The Magic of a Smile

Overcome by hunger as Karen and I dropped by the local Barnes & Noble this afternoon to pick up a book, I was forced to the cafe for an over-priced turkey sandwich and a glass of tea. Of course, because I was hungry, the line was hopelessly long, and, with a groan, I took my place at the end behind an elderly woman who was preceded by her walker as she peered into the bakery case. 

“Do you know what you want?” she asked. 
I should pause and say that, here in the South, it is actually not at all uncommon for people next to you in line to stop and make pleasant conversation such as this. Still, as I’m not originally from the South, I’m still taken aback sometimes. She seemed pleasant, though, and I replied that I was still making up my mind. 
As the line eased slowly forward, she asked me again as she neared the cash register, as though willing to let me skip ahead of her in line. “I think I’ve nailed it down,” I smiled, but in such a way that I insisted she go ahead. I could not in good conscience take a spot ahead of this woman. 
I was distracted momentarily by the humor of a mother in line behind me asking her child if he intended to “be good,” and receiving a matter-of-fact “no” as a reply (hey, at least the kid’s honest…), before my attention returned to the woman in front of me. Having now completed her order, she was counting out change with the assistance of the barista. She had also paid for her reading selection at this register, and was now confronted with a plate bearing her sandwich, her drink, her just-bagged book, and her walker. She paused, and vocalized her indecision. Another barista took her plate, politely offering to assist her to her seat. The woman was overcome with gratitude. 
“Thank you…what’s your name?” 
The assisting barista dutifully replied with her name. 
“What’s your name?” the woman asked the barista behind the register as well, who also answered. I was smiling at the picturesque scene, and the woman then turned and asked me, “What’s your name?” 
“Dave.” I replied, smiling at her and exchanging humored, if quizzical, glances with the barista behind the register. 
“Well, you be nice to him.” the woman told the barista, and then, noticing our glances, “You think I’m crazy, but I’m just having a good time!” 
And off she scooted to her seat. 
While Karen and I sat at a table perusing our reading for the afternoon, I noticed the elderly woman on the other side of the cafe area a couple of times. It struck me that it had taken me less than a chapter of my book to forget her smile and jovial, joyful attitude. However, looking at her across the cafe, she wasn’t smiling at her table, alone, peering into her book, and occasionally looking around. I tried to make eye contact with her once, smiling, but as best I can tell she didn’t see me. 
Then Karen said she was ready to leave, and we gathered our things, and I didn’t even mention the encounter with the happy woman until we were in the car. Briefly I thought of going over to her and saying I’m-not-sure-what in the cafe, but this impulse had passed. Now, she is only one of those people I’ve encountered that are relegated to my memory. 
But, for some reason, after leaving, I couldn’t stand to forget her. 
I’m not going to judge her by saying she was lonely and looking for companionship, or by thinking her to be eroding in her cognition in any way. I’m not going to stereotype her, or belittle anything she may have experienced in her long life by pondering what it might have been. I just know that I smiled because of her, and that is something that happens far too little for any of us, and, for some reason, whatever her name, I wanted to record her smile-inducing efforts here. Perhaps to try to immortalize her in some way, to make sure she isn’t forgotten, at least not by me. 
Maybe because, remembering the event several hours later, it still makes me smile. 

It Slices, It Dices…

I’m nervous. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m normally not an overly apocalyptic sort of guy, but when I first read about the nearly infamous “Atom Smasher” buried beneath the French/Swiss border a few months ago, I was nervous. Long before the story broke in mainstream media, there were theorists expressing grave concern over the potentially destructive power of the device, such as the possibility for it to create a black hole inside the earth. You don’t have to be a science fiction lover to realize that wouldn’t be good. Of course, scientists involved in the project downplayed these fears, saying that if black holes were created that they would be spinning so quickly that they would likely cause no damage
Seriously, they said that. I’m not kidding. 
And you wonder why I’m nervous? 
The purpose of this thing, as I understand it, is to delve into the theories of other dimensions, dark matter, and so forth…all extremely theoretical stuff in the realm of physics. Essentially, the Atom Smasher wants to duplicate post-Big-Bang energies in order to further the study of these theories, which are deemed to be at the core of what binds the universe as we know it together. 
The thing about dark matter, though, is that it is hypothetical. You know, the stuff of conjecture. Essentially, scientists are looking at the universe and saying, “you know, something’s holding all this together, but we just can’t figure out what it is.” Scientists are afflicted by the same audacity as theologians: they want to be able to dissect, label, and easily reference everything. They want no mystery left in existence. They want to know how it all ticks, and, because we’re all bent on control at some level, we’ve deified this enterprise as the expense of appreciating mystery. 
When the Scriptures describe Creation, they tend to speak in poetry, not science. And yet we think we can understand it better when we pick it apart, treating the world around us as something to be analyzed post-mortem (borrowing from Luke Timothy Johnson), and not as something wonderful and living to encounter and appreciate. And, in our efforts to analyze and become all-knowing, we build things like the Atom Smasher…things that our leaders will undoubtedly search for a way to weaponize, to transform from a means of inquiry to a means of mass destruction, because we never seem to be happy unless we’re killing each other. The Atom Smasher represents entire careers of work, and we know from history that when people invest that much time and energy into something like this, they tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
So, I must say, I was happy when I read the news that it broke
In the interest of seeing miracles in everyday occurrences, I’d even be willing to say that it was no coincidence that its malfunction keeps looking worse. Perhaps, if we’re fortunate (or blessed, depending upon your vernacular), the Atom Smasher will stay buried, because perhaps…just perhaps…we’re  meant to appreciate some things as being bigger than we can understand, to marvel at how they exist so beautifully in abstract ways that resist definition.
After all, it would be nice if we could appreciate what was around us instead of constantly mucking it up, wouldn’t it? 

