Monday, November 28, 2011

EMBRACING IMPERFECTION AND RECALCULATING



Imperfection I & II, Wrightsville Beach, NC

It seems that God has cloaked holiness with imperfection. And perhaps this is the essence of what Jesus meant when He tells us in the Beatitudes that the humble will inherit the earth. It was the holier-than-thou religious leaders of His time that Jesus was referring to when He stated that the greatest would be last and the least would be first—for it seems that only those who have recognized their imperfection and been humbled by it can genuinely offer forgiveness and be open to receiving it. They understand the imperfect human condition and can be sympathetic to the unlovable among us and within us. Once we embrace this concept, we actually move closer to the holiness we seek to obtain as we move through life on our collaborative journey to nurture and grow our spiritual being.

When we are told that God, who is a conscious spiritual being, created us in His own image, I don’t think that means we look somewhat like Him. I think it refers to the spiritual soul we were also gifted when our earthly being was created. Jesus told us that when we are ready to die to this earthly, imperfect life, we are reborn into a more fulfilling life. And when we die to this earthly, mortal life we are transitioned or reborn into our destined spiritual life with the essence of the soul we have developed on our “recalculated” journey. It’s like driving along a route calculated by our trusty GPS device. But we come to a realization that we need to redirect our life and we change direction. In spite of that little voice sternly admonishing us to turn the other way, we set a new course and leave it frantically acquiescing with the now all too familiar refrain, “recalculating, recalculating”!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

FALLEN LIVES





Frozen Flowers, Jamestown, NC

The beauty of the language of our lives can not only be observed by how well we live life, but also by how we leave it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE ROAD MORE SCENIC


Autumn in My Car Hood, Jamestown, NC

Robert Frost wrote a famous poem about a traveler in a yellow wood who came to a fork in the road. He chose the one less traveled that made all the difference in his life. When I came to a career fork in the road, I chose the engineering path. My studies focused on management efficiency and expedient processes that minimized the cost of subsequent deliverables. And that mantra served me well throughout my professional career and even spilled over into my personal life.

I really hadn’t consciously paid much attention to my travels lately, but they usually followed my ingrained pattern of the efficient infamous shortest distance between two points. It finally occurred to me that my GPS system was quite probably designed by one of my own and has been effectively directing my every turn on the road with the utmost urgency and precision. I’ve been obediently following its every command down whatever path it has chosen for me. Actually, it has served me well and saved me from innumerable missed exits and countless hours not well spent driving in the wrong direction down dead end roads. But that path is not always the most scenic or sublime. In fact, it’s probably the same path other mindless systems are leading my fellow wayfaring lemmings over the same barren cliff!

So today I vowed to break with tradition and my robotic pathfinder. I veered off the calculated path and chose a route more scenic and pleasant to my eyes and psyche. I turned onto a meandering path of blazing leaves lining curves as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. The colorful filtered light of the setting autumn sun was mirrored in my car’s hood. That path may have added an extra two minutes to my drive and an extra two years to my life. And all the while, my disembodied, electronic companion was firmly admonishing me and shouting, “Recalculating, recalculating”, as my senses were being recharged by the brilliant sights along my rogue path. As they say, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the road more scenic, and that has made all the difference today.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

STOP SEEKING HAPPINESS


Butterfly of Happiness, Jamestown, NC

There’s an old saying that to find happiness, stop seeking it and it will find you. But even our founding fathers left us with the legacy of a pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for this great experiment. King Solomon was one of the wisest and richest men to ever walk over this planet. He gave it a shot and this is his conclusion from The Message translation of Ecclesiastes; “I said to myself, ‘Let's go for it—experiment with pleasure, have a good time!’ But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke. What do I think of the fun-filled life? Insane! Inane! My verdict on the pursuit of happiness? Who needs it? With the help of a bottle of wine and all the wisdom I could muster, I tried my level best to penetrate the absurdity of life. I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do during the years we spend on this earth.”

