Some bear reflections

This past weekend the lads from Redeemer hiked a mile and a half into the Cranberry River for camping/fishing trip. While the water remained lower than we would have liked, and the fish scarcer than advertised, all had a great time bonding as we braved the outdoors. My crew of folks came in on Friday around noon, just missing the Thursday night-Friday morning bear run-in’s.
Apparently the bear came in on Thursday evening and then back the next morning to climb the apple tree to gorge on some delectable little treats. Bummed that he never returned to the same spot, my friend and I made our way up to another fishing hole. He stopped and my impatience set in. I immediately headed on to try and nab a trout on a dry fly. Unfortunately for me, just 40 feet away from the same path he and I were walking on, just literally 5 minutes later, Mr. Bear came back. 
He stared at my buddy, and then continued on his trek of the woods. 5 minutes and I would have seen my bear. Complete bummer.
I accepted the results of my impatience and returned to fishing, catching my first trout on a fly in 9 years. On an indescribable high from such an experience, my thoughts eventually turned to my trip back to the campsite.
Here are a few reflections:
1.) Why walk alone? When I was walking to the fishing hole with my buddy, I thought of fish to be caught and the hope that the bear would come back in the evening when our group could watch him at a safe distance. Yet we still walked the trail as dusk approached. After my trout at 8:45 pm, I didn’t walk back, I ran. Why? Because I was alone. I wasn’t scared while I was with Jason-even though he is faster than me should we have been chased. Just having someone there made all the difference. When I was alone, even those 3 hotdogs and being out of shape didn’t slow my fearful flight back. Why do we (and I) as Christians, prefer to do life alone sometimes? Why run, when we can walk and enjoy our journey with our brothers and sisters in the faith?
2.) Terms. I mentioned to everyone that I wanted to see that bear, but on my own terms. Someone asked what are your terms? When he is at a safe distance, up in a tree, while I’m on the ground, surrounded by friends, several of whom have loaded guns. I didn’t get my wish. He didn’t appear to me on my terms. But he did appear to a number of others who did not express such demands. After all, they were “his” woods (at least more so than ours).
Sometimes I think we put demands and terms upon God, and then are surprised when he doesn’t show up. We don’t experience Him the way others may because our terms usually imply what we can get out of Him: a better feeling, family, spouse, or house. God sets the terms of which we come to Him. We come to Him through His Son in repentance and faith. Consequently we experience and grow in Him the same way, through repentance and faith in His Son, repenting of our “terms.”

3.) Safety? I asked the waitress at a local diner when was the last time someone had been attacked by a bear? Sandy, the 70 year old waitress knew of no such incident in the area. I had 60 pounds, by estimation, on this particular bear. Even though I might be able to bench press more than him, he would certainly take me down without too much effort (these bears weren’t de-clawed like housecats). A bear is not safe, but apparently in these woods, he is good. Reminded me of Aslan in the Narnia series. Yes God is not safe, but He is good. He is not safe because He will call out and crush our idols, but He is good because that is the best thing for us.

Baptism thoughts

This past Sunday, my 8 month old Cade, now free of chicken pox, received the covenant sign of baptism. We took my three year old boy Connar out of the nursery so that he could be a part of it. During the prayer he asked if he could put water on Cade’s head too. Nice.
He expressed a desire to be a part of Cade’s baptism from the get-go, even telling random people Cade would be getting baptized. His desire to play an active role in Cade’s baptism is admirable. And playing in active role after baptism is quite attainable, yet often over-looked.
One of my favorite parts of the baptism is the question asked of the covenant community. Do you promise to assist the parents in the raising of this child? Sometimes I wonder if people really believe what they say.
I have no reason to believe my current church Redeemer’s members are anything but sincere. Each month we have to use nearly 50-60 adults for the two nurseries, Sunday School, children’s church, and youth groups. That’s probably even a conservative estimate. When people promise to help the parents, that doesn’t mean ONLY serving an existing children’s ministry, but I think it would be disingenuous to quickly rule out serving in an existing children’s ministry. Such are opportunities designed not to replace parents, but to assist them. And we all need assistance.
But formal existing ministries like programs are only part of the picture. In their book Essential Church, Thom and Sam Rainer claim one of the few consistent factors present in the youth who continued their faith in college was adult relationships. Most had a number of them. The more the merrier. A youth pastor and parents are not enough. Our youth need more than that, and that’s why I try to include a team of adults and parents as often as possible in youth ministry.
I wonder how seriously I, and other parents take their children’s baptism. It’s not just a “precious” time (though it was quite moving to watch the video). You are vowing before God and others to raise the child in a Christian home, dedicating him to the Lord. That’s pretty serious stuff.  I play baseball with Connar in the front yard on my lunch break and before/after dinner about every day. But I think baptism reminds me of something more important: that God will be faithful in my “informal” ministry times (which definitely outweigh the number of “formal” times like Jesus Story Book Bible reading), so I should take advantage of every available “teaching” moment.
Finally, I also wonder why Presbyterian parents sometimes don’t take advantage of, or want any covenant community involvement in raising their children. Over the years I’ve seen folks who just don’t want any help, and I can’t figure that out. I’ve seen folks agonize about whether or not their children will attend their own church’s VBS. Still, other folks just don’t care about discipleship of their children and so don’t make the necessary lifestyle adjustments. Both seem to goes against the flow of the covenant community structure called the church with which we’ve been so blessed. 
I’m thankful to have (and have had at my previous church) a covenant community who has shown love to my two baptized boys and assisted Amy and I in training and raising them. I hope the same is true for you, both in serving or being served by your local covenant community: the church.

Anyhow, these are my baptism thoughts for the day.

No one "noodles" alone

Some folks down in Texas got some good news this week. They could possibly join 17 other States, including neighboring Oklahoma, and be allowed to “noodle.” Noodling is the art-if you want to call wiggling your fingers into a rock pile or submerged structure and waiting for a catfish to bite them art-of catching catfish with your hands. Once the fish bites down on your fingers (again, if I didn’t lose you at catfish, I’m assuming I lost you “bite down on your fingers”), you use your other hand to help wrestle the fish to the surface. And in the end, you have, a catfish.

Some states have “noodling” tournaments and even “noodling” guides and businesses with “resorts” (RV type campers) to house first time catfish angler-wranglers. I’ve seen TV specials where stereotypical working moms from D.C. have actually left family and work for “noodling” vacations.

Of course the reason noodling is illegal in most states is because people die from noodling. Forget the fact that it might not be a good idea go into snake infested waters and stick your hand in a fish’s mouth. Remember the fact that catfish can get big and they don’t like getting wrestled to the surface. People drown. Not the way I would want to go: “I fought the fish and the fish won.”

What possesses a man or woman to noodle? Demons? Probably not, though I don’t rule it out completely. Is it the thrill of catching something with your bare hands? It’s probably more than that-though not necessarily less than that-because serious noodlers describe it as a way of life.

I’m not a noodle insider, historian, groupie, or buff, but have seen a number of noodling specials on TV. One thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t noodle alone. You need someone to come in and pull you to the surface if Mr. Catfish becomes unusually reluctant to give up his spot. I guess you could say noodling begets a community centered around helping and being helped. Or perhaps the need for such a community begets noodling? 

With normal fishing, you don’t need anyone. And some people like that. But latent within the “art” of noodling comes a recognition that you need the help of others. You need them and they need you. While I’ll not wiggle my fingers underwater for a catfish to bite them, I can at least see and appreciate that the need for noodling goes beyond primordial hunting. It might be just as much about community than catfish. Maybe. 

More video on noodling here.

Facebook community of young and old: ammended

My cousin once told me, “I don’t have accept facebook friend requests for people over 30.” I asked about myself, and she said, “Sorry, even you!” I laughed, and later realized that she’ll have to “up” the age restriction to 40 in several years when she turns 30.

It’s a shame, but this type of facebook age discrimination takes place in the covenant community called the church. I can remember one of my former youth explaining, “I don’t want that old guy looking at my pictures. That’s creepy.” Perhaps it is. I can’t get in the mind of a teenage girl-nor do I necessarily want to be there! But what about older ladies? Should that be creepy too?

Earlier this week, one of my ex-“friends” on facebook posted something a bit concerning (my comments got me de-friended). It was the standard youth self-centered myopic comments I’ve come to know and but not so much love, yet expect. But what was beautiful was an older “friend” in her 70’s who offered a simple regret and disappointment at such a post. The day before she even questioned a related post, explaining that the life of a teenager isn’t as bad as teenager’s think. Easier said, or written, than done. 

Whether or not any of these concerns were or will be taken to heart is hard to tell. Yet I think its a beautiful thing for teenagers to have more adults involved in their lives than only their parents and some sort of youth pastor. It takes a whole covenant community, and it is a beautiful to see the older taking an interest in the younger. 

Now facebook involvement is hardly a substitute for real community. But perhaps it is a start, and can be a place where the young and old BEGIN to do life together, sojourning along this difficult path we call the Christian life.