Monday, September 05, 2016

Mortality and Jesus: a change of seasons

As the trees prepare for winter time, and leaves begin their fall, 
may the sight of hummingbirds and butterflies remind us all 
that life goes on to a different place, beyond the winter's chill;
a place of sanctuary and transformation,
a place of dreams fulfilled.
And though this season fades from green to orange, then to gray,
The Spring will come, and Life returns, and night gives way to day.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Left-handed in a Right-handed World?

So I seclude myself yesterday into my man-cave, thankful for the junked fan that blows hot air around my garage, a recusal from the torrent of this last week of societal insanity and chaos. As I loose water-weight to the heat and Zika-vectors swarming my ankles, I stand at my work bench, thankful for the comforts of my tools and my self-taught skill-set.

For almost a month I have been working through the aftermath of an apparently injured ulnar nerve that shuts down my full use of my right hand. On occasion I will don the borrowed arm sling to force myself rest for my mysterious injury, using my left hand, an unskilled proxy, an apprentice much in need of life experience, especially if my injury progresses and I no longer have the option of right-hand awesomeness. My left hand is an awkward fellow, the Napoleon Dynamite of my limbs desperately in need of some dance moves. So it was yesterday when I switch-hit for the cleanup of my yard tools that I got a glimpse of a world hidden to my left-brained lifestyle: my garage is right-handed.

You never think about it; you never need to consider it unless you have a life-altering event that shifts the frame of interacting in the confines of your comfort. My world is right-handed. I have a right-handed ignition on the car; a right-handed refrigerator door; right-handed scissors and metal shears (seriously--you try using a "lefty" scissors for a month and tell me it's no big deal). I perpetuate this invisible bias by arranging my living space to maximize the use of Righty, and I had no conscious awareness of any of this until yesterday when I was trying to hang up my square-bladed shovel in it's correct niche on the wall... I could not really do it with my left hand because of the how I arranged that physical space.

And then I thought of all the race-riots this week: Euro-cops killing Afro-civilians in Baton Rouge, and then in Minnesota; an Afro-civilian assassinating five officers in Dallas proclaiming that he wants to kill white people, especially white cops. Black Lives Matter activists plotting with officials to disrupt political conventions to create civic chaos and radical shift in power structures, countered with white-supremacist groups gearing up to counter this, or worse... use it as an excuse to perpetuate what they perceive as America. Crazy! What happened to our Country, Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty?

And then social media blew up, with non-stop slap-fighting between, "You can't understand because YOU'RE WHITE! vs "I may be white but at least I know NOT TO RESIST COPS!" vs "You don't even KNOW ME, how can you judge me.. because I'm WHITE?! /BLACK?!"... and so it went. Folks posted studies and research and opinions and pointed fingers; white scholars apologized for being white; black scholars pointed to the systemic injustices of our current culture; a few Americans walked across the street and hugged the others. And I felt it... in my right hand.

Our culture, our systems, our institutions in America... we're right-handed.
And my Irish-immigrant hands are white.

Peace.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ouch... I believe this stone is yours?


I am a sinner, saved by Grace, so I have no room to boast.
I am not perfect... like I said: I am a sinner. I keep screwing up.

The good news is a wonderful paradox-- there is nothing I can do to be "good enough" for God; my only hope comes at the expense of a perfect sacrifice offered on my behalf to take my punishment in exchange for a life-changing intimacy with The Father-- this historic Jesus, born of the line of David, in Bethlehem, was uninterested in political power or military might. The people wanted a fighter, someone like David to shed the blood of the oppressor... so they used the political system to brutally and publicly assassinate him.

There is a popular perception that somehow America, or other countries for that matter, are no longer the Christian nations that they used to be. I have read enough history to doubt whether any nation is Christian, but to qualify that, let me explain what I mean by "christian".
Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. All of the original disciples were killed by the secular and religious authorities of that time, though John outlived most of them. They did not die in gun battles or sword fights; like sheep they were led to the slaughter. Although impulsive and passionate Peter used his sword to try to protect Jesus, he was rebuked and later allowed Rome to crucify him... upside down because he was unworthy to die like the Messiah.
Thousands of these Jesus-followers were stoned to death by Jewish communities trying to "purify" and "purge" their community from this sect. Thousands of others were used for sport in the Roman arena. They huddled in shadows with secret codes to avoid persecution.
In time the good news of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus reached Caesar and other heads of state, but in assimilating it as an institutional religion, transmuted it into something very different from The Way.

Today I see the Christian faith still in this age-old struggle between authentic obedience to the teachings of Jesus  and the institutional power that conveniently adheres to Christian ideology when it suits its agenda. The former is not the same as the latter.
An amazing display of follower-ship was recently seen at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. Those families better reflected Jesus than any evangelical celebrity in the media. The very outrage created in the hearts of radical militants by their courageous faith to forgive gives testimony that the Church is not dead yet, though not likely to be seen in the media outside of opportunities to sell advertisement.
I see a great parallel between the original Church and the black church, the Coptic church, or other marginalized communities that follow the Lord's command, "Come, follow me."

