Fatherhood and the Boy with stripped pajamas

220px-TheboyinthestripedpyjamasWhat do Will Turner, 9-year-old Bruno from “The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas”, and a Colin Ferrel character have in common? A haunting dilemma concerning their fathers.

Bruno’s Father is an officer in the German Army in 1942 who has just been transfered to operate Auschwitz, where 1 out of every 6 Jews killed by the Nazi’s lost their life. Throughout the story, Bruno is left in the dark about what his father actually does, but as the reader the question squats between the lines: How can a man who kills thousands a day remain a good dad to his kids?  He is a loving father to his kids and devoted to their well being, yet at the same time murdering fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters.  Bruno slow discovers what’s on the other side of the fence.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is dangling precariously from a boom above the thrashing waves.  Captain Jack Sparrow, at the helm, has turned the boat into the wind, scraping it across the deck, forcing Turner to hang on for dear life as the boom stopped over the sea.  Sparrow says to him: “Now as long as you’re just hanging there.  The only rules that matter are what a man can do and what a man can’t do.  For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man, or you can’t.  But pirate is in your blood boy and you’ll have to square with that some day…”  Turner struggles with having a good father who’s job wasn’t featured at career day.

James Clayton (Colin Ferrel) is a CIA recruit who is mentored by Walter Burke (Al Pacino) in The Recruit.  Clayton has been searching for the truth about his father since he disappeared over a decade prior.  Unbeknownst to Clayton, Burke served with his father in the CIA.  When Burke hints at this, Clayton puts two and two together and is flummoxed.  Burke says: “So he told stories.  That’s what your father did; doesn’t mean he didn’t love you.”  Clayton is confronted with the fact that his father lied about his career, his exploits, his activities, but was still his father. These scenes aren’t unfamiliar these days.  With some of the kids I deal with regularly, this is the dilemma they have.  For some dad may sell drugs, run in a gang, illegally trade guns, or even worse.  Do their father’s love them any less?  Can a father be a good father if his business is crooked; even illegal?  I know it takes a man to be a father, but how much does a job make the man?

A Long Distance Call

195157My manual is in the mail and I am strategically planning what tools I need. The project is a Ford 8n that will come in mighty handy as I build my arena. It hasn’t run for 2 years, but even when in weekly use, it wasn’t the greatest of machines. My mechanical expertise being limited, I’m fairly confidant that diagnosing, repairing, and rebuilding the tractor is something I can accomplish for two reasons: (1) I will have a manual in hand; (2) my uncle has fixed anything and everything that has an engine and a cell phone.

There is nothing like having an expert on the other end of the line.

If there was one statement that characterized Moses ministry as the leader of the Israelites (other than Numbers 12.3) would be Exodus 33.11: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” David had a heart after God, Abraham’s feet followed the Lord, Job had a covenant with his eyes, but Moses spoke with God like a friend, ‘face to face’.

Steps should be taken at this point to ensure that a proper view of God is maintained, for as of late, the idea that ‘God is love’ or ‘God is compassionate’ has made God out to be a weakened and soft being, who is to be befriended instead of feared. Don’t get me wrong, God is love and He is gracious, but He is also holy and just. Like the kids in Narnia who asked to pet Aslan were told, “He is not a tame lion.” There the metaphor was Jesus, but how often do we do the same with God.

This particular scene takes place at the Tent of Meeting. Set up just outside the camp, the tent was where people would go to inquire of God. I find it interesting that the Old Testament people who inquired of God were nearly universally answered. The exception was Saul, who two times did not receive an answer from the Lord. (1 Samuel 14, 28) When an inquiry was brought to God an answer followed. The responses came from priests, prophets, Urim, and dreams; each a method which God used to communicate with his people.

