Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Keeping it Simple

These mountains are what we wake up to each day. The clouds are constantly changing around them, creating a new painting moment by moment. The power lines are a bit of a downer. If you look closely between the peaks of the mountains, you can see some water falls trickling down. Those waterfalls carved the peaks the way unconditional love smoothes a heart of stone.

The year before we left for Hawai'i I came to the conclusion that an enormous part of my life was spent simply managing my possessions. Saturdays were chore days, where the whole family chipped in in to dust, polish, clean, straighten, vacuum or put away our accumulation of possessions. But cleaning wasn't just for Saturdays. Every day had a list of chores assigned to it in order to keep our family of 6 fed, clothed and clean. I think the initial misdiagnosis of a possibly shorter life due to a heart defect caused me to ask myself what I was doing with my life. I wondered if I was spending the time that God gives me each day in a way that increases peace on earth or simply reduces dust collection and laundry pile-ups. Not that laundry and cleaning are bad things, but I became convinced that if I would let go of some of my stuff, I could have more time to do the things in life that really mattered such as helping people, writing, and loving my family. Our move to Hawai'i provided an opportunity to rethink my home and life with a focused goal: make more time of people-oriented tasks and less for possession-oriented tasks. Saving time became even more critical when we decided that for the first time in our marriage, both parents would work full-time. To keep ourselves from burning out, we made some specific resolutions:

1. Spare the stuff. Keeping only the furniture, toys and knick-knacks that were useful (or too meaningful to lose) and ridding our lives of the rest of the things we were holding onto was really helpful in freeing up our time. The less things we have, the less we have to dust or maintain, the more time we have for other things, most importantly, people.

2. Smaller is better. I was always thankful that we lived in a small home in Maryland but our current house is even smaller. We determined to furnish our home with only the necessary furniture for living comfortably. So, not only is our home smaller, more importantly, it is less cluttered. It used to take us hours as a family to get our house spiffy clean. Now it takes about 30 minutes.

3. Touch it once. One huge time saver is to set up systems for mail, laundry, food and other daily tasks so that the items involved are touched as few times as possible in the completion of the task involved. For instance, in our home in Maryland, the mail was brought in, put on the step, taken upstairs to the office and put in a basket. Now, the mail is brought directly in the location where we pay bills (the most important part of mail). Some of this is the difference between living in a one level home instead of a multi-level home, but some of the process just needed fixing. Dishes are another example. In our old house, we had a dishwasher and many cabinets. Each day someone would empty the dishwasher, put the dishes in the cabinet, take the dishes out later, set the table, then re-load the dishwasher and start the process over again the next day. I still wish we had a dishwasher, but now I have a dish rack (which used to be an aquarium stand) that displays my dishes and utensils and allows them to dry at the same time. Now, I don't set the table during the week, only on Sundays. So for a regular meal, we grab the dishes from the rack, fill our plates and enjoy our dinner at the table in the lanai (in beautiful weather all year long). Such a simple thing, but every few minutes saved adds up.

4. Keep it simple. Life can be so complicated and we add to the frenzy with all of our unrealistic expectations. One area we have tried to keep more simple is gift giving.I was horrified to discover that many of my attempts to love our kids by blessing them with toys or other treasures ended up in the attic only to have me drip with sweat as I packed them up for Goodwill.It has been such a relief to look at birthdays as days to go and do special things we wouldn't do otherwise instead of feeling compelled to go out and buy something. So far, our children have said they really like this method of gift giving better than before.

5. Stay close. My life in Maryland was anything but strategically located. Now that we live here, I can see the value of small town life. Everything is close. We grumble when we have to go "all the way into town" because it means going through the mountains and driving for 20 minutes. We are so used to 7 minute drives that 20 minutes feels like a day trip. Having lived here a year, I am astounded by the time saved (and gas, too) because we live and work and worship closer to home. I had no idea how much living closer to everything would reduce stress.

6. A place for everything and everything in its place. This sounds nit-picky but it's so helpful to really think about the most strategic place for everything instead of the place things ends up. Being intentional about our home will help us be intentional about our lives. Keeping after my kids about putting things away helps them be intentional about their lives, too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't panic.

Google Chrime is a short story, slightly based in reality, just like its author. It was just for fun. I'm a big fan of Flannery O'Conner, who wrote stories to expose the reality of sin in the world and the need for a Savior. So this is in her style, but I don't even come close to her skill. Most of it really did happen that way except Rick is really the nicest guy ever, tattoos and all. His wife was worried that we would be freaked out by following him down the country road and I told them that I was thinking it would be a fun mystery/short story. Sorry for the panic.

