Monday, May 23, 2011

THE NONCHALANT DOGGY DOODY PATROL

Thankfully, no photos with this posting!

First of all, let me clarify that I love dogs. My wife and I had a Schnauzer for eight years and we loved her as a child. Ironically, we had to euthanize her due to kidney failure just before our daughter was born and we occasionally wondered if she was perhaps a reincarnation of Heidi, as their spirits must have passed in the night. But, in all the runs and walks Heidi and I took around the neighborhood and nearby parks in those days, we never had to concern ourselves about dealing with what all animals do naturally—that is taking a dump whenever and wherever the mood strikes them. Reflecting back, I suppose that may have been something to get a little considerate about, but no one ever confronted us or seemed to give it much thought themselves. Perhaps that may have been generational for the most part because we Americans were just migrating off farm life and it seemed perfectly natural.

I’ve watched with some amusement as our neighboring dog owners walk their beloved pets around the area. There now seems to be a new code of conduct to carry the ubiquitous non-biodegradable plastic grocery bag or Wal-Mart sack along on the daily constitutional. When the clueless canine does his or her “business”, the dutiful owner reaches into the plastic bag, bends over and grasps the warm, fresh pile of doggy doody in their hand and discretely folds the plastic container over the objectionable matter. Then the bags go into a land fill instead of a recycle box and they stay there for centuries while the doody is denied the natural cycle of replenishing the surrounding plant life. I recently observed the meat counter employee at Fresh Market using this procedure to package my marinated chicken kabobs. I’ve now sort of lost my appetite for kabobs.

I was driving to church this Sunday morning and approached a sweet young female who had just executed this delicate maneuver. She was attempting to walk on as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred as I passed within discrete eye contact. The priceless look on her face resembled someone who had just been caught with their index digit six inches up their nose at the opera. It's hard to act nonchalant when you have just scooped up a steaming pile of doggy doody and are now openly carrying it with outstretched arms to distance yourself from the fresh smell. I must admire her loyalty and true grit though, since I would have been violently retching and heaving my guts up at that point. I guess I won’t be getting another dog any time soon...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

HARMONY


Man in the Maze, Hopi Reservation, AZ

The Man in the Maze is a common symbol of many Native American tribes. Some see it symbolizing our relationship with the earth and others see it depicting our journey through life. I see it as a symbol that has captured man’s imagination for centuries—a labyrinth. A maze implies that we have many chances to make good or bad decisions on our life’s pathway. But a labyrinth enables you to slowly walk along a righteous path of grace that ever so slowly enables you to spend time in meditation as you leave the trials and cares of the outside world behind. You continue your walk to ultimately be centered with the central core of the universe—God within. It is a way to ponder the direction of your life at any time and strive to become less self-centered and more God-centered. Once you arrive at that place, it is good to pause in stillness and listen to the quiet whisper of our Creator in the wind. Ideally, our life’s journey will lead us to that quiet stillness of centeredness with God that leads to a peaceful harmony with our surroundings.

Life is a sacred journey and a labyrinth is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is about growing our character and soul. It is about taking courageous steps along the path, knowing we do not walk alone as we stay the course. The entrance signifies our birth and once we complete the journey to salvation and enlightenment we exit to a new more enriched life. The literal single-path walk of turnings enables us to lose track of the sometimes stressful outside world and quiet the mind. We are then better prepared to exit back out into the world with a refreshed understanding and resolve.

“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have one before us, the labyrinth is fully known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”--Joseph Campbell

Saturday, May 14, 2011

WIND WOMAN


Wind Woman, Oklahoma City, OK

I purchased this sculpture years ago on a trip into Oklahoma from Kansas. It’s not something that I would normally acquire, but somehow the reverence of this image caught my imagination. As I recall, it’s carved out of alabaster stone and the artist signed the base as A. ChaddLaone ’89. Even though the medium used was stone, the Indian woman’s hair and robe gracefully personify the flowing wind. She wears a sacred turquoise necklace around her neck with a carved shell chain. Ironically, as I stepped outside to photograph an image of this mesmerizing figure, storm clouds were beginning to reorganize as the sun was setting in the west. The background scene was a perfect setting for such a revered and noble persona of the south wind as it began to stir and move over the earth and among the trees.

