Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Did the Shepherds Think?

What did the shepherds think?
Their part in the life of Christ did not end on the night of His birth.
How did they feel when the angels told them of Christ’s birth?
Certainly they were awestruck. They were most likely quite shocked to be chosen to receive this announcement. They were, after all, fairly low on the social scale even though they were the guardians of the main resource of the towns’ primary industry. They were perhaps not well known for their social skills. They were out in the hills by themselves for long periods of time, and human interaction seldom occurred. The appearance of angels announcing a birth would be shocking enough, but they must have wondered at the significance of their inclusion in it at all. They were, as a matter of course, avoided by the general population.
Perhaps it was later that they began to understand the significance of their role in Jesus’ life. Perhaps even years later, when Jesus’ ministry was in full swing, and if they realized that this Jesus was the same babe they once honored, when John the Baptist announced Him as the Lamb of God, maybe it was then that they began to see the implication of their presence in the stable. For the reality of their job, their vocation, one that was often passed on from father to son for generations, was to raise these lambs for sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem. This was the industry of this little town of Bethlehem. They were raised to be laid across the altar as atonement for the sins of the people. The perfect lamb was chosen and killed from the flocks they raised! Not since Abraham had stretched his own son Isaac across the stones had a human ever laid upon the altar, and he had been spared. Simply taking the title of The Lamb told the world who He was, for those who had ears to hear.
Did they perhaps hear of this and cover their mouths as they gasped in surprise? This babe, this Man, the Lamb?
How could this be?
And again, how did they feel when this same man who called himself the Son of God, also named Himself the Good Shepherd? Did they straighten their spines with the implication of the honor He gave them? Did they plant their shepherd’s staffs and let the light of pride shine in their eyes? Did they smile and think, “I knew Him! I was there when He was born!”?
Would they not also bow their heads in sorrow, and let a tear roll down a weathered cheek when they new the final destination of the unblemished lamb?

And how is it that He was both lamb and shepherd?
As the Lamb He knew He needed a caring and watchful eye on Him to insure His safety and fulfill His needs.
As a Shepherd He knew exactly what a lamb needed when He took them to the still waters, He knew how best to protect them; by laying down His life for them on the altar where they were meant to lie.
As a man He knows our needs.
As our God He knows our needs.
But all of this must have come later to the minds of the shepherds. They could not have known all that He was as they beheld Him in the manger. All they knew was the joy His birth brought the world that day, overwhelming as it was. They saw and heard a heavenly host, and found a King in lowly circumstance.
And in so many ways and so many times I am left to wonder what it must have been like to be a shepherd, kneeling before that bed of hay bringing with me the only gift I had available to me and saying,
“I am but a lowly shepherd and I have so little, but here, I have brought for you this perfect lamb….”
©Dan Bode 2004

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Papa Taught Me

Recently I had the opportunity to watch my Grandchildren Kaya, five, and Oliver, one, for a few hours while their parents were busy. At some point during our time together Kaya asked if she could tie my shoe which was sitting on the floor next to me. I was under the impression that she didn’t know how to tie shoes yet so I wasn’t worried about it.
“Sure.”, I said.
She happily went to work tying my shoe. It occurred to me that she didn’t really have any shoes with laces. Hers have buckles or Velcro. Don’t get me wrong, I think Velcro is one of the greatest inventions of all time. It’s right up there with duct tape. The thing is that nowadays I’m pretty sure the only kids who know how to tie knots anymore are Boy Scouts. Knots can be pretty useful. They should have classes on knots in school.
“Ok Papa I’m done.”
She handed me back my shoe with a knot that I’m sure bore a remarkable resemblance to the Gordian knot that Alexander the Great had to contend with just before he went on to conquer Asia Minor. He used a sword to deal with his. I always appreciated his straightforward approach to that. I was afraid I might have to contend with this in a similar manner, although I could probably do it with scissors, even though I have a friend who collects real swords and has a few he would let me borrow.
For someone who didn’t know how to tie shoes she had done a pretty remarkable job. The laces looped under and around each other with knots tied randomly amongst them. Then they were looped haphazardly around the area where the laces are strung through the holes in the shoe and tied again. Have you ever seen a handful of earthworms all intertwined in a mass that looks like one big earthworm all wrapped up in itself?
That’s the best description of what it looked like.
She grabbed my other shoe and began to work on that one.
“Uh sweetie, that’s not really the way you tie a shoe.”
“Well I don’t really know how to tie a shoe. Would you show me?”
I was at one of those points in the day where I actually didn’t have anything that needed doing, and, after realizing that this was indeed the case and my time was actually free for a while, I said, “Sure”.
So I proceeded to show her how to make the first knot, which she had already proven pretty adept at, and then the first loop, and then wrapping the lace around the first loop and pulling it through. She then tried it herself and didn’t quite get it right, but it was a very good first attempt. I showed her again what needed to be done, telling her in the process, “I didn’t get it right the first time either. It took me a little while before I got it.”
Of course, immediately after I said that she got it.
I looked down at the shoe, and realized that it was tied correctly!
“Hey! You did it!” I said.
She looked at the shoe with eyes wide and her mouth open in surprise.
Then she looked at me and smiled.
“I did it!” she yelled and clapped her hands.
“Very good! It took me a lot longer than that! Good job!” I said. You’re supposed to make a big deal when kids do something right and act excited, but I was really excited about it! I’d forgotten how much fun it is to see a child’s face light up like that when they come to understand something good for the first time.
“I want to do it again! Can I do it again?”
So she did it again, and again, and again. She got it right every time, refining her method a little more each time.
Then she turned it around on me.
“Ok, now let’s pretend that you don’t know how to tie a shoe.” She said, “You have to do it wrong and then I’ll teach you how to do it right. You have to get it wrong six times ok?” she said.
So I pretended to mess up tying the shoe laces.
“That’s good but you didn’t get it quite right.” She said in her best teacher’s voice. “You need to make sure you put the loop through here like this.”
We went through six variations of messing up the tying of the laces until I was allowed to get it right.
“You did it! Good job!”
It occurred to me that the “Tying of the Shoes” is kind of a milestone in childhood. I’ve never really asked anyone else about this, but it turned out to be a big deal for me. To this day I remember the first time I tied my own shoe without any assistance. I was in kindergarten at the time so I was Kaya’s age when it happened. I remember being so surprised. I was almost afraid to untie it to try again for fear I would be stranded with flopping shoe laces. I practiced and practiced without success and then at some point for no apparent reason it all just came together at one specific moment, and there it was! A tied shoe lace! Will you look at that! One more step toward independence complete. I think it was about that time I started thinking about trying to ride a bicycle.
It wasn’t until the next morning that it really hit me about exactly what had happened.
I was getting ready for work brushing my teeth. I could hear Kaya in the living room showing her father how she could tie shoes.
“Good job Kaya! I’m so proud of you!” he said.
“Papa taught me!” she said.
When I heard those words it all crystallized for me. You see I know that my daughter had been working with her and teaching her how to do it before this, but it just hadn’t come to that final moment. I was given the privilege of seeing everyone else’s efforts come to the moment of fruition. I didn’t really teach her so much as she just came to that final stage of learning. I was just a witness to it.
In that moment I became acutely aware of the memories we give our children. There is no way to determine what will stick in their minds, or how they will interpret what we do or say with their child’s mentality. Every parent who loves their children wants them to remember them well, but still we have to discipline them at times, and this they will remember too. But with enough love they will see the balance when they are old enough to think it through. We parents have to wait a while for that reward though.
But here’s the kicker: just as I remember the first time I tied my shoes, I’m pretty sure she’ll remember it too. And the most precious thing for me is that I will be there in her memories of it, and she will remember that I love her long after I am gone.
I hope they still have shoes with shoe laces when she grows up.
I hope she’ll be able to smile at the memory when she teaches her children, and she will see my face and remember me with fondness.
©Dan Bode 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Peter and Telemachus - Men of Purpose

A few years ago a friend of mine did a devotional at a men’s breakfast. In that message he asked two questions:
1. Who is God to you?
2. What will you do for Him?

