Looking Beyond College

I started writing one of those reflective pieces about graduating college the other day. I was writing about what I had learned and was trying to pass on some inspiring words, which I think is kind of like passing a gallstone. If it comes out too easily there’s just no substance to it. What I really wanted to say is what I wish I could do now that I’m graduating. I wish I could do a lot of things, of course none of them are things within the realm of remotely practical possibilities.

I wish I could take another four years of college at a state school. The few times I’ve been on university campuses they’ve seemed enormous and intimidating. They’re a culture all their own, different from my private college experience, and I think it’d be interesting to spend four years there. Partly because I’d want to experience the difference between the Christian and secular environments. I’ve truly valued my time in a Christian community, even if it has seemed like a bubble. But there are times when you need to move on. Four years ago I don’t think I would have adjusted well at a state school. It wouldn’t be a walk in the park now, but intellectually and spiritually I’m prepared for it. I’d also like to do another four years of school because I’ve fallen in love with learning. I really enjoy learning stuff. Part of the reason it’d be fun to do another four years is because in this ‘what if’ situation there wouldn’t be any pressure for grades or jobs or anything. I could just take classes and learn what I want to learn.

But that’s all idealistic and utopian. You usually don’t learn unless there’s some sort of pressure. Desire will only take you so far, and when it fails, you’ll fall into a pit of laziness. And just because I’m dreaming about continuing school doesn’t mean I’m not happy with my future. I am happy. I really don’t want to continue school, because that would mean the pressure that I’m getting pretty tired of. I’m getting sick of projects and tests and papers. I know they’ll just reappear in a different form in the workplace, but that’s a whole other world. I’m not interested in going on to graduate school or pursuing another degree. I’m just fantasizing about learning.

And I will continue to learn, but in new ways. In two weeks I’ll be finished with classes and I can curl up with a fun reading book again. I’m really looking forward to that. I have a pile of unread books I want to dig into, as well as a mental list of books I need to check out. I have a thirst for knowledge, education, learning. Maybe I can pick up some wisdom along the way.

Stare at the Wall

Have you ever just sat and stared at the wall? I think we really need to do that more. And I’m not talking about just veging out. I’m talking about turning off all the distractions. Off goes the TV. Off goes the stereo. Off goes the computer. Put away the magazines, the books, the newspaper, the piles of mail you need to read. You may even want to turn down the lights. Then just plop yourself down and sit there. Don’t fall asleep (if you fall asleep immediately that’s a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep at night), just sit there and let your body relax.

Give it five or ten minutes or so and let your body completely relax. If you’re like me, your mind will be racing this entire time. This is pretty much how I feel all day. If your mind is still racing, you need to keep sitting there. Breathe slowly and stay put until your mind finally begins to slow down. You’ll stop jumping frantically from random thought to random thought and your mind will begin to thoughtfully dwell on things. Sound unfamiliar? Probably because few of us ever take the time to get here. I’d encourage you to take the time. It’s rare, but so necessary.

Christmas for the Spouse

I’m beginning to think that husbands and wives really shouldn’t buy each other Christmas gifts. Instead they should take the Christmas budget and have Christmas all year long. Instead of buying presents in December and feeling pressured, they just use the Christmas budget year round to buy each other surprise gifts. There’s no obligation. There’s no pressure. There’s no mad holiday shoppers.

I think it’s a brilliant plan. Yet what am I doing? Christmas shopping for my wife. Alas. I should have implemented this plan a while ago.

I don’t know how Jesus does it.

“Christians are hard to tolerate, I don’t know how Jesus does it,” said Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, to which he added, “I’m one of them.” There’s a lot of frustration in that quote, but there’s also a confession of faith. My roommates in college introduced me to U2, about a decade after the rest of the world discovered the band. It’s been an obsession since, and I’ve really been intrigued by their spirituality. A new book explores this, and you should definitely check it out (as well as a passageway.org article featuring the book).

