"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
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Counter-training Manual for Yard Work, Part the First
In Which our Hero describes Various Perils of Seemingly Simple Tasks
Today is a day for catching up on yard work.
Yard work is not my specialty. Except for the fact that it gives me an excuse to be out in the sunshine with a cigar and not feel guilty that I am just out in the sunshine with a cigar, yard work isn't my favorite activity, either. I find it frustrating.
Most of the reason I find it frustrating is that each time I do it, there's a real-life version of "There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza" going on in my life:
You know: There's a hole in the bucket which needs mending, which needs straw to plug it, but the straw is too long, which means it needs cutting, which means you need an axe, but the axe is too dull which means it needs sharpening; but the stone to sharpen the axe is too dry, which means the stone needs wetting.
Which means you need a bucket to wet the stone.
But there's a hole in the bucket.
In today's real-life case, Mary told me that if there was just one thing I could get done today, it would be -- and this is a direct quote -- "to mow over the big ugly stupid things" that are taking over the back yard.
Except our lawn mower has been stalling out after only ten feet of cutting, so I had to take it in to get fixed. Except we needed to Yelp-review and then ask Brown's Hardware where to take it, and finding out, and the repair place being several miles away, we needed a van to get it over there, but two weeks ago we sold-loaned our van to our son Graham, who drove it to California. So that meant I needed to swap cars with Elizabeth, who drives a CRV, but who was going to drive to Leesburg the one day I could get it over there and that meant swapping cars with Will, which meant driving Mary to work after putting the lawn mower in the trunk of the Accord which meant I needed a bungee cord, but the bungee cords are, last I saw them, in the van with Graham, which meant shoving the lawn mower in the trunk and duct-taping the trunk to the bumper which meant having to find an orange flag to warn tailgaters that there was a lawn mower sticking out the rear of our car.
Turns out the lawn mower fix-it place is four weeks behind on repairs. Which meant borrowing our neighbors' lawn mower.
But mowing over "the big ugly stupid things" probably meant stressing or even ruining our neighbor's lawn mower, which we didn't want to do.
Which meant I needed to weed-whack them.
But the weed-wacker needed string.
It is not easy to re-string a Stihl trimmer. But thankfully there are YouTube videos to watch with step-by-step instructions.
All you have to do is go down into your basement with your weed-trimmer and iPhone, watch this video fourteen times, and then -- after figuring out which of the three models your model is, and after deep-breathing exercises -- do it yourself, just like the guy in the video, who apparently does this for a living because he makes it look really easy.
It is not really easy.
Now listen: I have a master's degree. I have counseled couples back into marriages who were ready to poison each other's coffee. I have, with Mary, raised three teenagers, with only minor disasters and jail times. I'm competent at difficult things, damnit.
But after re-stringing a trimmer, I am now confident that I can single-handedly negotiate a lasting peace in the Middle East while fixing all U.S. infrastructure woes, because really, how hard can that be compared to re-stringing that thing?
I was also aware that at this point in the day I had not yet gone outside.
But, finally, re-strung trimmer in hand, I ventured outside to attack the Big Ugly Stupid Things.
Except, out there, it suddenly occurred to me that that terms like "big," "ugly" and "stupid" are all relative terms. And it being several weeks after Mary had asked me to get rid of the big ugly stupid things, now the entire back yard was filled with big ugly stupid things.
I will also admit I was only half paying attention when she gave me those instructions. At the time they seemed pretty simple.
But I recall she also said to "be careful NOT to mow over the 'packs of Sandra.' Or the "Liriope."
"Liriope" I could, and did, google-image, and manage to avoid. But I never did see packs of Sandra, or even any individual Sandra's.
So I week-wacked everything in sight.
Our back yard now looks like a scene from post-apocalyptic The Book of Eli.
Mary's not home yet to see my yard work. But, I now wonder if I should be careful sipping my coffee tomorrow morning...
For Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that this year. What I'm fasting from this Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
(Let me be clear: that does not mean giving up news or otherwise burying my head in the sand: it means staying informed while finding ways not to get pulled into a downward spiral of feelings of numbness and helplessness; it means giving up unproductive feelings like hopelessness and resignation and taking on visible behaviors like giving encouragement and taking action.)
It means making visible -- here, on my blog, and even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories…
So for Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that.
Now one of the things I'm thinking about fasting from during Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
That would mean taking on encouragement: to make visible -- even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories" as being quaint -- they are tossed in at the end of the news as an inspiring story, or put in the style section. But stories of good things happening -- people coming together to do things, is not a touchy-feely, feel-good story, but something affecting real change.
So for starters: I'm inspired by the leadership example of…