Posted in Stories

Familiar strangers

I ran across the term “familiar strangers” in Rob Walker’s newsletter The Art of Noticing, suggested to him by reader Laura Grace Weldon. A “familiar stranger” is someone you see regularly, but you don’t know personally.

I found that idea fascinating. What familiar strangers do I run across on a regular basis?

Like a lot of the people who work at the Publix supermarket close to me. I’m there several times a week. I know the names of managers, baggers, cashiers and shelf stockers because their names are on their badges. But that’s all I know about them. I follow their progress as they move up from bagger and cart cowboy to cashier, customer service, and assistant manager. If I stop at another Publix, of course none of them are there, and I feel strangely out of place.

The folks at the post office are familiar, too. I even know their spiel asking me if I need any insurance, delivery confirmation, or stamps. Most are exceptionally patient in the face of various customer demands. They’re pretty amazing strangers.

I recognize many of the front office workers and hygienists at the dentist’s office. Twice a year for many years I’ve interacted with many of them. I know my hygienist and dentist pretty well since we get to chat. But the rest are just familiar faces.

Other churches use our building for their worship services and meetings, usually when our congregation isn’t using it. Sometimes we overlap by a few minutes and I know the faces. But they’re usually speaking a different language.

Some of the contractors who do work around the church or our home are familiar faces who stop by a few times a year. There are familiar faces at some of the restaurants we frequent. I know the names of the dogs who walk by our house but not necessarily the names of their walkers.

Then there are the faces of those I no longer see. The tenant church who closed up shop last year. The neighbor’s wife who recently died. The doctors and assistants at my previous eye doctor. The cleaning crew we had to fire.

My circle of familiar strangers is a lot bigger than I realized. They are worth noticing.

Posted in dogs, Stories

Grrr

I was out one after noon walking two big brown dogs. One of them, Samson is ours. The other, Kennedy, is my daughters. They’re almost twins.

A hundred yards into our walk around the block, a miniature version of my dogs caught wind of our approach and came over to check us out. He must have been visiting, because I hadn’t seen him before. I braced myself, unsure of how hard my two would pull on their leashes. The little guy trotted over with his hackles up, but the initial sniffing was cordial.

Until the smaller dog snapped, warning us to stay away from his yard. The two bigger dogs woofed but took a step back, unsure of their next move. Really? O come on. He’s not more than a snack for you two beasts. Whatever. We’ll just ease on down the road.

So my question is, why does a little dog like that feel like they can take on a much bigger pair of opponents? And why are the big dogs afraid of such a small antagonist?

I guess dogs don’t pay that much attention to size. It more about territory. If you’re on my home field, I don’t care how big you are, I’m coming after you. You can pee on my mailbox post, but I’m just going to cover it as soon as you leave. I’m defending my home turf no matter what!

The big dogs are thinking, “<pant> <pant> You’re not much fun. Later.”

Posted in Stories

I’m only falling ten inches!

P90X2 is not a new workout program. But it’s new for me. Tony Horton and Beachbody released it ten years ago. I did P90X. I followed up with P90X3, which involves all thirty minute workouts. Just recently I decided to go back and see what P90X2 was all about. It’s been a good, challenging workout, combining strength and balance on an inflated stability ball and a variety of medicine balls.

Some workouts are push ups or side arm balances on two med balls. Otheres are pushups on four med balls. Tricep dips or mountain climbers on three med balls. Plyo pushups onto a ball or two or three. Some of these skills I have mastered. For others I roll onto the floor. Each day I am able to do a few more. When my wife comments, “You’re going to kill yourself out there (in the garage),” my reply is, “I’m only falling ten inches!”

You’ve got to find something which will challenge you in new ways. These workouts are doing just that for me.

Posted in memories, Ministry

The seven seals

I apologize in advance if you ran across this post because you were searching for deep theological insights into the book of Revelation. This two-sided bookmark is on my office bulletin board, and when I glanced at it this past week, it brought back a great ministry memory.

I think my (middle) daughter was sixteen or so when she and a group of her youth group and lacrosse team friends wanted to do a bible study on the book of Revelation. So, once a week we informally got together in the youth leader’s home and worked our way through all the apocalyptic images and symbols. These include the seven seals of a scroll that only Jesus is worthy to open. Their young, imaginative minds delighted in the image of the kind of seals you’d see at Sea World. So I made them each a bookmark with seven seals.

On the reverse side, I arranged pictures of the ten plagues from Exodus. These helped us connect the images of God’s judgment in the Old Testament with these in the New.

Every once in a while, teach kids and youth. It will keep you young. And you will learn a lot!

Posted in flash fiction

Ding

“Ding.”

Oh no. Not again.

“Ding.”

“Andy, if I hear that bell one more time, I’m going to throw it out the window!”

“No! I found it. It’s my friend.”

That’s how the conversations go on the summer youth mission trip. Someone always finds an annoying “friend.” An inanimate object that works its way into the group.

“Ding!”

Don’t say anything. Just let it go. Maybe they’ll fall asleep.

“Ding.”

Before I could open my mouth, a series of clunks echoed down the hallway. The slamming of metal bars woke the whole room of sleeping youth.

“What was that?”

Our whole group had to move up stairs. The church where our summer mission group was sleeping needed the space for one of their summer programs. No problem. We carted all our backpacks, air mattresses and sleeping bags up to the third floor.

The long hallway on the third floor was lined with doors that split in the middle. The top half of each was a smoky glass. Both halves were locked. The doorknobs turned, but the doors wouldn’t budge. What was back there?

