Archive for March, 2016

Springtime in Indianapolis is like a resurrection.

Few cities I’ve known color their winters as gray as does our Indy. It’s one of the many things that make Indianapolis easy to underestimate.

Then comes the Spring.

The birds, on this resplendent Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, are busily nesting. Our feeders are busy, but so are the numerous bird houses scattered around our property. House finches are checking out the real estate, as are sparrows and chickadees. They move with the purpose of buyers in a sellers’ market. There are only so many bird houses to go around, you know. You snooze, you lose.

I admit, I’m a deeply sentimental man when it comes to places. An irrational nostalgia runs deep with regard to every place I’ve lived and a handful more where I’ve been.

Take Northern Wisconsin, for example.

My mother was born and raised there, my father pitched to Hank Aaron there, a whole youth worth of summer vacations made Lake Superior and the family who lived on its edges the destination of a long but never questioned drive from Pennsylvania.

When we Baers managed to gather there last Fall for the first time in many years, it was a coming home, a return to who we are, an understated migration to the stream of our origins.

I bought a bird house in Hayward. A knotty-pine Northwoods cabin of a bird house, a bit tacky if you’re from—let me pick a place—Virginia, but an icon of home if you have felt the Big Lakes’s breezes on your face.

May I detour for a moment in a technical direction?

The standard sources map out how important is the size of the hole in a bird house for the various species of backyard birds that lift our spirits and put our souls at ease in this Indianapolis space we call home. A chickadee family, you may be interested to learn, requires 1/8″ more of entrance clearance than does a wren.

My Northwoods knotty-pine bird house is made for wrens.

So it is that in these last few days a small drama has ensued just outside the windows which demarcate the human space from the delightfully kinetic animal space of our home.

A pair of chickadees has spied a log cabin that they would love to call home.

—Justin, it’s beautiful, honestly. But the doorway seems just a little small.

—Oh, Allison, I’m sure we can fit through. Look, just peer inside. OMG, it’s gorgeous in there. Can you imagine the kids?

—I know, Honey Man, I completely agree. I’m just not sure we can fit through that … um … that hole.

—Sure we can, Ally Baby, just watch. Ooh … Ouch … Oh my, this is a little tight. Here, let me peck at the edges of the hole for a while. I’m sure I can find us a sixteenth of an inch here. These things are not etched in stone, you know.

—Oh, Honey, you’re the sweetest. Knock yourself out. I’ll stand up here on the roof and watch.

—Ally, I think I can squeeze in. Ooh … ouch … HONEY, I’M IN … !!! Oh, Baby, it’s spacious in here. You wouldn’t believe it.

—But, Justin, when I’m with child? I mean, with eggs? Will I fit?

—Ally, Baby, we’ll get a gym membership. I’m sure it will work.

—OK, J-Dawgy, I really want to believe you. I’ll just sit out here on the wire for a while and peer longingly at our future home … I mean … what I hope will be our future home. You just keep pecking at that doorway. Do you think these feathers make me look fat?

This is as far as our drama has gone.

This afternoon has been a little quiet around the Old Log Cabin Bird House. Maybe a dream has died and our chickadee couple has found a little condo down the street. Or perhaps decisions have merely been postponed for another day.

Or maybe a pair of wrens is out looking …

You gotta’ move fast in a sellers’ market.




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We forget.

It’s insane how easily and often we forget. Literally.

Something in Adam’s legacy smears our grip with amnesiac vaseline. We think we’ll hold on to this little drama of YHWH’s provision, this answered prayer, this jaw-dropping intervention. We cannot imagine that the rest of our life will not be colored by this miracle, shaped by this insight. We know we’ll remember.

Then we don’t.

And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:10–12 ESV)

Remembering YHWH’s provision requires rehearsal, persistent discipline, daily workouts at the crack of dawn. Moses exhorts the Israelites who shuffle just outside the frontier of their promised land that forgetting on a full belly will come naturally.

Take care, he warns them, otherwise you’ll forget.

Biblical faith does not frown on the constant practice that remembering requires if it is to flourish among us. Call it ritual, call it liturgy, call it recitation, call it memorization. Without it, no earnestly spontaneous faith will do.

You’ll forget. Guaranteed.

Draw your line in the sand. Stake your claim. Write it down and then sign it with your own determined hand. Carve it with a knife on your doorposts. Tape it to your fridge.

Do something to make sure you remember.

Otherwise, you’ll be fat, warm, and dry on a cold, rainy night. Then you’ll forget.

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Conventional expectations—at least the basic ones that we assume to be home truth—fail badly when it comes to God’s way with his people. Neither democracy nor equality are given much space in the biblical narrative, though ironically neither would exist as political principle were it not for the ethical underpinning that Scripture provides them.

At least in the short view of things, life in YHWH’s presence remains distinctly unfair.

This is no more true than when it comes to the uncommon burden of the leader.

But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. (Deuteronomy 4:20–22 ESV)

Moses has interceded with YHWH on behalf of his recalcitrant people. He has pled for their lives before their angry God. He has cried, ‘Kill me and let them live!’.

He has suffered because of them. He has suffered on behalf of them. The life of this erstwhile Egyptian prince turned Israel’s rescuer and lawgiver has not produced for him much joy. His has been an insufferable lot.

Now, Moses explains to Israel from the heights of Moab’s plains overlooking the Jericho Valley and the promised land on the other side, you guys will get what’s been promised to you. I’ll die on this side of the water.

The ironies run deep.

The Lord was angry with me because of you. Yet I must die in this land, my feet unmoistened by Jordan’s lapping waters. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land.

There is a manifest unfairness in this dealing, viewed through the lens of conventional expectations. There is an uncommon humility in Moses’ capacity to accept his unjust fate.

We do not lead for what is in it. We lead, truth be told, because we must.

So long as our people cross over, we lie peacefully in our forgotten grave across the water.

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We live trapped, surrounded by walls.

We come to understand precisely what falls within our reach and what beyond. We learn early not to push the envelope, not to think beyond reality as it has been served to us with all its hard, claustrophobic barriers.

It’s hard to breathe. But we get enough air to go on, so we do.

For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:37 ESV)

Mary the mother of Jesus finds the well-regarded limitations of divine intervention punctured by angels who can’t stop saying crazy things.

Along the way, she finds out that she is not the only woman falling pregnant under the oddest of circumstances. Her relative Elizabeth, sprightly perhaps but unmistakably old, is expecting. Indeed showing, for it is already the sixth month.

What’s more, Elizabeth is one of those unfortunates—everyone knew this—who could not have children.

That’s gone, the angel advises Mary, who has not even been given time to stop reeling from the shock of her own announced pregnancy.

If Mary stands apart from the rest of us, it is perhaps because she could say words like this against the cold breath of impossibility:

And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38 ESV)

She was somehow unscandalized by it all.

Having taken note of this, the angel immediately departs. He’s busy, has work to do.

Impossible stuff.

As I write this, I am terrified, exhilarated by impossible things. They’re at the window, not yet in the house, announcing themselves, tapping insistently on the pane. They raise hope, elicit then ease fear. They remind a man that he still knows nothing about that boundary, that frontier, that line between things that can be.

And those that could never be. Impossible things.

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