Google Chrime

"Hey, Daniel, come and take a look at this before I post it on my blog. Dad and I are going to Starbucks to check out a couch from Craig's List." Leslie called down the hall as she searched for her keys and shoes. "Daniel."

"Coming said the grumpy teen, "Why do I need to look at it before you post it? It's not about me again, is it?"

"Well, sort of. It's kind of a mesh of Proverbs 13 and you and life in general. Just read it. If it's okay, click "Publish Post." If you don't like it, save it and I'll re-do it when I come back. We should be right back but we might be a little while if we like the couch."

"What? You're looking at another couch? How many are you going to look at?" grumbled Daniel.

"It's only been a few and this one is in Kaneohe, only a few minutes away."

"Wait. You said you were going to Starbuck's. Why are you going to Starbuck's to get a couch?"

"Rick said he'd meet us in the Starbuck's parking lot so that we didn't get lost."

"Who's Rick?" asked Daniel, exasperated.

"The guy with the couch from Craig's List! Anyway, I don't actually have his address but I know he drives a black '62 Chevy pick-up and he sounds like a really nice guy on the phone. Okay, so Laura's not home. You're in charge. Don't abuse that responsibility. Got it? Love you. Bye."

"Okay, whatever, bye."

"Read it please!" called Leslie from the back door.

"Bye." called Daniel from the kitchen.

"Now please!"

"Okay, Okay!" Daniel walked over to his mom's chair and recognized immmediately the need for a comfy couch in the living room. He begrudgingly picked up her laptop and sat down. "All right, so what do we have here. "Daniel touched the touchpad to read the laptop screen. "'From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence.' What in the world is she talking about? Here we go again..."

Dave and Leslie pulled into the Starbuck's parking lot just as it started to rain. They circled a few times but couldn't find the black Chevy. Leslie's phone rang. "Hi Rick, yes, we're here. Oh, now I see you." She smiled as she looked at the face of the man on the phone. He smiled at her and said, "Is that you?" They both laughed and closed their phones. Rick called out of his window, "I live just down the road a bit, follow me."

"Okay, great." yelled Dave from the driver's seat.

Daniel neared the end of the blog post..."'Righteousness guards the man of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.' Okay, whatever. I guess it's not too bad. Now what did she tell me to do?" Daniel clicked the button to publish the post and, as always, he then selected "view blog" so he could see the final product. "Hey, I took that picture. Hello sunset, you are looking mighty fine, I must say." Daniel scrolled down to see the rest of the blog and scanned the followers. "Hey, she has a new follower...."

"He seems like a nice guy." observed Leslie. "No tattoos, no piercings, just a nice guy who wants to go back home and take care of his parents. Did I tell you his wife is a third grade teacher too?"

"How did that come up?" wondered Dave.

"I don't know. Oh, wow it's dark back here. There aren't any street lights really. I'm glad he met us at Starbucks."

"Let's just hope this couch doesn't have cat scratches all over it." said Dave disapprovingly.

"Or that it's not 5 inches too short for you." said Leslie, reprovingly. They turned onto another road. "Okay, there are, like NO houses here. Can I have some of this undeveloped land for a small price?" wondered Leslie aloud.

The black Chevy pulled into the grass in front of a house. A middle-aged man wearing a polo shirt, khaki pants and dress shoes got out of the truck, certainly looking like someone who hasn't blended with the local culture and wants to go home to the mainland. Rick walked over to the driver's side and waited for Dave to roll down his window. "Dave, you can back into the carport if you want, to make it easier later."

" Okay, thanks." said Dave with a smile. He turned to Leslie, "How did he know my name?"

"I must have mentioned it. He's probably in sales or something so he knows how to remember names. Or maybe he's a Christian and Craig's List is his front for getting to know people. Relational evangelism meets the Internet!" quipped Leslie, seriously considering blogging on the idea as a valid ministry option.

"Well, he's not wearing a white oxford with a blue name badge so I don't think he's a Mormon missionary. Too bad."

"Why?" wondered Leslie.

"We'd know that the couch was smoke-free." laughed Dave.

"Oh, you're funny. Okay, so you have the money? Please don't haggle him on the price, he said his wife didn't want to negotiate on the price."

"Okay, okay. I have the money but do me a favor and leave your purse here so I don't have to drive back to get it when you forget it."

"I'll put it under the seat."

"Actually,I'll put my phone there, too so it doesn't fall out while I'm carrying the couch...IF I carry the couch, that is."

Daniel clicked on the name of the new follower and noticed his name. Rick Hobling. "Ha, Rick! That's funny. I wonder if he's selling a couch on Craig's List." he laughed. Unable to resist the power of the Internet, Daniel clicked on Rick's profile. "Hey, this guy lives in Kaneohe! I'll bet it IS the same guy!" That is SO funny. I gotta call mom and tell her. She would laugh so hard." Daniel dialed Leslie's cell. No answer. Then he dialed Dave's. "Oh well. I guess she'll find out when she gets home." Then, just out of curiousity, Daniel googled Rick Hobling.

