Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dog Training.

Jayne has been talking to me for awhile about dog training. Our pup, 90 pounds of pulling strength, Bernese mountain dog, has in a rather puppy way, taken over our house. He has eaten our hot tub, chairs, and while he is getting better, listened to me about as much as the deer do behind our yard, especially when he was at play.

I resisted every attempt to go, thinking that the dog would somehow get his place, after his young years, but that has not proven to be the case.

So we went to dog training.

I am supposed to be the alpha dog in the house. But I am not going to lie. This dog took over probably the day he walked in. As we listened in the class, and had over the instructor for the private lesson, I couldn't believe how many numbers our dog, Tacoma, was pulling on us. She explained how these various signs were his way of saying, "I'm in charge."

And he was.

Chewing on your arm, means I dominate you. Humping you, well, thats pretty obvious. and so is getting in your space. coming up to you, when you dont ask him. not sitting when you have guests over. pretty much this dog said to us, "your my bit&%*" There wasn't an area we had on him. He ruled the Hood house. And I never saw it, or seemed to care that much I guess, minus the humping part.

The dog trainer is helping us learn to put our dog in his right place, 3rd in the family pecking order. She admitted he was a very stubborn dog, and he kept wanting to fight that, and I just thought how beautiful that God gave us a dog, that was pretty close to us. Three stubborn Hood's. All in some form trying to be the alpha in the house.

I found comfort in that I was not alone. We showed up to a basement of a animal hospital like a informal AA meeting of people. The class had mainly couples in it. You saw all the women perk up, and asking lots of questions, and very engaged, wanting to know how to put their dog in place. While the dudes sat back in there chairs, twiddling their thumbs like second graders waiting to get out for recess. No greater picture of the fall, and man's pull to passivity, and women's to control.

It was really comical. knowing, I too, was dragged there by my wife.

I never knew it, but while I try and work out God's grace of restoring these stubborn Hood's, I had found myself as the Charlie male in the house. While my dog very easily submits to a little chunk of hot dog, and can be changed by behaviors, I am going to stick to God giving Jayne and I little treats, as we work out where we fit together, and how we will lead as a family.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Simple men.

Life is ironic, that those who have a lot, sometimes lack a lot, that those who have little, sometimes possess some rich, remarkable, puzzling things.
Robert Coles

One of the things I most enjoyed about some of the men I was meeting was the simplicity of their lives. They were not as eager and ambitious as me. It was not about chasing grand dreams, and looking for big breaks and ruthlessly seeking the success that could launch them into stardom and power. They seemed to enjoy their work, and the life God had given them. Straight up. While, I am sure there was a time when they wrestled with their life, and the track they were on as a young man—they had seemed to at some point to have settled it, and instead of being upset, or frustrated that it didn’t become all they wanted, they chose to participate with the people, and the events, and hobbies they did enjoy that was around them—and that be enough.

But you had to be careful to just call them simple, as to write them off for being small minded, or basic, because it was to underestimate the complexities of these men. They were simple in execution of their life, and how they went about it, but they also had minds and brilliance that would be on the level of a Nobel Prize mind or a great philosopher. Bob, a builder in Monument, by all means seemed to fit in this category of simple, and go with the flow. He was never up tight. Always pleasant, never upset. But when we went to visit his home, and opened his barn, there were all types of projects contained in it, a trailer he was creating from welding metal pipes, and adding axles and diamond plating, along with fixing a hot tub. He had extended his Jeep out 12 inches, talking about so simply, as if it was like replacing a tube of toilet paper with a new one. All this while he constructed homes, built completely on his own, with just his two hands. Cory and I walked around his barn like we were in Disney World, there was no hay and pitchfork, it looked something similar to the Bat Cave with all the gear, and equipment for his business, and hobbies scattered throughout.

I envied these men, because they were doing what they loved, and the way God made them.

They knew that they loved to fly-fish so they did. They had great pleasure in making wood—so they did that. I envied this gratification. Envied the sense of satisfaction, and peace, and contentment that came with this rhythm of life that I could not settle down, and find. They had this peace, internal rest that came from doing it day in and day out. And not being so easily enticed by the changing waves of the world, and dreams. So much of this collection of activities and hobbies, my pursuit of dreams and goals, and trying them all on, was to understand which ones I enjoyed. And part of it was not just doing them to check them on the list, but ask the deeper question… what did I enjoy? Do I love fly-fishing? Or is hunting more my thing?

They had an anchor that seemed missing in so many of us guys. Moving in and out of jobs, not wanting to commit and settle for something that was a little below us. It seemed that these men never thought that way. They did what was needed, and took it in stride. And found their enjoyment and pleasure through it.

I think it was why I enjoyed being around these men. They had a calming affect when I was with them. I slowed down. Talked slower. Thought about less. And enjoyed more. Looked at the landscape. The trees. Savored the potatoes and meat more. They were not barons of industry, or great musical success stories that I saw growing up in Nashville. They were men that would never be talked about, or made into a bestseller book, or looked to for success stories, and that was the irony of it. Most people were reading and learning from those spiritual gurus in hopes of actually finding the peace and contentment these men had.

In a world, and the American dream that told everyone they were free to pursue dreams, and telling us we could be the next cover story, and with my own personal drive that was eager to find that by reaching for the moon, it seemed these men reached for their tools, and their guns, their fly rods, and their often simple routines, and that was enough.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blood and Death.

Hunting is one of few activities that allows an individual to participate directly in the life and death cycles on which all natural systems depend.

Ann Causey

I could see myself in those animals. What had been a game to me was suddenly not one. That’s the worst part of hunting—to pull the trigger knowing what will result: pain, shock, blood, death.

C.L. Rawlins

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for one’s life

Leviticus 17:11

I kneeled down into the dirt, and packed snow, as if praying, exhausted from the steep climb, as my eyes fixed directly on the brown eyes of the elk—laying lifeless before us. I touched his limp carcass, and ran my hands across the thick fur like you might pet a dog, feeling his warm body with my fingers. He was dead. The blood was cast around the area, like a massive oil tanker spill of a deep rich red, and while horrific, I was still more fixed on the magnificence of the elk. He was much bigger than I had expected. Much stronger, and noble an animal than the earlier glimpse in my binoculars, and hunting videos had revealed.

PJ had invited me to go along on his afternoon hunt, to an area, called 511, according to hunting units, just outside of Woodland Park, CO. We had hiked a few miles with our packs, and while I had known this was where all this was headed, it all took me by surprise. He had spotted the elk from a lookout atop a high stone ridge, and ran about 250 yards to a clearing that gave him a visible shot across the valley, and hit the elk from the opposing ridge about 150 yards from the elk. I heard the thunder, then crack, and the ripple echoing in the valley. After some confusion on the radio, and if he had a good shot, I ran to meet him, and moved towards the location of where we last saw the elk—separated by the deep ravine of jagged rock we had to descend, and climb to the other side.

I came upon the cow elk, through smelling the foul odor, and putrid scent during their rut (mating season), which is so unique to their kind. As we moved him around, I was feeling his body, and legs become stiff, and getting stiffer. I had never felt so many mixed emotions of remorse and excitement before. It was such a moment of joy, and celebration for PJ, along with a soberness of what had just occurred. A life had been taken. I had helped. A soberness slammed into me. The ambivalence of joy, and death, pain and life all lying here—900 or so pounds of it being brought down by his gun.

There was not time to be Thoreau, and ponder. PJ wanted us to get to work as darkness set in. He explained as we went. With only the two of us, it was all hands on deck. We tied the elk’s rear legs to a tree with some rope, spreading his legs wide that gave us access to his belly. PJ began cutting into his fur, and then hide. He made one long incision all the way up, to near his neck. He cut some bone, and then pop. The rib cage expanded, fanning out like a cinnamon role tube being cracked open. His hands went deep inside, as steam and blood poured out with body fluid dripping out as well. I would have been fine just observing, he needed my help, and within a minute my hands were deep in his body, feeling around for the esophagus to cut, and yanking together on the gut bag to break it free from the body. It had the look of a massive water balloon that contained all the organs and intestines trapped inside. A few cuts, and it dropped right out of the elk and into the snow next to us.

