Friday, January 28, 2011

I Remember Exactly Where I Was When I Heard

It was 25 years ago today.

I had not realized that today was the anniversary until I saw this Facebook status post from a friend: "It's almost hard to believe it's been 25 years since my vintage had our 'I'll never forget where I was when I saw that' moment in life."

I knew immediately the event to what he referred. Do you? It was the Challenger explosion, a horrific event that highlighted the mid-eighties and ended innocence for many. I remember where I was - I was on an airplane, returning to Waco from the University of Utah debate tournament. The pilot came on the speaker and announced the news. The shuttle had exploded. All aboard, including a female civilian school teacher, were killed. Space exploration had been our debate topic the year before, so I was pretty well-versed in the space program in 1986. I took this very personally.

My friend's post has gotten me to thinking.... What are the events of national and international significance during my lifetime that cause me to remember exactly where I was when I heard about them?

I was born in 1965, which makes me, depending on which article you read, either the very tail end of the Baby Boom or the very beginning of Generation X. Either way, I am of a generation that was not alive for Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Sputnik, or the Kennedy assassination. For me and my generation, the defining world events are different.

Listed below are what they are for me. These are not all necessarily the most important events of the last 46 years (although some of them certainly are). Not included are wars, invasions, deaths, economic crises, genocides, scientific breakthroughs, presidential elections, Super Bowls, or many other significant events that I of course remember as critical history, even though I do not recollect the exact place where I was when they occurred. Instead, these are the events that, as I look back, I remember with specificity when and where I was when I first heard about them.

1. Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. July, 1969. My parents and I were on a trip returning home, and we stopped at a motel in Fort Smith, Arkansas - a mere 50 miles or so from home - and checked in so that we could watch. It was a little black-and-white tv set, and I was only 4, but I remember.

2. Hank Aaron hits his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record. April, 1974. I was at my grandparents' house in Gladewater, Texas, watching what was at that time a rare Monday night national broadcast of a baseball game.

3. Nixon resigns the presidency. August, 1974. Another motel. Family vacation in Boone, North Carolina.

4. The bicentennial. July 4, 1976. At my house in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

5. Elvis dies. August, 1977. Again at my grandparents' house in Gladewater.

6. John Lennon is shot and killed. December, 1980. In my bed in Nashville, listening to the radio when I was supposed to be asleep.

7. President Reagan is shot. March, 1981. I was a sophomore in high school. It was early afternoon. I heard about it on my high school campus. Some cynical students cheered; that really ticked me off.

8. Space shuttle Challenger explodes. January 1986. See above.

9. Police pursue O.J. Simpson in a slow-speed chase. June, 1994. Gena, 9-month-old Trey, and I were on vacation. On our way to a family reunion in Phoenix, we stopped in Las Vegas to see one of my old roommates and his wife. They took us to dinner in the sports book at Caesar's Palace at a restaurant of which we had never heard at that time - the California Pizza Kitchen. Dozens of TVs all over the walls showed a plethora of different sporting events. All of a sudden, every TV was showing a white bronco. It was surreal.

10. Timothy McVeigh blows up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. April, 1995. I was in my office in Nashville. The radio was on as I worked. I heard the news and went in to tell Mr. Robinson, the firm's senior partner.

11. O.J. Simpson is acquitted. October, 1995. I was standing in Demos' Restaurant in Nashville with co-workers, after lunch, watching the TV over the bar.

12. Two planes crash into the World Trade Center. Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. I was leaving an early morning Bible Study at Belmont University, heading to my office, listening to the radio when the news came on. I was so stricken and distracted that I got a ticket for speeding through a school zone. (The judge subsequently dismissed the ticket, himself remembering how shaken we all were when we got the news.)

13. My now 17-year-old son receives his first college acceptance. Today, January 28, 2011. OK, maybe not an event of international importance, but you could not tell that at our house.

Events that shaped a generation. As I look back, the ones of these that most affected me were 9/11, the shooting of President Reagan, and the Challenger explosion. That is not to diminish the tragedy of Oklahoma City or the cultural significance of John Lennon; I am just recalling which ones made the most indelible marks on me.

Where were you?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Brothers and Sisters

I am an only child. I don't feel bad about that - it has its advantages. But one thing that I clearly missed was the relationship among siblings.

I have seen that with Gena throughout our marriage. Her relationship with her brother and sister is something to which I cannot relate. I admire it. I am thrilled that she has it. These three siblings have a bind and a support system that is different in kind from mere friendship.

I have been reminded again of this sibling bond this weekend. Trey, my son, had a huge victory Saturday, being named First Chair in the All-Area Choir and securing his spot in the All-State Choir. When we got the news, his sisters set to work - unbidden by us - to make Trey's return home special. Carolyn baked, iced, and decorated a cake for him. Annessa made posters and signs all over the house: "This is where a winner parks."... "This is where a winner sleeps."... "This is where a winner brushes his teeth." ... etc. You get the idea.

Their love for each other is remarkable. It is palpable. They pick at each other and nag each other and irritate one another, and none of that matters. I admire their relationship. I am thrilled that they have it. While I love all of them and their mother deeply, their particular relationship with each other is one to which I cannot relate.

