Cut Through the Static

Cut Through the Static

There are a lot of things I’m sure I couldn’t do even if I wanted to. One of those things would be to rob a train. I’ve riden a horse a couple times but never at high speeds. And even if I could run a horse, the transition from horse to a moving train is reaching too far for me.

But I did hear a story about a recent train robbery. The assailant wasn’t attempting to take anything from the train, he was aiming to take the train itself. Apparently the man attacked the engineer and temporarily seized control.

After the authorities apprehended the man, it was determined he was under the influence (which explains his actions). Clearly the man was in a fight with darkness and so my assessment of this story is not meant to make light of his struggles. I was just intrigued by the prospect of highjacking a train considering the options for escape. Every train is bound to a fixed path built from steel. This means the endgame is already determined and the man’s plan was sure to fail.

It is a sober picture. I don’t want to drive my own life down an unbending track. I don’t want to become set in my ways or locked into a closed loop. In fiction we call those static characters. Though they are moving forward, they never change. I’m not talking about being wishey-washey. Holding to solid convictions is vital. I just want to make sure I pursue humility so I can see my blindspots and become the kind of character who is willing to change for the better.

 

 

The Man Who Made a Guitar

The Man Who Made a Guitar

I knew a man who lived on a hill. His property was covered with metal, tools and trailers and things other men had made.

He didn’t usually come outside, but stayed in where it was warm. Where the light was weak and where the bottles were stored.

I don’t know what he thought about in the dim light. Maybe about his dad throwing him into the wall.

Then one day his body had soaked up enough and his heart began to thrash around because it didn’t know how to swim.

When the man didn’t die, he realized he could have. So he stopped drinking and started going outside.

He took the tools from his trailer and made a guitar. And to my surprise, he gave it to me.

What Would I Die For

What Would I Die For

It was in men’s bathroom near the trailhead for Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park when I was hit with the profound revelation that we protect what we care about. It came as I studied the long metal arm holding three roles of toilet paper. The arm operated like a lever which was secured in the down position by a large brass pad lock. Never mind the fact that I could simply unroll the paper if I really wanted to steal it. The point is someone valued the toilet paper enough to take measures to protect it.

Not long after this I was watching Birth of the Dragon. It is a film loosely based on Bruce Lee at the beginning of his movie career and more specifically on a legendary fight between Lee and another martial artist by the name of Wong Jack-man. One of the movie’s subplots involves a young student of Lee’s who gains an interest learning from this other master. Wong challenges the student to go and find something he is willing to die for. Only then would he consider training the young man.

Both of these experiences reminded me of a quote from G.K. Chesterton which reads, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

If I value comfort, I will guard it. This means I won’t risk or advance in faith. If I value being right, I will protect it. This means I will cut people off who don’t agree with me and struggle to admit when I’m wrong. If I value gaining the world, I will fight for it. This means I may end up forfeiting my soul.

But…

If I care about the kind of man I am becoming, I will receive correction. If I care about knowing the God who made me, I will set my mind to learning him. And if I care about the people within my reach, I will fight on their behalf and be willing to lay down my life so they may live.

Help, I Need Somebody

Help, I Need Somebody

I was sitting in my car alone, waiting for my son to finish an appointment. As I stared through the windshield glazed with rain I began to cry. Within a minute the water on the glass and the water in my eyes mixed together and I couldn’t see much. I was thankful for that vehicle as it was a gift from my in-laws. And it had far exceeded the average life-span for that make and model. But I also knew the car was ready to give up the ghost and I didn’t have the money or the skills to fix it.

It was around then I started praying for a vehicle. This was a tough prayer for me because I don’t like asking for help, from God or from people. A few months passed and my family received another gift, this time from our friends who were relocating to the southern hemisphere. It was a black Nissan pickup truck. I was sitting in the passenger seat of the truck when my friend made the offer. Completely blind sided by the generosity I started to cry. I cry a lot around vehicles.

But God didn’t stop with the truck. It came with a warranty of sorts. If I cover the cost of parts, sometimes the labor is free. The catch is I have to ask for help. A few months ago the brakes started squealing. My wife encouraged me to call my mechanically-minded brother-in-law. He and one of our good mutual friends took an afternoon to teach my boys and I how to change the rotors and pads. The men above are among some of the best I know.

And then just recently I had the truck back in his garage for a different sound. The day before I was boxed into the middle lane on the interstate and unable to avoid the twin mattress in my path. I mowed over it going 70. After pulling over, my son and I climbed under the truck and spent a few minutes unwrapping pieces of shredded fabric from the rear axel. Though it helped, the buzzing noise didn’t go away. My brother-in-law quickly diagnosed the issue. The collision had knocked a brake hose causing it to hang down and rub as vehicle accelerated. The fix amounted to some tape and a few zip ties. 

I don’t claim to know how this all works but I do know I am a lot more likely to receive help if I am willing to be humble and ask for it. This is true of men and of God. And the line between those two is usually blurry. When we cry to God for help he often sends his people.

Not Good to be Alone

Not Good to be Alone

There are men who’ve done amazing things in isolation. 

Adventurer Aron Ralston took a solo hike through Blue John Canyon and was pinned to the canyon wall when a massive boulder rolled onto his hand. After being trapped for days, he eventually opted to break and amputate his own arm. He survived. 

Or go back almost two centuries and you will find the story of Hugh Glass. He was a trapper who was left for dead after being severely mauled by a Grizzley bear. Glass clawed and crawled over a thousand miles, mostly alone and under-resourced. He too survived.

These stories provoke something in a man’s heart that is a mix of good and bad. The will to survive, the choice to confront pain, all good things. But we often take it further and glorify the idea of fierce independence.

Consider the following interchange between Alfred and Batman (The Lego Batman Movie)…

Batman: “I don’t do ships, as in relationships.”

Alfred (later that night): “Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling right now?

Batman: “I don’t talk about feelings, Alfred. I don’t have any, I’ve never seen one, I’m a night-stalking, crime fighting, vigilante and a heavy-metal rapping machine. I don’t feel anything emotionally except for rage, 24-7, 365, at a million percent. And if you think that there’s something behind that, then you’re crazy.”

It’s funny because it’s true. This is stance many of us take. But the drive for independence is a lie. It is a lie that gets most men killed (it is possible to die before your heart stops beating by the way). There is a reason the stories above are rare. 

It doesn’t matter how strong we are, how much gear we have or what we think we know. If I am standing in the middle of a dense fog, I need someone from the outside who can see me and show me the break in the trees. 

True, Glass survived. But wouldn’t it have been better if his own men had carried him out of the woods? Yes, Ralston inspires thousands when he speaks about his self-rescue. But had he gone into the canyon with friends he may have been freed within hours rather than days.

There is no way around it. We need God and we need each other. The good news is God is already closer than you think. And the best way to gain friends that will carry you is to become one yourself.

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