It was too dark to continue. And we needed more help to hike out the hundreds of pounds of meat anyways, so we took off, and PJ made a few calls to come back in the morning with more help. As we hiked out in the dark, I had time to think about it all. It was so weird, what we had just done. There was such an odd sense of feeling in it. I had just experienced my first animal death, and had my hands two feet up the body of it, with drying blood covering my arms and legs. I did not know I had it in me, and that I would actually be able to do that. There was always this deep fear of blood, and guts, and death. But I did it, and really, while it was much as there was a deep emotional experience, it felt part of me—almost instinctual.

Over the past year, I had thought a lot about taking an animal’s life. The questions that it brought up. A living being that was being hunted to shoot a bullet through, and stopping its life in a rather unnatural way. I would put my scope into the air, and imagine a deer or an elk in its sight. Could I pull the trigger? I would watch the deer that came into our backyard, and imagined raising a rifle to their body, and it just seemed cruel, and I wondered if when ready, I could actually pull the trigger. And kill an animal.

You see, I never liked the sight of blood or death. I never had any blood lusts, or attachments to it. Never had the addictive pull to kill soldiers in video games and watch blood spew, or rent horror movies and see the display of blood. And I was really not one of those risk taking kids that was getting cuts and bruises and stitches every few days like some daredevil junky on Mountain Dew. I seemed to plan my moves, and decisions more precisely, a little more meticulous to avoid that. I was not sheepish, but not reckless either. I was more calculated. Even my time on a mountain bike in Colorado kept me pretty clean, in the midst of all my friends getting major thrashes, I found a way to avoid them. I think I just hated the thought of all that mess, all that blood, and pain, and broken skin. My life was spent in some form of avoiding it.

I had never been around blood. Or death. Never experienced it in animals or in people really. Never come on a horrible traffic accident with an arm hanging out, or ripped opened my flesh to see bone sticking out, or watched a butcher cut up an animal for food. Blood and death was very foreign to me, and the way I saw it, probably the best thing for me. It seemed a good exchange of paying for that meat in a little package, to avoid all the rest. Just wrap it in a nice plastic wrap on top of styro-foam.

Even as a boy, blood meant one thing, pain, and hurt. It meant you were on the path to dying. Blood was what came out of the body when you were wounded. A scrape could bring pain, but as a child, when you saw that red coming out—huge screams of terror and wailing.

I also had this great fear of the day my wife would give birth. I knew it would be a bloody mess. I just imagined the baby coming out, this moment I was supposed to be such a proud father, eyes gleaming, but all I could think about was this disgusting pool of blood, and placenta sack that was around this baby coming out, and wanting to leave the room. Or maybe even pass out. Instead of seeing this beautiful baby, I would be disgusted in shrieks of some horror movie. And imagining it was the last time I could ever look upon my wife’s body, as intimate, and lovely after a haunted house had just been pushed out her hole down there. I would never want to look there again. Blood was bad. And I was doing my best to avoid it. Maybe we could do an emergency C-section, or even better, find a stork to deliver it.

As we woke up early the next day, we had to head back to finish processing the elk. We came back with some more help, Cory, and Morgan, and hiked into the valley to cut up the elk and haul the meat in our packs. I was feeling more confident, like I could really do this. We seemed to have with us saws, buck knives, gut hooks, like a portable butcher shop. We started by peeling the hide and outer layer of fat. It was just like pulling up an old shag carpet from a home. It was not as disgusting as I thought. Before us were all the muscles exposed, tendons, ligaments, and joints, the fleshy red color, revealing an entire mass of meat to be cut.

We began the process of quartering it, and cutting the elk into sections, and extracting specific pieces to pack it out. We started sawing into leg bone, cutting off the feet, and then removing the ball joints to make the meat into hindquarters, separating it while ripping muscles, and tendons, then placing them in large 60-80 lb. cotton bags then in our packs. It was fascinating to see the legs, and tendons, and to have pulled the organs. It was not like cutting up a cake, or slapping together hamburger meat into round patties. I was looking at my own form, seeing the resemblance of my own body that made me so much aware of this as a real living being. This was not a tree, or dirt. It was a living being, a creation of God’s kingdom, now split into chunks, and quarters, and half pieces lying on the ground, bloodied, and drying darker on my hands and pants. But the more we cut, the less it was an animal, and the more I was seeing it in parts, and chunks of specific meat that could be sold as Safeway or Krogers.

I relate to George Wallace experience, “I see him as meat for the first time. Component parts—meat, hide, antlers, cape, divisible into quarters, loins, ribs, in turn divisible into steaks, chops, roasts, stew meat, sausage, and hamburger.” (David Petersen, p. 100) It was true. I began seeing parts of meat. The beef brisket that I had enjoyed barbequed with vinegar base at Stroud’s B-B-Q in Nashville, I was slowly slicing off the rib cage, and thinking, I never knew this is where it came from. The back straps, and inner loins, that came off the spine like a long tube of meat. It was the most tender and delicate of meat due to its limited use on the animal. I had always eaten beef tenderloin, and the filet mignon, which had come from this place on a cow, and it made sense why it was such a delicate and delicious cut. I was slicing off neck meat, and PJ explained how that would be ground up, as hamburger, because it being the toughest part of the meat. It was fascinating to see as every cut of meat, that I had eaten, or ordered, was actually somewhere on the animal, and named because of where it was taken. I had never thought about it. A rib-eye. Brisket. Filet mignon. T-bone. Ribs. Tenderloin. All were named because of where they had been taken. I somehow thought they were just fancy words made up. My friend, Wade, who would join us on a hunt months later would say, “Who knew that $40 steak from Ruth Chris began here.” I felt the same thing.

While blood was something to be outlawed for children, most cultures before us so it as very different. They were surrounded with it. There was not a processing plant to kill all the meat; it was done in the house, or on the farm. As a boy, you were probably part of helping out, and getting the meat slaughtered. Even a nasty deep wound might have been dealt with right at home, and opened up, with medicine put in, and patched up over the kitchen counter. No doctors, or white surgical gloves and cotton swabs.

In many cultures, blood was a ritual that meant nourishment and life. These tribal cultures seemed to draw on the symbol of blood as nourishment, like food. Robert Bly shares a story of an initiation rite for boys, “One of the older men takes up a knife opens a vein in his own arm, and lets a little of his blood flow into a gourd or bowl. Each older man in the circle opens his arm with the same knife, as the bowl goes around, and lets some blood flow in. When the bowl arrives at the young man, he is invited to take nourishment from it.”
While disgusting, and pagan, what it brings is a belief that blood is not bad, it is needed. A part of life. What the story shows, and what had been happening in my own life is escaping blood, and escaping the thought of death, and how those two are connected.

Even for women, blood is seen very different. Blood often means life. To have your period, and stream blood means that you can fertilize an egg, and bring forth a baby. Flowing blood means life. It is so fascinating as I write this, because my wife for two years had lost her period because of health issues. She had spent two years dreaming of the day blood would flow again, and that we might have the chance of having a baby. Today, she comes home with joy on her face and says, “I have good news for us!” And when as I ask her why, she says, “I started my period!” Meaning, blood is flowing. There is a chance for the creation of life! Richard Rohr says that a women is initiated into blood. She grows up with it. It is part of her life. As a teenager, she experiences blood. And it is seen as a good thing. A sign of maturing into womanhood.

It seemed for a man though—he needed to be taken into it. He needed a man to show him. It seemed that part of many boys fascination with blood was the need for initiation. That somehow we know inherently that blood and pain needs to be involved to make us men. I have read where often war, is some sense of self-initiation. Taking it with our own hands. Think about even video games, and the over and excessive violence and blood. Why? Well, what if we need to experience some form of blood, and with no one taking us out, or teaching us, we find it on our own.

While much could be talked about here, the irony of all this bloody mess is that the bible is covered in it. More so than a horror movie. You can barely find a page where something or someone isn’t dying, or blood isn’t being shed on the account of the Israelites in the Old Testament. It’s not one of those things we like to highlight, but it is there. In fact, God seems to be obsessed with it. Blood and death, and the sacrificing of animals might be argued as one of the major themes of the bible, and especially the Old Testament. Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish scholar writes, “Every unprejudiced reader of the bible must feel that sacrifices constitute the centre of the Old Testament.” (Edersheim, p. 75) The center? That is a big statement. This is no G rated Disney Special with Hanna Montana. It seems more like a horror flick. Here is where the words rank with a few other big words of the bible…

Love – 700 times
Life – 589 times
Death – 452 times
Blood – 389 times
Hope – 174 times
Birth – 153 times
Money – 114 times
Sex – 56 times

So what is the deal? Well, it has more to do with us, then it does with God. It all started with Adam and Eve back in the garden. We were made for union with God. God creates this wondrous landscape of gardens and land, and beauty, and gives us the entire place to take care of, and enjoy. Life is everlasting. Our hearts are forever cared for, and in love with our God. We are in union. There is no bloodshed. No death even. Just un-ending pure joy that is hard to even understand. Even the animals are in union with man and God. Everything is perfect. The way God made it to be.

