Wednesday, April 16, 2014

One Small Act Can Change the World



    Every day we make thousands of choices.  We go to the grocery store. We choose to stop at a traffic light.  Some decisions are so small that we don’t give them a second thought, but even the smallest of choices can make a world of difference.

    Captain Edward Smith chose to ignore warnings about ice in the path of the Titanic.  That one decision changed everything.

    In 1955, a seamstress at a local department store was riding the bus to work.  As the bus filled, she refused to give up her seat to another customer.  It seems like such a small thing, but with that one small choice, Rosa Parks changed the course of civil rights and American history.

    In 1989 a column of tanks descended on Tiananmen Square to crush the ongoing student.  As they did, one man stepped in front of the lead tank.  By doing so, he compelled the driver of the tank to choose.  Because of one man, the entire column of tanks came to a halt. Photographs of that moment appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.  With one act of defiance, one man captures the imagination of the world.

    Last week (April 9, 2014), a student armed with knives entered the high school in Murrysville, Pennsylvania and attacked other students and a security guard.  Amid the mayhem, Nate Scimio, a student and one of the wounded, reached out and pulled the nearest fire alarm.  His quick thinking is saved lives and helped to evacuate the school.

    Even the most simple and mundane choices have the power to make a gigantic difference.  This is exactly what we find in the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Two of Jesus’ friends are asked to do something so remarkably simple that we are stunned to discover how important their contribution becomes. 
Jesus tells his friends to go into town, find a donkey that he knows is there, untie it, and bring it back. 

How much easier could that be?

    What Jesus did was like asking someone to pick up a prescription.  We’ve already phoned ahead, we already know that it’s ready, all they have to do is show up, get it, and bring it back. 

And yet, as simple as it is, the task that these followers perform is significant.

    As simple as it was, the disciples did as they were asked.  As simple as it was, this act makes it possible for Jesus to arrive the way that the Kings of Israel had arrived.  One small choice transforms an ordinary arrival into an historic event. 

I want you to imagine what that might look like in your life.

Because God is the architect of our lives, he already has the big things all planned out. 

    God doesn’t ask us to build a multi-national pharmaceutical conglomerate, but simply to pick up a prescription.    Go, get it, and come back.

    A story, originally told by Loren Eiseley, tells of a man walking along a beach the night after an enormous storm.  The beach was littered with starfish which had been washed ashore and as he walked, the man came across a child who was picking up starfish, one at a time, and throwing them back into the sea.  After watching the child for some time the man said, “Why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. There are thousands of them.  You can’t begin to make a difference!”

    But after thinking about it for a moment, the child continued to throw starfish back into the ocean.  Each time saying, “I made a difference to that one… I made a difference to that one…”

    Before God asks you to do something big, I can guarantee that God will ask you to do something small.  Be ready.  Do not hesitate because the thing that God asks is small. 

In the hands of God, one small act can change the world.

    Volunteer an hour of your time to visit someone who is lonely.  Buy an extra can of food for someone that is hungry.   

Smile.  A kind word or a friendly face can change the course of an entire day.   

Donate blood.  

Cry with a friend, or offer a shoulder to cry on.   

Share Jesus with a neighbor.   

Take a casserole to a neighbor who has health problems.   

    Offer to watch the children of a young family that can’t afford a baby sitter.  This may sound small, but others did this for us when our children were small and trust me, this was a generous and amazing gift.   

    Invite a single friend to dinner.  Did you know that for singles away from home, as well as for widows and widowers, family holidays like Christmas and Easter are the hardest to get through?  What’s one more chair at the table?   

    Buy a box of diapers or a can of formula for a single parent.  Do you know how expensive that stuff can be?  

Offer to wash an elderly neighbor’s car or shovel their walk in the winter.

You can make a difference but you have to do something.

One.

Small.

Thing.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing to make a big difference.

But in the hands of God, one small act can change the world.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cyborg Adventure: Realistic Expectations



    Shortly after I wrote “Managing Expectations,” I returned to my surgeon’s office for a CT scan and a final evaluation before my surgery.  At that appointment I had a conversation with the chief audiologist that sounded a lot like the blog I had just written about managing expectations.  He pulled out several sheets of paper and went down a list of potential realities and risks.  Even though I had already written about expectations, and even though I was not surprised by such a conversation, there were things on that list that made me think. 

    First, I can expect that there will be a “non-disfiguring” bump on my head where the implant is located.  Duh.  I mean, I’ve seen it, it’s really pretty small, but they would have to grind half-way through my skull to make it flush with the rest of my skin.  I don’t think that I would mind a bump nearly as much as having a hole in my skull.  Besides, I’m just not that vain.

    There is a chance that I might experience “increased tinnitus.”  While I suppose this is possible, I’m not especially worried about this one.  My hearing loss began with tinnitus and if there is one-word that describes much of this adventure, tinnitus would be that word.  The ringing in my ears never stops.  Sometimes I don’t really notice it, but I’ve been to rock concerts with our church youth group and could still hear my ears ringing above the screaming guitars.  So yeah, I suppose it’s possible for my tinnitus to get worse, but I’m not sure how it could.

    It is possible that I will experience dizziness.  Several folks online have said that this may be one of the main reasons you shouldn’t make plans for the first week of your recovery.  It isn’t surprising that dizziness is common considering that they are poking holes in, and inserting wires into, the organ that not only gives you the ability to hear, but also provides your sense of balance.  The good news is that even though I might experience dizziness, it is very rare for this to “be prolonged.”

