Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Troublemaker

I’m a trouble maker. An instigator and agitator. I like to poke at things and people and ideas, just to see what happens.  When things get too quite I try to rile them up again.  I pick at other peoples’ scabs (mental not physical – that would be gross).
Now listen, I don’t want to be misunderstood.  I’m not mean.  I’m a kind hearted soul.  But I don’t like to get too comfortable and I don’t think other people should be allowed to become too comfortable.  Nothing changes when it is comfortable.  Comfort is just a dressed up way of saying stagnant.
Rearrange your furniture, move the silverware drawer, fold your underwear differently and you might have a new thought.  A new insight.  A revelation.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How To Name A Cat

We lived in a too small house.  A house built for two and we were more.  I needed an office space that I didn’t have to rent. 
My publishing business could be run as easily from a home office as from the office space it was currently in.  All I needed was space to put the equipment; computers, printers, copier, light table, files and more files.  But we lived in a too small house.
We found a house.  A big house.  An old house.  A house with a basement room with an outside door.  An office space where my sales staff could come and go without interrupting life in the home.  We bought the house.
The house was Victorian architecture built with huge, red, Colorado sandstone in 1890.  Although it was now in Des Moines, at the time it was built newspaper stories about it wondered, “Why would anyone want to live so far outside the city.”  Although it was no longer surrounded by fields and forests, we soon discovered that there was wild creatures who wanted to share our home.  Mice.
We need a cat.  A tom cat.  An old cat.  A cat wise in the ways of mice.  We need a cat.  We need a hunter.  A slayer of mice.
Having overheard that I wanted a cat, our daughter, knowing of a person who raised cats, brought us two female kittens in a cage.  A cage in which they’d lived most of their lives.  In a cage that they were to afraid to leave.  Two scaredy cats.  Two kittens ignorant of mice and their ways.  Kittens.  Not cats.  Not what I wanted, but I couldn’t send them back to that pet mill from which they came.
Names.  They needed names.  I don’t really know why people give names to cats.  Cats seldom come when you call their names.  They may come when you say, “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty” and have food for them.  Or they may just lift their head from where they lay curled in the sun, and stare at you with the most dismissive of looks.  But we feel the need to name them.  It is our God given duty to name the animals.  Read Genesis chapter two and verses nineteen and twenty, if you don’t believe me.  Names.  They needed names.
The black cat was easy to name.  Aren’t all black cats named Midnight?  The gray tabby cat … what to name the gray tabby?  Something to match her personality.  Crazy Cat?  Kitty Retardo?  Skittish Kittish?
It happened when my son and I were sitting at the table in the kitchen.  The kitchen was one of only three rooms in the house without carpeting.  The other two being bathrooms.   So, there we were sitting and pondering names.  That was when the gray tabby made and entrance.  I don’t mean to say that she came into the room.  I mean to say that she made an entrance.  And it was an entrance that we recognized.  We had seen that entrance many times.   On TV.  On Seinfeld.  The kitten came sliding sideways into the kitchen and then did a little twitch and looked at us expectantly.  Kramer!  It was obvious that this kitten’s name was Kramer.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Who is Nailed to the Cross"

       It is really hot under this metal helmet and this place smells of death. That's why I hate this part of the job! But I'm a centurion, and standing guard at executions is part of the duty.

     Listen! Can you hear the sound of the hammer driving those huge iron spikes Clack! Clack! Thomp!  Did you notice how the sound changed when it finally went through the hands and into the wood?  I'll never get used to that!

     Hmm ... Only three crosses today! ... business is a little slow. But there's still a lot of screams. Not just from the crucified but also from the crowd. Mothers, fathers, wives, children.

    Even thieves and murders have loved ones; tears are flowing like blood ... and blood is flowing like tears. Everything ... everybody is in motion.  The crowd is milling around trying to get closer to the crosses ... trying to get away from the crosses. It's a human swarm of the curious trying to see who is on the center cross. It's hard to look ... It's hard to look away!

     Who IS that on that cross? "The king of the Jews" That's what the sign over his head reads.   Oh yeah! Our Caesar and his governors would love to believe that!  What a show of power to nail the Jew's king to the cross.

     Rome has had nothing but trouble since we conquered this little hunk of "paradise" Hang their king on a cross ... yeah, that should break their rebellious spirit!  Bunch of trouble makers. If it weren't for them, I could be back in Rome with my family.

    This guy had a family too. I've kinda gotten to know some of His story.  He was a carpenter like His father. A guy named Joseph. I don't know much about the father.  But His mother is named Mary.  Some say she followed Him everywhere.  That's her at the foot of the cross with one of His disciples.

     His disciples didn't call Him a carpenter. They called Him Rabbi ... teacher.  He was called teacher many times by many people (even some of the religious leaders!).

     I remember hearing Him teaching on the mountain. He taught the law and the prophets with an authority!  I heard Him again by the seaside.  (He was attracting such large crowds that some of us centurions were detailed to keep an eye on Him.)  You couldn't help but listen. He made things so easy to understand. All His talk of sheep and shepherds and sewing seed and masters and slaves ... even a soldier like me could understand that he was speaking of our relationship to each other and to God. What a teacher!

     Some say He was more than a teacher.  That He was a prophet.  You know, He did speak a lot about future events.  About the coming "Kingdom of God" and how to prepare for it.  About a place prepared for His followers in the afterlife and what it was going to be like.   Mostly though He spoke a lot about today ... about His betrayal, His trial, His beating and His death. Yes, I guess He was a prophet too.

