Thursday, December 30, 2010

BEING CONNECTED


Hands of God and Adam, Michelangelo

All the communications technology at our disposal today is enabling us to be continually connected, but is the time invested at the expense of time needed to establish lasting personal contacts, i.e., Is texting and Facebook becoming a forum where we can all be impersonally alone together? Just asking. I think these new media are helpful as long as we don’t burn an unbalanced amount of time at the expense of the face time required to establish real meaningful relationships.

I learned the hard way not to hit the “send” key when responding to an irritating e-mail or perhaps text message. It’s best to hit the “send later” key when firing off a knee jerk reaction to someone who has tweaked your jaw--especially when that person is not in the same room facing you. The eyes are the window to the soul. Body language speaks louder than most words. If you took the time to use face time for the contact, you most assuredly would not react the same—now it’s more personal. But an impersonal, electronic response can be much less intimidating for the sender.

Most of us have figured out that establishing and maintaining a relationship involves a significant investment of our time—something that seems to be in constant short supply these days. Most of us have come to realize that to live a fulfilling and less stressful life we must constantly be aware of the need to balance our personal relationships with our work time and our spiritual time. Hopefully, all of the time spent on all of this emerging technology won’t be mistaken for the quality contact time needed for the kind of fulfilling relationships most of us humans need to maintain a healthy and joy filled life.

Here’s an acid test. The next time any of us are tempted to have a rather serious exchange with someone, we need to think about how our creator God would consider receiving the message as a Facebook, e-mail or text format. When we open our hearts and genuinely pray to our creator, we are making genuine contact. When we are not so sincere or mentally prepared to make that connection, the prayer is quite possibly treated as the impersonal communiqué that it represents.

Monday, December 27, 2010

SILENT NIGHT




Silent Night, Jamestown, NC

Saturday, December 25, 2010

CHRISTMAS EVE 2010


Christmas Sunset, Jamestown, NC

It occurred to me as I attended the Christmas Eve service of my sixty eighth year that it’s possible that I have seldom if ever missed participating in this service in all those years. I have always been in the presence of family on that evening. Your circle of family can be defined as your immediate blood relatives. It can be expanded to include close friends, but I think we generally consider family to include those closest to us who share a bond and have been permitted access to our defense shields. It also occurred to me that the family I attended the service with on this year of the twilight of my life was neither the family I was with during my childhood nor the family I was with in my early adulthood. My earliest remembrance is the Christmas Eve services where all of us children memorized a verse from Luke’s Christmas story from the second chapter of his book. Siblings and cousins participated and proud parents watched anxiously in the pews. Once we all joined in singing Silent Night, the early evening service was over and we would be given a brown paper sack with shelled nuts, apples and oranges to take home as a Christmas gift. We would hurry home and then and only then would we be permitted to unwrap the few Christmas presents bearing our name under the small evergreen tree. I don’t ever remember the air outside being anything but fresh and cool and invigorating once I emerged from the service. Yes, that relates to the time of year, but it also relates to the exhilarating story of Jesus’ birth and the spirit angels’ good tidings of the arrival of a savior for all the world. Mary alone initially understood that the child she would deliver would soon deliver her.

I’ve attended Christmas Eve services in various churches over the years and it never occurred to me not to attend them. There’s a special mystical meaning to Christmas Eve that commemorates an ordinary birth of an extraordinary being. Yes, we celebrate the appearance of God taking human form over two thousand years ago. And He then developed into a man of thirty years before He spent the next three years teaching all of us how to live and see the very nature of God. There are those today who say they would believe if God revealed himself to them personally. He did that in human form and still men who chose not to willingly cross the bridge of faith to a new birth did not see Him, even then. Actually, He still reveals himself in many ways every day—in the petals of a flowering bloom, in the spectacular light of a sunrise and in the first cry of a newborn. This birth involved no ordinary man. This was both a human being and a spiritual being in one form. This was a unique being that lived a perfect life on earth until he died in our place. Why did he wait until that particular time to appear to us? He could have arrived much earlier in human history. And He could have waited even longer—perhaps until this generation. But in His infinite wisdom He chose that time and place and we celebrate that time even today. Many powerful men did not acknowledge Him as anything beyond a troubling revolutionary during His lifetime, but fortunately a chosen few did understand. All but one died a horrendous martyr’s death to validate the truth they had experienced. And because of their verbal and written testimony, I have been celebrating His arrival for all of my sixty eight years to acknowledge that the God of all creation finally did come among us. He revealed Himself to us so that we could order our lives to have the assurance of a better life as a human being and an eternal life as a spiritual being in the constant presence of our creator. I believe He created us to be intelligent and independent enough to generally survive with our wits on a daily basis, but to understand that we are vulnerable enough to require the encouragement of others and the strength and guidance of a loving eternal Father now and forevermore. We were created as a family of man and simply told to love God and one another.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