Dave and Leslie both removed their shoes and entered the house, noticing that the owner, however, did not. Definitely not meshing with life here thought Dave. "The couch is up the stairs and to the right." noted Rick. He motioned for Leslie to go first. Dave followed. The hall was dark. They got to the top of the stairs and turned right. They entered what they assumed was the living room. There was a red carpet, black curtains which were drawn shut, but no couch. They turned around confused and heard Rick lock the front door down the hall. Leslie's stomach sank and Dave grabbed her hand protectively while he reached for his phone. His phone! It was in the car!

"I want to thank you for coming to take a look at my couch," said Rick. "Unfortunately, it's no longer available." Dave could see that there was no easy way out of this. Though Dave had more leverage, he didn't know what this guy was planning to do. Dave put Leslie behind him.

Rick leaned over to look at Leslie, "You have an interesting blog. I've been following you for some time anonymously. But today, I made myself your last follower."

Leslie was stunned. What was happening? Who was this guy? Why was he doing this? "Have I done something to...was there something that..."

"Oh, don't worry. It's nothing personal.It's just that, well, I can. So I do. You're not the first and you won't be the last. But I WILL be the last follower on your blog, be sure of that." Rick reached into his back pocket and pulled out a rope while at the same time a loud crash was heard down the hall and heavy footsteps were heard on the stairs. Rick turned around and Dave kicked him onto the floor grabbing Leslie's arm and pulling her out of the room just as the police came in wearing bullet-proof vests and pointing guns at Rick. "Mr. Hobling, you're under arrest."

Shaking and nearly sick with fear, Leslie moved toward the front door. "How did you ever find us?" she asked one of the policemen.

"Mrs. Collins, you should be very thankful for that son of yours. He is a quick thinker. Mr. Hobling left his mark on your blog and Daniel followed it. When he saw Mr. Hobling's own blogs and his other activity on the Internet, Daniel called us right away and, thanks to your cell phones, we were able to find you... Mr. Hobling is wanted in 3 states for murder.

"Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly." Proverbs 13:16

Friday, July 9, 2010

That Dangerous Harry Potter

People have asked me for years about my opinion regarding Mr. Potter, the wizard of Hogwarts. For over 10 years my response has been "I have too many classics to read right now to read Harry Potter." C. S. Lewis encouraged his readers to develop a diet of classics that was peppered with lighter and more trendy reads. Following his advice, and heeding to my own personal challenge to read what my kids were reading in school left me with little additional reading time. But now my kids are reading Harry Potter. My time to read it has come. Going to the library 12 years after the first book was published, I find it's still a favored read among adults and children alike. That tidbit alone would make it seem that it's well on its way to being a classic. So what do I think of Potter so far? I'm just finished the first and in the first half of the second. I know next to nothing about J.K. Rowling other than that she is a woman with chutzpah and imagination. I've heard that she was modeling herself after C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien. If nothing other than first initials and a two-syllable British last name, those are good men to model. She does seem to be keeping with their example of casting fantastical light on how people find their identity, their bearings, their true North. And, like Tolkien and Lewis before her, the sage advice that she would offer is better received from wizened characters like Gandalf, Aslan and Dumbledore.

I'm trying to understand what some Christians have been so upset by for so long about Potter. I've heard that her books blur the distinction of evil and good. I haven't seen evidence of this. In fact, in the first book, the antagonist, whom Harry defeats, says, "There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it..." Lewis' antagonists in both Narnia and his space trilogy say this very same thing. And, like Lewis, Rowling has these evil men defeated by the gentle, faithful, yet undaunted protagonist.

