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Archive for June, 2009

Have you ever ran straight toward two coyotes who were in pursuit of dinner? Well, I did a few weeks ago on the ranch I was taking care of for nine days. I was sitting outside one evening and Bianca, the dog, had been wandering around the 60 acres, as she so frequently does in the afternoon and evenings. The view from the patio is of a few acres of grass with woods surrounding three sides. It’s a beautiful view. All of the sudden, Bianca was running faster than I had ever seen her run. I noticed, through the grass, that there were two dogs chasing her. At first I thought these were neighbor dogs and they were playing. Then I noticed the tail on these other animals and I knew exactly what they were: coyotes. Growing up in South Dakota I had a few experiences with coyotes, and these were not the kind of experiences that instilled a love or, at the very least, toleration.

The next thing I know, with cat-like reflexes, I jump a wooden fence four feet high and find myself running straight toward the coyotes. Bianca was only about three feet in front of these wily wolves of the prairie and the only thing going through my mind was something to the effect of “Oh no, you are NOT going to kill my professor’s dog!” Given my past experiences, I assumed that the coyotes would, at some point, decide that I’m too big to fight and run away, but part of me wondered what my first move would be. Kick them with my boots, hoping that Bianca could handle herself well enough to take care of one of them. As I got about ten feet away, the coyotes stopped and ran in the other direction. Then the unthinkable happened. Bianca turned around and began chasing the coyotes. oy.

After I got back to the house, with Bianca by my side and the coyotes out of view, I couldn’t help but begin to laugh. What in the world was I thinking?! The past few days I’ve been doing a bit of reading and writing but mainly watching movies that have come out not so recently. So, I went to Blockbuster video for the first time since living in this town, only to find out that it costs $5 to rent of movie! Thankfully, they had a special going and I could spend $15 for a week of as many movies as I’d like. Nice.

I thought about talking specifically of movies that I’ve seen but I don’t want you to hate me by giving away the endings. One of the things that I noticed today is how many of the recent movies are about sacrifice and redemption. There are a couple of movies in particular where a person sacrifices themselves for the redemption of a community. These beautiful stories, while different, are so very similar because they tell a story of personal loss that leads to bitterness and hatred of the community. Then, after personal encounters with those around them, they are reborn into a position that allows them to choose to sacrifice for the good of that community. These endings always make me a bit sappy.

I wish I could say that this is a trend in American culture, where someone so selfless would be willing to run straight at two coyotes to save a poor helpless dog. Oh wait, that was me. But then I began thinking about all of the movies that I really enjoy; you know, the movies that I watch over and over again. Movies like Finding Forester, Remember the Titans, Die Hard, Armageddon, Braveheart, and all of those other awesomely bad movies that make me feel good. This isn’t something new but something that goes back to movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life. But this theme goes back even further in American literature to The Great Gatsby and Sister Carrie. The idea of sacrifice and redemption is a powerful theme that gets me every time because it is so wonderfully human, yet there is something else about it that attracts me to it.

I am attracted to the narrative of sacrifice because I hope that I would act the same way. I would like to think of myself as someone who would take action that would better my community, even if it meant personal harm. When I told my brother the story of the coyotes he laughed at me. He did a bit of research and informed me that coyotes have killed the same number of people as Cocker Spaniels since 1980: 1. He then made fun of me because I was in no real danger, rather I just thought I was in danger. Then I asked him a simple question: What would you have done? His response: “I think that is something you only know when you’re confronted with that situation.” And I completely agree.

In life we never know what will come our way until we face it. We can imagine all sorts of scenarios where we do what people do in the movies or books, putting ourself in the position of sacrifice. The difference is that we never know what we will really do until we confront that situation. But isn’t that how it is in all things? We see who we really are, rather than how we would like to think of ourselves, when confronted with choices? What we choose to do and how we choose to act tells us more about ourselves than how we think or want to act. While this revelation may not be all that profound to you, it is to me. The question, then, is how do I put myself in a position to choose appropriately when faced with a choice. I feel another blog ruminating …

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Whenever I think about patience I hear a friend of mine singing in the background: “Have patience/Have patience/ Don’t be in such a hurry/When you get, impatient, you only start to worry.” Growing up, Nate would sing this song in particularly tense situations, which led to unspeakable laughter because he is tone deaf. There’s something about hearing someone who is tone deaf, and knows it, belt out a song in a public place to ease the tension. So, this kids song has remained a part of my everyday litany of internal song options thanks to Nate.

Today at the post office, this song came rushing back to me as I waited to get to the counter, with ten people separating me from the rest of my day. The postal worker was doing her best taking care of the person standing in front of her without rushing. But I wanted her to rush. At this moment the children’s song came rushing back to me and I couldn’t help but laugh. The man standing in front of me gave a little glance backwards and as I kept laughing a smile crept across his face too.

As I completed all the things on my list, driving around town, this song kept going through my head. Then I asked myself if I’m a patient person. Of course, I’d like to think that I’m patient. That I’m not in a rush or willing to wait. Then I thought about all of those situations where I am infinitely patient: teaching, airports, conversations. Then I thought about all of those situations where I have little patience: bad drivers, check-out lines, relationships, ignorant people. As I thought about different areas of my life I realized that I am patient and impatient all at the same time. It’s amazing to me how, for so long, I’ve always thought of myself as a patient person, only to realize that there are areas of my life where my impatience can only be described as like a petulant child.

Patience and waiting are two-sides of a similar coin. Scott’s last blog talked about the longer view, which is a view that I have when it comes to most of the important things in my life. Yet, at the same time, it is a view that I often fail at achieving. I can’t help but ask myself why it is that I sometimes don’t have this longer view, a view that embodies patience when I want something and I want it now. When I got home I searched for a verse that came to mind and found it in Psalms 38:15: “I wait/hope for you O Lord! You will respond, O my God!” I’m not a Hebrew genius, like Scott, but “wait” and “hope” are both used, depending on your translation. I think it’s interesting how wait and hope are used in similar ways but, when taken together, we get an idea of expectation. To wait is to hope in expectation. At least this is how my untrained perspective sees it.

Patience requires a willingness to wait. But I find my ability to be patient completely dependent on the situation and circumstance. It’s hard to be patient when you are expecting something. This is where the train comes off the rails for me, like at the post office: I know what I am expecting but I just want to get there faster. At the post office, I knew exactly what I wanted and was impatient waiting for it. In relationships, I know exactly what I want and am impatient waiting for it. My willingness to wait, to have patience, goes out the window when I know what to expect. What’s funny about expectations is they are rarely in reality.

My thought process over the last few hours has led me to think that my expectations have nothing to do with waiting. To be able to rest in the fact that I don’t know what to expect is freeing and allows me to wait with confidence and contentment. Confidence and contentment are two things that I have more of than I should most of the time. But there are always those things that make us impatient. Those things that others don’t struggle with but I do. Things that make me wonder if I’m an impatient person rather than a person who can be impatient. However, shalom helps me to think about patience, hope, and expectation in a very different way. To be content with any situation, as Paul implored the Philippians, requires one to rest in the knowledge that I am waiting because I trust. And remembering how important it is to trust our Father has added a dimension to my rest that gives me hope that an uncertain future is beautiful and full of possibility.

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A Longer View

A while back a group of friends and I were talking about our hopes and dreams for the future.  One friend was lamenting the fact that, due to their present circumstances, they wouldn’t be able to work toward one of their particular dreams for the conceivable future.  I tried to encourage them by urging them to take a long view of life, to consider its many stages, but I was quickly cut off by another friend trying to be equally encouraging by urging a positive attitude and immediate action despite the circumstances.

This conversation has stuck with me.  What is our fascination with doing everything now? The older I get, the more I seem to take comfort in the fact that life is long, that there will be time for many many things, but that maybe some of those things will have to wait a long time.  Certainly this line of thinking can be problematic, but the principle is sound.  I have found this longer view to be so freeing and frankly, so sustainable.  It helps me to focus on what is most important for me to do now and that is where I expend my efforts.  So many people seem hurried all the time and while there are times for that for sure, I try to pace myself and have made it a point to live in an unhurried way.

I have lots of friends who are busier than I am and for someone who wants to do good things in this world, that is sometimes hard for me.  But I will be damned if I wake up five years from now burnt out or off track or both.  Not that my friends will, this isn’t an indictment at all; I am just pondering why we don’t think within a longer horizon.  Last week a former professor who I respect very much, a man who works many hours, told me I was being very productive for a young father.  This has meant a lot to me and that tells me that I am a bit insecure about how much I get done.  So please don’t take this as a “Look at me, I am great” sort of post.  This theme has just been on my mind and I am puzzled at our culture’s almost neurotic refusal to consider a perspective other than the short term.

I seem to be alternating between two threads in this post: hurriedness and a thinking within a longer view.  Clearly there are lots of reasons for business, but I have a feeling that these two strands are related.  I think a short term view lends itself toward being harried.  And, not that productivity is an end in itself, but my hunch is that a longer view helps us be more productive when it is all said and done.  Think tortoise and the hare.

Last night I was reading my favorite new author, Wendell Berry, and he spoke to this issue.  He was comparing the “orthodox” agribusiness emphasis on profit, production and expansion to the agricultural focus on health, skill, care, relationships, etc.  I will leave off with this (don’t let the simplistic gender language distract you):

“Production, some would say, is the male principle in isolation from the female principle.  Thus isolated, the male principle wants to exert itself absolutely; it wants to “do everything at once” –which is, of course, what doomsday will do.  But reproduction, which is the male and female principles in union, is nurturing, patient, resigned to the pace of seasons and lives, respectful always of the nature of things.  Production’s tendency is to go “all out”; it always aims to set a new record.  Reproduction is more conservative and more modest; its aim is not to happen once, but to happened again and again and again, and so it seeks a balance between saving and spending.”

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