Bicycle

Bicycle

The other day I was called by a single mom and asked to assemble her son’s shiny new bicycle. It was his birthday gift, and the task of building such a thing was a little beyond her comfort level or ability. Since I have known them both for quite some time, and because I have become somewhat of an expert on handyman-type stuff, I was the guy she called.

The project didn’t take me long at all, with my bag of tools and a glass of iced tea. And as I later stood and looked at the completed bike, I thought back about my own memories of my childhood BMX.

bicycle

 

When I turned 7, I came downstairs in the morning to see a brand-new BMX bicycle. This contrasted with what I had before in several ways. First of all, the banana-seated, yellow monstrosity that was in my family’s garage could have never been described with the word “new.” It was a faded yellow, and not a cool sports car yellow, but the kind of yellow that is not complete unless speckled with copious amounts of rust. It had a sissy-bar behind the seat followed by a large rear fender. But, the handlebars were really the coup-de-gras. I have never since seen such a deep U-shape, and they terminated in plastic hand grips that I’m sure at one time had streamers dandily flowing in the wind. No, I suspect the word “new” was barely applicable even when it was purchased from the Sear’s Catalogue sometime around 1963.

I had acquired it on a Saturday morning when my mom returned home from a garage sale. Even though it was so early in my life that my memories seem like the dream sequence in a bad soap opera, I remember instinctively knowing that this had the potential of both causing me to be beaten up by other boys, but also to pay large amounts of money to therapists throughout my adulthood. I can’t blame my mom, though. She knew that I was a boy, and a boy needed a bicycle. She also knew that we couldn’t afford to buy a new one, and this was the best that a single mom could do.

Also, this hunk of metal and rubber could not be called a “bicycle” either. It did have two wheels and pedals, but inherent in the definition of a bicycle is that it can be used as transportation, which this could not. While this art piece was a sight to behold, I could not actually ride it, no matter how hard I tried, and oh how I did try.

After several months of flopping over, I decided that I was the sort of boy that was somehow just dysfunctional. I wasn’t the bicycle riding type, I was the—being pushed for a few feet and then falling into the rose bushes type. So, at the risk of death I decided to just look at it and avoid it, rather than spend more time de-thorning myself.

What we didn’t know, was that whoever owned it in the past had been in some accident that left the frame bent, possibly an intentional crash to desperately avoid being seen riding it. Lance Armstrong himself could not have ridden it after such a distortion. This problem was finally discovered when my grandfather (who I never saw ride any bicycle before this or after—and could barely drive a car) hopped on and promptly crashed sideways into the aforementioned rose bushes.

bicycle

 

Eventually, my mom began dating the man who after a time became my stepfather, and on my birthday a new BMX sat in our living room. It was beautiful. It had chrome everything. The handlebars were not U-shaped. In fact, they were beautifully straight. The seat looked like a bicycle seat, not a banana. There were cushioned wraps that protected you when you did awesome dirt-bike tricks that the neighborhood boys would gaze at in wonder and never consider beating you up…ever, and no sissy-bar at all, saving tons of future money on psychotherapy. It was amazing, and it was mine.

Shortly after breakfast, we went across the street to a church parking lot to see if I could ride it, where my new step-dad announced, “He won’t need those training wheels. Let’s take them off.” And you know what? He was right. He pushed me for a bit, and then released me, and I rode…alone…without falling. The feeling of freedom was one I would never forget. I was the bike-riding type of boy. I could do it after all.

bicycle

 

I’d like to say that was the start of many things my step-dad taught me about how to be a man, but that would be a lie. I can count on one hand the number of times he spent any appreciable time with me teaching me anything. The truth is, when I work on my lawnmower engine, remodel a bedroom, or assemble a bicycle for a friend’s kid, it is mostly because I’ve somehow figured out how to do it all on my own (or at least from watching YouTube). I’ve learned to enjoy doing those things out of necessity and challenge, not from some formative childhood apprenticeship, but I have learned to do them.

bicycle

 

So, as I stood there looking at this boy’s new birthday bike I had great hopes for him. I know that I could never be to him anything like the father every boy needs. God has placed men in his life who love him and I have to trust God to follow that process through. And I hope that maybe someday he’ll get a call from some woman he knows, asking him to assemble a shiny new birthday bike. —Ryan

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Insensitivity

Insensitivity Header

I worked in management for Sears throughout college.  It was a good job that treated me well and gave me a great opportunity to build a business management resume that has benefited me throughout my whole adult life.  But that was a very different Sears that I have seen over the last 10 years.

