Monday, September 18, 2017

Are You Swimming With the Dead Fish? (Part 2)

            IN LAST WEEK’S POST, we explored the importance of swimming against the current and not living like dead fish, which flow with the stream. We talked about how trout point their front ends toward the current so they can more easily catch tasty treats flowing downstream toward them, rather than spending their lives darting around, exhausting themselves in their hunt for food.

            Do you feel as though you’re darting around in circles with life, without a real purpose, exhausting yourself trying to keep up with the world—news, investments, work, living the good life (whatever that is), Facebook posts, tweets, and comments, and striving (frantically) for more. Are you driven by FOMO—the Fear of Missing Out? (It’s actually become a kind of obsession and disease.)

            Or have you done your honest soul digging and come to the realization that living the Christian life is going to look more like a salmon swimming upstream against the current? Or at least it should feel that way. Not burdensome, but a constant exercise in resisting the current of the world.

            Let’s simplify the salmon run we talked about last week: swim toward the current and leap, then take breather and leap again. Swim, leap, rest. Swim, leap, rest. Running until your lifecycle is complete and you lay down your earthly carcass and have it replaced with a new, permanent and heavenly model.

            How determined are you to live life contrary to the flow? How much time are you dedicating to strengthening and renewing your mind with God’s word to aid your journey and make it really successful?

            Unfortunately, some (actually, many) of us have become dead fish. We’ve looked the world in the face, decided we’ve had enough against-the-current swimming and have elected to let the current push us along. We’ve succumbed to the easy, soft culture rather than be different in how we think and live our lives. We mistake love with getting along with everyone.

            Matthew Lee Anderson in a 2010 post on his blog site "Mere Orthodoxy" explored T.S. Eliot’s comments in the writer’s book Four Quartets. In it Eliot says, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

            Anderson notes: “My own generation, the “millenials,” love to talk about being ‘authentic.’ And well we should, for whatever else happens we cannot fail in honesty or veracity to that which we are—in Christ.

            “But as Eliot reminds us, authenticity isn’t easy. Rather, it is the most difficult thing of all. Acknowledging the reality of who we are is the sort of enterprise that will inevitably fail unless aided by grace. The moment we claim to ‘know ourselves’ is precisely the moment when we are most prone to self-deception, especially if that knowledge is not mediated to us by the Word of God.

            “Our age is one of deep confusion about the nature and authority of reality, and one of endless amusements to help us avoid it. We are, to return to Eliot, ‘distracted from distraction by distraction,’ working tirelessly to avoid God, our neighbors, and ourselves.  No generation has been able to bear reality—ours is simply the first that has been able to construct a virtual alternative that is more to our liking.”

            Wow! Able to construct a virtual alternative that is more to our liking.

            Many of us have reconstructed reality. Or tried to. The only problem with it is that God’s reality still stands, and it is by His reality that we will all be judged. Not by the ones we’ve made up so that boundaries and our lives fall in more places for us.

            And one of the reasons we flip from facing the current to being pushed along by it is the fact that many of us have an aversion to being alone with God. We don’t like His rules so we avoid Him. We don’t like His expectations, so we ignore them.

            As our pastor said in his sermon: “We need to eat and live and breathe Jesus Christ. We constantly need to pray, ‘Lord, do not let me be gullible or weak and easily led astray.’” When you’re not spending much time with God, it’s easy to get pulled off course and flipped around to being tugged and carried downstream. Like a powerless, dead fish.

            Beefing up your mental, emotional and psychological muscles to fight the good fight doesn’t mean having a toxic mouth, or putting on boxing gloves, or taking up a placard and marching around as a radical culture warrior. It means living out your faith with other believers day by day by day. Urging one another on to good works that reveal the glory of our Heavenly Father. Maybe living more like a First Century Christian than a 21st Century one.

            One resource for doing that is Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Take a look at it on for the reviews. I’m a big Bonhoeffer fan. He’s a deep thinker, and sometimes it takes several reads to wrap your brain around what he says, but he’s always challenging, pushing, thinking. Something few of us do well these days.

            So the questions I leave you to ponder this week are:

            1. How can I take one step to living closer to Christ and with my brothers and sisters 
                in the faith?
            2. What can I do that is different than what I’m doing right now to make that happen?

Next week we’ll be returning to our study of Peace. That topic just never goes out of style!

Until next week.

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images          

Monday, September 11, 2017

Are You Swimming With the Dead Fish? (Part 1)

            How would you answer that question: Are you swimming with the dead fish?      
            Malcolm Muggeridge, English journalist, author, media personality and satirist and later a WWII soldier and spy, famously commented, “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.”
            Did you ever consider that before? If you’re not a fisherman, maybe not. But if you’re a trout fisherman and really into fly fishing, you know that trout will face the stream current and swim to stay in place. Why? So they can be in a good position to snag those tasty little insets and worms floating by on the current. It ends up being an easy way for them to catch their meal, so they don’t need to exhaust themselves darting around in circles trying to catch the food. They face the current and let it carry their meal right to them.
            And one sage on-line writer pointed out that if a fish wants to remain in its home territory, it’s going to have to swim against the current once in a while just to stay put.

