Multiple Generation Stuffed Animals

As much as I am not very sentimental at all, I do have many introspective moments of every day that reflect upon the passing of time and the changes of places and people near to me. Probably much of this is due to my oft bizarre, unusual, and non-reconciled childhood.

The major theme I rehearse at church is one of generations – encouraging the vibrant relationship of multiple generations together and strategizing how to be successful in turning over generations TOGETHER.

But I don’t escape that theme at home. Seeing the family grow and expand (or try to expand … we’ve got some new people around this year!) is essentially the same theme of turning over generations. Every parent hopes the essential elements of faith and values systems are being transferred, and I find my mind constantly evaluating that.

I’m writing these contemplations on Christmas morning, sitting here with three generations of the family around me. It is not actually that early. I suppose most families have had the kids up early to see what Santa has brought. But we’re talking here about Buchmans. Unlike my father who never in his life slept past 6:30 or 7:00, these generations of Buchmans don’t do morning. We’re good with evening … but morning?… not so much. Along with this is the boys’ tradition of staying up late on Christmas Eve and playing a particular video game together for long hours.  And along with that even more, my grandson Hudson doesn’t sleep well, and everyone is a bit shattered from his tears all night.

But I had to laugh at how we are multi-generational, right down to the stuffed toys. As I write this, Bella is sleeping on the sofa next to me, hugging Ici (pronounced ee-see). This was her daddy’s favorite animal when he was a child close to 30 years ago now; it went everywhere with him, the name being his butchered version of our dog’s name back then. When Allie forgot to bring the kids’ stuffed toys along for the overnight here, Diana dug out the tattered old canine, and I see he ended up with Bella. So, even the toys around here are multi-generational.

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Psalm 145:3-4 … Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

 

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How Big is the Number 315,000,000?

Thoughts on Mass Killings, Immigration, Sheep, and Bead Stores (I can string those things together!)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock, the number of resident people in our country is right now just shy of 315 million. One person is born every eight seconds, though one dies every 12 seconds. Add an international migrant coming every 46 seconds, and the net gain is four people every minute of the day.

So, my question is: How big is the number 315,000,000?  Let me give you a bite-sized way of getting a grip on that number by the use of an illustration I’ve thought of in recent years.

Those of you who know our family well know that we own a beads jewelry craft store business in Mechanicsburg, PA that my wife manages. It is part of the franchise of such stores begun by our son and his wife – Potomac Bead Company – with locations in 12 different places in several states and Scotland.DSC_0074_01

Most years, I only ever see our store once – on New Year’s Day – the day when business people everywhere take inventory. Yep – inventory in a bead store! Instead of choosing to sell something like cars or refrigerators, my family sells little things – millions of them to be exact.

When you walk into our store, you are overwhelmed with a sea of colors flooding your eyes. I have always enjoyed the exclamations that come out of the mouths of people who walk in for the first time! The colors come from strands of thousands upon thousands, nay, millions of beads of all colors, materials, shapes, and sizes. The choices are so vast that it sometimes leaves folks with a paralysis of analysis as to what to choose to make something beautiful.

Most of the product is sold in strands of, say, 25-75 beads of the same material strung and hung on the wall. But there are tubes with hundreds of tiny little beads called “seed beads” that are also available. Pretty much anything you can put a hole through and hang on your person is available.

One year recently while doing New Year’s inventory, I did some math by estimation of how many beads were in the store – counting everything … strands, tubes, etc. – and I believe a good round number is about 6 million.

Now consider this:  It would take 52 stores the size of ours to represent the number of people that there are in the USA. Now imagine this:  Picture those 52 stores all on the same city block. Let it be known that in that mix of beads, every so often, one of them was going to be totally toxic to a wearer. How would you find which one it is … or which ones out of the millions were potentially harmful?

That is what it is like trying to figure out who is going to be the next killer in a school or mall.

I don’t see a solution that is an assured fix. It is a problem about 30 times worse than dealing with illegal immigrants. Saying that guns should be eliminated is about 30x more difficult than saying that all illegals should just be deported. Right … just do it. Actually, I probably exaggerated. It is only about 20x more difficult given the estimated number of guns in the country.  But you get the picture.