I came away from there asking myself those questions, and I came to realize that, for me, one is dependant on the other.
Who God is to me will determine, in the end, what I will do for Him.
It also begs another question: Who am I to God?
This latter question seems the easiest one to answer. He is pretty clear in His word about my importance to Him.
To God, I am worth His presence at the beginning, during every moment of my life, and at the end. To God, I am worth allowing into His home, His heart, His plans. To God, I am someone worth dying for, and dying with. I really have no desire to question why this is so; I’m just glad it is.
So I come back to the original questions in this context, and find a much richer answer.
I must first acknowledge that I cannot hope to match the devotion of God. I am human, and a sinner. I am imperfect, and can only gain perfection through Him anyway. I am an unfinished work, not yet ready for the gallery of finished products.
I have to look at history for examples of others whose devotion to Him was evident in their lives. Jesus’ disciple Peter is one of my favorites. Always rebellious, a storm waiting to be unleashed, his pride and anger showing their faces all through his time with Christ. Yet, with all his faults, all of which Christ was keenly aware, this uneducated fisherman is the only human to know what it was like to walk on water. He was the one to leave the other 11 disciples behind in the boat on a stormy sea as they watched in dumbfounded fascination while He went to meet their Lord on the water. His actions that day came about as a result of who God was to him. He acknowledged, for a little while at least, that Christ had authority over nature. For Christ he was willing to say, “If He says I can, then I know it’s true that I can walk on water.”
Who God was to him, led Peter to do what we see as impossible.
But there is another that I’d like to tell you about. His name was Telemachus.
So take my hand, and let us go back in time. Rest with me as we sit on a grassy hill overlooking a small settlement of monks. Watch with me as we see his story unfold.
Telemachus was a monk who lived in the hills somewhere in Asia Minor. He was content to tend the needs of his monastery, living a quiet life. In fact, we come upon him tending the garden, on his knees, dirt on his robe and hands. His is the life of the ascetic, serving God in a simple life with few needs. We see him sit back and wipe his brow with the back of his hand. He looks heavenward with a startled look on his face and frowns. “Rome?” he says aloud, though we hear no one else speak nor do we see anyone else near. “I know not why, but I will go.” He says.
He goes to his small, spartan room and gathers a few things. He stops at the kitchen to take food for his journey, and walks away from the life he has known comfortably for years. His journey to Rome is long, but God supplies him, and he arrives in good health, still unsure of the reason for his presence there. It is a time of festival, for the Romans are celebrating their victory over the Goths, and there are entertainers for the crowds and free bread being distributed throughout the city. Telemachus is swept along toward the coliseum, possibly unaware of what he is about to see. He finds himself amidst a sea of people, and though he did not intend to go there, he finds himself in the stands of the coliseum. He is unsure of what is about to occur, but he can feel the malevolent hunger of the crowd, and it fills him with foreboding. Here, put your hand against his chest, feel his heart thudding with anxiety. He still does not know why he is here, only that he must be.
Out on the sand of the arena two men walk out to stand before the emperor’s box. Raising their swords they offer the gladiator’s salute, “We who are about to die salute thee!”
With that they turn to face each other.
It is here, with horrifying clarity, that Telemachus understands the purpose of this stadium, and his purpose for being here. Feel his heart again. It’s alright; he is unaware of our presence. It beats slow and steady now. He knows his purpose. He will fulfill his call.
“In the name of Christ forbear!” he cries.
His lone voice is drowned out by the noise of the boisterous crowd.
He begins to run down the steps to the arena, yelling frantically “In the name of Christ forbear!”
He remains unnoticed as the crowd continues to focus on the unfolding spectacle in the sand.
He leaps the barrier to land in the arena, and runs across the sand to stand between the gladiators as they circle each other. Raising his hands he cries again, “In the name of Christ forbear!”
The fighters shove him aside trying to continue their fight. We can see some confusion on the faces in the crowd. They are not sure if this is part of the game or not. Some laugh at the little man in the worn robe, but others do not share the humor. Cries of “Kill him!”, and “Get him out of the way!” are heard.
Telemachus knows his purpose. He will not be put aside. He jumps in between the two fighters once again and cries, “In the name of Christ forbear!”
The gladiators react in their frustration and one of them thrusts his gladius through Telemachus’ chest, piercing his heart. For some reason the crowd that seconds before had demanded his death now sits in stunned silence. As Telemachus’ body slides off the sword and falls to the sand we can here him whisper, “In the name of Christ forbear….”, and so he dies.
It is said that the crowd left the coliseum in silence, and that this was the last gladiator event in the Roman arena.
Another account says that Telemachus died instead when the crowd stoned him to death for interrupting their sport. Both accounts are consistent in saying that he died on the sands of the arena, and that his death there led to the ending of the games.
In either event, we have seen how he was only one man standing against an entire society because God called him to do it.
Because God was Telemachus’ king, he was willing to give his life for Him.
Who God was to Telemachus determined what he did for Him.
One person can change the world.
It does not always happen in big ways. Not all of us will have a wide audience. In fact, most of the time we each change just a small part of our world, but each of us builds on the influence of the other, and often unknowingly contribute to the greater effect. We become a small part in a huge intricate latticework that God is constructing. The importance of our place in it can not be diminished for the simple reason that it is God who put us there. We fit where we fit because God is who He is to each of us, and He has made us each uniquely suited to the need we fill. Even our faults are incorporated into the greater picture. One of the greatest testimonies to the love of God is that He is able and willing to use and love us despite our greatest flaws.
Does this mean that we are to find a sword to fall on in order to honor His call on each of us? No, He has not called us all to do this, although there are those who will. I am called to be known as His child wherever I am. At work I must do my job diligently and well. At home I must treat my wife and children in the way He would have me treat them, with all the love, tenderness and respect I know how to give. I must be the same person out in the world as I am in the comfort of my church.
If God is the loving God to me that I know He is, then I must determine to show that love to all who know me, by loving them and protecting them in every way possible. Whether they know Him or not, they must know Him through me.
Peter and Telemachus were just two simple men, but look what God did with them once they understood their Purpose!
©Dan Bode 2003

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not Just a Dog

I had to have our dog put to sleep today.
I have been dreading this moment for a while now. We got her from friends several years ago, and they got her from the pound so we don’t know her exact age but she was somewhere around 16 years old. I watched her body fail gradually, and finally reached a point where I realized that she was still alive only because I didn’t want to let her go. I don’t think I really wanted to admit that I was that attached to her. I finally reached a point where watching her suffer was more than I could bear, and I finally gave up my selfishness.
Emma was with us for several years, and when we got her she fit right into our family. We had just gone through the loss of our previous dog when our friends, who had her then, moved to Texas. She filled the space left so empty from our loss, and gave us a connection to our now absent friends as well, providing more comfort than we had anticipated.
She was there to provide entertainment when she would do something that was probably a normal dog behavior, but left us laughing all the time. When we got our cat they would play together constantly and we would just sit back and watch the show. She was present when our grandchildren were in the house and walked the hall nervously when they would cry, much like a parent might do. She was always ready to play with anyone at anytime, and I never really did her justice in trying to keep up with her. She barked when there was something to bark at, but only then. She always insisted on checking in with me when I sat down in the living room as well. She would roam the floor first and look for any edible treasures the kids had dropped first, and then come over and rest her head on my leg until I petted her for a while.
I suppose it was a combination of all these things that helped to form my attachment for her. Unconditional love and loyalty is so hard to come by in people that we find it more easily in animals who, once they bond with us, remain devoted to the best of their abilities. They don’t take into consideration the greater social, political, and moral implications of a relationship. They just know we like to see them at the door when we come home so they do it happily.
I understand that animals don’t fit into the whole structure of salvation, but they are part of God’s wonderful creation of which we are stewards and caretakers. A job, incidentally, that I believe we are failing miserably at. Animals often fill a void created by lack of human relationships, because we can ascribe any given attribute to that relationship. We don’t have to rely on feedback from the animal to improve the relationship, as with a human, to give that relationship more or less value, but we do have to provide for all their needs. I was responsible for every aspect of the relationship, but Emma was just being herself which was what we desired. Her presence fulfilled the need with no demands or expectations. She was happy to be around us. I realize as well that the value of the relationship with my dog originates with me. It is as valuable as I make it. My friend Cliff says that I should, “Think about what you learned from your dog.” It’s a good point, because I’m beginning to think that I would be better off treating people more like my dog treated me. I think God used her to give me life lessons which I will be learning for some time.
Because of all this letting her go was harder than I had anticipated. I watched as she struggled more and more each day to simply stand up. I realized at the end that I was really hoping that she would go on her own. I didn’t want the responsibility for deciding her life. I understand that in the case of humanity the responsibility for that choice can only be reasonably borne by God Himself. I am thankfully not adequate to that task. I could not bear that pain, for it is not in my power to offer anyone Heaven.
She walked into the house and kept stumbling as she walked across the floor. She came over to where I sat in the chair as was her custom, and laid her head on my leg a little more heavily than usual, and I knew. She was tired. It was time.

