Monday, February 28, 2011

GOD IS ON OUR SIDE


Fix Bayonets, Greensboro, NC
God's Side, Internet

One of my favorite scenes from the classic movie, The Longest Day, about the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in WWII was two flashes from both sides of the war. When queried about the critical outcome of the battle, an allied commander confidently replied that “God is on our side”. Then the scene immediately shifts to the German Third Reich commander who responds to the same question with the same reply. Obviously, one of the two commanders is deadly wrong. Anti-abolitionists in the 1860’s used Ephesians 6:5 to defend the slavery cause using the literal word which admonished, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”. But I like the response of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War who famously responded differently, “My concern is not whether God is on our side—my greatest concern is to be on God’s side”. Both history and our inherent sense of values show us that slavery was indefensible.

The answers don’t necessarily lie in a literal interpretation of many of the Biblical writings set in the context of the ancient Jewish world, but in the context of scriptural values, especially those taught to us by Jesus in the New Testament when a new covenant between God and us human beings was established. It is good to find our values in Biblical writings VS our contemporary cultural environment, but we should exercise God given common sense and reflective contemplation for our answers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

METANOIA AND CANA SYMBOLISM


The Wedding Feast at Cana, Paris, France

The accompanying image is from a photograph I took while roaming around the rooms of the Louvre Museum. We actually had to wait in line to enter a room containing the Mona Lisa which was behind bullet proof glass and was much smaller than I ever imagined. The guards were constantly admonishing all the varied tourists in every Tower of Babel language known to man that no photographs were allowed of this priceless painting. So we moved on rather quickly away from this cultural frenzy. But as we were leaving the room, I noticed a very large painting on the opposite wall facing the Mona Lisa. Closer inspection revealed it to be The Wedding Feast at Cana by the Italian artist Veronese. This story of Jesus’ first of seven miracles had always intrigued me, so I briefly stopped to view the vast wedding scene of 130 figures including Jesus and Mary.

Most museums now allow photographs of their collections, provided your flash is turned off. I think this actually helps to promote the priceless works of art and nothing can replace the original anyway. So, I’ve made it a challenge to only focus on one part of a piece and photograph that aspect. It really makes my images as unique as the originals, at least as a photograph. I focused on Jesus and Mary seated at the center of the table and didn’t even get the wedding party in the image. They occupy the position of honor which is on the right side of the table when seated. This first century custom also calls into question the seating assignments in Michelangelo’s famous painting of the last supper—and it appears folks actually rested on their elbow and reclined at a lower table to dine.

Coptic tradition records that Mary was a sister of the bridegroom’s mother. Hospitality was the order of the day and the wedding celebration lasted for a period of seven days in that region and time. The wedding family was relatively poor unlike the transposed 16th century Venice participants that Veronese painted centuries later. But the scene is rich in symbolism such as the invisible wine glass Mary holds to show that there is no more wine left, the butcher preparing a lamb above Jesus and the hour glass on the musicians' table signifying it was time for Jesus to reveal His divine nature. And as recorded in the second chapter of John, He takes His ministry to a new level by turning water from six stone jars used for religious purification rituals into the best wine ever tasted by the chief waiter at the feast.

There is also much symbolism and another level of meaning in John’s account of this story. Thomas Moore writes that “The wedding party represents the current human condition: our wine—our vitality, complexity, and spirit—are running out. The change of water to wine signifies a much deeper kind of change in the human spirit—from plain unconsciousness to an intoxicating vision…The miracle signifies metanoia, a profound change of heart and mind--a fundamental transformation of your vision of the world and yourself, and a new way of loving others and loving God…A newly wedded couple has integrated the water of self into an intoxicating merged life with all its abundance and intensity. This transformation to a way of life shaped by a shared love of one another also signifies metanoia. Their lives will now ferment into a more complex and rich state of marriage and will only get better with age… This is Cana symbolism: Over time those raw and untested lives take on new complexity and richness, due to the sharing and the struggle. Like grape juice turning into wine, the lives ferment in an alchemy that transmutes the two from people trying to get along individually to a couple discovering the deep mystery of a shared life.”

I find it fascinating to consider that Jesus’ ministry began with His miracle of turning water into an intoxicating perfect wine to celebrate a new shared life. Then He essentially concluded His ministry before his crucifixion at the last supper by instructing His disciples to ritually turn wine into His blood--His Blood that was to be shed for our sins so that we would have life eternal. We in turn give the “gift of life”, our blood, for the pleasure of giving and as a response to God’s love, to save the lives of others less fortunate—completing the circle of love that exists all around us--and experiencing the metanoia of transformation from this earthly life to the kingdom within.

