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The question above was the subject of writings by Francis A. Schaeffer, theologian and philosopher (1912-1984).  He attempted to answer the leading question by reviewing the philosophies of history and the resulting histories of the nations and peoples who followed them.  However, we also realize that all humans have this question in the back of their minds, but few deliberate on such a difficult conundrum.

With the loss of lives among school friends, in neighborhoods and on highways in my lifetime, this question often came to mind.  In my personal experiences I remember classmates (1958) and how they lived.  Jim from Walnut Street lived a decent clean life, no smoking or alcohol, but died last year of bone cancer.  However, Uncle Howard survived the awful battlefields of World War I and lived to 85.  My best friend in high school, and neighbor Bob got up one morning 25 years ago and fell over dead.  There isn’t really a pattern or answer here, is there.

But some for a variety of reasons have their lives extinguished.  Classmate Jim M. went to Vietnam, came home a drunk and put himself in the cemetery at 45.  Last spring two boys in my hometown went celebrating and drinking after one’s graduation.  Their car went out of control and the graduating kid died on the spot.  Another relative, Louis, lived a full life into his late 90’s and one day when he couldn’t deal anymore with the loss of his wife and all his friends over the years, took his own life.  The variety of what happens in our lifetimes leaves us all guessing, as it should.  We actually have more control over the question, “how then should we live,” than over “how then should we die.”

“How then should we live?”  Aside from family, peer and societal influence, each of us must look for our own answer.  Often their advice to me was, “Be careful.”  That was a nice way of saying, “Don’t die.” Most of us were careful but we also were adamantly opposed to the idea that if we just stayed home “safe” nothing could happen to us.  Sister Bertha and a friend took off when they were about 13 and hitchhiked 500 miles to Chicago!  When she was older, Bertha lived everywhere from California to Seattle to an island off Alaska, and lived life at 90 miles an hour.  She is in a nursing home now at 68 but she might be there even if she had no great life experiences.

I was off and out of town as soon as I saved up enough money to leave at 18.  Thereafter I lived in Minnesota, Michigan, and a few places in California.  I loved traveling and went to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, England, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Hawaii and 39 states.  Did I ever fear that I was in danger?  Not really.  Though my family and some relatives were fearful about this dangerous (and sinful) world, looking back they were careful never to let their fear of accidents, wicked people, or folks who were “different” transfer to me or my siblings. So we got both the good and the bad, both courage and a healthy fear, like in most families.

How then should we live?  I love to drive 100 mph, but I also drive carefully.  I love going to new places but I am also cognizant of the neighborhood and those around me.  Often I chat with strangers but realize that someone could be a killer on the run.  I have been on so many airplanes in my life that it is like going to the grocery store, but I also note the location of the emergency exits.  If we learn to only live to survive, we shall never really live.  If we are afraid of breaking a leg, we will never experience the thrill of skiing.  If we are afraid of drowning, will never swim and if afraid of looking like a fool when we fall when ice skating, will never zip across a frozen surface.  And one does not survive life, so to speak, though there is wisdom that says the soul never dies.  If we are afraid of everything in life and hide, we kill our spirit and might as well be in the grave.

And so it is that we are left with choices.  Some are highly concerned that we live in a dangerous world, but if you study closely, the world has always been dangerous in one way or another!  We can live so we have a rainbow of wonderful memories or we can stick our head in the sand and live safely.   A good idea would be hold in balance the knowledge that you only have one life and also that if you hide from living life to the fullest through fear, still you never get out alive!  Therefore, fear not for your safety but beware the fear that overtakes our souls and spirit, thus denying us a full and wondrous life experience.   Note that a higher purpose overcomes fear.  “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliott

Live well my friends!  Be bold!  Live fearlessly!

 

Preface

Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, most of the United States was still cognizant to some extent about various forms of religion.  We knew that Jews were Reformed, Conservative or Orthodox.  Christians were mostly Protestant or Catholic, though there were other groups that had some connection to Christian beliefs, with their own prophets or leaders.  Some like The Worldwide Church of God crumbled apart over the years or severely modified their beliefs.  Individual churches sometimes faded away over “mismanagement” like the Crystal Cathedral or the arrogance and sins of someone in leadership such as Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life mega-church in Colorado. Sometimes internet personalities such as the Crouch family were almost a church unto themselves.  Other groups were identified by names that only appeared in the last two centuries, such as Seventh Day Adventists or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Christian Science or Jehovah Witnesses.  But it was difficult for someone moving into a new town to figure out where they wanted to go to church, especially if they had little knowledge about religious faith.

