Darth Vader attacktix figure wearing a Redwings baseball cap

I took a leap and agreed to coach the boys baseball team this year. I'm encouraged because if kids keep coming we'll even be close to having a full team! Yes, it is sad that in a city the size of Rennes, 206,000 people, we can barely rally enough baseball players for a full team.

Coaching in France is a huge challenge. Very few kids have played before or seen a game, so we really start with the basics. At our second practice (which took place in a gym because it was raining) I used a table to spread a big piece of paper with a baseball field drawn on it. My goal was to teach the kids the fundamentals of base-running, like when you have to run, if there's a force out or you have to tag... They were gathered around three sides of the table and I began to talk base running. The first batter was Luke, an attacktix figure I borrowed from my boys. He was even holding a light saber, which is a little like a bat, right?! Luke gets on first base. So when the next batter hits the ball does he have to run? There is a definite logic to it and the kids start to understand. Of course there were lots of reactions when Vader stepped up to the plate! If the lesson slowed down, even for an instant, the figures were picked up and played with. These are 9-12 year olds, after all.

This was followed by a scrimmage, which is the most fun of all. Kids were running everywhere and nobody knew what to do with the ball. But we had fun! And ultimately that's what baseball is all about.

What's up for practice this week? Well, we'll probably take the time to explain the roles of each position on the field. We'll need someone with a canon at shortstop. Maybe greedo will be on first base...

Charlie Chaplin photo with quote "Charlie Caplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest at a San Francisco theater. He lost." Clipped from Mental Floss

I saw this on a blog I read occasionally called Mental Floss. I can certainly imagine Charlie Chaplin doing this, and it would definitely put the qualification of the judges in question. Snopes claims the story to be true, adding he didn’t even make the finals. What intrigues me about this is the huge gap there can exist between who we really are and people’s image of you.

What is known or not about you can be broken down pretty simply (math or engineering types, you can go ahead and draw a diagram with “you” on the x axis and “others” on the y).

Known by you and others – this is fairly common knowledge which we typically try to control.

Known by you and not others – a necessary category, but just how big is this closet?

Known by others and not you – these are your blind spots. A good friend can help you here.

Not known by you or others – yes, the logical last category known only to God.

When you think about who you are, your identity, there are probably things you like and others you dislike. Anyone who’s seen me or my picture knows my gray hair are showing up in force. It’s who I am, like it or not. I’m from Montana, but live in France, and even though I get pretty funny looks when I wear an old seed cap, it’s who I am and I don’t mind if others know it. This is all in the first category, which we generally try to control.

There are plenty of things about ourselves we don’t really want others to know. I have to wear a tooth guard at night so I don’t grind my teeth down further. Whoops, now that slid into the first category. I’ll stop there. But who are we really kidding. Guys, how would you feel if all your friends knew as much about you as google does? Does something we’re think we’re hiding not affect who we are? Are there things in this category that need to change? Would sharing your struggles with someone you trust help you?

We all have blind spots too, things others see but the forest is so thick we have trouble recognizing them. Once I was told that when I speak in French I often end my sentences with “eh?” I had no idea. Then I started catching myself doing it and found it pretty annoying. I’m really thankful my friends thought to tell me! Being open and correctable is key here, especially if the issue is serious.

Over a decade ago I was working on my first missionary team. May and I noted something in our team leaders that we felt wasn’t quite right. As delicately as possible I brought it to the team leader’s attention. He listened and heard what was said, didn’t get defensive, recognized our point, and even thanked us for bringing it to their attention. He earned a ton of respect that day, and as time has gone on I think that respect continues to be well earned. I still appreciate his willingness to listen and understand. Today he’s technically my boss, and I hope will always be my friend.

Four years ago during a conference a colleague of mine called me aside to talk with me. He wanted to express how something I had done had hurt him in a profound way. I listened, did my best to understand, recognized his points, shared my view of the situation, and ultimately asked his forgiveness. (sorry, but forgiveness is another blog). It helped me grow, and it was important for our relationship.

If someone offers you love motivated correction, remember this – it takes great courage. That person is showing that they value your relationship enough to risk the uncomfortable. That person, if their motivations are pure, is a hero. Before you get defensive, before you counter, as your guts react to the discomfort, bring this to mind:

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Rebuke the discerning, and they will gain knowledge.

Lastly, our diagram has this category - unknown to us or others. It’s a logical necessary, but what’s the use? Well, we’re talking about who we are and who we want to be. Might there be things there you would want to change? Considering that nothing within any of these categories is unknown to God, it’s not completely inaccessible.

In psalm 139 David prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Known as a man after God’s heart, he clearly is asking God to dig into this last category and help him be a better person. This is where God really comes in. Only with the help of the Holy Spirit in our lives can we see lasting positive change. As God works on us, pushing issues to the foreground (known territory), trust that He knows what’s best, exhale by confessing back to Him, then inhale by asking to be filled with His Spirit. Our true identity is found in Him, not the judges of a look-alike contest!