Some will say that she was just a dog. Just a pet. But she was more than that.
She was a present friend, and an unconditional comforter.
She will be missed.
©Dan Bode 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Alligator Lizards

There are incidents in my childhood that I have simply been unable to forget. Most of these are capitol letter “Incidents”.
Like the Dead Alligator Lizard Incident.
Had I been a few years older I probably could have gotten biology credit in school for this one. Most kids have a low tolerance for boredom, and I was no exception. My friend Ron and I were sitting around one summer day with nothing to do, desperately trying to think of something before our mothers realized we were victims of inactivity. We had already tried the traditional forms of boyhood entertainment like catching bugs and throwing them into a spider web. Watching the spiders mounting frustration as it tried to get through the roly-poly’s armor was particularly fun, but even that no longer held our attention.
Finally we hit on the idea of catching some alligator lizards.
This was traditionally considered a weekend activity in our neighborhood, I don’t really remember why. Usually a large group of the neighborhood kids would all go down to an old abandoned paper factory a few miles from our neighborhood. The entire lot was overgrown with tall grass and weeds. There were several old fifty-gallon drums lying around there as well.
This was the lair of the alligator lizards. I don’t know if this was the actual name of the lizard or not. We just called them that because they were obviously lizards and they looked like alligators. They usually grew to a length of 12 – 18 inches. I don’t know why they chose this parcel of land as a suitable habitat either, but they were there. The minute you stepped off the sidewalk into this lot you could hear the unmistakable rustle of their movements as they sensed your presence. You could feel their eyes on you the second you entered their domain.
There really is no suitable explanation as to why we considered this entertainment. We came to the lot with a burlap sack and caught several of them. We would bring them back to the neighborhood and put them all in a wooden crate for a few hours and sit there watching them watching us. Wow.
What can I say, I was eight.
Anyway, this day Ron and I decided to go catch some lizards on our own since no one else was around. We grabbed a sack and headed out. We had found in the past that the lizards sometimes enjoyed crawling under the drums so as we entered the lot we headed for one of them right away. We had determined since I was the biggest, that I would be the one to move the drum, and Ron would wait and catch them in the sack.
What happened next was unique in all the adventures of our childhood.
Reptiles had always fascinated us. Lizards in particular were considered high on the interest scale. Any animal that had a tail that would break off and still move just to occupy the predator was pretty cool. I must take a moment here to point out that we really had the lizard’s best interests in mind. We were going to hand feed them all the bugs we could catch, we were even going to give them meat stolen from our own refrigerators. They were going to be very comfortable lizards.
I took hold of the rim of the drum and leaned back rolling the drum off to the side. Sure enough, there on the ground were two of the biggest alligator lizards we had ever seen. They were probably the parents of every other lizard on that lot. We had assumed they would not appreciate being exposed in this way, and we were right. They took off in different directions. One ran off into the weeds on the right, and the other ran straight at Ron. I don’t know if it was attacking Ron or it just didn’t realize it was heading for a person. At any rate Ron put one foot forward so he could bring the bag down to the ground. The problem was he put his foot directly into the path of the fleeing lizard. The lizard, seeing the sack coming down, veered off to avoid it and found itself in contact with Ron’s foot. Maintaining its momentum it continued in its quest for freedom and found what it must have thought was a temporary haven in that dark space that happened to be the inside of Ron’s pants leg.
Most kids our age had pretty decent reflexes, and Ron was no exception. When he realized that a very large alligator lizard had indeed run up his pant leg he did what anyone would have done in his situation. He screamed.
Before the lizard had gotten very far Ron had grabbed his leg at the knee and started vigorously shaking his leg in an effort to dislodge the lizard. I could see the end of the tail sticking out from under the cuff of his pants which led me to believe the lizard was hanging on to the front of his shin for dear life. It did not appear to be inclined to let go.
It was at this point that Ron’s scream descended from the realm of mindless terror to the level of barely coherent thought. He began to yell, “GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!”
It was like a mantra. He kept repeating it over and over and over.
I began to realize that this was not an ideal situation. My mind was not working at the same speed as Ron’s since I was not under the influence of the fear induced adrenaline rush as he was. I turned my thoughts to the task at hand. In my mind there were basically two options for removing the offending lizard.
The first option required that I reach up into my friends pant leg and grab the lizard.
There were two problems with this option. The first was I didn’t know if the lizard would be able to turn around and bite my hand as I laid hold of it. It did have a good set of little teeth on it, after all.
The second problem with this scenario was that it simply wasn’t prudent to take the chance of being seen by someone I knew, while putting my hand up the pant leg of another boy.
So considering these factors I decided to follow through on my second option.
“Hold still!” I yelled. I needed him to stop shaking his leg.
Still holding his leg at the knee, he planted his foot firmly on the ground.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Just get it out!” he replied.
“OK, Here goes”
I kicked him in the shin.
His shin was well cushioned so he felt no pain from it. I can’t say the same for the lizard, although it was certainly a quick death. As the initial shock of what I had done wore off he said, “Eeeeewwwwww! Eeeeeeewwwww! Why did you do that?!”
“I didn’t want it to bite me.”
“Eeeeeeewwwww! It’s all wet! GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!”
He pulled his pants leg up as far as he could, almost to his knee, and I reached up and peeled the lizard off of his shin. He was right, it was wet.
To be honest I was impressed with the condition it was in. Considering what it had just been through it was, even so, an intact specimen. If my interests had taken a turn to taxidermy at that point this would have been a pretty good practice piece. After I got it off and started looking at it, Ron’s interest was piqued as well.
“Wow! Hey that’s pretty neat! You can see everything!” He said as he grabbed a handful of grass and started wiping off his leg.
We considered trying to keep it long enough to show our friends, but we couldn’t think of a good way to preserve it. No mother that we knew of would allow us to keep it in the freezer, and we thought it might start to smell if we took it home to just dry in the sun. In the end we opted to give it a simple burial there in it’s homeland. We dug a shallow grave in the dirt and made a pattern of a cross with rocks over the spot. We thought it was the right thing to do.
From then on we never went back to catch lizards by ourselves again. Large groups were the way to go because there were more people available to herd them. One “Incident” in this area was enough. There were other “Incidents” as well, and we learned a great many lessons from them like: don’t put a sealed soda can in an incinerator, don’t jump off the roof using a blanket as a parachute, or never put gas in a coffee can and light it and then try to put it out with water. Things that often ensured our survival in this world. And they kept us in good physical condition from running away from whatever we did. We were fortunate that we only had to learn our lessons once.
But hey, at least we learned.
©Dan Bode 2000

