Fear, Forgiveness and the Pinewood Derby

Photo of Pinewood Derby care modeled to look like the Chicago skyline.All across the country this month, hundreds of Cub Scout Packs are holding their annual wood-racer rallies.  This post on that topic first appeared as A (Dad’s) Scary Pinewood Derby Experience at ScurryTails.com Jan. 25, 2013.

Let me not bury the lead:

I DROPPED MY SON’S PINEWOOD DERBY CAR!

Today.  On the cold, hard concrete floor of the garage.  My 10-year-old’s vision of the Chicago skyline, wrought from Sculpey and paint and glue, with a to-scale level of skill and craftsmanship and hard work to rival that of the architects and engineers and steel workers who erected the full-sized Windy City skyline.  Broken — the beautiful thing shattered like glass.

When it happened, I wept like a child — like I knew my child would weep when he found out.

My folly was thinking it needed just one more layer of clear coat varnish.  My folly was holding it gingerly by the tires between my fingers and not firmly grabbing it by its wooden base.  My folly was my hubris in thinking I knew best what his car needed.  And that my age and experience relative to his were enough to prevent harm from coming to his craft.  I was wrong.

What could I do?  I grabbed up all the pieces I could find — I found all of them.  Some had just popped off the base, but some — like the giant Sears Tower (my son’s first experience with America’s tallest skyscraper was NOT in the Willis Tower, thank you) — snapped in three places.  Its twin antennae — as much a part of the building’s signature as it’s boxy-tubes shape — had snapped off as well.

I mixed up some two-part epoxy and started putting the rolling Humpty Dumpty back together again.

When I finished, I felt like I’d done a good job restoring his fantastic job.  We would have to make new antennae, but the main of the Chicago skyline was restored.  I did my best.  But …

Would he notice?  It didn’t matter — I knew that I would tell him.  How could we team up together to design and build the car in a values-based program like Cub Scouts and have me try to sneak something like that past him?

Would he be shattered, as his car had been shattered?  Yes, I knew he would be.  And when he came home from school and I told him, he was.

But by  God’s good grace, kids are resilient and unlike many of the “more wise” adults around them, kids are also generous with forgiveness.  My son calmed himself and listened to my apologies, listened to my pledge to help him repair it, and listened to my assurances that we could make it look as good as it had when he’d put the finishing touches on it only the night before.

He forgave me.  And he taught me about forgiveness.

Tonight, the car gets checked in.  Tomorrow, it will glide downhill at up to 350 (scale) miles per hour.  It might win.  It might lose.  And it might fall off the track and shatter again.  But having experienced the tragic and having recovered from it together, I know for my son and me that whatever happens tomorrow, everything will be o.k.

UPDATE Jan. 30, 2013:  My son raced the car, and clocked speeds at more than 216 miles per hour, against winning cars that sped downhill at almost 230 m.p.h.!  He stayed on the track, and while a couple antennae broke again (clearly the car’s Achilles’ heel) in the racing, it didn’t shatter on race day as it did for me.  Best of all, while others’ bested his cityscape for speed, his design took Best Design honors — cracks and glue and all!

THE END
Copyright 2013

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The Church Deconstructed category is a “Church for Noobs” guide that offers a glib look at today’s mainline church, covering the lifecycle of a Christian from the perspective of a reformed skeptic and now longtime church member.  At times borderline irreverent, the musings aim to be spot-on accurate about both the virtues and the foibles of the modern church and of the “church life.”

The Endangered Flavors of Christmases Past

This post first appeared at the LinkedIn page of Jeffrey Bishop Dec. 13, 2015.

With the red cup crisis of 2015 passed, a true Christmas catastrophe yet looms: Time-honored tastes from Christmases past are in danger of extinction, forever lost from the hors d’oeuvres plates and family feasts of future generations.

The list of most-endangered holiday-time flavors?:

1) Eggnog: This spicy beverage blend of egg, cream, sugar, egg, cream, sugar and spices perhaps took its fatal blow in the health-crazed ’80s, when cholesterol was enemy No. 1. Today, we have Islamic terrorists and/or climate change for that.

Yet, the sumptuous, frothy glass of eggnog never made its comeback — even though vinyl records have. Spiked or straight, and even removing the egg and most of the nog from modern blends (whatever nog is, we don’t want to know), eggnog to this day remains at high risk.

2) Cranberry sauce: A longtime staple of Thanksgiving and Christmas alike, this dish is too often sacrificed for the latest feast fad.  Maligned as neither a dessert nor a savory side, it’s nonetheless an essential flavor for tying together all others in sweet-and-sour harmony: turkey, stuffing, and potatoes and gravy, all on a fork with cranberries at the same time. Yum!

