Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Feeling even better now....

One thing I found today (while checking a school friend's blog) was a list of other "recently updated" blogs on this BlogSpot site.  That's when I found this one, and all of a sudden my day seemed even better than it had been, up to that point.

For me, today's joys actually started off late last night with receiving an incredible gift and affirmation from a friend and his family, as well as ongoing news about my sister Sue's quest for a more mobility-friendly residence for her and husband Jeff.  Early this morning, I had breakfast with a newly-sober fellow, followed by several phone calls from friends.  Then I got word that a couple job potentials are still in progress, and I got a number of other applications in-process this morning.  And a  friend from Kansas is taking me out to dinner tonight downtown.  How can you beat that?  

If there were a song for today, it would be Chris Rice's Life Means So Much, along with Vince Guaraldi's classic "Peanuts" theme, Linus and Lucy, along with "Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity" from Gustav Holst's incredible work The Planets.  To be honest, my life ain't exactly what I want it to be right now in a number of ways...but I'm very, very glad to have all of it, today.  Thanks, God, for the precious gift of this 24 hours...I'm not always so ready to receive it, or to spend it well, but I'm more than happy to take it, today.

Barbra Streisand said it best....

It's the laughter we will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were...
While in Toledo last weekend I got to visit my original AA home group, the "Early Bird" Group (Mon-Sat at 7:30 AM at the Chapter V club on Airport Highway...a great group!). When I walked in, I was surprised to learn that Larry P., a long-time member of "The Bird" who'd finally gotten sober for a couple years, had died (sober) of a heart-attack... at age 53.

Alcohol and chemicals had not been kind to Larry's heart and circulation system - so a lot of folks were shocked, but not surprised, to hear of Larry's death.  But as people shared about Larry's life and struggles with sobriety, one of the things I kept hearing about, over and over again, was the laughter that Larry shared with others.  He is just the most recent in a long string of folks I've met in 12-step groups for whom "sober & crazy" was not only a status-report, but both a mantra and a mission statement. 

It brought me to the realization that my own self-centered fears - about my employment and finances, about my future in ministry, and about a health concern or two - have kept me from doing much in the way of belly-laughing for a while.  There have been a number of things that have been funny in my life recently (see this posting, for one example), but while I have told the stories, and gotten laughs out of them at my own expense, I haven't been doing much laughing myself lately.

This revelation explains why I was reasonably serene during the day today, despite a number of setbacks.  My sister gave me her bike to ride around Chicago, and this morning I pumped up the tires and set off for Borders' Books and then to the lake.  Unfortunately, I only made it about 6 blocks (from the apartment to almost in front of the Valois cafeteria) when the bike's back tire blew, with a sound like a shotgun blast.  Startled, I swore loudly (I know...still workin' on that) and was ready to "hit the dirt" (go ahead and laugh at that image) until I realized it was only my own tire detonating underneath me.  So, I walked the bike from 53rd & Lake Park over to Art's Cyclery on 55th & Connell, ocasionally muttering to myself about the stupidity of bringing the bike 245 miles west, so that I could once again be celebrating the joys of hoofing it.  Fifteen minutes and $15 later, I was back on the road, and was almost exactly where I had been before.... 

...and the @$#&$ tire blew...again.

So there I was, walking down 53rd St.,Connell, and 55th Street on my way back to the cycle-shop.  My mind was racing with a steady stream of fairly vulgar invective, varying in tone all the way from "Why were you so all-fired excited about getting a damn bike, anyway?" to "Did you see the faces on those folks on the sidewalk beside you, and the way they jumped when that stupid tire blew?"

Needless to say, I enjoyed the second line of reasoning far more than the first.  Attitude counts for a lot.  Thank you, God, for the gift of being able to laugh at beats the tar out of the alternatives!

Monday, July 26, 2004

To be a blessing to others...

May the One who gave blessings to those before us now give us the strength and endurance to become a blessing to others. (a Hebrew prayer)
What a blessing this extended weekend has been.

I went to Ohio this weekend for two primary purposes - first, to help celebrate the birthday of my twin sisters, Sue and Sandy; and second, to get away from the insanity of ongoing unemployment in metro Chicago.  I realized just how much this has been weighing on my mind by the desperation with which I raced out of town on Thursday afternoon. 

