A Week in the Life

As I listen to people these days, I am reminded of one of the Beatles great songs. It begins “I read the news today, oh boy…” That song is titled “A Day in the Life.” Most of us have heard it. Most of us probably enjoy it. Most of us are probably following the lead of John Lennon and reading (or at least watching) the news. Any guesses of what the news will be this week? I think we can all answer that question. Some event may provide a slight distraction but the focus will quickly return to the latest on COVID-19. There is nothing wrong with watching the news but I do hope we all have found some other ways to spend time as well.

 

I hope most of us are involved in things that keep ourselves and others healthy. Your “day in the life” will likely be at least slightly different from mine, but due to the restrictions placed on social interaction I have already become pretty predictable.

 

I will eat oatmeal. I’m ok with that, there’s not much better than a combination of oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla with a fruit topping. I will probably cook something a little more complicated at some point. Maybe a soup. Maybe something on the Weber. I like to smell like smoke after cooking. “You smell like smoke” someone may say. “Thank you” I will reply.

 

I predict that on Tuesday I will send a song to Karissa and Keightley. We do it every week and call it “Tunesday.” Last week it was “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. This week I will be sending out “Hallelujah.” The Jeff Buckley version.

 

I have entered the world of vlogging. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have attempted to communicate some sense of meaning and hope through short video vignettes. I suspect I will be at it again this week as one way to maintain a sense of connection with the people of the church. It seems like such a trendy exercise, maybe I’m destined to become trendy. The earlier one I call “Tuesdays With Randy.” The next one I call, you guessed, “Thursdays With Randy.” Pretty trendy eh.

 

I always enjoy reading but admit my reading time has increased during quarantine. Most recently, I am rereading Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. It is assigned for a class I am taking and I always consider it a bonus when I am assigned a book I have read before. It does encourage the risk that I will start to think I know what I’m talking about. That will be up to the professor to decide when I complete my critical review essay.

 

I will spend time in the garden. We have planted cabbage, radishes, onions, arugula, spinach, swiss chard, romaine and bibb lettuce. We have already started to harvest lettuce, arugula, and spinach. I will add to the compost. Probably kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and crunchy brown leaves. When I don’t smell like smoke I like to smell like soil.

 

These are the things that make up a week in the life. At least for one average guy trying to be compliant with social restrictions. It has become rather predictable. I am hoping to shake things up a bit in the near future. Maybe I’ll follow John’s lead. Later in the song he sings “I saw a film today, oh boy.” Yeah, I’ll probably do that.

A Friday Field Trip

On a Friday, I can normally be found in the library at Messiah College where I try to work on my dissertation. But last Friday, I did something different. I took a field trip to Philadelphia and I rode the train. I know that some don’t think of the train as a novelty, but it was my first time.

The adventure started well before I even got on board. For one, the parking situation near the station is not easy to navigate. Finding a spot in close proximity to the station in the dark presents some challenges (I should have done a little recon beforehand). Once I made my way to the station, I discovered a knife in my pocket and imagined the worst. After unsuccessfully attempting to persuade a vendor and the baggage department to hold it for me, I decided to run it back to the car. I considered hiding it in a hedgerow or a flower pot on the way but didn’t want to risk someone finding it before I returned. Oh well, some early morning cardio before a train ride can be exhilarating.

Finally, I received a ticket and boarded the train where I am amused that a gentleman dressed like he belongs on the Polar Express scans my ticket. The lady across the aisle had set up an entire work station in her seat and the seat next to her. The girl in front of me was excited about her first week long trip to New York City. The gentleman who boarded in Lancaster and sat next to me spent his time reading a novel on his phone. The stop at Lancaster reminded me that Rachel and Samuel Lapp had taken this same route in the movie The Witness. I look out the window to see if I can find Daniel Hochleitner riding alongside the track trying to impress passengers while standing in his buggy.

At 30th Street Station, I see Walter Hancock’s brilliant statue of Michael the Archangel lifting a soldier. The statue honors PA railroad workers who served in World War II. Again, I am reminded of the movie and am glad I see no one who looks like Danny Glover. By chance, I am there for the tree lighting that was followed by a chorus of Silent Night that echoed through the large hall as multiple strangers joined in. A barista from Pret A Manger generously gave me a free iced tea.

I met with a friend who has a great deal of expertise in systemic thinking and resulting therapies. I have sat in his trainings on multiple occasions and am better on account of it. He has a casualness about him as well as a clarity that makes training enjoyable. As it turns out, he also has some expertise on Philadelphia and gives me some pointers for my brief stay.

Walking down Market Street revealed Dickens style decorations in the windows of a bank and modern décor in the lobby of a luxury apartment building. The street was full of corner vendors and food trucks. There was an area called The Porch that had swings on it – porch swings right in the middle of the city (and people were using them). An older gentleman smoking a large cigar in an older suit with wide lapels and a thick tie was talking loudly on his phone outside. He looked like he belonged in a classic Christmas movie. A man huddled against a building was asking for coins. I tossed in all the change I had and he blessed me for it.

