Monthly Archives: November 2011
While we were away for Thanksgiving with our two daughters who live in New York, our middle daughter, Erin, called with the drastic news that her 13 1/2 year old white lab, whom she named Hannah Marie Furr-Yeager (any other dogs with hyphenated names?), passed away from kidney failure. Her husband just called her, , “Good Girl”. She got Hannah as a pup when Erin was 19 years old. Erin wrote on facebook,
“She was the “mascot” of our entire group of friends in our 20’s. She has been with me through college, roommates, first job, first love, heart break, job loss, first home, success, failure, marriage and all of life’s “in betweens”. .. Always there….always letting me know she was present. She was always waiting on us just to call her so she could be there. She got so much joy just from being with us.”
I have found myself quite moved by the depth of love my daughter has for Hannah, and for the intensity of grief that has followed. It caused me to ask the old question, “Do dogs go to heaven?” This is not a question I have spent time on before, and I must say, it indicates a deep deficiency in my theology. As I read about this online I came upon a variety of opinions, one on a website that also had articles like, “Is Smoking Cigarettes A Sin?” ” What Do Christians Believe About Dinosaurs?” and “Does The Bible say What the Devil Looks Like?” Not too promising, if you ask me.
I don’t intend to belabor the subject except to reflect that perhaps, “Do dogs go to heaven?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “Does God the Creator love the creation?” The answer is unequivocal. God is not simply redeeming a handful of lifeboat survivors but is renewing creation itself (Romans 8 treats this in extended fashion). The power of life that creates what we call “heaven” is in fact resurrection, the power of God to raise life from death and “re-create” creation. So, it seems to me, that if heaven is not “a place way out there” separate from creation but is, instead, God’s merciful and loving Providence, then it is not impossible at all to imagine that God, who remembers all things, is able to bring all those joyful complexities of creation to new life. The Bible talks about the end of “tooth and claw” nature, where Lion and Lamb lie together and the child plays safely near the adder.
These visionary imaginations of the prophets remind us to be respectful and humble about what the Creator can or will do at the end of all things. God’s love and greatness are vast. The answer to my question, “Does God love the creation?” is “Of course.” Trust in the love of your Creator.
I love the old story on “The Twilight Zone,” called “The Hunt,” about an old man and his beloved hound who drown during a coon hunt and wind up on a road where they must choose heaven or hell. The old man was played by Arthur Hunnicutt, the crusty Arkansas native who often played outdoorsy types. The screenplay was written by Earl Hamner, later the creator of “The Waltons” series. Ultimately, it is his dog Rip who helps him make the right choice. My favorite line: The angel says, “You see Mr. Simpson, a man, well, he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!”
For those of us who live so detached from nature, feeding from its bounty but unaware of the connection, it is a good reminder to us of our own creaturehood. We are not so different from our pets and not so lofty in our uniqueness that we can act as though we are not sharing creaturehood with them.
Hannah Marie was a wonderful pet. I told Erin, “I have buried a lot of humans who weren’t loved as much in life, missed so much in death or commemorated so deeply by her survivors, as Hannah.” And I might add, “They hadn’t done nearly as much to offer loyalty, devotion and comfort to those in their life.” I’d side with those who think dogs will be there, myself. Given the way we treat one another, I’d think it would be the dogs who should be asking the question about us. Given a choice of hanging out with Hannah or a lot of humans I’ve met through the years, it’s no contest who would be more fit for eternal happiness without a major overhaul.
So it is Thanksgiving Eve. If Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) can be an elaborate anticipation of the solemnity of All Saints’ Day and Fat Tuesday a wild and wooly welcome to the austerity of Lent, there should be a similar welcome mat to Turkey Day, something to usher it in, not stomp it out a la “Black Friday.”
Thanksgiving Eve should be something of an antonym to carry true to “Eve-ness” (Christmas Eve, naturally, being the all-time great, with it’s dark sense of Herodian murder plots, shivering shepherds, and wandering wise men). It should be a day of shameful reminders of ingratitude, self-absorption and congratulations that can be followed with humble rejoicing and remembering the next day that nothing was deserved in the first place.
Any holiday that began with Europeans almost starving to death and depending on the kindness of the poor natives they would eventually wipe out or addict to alcohol on reservations should not be one in which the self-congratulating is mixed with feasts and football. It just doesn’t seem right. Better to blow out the egotism and delusions on the eve and then wake up to something like, “My gosh, we don’t have anything to eat. How will we make it?” Then have your neighbors bring something over and re-enact the whole helplessness. How did it get to be, “Boy, are we ever BLESSED.”
There is something about powerlessness, helplessness, vulnerability and fear that drive you to important truths. I think about the Greatest Generation of Tom Brokaw’s book, having endured a childhood in the Great Depression and Coming of Age on Iwo Jima or Omaha Beach. No wonder they came home and were glad just to have a little house in a new suburb and work the same job for 45 years and retire still married to the same woman. And maybe this same absence of profound deprivation has left us unable to genuinely “feel” Thanksgiving as it is meant to be.
