Thursday, May 27, 2010

MEMORIAL HONOR FLIGHT



Honor Flight Welcome, Washington DC
Victory Dance, Washington DC

I was recently on a connecting flight into Washington DC on the weekend prior to Memorial Day. Looking out the window, I noticed a series of flags that represented the military services of our country including the black POW flag leading up to the gate next to our jet way. When I deplaned, I asked a gate agent what was happening next door. He explained that they were awaiting an Honor Flight of American veterans from Jacksonville, Florida. This non-profit organization flies vets to DC every Tuesday and Saturday at no charge, takes them to Arlington National Cemetery and then finishes at the war memorials. Some share their story for the first time since the war for the national archives. Over 16 million veterans served in WWII and while about 2 million are still with us, one thousand now pass away every day and their story may be lost to history. This greatest generation of ordinary Americans responded to a world crisis with extraordinary courage.
I checked in at my departure gate and noticed the US Airways plane moving past the flagged area to the jet way. Then the men and a few women began to emerge through the doorway into the terminal. A special group of volunteers immediately hugged them and/or shook their hands. They wore shirts printed with “Honor Flight Ground Crew” and a quote by Will Rogers; “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us get to stand on the curb and clap as they go by”. A men’s group in blue blazers broke out into the fight song of every branch of the service as they identified the insignia’s on the vet’s hats and sometimes their actual uniforms that still fit. Then these veterans were greeted to an honor guard of about 50 uniformed young service men who directed them through the terminal. Fellow travelers instinctively were drawn to the welcome party and stayed to clap along with the singing and took photographs with their business Blackberries and photo cell phones. Men were deplaning with the help of walkers, wheelchairs and care givers. Some of the care givers appeared to be proud spouses and adult children. Without exception, all of those walking off the jet way broke into a spontaneous broad smile with eyes wide open. A few briefly cried. One especially spry man with a black cane spontaneously danced as he walked into the honor guard’s smiling rows on either side of the exit way. The scene was an instant explosion of emotion for everyone who was drawn into the moment.
Reading a USA Today Memorial Day article made the fresh memory of this serendipitous scene even more poignant. When told that he was considered a national hero, the aging vet simply stated that he did his job. “Those that didn’t make it”, he said, “are the heroes”. “I just look at Memorial Day as more than crosses in a field. Those are people on both sides”.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

THE STREET LIGHTS OF HOME


Night Lights, Chapel Hill, NC

I recently traveled back to my birth place in central Kansas for a graduation celebration which was a wonderful family time. Since it was also the weekend prior to Memorial Day, we had the opportunity to place flowers on the final resting places of parents, grandparents, an uncle lost in WWII and a great grandmother who lived to be 91 and whose grave site is becoming lost in time. Even the powerful Pharaohs of ancient Egypt couldn't keep their burial places and memories intact forever. We cruised main street one more time and drove through the old neighborhood where we bicycled and played cork ball in the street on many long summer days and into the warm evenings under the shining street lights. Our childhood home has since burned down and the neighborhood has not weathered well over the years. Main street has been supplanted by the ubiquitous Wal*Mart on the edge of town. Gone are the idyllic days of parking on the street and conversing with everyone during the holidays. Now we just park in a huge lot and stare at the empty vehicle parked on the other side.

Flying back through Washington DC and then on to the Carolina’s, the plane was on approach in both cities as hundreds of thousands of street lights dotted the landscape below. That’s always a reflective sight from high above the earth’s surface which puts our small lives in perspective. It's a sobering graphic of the insignificance of a self centered life moving among millions of others. I wondered if there were children playing cork ball under any of the lights. I can’t return to my childhood home any more. So I was flying back to where I currently keep all my stuff. That’s when it occurred to me that “past memories are generally preferable to present realities”, especially when it relates to our childhood home. People and places live on in our memories, until there is no longer any consciousness that cares to contain them. Of course, we keep the positive memories on a shorter leash and suppress the negative ones to cope with life. Human nostalgia characterizes past events as being more pleasant than they actually were. If you were one of the lucky ones to have a loving childhood home, that’s as good as it gets. And we can still return to the street lights of home in our minds, no matter where life takes us.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

THE “GOOD NEWS” OF GOD’S KINGDOM



Double Rainbow, Internert Domain
Think Differently, Central North Carolina

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’, or ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is within you (and among you).”
--Luke 17:20-21

This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
–Matthew 6:9-10

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. –Revelation 21:2,4

I don’t know about you, but over the past years as I studied various books of the Bible, I encountered various references to the kingdom of God and had become a bit confused as to exactly what definition I should be using. Then, most recently, I came across the reference in Luke which we just read that the kingdom of God is within us. I liked this thought, but by this time, I was also aware of others. For instance, other translations of this very same verse mentioned that the kingdom of God is among us or in our midst. That’s when I began seeking answers and found not one, but three.

I learned that our understanding of the kingdom of God develops as we grow in the teachings of Jesus and mature in spirituality, as the Spirit within us gives us understanding. Paul writes that our minds are on the desires of our human nature, we are all born heirs of the kingdom of Darkness due to the fall of Adam, and we are all born blind to the reality of the kingdom of God. I realize that it’s almost a cliché in our modern culture, but as the spirit grows within us, we can be born again in the kingdom of God—into a world of light.

The bible verses above illustrate the three basic senses that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. First, the kingdom of God is within and among us and is a present reality. Second, the kingdom of God is a vision in the spirit of Jesus, of a better reality for our life on earth today, which of course, is still not fully realized. And third, the kingdom of Heaven is the ultimate kingdom where God reigns without end with all true believers after our soul departs this earthly life.

I'll end this message the way Jesus ended his message when he taught that the kingdom of God is near. He said there were two responses. Our first response is to "think differently", just like a red poppy growing in the light among all the blue flowers. Then, you see the world differently. You have a different perspective. You change how you think, and when you change how you think, you change your behavior. You dare to be different.

Our second response is to “believe the good news” that God loves all of us unconditionally. It's good news that God reigns and that God's kingdom is all around us. It's good news that we have direction for our life and know where we should be going—that the future can be better than the past. It's good news that you have the hope that when this life is over, you have an eternal home in heaven not made by human hands. Our task is simply to trust that it is so.