PARIS SCENES










4 Arrondissement Boulevard Du Palais, Paris, France
Sainte-Chappele, Paris, France
Street Market, Paris, France
The River Seine, Paris, France
Paris Architecture, Paris, France
Notre-Dame Ordination Ceremony, Paris, France
Louvre Sailing Fountain, Paris, France
Gare du Nord Train Station, Paris, France
Le Deux Palais Sidewalk Cafe, Paris, France


I’ve always maintained that to really know a city, one must walk the streets, breathe the open air, talk to the inhabitants and step inside the places where the locals live out their daily lives. And Paris is one of the most exciting and interesting cities in the world to do this. The sidewalk cafes are legendary and fun. The museums are stimulating and exhilarating. The cathedrals are spiritual in every aspect. The architecture is distinctive and pleasing. The food is incomparable. The boulevards are grand. The rivers flow timelessly. The city at night is magical. The experience validates the legend.

FOGGY NIGHT IN PARIS



Eiffel Tower at Dusk, Paris, France
Foggy Night Tower, Paris, France


We arrived in Paris in late spring. The days were pleasant and rainy. The nights were shrouded in fog. We knew that our hotel was in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, and we were pleasantly surprised to walk outside on the balcony to discover that the imposing structure was within easy view. So, my wife and I decided to walk over to the tower after dinner. Fog had crept into the city while were in the restaurant and a damp chill was in the air. As we strolled in the direction of the tower, the large city structures with their unmistakable mansard roof lines along with the thickening fog obscured our view of the horizon.

Our seemingly innocent stroll was beginning to turn into a quest for the holy grail of tourism as we moved through the city streets. And then just when we were beginning to suspect that we might be walking in the wrong direction, the ethereal image of the lighted tower emerged down a side street to our right. It literally glowed in the foggy mist and stood in the darkness like a towering knight guarding the king’s palace. The looming ethereal image was reminiscent of an impressionist painting at the Louvre along the Seine just east of us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

FROZEN IN TIME




Frozen in Time I, II, III, Jamestown, NC

Winter's chill has only just arrived in the Carolinas. And small ponds are only just beginning to cover their contents with a mantle of jagged ice crystals. Interestingly, this small pond has a fountain in the center that not only keeps the water open around it, but also generates small pockets of air that become trapped in the forming ice crystals. Adding fill light to the images exposes both unique compositions and the prism effects of the noon time rays of sunlight dispersing off the randomly latticed ice crystals.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ICE CRYSTAL SUNDOWN


Ice Crystal Sundown, Jamestown, NC

A mid December sunset presents the rare opportunity to catch frozen ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, refracting the long light rays of the setting sun on the horizon. The resultant "fire rainbows" only appear in wispy cirrus clouds suspended at least 20,000 feet high and the sun's rays must hit the ice crystals at precisely 58 degrees for maximum effect. The image literally looks like flames waving in the wind above a prairie grass fire.

