A former student, Preston Tippen, saw this in one of his local stores in Wisconsin. I am told they also fry cheese there. Feel free to comment.
When I claim to have seen the future I mean I have repeatedly watched the 2012 Kia Soul commercial (see the previous posting). Seemingly set in the dark and dangerous future when humans face off against invading aliens in a post-apocalyptic urban landscape, Kia wants us to know we have a trinitarian source of salvation: three gigantic hamsters who both drive a cute little Kia Soul AND shuffle to “Party Rock Anthem” by the somewhat rudely named group LMFAO. Bless their little vermin hearts, they teach us to dance our hatred, conflicts, and fears away; then they drive off into a considerably brighter rural future. Peachy. And problematic.
The first problem is this: anyone worth their weight in cedar chip hamster bedding can tell you the dire end facing humans is the dreaded zombie apocalypse, NOT some mythical alien invasion. The real threat is the “undead human”, not some strange alien being. Zombies look like us; heck they were us until evil, i.e. death, utterly and totally got the upper hand. Now they wander the earth looking for human brains to eat…or something like that. Theologically speaking what we have to worry about is not some external threat, like aliens, but the evil already within us. The “other” won’t destroy us nearly as quickly as the “self” can and will. We are our own worst enemy. As N.T.Wright points out in his book, Evil and the Justice of God, contemporary people are incredibly naïve with regard to the topic of evil. We insist the “other” person is evil, but I am okay. We attempt to draw the line demarcating good and evil between ourselves and the “other”. However, Wright argues, the line runs through each and every individual. Good and evil co-exist within everyone. To deny this fundamental truth can be deadly, at least in a metaphorical sense and sometimes in a very real sense.
Second, unfortunately, it isn’t easy to overcome evil and its end results, such as hatred, violence, and death. If the only thing standing between us and world peace was huge genetically engineered hamsters we’d be cruising to utopia. If it was as easy as teaching those same hamsters to dance to dubstep and drive a sporty Korean car, we’d be on easy street. Life would be peachy. However, moving forward to a peaceful future is much more difficult than figuring out how to create 5’6” 250 pound dancing hamsters. We need to face the “real” us, the “real” me. That is difficult, and some days it is almost impossible. It isn’t easy to come to terms with the harsh reality that we are often driven by self interest, both individually and as a group: I am more important than you; my tribe is more important than your tribe. We can’t dance away the alienation that develops between people. We can’t party away the tendency to strike out at the “others” who are seen as threats to our personal advancement.
Some Christians have long argued the only way to avoid a post-apocalyptic wasteland is to die to self and selfishness and rise to new life in Christ. Commitment to the trans-tribal and trans-temporal Kingdom of God replaces our shallow and narrow tribal connections and the urgency of the immediate. The lordship of Christ both humbles and places our small selves in perspective. We, as Paul suggest of himself and his relationship to Christ, are slaves of Christ, not the other way round. We are called and charged with the task of being ambassadors of Christ and his Kingdom. This involves hard work, faith, and hope. No hamsters, no dancing, no wishful thinking.
[Please note: I have followed one of the blog rules: every fifth posting will mention hamsters. And I fulfilled my hope that I could mention N.T. Wright in the same posting as the hamsters.]
Yesterday, shortly before heading out to Brothers’ Pizza for lunch, I quickly checked Facebook. Imagine my shock upon learning my blog had won an award. Specifically, Jessica Rowles Ramsey gave me and my blog a “Sunshine Award”. Thank you! So far as I can tell, there are NO cash prizes nor will I immediately rocket to blogging fame. At least, I hope that isn’t the end result. Jessica was initially responding to her receiving the same affirmation from a friend who mentioned her blog (see below). The idea, and I like this because it serves multiple good causes, is to answer a few simple questions in your blog and then mention bloggers you follow and would recommend to others. Oh, yes, one is also to include the “Sunshine Logo”. I will do my best with my limited computer skills. And the questions are:
Favorite Color. This is something of a challenge. I am color blind; and, therefore, I have no clue as to what I see. When people learn I can’t distinguish blue/purple and green/brown they often ask what may be the silliest question ever asked: “So, what color does blue look like to you?” Honestly, how would I know? I usually respond, “Well, I don’t know. I just lump it into what I like to think of as the Blurple color family.”
