Archive for August, 2012

Found In Translation

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2012 by michaelcogdill


Eric Greitens lived better than a half dozen good full lifetimes before he saw the tail lights of middle age. 


Think of how you and I filled our days as undergrads.  Greitens crammed his with volunteer human service in (eyes widen here) Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, China, Albania, Cambodia, Mexico.  He slipped for a short stay into India for an elbow-rub with Mother Teresa.  It’s a dizzying passport, yoked to an academic pedigree that might make Dr. Oz feel like Jimmy Buffett. 


Greitens is a Rhodes scholar, so distinguished at Oxford, the place offered him a lifetime supply of tweed-covered ego massage — thinking, teaching, writing — and the high-dollar consulting that swings from its shoelaces.  


He said no.


At Tufts this past spring, Eric Greitens offered a commencement address that translated all the punch-drunk clichés about big dreams into something of real use, actual meaning.  He challenged the class to live magnanimously.  To do something with themselves that serves humankind with sacrifice and courage.  To grow celebrated and rich had no place in his speech.  He wanted the kids to get after the needs of the world. 


Eric Greitens would run from defining himself a Christian missionary.  He even takes a gentle swipe at them in his book, The Heart and the Fist.  In it, he never equates serving refugees, dying children, the pogrom-threatened with Agape love.  He writes little about evangelism, nor does he wax about Jesus. 


But he lives a brand of love that Christ digs — the translation as reliable and sweet as Bible school Kool Aid.   


In the book, Greitens describes a pair of encounters in Rwanda with a Christian missionary from Texas — Karen.  She’s smart, confident, kind, with sky-scraping sun-blonde hair.  Her smile shines, wide as a Chiclet box, surely the envy of every pageant queen mother from Houston to the Rio Grande.


Eric met her the day she might have saved his life.  Some mighty testy Rwandan soldiers were grilling him hard when she drove up in a cloud of dust and mollified them with “Howdy, y’all… Y’all be good now.”  She freshened it all with apple juice and cookies, as if the whole thing were a skit at a Baptist summer camp.  It worked.  That brave woman had won the day with her reputation for serving, sacrificially, a threatened and heartbroken people with love.  Truly magnanimous. 


Days later, in Goma, Greitens saw Karen address an outdoor church service.  She held up a book and compared Christianity to the law of gravity:  Embrace it and be saved, reject it and fall hard into hell.  She demonstrated, dropping the book to a thud on the platform.


A refugee translated her sermonette to the congregation — all genocide survivors of a hell on earth, sitting on rocks in the sun.  He distilled it this way:


“We cannot always carry everything on our own.  If we try we will drop things.  We must ask God’s help to carry our burdens.”


Heresy?  Apostasy?  A ravaging of Christianity?  Naw.  Not according to Christ.


“Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”  Now there’s some missionary work straight off Matthew 11:28.


I believe an audience of the nearly killed, perhaps more than any of us, can comprehend a plan of salvation in such burden-carrying divine love.


Pure religion can profane the air with misunderstanding.  But acts of love — and even the small are great — evangelize, beyond words.  Love spreads a truth about who God is, how God is bound to surprise all of us to the upside, shouldering us through this wilderness life.  Such love is the living poetry of a humble, enlightening faith.  It is a truth.


One more truth about Greitens.  He turned from the ease of Oxford straight into the hardest training in the world, becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL.  Eric’s pedigree now wears the colors of Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and the blood stains of a warrior who is, foremost, a humanitarian. 


Missionary?  Bet your sweet Bible school doughnuts he is.  He’s a man of love — the ageless kind that matters.  It’s our calling, too, this magnanimous love.  It lives in us, eager to run itself into the world as we find it.


Such love doesn’t get itself — or us — lost in translation.  And in our doing of it, God has a way of getting found.







The Opera Coat Seizes Olympic Power

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2012 by michaelcogdill


Six days past the opening ceremony, weariness set in.  Almost ennui, though not quite boredom.  This portion of this summer had belonged to her sister’s Olympic dream for years.   At dinner tables and on every school day’s commute, the talk always raced toward the work of the family Olympian and the sacrifice to get her there.  Now, it lay done.  The work of, and for, the hard-body family athlete – finished.  The dream an awakening to something new.


