Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dogs and Mexican Food

Built into dogs' DNA is the ability to vary greatly in appearance. They can be as small as a Chihuahua, as large as a St. Bernard.  It's micro-evolution, and it's the opposite of macro-evolution. It shows clear design parameters pre-built into the DNA, pre-programmed to be able to change within boundaries.  A dog's DNA will never let it become a cat. But it suggests a creator who likes variety and diversity. 

Humans also have variety programmed into our DNA.  That's where skin-color, facial shape, preferences, and personalities come from. And in case we stagnate, every father and mother brings fresh variables to shake it up.  But I believe not only our bodies and personalities, but even our cultures are within His design.  I believe He loves the variety of cultures. In specific, I want to mention food, probably because I'm hungry and my wife is making me a birthday dinner of Mexican fajitas from scratch. (The refried beans take about two to three days to make.) 

There's a lot to say for Chinese food, for Italian pastas and American hamburgers. But personally I'm most grateful for Mexican food, including that cultural mutt called Tex-Mex.  The world would be emptier without it.  And I like to suspect that God himself is delighted in Mexican food, just as he laughs for joy at tiny Chihuahuas and giant St. Bernards.  Splendid plan, God!  Time to eat.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

THOUGHTS: As the Sparks Fly Upward

They say man is born for misery as the sparks fly upward. I won't deny it's true. Too many aches creep over me with each passing year--my back, my knees already growing creaky. Like black dust from this nearby factory too many disappointments gather on me, heroes fallen, friends hurt, hopes dashed, dreams laid aside in a quiet cabinet.  Too many times I have seen tears, especially tears that I have caused, to deny our misery.

But somehow in the soot and ashes of our lives You live.  Take us as a child again, grown old and cold into the gathering of Your arms. Wash us with the tears we wept, take frayed ends and mend and dust and wash and shine until Your own divine glows in our face again, until the sin and sadness we have brought ourselves are long forgotten beneath Your blue skies and sun. Remember our frail frames, our names written in the sand, for the wind is blowing.

Because we are indeed Your own give us enough sunshine to walk and reach our home. Give us enough shelter to find strength. And from there we stagger out under the stars and raise our hands, for the wind is joy, and the sand is warm, and even in the night there is enough light. We sit with the others you have sent around the firelight and raise our eyes to heaven as the sparks fly upward.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

They Don't Deserve Compassion

Apparently I've got the spiritual gift of Mercy in large doses. But some of my thoughts recently might not seem very merciful.

I was walking by a courtyard near our apartment in China the other day on the way to a meeting. Heaps of trash were littered around the edges of the small courtyard, and two or three small children were sitting in the dusty middle and playing with their plastic toys.  My heart was at first wrenched at the sight of their poor living condition.  After a minute of thought, however, I changed my mind. The trash didn't get there by accident. Their families are the ones who threw all the trash carelessly around the courtyard.  They made their own mess.

Another example of my recent hard-heartedness:  After seeing beggars in China (and even more sad, those who should be begging but are too proud), I began to have little patience with American beggars.

Beggars and many homeless in America, as far as I can tell, live that way as their choice of lifestyle.  I've dabbled a little in street ministries, enough to know there are places devoted to giving people a roof over their head and getting people back on their feet. Say what you want about the difficult situations of homeless beggars in America, it doesn't hold a candle to the plight of a Chinese beggar.  They have truly fallen between the cracks and there is no way back up again, ever.

*Flush* went my merciful feelings for American beggars.

So those who loudly clamor about how people deserve compassion are often mistaken.  There are some orphans and truly helpless to whom I still award the label "deserving" to, but so many others get themselves into deep doo through their own ignorance and stupid choices.  My neighbors don't "deserve" compassion for playing by the trash piles they themselves made.

Then I got snagged by the word "deserve."

Do I deserve the education I've gotten?  Or forgiveness for the various mistakes I've made that have put me deep in the doo?   Or the patience and untiring help of the Only Good One?

I realized I can still have mercy and compassion on my neighbors and their trash, and on American beggars. Not because they deserve it, but because God loves to give undeserved compassion.  He is more understanding than we deserve, more patient than we deserve, and more helpful than we deserve.  And I have the joy of learning to be like Him.  Not to mention taking advantage of His compassion myself.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beggars and Burning Questions

I've been preparing to leave for China, travelling to China, and getting set up in a new apartment with my wife in China for the past some weeks, so I haven't had the chance to blog. In addition, blogspot is one of the many sites that are blocked from viewing in China. But for the moment I've found a way around the Great Firewall and am blogging again.

China is getting along fine compared to many countries in the world.  Few people are starving to death, and if you're intellectually gifted you have a chance to rise in society.  There is a sense of order and progress of sorts here, not the hopeless despondency hanging over many places on our globe.  But still, compared to the American suburbs I frequent, there is a lot of raw poverty here.

So how do you respond when you walk past a girl sitting in a huge pile of trash, smiling?  What do you do about the man in tattered clothes standing over there, picking some leftover food out of another trash pile in the alley?  And what do you do when you try to give him some food but he refuses it?  And what about the crippled boy with open sores lying on the sidewalk, begging?  Most likely the sores were purposefully given to him by a beggar boss, and all his proceeds go to the local Fagin. (It feels like Oliver Twist here at times.)

Once I bought an ice cream cone from McDonald's for one of these boys, preferring to give him food instead of money.  He violently refused the ice cream cone, and when I put it in front of him, he batted it away onto the sidewalk.  I suspected his boss was watching, so I went back inside and kept an eye on him.  After a few minutes, the boy looked around, and cautiously crawled over to the ice cream cone melting on the dirty sidewalk. As I left I saw him licking it hungrily.

If there were one or two such sad cases I could try to handle it. But in a country of 1.3 billion they seem limitless and this Ugly American realizes how tiny his fists are that beat against the vast iron wheel of the world.

So should I sorrow or not sorrow?  If you allow all the sorrows of the world into your heart you will be broken. I have done that before.  Yet tomorrow I'm going to an IKEA to buy some modern furniture or appliances for our new apartment. How does that fit in with the squalor nearby me?

Somehow I must find life with sensible compassion. I must do what I can in my small way to bring the kingdom. But is there a place for beauty and brightly furnished apartments? Where is the place for laughter and even pleasure? If I lose all my joy what do I have to give those without joy?

How wide do I open the door of my heart to the world's sorrows? How often should I allow my smile to become a grimace?

And in the back of my mind I always hear the warning:
"You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter."