Why God Smiled When We Went Snowboarding: Part 2

Don had a fairly healthy beard, which, by all appearances, hadn’t been trimmed in some time. I guess not shaving would be one advantage of being a hitchhiker. It (the beard) had one unique feature, I think partially because of not being washed as regularly, as, say, mine for example. It was a little matted and kind of had two layers so that when he looked up a little, it looked like he had two separate beards, one coming from his neck, and one from his chin. Even though it was a little warm, he was wearing a pretty heavy coat with the hood pulled up over his baseball cap.

His face was really weathered from walking out in the wind and sun, and he looked like he was between forty and fifty years old but had had a tough life, so he was aging more quickly. If you wonder, he didn’t have a repulsive smell at all. I would have expected him to have at least a little body odor, not having access to a daily shower, but it wasn’t that way at all.

I must tell you about something interesting that happened right away when Don first got into the car. My attitude changed rapidly from inward focused, to outward focused. I had been feeling kind of sorry for myself about all the emotional trauma and everything and was throwing myself a small and personal pity party in the back seat. For some reason, Don’s presence changed all that. It was the perfect cure for that issue in my life. Who knows how long I would have persisted in that state?

But I became interested in his life rather than my own. We kind of  started out by taking turns asking him the cliche questions that you ask hitchhikers when you first meet them: where he was born, where he was going, how many states he had been in, . . . I forget what all we asked him, and I think all of us were hoping for some interesting stories, but instead, he answered our questions as shortly and disinterestedly as possible. I’ve always heard hitchhikers are interesting, but Don was doing his best to be a very quiet fellow and it was kind of awkward to be honest. He was seated right beside me and I was trying to think of ways to engage him in conversation.

He said he had been in all the states. I assumed that by that he meant he wasn’t talking about Alaska and Hawaii, but I didn’t ask.

John asked, “How long have you been on the road, Don?”

“For  a long time,” Don said. “I just couldn’t find work and that’s when I hit the road.”

One thing that was cool about Don was that he didn’t seem ticked off that he was homeless and everything. He had spent the last night camped out under the overpass a few miles from my house. That sort of thing can feel kind of hip, original, and adventurous when you just do that for the fun of it, and can go home the next morning and take a shower and have a nice breakfast and a cup of coffee, but this was life for Don. He wasn’t going home the next day. He would be trying for the next overpass, or another convenient place of shelter for the next night. It seemed like this was just life for him, and he had accepted that. Not pumped about it, not mad about it either.

I was kind of trying to think of a clever and smooth way to put God in the conversation somewhere and it wasn’t working so well. I felt a little dumb just randomly bringing it up. Yes, I was being chicken. We rode in silence part of the time and John put in a “My Soul’s Delight” by the Concordia Choir. We sang along some with it really cranked it up on “Ain’t Got Time To Die.” I wondered with silent amusement if Don thought we were weirdos. I doubt he had encountered too many twenty-soemthings that would listen to choirs on road-trips as opposed to jamming to rock tunes.

Don also held a type of lunch box/cooler on his lap. I wondered what was in it. Visions of it being chock full of weed or something worse, danced through my head. I also imagined us getting stopped by a cop and Don getting searched. The cop would find drugs or something else on him. The cop would probably be irrational and couldn’t tell that Don looked a lot different than the rest of us, and that we weren’t really with him. We would all be put in the slammer together. It would all be very nightmarish, surreal, and miserable. I told myself to stop being so stupid. I have a very active imagination and it was working overtime that day.

“Could we stop at this gas station?” Don asked, breaking the silence. “I’d like to get some coffee or something.”

“Sure,” said John, who was still driving.

We stopped at small gas station and hopped out. I was really wanting to stretch because I was sitting in the middle and my legs weren’t really designed to sit in the middle seats of cars. I walked into the gas station and bought a ninety-nine cent Peace Tea of the green variety. It’s a really excellent deal because they come in twenty-three ounce cans instead of twenty ounce bottles like the Lipton Green Tea. That stuff usually costs $1.69 and isn’t even as good. Whenever I find Peace Tea it makes me happy because it tastes great, is healthy (all natural), and is cheaper than most.

I paid for it and walked back outside. Don’s coffee was sitting on the trunk of the car. Don stood close by it, smoking a cigarette. We climbed back into the car and fortunately Don’s cigarette smoke didn’t smell up the car very badly. I really don’t like how it smells and I was sitting next  to him. The miles until our next stop passed much as the previous ones had: us trying to engage Don in conversation, and talking to each other when it didn’t work. One thing we discussed was the use of instruments in the Bible.

When we stopped at our next gas stop, I took a turn driving. That was weird because I wasn’t even feeling very tired. I hadn’t had much sleep for a while. Just in case, I purchased a Starbucks coffee plus energy drink. When we got back on the road, it didn’t take John very long after sitting beside Don, to ask him about his religious experience. He asked him a questions about what he thought of God, who Jesus was to him, and what would happen when he died.

It turns out Don hadn’t much experience with church. The experiences he had had apparently weren’t good or bad- just something that didn’t affect him much.