In the shade of her had lived the little-girl aspirant of couture and style who longed more for the high ivory trees of New York than the flat blue bog of women’s water polo.  It sometimes seemed impossible she and her big sister had shared a womb. 


She is, eternally, the family baby, this little sister, Glenda, youngest of four, hoarse from joining in their earnest cheers for that oldest sister, Hannah, on this London trip they scraped the ribs of piggy banks to afford.  These days into the London dream, lived far out loud, a chance she prayed would come finally did. 


Quiet as an abbey ghost, she dipped into walking shoes and slipped her fidgety soul out of the hotel room, where everyone else napped through the mid-afternoon lull, trying to sleep off the anti-climax.  Like bears in December, she thought.   Every one of them spent from London’s thrill except her.  She thought herself like a tiny bird, throbbing of heart, eyes starving for what she adored, launching off the sill of this family.  Off to soar on foot and peck at the lovely oddities of Olympic Soho. 


Hardly twenty minutes on the random streets, bound for nowhere she knew, she felt it more than saw it.  The grace of its drape caught her, even from behind the window.  An opera coat, vigorous and rare, reached for her, nearly jarring in its catch of her eye through the glass of a used clothing store on a nearly lonesome branch of avenue where restaurants dish ground gray meat and mashed potatoes that resemble an American vanilla milkshake.


A black velvet opera coat in a window in August — somehow not out of place in a city where nearly all seasons converge in summer.  In this Soho where so many souls come to take their haunting by art and uncommon beauty, it was at home.  Glenda, likewise. 


She stood, a little daunted, pleasingly traumatized by the look of it, her breath hazing the window, acquainting herself with it for a bit, not wanting to rush their relationship as might some teenage Philistine.  Her reflection in the glass showed a girl of sixteen years.  The coat just beyond lengthened her time on earth deep into the American Jazz Age she had read about and adored. 


Across the three feet separating old coat and young woman, the fantasy rose into her like a hot dawn, full-color and sure.  No mere thought, but a dream, lived in this moment, waving her in, never minding she stood with pockets empty of money.  Her heart was full.  The coat, in this dream, hers alone.


She thought if a gentleman didn’t bow to the sight of such a garment on her shoulders, his tuxedo might do it for him.  At her door, his fine suit would seem sackcloth, and he a plebe made uncommon by her grace. 


In this opera coat, she ruled – this thought, this street, this city and the world its England once made an empire.  With the coat upon her, anointing her, the greatest of nations, of theaters and the innermost halls of a gentleman’s heart – these became her kingdoms.


Its black velvet warmed her and heated the atmosphere at once.  The mere sight of it cut the damp afternoon’s chill, as if a black sun, braced to outshine London’s  graying twilight.   The collar a silken snow cap.  The liner, her very own satin militia, marinara red and delicious.  A coat unlike all others and under her command.  Her crimson triumph of brocade.  Devastatingly interesting.   Yes, it was.  Yes, she is, in this day-lit dream, birthed on a sidewalk.


Formal, yet playful, the coat waved her out to romp under stars that light a girl’s heart.  Fitzgerald surely dreamt of this old time suddenly cool and real in Glenda’s mind.   Gatsby would be hers.  Upon one short sight of her, he would not resist Glenda of Indiana in this coat made for the world.  Together they would hold sway against his heart.  He would survive, after all.  The coat would re-write it.  Mr. Fitzgerald’s fiction, taking a new end.


And, yes, all in her mind.


Yet, the opera coat itself had come true. Real in its power to light up a cinema on the walls of her spirit. In the coat, and the world of this teenage day dream, a girl finds intuition follows her, the evenings parting before her stride, all the world her stage after all.    


Upstage her?  Never.  Though once at a late supper, even a dining chair, under such rare midnight drape, was mistaken for Hedy Lamar.  Glenda had read about Ms Lamar.  The coat had finally acquainted them.


