Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Shepherd Boy Can Abide (keeping watch over flocks by night)

And there were in the same country,
Shepherds abiding in the fields.

There are four things stuck in my head in this moment. They shouldn't be related, but my mind has brought them together:

(1) abiding shepherds on a hillside, keeping watch over their flocks by night;

(2) memories of my 13 year old past singing Ray Boltz, "Shepherd Boy" at Towne Boulevard Church;

(3) Hank Williams Jr., "A Country Boy Can Survive" is running on repeat in my head;

(4) Quentin Tarantino's movie, "Inglorious Basterds" with the often quoted line, "Now that, I can't abide" runs counterpoint with Boltz and Williams.

It's two days before Christmas and I'm in Central America. "School is closed for the holidays" is printed on my Google calendar. This innocent little phrase carries a great deal of meaning:

(1) The kids are home 24/7. Twenty-four seven;

(2) Kellie isn't at school teaching;

(3) I'm not a school principaling;

(3) I'm in between seminary classes.

All this means that we are in a three week period of pause. This is a time for us to rest, to reflect, yes... to abide. The past four months have been solid action. Suddenly we are all expected to just stop and rest. This is not a reasonable request. It's like running the 400 and then sitting down for a banquet. Your chest is still heaving, sweat is rolling, and adrenaline is pumping. You try to lift up your fork and your hand trembles. 

Those close to us have been watchdogs, cautioning that we not tackle too much. I know their advice must be heeded, and priorities must be protected. But here's the deal, we didn't come here to rest. Even so, my pastor sent me this note:

"My demand...gets some rest and love on your family over Christmas break." -Tom 

Sterling described best the state of our family. Monday night while we all wandered around the house lost with nothing to do, she asked with her customary loud and shrill voice, 

"Mom, we didn't we go somewhere today? Why are we all here for so long? Can't we go somewhere? I want to go back to school!"

Her exasperated exclamation perfectly verbalized the restlessness of us all. We don't know how to relax. We all felt stir-crazy and anxious. And this was after only ONE DAY of Christmas break. We have three long weeks ahead of us! It feels too open, even intimidating. I don't know how to cope with a blank schedule. 

I wake up and lay in bed, unsure of what to do. Is this break over yet? It is odd being in this place without demands pressing on me. I feel like I can't abide it. I search for things to do. And I recognize that I have to stop. If I want to witness the promise of God, I must be willing to find myself quiet on a hillside, keeping watch. 

The preacher man says it's the end of time
And the Mississippi River she's a goin' dry
The interest is up and the Stock Markets down
And you only get mugged if you go down town

I live back in the woods, you see
A woman and the kids, and the dogs, and me
I got a shotgun rifle and a 4-wheel drive
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive
Hank Williams, Jr.

I don't have a shotgun here. It's not permitted. But the days feel pressed like the lyrics of that song. Chaos in the city, chaos in the nations, we all feel it sometimes. A 4-wheel drive can only take you so far. I need something to re-capture the focus of my mind... the songs are running together as noise. I pull out the quietest lyric...

"And it came to pass that in those days that there went out a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed" (Lk 2:1). The world was just as busy then. There were politicians and preachers and teachers with their schedules full and their days stacked... but the angels did not appear to them. The angels appeared to shepherds abiding on a hillside, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

Even though your life seems filled
With ordinary things
In just a moment He can touch you
And everything will change
-Ray Boltz

There's something I need to learn about shepherds. I think I've been given this last name as a constant reminder. I am most at home on the quiet hillside. I must return there from time to time to remember the quiet of the night. To rest my head in the soft grass and gaze up at the stars. I have to clear the noise to see the vision, "Fear not. For behold I bring you tidings of great joy..."

There is turmoil touching my family back in Ohio that is an oppressive darkness that would threaten my joy. It is real, it is tangible, and unspeakable. Those who observe my life see only a part of it and the judgment they cast is faulty, even though their hearts are pure. I pray that the darkness can be shattered by angelic proclamation of peace. But the peace shines only on those who have the favor of God. 

And so I run to the quiet of that hillside and I turn my face up to the singing angels. Glory to God in the highest. The light shines brightest in the darkness. The inglorious is shattered by the glorious. This Shepherd boy can abide.

Yes now, I can abide that. 

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