Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mountain Men

Mountains -- we sing about them; we write about them; we long to be in them. Mountains have held men's fascination throughout history. Names like Jim Bridger, Buffalo Bill Cody, Kit Carson, Jedediah Smith, and Zebulon Pike fill us with daydreams of conquering a vast, uncharted wilderness. Daniel Boon may have conquered the Appalachians, but Lewis and Clark pried open a window of knowledge about how immeasurable our world really is. The Mountain Men -- fur-trappers and pelt traders -- opened the routes to the fertile valleys of the West as they crossed the snow-capped peaks. Collectively, they came to know every river valley, safe passage route, teeming stream, mountain pass, fresh water source, and barren stretch of plain. They also knew the best hunting and wild game areas and, of course, Indian territory.

If you ever take time to explore mountains, it doesn't take long to picture a small log cabin next to a stream, stocked with enough provisions to hole up for the winter. We can picture times spent in the primeval forests tracking game, armed with only a trusty long rifle, hunting knife, and a hard-won knowledge of the woods. It doesn't take long for us to get in touch with that spark within us that longs to be self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-assured. Standing on the top of a mountain looking down into a valley filled with verdant trees, gurgling streams, and plentiful game reminds us that there was a time when men didn't have to sit in a cubicle, surrounded by artificial light facing deadlines instead of danger. Breathing pine-scented air contrasts with the car exhaust we have grown used to. Rousing from a heavy slumber to cool air washing over our faces gives us a peace in our heart and mind that we may rarely feel and often can't find even if we wanted to.

Men, we can't all live in the mountains. We can't all be self-reliant trappers living off the land. We live in the valleys; we live in the cities; we live in the towns; we live in the plains, and we live in the fields and farms. That's life in the 21st century.

But we can be "Mountain Men" no matter where we live. We can be the leaders, the explorers, the men who provide for their families and for their communities. We may not stalk game in the woods, but we can put food on the table. We may not blaze new trails through rugged canyon passes, but we can find new ways to do our work. We may not be fiercely individualistic, but we can stand apart from the crowd.

Collectively, we can seek out and know the dangers of the world. Together we can know how to fight these dangers as we arm ourselves with the power of God's relentless Word. We can lead our families and our communities to this knowledge too. And in this pursuit I say, let us all be Mountain Men.

See you over the next ridge.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back to School

Ahh, it's that time of the year again. Stores hawk their "back-to-school" wares in bold print; children are drug into fitting rooms to get sized for clothes they can grow into; bus drivers learn new routes and consider the challenges ahead; teachers staple colorful rules and pictures to bulletin boards, and parent's everywhere are preoccupied with their own back-to-school rituals.

For some parents the first day of school is the first day of significant separation from their child. Mothers will anxiously part from their precious little angels and stifle a tear as their child bounds forward into the wonderful world of education. These women will encourage, uplift, and sustain each other until school dismisses, and their child is safely back in the fold. Veteran school moms will view their sisters with a twinge of envy as they remember their own first-partings, but they will smile the smile of the insider, knowing their child will be cared for, loved, entertained and, with a little luck, will even learn a thing or two along the way.

For some moms, the first day of school will hit them hard as their "baby" will be leaving the house. She will come face to face with her own mortality as she sees a foreshadowing of a later empty nest. She will return to a quieter house, fewer demands on her time and, maybe, be able to watch the TV shows of her own choosing. The emptier house will remind her that her job as mom has now moved to a different level. Her child is growing up, and she must now let her young one flex the wings she tried so hard to fashion over the years.

Guys, we need to know about this. The annual back-to-school thing is a big deal for the women in our lives. Men, we have a tendency to see the rites of passage for our children in a different way. We may get stoked about the first fish our child caught, or the first basket made, or the first touchdown scored, or the first trophy awarded and -- dare we say it -- we might even get emotional at the first speeding ticket. But let's face it guys, we are not all that in tune with the whole school process.

Guys, we really do need to be involved in our child's education. We need to be there at Parent's Day, PTA meetings, field trips, and homework. Men, we need to spend as much time with our kid's academics as we do with their sports; the benefits last a lifetime.
Guys, not only do we need to get involved in our child's education, we need to be active learners ourselves. We need to read, go to seminars, read, attend lectures, read, and even attend some classes. Our world is constantly changing, and nothing prepares us for the future like being a lifelong learner.

Welcome back to school!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Celebration of Fathers

Recently I was privileged to attend a birthday party for Lewis. Lewis celebrated his two-year milestone with a huge gathering in the park. Over 80 people were on hand to sing "Happy Birthday" to Lewis for this was a very special day. Lewis was born premature and his chance of survival was very low. After months in the neo-natal intensive care unit, followed by more than a year of intensive therapy, hospital visits, and surgeries, Lewis became two.

