December 20, 2009

The Receiver

The weekend after Thanksgiving we took a little holiday trip to southern California to visit relatives. We stayed at the house of Sue's Aunt Audrie in Hermosa Beach. Audrie was at a conference of Episcopalians held in the Los Angeles area. Wanting to play some of Uncle Russell's Christmas C.D.'s, I was left to puzzle out Russell's complicated stereo system. It was one of those systems where there are separate pieces of equipment for the amplifier, receiver, compact disc player and tape decks etc. Russell had multiple tape decks with which he made sound tracks for the many multi-media music, art, travel shows he created and presented. All of these were cabled through junction boxes with switches.

I spent about an hour trying in vain to get music from the system. The tape deck and receiver appeared to be working fine, but the amplifier was not working right. The sound was coming out muffled. I gave up and took a walk.

This broken stereo image came back to me this morning in church when our pastor, James Bergen, was finishing his four-part advent sermon series. This morning he was saying that, at Christmastime we are called upon not only to give gifts, but also to receive. Citing the authority of the Christmas carol, Joy To The World, James urged the importance of us receiving the gift of grace God sent us, and offers us still. James put the word "RECEIVE" in caps in his powerpoint slide, and immediately my mind thought "receptacle," "reception," "receptors" and "receiver."

I thought, in mechanical worlds, a "receiver" is usually something made in a sort of reverse image of the thing to be received. Like the socket on the back of your truck that you plug your trailer lights into. If the socket on your truck isn't a match to the plug on the trailer, there isn't any "reception." That is, there is no connection. Jesus talked about this idea that some people simply don't have the right connection to "receive" what he came to offer: "I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." John 9:39

I thought, a receptacle is a socket in a wall that, if you have the right kind of thing to plug into it, and if you do plug into it, it can give you power. Sort of like in Matthew 9:2, where a group of men took their paralytic friend, lying on a mat, to Jesus in the belief that Jesus could heal him. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

I thought, sometimes you are in a place where your radio or your phone is not getting good reception, and then you have to work a little bit, move around, climb a hill, to get to where the reception is better. And sometimes our reception of God's signals is weak like that too -- or maybe Satan is just doing a good job of blocking the reception. But God promises that "you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13 So I guess your heart and your attitude have something to do with having the right shaped "receiver" and/or with getting a good, clear signal.

I thought, receptors are those things on your body that, if you don't have them your life would be a boring gray existence; no smell, no sight, no sense of feel. And in regard to receiving what God has to offer, ironically, sometimes we go through life like that, with our God receptors turned off.

But there are times in life, like the times we have gone through this year, where the God receptors are on in full force. Times like when you find out you have cancer. Times when someone close to you is sick, or dies. Times when you witness miracles, like birth, or healing. And it is those people who are at the center of these times who are most receptive to God. Those are the ones whose attention is brought back sharply and acutely to what God values, to what God wants for us, to what God wants for them, and to what God is saying. It is often those people in crisis who will be able to plug into God, to become a receptacle of Godly wisdom, to be able to receive the good news and the power and the grace of God.

And at any given time there are people who are in or who have just emerged from crises, so there are always some people walking around who have just had a very good connection and a very good reception from God. But where does that leave the rest of the world? What good is a great receiver without an amplifier and speakers? There is no sound for those of us anxious to hear the music. And so those who have had the privilege of being a "receiver" are also charged with the responsibility to share the reception in some meaningful way. Then the weary world can also receive and share in the rejoicing.

So if you've been lucky enough to have a clear reception from God this year, be sure to share the music.

December 14, 2009

Lives of Extravagant Waste

Have you ever spent a bundle of money and then suffered feelings of “was it worth it?” Or “why did I ever do that?” Or maybe you spent a bundle and didn’t even use the thing you paid for. Call it spender's remorse; It's related to but different than buyer's remorse.

I have been to a few extravagant weddings that must’ve cost six figures to put on, only to see the bride and groom call it quits after a short time of wedded bliss. You have to wonder what the bride’s parents thought of that – not to mention all the wedding guests. [Note: I have a daughter scheduled to be married in May and this blog has nothing to do with that. Besides, she has a budget to work with. And further, she and her beau – I’ve met him and sized him up – seem to understand the word “commitment.”]

I’ve seen tens of thousands of dollars poured into kids’ dancing or singing lessons, sports training and sporting events. Sometimes it’s spent on talent-less kids who don’t have a prayer, and sometimes it’s spent on talented kids who don’t care.

This whole line of thought arose Friday morning when I paid the bill for our one-night stand at the Grand Hyatt. Sue wasn’t really up to enjoying the place, and ended up in the hospital Friday afternoon. Maybe we should have stayed in cheaper digs?

I recently evicted some tenants who didn’t pay the rent for 3 months straight. Not one dollar. I then ended up paying some guys to move their stuff out to a storage facility. You never saw so much stuff in a two bedroom apartment. They were hoarders. They had three late-model vacuum cleaners and it was clear to me that not a single one had been used for the five months they lived in this apartment. They had three computers with flat screen monitors sitting unused and one hooked up on a desk. They had a refrigerator and a freezer full of great food. But they couldn’t pay the rent. No, I saw their pay stubs when we were moving their stuff; they could have paid the rent, but they didn’t.

Last night I saw some orderlies wheel a dead guy out of the hospital here. I don’t know how much treatment he’d had, or who paid for it. I can tell you that Sue’s going to spend close to a million dollars of insurance money on her own health care this year. It’s well documented that the great bulk of money that gets spent on health care gets spent in the last year of a person’s life. That’s true because so many people die from the traffic injuries or health problems that put them in the hospital where they incur horrific medical bills in the months before they die. This is not to say that Sue is going to die immediately, or even that I think the million dollars spent on her care could have been better spent. Since the insurance company paid for most of it, I have absolutely no remorse.

Still, it’s a lot of money. When you stay in a hospital for a few days you see where some of the money goes. A lot of it goes into a giant cesspool of waste. My list of specific examples could go on for pages.

And no one can waste money -- your money, no, our money -- like the government. Let’s give a trillion dollars of our taxpayers’ money to the poor failing banks so their big whigs can give themselves huge bonuses before they go out of business from their own stupid lending practices and then stick us with the losses from the inevitable market crash.

But enough about wasted money. I’m writing about lives of extravagant waste. Looking across the way last night, to the uncurtained windows of the 14 or so floors of hospital rooms on the Moffitt Hospital wing, I noticed televisions on in almost every room. You’ve seen this, flashing multi-colored images giving an eerie, neon-ish look to otherwise dark rooms. I’m talking televisions on 24-7. Not that people in the hospital have anything better to do than watch television. Still, there are people who watch way too much t.v. People who spend way too much time on their, er, computers, playing games, surfing the web, and, uh, blogging. This is getting a little personal, so let’s move on.

We waste our lives with mindless entertainment and then wonder why we didn’t accomplish anything. Why we didn’t see the world. Why we never knew what we never knew. Why we didn’t have time to do something nice for someone else who really needed nice.

I wonder about the dead guy they wheeled out of here last night. Is he, even now, standing in front of the Almighty trying to give an account of how he spent his time and money? Is he stammering out an explanation of why he spent millions of dollars for his own entertainment and only gave a few thousand to charity? Is he wondering himself if the heavenly graphs are wrong; Could it be that he spent 76.6 years of his 77-year life on his own pursuits and only 0.4 years on doing nice for others? And is it possible that he really spent 102,200 hours watching television and only 3,504 hours doing nice?

Ah well. Enough blogging about waste. I need another coffee latte. Time to walk down to Starbucks and spend another $5 on myself.