I first noticed a spectacular fire rainbow on the horizon as I was cruising along the interstate with no reasonable place to pull off the road. But I did have a camera in the glove box for just such a "lucky moment" and I was able to capture the dissolving image before it morphed into the dark night.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

THE WARMTH OF GIVING


Pure White Love, Jamestown, NC

This image was captured as I drove home past a neighborhood lake after ringing a Salvation Army bell outside a local shopping center in the snow. The fantasy snow scene added to the holiday mood and warmth of the car heater. But the highlight of the afternoon was watching young children placing donations in the bright red bucket as proud parents stood aside. These youngsters were beginning to understand the priceless gift of warmth that only comes with giving to those in need. I even suspect that some of those children will be the recipients of those donations this very Christmas. But that is the true power of giving, when the gift is returned tenfold.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CARPE DIEM


Living & Dying, Jamestown, NC

Today’s cover stories about the passing of Elizabeth Edwards due to breast cancer stirred up thoughts and emotions relating to the common fate of my own wife two years ago. I’m sure that was repeated a thousand times over as this disease has personally affected so many lives and moved to the forefront of our culture. I’ve come to believe that many folks can be more influenced by the language of our lives than the language of our words. We all face a common destiny, and it’s not always obvious that sometimes we can influence others more by how we die than how we live. Elizabeth Edwards had the national spotlight for all the public trials she endured, but many related most to how she handled her dying, with her hope and resilience to live out each day to the fullest. Perhaps that’s because we have observed and shared the experience of so many others like my wife who do the same out of the public light and simply in God’s eternal light.

Day Lilies personify living in the present moment, as they only have today to literally unfold and live out their short lives. But they live it to the fullest and glorify their creator no matter what the day brings! Their time is NOW! Their lives play out this day. If there ever was a living presence on this planet that lived a mantra to the extreme, it is the mantra of the Day Lily, "Carpe Diem, Seize the Day!"

This theme is best exemplified by a familiar stanza from Robert Herrick's To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying.” And Solomon, humanity's wisest and richest man, encouraged us in Ecclesiastes 9:7 to, "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do”

This is not to say that we should exploit today, not learn from the past and not plan for the future. Rather, we should just stop and truly observe the beauty of the Day Lily and appreciate every second we have in its presence. We need to watch as it bravely opens to reflect unconditional love and let it teach us eternal truths. Let it enlighten us to comprehend the gift of our unique creation and the preciousness of the finite time we have to experience it. We need to sense the frailty of life as it dissolves into the oneness of the universe and validates the certainty of our common destiny. Solomon councils us not to get too caught up in the culture of today’s fast forward Merry Go Round with its uncertain future and to slowly rewind our life so that we can appreciate the blessing of God’s gifts in the light of the present moment.

I've come to believe that we can have a positive effect on others by how well we live life, and an even more profound effect by how we leave life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PSALM




Dimensionless, Jamestown, NC
Wave & Particle, Jamestown, NC


Lord of dimensions and the dimensionless,
Wave and particle, all and none,

Who lets us measure the wounded atom,
Who lets us doubt all measurement,

When in this world we betray you
Let us be faithful in another.


By Mark Jarman

Monday, December 6, 2010

FIRST SNOW





First Snow with Bench I, Jamestown, NC
First Snow with Bench II, Jamestown, NC
First Snow with Street Light I, Jamestown, NC
First Snow with Street Light II, Jamestown, NC


Ah, the magic and excitement of the season's first snow!

Monday, November 29, 2010

DO YOU HEAR?


Cannon, Valley Forge, PA

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men.
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums.
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.

--Les Miserables

The words and music of the rallying cry above are one of the most rousing ever penned. Ironically, it was written for a tribute to the Paris uprising of 1832, but it could equally apply to most uprisings of the human spirit, such as the American Revolution of 1775-1783. The Marquis de Layfette and King Louie XVI interestingly were intimately involved in both the American Revolution and then the French Revolution of 1789-1799 as one succeeded the other.