John asked him, “Don, what do you think will happen when you die?”

“I don’t know” he mumbled thickly through his beard. “But I think I’ll be okay.”

“Did you know that there is a way you can know for sure what will happen when you die?” John questioned.

Silence.

He continued, “We believe what the Bible says about that. If you accept the free gift of Jesus death on the cross for your sins, you can live with him forever.”

More silence.

I don’t remember all the details of the conversation, but among the three of us, we told him about Salvation and that Jesus loved him. Over the course of it all, we made it very clear about how we had screwed up our own lives badly, and that we were not any better than him or anyone else, that we needed Jesus just as badly as he did. Everyone needed salvation, no matter how good they were. Everyone had the sin disease. We told him that in we had sinned many times with our thoughts and actions, and we were murderers, liars, thieves and adulterers, and that Jesus was our only way out of escaping eternal punishment.

We also tried to make it clear that we couldn’t do this stuff on our own; that it was more about the relationship with Jesus than us trying to be good kids. I think all of us had had that experience: trying to do our best, working our tails off to be good kids, and just messing up again and again.

Don had very little to say about any of it. He just looked pensive and a little uncomfortable. He spent a lot of time staring out he window at the featureless semi-desert of western Kansas and eastern Colorado.

The cool part about it was that he couldn’t get away from us. We were driving a healthy seventy miles per hour so he was trapped with us. Of course, we would have dropped him off if he had asked. But I think we both knew that he was getting to his destination a lot faster than if he walked. It was a win-win. He was making quick progress in his journey, and we were telling him about Jesus.

Eventually we stopped talking about it and left him with his thoughts. The landscape changed fairly abruptly from subtle plains, to rugged hills and rocks as we got closer to the Rockies. Colorado has beautiful scenery. The Rockies contain this rough, rare beauty that’s tough to describe: the desert-like foothills nearby turning into sudden sheerness of mountain peaks forming the sky-piercing horizon in the distance; the sun going down on it all and bathing it in an almost other-worldly light. So beautiful, so wild, so pure and for the most part, unblemished by civilization.

We moved on to talking about other things and as we got closer to our destination of Canon City, Colorado, we started getting goofier and goofier. We were saying ridiculous things and laughing raucously about them. We came up with some special “scientific theories” regarding time and space, and traveling within them without actually having to move. Kevin started it by saying, maybe if you lifted off the earth, and hovered above it, allowing it to rotate beneath you, when you landed, you would be in a different place, like Africa or somewhere else.

We knew it wouldn’t work but we were having so much fun hypothesizing, that we talked about this for some time, getting wilder and wilder with our theories. Poor Don probably thought we were becoming daft from too much traveling.

As we entered the city we asked him where he would like to be dropped off. He said he would like to be dropped off at Wal-Mart. That made sense to us. As we neared our destination, John asked Don if it would be okay to pray for him. Don said it would be alright.

John asked God to bless Don and that Don would find Him in his travels. It was a really beautiful and meaningful part of the trip and seemed very fitting that it would end this way. When we got to Wal-Mart, we stopped by the curb close to the entrance and helped him unload his luggage. I was struck by the fact that Don must be in pretty good physical condition to be hauling all that stuff. Some of those bags were heavy, and he was used to carrying them everywhere. We shook hands with him and told him it was good to meet him. One of us told him that we probably wouldn’t see him again, but we would like to see him in Heaven.

We left him standing there on the curb with his luggage, and that was the last time we saw him. John said he felt like this was the reason that this was the reason he came on the trip. We all agreed. I felt like even if my first time snowboarding was a lousy experience, this would make it all worth it.

This is why God smiled when we went snowboarding. He knew we would encounter someone we didn’t expect to meet. He knew that all of us would affect each other’s life stories for the better. We got to tell Don about Jesus and Don exemplified to us a life of simplicity and contentment that puts most of ours to shame.

Picking up a hitchhiker beside Highway 5o was such a random decision that made life so much richer, so much more interesting. Taking risks like that makes life more rewarding for me. Experiences like this make life so meaningful. I wonder why I don’t do it more often. It’s a challenge to myself, to live a life of risk and reward, rather than mediocrity. Mediocrity is safer, but it’s also boring. Really boring.

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Why God Smiled When We Went Snowboarding

One interesting thing about life, is that some of the most random things give you some of the most valuable experiences. These experiences come at us at the strangest of times. Half the time the actions that foster these experiences have so little to do with each other, it’s almost laughable when we actually try to mentally or verbally associate them with each other. This thing we call life, these experiences, have so little to with each other in and of themselves, yet at the same time, in often intangible and unexplainable ways, they seem to have everything to do with each other. They are connected in this tangled and confusing network called life.

For example, a decision to go to the hardware store to buy a pair of pliers you saw on sale (just because for some odd reason you decided to actually read that hardware store flier that comes in the newspaper every week) could cause you to run into someone you haven’t seen in a long time. As you talk, you might discover that he is really struggling with discouragement and depression. You end up deciding to meet for coffee later on that day and he ends up really opening up about what’s hurting him. You pray together and have an excellent time of sharing and encouragement.