It is time for Americans to learn a lesson from the siblings around us. The idea of shooting 20 people at a "Congress on your corner" event is beyond my comprehension. I don't know what motivated Loughner. He apparently is deranged. Whether politics per se had anything to do with it or not, there is no escaping the fact that his apparent primary target was a congresswoman, that he killed a federal judge who had gone out on a limb making decisions that he felt were called for by the law, and that he chose a political event as the site for his assassination.

Over the past months, I have decried in this blog the disintegration of our political rhetoric. I wrote about it here , here, here, and here among other places.

We live in a free, open society. The American dream binds us all in ways that our politics should not be able to sever. It is not sappy uber-patriotism to say that we are all American brothers and sisters. Too many people have fought and died - and still fight and die - for us to live where we live and how we live for us to take it for granted. It is not easy, and it requires self-restraint; but we should be treasuring each other as a type of siblings. We should have the kind of relationship with each other that others in the world admire, even if they do not understand it.

I don't know why Jaren Lee Loughner opened fire. It is undoubtedly premature to attribute his actions to any particular political rhetoric, and I do not mean to do so here.

But yesterday's obscenity in Arizona is the opportunity for all of us to rethink how we approach our versions of "Congress on the corner." The enemy is not the other party, the "wrong" talk radio host, or the group marching this week in Washington. We are all a part of a pluralistic fabric that makes up a larger singular design, and we simply cannot continue in the spirit of political incivility that has infected us.

My college debate coach had some cheesy rules for our squad. Rule #1 was "Our knives are pointed outward." We were a team, and the coaches simply would not tolerate our taking potshots at one another. We had bigger fish to fry that required a collective effort. We were, in a real fashion, brothers and sisters.

I am not really an only child. You are my brothers and sisters. I do well to remember that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Model Prayer as the Antidote to the Temptations

A while back, I wrote here about what I consider the five basic temptations. In short, I said that the appearances of Satan in scripture outline these five temptations: 1. Be like God. 2. Blame God. 3. Satisfy your physical hungers.
4. Show off. 5. Grab power.

The Model Prayer, found in Matthew 6 (and, in part, in Luke 11), is one of the best known sections of scripture. It is probably not hyperbole to say that millions recite the Matthew version from memory daily. Many studies and interpretations of the Model Prayer have been written.

I want to suggest an additional purpose of the prayer. The five requests that Jesus teaches us in the Model Prayer are, in my view, directly related to the five temptations. I believe that Jesus' prayer is an antidote to the basest of the temptations that beset us.

1. "Hallowed be thy name." This is the first request of the prayer. Jesus, speaking to His father, asks that God's name be kept holy. The first temptation, verbalized by the serpent to Eve, is that we can be like God. The way to fight that temptation is constantly to be reminded that God is God and we are not, that God is holy and we are sinful, that God is creator and we are creatures, that God is king and we are subjects. The first supplication of the prayer, then, asks God to remind us and the world of the uniqueness of God's station, God's name, God's very being. We are unlikely to fall for the temptation that we can be godlike when we are aware of the nature of God.

2. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done." In this second request, Jesus raises the will of God above others' desires or choices. This same idea, of course, is echoed in different words by Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane - "nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done." The second temptation, exemplified in the devil's shenanigans played out through the advice Job receives from his three "friends," is to blame God. Even Job's wife tempts him to "curse God and die." Blaming God is natural for the one who does not recognize that God's ways are superior to our ways. That we do not understand God's will does not make it any less overarching. This request, then, is asking that God's will be done to the exclusion of any contrary will of human beings. We don't blame God for doing or allowing when we have first requested that God be in charge, that God exercise God's will.

3. "Give us this day our daily bread." The third appeal is for provision. The third temptation, which comes to a very hungry Jesus from Satan in the wilderness, is to turn stones into bread; in other words, the third temptation is to take matters of our physical needs into our own hands and to prioritize them, using even supernatural powers to satisfy them. The Model Prayer, on the other hand, recognizes the provision of the Father for His children. We rely on God for what we need; then, we do not need to fall prey to the temptation of figuring out how to satisfy ourselves.

4. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." This part of the Model Prayer dually shows our own sinfulness, and thus our need for forgiveness; it then directs us to focusing on others, thus recognizing their need for forgiveness. In contrast, the fourth temptation is all about self-aggrandizement. Jumping off the temple to make a public display of how God has gifted you is the height of arrogance, control, and selfishness. The antidote for the temptation of exalting self is to recognize our errors and to turn our focus to others.

5. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The fifth temptation, that of grabbing power, has a condition attached to it. To get that power, we have to bow down to the tempter. This last request of the Model Prayer is a recognition of the lure of what is offered if we simply abandon the First Commandment and have other gods before God. The prayer, if prayed sincerely, is the antidote, asking to be led away from such enticements, regardless of what illusory rewards are dangled before us.

I do not mean to suggest that the entire purpose of the Model Prayer is tied up in an Old Testament understanding of temptation, but I do think that Jesus knows what faces us each and every day when He tells us how to pray.