Listen to the music of Les Miserables at:

http://www.lesmis.com/gallery/music/

Sunday, November 28, 2010

FORGING A NATION





Redoubt with Artillery, Valley Forge, PA
Exposed Soldier's Huts, Valley Forge, PA
Sheltered Soldier's Huts, Valley Forge, PA
Grand Parade Ground, Valley Forge, PA


Walking along the barren parade grounds of Valley Forge on an overcast late November day encumbered by a cold rain mixed with sleet can only hint at the struggle enjoined by the fourteen thousand colonial men who filed into this Pennsylvania valley on December 19, 1777. This imposing valley chosen by General George Washington to winter his troops became a living crucible of historic change. The valley acquired its name from the iron forge on Valley Creek that had been operational until the British forces destroyed it. The new Continental Congress had been expected to have food, supplies and fortifications in place, but the men found nothing but the barren landscape when they arrived that winter’s day. It was left to Washington and his men to forage for themselves to provide the necessary provisions for survival so that the revolution for freedom from British taxation and tyranny would survive with them. It took the men eight weeks to build their own simple one room shelters while they endured the frigid elements. The ensuing winter was bitter and over three thousand patriots did not live to see the arrival of spring. Weaker souls deserted to return to the warmth of home.

A national park like Gettysburg has many impressive cannon placements and revetments to visually show where thousands of men clashed in mortal combat. The land at Valley Forge suggests a much more subtle struggle. The park has a few defensive redoubts with a smattering of small cannon, but the real battle in this hallowed place was fought against disease, the elements and the temptation to not stay the course. The energies of these patriots were focused on survival and the critical training required to be a united force of men whose hearts and souls were dedicated to the cause of freedom. The men who occupied this valley were from all over the world. They struggled so that the sons and daughters of immigrants might live and prosper as a free people in these United States of America. Come spring, “the beating of their hearts echoed the beating of the drums” as they marched out of the valley with a newly formed resolve and strength to meet destiny.

The valley’s namesake is an apt image for the transformation of the collective character of the united army that emerged in the spring. This character was transformed and strengthened through a crucible of frigid hardship and endurance in much the same way that iron is forged into steel in the crucible of fire. These freedom fighters had been forged in the trials and challenges of those winter months, while their British counterparts were living a relatively comfortable life in the captured city of Philadelphia only eighteen miles away.

A young twenty year old French major general, the Marquis de Lafayette, had both the ear of the French King Louie XVI and the heart of General Washington. When the French finally recognized the new country and allied with the United States on May 6, 1778, five thousand British troops were sent from Philly to defend their profitable sugar cane interests in the Caribbean. The remaining troops were ordered to join forces in New York. Ironically, Louie XVI was overthrown by his own dissident revolutionary countrymen just a decade later. Lafayette died at age 76 and is buried in Paris under soil from Washington’s grave in Mount Vernon.

The arrival of a volunteer from Germany, General Friederich von Steuben, was fortuitous because he was able to forge a seasoned fighting force in this valley capable of meeting the professional enemy head on in the open fields of the Atlantic coast area. These patriots defeated the British in a late June battle at Monmouth, New Jersey, as they retreated to New York. That winter’s easy living conditions actually weakened the British soldiers during that fateful march which was ordered in extraordinarily hot and humid conditions.

The fires of freedom dimmed and were in perilous danger of burning out in the cold rain and sleet, but the collective spirit and passion of these men for a nation of free countrymen kept them alive to live and fan the wild prairie fires of the heart and soul of a new united nation, forged in the frigid winter winds of this Pennsylvania valley.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

DRINK WITH ME





Liberty,Equality,Fraternity, Versailles, France
Royal Bedroom, Versailles, France
Garden Balcony View, Versailles, France
Formal Garden, Versailles, France


Of all the music and specifically musicals I’ve experienced in life, Les Miserables is by far the most powerful and emotional that is life changing. The events draw upon Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the social and political turmoil around the Paris uprising of 1832. The music by Claude-Michel Shonberg and the unforgettable lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer soar out across the orchestra to deliver a permanent impression between your ears. In the spring of 2006 we had the good fortune to take a long anticipated trip to London and Paris. While in London, we followed Rick Steves' advice and stood in an early morning line for unclaimed theater seats for that evening’s performance of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theater. We scored right center seats up front.