Monday, August 3, 2009


John 12:8 “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
There are some things we will always have, both good and bad, but Jesus overcomes all things. He is more important than the best and the worst that we experience. We devote our time and energy to those things that have the greatest impact on our lives. We see sickness and health, wealth and poverty. All these things have a great impact on us for good or bad, and all of them can, by their impact, distract us from Christ. The essence of our relationship with Christ is that while all these things affect us at different levels we need to deal with Christ first and all other things through Him, not before or after Him.
The sequence of events in how we deal with any occasion in our lives determines the impact they have on us for Christ.
Occasionally, in some form or another the question is asked of me, “With all that you have been through why do you hold on to your faith?”
I think the answer to that question lies in what my priorities have become. I simply cannot bear to imagine my life without my faith. I’ve been there and done that. I have changed too much to go back and find satisfaction in a world without God. It would be barren and lifeless. I can no longer tolerate the world’s value system. I think about what offends God and I care about it. These things were once the furthest things from my mind. At the same time I have also reached a point where, while I love, fear and respect God, I have also come to understand that He allows questions. He allows challenges from us, for that is how we learn submission to Him. He can overcome any challenge. It is we who fear challenges to God, because we fear that He cannot meet them. We apply our own limits to God which automatically makes Him inadequate for our needs.
In his book “Reaching for the Invisible God.” Philip Yancey quotes Kathleen Norris.
“One so often hears people say, “I just can’t handle it”, when they reject a biblical image of God as Father, as Mother, as Lord or Judge; God as lover, as angry or jealous, God on a cross. I find this choice of words revealing, however real the pain they reflect: if we seek a God we can “handle”, that will be exactly what we get. A God we can manipulate, suspiciously like ourselves, the wideness of whose mercy we’ve cut down to size”.
In ancient times it was common practice for a farmer to worship gods that were representative of the things he had to deal with. Hence there were gods of the soil, of the sun, the rain, the harvest. He sacrificed to it in the way he saw fit and made up his own priestly rules. His god’s influence ended at his property line.
By cutting God down to a “manageable” size we attempt to make Him into someone who is our individual ideal of “enough” to satisfy our personal needs. Yet God, being limitless, is more than enough; our need, also being limitless, can never be filled by a god of our own making.
I don’t love God enough.
I don’t love my wife enough.
I don’t love my children enough.
It can never be “enough” when the source that satisfies your need is limitless.
A limitless source supplies a continuous need. A limitless source will also provide a limitless means of expression. There is always more available to give through Christ.
We are the Beloved of God. We must never desire less than He offers us. We must not maintain a minimal faith.
When our faith reaches a point where we have had “enough” then we have begun the slow and painful spiral down to death. A real faith recognizes that there is never “enough” to satisfy our thirst. True faith is never satisfied. It always searches for one more thing to believe, one more wonderful piece of evidence that proves for me once again that God loves me.
Sometimes that search takes us into areas of our lives that we would rather not go.
In the midst of my selfishness and pride I discover that my humility gives me value. In the midst of my anger I find that a peaceful heart will accomplish more.
In the midst of all my wonderful “Christian Activities/Ministries”, I find exhaustion that forces my dependence on Christ.
In the aftermath of a cruel and bloody crucifixion, I find the pearl of the Resurrection. The latter is not possible without the former.
Sometimes the greatest treasures are the ones left unused and forgotten in the corner of the attic, covered with dust. They are the things of my childhood that were left behind with the advent of “maturity” in my social lexicon.
Many times when I am helping to care for some of the children in our church nursery, I will attempt to get them interested in some of the toys in the arsenal. Sometimes they can be a pretty hard sell, but most of the time there is something that will catch their fancy. In the process of using a random toy to catch their attention I have to admit that it gets my attention instead. Sometimes I use a particular toy to get their attention because it’s a toy I want to play with. I keep thinking to myself, “Why didn’t we have toys like this when I was a kid?” (Although I have to admit that if Elmo doesn’t shut up soon he’s gonna get his batteries yanked.) And for a little while I give up the weightier theological/social/important matters that occupy my thoughts and try to pretend that I barely know how to walk. I try to learn all over again instead of rehashing the same old information. The “big” things will all still be there when I get back to myself, because “You will always have the (fill in the blank)…” But Christ is bigger.
My priority then is to become the child Christ called me to be. To regain some of the purity of spirit that I had before I was influenced by the rest of the world. When Christ called us to be like children, I don’t think he necessarily meant for us to be blindly trusting. He wants us to trust Him completely, but He wants us to come to Him with no regard for the limitations this world would place on our relationship to Him.
When the children wanted to be near Jesus the adults were trying to hold them back. He told the adults to let them come.
“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” Matthew 19:13-15. If there was one sound that I had to think of that inspires joy in me I would have to say it is the sound of a child who is just learning that he or she has a voice. They have not yet learned to form words. Every sound they make is an experiment. Every sound is the embodiment of wonder. God knows what kids are like, and He enjoys it. Children are capable of understanding the intimacy that God desires to have with us while still acknowledging Him as the Creator of all things. Children first want to be loved. Christ first wants to love us.
Be like a child.
I want Him to enjoy my presence as well, and so I attempt to be the kind of person He is making me to be.
Our lives take on a weird cycle. We start out as children wanting to be adults so we can do more, and then we become adults who want to be children so someone else can take all the responsibility and we can go back to enjoying life.
Christ calls us to exactly that life, but the joy of life He desires for us is based on Him rather than the empty, selfish pursuits of the world. By the world’s standards we need “things” and “stuff” to be “happy”. We must be “visible” and “prominent”. And when we have bought all the “things”, and got all the “stuff”, and become “visible” and “prominent”, we find ourselves withered, dried up, and lifeless, dying for nothing.
The world wants me to have a relationship with Christ on its terms not on God’s terms. The world doesn’t want to actually know anything about our relationship with God. It’s enough for them to know I have that relationship as long as they don’t have to hear it. That’s enough for them.
It’s not enough for God. God is not silent about what He wants from us. “You will always have the …”, but you have God first. He wants you more than any need anyone else has, and your satisfaction in life will be greater when you seek out His desires for you before your own, or the world’s.
I don’t always want to do that though. Sometimes my desires are in direct opposition to my faith. Sometimes I collide with my faith, and it shakes me to my core. Because while I am fickle and flit to and fro amongst all the “things/stuff/values/…garbage” that the world offers, my faith being a gift of God, remains firmly fixed on God. I drift further and further from it at times, but I remain attached with this “spiritual rubber band” called my conscience that can only stretch so far before all of my justifications for doing the things I do can’t be stretched any further and I get yanked back to that rock hard and fast. I collide with my faith. After I have slammed into it and the stars have cleared from my eyes I finally get back on top and realize, “Wow! The view is so much better from here!”
It’s much easier to see the benefit of my faith in the aftermath of a crisis than in the midst of it, but it’s always what I hold on to the hardest in the difficult moments. Anything else would crumble beneath me. I know this from experience.
So now instead of trying to be a child of this world, I strive to be a child of the next sitting in the lap of the God of Wonder…
©Dan Bode 2004