Unless you have the gift of prophecy or something, there is very little possibility you could have actually foreseen this seemingly arbitrary decision to go to the hardware store, as being something that would actually really affect anyone–you or any of your friends. Let me rephrase that  If one of your buddies told you he was going to the hardware store because he was anticipating a time of counseling and inner healing, I’m guessing you would probably tell him he should go to the doctor’s office instead of the hardware store.

That was a lengthy introduction to the story I want to tell, but I trust my point is clear. The experiences we have, have the ability to teach us a lot if we make the decision to let them.

On the way home from my grandma’s funeral, I was torn–torn between two feelings at completely opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. I had cried a lot and was feeling pensive and moody. I also knew that in roughly twenty-four hours I would be expected to party exuberantly with my friends as we enjoyed each other’s presence on and off the slope.

It wasn’t that I was ungrateful that my friends had rescheduled the trip so I could go along. That part was great. I wanted to go snowboarding. It just felt sort of. . . betraying. It felt like I was being given a very small amount of time to process a very big thing: my grandmother’s death.

I could feel that it might be very difficult to attempt to mix two types of emotion, and expect something good to come out of it. To be honest I was dreading the thought of trying to do both and was feeling pretty weird about the whole thing. I’m not really sure what I was feeling but I know that it was strange. I think the best way to describe it is: numbly sad and confused. That’s about the best I can do right now, because I myself, am not even sure what I was feeling.

To those of you who thought, I was going to do a lengthy essay about why God likes it when we go snowboarding, a defense and justification of your hobby, my apologies. I am instead talking about the things God sends our way to teach us things that really, in and of themselves, have nothing to do with actual lessons themselves.

I arrived at my parent’s house in Hutchinson with around twenty minutes to pack up my stuff and head for Colorado. I was feeling pretty tired feeling a little depressed about my situation. The rest of the group had already left from Copeland, so I was going with my friends, John Miller and Kevin Nisly. We hit the road and Jon asked me about how I was feeling. I told him about it and he said he could see where I was coming from.

We rolled along westward and about ten minutes down the road we saw a guy with a big backpack and several other bags walking along the side of the road. I don’t know what prompted me to do this, but I said to the other guys something like, “Hey shall we stop and pick him up?”

John glanced at me in the rearview mirror and said, “Do you guys want to?”

I felt a little bit of an adrenaline surge as I thought about it. “I’ve always kind of wanted to pick up a hitchhiker.”

“We could at least ask him if he wants a ride,” Jon said. “Do we have enough room?”

I looked at the pile of luggage and snowboards on the seat next to me. I thought we did. As John slowed down his parents’ tan Camry and pulled a smooth U-turn, he said something like, “Jesus, I hope we’re doing the right thing. Please protect us.”I silently agreed. I felt kind of crazy doing something like this. It also felt good. We were actually going to pick up a hitchhiker!

The above conversation and deliberation took place in a matter of probably half a minute. It was a strange experience as we headed back toward him. The poor guy probably wondered what was going on, seeing us turn around and come back for him; he didn’t even have his thumb out or anything. He probably thought the hit-men were coming after him. Jon rolled down the automatic window and asked him if he wanted a ride.

“Sure,” he said.

He had more luggage than we thought–around three bags, including a large duffel bag that we perched on top of the rest of the luggage beside me in the back seat. His duffel bag was very heavy. The luggage was almost touching the ceiling now. The entrance of the hitchhiker had a dramatic effect on my attitude. It was strange how I now no longer thinking about myself. I introduced myself.

“Hi, my name is Ryan,” I stated, smiling at him and extending my hand for an introductory handshake. “What’s yours?”

“Don,” he said shortly.

When we asked him where he was headed he told us that he was headed to the West Coast. I didn’t make the connection right away, but eventually I realized, that for better or for worse, this guy was probably riding the rest of the way to Colorado with us. I had a feeling, however, that if we were willing Christ could use us to show His love to Don.

Hmmm. This could be interesting, my head said to itself.

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To be continued . . .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Note: My apologies to those of you who were expecting a lengthy defense of why God likes your favorite hobby. I don’t know if that’s what you were expecting when you saw the title, but I won’t pretend to know how God feels about snowboarding. If you want to know you should probably ask him.

“Crumbs From Your Table”

“. . . Child drinking dirty water from a river bank. . . ” -U2, Cedars of Lebanon

The dark, dusty face of an African orphan kid with the muddy trails of recent tears winding down his cheek. Hot sun beating down on his weary head. His mother just died from AIDS, and he is also infected . . .

. . . A father enters a small hut in India. His wife looks up from the pile of rags that they call clothes. She has been mending them since this morning. Two small dark children run to him and he holds their gaunt bodies in his own thin arms. He barely has the courage to force smile at them. He knows, that once again, his children will go to bed with hunger gnawing at their stomachs. . .

The last several days I have wondered why the thoughts of these scenes don’t change more about the way I live my life. I get really ticked at myself sometimes because I am constantly buying things I don’t need while there are people, real people, people with eternal souls, people with real feelings whose eyes are filled with real pain who could be using the money I use to buy the latest gadget, CD, clothing item, four dollar cup of coffee , or go on an unnecessary trip in the name of experience. . .

This list isn’t exhaustive but these are some things that are tempting to me. I have really grown to hate this part of American culture. Its consumerism. Its throwaway mentality. Its “let the rest of the world rot, so long as I’m comfortable” ideology. And what makes me hate it even more is when I look at my own heart and see the same things in myself.

Sure, I feel pity for people when I see pictures of their poor battered bodies, and their sad, sunken eyes filled with unspeakable pain and despair. But does it go beyond a feeling? Does it actually change the way I live so I have more money to give to causes that would help these people? Rarely.

My giving to other people has cost me almost nothing. I have given: maybe more than some people, definitely less than others. It almost never hurts me when I give. It almost never makes me sacrifice my personal desires: not going out to a nice restaurant so I could pay for an African’s food. . . for weeks; to not buy that CD so a kid could have the proper medicine to keep him from dying of malaria, to leave that pair of jeans at the store even if they are on sale so I could use the money to make so a man doesn’t have to wear rags as he ventures into the cold every day and tries to make a living for his starving wife and kids at home.

There’s something that’s just not right about me living in complete comfort: no material needs whatsoever, and the people across the ocean are dying because they don’t have enough to eat. How can I do this? I don’t like to think about it. It’s easier not to. But come on! This is life and death to these people. Honestly. How can I be so callous? I don’t think twice about a twelve dollar meal anymore, and it’s sickening to think how many people that would feed and for how long.

This money I spend on this stuff without a second thought could be used to buy medicine, clothes, food, clean water, and a host of other things that I don’t even think about because it’s been given to me: only because I was born in America and because God put me in the right family–not because I deserve it, not because I’m such a good person.

I open up the fridge and pull out a variety of foods to snack on between meals and I open the spigot in the kitchen and clean water comes out. I go to bed every night in a bed that is comfortable in a room of my own that’s in a house that has plenty of room for all of us teachers. I don’t deserve any of this but I barely even think twice about how blessed I am.

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required. . . ” Luke 12:48

I have been given so much and I live like it’s all for me. . . and I sometimes border on hating myself for it. I like to think of myself as socially conscious, because right now it’s kind of cool to be known as socially conscious. People admire you for it.

Yet, rarely, so rarely, does it change the things for which I spend my money. Rarely do I actually sacrifice personal comfort or want for the sick and the poor. And as I look around me, I am fairly convinced  it’s an understatement to say I am not the only one that has this problem.

I think we all have our weaknesses: these things that pull at our hearts, saying, “Buy me! I will be fulfilling for you. You will have fun and be comfortable. People will look up to you and value you more because of this. Buy me!” It doesn’t matter what it is, but if I know you, you have some things like this. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that these things we buy don’t have uses. Some of them are very useful. But it seems we often get confused between things we need, and things that simply make our lives more convenient. There is a difference. Shame on us! And shame on the name of Jesus Christ because of us!

I wonder how He feels about all this.  I think I know, but I really wonder what kind of look goes across his precious face, the pain in his eyes, when He sees His people, His church, using the unspeakable prosperity and wealth He has given them to be used for stuff that is, to say it truthfully, complete crap compared to what He wants us to use it on.

I know we think we need to be respectable in society, but come on! Where are our priorities? There are people that are dying everyday of starvation and disease and we are worried about whether we are respectable in society and how comfortable we should be before it is sin. I don’t think I need to point out which one might be more important. It’s not even close. Which brings me to another point.

Why do the things, whether it’s quantity or quality, that we give to the poor have to be the things we scrape out of the barrel after we are done giving to ourselves? It’s like we somehow think we are enough better than them, that we should give them our half-worn out clothes and the like. Why do we feel like we should consider charity after we are comfortable and all our wants and needs are well taken care of?

Incidentally, a lot of these thoughts were brought on by a song. Yes, as you may have guessed from a decent amount of my posts, music often inspires me to write. I listened to this song earlier this week and several times since. I have not been able to quit thinking about it since then. I cannot push it from my mind and I don’t want to. The song is Crumbs From Your Table by U2. The song sounds very good and has a priceless guitar line, but it has a sobering message.

Bono wrote it about Christians from rich countries, especially America, who are only willing to give the poor “crumbs from their tables.” We somehow think that if we try to provide for their spiritual needs we are exempt of responsibility to them. Wrong. Our acts of love should pave the way for the Gospel. I think the poor from other countries have a hard time seeing our love for them when we tell them they need Jesus. They must be thinking, “No actually, we need food and medicine and clean water.” It doesn’t change the fact that they need Jesus, but I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t cracking jokes when he told us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. No kidding.