Favorite Number. This is an odd one, but not the oddest, as you will see below. Still, I have an answer. 21: the number Roberto Clemente wore during his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Oh my, that guy could play the game. Second choice: 9. Alan Shearer wore that number and played for Newcastle. BTW, he holds the record for goals scored in the English Premier League: 260. The second place player? Andrew Cole with 187. Yeah. Not even close really.
Favorite Animal. The answer here is the lowly and misunderstood pig. I have great affection for the marginalized even when it comes to the animal kingdom. The average pig is smarter than the average dog, and they are actually “clean” animals. Given the choice of wallowing in mud or clean cool water a pig will pick the water. The reason they wallow? They can’t perspire and they need the liquid to evaporate and cool themselves down.
Favorite non-alcoholic drink. Milk. The stuff you purchase at the grocery store is acceptable, but the milk produced by Apple Valley Creamery, www.applevalleycreamery.com/home.php , is amazing. And they deliver to our door! If you live in the Mechanicsburg/Dillsburg area, check them out.
Facebook or Twitter. Really? How can you say anything of substance in 140 characters? I predict Twitter will further lead to the decline of American society…as if we weren’t doing a fair job on that front prior to the creation of Twitter.
My Passion. Passion? That is a rather intimidating word. It kinda makes me think of sure and certain death if I didn’t have it…like air. I am definitely passionate about a steady and ample supply of air. Let’s change the word to “interest”. In that case, I really enjoy collecting old milk bottles. See favorite non-alcoholic drink above. It starts to make sense, right? Perhaps I will write a blog about collecting milk bottles.
Getting or Giving Gifts. Well, considering the fact that I am usually quite clueless as to what to give other people, I guess I’ll pick “getting.” It is easier.
Favorite Pattern. Isn’t this odder than favorite number? I think the answer is the vertical black and white stripes of Newcastle’s home jersey. I admit I may have totally misunderstood the question.
Favorite Day of the Week. Saturday mornings from mid-August to early May is the winner. That is when English Premier League teams play. Saturday, in general, is when Messiah College sports teams play. On this point, I am rather partial to Saturday afternoons when my sons and their fellow swimmers are in the college pool. Saturday evenings are good also when my little soccer buddies are scampering around Shoemaker Field. BTW, they beat Division I Bucknell University this past Saturday evening. I was happy.
Favorite Flower. I am going to cheat, and say redbud trees. A tree isn’t a flower, but redbud trees have wonderful flowers on them. AND I am told they are purple.
As for the recommended blogs, I must admit I am so new to the blogosphere (is that a word?), and I don’t religiously follow any bloggers. I have, however, found the following people to be engaging and thoughtful.
Jessica Rowles Ramsey’s “Tuning this Life” http://tuningthislife.wordpress.com/
Shawn Smucker’s “Shawn Smucker” http://shawnsmucker.com/
Matt Gorkos’ “Ramblin Rev” http://ramblingrev-mgorkos.blogspot.com/2012/04/chapter-1-part-2.html
Scott McKnight’s “Jesus Creed” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/
Byron Borger’s “Hearts and Minds Book Notes” http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/
Thanks for reading. Do your best to remain calm, but be warned the next blog is number 5, and that means hamsters will be mentioned.
Over the Easter weekend I made an important and foolish decision: I agreed to play golf with complete strangers. I have NO idea what I was thinking. I love the game; but, despite my cultural heritage and genetic links to the homeland, it is painfully clear the game does not love me. I usually play with my three friends, Dick, Jim and Ron, at a course so far out of the way that no one with any real duffing skills goes there. The course is our speed. Walt, the owner and designer, decided he wasn’t “making it” as a farmer, and so he turned the farm into a golf course. At one point there were only thirteen holes. Thirteen. And next to the second fairway is a horse pasture. I am not making this up. It is my kinda course.
