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Monday, May 14, 2018

Paying attention?

I'm having one of those days when there are so many ideas / thoughts / feels swirling around inside, and I struggle to make sense of it all. Not in a bad way, not at all -- this is good stuff, but I wonder sometimes whether there are really profound connections trying to be made in this mixture or if it's just a chaotic jumble that needs to be shoveled out to make room for good stuff. It's hard to tell.

So here are a few of the ingredients involved:

I went biking yesterday. First 20+ mile ride of the season, and it was fantastic. Beautiful ride combining roads and trails up to Sibley Park (a gem) and back through New London. I took pictures that in and of themselves add to the chaotic jumble / potential profundity. Approaching the park, I saw a doe and her twin yearling fawns cross the road in front of me. Rode through the woods on a park trail, pausing to glance at plaques that identified the differences between red oak and burr oak and lots of other flora. Got to the interpretive center and found all kinds of delightful stuff, most notably a clear and coherent timeline of glaciation through this part of the world and how it formed the landscape I live in. Here's the one picture I took inside the interpretive center:

I biked around for a while exploring the park, but there's a lot more to see there than I had time or stamina to enjoy. I'll be back. As I was leaving, I found another plaque that I'd been watching for, knowing there was some info at the park about this topic:

As I was headed back south and east toward home, near the same spot I'd see the doe and fawns on my way in, another deer was grazing along the road. I thought, how cool! I'll stop and take a picture because I don't know how close she'll let me get!

She actually let me get pretty close. This deer is obviously acclimated to living in a state park where people on bicycles are a normal part of life, even when they almost capsize while trying to juggle a phone and take a picture while pedaling past. She was completely unfazed.

 So I shook my head about wild animals that aren't wild, and headed for home. Stopped to rescue a painted turtle crossing the paved road and got embroiled in a philosophical conversation with the turtle about why the swamp on the north side was better than the swamp on the south side, so much so that it was worth risking messy death under the wheels of a passing vehicle. He declined to explain, and I was so caught up in the conversation I completely forgot to take a picture of him. I left him on the north side of the road, facing downhill toward the water, hoping he'll have the good sense to keep going that direction rather than climbing back up on the pavement.

I turned eastward, wondering if I'm any smarter than that turtle. And a short way from the park, the deer, the turtle, the memory of oxcarts, just by way of contrast, people are building enormous houses and encouraging others to do the same:

I got home last night and sat for a while on the end of my dock, pondering the sunset and watching the minnows do their regular evening dance, jumping out of the water just at the edge of your eyesight, dancing on their tails for a fractional moment, falling back into the water and making tiny ripples in the lake. I wonder -- are they leaping out of fear? hunger? ecstasy? frustration? Related or unrelated, a half dozen bass cruised back and forth in the water like cool teenagers at the mall. A pair of great blue herons performed an acrobatic mid-course correction and swept down to take up station on the point at the north end of my bay. 

As I walked up from the dock, deer grazed in my front lawn. They were thoroughly offended by my intrusion and acted much more like wild deer, though they're still pretty acclimated to my presence. They didn't, after all, run off into the woods in a panic, but jogged off, then stood at a distance huffing and snorting and stamping, and when I went inside they quickly came back to resume their meal as the light faded and the stars came out. 

This morning as I stumbled around with my first cup of coffee in hand I glanced down in the meadow and saw -- for the first time since I moved here last August -- a skunk. I've caught a whiff of them a couple times (which I don't mind -- it reminds me of using skunk scent as a cover while deer hunting up at the farm where I grew up -- good memories of chill November mornings), but I haven't seen them. And this one was a looker. If there are skunk models, this one belongs on the red carpet in front of the paparazzi. Larger than most, with a beautiful plume of a tail held up like a banner, graceful black and white streaks trailing behind as she confidently worked her way across the grass and up into the woods. 

