Monday, July 30, 2012

Under Deconstruction

When some strange thing happens once, it's probably a God thing. When the same strange thing happens twice, it's probably a God thing - and He's trying to get your attention.

Last Monday afternoon, much to the chagrin of my sweat glands, I hooked up my dog Maggie for her constitutional around the neighborhood. Given that the average heat index was around 106 or so during the afternoon last week, this walk was not exactly the most pleasant of experiences for either of us (although she can claim to at least have gotten SOME relief out of it). But, dutiful father that I am, I knew she needed to go out, despite the fact I also knew I was going to kill a 64 ounce bottle of Gatorade the second we got home.

As part of her approved poop route, we had to walk past the new athletic building for the university being constructed on the other side of our neighborhood. Now, again, keep in mind: the heat index is in the lower 100's. The temperature itself is cracking 100. Warnings have been issued for people to limit their time outside for fear of dehydration or heat stroke. And what did we have to walk past? About a dozen or so men, building a brick wall around this complex, which takes up the greater part of the block it is located on.

Yeah. Carrying and laying bricks. In the heat. Having to stand outside while the mortar dries so as to be able to lay the next level. In the heat. Standing in what is in essence still a construction site, complete with tilled earth, no trees, and no shade whatsoever. In. The. Heat.

Because neither of us felt like walking at our typical brisk pace, we were able to actually overhear some of the conversation taking place with the men. Not that we were intentionally eavesdropping, but their voices were somewhat loud. Boisterous. And what we heard...well, there are things one stereotypically expects to hear from construction workers. Factor in that they were having to work under conditions unfit for most people, and you can imagine what was being said.

Actually...you can't. Because I couldn't believe it myself.

As a group, they were discussing church. They church service they had attended mostly together, from what I could gather. And they were peppering their talk with shouts of "Glory!" or "Amen!" Even the ones who weren't at the service were piping in - positively! - on what the discussion was about. Being thankful. Being grateful. In spite of one's circumstances. Thanking God always. Seriously. Now, not only were they discussing faith, but they we doing it in public. Discussing what had been said at church. The day after the services. Under such adverse conditions that would have most people either not speaking at all (so as to just get through the day and make it to the end of it) or if they were speaking, probably not in the most positive or upbeat of tones.

Most of the time, I wonder if what I say even manages to make it as a topic of conversation out of the doors of the church, let alone to the car ride home. For it to be talked about the day after? Yeah. Impossible to comprehend.

The sad stereotype is the when we as Christians leave church on Sunday to go to a restaurant, our witness is dulled by the customer service we demand and the crappy tip we leave. If we talk about what was said or done at church, it is almost always a critique - can you believe what someone wore; I can't believe how bad the worship was; I think I've heard the pastor give that sermon before; why is it always about tithing, anyway; and so on. And if we are that bad the day - heck, within the HOUR - that we leave church, how much progressively worse, gripe-laden, or un-Christ-like do we become...until we show up for our small group or mid-week church gathering?

For these guys to have been talking about church the day after in and of itself was mind boggling enough. For them to have been using the sermon - and the words of Christ - as a positive application for their life given the conditions they had to endure? I was humbled. Massively humbled.

Not because I wanted to have that kind of a church experience, but because I want to have that kind of a heart.

The fact that earlier today, with a temperature of 104 and a heat index of 109, I walked Maggie past this same group of men, doing the same work, under the same conditions, carrying on a strikingly similar conversation - this time, about being strong and courageous - it was just...a God thing. A strange, beautiful, smile-because-you-just-have-to God thing.

I think tomorrow Maggie and I may carry Gatorade on our walk. About a dozen bottles of it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

M-I-C-K-E-Y J-E-S-U-S

By now, the morning ritual has become one that I can almost do by rote: wake up - make coffee - get Kai's orange juice - get his vitamins and medication ready - potty break - cut on the television - find the Disney Channel - sit on the couch and cuddle with him for a few minutes. And like many toddlers, Kai finds comfort in this and other routines, even when the routine involves viewing an episode of a cartoon for the nine hundredth time.

But for whatever reason, while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse this morning, I had a caffeine-deprived epiphany about something which has been bothering me for the longest time: Namely, why doesn't Mickey Mouse just tell Pete where to get off, since this is HIS clubhouse after all.

(c) 2012 Walt Disney Corporation. Duh.
If you are unfamiliar with this scenario on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, it goes something like this: Mickey, for whom said clubhouse is named after, routinely gets into situations wherein which Pete, his "arch enemy" (it's a cat-mouse thing), charges him for access to areas of Mickey's clubhouse or clubhouse grounds, usually asking for a payment in beans, buttons, or something of the like. Mickey coughs up the fee, typically paying for himself and for his friends, and Pete allows them to pass along to whatever destination they were headed for.