Aggravating its demise is a run on cranberries for other products; similar to ethanol putting a strain on once-abundant corn grain, cran-everything: drinks, teas, candies, lip balms and skin exfoliants — have robbed the dinner table of this once commodious treat.

Culinary historians mark the advent of canned jellied cranberry sauces in the mid-20th-century as the apex — and the beginning of the downfall — of this dish. Perhaps because, when that jellied cylinder is sliced and served, it closely resembles another endangered flavor: Beets

3) Beets: This red-hued holiday dish, best served not at all, could pass into eternity and like the mosquito, would not be missed, but would definitely be noticed. With great cheer.

4) Gingerbread: Long synonymous with Christmas, this treat in recent years has been moved aside to make way for its blander cousin the sugar cookie — the Wonder Bread of Christmas flavors. Even gingerbread houses have been made from grahams for at least a generation.  The deep flavors of molasses and ginger are too strong for today’s pabulum palates.

5) Sugarplums: The original gummy treat, these sweet, fruity, sugar-coated spice drops are the Christmas equivalent of a Werthers from grandma’s purse — too uncool even for the hipsters to adopt. So sad.

6) Nuts: A carved bowl full of in-the-shell peanuts, pecans,  walnuts, hazels and filberts used to be set out shortly after Thanksgiving, alongside the wreath, tree and other Christmas trimmings. These were mostly enjoyed by the menfolk of the house, with kids volunteering to crack the nuts as a sort of off-season firecracker.

My guess is that the labor involved in this treat — once the fun of explosively opening the nutty packaging, you must patiently pick tiny slivers of nutmeat from deep crevices of the shell — brought nuts their due fate. That, and also the pain of finding a shell shrapnel on the floor with a bare foot — a pain similar to, but inconceivably worse than that of stepping on a Lego.

We can’t take any of these treasured tastes for granted; licorice is already extinct. Even peppermint could find its way onto the list, supplanted by more common flavors of chocolate or the novelty of sour gummy worms.

Together, we must stem the tide before it’s too late. Do your part to save — by savoring — these threatened holiday flavors. Lest we forever change the meaning of the season.

Copyright 2015

Alpha and Omega

Amazon.com box with logo, from http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/files/2011/07/Amazon-Box-940x626.jpg

The phrase “from A to Z” encompasses everything in the entirety of a known and finite range; in other words, it captures the whole kit-and-caboodle. So much so that the Amazon.com logo, which includes both letters, draws a smirking smile that points, well, from A to Z.

It’s hard to guess if the Alpha and Omega of the original term is smiling about the commercial use of His namesake. The letters together, representing the first and last letters of the ancient Greek alphabet, is one of the many names for the Lord. This metaphorical use in Revelation introduces the great I Am as the Alpha and Omega — both the beginning and the end.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Revelation 1:8, Scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Armageddon

Nuclear blast, from https://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/Terrorism%20Section%20Content%20Nuclear%20Blast%201.3.0.0.jpg

If you came of age during the Cold War, you knew Armageddon as a thing: the cataclysmic end of the world and of all people, civilization and life as we know it — notably due to nuclear war or some other man-made disaster.  Or a bad Bruce Willis sci-fi action movie, perhaps.

More accurately; indeed, biblically, Armageddon isn’t a thing, but rather, is a place: perhaps a mountain or plain near the ancient city of Megiddo.  At this location, according to interpretations of Revelation, the battle to end all battles at the end times will take place and Satan and his demonic army will be defeated at the hands of God’s angels and the forces of good. The end-times event gets its name from the location it’s set to occur.

At the advent of horrific atomic technology capable of death and destruction on a supernatural scale, our World War III prophesies naturally took on the same name. While this final battle is sure to be scary for those still here to bear witness, it nonetheless will herald the beginning of the end, toward a new day, a new Heaven and a new Earth for all God’s people.

“Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.”
Revelation 16:16, Scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Superstitions Abound on Friday the 13th

The following article first appeared in The Airscoop, the official installation newspaper of Vance Air Force Base, in February 1998, when I was stationed there as a public affairs journeyman.

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – For the superstitious, 1998 could be a very unlucky year, as Feb. 13 is the first of three Friday the 13ths in 1998.

Many of the superstitions modern western people hold dear – including the beliefs that 13 is an unlucky number, our human fates are tied to the patterns of the stars and black cats are evil – originated more than 5,000 years ago in the Middle East, specifically, in Mesopotamia, according to Dr. Michael Seth, professor of history at Phillips University in Enid, Okla.

