Big ideas. They like to deflate. They start small. Then snowball. Give me ten minutes of quiet and I’ll have a plan to rule the world. Give me another ten minutes and I’ll have the solar system, too. Give me five minutes of conversation and I’ll be taking over my cubicle and that’s about it. Ideas are funny that way. They work so well in my own little world, then you have to go and ruin it.

The Death of Dale Earnhardt

Life is not a guarantee. That’s a lesson learned hard this past week in NASCAR circles. The speculation has been unending since Dale Earnhardt’s death on Sunday in the Daytona 500: Is NASCAR unsafe? Could Earnhardt’s death have been prevented? Is Sterling Marlin to blame? Could an improved neck restraint system have saved Earnhardt? The answer to most of those questions is no. No one is to blame for Earnhardt’s death. Certainly not Sterling Marlin, the driver who tapped Earnhardt and sent him spinning into the wall. Contact is a part of NASCAR racing and happens all the time. I saw Earnhardt take several taps throughout the race and amazingly pull his car back into line. On the last lap he wasn’t so lucky, and that’s not Marlin’s fault. Blaming a seat belt manufacturer that’s never had a faulty seat belt ever seems kind of silly. Could more be done to make NASCAR safer? Maybe. The gentlemen could just not start their engines on Sunday morning and they’d be a whole lot safer. Of course they may get killed in a car accident on the way home. Life is simply not guaranteed and no helmet, seat belt, or effort of restraint is going to change that. People die. Period.

The difficult thing is accepting that and moving on. I walked into the grocery store tonight and Dale Earnhardt’s smiling, mustached face was standing next to a display of Oreos. I can’t help but wonder how long it will be there, and how many people know that a dead man is peddling oreos.

Smack Dab in the Middle

That’s what they tell me anyway and I agree silently. What am I supposed to say, what kind of answers am I supposed to give? How do you guide when you don’t know where you are? I’m so full of questions of how it’s supposed to be and we got so far off track. And now I’m a thousand miles away with a life of my own and I’m still supposed to care. Long distance charges on a relationship that already costs too much. Other families are dying and your problems seem so mundane. What do you want to hear from me? I can’t take sides, I won’t take sides, but it seems there’s no side left to be on. I’m stuck in the middle, stuck in no man’s land. That’s what happens when the one becomes two. It’s reverse, it’s backward, and you’ll never have two wholes again. You’ll just have a bunch of broken pieces. I guess we should have thought of that before.

Oh well, it’s the American way.

Can I Borrow a Cell Phone?

“Can I borrow your cell phone?”

“I don’t have a cell phone.”

“Can I borrow your cell phone?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Look, I’ll pay you for it, just let me borrow your cell phone.”

“I said I don’t have a cell phone.”

“Look, the batteries are dead in mine, let me borrow yours.”

“I don’t have a cell phone.”

“See, it doesn’t work.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“So let me borrow yours.”

“I do not own a cell phone.”

“You don’t? Man, you’re not with it? Even I’m with it.”

And on and on and on. Rule number one of riding the bus: don’t sit next to the drunk guy.

If you had a second chance, would you do it again?

The words echo back to me in an unending chorus. Eighteen months, do we have to do it again? I ask why and I ask why and I ask why and you shrug your shoulders and answer with silence. Damn the silence. They don’t teach that in Sunday School. They teach love your neighbors and your enemies, too, they teach about Jonah and the toppling wall. But they don’t say anything about death or pain or silence or unanswered questions. It’s been a drunken bus ride and I just want it to stop. I’ve gritted my teeth and smiled and tried to slosh my way through the messiness but it’s been dragging for so long. When will it end? Should it even end? Do we pick up the pieces and cut ourselves in the process, or do we just sweep them into the trash and wipe our hands? I don’t know which way to go, I don’t know what to ask for, and I don’t know what to say. And it’s probably a good thing because you’re not saying anything. Or I’m just not listening, which is probably the case. All I can do is ask for a little light in the darkness. This little light of mine, oh if you’d just let it shine. I’m so sick and tired of bad news on the telephone. I just can’t handle long distance calamity. Love doesn’t come through the phone lines because I can’t see that tender smile and I’m glad we never had a relationship like that. What are you talking about, you ask, and I sympathize. But sometimes you need to talk. I’m so tired of hanging up the phone and nearly crying out with the pain of a thousand wounds. The receiver clicks and the dial tone drones and it sucks the feeling from your soul. You feel hollow and empty and oh would you make up your mind? How am I supposed to tell you what to do?

