The iceman screameth

Like most other Facebook-Americans, I recently participated in the “Ice Bucket Challenge” on behalf of the ALS Foundation.

Who comes up with these things? If I didn’t know better, I could easily believe the Challenge was developed by some grad students in social psychology after a 24 hour binge on marijuana and cheap malt liquor.

I can hear it now: No, brah, everybody knows about putting your shoe on your head. Let’s see if we can get them to dump ice water on their heads instead. Dude, pass the Doritos.

Or perhaps it was birthed out of someone reading one-too-many “The Far Side” cartoons. It could be called “Pavlov’s Dog’s Revenge.” Three or four dogs are standing around in a laboratory, with beakers and Bunsen burners. They are wearing white coats, drinking coffee and talking. One says to the other: “So I said, ‘If I hear that bell one more time, you’ll be sorry.’ Well, who’s ringing the bell now?”

In order to find out, I turned to the world’s premier resource for truth: Wikipedia. Apparently the true origin of the Ice Bucket Challenge is in dispute. However, what is not in dispute is that it involves dumping a bucket full of ice water on one’s head in honor of those who have suffered from, and likely died due to, ALS.

I participated in the Challenge at work, along with the six other members of our staff. The day of the Challenge, we gathered in our conference room to prepare our introduction, filled our buckets with water and ice and headed outside.

In order to make this a quality Challenge, we had to find the Perfect Spot to film. We found it. Half-mile away from our office. Uphill.

I managed to get the water to the Perfect Spot without too much sloshing, no thanks to a cart that must have been a grocery buggy in a previous existence. One wheel shook like a crack addict looking for a fix; most of the cart went the way I wanted it to go, but the bad wheel had other plans.

Somehow the water made it there.

We got in position and distributed our buckets. I think that at some point they got mixed up because, when I looked in my bucket, I didn’t remember quite that much ice being there before. I’m not saying it was a lot of ice, but I did see several families of penguins swimming and huddling for warmth.

No matter, it would probably melt by the time I dumped it on my head.

We each had a speaking part, and after a final practice, we filmed our Challenge. We did the Challenge in honor of two people who had died from ALS – one gentleman’s father-in-law, who passed away 25 years ago, and my wife’s cousin, Mary Ellen, who died in 2009. Then it was time. As one of us counted to three, we grabbed our buckets, hoisted them above our heads, and on “three,” we poured.

The last thing I remember before getting hit by the water was wondering if the iceberg that sank the Titanic was that big…

One of the original thoughts behind the Ice Bucket Challenge is: to stand in solidarity with people who suffer from ALS. In that, the Challenge reminds me of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

Some Christians thought they were more important than other Christians because of the spiritual gift(s) they had received. Paul told them this was incorrect thinking; in the church, no one person or gift is more important than another. He said we are all dependent on each other, just like a human body is dependent on all its members.

We are so connected with each other that “…If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (12:26). In other words, Christians are to be unified, working together like a human body. What happens when a human body starts to work against itself? We have to look no further than ALS to see the results – the body starts shutting down, ultimately dying.

How many Christians and churches are like that, fighting with and opposing each other? Is the kingdom of Christ advanced in those situations? Is the gospel fruitful? No, outsiders observe and say, “Look at those Christians. They can’t get along. I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Paul told Christians in 1 Corinthians 12 to be unified and not think one person or spiritual gift was better than another. Then in 1 Corinthians 13, he told them how: by loving one another.

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most commonly read passages at weddings, but it was actually written to the church. A church will be in unity when everyone puts others before themselves. This is what the Bible calls love. Jesus said it this way: the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus wasn’t telling us to love ourselves; His words acknowledge that we already do that. Instead, Jesus was telling us to love each other as much as we love ourselves.

When Christians starting loving each other as much as we do ourselves, when we starting putting each other first by being patient, kind, slow to anger, etc., when we start recognizing that we are all part of the same body, then the church will display the gospel through action and not just through words.

Or, as Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When the ice water hit my face, I stood in unity with those who suffer from ALS.

At first, after all our buckets were empty, there was silence, except a sharp intake of breath. Then, there were screams. And laughter. The challenge was over; we had a good time and we supported those whose bodies are being destroyed by an insipid disease.

It was a good lesson on unity. I’m still getting chills thinking about it.

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Taming the tongue is not a Hot Topic

On a recent Sunday afternoon I violated every known law of fatherhood: I went girl clothes shopping with my wife and teenage daughter. Not only that, but I suggested the idea.

I’m no legal expert, but I don’t believe I was technically responsible for my actions prior to entering the apparel store. I was in a semi-conscious haze induced by a mixture melted cheese, meat, refried beans and habanero sauce; that’s the only reason I can imagine why, afterwards, I remarked on the close proximity of the store to the restaurant.

I am sure it sounded something like this: mumble, mumble, clothes shopping, mumble, mumble, burrito. *Hiccup*

If you are a guy and you have a teenage daughter, or if you are a guy and you have friends who have teenage daughters, or if you are a teenage guy and you are looking for a girlfriend, then you know about the type of stores that sell “clothing” to teenage girls. (You will also understand why I put quotation marks around the word clothing.)

Most of these stores seem to fully adopt a “less is more” mentality, except when it comes to the volume level of the music they play. It is a known fact that sounds greater than 85 decibels (db) can cause hearing loss after only an hour-and-a-half, sounds greater than 100db can cause hearing loss after 15 minutes and sounds greater than 140db can cause instant hearing loss. I am convinced the decibel level of the store we visited must have been 5000.

Where the less is more philosophy came into play was in the decorations, the clothing and the helpfulness of the staff.

Fortunately for my wife and daughter, there was a “father’s section” near the front which had all the warmth and comfort of solitary confinement. From there I was able to sit on a cold metal bench and look out the entrance at passers-by while fondly recalling my days of freedom, furtively penning my version of the “The Gulag Archipelago” on squirreled away receipt paper.

After the salsa fog lifted I was able to reflect and see where my tongue had led me.

The writer of the eponymous letter, James, likely had something a little different in mind when he wrote about the use and misuse of the tongue. In chapter 3 he wrote, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body… but no human being can tame the tongue” (3:2, 8).

James was writing to Christians who were dispersed (literally, scattered like hand-tossed seed) across the Roman Empire. They were wrestling with the trials they were facing since, at that time, the Roman Empire was not friendly towards their faith. James wrote to them saying that the difficulties they faced, which included persecution and death, was an opportunity for them to display their faith to a world that did not believe in Jesus.

In other words, the Christians were to show their faith through their behavior; their actions should reflect the faith they say they possessed. It was in this section of the letter that James wrote about the tongue.

James’ main point was that the tongue can be a powerful force for good or evil. With good words we can build up, with wicked words we can rip apart. He said that with our tongues we “bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My [brothers and sisters], these things ought not to be so.”

How many of us have used our tongues to rip apart our family members or the ones we love the most? Furthermore, how many Christians praise God with their mouths and later insult their wife, husband, child, parent, etc.? Answer to both: all of us.

Every human alive wrestles with what they say; Christians are no different. However, we are called to use our tongues to reflect our faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are to be careful in what we say and when we say it, and when we misuse our tongue, we are to be quick to admit the wrong, apologize and try to make amends. After all, this is why Jesus died and rose again: because we cannot do right (i.e., be holy) on our own.

The Bible says the tongue will get us into all kinds of trouble disproportionate to its size; James says the tongue can be a “fire”. Yet Christians are to use their tongues to reflect their faith day in and day out.

I think I learned my lesson of the impact a tongue set on fire can do. Next time I eat chips and habanero sauce, I will remember not to mention shopping.

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