“The fact that everything is sevens, 12s and 40s in the Old Testament, of course, is because those were considered good or lucky numbers in Mesopotamia,” Seth said, “and so you see them over and over and over in the Bible.”

Because 13 came after lucky number 12, it was associated with evil.  “There are a lot of legends going on about the twelve apostles of Christ, and that the 13th member at the last supper was bad,” Seth said, “but these would be much later ideas, after the number 13 was already established as bad.”

In addition to continuing the belief that 13 is unlucky, Seth pointed out that people still believe in “lucky number seven,” especially in games of chance.

“Although these are really ancient Middle Eastern superstitions and beliefs, we still kind of like them,” he said.

According to Capt. Wendi L. Betz, behavioral health chief here, superstitions are formed when people erroneously draw connections between neutral phenomena and good or bad events in their lives that immediately follow those phenomena.

“Who knows how our superstitions got started in the beginning, but maybe somebody had a black cat cross their path, and then something bad happened to them, so they connected the two,” she said.

For the most part, Betz said, superstitions are a normal response to our often-random world.  She added that even animals have been shown to display superstitious learning, citing pigeons that developed elaborate “rituals” designed to elicit a food reward during a controlled experiment.

Betz said humans invent their own rituals to create a desired result or to stave off an undesired result.

“I’ve seen some guys on the softball team that have a certain warm-up routine they do every time, or there are the people who play bingo, who bring all their lucky dolls and stuff with them,” Betz said.

Superstitions in a culture’s collective consciousness can be self-perpetuating, because people look for anything that can support their belief in the superstition, she added.

“If you have a superstition about Friday the 13th, you’re going to look for something bad to happen to you that day, and you’re going to pay attention to it (if it does occur),” Betz said.  “Bad things can happen on other days than Friday the 13th, but that doesn’t count, because it doesn’t reinforce any belief,” Betz said.

“Then again, maybe black cats and Friday the 13th are bad, and they’re actually causing bad things to happen to people,” Betz added.

“But I have my doubts.”

THE END
Copyright 1998

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The Church Deconstructed category is a “Church for Noobs” guide that offers a glib look at today’s mainline church, covering the lifecycle of a Christian from the perspective of a reformed skeptic and now longtime church member.  At times borderline irreverent, the musings aim to be spot-on accurate about both the virtues and the foibles of the modern church and of the “church life.”

Adam’s Apple

adam and eve in the garden from http://revelationrevolution.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/adam-and-eve.jpg

For men, that lump in your throat — along with a missing rib — are distinct features that come to us courtesy of Adam, the first man of creation. The actual apple that tempted woman, man and mankind is instead thought to have been a pomegranate, an apricot, a fig or some other fruit more common to the Fertile Crescent than apples were in antiquity. However, the Bible is mute on the specifics of the matter, as disclosed in Genesis 3.

Anatomists attribute Adam’s apple not to a lodged piece of fruit — or guilt — choking us as yet another consequence of our original sin, but rather, to thick cartilage that protects the larynx, or voice box. Contrary to common belief, women have lovely lady versions of these lumps, too — would we call theirs Eve’s apples? Let’s not … The fairer variety typically don’t grow as large, protrude at a slightly different angle, and women generally have a higher body fat percentage than men, which affects how their apple appears. A man’s larger voice box gives him a deeper voice, but also a more prominent Adam’s apple. To round out your body of knowledge on the topic: the Adam’s apple is found in non-human species as well.

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
Genesis 3:6, Scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

(I Don’t Know Him From) Adam

Nick, It's a Wonderful Life
If someone tells you she doesn’t know a person from Adam, she’s telling you she doesn’t know him (or her, of course). More liberally, it’s possible that she’s heard of him or has even met him virtually; she just has no first-hand knowledge of him and wouldn’t recognize him in a crowd.

The Adam in this axiom is, of course, the first-created man, introduced to us — and into the world — in the Book of Genesis. In the expression, the comparison is to this historical Adam, who predates us to such a degree that no one can say for certain what he looked like, even though he’s familiar to us by reputation. In this same sense, being the archetypal human being, Adam represents all mankind, and she simply can’t distinguish the person being discussed from anyone else amongst the 9 billion of us traipsing about the Earth today.

