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Storm Warning

My friends, Glen and Roberta Roachelle, once sat in a beachside restaurant as a storm moved in. Just as they took their first sip of coffee, a wave crashed over the seawall and against the windows. As diners laughed nervously, Glen told Roberta, “Let’s leave right now.”

When they stepped outside, a larger wave blew out the windows. Water and shards of glass filled the area where they had sat moments earlier.

The Gathering Storm

Storms are essential; they transport water, often across areas of drought, and redistribute temperatures between the poles and the equator. They cleanse the air and land, nourish crops, replenish aquifers, etc.

They also kill. Storm surge, wind, lightning, freezing, and flooding can wipe out human life, quickly and extensively. The Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900 killed 8 – 10 thousand people. In 1970, a cyclone wiped out a half million people in East Pakistan.

A massive (and essential) storm is moving across our land. We see features of it every day; a culture of outrage, random violence, family and friends divided by politics, shocking increases of suicide and opioid usage, escalating vulgarity, and a general loss of decency and decorum.

Despite the transitory pain and disruption, I believe the storm will bring long-term transformation (as storms always do). That’s why I think focusing on Trump, immigration, Islam, sexual identity, or technological intrusions misses the larger picture. Comparatively, they are all mere data points for the massive storm.

Be There

Just as no one can control earthquakes, tornados, droughts, or hurricanes, humans have no power over the direction, intensity, or consequences of the storm pounding our country now. But, we might survive if we take precautions. Here are a few:

  • BE KIND

    Because our social environment is so combustible, words explode as matches dropped in dry leaves. I know conflict screams for engagement, but be careful! Think about it; getting combative over politics, Facebook, or Jesus is not going to change anyone’s mind. But, kindness often shifts the focus to the things that really matter.

  • STAY HOME

    In 2017, I heard an ER doctor tell a high school graduating class, “Trust me; nothing good happens after midnight. Please go home.” Remember, home is (or can be) a sanctuary. You don’t need a reason to go home; you need a reason to leave.

  • BE SUBVERSIVE

    We all live through an insane insistence that we conform to the dysfunction around us. But, the sane person must be subversive—a secret agent of lucidity and stability—in times of insanity. And to be sane today is to live and speak generously. Reach through the fog of politics to connect with people. Serve others. Stop, look, listen. Pray for one another. Give a damn.
  • KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL

    Our cultural storm includes a tornadic swirl of nudges, suggestions, invitations, and demands. Ignore them. Good grief; you’re on home plate and the pitch is screaming toward you. The gnats don’t warrant your attention.

  • REMAIN INSIDE MORAL AND ETHICAL SAFETY

    We are living through a monumental collapse of those who ignored the classic standards of ethics and morality. We should not judge them, but the career destruction and humiliation should be all the warning we need to humble ourselves and increase our moral and ethical vigilance. Run to God’s safety and rest.
  • BE QUIET

    One line of the Miranda warning says, “Anything you say can and will be used against you…” What do we not understand about “can and will?” Stop talking! Pretending you’re mute can save your time, money, reputation, and perhaps your freedom. My brother Vernon, a longtime Kansas Sheriff says, “The right to be silent is one of our most precious freedoms, and so few use it.”

  • TRANSCEND REACTION

    Our culture invests great energies and dollars to goading people to react. And, when we are continuously prodded by anger, outrage, temptation, and other provocations, we tend to become reactive. We wait to be told when to click, buy, get mad, exhibit outrage, what to believe, etc. But, remember, you don’t have to explain anything or make everyone happy. Rise above reaction; live straight ahead.

Look; storms are inevitable. They serve the Creator’s purposes. But, they’re also dangerous. That’s why civilizations develop storm warnings. By taking mindful cautions, you can survive and continue in your life’s purpose. As Coach Dan Reeves said in an old pharmaceutical commercial, “It’s your future. Be there.”

The Day Love Arrived

Christmas 1954 marked ten years since my dad’s ship, the USS Princeton, was destroyed in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. That horrific explosion caused sea and sky to trade places. In the vortex of fire and water and hot metal falling from the sky, Dad ended up in a life raft. He was alive but more battle-scarred than anyone could have seen in those days.

My brother Vernon and I grew up in the shadow of the Princeton (Carl was born later). Jack Chinn, a young husband and father of two boys, was a good man caught in a death struggle with a psychological python. A doctor today would surely write “PTSD” on Dad’s chart. During that time, Dad began to wrestle with God, praying long and loudly in our little house. Dad and his God scared me, especially when his physical correction turned dark and violent.

In 1954, he and Mom bought a small farm at the edge of town. The morning after the closing, Dad hated the place. His prayers got longer, louder, and scarier. As a little boy, I slowly realized that my parents had spent all they had on that farm. In fact, I later learned, they only had $9.00 to spend for Christmas. So, they decided to skip gifts for each other and spend that meager amount on gifts for their sons.

Then, on Christmas morning, a pickup from a big lumber yard in town pulled into our driveway. The driver ran up on the porch and knocked. When Dad opened the door, the man handed him a small gift.

“Merry Christmas, Jack.”

Dad thanked the man and opened the box to find a beautiful pocketknife. Although the gift was merely business, he dropped into a dining room chair and began to sob. That was the first time I ever saw Dad cry. Then he looked up at Mom and said, “Now, you’re the only one who didn’t get a Christmas present.”