And then there’s you. You sit so comfortably in your pew and it makes me sick. The pew’s so padded it’s dulled your senses and you don’t even realize there’s pain all around you. Why won’t you share that little light of yours, why don’t you let it shine?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t pretend to. But sometimes I wish I did. I wish I did.

If you had a second chance, would you do it again?

Sunday School Answers

God has a plan. It’s not exactly what you want to hear when the plan calls for a death, or an accident, or a divorce. They’re thrilling words when you’re contemplating marriage or a new, higher paying job. But when it’s something negative, they’re not very comforting words.

We don’t like the idea of a God who might cause pain. And yet I think that’s the one thing we have the most difficulty explaining to the world. And it’s probably the one thing we most need to explain to the world. Life is full of pain. Our Sunday School answers just don’t cut it. Sometimes you have to cry out to God and pound your fists in the earth and let the tears stream down like rain. He’s a big God, he can handle it.

I wonder what would happen if the church was able to communicate that.

Music Collection Crisis

There are close to one hundred CDs sitting on my coffee table that I haven’t listened to in several years. That much ignored artistry has made me realize several things: 1) Teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to buy a used car worth of CDs they won’t like in five years. 2) Musicians shouldn’t be allowed to sell CDs that no will appreciate in five years. Not only is it a waste of money, but it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved when your award winning album sells for thirty-five cents on e-bay. 3) It’s time for a home stereo revolution. No more buying albums with one hit single and nine songs you’d rather forget. No more piles of CDs to gather dust on the bookshelf. No more boxes of CDs in the basement you wish you could get rid of, but you can’t because you never know when you’ll get the itch to hear Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” No more embarrassment when your friends come over and see what’s really in your CD collection (especially true for those into “Christian Rock”).

I’m probably giving away an idea worthy of a dot-com and a few million startup dollars, but I think somebody needs to take mp3 technology and start a home stereo revolution. I’m not talking about a computer-geek-in-the-basement revolution. I’m talking about the real thing. Somebody needs to make mp3 jukeboxes. Some kind of server that houses thousands upon thousands of mp3s. Instead of buying a CD, you buy the mp3s that get added to your personal jukebox. You could even share the mp3s among your household. You could keep every song you’ve ever owned, and you wouldn’t have to worry about the aging CD taking up precious shelf space.

Just think of the possibilities. No more cracked jewel cases. No more scratched CDs. No more lost CDs. No more reorganizing your alphabetized collection because you bought the newest Abba hits collection. We could cut back on all that wasted packaging and albums would cost half as much. We could even cut back on all those wasted songs and only buy the radio single you wanted in the first place. Think of all the plastic we’d save! We could even cut out the record companies and buy your mp3s straight from the band (whoa there tiger, you just shut that idea down. Okay, okay, we can keep the record companies. Somebody has to… um… do the marketing.)

It’s shear brilliance. Somebody should be paying me for this idea. Are there even any drawbacks? I suppose if you’re a musical connoisseur you wouldn’t be getting the liner notes. Yeah, sometimes they’re fun to look at, but we could strike a compromise. You could get the liner notes for an extra 50 cents. I suppose this plan might put album cover designers out of business, but we could figure something out. Maybe the new jukebox server would come with a monitor to help you select your album. The cover could be an image on the screen, and the designers could keep their cushy jobs. I’m telling you, this plan is ingenious.

Now somebody implement it really quick so I can solve my music collection crisis.