Wouldn’t seeking happiness be one of our most worthy causes in life? New psychological studies suggest not. And before any of these studies were published, Henry David Thoreau perhaps summed up the pursuit best by writing, “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit on your shoulder”. What other things? Well for openers, new studies show that if we focus too much on attaining ultimate happiness and it inevitably doesn’t always materialize, we will end up unhappy. It seems to follow another basic precept in life that anything lived in excess will probably cause problems. It appears that folks who are simply “pretty happy” end up with above average income and knowledge. The perpetual Pollyanna seems to be less effective at recognizing the pitfalls in life through their rose colored glasses. Actually, negative feelings and emotions are an integral part of the human drama. They alert us to reflect and examine our life for positive change. For instance, it’s also been said that if we harbor bitterness, happiness will find another place to dock. Once we shift our focus from seeking happiness for ourselves and seek to bring joy into others lives, a miraculous thing begins to happen---happiness softly lights on our shoulder!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

ALONE TOGETHER


Dining Together, London, England

I was recently reading and listening to a jazz station in the background. When one particular piece finished the DJ caught my imagination when she noted that the title was “Alone Together”. That title precisely defined the melancholy mood of the music. There’s probably an infinite number of ways and degrees that people can relate to one another. And the same goes for our relationship with our creator. How many times, for instance, have you been out to dinner and noticed the couple sitting across from you? Actually, when we go out in public, you expect to be exposed to others and you probably won’t change old habits. I’ve observed couples eating dinner at a restaurant together and they never say one word to one another. They eat in silence with the exception of short interactions with their waiter. Their time alone together is sad to watch. How much richer would their lives be if they just took the effort to relate to one another? How much better would they know each other’s dreams and accomplishments-- If they took the effort to understand each other’s fears and joys-- If they took time to empathize with bad days and hurt feelings? I’ve learned that communication is about equal parts of talking and listening. If either gets out of balance, the relationship suffers. When they’re shut down completely, so is the relationship. But the good news is that the reverse is also true—it just takes some work!

Our creator has gone on record as committing to be with us always. But of course, relationship is a two way street. And He won’t necessarily come uninvited. We have to take time out to nurture that relationship and open up to the joys and concerns of our life. And we have to make a habit of talking and listening or we’ll simply coexist alone together.

Friday, November 4, 2011

FORKS IN OUR PATH AND AUTUMN LEAVES


The Autumn Leaves Outside My Window, Jamestown, NC

The more I think about it, the more I think we don’t give enough thought to the gift of free will we all possess. Of course, free will flourishes best in an environment of freedom which we Americans take all too lightly. I suppose it’s like many things in life—we don’t always appreciate something until we lose it. It’s an old comparison, but free will is indeed analogous to approaching a fork in our path and then making a decision to go one way or the other. We encounter these forks hundreds of times in the course of our daily life. Sometimes that involves choosing good versus not so good and sometimes it literally involves choosing left versus right. We learned about the unwritten “law of lines” while at Disney World years ago. Since most people are right handed they tend to go right when the doors open at the attractions, so it’s always a good idea to move to the left to get a good seat. And as with most all decisions, there are consequences to how we choose. Sometimes those are trivial and sometimes they are very consequential. Sometimes those consequences are immediate and other times they may take years to unfold.

It’s a good day to write and I’m working at my computer next to the upstairs window of my office. Today is overcast with an early November cold rain falling outside but the view is spectacular! They say the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the next best time is today, i.e., it’s never too late to make something happen—just do it! I planted the October Glory maple tree outside my window about twelve years ago with the thought in mind that some day it would really be quite a scene. Well, it certainly is today!

I also recall making a simple left versus right decision that seemed trivial at the time but had immediate consequences and proved to be life saving. Me and my two hunting companions primarily used two basic techniques to hunt migratory ducks and geese along the central flyway in Kansas. We would either set out a decoy spread in a new wheat field or cut grain field and call the game birds to us or we would go to them by jumping ponds in pastures. On one particular overcast and drizzly November day like today we had spotted a flight of mallards circling a large pond and then going down. So we drove our truck to an area opposite the back of the dam and proceeded to stealth under their radar to position ourselves in shooting range. One of my hunting companions moved to the left of the dam so that he could peer over the top and locate the floating ducks. I was following my other friend through the tall prairie grasses to the center of the dam.

