Friday, August 15, 2008


Up at Bible camp, there was a guy whom I will call "Dan."* Dan is an amazing guy. A professional cabinet maker with a deep Arkansas drawl and a reputation for a truly awsome work ethic, Dan is also a servant. He is always among the first to volunteer when there's a job to do, and he was just about always in there cleaning up the mess hall after meal times--get this--even when it wasn't his team's turn! His service is consistant, high quality, and low key; you have to pay attention to catch him at it.

For all of this, Dan is extremely reluctant to receive praise and encouragement. For one thing, he doesn't seem to need it. For another, he is concerned that complements to him diminish the credit given to God and detract from the service of others.

I tend to crave compliments a bit more than I should, but this sort of thing puzzles me when it comes up, as it seems to quite often. In a discussion at church this past Sunday night, we talked about how much is us and how much is God?

All this has me thinking about tools.

As a musician, I value my tools. I have a whole page on my website devoted to my instruments. This might seem odd to a non-musician, but there is a very good reason I love them so much. I consider myself an decent-to-pretty-good player, but here is the thing: A player can only sound as good as his instrument. I have owned enough clunkers to know that even in the hands of a competent player, a piece of trash, at best, will sound like a well-played piece of trash.

So, if someone walks up to me at a gig and says, "That is one sweet sounding whistle," am I offended because their comment detracts from my playing? No! Quite the contrary--I thank the person, and feel rather satisfied that someone has noticed both my good taste in instruments and my ability to do justice to a fine tool.

Jesus once pointed out to his followers, "You did not choose me; I chose you." When we complement the sound of an instrument, we are in truth complementing the musician who chose it and is playing it. When we recognize the service of a brother or sister, we also recognize the Spirit which moves them to service. Perhaps we should give and receive compliments accordingly.

Because here is the other thing: An instrument can only sound as good as its player. It is nothing but a pretty piece of wood or metal until a musician blows into it. That is when it comes alive.

Lord, let me be a reliable, well-tuned instrument through which you can breathe your music into the world.

*because that's his name

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bucket List

Have you seen the movie? It's hard to go wrong with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It was good. Hillarious and sad and thought provoking. Especially thought provoking.

October, 1995. I was 25, student teaching, and a month into a new phase of life: alone again and learning to be OK with that. I had lost something more than a girl I loved, though. I had lost my future, all my dreams. So I took pen and paper and wrote out the inelegantly titled, "Things to Do Before I Die." (I know, "Bucket List" is more fun to say) It was an important thing to do at the time--part of the process of convincing myself that I could do this, that life could go on and be meaningful, maybe even enjoyable.

Back to the present. Watching that movie this afternoon got me to thinking about this, and a short dig through some old notebooks produced the list. Here it is, word for word, with some modern comments. I guess I haven't done too badly.

Things to Do Before I Die. October 31, 1995.
1. Have a bow made for me; become an expert with it.
The first part was easier than the second, I can tell you that.

2. Own a four-wheel-drive.
I traded in the legendary Purple Truck a couple years ago. It was everything I expected.

3. Learn to accompany myself on the guitar, dulcimer, and/or celtic harp.
Doing OK with the guitar. I doubt I'll ever get to the others, but I'm OK with that.

4. Travel to Scotland, Alaska, Taiwan, and maybe, possibly Nepal
I made it to Scotland a few years ago and I'm aching to go back. Alaska is being talked about. Doubt I'll ever make it to Taiwan or Nepal. This makes me sad, but there are other priorities.

5. Climb a really big mountain.
Check. I've climbed three so far, on two different continents no less.

6. Live in the mountains or by the sea.
We're short on sea but long on mountains around here.

7. Climb an oak tree.
I haven't done this one yet, but I planted an oak tree a month ago. Grow, little tree--I'm not gettin' any younger here!

8. See a grizzly bear, wolf, yak in the wild.
Saw my first grizzly in the Tetons just over a year ago, a silver mama with three cubs. Heard a wolf howl the fall before that. I'm having trouble locating any yaks, though.

9. Open my own inn in the foothills.
Ah, my inn. Sarah and I still talk about that dream now and then. It isn't on the current priority list, but who knows?

10. Learn to identify and understand wild plants.
This has been a very fun one, one of the few I've consciously worked on.

11. Sail on an old-fashioned sail boat.
No luck on this one, mostly because there aren't a lot of sailboats in Wyoming.

12. Learn the constelations.
This one isn't happening effortlessly like I hoped it would. I'm just going to have to get to work on it.

13. Be an old man.
For the next nine months I get to officially say, "I'm thirty-seven! I'm not old!" After that, we'll see.

14. Build a log cabin.
Well, we built a scrap lumber chicken coop this summer. I'm sort of working my way up.

15. Someday, somehow, fall in love again.
How did I know to save this one for last? I guess I always had my priorities straight. Sarah and I have been married four years now. I am glad I had so many years alone, if for no other reason than how much it makes me appreciate what it is to be loved by her.

It is fun to see how many of these I have accomplished, and it is tempting to make a new list. But somehow putting "killing an elk with my bow" on the same list with "raise a child who loves God" seems incredibly shallow. Besides, I feel less need than I once did to fill up my future with stuff. We'll just do the best we can, pray for wisdom and love, and see where God takes us.

That's really all I've ever done, anyway.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Saturday saw the ending of another session of Wyoming Bible Camp, where I have served the past several years as Head Counselor. The job description for this position is intentionally vague: The work entails some measure of authority but very few actual duties, allowing me to sort of play free safety and jump in wherever I am needed. If there was ever a job tailor-made for me, this would seem to be it.

It isn't all fun, though. On Thursday, the tougher high school kids went on a long hike, from Worthen down to Sheep Bridge, then all the way down Middle Fork to the trail head. I used to be the Guy who led these hikes. But nowadays, I am the head counselor. It's my job to make sure everything gets covered. So while the younger guys were burning up the trail, baling off the waterfall, and doing deeds of legend to be recounted with much laughter over dinner, I sat on a creeky bunk in cabin six and sang ridiculous songs with preadolescent boys. Yes, with great power comes great responsibility. And sitting there singing "The One Legged Chicken" with the boys, I was struck once again with how little bearing Spiderman has on real life.

Saturday morning it was wrapping up, though. Sleep-deprived mumblings over cold cerial gave way to the required team chores and cabin clean-up, followed by the snapping cameras, the tearful hugs, the joyful goodbyes, and at long last the quiet drive down the mountain. Several of us met for some well-earned quiet time over Tony's Pizza.

Funny thing about an enormous job well done--the lifted responsibility leaves a vacuum which sooner or later gets filled up with goofy jokes and helpless, gut-busting laughter. Throw in a pizza or five and, well, things are about as good as they get.

Until next time...