A tale of two drivers

We were both first in line waiting on a read light to switch colors to a permissive green. Him in the right lane and me in the left.

With the warm weather, we both had windows down. Music was cranked to loud (but not obnoxious) volumes; high enough to register in neighboring vehicles, but not so loud to drown out or overpower their radios or conversations.

Our situations were similar, but the status of our predicaments were radically disparate. Consider the following.

He was sitting in a shiny fresh-from-the-car-wash ebony Volkswagen Jetta with tinted windows, lowered suspension, low profile tires, and custom rims. My car has never been washed, and the only money spent on it was for standard maintenance and repairs.

He stared strait forward with an iron grip on his steering wheel, jaw clenched, cigarette held outside his window, and was listening to thrash metal. I was smiling like a fool and bobbing my head to the beat of Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough.

I hate to make assumptions, but I'd be willing to bet I was enjoying my day far more than my incidental companion at the stoplight. Then again, I also have something hanging from my mirror reminding me why I have reason to be happy.


Beautiful Chaos

In the grand American tradition, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. With sunny days and warmer weather, this weekend is also the official beginning of camping season. Long hikes, pitching tents and sleeping on uneven ground, cooking over tiny gas stoves or carefully constructed fire pits.

As a kid, for me the summers meant mountains. I spent my adolescence trekking trails of the northern and central Cascade range. This was an opportunity to chase mountain goats along a snow covered ridge, feed marmots in the shadow of Mt Baker, wade through ponds and streams formed from glacial melt, and stand upon the summit of rugged peaks. My mountaineering days taught me lessons of perseverance, respect for nature, and the joy of accomplishment. It also placed in perspective the scope of my insignificance in comparison to the vast landscapes and magnitude of our bigger world.

One summer, along the Devil's Gulch trail south of Cashmere, we saw a pillar of smoke rising across the valley. At the time, I didn't think much of it. We finished our hike and headed home, unaware what we saw was a precursor to something with which many residents of western states have become familiar. The day after we returned home, the news was reporting of a wildfire in the area we observed; it spread and within days much of the forest we visited had burned.

Forest fires are powerful forces. They create massive swaths of destruction, sometimes causing evacuations and costly property damage. At a minimum, they transform gorgeous scenery into cinders - blackened hillsides of smoldering ruin.

For the casual observer, these disasters appear to be chaotic. Roaring flames that multiply with staggering speed. Acres of land burning in unison. A fire so large that the possibility of controlling it is daunting - if not impossible.

Visually, chaos is the best descriptor. But there is an order to it - a science that explains what is happening and predicts what will happen. Contours of the landscape, wind speeds, weather forecasts, the variety of trees and shrubbery that serve as a fire's fuel. Firefighters use this knowledge to combat natural forces that make men like me cower.

Within the chaos, there is order. It is even beautiful. Have you ever stared into a fire, mesmerized by the the way the flames seem to dance a waltz set to the music of crackling embers or followed the wisps of smoke traipsing skyward?

The power to ruin with the beauty to enrapture.

Despite the manpower needed to battle wildfires, the financial costs to rebuild, the burden of insurance settlements - we actually need wildfires. The health of a forest is improved by fire. Pine needles, fallen leaves, and weeds build up, destroying habitats for various wildlife which throws the ecosystem off-kilter. Fire will burn away dead vegetation and thin overgrowth. It removes non-native plant species and kills diseased trees. Ashes add nutrients to the soil. Fires return sunlight to the forest floor, serves as natural insect and pest control, revives animal habitation, and spurs new plant growth.

Fire can destroy a forest, but a lack of fire is even more destructive.

The same is true in the human soul. Sometimes, we are consumed by fiery emotional chaos; our lives in turmoil. I say this with confidence because it has been apparent in my own world. We are busy, burdened, stressed, mired in conflict. At times, this fire rages out of control and the possibility of overcoming our trials is daunting - if not impossible.

However, what is true in the natural world is also true in the spiritual realm. Within the chaos, there is order and even beauty. The bible frequently uses fire as a metaphor of how our lives are tested and improved through a refining process as if we were made of gold or silver. That which tests us makes us better. It transforms shame into worth and gives purpose to our struggle. Trials can destroy a life, but a life without trials is even more destructive.

There is an end to this fire. What comes out of the smoldering ruin is better, stronger, healthier. Embrace it. There is beauty inside the chaos.


Perfectly Imperfect

We all have flaws. I hope you realize this fact. The single most obvious trait of humankind is our abundant diversity of errors. Everyone makes mistakes. People skew toward selfish motives more often than not. We claim dominance over a natural world we cannot possibly control and allege mastery in topics that remain mysterious.

Looking outward, it is much easier to identify displeasing features about ourselves than it is to list self-affirming or positive attributes. Surveys show about half of Americans want to lose a few pounds. Skee-Lo wished he was a little bit taller. The quest for exterior beauty keeps the cosmetic surgery industry profitable. It is too easy to look in the mirror with thoughts: too skinny, too fat, too short, too tall, my nose is crooked, my ears are not even.

Looking inward we could all admit blemishes in our character. One of the hard lessons I have learned over the past couple of years is that I am more self-centered than I would care to admit. I know I'm not alone. It should not take much effort to honestly assess some personal failures. Perhaps you cheated on your taxes, imbibe more alcohol than you probably should, openly mock others without regard to the weight of your words, possess bad habits that you cannot seem to break.