    Next, there were things that were a little more serious.  Although, rare, it is possible for the surgery to be a failure.  That is sobering but I suppose it’s good news that such occurrences are rare.  Also sobering was the news that, in perhaps 1% of cases, the facial nerve can be damaged during surgery which can cause numbness or partially paralyze your face.  Aside from any damage to the facial nerve, it is also possible for me to experience “numbness or stiffness around the ear” and my sense of taste could be affected temporarily.

    It is possible that in installing/inserting the cochlear implant, that the surgery might cause a leak of “perilymph fluid.”  I had to look that one up.  Perilymph fluid is a fluid contained in a part of the cochlea next to where the implant goes.  If this leaks (and doesn’t stop) it can cause dizziness and might require another surgery to stop the leak.  I’m hoping that doesn’t happen.

    The last two were the most sobering. Med-El, the manufacturer of the cochlear implant I will receive, talks a lot about how their thinner, softer implant is designed to “minimize” damage to the cochlea.  I allowed myself to think that meant I might still retain some natural hearing.  The audiologist was clear that with the insertion of my implant, I will most likely become totally deaf in my left ear.  The only consolation is that since I have so little hearing left in that ear, it probably won’t make much difference anyway.

    Med-El, like everyone else, likes to share good news and success stories about their products.  I have read stories about folks who sing in choir, and a concert cellist who was able to return to the orchestra after receiving an implant.  I knew that many people cannot hear music, even with a cochlear implant, but I allowed myself to hope that I would be able enjoy music and perhaps even to sing again.  I was told that since these implants are designed, first and foremost, to aid in understanding speech, they are not optimized for music and it is possible that music may never again be a part of my life.

    I still have hope, but as I manage my expectations, I have to remember that sometimes reality can be harder than we want it to be.

Still, we press forward.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

I Am Retiring



I am retiring. 

    Not from ministry and not from working, but retiring all the same.  Last Sunday was my last day as a musical worship leader.  Although I have been singing all of my life and have been involved in choirs of one sort or another almost since I could walk, I am no longer able to lead singing.

    A year ago, I quit singing in the church choir because of my hearing loss.  As I lost more high frequencies, I could no longer hear the sopranos, and the piano often sounded out of tune.  I had always been able to “find” my note in the accompaniment several measures before my section began to sing, but as my hearing loss progressed I just couldn’t hear the notes.  Even so, I have continued to sing in our church praise team.  I could still hear well enough to find my pitch from the lead guitar standing next to me and since we were all singing the melody, I didn’t have to hear any harmony parts.

    Knowing that my hearing continued to decline, I told Patti (my long suffering wife, as well as the leader of the praise team) that she had permission to fire me when I could no longer stay in tune or was making too many mistakes.  That day came a couple weeks ago.

    Even when all I do is sing the melody, it had been getting harder and harder to get it right.  Much of the music that I “hear” I hear in my head and is not actually information that is coming from my ears.  (Perhaps now, I better appreciate how Beethoven continued to compose long after he had gone deaf.)  I can sing along, but whenever we make any changes to the music, in tempo or style, I continue to sing what I remember and not what the instruments are actually playing.

So, the time has come to let someone else lead. 

    I will still be here, and I will still sing along to the songs that I know but I just can’t do it well enough to be the leader.

So will I be back up front after I get my new cochlear implant?

Maybe. 

But that is a subject for another day.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Biblical Mandate for Whistleblowers?



    With stories about Edward Snowden and Bradley/Chelsea Manning in the news, many of us are unsure whether these whistle-blowers are patriots, or traitors, or something in between.  As a veteran I am immediately suspicious of secret information that is leaked to the press because I worry that men and women in uniform (as well as those involved in covert operations) might be put in danger.  I understand that for military operations to be successful, many things must be kept secret.  I also understand that there are many times that it is in the best interests of a nation that others do not know exactly how much we know or how we know it.  If we have insiders, spies, or double agents feeding us information from the halls of foreign governments, we probably don’t want those governments to know.  

    On the other hand, secrecy can go too far.  There are things that governments and militaries should not be doing.  Even in war, there are things that go too far and which violate our conscience.  In government, at least in the government of a free and open society, we expect a certain amount of openness on the part of those in authority.  That openness is a large part of what separates a free society from a dictatorship or other authoritarian government.

So where is the line?

    When do we decide that government has “gone too far?”  But, that is exactly the problem.   If the line was clear, many decent people would not have found themselves on the wrong side of it.  Particularly in times of war, but also in times of peace, it can be easy to become so focused on what we are doing that we drift over the line.  I believe that police officers sincerely want to enforce the law, but sometimes their thirst for justice can compel them to go too far.  We have all read stories about the abuses of various law enforcement agencies but I am certain that few of those involved ever intended to become bullies who violated the rights of others.

    And that is exactly why we need, and should encourage, whistle-blowers to step forward. 

    Throughout scripture the followers of God are encouraged to pursue what is good and true and to reject lies and evil.  Ephesians 5:11-13 says,

11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 

    I am still uncertain as to whether Snowden and Manning are heroes or traitors, but I am leaning toward heroes.  I am concerned that they were overzealous in the kind, and in the amount, of information that they released as well as how they released it.  I’m not sure that WikiLeaks was the best choice.  But on the other hand, some of the things that these men had to say needed to be said.  I think the citizens of the United States needed to know the extent of the NSA’s spying and how little oversight it has.  I think the world needed to know that torture was being perpetrated by agents of the American government.  As a free people, and as followers of God, it is up to us to make sure that our government does not use its power to abuse others and to commit evil.

    As citizens, as patriots, and as the followers of God, we must be prepared to take the risk that these men did.  We may take the risk of exposing too much or in the wrong places, but our government needs to know that we have the will to do it.

On the day we fear to expose evil, evil wins.