Dialogue Reflections

My wife Maribeth forgot to pray for the surgery of a friend several days ago. When she admitted what happened, she still didn’t how the surgery went or what the doctor’s prognosis might be. But she felt chagrin because she hadn’t prayed beforehand.

She raised an eyebrow when I suggested that it might not be too late to pray. I explained that we tend to confine ourselves to proleptic prayers—anticipating things that will happen in the future. But if God is eternal, why shouldn’t we pray about things that have happened in the past? Why not pray retroactive prayers?

Jesus did this at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Sisters Mary and Martha complained that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had arrived sooner, but Jesus knew it wasn’t too late to pray for his friend. Not all retroactive prayers have such striking results, but they will have results. For this reason, we pray with an awareness that God’s timeline is much longer than ours.

Old Testament professor Jerald Janzen once asked a seminary class, “What has been Abram’s impact on the world?” His own answer was, “We don’t know. The returns are not all in yet.”

That’s true of every person and event. Consequences of our past continue to unfold, subject to God’s influence, so it is never not too late to pray about anything. It’s not too late to pray for the outcome of a surgery. It’s not too late to pray for the outcome of an election. It’s not too late to pray for the outcome of a firing or a divorce. Although we are painfully aware of the limits of our times, we deal with a timeless God.

I am not a political activist but a human being, so I share humanity’s responsibility for the world in which we live. I will not pollute the air that all humanity breathes, poison the water that all humanity drinks, or subvert the land that is the source of all humanity’s food and clothing.

I am not a political activist but a citizen, so I pay careful attention to what is happening in the civic arena. I support or oppose political decisions that affect our civic freedoms. I resist any oppression of my fellow citizens, even when it is perpetrated in the name of patriotism.

I am not a political activist but a Christian, so I intend to be a clear voice of truth and an unmistakable example of compassion like my Lord Jesus Christ. I will not put myself or my nation’s priorities first, but my suffering neighbor first, as Jesus teaches me.

If you merely observe what I say and do, you might suppose I am a foot soldier for some political movement; but if you ask why I say and do these things, you will learn my true identity. I am not a political activist but a human being, a citizen, and a Christian. I do not seek to advance any political party or national cause, but the well-being of all God’s creatures.

When you have a disheartening experience, don’t write it off as a failure; consider it a life experiment. An experiment never fails. It always teaches you something.

Dr. Malcolm Rigel, who taught counseling at Warner University in Lake Wales, Florida, gave me an interesting insight on this. We were returning from lunch one day when I said, “Mac, I appreciate the way you help people deal with their failures. When you bring up the subject in your spiritual retreats, you seem to have a much more positive attitude about it than I have.”

He grinned. “Joe, the compost pile is the richest part of my garden. That’s where I throw my kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, and all the manure I can find. It’s a smelly, repulsive-looking thing. But the compost pile decays into rich humus that will feed my garden next spring. My failures and disappointments are like that. They trouble me. I would like to ignore them. But I’ve learned that failures can provide rich compost for my life if I apply what I learn from them.”

What have you learned from your life experiments? How have you used the compost of your life?

From Setting Goals That Count: A Christian Perspective, p. 49.
Copyright © Joseph D. Allison

Blooming snowdrops flowers covered by snow

Photo by Guzowski

An icy mix of rain, sleet, and snow was falling when I entered my dentist’s office. The hygienist greeted me with a cheery, “April showers bring May flowers!”

“Even snow showers?” I asked.

“Well, maybe global warming will do away with the snow,” she said.

I pondered how my home state of Indiana would look without snow. Seems to me that the changing seasons bring us various kinds of beauty–including snow!–that I don’t want to be deprived of, even if I have to shovel my sidewalk now and then. I accept the fact that seasons change, as do many other aspects of our world, and I’ve learned that change can be a good thing. In fact, it can be a divinely blessed thing.

When foreign invaders crushed Jerusalem and carried God’s people into slavery, the prophet Daniel prayed:

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
             wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
             he deposes kings and raises up others (Dan. 2:20-21).

God used the years of Exile to draw his people back to himself and strengthen their faith for the future. That renewal was worthy of praise!

Some say that God does not cause change, whether it’s seasonal change or regime change. I don’t know. However, I believe the most radical change cannot thwart God’s intentions and often expedites them. Change can bring us fresh perspectives and force us to try solutions we might have ignored if everything “stayed put.”

