Living at Peace with a Snowshovel

I hate snow. I haven’t always, and maybe I won’t always, but I do now. I’m convinced it’s largely because I grew up and live in the city.

By contrast, my wife loves snow. (It’s worth noting she grew up in the country.) When it snows she sees beauty, relaxing days at home, and adventure when traveling. I see mess, cancelled plans, and dangerous driving. On that first item (mess), I sincerely believe there is a cultural divide. Allow me to expound:

In the country when it snows, the wide open landscape is transformed in a white blanket, and stays beautiful for days. You simply have to clear your driveway, and eventually the plow truck will clear the road. No problem. Enjoy the view.

In the city when it snows, the falling snow looks beautiful initially, but quickly becomes a gray slop after the plow trucks salt the streets. Ugly. Most cities are compact, with houses, businesses, sidewalks, and streets all stuffed into the same square mile. Therefore when it snows (a lot), you must now solve the problem of making said spaces accessible by clearing the snow and putting it… well, we still don’t know where. So it ends up in heaps and piles everywhere… else.

Class, observe: humans by nature follow the path of least resistance.

The most agitating part of snow as a city-dweller is shoveling your car out. It’s not that I mind so much the physical exertion, it’s just that everyone else is also doing the same thing, and there is almost literally nowhere to put the snow. In an ideal world, you could park right in front of your house, and could carry the snow from the street side of your car, across the sidewalk, and dump it in your own tiny front yard. In an ideal world, everyone would operate on the unspoken right that you can park your car(s) in front of the address you live at, and would understand that in so doing you have the responsibility to efficiently park your vehicles as reasonably close together as possible to allow others to exercise the same right. (This is probably a problem country folks rarely encounter.)

But we don’t live in an ideal world. Because we follow the path of least resistance, rather than taking the sixty seconds to parallel park our cars in front of our own house, we prefer to easily pull over further down the street… in front of someone else’s house. In the summer, this is tolerable.

In the winter however, because we’ve put forth minimal effort to park our cars correctly at our residences, we now face a) the undesirable task of carrying heavy snow from around our car up the street to our front yard, or b) dump it in whosever’s yard you’re at currently; which we don’t do out of courtesy since that person is already taking pains to keep their sidewalk clean. So again, we follow the path of least resistance and simply dump the snow around our car behind the tailpipe- making an enormous pile directly in front of another person’s headlights. It’s a ridiculous war, and the last man to lace up his boots loses.

Still, there’s others yet who continue with minimal effort and don’t even clear the snow off their vehicle, let alone shovel. Which is fine, that’s their business- until you return home one day to find  their car pulled forward into your nicely cleared spot, and you now have nowhere to park that doesn’t require walking around the block, or further shoveling.

You really gotta defrost your windshield in the winter, especially when there’s steam coming out your ears.

This conflict took on a new dimension for me yesterday afternoon. Although we’d already shoveled our cars enough to get out when necessary, I took advantage of the bright sunshine to fully clear the snow around the edges. Behind my car, still buried, sat my neighbors’ sedan; which I knew from previous experience had a tendency to migrate into my spot once I pulled out. As I paused to catch my breath, I reflected somewhat bitterly. Why are my neighbors so lazy? Why can’t they pull their weight and shovel their spot like everyone else?

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 12.18

In that moment, the Spirit brought that scripture to mind, and convicted me. I realized my attitude wasn’t focused on my abilities, but on others actions. They park in my spot. They take advantage of my efforts. They, they, they. But the Spirit challenged me: “so far as depends on you.”

I decided to shovel out the heap of snow, about four feet wide, between the bumper of my neighbors’ car and mine. Fortunately, I was relatively close to my front porch, so carrying the snow to my yard wasn’t terribly taxing. As a result, instead of having two nicely shoveled spots near my house, there’d be three. And if my neighbors’ decided to take “mine,” then it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to park in “theirs.” In this way, although I never talked to my neighbors, I could practice living at peace with them; even if they never knew it annoyed me. (I needed the exercise anyway.)

Will it still irritate me when people park in front of my house, or don’t shovel out their cars? Of course, we all have our own pet peeves, and our preferred methods for how things ought to be done. But perhaps next time, I’ll first consider my own ability to control my actions for peace, rather than just expecting others to align theirs to achieve my desired outcome.