Like I said, I have no idea what I was thinking. Perhaps I was inspired that some guy named “Bubba” had just won the Masters. If a “Bubba” can win that tournament, I guess I figured I could play with strangers. Another reason for that fateful decision is this: I felt sorry for my nephew, Eric. I was watching Newcastle, my soccer team, play Bolton, his team. On Saturday mornings between mid-August and mid-May I sit in the living room watching the Fox Soccer channel with my laptop on so I can follow the other EPL games…and check Facebook. Early in the game Eric updated his Facebook status informing readers he needed people to enter the “Second Annual Push the Rock” ministry golf outing fundraiser. When he posted that status Bolton was doing okay, not great, but they were holding their own against a far superior team. Lacking confidence in Newcastle, I wrote, “If Newcastle wins today, I will be part of your group.” I was joking and toying with him. Seemingly Newcastle had been toying with Bolton as well. The final score was 2-0, and at the end of the game Newcastle was challenging for a top five spot, and Bolton was still fighting to keep from being relegated. As I said, I felt sorry for Eric. He’s a great guy working for a very good international sports ministry organization. He just can’t be trusted to pick a high quality soccer team to follow.
So, here I am a few days later trying to salvage a little personal dignity knowing full well there will be little or no personal dignity on the day of the tournament. To make matters worse I just learned Corie, Eric’s wife, will be part of our group. I really enjoy Corie, but for some reason she mercilessly picks on me. I have no idea why that is the case. I have never pestered her. So, in addition to playing that infernal game with strangers, I am also playing with Corie, who so far as I can tell is a gifted athlete. At least, she played soccer at the collegiate level with a respectable program. I am praying the two sports are sufficiently different that she will be as bad as me. If not, I will claim my advanced years are the reason “I got beat by a girl.”
I wish I was as good as Bubba Watson or Tiger Woods or Arnie Palmer or Tom Morris, Jr. or Tom Morris, Sr. Well, not father and son Morris, they are long dead. But, you know what I mean. I look at great golfers and think, “How do they do that?” I am just a clown when I pick up a golf club. The first time I golfed I hit a barn. The second time I golfed I hit a house so hard you could hear the impact over the noise of a circular saw cutting two by fours. After that outing I took a break from golf and moved to Kenya for a year. Literally, I left the country. Upon returning my friends announced they found the perfect course for me. There were no large buildings for me to hit. Then one of them pointed out that the fifth hole had that maintenance shed to the left and behind the tee-area. But there was no way I could hit that. They forgot that half way down the fairway and to the right there was a large limestone slab standing behind a small pond. I assure you, if you swing hard enough and inaccurately enough you can ricochet a ball off that stone and send it flying behind you to hit the shed. I know. I did it. I think I broke a window, but I am not sure about that. I do remember the howls of laughter, however.
All of this leads me to think of another person I consider one of my spiritual heroes: Henri Nouwen. The poor man was plagued by self-doubt and searched long and hard for acceptance. All the while he was revered by thousands and thousands of adoring readers. His book, Clowning in Rome, is helpful. Written during a five month stay in Rome, Nouwen was torn between, on the one hand, the power, glory, and pageantry present in the Vatican City and the ancient/modern city of Rome and, on the other hand, the clowns. Not “actual” clowns, but people who lived on the margins and engaged in what surely seemed like foolishness to those in power. People who collected drunks off the streets at night and took them to safe and warm locations caught Nouwen’s attention. People who cared for the elderly and disabled captured his imagination. People who “wasted” their time with grade-school dropouts impressed him. He writes, “…I started to realize that in the great circus of Rome, full of lion-tamers and trapeze artists whose dazzling feats claim our attention, the real and true story was told by the clowns. Clowns are not in the center of the events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tension created by the heroes we came to admire. The clowns don’t have it together, they do not succeed in what they try, they are awkward, out of balance, and left-handed, but…they are on our side. We respond to them not with admiration but with sympathy, not with amazement but with understanding, not with tension but with a smile. Of the virtuosi we say, ‘How can they do it?’ Of the clowns we say, ‘They are like us.’ The clowns remind us with a tear and a smile that we share the same human weaknesses.” (p. 2)
And yet those “clowns” Nouwen observed were and are important witnesses to the kingdom. Perhaps, just perhaps, they should be our role models. What we are called to do is so much bigger than what most of us can pull off in an impressive fashion. Often we look foolish. However, our fumbling feebleness is no excuse for not attempting to do our best. We do the best we can, as silly as it often appears, knowing God is glorified in our humble, sincere, and awkward attempts to point people in God’s direction. So, come May 5th, I will be the best (and most incompetent) golfer at the tournament. I can handle the ridicule, if it means other people are empowered to be kingdom builders in places where I can’t go.
Corie, dearest, please don’t make me cry.