Friday, February 18, 2011

WE CARRY ON



Rallying the Troops, Greensboro, NC
Rising with the Sunrise, Emerald Beach, FL


The DVD “Beyond Narnia” is a short account of the extraordinarily creative life of C. S. Lewis. His classic “Chronicles of Narnia” tales have earned him worldwide recognition for his Christian thinking and writing. He was set on a bachelor’s life until Joy, a divorced American woman with two boys who had read and admired all of his writings, entered his life. They eventually married and their love for one another grew until cancer took her life much too early. Lewis wrote while grieving the loss of his wife that “I thought I could understand anything I put my mind to but God forced me to understand that the best is perhaps what we understand least—not my idea of God, but God himself. And why not—weren’t we all his children? I had to let go and not care whether I met Joy again. Is this the only way I can return to you by letting go of her? And the answer...was nothing…rather a silent compassionate gaze. Peace child, you don’t understand."

Once Lewis had reconciled himself to that revelation, he was able to begin his return to daily life and the lives of his two young step sons. When the youngest was finally able to approach him and ask, “Jack, what we gonna do?” Lewis simply replied, “We carry on.” And that was what they set out to do.

Sometimes when we don’t understand and there are no good answers in life, the only other answer is to soldier on in the faith that we can carry on and the human spirit can endure. When we seemingly have no control of the events in our life, we need to remind ourselves that we always have one alternative---how we positively respond. We rally our emotions and rise to meet the new sun with a new resolve.

Monday, February 14, 2011

PATCHES FROM THE PAST


Patches & Friend, Emporia, KS

Was it just a very bizarre coincidence or a message from the past? I had just written and distributed a blog posting about a boyhood treasure box containing saved relics from my childhood in the 40’s and 50’s. One of those priceless treasures belonged to our childhood family dog that we had named Patches, due to the “Little Rascals” patches of color randomly positioned over his face and body. Patches’ bloodline read like a Heinz 57 Variety ingredients label which qualified him as the ultimate childhood companion. My older sister and I were town raised, compared to our farm bred parents. So, we immediately had a slightly differing view of animals. Patches' only purpose in life was to run with us whenever the mood struck and take long naps in the warm sunshine while we were attending school. And then there were all the smells around the old neighborhood that had to be investigated and reported to the authorities by way of the local canine network of barking code talkers.

As it turns out, my sister Carolyn had found a colorful desert sunset post card from California that she had mailed to Mr. Patches Davis while we were vacationing. It seems that Patches was recovering from a broken rear leg that he had sustained from a passing car shortly before we left. So he was convalescing at our grandparent’s house next door while we traveled that spring. Carolyn had inserted a note to “save the card for us” as we didn’t have a color camera at the time and it was a beautiful scene which most assuredly must have brightened Patches day when he received it back in Kansas.

About the exact same time Carolyn had found the saved California post card, I had rediscovered my small cigar treasure box at the back of a closet. At the very bottom of the box, I had found a long forgotten dog tax tag that my father had handed to me with Patches’ collar the afternoon he had succumbed to another more fatal automobile accident. We all ran free in those idyllic days, but it would appear that our trust worthy and unconditionally loving family dog wasn’t quite as observant as we were--at least most of the time. I remember dashing after one of my buddies between two parked cars one summer day and being frozen in time as an automobile came to a screeching stop just a foot or two from me. That was the first of many such life threatening events since then that have validated my belief in guardian angels. Mine have worked overtime. Patches was never so lucky and he got only one more chance to pay attention the next time, which didn’t happen.

Carolyn’s post card had a one cent George Washington stamp affixed to it and close inspection revealed a date stamp of APR 6, 1951. Patches’ dog tag I had found was dated 1951. Both were sixty years old, both had survived numerous moves and life events, both were possibly recovered at the exact same time, and both were linked to our treasured childhood companion and friend. And now we have the benefit of sixty years to reflect on the meaning of this. Perhaps the message on this Valentine’s Day in the year 2011 is that not even the passage of sixty years, or four hundred and twenty dog years, can erase the precious memory of any living being in this life that has deeply touched our hearts or minimize their eternal influence which has been indelibly inscribed on our ever developing character and soul.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

ROAD TRIP


Curve Ahead, Jamestown, NC

One of the many laugh out loud moments from the movie Animal House is the scene after the Deltas have been banished from campus fraternity life. As a moving crew is dismantling their house, one of the brothers hopelessly laments, "What are we gonna do"? And the resounding response in unison is, "Road Trip"!

When life is getting a little too fast or a tad too slow, it’s always a sure bet to change things up a bit by changing the pace. And a road trip can be just the ticket. Leaving home in the rear view mirror and being on the road again is a great way to settle into some uninterrupted quality conversation with your companions or yourself. The scenery changes and the mile markers tick off the distance between you and the daily grind. You arrive back at home reenergized with a fresh perspective.

I’ve found that the optimum ride is experienced when the high octane coursing through the car’s fuel lines is as warm as the blood cells rushing through mine. There’s nothing that excites the senses like the sound of the throaty exhaust and a burst of testosterone as you punch second gear and lean into the next curve. And you quickly begin to understand one of those universal truths in life that it’s not as much about the destination as it is about the ride.

