“May you lead an interesting life.”
I have no proof of this, but I have always been given to understand that this is an old Chinese curse. I used to think that such a thought was silly; who wants to lead a boring life. Then I understood just how stressful and difficult it can be when one’s life is “interesting,” and I longed for a life that was perhaps a bit less “interesting.” I even found that for a while. However, I find myself at a place now where my life is again a bit interesting.
For a while I’ve been in a bit of a quandary. I have wanted to post here, but was finding it difficult to develop a relevant topic. And then I heard Jeremy Riddle’s “Sweetly Broken” on our local Christian radio station, WCTL (BTW, they also stream and can be found at www.WCTL.org). This song touched me, and after pondering for a while, I realized why my life is currently interesting and why this song resonated at this point in time. There are several components to where I am right now.
First, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in an odd state of mind. It occurred to me that I was quite frightened of a situation in which I am close to finding myself.
In previous posts I have discussed our Pastor, Bob Klecan in one reference or another. I have had the privilege of grabbing an occasional cup of coffee with him on several occasions. We have discussed everything from theology and “the church” to The Beatles, Vietnam, and sports. And two things I have noticed: First, Bob Klecan is extremely smart. And second, he is often underestimated. He is a very humble man, able to discuss a variety of topics, understands deep issues, and can preach the word in a way that is understandable both in theory and in application.
I once asked him, “How do you deal with people underestimating you all the time?” The look on his face was priceless. He was shocked, first of all because it is true, he is consistently underestimated, but also because someone noted that fact. He asked me how I knew that. My reply was that it was easy for me to recognize that in him because I am underestimated all the time as well.
Note to all. I am not bragging here, and this is not a “How cool am I?” piece. Puffing myself up is not my style, far from it. But I need to acknowledge some things in this post which could look like bragging. Not so.
Anyhow, with that proviso, I admit that I’m a fairly smart individual. I enjoy learning and I enjoy experiencing new thoughts and new situations. However, I come from a blue-collar family, solidly middle-class; not intentionally identifying ourselves as intellectual. My Father was a non-commissioned officer in the army in WWII, and after that a farmer. After selling the farm (where I grew for the first six years of my life), Dad purchased a service station in Springboro, PA. He later took a job as a tool and die maker, working in that job until he retired. Dad also did tax work on the side, which is about the only post-High School education he had. Mom, due to family situations prior to marriage, did not have a chance to complete High School. Relatively common in her era.
My point in giving some description of my family’s levels of education is to show that I do not come from a background of higher education. Some people come from families of doctors, attorneys, accountants, whatever. Those families more or less expect their children to also get an education, the key word being also. I did not grow up in that situation.
Although they had no college background, my family expected me to go to college, and it was just understood that I was going to college my entire life. It wasn’t until decades later I discovered that when my parents adopted me, the judge granting the adoption made my parents promise that their son would get an education. My parents were two of the most honest and honorable people I have ever known and when they made that promise, they were determined to keep it. And they did.
My high school years were spent in Saegertown Area High School (they called it Penncrest, but we that went to Saegertown knew better). I kind of coasted through high school, and struggled through my undergraduate work at Penn State. I wasn’t much of a student at that time, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find new stuff fun. I did. Leaving home and going to Behrend College of Penn State for the first time was cool! Going to Main Campus from Behrend was cool! Getting into my major class work as a junior and senior was cool, and I did a lot better, gradewise. Within a few months of graduating from Penn State, I got a job as a policeman, my dream job, and I have been a policeman for over thirty years.
All this background is to get to this: my entire life I have hidden my intelligence, my drive, and my love of learning and knowledge. Cops are the best bunch of people one could ever find outside the military, and I am honored and privileged to belong to that fraternity. And cops hate a peg that sticks out. If someone is unique, cops will do whatever it takes to pound that person back into the hole. This isn’t necessarily an “I’m threatened” kind of thing, either. We depend on each other for our lives. Very few professions worry about some knucklehead deciding for whatever reason to put a bullet into them because they had a bad day. Cops have to know, viscerally, that the guy next to them is dependable, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. A fellow officer’s oddities and uniqueness makes cops nervous, so they do what they must to feel secure that they are safe. And that includes figuratively beating on intellectually minded people (I was also different from most cops because of the “peculiar and strange” values I brought with me due to my understanding of Christianity, but that isn’t what I’m discussing here). So I learned (at least to some degree) to suppress that part of me. Note: This is not a value judgement or a criticism. I understand the necessity of what cops do, and it is what it is. It’s just not all that pleasant sometimes.