Selfless Love: Seeing Them In Their Eyes, Not You

When you look at someone else, what do you see? It’s a seemingly obvious answer. Well, them- you would answer. Their form, their expression, their clothes, their actions. Whatever visual echo that light carries when it bounces off them is what you see. And of course, you’d be correct. Optically speaking, we do not see ourselves when looking at another person.

We rely on our eyes so instinctively that the marvel of vision taken for granted. Our eyes are able to translate wavelengths of light into color, depth, and image to inform our minds about our surroundings. One could argue they are our strongest, most guiding sense. With our eyes, we can see everything around us, except our eyes themselves. This strikes me as humorous- our eyes are blind to themselves.

But maybe there’s an exception.

The other evening, my wife and were sharing a close moment together. Our faces were very near, looking deeply at one another. It’s a tenderness and proximity that lovers, and young children and their parents, might know best.

My wife has extremely beautiful eyes, distinctly blue and clear. When I first got to know her, I was very intimidated by her gaze. We could hold a conversation fine if- uh, she …um, wasn’t looking …right at me. She can still derail my train of thought with the right look.

It was one of those quiet moments where a man and a woman can communicate concepts with each other in silence (which is confusing because men and women are really not all that good at expressing simple ideas like requests or directions with words). A grin, a trusting blink, a sigh. There is a tremendous joy in knowing all the trust and affection you are pouring into another person is being received, and they exchange the same in a gaze focused solely on you.

Such was the scene. But suddenly, I realized that my focus wasn’t only on her; it was also on… me. Interestingly in the right conditions, if you stare close enough into someone’s eye, you’ll find a faint, fishbowled image of yourself. For a moment, I was fascinated by this, and then sobered. Aside from the amusing optical vantage of seeing yourself in a living marble, I realized our awful human tendency to still serve ourselves while investing in others.

If we’re honest, isn’t this how we often love people? Do we genuinely care for others out of a deep seated passion for just their wellbeing and happiness, or because it’s largely beneficial to us? Do we love them because we enjoy the affection, service, loyalty, and pleasure that is reciprocated back to us? (Yes, a wise relationship is one crafted with mutual trust, respect, and commitment; otherwise they need repair, or aren’t advisable.)

Even so, it was a reminder that I often do not pour into my wife, my family, and my friends the same way that I should exemplify- the way Jesus has poured into us– without reservation, giving a sometimes terribly expensive cost without return.

This metaphor of eyes and focus may be an incomplete paradox when compared to true selfless love; that at a distance we can focus on a person with agape but if we look too close we may see (and seek) ourselves. May God give you the grace to keep looking further and further into those around you without seeing your reflection, or even your shadow, at the end of your offering.

Bells at Four

It had been a hectic 2.8 work days thus far. This one was almost over, with an hour remaining. I had finally gotten my voicemails in check, and a mountain of emails awaited my attention.

I was tired. Emotionally ready to leave my desk and check out of being on-demand. Mentally ready to pick up Gatsby where I left him last night. Sitting in a chair for eight hours a day makes one stiff; physically ready to stretch.

Then, ever so faintly, I heard it. Reverberating across the city, it gently traveled in the open office window. Unconsciously received in the ears of thousands amidst of their routines, but I caught it for a moment.


For a brief lapse, I didn’t hear the phones ringing, I didn’t hear my co-workers’ conversation. I lost track of my legal pad full of scribbled notes, I spaced out of the sentence I was typing.


Church bells were ringing. St. Joseph’s calling out “Westminster Chimes” all over southwest Lancaster. A grandfather clock sentinel.

It seemed the most beautiful sound I’d heard in a long time.  Less than even half a minute, but it was calmly refreshing. As if God was whispering:

“People your age don’t stop and smell the roses, but stop and listen to the chimes. Breathe out. Acknowledge that I am here, and that my presence is good.”

I’m Distracted, Must Be Fall

Summer is over, kids. Wave goodbye. Sure, technically the equinox isn’t until 9/22, but we all know when school starts- it’s done.

I, for one, ain’t complaining. Fall has always been my favorite season. Probably for the same reasons many subscribe to; the cooler weather, the time of harvest, vivid foliage, the holidays.

