Overheard


Lady 1: “Why are you buying that mug?”

Lady 2: “Because it’s on sale, and I don’t have one.”

Lady 1: “But you don’t drink coffee. Why do you need an insulated coffee mug?”

Lady 2: “I just ordered a coffee drink. I could use it.”

Lady 1: “You know you’ll never use it. It will just sit on a shelf.”

Fortunately the lady with common sense prevailed, and they left without the on-sale coffee mug. But I couldn’t help but wonder what the next item will be that tempts “Lady 2” to part with her money.

America’s “shop ’till you drop” mentality is symptomatic of meaninglessness of our times. Lady 2’s shopping desire probably comes from one of the following causes: extreme loneliness, self-centeredness, or some pain in her life she’s trying to cover up.

It’s easy to see why Jesus said that money often gets in the way of a person entering the Kingdom. It competes for our attentions. It prevents us from seeing our need for God. And it gives us a false sense of well-being.

Lady 2 left without her mug, but my guess is that she found something else to buy in another store. Too bad.

Back Home


We were only gone three days and two nights. Actually, parts of three days and not even whole days. It doesn’t seem like much.

But a few days can sometimes be as refreshing as a week or more. At least if you don’t set your sights too high. In three days you can enjoy some long walks, get in some reading, and eat at a favorite restaurant or two.

Now we are back home. It was nice to see the Merced city limits sign. Today it is “back in the saddle,” but we’re more refreshed and ready to get back to life.

Wrong Direction

We went to a 9 PM Christmas Eve service in Monterey. The parking lot was full, and the sanctuary was packed.

The service concluded with ushers passing down the aisles with lighted candles. They stood at each row and lighted the candle of the person sitting on the end, who passed the light sitting to the person next to him or her, and so on….

It was impressive as we sang Silent Night and held up a lighted candle. Our combined candles illuminated the dimmed room. It was a poignant reminder of how powerful the light of Christ is when passed on to others. It gives direction and light to all around.

After the service was over we went to our car. The traffic seemed to be moving toward a driveway on the backside of the church property. “The exit drive,” I told Bev.

A sawhorse sat across the left third of the driveway. It appeared that other cars had driven past it toward the exit. So I did the same, but the closer I got to the exit, the more apparent it became that the sawhorse was there for a purpose. The gate was locked.

When I looked in the rearview mirror I saw a column of cars who had followed me past the sawhorse. Each of us had to either turn around on the narrow drive or back out of the driveway. “Whoops,” I said to a lady walking by the driveway.

So on one night we experienced the effect of good and bad influence. One lit up a room and encouraged our hearts. The other went to a dead end and misdirected followers.

Monterey


Today we did one of our favorite things. We hiked around Point Lobos, a protected area of seashore near Carmel, California. The day was perfect. Temps were in the high 60s and the sky was a perfect blue. We even saw one father and his daughter with bathing suits being chased by the surf on a protected beach.

The sky was bright blue, and sea lions provided background music. Tide pools were filled with animal life, including cowardly crabs that dove for the water when they saw the slightest movement.

I think I would grieve if I knew that I would never see the ocean again or smell the distinct seaweed odor that spreads on the breeze. The ocean is the best elixer I know for a cluttered or tired mind.

Christmas

I got a post from a friend recently. Basically he wanted me to write advertisers who were using the politically corrrect “Holiday” instead of “Christmas” in their advertising.

I’m grateful for his sincerity and zeal for his convictions. I even believe that a good argument could be built for writing the letter. However, I decided it wasn’t for me. I’m not convinced that such letters really build good relationships between Christians and the broader culture.

Besides, what does Christmas have to do with commercial advertising anyway? I was raised to believe that it had nothing to do with the gifts, debt, and frantic pace of this time of the year. In fact, if advertisers entirely stopped using the word “Christmas,” if we no longer had a “Christmas” holiday, and “Merry Christmas” dropped from our vocabulary, the power of Jesus’ birth would continue to influence this dark world.

How? The power of Jesus’ birth, life, and death consists not in whether Macy’s puts it in their sales papers, but rather in whether Jesus’ disciples live in a way that honors Him and gives form to his teachings.

So I’ll continue to say “Merry Christmas” and give gifts to my loved ones, but I’m not going to get upset if the local department store decides not to do so. That’s not where God’s power resides.

See also an Anna Quindlen Newsweek article on the same subject.

Friendship

A friend of mine came through town today. He called me to ask if we could meet for coffee, so we met at Starbucks. I felt honored that he took time out of his day for the visit; he’s a busy man.

But I think that is the nature of friendship. It spends its time on others. It dwells on their well-being. And it values conversation and sharing ideas.

Friendship requires cultivation. It does not occur accidentally or among those who are stingy with their time and resources.

I find it easy to become involved in a busy life and to think that I have no time for anything else. But the thing that suffers during such times is friendship. Phone calls stop. There are no letters or other indications of affection. Soon space and time fill in the gap between friends.

It’s no less true for families. Soon we drift from being friends and family to just acquaintenances. I am thankful for my friend’s visit.

Sleep

I keep waking up about 2:30 AM. This is the second or third morning this week that I’ve done that.

At first I would try to will myself back to sleep. But that never works. My mind is already awake and doing gymnastics. This morning it was trying to work out how to get Internet links on the sidebar of this blog.

Rather than fight it, I got up and went to my (home) office where I began working on the link problem. The nice thing about such interludes is that I am really focused and undistracted. The bad side is that I have to go to work in the morning reasonably alert.

I think I know what causes this sleeplessness–taking a nap during the news. I’ve got to quit that, but then I’ll sleep through the night and miss my productive work sessions. Too bad the world doesn’t go to work at 3 AM.

Christmas Lights

We put up the last two pieces of Christmas decoration in our yard tonight. One was a lighted deer which is missing its antlers. The other was a small string of colored lights which we draped over a shrub.

About Thanksgiving I start thinking about putting the lights up, but normally the “bah humbugs” keep me from actually acting on the thought. This year I actually got them up earlier than other years.

I have to admit that it has been nice to drive up to a lighted house. It says, “We enjoy life,” and that’s a message I like to send.

I think the world needs that message year round. But I’m not leaving the Christmas lights up past January 1.

Disagreement

I don’t like it when people resort to either/or thinking. There are few things in this world that can be boiled down to this or that. I got a good look at that last week as I listened to two people talk about the hot community issue of land use.

They each looked at the issue from a different point of view. You could see the validity of each. Though you might agree or disagree with certain points, it was easy to see that this was not a case of good versus bad, but of how each person was affected by the issue being discussed.

I’m not advocating neutrality. We’d never get anything done if we were all “neutral.” On the other hand, being closed-minded or too opinionated also has some evils as well. What a better world it would be if we granted each other some respect, even when we disagreed.

If you live in any county in the San Joaquin Valley you are seeing a big migration of people from expensive coastal cities into the more affordable Valley. Purists would like to preserve all the farm land and ecologically sensitive areas. Pragmatists are saying, “We have to do something with all these people.”

Good sense dictates that planners be open to the opinions of both sides so that the decisions made truly solve the problems rather than lock us in either/or debates. That’s good advice for any organization.

The Chair

My new office chair came today. Since I’ve moved my office to my home, I’ve had to become more compact. My office is really small.

Before my new chair came I had to sit upright in my desk chair. Bolt upright. No slouching in the desk chair. No putting my feet up to read a book.

Now my office is nearly complete and it is a comfortable place to be. Books are on the shelves. Pictures are about to be put up.

I do better work when I have a place of order and symmetry. Now to get my desk cleaned off.

Writing is life!