In my haste to get out of town so I could beat the rain (which I didn't), I left behind a number of important things (like my cell-phone charger, and my CPAP machine, without which I've been snoring much, and sleeping less well than I might have otherwise).  But despite having a hundred things I supposedly needed to get done Thursday morning and afternoon, suddenly something just snapped, and I had this desperate need to just get the heck out of  And so in the space of 15 minutes, the car was packed, the tunes were on, and I was "eastbound and down," as the old song says.

And it felt pretty darned wonderful, to be honest.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to go to the University of Toledo's "Art on the Mall," a one day art show showcasing northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan artists.  It was at the art show today that I saw a beautifully-lettered print in Hebrew and English with the prayer that opened this entry. 

Dear God, let that be my prayer, this day.

As I read the prayer, it called to mind my current financial and employment lack-of-status.  I am way past "please God, let me get a good job" and "please God, let me get any job."   I am down to the "please, God, would you help me cease to be a burden to my family and friends, and let me do for others what they have done for me, that I might be a blessing, too..." stage of the game.

The 7th Tradition of the AA program states that we "ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions," which just irks the tar out of me too - because for years I was a stickler about this.  It was part of the 7th tradition that told me that I shouldn't declare bankruptcy 12 years ago, and continue to pay down my immense debt (which is now the major stumbling block between me and ordained ministry). So to be entirely dependent on the contributions of others to even pay my electric bill has been a source of real frustration.

But even more than that...for years, when someone was in genuine need, I made a serious effort to help them out. And I want to be able to do that again.  And I desperately, desperately want to not have to be supported when I am very much ready and able to support myself.

Of course, I know all the pat answers: I'm not on the street, or in danger of being evicted (yet); I have plenty of food;  I don't have a family to worry about; I still have my level of health (at least, what health I haven't destroyed up to this point!).  So in those ways I am blessed beyond measure.  And I am blessed by the people who have supported me out of their own pockets to keep going. 

But it's getting hard, Lord.  Really.  And, to be honest, I don't want to make the decision to move in with friends or my sister - even though both of them will be willing to have me in a heart-beat. 

For now, I'm gonna get back to Chicago, and get back in the job-hunting game.

And "pray without ceasing."

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Early Wednesday moanin'...

For years, I was a fan of Detroit Free Press columnist Bob Talbert.  A Southerner transplanted to the Motor City, his column was a mix of name-dropping (BIG names, too), reflections on life-the-universe-and-everything, compassion and home-town pride that just wouldn't stop.  The world lost an exceptional writer, husband, and friend when Bob died in late 1999.  [Click on Bob's highlighted name to see some of his more memorable columns, near the bottom of the "in memory" page.]

Bob's Southern accent came through in print best in his double-entendre "Outta my mind on Monday moanin' " columns, which were a mainstay of his writing.  The "moanin' " columns were not always on Monday, and weren't always just a gripe session - but since the Freep (as locals called the Free Press) was a morning paper, Talbert frequently started off the morning with some moaning - hence the pun.  His book, "Good Moanin'," was a classic collection of his columns which I still enjoy picking up and reading from time to time.  (Yeah, he was that good.)

So, in tribute to Bob, here's some "early Wednesday moanin' " thoughts...

Moanin': What telemarketers were to the telephone, and spam was to email, browser hijackings are to the Web-surfer.  You've probably had it happen...all of a sudden, it seems that no matter what you click on, your browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, or perhaps Mozilla) seems to end up at the same obnoxious web-site, where seemingly thousands of pop-up ads threaten to bury you.  Despite my DSL modem's supposed internal hardware firewall (so says the tech support weenie, anyway) and Norton Internet Security configured to cook at "medium," I ended up with my browser hijacked this evening.  Annoying?  You betcha.  Took about an hour, and repeated scans with Ad-Aware 6, to get the thing fixed.  Good thing I don't have a way to reverse-zap the guys that did it - they'd be addressing St. Peter in person this morning, if I did!  So, Norton is now set to "high," and one of the first purchases I make once I get re-employed will be a router to provide a physical barrier to these e-monsters.  Death, death  to hijackers, I say!