What is more clear than God’s answering, is the negative outcome when the Lord’s guidance is not consulted. In Deuteronomy 7, God explicitly commands the Israelites not to make treaties with the people of the land (7.2). As Joshua and the Israelites marched throughout the land, the fame and news of conquest spread (Josh 6.27). Word eventually fell upon the ears of the Gibeonites (Josh 9.3). They devised a plan; they put on worn out clothes, packed moldy bread, old wine skins and worn out sacks. They claimed to have traveled from a great distance and begged for amnesty amongst the Israelites. The men of Israel had their doubts about the origins of these people (Joshua 9.7) but heard their story.

The Israelites took note of their supplies but “did not inquire of the Lord” (Joshua 9.14) and made a treaty with them. The priests carried the written law of Deuteronomy (Deut 31.9) with them and they knew the importance of the words of the law and the song:

“Moses said: ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life…’” (Deut 32.46-47)

It is a fairly simple equation in the Old Testament. When the Lord is inquired of, He answer’s and obedience follows. And when the Lord is forgotten, disobedience ensues. The same pattern can be seen through my walk. Though I have not hired a priest, used Urim or Thummim, or tried to interpret dreams…how often have I ignored scripture, just as the community of Israel did with Deuteronomy. When decisions arise, scripture is always present but seldom consulted.

Moses set the standard in his relationship with the Lord. His discussions and inquiries (Ex. 33); his relationship and intimacy (Deut 34.10) are things that I once envied, until I realized that instead of meeting with God as though ‘face to face’, I have the Spirit of God living inside of me, speaking with me daily, and interacting actively on my behalf. It is strange to think that Moses would envy me, for even Moses’ call was longer distance than mine.

XIT Windmill Crew: Taking Applications

Penny under the McNorton's Windmill
Penny under the McNorton’s Windmill

Around the turn of the 20th century, the XIT was one of the largest cattle ranches in the world. It was just over 3 million fenced in acres in the panhandle of Texas and was home to around 150,000 XIT branded cattle. Of the 100 or so cowboys that worked the spread, the most important job was saved for a select few. Their title was “the windmillers”. Where as many of the cowhands would retreat at night to camps and shelters, the windmillers were seen once a month at headquarters to pick up supplies. They lived out in the open year round with only a chuck wagon as their home. In summer swelter and winter chill, they were responsible for the upkeep and care of the 355 windmills that gave water to the cattle of the XIT ranch (Evetts, 96).   The most impressive windmill on the ranch and in the world at the time rose 130 ft catching the west Texas wind (Evetts, 167).

Though they got their name from what was above ground, the real purpose of a windmill took place below ground. Though the usually didn’t stand very tall, many of the XIT windmills pumped water from well below the surface. They averaged a depth of 125 ft, with the deepest pumping water from 400 ft below ground. “Sometimes you have to dig deep to find water” is a sentiment not only shared by the wind millers of the XIT but also Solomon, the author of many of the Proverbs.

Near the end of the Proverbs that Solomon wrote, he offers up an ambiguous gem of thought. He writes:

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20.5)

A man’s heart can be many things, especially in the book of Proverbs. In our scientific thought and western philosophy, the heart is full of emotions and feelings. Occasionally, the heart is equated with desire and passion, ‘follow your heart’ and ‘what the heart wants’. But in the Biblical world, the heart was so much more. It was the mind, the will, the emotions, the passions, the decision-maker, and the life giver of the person. The heart held their personality and character, their morality and their center. So when Proverbs talks about the heart it contains so much more than just the emotions; it entails the man. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” (Prov 27.19)

“Purposes” have filled this man in Proverbs heart. The hebrew word translated “purposes” is oft used and inconsistently translated. It can mean “advice”, “counsel”, “verdict”, “judgment”, or “consulted”. To cover the range of translations, the noun seems to indicate “a prescribed course of action”. Reheboam, for instance, receives a “consultation” from his elders, then rejects their “counsel” and accepts the “advice” of the young men he grew up around. The decision would ultimately, cost him the entirety of the Kingdom. This illustrates an issue that arises often in Scripture: the origin of the “advice” or “plans”. When the “counsel” came from the Lord or one of His Agents, universally the outcome was positive, however, when man made the recommendation, it almost always turned bad. It remains to be seen as to whether the purposes of this heart are from God or from man.