In a few short decades the general population has by and large become illiterate on religious issues.  Folks know a little about some denominations though they are often mistaken because of misinformation.  Also, large portions of Protestantism have morphed their original beliefs into something that fits better with modern American culture.  An example might be that from about 1910 to 1950, a sizable branch of Evangelicals were having serious discussions about whether women should be wearing makeup and jewelry, or some others believed that one wasn’t really a Christian unless they spoke in tongues.

 The Search for Love

Here we are in 2012, and a young couple decides it would be good to attach themselves to a local church they could love, for the sake of the kids at least.  Interesting that research from the Pew Foundation indicates that usually the most common decision maker for church shoppers is how clean are the restrooms.  They called a couple churches and naively asked what that church believed.  They all replied: “The Bible.”

So the couple tries the church down the street first, New Vision Chapel.  They discover that the pastor preaches about theology in such a manner that they leave confused.  So the next week they try Glory to God Ministries.  The guitars are so loud they think they are back in their teenage years at the school dance where kids are really looking for “love.”  The next week they try a huge place called Jesus Megadome that has huge parking lots and a stadium. The music was jumping, with the preacher telling the folks that God was there for them whatever their need, and their faith would guarantee them not only a place in heaven, but heaven on earth.  The couple wasn’t sure of this idea either, since someplace in their college history classes they learned about early Christians willing to go to their deaths for faith in Jesus.  What ever happened to that concept, or was this really a new religion?

Looking for Love

They kept searching: Shepherd of the Valley, Kingdom Hall, Bread of Life, St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal, Family Heritage, Grace Chapel, Cornerstone Fellowship, The Rock, Spirit and Truth Worship Center, Lighthouse Christian, Religious Science, and Community Church of Joy.  After some time they figured out they were wasting their time.  So the got more organized and charted out a check off sheet, with some things they had learned were important for them.  Their list follows:

  • Are the restrooms clean?
  • Is it easy to park?
  • Is there at least one verse from the Bible read during the service?
  • Does the sermon only last between 20 and 30 minutes?
  • Are the songs they sing not just repetitions of one line over and over 15 times?
  • Are the songs used written by some college kid who fancies himself a musician and poet, or maybe by someone with more depth and life experience?
  • How many of the sermons are focused on my feeling good, avoiding Hell, and loving God’s gifts but with no responsibility for my own actions?
  • Are other faiths or churches regularly denounced?
  • Are the services exciting like a football game?
  • Did anyone ask us out to lunch after church since we were strangers there?

 The Solution

The couple finally heard a popular song in the car on the way home “Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places.”  It struck a chord with them and soon they settled on attaching themselves to a local Zen Buddhist group that told them they could believe whatever they wanted as long as they were quiet during the meetings.  What a relief!

On the way to my volunteer job this morning I enjoyed a cup at Starbucks while doing the morning crossword.  As is common there, black birds walked around the patio, pecking up fallen crumbs.  Watching one of these little creatures trying to eat a fairly large piece of someone’s muffin, I was a bit surprised to see him abandon the majority of the morsel and fly off into the warm morning air.

Wondering why he didn’t try to eat the whole thing, it struck me that birds just need enough for a few hours and if they eat too much, their takeoff might be a little precarious!  Sure different than us folks!  That brought to mind a line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread.”  The daily bread line in the prayer, uttered by millions over the last 2,000 years, is probably not often meditated upon by those of us who don’t worry about hunger.  But the concept is dynamic.

First, bread in some form has been a common food in every culture for centuries, so the idea has been easily understood.  Secondly, the great concept of being concerned only for today is a foreign idea to us who are obsessed with planning ahead, often in partnership with stress and worry.  Third, the idea of asking for enough on just a daily basis, has even been discarded by some faith groups who believe (an Old Testament) concept that the One who had no place to lay His head intends for believers to have wealth, which sadly often corrupts!

After contemplating these thoughts while swishing down my coffee, I went on to work at the Well in the Desert, where I volunteer on Mondays over the lunch hours.  We serve a hot, free lunch to anyone who walks in, sometimes as many as 200 souls.  They know we will be there, that the food will be tasty, the volunteers cheerful, and that we will be there in all weather.  So they come for their daily bread without worry or concern.  Would that the Creator be trusted that much!

Matthew 6:26:  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?    