Good moanin': I am so looking forward to two trips in the near future.  First, heading to see my twin sisters for their birthday (the "day" is actually Tuesday, so I'm coming in for the weekend ahead of time).   A run to Tony Packo's will probably be on the menu for Friday night, and then down to sister Sandy's for brats and sweet corn (heaven's just a heartbeat away, at that point) on Saturday night.  Pick up a bike from sister Sue (replacing the one that some so-and-so busted our porch apart so they could steal over 4th of July weekend), spend some time relaxing with both sisters and brothers-in-laws, and ride on home Sunday night.  Good time will be had by all.  (One big advantage to being in Chicago is being only 3-4 hours away from the family, instead of the 13 it took to drive from Kansas.)

With God's grace (and thanks to a timely gift from my dear friend Natalie) my second trip will be back to Kansas for Labor Day weekend.  My buddy Mike Trogdon is getting married, and I still owe Ryan and Dena Hess a wedding hug (since I couldn't make it for their wedding at the beginning of the impoverished, unemployed summer!).  Also on the agenda is seeing my home congregation friends at Atonement Lutheran, and sharing in the sobriety celebration of a couple former sponsees.  So that will be an exceptionally busy (but blessed) weekend!

Moanin': the office of the president of the seminary sent out letters to the seminary community, offering thanksgiving for the construction of the new pipe organ in the Augustana Chapel at LSTC, and soliciting contributions for the completion of the chapel work and to pay down the construction of the organ.  Problem is, the president's office sent all the letters out stamped mail (which I understand makes people look twice at solicitation letters) - but they also included the students in the mailing, and paid postage on all those letters that should have gone straight to our campus mailboxes, for free.  Not only was it somewhat silly to be soliciting contributions from already-impoverished seminary students (many of whom are in unpaid-chaplaincy positions as part of Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, this summer), but unnecessarily paying for postage to solicit funds from impoverished students was really un-clever. A solid "A" for enthusiasm, and a D-minus for practicality. 

Good moanin':  had a delightful conversation with roommate Tim on Tuesday night about widely varied topics, but kicking off with an eye-opener about human cloning which definitely changed my understandings on the topic.  One of the blessings of having a fellow like Tim around is that he is more than happy to show me all the holes in the underpinnings of my long-held beliefs, but is way too polite to tell me what an idiot I am for holding those beliefs.  He is also a much-better read (and better-spoken) man than I am, so our conversations never fail to enlighten my perspectives on whatever topics we happen to wander across.  He's also a fairly un-critical consumer of whatever I'm willing to fix in the kitchen - although my cooking is generally way too bland for him (witness his Szechuan-sauce booster applied to last night's chicken stir-fry!).  [To my credit, with the exception of one batch of broccoli casserole that hardly anyone touched, none of my cooking has failed the dog-food test (so bad that even dog-food would be better), for which I am grateful.]  All in all, if you need to have a roommate, you need to find one like Tim.  Thank you, God, for giving me "a season in his path."

Good moanin': In the end, I really have nothing to moan about.  I can (and do) moan about my finances, my lack of even temporary full-time employment, my seeming over-qualification for a number of jobs which I would GLADLY do in a heart-beat, and the price of gas in the city of Chicago.  But these are all adiaphora in the end.  Compared to many folks, I am blessed beyond measure - and way too blessed to be stresed.  I wouldn't switch places with many, many people I know (although there are half-a-dozen or so that I wouldn't mind trying out their lives for six or eight months, just to see how I handle the temptations!).  But the bottom line is that I'm sunny-side-up, suckin' air and sober, as my friend Bob L. used to say (probably still does) - and (as he also says) that puts me "in the bonus round." So I'll count my blessings, and put my happy butt to bed.  It's way past time for that!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Monday, Monday....

What a day.  Not at all the way I would have planned it, I'm afraid.
Good news...had a great weekend checking out Camp Algonquin, way up in the northwest corner of Chicagoland.  Went past (but didn't go into) Willow Creek Community Church - one of the biggest churches in the nation, and home of Pastor Bill Hybels (author of Too Busy Not To Pray and other good things). Had a great time reflecting on my "faith journey," and sharing some of the amazing twists and turns it has taken over the years with my spiritual formation team-mates (Lisa, Barb, and Dirk).  Working through this project, one week at a time, is probably one of the better ideas I've had shared with me at seminary!
Bad news...mid-afternoon, I found out that the temporary full-time employment I had been told was "all lined up" to start Wednesday fell through.  For about an hour, I really was getting annoyed with God...feeling very Job-like.  The conversation went something like this..."Alright, GOD...just what were you thinking about with this one, GOD?  What part of your will is it that I get to keep suiting up and showing up, and people keep telling me "Yes...." but never actually commiting? I'm not asking for my old job back - I'm not asking for anything desperate like benefits or anything.  Just enough of a wage to keep from being evicted, and having the power turned off.  Is that really so demanding?...."

It's funny, in a way, because a friend had turned me on to this great quote from Thomas a' Kempis (from The Imitation of Christ) that talked about times of consolation and desolation, and the way I reacted, I felt like such a hypocrite for sending that out.  The only thing that kept me from sending out a second e-mail saying, "Don't pay any attention, I don't actually act like I believe any of this nonsense" was the fact that I admitted, in my devotional, that I don't do this stuff well.  I can be at least that self-aware and self-honest to know that I generally boot up in "screw-up" mode...and the day gets better only by the grace of a loving and caring God.
Lord God, I am such a putz when it comes to "walking by faith, and not by sight."  As my former preaching professor Gene Lowry (who had started out his training in pre-law) noted, "It is much easier to preach than to practice."  Preach it, Br'er Lowry!
My mind was then overtaken with questions like, "OK, so do I just go ahead and register with the other 30 temporary agencies in town?  Do I start calling back the grocery stores again?  There's a bus-boy position up the road here at the Cedars - do I apply for that? Really?  How blasted 'humble' do things have to get?"  And then the grand-daddy of the self-doubt questions comes up..."Maybe it's time to just give up, and head for Toledo, move in with my sister as she so generously offered, and throw this whole ministry thing out the window.  Because if I'm not gonna get to do ministry (and more specifically, study ministry), I can do the other stuff from just about anywhere."  Needless to say, those are not good questions to be asking myself right about now.
My roommate Tim took his day off, and rode downtown on the Metra train and walked around the downtown area.  I was kind of envious of his day, to be honest.  In retrospect, I wish I'd had that much would have been less frustrating than the day I had.  Once I *am* re-employed, that's going to be my take the time (and the very limited funds) to really SEE this town.  I feel like I've missed so much of it, so far.
Now, I know that God has not dropped me, or singled me out for target-practice.  I know in my heart that things are going to be fine.  I have received some very badly needed financial support from a couple friends, which will carry me quite a ways.  But when is it "enough"?  When does one know that this point is "enough," and quit fooling oneself?  When do I start listening to W.C. Fields when he said, "If at first you do not succeed, quit and stop making a fool of yourself"?
I don't know.  But I do know that for the immediate future (like tomorrow), I am back in the search again...and trust that if I knock on enough doors, someone will actually hire someone as overqualified (or underqualified, depending on which job you look at) as me.  I may be "done," but I sure don't feel that way yet.
This is definitely the core of the Serenity prayer... not only to "accept the things I cannot change" but "the courage to change the things I can."  I can't change people's refusal to hire me - but I can change my attitude back toward "suit up, show up, and speak up."  In the end, that's the only way a job is gonna come my way.
For now, it's time to call it a day...and start again on the morrow.  Peace!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Not the worship service I had planned on...

Finding leads to losing
Losing lets you find
Living leads to dying
But life leaves death behind
Losing leads to finding
That's all that I can say...
No one will find Life another way.

(Ken Medema, from his Backstage Pass video)
Preach it, Br'er Medema.

My plan for this Sunday morning was to walk down to the Hyde Park Union Church this morning...and I actually made it out the door and about a block down Woodlawn in that direction. But I woke up not feeling overwell, and found, the further that I walked, the worse that I was feeling. I made it home just in time to encounter some significant gastric distress, effectively ending my worship plans for this Sunday, anyway. I was kind of frustrated - I really needed to be in worship, mentally and spiritually, this morning. I really, really needed the boost.

I don't know what made me look over at the bookshelf, and pick up Ken Medema's video of a couple years ago - but I do know that from the moment I put it in, I was "in worship' in the confines of my Chicago apartment. Laughing, crying, praying, I gave thanks to God for the ministry of this gifted musician and unordained minister (and for my sisters and brothers at Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kansas, who introduced me to Ken 10 months ago).

Later on in the "service," Ken sang these words:

Come walk with me in the darkness
And as we walk along
I'll tell you quite a story,
And I'll sing you quite a song -
I'll sing about light, and darkness,
About victory and defeat,
Corruption on the mountains
And compassion in the street...