A variant to this expression has perhaps passed into history, though the sentimental amongst us can still listen for Nick, the new owner of Martini’s tavern, tell the never-was George Bailey,“I don’t know you from Adam’s off-ox,” in the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The off-ox is the one behind the first ox relative to the driver, and thus, is least visible — and thus difficult to discern from any other ox.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Genesis 2:7, Scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

Three God-Honoring Reasons to Avoid the Lottery

This article first appeared on the LinkedIn page of Jeffrey Bishop Jan. 14, 2016 — shortly after the recent historic Powerball lottery win was announced.

The hubbub is over. At least three someones bought winning tickets to the historic $1.6 billion Powerball lottery.  Congratulations!

For those with the other 371 million tickets that were in play, can we stop to reflect on what just happened? Only in the afterglow of such an exciting time of fantastical imaginings about how those many pretty millions might be spent in leisure and in helping others can we get our rational brains to remember why we usually don’t – and really shouldn’t – play the lottery.

In the run-up over the past two weeks, lots of other experts weighed in on various reasons why we shouldn’t play the lottery. Many of these experts are from the Church, but somehow, most of the reasons have been secular: it’s a regressive tax on the poor; or the odds of winning are astronomically low; and history shows us that lottery winners are disproportionately unhappy – and destitute – within a few short years of winning, etc.

Clearly those are solid warrants to ditch the odds-playing, but there are a number of compelling God-honoring reasons to not roll the metaphorical dice on the lottery that maybe haven’t yet been unpacked:

1) There are better God-honoring returns on that investment. Odds are, you’re not going to win.  Indeed, the losing ticket in your hand sort of bears that out. Those who didn’t win literally threw away $2 – or for some players, large multiples of $2.

Lots of players try to justify their gambling – and perhaps also seek to persuade God to let them win – with expressions of all the good they would do with their winnings: tithing, paying off their church’s debt, alleviating poverty and homelessness in their communities and the like. They would surely give out of their abundance, if they were only thusly blessed. But that’s man’s way of thinking, not in keeping with God’s economy (see the story of the widow’s mites, Mark 12:41-44).

With those odds, it will never work out the way you’d wish and hope and pray. Instead, what if the 1.55 billion lottery tickets sold since the run-up started in November was given to such causes?  Imagine what an incredible return on investment $3 billion dollars would have for our Kingdom work (Luke 12:33)?

So you’re a casual player who just bought a single $2 ticket – it’s harmless fun, right? You might have spent that $2 on a coffee at Starbucks.  But $2 would also fund a couple meals at the homeless shelter; would buy a live chicken for hundreds of eggs for a family in Africa; or would smuggle a Bible into North Korea. Go for the biggest return on every dollar.

2) God doesn’t want us to get rich quick. God tells us this in His Word, in a number of places:

  • “A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” – Proverbs 28:20
  • “Dishonest money dwindles away,  but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” – Proverbs 13:11
  • “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” – Hebrews 13:5 (all verses New International Version)

Indeed, our original sin means that instead, we’re to work hard to eke out our living, until the end of our days here (Genesis 3:17). Gaining quick riches is in direct opposition to God’s will for His people – which means playing lotteries or gambling is, too.

3) We’re poor stewards of God’s talents when we gamble. Meager or flush, the treasure in our wallets and in our bank accounts is His, not ours.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells how each of us has been put into stewardship with varying amounts of God’s treasure (Matthew 25:14-13). He advises that we’re to be good stewards of that treasure – to invest it wisely and to seek a strong return on it – and he warns of dire consequences to those who don’t obey this wisdom.

With the odds stacked so high against any return on gambling “investments,” playing the odds in the lottery is worst than burying our money in the ground. At least that man in the parable was able to return to his Master the principle amount. Lottery spendings are lost to the Kingdom forever.

With the ubiquity of lotteries in almost every state and gambling halls on riverfronts, Reservations and enclaves across America, gambling somehow seems to have been absolved by the culture as sin to Christ-followers and to all others in these United States. But God’s edicts; His will and His wishes for goodness and blessings for each of us – are eternal for each of His good and faithful servants.

THE END
Copyright 2016

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The Church Deconstructed category is a “Church for Noobs” guide that offers a glib look at today’s mainline church, covering the lifecycle of a Christian from the perspective of a reformed skeptic and now longtime church member.  At times borderline irreverent, the musings aim to be spot-on accurate about both the virtues and the foibles of the modern church and of the “church life.”

On Faith and Worldview

The Pope addresses the US Congress in 2015.

Photo from USAToday.com

Originally published on the LinkedIn page of Jeffrey Bishop Oct. 8, 2015.  In this still-contentious political climate, it remains relevant today.