When our spotter motioned that the ducks were in range directly in front of us, I moved into shooting position to the right of my left handed partner. The signal was given to move up, the ducks responded by giving flight and the rapid sound of automatic shotguns shattered the morning silence. In moments, my magazine was empty and I turned to my hunting partner amid the pungent smell of spent gun powder and incredulously asked why he wasn’t shooting. He just looked at me with an astonished expression and showed me his shotgun. He had been using shells that he had loaded himself and later admitted that he had added a little bit of extra powder for some extra punch. The left side of his receiver had been completely blown out! If I had been standing to his left when the shooting started, my head would have quite possibly been next to the blow out. Was it pure chance that I turned to the right rather than to the left? I may never know, but the autumn leaves outside my window on this chilly morning take on a whole new perspective as I reflect.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

HOLDING ON



Holding On, Jamestown, NC
Kansas Grain Elevator, Strong City, KS


Growing up in Kansas exposed me to cowboys and ropes. A good strong rope is a staple on any farmstead or ranch out in the country. Ropes are used to tame and tether animals and pull or secure a variety of payloads. Normally, they’re good for holding onto something like a truck load of hay bales or just holding onto, like the way mountain climbers use them. Many of us have probably heard the expression that when you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hold on! There’s also the biblical story of the woman who had been bleeding uncontrollably for twelve years and was desperate for a cure as life slipped away from her. She sought out Jesus as he walked through a crowd, reached out in faith to touch His cloak and she was instantly healed. Consequently, it’s been said that when life is slipping away from you, reach out and you’ll find the hem of His cloak to hold onto.

I was spending my summer on a construction job site to earn money for the next college year. Our current project involved removing a rather large stainless steel grain dust collector from the top of a multistory grain elevator and reinstalling a new one. Functioning collectors are designed to inhibit spontaneous grain dust explosions and fires. Since I was the youngest and most flexible candidate at the time, I had volunteered to ride to the top of the elevator by stepping onto the large steel ball and hook suspended from the steel cable of a huge crane that had been contracted for the job. My assignment for the day was to ride to the top, secure the old dust collector with a heavy duty rope and set it free with a cutting torch while wearing a welder’s mask and gloves.

We had obviously underestimated both the weight of the dust collector and the strength of the rope used to secure it to the crane. The moment I cut free the last steel support from the massive collector, it immediately succumbed to the pull of gravity and began a rapid descent to the ground below. Unbeknownst to me, the attached rope had snapped in two and was also rapidly following the collector to the earth multiple stories below me. As all of this played out in a matter of moments, the slithering rope wrapped its tentacles around my leg and began a quick skin burn due to the friction and velocity. It also yanked me off my feet like a hooked fish and was whisking me to the edge of the elevator roof. Instinctively, I grabbed for anything my hands could hit and miraculously latched onto a secure pipe that was just there somehow. The rope spun off my leg as I heard the sickening sound of the collector hitting the ground below with a loud crash. The air was silenced for a moment while I was lying there on my stomach with my hands firmly grasping the pipe at the edge of the grain elevator. Only later, once I had been lowered back down to the ground, did the seriousness of the situation sink into my consciousness. I realize now that the pipe atop the roof of that towering structure had been about as close to the hem of His cloak as I’ve ever come in this life.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

TROUBLED WATERS



Crashing Waves
Frozen in Time


Our adult Sunday class was watching a short video on location at the Sea of Galilee. The lesson centered on the disciples of Jesus who had just participated in the miracle of feeding a crowd of five thousand that had followed Jesus to the shores of Galilee. The disciples had then left by boat while Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the people and pray. A strong wind came up and buffeted the small boat as the disciples fearfully watched what appeared to them to be a ghost walking toward them. When Peter recognized Jesus, he asked to join him and left the boat. But even after just witnessing yet another miracle, he began to lose faith as the wind continued to blow, and Jesus had to reach out to save him. When they climbed into the boat the wind died down and the disciples began believing that he was indeed the Son of God who had dominion over the winds and the waters.