After coffee and time talking with God in my recliner-of-meeting (more on that momentarily) I went out and set up an old drag -- a harrow, really -- that I found last fall back in the brush. I hooked it up to the 4-wheeler and spent an hour dragging a patch of bare dirt where we're going to plant grass seed this week and pray for rain. The bare dirt lies over the area where we mined sand and gravel last fall to create a parking lot next to our worship center. That glaciation I mentioned before left huge deposits of sand and gravel all through this area, and we were able to dig out enough from that hill to build a sub-layer in our new parking area. Then we took the topsoil we'd removed from that parking area and covered over the pit at the top of the hill. Dragging and leveling it this morning is the penultimate step in creating a beautiful patch of lawn. 

Thus far you might be thinking I'm just writing a scattered journal of the last 24 hours or so, and you might be right. But what's got me pondering this morning is Oswald Chambers' reflection in My Utmost for His Highest

You must keep yourself fit to let the life of the Son of God be manifested, and you cannot keep yourself fit if you give way to self-pity. Our circumstances are the means of manifesting how wonderfully perfect and extraordinarily pure the Son of God is. The thing that ought to make the heart beat is a new way of manifesting the Son of God. It is one thing to choose the disagreeable, and another thing to go into the disagreeable by God’s engineering. If God puts you there, He is amply sufficient.Keep your soul fit to manifest the life of the Son of God. Never live on memories; let the word of God be always living and active in you. 
If Oswald is right, and God engineers our circumstances (and I believe he does), then none of the last 24 hours is an accident. There are enormous questions of stewardship, delight, engagement, relationship, vocation, dependence, sabbath, and so much more involved in all these things. Here are a few of the many questions sprouting like ferns in my mind: 
  • What does it mean, this fascination rumbling in me with the oxcarts that plodded their way from Winnipeg to St. Paul and back, some wandering through this Decision Hills campus? Why do they intrigue me so much, and is God saying something in that? What stewardship is involved in the traces of those old roadways from the 1800's that are still visible on this property?
  • Why am I wired such that the minnows, the deer, the skunk, the trees, the ferns are so life-giving to me? Is everyone really, deep down, like this, or is it just me? Why is too much concrete like kryptonite to my soul?
  • At 52 years of age now, what does it mean to steward my body well? I thrill to be able to make a 20 mile bike ride on a whim, and I look forward to more such this summer. Are there other things in my body-management that I'm missing? How to live in such a way that I'm not doing myself damage, that I'm maximizing the life given to me?
  • I am the servant of a church that owns these 70 acres, and I hear tons of opinions about how to steward it. How to balance the urge toward property development with the longing to keep wildness, if not wilderness, intact here on this 70+ acres I oversee? 
  • What does Christian faith have to say to those who are deeply engaged with the earth -- the man who has no desire to travel to Mexico to build an orphanage, whose faith drives him not to accost a neighbor about matters of heaven and hell, but rather to seek the deep satisfaction of growing things, of crops well tended, of rain at the right times, of animals nurtured not exploited? Is the work of Wendell Berry and others like him an aspect of Christianity we dismiss at our peril?
  • What is God saying to me as I look at the tracks he's left in my own history? I grew up a few miles east of the old Pembina oxcart trail, still visible in aerial photos of the fields southeast of Fertile. I spent my youth learning to work the soil, to tend the cattle in the heat of summer and the brutal cold of winter. The realities of that upbringing shape my days still. What of the intertwined extended family that imparted faith to me at Faaberg Lutheran Church? Why is this business of living with deer and skunks so gut-level important to me, so much so that the collection of essays, the book manuscript is still churning in the bowels of my computer and I can't for the life of me figure out what to do with it? Why am I fascinated with the life happening just below the surface of the lake? And what about that deep, deep sense that all of this belongs in the sphere of the church, not the church of chairs and new carpet and seminaries and taking attendance, but rather the church that is knots of people following Jesus into each other's homes and lives, caring for their neighbors and communities, knowing each others' children and allergies and heartaches and hopes? 
  • In all of this, what is my voice and what word am I called to speak, to write, to pray?
I am beset this morning with a sense that I'm caught up in the midst of something God is saying, God is engineering, and I don't want to miss it. I don't want to blithely, ignorantly go my way. How many shepherds were working the Sinai in 1400 BC -- but only Moses noticed that the bush was not burning up. How long did he have to watch to figure that out? My guess is that Moses was the sort of guy who was paying attention, and so he noticed when God was engineering his circumstances. 

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