leading?

Are you available to help them?

Do you discipline out of love? Do you care enough to do hard things?

Are you willing to do the things you ask of those you are leading?

Will you inconvenience yourself for the sake of others?

Is your love conditional or unconditional?
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. — Jesus (John 15:12-15)
Do you want people to follow your leadership? Love them.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Today's Reading

An excerpt from what I read this morning, from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Psalm of Life":

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing, 
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Most Expensive Cup of Coffee Ever

Several weeks ago I sat at this very table with this very intent in mind: to write a little about life and how some verses in Hebrews 12 were involved in my week. Then, in my second-most klutzy move of the year (the first being an impressive mountain bike crash), I spilled my entire mug of coffee onto our Macbook. The screen went black as the brew soaked down through the keyboard, and that was the end of that blog attempt and our computer. Talk about a pricy cup of coffee.

But here I am again, and after much ado I'll start again from Hebrews 12:1-2.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Last month I completed my first-ever triathlon – a sprint triathlon, which means it was a fairly short one. Nevertheless, it was a big deal for me, so I trained hard for it over the course of several months. The week of the triathlon our community group studied Hebrews chapter 12, and the verses above were absolutely appropriate.
. . . let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely . . .
Man, I don't know about you but I am not a spandex person. Not to reference sin which clings so closely, but it was a different feeling being tied into a pair of triathlon shorts; not wildly inappropriate, but still not something I'd walk around in on an average day. But you know, they were great for all three events of the race, and I can't imagine what it would be like to race in something really heavy, like a flannel shirt or winter boots. No one would ever race in clothing like that, silly! You think to yourself. Well of course not, but we Christians try to run with our baggage all the time. It might be sin, it might be the dead weight of the past. But we cannot follow Jesus well if we keep ourselves attached to it. This is a hearty reminder to me as it is to you.
. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith . . .
My triathlon ended with a 2.5 mile run. By the time I got my shoes switched and started into it, my calves told me they'd had enough already. They cramped up as badly as I've ever experienced. Not only that, but physically and mentally I was beginning to fatigue a bit. From my limited training I've learned when that happens, to pick out a spot up ahead and tell myself, Run there. Whether outside or inside a gym I'll look ahead to the next landmark, run to it, then pick another landmark and run to that. It's a neat way to trick my mind into going further than it would otherwise. So that's what I did during the triathlon. Run to that building, run to the next road, run to the turnaround, run back to the building. Miserable as I felt, I just ran to one goal at a time, and eventually my next goal was the finish line.

I envy those people who have their lives planned out years in advance, and can simply walk ahead and presto! Things fall right into place. My personal experience has been more of a step-at-a-time process, like God is there saying, Run there, and when I do He says, Now run there. And the picture in this Bible passage is to keep our heads up and our gaze fixed on Jesus and ignore whatever else would pull us away from the goal.

There! I finally got these thoughts together, and if I can just hit that "Publish" button before I spill some more coffee...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Making Jesus Cool

Here's a question: Is Jesus so unhip that Christians need to convince people that he is actually a cool guy, by ripping off creating merchandise ideas as a persuasion method?

(Original photo found here)

After much deliberation, I decided to skip this year's local Christian music festival. Our budget literally could not afford the tune of $40 for one day of music (I was only looking forward to one of the bands anyway), but I was still a little bummed to miss it. The festival itself is usually pretty good, and I've made a lot of memories there. 

One part of the festival I don't miss, which is a sad reflection of our culture at large, is the MASS MARKETING of the thing. The largest building on the grounds is dedicated to vendors. Bands sell stuff (which I understand, because they have to eat), organizations sell stuff and try to raise support, music stores sell stuff, and there is always at least two booth spaces' worth of Christian t-shirts that, if you buy one and wear it, will make Jesus look at least 35 percent cooler to your non-Christian friends. And these t-shirts accomplish it all by ripping off giving a spiritual twist to whatever the outside culture says is popular right now. How can anyone say no to having "Myspace in Heaven" or "Abreadcrumb & Fish"?

The interesting thing that we forget in this mindset is that what is popular in the general culture is actually not on the cutting-edge of creativity. And when Christians try to capitalize on a trend that looks cool right now, they don't realize the rest of culture has moved on to something else already. Call it a clean miss.

Jesus is not a fad; he is not cool, and following Him throughout history has proven uncool to untold numbers of martyrs, at least this side of Heaven. Jesus walked on this Earth, changed lives, healed, raised the dead, challenged, and divided. He was killed, and He rose from the dead. And now the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead is living inside His followers. With that in mind, why in the world would a mere t-shirt do anything at all? Why not wear a plain shirt and let God do what He does through you?