I was going to say it was a trait of teenage boys, but I have to expand my assertion. It actually is the trait, the desire, the preoccupation of about every human male to play with fire. I remember when I was given the role of barbequeing 3-4 chickens on a Sunday afternoon for our family dinner, that the most intriguing part was setting up the charcoal in a pyre, and then dousing it with charcoal lighter – a lot of it – and then striking the match to set it ablaze. I was also relieved that I was alone in the backyard when, in those times when the fire just seemed to go out, and only a wisp of smoke remained, I would squirt more lighter on the hot coals and watch them roar back to flame. The fortunate thing was that the flame did not follow the stream of lighter back into the can. I expect that would not have gone well.
We also, as the dozens of boys in our neighborhood, managed to secure lots of matchbook from our father’s dresser, since every male in the 60s smoked either cigarettes or a pipe, and those matched were critical. We would secretly take them down to the big sandpile at the end of the street, under the canopy of huge pine trees and tons of pine needles on the ground, and just light the matches. Why? Well, to watch the fire of course – to create the fire, and to see it climb not quite into the trees. I do believe God cares for the stupid young ones in life.
When we were in boy scouts, and camping out, we would build fires that could serve as signals on a desert island – the bigger the better. I remember one time when we had a white hot fire going, and for some reason, one of the guys thought it would be neat to put a bottle half full with water into the coals, believing that when the water boiled, it would pop the cork off in splendid form. Only trouble is, no one realized we were using a screw-on metal cap. The time went on with our incredibly hot fire, until the moment came when, indeed, the water boiled and created steam trapped in the bottle, and as we sat around the fire in a circle, it finally blew – in a moment – the sound was pretty amazing, and when we realized what had happened, we saw that the fire had been blown into a wide circle around us, and the bottle was no where to be found. Again, God cares for the stupid, and no one even got a cut or a burn. We decided never to do that again.
Throughout my life, even as an adult, I have been witness to, and party to a number of arson-minded, gas-powered fires – all with good intentions, but many with thoughtless, dumb behaviors. One of the things wiser people tried to teach us was never to take gasoline and toss it on to an already lit fire. Now, visually, it really is one of the neatest, most captivating sights you will ever see, in terms of the dynamic of flame. You end up taking a reasonable fire, and transforming it into an – hopefully not – uncontrollable blaze. I don’t know of a single male who does not enjoy a major conflagration occurring in a movie, where a car or truck explodes, or the gas pouring out of a plane just happens to catch on fire. It just kind of makes you feel all right inside, that most likely another human male has managed to create such a sight to behold!
So, I have to admit it is part of our evolutionary character to want to throw gas on the fire, just to see what happens, and just to make it bigger and more powerful, and more awesome. Let me be clear, however – it is always a stupid act, full of danger and thoughtless disregard for everything else in the near proximity of the blaze.
Let me also be very clear that I really have no desire to bring judgment to what I write next. I just want to point out something critical for our life together. I used to always say to my pastors serving local churches, that their first responsibility is to NOT light a match in a room full of gas. You can understand the metaphor: many times we will find ourselves in situations that are already tense, even volatile – whether that’s a church council meeting of a conversation with someone who is already hot-headed, and ready to explode. As self-aware, and self-differentiated leaders, our first task indeed is to turn down the static, to air out the room, and to make sure all the matches are put away the moment we sense an explosive situation coming to the fore.
Now, that’s contrary to our “guts.” As humans, we like to take on power, and to somehow see some kind of reaction in a tense situation. But it’s not helpful, and in the end, it really means someone is going to get burned or hurt or terribly affected in some way. As leaders, in whatever capacity you find yourself leading, our best option is first of all to not throw gas on the fire.
You know what I mean – your words, your actions, the way you imply things, your manners are all able to create a giant fire, or bring a sense of calm and a better way to work through any situation. I always say that we have a choice for what we will do. The choice is perhaps no more profound than when we are in the middle of a conflict, of whatever size. There is always the ability to throw the gas, or to not.
Our country is going through a bad time right now. I don’t need to get into specifics, or to share my opinion of right and wrong, but I can say clearly that some of our leaders have decided to walk into the conflict carrying cans of gas. Whether they are speaking the “truth” or not, the manner in which they attempt to address the situation, and enter into the conflict has not been helpful, to say the least. Please know that I believe this with all my heart: it is always possible to speak the truth, but to do so in a way that does not destroy or inflame. It’s not what you say – it’s how you say it, and in what context you offer it. If you can’t find the way and the words to create resolution, reconciliation or peace, then I would respectfully ask that you keep your two lips sealed, and let someone else find the words.
I don’t know how this will all end up. I fear for more destruction, and harm and death. I do hope however, that in this critical time, true leaders will arise, and ask those who cannot lead to sit down. It’s then that we have any hope in putting out the fires, and in creating a safe and loving place to live.
Leave the dumb fires to the dumb kids, in hopes that God will protect them. Instead, let’s take up the cool and refreshing practice of lifting one another up, and not destroying one another. This is my prayer today.
Words for the day: gowpen and yepsen. Pronounced simply GOW-pen and YEPS- en. You may guess that they have little to do with Latin, and you would be correct. Better to imagine them from Old English, and Old German. A “gowpen” is created as you cup your two hands together. Remember when your grandpa or your aunt would give you a number of things, like m and ms to eat, and they would say, “Now, cup your hands.” They could have just as easily said, “Make a gowpen,” but you wouldn’t have any idea what that meant.
After you “gowpenned,” then the M and Ms poured into the cupped hands would be known as the “yepsen.” That word comes probably from “gap” and “span,” or the amount that the gowpen could hold. You could walk away with a good “yepsen-full” in your gowpen inf you played your cards right!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.