Folks throw out comments like the above to remind others to slow down and enjoy life.  True, but it also holds that we rush through life without just paying attention to the variety of humanity around us.  Today I had a thought before doing my morning mile walk to Starbucks, thinking, “Maybe today I will run into Larry, a Palm Springs cart pusher.”  I had written a blog entry about him last year, and you can move down my blog into last year until you find “Angels in Disguise.”  So I printed that out and figured if I ran into him someday, would give him a copy.  Why my “inner voice” told me that, I am not sure.

I was only at the corner when I saw my first interesting person, a big guy at least 60 or older, on roller blades!  Isn’t that cool?  Then as I get down by St. Teresa’s I spot Larry and his loaded up cart.  As I approached he gave me a shout out, “Blessings to your spirit.”  We shook hands, I gave him the copy of my blog entry and told him that he was in it.  I went on my way, but trust that little writing made his day.

In a few minutes I am past the high school and walking by the skate-board park, with its multiple imitation swimming pools.  Since the kids are in school, I wasn’t surprised to see only a guy in his 40’s up there with a skateboard.  Wow, another adventurer.  Giving a thought to using a board and flinging myself off the edge into that concrete canyon, I had a momentary thrill.  Then I pictured myself flying off the board onto my head and breaking my 71 year old arm.  To paraphrase an old song, “The Thrill is Gone.”

While sitting at Starbucks and doing the morning crossword, I spot a younger guy with a backpack at another table on the patio.  Looked to me like he was sleeping maybe.  Backpacks in the middle of Palm Springs usually indicate: homeless or at least down and out.  Thought maybe I would offer him a coffee and donut when I left.  As I approached I noted that he was using his $200 I-phone/gadget.  To quote another country song, “Walk on By.”

It must have been my day for interesting folks.  At the corner on Sunrise I see a black guy on a tri-wheeled bike, wearing a helmet.  He obviously had hit his head at some point because he was shaking his fists at drivers and yelling profanities.  No need to repeat them here.  As he started right across the street against the light, I thought, “Brad you are going to be a witness to a blood and guts accident right NOW.”  No, cars slowed down and he went flying on by, shouting at the demons he was fighting.

Across the street at the bus stop I run into Alejandro and Guadalupe, a Mexican couple that I have known for years, because they come to the Well daily for the free lunch.  (I volunteer there once a week and have done so for four years.)  They are the friendliest folks on earth.   We chat for a bit and I head on toward home.  Down the street on his bike comes Art, another regular at the Well.  Art is a Filipino and can collector so he always has a big plastic bag with his “haul.”  He yells at me, “Brad, aren’t you kind of old to be walking out here?”  With a laugh he goes on by.

I mulled over my contacts of the morning, realizing that if I sat in my gated condo complex or just drove by these folks in my car, I would be missing some of the variety of roses that the good Lord has planted here in the desert.  The title of this little blog entry then took on a new meaning for me.

Trees and Folks

Last weekend while I was in Arizona, there was a fierce windstorm here in the desert.  Today while I was doing my two-mile walk to Starbucks and back, I was looking at all the downed trees and started thinking about why some didn’t survive while others were standing tall. Does that phenomenon mirror our human experience?

Old trees that topple seem like a natural occurrence.  Their useful life of providing shade and surviving hot summers and windy winters has taken a toll on their strength.  Desert trees can become brittle and dry because of the climate.  Often they have also struggled against disease, insects and woodpeckers.  Also their roots often spread sideways to catch  irrigation water meant for the grass, but they don’t go deep down into the earth because there is really no moisture until too far below.  So the winds come, their branches break off and fly away or in a worst case their roots don’t hold and the whole tree collapses.  Its useful life is over unless it is ground into mulch.

Old folks are kind of like those trees since none of us last forever.  Hopefully in our lives we’ve provided the right shade or advice to the next generation sprouting up in the park.  Unlike trees, which are stuck where they are planted, folks can move around to a more opportune area in which to grow and thrive.  Some never get deeper into the true meaning of life than the shallow or non-existent spiritual and intellectual nutrition of “Jersey Shore.”  So when the storms of life buffer their world, they collapse.  But even trees leave something behind.  It may be seeds that started new trees but it may be just that their fallen leaves provided mulch that covered the forest floor.

Alas, humans are not trees.  We need a balance to feed us and keep us thriving.  I have placed little check boxes on my computer calendar days that remind me of three things that need nutrition ever day.  B-M-S: body, mind and soul.  Hopefully giving those areas of our being some continual feeding, we will be like the trees that stand strong in life.

