Sunday, August 23

Where Wasps go to Die

The water in our backyard swimming pool is sickly green. Clumps of wind-blown dog hair and dead leaves slither their way across it's bottom, carried by the sludgy currents rippling down from the bug and algae laden surface.The twelve by three foot rubber and plastic oasis is so nasty looking that even the neighborhood boys won't stick their toes into it.

And I'm standing on the edge of it, using my body weight to depress the side so that the muck can seep it's way out of the tank and into the grass. Dead wasps and flies, fully encased in stringy, feathery algae, slip over the toes of my Crocs. Clusters of now-green dog hair slide eagerly by my ankles, shooting for freedom.
I am confused by the state of things: How did a consistently cared-for luxury become such a labor intensive disaster zone? I drain and scrub and drain some more. I scrub some more. Hours later I begin the process of re-filling the pool and think, "I'll just take a look at the filter to see if it needs a scrub, too." And there it is: The solution to the mystery.

No filter. The canister that holds the filter ~ the one we'd carefully hooked up to the side of the pool, the one we'd been faithfully running for months ~ is empty. No filter. Just dirty water in. Dirty water out. Dirty water in. Dirty water out. Hours of electricty and good intentions spent to no useful end.

As the dead insects and slime swirl around my toes (believe me, if there was a less disgusting way to achieve the same end, I would have found it!) I think about some of the conversations I've been having with friends lately. We've been talking about morality and about how to raise children in a culture that seems to be going mad in it's insistence that everything goes. 

The making of a porn movie has become the stuff of comedy. And people think it's really, really funny. 
Degrading men and masculinity in every conceivable manner is standard comedic practice (Imagine the writers of TV land attempting to denegrate women the way they do Homer or Ray Romano or Jim.). 
Teenage girls pole dance on a teen award show. Young girls watch and can't wait to be "just like her when I grow up!"

We could all add things to the list, right? Moments from our everyday where we've thought, "Whoa. Is that really okay? Did I just see that?"

Last week I observed a group of young guys hanging out at a cluster of picnic tables, their long arms and legs dangling casually all over everything. I was fascinated by their relationships to one another, their characters, everything, until I drew close enough to hear their conversation.

A solitary girl stood at the edge of their group, shifting uncomfortably, one hand twisting the strap of her purse nervously; one hand absentmindedly tugging at the hem of her so-short shorts. One of the boys said, "You remember, don'tcha'? You got so drunk and then you remember what we all did to ya', don'tcha'?" Her reply was too soft for me to hear over the boys' not-so-fascinating laughter. 

It's no great reach to observe that the sludge in our cultural "pool" is building up. While the mucky muck in my backyard made for a pretty cool Science project and a few hours' entertaining swabbing, the sludge of a culture that is stewing in it's own mess without any filters is a lot less amusing.

Some of my friends want out of the pool ~ They just want to go find a nice, new, clean pool to splash around in. Some suggest that the pool isn't dirty at all and that we just need to become more openminded about the floaties and the detritus (Those "some" have never tried to keep their footing when green goo is coating the bottom of the thing!). Some would say that if we just put some filters in place we can clean up the pool we've already got.

Our own pool now has a filter in the filter canister. The bottom has returned to it's original inviting white and blue tiled pattern. The deceased wasps have been siphoned off to that great wasp's nest in the sky and the dog hair was all pulled up by the lawnmower.

Mental note for next summer: A pool without a filter stagnates. It becomes useless and repugnant. Unless you're a bug that's looking for someplace to die. Filtered water is cool, refreshing, alluring, and a lot less work. Unless we decide we can afford a new pool every few months, we'd be wise to remember the filters.

Saturday, August 15


In his book, "Hunger for God," John Piper suggests that the spiritual discipline of fasting allows us to acknowledge our true hunger for the Divine ~ for God. By setting aside the comforting anesthetic of food, by engaging in a degree of physical discomfort (that leads to emotional discomfort), we permit ourselves to address our deepest longing: The longing for restoration with God.

