March 2012


“…nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21).

Yesterday I was blind twice. Well, not literally. I just didn’t see what was right in front of me.

One time I was calling for our dog Chloe to come in. She usually does the circuit of our big back yard several times while she’s out or else snoops under the many shrubs along our fence. But I didn’t see her anywhere. I kept calling. Still nothing. Finally, I looked down, right at my feet as I stood by the gate in the black wrought-iron fence separating our carport from the back yard. And there she was! She had been there the whole time, but I didn’t see her because she wasn’t where I expected her to be. That, and she’s a little black dog, so when she stood behind the bars of that black fence, she was camouflaged.

The other time I couldn’t see yesterday I was looking for the “wand” or “straw” from a small can of WD40 I was using to lubricate the wheel levers on my mower. I had the can in my hand, with the wand attached, while I got the machine out of our shed. I wasn’t watching what I was doing (typical), and the wand popped off as it brushed against the handle of the mower. I looked everywhere in the grass for the little red plastic piece, but couldn’t see it. I finally gave up and went on with my mowing. After I finished, I was sweeping the patio and looked down. There was the wand, plain as day. Once again, I didn’t expect to find it on the patio, so even though it was there the whole time, I didn’t see it.

How often do we look at the world and say we can’t find God at work because we’re looking only the places we expect to see him? We have fixed notions of how he acts, the people among whom he will be found, the situations where he shows up. So we look for him in the dogmas of the Church, but not in the theories of science. We expect he will be blessing Christians of a certain stripe, but not believers we don’t agree with, much less our neighbors who follow another faith or none at all. We even tend to see evidence of his presence primarily when we or our loved ones are “blessed” and not when we are going through tough times.

I didn’t see my dog or my tool because I focused my gaze on and limited my search to only the familiar and expected places. I hope I’m more imaginative and perceptive as I look at the world for the signs of God’s love and presence.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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I thank my God every time I remember you… (Philippians 1:3).

I am a part of all that I have met… (Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson).

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Jennie, the long-legged chihuahua mix we have fostered for the past two weeks. We’ll put her on a Homeward Bound truck at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and she’ll be on her way to a new life in New York. The ASPCA up there will soon have an adoption event, and we’re sure she will find a family who will love and care for her, receiving in return the abundant love and affection this little pup has to give.

We’ve had Jennie for only a short time, but we will remember her fondly and miss her. I think our dachshund Chloe will miss her, too, since Jennie was such a great playmate, though Chloe will also be glad we belong exclusively to her again.

The experience with Jennie reminded me that there are also people that come into our lives for only awhile, but they remain with us. Sometimes we wish they would go away, like the rude driver who cut us off or the apathetic clerk at the store; the frustrated, angry mother screaming at her kid while she also blocks the grocery aisle with her buggy; or the telemarketer who phones at suppertime.

But other times the encounters are welcome and all too brief. We wish we could’ve lingered and savored the conversation with someone we see by surprise when we are out running errands or soaked up a bit more of the smile from a friendly store clerk who greeted us warmly and was helpful on a rushed day. We have a friend for a few years, then life takes us in different directions, and we lose touch. We see people at church or on a board or in a club meeting once a week or less, and the relationships seldom move beyond superficial conversations about business or the weather or maybe music and sports, but we long to talk about what truly touches us in our hearts. Loved ones are taken from us all too soon, and there is so much more we would have liked to have said and done.

God in his providence brings vulnerable and loving creatures like Jennie into our lives, and they are gifts. He also provides the encounters with people of all sorts, for a shorter or longer time, and they too may be gifts. Time and life will teach us what God intended in giving them.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

Do not commit the error, common among the young, of assuming if you cannot save the whole of [humankind] you have failed” (Jan de Hartog).

I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world…and change some things in some people” (Alexander Papaderos, as told by Robert Fulghum in It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It).

“You can do no great things; only small things, with great love” (Mother Teresa).

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”) “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people! O that I had in the desert a traveler’s lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a band of traitors. They bend their tongues like bows; they have grown strong in the land for falsehood, and not for truth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, says the Lord (Jeremiah 8:18-9:3).

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I think I know how Jeremiah must have felt. How can I not be sorrowful in these days? A soldier goes berserk and kills even small civilian children in Afghanistan. Meanness and intransigence dominate politics. A young woman’s reputation is trashed publicly by a famous/infamous talk show host. A Hispanic basketball player, an American citizen, is taunted with chants of “Where’s your green card?” by members of the University of Southern Mississippi band at a tournament, not only insulting that young man but perpetuating the stereotype of the South. A great many women speak of a “war on women” by politicians and pundits of a particular stripe. My own denomination is splitting yet again as the “Evangelical Covenant Order” attracts churches and maybe whole district councils to their brand of Presbyterian theology and practice.

There’s really little I can do about any of that. I depend on those with more power, influence, political and ecclesiastical savvy, and patience than I to address those huge, pressing, societal problems. I turn instead to trying to make a difference in the life of one little dog.

Susan and I were asked last week by our local Humane Society (www.ochsms .org) to foster a chihuahua mix named “Jenny” until she could be sent up north with Homeward Bound (http://homewardboundrescue.com ) to meet her new family. We’ll have her until next Jennie lap dog 3-13-12Saturday morning. Not much time. But enough to provide some socialization and love in a home.

Jenny returns the love and care with her snuggling, licks, and sweetness. She and our dog Chloe have become friends. She even used Chloe’s back as a pillow last night!

Will fostering Jennie change the world? Will it wipe out the sorrow even that I feel, much less that of needy neighbors, oppressed and hated women and minorities, the marginalized and scorned? No. But it will make a difference for Jenny and help me feel that at least for a little while, I did something truly important.

Like in the old story of the man throwing starfish back into the sea, what Susan and I do “matters to this one.”

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me
(Psalm 18:19, NIV 1984).

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to rearrange the furniture in some rooms in our home. We wanted more balance in the shapes and heights of chests and tables and chairs. But mostly we did the work to open up space in the rooms. Around the same time, we went through some closets and decided on better uses of the shelves, moving books and games and supplies to be more accessible, putting similar items together.

It occurred to me when we were finished that Lent is a time for the same sort of discipline in our spiritual lives. We open space in our hearts for the grace of God, removing the clutter, rearranging our priorities, looking at how the various aspects of our daily routine fit with the purposes of God for us. And we go into those hidden parts of ourselves—the “closets”—and examine what’s there. Then we bring those secret needs and fears out into the open in an act of bold vulnerability, either so they can be healed or their energy channeled. And by the same token, we may discover within ourselves hidden treasures, emotional resources we didn’t know we had, like someone who finds a long-forgotten photo or card tucked away in a drawer or inside a book on a shelf.

As Lent continues, why not do some actual physical rearrangement of your home or office, knowing that environment quite often has a profound effect on attiude and emotions? And while you’re at it, how about creating some space for grace (James Forbes’ phrase) in your life?

Blessings!

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.