Saturday, September 24, 2011

If It's On A Church Sign, It Must Be True

I passed a church today whose sign informed me that I’m going to hell.   The message wasn’t quite that direct, of course.  It was couched in the semi-sweet chocolate of religious metaphor mixed with a generous dose of homey satire but its underlying message was clear: I shouldn’t expect to be standing in the line that enters the pearly gates after my demise.  It’s not that I might make it to the line and get stuck there, like someone waiting outside the new, hip nightclub trying to persuade the doorman to let him across the rope.  Nope.  According to the sign, I’ll be at a different address, searching for some sunscreen with an SPF factor of a zillion.
To be fair, the church sign didn’t specifically mention my name in its message of condemnation.  It wasn’t directed at me personally.  It was for everyone that passed by – everyone that failed to do or act or think in the way that the church sign announced must be done to avoid a fiery future.  It isn’t just me that is going to hell.  Lots of us are.   
This isn’t the first church sign that I’ve read which announces death and destruction to those who read it.  They’re very common.   There’s one particular church in our community whose pronouncements are so boldly acidic that I can only imagine how miserable and depressing a community of believers must be that would post such bitter messages.
The thing that strikes me odd about these church signs is that everyone already knows they’re imperfect.  Everyone is fully aware of their faults, their shortcomings, their failures to do the right thing at the appropriate times, the struggle to have integrity and honor and commitment to a goal higher than oneself.   And for some people, their life situation is so difficult , they probably think they’re in hell right now.  None of us really needs a church sign to reinforce our insecurities, self-doubt and anxiety.   That’s what existentialist philosophers are for.
What many people could benefit from is a word of encouragement, an acknowledgement that their life has meaning and a hopeful optimism that values kindness above condemnation.   That, after all, is the message that Jesus told his followers to spread – the good news.  “I have not come to condemn the world,” Jesus is quoted as saying in John’s gospel.
Imagine that.  A church sign that says we are your neighbors not your judge.  If they could just get that part right, there is hope that they could act on another of Jesus’ sayings:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Less-Traveled Road

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Magic Carpet Rides

Abby sits in the middle of the wagon while I pull her around the yard, down the driveway, along the street in front of our house and back to where we started.   She occasionally points here or there with the confident authority of an eighteen-month-old and tells me something in gibberish.  We trace this path several times and I ask if she’s ready to do something else.  She wags her head “no”, which is her first answer to every question these days, so we continue.   A moment later she reconsiders her response and begins climbing over the side, unconcerned that I’m still pulling it.  I stop and help her from her little green coach and she holds my hand as we head to the garage to store the wagon in its place.   Another journey completed.
I haven’t kept count but this is probably the hundredth-something time that I’ve chauffeured one of my grandkids in this wagon.  And the hundredth-something time we’ve shared this experience together. 
Abby is the latest in a line of passengers that began fourteen years ago when Damian was a toddler.   Sitting in the well of a brand new Step 2 wagon, propped up with pillows and blankets, we embarked on our journeys.  When he was old enough not to wobble too much, we left the pillows behind but carried our sense of adventure with us.   Around the yard a half-dozen times just for fun.   Four blocks to the neighborhood park.  A little farther to the elementary school play yard.   An expedition to the distant convenience store to retrieve candy bars in winter and ice cream in summer.   Racing down the sidewalk for half a block, zig-zagging from side to side.  When the wagon came out of the garage, an adventure  of some sort  would likely follow. 
Along came Brianna and Evan and out came the pillows and blankets again until before long they were old enough to negotiate among themselves who would sit  in front and who would sit in back.  Early one  Saturday morning the three of us, Brianna, Evan and myself, set out on an odyssey to the faraway land of the donut shop.  Clad in pjs, wrapped in blankets, they huddled in the wagon, discussing the relative merits of sprinkles and chocolate as we coursed our way through the neighborhood and across the strip shopping center to the counter of breakfast delights. 
The sturdy green wagon has been absolutely great.  Solid and well-built, it’s practically indestructible.  Its life seems endless and it’s age is apparent only by its fading color and the scuff marks of time.   To paraphrase the chorus of a children’s song, the wheels on the bus have gone round and round for close to fifteen years and they show no sign of stopping.
Yes, it’s been and continues to be a great wagon.  And the truly wonderful thing is that the better part of its purpose is also as enduring, as timeless as its physical attributes.  It remains as constant today as the first time I pulled my oldest grandson down the driveway because the little green wagon is something beyond its sundry components.  It’s not just a toy that transports a child from one place to another.  It carries with it a kind of gestalt, where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.   Just like a magic carpet or a pumpkin turned into a carriage or a winged unicorn, it’s a vehicle that can transform an ordinary ride into an adventure.   
They may not be conscious of the transformative nature of our little journeys, but each of my grandchildren will carry with them a fond memory of the days that we explored the world in a little green wagon.