When I was twenty years old, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but as a college student I could barely afford ramen noodles. I found work on a communal farm in Israel. For a bit of manual labor, they provided me food, a room, ten dollars a month, and a pack of cigarettes a day. (It was the cigarettes that sold me.)

The weekend before I departed, I heard my first talk ever on being a man. On the way to Israel, I stopped in London to visit some friends. With the talk on manliness ringing in my ear, I swaggered, spat, and unsuccessfully tried to play the man.

During a two-hour dinner party in London, I was introduced to a young woman who promptly deemed me shallow, insincere, and stupid. (I skipped dessert so I could quit while I was ahead.)

A few years later she married a friend of mine, but her opinion of me was chiseled in stone. I once loaned her husband ten thousand dollars; and she suspected me of manipulation. But if I forgot to send him a birthday card, she felt my true colors were revealed.

To her, I was a jerk. And everything I did or said reinforced her judgment.

She Wasn’t the Only One To Misjudge Me

After the dinner party, on the plane to Tel Aviv, I read this verse: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Pr. 17:28). I felt convicted and decided to speak less and listen more.

The following day I began my first job on the communal farm, but it began at 4:00 a.m. and I didn’t have an alarm clock. My roommate promised to wake me, but he forgot.

I desperately wanted to impress my new boss Amnon, but the proverb—When he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent—was still fresh. I decided not to blame my roommate. Instead I apologized without excuse.

The next day, my roommate forgot again, but the verse still haunted me, so I apologized again.

That evening I had a few hard words with my roommate (I didn’t keep completely silent), and he swore he would remember. And then he forgot. To Amnon, I apologized a third, agonizing time. I desperately wanted him to know my circumstances, but I kept my lips closed.

On the fourth night, I “borrowed” my roommate’s alarm. I was the first to arrive for work. Later that day, my roommate secretly spoke with Amnon. He confessed that it was his own negligence that caused me to be late three days in a row.

A New Opinion

Amnon later searched me out and told me of my roommate’s confession. He said, “Sam, the volunteers I work with are shallow, defensive, and overflowing with creative justifications. You are my first volunteer ever to apologize without excuse. I will call you ‘Emet’ [which means true, genuine, or pure].” From that day forward, he called me nothing else.

And he thought I could do no wrong. If I was late, he assumed I had good reason; if I offered an idea, he thought me a genius; if I suggested a stupid plan, he applauded my initiative.

The Tiniest of Influences

Let’s be honest. I wasn’t as pure as Amnon imagined or as shallow as my friend’s wife judged.

Every person we meet is on a journey, a path from A to Z. We see them in isolated moments (sometimes between C and D, and sometime between Q and R), and we form an opinion. But we haven’t seen the tiny actions that affect their entire journey.

Every human life is on a trajectory. Occasionally those trajectories intersect—sometimes over dinner, perhaps for a summer job—but we can never know all their life-influences. We only see the snapshot called today, a single frame in the movie of their life. We don’t see the events that shaped this moment.

A New Self-opinion

For years that women’s snap judgment of me felt unfair. Why couldn’t she see me as Amnon did? Today I realized that it is I who had misjudged her.

I don’t know what shaped her life. Maybe she was bullied by a schoolyard tyrant or an abusive father. Maybe I was a faint echo of those past torments. I don’t know. And that’s the point. She may be handling her past with greater grace that I handle mine.

My denigration of her criticism reveals my own inner fraud. Maybe her judgment is fairer than Amnon’s. After all, Jesus didn’t die for me because of my “emet” (purity); the true lamb of Israel died for that pig in London.

A spiritual man doesn’t swagger or spit. He simply admits he’s been a jerk.

Sam

Much of our life is designed to be navigated by curiosity.  We certainly were curious when we were younger. For many of us, our curiosity was pushed aside by practicality and busyness, making mystery an annoyance rather than an adventure.

Curiosity is such an important and informative thing.  Perhaps a more compelling word would be fascination.  We are to live fascinated by God, by his creation, by the way things work, by people.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”

Many of us have lost our curiosity.  We may feel too tired to be curious or don’t believe it’s important at this stage of our life – that it’s a younger person’s game.  But, curiosity (fascination) is vital to our growth and guidance.

We have “eyes and ears” for these things that others don’t seem to have. We may “find” ourselves pulled to a particular topic area in bookstores. It’s the subject of a news story where we turn the volume up and ask everyone to hush. It’s the article we read two, three, maybe four times. I have been studying the subject of calling, not because calling has been work-related or I can’t get any clarity on who I am, but rather out of deep desire and curiosity.

Albert Einstein also said, “Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” There is a reason you are interested in certain things and not others. Your curiosity is linked to your truest desires.

I have found curiosity a distant friend as of late.  I realized that, like a cell-phone that has gone in “low-power” mode shutting down everything except the essentials, I was exhausted and in preservation mode – my curiosity had been turned off.  But then, several friends told me about books they were reading and what they were learning, and my curiosity was stirred once again.  Their curiosity engaged my curiosity.

There is very little curiosity in the margins of our life.  Don’t live there.

We need the curiosity of others to stimulate our own curiosity.  Ask others what they are reading, watching, researching – casually or formally.

Stay curious my friends.

Gary

(Williamson Family Vacation, July 1968)

My wife’s ninety-year-old mother died last Thursday and we mourn. Someone reminded me that when we grieve, “we do not grieve like those who have no hope.”

I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded campsites next to windy lakes. We hauled a small Sunfish sailboat on top of our sagging station wagon.

Those vacations were a young boy’s fantasy, filled with mysterious forests and stormy seas. Four weeks wasn’t enough. We carried our home wherever we went. It was often hot, but sometimes cold, and occasionally rainy. The car always broke down. And I loved it.

I recently heard a quote from the Epistle to Diognetus that resurfaced all those old memories,

The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life…

For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country.

Home Away from Home

Sure, camping could be uncomfortable. The pop-up trailer served as our kitchen, dining room, living room, and four bedrooms, yet this flimsy, moveable home was tinier than the smallest bedroom in our solid brick house.

Discomfort was part of the fun. When something went wrong—and the tent loved to leak, the stove hated to be lit, and our car was addicted to breakdowns—it was part of the adventure, a Fine And Pleasant Misery.

But last week, all three of our cars had problems (a faulty transmission, a gas leak, and a misfiring engine). I was frustrated. Life isn’t supposed to be difficult. It should work.

But should life work the way I expect it to? It hasn’t for the forty-odd years of my life. (Only forty of my fifty-nine years have been odd.) How can I enjoy the fine and pleasant miseries of camping and yet let a weak phone signal irritate the hell out of me?

When I camp I expect misadventures, and when I’m home I expect comfort.

We Mostly Ignore Tomorrow

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker observed that modern people refuse to acknowledge our mortality, or any unexpected discomfort. We claw, scratch, and snatch at “positive thinking,” and we ignore reality. He wrote,

Taking life seriously means that all we do must be done in the lived truth of the evil and terror of life, of the rumble of panic underneath everything, otherwise it’s phony.

No one escapes life alive. No matter how much medical science advances, the mortality rate remains the same: one hundred percent. We all die. If we ignore tomorrow, we are living phony, cowardly lives.

Remembering our future death reminds us that this world isn’t home. We are just sojourners, travelers passing through, hikers backpacking the Appalachian Trail.

We can hold this world without holding onto this world; we can live in this world without getting our life from this world. We can be at home without making it our home. We are strangers in a strange land.

Our future death and our daily adversities means any foreign country can be our present home.

Heaven Is Not for The Cowardly

Cowards live phony lives, afraid of what’s outside the door. Of all people, Christians can have courage. Because we know what’s outside that door. In this life, we’ll experience everything the world throws at us, broken cars, spats with spouses, wars, rumors of wars, and death.

With one difference. We shall live forever. This land we call home is the painful birth canal to the home we were made for, because our motherland is somewhere else.

Let’s never let that hope die while we live.

Sam