Old Towns Die

Age old secrets and repeated mistakes. The rise and fall of a small town. If you can call it a fall. More like a slow fading into the prairie. It started out of convenience. The end of the line. And it continued out of convenience, an oil boom in the 1930s. And it died out of convenience, bigger towns, closer to freeways with more to offer. A single country highway twisting in an out of town, speed limit falling and rising with the dust. A building here and a building there, used to be more, used to be less.

Couples made out down by the river, and the whole town knew. Fields for miles, and the children grow bored. Fire crackers and boredom make a dangerous combination. Hunting rifles meet sign posts, and kids grow tough. In later years the Nintendo would be vital.

The train rolls through town once a day. It used to be the end of the line, then it was just a stop on the way, and then it was just scenery. Now the rails grow cold and the weeds grow high. Life moves on, and old towns die.

It Doesn’t Have to be That Way

The snow is falling lightly, and you are sleeping tightly. Resolutely unaware of what’s happening within you. Racing, squirming, growing, breathing. New life unleashed so recklessly, do you even know? Responsibility forsaken, turned aside and left alone. All for the sake of your passing moments of panting paradise. Was it really that good, was it really that nice, or was it perhaps, a little disconnecting, a little disconcerting, a little too much when you just wanted to be loved. Care and concern and love and romance and commitment and hope and all of those things are squandered away when you let loose and let it go and left your consequences in the trash along with your virginity. Do you even know just what you’ve done as you give a sigh and he rolls over and drifts away, leaving you alone to sort it all out, as the snow is falling lightly, covering you in quietness and pain.

Oh it doesn’t have to be that way.

Goodness gracious

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

Goodness gracious.

Grace. It’s a concept few really get. It basically means forgiveness. It means that despite your shortcomings, your failures, your wrongs, you are still loved and accepted. That’s a fundamental part of Christianity. At least it’s supposed to be.

There are those who question grace. If you really had faith, you wouldn’t have screwed up in the first place. And they turn their head. Or it may just be a negative word said to someone else in private. Or a smug look, or a grudge that never fades. Some think that your failures continually crucify Christ, and somehow that behavior requires their condemnation.

Grace is something the church needs to rediscover. We have become self-righteous. We are more concerned with the filth flowing from a sinner’s mouth than we are with the eternal state of their soul. We are more concerned with how something looks to others than we are for the actual people involved. We are more concerned with the visible consequences that come with some sins than we are with the hidden sins that resulted in those consequences.

The Pharisees had no grace. They wanted to cast stones upon the woman caught in adultery. My great-grandmother was also caught in adultery. A public apology was demanded, which my shy great-grandmother couldn’t bring herself to do. A quiet and fair settlement was reached, but in the proceedings a woman consented, with the caveat that in the future all sexual sin in the church would be publicly confessed. It sounds more like a soap opera than the minutes from a church business meeting. Where is the grace? We have become Pharisees.

Times do change, but often they do not. One generation’s dirty laundry repeats itself. And while the dirty laundry may always be there, our reaction does not have to be the same. Mistakes are forgiven. And forgotten.

The church should be the most grace-filled place in any community. Everyone in that community, from the lowest outcast to the wealthiest gentleman should feel acceptance from Christians. Isn’t that why we bear the name?

I Wasn’t Really Shot in the Backpack

That’s the way it goes, he says, and he pops him. Just like that. Straight out of a movie or something. My jaw dropped. My knees shook. My eyes were already open as wide as they could be. I sat curled up in that little alcove for three hours, waiting until I thought it was safe enough to move.

I crept out slowly, afraid for my life. Of course they’d left three hours ago. They never knew I witnessed the job. And there he was. Spread out in the middle of the alley. He was probably all stiff and stuff, but I wasn’t about to stick around and find out. I took off running, like the scared little kid I was.

That’s how it all ended. It started when I was walking home and a bullet ripped through my backpack. It almost tore the thing off my shoulders. I spun around and hit the ground as fast as I could. I crawled to a car and looked both ways. There was a guy running for his life up the cross street one way, and I couldn’t see anyone the other way. They must have ducked in somewhere, hoping to cut the other guy off by going through the alley. Of course they fired a shot first to keep up the chase.

Sitting up, I shifted my backpack to the ground to examine the damage. The bullet went clean through, slicing its way in on one side, and ripping a whole out the other. One of my books had a gash through the spine and half the pages torn and ripped. A few inches the other direction and that would have been my spine.

And then I started running. I don’t know why I did, I just took off. Part of me didn’t want to stay leaning against that parked car waiting for whoever fired the bullet to come out of the alley and see me hiding here. They may be chasing someone else, but they wouldn’t want any witnesses. Rather than run up the street towards home, I went the other way, going up a block and then over, roughly following the fleeing man. They almost killed me, and I wanted to find out what it was all about.

She Wore Pajamas to the Airport

She smiled. It’d be going a bit far to claim she smiled at me, but it’s a nice thought. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. It’s always worth a shot. I looked back to my shoes and then up again, trying to pretend I was watching the TV behind her. She doesn’t need to be smiling out of pity, some screw ball kid who wants to lay eyes and you don’t want to know what else on her.

But who am I kidding anyway? You don’t just go up to random people in the airport and say hello. So I just sit here by myself, reading a magazine, waiting for my flight to leave. My flight, that just might happen to be her flight. Who knows, we might even sit next to each other. Here we go again, happy thoughts, happy thoughts.

She’s just sitting there, trying not to be bored. But she is. She gave up on her book a while ago. Now she’s people watching. I’d like to think I’m one of those people, but that’s too happy of a thought. Now I’m people watching as well. More like person watching.

She smiled again. This time I know what it’s from. Everyone’s smiling at her. What do you expect when you’re wearing pajamas? Did I mention that? She’s wearing pajamas in the airport. And it’s the middle of the afternoon. So she’s a little weird, I had other things on my mind. She’s just sitting there watching the people go by, watching the people watching her. Them smiling at her and her smiling back at them like she knows she’s just the cutest.

Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I went up and introduced myself. Hi. My name’s Jones. I couldn’t help but notice those fuzzy bunny slippers. Nice. She’d smile, and that’s about as far as I can imagine. I hate to think what she’d say. If I let my imagination go that far it just might get loose and let out a bunch of not-so-happy thoughts, a.k.a. the realistic ones. That’s not cool. So it ends there. A thousand different introductions, and a thousand different smiles. If only life were that non-committal.

She’s probably in college. I’m usually horrible at guessing ages, but she doesn’t look like the girls in class at school. None of them would manage to wear pajamas unless every one of their follow-the-pack friends did as well. They’re always willing to live on the edge, as long as everyone else does too. But this girl’s all alone in the airport, on the edge by herself. I’m guessing college.

I went left instead of right

That’s what they tell me. But I don’t believe it. I look down at the cards I’m dealt, and I’m reminded of old photo albums of family vacations. Vacations to states I’ve never been to before, and I’ll never visit again. Old faded photos, where the color is disappearing and the clothes are so out of style they’re cool again. That’s what I always think of. Then I trade in an ace and hope for the best. Should have kept the ace. Those family vacations were always a trip. I did my best to get lost, to be the poor child to have his parents paged over the loud speaker. I just didn’t like doing the family thing, everything boiling down to the lowest common denominator, the kid sister. It made me sick. I wanted something interesting, something more worth my time. So I lagged behind, I went left instead of right. I got away from the tea cups and balloons, and went for the water and the sun. I’d wander around by myself, eyeing the girls and trying to guess how old they were. I was usually wrong. I’d watch a group of them giggling together, and follow them along the streets. Then a boyfriend would show up, and he’d be twice my size. I dropped my gaze, and wandered on. In the photo albums I’m always standing off to the side, by myself, trying to get away. That’s probably why I always end up folding. I never get dealt the hand I want, and I end up chasing it, searching for it, and then cashing in my chips and heading home, looking for my parents and brother and kid sister in the play land, with the colored balls and candy coated goods. That’s what they always tell me.