If you are anything like me, you brush this off with feigned humility or cover it with self deprecating humor. It is as if we trust self inflicted insults to lessen the impact or severity of our folly.

We view our errant ways - intentional slights, unintended failings, and unavoidable results of genetics as a witch who turned us into a newt. We read self-help books, attend therapy, seek wise counsel, follow 12 step plans, and at the end of the day we bravely declare "I got better."

Better is a funny word. Too often we strive for perfection unaware of improvements along the way. Realistically, better is the best we can hope for.

A result of residency on terra firma is that we will always be imperfect. We get better then realize that we still have flaws.

As long as our hearts beat, we will be incomplete. As long as our lungs draw breath, we will be tragically flawed. As long as synapses fire within our brains, we will be perfectly imperfect.

From a spiritual perspective, I believe this points to our need for a savior. Perfection is something unattainable without some sort of supernatural intervention. For this reason, Paul wrote to the Philippian church "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own." He knew that he wasn't perfect. Perfection is a long term goal - something to strive toward.

From a scientific perspective, I see this as a result of entropy - a measurable disorder. All systems seek equilibrium and our bodies are subject to the laws of thermodynamics. There might be psychologists out there who could disprove me, but I believe our emotions act with fluidity and seek the same equilibrium as any thermodynamic system. We are born into a world of disorder and that chaos is reflected in the ebb and flow of our emotional state.

This should not be thought of as a bad thing. It should be a reminder that we are all in process. It should demonstrate that we all have room to grow and improve. It should encourage second chances and grace and understanding.

You have not arrived. Neither have I. For better or worse, we are imperfectly human.


being mean

While out running errands, my oldest was pondering the characters and plot of a movie we watched a few months ago. He is at the stage where he wants to examine what makes the good guys good and the bad guys bad.

The subtleties of characterization is sometimes layered to the point where it is difficult for his concrete way of thinking to understand. His aspie brain longs for black and white division between right and wrong. He is a rule follower and desires a world where everyone follows those those rules.

In examining this movie, he knew the antagonist was bad. Yet, he could not figure out why. So he asked.

"Dad, the villain from this movie, was she breaking the law?"

"No," I answered, "she was just really mean. And being mean isn't illegal."

"It should be illegal."

This is the world he lives in. All that is right is good but that which is wrong is horrible. For him, having something bad be legal is illogical. For example, he does not understand why people smoke if they know it is so unhealthy.

He does understand the difference between nice people and mean people. Unfortunately, this world is not typically kind to kids on the autism spectrum. He sees this every day - experiences it in a way that emotionally wounds him. He shares a classroom with kids that are not technically bullies, however they are not nice. They do not explicitly break the rules, but they are unkind in ways where rules do not apply.

With that in mind, his statement makes more sense. How much easier would life be if it were illegal to be mean to others? What if to be unkind was to break the law?



Last Tuesday was National Super Hero Day. Saturday was Free comic Book Day. On Sunday, I went to see 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' with a few friends. Yesterday was Star Wars Day (and yes, I did wear my Darth Vader t-shirt to work). So much geekery; I am still recovering from my nerd hangover.

There are many directions I could take this post. I would love to talk about comic books and superheroes. I am planning a movie review for later this week. But today, I just can't.

Not today.

Because at this moment, a real-life hero is in critical condition at Kootenai Health. It was the first thing I saw on Facebook when I woke up this morning and roughly 75 percent of my friends with North Idaho roots have posted something about it on Facebook or Twitter.

A little after 1:30 this morning, Sergeant Moore - a Coeur d'Alene police officer was checking a suspicious individual during routine patrol. That suspicious individual shot Moore, stole Moore's car, and fled the scene eventually abandoning the cruiser near State Line. Police have caught the suspect (a twenty something on felony probation) who was hiding in a nearby Walmart parking lot.

We have heard much about bad cops this past year. From St Louis, to Cleveland, NYC, Tulsa, and Boston. There has been so much emphasis on heavy handed police tactics. Civil rights abuses. Unarmed African Americans killed. Kids killed by law enforcement. Militarization of local police departments across America. Even in North Idaho, we have had our share of officer involved controversy and mishandled incidents.

We hear a lot about bad cops. Journalists love those stories - they bring in ad revenue.

But we don't often hear about good cops. Sgt Moore was a great cop. He was one of the good guys.
Photo courtesy of the Cd'A Police Department

Something isn't right. I know that all of these police shootings are symptoms of humanity's brokenness. It doesn't matter whether the victim was an unarmed black kid or an officer trying to do his job. Both ends of the spectrum end with senseless death. Both ends point to our own spiritual corruption. All of it makes me sick.

The violence has to stop.

It has to.

Because this? What happened today. What happened last month. What happened last August. It is ridiculous.

We shouldn't have talk about stories like this.

We shouldn't see police brutality.
We shouldn't see responding protests and riots.
We shouldn't see officers gunned down in the line of duty.
We shouldn't see kids shooting up their schools.
We shouldn't see bullied teens choose to eliminate their own life.

We are killing our culture.

The violence has to stop.


Guest blogging: SecondIron

Want to talk about scary movies? Science fiction? Superheroes? Me too. We could chat for hours. These are some of my favorite topics of conversation.

I also enjoy writing about them. Occasionally, I get the privilege to do that for some of my friends. Today, is one of those days as I have a guest post on the SecondIron Blog.

Click HERE to see some of my thoughts about the creatures from classic monster movies, why they're important, and what we can learn from them.