If we take the problem back to its most central core, the issue is one of sin and evil that exists in the world. We are all terminally affected by it physically. And through faith in the work of Christ, we are spiritually saved for eternity. Yet in this world we are hampered by its continuous presence and expressions, affecting us all in varied degrees, and affecting some in such extensive amount as to yield catastrophic consequences in their lives and the lives of others.

The spiritual issue is one of separation – especially from God and the perfect relationship we were meant to have with Him. That separation, that loneliness, that sense of loss and isolation … is felt more particularly by some people over others. We know that the world abounds with people who, while still having no eternal fix for their separation from God, have rather successfully compensated for it by filling their lives with all manner of temporary fixes and pleasures.

Yet there is another smaller population who never gets a fix of any sort … not spiritually, and not even temporarily here in this world. Due to one of a variety of reasons – many related to mental illness, which is a very real and pervasive problem – they do not fit in. Their daily lives are hour-to-hour reminders that they are isolated from what appears at least to them to be a normal life of relational happiness.

As a coach in a public high school, I see some of these people every day. For some reason, they don’t fit – be it physical defects of size or appearance, social awkwardness and insecurities, the gaping wounds of family dysfunction, or the effects of mental illness or some debilitating condition – they walk through the halls alone and in a sort of daze. This school experience is not fun; it is a daily hell on earth. Some days mocked; many days ignored; all days miserable.

So, for that one bead out of 315 million who has had enough of the pain of life; and when the combination of evil, pain, and mental illness combines into a stew of anger and frustration that overflows, what becomes a prime target for that outrage?  A school fits well at the top of a short list of such … as would a mall, certain work places, or other public places of gatherings of people – such as even a church.

So how to fix or prevent this? Well, only God can (and will) ultimately fix the basic root cause. Until then, removing guns from society or eliminating the tools or places of the expression of this anger appears wrongly directed in my view. It seems to me the need is to help people – seeking to reach to those who are most disenfranchised. Now, this argument could immediately be used to argue for more funding to promote mental health and social welfare programs … and yes, I’m one of those conservative Republican types who is a skeptic about fixing things by merely throwing more money at it. I recognize these programs have a cost, and I honor those who give their lives fully to work in such difficult fields of endeavor as mental health and social services.

My rant here is to direct the consideration of any reading it to a personal involvement where you are with those you know who fit into varied disenfranchised profiles. If you don’t know anyone like that, you must really be isolated. I certainly see them in school and have had them on my teams … but I can tell you that they are around churches too. They are everywhere. And though my job does indeed, yes, lend toward my responsibilities being involved with bolstering, encouraging, and discipling hurting people, I choose beyond it to have a handful of folks with whom I’m frequently engaged – people who are not especially lovely in their current composition, but who need human connection and encouragement.

Within the context of the church family, this is our primary duty of ministry. And just beyond the walls of our church, reaching lost people becomes the primary strategy. And down to the level of our individual lives, it is the expression of Christ within us: the Christ-like way of doing as he did, illustrated by the parable of the shepherd with the lost sheep … illustrated as well by the hosts of occasions where Christ saw the hurting individual when the disciples saw only the masses of the crowds.

There is a silent fulfillment of life in this undertaking. I will tell you though that at times, when you bring a sick puppy into your life, it bites you. But Christ came and died for us when we were sick dogs biting him (see Romans 5:8).

We can’t fix 315 million; nobody can, and no law is able to do so. But we can be an agent by God’s grace to help fix a handful of people around us.

The Ghost of Christmas Programs Past

I have been performing in Christmas pageants and programs my entire life – no joke! I probably missed being in them at ages 1 and 2, but not age 3.  My earliest memories include my mother pushing me onto stage to sing at a ridiculously young age. She was in charge of the programs, and she knew my birth father was a professional singer – so, I was predestined to be out there! And doing the same is what I’ll be a part of this Sunday at Tri-State at 9:30 and 11:00.

At my previous church in New Jersey, probably around about the late 1980s, in the midst of a choral program, I had arranged for a person in the audience to stand and shout out in an angry voice something similar to:  “All this cheerful Christmas music is just a waste! I don’t see what there is to be cheerful about. There are crazy dictators all over the world and injustice is something we see around us every day! I’m sick of all this joy, joy, joy!”

Of course, the audience was not expecting this (and I had an uncle in the crowd – who was admittedly a bit slow – ask me the next day, “Hey what was the matter with that guy yelling last night?”)  But, back to the program – I had it planned that I would respond to my planted fellow needing anger management, “You are correct; and you are far from the first to make note of that very problem. Just have a seat and listen to the words of this old song.”

I had chosen a very creative arrangement of the old hymn “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  That song is set to a rather cheerful melodic line and harmonies. But if you know the lyrics, you know that there is a stanza in which the text changes from expressions of joy and light, to a statement of the dark realities of a troubled world … and my choral arrangement set this following verse in a dark and foreboding minor key.  Written on Christmas day in 1863 – in the midst of the Civil War and upon the recent severe wounding of his son – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow composed within his poem:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

On this sad day of national grief over the tragedy in Connecticut, we can surely resonate with these thoughts! Hate appears to be winning.

But the game is not over yet; the final verse of the poem – of life – of God’s work – is not written yet. Hence Longfellow wrote:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

There is no hope but in God; there is no peace or final justice but in the cross and the victory of Christ over death, sin, and all the injustice rooted therein.

… the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. …  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Light in the Darkness

Yesterday was my first real trip since early August outside Washington County in a vehicle other than a school bus full of teenagers. Diana and I took Caleb for a visit to Salisbury University to see the college and meet the coach there. And on the way home, we stopped at the University of Maryland in College Park where Jesse is a current student.

We often think of the secular university campus as a bastion of leftist ideology – replete with an anti-Christian hedonism that mocks Christ and the Cross. Indeed, the stuff of this material world is on full display, as is the celebration of the multi-cultural gumbo of all ideas and values being equal ideas and values.

But even without searching it out, the students who are the children of the Kingdom of Light may be found taking their stand for truth and righteousness – competing well in the modern agora of ideas. And in this, I marvel at how they shine like lights in the darkness.

At Salisbury, the coach had his Bible on his office desk – as he did when I first met him 13 years ago when Nathan visited. On the campus tour (as on every campus tour at the dozens of schools I’ve endured such over the past 13 years), they took us into the “average college dorm room.” There a young African-American man talked about dorm life; and as he did, I looked over his shoulder on the shelf behind him where he had several Young Life pamphlets, and a Bible on the top level (he told me he is serving as a YL leader at a local high school). University students often write announcements and messages in chalk on sidewalks – and as we entered a particular building, written on the pavement was this: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:15. The campus ministry group was meeting in that building on this evening – with signs advertising the gathering.

At the University of Maryland, we stopped to not just see Jesse, but to pick up his audio equipment from an evening show where his academic fraternity was hosting a benefit program for a student with cancer. Jesse was supplying and running the sound technology for the event. It was a variety talent show, and it was a bit … well … “raw” at times. The dances were creative but a bit suggestive at certain junctures, the comedy routines a bit rough with the language, etc. But one girl sang a song a cappella – introducing it as a part of her celebration, not of “the holidays,” but of Christmas and the coming of Jesus. The song was a ballad as sung from the lips of Mary – pondering the holiness within her by carrying and bearing the divine son. Her song indeed stuck out like a bright light in a dark sky.

The Scriptures are full of passages where we are admonished to live in this way. The Beatitudes encourage us to let our light shine before men … and in Ephesians 5:8 Paul says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”  And in this Christmas season we celebrate the coming of Christ who is oft spoken of as the light that has penetrated the darkness.

So I have not feared sending my boys into these places – yes, locations abounding with the fruitless deeds of darkness, yet places as well where a strong faith can be forged upon the anvil of friends and associates who together recognize their common faith and the obligation to live – even on the secular campus – as citizens of an Eternal Kingdom. I have become of the opinion that there is far more to fear from certain “Christian institutions” who boast a genuine religious past that is but marginally clung to today, and whose fruit I’ve too often seen as infusing skepticism toward the eventual end of the loss of faith by too many of our youth who have attended such vacuous white-washed sepulchers filled with dead men’s bones.