Last week, I was on lunch and decided to pull up a YouTube video of Chris Tomlin (a Christian worship music artist) singing a song I’d hurt at church the weekend prior.  As most of us know, YouTube regularly plays videos of sponsored content (a.k.a ads) before your chosen video.  It is part of the monetization that Google brings to all of its products.  When a company pays for an ad to run, they specify all of the criteria that will determine who sees the video.  This includes thing like the geographic location of the watcher, the viewer’s history, and the specific thing searched for, as well as everything in between.  I’m simplifying the process, but it is nearly infinitely customizable, ensuring that the only people who see your video are the exact people you want to see it.

So, I search for Chris Tomlin and the title of the worship song (I don’t remember right now exactly which song it was) and I click on the video.  Before my video starts to play, this is the ad I see (feel free not to watch the whole thing):

I skipped the ad when it gave me a chance and watched my worship video, but the more I thought about it the more upset I became.  I can’t think of a YouTube history on my account that would have been pertinent or anything else that makes sense…unless either they were putting that out to everyone, or they were specifically targeting people watching worship videos.

So, I took to Twitter, incredulous that Sears would be so insensitive.  The screenshot from my Tweet, and Sears’ response not long after, are below.

Sears Tweet

It is 2014,  know.  I am not surprised by a company supporting homosexual marriage.  I don’t like it, but I know it happens.  I don’t support the homosexual mafia attacking companies like Chik-fil-a simply because their CEO said that he believes a marriage is between a man and a woman.  But most of all, I can’t support the incredible rudeness of a company deliberately attacking the morality of Christians in this way.  Whether their Tweet to me was an automatic response to mine or not, it doesn’t matter.

I’m not one to start a boycott and get worked up over anything secular.  I think that secular complies not guided by Christians will not act Christian.  However, companies that deliberately attack Christians is another story altogether.

You know why they do it?  They do it because they know that they will insult us and treat us disrespectfully in whatever ways they choose, and we will buy their products just the same.  We might post a Facebook complaint and feel like we accomplished something, but as soon as the next sale comes along, we will open up our wallets again.

For me, it stops here.  I have drawn a line in the sand.  I have a lot of Craftsman tools and a Sears credit card.  I’m canceling the card and have bought my last tool from them.

—-

Incidentally, if you want the story behind the video (which I actually haven’t seen in its entirety), Sears sponsored a float in the recent Chicago homosexual parade.  On that float they had 4 homosexual couples getting “married” and this video was celebrating that.

Next time you buy a Sears product, know that is where some of your money is going.  If you support that, then great.  If you don’t, you are supporting it anyway with your money.

 

Hands

The day after I graduated High School, I went to the mission field.  During my first summer as a missionary, we had long worship and prayer sessions every evening before our concert.  At first I resented these times.  They seemed long and boring.  I had little reason to resent them.  It was felt more than thought, and it was probably spiritual in nature, although I did fixate on the fact that we sang worship songs that I didn’t really know.  Therefore, I decided that they must also be worship songs that were not as good as the ones I knew.

But on that mission trip I learned how to worship.  I discovered that worship was a skill that came naturally to humans, but that I (like probably most people) had become so used to worship primarily myself and I had to fix that before I could understand how to worship God.

I took a Greyhound bus that August from Butte, Montana to Tacoma, Washington in order to start my freshman year of college.  There, I joined the university Christian club, who had weekly worship sessions.  I fought with all I had to not resent those times, because now the songs were different than the ones I’d learned as a missionary.

I struggled passionately to keep my intimacy with God.  I worshipped with them, learning new songs, but now I had learned how to worship, and I could worship anywhere.  I learned the joy of worshipping alone.  Some nights I would sneak away to the piano practice rooms in the music building.  They were open 24/7.  I could sit in a small empty room with a closet and worship by myself.

I would play what little I could, and always faced a resistance at first.  But I would press through that, and suddenly I would come to a song that would spark an emotion or a certain heart-string and the tears would flow.  All that was me would seem to melt away as I connected with God and felt His presence.  That feeling is indescribable really, but all I can say is that it is better.  List any good adjective you can think of, and that feeling is better.  It was water to my own soul.

It has been a while since I’ve felt that, I must admit.  I have taken times worshipping on my own and have even had moments of intimacy, but not like that.

It is my lunch break now, and earlier this morning I was listening to my worship mix from my hard drive as I worked.  Tim Hughes He’s Got the Whole Worship in His Hands started playing

When all around is fading
And Nothing seems to last
Each day is filled with Sorrow
Still I know with all my heart
 
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
I’ll fear no evil, for you are with me
Srong to deliver, mighty to save
He’s got the whole world in His hands

Lately, each day is not filled with sorrow and I feel like I am losing nothing, particularly.  I am doing quite well.  And yet the tears started to fall as I sang along.  All I can describe, the best I can do, is that His having all of it in His hands hit me in a new way.  My sin, my joys, the things that I have given up, and the things the enemy has stolen from me, the moments of triumph, and those things I can never undo…all of it, in His hands.

I have nothing to fear.  You are with me.  You’ve got it all in Your hands.  And here I am, better.

Gun

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Today I ended a two-week marketing contract for a major cellular phone provider that had me spending most days in my car, driving from one location to another.  This meant that as the events of today’s school massacre in Connecticut unfolded, I was listening on the radio.  I heard all happen right before my ears.

Events like this usually don’t inspire a strong reaction for me.  While I am passionate about current events as they pertain to politics and world events, things like the OJ Simpson murders, Casey Anthony, and Virginia Tech just don’t impact me as much for some reason.  That is just how I’m geared, but this case is different.

We have heard lately about mall shootings, football player murder/suicides, and the Movie Theater mass shooting in Colorado.  Some people, like Bob Costas, have used these opportunities to talk about increased gun control.  That may be a good conversation to have, although I personally do not believe that more gun regulations will be the solution.

As the radio told me of the teachers that hid their students in closets and bathrooms, police making the kids leave the school with their eyes closed, and a room full of kids gunned down by hundreds of rounds of ammunition, I became enraged.  I can’t think of any other emotion to feel when that kind of evil is present, and I don’t think any other emotion is appropriate.

The Bible says to “be angry, yet do not sin.”  It also talks about God’s fury at sin, and particularly those who intentionally hurt His little ones.  Yet we live in a world with increasing evil.  I don’t care to debate this with anyone: murder rates, violent crimes, and corruption cases are telling, but the simple fact is that evil is becoming far more evil than ever.

I mourn for our country and it’s people.  Christians must stand and say, “enough.”  We cannot be blamed for things like this.  It is not the church’s fault that things like this happen, but evil triumphs when good men do nothing.  And that is what we have done.  We have hibernated and cloistered while the gates of Hell have advanced, laughing at the impotence of God’s people.  We don’t fight our wars with guns or fists, but on our knees and making all else but the gospel secondary.  This has not characterized God’s people of late.  More church programs and laws won’t stop this advance of evil.  More steadfast men of faith will. -Ryan

Darkness and Butterflies

butterfly

“…All of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.  And I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.  Oh how He loves.” –John Mark McMillan

The other day I got into a fight with a butterfly.  No, it isn’t as silly a sight as it sounds…well not quite.  I was doing some evening gardening and had the garage door open.  When I went in to get a rake I noticed a beautiful butterfly fluttering around, trapped inside the garage.

