Sunday, September 15, 2013

Safely Rest

And now Grandpa is gone, too. And I have too many things to say to find words for them. He was one of the best men I ever knew: kind, patient, generous, with a quiet happiness that filled up everyone around him. For all that, he loved to argue--he taught me that you can disagree without being disagreeable, that you can ask questions without losing faith.

In my childhood, I see him pottering about with the bee hives, driving his big blue truck which always smelled of cigarette smoke and honey. He ran the extractor in the basement of one of our old outbuildings, giving us chunks of beeswax to chew on in the long dry grass of a summer afternoon. There were two tiny seats behind the main ones in the truck and Toolboy and I would ride with him up to his house to be put to work. He was a person who taught without appearing to teach, as if it naturally flowed out of him. When I got to law school, I found that he had already paved the way with a lifetime of the Socratic method.

All through his life, he loved the things that grew. His greenhouses overflowed, and he was always researching how to do more. It was only last year that he figured out that tomatoes and strawberries should be in separate greenhouses, and built accordingly. He never stopped learning, or trying new things. In the last year, he was thinking of taking up model airplane flying and airsoft guns.

Despite being nearly deaf to voices, he was a careful and patient listener. (On TV he mostly limited himself to westerns, where it didn't matter so much whether you caught the dialogue or not.) Nor, no matter how great his own burdens, did he ever stop caring about others. If he had any fault, it was taking too much on himself and not wanting to burden others.

Mostly his last years were taken up with caring for his wife and daughter, which he did tirelessly and with great joy. With them gone, his strength failed him and he waited, quietly but happily, for his turn to come.

It is perhaps inevitable that those who have lived the longest and the best are the least free with their advice. But I will pass on the one piece I can remember from the past four years: "Be sure to play with your kids."

Oh, well, there was the other one, the one he always said, "Be very careful."

I'll try.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

A Different Thought on Giving

Money conversations are always awkward ones, and religious money conversations are doubly so. Even people who would never dream of supporting a prosperity gospel at other times seem unable to avoid it when they start talking about giving, and phrases like, "You can never out-give God" pop up. (Actually, you can. We've done it.) Those of us whose experience with money has not reinforced these cheery phrases tend to just clam up or walk out. So dialogue doesn't happen.

Sometimes people try to broaden it by talking about giving of "time, talents or treasures," but besides being obnoxiously alliterative, there are times in life when one not only doesn't have cold hard cash, one doesn't have time, either, and one's talents have shriveled up from sheer exhaustion. Discussions about giving can just be another paper-cuts-and-lemon-juice reminder of how little you have to give and therefore how unspiritual and disobedient you will have to continue to be (and, perhaps, how badly you must have sinned to be in that position, whether you can figure out an offense or not).

First of all, the emphasis on the New Testament is on giving out of abundance, which I submit right off the top should mean that no one should feel that they ought to be giving if they genuinely don't think they can afford it. People are supposed to give as God has prospered them (I Cor. 16:2), not 'till it hurts.

But I think we may be missing an even more critical point about giving, which is "Why?" God doesn't need our money. He's got the cattle on a thousand hills and the whole world in his hands and all that. Nope. Not for God.

Some people talk about it being for us, so we can remember that everything belongs to God, and that may be part of it. Some people think it's so that God can give us more stuff, and they're just wrong.

But in the New Testament, when it talks about giving, it talks about a different reason: for unity and fairness within the body:
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 2 Cor. 8:13-14.

If giving is really about sharing within the body, then something is true--where there is a giver, there must also be a receiver. Which means that people who don't have time, talents, or treasures to give, still have something to give--their need. Sometimes, that is the hardest thing to give.

And yet, sometimes that is what God has blessed us with--a need, a gap, a hole, that others can have the opportunity to fill, so that there can be unity, so that the whole body can grow up together into Christ. If everyone had surplus and no one had a lack, then there would be nothing to draw us together as a body. It is the flow of things within the body that binds it together.

Of course, there are other needs besides pecuniary ones and other gifts to give, some that don't make it onto anyone's asset lists at all and yet are the stuff life is made out of: friendship, example, comfort, a smile. Maybe stewardship as part of the body requires looking at both parts: Where do you have an abundance that you can share? Where do you have a lack that others can supply? Because I'm willing to bet we all have something in both columns.

Monday, September 02, 2013

In Which I Stay Out of Trouble

We went to the beach this weekend, mostly, I think, to see if we could. To reassure ourselves that we would not be stuck at home for the rest of our lives, and to remind ourselves how nice home is. We got there and back all in one piece, so I suppose we succeeded. We built a sand castle, or at least a Sand Lump. We got the kite up in the air, briefly. We visited the nature center. I even took the camera with batteries, although it may be next year before I download the pictures.

One area we really lucked out was in a hotel with a full breakfast--not a wimpy offering of bagels and orange juice, but the full deal with eggs and bacon and everything, constantly replenished for two and a half hours. This made the children happy, as they got to eat cold cereal in unnatural colors. And it made me happy, except for the effort wasted on packing breakfast food.

For Labor Day weekend the hotel was booked solid and this morning the breakfast room was packed. The petite lady who seemed to be running the hotel all but single-handedly had kindly placed us in a room right next to the short staircase down into the breakfast room, so that DOB could walk down the stairs when he didn't want to use the wheelchair and elevator. However, when we got into the breakfast room that day and there was nowhere to sit, he went back upstairs to await developments while the children wandered around rootless with yogurt cups.

Finally I spotted a tiny table with three seats that seemed to be clearing. I stood beside it for a moment to see if it really was or someone had just gotten up with refills. A woman with an accent that I will not try to classify better than non-English-speaking European asked me, "Are you leaving this one?"

"I'm just seeing if it's available," I said. She wandered off.

A moment later, I saw that a large table was coming clear. I walked over to it. The same woman--the funny thing was, she looked rather like me, not doppelganger similar but enough that if a police description had gone out we both would have been picked up--was suddenly there again.

"I'm taking this table," she said, "You wanted that other one."

"Not really," I said, "This one would work better for us." (At the moment the children and yogurt cups had wandered off.)

"There are five of us right here," she said, "My husband is here." (He appeared to be trying to settle her down, unsuccessfully.)

"I have four small children and my husband can't walk," I said. She was completely unimpressed even by the disability card. I was more than a little annoyed. And then suddenly the mental picture of two middle-aged women duking it out in a restaurant breakfast room over a table overtook my anger with amusement.

Later I wished I could have thought of something very gracious, or very cutting, to say. But both failed me. I just said, "Fine, take it."  And went back to the three-seat table.

Whereupon the children and yogurt cups reappeared and complained about the shortage of chairs. But within a few minutes the next small table over opened up and we squished them together and DOB rejoined us and we had a decent breakfast after all, though we didn't get in line too close behind the other family.