Friday, December 28, 2012

MOMENTS IN TIME

General Anthony Wayne, Valley Forge, PA

As we wrap up another trip around the sun, news organizations are providing us with their retrospectives on the past year’s events and the passages of those of us they consider notables. A recent article observed that we all have our moments in time that define us. The article described some of these moments as the choices we make, the obstacles we surmount, the dreams we achieve or fall short of achieving, the people we love and in general how we respond to the challenges of life that we encounter. In essence, how we are remembered.

I noticed that even the most notable of folks didn’t merit much more than a short paragraph that succinctly summarized their time on the planet. The causes of death ranged from Larry Hagman with cancer and Andy Griffith with a heart attack; Vidal Sassoon died from natural causes and Tony Scott from suicide; Doc Watson succumbed to the complications of a fall while Steven Covey’s complications resulted from a bicycle accident. Rodney King whose beating resulted in the LA riots died unexpectedly from an accidental drowning while Ray Bradbury who was a prolific storyteller died after a long illness.

Rodney King will be remembered for asking “Can we all get along?” in the midst of the violence while Ray Bradbury wrote more than 600 short stories and 25 novels. Joe Paterno lived to 85 and had been credited as the winningest Division I coach in history, but most of his legacy was summed up as a pedophile enabler. Victoria Soto on the other hand was only 27 when she became the symbol of selfless heroism by losing her life shielding her young students. Whitney Houston had a meteoric rise to fame in the entertainment world while selling 13 million copies of her self-named CD. Yet her life and career spiraled down even faster in the wake of drug abuse, so that her final obit included the infamous quote “I make too much money to ever smoke crack…Crack is Wack”.

Most of us experience defining moments that are out of the bright lights and will never receive the national press of these celebrities, albeit just a paragraph. But those moments and our responses are of course nonetheless of great importance to our individual legacies. It could certainly be argued that there are equally important legacies of raising a child, assisting a student, mentoring a new employee, preparing a meal, caring for an aging parent, advocating for abused animals, modeling goodness, demonstrating love for others, etc. However, we shouldn’t obsess about the worthiness of our lives, but rather strive to be worthy in all we do, no matter how exalted or mundane in the eyes of men.

Fame and fortune are fleeting moments in time, but striving to walk in the Light on our life’s journey is the path to a timeless moment.


WHERE IS GOD?

Footprints, Kiawah Island, SC

Death is certain but not life. Where is God when the uncertainties manifest themselves upon us? We read that the Light is omnipresent and that same Light is within us, so that God works in this broken world through us. So when we observe unspeakable tragedy, injustice and suffering in this world...where are we?

Monday, December 24, 2012

CHRISTMAS EVE WITH THE WOLF AND THE LAMB

Grace & Rosemary, Jamestown, NC

Family is gathered at my home this Christmas Eve including family members Grace and Rosemary. Grace and Rosemary are normally the sole proprietors of their respective realms, but on this Christmas Eve, they must share the role and live peaceably together. That doesn’t seem to come any easier for dogs than it does for humankind. Initially, they were romping around the house trying to establish their new roles which seemed to come naturally to them. That went on for quite a while until frankly they wore themselves out and proceeded to lie down beside one another, resigned to a mutual peace.

That image of Grace and Rosemary immediately called to mind the prophesy of Isaiah 11:6 that “the wolf will lie down with the lamb…and a little child will lead them”. Given that Rosemary was the one generally giving chase to Grace, There's also a quote by comedian Woody Allen that it's likely “the lamb won’t get much sleep” and neither has Grace! The first two chapters of Luke have the most relevant Christmas story for me at this time of the year. And I think the message the good doctor records in chapter 17 is even more relevant:

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).”