So I don’t wish that things will never change. They will anyway—and God may bless us more as a result.

A friend suggested that I take my antique mantel clock to a repair shop in an unfamiliar part of town. Waiting for the shop to open, I noticed a barbershop beside it. I needed a trim, but the barber’s tinted window did not allow me to see how many customers might be waiting, so I stepped inside.

canstockphoto3884183The tall, young barber said he could take me in half an hour, and pointed to two little boys seated with their family. Apparently, the shop catered to African-American men. That was true of the barber, his customers, and several neighborhood men engaged in conversation with him. Hairstyle wall posters featured African-American models and a large Zulu tribal mask hung next to them.

When the repair shop finally opened, I left my clock next door and came back to wait my turn. The spectators gossiped and joked loudly until the barber motioned me to his chair. Then the room fell silent, a couple of men drifted away, and one who remained crossed his arms to regard my white face with apprehension.

The barber tried to make conversation with me, but I know nothing about sports teams–though he offered opinions about the NFL, NBA, and college football. The bystander, who’d been so talkative for the past half hour, said nothing.

Finally, the barber held a hand mirror in front of me and asked how the haircut looked. “It’s fine,” I said. “The length’s just right.”

Our spectator dropped his arms and broke into a smile. “Yes, sir. It looks mighty fine,” he agreed.

“Hair is hair,” the barber told him. “We take all kinds here.”

About ten years ago, my wife arranged for a jeweler to restore the mantel clock that belonged to my paternal grandparents, but not until we moved to our present home did we have an appropriate place to set it up and let it run. Now it sits in our dining room, atop a radio console from the 1930s which belonged to her parents. A couple of weeks ago, I wound it up and set it running. I believe, except for a brief test in the jeweler’s shop, this is the first time that clock has been in regular use for more than fifty years.

After searching the Internet for several days, I found another jeweler who explained how to set the clock. In a phone conversation last week, my 85-year-old father explained how to adjust the pendulum and regulate its speed. So now the century-old clock is faithfully doing its work once again, marking the minutes and chiming the hours of our days.

The experience illustrates our American cultural amnesia, with respect to repairing and cleaning the things of everyday life.

I ran into it a few years ago when my black fedora (the one I keep for funerals and other formal occasions) was crushed on the top shelf of our hall closet. I turned to the Yellow Pages in search of someone who cleans and blocks hats. Surely in a city the size of Indianapolis (more than a million people), we would have several haberdashers. No, not one. Perhaps dry cleaners who clean and block hats? No one listed that service in their advertisement, so I called a few of the leading establishments to ask. “Better get a new hat,” they advised.

That reminded me of another service that used to be quite common: the window blind laundry. A lady who served as a substitute teacher at my elementary school owned such a place, and I remember the colorful neon light advertising its existence on a side street of my hometown. Try to find one today. Do window blinds still accumulate grease and grime? Of course. But our solution is to throw them away and buy new ones. (No doubt that’s why we make them so flimsy and fragile nowadays.)

Our society shrugs off the need to clean and maintain everyday conveniences–things like pendulum clocks, fedora hats, and Venetian blinds–so eventually they disappear. Well, call me a legacy man, because I believe that if something still works, it’s worth maintaining and using.

At a party last night, I fell into conversation with a friend who’d borrowed a book from me a couple of months ago. “I still have your book,” she began, “but I’ve not started reading it yet. I have three or four books to finish first.”

She explained that she typically reads several books at a time–some fiction, some nonfiction–on a variety of topics. “I enjoy that much better than reading a single book from start to finish,” she said. “The only problem is, I keep getting overdue notices from the library. I got two in the past week. It’s aggravating.”

I suggested she try checking e-books out of the library because they’re easier to renew and “return.” She rolled her eyes. “I love e-books,” she said. “They make it that much harder. I’ve downloaded several to my reader that I’ve not started yet. I need to make a list, prioritize them.”

We’re kindred spirits, because I like to have several “good reads” in process at the same time, too. Right now I’m reading three novels (one of them I read aloud from my Nook while Judy drives us to/from work), a book on moral psychology, and a daily devotional from Thomas Merton’s journals. I’m sure some of my friends think this is eccentric. Some of my writer friends must wonder why I spend so much time reading and so little time writing.

What can I say? A variety of reading fare keeps me curious about life, stretches my horizons, and gives me something worth sharing in party conversations. I have to think it enriches my writing, too.

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