The heart has its own “prescribed course of action” and they aren’t visible on the surface. The text says they are like “deep waters”. The word for deep, ‘amoq, is used in Psalm 64 where the wicked are plotting for David. There the mind and heart of man are described as cunning [‘amoq] (Psalm 64.6). Here the wicked are obviously not led by the Lord but by the counsel of men. The cunningness of the heart is not lost in the book of Proverbs where the heart can be full of deceit, envious, and led astray. Like Jeremiah said: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…” (Jer. 17.9) The heart can play games, its waters are deep; however (and thankfully for this man), it is not the final authority. This man in Proverbs 20.5a seems to harboring his own plans and actions that are cunning and hidden well below the surface; ones that are not in line with those of God and it would be of serious issue if they welled up and remained there.

Thankfully, the plans of a man’s heart, made in the heart of man, are clearly in submission to the thoughts and plans of God. Proverbs reminds us:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord” (16.3)

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (16.9)

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (19.21)

Since the Lord’s way prevails, it seems as though our hearts ought to align with his purposes, passions, and paths. This is where the man of understanding comes in.

Like the windmills that pierced the West Texas dirt, the purposes of a heart must be uncovered. The perfect person for the job is the “man of understanding” (Prov. 20.5b). He “draws the purposes out” of the heart. Two things pertinent to this discussion are made abundantly clear:

  1. The qualities of a man of understanding. This study began as I tried to figure out the type of man Bezalel was in Exodus 31. He was filled with “ability” which is most commonly translated as “understanding”. Solomon gives background to the type of man Bezalel was by weaving a description of a “man of understanding” throughout the book of Proverbs. He is a patient man (Prov 14.29), who delights in wisdom and good conduct (Prov 10.23) and holds his tongue (Prov 11.12), with an even temper (Prov 17.27) and the ability to make keen judgments, keeping his course straight and on track (Prov 15.21). All these qualities lead to a blessed (Prov 3.13) and prosperous life with God (Prov 19.8).
  2. A man needs community. Proverbs makes many claims to the need for counsel and advice, which only comes from life in community. It is the wise who seek advice, guidance, and counsel from their brothers (1.5; 12.5; 12.15; 13.10; 15.22; 19.20; 20.18). A man of understanding seeks help from others and counsel from friends. It is only those who can bring his true motives, his “prescribed course of action”, to the surface. Without that process, hearts are easily corrupted, ambitions ignored, and motives overlooked. Only in an accountable relationship, is a heart truly understood.

A man of understanding is the man that can draw out the deep waters of another’s heart and honestly take stock and examine what lies deep underground. It was the words of a mentor that showed me how selfish my ambitions were, as I desperately wanted to speak in front of thousands of teenagers about God. The ultimate goal was praiseworthy, but my ambitions were corrupted. It took the honest assessment of a true friend to point out that my dream of being a PRCA Bullfighter had much more to do with pride, than it did with serving God. It was the same man who, as I mourned my own lack of measured success and achievement in the world of Rodeo, pointed out the ministry that God has given me at this point in my career, and the awesome people I spend all summer elbow to elbow with in the arenas and back pens during the summer. These were “men of understanding” who drew out, from the depths of my heart, the “purposes” that I had, and analyzed them.

"The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out." (Proverbs 20.5)
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20.5)

I spent 3 weeks thinking about this verse because I made every effort to show that the “man of understanding” was able to draw deeply out of his own heart…but the text seems clear to itself. My heart easily fools me and as much as I desperately want to be the man who studies, guides, and asses my own heart, it takes another to do that. I wanted to be in isolation, because I still struggle to see manhood as a group endeavor…but it is. It is a community, a brotherhood, a squad that makes men better, as much as I tried to make it not so.

Haley, J. Evetts. The XIT Ranch of Texas: And the Early Days of the LLano Estacado. (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman) 1953.

Dream On…how dreams can lead to insanity!