'Cause it's a long night, and weary grow the feet
That walk the long road, but the morning will come sweet,
Yes it's a long night, but the Prince is in the streets tonight....
I have to admit that I have felt like I have been in "a long night," and my weak and wobbly feet have grown weary, at times. And a week ago, I had to confess to a couple friends that I just wasn't makin' it here, and I needed help - spiritually, emotionally, and financially. (Under normal circumstances, I would rather have had a gasoline enema than make that admission...but I'm finding that my pride can be an expensive option to hold onto, these days.)

Three friends, in ways great and small, made the difference between despair and hope this weekend. Without them, I really don't even want to consider what I'd have to do. With them, I have the gift to "keep on keepin' on," as my buddy Tex Sample would say. I am blessed beyond my ability to describe to you. You each know who you are...this is one way to say thank you.

Isn't it strange - I can see amazing potential and willingness in others, and have reached out repeatedly to help support them over the last decade-plus of my life. But when my back is against the wall, why do I continue to assume that my only option is to pull myself up by my own bootstraps? "The evil I do not want is what I do," Paul writes in Romans 7. I'm just so glad that there are people who know me (and love and care for me despite all that), without whom I would have failed in my ministry and life-time quests a long time ago. Thank you, God, for the gift of these people - and for Brother Medema, for reminding me just how powerful worship can be!

Sunday, July 11, 2004

A touch of schizophrenia

I am a number of people, rolled up into one body (albeit a rather BIG body...). And I wonder how it is to deal with all those personalities and roles in one blog.

I am a child of God...though it took me a long time to figure out that the first two words of the Lord's Prayer mean exactly what they say. That means that I face the world much differently than a significant portion of the world, who do not believe as I do. It follows, too, that my questions and answers about "life, the universe and everything" are framed differently because of that understanding, as well.

I am a Christian (though my urge is to jump in here and say that whatever ugly image of that group of people you might have, I try daily to NOT be like them). I am also part of a significant minority among Christians - one who fell away for a goodly time in my life (17 years, give or take a month or two) and then came back. So I have lived both as a Christian "outsider" and an "insider" (or, to put it more Biblically, I have lived both with "the sheep" and "the goats") (see Matthew 25:31-46).

And I am a man in recovery in multiple ways, from multiple addictions. I have been in and around the 12-step programs for over 13 years (as of this writing). And it was my experience in the 12-step communities that helped push me into this pursuit of ministry to begin with. So I have these three separate, but linked, roles and lives that I live - all in the same body!

In my Christian life, I have always identified more with the "outsiders" and the "goats" than I have the "truly faithful" and "the sheep." And my hope was to try to wrestle with issues of faith, and ministry, and recovery all within the confines of this discussion. But I the people in recovery really want to hear my struggles with Lutheran theology, let alone how I understand the nature of God as revealed in the Christian Bible? Do the people in the faith communities really want to hear about my wrestling with the steps of recovery?

In pondering all this, I thought briefly about breaking the theological parts of my life - both in ministry and at seminary - off into its own blog. But the difficult decision for me is this: how do I slice those things apart? My credo (Latin for "I believe") is as much a product of the community of recovery as it is the community of faith. In fact, there are parts of my struggle with Christian (and Lutheran) theology which have become a struggle precisely because either the church's understanding of God (and faith) or the text of the Bible somehow conflicts with what I understand of God through the process of recovery. So in many ways, there is really one life, with many facets - as a friend of mine often says, " a diamond solitaire, each with beautiful reflections..." (Not sure I see the beauty, very often, but I'm workin' on it.) So perhaps it's grandiosity to try to split this life down into its component thoughts and truths, eh?

Well, I leave it up to you, gentle readers (assuming that there's more than one of you out there!). Should this be one blog - or three? For now, you're stuck with it all...but if there is a significant desire expressed to see some "specialization", I may do something different. For now, I think I'm just going to give thanks that my life's needs are taken care of this day (thanks to some very loving, caring folks) and put myself to bed. Sweet dreams, y'all.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds and the world of tomorrow

I've been doing some reflecting on my childhood as part of a spiritual-formation group I've been invited to join. Four of us are starting on a year-long process, using The Spiritual Leader's Guide to Self-Care as an ongoing guide for reflection and self-examination in a small-group setting. It seems to be a really useful book for developing skills to maintain a sense of spiritual self-care for people who are spiritual leaders - not just pastors, but Sunday-school teachers, worship leaders, church musicians, church kitchen help, you name it. And as part of the first week's activities, we have been reflecting on our childhood and youth.