So as you throw stones at what you do not understand, I challenge you to consider your role in history, who you stand with, and who you stand against.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Tiny Glass Bells

I remember the night I cried for my loss.

I was on the school's annual induction retreat for incoming freshmen students, and after a late night of preparation and planning for the next day's activities I escorted one of my female colleagues to her cabin in the woods. I'm not sure what kind of security I could actually provide if we encountered some rabid lumberjack on the trail, but there's always comfort in companionship.

As an aging teacher I was beginning to struggle with my hearing, especially those shy little girls that sit on the back row, brilliant yet afraid they may be wrong with their contribution to our daily discussions. "Mr. Kelley, I think tha... ke... but...."-- DRATS! I'm losing my ability to engage in my own discussions!
So I went to the audiologist, was tested in her sound-proof phone booth, and was issued a set of high-dollar hearing aids programmed specifically for me. I was given a two-week trial to see what I thought, two weeks that included this particular retreat. I didn't wear them all the time-- as a playful teacher away at camp with students, I'm always mindful of the possibility that impulse-laden guys may entertain themselves with a moment of mutiny and decide to escort said teacher into the pool or lake-- not good for hearing aids or cell phones. At night, especially during meetings, I was free to don my new toys and try them out. I would turn them on and off at intervals, collecting data whether the cost was worth the benefit. Undecided.

Walking back along the trail that night, I realized I had turned them off during the meeting earlier and thought I'd just turn them back on. This model starts with a little chime: "Do-da-do-deet", except this time something was terribly wrong-- intense static filled my ears, like when as a kid I turned on my AM radio with my earphones on...so loud! So intense! This set of hearing aids were defective-- thank goodness I hadn't bought them-- and I turned them off quickly! Walking another minute down the moonlit trail, I thought I'd give them one-last-try [how often throughout my life I've done this?], and again: "SHHHHHHHH...", yet there was also something... something melodic... something familiar. As I stepped closer to the end of the woods the din unravelled into a very difficult, horrifying reality: the night was alive with insect life and I never heard it in my adult years.
I cried.
I cried for the horrible reality that I had missed a whole world around me for so long, a world that friends would comment on or complain about that I had no awareness of... a world re-experienced with a new wonder, like when a child gets her first pair of corrective eyeglasses. I bought the hearing aids.

So today as I sip coffee and eat breakfast in the backyard with my Sweet Susie, I realized my hearing aids made it home from their normal residence in my classroom. She sits transfixed, amazed at some mysterious event above us as I watch flocks of cedar waxwings fly in and out of the mulberry trees. In her sad, pitiful way she looks at me and repeats her gentle query: "Can you hear that?"
I reply, as always: "The cars?, the wind? the doves? the sparrows? the mockingbird? the neighbors? That?"
She just looks at me... sadly. Except today I go inside, put on the aids, and step outside into a din of tiny crystal bells trilling away with fantastic enthusiasms. "Got it," I say, now appreciating what I've been missing in my own backyard, sharing now with my sweety what brings her such joy.

Little, tiny crystal bells; trilling with life. Thank you, Abba, for the wonder of your Creation. And for the consolation of the Serenity Prayer, knowing there are some things that don't have to be accepted or settled for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Grey

Dark eyes, focused.
       Crunch.
The light of my literacy glows cloudy in reflection.
Fixed.
Waiting.
Expectant.
       Crunch.
Brows raised, focus shifts now: left, right, left…. right.
Nares flare with Pavlovian response.
Dark eyes, focused.
        Crunch
Fixed.
Waiting.
Expectant.

It's breakfast time, and I am not alone.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Why WalMart will Fail in my Neighborhood


Customer service.
WalMart has risen to preeminence in the consumer retail industry because of their smart-inventory systems and sense of branding among "associates". But that is recently shifting with ongoing lack of local management.
In the last two years, we, the consumer, have seen a shift to modern exteriors, enhanced produce sections, and poor service. It is now expected that when a customer wants to pick up a bag of dog food, they will wait 10 to 15 minutes in a 15-customer line, because of the 26 registers that are newly installed and ready to go, only two.. maybe three.. have a cashier and are actively helping customers.
If it were anecdotal, this would not be blog-worthy.
But this has been my experience with every visit, save one late-night expedition, and at three different stores in the West-Houston region. 
 Something has shifted. So much so that twice this short month I have simply left the store, abandoning my cart out of the way where another shopper had just done the same. There are 4 store associates talking, and the manager had just opened a register but only to help an employee to make a discount purchase. The rest of us stand in long lines thinking she will look up, realize that we are getting frustrated and have the initiative to open one more line.
Or maybe as another manager at another store chats up some off-line cashier, he might glance at the line (Katy store) and actually invite her to open her register for the line that has now expanded into the retail area. Of the two frazzled cashiers working that store's truncated check-out, I see two customers leave the line and abandon their carts when one of the cashiers has a client who wants a price-check for yet another item. And there are three associates chatting away from the cashiers.. I guess waiting to restock items left by frustrated customers?
So here's the part that the Region managers don't seem to get: if people leave the store, they not only did not spend any money there, they may not want to return.
I have now decided that my money and my time will now first go to my local grocery store, whose inventory, pricing and customer service has just won a client. It's only a $50 purchase, but that's money that Walmart will never see.
(originally written Feb2014)
JK,ns