Now I don't know about you, but if some strange cat tried to make me pay for what was rightfully mine, I'd have no problem with telling or showing him exactly why I wasn't going to put up with his crap. After all, everything on the show is even NAMED after Mickey: the clubhouse, the park, the train, and so on. There's no question who is in charge here, and yet Mickey "lets" Pete get away with this time and again.

But this morning, it struck me: Mickey Mouse is Jesus.

Or rather, Mickey Mouse is the Christ figure in this computer-animated morality exercise about the nature of God's love for us.

And before you ask: no, I don't add anything except for sugar to my coffee.

Think about it like this: in the beginning, Mickey speaks the clubhouse and all the surrounding areas into existence. Prior to that, the area is void. He then invites others - Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto - into experiencing the beauty and enjoyment of the clubhouse, the park, and all else while he is with them. Mickey routinely has to remind Donald to have patience or to play fair, help Goofy find that which was lost, and to serve as a guide to Minnie or Daisy when they go on a journey or are on mission (respectively). Mickey even has Toodles to serve in the role of Holy Spirit (which I have written about before) to descend from above and provide tools - a helper, if you will - when he is called upon.

And there there's Pete. The analog to humanity. Pete the Cat, who in his ignorance and bluster, makes demands of Mickey - who, let's be honest, could call a legion of MousekeAngels to save him from the the machinations of Pete. The dude has comets and planets named after him, for crying out loud. Why should one cat be able to dictate the terms by which Mickey is to be allowed to move about and live in his own creation?

And yet...and yet, Mickey pays the price. In love and hoping that Pete will learn he doesn't have to set conditions on his existence in this world, Mickey acquiesces to what must be done. And if you have ever watched an episode of this show, you know that Pete - through blundering and missteps - more often that not learns a lesson in those 22 minutes of the episode that he need not be the way that he is, that he is welcome to and can join in the Hot Dog Dance. And yet, Pete will go back and time and again to his old ways. Mickey, who created all that Pete thinks he is in charge of, loves him enough to let him have the free will to choose to make mistakes time and again.

Granted, the God I serve doesn't speak in a high-pitched voice, nor to the best of my understanding does He run around in red shorts with yellow buttons. And yet...and yet He loves me enough to not dictate and demand the terms by which I live in His world. He sets the rules, yes, but He allows me to choose if I will live and love by them. He gives me the free will to choose to serve Him, to choose to act in His will. In love and with infinite patience, He gives me the grace to make mistakes to learn from. And to be forgiven of.

Granted, I don't quite think this spiritually-rich analogy is the life lesson the writers of this cartoon have in mind when they write out the episodes. Maybe they're just looking for a good product tie-in; maybe they're just looking for a cute educational moment. Maybe they're just looking for something that will fill a 22-minute programming gap.

Regardless - and even if I am pulling this totally out of left field - its still a beautiful illustration of how and what God can use to show Himself to us.

Next up: looking for the deeper spiritual relevance of Doc McStuffins.

Or not.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: White Flour

White Flour does a fair enough job of taking a very difficult issue and examining it through a lens that illustrates the lunacy of the message of hate and bigotry without belittling those who speak it - which is no easy task. The author bravely lets the actions of the people in the white hoods unfold in a way that does not mock or ridicule the individuals who carry this message of racial intolerance, which would have been the easy route; instead, the clowns give them a dignity and level of respect for them as a person that they themselves are unwilling to give to those who are different from them. I can only hope that this was the reality of the day in question and not an artistic interpretation on the part of the author.

The illustrations, while whimsical and eye-catching, felt off once or twice (the double-page spread of the "shower" for example) but did not detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. In fact, much like with the words, the story told in pictures is to be commended for not being exaggerated or vilifying any of the characters in the book.

I'll admit it: I was a little afraid to read this book to my kid. Not because I don't agree with the principles of the book itself, but mainly because he is three years old, has a tendency to parrot me, and the idea of one day taking him to Target where he just blurts out the phrase "White Power" terrified me. However, since my wife and I are trying to teach and model justice and equality to him, the lesson that working through these issues is uncomfortable was an educational reminder about reality that I needed.

"White Flour" takes a topic most of us would prefer to not discuss, uses real-life characters instead of cartoon ones, and paints a lesson in tolerance that kids can readily and easily understand. And it does so with some beautiful big red floppy shoes marching on in love.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR,Part 255.