Seeding and Believing

I was in my “wifi” zone. It was that time during vacation when I leave my beach bum world to visit my work world through the technology of “wireless” Internet. Not surprisingly, it was a rainy day.

Almost as a reflex, I looked up as a young man passed me. Like many of us freeloading on the wireless service, he was carrying a computer. A few moments later, he made his way toward me, paused at my table and said, “I hate to bother you, but you have a phone and computer like mine and I was wondering if you could help me?”

His accent was clearly northern, his eyes deep blue, and his two-day-old beard, GQ cool. His clothes were warm weather fun, but his ankle bracelet was ice-cold reality. Clearly not for decoration, this bracelet represented desperation and disappointment, the legal system’s form of extended incarceration.

His name was Patrick and he was a man in need of help. I slid over and made room for him. His story slowly began to unfold. A two-time DUI offender, he spoke in broken sentences and broken heart. His sin had cost him not only his job, but also his company. A self-employed pressure washer in New York City, his journey brought him to warm weather, perhaps to escape the wintry rejection of his mother, whose reflection was his screen-saver.

Down to riding a bike or taking public transportation, he was looking desperately for a job and had no idea how to operate either his iPhone or MacBook computer. How did that happen? Well, his assistant had taken care of that kind of stuff, but suddenly his life and livelihood had been dumped into the proverbial waste can and he had nothing or nowhere to hide.

I took him through the massive amount of knowledge gained through my years of mastering all levels of computer and phone technology (it took about 20 minutes!), and he kept mumbling about how grateful he was that I would help him. We successfully sent his resume to a potential employer and he rose to go on his way. Then it came. He said, “Man, I think God sent you to be with me today.”

I paused and wondered if I should let him know the “rest of my story,” and just when I was ready to launch into my massive amount of biblical knowledge gained through my years of mastering all levels of theology (it would have taken about 20 days!), I smiled and said, “I can tell you without a doubt, I believe God sent me here today as well!”

As he walked away, I wondered. Should I have said more?

Henry David Thoreau once said: “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Paul once said: “It is not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process, but God, who makes things grow.”

Jesus once said: “But the good ground is the hearts of good people, who remember God’s Word and try, every day of their lives, to do as He wishes us to do, and to live holy and useful lives. The seed falling upon their hearts becomes strongly rooted and grows up vigorously, bearing good fruit.”

Perhaps what I experienced was a case of “seeding and believing.” Thanks be to God!

Fear Cuts Both Ways

I hate to miss the irony of historical coincidence. Being an ever-reflective historian (yes, I read “This Day In History”), I discover two sad but true events taking place on October 3, thirteen years apart.

On October 3, 1995, an estimated 140 million Americans listen on radio or watch on television (I was one of them) as the acquittal verdict of the O. J. Simpson trial is read. On October 3, 2008, he is found guilty of 12 charges related to the incident, including armed robbery and kidnapping, and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

While there is no real significance to the parallel dates, there is significance to the downfall of a man’s life, whose destruction began, at least publically, with reports of domestic abuse. Imagine this, a NFL football player is accused of domestic abuse. How do you spell “Déjà vu”?

With the carnival-like atmosphere of the arrest and trial of O. J. Simpson broadcast on television, we forget the unraveling of his life starts with charges of domestic abuse. A Heisman Trophy winner and star running back for the Buffalo Bills, Orenthal James Simpson becomes a popular television personality who marries Nicole Brown in 1985 and pleads no contest to a charge of spousal battery in 1989. She files for divorce in 1992 but is stabbed to death along with Ronald Goldman in June of 1994.

I grew up around domestic abuse although my story is one with an unusual and ironic twist. My father is killed in a work accident when I am 6 years old and my mother struggles for years with her grief and devastation. At least two of my mother’s husbands (she is married 3 more times and I call them her husbands because they are never fathers to me, she makes sure of that) attempt to abuse her physically. I say “attempt” because Mom, steeled by her grief and Hazard, Kentucky upbringing, does not allow it for two reasons: no man is worth it and her guns are always nearby.

What I most remember about the underlying anger birthed by the arguing and fighting is the all-consuming presence of fear. It is more than a fear of the unknown; it is a fear of loss, a fear of surrender, a fear of acceptance. It is not a fear of something that might happen, but a fear of what has happened and may happen again and again and again.
When I think of all the “stuff” happening in our country (ISIS, killing of black men by white police officers, domestic abuse, Ebola, growing distance between the rich and poor, campus sexual assault), I recognize the place of fear in all of these. Fear is the classic example of a double-edged sword: while a necessary ingredient to maturity, it can also be a cesspool for hatred.

Simply put, there is a good fear and a bad fear.

• Good fear is an instinct for protection and security. Good fear is a prompting to pay attention and make prioritized decisions.
• Bad fear is created with misconceptions, prejudice and pain that shackles us to a confused view of reality. Bad fear distorts the truth either by exaggerating evil or underestimating the potential for good.

• Good fear is what Nicole Brown is feeling when she leaves her husband.
• Bad fear is what O. J. Simpson is feeling when he physically hurts and ultimately kills (yes, I believe he was guilty) his wife.

• Good fear is what my brother and I feel as we hear our stepfather threaten our mother.
• Bad fear is what places my brother and I on the front porch of our home on Decoursey Avenue in Covington, Kentucky one night with a loaded shotgun as our drunken stepfather menacingly circles the block in his car.

Good fear and bad fear are daily choices. I suspect American novelist Marilynne Robinson is correct in her confession: “I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear.” For followers of Christ, there is an added dynamic to our daily encounters with fear. When scripture says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18), it means our access to a loving relationship with God can tilt the scales of fear in the direction of good.

Maybe the most realistic advice is captured by something Katherine Patterson writes in Jacob Have I Loved; “To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”