     But why would a teacher and a prophet be nailed to a cross?  If He had just stuck with teaching and prophesying, He'd have been all right ... I think.  But He was an outlaw and a trouble maker. He made a real mess awhile ago in the temple courtyard, turning over tables and chasing money-changers and merchants away.  Calling them thieves in His Father's house.

    He broke many of the Rabbinical Laws (although He said that those were just human precepts -- not the Law of God). His disciples worked on the Sabbath! As did He Himself. A big Jewish no - no! He was even known to have healed people on the Lord's Day!

     Oh yes, He was a healer.  He would lay hands on people and cure them!  Even touched lepers!  That gives me the creeps to think about.  Made the blind to see and the lame to walk.  He even healed non-Jews! Can you believe that?  Isn't it considered consorting with the enemy when you heal a Roman Centurion's slave?  (They are friends of mine, the centurion and his wife, and that slave is almost like one of the family.)  And this guy healed him without even going to the house.  Now that's some powerful healing!

     And He healed people's lives not just their bodies. He called demons and evil spirits from people so that folks could return to a normal life.  Even that guy wrapped in chains that lived among the tombs.

     Oh yeah ... speaking of the tombs.  Now this is hard to believe ... they say He raised the dead ... on more than one occasion!  One guy, Lazarus, had even been buried for several days!  Now I'd call that not just a doctor ... I'd call Him a GREAT physician.

     It's when He healed their souls that really got Him in trouble.  He forgave people of their SINS!  Did you hear the conversation he had with those other two on the crosses?  He promised the one that he'd be in paradise.  And he even asked his father to forgive US. Saying that we didn't know what we were doing.

     But I'm beginning to suspect!  (Now I heard it explained something like this: If I step on your toes, YOU can forgive me.  No one else can forgive me because it wasn't THEIR toes!  So ... if I sin, that's a sin against God and nobody but God can forgive me).  Yet, He did! It was like He was claiming to BE God!

     That is what really angered the religious establishment most of all!  He claimed to have power greater than theirs.  He did a lot of miracles that demonstrated his divine power.  Walking on water, calming storms, turning water to wine and feeding 5,000 people on some little boy's lunch!

     That's the real reason He's hanging on that cross.  Or maybe it isn't the REASON.  Maybe that's just the EXCUSE.  I'm sure you may remember John. Yeah the guy in the hair coat that Herod had beheaded.  I think they called him the baptizer or something.

    Anyway, this guy on the cross went to see John at the Jordon River and to be baptized.  John sees Him coming and yells out, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

     If you ask me, that's who is hanging on the cross. The sacrificial lamb.  The lamb without spot or blemish.  That's what the Jews have to sacrifice every year to be forgiven for their sins.

     Well this is the perfect man who knew no sin and yet has taken everyone's sin ... your sin ... even my sin (even though I'm not even a Jew) ... all of the world's sin ... and nailed them to the cross in his own body.

     Listen!  He's saying something ... I've picked up a little of their Aramaic language while I've been stationed here. ... It' as if He's feeling abandoned as if the sins of the whole world and for all times were weighing on him.

     Now he's committing His life into His Father's hands and giving up His life.

     Did you get that?  Giving up His life.  Showing us that we couldn't TAKE it. But He is willingly giving it in our place.

     Look! The sky is darking and the earth quakes at his passing.  Truly this man was God's Son!

This story is inspired by the reading of Mathew 27:46-57 which I've included here. (Scripture quoted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 

Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God

Friday, December 2, 2011

“Single Occupancy”

Brightly the cold December sun hung low in the afternoon sky.  Naked trees cast zebra stripes on the blacktop road.  Sun.  Shadow. Sun.  Shadow.  Sun. Shadow.  Nearly mesmerized by the light flickering through the windshield, I drove.

Sunlight changed to heat as it passed through the car windows.  My face was flush with the warmth while my feet were freezing in the shadows beneath the dash. 

As if measured by a miser, an occasional flake of snow flew through the air.  For hours the snow had fallen thus, and yet there was no accumulation. “Where does the snow go?” I wondered aloud.  It’s too cold to melt and yet there is no sign of it on the ground.  “Perhaps it is the same five or six flakes accompanying me down the road.” 

It would suit my mood to have tiny shards of ice as my companion.  Straight and lonely this road had gone on for mile after mile and yet the scenery had never varied.  Half shutting my eyes against the sun’s glare, I thought that I should feel fortunate that I wasn’t driving directly into it. 

I didn’t feel fortunate. 
She was gone. The weight of loneliness sat on my shoulders and compressed my spine as I hunched over the steering wheel.  My mind had become numb from the sameness.  My eyes, that I had been holding half closed, were now a struggle to keep half open. Slowly fatigue overtook me and I slept. 
I awoke!  Still driving. 

The sun had dropped below the horizon and I had not noticed.  Grief and fatigue created a headache that now settled between my eyes. Beyond my headlights a sign appeared. “M  el” it blinked in red neon.  

My tires crunched on gravel as I pulled to a stop in front of the office.  Peeling paint and tarnished metal were the main decorating elements of a motel that had started out cheep and gone down hill from there. 

Ebenezer Scrooge’s twin stood up from his seat behind the counter and asked, “Single occupancy?” And I cried.