Not one person is looking her direction...this is the kind of thing that makes me wonder!
Not one person is looking her direction…this is the kind of thing that makes me wonder!

For a college psych project, I was asked to record my dreams for a month; it was far too much introspection and it left me afraid to be alone with my own psyche.

The other night, as REM sleep ensued, I looked around a classroom at my school. I spend 4 hours a day in one classroom so when I choose to spend my dream time there it is rather commendable. I was sitting in the back of the classroom as I helped some students. They were playing a game that involved constructing sentences with word cards. Suddenly Penny-dog, a familiar entity to the readers of this blog, interrupted learning time. She had been in the truck for a few hours, but I had mistakenly left the window down. She had leapt out of the truck’s open window and somehow made her way into the building. To my dismay, she burst into the class where I was sitting, but no one else seemed to notice. I tried to give her commands, but in my dreams she listens about as well as she does in real life. My voice began to raise and she went into here avoidance and flight phase of our training sessions. She bolted out the door, and still, the class did not notice. She took off down the hall with me in hot pursuit. Taking a hard left down the administrative hallway, she sprinted by the principals doors as they were meeting. I was running out of school appropriate words to scream at her and started diving into my ranch-only-vocabulary. As she entered the sixth grade hallway, I began tossing sixth graders out of my way as she was picking her way through the crowd. She burst out the door at the end of the hallway as I chucked a final sixth grader into the library. Circling the school, she put a lot of distance between us. I did enter the parking lot as she high jumped into the open window that she had exited earlier. We exchanged words at the window and I headed back into the school.

The bell rang as I stepped back into the school. Word travels fast in a middle school. Who like’s who, who fought who, who is getting kicked out, this is news that seems to travel through walls. I am most often informed of happenings in the building by over hearing students. But as I entered the 8th grade hallway, not one person mentioned the insane blue heeler that entered a classroom, broke into an administrative meeting, and weaved through the sixth grade hallway. There were no locker conversations, no hushed whispers about the spectacle minutes before.

After working in a language arts classroom in the morning, my next assignment is in the lunchroom. Working in the lunchroom at this time is also, both Principals, our SRO, and our Athletic director; all whose offices reside in the Admin hallway and who witnessed the events of the morning. I braced myself for the odd looks and questions that would accompany my entrance into the lunchroom. Oddly, no one said a thing. It was as if it never happened. After 30 minutes of wondering when the chastisement from the leadership would come, I approached our Assistant Principal.

“So, about what happened earlier…” I started telling him. “I don’t know how it happened and it wont happen again.”

“What are you talking about?” he replied.

“My dog running through the halls, interrupting your meeting, causing a frakus in the 6th grade hallway; all of that.”

“I don’t follow,” he said. “I never saw any dog, but I did see you running.”

“You never saw my dog?” I asked him.

“No. We checked the video to see what you were running for and couldn’t find a reason. The bigger problem is ‘why were you shot-putting sixth graders?’”

“I was chasing my dog through the halls!”

“We never saw any dog!” I was taken aback that there was no video of my dog, but I did begin questioning my own sanity. I asked some of the sixth graders at lunch about it. They remembered me throwing them but not the dog. I approached our Head Principal, Ms. Tammy, who I have had numerous dog conversations with as she has two herself, and asked her about the event. Her reply, “You don’t own a dog.”

You know when you are having a bad dream and you wake up when it gets too scary: a split second before impact with the ground, just as the rabid dog catches you, or the clown arrives. I shot awake at the very moment that I was informed that I didn’t own a dog.

Two a.m., sitting up in bed, trying to figure out if I, like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, had imagined and made up my best friend. I stumbled out of bed and looked on the floor and couldn’t find Penny where she usually slept. She was markedly absent. I searched the darkened living room for her and came up empty. I began doubting my own sanity as I searched for her.

My first words to my wife the next morning was: “Can you see her?” as I pointed towards the dog. Tricia’s look was all I needed to confirm the fact that I am loosing it. By the way, that night, Penny was hiding under her blanket…and that’s why I couldn’t find her.