Once the Christ child grew to be thirty years old, he began a three year ministry to fulfill his mission on earth to teach us how to live meaningful lives together. He taught us one prayer that implored us to help establish a kingdom of light on earth as it is in heaven. There is always hope for a peaceable kingdom as long as there are human beings that take up the challenge to hold people in the Light who are tragically suffering tonight and by constantly working to achieve that kingdom of peace here on earth. Yes, let there be grace and peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

GUN STORES

Land of the Free and the Brave, Washington, DC

"Let's put a teacher in every gun store"!

--Jef Johnson

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

LIGHT IS LOVE

Light is Love, Jamestown, NC

Darkness cannot dispel darkness; only light can.

Hate cannot dispel hate; only love can.

Light is Love


"I am the Light of the World;

he who follows me will not walk in darkness"

--John 8:12

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

CHRISTMAS 2012

Christmas Eve 2010, Jamestown, NC

Christmas is the light of God’s response to the darkness in this broken world where all have the free will to choose hate or love.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

DRIVE BY COMPASSION


Christmas Streets, Kansas City,MO
Panhandling on the Street, Chicago, IL


It’s the holiday season once again and most folks are generally in a holiday mood. My adult Sunday class recently spent time ringing Salvation Army bells around one of those ubiquitous red kettles that sprout up all around the city at this time of the year. And it was a great way to start the holiday season to once again be part of an effort to facilitate the generous outpouring of my fellow citizens to give a helping hand to those less fortunate. It’s especially gratifying to watch proud parents stand aside while young children joyously place coins in the kettle.

The experience of our class members prompted a discussion last year about not being able to ignore the folks standing on street corners and medians with handmade signs asking for money as we drive by them. Some of them expressed feelings of guilt if they didn’t give the person something. And I suppose we all really have to quickly assess each circumstance to attempt a good decision because unfortunately, many street people are afflicted by addictions or mental illness. In many cases, giving money on the street only enables the person to continue their self-destructive behavior. This situation was amplified recently with the much publicized photo of the New York City police officer buying a pair of socks and boots for a barefoot man on the street. Reporters soon found that the man had a government subsidized apartment in the Bronx and spotted him soon afterwards back on the street walking barefoot and panhandling.

Sad to say, but it would seem that when we’re confronted with these situations, it might just be in the best interest of all to reconsider a direct donation to these people on the street. That “drive by compassion” may provide us with a short term feel good fix, but it doesn’t provide the recipient with any sort of long term quality of life. It just extends their life on the street for another day. Rather, when we’re confronted with this situation, a donation to a local shelter or a low overhead organization like the Salvation Army might be the best use of our hard earned money. These groups can assess situations and provide basic needs of food and shelter and even counseling for constructive change and hope for the future, rather than enabling a hopeless life on the streets which I don’t believe any of us would consciously finance. Loving our fellow man sometimes requires a form of tough love instead of a "drive by compassion" which doesn’t help anyone.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

Holiday Home, Charleston, SC

A friend recently asked if I was comfortable living in “the south” after transferring here fifteen years ago. There is admittedly still a slight bit of tension between the natives and “northerners”. I suppose being from the Heartland of America and a “border state” during the War Between the States over 125 years ago gives me a free pass to walk the line. But quite frankly, I don’t waste much of my precious time on this planet obsessing about a difference of opinion between two factions of long dead folks that were on both sides of the fence. Most all of us have moved on.

But the question did give me pause to think about ever being too comfortable living anywhere. I’ve had the good fortune to travel over much of this expansive country and other parts of the world to know that I don’t really belong anywhere in particular. And I’ve read that perhaps we’re actually wired to understand that this planet and this mortal life is not our primary destiny. Rather, this life and this place are just a temporary environment to grow our spirits that transcend this existence. That nagging anxiety operating in the background has been instilled in us human beings to prompt us to seek out our final destiny while we muddle through the motions of this life. Have you ever noticed that anytime we seek out a comfortable niche in the world, life happens, and we’re jolted out of it before long? You can run from life but you can’t hide and it will seek you out and pull you screaming and kicking from your rabbit hole! Perhaps that’s why so many folks are in a state of constant disillusion because they’ve come to expect that comfort is their destiny rather than the challenges and pain that accompany growth and preparation for our ultimate home.

