Tuesday, April 10, 2018

WINDOW-ON-THE-WORLD

Moving Van, Chicago, IL

While staying with my one-year old grandson during the day recently, I realized how out of touch I had become when it comes to having the curiosity and imagination of a child.  Jesus remarked in Matthew 18:3-4 “Truly I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  We adults have lived long enough to have accumulated and be blinded by all the biases and lenses through which we filter the world around us.  It was a renewal of spirit to once again see the world through the lens of a little child.

We literally spent off and on hours with two cut-out books that had successively larger holes for truck wheels and fish.  The Zoom truck book has already received so much attention that the spine has separated from its moorings.  But that wasn’t a result of repeated readings.  No, this spineless book has been through an unlimited number of passing’s of small trucks through the one page where cutout wheels are big enough for the drill.  Of course, that’s not the book’s intended purpose, but one that has already claimed its destiny in this life.

And just when you think that the game is over, a screeching ambulance, a large white delivery truck, a noisy sports car, or a bright yellow school bus interrupts the silence of the third-floor unit in the Chicago Greystone and we rush to our window-on-the-world just in time to catch a glimpse of the passing vehicle below amid the wonderous verbalizing of the language of a young child’s “Oooooooo’s”.  That reality sparks renewed interest in once again passing the miniature trucks through the magical portals to a new dimension!  These traits will serve him well as his window-on-the-world begins to expand exponentially.

Soon a moving van realizes that it has just entered a one-way street going the wrong way.  So, it turns into the alley below and maneuvers around as electronic back up signals sound the alarm.  The urgent sound immediately brings us back to the window sill so that the entire episode can be absorbed.  And then just as the street traffic seems to settle down, a city trash truck can be heard digesting the cast-off waste of the big city dwellers before it continues on its never-ending mission to our eternal childlike delight. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

MOUNTAIN SONG HAIKU

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

High country mountains,
like sunny, sandy beaches,
offer solitude,
from worldly noise and chaos.

Driving to the top,
lazy clouds float in blue skies,
and the crisp fresh air,
awakens hidden senses.

Hiking mountain trails,
provides a glimpse of God’s view,
while swaying grasses,
conceal soothing songs of praise.

The insect chorus,
sings as one in harmony,
amid soft breezes,
as all creation pauses.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

TIGER AND KELLI

1996 JCPenny Classic, Innisbrook

I had the good fortune to play in the LPGA/PGA JC Penney Classic Pro-Am in December 1996 at the Innisbrook Copperhead course in Florida. How I got there is another story.  I was even luckier to catch rookie Tiger Woods and partner Kelli Kuehne walking off the 18th green to my position at the practice putting green and I got their autographs for my tournament book. Both of them had also just signed Nike contracts. Kelli didn’t have a separate photo page like Tiger’s two page spread, so I asked her to sign his first page.  She added a whimsical smiley face for fun.  Kelli wore a size XS men’s shirt at the tournament because Nike didn’t have a women’s line yet.  It was still too big for her at 5’ 2”!  Tiger recently walked off the Copperhead course 22 years later finishing tied for second while still wearing the famous swoosh!

My most vivid experience that week was standing on the first tee inside the ropes with people crowding both sides of the fairway to see our playing pros, Steve Stricker and Vicki Goetze.  The announcer called out my obscure name heralding from Kansas City as faint clapping echoed in my head.  My flash prayer at the time was for God to protect those poor innocents in front of me as I hit my drive.  Fortunately, my ball stayed inside the ropes even though we didn’t play it!

After watching Tiger’s return to Copperhead, I wondered what had become of Kelli so I did a little googling.  Kelli and brothers Hank and Trip all won USGA amateur titles as their dad connected them with trainer Hank Haney, a future Tiger coach. Tiger famously came from behind to defeat Trip in the 1994 US Amateur.  Trip later made the prophetic comment, “I let the Tiger legend grow that day".  Kelli had early diabetes but also had the potential to be Tiger’s LPGA equivalent. She won a lone 1999 LPGA tournament before a severe wrist injury ended her career in 2009. 