            A year ago when the engineer, our younger son and I traveled to Seattle, Washington for our older son’s wedding, we had the opportunity to visit Ballard Locks, a complex system of locks located at the west end of Salmon Bay between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. While it was fascinating and fun to watch the boats of all sizes and shapes (including a couple of guys in their teeny two-man kayak) move through the locks, it was even more fascinating to watch the salmon fight to ascend and scale the fish ladders—the special devices constructed to aid the natural migration of migrating fish.
            I know right now you’re probably thinking: “Okay, so what’s the point of the biology discussion, Andrea?” Stay with me and you’ll understand.

            For those of you unfamiliar with salmon, they’re born in freshwater, hang out there for a while and then migrate out to the sea to mature. Then—after two to seven years—they return to their hometown streams and rivers to spawn a new generation. Baby salmon are called fry, and we were able to witness them shooting out of the lock falls as they headed toward the sea.
            Watching the salmon navigate the ladders (which aren’t actual ladders with rungs but ascending pools) was a real treat. We sat there for a long time watching them head back to Lake Washington after several years of ocean survival. We imagined what they had had to endure out in the unforgiving sea. And now they were fighting for all it was worth to return “home” to spawn, and then die.
            Some of them seemed a little tenuous as they approached the series of ascending pools. In order to get to each pool—where they take a little time to rest—they must swim against a cascade of rushing water (a current) and then be taken up through an opening or doorway that leads to the next pool. And the water can’t be a light flow, either. Salmon move by powerful bursts, so the water they swim against in these ladders has to be strong enough for them to be attracted to it.
            Read that last line again. The current has to be strong enough for them to be attracted to it. Pretty amazing isn’t it? A salmon will not be attracted to the ladder unless the current is strong. It can’t be too strong to exhaust them before they make it to their destination, but it has to be strong enough to attract them.

            Ballard Locks uses a pool-weir fishway, with a hole at the bottom of each level so the salmon can jump to the next level. When they finally made it to the right point in front of the hole, or doorway, and ventured forward, it almost appeared as the fish was being sucked through a tube or vacuum. They just sort of rapidly disappeared. But they weren’t being sucked. They were jumping to the next pool tier, or level.
            But you could tell which fish were taking a little breather before trying to ascend to the next level (there are 21 of them at the Ballard Fish Ladder) and which ones were ready to move on. The “resters” swam around in circles and avoided the hole. They swam up and down and tested the current and turned around and swam back toward the other hole they’d just emerged from and then repeated the process. Over and over and over. And even though they were “resting” they still had current they needed to swim against in order to stay in the pool.
            While we observers were cheering them on to push through to the next level, (and, I might add, excited for them to do so just so we could witness the process), the fish appeared to be smart enough to move on when they were ready to move on (regardless of how their audience felt). And, of course, there were probably more timid and pragmatic salmon than others, testing the current, waiting, approaching, testing some more and then finally making the decision to go for it.   
            It didn’t seem like a particularly easy process, even for the ready-to-move-up-and-on fish. Some of them would swim toward the hole and get pushed back or sideways by the current. Then they’d try to navigate it again. And again. And again. Until they were ready, and hit the current just right to shoot up and over to the next level. We were mesmerized and could have watched the process for hours. The engineer and I wanted to return to watch it when we were there last month, but we had too many other things to experience that we hadn’t seen before and ran out of time. Too bad. It’s prime salmon running season right now.

            But my question today is: Does any of this sound like life to you? Do you feel as though you’re sometimes fighting for all it’s worth to get home? To finish the race.

            Before you answer, let’s return to the trout, and being a dead fish that swims with the stream.
            Muggeridge’s point, while funny, is an arrow shot in the hearts and minds of those who blindly or willingly follow the crowd or march to the tempo of the world’s drummer.
            Muggeridge used fish as a metaphor for how some of us live our lives. In the case of our pastor’s use of it during a recent sermon, it draws a word picture of the way many Christians, particularly Western Christians, live their lives. (I think it also conjures up some strong sensory responses too. Dead fish are pretty stinky.)
            The truth is that it’s a struggle against this world to hang onto Jesus and the Gospel. It requires real effort. It isn’t a matter of just accepting Christ and then everything going along smoothly and life turning out just peachy for the remainder of your days. If anything, it may even be more difficult. And Jesus knew it would be; He warned His followers about that. He told us troubles would come. He said that the world would be against us. And He told us to be of good cheer in spite of it because He has already overcome the world. Expect and plan for trouble, don’t be surprised when it comes, and be happy in spite of it because you know the One who’s taking care of and providing for you.
            In other words, live life like a trout and always have your front end pointed against the current. Although it may seem more difficult, it actually makes life a little easier. And the same is true of believers. If you’re always facing Jesus—watching Him, studying Him, fellowshipping with Him—you don’t pay as much attention to the world rushing by you, trying to sweep you away with it. You aren’t looking longingly and regretfully at the back of the crowd after they rush by or trying to figure out what direction to head. You don’t try to jockey yourself into position to be a part of the flow. You aren’t paralyzed and dragged along with them by FOMO—the Fear of Missing Out.
            Instead, you’re busy being fed by the One who knows what you need and how to properly feed you.