We all sat up from our sleeping bags as the ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk continued from door to door.

I went to the door and looked out. “Don’t go out there!” I held up my hand. Shhh. Relax. Sit still. “Stay here.”

When I stepped out into the hallway, I saw the top half of each door ajar. It was like the whole place was suddenly open for business. I slowly walked toward the first door. It squeaked a little as it swung open. I cautiously peeked in.

I saw stacks of chairs, an erased chalkboard and two large empty trashcans. Nothing too exciting.

Feeling relieved and bolder, I moved towards the second open half-door. I took a deep breath and stepped right up to the doorway.

I quickly stepped back, pressing my back against the wall. Did he see me? I stayed perfectly still. I didn’t even breath. I know he saw me. What do I do?

I saw a few heads peering from the doorway down the hall. I frantically motioned them to go back.

“Ding.”

I gasped. The bell’s ring lingered in the air for seconds, finally fading into silence. I didn’t move a muscle.

What was that sound? I looked down to see the floor boards rising and sinking, as if some unseen feet were walking by. I could feel the slow, steady movement of the floorboards under my feet. Whatever it was, it was moving towards the room where our youth were no longer sleeping.

I took off down the hall. I had to get there first. “Let’s go. Everyone. Out. Now. No, don’t take anything. Just go down the stairs and out!”

As the last one disappeared down the stairwell, I felt something grab my shoulder. I twisted away, dropped to the ground, rolled and got back on my feet. “Oh no you don’t,” I whispered as I sprinted towards the stairs. Two, three stairs at a time, I hit the first landing hard. Panting, I burst through the exit out into the courtyard. “Go! Run!”

Looking over my shoulder, the door behind me closed. Windows on all the floors slammed shut. A light flashed and then everything went dark.

“Ding.”

Posted in teaching

The raft of God

When you’re a pastor it’s easy to fall into the habit of throwing out all kinds of phrases that make little sense to some of the youth you teach.

I’m pretty sure we were talking about the word “salvation” and being “saved” when I made reference to “being saved by [Christ] from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).

One of my students immediately asked, “What’s the raft of God?”

I like to use a lot of pictures when I teach, so naturally, I illustrated this important concept.

Posted in shopping

Forced auction!

One day last week I saw these signs at all the major intersections in my community. They weren’t there for long. Code enforcement is pretty quick to clean up such advertisements.

But it really caught my attention. These are high priced items! A Lamborghini? MSRP starts at $200k! Picassos? Really? You’ve got more than one original Picasso for sale? Lol, some of his stuff goes for over $100 million. I thought all the Rembrandts and Matisses were in museums. Dalis go for $8,000 to $12,000. You can get a Peter Max for $2000. The cheapest Rolex watch sells for $5,000.

OK, so what exactly is a forced auction? It is property being sold involuntarily, sometimes due to a court order in a bankruptcy or foreclosure. If someone actually owned such items, I doubt they would need to be forced to sell them off.

But who knows? Gambling debts? A nasty divorce? Need money to pay a ransom? Were drugs involved?

Were any of these items genuine? Would they actually be up for bids? Or was this just a ploy to get you in the door?

I wonder if anyone from our area reserved a socially distanced seat? Part of me really wanted to go just to see if any of it was real.

Do you think they’d take a check?

Posted in Stories

“Do you like it?” “It’s a little chewy.”

We had a big plastic tub in the garage where we’d been storing dry dog food for about twenty years. It came free with a big bag of food and we used it ever since. The top seals tightly, so I never really worried much about bugs getting into it or anything like that.

When I recently made a trip to the pet store to replenish our dry food supply, they didn’t have the usual seventeen pound bags. Only thirty-five. No problem, since it came in a resealable zip lock bag. I’ll fill up the tub now and pour the rest in later.

When later arrived and I was refilling the tub, nuggets of food were falling out on the floor. At first I thought I was just being clumsy, but when the bag was empty, I saw two quarter-sized holes chewed in the bottom of the bag. Someone else had been helping themselves to the kibble! A mouse? The squirrels have been pretty brave lately. Who knows. Lesson learned. I won’t make that mistake again.

About two weeks later, I went out to get some food for our dog’s supper, and noticed a pile of tiny green pieces of plastic in a pile on the garage floor. What the heck is that? Then I saw the lid of the tub. Someone had been slowly but surely trying to chew their way into the dog food. They hadn’t quite made it, but they were making progress.

OK, that’s it. I got a new tub and we’re keeping it inside. We’re not feeding whatever rodent is brave enough to try and tunnel into the dog food supply!

Posted in death, virtual reality

My friends are dead.

This post is going to be morbid. Just warning you up front.

I was poking around on Facebook and noticed the phrase “View Sent Requests.” I clicked on it and saw the list of people I had requested to be friends with who had not yet responded. As I read through the list of about twelve names, I discovered why some hadn’t responded.

They were dead.

Some had died recently. Others a few years ago.

I got curious. I wondered how many of my 948 friends were actually still alive? It took a little time, but I scrolled through the whole list. I had no idea who some of those people were. A few had duplicate entries. One was a closed restaurant? But another ten were dead. Some had been dead for years, but their page was still active. People were still wishing them a happy birthday. They hadn’t gotten the memo.

Isn’t that interesting? In the analog world they’re mortal. They’ve passed. I’ve been to some of their funerals. I’ve done some of their funerals.

In a digital sense, they still exist and they are still my friends. They have achieved a sort of immortality.

There is a whole underworld of Facebook users out there.