The experience was enhanced just a few days later as we walked the formal gardens and halls of the palace of Versailles where the French King Louie XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette lived an extravagant, luxury loving, “let them eat cake” life with their court. We stood in the Queen’s Guard room where on October 6, 1789 a mob of revolutionaries who were starving in the streets of Paris stormed the palace at the outset of the French Revolution of 1789-1799. The two symbols of decadence and detachment from the common people were overthrown, but not without the ultimate sacrifice of many young patriots.

We have the power of the ballot box and electronic social media today. The patriots’ drinking song in a Paris tavern on the eve of their lost defiance in the barricaded streets is one of the most poignant toasting songs I have ever heard or sung and it almost always brings pause to collect emotions:

Drink with me to days gone by.
Can it be you fear to die?
Will the world remember you
When you fall?
Could it be your death
Means nothing at all?
Is your life just one more lie?

Drink with me to days gone by.
To the life that used to be.
At the shrine of friendship, never say die.
Let the wine of friendship never run dry.
Here's to you and here's to me.


HERE’S TO FRIENDSHIP!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

IRISH BLESSING


Waterfall Rainbow, NC Nantahala National Forest

May you always have work for your hands to do.
May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
May the hand of a friend always be near you.
And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NANTAHALA NORTH CAROLINA WATERFALLS


Cullasaja Falls, NC Nantahala National Forest
Bridal Veil Falls, NC Nantahala National Forest
Dry Falls, NC Nantahala National Forest
After the Fall, NC Nantahala National Forest


Just what is it that attracts us humans to a spectacular waterfall anyway? Certainly the majestic beauty of thousands of gallons of water cascading over sheer rock cliffs can do it. The awesome roar of tons of water colliding with the rocks and pools below will get our attention as well. And perhaps the adventure associated with all that energy rushing from high above to its destiny in some distant sea fascinates us as the cycle of replenishment begins anew to nourish the interior land. Cascading waterfalls are a feast for the senses that conjure up an image of a huge migration of liquid lemming droplets that mindlessly and recklessly follow the herd to their collective fate--an image that recalls our childhood and every teacher’s and mother’s admonishment, “If all the other kids jumped off a cliff, would you do it too”?

Monday, November 15, 2010

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH MORNING SHADOWS





Tracking Shadows, WB, NC
Fencing with Shadows, WB, NC
Snow Fence Shadows, WB, NC
Me and My Shadow, WB, NC


We coexist with shadows all of our lives. They appear anytime a light source is directed upon a solid object. Spiritual beings don’t appear to cast a shadow due to their ethereal nature and our general inability to perceive them. On those rare occasions when they visit human beings, I wonder if they cast a shadow. The longer light rays of early morning or late afternoon create the most pronounced shadows that more readily catch our eye. These longer and darker forms completely change their landscape and then slowly subside like the lowering tides.

I recall reading of an ancient battle that was at its most feverish pitch when a full eclipse of the sun occurred. The combatants quickly dropped their weapons and declared a truce. That was a shadow that really made an impression! Our own personal shadows accompany us everywhere, although they’re generally ignored. But while strolling along the beach away from the rising sun, it’s hard to ignore the darkened profile of our being that walks ahead and easily extends to more than double our height while all the time mimicking our every move.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

MORNING JOY


Morning Joy, Destin, FL

For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

---Psalm 30:5

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy. -Rabindranath Tagore, philosopher, author, songwriter, painter, educator, composer, Nobel laureate (1861-1941)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

EMERALD COAST





Balcony View, Destin, FL
Quartz Beach, Destin, FL
Bait Fish School, Destin, FL
Emerald Waters, Destin, FL


The beaches along the Gulf of Mexico coastline of Florida’s panhandle are famous for their sparkling, sugar white sands and warm, emerald-green waters. Actually, these are not sand beaches at all but pure white quartz crystals from the Georgia-South Carolina Appalachian Mountains deposited from the last ice age. The refraction of tropical sun rays off the stunning quartz crystals in the shallow blue gulf waters near the coastline reflects the beautiful emerald color.