Saturday, November 29, 2014

Who Are You Waiting For?

Everyone is waiting for something. Sometimes we wait so long we can just, well, give up.  For example, I have been waiting for two weeks for my television provider to arrive to fix the equipment which allows me to watch my TV.  At first I waited anxiously, almost desperate because I could not envision missing my favorite team’s sporting events. I called; I emailed; and I repeated each step very, very often.  Now, well, I have been waiting so long (relatively) that I am ready to give up. Life without television cannot be that bad, right?  The waiting has become an exhausting experience.  Maybe I should give up waiting and move on to something else. 

But that would be giving up.  I know that, one day, it will fit into someone’s schedule to fix my TV. He will show up at my door.  The waiting has changed me. What has really changed in me as I wait is the decrease in my anxiety. I used to be really angry about this waiting (My anger is justified because they are messing with my Badger Basketball games!) But that has diminished too. You see, I have been assured by the “specialists” who have taken my calls that they “understand my frustration, and we will help you as soon as possible.”  How truly comforting to know that, at least, I am understood by someone.

But what if my repair technician is never coming. What if he is just a character in a well-crafted story. The trucks they drive around can be seen just few miles from my house, but, what if they are being driven by imposters; or what if they just don’t come to my neighborhood. What if the repair technician is just a myth? What if I wait a month and no one shows up. Well, you could say, get a new television provider.  No, no, that’s not the point. Don’t you see? I am waiting for what I have been promised.  And I am not giving up. I am sure there is some very good explanation for why I am waiting for what seems to be such an easy solution: just  get in your truck and drive to my house!  But, I guess, the solution that seems so easy to me must not really be so easy.  There must be some reason that I do not understand; there is some reason for my waiting which I cannot fathom because I do not have all of the facts.  Maybe what I need to do is learn more about how to wait without giving up.

Everyone is waiting for something. Everyone is waiting for someone. Unless they have stopped waiting. What are you waiting for? Who are you waiting for?  Don’t stop.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

J.J. and the Family Conference

J.J. Watt was destined to be on world-class hockey player. The next Gordie Howe, perhaps, or even the next Great One, Wayne Gretzky. There’s no question that the boy, J.J., had the skills to play hockey. His coach told a reporter that J.J. was besting the best of future professional players on national all-star teams. (SI,11.17.14, T. Layden)  Yes, it seemed, J.J. Watt had the elusive mixture of both outlier-skills and outlier-desire, a formula which for any life career almost guarantees world-class success.  Today, J.J. is not a professional hockey player. Why not? Well, the third ingredient to world-class success was out of his control: outlier-opportunity.

J.J.’s parents both had good jobs, Dad as a paramedic and Mom as a scheduler for a contractor. They were blessed with three sons, all promising skaters.  But then the picture became more clear: Mom and Dad and the three boys were a family in name only. Putting three boys on three touring hockey teams was fun and rewarding. But it was expensive. And, more than that, it was preventing the Watt family from being a family. So, Dad and Mom called a fateful family conference. J.J. was finishing 7th grade and his parents forced him to put family over hockey.  The family met and talked it over, and while it was “tough for all of us”, according to Dad, it was “a massive thing” for J.J. The 7th grader “cried for an entire day.”  Did the parents give in? Nope. They insisted that the boys find a way to have fun in ways that allowed the family to function.

Do we blame the parents for denying the hockey world the next “Great One”?  Are Canadians cringing at the thought of what might have been? Or do we applaud the parents for being parents?  Sometimes it is just no fun being the adult in the room. Sometimes it can be devastating to tell children, especially teen-agers, that the path they are on isn’t a healthy one, if not for themselves, then certainly for the family. What has happened to the family?  We could blame “youth activities gone bonkers”, or we could blame the pressure created by society on parents to forget that the purpose of having children is to create a family.  What the world needs is more family conferences.