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Berserker Faith

In Danish history the Vikings were known as a bloodthirsty lot. They were particularly adept at pillaging and plundering neighboring areas. They kidnapped whole villages for slaves when manual labor was necessary. They were not likely to top anyone’s list of “people to get to know better”. Yet, as bad as the reputation the Vikings had created for themselves was there are accounts of warriors among the Vikings who were even more highly feared. They fought in such a way that they could only be stopped at the cost of many enemy lives.
They were called Berserkers. They were given the name “Berserker”, which means “bear shirt”, because they wore shirts made from bear skin.
Shortly before, or during, battle Berserkers gave themselves over to a “battle rage” that allowed them to fight with such abandon that they were left surrounded by a field of enemies who had been pierced, hacked and bloodied to such a degree that the only sure thing about them was that they were, or soon would be, dead. The Berserker in his rage desired only one thing: to remove their threat. They were in his way and they had no place there. The only solution was their removal and the only way to accomplish that was with the battleaxe in his grip. Shields were split and limbs hewed until there was simply no one left. No sense of his surroundings remained to him; his only awareness was of the world within reach of his weapon. His fellow warriors always stayed clear of him in battle for he would recognize none of them when the red mist of his fury clouded his vision. His style of fighting was never described as graceful, nor did it reflect any sense of “finesse”. It did, however, get the job done.
But there was one thing about the Berserker that always struck me as his most effective trait in battle: The Berserker always fought with no thought to his own defense. He never actively parried an enemy’s weapon. If it happened to be in his way he merely batted it aside as he brought his own weapon into play. If he took a wound it went unnoticed until the battle was over and the rage had left him.
The Berserker, in his frenzy, was motivated by one thought: Move forward.
Clear a path. No defense. Attack is the only option. Never back up. There is no retreat.
It’s ironic that as long as there was an obstruction in front of him the Berserker refused to stop. He stopped only when the path was clear, and there was no one left to resist him.
The thought struck me one day, as odd as it sounds, that in many ways my faith should be characterized by some of the same properties that the Berserker displayed.
For instance; he fought with no thought to his own defense.
How often do I hesitate to share my faith out of fear of being attacked in response, or being asked a question that I can’t answer?
What if I practiced a defenseless faith?
The thing about being a Christian is that God is bigger than anything we can comprehend.
Most of our defenses are built to guard against attacks against our own integrity based on our own sins. God forgave us in order to neutralize their threat, to remove the need for self defense. His forgiveness is meant to complete us; for if His forgiveness is all that truly matters then the accusations of our fellow sinners are meaningless.
The other part of our defenses deal with our insufficient knowledge of God.
He does not require us to defend Him. He’s a big God; He can take care of Himself. He is able to answer the big questions. When we attempt to defend Him we tend to do it by judging the intent and motivations of those attacking Him, and yet He tells us “Judge not” because we are not qualified to judge.
The human standard of judgment cannot be overcome by a human standard of forgiveness. The capacity to forgive must be greater than the standard of judgment in order for justice to be complete. The one who judges must have the authority to either implement the punishment, or forgive the offense completely. The standard of judgment must also be consistent, which takes it completely beyond the ability of man, because every person judges by their own standard. Only He has the authority to apply the penalty of that judgment. And because He is capable of defending His judgments and actions we need not fear the attacks that come from those who are judged. Our only job here is to let them know they have an Advocate when their attacks have failed and they are left defenseless.
Only God has the capacity to truly forgive so only He is qualified to judge anyone, which is to my great benefit, because if all of my sins were known to my fellow man I highly doubt that I would be considered a Godly man by human standards.
I am extremely fortunate that the standard for being Godly is determined by God. It was the prophet Samuel who said of David, “...the Lord sought for Himself a man after His own heart.” (1Samuel 13:14) It was not a designation given by man to man. And when I look at the people God used to do such great and Godly things in this world in most cases I find myself completely unimpressed by their character. In fact, I find (surprise, surprise) that they are actually a lot like me; weak, inconsistent, and prone to failure requiring repentance. So while you might think that God’s standard is harder to live up to that man’s, I find that when Christ said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30) it has a much greater meaning when I realize that while God’s standard is indeed higher than man’s, God Himself provides the means to reach it.
Man’s standard is like the Pharisees rule book for living in Jewish society; it requires a lot of work and produces no reward. You feel like you must be doing something, but you have nothing of value to show for all your efforts.
Another applicable trait is that anything blocking the Berserker’s path only motivated him further to overcome it.
When I find something that causes me to falter in my pursuit of a closer relationship with Him it seems I more often find myself sitting down and bemoaning the fact of the obstacle’s presence rather than finding a way to neutralize it.
When we are presented with an attack on God it does hurt us, because what hurts Him would hurt His children as well, but they should not leave us cowed. If I am asked a question I can’t answer, I simply find the answer and I am prepared for the next time. If it’s an answer I don’t like, but God said it, well that’s the answer, and I am back to letting God say what He’s always said. He’s pretty good about being consistent. We aren’t, but that’s a different issue. Part of our problem is that we keep trying to make God more “palatable” to the world at large, and this requires that we change His answers to be more “politically correct”. We start reinterpreting what He has clearly said about something so that it sounds entirely different.
This is unacceptable. God cannot be required to conform.
God gave us His word to apply to our lives not just theorize about how it should be used. The Pharisees of Jesus time took this to a higher level of mediocrity with a series of laws that attempted to control every minor function of the every day lives of the Jews.
This actually put the Pharisees in a position of complete dependence on the society they sought to control. They only dealt with “spiritual” things and lived off of the well being of their society. They became, in effect, parasites. They created more obstacles than they destroyed.
The Word of God is applicable to our lives. It has an impact on what we do and how we act when we actually listen to what He says, and then do it. So often in my own life I have found that I didn’t start honestly applying God’s word to my life until I had absolutely no answer of my own and no control over what happened, and those are the times that I learned most clearly that He has every intention of taking care of me despite my insistence that I can do it all by myself.
So having said all this and making all these really rather odd comparisons, I have to wonder where my faith is on the spectrum of strength. It seems to fluctuate quite a bit.
The grace of God is a wild, uncontrollable thing, and what I need is a faith to match it.
Imagine a faith which my enemies would fear simply for being the opposite of all they have been told by the world. For the world will believe anything that allows them to continue their inevitable slide toward death.
Dorothy Sayers, a great English writer and contemporary of C.S. Lewis once wrote: "In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die."
I need a faith with which they would fear I might kill them, but which ultimately would be the death of me in the end.
It would be a faith in which I would approach my enemy with the open arms of forgiveness knowing that he would not grant me the same. Knowing that once my forgiveness was offered I could easily be dead or injured, for this faith would require no defense. Knowing that as I approached him with the full armor of God that while the Breastplate of Righteousness would protect my soul, it might still be allowed to be pierced in order that my heart might bleed grace on his hands.
It would be a wild faith.
An uncontrollable faith.
A raging faith.
A Berserker Faith.
©Dan Bode 2006

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I’m bald. There’s just no two ways about it.
I came to accept the fact of my follicular barrenness many years ago. I had a lot of time to prepare since I had a receding hairline in high school. It is said that the gene for baldness is passed down through the mother’s side of the family, and my mother’s father was from all reports bald by the time he was 28. Although, I do have a few hairs left up there so I guess I should consider myself fortunate at 48 to have held out against the inevitable recession for a little while longer. My older brothers all still have hair on top, and I applaud their good fortune.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I am bitter about my hair loss. I learned to accept it long ago. I tend to grow hair on my body instead. My wife once said that the only places I don’t have hair are the top of my head and the bottom of my feet. That’s not to say I wouldn’t rather have hair up there simply because I don’t want to have to wear a hat whenever I go out in the sun. Sometimes I forget the hat and get sunburned anyway and then it starts to peel and people think I have a really bad case of dandruff. Oh well. Being bald has made me more aware of what other people think of it though. I have seen the lengths some men go to hide their baldness, and quite frankly, I am appalled.
The first method is, of course, the Combover. You know, letting the hair grow long on one side and then combing it over the top to try to make it look like there’s really hair there. Let me be frank here.
Guys – it looks dumb. Everyone who sees you knows you’re bald, and in a stiff breeze when the hair gets blown off it looks like a helmet standing on it’s side.
Then there’s the hairpiece. Every time my wife and I are out and about she can always tell if a guy is wearing a hairpiece, then she points it out to me and laughs. “That looks so phony!” she says. She’s right. I have yet to see one that looks truly natural.
There’s also Rogaine, which works for some, and not for others depending on what kind of baldness you are afflicted with. If you don’t mind forking out the monthly cost and then having to put the stuff on your head everyday I guess it’s ok.
Another solution is the hair transplant. I have seen the news shows that detail the lengths some people will go to replace their hair. It is in a word: horrifying. In one procedure they put water balloons under your scalp and fill them in order to stretch the skin of the scalp where you have hair growing. When the scalp is sufficiently stretched the balloons are removed and the excess folds with the active hair follicles are cut out and then sewn back on to the areas where there is no hair. Too much pain involved for me. And what if one of those balloons springs a leak? I don’t know how anyone else feels about it, but I wouldn’t want to be seen in public while all this was going on either. Can you imagine walking down the street with big bulges in the back of your head that sloshed when you moved? I suppose you could just put on a Star Trek uniform and tell everyone you were shooting a movie.
In another procedure they take little “plugs” of follicles from the hairy part of your scalp and sew them into the bald area. It looks like the aerial view of farmland. Nice neat little rows.
On top of all this after it’s all done there is no guarantee that it will work. The little follicles may not like the new spot and not grow. Or some may grow and some may not. Your growth pattern may then resemble the pattern of a waffle iron. What a pleasant thought.
All this is done because somehow some of us were convinced that the presence of hair determined whether people liked us or not. Let me be the first to let you know something: if they don’t like you without hair, they probably won’t like you with hair. Throw all the money at it you want to, but know that hair replacement does not equal personality adjustment.
Since I am bald I tend to notice when someone else is bald. It’s kind of an unspoken bond. It’s like when you get a new car and you start to notice other people driving the same kind of car. You never noticed how many there were until you got one.
So now we come to the heart of the matter.
I was in church a few weeks ago, and we were sitting towards the back. We usually sit in the back. It’s an old habit we developed when our daughters were babies. We wanted to be close to the door in case we needed to make a quick getaway to change a diaper or something. Anyway, as I was listening to the sermon, and I was listening, I noticed there are a lot of bald guys in church. Obviously they are secure in their baldness or I wouldn’t be able to see their shiny pates. I also noticed something else about them: a lot of them had sores on top of their heads from where they bumped there head on something. I noticed it because I had one too from when I was climbing the ladder in the garage and bumped my head on an exposed rafter.
But I realized something else too. I knew that just because I could see sores on the bald guy’s heads didn’t mean they were the only ones with sores on their heads. People with hair bump their heads too; they just have something there to cover up the sore. I noticed all of this because I had it in common with them. I recognized in them the same thing that was in me.
It is like that with our sins.
We often look at other peoples’ sins and shortcomings and we judge them accordingly. But we fail to recognize that the reason we can see their sins, and speak of them with such authority, is not that we are somehow better than they are as we like to think, but rather that we are guilty of the same sin. We recognize the same faults in them as in ourselves, and we seek to distance ourselves from them by seeming to be above them. Just like getting a hair transplant we seek to find a way to cover our flaws. We look for something to divert attention away from ourselves. We seek a way to look better on the outside rather than seek an internal change. Seldom do we hear a sermon and seek to apply it to ourselves first. It’s usually a good message for someone else to hear. “If only so-and-so were here. He really needs to hear this.” Never mind that we ourselves are guilty of what we accuse that person of.
When Christ said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matt. 7:1) He wasn’t kidding around. He’s the only one qualified to judge me or save me. My job on this earth as a Christian is not judgement, but reconciliation. I must show others that despite my flaws it is still possible for me to draw near to God because of His sacrifice, not my supposed superiority. I must show them that I am not greater than them, or higher up on some eternal ladder of performance. Because I am guilty of the same sins as them I am in need of the same remedy. Not the same method of covering up, but the same method of change.
There’s something else about bald heads: they are highly reflective. If you are walking towards someone with a bald head and he looks down, the glare can be somewhat blinding. The idea is that they reflect light, but they aren’t the source of it. And they are capable of reflecting that light even when they have a sore on their head. Despite our flaws, or hurts, or sins, God still uses us. Our effectiveness is in our willingness to be exposed and used.
So, next time you’re tempted to look down on someone, don’t look down your nose at him or her. Shave your head and look down and help to light their path.
©Dan Bode 2000

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tea Time

“How about if you take me to tea?”
It was a response to an innocent question I had asked my wife. Little did I know what it would involve. We had asked each other what kind of activities we would most like to do, regardless of whether the other liked them or not, and then we each determined what we would be willing to do from each other’s list.
I wanted to go to a restaurant that served a lot of red meat.
My general disposition is: Meat, potatoes, Soda; don’t bother me: I’m eating.
My wife has daintier tastes. I chomp, she nibbles.
So we’re talkin’ tea, huh? I can do that.
“Sure I’ll take you out to tea. I know this great little neighborhood coffee shop that serves tea too. We can go there…..”
“No, no, no. Not just going and having tea anywhere. There is a special place to go for it. This is High Tea.”
This was beginning to sound ominous. High Tea? With Capitol Letters? Are there drugs involved? Do they spike it or something? Hey, is this legal?
“High Tea is a Victorian tradition.”
“Do I have to wear a tie?” I whined. I hate ties. I don’t even know where the last tie I bought about 10 years ago is anymore. I would have to clean the closet for that. Cleaning the closet could take weeks, maybe even months. Maybe there was a way out of this after all.
“No you don’t have to wear a tie.”
Curses! Foiled again.
“You go ahead and call the place. I think you have to make reservations.”
Reservations? To drink tea?
I called the place, and sure enough you had to make reservations.
“Do you have any openings for this Sunday?” I asked.
“Oh no. Our weekends are booked up for the next 4 months.”
What is going on here? We’re talkin’ tea, for cryin out loud!
“Uh, ok. Well, do you have anything available during the week?”
“Oh yes. We should have some available then.”
“Good. How about Tuesday?”
“Yes we do. We have tables available in all of our sessions that day.”
Sessions? Does this include psychoanalysis or something?
“What are your “sessions”?”
“We have eleven to one, one to three, and three to five.”
“Uh, ok. How about the three to five on Tuesday?”
Two hours? How much tea do they expect you to drink?
“All right. We have you on our books for Tuesday from three to five.”
I thanked her and hung up. This was getting curiouser and curiouser.
I told my wife, and she was very happy to be going. She had apparently wanted to do this for a long time.
The day finally came, and we arrived at the tea place. It was a Victorian kind of gift shop as well, and in the middle of the store was a large gazebo type garden setting. There was a mural painted on the back wall that showed a peaceful garden. Several tables were set up with china tea cups and saucers.
I felt like a bull in a china shop. I was afraid if I moved too suddenly I would bump a shelf that would fall over with a domino effect and destroy the store. However, the hostess saw us and asked us if we had reservations. We were the only ones in the place at that point so I didn’t really think it made much difference anyway. We were seated at a table for two and given menus. There were a lot of teas. Usually I just opted for whatever was available as long as it wasn’t herbal. Herbal tastes like last weeks lawn clippings. This time they had some that sounded ok, and it was different from the usual teabag. I ordered my tea and a cheese and fruit plate. Sue ordered her tea with a dessert plate.
The tea came first. They gave each of us our little tea pot. I almost started singing that teapot song I learned as kid, but it doesn’t really sound good in bass.
I have always laughed when I would see someone pickup a tea cup and stick their pinky out, but here I was faced with a dilemma. The handle on the teacup was too small for me to fit any of my fingers through. I tried, but there was just no way to force my finger through that handle without breaking it, and the china looked expensive. I am used to handling a coffee mug that has room for me to get at least two of my fingers through the handle. I found that if I held the handle of the cup between my thumb and forefinger I could manage it ok, but then I didn’t have any place to put my other fingers. And guess what happened to my pinky? It stuck out! Grrr. I was trying to figure out some way to drink this tea in a masculine style. I briefly toyed with the idea of just taking the lid off the pot and drinking straight out of that, but that would have embarrassed Sue. I found a solution when I realized that the teacup was well suited to the palm of my hand, so I just held the whole cup rather than the handle. It was hot and somewhat painful, but, by golly, my pinky didn’t stick out.
Then our food plates were served.
By this time I was getting used to the concept that this was a “dainty” event.
Sue’s “dessert plate” consisted of about four cookies, a chocolate candy, and a miniature turnover. It was very tastefully arranged and looked very nice, but in terms of actual food content there was probably about 2 ounces on the plate.
My plate consisted of several varieties of cheese, fruit and crackers. At least my plate was full. It actually wasn’t bad. There was only one cheese on there I didn’t like. It was brie. It just tastes too weird for me, and when it melts it looks like something the dog coughed up.
They had listed on the menu another item called “tea sandwiches”. I had been warned ahead of time by a friend that these were in no way to be considered “sandwiches” in the sense that I thought of them. They were “dainty”, and were not to be confused in any way with the normal deli sandwich that I was picturing. I saw the truth of this when I looked to see the waitress standing behind the counter duck down and stuff a whole sandwich in her mouth.
“Wow you got a lot more than I did.” Said Sue.
“Yeah. Guess I lucked out on that one.” I replied.
After we were done eating she asked, “So are you full?”
“Are you kidding?” I asked. It was only cheese and crackers after all. Not even any meat. How could that be filling? There is no such thing as a filling meal to me if it does not contain meat. I was ready for the main course, but that was all there was.
This presented a problem for which I had a quick solution.
“Let’s go to a restaurant for dinner.” It was 5:15.
“You just ate!”
“That was just an appetizer! I have to have more than that.” This is where my mom would have started telling me about all the starving kids in Africa when I was a kid. The last time she said that to me I took the rest of the sandwich that I didn’t want to eat and put it in an envelope addressed to “all the starving children in Africa”. I wasn’t joking either; I really wanted it to go to them. I doubt the mail man appreciated the sentiment when he opened the mailbox that I had dropped it in.
But before I could even think about going to a restaurant I had to figure out how to get out of the store. This was a challenge.
My wife has always loved the “Victorian” style of decoration, and since this was that kind of store there was no such thing as a straight line to the exit. They had specialty teas of course, and soaps and candles and stationary and utensils and flowers and china and clocks and baskets ….and…and… I forgot the rest. We brought some of it home (sigh). This was pretty expensive tea.
Well, we made it out of there a few minutes after they closed. They locked the door behind us.
Now it’s my turn. There’s a steakhouse in a neighboring town that I’ve been hearing about for years. All they serve is steak. Big steak. Nothing but steak. Really good steak. There’s sawdust on the floor. They don’t serve tea or anything remotely similar. They have big knives and forks. They have big mugs that I can hold with all my fingers!
Probably after that I’ll be ready to handle another High Tea.
©Dan Bode 2002