Adjusting the Historical Lens

Karen recently did some extensive research into the Old Testament timeline, digging very in-depth into how the history recorded in Scripture corresponds with extra-Biblical history…you know, the history we get in school. The end result from her and her team was a chart (unfortunately, its not something that I can link to or reproduce here at this point) that is fascinating. For example, did you know that Noah died within about 100 years of the Xia Dynasty‘s establishment in China? Or that cuneiform writing was developed at approximately the same time that Noah was born? Stonehenge was completed just before Abraham died, and the Celts invaded Britain not long after Solomon died…this is really fascinating stuff. 

I’ve done a decent amount of research into archaeological proofs of the accuracy of the Biblical narrative, but I suppose what really impresses me with these types of historical studies is that it gives us a referent. You see, all historians have an axe to grind (don’t believe me? Read some of the inaccurate garbage in the textbooks of our public school system). Biblical historians were no different…they were pointing out a specific series of  spiritual events in the annals of history, while other historians were focusing on military conquests and scientific and cultural advancements. 
Perhaps our history is recorded with the wrong emphasis. Certainly, cultural advancements and scientific achievements are important markers. History turned for the better with Brown vs. Board of Education. Nothing was the same after the Wright Brothers flew. Last Thursday marked the anniversary of a tragedy that altered the global community forever. 
The enormous implications of these aside, however, why do we not know the history of art as well? What average educated individual could give even a cursory discussion of the history of Greek theatre, or when  the Mona Lisa was painted? If we’re discussing  cultural advances, don’t those rank just as high as the invention of the light bulb? They pushed humanity forward just as much in their own  ways. Come to think of it, why do Americans tend to only know our own history? Shouldn’t we be just as well versed in British and Russian and Japanese histories? Or, if not well versed, shouldn’t we at least have some idea? 
Even more importantly, though, what if we gauged our history by the spiritual implications of the events, as the Biblical historians of the Old Testament did? What if we viewed the     Vietnam and Iraq wars from a spiritual standpoint instead of from the military analysis? What if a faith lens colored our view of today’s violent headlines instead of foreign policy? What if Watergate was seen from the perspective of the tragedy of a lie instead of its political implications? Or even alongside of, rather than in lieu of? 
What if the presidential election that is upcoming in a few weeks was seen from an ethical and spiritual perspective instead of the disgusting game that it is now? What if power weren’t the goal for candidates, but rather servant leadership? What if America didn’t vote for who we liked, but who we thought would do the job the best? 
I imagine that this twisted nightmare we call “politics” would change for the better. I imagine the disappointment and desire for change that should rear up against war-mongering, spying against citizens, and the slaughter of unborn children just might change the course of who was nominated, much less elected. 
What I can’t imagine is how the history books, the accurate ones at least, would look back on this point in world history. But if I could, I would love to read just a few pages, because what I know for certain is that none of us would look nearly as good as we think.

Lewis and the Apple’s Bite

C.S. Lewis said somewhere that life provides us with the raw material. Our spiritual decisions are what we do with that raw material. Coming from this perspective, we see everything in life differently: mundane events become the portals to eternal discovery. Its fascinating to sit back and watch it happen. 

Ironic, as well, that God used a Mac to do it for me lately. 
After Karen and I, both being Mac users, decided it was time to upgrade computers, we decided to go with a desktop instead of notebooks. There were many logical reasons behind this decision, and we did exactly that. I had no idea how it would cause selfishness to rear its ugly head. 
See, part of my spiritual journey since being married has been discovering just how selfish I can be, as I grew up as an only child. It manifests in ways I never dreamed. Now even more so, because I’m used to using my computer whenever I want. Now we share. Seems simple enough, but the struggles and frustration it inspired in the beginning (not to mention the argument on at least one occasion) defy easy explanation. This was a growing experience. 
I like to think we’ve crested the difficulties and are moving downhill now. However, the deepest realization that I had…a re-discovery of an epiphany, if you like…was that I can place the priorities in my life in completely the wrong order with ease. As much as I admire excellent craftsmanship and artistic design (hence, Macs), I can permit objects exemplifying these qualities to take too high a priority in my life. I found that I had to be intentional after purchasing my (oops…our) new toy, as it would all too easily take precedence over my wife and other people (I would find myself thinking more about playing with the computer during my workday than I would be paying attention to clients) if I wasn’t careful. 
So, in short, I have recently been shown again what is important in life, and it must always be people over possessions, a counter-intuitive concept in our hopelessly materialistic culture. I find it no end of amusing that a Mac was the raw material used to demonstrate this to me. 
If Lewis were a computer-user, he would have been, I think, greatly amused. 

Prophetic Hollywood

Along the lines of Tillich’s thought process that artists are prophetic as to the problems of our society, then certainly film, as such a dominant medium of expression in today’s culture, must be assumed to be somewhat prophetic…you know, in a Wag The Dog sort of way. 

So, as I read this morning about Bob Woodward‘s new book revealing a U.S. assassination program in Iraq, I couldn’t help but think that Hollywood had predicted this one, too. 
I can’t wait until November…