Old Trucks, Overspray and Theology

There’s more backstory here than you’re going to get. For now, let’s just say that back in May when I was spray painting our house, I drastically underestimated the distance tiny latex paint droplets can travel and still adhere to something other than what was intended. Say, not hypothetically speaking, a motor vehicle.

Fortunately, that vehicle was my old beat up Ford Ranger and not Randa’s shiny black Chevy Silverado. I’m not sure anyone really notices the paint spatter when they walk by my truck. Still, I’d rather it wasn’t on there.

Since my old Ranger has a lot of dents, cracks and scratches, I wasn’t too worried about experimenting. Kind of hard to make a bucket of dead mice look any worse, right? I discovered that “Goo Gone” doesn’t work at all but that “Goof Off” works fairly well.

Since the stuff evaporates about as quickly as ether, gasoline or good will in an election year, I tried soaking a small piece of paper towel, then letting it sit on the droplets for a couple of minutes. That sure worked better than just rubbing it on but used it up faster than a government stimulus check.

After emptying one can of “Goof Off” to clean about a third of one fender, I wheeled over to Wally World and picked up three more large cans. As soon as I got back home, I tore off a small section of paper towel and held it against a spattered section on the edge of the fender. I tilted the can over and squeezed lightly. Nothing came out. I squeezed harder. Nothing came out.

Feeling like a televangelist two weeks before all the old folks get their Social Security checks, I squeezed even harder. A large drop glopped out of the little dispenser tubey thingey. “What in the name of Sam Hill’s three-legged bird dog is going on here?!” I wondered.

Turns out, instead of the almost ether-like regular “Goof Off” liquid, I’d bought their “Paint Spatter Remover.” Well, the name seemed perfect for what I wanted to do, so I commenced trying to use this newfangled stuff the same way I’d been using the oldfangled stuff. But even I could see that the stuff was just too thick for quickly soaking a piece of paper towel.

So, I tried squeezing some out and smearing it around on the spatters with my finger. I’d let it sit a while and then rub on the spots. After two or three or eight applications, I was able to burnish off the specks of paint. After a half-hour of what increasingly felt like actual work, I had a radical idea.

Since this stuff is almost gel-like, how ’bout if I try just squeezing a drop of spatter remover on each spot of spatter? After letting each drop set for a few minutes, the spots wiped off rather easily.

How ’bout dat?! Adapting to the design of the product worked better than trying to pretend it could be used effectively in some other way.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised to remember that scripture and genuine religion work more effectively when I use them for inspiration, comfort, consolation and guidance for how I live my life instead of trying to win arguments, insult other people or judge how well they’re living their lives.

And I’m also thankful that God came up with a wonderful way for cleaning life’s spatters off of my record when I’ve goofed up. There are some times when the repentance part of that formula seems to require a longer soaking in period… but it always works!

H. Arnett

9/24/20

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The Valley of Dry Bones

[See Ezekiel 37:1-14]

We sometimes come
to these points in our lives,
when it feels that all of hope is gone
and even our bones seem dry.

We look back upon the valleys of our past,
see the skeletons of our dreams
cast upon the stones that have bruised our feet,
making even our hearts seem lame.

Sometimes with gasping breath,
we weep in sorrow for the way so many tomorrows
have ended in the twisted shadows
of disappointment and even despair.

Too often, perhaps,
we chose the way of the warrior,
determined to slice our way through life
and through anything—or anyone—that stood in our way.

We forgot, perhaps, or never knew
the tougher sinews of patience,
the power of waiting upon the Lord,
the strength that comes from being still.

Even when we walk among tombs
where it seems there is scarcely room for hope,
when our bones seem as dry as petrified flint,
when we remember whom we have believed we will see:

There is nothing too strong for the arm of God,
who has made us able to stand in places we feared to trod,
who has made the lame to dance
and placed his praises on the lips of the mute.

Then, when our eyes have been opened by faith,
when our minds have conceived the seed of hope,
and our hearts set on fire by God’s own sweet love,
then we, too, will know the power and the promise

that can set flesh upon the dried skeleton,
breathe life into dust,
and muster an army of thousands upon thousands
from bleached bones littering a desert valley.

H. Arnett
8/23/20

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Path of Destruction

I don’t know how long ago it was that someone built the little garden shed that sits on the concrete slab just three feet away from the north wall of our garage. I don’t know how long ago it was that someone built on the little dog shed extension that turned the whole deal into a six foot by twelve foot affair.