Bono was inspired to write this song after he visited America. What he had to say about it was sobering:

Bono (from Q Magazine November 2004): “I went to speak to Christian fundamentalist groups in America to convince them to give money to fight AIDS in Africa. It was like getting blood from a stone. I told them about a hospice in Uganda where so many people were dying they had to sleep three to a bed. Sister Anne, who I mention in the song, works at that hospice. Her office is a sewer.”

Three dying people in a bed! Do we have any idea how gross and how awful that is? We don’t. We have no idea and we can’t imagine. But I think we can try.

This song talks about America being the the brightest star and the blackest hole(not giving stuff, only sucking it in). It also talks about how we are the things we “deny for others,” we “demand for ourselves.” (the things we take for granted every day, we don’t allow others to have at all). This song is packed with preaching for the affluence in America and I could talk about numerous other things in it but I will let the song do the rest of the talking. Here it is.

Crumbs From Your Table

From the brightest star

Comes the blackest hole

You had so much to offer

Why did you offer your soul?

I was there for you baby

When you needed my help

Would you deny for others

What you demand for yourself?

 

Cool down mama, cool off

Cool down mama, cool off

 

You speak of signs and wonders

I need something other

I would believe if I was able

But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

 

You were pretty as a picture

It was all there to see

Then your face caught up with your psychology

With a mouth full of teeth

You ate all your friends

And you broke every heart thinking “every heart mends”

 

You speak of signs and wonders

But I need something other

I would believe if I was able

But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

 

Where you live should not decide

Whether you live or whether you die

Three to a bed

Sister Ann, she said

Dignity passes by

 

And you speak of signs and wonders

But I need something other

I would believe if I was able

I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

Lyrics by Bono

Get Lyrical : http://lyrics.wikia.com/U2:Crumbs_From_Your_Table

I realize that some churches have charities that they like to support, but really, people, have we ever given until it hurts? I don’t think I ever have and that has to change. I don’t know how I am to go about changing my lifestyle to match up with what Jesus says about money. I mean, what exactly does that look like? But even if the change is gradual, I will be heading in the right direction.

To that end I will give a shout out to an old man from my church by the name of Ervin Stutzman. He and his wife live a very simple life and would not have to. He had a successful greenhouse business and when he sold it, from what I hear, he could have lived in comfort and luxury for the rest of his life, but instead he got interested in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. I don’t know, but I think, in some ways, this looks a lot like what Jesus had in mind. When I think of someone that has sacrificed personal luxury and comfort, I think of Ervin. He lives a simple life and has a heart for the poor. This not to flatter, but to affirm, and to tell the truth about the matter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not diminishing the giving we are doing. I’m not diminishing how much these people need Jesus. They do. I also think the church has done a lot of good things. We could just do a lot better. It seems we have allowed cultural norms for affluence to come in almost unchecked. It’s interesting how we get hung up on some things but we kind of act like the money things wasn’t quite as big a deal as Jesus made it sound. If you wonder how often he mentions it, check it out some time. He talks about it a lot. We think we deserve comfortable lives because in America it’s easy to have, but that’s not the case.

Jesus didn’t give us so much so we could be comfortable and take it easy. He gave to us so we could bless others with the abundance with which we have been blessed. God forbid that we sit on our riches thinking they are to give us an easy and comfortable life. We like to talk about our wealth in the guise of good stewardship. It sounds a lot better that way, but I doubt God sees it that way. Why did God give us so much and others so little? I think it’s so that we can be his hands and feet on earth. He wanted us to be on His team: to give us a chance to help Him to help out the poor people. Join me and let’s take a stand on this. Please. Let’s not let Him down on this one.

Photos found on: needyafrica.blogspot.com/

One Secret Behind My Awesome And Incredible Frugality

Last week I was at Hastings and as usual when I am there, I browse through the CD section. As I sauntered through the aisles trying to curb my CD buying habit, but still wanting to at least tempt myself. Who knows? I might find something I “need.”

All of a sudden I stopped short. There was a Jason Mraz CD*. I could really use this. I had heard only one of his songs, his hit, I’m Yours. It was acoustic and kind of catchy and the King’s Singers even covered it on one of their albums. I was in a dilemma though. I didn’t really feel like spending the money on it.

Strange, but I didn’t really stop to filter the irrational thoughts that were going through my head. Surely it wouldn’t be a problem if I just sort of took it. That was probably the only good song on the CD anyway and if he was going to make a record with only one good song on it, he deserved to have the rest of it stolen.

It was on the bottom shelf so I bent down over it and pretended to tie my shoe. Grabbing it in my teeth, I carefully dropped it on the floor. In front of myself and still stooping over, I put it in my Quicksilver hoodie pocket. No one saw me and my body easily concealed my actions from the security camera. I causally walked out the door.

That evening I ripped the CD to my computer and I was right. There was only one good song on the entire CD. I felt very good about myself for being so frugal and wise with my money. My parents had always taught me about good stewardship with money and I’m sure they are proud of me for this particular application of their teaching. I had the whole album on my iPod but I never listened to any of the songs except that one. After all, I wouldn’t have boughten the CD anyway, so in my mind that made it okay.

