Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's Not The Fall That Kills You

Every life-inspired story is essentially a peek into the past. Consider this a peek into mine. This is part 2 of story about a hiking expedition I embarked on with my friends John and Kyle. If you know me well (or even casually), don’t be thrown by phrases like “I live in Nashville.” This was originally written several years ago. Check out Part 1 of the story to catch up.

With muscles aching and joints screaming, my friends and I made the summit of Half Dome at 3:00pm, just as the sun lit the valley for postcard views. While John explored and Kyle took pictures, I sat on top of the mountain with my legs dangling over the edge, tempting gravity to steal my shoes. Sitting on top of Half Dome made me wonder how the Earth must have felt during its ten million year labor, giving birth to this mountain of stone. Pushing it through miles of earth and air. Enduring contractions that shook the planet.

Looking down into the valley made me question how this mountain must have felt when it was a moody geological teenager and a glacier bullied its way through the rocks, tearing away at Half Dome’s face and digging a valley between he and his friends. It was a glacier that clipped the mountain’s rounded top and gave him the nickname Half Dome.

What a cold, hard thing for a glacier to do.

But building up and tearing down are the verse and chorus of nature’s song, the synopsis of God’s story. These mountains are human history in slow motion. They remind us that we are creation, cracked and scarred, yet beautiful beyond belief. They tell us that this is life, both majesty and pain, each serving a purpose. They encourage us that our struggles, while important, are seldom eternal.

I had only been on top of the mountain for a few minutes when two guys crept up behind me and peeked over the side.

“I can’t believe you’re sitting that close to the edge,” one of them said. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll fall?”

I smiled. “Well, it’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the two guys that sneak up and startle you while your legs are dangling over a 4,000 foot ledge that kill you.”

The two men laughed and produced a peace offering of dried fruit. I accepted and returned a handshake, inviting them to join me on the ledge.

As they sat, a hawk made a soaring pass in the space just under my feet. We looked down on the bird as it flew 4800 feet above its unsuspecting dinner. When the hawk turned and its wings caught the wind, I felt like the chorus of an old Bette Midler song.

Together we sat on the edge of a mountain, looking down on the world from a rock that has enjoyed its view for ten million years. We chatted. I asked the obligatory questions of “where are you from?” and “what do you do?” They were from San Francisco. One was an artist, the other an architect.

Although it was a brief biography, the word “we” was used frequently enough to safely establish that these two men were in a relationship. The rainbow pin on the architect’s backpack hinted that it might be a romantic relationship. So did the fact that they were holding hands.

The architect offered me a piece of mango jerky.

“Where are you from,” he asked.

“Nashville, Tennessee” I answered.

The architect sighed a lungful of mountain air. San Francisco sits on the west coast and is known for its famous bridge, hill topping trolleys, and homosexual community. Nashville is in the south, where the Bible buckles its belt. If there is stereotype surrounding what it means to be a homosexual from San Francisco, there is equal preconception of what it means to be a Christian from the south. While people in San Francisco cross the Golden Gate bridge and eat good seafood, Nashvillians go to church on Sunday and enjoy a diet rich in southern fried Christianity.

The architect sighed, and with a smirk that obviously masked something like frustration or hurt or betrayal, he said, “don’t worry. We’re not really as bad as Jerry Falwell would have you believe.”

Jerry Falwell is a televangelist who, until his death in 2007, led a conservative movement known as the “moral majority.” In 2001 Falwell blamed gays, lesbians, abortionists, and other “pagans” for the terrorist attacks in New York City. “You helped this happen,” Falwell said, implying that homosexuals in the World Trade Center served as lightening rods for God’s judgment. In a moment, on national television, this influential preacher presented Christianity to the world as a faith of finger pointing and hatred.

And the world was watching.

I paused so the architect would know I had heard what he said and had taken it seriously. Then I smiled. “I’m of the opinion that nobody is as bad as Jerry Falwell would have us believe.”

He smiled back.

But then, to continue the conversation, the architect asked another question, harmless and ripe with possibility. My answer would either intrigue my new friend or infuriate him.

He asked what I do for a living.

I had two correct answers for his question. I am an author, but I am also a preacher.

To tell the architect that I am an author would likely have given us ten minutes more to talk about. Telling him that I am a preacher, however, was likely to produce an awkward silence and hasty retreat. Being an author would safely establish me as an open minded artist. Being a preacher would associate me with Jerry Falwell.

I’m not embarrassed by my faith. I’m not ashamed of my Christianity. But I am sometimes ashamed of other Christians. That’s why I told the architect I am an author and quickly changed the subject.

In retrospect, I made a poor choice.

What I should have told him was, “I’m a preacher, a Christian. And we’re not as bad as Jerry Falwell would have you believe either.”

I wonder if he would have smiled.

To be continued...
click here to read Part 3.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nature Needs an Elevator

Several years ago, when I was still traveling as a speaker for youth events and still had hopes of publishing a second book, I went on a hiking expedition with my friends John and Kyle. I recently brushed the digital dust off of what I wrote after the trip and edited it into a four part blog post. This is part one…

I know heaven doesn’t float in the sky and hell doesn’t bubble and burn beneath our feet, but when you sit on the top of a mountain, you can’t help but feel closer to God. The mountain gives you perspective. It lets you rise above the earth while still standing connected to it. The mountain is grandeur and grounding. It is both powerful and broken.

I wonder if that’s why God often brought his favorites to the top of a mountain when he had something important to say.

Abraham. Moses. Joshua. Peter, James, and John. They were all changed by what God showed them on a mountain. On the mountain he gave them new perspective. He said, “Let me show you how to rise above this life while still staying connected to it.”

I recently hiked to the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome with two friends from college. Together we climbed 4,800 feet, higher than almost four Empire State Buildings, over the course of a nine mile hike to the summit. The two men I hiked with were an unusual and eclectic mix. John, Kyle, and I are old friends who share a love for movies, the outdoors, and everything sarcastic.

Kyle and I lived together in a retirement community for a year just after we graduated from college. At the time, Kyle worked for the government and investigated sources of radioactive activity. Obviously, working with radioactive elements is sensitive work. Our elderly neighbors sometimes thought it odd that their lights got brighter and their hearing aids whistled every time Kyle walked into the room. I got nervous every time Kyle found an odd rock in his pocket or came home from work with a bigger bald spot. We owned a microwave oven, but never used it. For dinner I set my macaroni and cheese in Kyle’s lap for 45 seconds and enjoyed a hot meal.

John and I were roommates and best friends in college who did all the ridiculous things college friends do. We set flame to our farts and stole shoes from the bowling alley. I have pictures of the two of us so covered in mud we look like we’ve both been iced with earth chocolate. In a time shortly before cell phones and just after smoke signals, John and I installed CB radios in our cars so we could talk and tell dirty jokes across town. John is a professional actor now. While Kyle glows in the dark and cures cancer, John connects with his inner child and uses his Hollywood good looks to date beautiful women.

Our hiking trip up Half Dome wasn’t simply a reunion, it was the set up for a really bad joke. A scientist, an actor, and a preacher were camping in the woods . . .

To Be Continued...
Click here to read Part 2...