What I do know is that by the time we bought the place in 2015, that shed was in no condition to bear close inspection. I even joked with the realtor at the time that we could quickly raise the value of the property by tearing down the shed.

The main doors had lost two or three inches at the bottom due to rotting of the Masonite-like siding with which the whole affair was covered. The dog shed door was truly ugly. A narrow interior door had been conscripted into outdoor service. Strips of its veneer continued peeling off. A fifteen inch hole at the bottom had so weakened the door’s structure that someone had nailed a small slat across the bottom in a losing effort to keep the door in one piece.

Where wall met roof, a five-foot long two-by-eight on the extension connected to a seven foot long two-by-eight on the original part. Together, they formed an eave of sorts that extended the roof a few inches out past the wall. A two-foot section of that showed evidence of rotting when we bought the house and had shown no inclination to improve over the ensuing five years.

Near the ground level on the north side of the original section, a hole about four inches wide and a foot-and-a-half long suggested that the siding might be nearing the end of its useful life. Tearing off the one-by-eight that ran along the entire perimeter of the shed at the bottom provided dramatic evidence that it was time to replace all of the siding.

The lowest few inches of old simulated reverse board and batten siding was nothing but biologically processed by-product; it looked like dark brown dirt. That piece of horizontal trim had trapped moisture and hidden the damage. When I removed the siding, there was a clear termite trail running from the base up a two-by-four stud to that rotted piece of two-by-eight. Even though there was no evidence of recent activity, it was clear that a termite thoroughfare operated.

Why the little boogers decided to skip the studs and grub on the eave board is beyond me. Perhaps it had a better flavor than the studs. Maybe they preferred the penthouse suite over the low rent units.

It is not always obvious and sometimes not even discernible why those things devoted to destruction choose the targets they choose. What is eventually rather obvious is that left unchecked, those things will not stop until the structure has been destroyed.

I think that’s why God urges us to be so vigilant about guarding our hearts.

H. Arnett
8/21/20

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Shared Beauty

So far as I can remember, the first time I ever noticed canna lilies was when we were visiting Gerald and Linda Heckman back in the early Oughts. They had some growing in their garden at their place about a dozen miles north of Saint Joseph, Missouri. I was fairly amazed at the huge leaves and intense red blooms. I’ve always been impressed by flowers that grow taller than me. Of course, when I was but knee-high to a grasshopper, that was a pretty long list. The list is shorter now but I still find it impressive.

So, when I noticed a couple of volunteer cannas sprouting up through the grass in the alleyway behind our house, I was pretty tickled. I dug them out a couple of years ago and moved them over to a more protected location. The next year, four or five plants sprouted up. This year, it looks like somewhere between fifteen and twenty plants have grown vigorously and bloomed prolifically. They have raised themselves well above the neighbor’s six-foot tall fence. Yesterday, I noticed one bloom cluster soaring above the rest. Its tip is just over nine feet above the ground.

That, my friends, certainly qualifies as “flowers that grow taller than me.” Truth is, I’m also impressed by the tiniest flowers. Most anything of beauty is something worth appreciation and admiration. Those things of beauty that come to us without cost and that offer aesthetic enrichment with minimal effort might even merit a bit more appreciation.

They are a reminder that the One Who Has Made Us has made a great many things of beauty. Their presence offers a respite. And respite that also attracts hummingbirds is a special sort of refreshing. Kind of a “beauty that draws beauty” sort of thing.

Like people who reflect the beauty of Christ in how they live and treat others.

H. Arnett
8/19/20

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Praying in the Shade

I’ve taken to taking it easy on Sunday afternoons. Even with my constant obsession about getting things done, improving the place, fixing up something that needs fixing or just having something to do, I’m getting more comfortable with a view of the big elm trees while I’m lying in a hammock, gently swaying from side to side in the shade, instead of spending an hour picking up the little broken branches that litter the grass beneath those big elm trees.

If I remember the story correctly, God rested on the seventh day. On a related point, memory also holding, I believe that Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for humans, not the other way around. I take the point to be that easing up a bit for one day is actually a pretty good idea and might even contribute to better handling the other six days.

It is a good thing to have a day of rest, a day of not hammering our bodies, our lives, and our minds a little deeper into the ground. A day of lifting our thoughts beyond the press of this world’s expectations, a day of reflection and appreciation.

I think that sometimes my Sunday afternoons are a time of recuperation from the toils of the week just ended and sometimes a time of preparation for those of the coming week. Most times, it’s a bit of both and so far as I can tell, prayers offered from the sling of a hammock can make their way to heaven just fine.