Some say that they portray witchcraft in a good light when it is really a form of Satanic worship. Really? But Gandalf's use of magic is okay? Bilbo's invisibility ring is okay but Harry's cloak is not? I know that witches, as seen in Shakespeare's Macbeth have often been portrayed as communing with evil, thus deriving their power. But is that what Rowling is doing? Is she trying to say, "See, we've been wrong all along. Witches are good. Follow all of them." Is she encouraging her readers to abandon God in their quest for power? Is she even giving them a reason to head towards worshipping Evil? Or is she staging the struggles for identity and purpose in a world where our inward struggles against pride, anger, resentment, insecurity and power can be more clearly seen? Instead of wooing her readers into a dark world of magic so that she can cast an evil spell on them and render them powerless, is she instead drawing her readers into the idea that we live in a parallel universe the way that Lewis did with the Pevensie children who were Kings and Queens in Narnia (as Christians are considered royalty in Heaven) but children in London? At the school of Hogwarts, we learn that Muggles are those who are nonmagical. Some Muggles refuse to see the magic all around them, while others can see and even believe, but aren't magical. Most Muggles live in a world where what they see is what get. Wizards and, dare I say it, witches, on the other hand, believe that they have been given a special calling, a gift of magic that is to be used for a good purpose only. They believe that they are to use their magical powers carefully and they must be trained well if they are to be truly useful. Isn't this the message of the New Testament? Aren't we given a royal heritage as our identity? Haven't we been given magical power in the gifts of the Spirit and in prayer? Aren't we spiritual beings living in a world of stubborn Muggles? Perhaps this isn't what Rowling is saying, but hats off to Rowling for portraying the study of Latin, the dusting off of ancient books and the study of logic as worthy pursuits. Like Lewis, I think Rowling is forcing her characters and her readers to recognize that the struggles at Hogwarts are the same struggles in the world of Muggles, and the world that we call life. The book of Hebrews refers to this idea of parallel worlds as types and shadows. The Apostle Paul, defying all fear of mixing religion with magic stood in the center of Athens and proclaimed Jesus Christ as the unknown God of their mythology. He wasn't saying that the evil acts of the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece were now okay, he wasn't leading his fellow Greeks to worship these gods, he wasn't blurring the distinctions of truth. He was saying, "That parallel world of magic does exist. Your ancient stories are just types and shadows of a greater truth. Jesus Christ was that truth. Follow Him." I don't know whether J.K. Rowling holds a Christian worldview of mythology, magic and morality. I still haven't figured that out about Shakespeare, but that doesn't keep me from reading his works and, most importantly, talking about them with my children.

I'll leave you with my favorite passage from The Sorcerer's Stone, a conversation between Dumbledore and Harry after Harry defeated the evil Voldemort in what I'm told is his first of many battles. "Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign...to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever." Perhaps these books really are dangerous. They might lead us to look into what it means to be loved by someone who laid His own life down for us that we might have some protection forever.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


A friend of mine once asked me to pray for a loved one who had terminal cancer. How striking that word "terminal." We've written term papers, perhaps purchased term insurance and when we've traveled, we've departed from the terminal at the airport. My prayer for that friend's loved one was not merely that they would survive the cancer, but that they would understand that life, for all of us, is a journey that ends. Too often, we don't think about our destination until we've already arrived.

Traveling two weeks ago put me in touch once again with the various techniques of travel among my fellow Americans. In my walk back from the restroom, I saw passengers watching movies on their laptops, reading, sleeping, video-gaming, and listening to what I refer to as I.P.I.D.'s, Irritating Personal Isolation Devices(IPods). In 5 plane trips, I noticed only one traveler journaling in an old fashioned leather bound book, once a common habit among travelers. When we traveled to Indonesia in 1992 with Laura, who was not yet two years old, the cabin looked and sounded distinclty different. In those very long 32 hours I think two movies were shown(but they did serve food). Boredom took on a whole new meaning. We distracted Laura by handing her playing cards one by one until she had all 52 in her wall-mounted bassinet. Then,for excitement,she handed them back to us one at a time. And we repeated this insanity several times. At that point, any diversion was welcomed. Now traveling is easy. Distractions abound. A few movies, a few missed episodes of your favorite show downloaded on the laptop, and presto, you're there! The cabins of planes today are remarkably quiet. The passengers are amused and distracted. Flight attendants couldn't be happier.

Distractions are not limited to travel. One could easily spend one's entire day surfing the Internet, watching television, checking out Facebook, and playing video games. Neil Postman, in his book, Amusine Ourselves to Death, points out the dangers of a culture that is fed and bred on daily doses of entertainment. He challenges his readers with the idea that if everything is easy, we will never accomplish hard things and we may be easily led astray by foolish politics and practices. He argues that amusement as a lifestyle goal or regular habit will cripple our families, our schools, our economy, our culture.

I would add one thing to Mr Postman's argument. I'm not just concerned that our culture is becoming less educated and more vulnerable politically and economically. I'm concerned that our culture is becoming more vulnerable spiritually as well. I believe that we were made to have a relationship with the ONE who made us. He set us on the course of this journey we call life to know Him and be known by Him. Every journey has an end. Every life is terminal. C.S.Lewis said that Heaven is a destination where all the inhabitatnts say to God, "THY will be done." On the other hand, he says, Hell is a destination for those to whom God says "thy will be done." Our life. Our destination. Our choice. But do we ever really think about this? Do we ever really contemplate our destination? Why should we when we have every distraction from our terminal condition possible? Plug in the I.P.I.D. and watch another movie. "Could I have another drink please with the can this time? And those little pretzels, too?"