One of major themes I identified while reflecting on my misspent youth was my fascination with science and science-fiction. I spent a LOT of time reading about science and science fiction...I all but sucked the ink off issue after issue of National Geographic! And the more I saw how this affair with science and sci-fi had woven itself through my life, I had to ask myself, "What was the DEAL? Why was I obsessed so much with the future and the dreams-of-what-could-be?"

At least part of the answer I found is that it was just a sign of the times in which I grew up. After all, I was 5 years old when the Cuban missile crisis hit in 1962. (Put away your calculators...the number you're looking for is 47.)

For days, the fate of the free world hung in the balance - although all I knew as a 5-year-old was that the world had somehow suddenly become a terribly dangerous place, and a lot of people were very afraid. Over the next several years, people all along my street in Clarence, NY were building bomb-shelters, and I regularly participated in "air-raid drills" in my elementary school. This was the Cold War atmosphere of fear that was part of my early growing-up.

Enter Gerry Anderson and the SuperMarionation team. As the space race was beginning, in the wake of Sputnik and the Mercury launches in the early 60's, Anderson and a team of crazy folk used a combination of marionettes (puppets) and animation to create several absolutely visionary science fiction shows which started in the UK, and quickly jumped to the US. "Fireball XL5" was the first show I remembered, involving an atomic-powered spacecraft (pretty amazing, since it was only 3 years after the first nuclear-powered submarine had been launched!) and their battles for good in the universe. And once I saw that show for the first time, I knew something, beyond doubt.

I wanted to be Captain Steve Zodiac, captain of the Fireball XL5.

Still do, in fact.

Who wouldn't have, after all? At the time, I was overweight, sickly, and not at all popular with the neighbor kids. Steve Zodiac was dashing, handsome, and in charge of the coolest spaceship anyone had imagined at the time...sure put those silly Mercury and Gemini capsules to shame! I followed our own space race with whatever abandon a 5 year-old could summon - but watching "Fireball XL5" was a religious experience for my little mind. When the undersea version of XL5, "Stingray," came to TV, I ate that up as well.

But the mind-blowing sequel to these two shows was Thunderbirds, the story of an ex-astronaut widower and his sons, running a secret organization called "International Rescue," dedicated to rescuing the un-rescuable with their fleet of seemingly miraculous craft, all bearing the name "Thunderbird." For 1963, the animation was amazing - and I fell in love with the story almost at once. Whatever else was going on in my life at the time, I was definitely not a behavior-problem-kid on the days that Thunderbirds was on!

Why? What was the big deal? Why did I connect so deeply to this fantasy, or any of the others? And why, when I learned that a live, non-puppet "Thunderbirds" movie was coming to the screen on July 30th, did I have such a visceral reaction to it, four full decades later?? Why is it, that hearing the Thunderbirds' theme music, do smiles, and tears of fond memory, come to these near-sighted eyes?

I think a lot of it has to do with those formational days in 1963, and what so many kids my age were looking to find. "Thunderbirds" and their predecessors were set in the impossibly distant year 2063...a hundred years after some people claimed that our planet would be blown to bits. The very fact that Gerry Anderson, his wife Sylvia and their production team could even imagine a world existing in 2063 was a wonderful affirmation of hope. That people of great character would face terrifying danger to commit acts of heroism to protect others just seemed to be the kind of world I wanted to be a part of. And the vision of the really cool technology - and the vision of using that technology to help others - is something that I dreamed of for years. When Star Trek came to the screen in 1966, featuring crew-members from every nation (and the planet Vulcan!), it provided still more hope that a future of peace, unity and goodness was still possible.

When I later saw shows like "Stingray" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" actually come alive in the journeys of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Calypso (and their amazing real-life "diving saucer", and the deep-submergence craft (bathyscaph) Trieste (which literally did take a "voyage to the bottom of the sea!) I was ready to join up in a heartbeat. (A side note - when the deep-ocean exploration was vying with the space race, it was fun to see signs like this pop up.) It may sound cheesy and corny, but to this day, when I hear John Denver's song Calypso, or the hauntingly beautiful theme to The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, I still get chill-bumps and a smile...and wish I was out there with them.