But this wasn’t enough. Satan tempted them with the fruit they were commanded not to eat. And they ate it. They disobeyed God’s plan, and in choosing to be like him, knowing all good and evil, their sin took them apart from God. There is a spiritual death and separation that begins, along with the death of the body, while opening their eyes to shame. “They realized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and hid.”

As scriptures say, “Death reigned from the time of Adam. (Romans 5:14) It is right there just a few pages into our story with the first sign of blood and an animal dying. But it’s not real obvious. You can easily miss it. I never knew from the story, but God replaces the fig leaves. They aren’t left to wander with green leaves on their bums. God replaces it with something else. Here is the account… “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) It is fascinating to think. He replaces the fig leaves Adam and Eve made with garments of skin.

This can only mean one thing—first hunter was God.
I don’t know where he found it. But he went around the garden, and killed an animal, and skinned it, and put it on Adam and Eve. It was the first bloodshed. And it happened because of sin in the Garden. Sin brought the spiritual death of man, and his separation from God. This death brought blood. It was this subtle sign, but this blood, this death and sacrifice of an animal, was going to be God’s great sign to all the Adam’s after this, letting him know that he had sinned, and needed blood to bring forgiveness of his sins. It could be argued one of the greatest most important elements of the entire biblical narrative. Blood came from Adam’s choice, but God was going to redeem all that by giving his own son. The story of Abraham and Isaac is that representation in a more full way. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, then at the last minute pulls it away and replaces him with a ram from the bushes. It was a sign for us. A son was going to die for us soon. God’s own son. But before all that, it seemed God felt it necessary for us to get all covered in death, and blood, and sacrifices so we would one day see it.

And yet, in this culture that avoids blood, how easily we miss it now. I can remember a few years back performing in our Anglican church communion, administering the communion cup. I would say reverently, “this is the blood of Jesus, shed for you.” A whole line of people I would pass the cup to, and say this, but I tell you, I did not really connect to it. It never really hit me. To me, it was a cup with wine in it. And while I understood the meaning, the whole blood thing was just not an analogy I really never connected to.

God gives Moses in Leviticus one of the most detail meticulous, and maybe even anal, instruction plans for all this sacrificing, along with the duties that were to be performed in part by the priest, and what is to be done by the person. Read through Leviticus, if you can make it without falling asleep. It’s filled with directives, information, and commands on how to sacrifice these animals, and how to atone for all their sin. God was brilliantly setting up a system of rituals. But in high school bible class, I specifically skipped over this part, as did my teacher because of how boring, and unrelated it seemed to today.

But the people would have to come to the temple and offer an animal. There were a few choices. An oxen, a sheep, goat, or turtle doves, or pigeons. (Edersheim, p. 78) Without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness, and no atonement for the wrongs. But it was not forever, but just a substitution, so they constantly needed renewal. Meaning more death, and bloodshed on a regular basis. Tradition has it, that on the Day of Atonement no less than five hundred priests were [needed]to assist in the services. And we are not talking about priests walking around shaking hands and drinking coffee, they were busy catching blood, sprinkling it on holy items, and collecting the blood in massive vessels.

Maybe the bloodiest day of all was at the dedication of the Temple that Solomon built for God. He sacrificed 22,000 cattle, and 120,000 sheep and goats. In the midst of their celebration, it was a bloodbath. While the priests wore white, I can’t imagine the people came in their Sunday’s best coat and tie. The people had to perform, “laying on of hands. Slaying, skinning, cutting up, and washing the inwards.” (Edersheim, p. 80)

While I was cutting up the elk with PJ, Morgan, and Cory, there was something related. While we are free from this system because of Christ, and his atonement, I can’t say I did not feel something holy, and in awe of what was occurring that helped me identify with what Jesus did. Some deep appreciation and understanding of life, and pain, and sacrifice, and blood. Many of the people I know would kneel down next to their kill, and pray. They would thank God for their blessing. Other men, not even God fearing, would still connect to the cycle of life and death, and with a respect for God in it.