            As for the salmon. It takes a pretty strong, determined salmon to make it back through those ladders, return through a natural waterfall, swimming against the current to return home where its instincts are drawing it.

            And that leads to my next question: Where are your instincts drawing you? Are you fighting to get there? Or are you still out in the ocean of life, trying to survive and grow and mature? They are all natural seasons of life. What we need to do is make sure we’re not fighting against any of them. That we’re not making life harder for ourselves than it needs to be. And we always need to make sure we’re facing the right direction.
            And we need to make sure that our instincts are always tuned to some day returning home.
            Another thing we need to do is be very careful and deliberate about what we’re doing while we’re out maturing and living in the ocean. That big hyphen between the birth and death dates is where it happens, where the race is fought. Getting kicked out of the comfortable, familiar habitat into a dangerous, unforgiving life is rough.

            But you need to move out when the instincts draw you out. You need to live and grow where you’re planted. You need to fight the good fight and run the race.
            Which brings me back to Mr. Muggeridge’s comment and my question, the one that started all of this salmon running and trout feeding discussion in the first place.
            Are you swimming with the dead fish?

 Next week we’ll take this discussion a little further to see how we can escape the dead fish mode.

Until then,

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images

Monday, September 4, 2017

On Laboring, Suffering, and Thriving

            Today in the United States, we’re celebrating labor, and Labor. Wikipedia describes it as a day that “… honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country.” Which is actually a quote from our government’s official website on the holiday. As though anything else but the hard work of our citizens could have contributed to the country’s economic success.

            It’s really kind of a socialist or communist idea where we honor the workingman, specifically the labor unions in our country. (Somehow it irks me that we have a day that leans toward blue-collar labor and doesn’t say too much about white-collar labor, both of which are necessities to making a country hum and prosper. Sorry, I digress into politics.)
            More than 100 years after its founding, though, I’m going to guess that I’d be hard pressed to find anyone out and about on Labor Day able to give you the meaning of the day. That’s probably because it’s now pretty much dedicated to hard-core consumerism, and much of the work force isn’t relaxing or celebrating the day at all—with picnics and rest and neighborhood football games—but laboring to sell goods at a shopping mall.
            The engineer always gets the day off—officially, but sometimes (being an writer-solopreneur), you’ll find me parked at my desk for part of the day, pecking away at my keyboard, trying to meet an editing deadline. If I don’t work, I don’t eat!

            But we’re celebrating in our own way. We’re breaking in a new grill purchased last Friday night. Nothing was wrong with our old grill—until the pack rats decided it looked like a good high-rise in which to set up house while we were enjoying the great Northwest for three weeks. I’d recently purchased a cover for it, to protect it from the desert elements, and they found that even more convenient. What could be better than a high rise with a weather cape! And the quail block located within inches of the high rise was like an instant supermarket—the inside of the grill was packed to the rafters with birdseed. (I wonder what the quail ended up eating?)
            Anyway, we retired the 26-year-old grill (actually heaved into the trailer to cart to the dump), and went to a local big box do-it-yourself store to acquire a new one. The engineer’s happy. This new grill has a rotisserie component we didn’t have before, so he can skewer deceased game hen and watch them whirl around and roast to a golden brown over the gas flames.
            (The engineer and I actually considered cleaning the grill out and sterilizing it as best as we could, until our younger son screwed up his face in horror and reminded us pack rats are notorious for carrying the plague. Hmmm, good point, son! Into the trash it went.)


        But for many in our fair country, today is not a day of labor or shopping or grilling. Today is a day of survival. Of waiting to be rescued from water-filled homes, of trying to reunite with their loved ones, of mourning friends or family who died in devastating Hurricane Harvey. They’re trying to survive in some overcrowded shelter and trying not to ponder (too much, at least) what remains of their homes, their belongings, their lives. Businesses aren’t doing business (even on workdays), and some workers are trying to figure out how to keep their businesses from exploding. Literally.
            And in the midst of it all, survivors know what their priorities are, and who is still worthy of being praised, even in the midst of heartache, calamity, fears, and unknowns.
            Since this is Music Monday, I want to share the following YouTube video with all of my readers.
            Gospel singers Victoria White and Marquist Taylor went on a mission in Houston. To a shelter. Actually, to several shelters. They have gifts, and they were called by God to use them. And they did. These two have the voices of angels and ooze the love, joy, and hope of Jesus. They went to lift spirits, and they succeeded.
            And there are a couple of Casting Crown songs that are appropriate for the events of this week too.
            “Jesus, Hold Me Now"
            “Until the Whole World Hears”
            “Just Be Held”
            Then put your hands together for their “Thrive” song! Yes, we can survive and thrive in the storms of life, no matter what kind they are. It might take a while to recover, but with God all things are possible. And we'll get there.

            Are these not the most amazing, persevering and hopeful cowboys you’ve ever seen?! 

          And then there are those who possess an un-squelchable sense of humor and find an opportunity in everything!

          Make it a great week of labor and rest and Thriving! And keep praying for everyone in the great State of Texas!

I’ll be right back here next week, God willing!

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images