“You’ve lost part of your tooth. You’ll need a crown.”
My recent trip to the dentist was yet another reminder that my outer man is wasting away. Other such current reminders include sore legs and hips from increasing my step count each day, a bad leg that resulted from blood-clot complications years ago, a lack of ability to smell and taste as a result of COVID-19 back in November, a messed up nose due to a basketball injury and a whole host of other things.
As difficult as it is to get older (I'm just a few months away from senior discounts; score!), I appreciate each ache. It means I’m alive. And it means I've lived.
As Christians, we often say we're just passing through this world – on our way to something far better. And that is absolutely true. But while we're here, we can live with joy. In fact, J. C. Ryle once said, "The true Christian is the only happy man, because he has sources of happiness entirely independent of this world."
A such, I embrace right here, right now.
Meanwhile, the time is short, as the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:29. All the more reason to love God and one another in this very moment.
My aches and pains remind me that I have work to do and that I had better get to it. Letters to write. Prayers to pray. Conversations to have. And friendships to develop.
If you want some food for thought, read this sermon by Spurgeon about time being short. I've sent it to my e-reader because I want to reread it often.
What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent. – C.S. Lewis
Years ago, when a writer shared this quote from C.S. Lewis with an email list I belonged to, I printed it, cut it out and placed it under my see-through plastic desktop protector.
At first glance, though, it's an odd quote to hang on to for a writer like myself who spends so much of his time writing and editing for the Christian market. But the quote resonates with me, so much so that it's the driving philosophy behind my essay books, my sports writing and here on my website.
The quote from Lewis comes from an essay he wrote called "Christian Apologetics." I did a little research and discovered that the essay appeared in a number of published works over the years. One such place is in a compilation book of his essays called "God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics." In context, the quote about latent Christianity came as Lewis was discussing science.
“While we are on the subject of science, let me digress for a moment," Lewis wrote. "I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted ... What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.”
He goes on to say this:
"It is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him [the unbelieving modern man]. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.”
Lewis has been gone nearly sixty years but his words are even more relevant today than when he wrote them.
The gospel is comprehensive. It applies to all areas of life. Until a skeptic can see that, Christianity is just a religion without much use, except to mark births, marriages and funerals. But when Christians present and live out a comprehensive gospel – one that not only speaks to the culture where it is but also loves people where they are, then Christianity no longer looks like a religion. Instead, it looks like purpose, and depth and redemption.
Of course, the irony of Lewis' words is, he wrote them in an essay to Christians. But I don't think he was saying Christians shouldn't write to encourage, build up or challenge each other in the faith. Instead, I think he was saying we should also write for the culture at large.
That's what I try to do here and elsewhere. It's the reason I write about baseball, walking, notebooks, board games, spiritual legacies, friendship, coffee, loneliness, love, loss and so much more.
Whether you are Christian, a believer in some other faith, a skeptic or someone who is trying to figure out what you believe, I hope you find something here that speaks to you.
I have a board game called Name 5. The premise is pretty simple – players advance on a game board by naming five items from a card they draw (e. g. Name 5 ... Madonna songs).
A timer is involved, so that pretty much kills my chances of doing well because my brain just can’t recall specifics when a timer is ticking, but the game is a lot of fun.
My friends and I have played it a couple of times, and I heard one particular topic that I thought would be fund to explore here: Name 5 ... Good Things About Getting Older. For the record, I didn't set a timer when listing these.
1. The lows aren’t as low as they used to be. I’ve never been an overly emotional person, outwardly, but internally, when I was younger, nearly every bump in the road felt like a crisis and when a genuine crisis occurred, I didn't think I would survive. I'm just talking about the typical teenage angst – girls, popularity, sports. With age came perspective though. By surviving previous trials, I know that somehow I'll survive new ones too.
2. Having a core set of people you can trust. More than half of my closest friends are the result of friendships formed in high school. I know they are going to be present when I need them to be and I think they can same the same about me. We’ve seen the best and worst in each other, but still, the friendships remain. That’s not always the case when a person is younger – when so many relationships are based on performance.
3. Entertainment is more about the people you are with than the activity. The question that never changes is, what do you want to do? In high school, we went cruising, attended dances, went to football games and listened to music together. The event was necessary. Now, I go to coffee shops, go to movies, go to sporting events and a few other things, but mostly, the events are just the backdrop for the relationships.
4. Having the ability to look backward and forward. I had a conversation with one of my nieces some time ago. She was twenty at the time and trying to figure out her place in the world. I told her about the hardships the previous generations in our family endured so my generation and hers would have more opportunities. I wanted her to know that her generation doesn’t exist in a void. She has something to pull from.
5. Digging deeper instead of wider. When I was a boy, I wanted to become a football player, a tennis player or a rock star when I grew up. I was also into stamp collecting, rock collecting (for about two hours), coin collecting, baseball card collecting, and lots of other things. My passions aren’t spread as thin anymore. Today, I read every book a favorite author writes. I listen to entire albums, not just the hit songs. I put my feet up and turn everything off sometimes, just to think. Depth is more satisfying.
How about you? Can you name five good things about getting older? Take all the time you need. I won't even start the timer.
My niece handed me a round sticker with the face of an alligator that said, "See you later, alligator."
I was headed out of town and had stopped by to see her. I don't know why, but the gesture really touched me. Even though this happened many years ago, I still remember it. And I carried that sticker in my wallet for years. Somewhere along the way, I took it out, intending to put it in my new wallet and never did. I could kick myself for that. But I've got it stashed away somewhere. It'll be a nice surprise when I come across it again.
When that same niece was maybe five or six, she also wrote a short note to me on a small piece of paper: "Uncle Lee, I love you very much. When can we play together?" That note is securely stashed in my wallet.
I was always the goofy uncle – the one who got down on all fours and played horsey with her or "throw the Dee Dee" (a "game" we invented, which wasn't really a game; it consisted of throwing her Raggedy Ann doll toward the ceiling while we were lying flat on our backs and then trying to catch it, causing her to cackle with each throw). So whenever I was around, she wanted to play.
She's over thirty now and has her own little one. And I've tried to be the goofy great uncle for him too. Our thing is water guns. He loves hot summer days when he can douse Uncle Lee. He cackles as he shoots one stream of water after another at me. I pretend like I have no defense, and he cackles some more. It's my favorite sound in the world. It reminds me so much of when his mom was his age.
This little trip down memory lane got me thinking. It's funny how a simple gesture such as handing someone a sticker or a short note can mean so much, many years later. And it has strengthened my resolve to do that for others.
Doing so in some tangible ways seems preferable. Sending a text or picking up the phone is fine, but handing someone a sticker, of sorts, has more of a chance of … well, sticking.
At the risk of sounding like Jennifer Garner in a Capital One commercial, what's in your wallet (or purse) that means a great deal to you? And what’s the significance?
The start of the baseball season in the United States has me thinking about Memorial Day in 2011.
My mom and I visited a cemetery that weekend to decorate graves. During our visit, we went looking for the headstone of a couple of relatives – a husband and wife – we’ve never visited because we didn't know for sure where it was located. But I had a general idea of where it might be and we had some time, so we gave it a shot.
As we browsed the rows, I stumbled across a headstone that stopped me in my tracks.
Her name was Katherine. She was born in 1911 and died in 1999. I stopped because somebody had placed an old beat up baseball where flowers or flags would ordinarily go – at the top of the headstone.
Obviously, Katherine must have been a baseball fan. Growing up in the 1920s, she would have had the chance to gather around the radio with her family and listen to old timey (I love that phrase) broadcasters paint beautiful pictures of players such as Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig in action.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the story behind the baseball itself. Did it belong to Katherine? Was it autographed by her favorite player? Did she play catch with her grandkids with it? Did she catch it at a baseball game? Did one of her grandkids inherit it and decide that the time had come to return it to her?
Oh, if baseballs could talk!
Yes, I’m completely aware that a dog may have simply dropped the baseball off near her headstone but I’m going with my story. I like it better.