I remembered a story Eugene Peterson shared about it…

"My father was a butcher and owned his own meat market. I always thought of my father as a priest. He wore a white butcher’s apron as he presided over the work of slaughtering heifers and pigs, dressing them out, cutting them up…My father was a priest in our butcher shop, and I was with him, doing priestly work…I grew up experiencing the sight and sound of animals killed and offered up, the smell of fresh blood and the buzz of flies. A bull on the altar of Shiloh couldn’t have looked or smelled much different than a shorthorn heifer on the butcher block in our shop on Main Street…It never occurred to me that the world of worship was tidy or sedate."

Leaving that day from the trail, blood drying on my pants, and on my hands, blood meant something different to me. From an understanding of the blood of Jesus. And as I turned to look at the guys, I laughed and said, “I think I am ready to have a baby.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Axe for young men.

You might have seen this in an advertisement? Axe body spray. Axe cologne. And now their newest product, Axe Hair products.

It is marketed to a specific generation of young men, ages 18-25, give and take a few years. What is fascinating to me, is how they market this stuff. It is always with very sexually imagery and women oogling themselves at the guys who put it on. Here is an image from their website...

It seems to be a cave woman, sniffing around for her man. Bringing us back to prehistoric times. Its pretty dang sexual. There are bunnies in front of her, umm.. another suggestive thought.

So why is this brilliantly evil? Why do millions of teenagers go for it? Well, I think it has to do with young men, and what they need.

Richard Rohr tells a story in his book, Adam's Return, how young men in the aboriginal culture were taken around the age of 13, away from their mother, and into the community of men. They were taken away, sometimes up to a year, and taught the ways of their warrior men. Part of this ceremony was taking them to the place of the stone axe. When the sons had completed their initiation rites, they were allowed to wield an axe. But up until that point, they were not permitted a sharp weapon. Only for those who knew how to use it, were given permission. Only those who had been initiated. A man needed to be taken into his power, before he was given some form of it, like an axe.

He took it back into his community, and used that axe for the good of those around him.

With the loss of initiation rites of passage, and without the men doing this work for their sons, a boy needs that symbol. Regardless of who gives it to him, he will seek it out. We were made for it. for strength, power, and drive. It is a good thing, that as Christ taught I believe, through suffering, hardship, and knowing your Father, was to be wielded for good. Love first, then power. But power, as Dan Allender says, was meant to be sweet and enjoyable, and good.

But when men dont come around, Robert Bly says that often a boy becomes naive to women. He sees no connection to his need for men, and women seem the promise to hold the key to this power. In a culture where men do little of the initiation, hence, we are vulnerable to be exploited by this promise that women could validate our manhood.

Even the spokesperson for axe seems to explain it this way...

“Our products are based on the consumer insight that guys groom to get the girl.”

I am amazed at how this symbol seems to be still coming out. The promise of Axe, the body cologne, is more than a scent. It is manhood. Power. The ability to get a woman rolling around half naked in the woods, looking for you. It's as if this AXE, is really what we need to find, again. Power. Strength. Validation. The latest commercial for Axe spray has them saying, "Get girl-approved hair." Completely taking it to mean, a woman will do these things for you.

I grieve this. Because as young men, they need AXE. But they dont need this false form of it. And they dont need some exploited woman in the woods, to give it to them. They need the men to rise up, and take them out, and offer them the deeper need behind this. They need a man to give them a gun, and then take them out hunting with the men. They need a man to give them they keys to an old beat around Jeep, and then go spend a few days learning how to drive it together. What we need is power, men, and Jesus who leads us into power, only to surrender it for the greater good. Until a boy steps into some real power, and has men offer this, will he ever then choose and be given the chance to use it to serve love. And Jesus.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Stories from work. and Mr. Grace.

I have been thinking a bit on wholeness. From a conversation with a man in Chattanooga a few days ago, and an article I read from Tim Keller on hell.

What makes us whole, and full, and complete as humans, and followers of Christ? If the opposite is destruction, and hell, which Tim Keller describes as "decay and decomposition," apart from Christ. Well, then what makes us whole? And moving towards restoration.

