Most of us try to be first; first in that “over 40 year old 5K race,” first to get the promotion, first in line at the theater, first on line to buy concert tickets, first to get the view of the morning sunrise, first in your college graduating class, or first to get control of the TV remote. Being first has been a preoccupation with humankind, from the beginning of the Olympic games where we proved who was best at some sport, to the first to file a patent so we can lay claim to ownership of a design or idea. It is a natural human condition to want to be first, with a few notable exceptions: the first to die, the first to pay taxes, the first to sin. The reasoning behind not wanting to die first is obvious, and no one enjoys paying taxes so why do it first? To sin is to willingly separate from God, so why be first at something so bad? The initial sin is almost expected, because we all fall short of perfection, but the second sin is by choice – after observing or doing it once, we with full knowledge do it again. So maybe, it is better to be the first sinner, rather than the second. Perhaps the first sin is not the worst, but it is the second sin that we all must avoid.
Once upon a time, in a land not very far away there was a small town, nestled in brown rolling hills and oak trees, inhabited with mostly happy people who got along with each other and with neighboring cities. Gardens were planted, golf was played, churches attended, businesses thrived, and many a feast was eaten; that is until the day of the great let down. On that day the banks, money changers, manipulators, and Federal Regulators let everyone down: and so the Great Recession began. Every town had lived through recessions in the past, but nothing had been seen in decades like the Great Recession. Where once flowers had grown on the land between the lanes of traffic now stood people with cardboard signs asking for work or food. Stores, restaurants and shops all over the land closed their doors, leaving many people without a way to care for their family. When people could not pay their mortgage, the same banks from the great let down threw the people to the street. Families cried, asking their leaders for help.
The first thing that I noticed was his eyes; piercingly intense, visible even through the thick brown hair that was wet with sweat and had intermingled stains of red. Those eyes could have been wild with anger, or hate, we would have understood, but instead they were sincere, full of compassion and knowing. His eyes were kind – even today.
He was kneeling in thick dirt, dried mud from sweat and blood covered his hands to the elbow; his feet and calves were equally stained. The crowd roared with approval when the soldier raised the whip high to the sky. He yelled for the beaten man to “get up now.” Idiot. Didn’t he know that whipping a hurt man will not make him move any faster? I wanted to look away because he was my friend, my master, but I could not. The whip came down hard; his cry was muted by the force of the approving mob. He had been beaten, but he wasn’t beat. He moved his right foot slowly, dragging upward to a kneeling position. The cross was balanced on his right shoulder, with the cross member in front just past his knee and the end reaching ten feet behind. Weighing 200 pounds, it was a massive killing staff designed with only one purpose. The crowd continued screaming for more, hoping for another blow from the guard. But the guard was tired from a long night, so he rested, hoping for selfish reasons that the prisoner would stand up soon.
If you were a farmer 100 years ago, you might have used a plow horse to pull the metal plow to turn and mix the soil until it was sufficiently prepared to plant the seeds. The horse was meant to do the bulk of the labor; dragging the heavy plow through good soil and bad, while the farmer kept the horse in a straight line. A plow horse didn’t have to move swiftly to be considered good at its job, it needed to be consistent and dependable; always moving forward toward its goal, without much complaining or urging – a good plow horse wanted to plow the field. It knew every morning that the day would bring some rocky, dry, hard spots and, some places that were level and smooth; but, it didn’t matter, the plow horse would work its way through all of it, under the carful guidance of its farmer.
In old movies, there was often a part where a man was sitting on the sidewalk leaning against a worn building, wearing torn clothes that supported several days of dirt, would ask a passerby, “Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?” After the horrifying news this week coming from London about the crime, violence, and complete disregard for human dignity, the starvation in Africa, and the emotional turmoil created by the inept political and financial management of our nation’s resources, today I think the same guy would ask, “Hey buddy, can you spare some good news?” Even if the person walking past had some good news, he might have chosen to keep it for himself, knowing that more good news would be hard to find; as if sharing good news might dilute its affect. Or maybe, the guy walking and sitting both needed to look deeper, inside them and outside, to find that elusive good news.
This was one of those weeks where powering on any devise that linked you to world events was a risk. Seeing the truth of what we humans can do, or accept as justifiable, was difficult; unless one took a long moment to find some of the good that was deeply hidden in all of the bad. That’s where we enter the conversation. As Christians we are called to find the good of the moment, and if we are able – to be the good in the moment; it is up to us to paint the silver lining on the dark cloud. I do not suggest that we bathe ourselves in naivety; turning away from reality so as to not see what is wrong. No, instead we must tune our eyes and ears (and our hearts) to the frequency of what is good, compassionate, and human; we must find the people, who in the midst of darkness exhibit a flicker of light.
In the world of the believer, prayer is as fundamental as a net to a trapeze artist; believers don’t go anywhere without prayer. Life is too risky a proposition to chance a moment, day or lifetime without the support of prayer. Is praying to God a crutch, an eternal aid to believers that gets them through the day; something that we just cannot live without, a part of our existence that is necessary for our lives to mean anything?
So if prayer is so important to our existence, why don’t we do it more often? Maybe it is because we are not yet convinced that prayer works…every time …..all the time. Maybe we think that, like insurance, God is here for the really big stuff, but he can’t be bothered for the little things, so we don’t submit the small claims to God, only the big ones. If we think like that, we could not be more wrong. Our god is the God of everything, big and small He cares about it all. This is why I know He cares about everything (other than reading the Bible where I am told He knows the number of hairs on my head).
“Yes, almost. It doesn’t start for an hour and it will only take ten minutes to get there.”
“I know that,” replied mom, not hiding her irritation with Katie, her daughter, for not taking today more seriously. “We need to be a little early to court. The last thing we need is for you to be late.”
“It’s just stupid, I didn’t do anything wrong,” shot back Katie, the 19 year old daughter of Carol Young.
“It may be stupid to you, but if it goes wrong today in court you will lose your license for a year. So let’s go.” The tension in the Young’s living room was as thick as the fog in Fresno that morning.
The drive to the Superior Court was quiet. Two nervous women were hoping, and praying, for a fair Judge and a compassionate District Attorney. In their previous trips to court, the outcome may have been considered fair by some, but compassion was nowhere to be found. They arrived with twenty minutes to spare, leaving more time to squirm, tap fingers and rehearse Katie’s plea.
This week was very good, actually it was great. Great is a relative term, so in comparison to all other weeks in recent memory, the current week stands out as amongst the best. Being a habitual ‘box checker’ (which means that I make a list of items to accomplish and then check them off the list when completed), this week encompassed many boxes that were checked. But the week also had a good feeling to it as well, and some excitement to make it special.
The weather cooperated by staying warm in the daytime to the mid 90’s and cool at night in the 50’s.
We reached some major milestones in the completion of my book, WARRIORS – Every Man Matters. The writing is essentially complete, absent only the table of contents, title page and a few needed Bible quotes. Of course, we are discovering that writing the book is only the beginning of the process; next comes publishing and selling. We also approved the cover design, and received two very good endorsements that we will include the book. (These were some very big boxes to check).