Could be, of course, that the past few years are getting us a little closer to the truth. 9% unemployment has unleashed predictable politics–all we need is a new president, throw the bums out of congress, shoot lobbyists, and so on. What I never hear is, “Life is hard. We better pull together and help one another. Hey, I don’t have to have my whole bonus this year. Let’s figure out how to keep Jim employed–he’s got three kids at home.”
We’ve got a grand opportunity to remember something that we seem determined to forget. I think about this while I hold my nine-month-old granddaughter. She is so precious and full of life, and I am terrified for the world she is growing up into, terrified into prayers and more prayers. I am helpless to prevent that world or fix it, so I am humbled terribly on this day. I won’t be here for her whole life, God willing, so it will go beyond me. You love a grandbaby this much, and suddenly you feel this helplessness again, like you haven’t felt in forever. It drives you to a different gratitude, one not rooted in your importance or competence or being the World’s Latest Big Deal. It is purely, powerfully helplessness that does it.
So let’s consider the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving as Self-Reliance Day. We can wear giant inflated heads and have Big Shot Parades, football games and overeating as though it was our destiny. Then, as is appropriate, consider a day of forgiveness, humble gratitude, reconciliation and remembering that without the rest of us, none of us is worth a dime, and don’t forget it. So while there are some hours left in Wednesday, put on you Big Head. Thanksgiving is coming. Act like a selfish jerk for a few more hours. Then come to yourself and remember what your life is really about.
I don’t understand the debates going on about wealth and taxes. People aren’t asking THE question–am I one of the 1% and why not? If you want a seriously disturbing thought about this, listen to the NPR story yesterday by Tim Dickinson. If you want an unseriously disturbing thought, stay with me.
I don’twant to be one of the 99%, because even in the Bible, the only 99 mentioned is sheep left in the sheepfold. And, as we know, all we like sheep have gone astray. I want to be a 1% if they get all the good stuff. But I have a sinking feeling–since my entire ancestry, W-2s and resume would indicate otherwise, I thought I would help us 99 per centers know when we’re about to get to THE worst place–the 1% on the BOTTOM. Signs to look for:
- Your get Christmas cards from a local bail-bondsman, two social workers, a psychiatrist and a debt specialist. You have never met any of them.
- Occupy Wall Street protesters create a new hand signal during your presentation to the group about your concerns that means, “Take down his tent and get him outta here–NOW!”
- You keep getting advance discount coupons from the local funeral home with a hand-penned note from the director that says, “Saw you at Rotary Club Monday and it reminded me I had meant to send these to you.”
- You walk into work and everyone turns and looks at you with their heads turned slightly sideways and sad smiles on their faces. The last time you saw that look, your mom and dad came back from taking Old Yeller to the vet and didn’t bring him home. Someone says, “The boss wants to see you.”
- Your neighbor stops telling you about his militia meetings, saying they have a certain image to maintain.
- Your string of investments are clipped up on the bulletin board at the investment firm next to the Dilbert cartoons.
- Your auto mechanic always talks to you like he’s your oncologist. He always starts off by saying, “Gary, you just don’t know how much I hate to tell you this, but we tried replacing the fan belt. We were sooo hoping that would do it. But no. I’m as upset to tell you this as you are to hear it…”
- The Tea Party returned your membership application, citing that your views are too far out of the mainstream.
- Steve Croft of 60 minutes leaves a message on your phone and asks if you happen to have the cell number of your mortgage broker for a story he’s doing on the foreclosure crisis.
- Your children were foreclosed and laid off so you offered to let them come back home to live and they declined, saying they already had a nice arrangement with the Salvation Army.
One of the most-read blog pieces on here was one I did on the Hardy family of Williams, Alabama called, “Following Jesus from Israel to Rural Alabama.” As a follow up to that, I am happy to report that last Sunday evening, the Hardy family received the keys to their new home in a dedication ceremony led by Pastor Mike Oliver.
Times of crisis can certainly reveal our failings and weaknesses. But it is also true that crisis reveals character and new possibilities. one of God’s most mysterious works is bringing communion and healing from our disasters. Such times can divide, but they can also invite new re-formulations of Christian fellowship. Ordinary divisions become an unaffordable luxury in the moment of need. We come together and leave lesser things to God.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was a man of broad spirit and reconciling heart. He sought Christian cooperation in every way possible. He once preached a sermon on 2 Kings 10:15, which says, “When [Jehu] left there, he met Jehonadab
son of Rechab coming to meet him; he greeted him, and said to him, “Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?” Jehonadab answered, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” So he gave him his hand. Jehu took him up with him into the chariot.”
Wesley said “But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”
In other words, unity of heart, spirit and love can exist even though we must have differences that will take longer to resolve. We begin with this willingness to know a fellow Christian’s heart and build upon the possibility of fellowship. It does not mean give up our convictions. But we must begin with the hardest and highest call Jesus gave to us—to love one another as He loved us. That is not what we do once we have worked out all our disagreements, our differences or
our hurts with one another. Forgiveness itself is born out of obedience to the Savior’s call to love one another.