Normally I wouldn’t think too much of this, and have from time to time even pinned butterflies. I am not some overly-indulgent animal lover.  But this time I felt a little bit of sadness for the poor creature.  To her, she was trapped in some inescapable cave.  I took pity on her.  I decided it was female, not because of some butterfly expertise, but because I simply cannot imagine a male butterfly, though I know they must actually exist.  So with the creature properly personified, I was committed to action.

I grabbed the ladder with the intent of reaching up to the ceiling and gently cupping her in my hand, then releasing her outside.  But just at the instant my plan was about to work, she deftly avoided my grasp in the way that only bugs and small children can.  This set off a several minute period of me moving the ladder and repeating the procedure repeatedly with utter futility.  The butterfly did not appreciate any of my efforts.

As I was pondering the absurdity of the situation and how terrifying this must be to the butterfly, I watched the butterfly frantically moving from ceiling to wall to ceiling and narrowly escaping multiple spider webs.  Convinced that I was beaten in the summer butterfly campaign of 2010, I surrendered and retreated to my house in defeat.

In the morning, the butterfly was far from the front of my mind as I opened the door to get in my car, and was surprised to see the butterfly sweep out of the door into the open air.  She fluttered about low to the ground above my flower bed, and then climbed into the sky with the semi-inebriated flight style that butterflies seem to enjoy.  I smiled.  She was free.

So many times, I feel like that butterfly.  I sit in situations, toxic and painful, sometimes afraid to move, and bumping around my panic, avoiding traps both real and imagined.  I desperately want to find the light, to feel free and supported by fresh air and freedom.  I long for hands, caring and immense, to carry me to such a place.

I believe in those hands.  I believe that God frantically climbs ladders and reaches for me, but it is often difficult to tell those loving hands from giants bent on my destruction.  I know he loves me.  I pray for the doors to open so I can sweep into the sky with a clumsy sense of freedom. But right now, I just feel small.  And maybe if I quiet myself enough and don’t focus on the walls, I can just feel His hands envelop me.

Hold me and carry me.  I long for your immense gentleness to surround me and take me where you will.  I miss those hands, and I fear you will give up and let me bump around my prison in the dark.  You promise to strengthen your people and give them peace (Psalm 29).  Carry me.  Let me fly again in your light.  -Ryan

Thoughts from Taiwan -part 2

We came to Tainan after a very long trip through the island’s mid-section, waiting in long lines of traffic.  Tainan is in the southern section of Taiwan and Taipei, where a huge proportion of the people actually reside, is in the very northern tip.  While Tainan is one of the largest of the handful of cities in Taiwan, it is decidedly rural.  It was raining.

Peichi’s grandmother, spinster aunt, and unmarried uncle live among a clan community in one of the more…um…I guess “suburban” istogether9 the right word, parts of Tainan.  Life in all of Taiwan, and particularly the more traditional and rural areas is communal and clan oriented.  Traditionally, when a woman gets married she comes to live with the husband at his family home.  This almost always includes his parents and often some aunts and uncles.

To Western eyes this seems ridiculous.  On the whole it has both positives and negatives.  First, Taiwan (like almost all cultures I’ve witnessed) is a patriarchal/matriarchal society.  The Father typically does no work inside the house, but works a job to bring in money.  His after-work time is spent playing gambling games, chatting with the other men, drinking, and smoking.  The wife often does not hold an official outside job, but is responsible for the care and keeping of the home.  This means that she also by default makes most of the real decisions.  Men think they’re in charge, but the women really have more say.

Clan life brings with it a sense of community.  It also brings shared resources.  This cannot be overlooked.  Grandmothers and grandfathers can help take care of young children while their parents work.  Conversely, children can take care of their parents when they reach old age.  There is also a sense of history and life cycle that is shared in clan life that is missing and often leads to larger societal problems in much of Western culture.

On the other side, clan life lessens social mobility.  Children often forgo opportunities out of a sense of obligation to the elder relatives.  Money is also never kept for oneself or immediate family, but shared with the larger family, which mitigates much of the possible benefits of new wealth, particularly when it gets spread to those in the family who have little financial responsibility. Further, because of all of this, ambition is not generally seen as a positive trait, as it is in the West.