Before I knew it, I was boarding the train again for the trip home. My train adventure to the big city was over. I feel like I had a cultural experience. The next time you see me, you will probably think I am more refined than I was before.

My Connection with Emperor Shen Nung

It is Tuesday morning. More often than not I spend Tuesday mornings at a café where they serve Earl Grey Iced Tea. Honestly, its an acquired taste. But now it pulls me in on a fairly regular basis. (I also like this café because everyone wears hats).

Legend has it that once upon a time in China a flavorful leaf fell into water being boiled for Emperor Shen Nung and he loved it. Not only did he invent tea, ever since then everyone who drinks the stuff feels like royalty. Iced tea, the real treat, became a hit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. It was hot, kind of like 2019, and Richard Blechyndon added ice to his tea samples. Genius!

Drinking iced tea is not new for me, just drinking Earl Grey is new. I have also picked up a liking for Green Tea and Yellow Tea and a vanilla infused iced tea that is called a Paris Blend. I have always liked tea brewed from various mints and sassafras and even mixing those things into a standard black tea. But my palate is expanding. Perhaps someday I will become incredibly cultured and refined, but probably not.

Iced tea drinking goes back to my childhood. My Aunt Chuck (you read that right; I have an Aunt Chuck) used to brew a syrup from tea and sugar and freeze it. When it was time to make a gallon of her sweet tea, she just added water. I loved it. My sweet tea fascination continued for a while; I would drink it when I traveled south of the Mason-Dixon line. But now my fascination with sweet tea is limited to song lyrics “ask Miss Belle for some of her sweet tea.” Does anyone else think song quality goes up when iced tea is mentioned?

I have brewed it on the stove top (the standard way), in the microwave (the fastest way), and in the sun (an earthy way). But the best way (trust me, I’ve drank a lot of tea) is to cold brew the stuff. Yep, here is an iced tea connoisseur letting you know that iced tea is brewed best in small batches right in your refrigerator. Drop ice in some of that while you’re sweating this summer. You will thank me.

A Handbook about Being a Spy

Virginia Stem Owens has written an interesting little volume And the Trees Clap Their Hands. The subtitle is Faith, Perception, and the New Physics. These things are discussed but this book reads more like a confession, Stem Owens reveals she is a spy. She is busy ransacking the world for secrets. She stuffs them in her pockets while going about her business undetected. It could have been titled A Handbook about Being a Spy. In this book it is her intention to pull the reader into a spy story.

She has been verified in the last census. The house she lives in, the clothes she wears, the food she eats, the cars she drives do not distinguish her from others. She disguises as an ordinary citizen, making her contribution of children, taxes, and casseroles while all the while she is up to something different. Stem Owens strikes a trail and sticks to it. She spreads her senses wide and pulls them back in to see what she may have snared in the wind. She is on a stake out, waiting in unlikely places “ready to pounce on reality should it choose to reveal itself.” She stalks and ambushes, wrestles and gouges whatever meaning she is able, “You must be ready when it comes flying at you.” Readiness is in contrast to self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is fatal for spies. “To ring bells and go barefoot is self-indulgent, and would only call attention to yourself.”

There is danger in this vocation. The greatest is not to be discovered or even to be tortured. The greatest danger for the spy is to forget the mission. The worst thing that can happen is to forget who you serve or to begin thinking that Babylon is all there is. The danger is real. She knows this because she is surrounded by many who have already defected. She is surrounded by others who have forgotten or even renounced the mission. The danger is real. The spy spends so much time and effort learning the language, adopting the customs, and practicing the habits of this land that gradually she becomes her cover. It is easy to forget what one is about.

She knows her way around. She does not need a map for where she lives, but one is necessary for what she hopes for “It is buried treasure that needs a map.” So she slinks out the gate with map in hand. She is disguised not by her own skills or cunning but by the blindness of those around her. She understands the constant danger. But if she winds up like John the Baptist with her head on a platter, she will not blame Herod or the headsman. They are only issuing the known penalty for those who commit such treason.

A Not So Innocent Relationship

Be honest, when you first heard about this relationship it sounded so innocent. When your son first told you about his new friend (we will call this friend X), you were just glad to see him so excited. He told you X was involved in many activities, some of them educational, and had a sense of adventure. You had heard from others that X was  creative, stimulating, and could even help with problem solving. When your son told you how popular X was with his friends, you did not want him to feel left out. You did not know much about X, but set up a play date anyway. Early play dates appeared to go well, your son was enthusiastic about what he and X were doing. He even seemed to enjoy telling you about what they did together. You did not always understand and it wasn’t always interesting to you but your son enjoyed X so much and you were glad he was occupied. Eventually you invited X to stay.

It wasn’t long before things began to change. You were uncertain as to what it was exactly, but things were not the same between you and your son. In fact, everything about him seemed to be changing. He was spending less time with you and family and friends. He became uninterested in things he used to enjoy. He began staying up at night, preferring time with X over sleep. He lost his appetite, preferring to spend time with X rather than eat. X had convinced him that riding bikes was boring. So was sledding and playing in the creek. Even team sports were now considered boring. You did not know why X was so controlling and when you tried to help, your son snapped at you. Every time you tried to talk about X things became so intense. Soon you began to talk badly about X.