Besides, the record company would have gotten most of the money anyway. They are already so filthy rich they probably don’t even care anyway. They probably like it actually because it gets their name out there, it and probably promotes the album if I tell my friends about it. It makes the music more popular even if they don’t get a red cent from it. That’s a good thing, right?

I also think I might remember a verse in Nimrod 5:10 saying that it’s okay to steal from people if they are really rich. Score one for frugality and beating the system!

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Okay, so that story was completely false but I think you get the point. I would say piracy of digital media (especially by Christians) is one of my biggest pet peeves. I have a very serious problem with that; perhaps in part because being a musician would be one my dream jobs. I used to share some music and rip friends’ music to my library, but eventually it was ridiculous to try to justify it.

Since most of the people who read my blog are Christians, I feel I can appeal to not only to the side of respecting the artists, but also the morality side of taking digital media without paying for it. I won’t bother appealing to the fact that it’s illegal. Laws are for the lawless and that shouldn’t describe Christians.

Pirating and sharing digital media is not funny, cool, or clever. It’s stealing from those that have the creativity to produce it. Be it music, movies, software, or photos, the people who work to create the product should receive the money that is due them.

I have a big problem with people who say they are Christians who think it would be wrong to shoplift, but think its okay to share and download copyrighted media without paying the rightful owners of the copyright. It doesn’t matter if it’s easy or not. It doesn’t matter if file sharing sites and willing friends make it simple. A petty theft is no more right than a mastermind bank robbery. They are both stealing.

If you think the music is worth having, than you should be willing to pay the artist for it. It’s that simple. They went to a lot of time and effort to produce it and they should be able to get the profits from it. If you don’t like it well enough to pay for it, then don’t buy it. Just don’t steal it either. No one is forcing you to have music you don’t like very well on your iPod. That doesn’t even make sense anyway. If music is not worth buying, it is probably not worth having at all.

There are plenty of ways to listen to music you like without stealing it. Internet services such as Pandora, Last.fm, and Spotify are good ways for casual listeners to listen to music they like if they don’t care to have it in their library.

You expect a paycheck when you work from seven to five. They expect a paycheck when their product hits the shelves and every time someone buys it. If they are very successful with their art, they get more money. If you are successful and do well at your job, you expect more money. At least that’s how it should be. The copyright on that art says that they have the right to profit from, in the case of recording artists, that particular combination of sounds.

A lot of artists are getting robbed because people are not willing to pay for the music they like. If you buy a CD and share it with ten friends, that’s around one hundred dollars that is not making into the hands that deserve it.

Furthermore, if unbelievers are stealing digital media and their Christian friends are doing that as well, don’t you think that will cause them at the very least to question their testimony? I realize that it is so easy and in some ways a little intangible, and I used to dismiss it too. It was so convenient and nearly everyone else did it, but we really need to think seriously about what effect our actions have.

Respect the artists, software designers, film makers, and photographers who make the art you like and pay them what you owe them. They make the world a better place with their art. Yes, the world would be somewhat boring and uninspiring without anyone creating any art. Think! No music, no paintings. . . The list could go on.

Artists have chosen the arts as their means to make money. Most of them are doing what they love but they have to make a living too. Struggling artists need a paycheck just as badly as you do and might even work a second job to make ends meet. Successful artists have worked hard to succeed in one of the most competitive lines of work, to make so their art is top notch. At both ends of the spectrum they should get profit from their work.

If you like their art well enough to own it, buy it. If you don’t, make your own. Just don’t steal other people’s paychecks because you’re too tight to and selfish to buy from them. At best, it’s unethical. At worst, it’s robbery, plain and simple.

*No insult to Jason Mraz intended. I really know very little about him except for his one song. He was simply the most convenient artist to pick on at the moment.

West Virginia: Funeral Preparations & Why Charleston and I Are Not Friends Yet

The recent happenings in my life will likely inspire several blog posts. I just wanted to give you readers and update. Tony and I are sitting in a McDonalds in Charleston, West Virginia and I thought it would be a good time to do a little blogging. We are waiting for my uncle Jadon’s flight to come in. He missed his flight, so it will be six hours later than planned. His day isn’t turning out very well.

Meanwhile, Tony and I have been having some good brother bonding time at Mickey D’s. The drive to Charleston is around 2 and a half hours. It has been good to have a chance to drive somewhere together and listen to music together. To talk about music together. To simply enjoy the great thing called a brother.

We have already walked around downtown and it’s really deserted, and frankly, it’s a little boring on a Sunday afternoon–except for the isolated incident of a large gangster-looking man kind of facing toward us and acting like he wanted something as we went past. I tried to ignore him but it’s a little tough when he is large and acting like he would like to mug you.

Okay, maybe I don’t know what it looks like when someone wants to mug you, but I have a good imagination. Those imaginations continued when he followed us down the street a ways. Tony said afterward he wondered if we wanted to be carrying our laptops right then. I hadn’t thought of that but I concurred.