Even so, autumn has a major pitfall for me. I remember distinctly as a kid, while preaching a sermon my dad confessed fall being one of the most distracting times of the year for him mentally and spiritually. I equally confess the same tendency:

Just as football makes its glorious return in September, baseball seizes my attention once again (who really keeps track after May?) with the World Series in October. Deer and squirrel hunting find momentum around November. Bonfires and corn mazes fill up our weekends. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years’ follow towards the latter end.

I spend a lot of time pouring over weekly football stats, double checking and maintaining my hunting gear, making mental notes during conversations “I’ll get them that for Christmas.”

…and I find myself rushing through my morning routine before work, sitting down with a bowl of granola and my Bible, suddenly stalling out as I open it…

my mind                                                              is far from God.

Autumn is a beautiful thing. The Lord made it, and I think he smiles when he sees his children delighting in life and not being weighed down by sin, grief, and busyness. But he always asks for our attention.

Thanks largely to the start of the NFL season, I was struck by the realization that this very week I am on the cusp of entering this distracted term. Perhaps this was a preemptive whisper of the Spirit. And I had to stop for a moment and ponder, “How will I strive differently this year to not lose focus on God?”

Continually, I circle back to Psalms 46.10:

“Be still, and know that I am God.
  I will be exalted among the nations,
  I will be exalted in the earth!” 

Pretty straightforward? We hear this passage frequently.  But additionally, I was also reflecting on 1 Corinthians 14.33:

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 

In context, this last verse applies to proper conduct in worship. But this week it served as a reminder that God deserves not just my back burner devotion and affections, and mumbled prayers squeezed in while driving, but my central concentration. This scripture states that God is not chaotic; not scatterbrained; not of anxiety or unrest. What if a small way we can practice acting as children of God is simply to practice greater effort and clarity in our personal thoughts when we approach him? Look, I recognize priorities cannot be circumnavigated, and I’m not suggesting we suppress what brings us life. But when competing distractions begin to crowd out our walk with God, in such times I am understanding for myself, I need to increase my focus on him.

Of course, easier said than done. Perhaps it could be choosing to only indulge in football on game days (instead of obsessing all week), or extra time given to prayer and meditation on the Word per day, or deciding not to window-shop over the Cabela’s catalog unless I truly need a new piece of equipment. I haven’t yet decided my action(s) to resist utter derailment of my gaze on Jesus during this season I appreciate so much. But maybe, just by asking these questions, I’m taking a small step towards not waking up in January to realize I’ve lost sight of his footsteps.

Blessings to you as you consider your own diversions, however fulfilling or noble, and your own methods to practice greater communion with less distraction.

Chances Are I’m Not Related To Your Mailman

**BACK AGAIN** Several of you have been lamenting my decline in postings. About six weeks ago, the loveliest woman I know said she’d marry me! In addition, I started a new job an hour away. Consequently, time isn’t something I’ve had in abundance available for writing. Nevertheless, I have a few entries tucked away for a rainy day… this one seemed fitting. No promises on what’s to come, but stay alert (and keep needling me), you never know what you’ll find. **BY POPULAR DEMAND** 

I believe a person should have a pride in their last name. Mine is Martin.

1) It is never mispronounced,
2) is rarely ever misspelled,
3) is commonly known throughout Europe and the US,
4) and has a centuries-old heritage in both these places.

1) People constantly asking you if you know this other such-and-such Martin person.

I have resigned myself to the sad truth that if your last name is Martin, you will inevitably be asked repeatedly through your lifetime (to the point of misery) if you know some perfect stranger simply because you share the same last name. It baffles me. It’s like people can’t resist. Oddly though, I don’t hear the same question being asked of Johnsons or Smiths or Jones. If you have a unique last name, fine- I get it. But Martin is not one of them.

“Oh, do you know Jeff Martin? I drove dump truck with him back in ’74.”
Someone seriously said this to me once, after learning only my last name.

Sometimes when this especially irritates me and I’m feeling snarky, I’m tempted to respond:
“Oh, you speak English? Are you related to Queen Elizabeth? You’re not? See how stupid you sound?”