A recent Huffington Post tweet cited a Wall Street Journal article that listed the eleven college majors with the highest levels of unemployment at present. The list includes several fields of psychology, history, miscellaneous fine arts, military technology, library science, linguistics and comparative literature, and computer management and security.
What are we to make of this? Are we, when push comes to shove, a society of people who consider mental health a luxury, prefer our books unshelved, our literature uncompared and operate on the internet without updating our McAfee subscription? Are we doomed to repeat the lessons of history and have no art to look at to boot? Will we turn into dullards who only program computers, build stuff, and administer drugs and care for each other in nursing homes? What do we make of these trends?
An education is expensive. The lack of one is even more expensive. I would say that there are some other lists we need to get the whole picture. Consider these two lists before picking your field
Ten most unemployable skills
- Ability to emit odors of all kinds
- Translator for imaginary creatures in the room
- Ability to project your whiney voice through walls and doors
- Photographic memory for others failings, past sins, and accounts of family members’ medical conditions and procedures, especially textures, colors and smells.
- Fiction writing, especially when filling out reports or explaining why you were late to work–AGAIN
- Ponzi scheme administrator
- Burnout prevention detector—formerly called, “Lazy.”
- Process Debater
- Work Thespians—trained in the art of appearing to work without ever actually doing anything. Work Thespians are skilled in walking around, minimizing the Solitaire game quickly, and being clear about what is not in their job description.
- Micromanagers. For some reason, there is a profound oversupply of these folks who are highly skilled in knowing what everyone else needs to be doing
Ten majors that will get hired eventually in any economy
- Team Player
- Multiple major in Honesty, Fairness, Respect and Appreciation
- Insight into Oneself
- Transformers—especially with emphases on turning discussions into actions, competition into teamwork, and problems into solutions.
I have a most wonderful father-in-law. Our initial meeting was a rocky one, when my hair was longer and I lived in Ohio leading him to mistakenly think I was a Yankee, which is South Carolina, home of Fort Sumter, is still a live issue. When I asked for the hand of his only daughter during our sophomore year of college, he balked and seemed to need to do due diligence on me with the CIA first. But he came around and has embraced me as if I were another son.
I never understood in-law jokes. Mine are terrific and supportive in the most healthy ways. They’re not perfect, but I always know they are there for us no matter what. I love them both.
Forrest is in his eighties now, and just returned with my wife and mother-in-law from his oncologist, where he got the report on his latest PT scan. He was diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer in the summer of 2009, one of the toughest you can have. He has gone through two rounds of chemo and radiation, the first one six months long, which he called, “character building.” It seemed to me more like living death.
Still, he has continued his life. Except for the chemo, he has continued his routines—walking every day, reading, writing an autobiography for all of us in the family about his life, worked back up to play golf again, and continue his life. He is the most incredibly outgoing and friendly man I have ever known. He’s tough as nails in business, but would give you his last dollar if he knew you were in trouble. I can’t tell you how many times they helped us during our long educational journey through student poverty with three children.
So, when this odyssey of the past two years came along, we all fell apart for about five weeks. He is like a giant old oak tree in your yard that’s a couple hundred years old. It’s always going to be there, right? Giving shade, shelter, a place to play when you’re a kid and a place to sit when you’re old. Then one day it changes.
But then, we all calmed down. There was work to do, it wasn’t the end yet. We could learn—and we have—to live one day at a time and treasure it. Between his illness and the birth of my first grandchild, I have moved work back a few spaces on my priorities. I still get it done, but family comes first, where it always should have been.
How can it be that cancer brought us blessings? Healing, reconciling, reprioritizing, re-evaluating? But it did. We remembered the truth, as my old friend John Claypool always said, “Life is a gift.” It is.
So, they came in today. “No trace of cancer. Come back in three months.” We’ll never be completely free. It did this before and came back. But we got a year of high quality, happy life. So, we are rejoicing today, just for today. We’re happy, he’s back to his books and thinking and continuing to grow. We are thankful. We text each other after every report. Withing 30 minutes, my children all had heard and answered with multiple exclamation points.
So the world is in trouble—protesters, Herman Cain has problems, Greece and Europe are a mess. But we just got a good report and can breathe again for now. Biggest news on the planet in our world. We are grateful to God and Dr. Bridges.
Forrest wrote in his autobiography:
One of the humbling, but wonderful things that came from this illness was to see and feel the love and prayers from my family and friends. All of our children and grand children came from far and wide to offer help and support… Of all the magnificent blessings I’ve had in my life, I believe the three Fs are the crux of life. These three are: faith in Christ, a loving family, loving friends, there is nothing of greater value. If you have these in your life, you are wealthy.
A little perspective for me, on this day when markets are uncertain, the political atmosphere is polarized, and the job numbers stink again. We still have each other, and that is the great gift of any family. Not even death can take that from us, for what has already been given can never be taken back.