Yes, Charleston, you are a nice old town. You have tall shiny buildings. You have a lot of history, but you have almost no coffee shops. And the Starbucks you have are inside other buildings, like medical centers and hotels. This is why I am sipping a McCafe hazelnut latte instead of a real one. This is why we can’t be friends. And this is why this relationship can’t go any farther than us being mere acquaintances. Sorry. You’re just not my type.

I have never had a grandparent, or anyone super close to me die before so this whole things is pretty new to me. Grandma died on Saturday morning around 2:40–just a little before we left from Kansas to head for West Virginia.

We arrived around 9:30 and let’s just say it wasn’t a normal arrival at Grandpa’s house. I’ve never come there and had it be so sad and quiet. We were all very glad to see each other, but there was a lot of grief and tension from the last weeks still in the releasing process.

I felt two things. I had been so detached from the whole thing, that the best way I can describe it is a type of weird numbness. I also felt really sorry for the rest of the aunts and uncles that had been there and hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since almost two weeks ago when Grandma first started having her problems. God bless them for their sacrifices.

I have felt a little self pity for myself and spring break not being what I expected, but it’s really nothing compared to what the rest of the family has experienced over the last while. Their lives have been really out of whack lately and they finally got a good night of sleep last night.

Today preparations are being made for a Tuesday funeral. Tomorrow we will be making more preparations. I think I am going to help dig her grave. That will be an honor.

I also can’t describe how good it is to breathe this fresh West Virginia mountain air again. I almost forgot what it smelled like: that fresh, misty, cool, woodsy smell with just a hint of woodsmoke complementing it. It would take a long time to describe the nostalgic scenes that roll through the film reel of my mind, the memories I have made in the woods of West Virginia close to Grandpas house. I am still sorting out all this stuff in my mind.

Right now I know two things. God is good and Grandma has a better voice than I could ever dream of having, even if I took voice lessons for the rest of my life. The cool thing is, she might be standing beside Seth, Casey, Deborah, and also Kristin’s mom. They are making some really gorgeous music right now, and I can’t wait to help them once my voice and the rest of my body has also been redeemed.

Musings on Death

I’m in the middle of processing death. It’s such a strange thing, yet it happens constantly. However often it happens it will never become familiar. Death. So familiar, yet so foreign. It’s odd to think of it this way, but Jon Foreman said it so well in his song, “Broken From the Start.”

Life is a gift like fresh cut roses,

Cut from the branch and brought inside.

It’s a slow contradiction, it’s beauty in a vase.

When our cords are cut, that’s when we start to die.

It’s an interesting thought, but as soon as we are born into this sin-cursed earth, the dying process begins. The longer we live, the closer we get to the day when God says our lives are finished.

I don’t think it’s something we ever become accustomed to. I’m not sure that there is one thing that occurs so often on earth, but is still so weird and hard to grasp. It feels like death has been so active lately. I don’t recall a time in my life where it felt like to many people I knew have been taken in such a short time. It affects me a lot more when there are faces and memories assigned to a death message.

Three of those deaths were very sudden: lives snuffed out so abruptly. Two of them were young. There is no way to know everything that Seth Miggiani, Casey Gingerich, and Deborah Troyer might have done with their lives.

Casey got to live more of life than Seth did. Deborah lived longer than both of them. Seth, being a young boy, was a fairly new Christian, but he seemed well on his way to a life of service for God. Casey did and probably would have done so many more great things for God. We feel like their stories are incomplete. Deborah was a godly mother to several young children. They needed her! But that’s human reasoning.

But really, why do we speculate? The pen God used to write their stories had no ink left. His plan was that their stories would end on the exact day, hour, and second that they did. He orchestrated events to bring about His perfect plans in His perfect time. As far as God is concerned their stories are complete. His job for them on earth was over. God doesn’t ask our permission on when to end our stories.

I don’t know when God will end my story, when my “pen” will run out of ink. But it is a sobering thought. I want God to use me and be able to write the best, most colorful story possible. I want beautifully painted illustrations on the pages of my life. I want people, as they turn the pages of my life after I am dead, to be amazed at the beauty of the story God was able to write because I let Him.

God decides when our stories end. But, really, it is our responsibility what happens on the pages. When I “read” Casey’s story and Seth’s story and Deborah’s story, I see a lot of beauty. Two of them are short, but powerful. The other one a little longer, but still powerful.

As scary and strange as death seems, I would rather have a short powerful story, than a thick book that meanders across the pages of life in no direction, and as the reader searches for plot, he comes to the end of the book and finds their really isn’t one. In disappointment, he closes the book of my life, puts it on the shelf and wishes he wouldn’t have wasted time reading my story. No matter how long I live, I want the plot to be filled with twists and turn that come from living a life sold out to God.

Death means two things to me basically. That person’s purpose on earth is finished and also that God is talking to me, reminding me of the things that are important in life. At the end of life, how popular I was and how much worthless, earthly trash I accumulated will have no bearing on how beautiful or how powerful my story is. Here is the chorus from the song “Burn Out Bright” by the group, Switchfoot that conveys the message of this post fairly effectively.

“If we’ve only got one try,

If we’ve only got one life,

If time was never on our side,

Then before I die,

I want to burn out bright.”