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Commando Basketball

I was watching a basketball game on TV the other day, and I saw a scene during that game which took me back many, many years to junior high.
One of the players jumped up for the slam-dunk and on his way up he swung an arm out and hit a player on the opposing team in the face. It looked like he got him right across the bridge of his nose. The stricken player went down holding his nose, and in all the close up slow motion shots afterwards you could see his eyes clearly watering. The look on his face seemed to say, “I will NOT cry on national television! I WON’T!” Apparently he was successful, because he didn’t. His eyes just watered and he went on playing.
Now generally speaking basketball is not meant to be a game in which blows are intentionally struck, although that does occasionally occur in all sports, except for tennis or golf. At least, I’ve never seen it in tennis or golf. It really is hard to imagine violence in a golf game. I can hardly stay awake when golf comes on. If I try really hard I can imagine a flare up during a golf game. The announcer doing the play by play (or maybe it should be the “short play long walk by short play long walk”) is always speaking in a voice barely above a whisper. “Okay here he comes. He has his ball all teed up, and he’s selected his driver. This is a new caddy for him Bob, but they seem to be doing pretty well together out here.”
Bob: “Yes they do seem to work well together Jack.”
Jack: “He is addressing the ball now. Wow the concentration on his face right now is impressive.”
Bob. “Okay here comes the swing, it looks good.”
Jack: “Ooooh! Look at the slice on that one! (Announcers voice rises as he talks) It’s going completely off the fairway Bob! It bounced off that oak tree! It’s way over in the high grass! He’ll never find it out there!”
Bob: (voice rising as well) “And he knows it too! Oh man is he mad! He’s going after the caddy! Jack it appears he blames the caddy for selecting the wrong driver! He’s running after him! The crowd is parting to let them through. Wow, are his knickers in a bunch or what?! Look at that! He’s wrapping the driver around the caddy’s neck! Jack I have never seen anything like this before!”
Jack: “The security people are just standing around! They don’t know what to do! They’ve never seen anything like this either! Oh boy, I don’t even want to think about the penalties on this one! He's gonna get at least four strokes added for this!”
Of course this would never happen in golf. I think golf players secretly want violence in the game. That’s why they wear such outrageous pants; they want to assault the eyes of the spectators.

Anyway as I said, this incident brought to mind an experience from junior high. Specifically gym class. Coach Gray was our instructor, and he definitely had some unique ideas about physical education. He tended toward the pugilistic school of thought, which is not bad, as long as you are the pugilist rather than the pugilee. Coach Gray introduced us to a new form of basketball that took the game to a completely new level. He called it Commando Basketball. In Commando Basketball the rules were essentially the same as regular basketball with three notable exceptions. One: there were no fouls. Two: every player had one hand free to dribble the ball, and on the other hand he wore a boxing glove. Three: the players of the opposing team were allowed to punch the player who had possession of the ball with their gloved hand.
These conditions tended to create some interesting situations. Many times there were guys on opposing teams who did not harbor warm feelings toward each other. In these cases it was not uncommon to see a player on one team purposely pass the ball to the player he didn’t like on the other team just so he would have the opportunity to hit him.
There were other rules designed to save us from serious injury as well. Headshots were not allowed, nor could you hit anyone below the belt. For the most part these rules were followed. To this day I am still amazed that we were even allowed to play this game, but no one ever complained about it so we all happily pummeled each other in the spirit of good sportsmanship.
One of the nice things about this game was that it seemed to equalize everyone in the class. Anyone could swing his arm in a general melee without a great degree of skill required. I was no exception to this rule. I was always considered tall for my age, and as a consequence people naturally assumed that I played basketball. The truth of the matter was that I avoided it at every opportunity. Basketball requires coordination. I don’t have any. Therefore, I hate to play basketball. Watching it is fine, but playing is a no-no. There were some guys in our class who were more athletically inclined than the rest of us, and they were typically classified as “jocks”. They were the ones who actually played on the school basketball team, as opposed to the rest of us who sat in the bleachers and watched. While there were a few of the jocks that thought more highly of themselves than they should have most of them were pretty nice guys. On this particular day during our commando basketball game things had been pretty intense on the court. We had played the game several times now, and we were all increasing in our skill level so we were able to actually “play” the game instead of “play at” the game. I never bothered to get the ball because I knew I’d lose it to the other side pretty easily, but being one of the bigger kids and having a pretty strong right arm I learned that I could be pretty effective against the actual possessor of the ball. I went out of my way to stay within the rules though, because it was no fun when someone got seriously hurt. One of the jocks had the ball and he was on the opposing team. He was a friend of mine so I usually would try to hit his arm or something to make him lose his grip on the ball rather than someplace where he might get more seriously hurt. I found myself right in the middle of the mass of players that always concentrated around the ball handler which meant I was right next to my friend on the other team. I had to swing. He was getting ready to take his shot and his arms were already raised to shoot the ball so I swung at his stomach. I knew he could take a stomach shot so I felt pretty safe except that at the last minute as I was swinging my arm toward his midsection he decided to jump to improve his shot. What this meant was that the swing that was already on its way was no longer going to hit his stomach. The perspective had suddenly changed. I was about to break the rules. I was now going to hit him BELOW THE BELT. I saw where my swing was going too late to stop it, and as the punch landed I heard my friend say, “Oooooff!” After which he promptly curled up in a little ball and lay on the ground, moaning.
Many in the group had actually turned away from us toward the basket to see if the ball made it through the hoop. The ball, of course, was rolling on the ground not far from my friend. This, and the fact that everyone in the general vicinity had been throwing punches, I realized contributed to the fact that no one but myself was aware that I had struck the offending blow. As I thought this I said, “Oh man! He’s hurt! What happened?” He hadn’t been looking at who hit him either. By unspoken agreement we all respectfully turned our backs on him surrounding him and blocking him from the view of the girls PE class across the field. In junior high school when a guy got hit below the belt it was considered bad form to stand around and watch him writhe in pain. It was REALY bad if a girl was there to see it. There was a certain etiquette even at that age. At this point Coach Gray began to wonder why everyone was standing around on the court facing outward while the ball rolled aimlessly away from us.
“Hey what’s the problem gentlemen? I did not call a time out!” He yelled as he approached the group. As he got closer he saw my friend on the ground, moaning.
“Oh. I see the problem. Okay Jeff why don’t you get up and walk it off and sit on the bench for a while? You’ll be back on the court in no time.”
Jeff just looked up at him for a moment before he started to move. When you’ve been hit below the belt with any serious force the last thing you want to do is walk. Coach Gray followed the Drill Sergeants philosophy that if you made someone hate you enough they would do as they were told.
I reached down to help him up and walk him over to the bench. As we walked I whispered, “Man, I’m sorry. It was me that hit you. It was supposed to be a stomach shot, but you jumped.”
“Why did you have to hit so hard?”
“I didn’t think I was. I was trying to go easy.”
“Try harder next time okay?”
“Okay. Sorry.”
I went back to the game after that, and after a short while he got back in as well, but I definitely watched how hard I hit from that point on.
That was the last time we played Commando Basketball. We all missed it. We really missed it when it was raining and they made us do square dancing in the gym, although at least we got to dance with the girl’s PE class. Sadly Commando Basketball never came to be accepted as a regular sporting activity, and I have never heard of it being played anywhere else. That’s probably just as well, there would be too many guys standing around in outward facing circles if it did, and sooner or later I would have been the one on the ground moaning. I guess self-preservation still has its uses.
©Dan Bode 2000