And the reason I still get those kinds of reactions? I guess it's because I still want to believe that that kind of a future is still possible. One where we don't pour billions of dollars into making stuff like "depleted-uranium tank-killer shells," let alone choose to use them. A world where pushing back the thresholds of knowledge is more important than needing to push around other nations - or be pushed around by them. A world where the words "Love one another, as I have loved you" are not ignored, especially by the people who claim a special relationship with their Author. In spite of all the insanity of this world, I would choose to be a visionary (though God knows that I can be a particularly cynical visionary, at times).

I know that the upcoming Thunderbirds movie looks like it's going to be much more of a "Spy-Kids re-do a 60's TV show"...and I guess that's OK. But I'll bet that a lot of kids will be dragged to the show by their dads, looking to recapture the magic of 40 years ago - when a few puppets and a few toy models, in the hands of visionary women and men, gave us glimpses of an amazing world of possibilities. If there's one thing that the world of Gerry Anderson taught me, it's that a world of dreams and of hopes is far, far preferable to the alternative. This day, I will choose joy, and hope, and love.

See you at the movie...

Friday, July 02, 2004

"We hold these truths to be self-evident...."

"...all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." (excerpted from the US Declaration of Independence)
Confession time: I am a closet fan of that icon of 60's pop music, "The 5th Dimension."

Yes, it's true. I've been living in the "Age of Aquarius" and have been "Workin' On A Groovy Thing" for the best part of three decades. And yes, I know...there's a lot of their music that's forgettable. But this weekend, there is one work of the "friends of Marilyn McCoo" that needs some attention.

In February, 1970, the 5th Dimension recorded a musical rendition of the opening of the Declaration of Independence, taken from the musical "Bread, Beans and Things." It was made into a medley with "Declaration," combined with Billy Davis' amazing rendition of "A Change is Gonna Come," and a reprise of the Rascals' song, "People Gotta Be Free." It is a work of real musical force, especially for its time, and it has stuck with me ever since I heard it, 34 years ago. (God have mercy, three that even possible? Wow...)

(That would explain the grey and white in the beard, though.)

The interesting thing about "Declaration" was the reaction to it by the media at the time. To put this in a relevant time-frame. Richard Nixon had been elected president in 1968, and was in the middle of his first term...but Watergate was still 2 years away. Vietnam was becoming a quagmire, and Vice Pres Spiro Agnew was willing to blame all the ills of the nation on the media and on liberals. Against this background, the 5thD recorded "Declaration" as a protest against the government and especially against the war. College radio stations of the day fell in love with it, and played it almost obsessively. But the Armed Forces Radio banned the recording outright, and a lot of pop stations refused to play it (even though it was a straight rendition of one of the "documents of freedom") for the same reason...because they said it endorsed overthrowing the government.

(Which it does, of a way. I mean, just look above and read it yourself.)

I share this for a couple reasons. One, it's the Fourth of July weekend, and part of me believes that we should be reflecting on our heritage, and not just stuffing ourselves with bratwurst and beer and trying to blow ourselves (and our posterity) up with illegal mega-fireworks displays. The concepts of the Declaration are ideas for which good men and women died, so that we would have the freedom to live our lives as we do. I surely need to remember that, especially this weekend.

But I also have to read these words and ask myself, "What are the things that I'm 'disposed to suffer' with, just because those 'evils are sufferable?' How should I be working - in my city, in my church, in my school - to be abolishing the causes of those evils? And are we really experiencing "a long train of abuses and usurpations" of our freedoms and civil rights? Am I free of those abuses, but others are suffering them instead? Am I willing to work to "throw off such government" where it is being harmful?

Part of the cost of freedom - and the cost of discipleship - is asking questions like this. I have to believe that this freedom to live and choose as I might - even to worship as I might - means that I need to be more aware of what is going on in my city, state, and nation. I may not be able to change the world every time - but as in so many things in this world, silence equals death...sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

Thank you, God, for the gift of my life in these United States. It's not heaven, and it's certainly a long way from how You would have us live, Lord - but it's still an amazing gift to be able to live and love as we would - for which I give you thanks this day!

"Medley: Declaration/A Change is Gonna Come/People Gotta Be Free" is on The 5th Dimension album (vinyl) "Portrait," and on the CD, "Up Up and Away: The Definitive Collection." Feel motivated to do more? Click here and read this portion of the Declaration for yourself!