In his short life Lewis has developed certain likes and dislikes. For instance, he likes trains; he dislikes sitting still. He likes "Curious George" the monkey; he dislikes getting his face washed. He likes trucks; he dislikes taking a nap. He likes the TV remote; he dislikes "time outs." He likes "Frosty," the pet dog; he dislikes being cuddled. He is a typical boy. He still faces an uphill health battle in that he has never developed the ability to eat or drink on his own. All of his nourishment is delivered via a feeding tube inserted into his stomach. He carries around a small backpack that contains his food and the pump that provides his life-giving liquid. This backpack slows Lewis down, the weight keeping him from all-out running. Oh, that reminds me, he likes to run; he dislikes walking.

Lewis's mom and dad, grandpas and grandmas pulled all the stops for this special celebration of life. There were the obligatory balloons, presents, and cake. In honor of the birthday boy, a train was there for rides, and the cake was a "Thomas the Train" cake. But, perhaps best of all, Lewis was free of his backpack for the afternoon. He was in his glory! He ran, he laughed, he chased, he rode, he laughed, and he played.

As I watched, I noticed an interesting thing: Lewis's dad was always nearby. He hovered just far enough to give Lewis his freedom, but close enough to be there if something would go wrong. Whenever dad was called away for a chore, one of the grandpas took his place. There was always a dad nearby -- just in case. Sitting on the outside of the shelter was the patriarch of the family -- Lewis' great-grandfather. He watched over his clan with eyes that had watched over many a child through the years. He smiled as he saw the torch passed to the younger dads.

Dads, no matter what our personal life is like, our family is job one. We watch over them, giving them the freedom to falter, but we are always there to build up. What a joy that is! Let us never tire of that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Of Monkeys and Traditions

I just read an interesting story about how traditions begin. It seems as if some scientists wanted to conduct an experiment to see if they could determine behavior. They placed five monkeys in a closed cage with a set of steps in the middle. They hung a banana from the top of the cage that was only accessible by climbing the steps. As soon as the first monkey started up the steps, they drenched the other four monkeys with cold water. They kept repeating this procedure. Each time a monkey climbed the steps to retrieve the banana they hosed the other monkeys with cold water. The results of the experiment were fascinating.

At first the monkeys that did not climb the stairs would run for cover as soon as one of the monkeys ascended the first step. But they could not escape the cold water. They then started violently beating any monkey that started to climb up the steps. The scientists stopped spraying them with cold water when this happened. Soon no monkey would try to climb the steps; instead, they would sit and ignore the food.

Then the scientists removed one monkey from the group and replaced it with a monkey that had never experienced the cold water. Soon that monkey would start up the steps and get thrashed for the effort. The scientists then removed another of the original monkeys and watched as this monkey tried to climb the stairs to the banana. The other monkeys would beat the newcomer, even the monkey that was not part of the original group learned to beat any monkey that dared climb the stairs in spit eof never experiencing the cold water.

The scientists eventually replaced all five of the original monkeys with monkeys that never experienced the cold water. All five would just sit and ignore the banana, refusing to climb the stairs, even though they had no first-hand experience as to why stair climbing led to beatings. They learned and practiced tradition over first-hand experience.

Men, how many of us are like those replacement monkeys, blindly following traditions without knowing -- or caring to know -- the reason behind the traditions? Have we been so conditioned by society that we blindly follow others' orders and adjust our typical way of doing things without questioning why? Have we been so conditioned by traditions and the "We've always done it that way," mentality that we are blind to all non-traditional methods and procedures?

Men, I am going to challenge you to forget your comfort zone of easy excuses and step up to be a leader in your family. Be a leader that prays out loud -- daily, sings out loud -- in church, and is seen to be a lifelong learner -- by actually reading a book.

It's my guess that not too many of us do all three. Why? We have never done it that way before.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Here We Go Again

We are just about in the middle of primary season -- the time when local politicians try to convince the voters that "all politics are local." We are bombarded by TV ads, radio spots, yard signs, and newspaper editorials; blogs and phone calls tout the merits of each candidate while putting down the qualifications of opponents. I find it amusing that if we really believed all the pre-ballot hyperbole every candidate should not be elected at best or put in jail at worst.

Former President Bill Clinton summed up the political process in a 1992 speech to the Detroit Economic Club, "No wonder Americans hate politics when, year in and year out, they hear politicians make promises that won't come true because they don't even mean them -- campaign fantasies that win elections but don't get nations moving again." He certainly is qualified to make that statement.

So what is a guy supposed to do? It's easy to say politicians are self-serving, putting their personal interest above the good of the whole. It's easy to say most national politicians have saddled our future generations with a debt seemingly impossible to repay. It's easy to say local politicians are following the lead of the national trend to taxation and slim majority legislation. It's easy to become apathetic and callous to all the campaign hype. It's easy to be cynical, critical, and sarcastic.

What is hard is to actually care -- to examine what office seekers write, say, and do. What is hard is to try and make a difference with your ballot. What is hard is to support the will of the majority. What is hard is to vote for the pro-life candidate, even if they want to raise taxes.

What is even harder is to get involved to the point that you would run for office. We have many Christians running for election this primary season. Perhaps we need to seek them out, support them, work for them and, most of all . . . pray for them.

In fact, why don't we pray for all of them -- even the non-Christians?