Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lenses for Life

When the proof came I could not put it down. I was holding in my hands the result of an intensive labor of love. Twenty years of labor to be exact. Well, there was a several years hiatus in there somewhere. The labor slowed way down when I began ordained ministry full time in 1996 and then it came to a painful screeching halt when Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease in 1999. We lost him in 2006. But the labor began again in earnest in the spring of 2009 when I began painting his story and preparing to travel to the places he was held prisoner in the Philippine Islands and Japan during WWII, which I did in February through April 2010. From fall 2009 until Spring 2011 almost every spare minute was taken up in writing and rewriting the story. It consumed me.

It started out as an attempt to record my father’s WWII POW story for the sake of our family. I did not want it to be forgotten. It ended up a very personal journey. As I studied, and read, and traveled, and reflected, it became increasingly apparent just how much my father’s experience had shaped me. So much of who I am and what I do echoes my father’s life.

I was not much interested in the kitchen or cooking. I was fascinated with tools and spent most of my time in the garage or outside with my father. I knew what a crescent wrench was long before I knew what a spatula was. I crawled up on the fender of the car and watched my father fix engines. I loved to be with him and I loved to be up high so I was driving nails on the roof long before I ever baked my first cake. To this day I do not know if my attraction was primarily to be with my dad wherever he was or if it was to mechanical and outdoor tasks. I just know that I was with him a lot and I learned so many practical skills. What I did not realize until much later in life was that I also acquired my worldview from him. I saw the world through the lenses my father wore—not physical lenses, but the lenses of his experience as a young man captured and made a prisoner of war just after his 21st birthday. He suffered and survived three and a half years of deprivation and unspeakable brutality.

Yet, the lenses my father gave me allowed me to see a world filled with possibilities rather than a world filled with obstacles. Somehow, though poor, and small, and average in almost every way, my father helped me see a world where I could do anything I set my heart and mind to do. The lenses my father gave me allowed me to smile through life’s ups and downs. He saw the good in everything and everyone. My father helped me to see faith in God as the best lense of all to see the world and others clearly. My worldview was shaped by a man who had survived unspeakable brutality and had escaped death over and over again as a result of these lenses. I learned to see the world and myself through them and as a result am an optimistic, determined (stubborn?), hopeful, God-dependant person.

The book about my father’s story and how it shaped me is available on Amazon (link below) in black and white ($14.99) and a color edition ($30.00). It is a very personal story, but it is also a national story. Men like my father who survived and came home from WWII continued to sacrifice and serve in order to build the life and nation that subsequent generations often take for granted. When my copy of the final book arrives I think I will not be able to put it down. I think I will sleep with it. It is a labor of love. I hope all who read it will think about those who have positively shaped their own lives—given them lenses with which to see the world and themselves as filled with possibilities, full of goodness, and because of faith, full of hope.

When I blogged about my personal journey discovering how much my father’s experienced shaped me, friends who read it encouraged me to write it for a wider audience. I have. If you or someone you know are part of that wider audience who might benefit from a read you can order it from Amazon.



Friday, November 4, 2011

Technology that is Personal?

After twenty years, some of which I was more actively engaged than others, I am very close to publishing a book about my dad’s experience as a POW in WWII and how it shaped me as a person and a pastor. My father died in 2006. His mother, my grandmother, died when I was a young child. And yet the book I am about to publish has my grandmother’s handwriting on the cover. How can this be? The wonder of modern computer graphics! My daughter Anne, who is a graphic artist, designed the cover of my book. I knew she would make it creative and beautiful. I didn't know it would be so extraordinarily personal.

In writing my dad’s story my mother gave me all sorts of materials related to his time as a prisoner of war. Among the artifacts were several telegrams that were sent to my father while he was a prisoner of war in Japan. He didn't receive any of them. They were returned “undeliverable.” At some point after my father was liberated and returned to the United States, my grandmother gave him the telegrams. My mother passed them on to me. I gave all of the documents and photographs to my daughter to scan in order to put them in the book. When I asked her if she would design the cover, the only thing I requested was that she include on the cover a picture of my dad holding me when I was a young child. The rest was up to her. What she did was stunning, and when I first saw it, it brought me to tears.

The front cover background is one of the telegrams with the government stamp with the date Dec 1945 clearly displayed. The closure flap of the telegram is also visible along with the government instructions for delivery. Though technology can be a menace at times, in this case it was a creative gift. The electronic scan of the inside of the telegram allowed my daughter to capture my grandmother’s handwriting one letter at a time. Then she used those letters for the title of the book and my name. The effect is stunning. Stunning because the use of the telegram and it’s written message makes the cover of the book a literal peek into that period of history. Stunning because the story is about how our parents' life experiences shapes us. My father’s mother is part of this string of life-shaping history. Her actual handwriting on the cover of the book is a remarkable testimony to this fact.

The back of the book also employs creative use of technology. My daughter was able to find a picture of the skin of aircraft panels online and use them for the background. This whole area of computer technology amazes me. I have no idea how it works, but it certainly is changing the way we are able to communicate in all sorts of mediums. In this case, for good; it visually communicates the book’s story. History shapes us and especially as it is absorbed through our significant relationships.

When history is communicated as story, it elicits images that can make it very compelling and very personal. Thinking about the power of the cover of my book got me thinking about the gospel. We have artifacts but we do not have actual pictures of Jesus and his time. We have the written story told meticulously from at least four angles in the Gospels. But the “images” of the gospel that bring the story to life and give it authenticity are the people whose lives have been shaped and transformed by the story of Jesus. His life and death and resurrection--the gospel--has shaped their lives. Their stories are the pictures and images of the life shaping-power of Jesus. Like my father’s story, the telegram, and my grandmother’s handwriting, the “images” of people whose lives have been shaped by the gospel story are what make the story so compelling and so personal.

· A man imprisoned for serious and violent crimes encounters the gospel while in prison and is transformed. A serious student of the Bible while still in prison, when he is released he becomes part of a local church and is a dedicated follower of Christ, serving and ministering to the power of the gospel.

· A woman imprisoned by drugs for most of her life and in and out of jail for related crimes had her children taken away two times. After a third time she began recovery. This time she encountered the living Christ in the gospel message and has turned her life around. Now sober four years she has regained custody of her three children. She has completed a certificate program in dental hygiene and is partnering to assist other parents regaining custody of their children. She too is a serving and contributing member of the local congregation, inspiring others to be shaped by Christ.

· A woman abused as a child and in unspeakable slavery to evil for almost thirty years is told by her Jewish psychiatrist that it's a miracle she is even alive. The scars and pain of her early years will never be forgotten. Three Christmases ago she stumbled into an Advent service and began to encounter the Christ of the gospel. She continues in therapy, but her life is now being shaped by the love of Christ and the love of his people who have surrounded her and taught her what love and trust really looks like. She, in turn, is helping to shape the Christian community as she gives her time and talents as an artist to a program for children after school and as a deacon serving others.

All these are stunning examples of the shaping of people’s lives by the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are pieces of history, images that display in living color the power of the gospel story. These lives, like the font of my grandmother’s handwriting, are being lifted up for all the community to see and know that Jesus is alive and shaping lives for eternity. This too is stunning and brings me to tears.