Friday, February 11, 2011

COMMON SKY


Common Sky, Jamestown, NC

"We do not need to be defined by our differences,
but by our common humanity
."

--B. Obama on the eve of Egypt's revolution for freedom

Monday, February 7, 2011

THE TOY STORY CIGAR BOX



Toy Story Cigar Box, circa 1952, Emporia, KS
Patches' Dog Tag, circa 1951, Emporia, KS


The children’s classic, The Littlest Angel, was written by Charles Tazewell when I was four years old in 1946. That coincidently was about the age Michael departed this world and entered heaven where he was perpetually in trouble and unhappy. His happiness is restored after he is allowed to retrieve a special box left under his bed at home. The box contained wonderful artifacts from earth--a butterfly with golden wings, a sky blue egg, two white stones and a leather collar that had belonged to his dog that had lived in absolute love and infinite devotion.

On the eve of the birth of God’s son, the angels laid elaborate gifts at God’s throne for the one to be named Jesus. Michael gave the only thing he possessed that he cherished more than anything. The hand of God paused over the priceless box as it pleased Him the most, since its contents were of earth and men and His son was born to be king of both. The story is a wonderful lesson of grace, the true spirit of giving, and understanding the difference between things of this world that have monetary value and those that are priceless.

I was recently sorting accumulated possessions on a cold winter’s day and happened upon an old El Roi-Tan cigar box. I recognized the box as one from which my grandfather retrieved many unforgettable cigars he smoked most of the time I knew him. To this very day, whenever the scent of cigar smoke wafts into my presence it reminds me of him. Upon opening the box, I was greeted by a small but priceless representation of my boyhood. Unlike the young man’s toys in Toy Story 3, these childhood artifacts had survived the past sixty years in my grandfather’s cigar box. When I left for college, my mother not only cleared out what would now almost literally be a valuable baseball card collection, but as in Toy Story 3, all the remainder of my childhood. But somehow, this priceless cigar box survived the carnage.

I was a child born during WWII just ahead of the baby boomers, although I married a boomer that I met at college after abandoning all things of a child. So, part of the menagerie includes one lone surviving WWII soldier and one lone Indian. Both of them were undoubtedly the sole survivors of many intense battles between the G.I. Joe allies and the Nazis and the Roy Roger cowboys and the Apache Indian wars. Their contemporaries were quite probably blown out of the sandbox battle grounds with strategically placed Black Cat fireworks and incoming BB’s. The gallant Crusaders seemed to have fared the best, but possibly only because they arrived late in my boyhood and were spared the intense and frequent action. The authentic German belt buckle and hand tooled leather cigarette box were brought home from the great war by my uncle and were prized war relics. I was after all, a child of the war. My uncles were heroes and one never returned.

The two cat’s eye marbles are all that is left of a humongous bag that was acquired by laser shots into a ring of neighbor kids’ marbles that were knocked outside the ring. And in those days, the skate key wrench was standard issue for all the neighborhood kids. The lone yellowed die most assuredly belonged to a children’s board game that was simply worn out from excessive play time. We didn’t have much television to watch back then. The Pee Wee water gun is stamped with “USA” which portends the offshore toy production that was just beginning to arrive on our shores. The small alligator clips were used to start my model airplane, a victim of one too many crash landings. The “I LIKE IKE” political buttons must have preceded this Kansas war hero’s presidential election in 1953. The small bird arrowhead was picked up in a Kansas field on my father’s childhood farm. I’m sure that the prescription box containing a sand dollar and sea shells were prized by a Kansas boy who had not yet experienced the distant oceans and assumed how precious and scarce they must be in this world. The “Happy Birthday” card with the smiling puppy was signed “Mom and Grandpa”—more priceless than the rookie autograph I got in later life from Tiger Woods.

And finally, lying unobtrusively at the bottom of the box was a worn 1951 dog tax tag that had belonged to my first true friend, Patches. We named the new puppy Patches because of the black spots over his short white hair. He and I sort of grew up together in those early days of blissful childhood. He had followed me and the Sunday entourage of cousins to a nearby lake and I hadn’t even noticed that he didn’t follow me home, as he usually had his own agenda at the lake. Later, my dad went out looking for Patches and found him dying in a street gutter, the victim of a passing automobile. He died later that afternoon wrapped in a warm blanket in the basement. My dad took me down to see him one last time and I kept his collar with the dog tag. It was my first encounter with death and losing a loved one in my life
--and the beginning of lost innocence.

The second I opened my grandfather’s discarded cigar box, I somehow thought of the littlest angel’s earthly box and the Toy Story 3 movie I had recently watched. My box actually contains some toys of war along with more sentimental childhood memories. But I think my box would still be a good example of every earth boy’s toy story and a gift fit for a king who would rule them.