H. Arnett
8/17/20

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Summer Eatin’

We’ve been doing some mighty fine eating lately, the wife and me. I don’t reckon it would be what some calls would call “fine dining” but I wouldn’t be insulted enough to ruin my appetite. Good fun and at least one person you love to share it with may not make it a feast but, at least for me, it doesn’t have to be a feast to be some mighty fine eating.

We have some friends with a mighty fine garden and a mighty fine willingness to share. A few days ago, Randa came back from their place. She parked the car and walked around the front of the car and lifted up a big plastic baggie. “Look what I’ve got,” she bragged, grinning like a little kid with a big fish on a grassy pond bank, and holding up a gallon-sized plastic baggie filled with fresh green beans, already snapped. In her other hand, she had a small grocery sack with a mess of new potatoes.

“Well,” I marveled, “already snapped, too.” I paused just a bit but it was not for dramatic effect. “Why don’t you cook those up together and stir up a fresh batch of cornbread to go with ’em? I’ll pull a couple ears of fresh sweet corn and we’ll just have ourselves a fresh country supper in the summer.”

Pretty soon, I could smell seasoning bacon frying in a black skillet. On another burner, potatoes simmered in a six-quart stewer, getting a head start on the green beans. About an hour later, we sat down to plates filled with fresh green beans and new potatoes, corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes right from the garden, and steaming hot cornbread.

There wasn’t any gold-plated tableware, and there were no grand goblets of wine, but wanting anything more than what we had would just be plain greedy, don’t you think? Sometimes, that daily bread that the Lord gives us sure makes for some mighty fine summer eating.

H. Arnett
8/14/20

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Angel on a Summer Day

There’s a special kind of heat that July brings to the city. Sun blistering the surface of asphalt parking lots. Breeze blocked by tall buildings. Miles of concrete, brick and stone. South facing walls of brick turned into seven story, solar-fired heat batteries. Afternoons so hot that you’d swear even the sidewalks are sagging.

On such a day a week or two ago, Todd Ray and some of his maintenance team were tearing out partition walls at Cowley College’s downtown Wichita center. In between cutting out sections and lugging them out to the dumpster, they took a break on the north side of the building. There’s not much shade on any side at one-thirty in the afternoon but north is definitely better than south at that time of day.

As they stood there, sipping drinks from large Styrofoam cups, they saw a thirty-something-year-old guy come out of the convenience store a couple hundred feet away. Slender and of medium height, everything about the man spoke of anger: stiff, exaggerated motions with his arms, feet stomping against the pavement. His words provided further evidence of his state of mind, even for the hearing impaired. A blue hot stream of profanity fired through the already sweltering air as he made his way across the parking lot. One of the workers asked Todd, “You think we should call the police?”

“No, he’s not hurting anything or anybody; let’s just wait and see what happens next.”

As they watched, they saw him became so animated and his angry expressions so exaggerated that he stumbled and fell to the ground. Rising in exasperation, he looked around, saw Todd and the other guys standing near the door which was propped open. He headed toward them.

Knowing that the other employees would become alarmed if the guy came inside the building in that state of mind, Todd moved over to block the doorway. “He wasn’t a big guy,” Todd notes, “So I just stood there.” At six-two and two hundred and twenty, Todd can certainly make you stop and think about what it might take to get to whatever he’s standing in front of.

As the man approached, Todd noted the baggy long sleeve shirt and the jeans that were way too big for him. Even his backpack seemed the wrong size. His body still tense with anger, he paused a few feet from Todd.

“Hey, man, what’s going on?”

The man sagged to his knees right in front of Todd, lifted his open hands out to the side and as he shook them to emphasize his words, he groaned, “I just wanted a glass of water. I just wanted a glass of water and they wouldn’t give it to me.”

Todd looked down, saw the soul-weary frustration and the sweat streaming across the man’s shaved head. He felt the heat drifting into the shade and the cooler air seeping out of the open door. As the man’s hands fell then to his side, Todd told him, “I will get you some water. I don’t have a glass but I’ll wash out this cup and I’ll fill it up with water and I’ll bring it back to you. Just wait right here.”

The guy waited and Todd went inside. The other two workers traded looks with each other and may have wondered what they’d do if the guy decided he wasn’t going to wait. They didn’t have to find out.

Todd came back with the cup, filled with fresh water and gave it to the man. “I’ve never seen anyone drink that much water that fast,” he told me, shaking his head from side to side. “He just turned it up and drained it. Drank that whole thing, thirty-two ounces of water, almost in one gulp.”

Finishing the water, he handed the cup back to Todd, wiped his mouth and rose back up to his feet. He adjusted his backpack, thanked Todd again and then walked on across the parking lot. Todd and the other guys watched him turn and disappear around the corner. Immediately they turned to one another, “Did that just happen?” “What was that?”

There are such things in this life when we think back on them later we realize the experience was larger than we realized at the time. Then, there are those rare times when we know right away. Such things of incredible poignancy, so touching that we know immediately we have experienced something so profound it goes beyond superficial understanding and explanation.

We wonder if we have just seen an angel when in fact we have looked into the very eyes of Jesus.

H. Arnett
7/24/20

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Wichita Summer

July brings a particular kind of heat
that sweats the streets and buckles your feet
against the concrete edges of sintering sidewalks
set way below the ledges of tall brick and stone buildings
that block the breeze and bring the city to its knees
praying for some sort of relief.

The sun seethes the surface of asphalt parking lots:
black, blistering blotches snatching at pressing tires
and still simmering in the settling dusk
as the sun slips into the western husk of the prairied earth.

It rises on mornings so heavy with humidity
that it feels like ninety at seven in the morning.
Dew settles so thick on every blade and bush
that shoes and britches soak through in two minutes
of walking through pasture.

By mid-morning, moving from shade
into the shaved fields of wheat
or just-baled acres of hay
flushes the whole body with rising heat
as if you’d just walked into an un-domed kiln.

Some nights, you can see lightning flashing
from eighty miles away
and know that somewhere—
way off to the north by northeast,
probably up between Council Grove and Topeka,
they’re getting rain and maybe high winds and hail

and you pray for only the rain part
and hope that the unfailing grace of God
will soften the sod
and bring both peace and rain
into the heat-splintered heart of the city.

And your own, as well.

H. Arnett
7/21/20

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Prayer on a Summer’s Dawning

Thank you, Lord,
for the quiet stillness of this good morning,
for the softness of grass
in the dim shapes of pre-dawn’s forming,
for the beauty of flowers
in pastel shades
before the fullness of light.

Cleanse my heart, O lord,
and take from my mind
anything that finds pleasure in darkness.
Remove from my heart
anything that seeks ill for others.
Purge from my lips
any word that wounds
or causes pain.

Bless this day,
I pray, O God,
the work of my hands,
the sweat of my brow,
the bread that I eat.

Help me this day,
my Lord and Savior,
to walk in the light,
to seek what is right,
to love as I have been loved,
to show the grace that I seek,
to treat others as I desire to be treated,
to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before you.

H. Arnett
7/1/20

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The Pursuit of Harmony

Randa and I have been singing together for over thirty years now and it’s still one of my favorite things to do. I’ve enjoyed singing ever since I was a small child. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve enjoyed singing for longer than I can remember. Mom and Dad both sang well, loved singing, and made singing part of being in our family.

I guess a key part in the pleasure Randa and I find in it is that we have pretty similar tastes in music. Not complete overlap, mind you, but enough that it never takes very long for us to find songs we both like to sing. It’s the harmony that brings me the most satisfaction.

Vocal harmony creates something that is truly more than the sum of the parts. The sound of harmony, the resonation of notes that supplement rather than duplicate, produces a special musical experience. I enjoyed hearing harmony in the a cappella fellowship I grew up in. I enjoyed hearing it on the bluegrass records my brother Paul played on his stereo. I enjoy hearing it in multiple professional groups and events. I love hearing harmony singing but as a participant, I find it transcendent.

By singing together, Randa and I do something neither of us can do alone. Neither of us believes that we have amazing voices, but by blending our voices with each carrying a different part, we create a richer sound. A sound that is more robust, fuller and that has a quality that goes beyond what we can do alone. Even there are solos that we each can do that aren’t too shabby, we both find singing together more fun, more rewarding, and more fulfilling.

Even though it’s highly unlikely we’re going to find fame, fortune or glory in our singing, we have found something good and worthwhile. Personal pleasure, the appreciation of others, and the creation of something together that sounds better than either of us does alone. And I will tell you flat out, no doubt, no room for argument, not even the slightest room for debate, that our most transcendent moments in sharing that expression, are when it is devoted to worship.

I think that our love of singing together has something to do with unity, with the seeking of harmony in action and expression, with the pursuit of connection that reaches outward and upward. Something that is in a very small yet meaningful way, a reflection of the person and nature of God.

H. Arnett
6/29/20

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