The story immediately called to mind a life threatening experience I had in my early adulthood during a late fall duck hunt in central Kansas. Myself and two other hunting companions had set out for a huge Corps of Engineering flood control reservoir well before dawn on a cold-to-the-bone star lit night. Our truck was pulling a flat bottomed john boat we had converted into a floating duck blind using framed chicken wire laced with long stemmed prairie grass. We were layered in warm hunting clothes with insulated boots and our pockets were stuffed with twelve gauge shotgun shells. The bottom of the boat was crowded with dozens of floating decoys and a sturdy anchor. Our faithful black lab, Peanuts, was shaking with the excitement of another adventurous hunt. As we backed our floating blind down the boat ramp and into the frigid waters, we could hear the rush of wings overhead and the feeding calls of the wild mallards that had arrived overnight on the northerly winds. The evening weather forecast had predicted a severe change as a Canadian cold front was expected to blitz through the Midwestern United States. That’s the kind of nasty forecast which is a duck hunter’s dream. Dropping temperatures fueled by strong winds stirs the migratory instincts of winged waterfowl across the world.

We cautiously steered our john boat under the setting moon along the outer shoreline for about a mile or more until we found the sanctuary of a relatively sheltered inlet cove. As first light was breaking the darkness, we began to deliberately set out the anchored decoys in the shallow waters in a wide arc, allowing a center opening for incoming flights of ducks to attempt a landing. Then we edged the john boat back into a stand of tall grasses and tree saplings opposite the bobbing decoys. Almost immediately the spitfire strafing began into the decoys. One by one we singled out the lesser point drakes to fill our legal harvesting point totals. Peanuts would just return from jumping into the cold water to retrieve a downed mallard when he was right back into the lake after another. After about two hours of a career day on the water, my teeth had begun to chatter uncontrollably as we all noticed that the winds had picked up considerable intensity and white caps were gathering out in the lake away from our sheltered hunting cove. I cast a glance at Peanuts shivering in the end of the boat as ice crystals covered his wet hair. As I hunkered down behind the grassed frame, freezing rain and sleet were beginning to accumulate on everything around us. Rivulets of ice began forming around every stem of grass protruding from the icy waters. We were left with the sobering realization that we had already stayed too long, so we immediately began to retrieve our decoys and head for the boat ramp.

By this time, the waves were treacherously lapping onto the side of our john boat which began taking on additional weight as water instantly froze to the grassed frames. And then it happened! Since we were trying to cling to the relative safety of the shoreline, we had hit bottom and snapped the shear pin that protected the motor’s propeller. The north wind and waves were unfortunately moving away from land, so we immediately began to drift out to the open water white caps. Our weight and heavy clothing would have almost assuredly capsized us into the frigid waters. None of us would survive if that happened. I chattered a quick prayer under my frozen breath. Then one of my hunting companions found one last spare shear pin taped to the underside of the motor and we quickly installed it and steered back to the safety of the shoreline. Survivor instincts kicked in and we all instantly realized that we wouldn’t make it if this pin was also sheared. So I grabbed an oar and crawled over the bow of the john boat on my stomach and began probing for the lake bottom. The second the oar hit bottom I yelled into the cutting wind to steer away from shore! We had to move slow enough for me to plumb for the bottom and fast enough so that the northern winds didn’t drive us out to the deadly open water. We labored at this for about an hour as the winds increased, the temperature dropped and the freezing rain and waves continued to weigh down the boat and slow us down. None of us mentioned the possibility of running out of fuel as the motor strained to maintain forward progress as we zig zagged with and against the waves.

I would have rejoiced in seeing a ghostly spirit walking across the stormy lake to calm the wind and the waves that were steadily sinking us. But finally the boat ramp came into view and we crippled into its shelter and safety. The truck was barely able to pull the heavily iced boat out of the water. No, we didn’t see a savior walking on water, but to this day I know He was already in the boat protecting us with one last shear pin and guiding us away from troubled waters with none left to save us.