You responded by establishing boundaries. Your son would be allowed to be with X only so many hours a day. If he refused to comply with this request X would not be permitted to stay. Your son became angry, claiming you did not understand, even saying things that sounded hateful. At some point, you can’t remember when, your son began to care more for X than for you or his best friends or his favorite hobbies. He became depressed. When you told him you wanted to help he replied that the only way was to let him spend more time with X. When you allowed him more time with X, you missed him. When you tried to spend time with him, he became angry because you were keeping him from X.

When others his age were competing in sports or interested in driving or creating memorable moments or dating, his relationship with X became more serious. This is not the way you saw his life going. These are not the plans or goals you had in mind. These are not the memories you had hoped for. It is difficult to remember that when you first heard about this relationship it seemed so innocent.

Thinking About Church

I have been rereading The Fellowship of the Ring and can’t help but be drawn to the odds against the company sent out to destroy the ring and defeat the evil Sauron. The task must be done and yet it appears the wrong team has been chosen to do it. Tolkien gives an interesting adventure. As necessary as this adventure may be, success does not seem likely when we look at a company that consists of a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, two humans and four hobbits. The task is great, the company appears small.

I read Tolkien and think about the church. Sometimes you look across the congregation and wonder, considering the task at hand, if we will be able to meet the challenge. We are surrounded by evil. Our strengths seem small. Yet the task remains and we gather, little more than a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, two humans and four hobbits, and we step into this adventure. A company set out to change the world.

Church and the Wetlands

Not far from my present office is Wildwood Lake. Its proximity allows me to visit on occasion. Wildwood is not a traditional lake; it is more accurately a wetland. An ecosystem that provides food, water, shelter, and space for raising young. Wetlands are an overall excellent habitat for wildlife.

The swamp like feel feeds the imagination and causes me to wonder if an ogre might live there and if creatures gather for karaoke at night. More realistically, it is good to know that wetlands act as a natural sponge. The muck and variety of plant life absorb water and help prevent flooding. Wetlands act as a natural filter, trapping debris, silt, and other pollutants. Wetlands like Wildwood may look to some like a no good swamp, but they serve significant purposes in the larger system.

I walk around Wildwood and I think about the church. The church may not fight pollution or prevent flooding but is a place of sustenance and for raising young. And like the wetlands, it may not look like much but plays a significant purpose in the larger system.

 

C. S. Lewis and the Adventurous Spirit

Does the following excerpt from Prince Caspian reveal a wilderness spirit in C. S. Lewis? Do each of us have an similar desire for adventure?

To sleep under the stars, to drink nothing but well water and to live chiefly on nuts and wild fruit, was a strange experience for Caspian after his bed with silken sheets in a tapestried chamber at the castle, with meals laid out on gold and silver dishes in the anteroom, and attendants ready at his call. But he had never enjoyed himself more. Never had sleep been more refreshing nor food tasted more savory, and he began already to harden and his face wore a kinglier look.

Practicing the Promise

In Genesis 12.1 God tells Abram to “Go” so we may not be surprised to read later in verse 4 “So Abram went.” Suddenly we find ourselves in a travel adventure “And they set out for the land of Canaan.” When we arrive at verse 6 we find that “Abram traveled through the land.” And at verse 8 “From there he went toward the hills east of Bethel.” In verse 9 “Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” By the time we arrive in verse 10 “Abram went down to Egypt.”

These travels have meaning for us because we are told that wherever Abram goes in chapter 12 he goes as the recipient of a promise. This promise is given as a plan devised by God that involves a partnership between God and His chosen people that will be a blessing to all the people of the earth. After getting directions to his location in Canaan “as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh” (such directions may cause us to want to stop and ask Miss Belle for some of her sweet tea). With the promise in mind it is worth noting that in Canaan Abram “built an altar there to the Lord.” It would not be a stretch to say that he practiced the promise among the Canaanites. Then again, in the hills east of Bethel “He built an altar to the Lord.” And again, we might say he practiced the promise while there.

Yet something entirely different takes place in Egypt. Perhaps Genesis wants us to know there is something opposite to the promise. There are plans not devised by God that are intended for self-survival and personal blessing without concern for others. Here Abram makes a plan to maximize his chances for personal blessing and survival. While he does survive and is treated well, Abram has no concern for others and the Egyptians are not blessed. In fact, they are afflicted with serious disease instead of blessing. Genesis wants us to know from the start that the Lord is serious about this promise. God is serious about this plan and the partnership with His people.

The Rebellious Soul

We are created for adventure. Our soul longs for it. Yet, it is our tendency to partner with culture and settle for domestication. Somewhere along the way we are convinced to accept an agreement that things are ok as they are. This may leave us somewhat unsettled. That is our soul talking. Our soul rebels against such an agreement. The soul rebels against boredom and all other attempts to tame it.

The soul instead longs for something grand; it desires an adventure that makes us want to say “wow.” The soul longs for an adventure that sparks thought and imagination. We are made for a journey that explores mystery and wonder. We may find a kindred spirit in C. S. Lewis “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The soul desires something different than what is served up by society.