Psalm 1: 3  …..(the righteous)

He shall be like a tree ,Planted by streams of waters,

That produces its fruit in its season:

And his leaf shall not wither,  And whatever he does shall prosper.

(Septuagint)

When it isn’t too hot, I like to walk the mile to my Starbucks, enjoy a tall, and work the morning crossword puzzle.  Sometimes I can finish the whole thing but often I bring home some blank boxes.

It struck me today how life sometimes resembles the morning crossword.  First, we all have a different method of attacking the puzzle.  I start with doing four lines across, then build on the top line for down words.  Puzzle nuts might violently disagree with this method. Just in the same way, parents need caution when telling their kids that “that’s not how life works” because everyone’s life starts differently.  Let them develop their own track of figuring it all out.  Maybe there isn’t a right way and a wrong way!

I love crosswords also because this is one of the few ventures in life where age is an advantage.  Often I have no idea why I know a word.  For example, this morning one clue was: Met melody.  Never been to the Met but “aria” popped into my mind.  Voila!  A tough one was: Arab’s hooded cloak.  Huh?  But after I had a few letters, it came to me:  burnoose.  I don’t recall ever knowing that word before but there it was!  Sometimes the old folks know stuff but we don’t know why, so younger folks shouldn’t laugh at us.

It is also interesting that Bible words pop up all the time.  Today’s was: Biblical boatwright.  Of course, Noah.  This is a good example of how some knowledge of Bible stories and characters does round out one’s education, whether we turn out to be a saint or a villain.  I think the crossword writers are always careful to use words known to Christians, Jews and Muslims so as not to be charged with bigotry.  Have to be politically correct you know.

Crosswords also teach us about life.  Like the word “lip.”  If your mind only runs on one track you might think the answer is “sass” but the same number of letters spells “edge.”  Good example for life, to use an overworked phrase, is to “think outside the box” to figure out your life path.  If your head is always looking down the same old road and you aren’t getting anywhere, you might need to look up for a road sign, or better yet, ask directions.  Men don’t like to ask directions you know.

Puzzles and life come together and make sense just one step at a time.  And last but not least, when you are stumped and think you can’t go any further, don’t throw the puzzle in the trash out of frustration.  I find that if I take a break and come back to it later, the pieces start coming together.  The break can be an hour or maybe the next day, kind of like a mini-vacation.  I don’t try to think up the answers on the break, I just let the old mind rest and watch a Steeler’s game or something.  Cookies help here too.  And on a really tough puzzle, you can always wait for tomorrow’s paper.  I think some of life’s puzzles also may not be answered until Heaven.

I love Christmas…but I hate going into stores to “shop.”  But since I was going to a nice event today, I thought that it was time for new shoes.  Like the ones I wear to church are about 10 years old and have a lot more years in them, but they now look like old men shoes and a bit scruffy.

I had seen an ad in the morning paper for Macy’s, that they had a shoe sale and also they gave us a $10 off coupon.  Wow, for us cheapskates, that is a DEAL!  Down to the Mall, that ranks just above Purgatory as my favorite place.  After wandering three miles through women’s departments I found I was on the wrong floor.  Then found men’s shoes!  Little signs on shoes got my hopes up for a real DEAL!  Like 20% off or 15%, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with the shoes.  Then I looked inside for the original price.  $150 for loafers made in China by guys that get paid $1.20 an hour?  Wow, so the discount brings them down to $120.  Then I had a $10 coupon.  Suddenly I was back in the third grade, calculating the final price.

There were three problems here:  1.) I don’t buy shoes very often so the price was a big surprise.  2.) I don’t shop Macys.  3.) At age 71 a person shouldn’t submit their heart to shocks like this!   So this confirmed my antipathy to shopping.  At the same time, my Guardian Angel whispers, “Hey, you drove all the way down here, so walk around and look at some other stores!  What’s the hurry?”

Spotted a Foot Locker.  Don’t they just sell tennis shoes?  Wandered down a couple aisles and Charlie the Guardian Angel was right!  Men’s dressy shoes, that fit, look classy and hold it:  how much?  My tightwad inner being took over and I shouted, “YES!”  They were $24.95.  My non-cheapskate side whispered:  “But cheap shoes like this might not last long.  My feet might hurt.  Were they made by child labor in El Salvador?”

Cheapskate won, and I cheerfully pulled out the VISA and waltzed out of the store, hoping that I can now avoid having to shoe shop for a very long time.  Lord, save us from shopping.  I now look like a retired movie star instead of an unemployed science teacher!