Friday, May 13, 2011

EXPERIENCING GOD


Approaching Storm from the South, Strong City, KS

Reflecting back, growing up on the wide open plains of the American Midwest conditioned me for a no boundaries attitude about life in general. I’ve talked to folks that were raised in mountainous areas that felt exposed in the Midwest and longed for the comfort of the womb-like security of the landscape surrounding them with aspen, pine and snow covered peaks closing in on all sides. But for me, nothing compares with walking across refreshing wind-blown prairie grasses firmly grasping my trusty twelve gage Browning with the secondary goal of flushing out a native prairie chicken. I’ve always sensed God’s spirit riding on these winds. The same goes for walking a row of hedge apple trees seeking coveys of quail or meandering along a slow moving stream bed that naturally follows the contours of the land. I’ve also had the pleasure of this experience while patiently standing in center field waiting on a long fly ball on a warm summer’s evening, shuffling at the net of a doubles tennis match in the spring, and walking down the eighteenth fairway next to an expansive lake reflecting autumn’s bright colors as the natural air conditioning off the water refreshes me.

And of course there’s the expansive sky. If a visitor remarks that the flatter landscape is too boring for them, I remind them that they’re missing the grandest scenery of all if they’re not looking up.

But since God’s spiritual being permeates the entire universe, His presence can literally be felt anywhere at any time. I’ve often remarked that if there actually was a cathedral where perhaps God paused to refresh His spirit, it must be at the water’s edge of the clear mountain lake reflecting the twin Maroon Bells peaks outside Aspen, Colorado. The soothing sound of the breeze slicing through the surrounding pine needles provides just the perfect choral music of ancient spirits for the worship experience. A sunrise Easter service on a Carolina beach with the wind driven waves chanting in the background also comes close. And I have to admit that experiencing a Sunday morning service inside Notre Dame Cathedral was quite moving, along with an especially spirit-filled service in our local church with human voices singing in praise.

I think we just need to be cautious of leaving our air conditioned homes to get into our air conditioned vehicles to go to our air conditioned man-made malls, work places and worship centers. Actually, I’m as opposed to freezing or sweating as the next person, but I feel that an artificial environment can somehow detract from being in contact with reality, where God’s presence is most felt. Of course, extremes of our environment can many times be an even bigger distraction, so conditioning our surroundings can be useful. It’s just so pleasant to get out into the raw world when we can without the artificial encumbrances and simply be still to experience God in the breezes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

SHAPING OUR GOD


Persistent Vine, Columbus, OH

The great French scientist and philosopher Pascal wrote that “God created people in his image on the sixth day, and every day since, people have returned the favor.” Rob Bell makes the point in his new controversial book “Love Wins” that “we shape our God, and then our God shapes us”. A recent survey noted that the vast majority of Americans believe in God, but how many of us have actually taken the time to try to understand Him? Jarrett Stevens notes in his book “The Deity Formerly Known as God” that we share a basic problem with other generations which is “our insistence on crafting images of God that limit our understanding of ourselves and limit our experience with God. We’d rather have a small, custom-built God who meets our emotional needs or suits our intellectual ideals, than a big God who can’t be controlled or contained.” It’s been said that you can tell the size of your God by looking at the size of your worry list. The larger your list, the smaller your God.

Brennan Manning believes that, “Everything we need to know about God we can find in the life of Jesus.” It was Jesus himself who asked in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say I am?” That actually takes more than a little work on our part but as Rebecca Harding Davis has written, “We are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…Shall we think of the day as a chance to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”

We’re reminded in Psalm 46:10 to “be still” to know God, but our modern world conspires to suppress both stillness and God. Somewhat in the American way, we’re raised to go to church on Sunday and the balance of the week we’re conditioned to consistently win, perfect ourselves, accomplish and accumulate. Silence is an endangered species in our time.

Some of the destructive images of God that Stevens discusses are a sweet old man, a cop around the corner, a cosmic slot machine, a talent show judge and a selective sampling of the world’s religions. Finally, he notes that “good or bad, like it or not, the bottom line is that there is no more powerful force in the universe that shapes our perception of God, other than our parents”. If you have a negative image of your parents, George MacDonald advises us to “interpret the word by all that you have missed in life.” Hopefully, God will emerge in truth and reveal to us his perfect, loving, fatherly and motherly heart.