None of the Kuehne siblings realized their ultimate potential in golf and they went on their separate ways as life happened, but they enjoyed a Texas golf reunion back in 2016.  By that time, even Tiger’s golfing career was in the balance.  Mine never existed but I did have my 15 seconds of fame on that first tee box!  Fame and fortune are very elusive human trophies and it seems best to keep them in perspective.  That works on many levels.



Friday, March 9, 2018

CHECKING OUT

                                 Early Spring Sunrise, Jamestown, NC


An article in USA TODAY caught my attention recently about a hospice doctor that was facing end-stage pancreatic cancer himself.  Both he and his wife had some very insightful thoughts and readily admitted that the experience had become surreal for them.  That was also how I felt when my wife was going through end-stage breast cancer.  And I really identified with how this couple was handling themselves with grace, gratitude and thanks living.

The doctor had previously written that “Life is to be embraced.  Yet death, whenever it comes to each of us, is as natural as the rising of the sun.  We spend so much money and emotional turmoil staving off death, even for minutes or hours, beyond all hope, often beyond reason.”  Our youth-oriented society tends to err on the side of total denial that mortal life is finite.  He noted that medical intervention has a role to play in improving those final days, but as we too learned, there are limits to the adverse misery in those precious final days VS the benefits of some procedures.

The couple counsels that an advance directive needs to be in place so your doctors and family don’t have to guess or argue about your wishes.  Then you can mourn together, share the loss together, not worry about decisions, and also be grateful together for your presence in each other’s life.  That enables everyone including the caretaker and the patient to continue to live and enables one to check out gracefully with the hope and full knowledge that death is merely a transition from time to eternity spent with our loved ones and our Creator.

I’m grateful to understand that once we come to terms with this reality, the life we’ve been given can truly be lived to the fullest without fear of death in honor of those who have gracefully made the transition.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

LOOKING INTO THE FACE OF GOD



                                          Lenten Roses, Jamestown, NC



Hellebores or Lenten Roses make an excellent winter hardy shade perennial for the woodland garden.  I tried a variety of plants in my backyard wooded area but thankfully I stumbled upon these evergreen plants that have thrived under the trees and require only minimal care.  They bloom during the Lenten season when practically nothing else is ready to poke their heads above ground until they are certain that freezing temperatures have passed.

These plants also self-propagate by bursting their seed pods all around them at the end of the growing cycle.  The plants were originally grown for their medicinal properties.  And although they are toxic, the trait makes them prized deer-resistant garden plants for areas that suffer from wildlife pressures.

We found a nursery outside our community that actually specialized in growing these plants and was appropriately named Gethsemane Gardens!  The flowering heads of these reverent plants are generally bowed in the garden and its always a surprise to bend down to their level and look into the face of God, as we move from the Christmas season of God appearing in the flesh on this vibrant Earth and defeating sin and death at this imminent time of Easter.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

WALKING IN THE WILDERNESS



                                 The Wilderness, Qumran, Israel

As we enter into another Lenten season, we are once again confronted with another mass shooting of innocents by a deranged individual who had access to a semi-automatic rifle.  Another rapid-fire weapon with large magazines was used to hail death and destruction randomly in a soft target public place, like the school where we send our children and assume they will be safe.  Our writers of the constitution used single fire Jamestown rifles that required minutes to reload and they had no conception of the weapons of war that have been made accessible on the street to everyday citizens without serious scrutiny.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness near the Dead Sea in Israel to be tempted by the evil one with worldly prizes.  We too can spiritually walk in his footsteps during this Lenten season of repentance and spiritual self-examination.  Adam Hamilton writes in The Way that Lent is “a time when we recall our brokenness and mortality” and that “the wilderness is often a metaphor for those places we don’t want to go, when life seems barren and the road seems hard and we seem to be wrestling with evil.”  Adam writes that “the Greek word for repentance is metanoia—literally, to think differently or to change one’s mind.  But it means something deeper than this in the Gospels.  It means to have a change of mind that leads to a change of heart and a change of values that ultimately leads to a changed life.”  This thought could also apply to our country right now.

Jesus healed the people as he walked through the Holy Land during his brief ministry.  God now works through ordinary people like you and me who become instruments of healing.  Believers carried their disabled friend on a stretcher and lowered him through th.le thatched roof of Peter’s house in Capernaum so that Jesus could heal him.  Now its our turn to be those stretcher-bearers.  We’re not only called to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word.

