Monday, March 28, 2011

Part 2: “How Are You . . . Really?”

Recently I commented on our habit of asking people, “How are you?”, without really expecting – or desiring – a truthful answer. But when you have someone who refuses to accept a simple “Fine,” and invites or even insists that you respond with a complete and open answer, that’s a gift.

Fortunately I’ve had friends willing to look me in the eye and ask, “How are you…really?” For them, “Fine,” or “I’m okay” were non-answers and unacceptable. They were willing to devote the time and energy necessary to listen patiently. That spoke volumes.

In our instant, microwave, gotta-have-it-now society, few people are inclined to wonder how others are doing. But we all desperately need someone who values us enough to do just that. We can be surrounded by hundreds or thousands, yet feel totally alone unless we know someone cares for us – genuinely cares for our soul.

It’s been my privilege to mentor a number of men, and one of my questions always concerns how they are doing – looking straight at them so they know I want a full, honest response. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” How can we “sharpen” one another if we’re afraid to rub rough edges together?

Another passage, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, states, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!... Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

A key for survival in this complex, uncaring world is to reject the lone-ranger, all-by-myself mentality. God designed us for relationship. Near the dawn of creation He conceded, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

So if you don’t already have someone, find at least one individual willing to ask, “How are you?” and await your answer. And try to be that kind of person for someone else. You just might – to paraphrase Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” – make their day.

Friday, March 25, 2011

“Hi. How Are You?”

“Hi. How are you?” How often do you offer that greeting in a given day – and how many times does someone make that inquiry of you?

Now let me pose another question: When asking, “How are you?”, do you really want to know?

I’ll never forget a day in college when, as I was exiting a building, I encountered an instructor I’d had the preceding semester. “Hi, Bob. How are you?” she asked. I stopped and began telling her about a problem I was wrestling with. Her eye contact and body language quickly told me she wasn’t interested in knowing how I was. Simply acknowledging my presence, her “How are you?” really meant, “Hello.”

Years later I nearly did the same thing to a longtime friend. Having just arrived for a summer conference, I was focused on getting our family’s belongings up to our room before engaging in the customary business of reconnecting with old friends. I was entering an elevator when one of those friends came by. I offered an almost automatic, “Hi, Joe, how are you?”

Expecting to hear the customary and equally automatic “Fine,” I was about to respond, “Hey, that’s great!” when I realized he’d begun to describe a serious family problem that had arisen. My mouth hung open and I squelched my “that’s great” just before it became audible. Then I did the only appropriate thing – I shut my mouth and listened as Joe elaborated.

This friend had been hurting and was eager to find a sympathetic ear. How sad it would have been if, instead of compassion, his response had been met with indifference.

I’m not saying I’m the world’s best listener – I’m not. But sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves of the admonition to “be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (James 1:19).

Friday, March 18, 2011

That Bloomin’ Time of Year Again!

Based on the title for this blog, you might be thinking it’s about the NCAA Basketball Championships. Nope.

As this week ended the sun was shining, trees budding, squirrels scurrying, birds chirping, bees buzzing. Lawnmowers roared to life for the first time all year. Even though spring hadn’t officially started, evidence of that bloomin’ season were all around.

Seems just yesterday I was writing about the bombardment of snow much of the country was receiving, even here in Chattanooga. But already those days seemed distant memories as blossoms exploded from branches, tulips popped through the soil, and cagey cardinals and blue jays resumed their sport of diving in front of oncoming cars, then zooming out of harm’s way at the last moment.

I love spring, not because it signals the cessation of cold and commencement of warmth, but rather because it marks a rebirth, a moment when things start again – and yet, start anew. The last of the past fall’s leaves were just banished from our yard; now their successors are quickly emerging.

Soon everywhere we look, brown will have transformed to green. Coats and gloves will be replaced by cool tops, shorts and sandals. It’ll be “safe” to go outdoors again.

For me spring also is a metaphor for spiritual reality. God in His creation is fully engaged in the business of making new, not only in flora and fauna, but also – and especially – in mankind, whom the Scriptures tell us God created “in Our image, in Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

A favorite Bible verse reminds me, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The reason for this? So that “we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4) or, according to another translation, “…walk in newness of life.”

So as the spring returns to your step, is there a “spring” in your spirit?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Best Heroes Are Long Gone

Have you ever been disappointed by someone you greatly admired? Felt let down by actions or words of an individual who represented everything you regarded good and noble?

A pastor friend hosts a weekly study group called “The Dead Theologians Society.” Each morning attendees read and discuss a book by a theologian from centuries past. Current spiritual leaders are never considered. Why? Because participants won’t have to worry about whether their subjects will appear in tomorrow’s news, accused of some moral failure, ethical breach or other disgrace. They’re all long gone.

Growing up in New Jersey, 40 miles from New York City, I was an ardent Yankee fan. My hero was celebrated slugger Mickey Mantle, Oklahoma’s golden boy. In my eyes, the sun rose and set on “The Mick.”