I hate being asked this question. I don’t mind so much when it’s from someone I know, who perhaps has an informed idea if I’d know another individual. But I can’t stand when complete strangers ask. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. I don’t really enjoy connecting with other people that I already don’t know. For this reason, I’m terrible at the Mennonite Game. I just don’t really care. By contrast, my brother Ben, who is a social butterfly, is boss at this. Not only will he personally know this other ninth-cousin-once-removed of ours being mentioned, but he’ll also know the name of their dog and whether they prefer paper or plastic at the grocery store.

Moreover, I just hate being asked this question because the probability that I will actually know this random person being recalled is so slim.

Let’s just crunch some numbers, okay?

A quick skimming of my phonebook provided approximately 470 listings under the surname “Martin.”

Since these listings represent the heads of households and businesses and not actual families, let’s double this number to account for spouses, and also multiply that by 2.3 to round out the family unit. I read once the average American family has 2.3 children (listen, I know most of us in this area are Mennonites, and a number like 6+ per children per family is more accurate, but let’s just use this figure for calculating). Therefore:

470 x 2 = 940

470 x 2.3 = 1,081

940 + 1,081 = 2,021

According to my rough calculation, there could be 2,021 Martins in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania alone.

Consider that there are 67 counties in PA. So let’s multiply that times my Leb Co sum. Again- I know that not all counties may be as densely populated as this region, but I figure that since so many people in Lancaster are Martins, it should balance out.

2,021 x 67 = 135,407

135,000 Martins in Pennsylvania, potentially speaking.

So, unless you are:
a) a Martin yourself,
b) are related to one,
c) are a Mennonite (because they’re experts at actually connecting people),
d) or have known me longer than ten freakin’ minutes…

STOP asking me if I know such-and-such other person.

…and now after reading this, my fiancé is probably harboring deep considerations of living underground in India for fear of being conversationally harassed for the rest of her life every time she’d go out public.

Father Jorge, You’ve Got My Attention

Suffice it to say I’m not a huge fan of “the Holy Father.” (Stick with me, Catholics.)

Respectfully, I must admit that more often than not I tend to see the pope as a political-religious puppet/dictator more than a spiritual pastor to the masses; due largely in part to centuries of popes who abused their authority to propagate European superiority and legitimize a host of maladies swept under the rug as furthering Christianity, aka imperial conquest. (BUT bear in mind, Protestants, that many pro-American, God-n’-country pastors could be accused with strikingly similarity in contemporary terms.) 

As an Anabaptist (thus Reformation extension), I don’t acknowledge that the pope has any supremacy second only to God, nor will I consent to refer to him as “His Holiness.” (Because he’s not.) 

Nevertheless, I harbor no malice towards the Catholic Church or the pope. In a spirit of unity and brotherhood for Christ’s church, I sincerely wish goodwill towards the Papacy.  

But as thrift-trained Mennonite, something that’s always grated me about the Vatican’s grandeur refers less to the concept of church leadership structure, but how it is demonstrated in such a hierarchal statehood surrounded by lavish extravagance. Let’s be honest folks: Catholic City Roma is really glitzy. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. The more I read about newly elected Pope Francis I (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio), the more I’m becoming a fan of this guy. For those of you who haven’t been devouring this stuff for the past 24 hours, listen: 

-Francis I is the first South American pope. He’s also the first electorate born outside of Europe in 1,200+ years. 

-At the age of 22, he took a vow of poverty. This is particularly impactful to me since I am 22 this year. What would my life be like if I eschewed all my digital technologies, musical instruments, car, guns, sports equipment, books, living comforts, etc.? Furthermore, how effective could I be in giving to others if my time and resources were not almost constantly consumed by the necessary rituals to… acquire and maintain such things? It is a thought worthy of more consideration than this passing reflection. 

-Bergoglio is man of humility and simplicity. Immediately after being elected, he refused to sit on the papal throne to receive the cardinals, or wear the crowning red fur-trimmed cape. He chose to ride the bus with everyone else back to the hotel instead of taking his new official car. To commute to work it’s reported that to he often walked and rode the bus, the latter described as a grungy experience; smoky and loud. 

