"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Ecc 1:1
I awoke at 4:30 am this morning thinking about the woman's magazine Vanity Fair and a man named Fred. Now that’s weird even for me.
I'm a geek at heart, and I love things like etymology and word studies. As it turns out, Solomon uses the word "vanity" in the book of Ecclesiastes at least 30 times. The Hebrew word is "Hebel" for vapor, breath delusion, emptiness, fraud, futility, folly, worthless. I wonder if the publishers of Vanity Fair were intentionally ironic or if they even had a clue.
We have been in what has felt like suspended animation for the last two months. Some of you know there was a small hiccup in our mission plans due to pre-cancer that turned out to be cancer. Cathy had a total hysterectomy, and we waited for the pathology results that would determine whether or not she needed further treatment. We got the call the other day. All cancer was completely removed during surgery. "Yei" God we are moving on. Was I afraid? Maybe a little. The reality of our mutual and individual mortality certainly became more concrete. I don't care how faith-filled you are. The reality of James 4:13-14* is going to have an effect when you come face to face with it.
Other than that, my days have been consumed with chasing annoying roosters and trying to score small animation jobs while avoiding spending money. We've also had a special time with family and especially our grandchildren. Some of them are doing well while others continue to challenge the laws of probability. I won't go into detail here but suffice it to say that surviving childhood ought to be all the proof one needs to believe in a loving God. That so many do not is a reminder that we live in a world of absolute truths, one of which is that none of us is getting off this perfectly, positioned rock on the edge of an otherwise hostile Milky Way alive. Everyone knows this. But as Neal Wagatsuma, the Warden at our local jail puts it, “Never underestimate the power of denial."
I was hanging in the back yard with my two granddaughters ages eight and thirteen the other night. They were busy taking selfies and making Vines to post on Snap Chat. I was questioning the value and purpose of Snap Chat. I think it's just another way for kids to foster narcissism and further reduce their already shortened attention spans. But according to them, Snap Chat is an indispensable tool, "you can tell everyone about your life." said oldest. However, they both agreed it was something I couldn't understand because "Snap Chat isn't for old people." They looked at each other and rolled their eyes when I said that I am not old. Now I'm a fairly young grandfather and a pretty techie guy, but even I find myself lagging at times when it comes to keeping up with teenage tech trends. It's also a biological fact that a child can learn new things faster and more efficiently than a fifty-something-year-old man. My granddaughters are aware of this. Hence the rolling of the eyes whenever I attempt to impart some grandfatherly wisdom. But awareness and understanding are not the same.
Yes, the reality of becoming a marginalized old dog is starting to set in. Rather than struggling to curb my tongue as I should have when I was younger; I find myself not wanting to speak at all. Maybe I'm just fishing for excuses to be lazy or worse starting to enshrine the apparent apathy of my father and grandfathers. But it seems that, like them, I have less and less to say as these days which is kind of ironic given what we just gave up our life to do.
Anyway, I didn't say much that evening when my granddaughters grabbed a plate of macaroni and cheese and took it on the trampoline. Years ago, I would have approached the situation differently. I would have demanded that they give me the plate before someone choked, or they ruined their expensive, backyard toy; or else! Instead, I took out my phone and started filming saying "you know... " at which point the eight-year-old cut me off. "I know what you're going to say, Poppy." "What's that?" I asked. "It's probably not a good idea," she laughed setting the plate down on the already bouncing trampoline floor. I'd venture to say it took less than 60 seconds before macaroni and cheese were everywhere and Kyah was crying and hysterically screaming at me to stop filming.
I'd post it here but like I told her, I'm saving it for the wedding. The cries soon turned to hysterical giggling as she tried everything in her power to wrestle the phone out of my hands to delete the video. It didn't work. I'm still a buffed Poppy. It occurred to me that a lot of people are like my granddaughters, eating their proverbial mac and cheese on trampolines, knowing perfectly well what is coming but choosing to pretend that it is not.
Physical and intellectual prowess and ensuing pride during youth is often the foundation for this delusion. Our societal desire and propensity for discovering creative ways to avoid pain via instant gratification form a near impenetrable structure. Confirmation bias and the overwhelming need to fit in forms the roof. We use words like socialization, integration, and enculturation to describe the relative health of this process. Those who fail or lack balance in one or more of these areas go to therapy. We call this normal. People reside in this construct for years in relative illusory peace until the inevitable storm comes and blows it all away.