I believe this country reached a tipping point after the latest mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.  The time for action has come and it’s a sad commentary when our children have seized the initiative by shouting that if the voters and politicians can’t get off their hands, their generation will make it happen.  There is a confluence of root causes contributing to this horrendous issue starting with mental health.  The basic family structure has been broken for years along with declining parental discipline and respect for authority.  Our television “shows” have politicians and personalities literally screaming at one another on the 24/7 cable channels.  Our movie industry is filled with violence. 


I grew up with guns and had wonderful times hunting with my father and uncles.  But assault weapons belong in the hands of our military and police to challenge the bad guys—not private citizens.  I can defend myself from individuals that seek to invade my privacy.  If the world gets any more chaotic than that, I’m pretty sure an assault rifle won’t be of much help by then.  Remember when video games were introduced with indiscriminate killing and we all wondered what would become of developing children who became addicted to playing them past midnight?  Well they’ve become desensitized to the sanctity of life and the chickens have come home to roost.  Bullying in schools is driving more children to an early suicide.  That just happened again today.  And we ask where is God in our schools?  He’s no longer welcome there.  WE need to work together and make changes!  Firing high velocity weapons as a hobby which can decimate vital organs does not trump keeping our children safe in soft target places.


Hamilton concludes his book by writing “I’m counting on the fact that sin and hate and sickness and death will not have the final word.  When we walk in the footsteps of the resurrected Christ, we walk with hope.”  But now we walk in the wilderness behind our children.     

Monday, January 22, 2018

SOULFUL

                             Price Lake, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

Thomas Moore in his book Care of the Soul, takes care to distinguish the religious belief of an immortal soul and “the quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves…When we say that someone or something has soul, we know what we mean, but it is difficult to specify exactly what that meaning is…It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance…Just as the mind digests ideas and produces intelligence, the soul feeds on life and digests it, creating wisdom and character out of the fodder of experience.”  And I like to think of our soul as comparable to our developed character and the person we become when we’re alone, stripped of all pretenses and personalities exhibited to the outer world.  The human job description is to develop our character.  Moore writes “The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity.  We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.”  I like to think of the spiritual soul residing within our body like God resides in the universe.  

Just what is it when we find ourselves saying that an individual has soul?  Perhaps its that elusive something also called charisma, meaning divine favor and gift.  We really can’t say what has caught our imagination, but it’s there nonetheless.  President John F. Kennedy comes to mind as charismatic and Billie Holiday was one of the most soulful singers that ever performed.  And life partners that have developed a special connection are seen as soulmates.
Withdrawal or retreat from the world and the merry-go-round of hectic everyday life can be a soulful exercise.  I’ve happened upon a number of locations around the world that presented themselves to me as soulful.  Interestingly, many of them have a common denominator of calm, still waters and morning light.  Three that readily come to mind are summer hiking back into Maroon Bells National Park outside Aspen, Colorado, standing at the autumn shore of Price Lake off the North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway and drifting on the mirrored waters of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.  These experiences were outside the limits of ordinary life.

Many of the hiking trails in the mountains involved beautiful vistas and others were more treacherous paths along a rocky ledge.  Moore writes that “This is the goal of the soul path—to feel existence; not to overcome life’s struggles and anxieties, but to know life first hand, to exist fully in context.  Spiritual practice is sometimes described as walking in the footsteps of another: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.”

We observe things of this world that seem to “speak to our soul.”  I’ve had this feeling on many occasions looking through the lens of a camera.  I’ve especially been touched by the sight of weathered old barns and wooden windmills standing steadfast against a storm on the central plains.  Renaissance paintings by long deceased artists still speak to me such as Van Gogh’s paintings of a vibrant olive orchard and black crows hovering over a waving wheat field.  His tortured mental state cries out through the canvas.  And songs from the musical Les Misérables like Empty Chairs at Empty Tables pierce the soul of those touched by the images of the young patriots that sacrificed their life for a just cause.

Thomas Moore observes that “The Renaissance magus understood that our soul, the mystery we glimpse when we look deeply into ourselves, is part of a larger soul, the soul of the world, anima mundi.  There is certainly a sense that this existence is part of one greater spiritual consciousness.