He couldn’t take it. That apparent injustice pushed his emotions up over the river banks in his heart.

What Mom, Vernon, and I saw that day was probably the collective force of stress. A rough financial period (which didn’t last very long), deep regrets about a major purchase, unrelenting turmoil over buddies who died in the Pacific, and a too-long-too-silent God finally blew him apart.

But the emotional scene in the dining room carried something entirely different to me. I saw the depth of Dad’s love for his family. My parents were always in love with each other, but before that day I hadn’t seen Dad’s love for me. Then, in a raw, spontaneous moment, on Christmas, his love flooded that little farmhouse.

That’s why 1954 remains my favorite childhood Christmas.

Looking back over six decades, I think that day probably caught the first sonar pings of faith for me. I came face-to-face with the magnificent love of my father and my Father.

Like a bead of water holding the image of a mountain, what happened that day caught the elemental character and purpose of God. His Love is His Light, a dominion, invading the dark. I’ve long seen our family as among “those who sat in darkness saw a great light. And for those who lived in the shadow of death, a light has shined.” (Matthew 4:12)

That great Light of God came into the dark. And the Light won. Even Dad’s dark night of the soul was no match for what entered our home that day. That dawning Light slowly drove the darkness from his mind. And, for two little boys, that Light began swallowing the terrible shadow of the Princeton.

That Light was and is a jurisdictional issue. It carries authority and recognizes no boundaries. The darkness has no light and no dominion. As John described so elegantly: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

That simple verse is the best summary of Christmas ever written. I first saw it in action 63 years ago. I still see it every day.

Going Home

Every society falls along the line between order and chaos. And we all know the names of the command centers along that line: patrol car, court, jail, prison, hospital, morgue, and mortuary.

 

Those who work in those command centers know that those places inevitably squeeze out one word: “home.” It is whispered or growled, laughed or sobbed; “Go on home, son.” “Can I go home now?” “Ma’am, please take your daughter home.” “Oh, Mama; Daddy just went home to be with the Lord.”

 

What and Where is Home?

Have you ever walked into a house, garden, maybe a hotel suite, or place of worship and felt an immediate sense of harmony, safety, and belonging? I think that is the image of our true Home inscribed on our heart. For as long as we live on earth we seek that image. And from time to time we catch a fleeting glimpse of it.

 

Home is that enclosure, that construction of solid, protective walls and roof, wherein we find peace and rest. As Dryden said, “Home is the sacred refuge of our life.” And “sacred” may be the key. A true home is a holy place; built, crowned, and furnished with the blessing of The One.

 

Although we enjoy rest within those walls, we also dwell carefully, lest the holy atmosphere – the “Heaven on earth” – depart. That’s why Joanne and I use caution about who or what – sounds, images, thoughts, attitudes, words – enter into our house. Because we see our home as an embassy of Heaven, it must reflect the spirit of the home country.

 

The Fragility of Civilization

A friend who spent time in prison told me that the worst part of incarceration is the prisoner’s loss of control over his or her environment. The levels of noise and light remain harsh and inescapable. So often, when I watch or listen to news, his description chills my spine and spirit. We often don’t know what a great treasure we hold until we lose it. And losing our safe place is one of the most severe losses in life.

 

Jay Nordlinger recently wrote, “Civilization requires constant, hard work. It does not run on auto-pilot.” I am concerned that the rootless, seething, mostly young, men and women caught so vividly in the televised conflicts do not carefully hold the great treasure that is America. And losing it would create a national prison; our safe places would vanish. Harsh light and sound would dominate.

 

So often, when I see people or scenes on the news (as in Las Vegas), I immediately wonder if he or she – that person right there! – has or ever knew a place called home. Did the thieves, murderers, and rapists that walk through courtrooms ever, one day in their lives, feel sheltered, needed, or loved? Do those rioting in streets, regardless of background or cause, know the peace and quiet of a safe place?

 

Please Go Home

A few months ago, I heard an Emergency Room doctor tell my granddaughter’s High School graduation audience, “Nothing good happens after midnight. Please go home.”

 

What a brilliant observation by one who lives and works on that line between order and chaos. So, why do so many spend so much time away from home at night? What sheared them off from the quiet safety of home?

 

One of many oddities of our time is that we only seem to value things that are somewhere else. We don’t sufficiently cherish spending time with others – spouse, children, parents, friends, relatives – who live within, or pass through, our house. We have little desire to dive into meals, crafts, projects, books, or music at home. We must, it seems, always go somewhere else in order to touch, spend, eat, drink.

 

One of our neighbors recently told us that she and her fiancée were beaten and knocked unconscious, in a bar the previous night. I so wanted to ask, “What was the downside of just being home?”

 

Scientists know that we can go as far into the microcosm as we can into the macrocosm. They are equally vast and mysterious. That may be why “going home” is one of the most beautiful phrases ever spoken or considered. Maybe we’re all called to explore the depths and layers of the incomprehensible safety and beauty of “home.”

 

And maybe it’s time to defy the centrifugal forces that spin us away from going home. Discovering the joy, gentleness, and quiet rest that awaits us there could be the most radical act any of us will ever attain in this life.

 

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