It feels like only yesterday, but it's been close to thirty years since I worked as a nursing assistant on a cancer floor at the Genesee Hospital in Rochester New York. My job, in a nutshell, amounted to helping people cope with the process of dying then wrapping their bodies when they did. Fred was one of the many people I served. He was 67 years old and had worked hard his whole life with a solitary goal of retiring and finally having fun. He got two years out of his investment. Now Fred had cancer and six months to live. All he could do was sob and say "you don't understand." I was twenty-three years old. What was I going to tell him? I did mention God once, but that didn't go over very well at all. So, I did what I was trained to do. I acknowledged the truth with detached compassion. "Yes, Fred you are dying. I'm here for you. If you want to talk I will listen." Over the next few months, I bathed him, fed him and changed his bed pans. Fred never talked. He just cried when I walked in the room. One morning I came to work, and Fred was gone. Part of me wondered if Fred's tears were a result of some deep dark secret he was afraid to confess. But I suspect that he would look at me at 23 then look at his own life, and that was just too much to bear. Either way, Fred seemed to value his own worldview, whatever that was, more than anything else and certainly more than anything I had to say.
Now after a decade of counseling kids and living with inmates to help them "reintegrate," I have concluded that most people don't want to hear about absolutes let alone have their worldview questioned. Never mind the adage about leading a man to water. In my experience, you can't convince a drowning man who doesn't want to believe it that he is in fact drowning. Telling him, he needs a savior when he thinks he is just fine is beyond ridiculous. If you try, he will likely ignore you at first, then mock you, and then attempt to drown you. By the same token, while there is ample evidence both historical and scientific that Jesus is who He says He is, no amount of it will ever convince a person who doesn't want to hear it and even more, doesn't want it to be true.
There is a guard who is an avowed atheist at our local jail whom I have always liked. Like us, he seemed to have the heart for helping inmates. He doesn't believe in God, he believes in science. That's fine. He has that right. He has always been there to dispute and counter me whenever I speak at the jail. I think he considers it his moral duty to tell the inmates they don't need God just as I consider it mine to tell them they do. One of the last times I spoke he stood up and began with "Now everyone knows I don't like Brian Gray." Strange as it may seem to some, I was surprised. So, I approached him when he was done and told him that I didn't know he didn't like me. "Really, I'm surprised you didn't know that" he said. "Well I know we disagree on some things but..." He cut me off. "Well to me that's hate," he said and walked away.
He is not unique. This mindset is found in our most prestigious educational institutions as well. Don't debate these people says renowned evolutionary biologist, and atheist Richard Dawkins just "mock them." But people don't mock or suppress things of which they are certain are not true. People mock things that cause them discomfort and fear. Richard Dawkins repeatedly declines invitations to debate Christian apologists and philosophers like Dr. Ravi Zacahrias because he knows he can't win. It's not that Ravi Zacharias can scientifically prove the existence of God. No one can. We haven't even done that with gravity. No, I haven't lost my marbles. What most people call the Law of Gravity is actually the Law of Gravitational Effect. The fact is there's still more recorded gravitational effect in the universe that there is recorded mass to account for it. The bible says we know God is real because of His effects. Rom 1:18-20*. What Dr. Zacharias can prove is that the world view of those like Richard Dawkins is completely unscientific and requires more blind faith to maintain than does the Christian worldview. The argument is not that complicated. Even so, most so-called secular intellectuals seem to maintain a position of "contempt prior to investigation."
At any rate, I am convinced that we are moving into a time where telling someone in America what they don't want to hear, that they were born to die in a dying world, where no amount of good deeds or Karma can save them and that Jesus is their only hope of salvation, will get you killed.
The question for me, for us and our mission as we reflect and prepare to debark on May 3rd is; what have we learned and which is the better way? We aren't going to run in fear of death or of being hated.
But what is the best way of explaining the futility of folly and that eating mac and cheese on trampolines is not going to end well? Ecc 12:14
We are Brian and Cathy Gray formerly of Gray Hope Productions.
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