I don’t want to be sitting around doing nothing when my pen runs out of ink. I think Seth, Casey, and Deborah burned out bright. I don’t want to rot in mediocrity. By the grace of God, “Before I die, I want to burn out bright.”

Anticipation, Little Deformed Snow People. . . and Other Things.

Today we have a snow day and I don’t have to be in school. It seemed appropriate that since I have time, I write a little on my blog. This year has been an excellent year but has had its disappointments. One of those was that there were numerous snow storms predicted to hit our area but they just somehow saw Copeland and managed to steer clear of it just in time–or something. Finally we were blessed with gorgeous snow yesterday that cut the school day in half yesterday and canceled it today.

When I was a student I had the mistaken notion that teachers hate snow days and students love them, and that we were at opposite ends of the spectrum–that there was perhaps this constant tug-of-war between prayers as the students battled the teachers hoping that God would hear our prayers for a snow day, and the teachers praying that the weather would abate so we could have school. Maybe my teachers were the exception to the rule, but I think I was just wrong about teachers and snow days.

I am now a teacher and I think the prospect of a snow day thrills me a lot more than it ever did when I was a student. To those of you who don’t know, while teaching is a lot of fun, it is also a ton of work–more work than I ever dreamed before I started. It is that feeling of responsibility and the weight of knowing that you must make plans for tomorrow even after your work for today has been completed. In some ways, you have to force yourself to realize that it is alright if you don’t get everything done. If I couldn’t get myself to do this, I would not be able to enjoy life. It was a good discipline to learn.

All this to say, a canceled day of school, lifts that responsibility for a day and allows you to simply enjoy being a person. You still know that you’re going to have to think about tomorrow but the load somehow feels much lighter and the pressure taken off of you. It is a nice feeling to say the least.

I think the anticipation of a snow day is almost as good or better than the actual snow day, the anticipation of sleeping in almost better than the actual sleeping in. It’s a psychological thing, I’m sure. It felt so wonderful last night to know that there would be no school today–that I could spend the day doing fun and relaxing things. Making lattes. Playing guitar. Listening to music.

Today so far, I have done all those things. I have enjoyed them thoroughly. I think, though, the anticipation was nearly as good as the experience. It’s lovely to be human.

Charissa and I also went outside and played in the snow. She managed to persuade me to build a snow man. I didn’t really have boots or gloves, and was reluctant. I knew it would be fun but also knew I would probably freeze my tail (among other things) off. I kind of wanted to but decided to argue about it for a while, out of principle.

I told her I didn’t have proper snow clothes, or boots, or gloves. I also told her that the snow I shoveled yesterday was very powdery and would probably wouldn’t pack well enough for us to make a snow man. My hands and feet would freeze too. Wearing skate shoes in six or seven inches of snow is dampish and cold to say the least.

I have been making a conscious effort to do things that will make memories because, even though they take more work, those are the things that I will remember. Just last night I went for a jog in the zero degree weather (while it was snowing and blowing) only because it seemed like something that would be fun and memorable. I think the people whose headlights caught my bundled up figure running down the road must have thought I had mental issues. I probably do. This was different though. I was running and that would keep me warm. Plus, it didn’t take very long before the insanity was over and I was back inside the warm house.

When Charissa brought some folded laundry into my room, I asked her if she wanted to build a snowman. I think she might have been a little surprised. I was ready first, buy I still didn’t have any gloves. Charissa let me borrow some of her gloves. They were bright red and looked really goofy with my black jeans and black wool coat. We went outside, and I was right. The snow was very powdery and bad for packing. We couldn’t roll the snow into balls, so we just started heaping it up into a pile. It ended up being a sort of snow mountain/monument. Interesting.

Charissa still wanted to make a snowman. She grabbed some random little globs of snow and set them on top of each other. Then she pulled off some small pieces of evergreen needles to give him arms. She tried to put some hair and a hat on his head and his head fell off and pretty much disintegrated. I think she had to give him a new head. I also built one, without the extra stuff and tried to move it over beside the other one. It also fell apart and poofed into nothingness and snowflakes. For from snow was he taken and unto snow he returned. I sculpted another one betwixt my goofy red gloves and succeeded in getting it to stand beside its friend. They then posed for a photo shoot.

Next we went for a walk down the road. It was such a beautiful day and a nice experience. The sun was painting its blinding light across the mounds of snow along the road and on the trees and bushes. Gorgeous, so gorgeous. We came back from our walk and saw the deformed little snow people standing next to each other on the porch, waiting to greet us as we walked past. Charissa laughed and said, “Don’t they look cute together?” I agreed.

I think they should get hooked up. They were made for each other. If they do, I think the first thing they should do is figure out which one is the guy, and which one is the girl. Charissa’s is a little bigger and stockier. Maybe muscular would be a good word for it. You can decide for yourself what that should indicate. Whatever they decide between themselves is fine with me, so long as it actually gets decided. I think that is a very good and key thing in a relationship between snow people. Even if they are deformed.