For a long time I’ve struggled to classify — for myself, if not for others — where exactly on the spectrum of political-economic leanings my particular worldview lies. Because unfortunately, it’s not clear — or rather, in my convictions, it’s plenty clear, but in our emerging binary-polarized schema, I don’t sort well.

While generally more conservative than otherwise, I’m probably batting less than .500 on agreement with the current Republican platform. And I am even less aligned to the Liberal perspective, though I find truths in a few of their causes as well.

But lo! The Pope addressed the Congress, and within the well-chosen (inspired?) words of his speech, I find I’m nearly 100% in lockstep with his perspectives on every major platform issue facing our Nation, the first world and our post-modern planet.

Maybe this coincidence is because we each strive to use the Bible and the teachings of our Savior Jesus the Chris as our moral guidepost, and not those of our own flawed consciences or of our world-stained political “leaders?”

To wit, while I don’t think I’ll ever choose to express my Christian faith through Catholicism, I find in this Pope the character, nature, conviction and Gospel truth of a true Prophet of God. And if there’s anything that our world needs short of the second coming of Christ, it’s Spirit-filled witnesses of righteousness from all of its “big-C” Church leaders.

Amen.

THE END
Copyright 2015

~

The Church Deconstructed category is a “Church for Noobs” guide that offers a glib look at today’s mainline church, covering the lifecycle of a Christian from the perspective of a reformed skeptic and now longtime church member.  At times borderline irreverent, the musings aim to be spot-on accurate about both the virtues and the foibles of the modern church and of the “church life.”

Representing your Faith Life With a ‘Life Verse’

Wall plaque with Joshua 24:15 engraved on it.

What’s your life verse?

For many Christians, whether they happen upon one, one happens upon them, or they intentionally scour their Bibles to find the “just right” expression, a life verse is the faith-driven equivalent to selecting a song lyric, a poetry verse or a pithy quote that deeply and uniquely represents you.

Similarly then, a life verse is often used in an email signature, put in vinyl letters on a wall at home, or, more permanently, tattooed onto a shoulder, arm, leg or back – and in that respect, sharing the verse is part of the experience of having one.

As I reflect on my Christian faith, I’ve come to realize that I’ve relied upon not one, but a number of life verses, in keeping with life’s transitions – a series of life verses that speak to my walk with Christ. Mile markers along my journey deeper into my faith.

An early life verse that resonated with me was found in Joshua 24:15: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” This affirmation of faith, spoken by a patriarch to cover the entirety of his family and of his home, spoke to me when my wife and I were first establishing our home and starting our family.  Not unlike the “Give us today our daily bread,” carved wood platters adorning our parents’ walls (Matthew 6:9-13), we christened our home with a cherry wood plaque, laser-etched with Joshua’s words – and the wisdom. It was important and meaningful for me to overtly establish this value and direction for our family; to put into words a solid faith-based guide for our forward motion together.

At a much later stage of my life, we were compelled to contemplate a rather difficult decision: whether or not to leave the Air Force after 12 years of active service. There were many positive and negative factors on each side of the scale, and the decision seemed to hinge mostly on our family’s economic security in unsure times. For the first time, we were tested to put our faith in our finances fully in the hands of the Lord our father, and not also in those of a seemingly maternal Air Force. We weighed and prayed our decision a lot – for months – and in doing so, soon enough had a God-honoring decision, and with it a profound sense of calm and faith and peace in a new life verse:

“ … Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? … do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Matthew 6:25-34).

It was more than coincidence – indeed, it was Providence! – that I was able to find a good job here in St. Louis; a job that started the Monday after my military service ended, providing me with continuous employment across the transition that I’ve been blessed to have ever since.

There’s nothing in the Bible that says a person has to find a life verse.  But unless one tries to encapsulate their entire faith experience into 5-7 words, there’s no harm in it either.  On balance, choosing one is probably good.  Indeed, for many contemporary Christians, having a life verse might be the sole scripture they ever commit to memory, providing an ever-present help needed in hard times – or that a friend or loved one needs to hear in witness.

While the passing of time through life is bittersweet, it’s humbling to look back at what I’ve gone through.  With the benefit of hindsight, it’s cheering to look ahead, knowing there will be more, different milestones ahead. And knowing that my Lord – and His Word – will be there with me, to guide and comfort along the way.

All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

THE END
Copyright 2016

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The Church Deconstructed category is a “Church for Noobs” guide that offers a glib look at today’s mainline church, covering the lifecycle of a Christian from the perspective of a reformed skeptic and now longtime church member.  At times borderline irreverent, the musings aim to be spot-on accurate about both the virtues and the foibles of the modern church and of the “church life.”