A friend from Milwaukee who sits a few stories high in a beautiful rising office building looking out to Lake Michigan, sent these words. It was such a great capturing of his days as a young man, and his background, I wanted to forward along, used with permission.

I think about this man, and his places of working with large calculations and strategic formulas on market timing, and then these stories, and I am left with some version of whole. Or complete. and least partially on this side of heaven....

This is some of what he wrote...

I recall working for Mr. Grace one summer on his farm. The elder Mr. Grace everyone referred to as Pappaw, even though he was not my grandfather. Pappaw's son was known to everyone as "Happy" or "Hap". Hap was my father's age, mid-40s, when I was in college. The farm they owned was multi-purpose. The only "crop" they grew was hay. The other sources of income were raising Holsteins to sell to beef processors, selling sand, culverts, backhoe and dozer work and a few small oil wells. I was always intrigued by the work ethic which permeated the place.

I remember the smells of the farm: the musty smell of the hay barn, Levi Garret chewing tobacco, Miller Lite and Old Charter bourbon. The fence around the barn and office area was made from oil well pipe and "sucker" rods. The fence required painting at least once per year. It was a tedious job because it required prepping the fence with a wire brush to remove all the rust and old paint. Fortunately, Mr. Grace was not too particular and allowed me to apply the paint directly with paint "gloves". It was honest, hard work that paid well. We always had a break for lunch, ham sandwiches and tea (sweet, of course).

I remember one day Hap telling me we were going to deliver sand. I was excited about getting a reprieve from the painting. I was more than excited when Hap said that I would be driving the dump truck while he handled the backhoe. Happy would fill the truck with sand while I waited in the cab. I would then drive down the road several miles to dump the sand for the client. Looking back now, I realize what a gift that was from Happy. His trusting me with the dump truck was an invitation of sorts into the world of men an of work and machinery.

Every summer, Happy bid for a job clearing a portion of a levee on the Red River. This particular summer he was awarded a job to clear 9 to 10 miles of the levee. Brush and small trees had grown on the levee since the last time it was cleared. The Corps of Engineers is responsible for maintaining the levees and they prefer to keep them clear of undergrowth.

This was a team effort, my father, Ross, drove the bulldozer while Happy drove the backhoe. I led the way with a chainsaw, cutting down the trees that were too large for the bulldozer to snap. We worked hard for several weeks in the sweltering heat of an Arkansas July. It was hot, dirty, grimy, sweaty work. But, it was great! Being invited to work with these men and being trusted with a chainsaw was very affirming for a young man. We ate our lunches together under the shade of a tree. We shared ice cold Miller Lite's at the end of the day.

On Friday's we would stop by an all-you-can eat catfish restaurant for dinner, swapping stories from the day, enjoying a good meal and a pitcher of beer (Miller Lite, of course). I remember those days of hard work vividly and fondly recall the good times we had. Those weeks were some of the best times that I had with my father. I definitely took away some good lessons of hard, honest, dirt-under-your-fingernails work. The money, which was great for a 20 year old, is long gone but the affirmation and validation as a man still remain.

The Holstein cattle arrived on the farm as bulls but departed several months later for the processor as steers. You may or may not be aware of what is required to turn a bull into a steer. Shortly after the bulls arrive they are marshaled into a corral. Lots of mooing and bawling in the corral as the young bulls seem to sense their fate. Each bull is funneled into a narrow chute. At the end of the chute the fence tightens so that the bull is held stationary (they don't like this at all). Lots of bucking and moving, even though the chute is supposed to hold them steady.

The first step is to cut the horns, which are only a couple of inches long, with a device that looks like a pair of large bolt cutters. Getting a firm grip on the horns of a bull with the bolt cutter is difficult. Once you get the grip you pull the cutter together quickly and after a gruesome crunch the horn flies off and the blood spews straight up into the air with every heartbeat from the bull. The last step to transform this bull into a steer is castration. The bull's boys are removed with a large, sharp knife. Lastly, antiseptic is sprayed on the wounds and the steer is released into a separate corral. Blood and snot fly everywhere as the newly christened steer shakes off this experience. It is a messy, nasty job. After the first one, the jig is up and all the remaining bulls are bellowing loudly because they know their time is short.