An ancient silver roman coin

 

Walking through the door as we arrived home from church I thought – I must have left my bag in the car. Yes, I (Dan) do have a bag, a purse, whatever you want to call it. I call it practical. But as I looked this morning I didn’t see it (our garage is really dark). Assuming I left it at church I called our pastor, biked over for a key, then down to church – nothing. A knot began to form in my stomach as I considered all that is there: wallet, passport, carte de séjour, my favorite knife. I would hate to lose that knife! But how long would it take to replace my passport? How would I go about replacing my German driver’s license? The knot tightened. I tried to keep calm, praying and wondering how this story would end. Maybe it was misplaced somewhere at home – nope. I checked online to see if there was any activity on our cards. I had taken our car into the shop, and needed to pick it up before lunch. It was my last hope - that it might be there somehow. Peering through the window I unlocked the door, and there it was on the floor of the back seat. Huge relief!! It brings the parable of the lost coin to life. The desperate search, the concern, the rejoicing – over what? Over one person who turns to God! God cares about each one of us the same way I was concerned over finding my bag. Each person we see, pass by or interact with – God is pursuing that person the same way I pursued what I had lost (even more).

The big question is, how can each of us enter into that pursuit?

A rainbow bright above the trees

Laser tag, go-carting, bowling, these were the ideas thrown out by Silas for his twelfth birthday party. We ended up constructing a series of fun activities of Silas’ design, which was a really fun party for him and his friends. They played the board game Wanted together, which was a hit. They were also provided with a half dozen colors of spray paint and each a plywood ‘canvas’ to try their hand at being artists. Hey, better in our back yard than on the side of a random building! I think they found it fun but not quite as easy or glamorous as expected. The rest of the party was about baseball. This is Silas’ first year of baseball, and he wanted to share that with his friends. We ended the party with a baseball movie, the Sandlot, which surprisingly had a French audio track. And we began the party by setting out bases and giving everyone a chance to swing away! The field was really muddy, but the sun was shining brightly. Suddenly it began to rain, out of nowhere. Looking across the field at the soccer game next to us every drop shone! I thought, there’s got to be a great rainbow somewhere, turned around, and there it was – the widest, brightest, most distinct rainbow I had ever seen. God’s little birthday present to Silas.

Closeup of our djembe, and holding the string to show how long it is.

 

They showed up suddenly, a few perfectly round dart like holes. Traces of “sawdust” beneath the openings showed something was still at work in there. They were on one of the boys’ prized possessions, the djembe purchased during our trip to Burkina Faso. Whatever the little buggers were they had also eaten a couple holes through the precious skin over the drum. We had to do something!

It seemed to be a furniture beetle, the larva of which bore holes after they hatch. Researching online we found a number of possible solutions. Spraying or brushing certain chemicals was recommended, but how could we be sure we actually got them, and all of them? It was also mentioned that they can’t survive extreme heat. The djembe happened to just fit into our oven, so that’s what I opted for. First I removed the skin from the drum. Once that was off, into the oven the djembe went. Slowly I raised the temperature to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. We let it bake in there for a few hours, to make sure the temperature was hot enough to get them. The smell of the heated wood reminded me of Burkina (:

djembe chord

After we were sure nothing could have survived, it was time to restring the djembe. Do you have any idea how long the chord is? LONG! I had taken pictures before dismantling it to make sure I could remember how to put it back together. The guy we purchased the drum from in Africa took the time to tighten it for us, showing us how it’s done. He took a thick stick, put it through the chord and turned it. Working his way around the drum, section by section, he re-tied it at the end. The edges of the drum gave even a higher pitch and the center a nice solid thump. I used the handle of a solid old hammer to tighten the chords, working my way around two or three times. It’s quite a work out!

When the end of school celebration arrived, and Efrem was to play his djembe while the class sang a song for the parents, everything was ready. Want to see the video of Efrem playing on stage? Here it is!

An angel holding a flaming sword

 

Sometimes what we don’t say is more powerful than our words.

What would it be like to see an angel? Not a secret agent acting in disguise, the kind we’re not meant to notice, but imagine an angel shining with brilliant light, its wings spread, sword drawn, and eyes piercing with spiritual perspective. Our normal humdrum is suddenly burst into with something completely otherworldly and foreign and amazing. It is hard to imagine, and what we might think or feel is even harder.

Several instances are recorded where humans have come face to face with an angels. When Gabriel appears to Mary his first words are – fear not! What does that say about what her initial reaction might have been? John in the midst of experiencing what he recorded in the book of revelation fell down at the feet of an angel to worship him. The angel was quick to react, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant… Worship God.” John was so moved by the things being revealed to him and by the beings that were talking to him that he fell down to worship the angel not once, but twice. An angel from heaven knows he is not God! An angel from heaven also knows to worship only God.

So what about Jesus? What was his response to those worshiped him as God?

When Thomas was finally convinced, touching Jesus’ wounds he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said nothing to stop this. He was thinking of all the people who would believe without seeing him.

The last time they saw him, the eleven remaining disciples went to a mountain where Jesus asked them to meet. They must have had a sense that something important was about to happen. Matthew writes, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” Picture these eleven men bowing down before Jesus, worshiping him. How many minutes did this continue? What was the look on Jesus’ face? Did he close his eyes or look intently into each of their hearts? Did he shed some tears? One thing is certain - this moment of worship was unhindered. Jesus accepted their worship as merited.

But some doubted. Isn’t that a curious addition of Matthew’s? Thomas putting his finger into Jesus’ side wasn’t the end of doubt. Even as they all bowed and worshiped Jesus as God some of them doubted. Who? It doesn’t matter. Those eleven went on, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to launch the missionary age we live in. Who he is overshadows our doubt.

And you, today, do you sometimes have doubts? Are there questions that trouble you? Isn’t that okay? Take a moment to listen to the silence of Jesus. You just might see him for who he truly is. Isn’t that what is most important?