So here I am, thirty (plus) years later, and I find myself in a new position. I am the Chief of Police at a University in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edinboro University of PA. I enjoy this stage of my career, partly because of the position, of course. I think I am doing some good where I am, and I have the chance to make a great police department even a bit better. But for me, part of the uniqueness is being on a college campus. I am an administrator at an institution that not only appreciates intelligence, it encourages people to apply that intelligence and to develop it. I have found myself on various committees that I would have never dreamed of a few years ago, and I am enjoying that. I find myself in debates with friends on the far end of the political scale from me, and have loved the debate. My wife and I have visited an “Athiests and Agnostics” meeting, and I now have a couple of acquaintances that intrigue me and I look forward to developing a relationship with them.
And here is where I found myself frightened. I find that I am close to being seen as a “smart” person, someone who, if not exactly an intellectual, enjoys intellectual debate and can hold his own in that area. And not only seen as smart, but valued because of that. I have suppressed that part of me for so long that it is scary to tap into it. As a couple of examples, when we attended the Athiest and Agnostic meeting, the discussion was based on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” an essay he had written in 1849. It is a philosophical treatise on Utilitarianism, and definitely not light reading. I read it for the discussion, and I loved it! I have not participated in philosophical readings or discussion in over ten years, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that. I also took college level Spanish 101 and 102 this summer, and my comprehension of a foreign language was better than I have ever experienced.
There are also a number of events occurring this summer. I am stepping out on a number of issues: instead of sitting in one place, Beth and I took the conscious step to confront some issues that had been effecting us. So instead of just passively standing still and taking shot after shot from life, we decided to deal with it, and consequently we are in a much better place now. I decided to have needed corrective surgery that I had been putting off for some time (healing nicely, thank you). We are dealing with the loss of my Mother last fall, as well as other family issues. I volunteered to be on a council that is quite frightening in and of itself, but I felt led to do volunteer, and so was obedient. And we are going back to the Dominican Republic in January.
If you have read my posts regarding the one-week missions trip to the Dominican Republic which started this blog, you already know how astounding it is that I would want to go back this year. I didn’t just kind of not want to go to the DR, I did not want to go, and I was angry that I had agreed to go and was being held to that agreement. But, being the son of honorable people, I was determined to honor that commitment, even if I hated every single second of the time I was there. Read my posts in chronological order to see the progression, but suffice it to say that God worked in amazing ways in me over that week. I came back from the DR with a renewed spirit and huge gratitude for God’s love for me.
This year, I felt that we needed to go back. However, no one at church had made any effort for that to happen and I felt God’s prompting to be the driver. I contacted our team leader from last year, we conferred with Pastor Klecan, and we got a game plan together. Last Sunday at church I made an announcement regarding the trip, and seventeen people showed up to discuss their participation in the DR trip in January. Fifteen want to go, but only four can fund the trip for themselves, and the deadline for the down payment (and thus one’s ability to go in January) is two weeks from tomorrow. This past week, an anonymous donor paid for five to go. We have six to fund.
I have been battered and bruised. Crushed, numb. But I see changes in me, in the way I view things, in my outlook. I see healing and the return of my desire to excel, to learn, to push myself and to “push the envelope.” Although I am more than a little uneasy at where I am right now, I feel my sense of God’s presence returning and it is far from boring.
An interesting life? Yeah, it sure is. And for now, I love it. Sweetly Broken? I’m not sure I completely understand that concept yet, but I’m far closer to understanding it than I was.
Check out Jeremy Riddle’s song “Sweetly Broken” here: http://youtu.be/fyJuKHvoPGc.
To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing
For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just
At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered
What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified
You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled
In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness