Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LIVIN’ THE DREAM


Beach Holiday, Kiawah Island, SC

The Transmission of Generations

We had just been seated at a nice island restaurant along the Atlantic intracoastal waterway as a young man approached announcing that he would be our waiter for the evening. We were all in a holiday mood and after spending our day on the beach destressing, reading, and walking with the waves we were ready to cap off the day with a cocktail and dinner. I casually asked our waiter how it was going? Without hesitation, he smiled and much to our delight replied, “I’m livin’ the dream!” But whose dream?

In his book on The Road to Character, David Brooks writes “Some people seem to have been born into this world with a sense of indebtedness for the blessing of being alive. They are aware of the “transmission of generations”, what has been left to them by those who came before, their indebtedness to their ancestors, their obligations to a set of moral responsibilities that stretch across time.”

Despite all this country’s warts and troubles, I was among the lucky five percent or so of the world’s population to be born in America. Regardless of our circumstances, that endows all of us with a privilege and a responsibility for those we share this marvelous planet with every waking day. I have never known extended hunger and I have always had a warm bed to sleep in at night, except for those dubious adventures in the great outdoors. I arrived here strictly by the grace of God and the sacrifice of my great grandparents who journeyed here on those same Atlantic waves that I've wandered into on many occasions.

I have no doubt that those folks who shared much of my DNA did not have nearly the good life I’ve been blessed with so far. Their hard lives were probably the exact antithesis of mine. But I believe they had faith and a dream for a better life for their children and their children’s children. That would be me and now I’m living that dream, so I need to honor the “transmission of generations” that got me to this place and time. And invest in “paying it forward” for others, like my great grandparents did for me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

WINDS



Wind Woman, OKC, OK
Wooden Windmill, Western KS


Native Americans of the Kansa tribe that lived in the central prairies were known as the “people of the south wind”. Growing up on the plains of central Kansas made it easy to understand why. It seems as if there is always a wind of some sort blowing across this land and the summer winds are most noticeably from the south. Without even being consciously aware of it, I came to know that this invisible energy force had become an integral part of my existence. Shortly after our family had transferred to the Carolinas, we were sitting outside on the deck one calm evening. And I remarked that I had finally realized what was subliminally missing—it was the perpetual movement of the winds that had been replaced by a calm silence.

The native Indians prayed to the Great Spirit of the South to melt the ice that gathers around our hearts with the warm breath of compassion. They were wise to associate these summer winds with the growing season—winds that could shake the tall corn stalks up towards the heavens. I’ve been fascinated by these natives all my life because I believe they lived a harsh but harmonious life out in God’s creation every day of their lives. They were convinced of the existence of a Great Spirit and the sacredness of the earth. Much wisdom is lost when we distance ourselves from direct contact with the land and sky. Violent storms are fueled by moisture laden southerly winds from the Gulf of Mexico colliding with colder air dropping down from Canada into the central plains. These powerful events generally produce circular updrafts to form the intense whirling and straight line winds that serve as reminders of our fragile existence. Summer storms in the plains with their towering thunderheads personify the energy and majesty of God’s character.

The warm southerly winds are a welcome relief to naturally cool sweaty brows and backs. Red tail hawks glide easily on this uplifting wind beneath their wings. I learned that lesson early on while bailing hay under the Kansas sun. That was quite possibly the most exhilarating, fulfilling, healthy, dusty, and honest sweaty work I ever accomplished in my entire life. When we’re out in God’s creation and enjoying the experience of the life He has given to us, we can begin to feel His presence. I believe God is in these winds more so than anything else in His created universe. And these caressing breezes provide closeness for some of the most sublime moments in our life as a child of God.

FOOTNOTE:
Dodge City, Kansas had the highest overall average wind speed last year while Nashville, Tennessee had the most wind events at 21 in the USA. The Windy City of Chicago wasn't even in the top ten as that moniker was tagged in the 1800's because of their "hot air" politicians! —USA TODAY 1/17/17

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

CIVIL DISCOURSE


Civil Protest, Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL

I drove through Starbucks on my way home from the gym and ordered a coffee and a "cold" cranberry-orange scone for tomorrow's breakfast. The sweet disembodied speaker voice responded, "OK, would you like that warmed?" At least a dozen replies immediately raced through my brain, overloading millions of synapses. Sometimes we listen to learn and sometimes we listen to reply. Then civil discourse prevailed and I simply said, "No, cold please." I'm admittedly no model of behavior, but wouldn't it be nice if all our politicians and celebrities just put it on pause for a change? We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

About sixty-three million people in the United States recently voted for Trump and sixty-six million people voted for Clinton. A Hollywood actress just used an artistic achievement show as bully pulpit (ironically a term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt) to call out the bullying behavior of the president-elect and set off a national firestorm on social media. One defender reminded folks of the bully behavior towards an opposing candidate by his own party. Another observer stated that divisive language attempts to divide us but it only serves to unite us (into two polarized factions!). Scanning these comments was disheartening as both sides were name blaming and disrespecting one another like an out-of-control second-grade class with a substitute teacher. Einstein warned us that technology had outran our humanity and the founding father of our country admonished us saying “every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” Welcome to the new digital social world where it’s too easy to say things to other brothers that we would never say to their face with thousands of people present.

You know, it’s possible that a “canary in the coal mine” that we should all pay attention to is the trending lack of attendance in our country’s churches. It just may be reflecting the state of our culture as well. Paul issued a warning about this condition in his letter to the Galatians (5:15), “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Since Paul addressed this problem over two thousand years ago, I guess it’s safe to say that it’s not a new problem. And that gives us hope that it’s a problem that has solutions. Dwight Currie observed that “we have a choice about how we behave, and that means we have the choice to opt for civility and grace.”

George Elliot, aka Mary Anne Evans, ended her greatest novel, Middlemarch, celebrating those who lead humble, everyday lives; “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who live faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Elaine A. Heath is the dean of Duke Divinity School and she writes in her book God Unbound that “The strongest quality a congregation can exhibit in the community is to love well—within and beyond the walls of the church.” I think that also goes for a country and a world. Fran├žois Fenelon noted that “all wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

LIFE’S CRUCIBLE


New Year's Sunset, Jamestown, NC

NEW YEAR'S DAY, 2017


Emerging from one of life’s “crucible moments”
doesn’t mean we are healed,
but we will be different,
and that’s OK.

A sunset is life’s way
of acknowledging this,
and giving us something beautiful,
as we journey on.

Friday, December 30, 2016

URBAN OUTDOORSMAN


Urban Outdoorsman, Chicago, IL

It’s that winter holiday time of the year and summer vacation camping trips are becoming a distant memory. Families are gathering near and pleasant music emanates from carolers, choirs, and electronics everywhere. Just about everyone we meet and greet is filled with good cheer.

As I rode in the back of a warm taxi driving into downtown Chicago from O’Hare airport, the driver suddenly swung out into the right lane on our turn off the interstate. The cabbie behind us had the same idea at the same time and we clipped bumpers. We only drove down the exit ramp a short while until traffic was stopped and the offended cabbie swung out onto the shoulder and unloaded a tirade of four letter words. My driver responded in kind and the testosterone had now kicked into overdrive! I had my smart phone in hand and momentarily considered videoing the drama, but the possibility of gun play immediately shut down that thought. My next thought was to place my hand on the seat belt release so that I could hit the floor! Fortunately, the light changed and we moved on out of harm’s way. City streets can be welcoming, but we should always be aware of its dangers as well.

Another traffic light turned red as we drove under an overpass bridge. The Christmas weather was turning predictably below freezing and the ubiquitous Chicago winds were swirling through the overpass in typical Bernoulli speeds, scattering the freshly fallen snow. I glanced out the back window to spy a small pup tent erected in this somewhat sheltered but sketchy location. There was no sign of life, but the presence of boxes and trash outside indicated the tent was occupied.

I’ve heard of a homeless man on the streets of Chicago who people buy coffee for every morning that calls himself the Urban Outdoorsman. He’s a man that has maintained a sense of humor despite his circumstances. I wondered if this could be him. I wondered if he was a homeless veteran or someone with a mental illness that has been turned out by our healthcare system or someone that is simply a victim of circumstances. We all seem to be more aware of these disadvantaged people during the Christmas holidays, but many of these folks desperately need aid once the harsh reality of January arrives.

It’s been said that “the only time we should be looking down on another human being is when we’re helping them up”.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

CHRISTMAS EVE GIGGLES


First Christmas, Chicago, IL

The late comedian George Carlin had a comedy routine about his early start in school as the “class clown”. He had observed early on that it’s much easier to get humans to giggle if they’re in a “suppressed situation” such as a classroom, funeral or church. Mary Tyler Moore had a classic TV episode that featured her attempting to suppress the giggles during the funeral service of Chuckes the Clown. And most of us have experienced the real-life phenomenon of just how much the giggles can be utterly contagious and impossible to suppress!

Our family had gathered at church on Christmas Eve to continue a tradition that had been established for all of us since early childhood. The pews were soon filled to capacity as other families joined us, including a young family of four with a five-year old little girl and her small brother behind us. A cute company of little shepherds, wise men, angels, and the holy family recounted the Christmas story. As the very young virgin Mary held up the baby Jesus doll, another little girl had to be removed from the sanctuary by her distraught mother as she reached out yelling, “Baby Doll, Baby Doll!” A few giggles echoed through the pews from knowing parents as the restless little girl behind us was overheard telling her daddy that he was being mean to her, presumably by asking her to remain silent and still.

The priest’s Christmas message was a timely one concerning the reality that he, we, the church, the community, and the world were all imperfect in the light of that perfect birth those two thousand years ago. He encouraged all of us to come to the Christ child as little children, remembering a time before we adults acquired all the baggage of biases and filters that stripped us of our innocence. A time when we were more inclusive and accepting of all people and our defensive shields were not deployed so often. The relevant message resonated with the people and everyone was left standing for the closing prayer in reverent silence.

Then in the stillness as we all stood contemplating the dark night of our souls, there emitted a sharp passing of gas followed by a longer crescendo stretching out to what must have been an interminable amount of time for the young parents behind us. The cringe-worthy, unmistakable sound was within ear-shot of a radius of at least three pews within the circle of embarrassment. I and my unknown "pewmates" immediately began to cast curious glances to locate the uncomfortable source. And then a very sweet voice softly said “Sorry”. The red-faced mother behind us matter-of-factly remarked, “Well, after all, we’re all imperfect!”

That was enough to begin a mounting wave of addictive giggles emanating from the innocent epi-center following the sermon’s climax. The priest must have been completely befuddled about the strange reaction of our section in the back and quickly asked everyone to "pass the peace". As I shook the young father’s hand I assured him that timing is everything! He responded by announcing that "at least everyone will have a story to tell around the Christmas table tomorrow" (or perhaps a blog post). The young mother passed along peace to my pregnant daughter and reminded her of things to come with a child. And for that short period of time, we were all openly celebrating one another in the true spirit of the child we had come to worship.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

WINTER SOLSTICE HAIKU


STONEHENGE SOLSTICE, Internet Domain

The Earth tilts away,
withdrawing warmth and sunshine.
Dark night of the soul.

A time of stillness.
A stirring of inner strength.
A transition time.

Embrace the darkness!
Let die those parts of ourselves,
that do not serve us.

Embrace the bright light!
Welcome the new light within.
Plant new seeds that serve.

Nurture healthy growth.
Light is ascendant again.
Hope springs eternal!