-As a cardinal, Bergoglio refused a luxurious mansion, instead choosing a small apartment and used a stove for warmth when the heat was turned off during the weekends. He lived alone, and spent his mornings personally listening to complaints and requests from priests on a landline phone. He cooked simply for himself, and while he occasionally enjoys wine, he often settles for mate (a South American tea drank through a straw, straining from a small cup). 

-Instead of draping himself in the honorary crimson robes many cardinals don to broadcast their status, he chose a no-frills black overcoat. When promoted, he didn’t order a new wardrobe, he simply had the previous cardinal’s hand-me-down’s tailored to fit him. 

-Regardless of his stature as Argentina’s top church official, he avoided media exposure, and preferred to make his points from the pulpit. 

-He is a staunch conservative with an orthodox attitude towards homosexuality and abortion. Yet he is described as a man of empathy, expressing compassion towards victims of AIDS, children born out of wedlock, and an activist representing the poor. In my opinion, this is exactly what the church needs as a whole, not just the Catholic fellowship: a leader who affirms the Bible’s definition of sexual morality, who can suggest direction to his flock through turbulent times instead of rocking the boat, while guiding them to embrace the victims abandoned on the wayside. 

I’m not saying Pope Francis I has it altogether. No sinful human does. Yet Bergoglio seems to understand this, and his attitude of humility and servitude runs starkly against the grain we’ve become accustomed to in international leadership. He seems refreshingly authentic. 

I’ve got a curious and hopeful eye on this pope, because the church today needs more men like Father Jorge. 

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Matthew 5.5-7 (KJV)

Pennsylvania, Greater Than 49

In case any of you other states such as Texas, California, or New Jersey have gotten too big for your britches, I have conveniently listed ten reasons both practical and whimsical as to why the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania is probably more esteemed than you. 

Practically center stage for the American Revolution. Think Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence. Also the 6th most populated city in the US, not to mention some famously renowned cheesesteaks. Philly’s a big deal.

The oldest continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional American sports. Hecklers love to point out the Phillies infamous 10,000 losses; the most losses ever recorded in all professional sports. Whatever. When you’ve been around since 1883, you can expect to not win ‘em all (so shut up Yankees fans). Regardless of the sport, Philadelphia fans have a reputation for being absolute diehards, a trait we’ve essentially inherited from the Phillies grandfather legacy.

Birthplace of the venerable Hershey chocolate bar. Natives and chocolate purists contend that local competition Wilbur Chocolate is superior in quality, but Wilbur Buds aren’t a tenth as iconic.

If you drive a gasoline powered vehicle, you can thank Pennsylvania for its vested interest in natural resources (until we all start driving french-fry-oil alternative energy sedans).

Home of America’s oldest brewery, good for what ales ya since 1829.

Arguably the turning point in the Civil War for preservation of the USA. Confederate forces marched to threaten Northern metropolises, but were met by Union determination previously unseen. Although both sides suffered intense losses, the Confederacy never again advanced that far north. **Everyone should visit Gettysburg National Park at least once if possible. It is an immensely rich window into American history our subsequent culture.**

We do, as I’m told on good authority by friends from other states. Apparently unlike any other, we refer to our state by its two-letter abbreviation. It confuses the heck of lesser states sometimes. Incidentally, it also makes the nickname for Penn State football Coach Joseph Paterno that much more fitting: JoePa.

The largest indoor agricultural expo in the nation, the PA Farm Show boasts 6,000 animals and 13,000+ exhibits that span 24 acres, encompassing 11 buildings and 3 arenas. And general admission is free! Giant butter sculptures, rodeos, tractor square-dancing, wine tasting, show animals and prize foods, all showcasing and supporting the state’s largest industry.

The 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan was the only president from Pennsylvania, and thus far the only commander-in-chief who remained a bachelor his entire life. Whether or not his solo status remained a result of his Penn citizenship, this blog declines to comment; nor on his reputation of being one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, leaving a conflicted nation for Illinois boy Abe Lincoln to settle an inevitable civil war. (Then again, go back and read the notes on Gettysburg.) And speaking of presidents…

“Wait wait wait!” you’re yelling. “Isn’t the White House in Washington D.C., the vicinity of Virginia?” Yep, that’s true. But even the President of the United States knows which one is the best. Why else would his residence and seat of authority be on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?