Amma's streetWhether positive or negative, clan life is central to every aspect of Tainanese culture.  Even houses are constructed around clan life.  Traditional Taiwanese houses were built as more of a complex, intended to house 4 or more family units within a single building.  Each compound was built in a C formation, with a big courtyard in the middle.  The courtyard existed as a family meeting place, the location for bathing, and an entryway into the main sections of the structure.  In the center of the building was the family idol, where the family worshipped both Taoist idols and their own ancestors.

These homes started falling out of fashion only about 20 years ago, when because of space restrictions, different buildings were built.  The new buildings still incorporate much of the same concepts as the old ones, but with each family unit dwelling on a different level of a multi-story structure.  Each floor has two or three bedrooms and a bathroom, and the ground level contains the kitchen and common areas.  Families still gather outside for fellowship.  The family altar is usually on the ground floor at the entrance, or on an enclosed roof patio.

Some Videos from Asia

Here are just some of the videos that Peichi and I made in Asia.  We made them mostly for our youth group in Texas.  I hope you enjoy watching even close to as much as we did making them.  Several places, crowds gathered as we made the videos and asked me afterward if I was someone famous.  Of course, I am.

At YWAM – Day 3

I am writing this on Thursday, simply because Wednesday was way too full to post.

Yesterday was another amazing day.  I left the base in the early afternoon, so it doesn’t really count as a full ‘day’ but it was full nonetheless.  My morning started out with reading the Bible and prayer, but then I got to my guitar and decided to play some worship.  I played through songs as I randomly flipped through my music book.  I was having a pretty good time in worship.

I used to worship like that on my own quite often, especially after I got back from my first missionary tour.  I would sing and play through songs that I knew, and suddenly as I hit upon some random song that struck me, the Holy Spirit of God would just kind of pour over me.  My friend Harold says “The Spirit gushes out like a fountain.”  I guess that is the best way to describe it.

As I was worshiping on Wednesday morning I hit on an old hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”  I have never had hymns mean all that much to me, really.  I didn’t grow up with them all that much.  The third stanza says,

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

I couldn’t finish that last line.  I was on my knees, tears streaming down my cheeks, suddenly hit with the power of God’s Spirit, and the fact that God would go to the cross for me, for what I’ve done, for all my rebellion.  It isn’t fair.  As God sprang out of me like a fountain, I wept out of joy, out of sorrow, out of repentance, out of thankfulness, all at once.  I hadn’t felt that in quite a while.

After all of that, I remembered Harold, and that he had called me a few weeks ago, and asked me to call a friend of his who had been doing inner-city missions work.  So, I decided to call him.  We talked for quite a while.  He told me that he and his wife had met Harold because Harold had opened a door for them, and they struck up a conversation.  He was from the Seattle area.  Harold had made it a point to keep in touch and to regularly pray for he and his wife.

He told me that recently he had been out in Idaho at a parade for some special occasion (maybe it was Thanksgiving) and he looked at the guy next to him, and unbelievably it happened to be Harold!  He then paused and said, “You know, out of all of the men who have ever been anything like a mentor to me in my life, Harold has got to be in the top 5.”

All because he happened to be caught in Harold’s tractor beam as he opened a door.

I want to be like Harold some day when I grow up.  Harold is in his 80’s.  Harold should by all accounts be kickin’ it at some Sun City somewhere.  Instead, he takes every day and every meeting as a chance to really make a difference in someone’s life.  I think Harold is in my top 5 too.  He is my hero.

I spent time saying goodbyes to the Thorstads, and looking around the YWAM base one last time.  I’ll be back here, I prophesied.

I hope that no one misunderstands my purpose in writing this.  It could seem like I’m being really self-indulgent here, writing everything about myself and my week, like some Twittiot (my word) telling the world about his mid-afternoon snack.  That really isn’t my heart here at all.  I knew I would have some incredible experiences this week, and I want to chronicle it all for me, if no one else.  But maybe my experiences will find some way of blessing someone else.  In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul mentions that God has chosen the weak and fooling things/people of this world in order that we could not boast in ourselves, but in God alone.  I have written this short blog series as a point to say, “I am one of those weak and foolish people.”  It is Jesus who this series is about.  It is He who made my week noteworthy.  My attempts to even describe it are largely in vain, but I would shame Him if I didn’t try my best.


And a little fun from Tuesday:

At YWAM -Day 3

Today was a crazy full day, and fortunately I got enough sleep to survive it.  Now it wasn’t bad, it was amazing, but it was full.

The morning started out with me rolling around for 45 minutes simply because I could sleep in.  When I finally got some coffee going I started reading the Bible.  I have been really ruminating over Jesus statement in the gospels, and Paul’s reiteration in 1 Corinthians that communion symbolizes “a new covenant in my [Jesus] blood.”  In John chapter 6, Jesus says that his disciples are to drink his blood, and if they don’t they have no life in him.

But in Genesis, God commands man to not drink blood.  I really spent time thinking over this, and praying over it.  I was going to teach over the implications of a new covenant in Christ’s blood in view of the Abrahamic Covenant.  I needed to fully understand the implications of what Jesus was saying here.  I resolved that God would have to work it out with me through the day, as He often does stuff.

I then read through a little of Othodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.  He points out how the universe has a real order to it, but enough disorder to really make any reliance on the universal order a ridiculous pursuit.  He gives an illustration of how the human body has symmetry, with two arms and legs, and even a two-lobed brain.  But the body does not contain symmetry in all its organs (like the heart).  This has its point in that Christianity matches the sensed order of the world, but is just peculiar enough to match its idiosyncrasies.  Unfortunately, I am not as eloquent as Chesterton and am not doing his point justice.  I shall not bore you further with direct quotes.  But all of this stuck with me.

After this, I spent some time in worship alone in my room.  I hit on some songs that God really used to touch my heart.  Then I was ready for my lunch appointment.

I spoke twice today, to a group of Junior High students in school where I talked about Jesus new covenant, and to a youth group on the YWAM base.  There I spoke about how God wants them to orient their identity and their base of knowledge in Him.  I used 1 Corinthians 2 as my passage.  God has been really speaking to me through that this week.  It is going to be one of my theme verses in 2009.

Later tonight they had a worship service that they do annually called “Dwell.”  I attended and really felt that power of God.  God was really working in me there, as He has pretty dramatically this week.  It was kind of open mic, and one guy got pretty Pentacostal-ly, which I have less and less patience for.  If God is real and really moving, and there can be no doubt in a place like that He is, then there is no need to hype Him up.  He doesn’t need a “hype-man”.  But that didn’t take away from what God was doing for me too much.

I went forward for prayer, and a guy immediately came up and prayed for me in an incredible way.  I have never met him.  I never will see him again.  It didn’t matter.  After I left, I walked past a guy I’ve never met, and he shook my hand put a hand on my shoulder and smiled, and asked me how I was doing.  Chesterton came flooding back.  “These are weird people,” I thought.  And they are.  People don’t share these experiences with strangers.  People don’t put their hands on random strangers’ shoulders and smile either.  But then again, that is the right kind of weirdness that the world is crying out for.  We are a peculiar people, us Christians.  Normal is nothing I want.  I’d rather share these moments with strangers than be stoically stuck, looking cool.

Now I’m in my room for the last time.  I’m leaving tomorrow.  I’m thinking about my half-week, and eating Slim Jims.  Since I disconnected my fire alarm (long story—it doesn’t work—I’ll reconnect tomorrow), I thought about using this kerosene lamp that sits on the little writing desk, under the faded old still life desk picture, the type that seems to be in every older Christian place of prayer.  The kerosene seemed to be still good.  I had to jury-rig it though (pictures below), and it never did seem to function completely well.  I finally put it out, just to be on the safe side.

I’m buying an old writing desk, a faded still life picture, and a kerosene lamp soon, I’ve decided.  Every Christian needs one.  We are, after all, weird people.