When we deny ourselves food, he says, we are forced to ask, "Do I really hunger for God? Do I miss Him?"

Do I miss Him?

We spend our everday actively working to silence the need, sorrow, anger, and longing for purpose that powerfully threatens to overwhelm us in our materialistic and relationally bankrupt culture. Alcohol, cigarettes, prescription (and non) drugs, work, affairs, and such: Television is my own most effective soother, but food is it's comforting companion. By assuring myself of their mind-numbing, emotion-squelching constancy I can surely navigate a day's dis-ease.

By choosing to set them aside, I might find myself nose-to-nose with the desperate realization that I miss Him. I miss His sanctity and justice. I miss His clarity and hope. I miss His goodness. I miss things about Him that I've never known: the touch of His hand, the look of His eye, the cut of His jaw.

I miss Him. We miss Him, don't we? I wonder at the opportunity to set aside the good things of our lives long enough to be reminded that He is Goodness itself. The bounty that we know here is a shadow, a dim reflection of the substance and Glory of God Himself.

Tuesday, August 4

Hail-bitten Fruit

Summer storms are staggering in their beauty. They're powerful and destructive and wild. With winds whipping around at 100 km/hr, flinging crushing hail and biting rains, they are unstoppable. The ferocity of lightening and chilling temperatures combine to flatten, char, freeze, break, topple.

Sometimes our own lives are hit by storms that look a lot like a summer squall (Can you be in a squall if you're not at sea? I should look that up.). Crisis, fear, grief, complicated relationship, the daily grind ~ These things have the same effect on our mental, emotional, and spiritual health as a crazy weather system has on our crops, our cities, our gardens.

The Bible says that you can tell if a person knows God by His traits in their life. Specifically, they'll have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. God calls those bits of Himself "fruit." He compares Himself to a tree, and compares us to the branches. The evidence that we're connected to Him will be good fruit.

A friend and I had a conversation about those attributes over coffee the other day, acknowledging that we would love to be able to reflect God by carrying those qualities around with us all of the time.

But storms come, right? And when storms hit, fruit takes a pounding.

Our family has been waiting expectantly for Fall when we'd be picking the largest harvest of apples that our trees have ever produced. The branches have been so weighed-down with perfectly forming fruit that we've culled the clusters so that the remaining apples will be larger and even sweeter.

Last weekend a fierce storm whipped through our yard. Every apple on every tree is ruined. Their ripening flesh has been torn apart by icy shards of hail. They're hanging desolately from stunned branches, surrounded by shredded leaves. There was no hope of them surviving that storm. They were unprotected, exposed. Good fruit is vulnerable to all sorts of menace, I guess.

When life is calm and uninterrupted by heartache or difficulty, producing good fruit seems a natural course. In a storm-free season, when God seems kind and gentle, we might find ourselves exhibiting a lot of His goodness, His faithfulness, His self-control (Imagine producing so much good stuff that it had to be thinned-out just to facilitate the eventual beauty of the remaining produce? I wonder how, exactly, God does that culling?).

When we're battered by difficulty and broken dreams and death and sickness, some of that fruit is going to hit the dirt in a hurry. Some of it will keep clinging to the source of it's life, but it will be pock-marked and inedible. Some of it will need to be chucked.

But storms pass and new growing seasons come.

Our apple trees won't give us more good fruit this season. They'll need to rest now; to regroup through the winter and into the spring. If you've been slammed with too much reality, it's okay to rest, to recover. Cut yourself some slack and don't worry too much about the state of the fruit that's dangling off your wounded branches.

Do, purposefully, connect (re-connect) with the source of your own Life. Be sure that you're attached to the Living God Who nourishes, nurtures, enables you to survive this season and grow into the next one. You'll be showing evidence of His Life in you before you know it. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. That's what God looks like. And you reflect Him. One bit at a time. Even after a storm.