J.J.’s life went on. You can find him on the cover of sports magazines; on television commercials; and hanging with movie stars.  The best over-all professional football player in the world wanted to be a hockey player.  But Dad and Mom wanted him to be a son and brother first. They taught their boys priorities.  Some parents they are.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fascination with Fire

How surprised do you think the first people were who made a fire? I am guessing that they had seen fire happen naturally, and they wondered how they could make that happen.  Somewhere and somehow they must have seen a spark or a flame and they were so curious about it, they figured it out.  We human beings have a history with fire, a history that dates, we assume, from our earliest days, and without a lot of change in the basic idea.  In fact, “sitting around the fire” is, I surmise, one of the ways that we most closely mimic the first human beings in Africa who figured it out. Not much has changed in a million years (or whatever time you want to assign to the first fire.)  We humans have “improved” and “advanced” many inventions in the course of our history, but we still love the fundamental idea of gathering ‘round the fire on a cold night.

Why is that, do you suppose?  Well, Alison Gopnik (WSJ, Oc.t 11-12) writes about the findings of one scientist who studied how people change their behavior when they gather  around the evening fire.  They just become different people when the focus shifts from the busyness of the day to the slowness of the night.  People’s “talk was transformed”” by the fire. She writes, “Fire gave us the evening-too dark to work but bright and warm enough to talk.”  What happened to that kind of evening?  I suppose before there were books to read and televisions to watch and computers to absorb our minds, what could we do but sit and talk around a fire.  The art of storytelling no doubt developed in the evenings too dark to work but bright enough to talk.  The children would need to be entertained; young couples would need to be romanced; patriarchs and matriarchs would tell stories of “remember when…”; and maybe something else used to happen when the whole village had to sit around the fire which made night warm enough to talk.  Maybe the fire burned away the anger and hostility that the day’s work had stoked as people looked each other in the eye through the flames.

 I wonder if that is what it was like when the night faded and the day dawned and Jesus met the man who had abandoned him in his darkest hour. I wonder if it was the dancing of the flames on that night becoming day, as the soaking wet Peter warmed his body by the coals of the cooking fire, that allowed Peter to raise his eyes to look his friend in the eye and confess, “Lord, you know I love you.” “Then feed my sheep” came the reply, and the world was never the same.

What ever happened to that kind of evening, to that kind of fire?  Look, do you see the flame? Do you hear the question? Do you feel the fire?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Should We Know Who Shot bin Laden?

In a world where we see Andy Warhol’s prediction that “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” coming true before our very eyes, isn’t it interesting that a firestorm has erupted over “who killed bin Laden”?  To review, a team of Navy Seals attacked terrorist Osama bin Laden in his compound. and Seal shot the bullet which killed Mr. bin Laden.  Descriptions of the night-time raid have come out, even in book form, and that was controversial enough. Recently one person, Robert O’Neill, identified himself as “The Shooter”. He has been called many things for making this claim, including “liar.”  A spokesperson for his former employer states that Mr. O’Neill’s disclosure violates an unspoken rule in the military, i.e. do not seek personal attention for your actions taken while in service.

What strikes me about this debate is how different the attitudes toward military service have become in the last 40 years.  I grew up in the “Viet Nam” era. That war was unpopular, to put it mildly.  The saddest part of that chapter of our common history may be the fallout for the Viet Nam-era veterans. Their return home was, often times, a horrible one. Even today there are many of these vets who would not want to describe their service on CNN even if CNN wanted to broadcast their story.

So what has changed? Is it the “enemy”?  Did the fact that bin Laden orchestrated an attack on the United States make him the enemy we all wanted dead?  Perhaps that is it. But perhaps there is a bigger change in understanding going on in our common attitude toward veterans.  Mr. bin Laden put a face on the “enemy”.  It was the fact that we live in an era where his face was made recognizable to the entire western world as the latest incarnation of evil.  What I hope we can begin to understand more deeply is that evil has a face.  Hate and intolerance and injustice, taken to the extreme, become the bin Laden’s of the world, and sadly, someone needs to shoot it dead.

That is best undertaken as a team effort.  I do not think we should know who shot bin Laden, because the truth is, the people of the United States did.  One man pulled the trigger of the gun we put him there to shoot.  My thinking on war has evolved since my draft-age years. I hate war. I hate evil more. I think God does too.  Maybe today is a good day to hug a vet.  You don’t need to know what they did, or whether they wanted to do it. They answered the call we put on them. And to that Team, we say, “thank you.”  Until wars end and peace reigns, may there always be men and women who accept the mystery and complexity of the call to serve as a team for freedom’s cause.