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In His Image

In His Image.
What does it mean to be made in His image?
Are there scars upon my brow, or was it sculpted to don a crown of thorns? Was my side made to accept the spear? Were my hands created to receive the point of a nail? Or are there scars to show they were there?
My wounds were healed before I had them. My sins forgiven without a memory of their occurrence. And yet I bear a cross daily. I still suffer a small portion for my responsibility in my sin. Yet He endured to insure my survival, my freedom.
What is the image of God?
He is perfect. Am I? No.
Can I be? Only when He perfects me. Perfection is a process.
Isn’t it odd how the crown of thorns, when we picture it on His head, seems to fit so well, even having been pushed down upon His head? As though the thorns were grown to fit His brow alone? As though, because of His great love for us, His very flesh knew He took it willingly?
Did the nails pierce His hands and feet and separate the tissues as though they were meant to be there?
I see His pain, and I wonder at His endurance, and then I find His peace.
Like Thomas I doubt Him, and I doubt what I see and what I touch. Every part of my life is a process of eliminating my doubt. I am shown repeatedly that I am loved, that I am cared for, and because of this I discover that while His crucifixion is a daily occurrence in my life, so is Easter, and all I can ever hope to be is His image.
A mere reflection.
A shadow.
For only Christ is Truth and Love Incarnate.
The sad fact of the matter is that even though God has done so much, I still try to take it back. While God’s word on the issue is final, because it is indeed “finished”, I keep trying to do it over until “I get it right” once and for all. I don’t want to be the cause of His pain because I am convinced that His sacrifice leaves me in His debt, and I can’t stand that! I hate debt! I hate obligation! Why? Because it forces me to admit my incredible, all consuming need for a Savior.
“by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
So do not come to me for comfort in your pain for I stand useless in shock, in horror, in awe and in love at His sacrifice. I have no words that would be adequate to match His actions on our behalf. Only His open wounds can fulfill our need, and He is waiting for us to touch them. The greatest joy in Easter is that He is greater than all the pain of my sins to kill him. Every wound He took is one more I don’t have to bear.
And what that proves, in the end, is that there is not enough blood in my veins to cover the sins of the world.
©Dan Bode 2004

Saturday, February 14, 2009

True Beauty

We come, and we go.
A simple statement of fact, yet a great deal occurs between those two words. We walk a great journey between the lines that mark the beginning and the end, start and finish. Whether our tread along the way is heavy or light, no step goes uncounted by Him who made us.
We are sometimes granted the honor of making the journey with someone, sometimes a longer portion, more commonly the shorter. More often than not the length of time we have together is the least important property of it. The presence is itself enough, for those of uncommon beauty bring us joy.
The joy is in the journey we live between the lines.
We live too often by accident when we should be living with intention.
How many times have I missed the joy in the journey by waiting for things to happen rather than pursuing what is clearly before me? How many times have I chosen complacency over action?
At some point in my life I innocently embraced the comfort of a “routine”, and in so doing somewhere, in the process of living, I became a man of sorrow. The loss of someone or something along the way caught me off guard. I began to concentrate more on what I’d lost than on all that I had gained in the presence of the beauty God provided in that relationship, however unfairly brief I thought it to be.
I think too much about what “might have been” if I’d said or done something just a little bit differently, but “might have been” never happened and never will and it would never have been as perfect as our imagination allows. Hindsight is a useless thing sometimes.
I feel sorrow at my loss, but I must always remember that there would be no sorrow had joy not been there first, but remembering as well that joy does not depend on sorrow for its existence. It is in the beauty of an uncommon nature that joy is inspired. It is not the youthful face and form that offers True Beauty, but the joy and love that is reflected from within and visible on the surface of whatever form we happen to have. Oh, the rest of the world would have us believe otherwise, but that is only their attempt at establishing standards that allow them to dictate the standard of our own worth. If the focus of beauty is maintained externally it can then be marketed and controlled. It becomes a commodity to be used to conform us to some random ideal, and at the same time rob us of our individual natures. I found that it was the presence and pursuit of True Beauty that brought me joy and gave me depth.

Far too often I am overcome by sorrow in my relationship with God because I think so much of all that He has had to forgive in me when I should be overcome by joy because He has forgiven me. Furthermore, He has forgiven me intentionally, by design, with a desire to bring me joy. That is True Beauty.
I became a man of sorrows unintentionally. I must become a man of joy intentionally. I must actively pursue that which does not come to me by nature. I must actively recognize uncommon beauty, and allow myself to be surprised, no – astonished-, by joy. In this I honor those who are lost to me by allowing their gift to me to be recognized.
In this I also honor my God, for this was His gift to me through them, and it is His astonishing Beauty that is reflected in them.
So here is the truth I have discovered:
True Beauty is the reflection of God in His creation.
I have a friend who was married to his wife for 59 years when she died. There was never a doubt of the depth of their love. As she lay dying he told her, “I fell in love with you all over again.”
They saw the Beauty of God reflected in each other. Beauty resides in their love, not their bodies. We are but mere reflections of the source of beauty. It is for us to reflect the beauty of God into the darker corners of the hearts of this world. And it should be said here that this kind of love is truly the stuff of legend. We look at famous relationships and exclaim how good they are without ever seeing anything beyond the superficial shell of the reality that leads to the breakdown of that same relationship. The romantic stories we have grown up on are usually tragic or artificial. We make a relationship important because of the celebrity involved, and at the same time we ignore the relationships that have existed longer than you or I have been alive. I know so many marriages that are the image of the example I want mine to be. They have lasted for a lifetime with an ever increasing love. We see little flashes of history and emphasize what we see in the briefest point that represents the climax of centuries of effort by all those who remain nameless. Henry Fabre once said, “History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of kings' bastards but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. This is the way of human folly.”
In our relentless pursuit of our future we ignore what we see as the shackles of our past rather than a foundation on which to build it. We have taken a devastating turn for the worse when we ignore True Beauty in favor of the worthless and inconsistent imitation that this world has to offer.
Love is beauty, and God is Love, therefore He is also the source and definition of Beauty. The recognition of Beauty is the “calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1) Love is the knowledge we are called to put into practice. Beauty is in the intangibles. It lies not in face and form, but in action, in relationship. It is not the person we love, or who loves us where beauty is found. No, it is in the love itself. The love we choose to take part in.
When we see beauty as something outside of ourselves we can be more confident in the beauty we have. We are each capable of reflecting True Beauty because we were all made in His image. We were not meant to hold anything in. We were made to overflow. When we choose to partake in the Beauty He supplies we become vessels of the Uncontainable. The flaws we perceive within ourselves are irrelevant to our ability to reflect True Beauty. Are you concerned that your hair is the wrong color, or that someone else’s is better than yours, or that someone else has hair? Is there a scar you’re ashamed of? Are you too thin or too fat? Is there a pimple on your face that is changing the course of your life somehow? Have you been abused or misused somewhere along the way?
I wonder; are we afraid to love beyond our own shame because we are afraid that others will be unable to as well, and thereby emphasize our own perceived shortcomings in the process of pointing out theirs? Have I not been guilty of this in my own life? Of course.
The problem lies in the fact that we perceive our flaws as limiting our potential for beauty, but we do not realize that we are not the source of the beauty we have. True Beauty is revealed in our flaws, because we have learned to express love to one another despite, or even through, the flaws. That is where the love and beauty of God are truly reflected in us. When Paul says “when I am weak then I am strong” (2Corinthians 12:10) I think he speaks of an aspect of this beauty, for it is in our own weakness that the strength of God is evident. When we reach the end of our resources, whether it is in the area of strength or beauty, God takes over so that whatever we cannot finish He does. But we must see the success of it through His eyes, not our own. It is the direct result of the touch of God. In the recognition of the Source of Beauty we come to that final threshold where a single step across will bring us into the presence of more than we could ever know, but all that we could not survive without.
You see God made True Beauty to be given and taken. He made it to be freely shared. No cost was attached for our sake, because the presence of True Beauty in us is the only way we will ever live beyond our deaths.
The day will come when we will all be sitting quietly together. We will gaze upon one another, and see gray hair, wrinkles, liver spots, and joints swollen and disfigured by arthritis. And given all that, we will at last realize that even then, each of us is still, and will always be, Truly Beautiful. For each of us is cast in the image of God Himself, and there is no Other worthy if imitation.
©Dan Bode 2003