The spell had lasted only moments when the store’s clerk quaintly shattered it, pecking the glass, finding a mesmerized young woman irresistible.


Glenda’s eyes shifted, only  a moment, to the reflection of herself in the window.  Looking back, for but a wink’s worth of time, was a woman – familiar, barely seasoned by years, lovely in the armor of feminine assurance.  Where Glenda’s teenage present had been, there lived, for that moment, the woman of her good times to come.


Bidding the coat her silent goodbye and a thank you, turning toward the hotel, she saw him.

A boy, but a year older, overcome by a glance at her.


With his eyes, he held her, long, warming and well.  And she him, with an air sweetened by the newness of womanhood.  And the world would never look the same again.


Standing In a Downpour of Living at Peace

Posted in Uncategorized on August 1, 2012 by michaelcogdill

Another soul graced mine yesterday. She gave of her precious life to me. I am far better for it.

Katy is a teenager. Doctors can’t stop the tumor in her brain. She will die, soon, and she knows it.

Yet even from a wheelchair, she stands, towering of soul, soaked in a downpour of the peace and fine living that normally elude the rest of us.

I interviewed Katy for just a few minutes.  She faced the TV camera and this reporter as a mountain of fortitude cloaked in the sweetest humility.   In our short time together, she reminded me of some truths about life and how most of us veer from the path of how it ought to get done.

Her heartbroken yet stalwart father had just told me Katy is blessed to know how much time she has left, and can choose how to live. To both, I owe what follows here.  I share it, having felt it, deeply.  I feel it out loud onto the page and, I hope, indelibly onto your spirit.

First, most of us wring our hands way too much, worrying about what amounts to nothing.  We sleeplessly imagine the worst.  And this is utter waste of imagination.  It squanders our power to imagine — and live — life as it should be.

We tend to live as though we have a mortal eternity in front of us.  We do not.   We act like these fleshy little armors will carry us around forever.  They won’t.  Seems obvious, but we don’t live as though it is.  We live as though we’re stuck here forever and, thus, must control everything, NOW, postponing joy and goodness in the name of having everything under our control.  It’s folly.  The dying seem to know this.  Their wisdom is clear to me now.

Yes, we are finite on this ball hurling together through the universe. We cannot escape this, or the truth we were born to live in community, at some fine peace with one another.

Our petty battles, our fears, that worrying — they all shorten our good time on earth.  They cheat us out of living.  They cheat us out of one another.

The dying love powerfully. They busy their hearts at it. They tend not to waste a breath on gossip or railing.

They just might get angry with God. I believe God is more than all right with this. Such anger is a great conversation starter. Indifference, not anger, is the opposite of love.

Katy and God have found a delicious peace with one another. She speaks of God in terms of reality, of belief, nearness, intimacy, not in the codes of false righteousness.  Things between Katy and God are way more than all right.

Her entire being thrums with such peace. She makes clear she wants all of us to know it.  Know it now.  Live as though everything is more than all right.

We take our time for granted. It comes flying out of the heavens at us  — a gift that’s all ours. We can’t lend it, nor can we save it, really. It keeps coming at us, calling to us to spend it, and spend it well.

Yet we, in a squandering habit, try to hoard time.  Try to stow it up for some elusive chance that’s better than the here and now to spend it.  We can make our current time better than it is, simply by choosing to live better, with more fall-back joy and full-throttle generosity, than we have.  This is true.  Katy helped me know this.

It gets no better than living life as we are called to dream it.  As we would like it lived toward us. We give life — and the giver of life — too little credit for giving us choices. We choose what occupies our minds, our tongues. Misery is often a state of our own making. Inner joy our option, in waiting.

Thank you, Katy, for teaching this to me.  All of it.  For teaching me to embrace joy and shed so much of the rest.  Yours is a life being VERY well spent.

May your last days of it overflow with the peace you have gently rained into the world, and onto me.  I am blessed to have crossed your path, and your dad’s, and to share in the warm downpour of how you have chosen to live.  How you have chosen to fit your soul into this world.

It is a soul beautifully outfitted for our here and now, and the world to come.