That, however, was before the Internet and 24/7 sports coverage. Years later, books revealed Mickey and his Yankee pals were famous partiers. Who knows how many afternoons he nursed an acute hangover in centerfield, probably unable to see a fastball, let alone hit one. Maybe that’s why he struck out so much.

Today, players of Mickey’s ilk are routinely exposed in the news, blogs, talk shows. A celebrity can’t hiccup without having it reported somewhere.

Last week Jim Tressel, Ohio State’s widely admired and respected head football coach, confessed to withholding information about players. Their misdeeds weren’t criminal, but against NCAA regulations just the same. Today, Tressel’s integrity is under severe scrutiny; values he’s espoused are being questioned. Pedestals have an annoying habit of toppling, no matter who’s on them.

I’m not here to defend Coach Tressel. I certainly don’t have all the facts – although I doubt his fiercest critics do either. But his situation underscores the warning from 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”

We tend to exalt leaders in prominence, from the President to athletic coaches to corporate executives. Then, like circling sharks, attack when they fall. Why are we ever surprised?

All we have to do is look to another Bible passage for the grim reality: “There is no one righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23).

My suggestion? If you’re looking for a hero, choose a dead one. Then he or she can’t grieve you with any more mistakes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

‘Miracle Babies’

Our extended family has grown considerably in recent weeks, adding two newborn grandsons. Both, in their own way, are what I’d consider “miracles.”

After several years of trying to have children, our daughter Sarah and her husband Alan entered parenthood rather suddenly. They learned of a single mother that had just given birth and wanted to find a good adoptive home for her baby. With little ones already at home, the young woman didn’t feel she could handle the responsibility of yet another.

Sarah and Alan had been looking into adoption and quickly it became evident this opportunity was what some people would call a “God thing.” For them, it meant the joy of finally having a child. For the baby, Maclane, it meant a more stable upbringing than he would have had otherwise.

Then, three weeks to the day later, our oldest daughter Amy and her husband Chris also became parents to a newborn, although Bryce’s arrival was sooner than anticipated. Amy had early stages of preeclampsia, a potentially serious condition in pregnancy, so the obstetrician decided it would be best for both mom and baby to induce labor early.

So, little Bryce appeared about six weeks ahead of schedule. The only hitch was his lungs were not fully developed, not uncommon for preemies. He had to spend a bit more than two weeks receiving excellent care in the NICU at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital. During that time, Amy and Chris benefited from the facilities of Ronald McDonald House, since they live more than 30 miles from the hospital.

Ironically, Bryce’s aunt Sarah also spent two weeks at T.C. Thompson’s NICU more than 25 years ago, so now they are fellow alumni.

For Sally and me, it’s another opportunity to be proud grandparents, reaffirming the saying, “If I had known grandkids were so great, I would have had them first!”

As Proverbs 17:4 says, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged.” We agree with that, except for the “aged” part. We don’t think that describes us yet – hopefully not for quite a while!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Changing Words in God's Unchanging Word

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced a new Bible translation, supposedly more accurate, accessible and poetic, will be released next week. I’m not Catholic, but it’s probably overdue.

This “breaking news” reminded me of 1978, when I first encountered a modern Bible translation – the New American Standard. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Like most churchgoers growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I knew only the King James Version (the “Authorized version,” according to some). Out of curiosity, as a senior in high school I read the KJV, front to back. I plowed through it five chapters a night; it took about nine months. When I finished, it went back to my bookshelf as I wondered, “What should I read next?”

Frankly, although I technically had read every word of the Bible, I understood very little. Already on the path toward become a professional writer, I often got lost among “begats,” “whosoevers,” “quickens” and other quaint words and phrases of the 16th century. Nobody uses “quicken” for its archaic meaning – “to make alive.” In fact, today Quicken is the name of financial software.

When I first read the NASB (and later, versions like the New International, English Standard, Revised Standard, New King James, New Living Translation, even The Message), I realized God speaks in our language, using vocabulary we can grasp. The Scriptures are deep and complex enough, without antiquated terms becoming an impediment.

The Bible, speaking of itself in Hebrews 4:12, says the “Word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword.” To insist on an outdated translation for the sake of “tradition,” ignoring language is dynamic and words change – in style and meaning – over time, is to maintain God’s Word is dead and inert.

Originally, the Scriptures were written in Hebrew, common Greek and Aramaic, languages of that time. God wants everyone to be able to read and understand His eternal truth. His Word never changes, but words of every age and culture do change.

So instead of a “cereal offering,” ardent Catholics now will read about “grain offerings.” Makes sense to me – none of my Bibles ever made reference to Cheerios or Wheaties. Another word reportedly deleted in the revised Catholic Bible is “booty,” which meant to the spoils of war – but today can have a much different connotation.

The good news for Catholics, it would seem, is when they read in the Bible about “the call of God,” it clearly won’t be a “booty call.”