So, all you dream interpreters, what does this mean?

A Love for the Instruction Manual

How to life a horse with your pinkie! (From Mechanick Exercises by Joseph Moxon)
How to life a horse with your pinkie! (From Mechanick Exercises by Joseph Moxon)

An article in Popular Science caught my eye the other day. The subtitle read: “What does the disappearance of the common manual say about us?” The article by Mark Svenvold describes the demise of the instruction manual that accompanied items and projects throughout the centuries. According to Svenvold, it changed the destinies of people for centuries. Prior to the publication of Mechanick Exercises by Joseph Moxon, the first instruction manual of printing, people were born into families of guilds, whose destiny and profession were defined for them even before their birth: candle makers begat candlemakers, tentmakers begat tentmakers, farriers begat farriers. But with the introduction of the instruction manual suddenly there was a place for DIY projects. People could now learn on their own by reading, what it had previously took someone years of apprenticeship.

We now live in an era of diminishing instruction manuals. The iphone doesn’t even come with one. Outsourcing information is the way to go now. Help and instruction are built into the product. You can download fix it apps and call for tech support. This trend caused the author to ask: “Have we traded away something important, perhaps even defining, about ourselves—a sense of our own autonomy and control over our tools—for the dubious benefit of convenience?” The implications, observed by Svenvold, are that we as a people have traded ease of operation for freedom and knowledge. We traded in our self-reliance for simplicity and sadly enough I have succumb to it in my spiritual life and so has many other men.

My Grandfather refused to let my grandmother drive his brand new 1999 Dodge Dakota pickup until she read the manual cover to cover. He was a calculated man, who studied instruction manuals the way a rabbi studies Torah. He wouldn’t dare own a machine, tool, vehicle, or appliance without studying the manual. If only I had picked up that dedication in my spiritual life.

The life of the Church and the men who in habit it, if they are anything like mine, have left the manual by the wayside in the name of ease. I left scripture behind because Google and Tech support is that much simpler. Why study Proverbs when a Podcast is at my fingertips and John Ortberg, Jim Johnson, or Tim Keller can explain it to me?   Why read John when I can Google a verse? It so much easier to read a devotional than study my Bible; so much simpler to google a verse than study a passage; sign up for text message Bible verses than disicipline myself to read daily.   Svenvold was right on in his commentary that we have traded autonomy for simplicity because I have done the same thing in my spiritual life from time to time.

There is a bit of truth to the observation that we have forgotten study of scripture to the centrality of our spiritual life. Never would I suggest that technology is a bad thing, nor is scripture texts, verses of the day or devotionals, but I can tell you that my own spiritual life is often times starved because of a lean spiritual diet. “It’s a Christian book” or “He’s a Christian author” is often times my excuse for diving into a book and neglecting the reading of Scripture. I am suggesting the we, especially us men and leaders, devote ourselves to the study and ingestion of the manual that God has given us for this life. In the spirit that my Grandfather poured over his chainsaw, bench grinder, and TV remote manuals, we too should have the same passion for the Word of God. Assuredly, this is the passion that the Psalmist viewed of Scripture. A cursory reading of Psalm 119 shows a man that would never relinquish the word of God, the “manual for life”.

  • “I seek you wih all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands” (Psalm 119.10)
  • “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times” (119.20)
  • “Your statuettes are my delight; they are my counselors” (119.24)
  • “I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” (119.30)
  • “Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.” (119.35)
  • “…I delight in your commands, for I love them.” (119.47)
  • “At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.” (119.62)
  • “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (119.72)
  • “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119.103)

These are just from the first half of the Psalm. My prayer is that I may begin to love the instruction manual that God has given me for living this life. My prayer is that men and leaders will begin to read and study the manual for life that we have been entrusted with. I pray that it never becomes obsolete; that it never becomes forgotten and (presumed to be) irrelevant to life. For one thing I am certain, to dispense with the word of God would be far more serious than the manual for my chainsaw!