The Pause

As I sit here in my lab desk, reflecting over the crazy pace of this last month, I am aware of a background noise that masks itself earlier in the day with the sounds of footsteps or conversation. No, it is not my tinnitus, though that certainly is part of the moment.
It is the air conditioner.
The air conditioner running, and there is nobody left in this building but me...
...and I like it.
Have you ever gotten so still, so quiet that you can feel your own heartbeat?
Listened to your pulse in your ears?
That's what the air conditioner moment is like for me right now.
April had been so crazy: school year coming to a close, taxes are due to The Man, already making plans for next school year, working finances for home-repair and a mission trip to the Philippines... so busy that I come home, kiss my sweet Susie on the forehead and just... want... to... sit on my back porch and listen to birds or wind in the trees.
Stillness.
This morning's weekly reunion of Bible, Biscuits and Bro's began a study of 1 Peter. In beginning of this letter, I can almost hear a plea in his tone as he writes his letter to us: "May Grace and Peace be multiplied to you."
Grace and peace.
Multiplied to us.
The awareness that not only are we not worthy, but that's not relevant... we are the Beloved. We have a loving Abba who walks with us into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, moving past the crazy distractions that bring us anxiety, past the painful realities reminding us of our own mortalities... into the peaceful Presence of His embrace.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the cross... for your willingness to take my punishment, for my sinfulness, all the way to death and back. Thank you for Easter; that reminder that death does not have the last word for those who surrender to your Kingdom within.
Lord, thank you for this moment, the gentle hum of a pause.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Happy Labor Day Weekend

It's Sunday morning,  year 2013.
Having missed morning worship, I turned on the local Christian station, sat in my favorite chair, and have been listening to praise and worship music while peacefully reading and truly enjoying the flurry of bird life flocking around my now-filled feeder. I even gave the hummingbird feeder it's first autumnal transfusion of sweetness and have already already witnessed a micro-migrator leaving this new ornament on the arboreal landscape! As I type, a swarm of hummers have just mobbed this feeder-- life suddenly is even happier from this chair.
The One-Year Bible's offerings find us in Ecclesiastes and 2 Corinthians, books strangely congruent aside from overarching theological bases: both seem to be specifically addressing the profound limitations of living solely for oneself, written in a voice that leaves me wishing I was farther along my Jesus Journey.
Paul lovingly writes to his Children in Corinth another letter, and says, "do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?...'Therefore come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters'..." Paul then pleads: "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." (2 Cor.6:14,17-8; 7:1)
I know that nobody can be perfectly holy, but that is not what is going on here-- it's about orientation: what am I focused on? What is the most important thing in my life? Since I immediately am aware of my imperfections, what are those idols I proudly hold onto, idols God is gently asking me to give up so I might receive something profoundly better?
God is good.
People have a profound ability to rationalize our pig slop.
Jesus, help us to surrender that we might truly experience life. Jesus, for those who have never taken this step, give them the courage to give over their lives to your Love/Life.
In becoming my LORD, you become my Savior.
Thank you for the cross; bear with me as I stumble in following you-- I really don't like being hurt, but I'm learning that may not be relevant.
I thank you for the amazing gifts you give me, including that amazing peach-colored bird sipping from the hummingbird feeder

Jac's Reminder: Breathe.

At our faculty devotions today, Jac'Drake shared some insights from her journey with Christ, especially from lessons learned while attending NYU:

1. Our capacity to create and appreciate Beauty is the Imago that the Abba has placed within humanity; the ability to destroy is evidence of our sin and rebellion.

2. Breathing is worship: it is the first thing we do in the world, and the last, and everything in between. It is what we do as we worship in song-- we all breathe in unison, sharing the same rhythms of in and out, a tidal experience in the Pneuma.

3. Our encounter with the Abba is about breath: the very NAME is about breath:Y=in, H=out, V=in, H=out.

I am thankful and blessed this day, thankful for this place called Houston Christian High School, the people with whom I serve, and my life.
Thank you, Father, for my new life.
I love You.
Jim