God is our Abba or eternal Father, and according to Jesus, we are his beloved children. I pray to my eternal Father. I believe that we were created in His image and that he considers you and me His children. We share many emotions and parallels in our existence. Jesus wept and laughed with his friends and fellow journeymen. And he was frustrated and angered by uncaring, evil people. I believe our soul occupies our entire material body just as His timeful spirit occupies His entire universe.

When Jesus taught us to pray The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, he started with the words, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”, and he addressed God as Father a total of 170 times in the Bible. Jesus created a new way of praying that is as natural as a child talking to his father. By creating us in his own image, God truly wanted someone to love and someone capable of returning that love.

To become more like God is humanity’s highest goal, by reflecting his characteristics and trusting him. The path leads to becoming less self-centered and more God-centered. I believe a few of God’s characteristics include:

• He is timeful because He knows no dimensional boundaries like space or time.
• His saving grace can forgive all charges.
• He is purposeful and ever creative.
• He has revealed Himself through the scriptures and Jesus.
• He has a loving and caring Fatherly and Motherly heart.
• He nurtures & cares for us.
• He can forgive us when we fall short.
• He can be trusted and approached with confidence.
• His freely given and priceless grace is always available.
• He gives us “free will” and is always with us.
• He is our loving, eternal Father and we are his beloved children.
• There is nothing we can do to have Him love us any more or any less.
• He wants us to make good decisions.
• He wants us to understand there are consequences to bad decisions.
• He may not interfere in our trials, but will provide peace and strength.
• He is not so much to be proven or seen as He is to be felt within.

In the final moments of relative peace before his crucifixion, Jesus assures his anxious disciples that “I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener.” We are the branches that receive sustenance from the vine and overall care from the gardener. I recently photographed a colorful vine growing on a parking lot wall in a thin crack between the wall and a sidewalk. It’s not only one of God’s beautiful creations, but a striking example of hope, persistence, and determination to grow and prosper in tough conditions under God’s care. Rick Warren has written that, “Great people are ordinary people with extraordinary amounts of persistence. They just hang in there and never give up. God is sufficient for any challenge. We just need the attitude of quiet confidence to stand firm and trust Him to sustain us.”

All that we see can teach us to trust God for all that we cannot see. And all that we can know about God can teach us to shape the one true God so that we are truly shaped in His image.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

STONING OUR GIANTS


Millenium Park Giant, Chicago, IL

Many of us remember the Bible story of David and Goliath from our days in a youth Sunday school or a summer camp. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land they conquered all the inhabitants except three cities including one called Gath. This was a land of giants. The Israelite army of the living God had reached a stalemate with the army of the region and one of these giants named Goliath who stood over nine feet tall was among them. He issued a winner take all duel between him and any Israelite taker. All of the soldiers were afraid to challenge Goliath until a small shepherd boy named David showed up with a stone sling shot. God had assisted him in slaying both a lion and bear that had threatened his sheep. David placed his trust in God to continue to be with him to “deliver him” from the hand of this Philistine. And that is what he did by way of a rounded river stone that found its mark on the giant’s forehead when it was revealed as he bent back to laugh at the small intruder.

We all encounter giants that take on all sorts of forms as we traverse this life. I can attest that it’s much harder to face them alone. But one of the last words Jesus left us with was recorded in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. Perhaps one of my biggest giants was experiencing a potentially fatal heart attack and the subsequent open heart surgery. It’s rather daunting to be lying on an operating table knowing that a man you have only briefly met will be opening your chest cavity and holding your beating heart in his hands. But I learned that it’s not so much about trusting a stranger as it is trusting a loving creator to hold your hand and be with you no matter what the outcome. The worst outcome of meeting one of these giants head on like David did is the loss of your life, which is quite probably not going to happen. And although a Christian believes in the promise of an eternal spiritual life, most folks don’t want to go right now. Short of that, with our creator God at our side as promised, we can face these giants with the resolve it takes to stone them out of our path and carry on. The God who was with young David when he stoned his giant is the same living God who stands with us on every occasion we ask for his strength and peace to confront our giants. The calm peace that overcame me on that operating table has continued to sustain me against subsequent giants as well.

LEAVING HOME




Maybe, Maybe not, Jamestown, NC
I Think I can, I Think I can, Jamestown, NC
Look out World, Here I come!, Jamestown, NC