The Christmas holiday is a special time to seek out a warm and inviting home if you have one to go to. It’s a time of year when it’s good to have friends and family around. It’s a time for fireplaces, candle light, good food, warm wishes and fellowship. It’s a time for remembering Christmas’ past and those loved ones who gather near to us in spirit. It’s a time for celebrating the Christ child who never had a comfortable, permanent home, but prepared one for all of us. Nostalgic holiday music beckons us to come home for Christmas. And if our life circumstances do not allow us to go home for Christmas this year, we can always know that “I’ll be there, if only I stay in His presence”.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

THE SPIRIT OF GIVING

Christmas Snow, Jamestown, NC

The time was 1897, not all that long removed from the horrendous War Between the States. It was a time when hope and faith were waning in the country as men like Francis Church, the son of a Baptist minister who had covered the war as a correspondent, were still reassembling their lives and outlook. Church now worked the editorial desk at The New York Sun and found himself to be the dubious recipient of a short but direct letter from a young eight year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. When other children had challenged her belief in Santa Claus, her father had delicately sidestepped the subject by encouraging her to write to the last word in their household—The Sun. Church’s now famous editorial reply was titled “Is There a Santa Claus?” after Virginia’s closing question to the newspaper. But it was his opening sentence of the second paragraph of the now most memorable editorial in newspaper history that everyone remembers; “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding”.

A recent study found that if two groups of people were given a fixed amount of money and asked to either spend it on themselves or someone else, the ones who gave their money to others reported a significant uptick in mood compared to the other group. It came as no great surprise to find that there is a lasting joy to be had in giving to help others and that it’s a relative bargain compared to the money people spend on pursuing happiness. That spirit of giving, personified in a rotund bearded man in a red suit, is still alive and well and was the message that has resounded in the hearts of folks ever since the first edition of Church’s reply to Virginia was published over one hundred years ago around Christmas time. And that’s the true power of giving--when the gift is given with love, generosity and devotion it is returned tenfold in the form of blessings of lasting joy and an enriched life.

"Freely you have received, freely give".--Jesus, Matthew 10:8

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

MAY THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS ABIDE WITH YOU ALL THROUGH THE NEW YEAR!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

ADAPTING TO LIFE EVENTS

Fork in the Road, Greensboro, NC

I had just cleared the on ramp to the interstate highway and was at full speed to merge to the right as the road forked shortly afterward. A formless gray overcast sky was spitting cold rain drops on my windshield. The SUV ahead of me was scattering a fine mist from its rear wheels onto my car as well. As I was focused on the road ahead a rather large white pickup truck raced past my left side to barely make the merge to the right. As he passed my car and abruptly cut in front of me a small pebble was thrown into the mist and hit my glass windshield in the lower section of the passenger’s side.

A few weeks earlier, I had violated one of my present rules of life to never again purchase a new car. I’m quite alright letting someone else pay the depreciation penalty to drive one off the dealer’s lot. However, as I was bargaining for last year’s model, I had to complement the salesman on his finesse in playing one of the most artful games of “bait and switch” that I had ever personally participated in. And now I was experiencing that first ding in my new automobile.

Fortunately, I had recently finished a book on Zen and the Art of Happiness where the author revealed a similar circumstance. It occurred to me that I had two choices; either burst into an uncontrollable fit of road rage, run the offending pickup off the road, pull the driver outside, rip his heart out and spend the rest of my life in prison or I could apply a lesson I had learned from the book; “A situation only becomes favorable when one adapts to it”. I resolved to respond to the event not as a “bad event” but a “good event” which determined what it became in my life.

I’m no longer anxious or a bit stressed waiting on that first painful ding on my new possession. Now I can go somewhere without parking in the far corner of the mall lot and walking half a mile to pick up a new pair of socks. Now I don’t have to drop back thirty car lengths in heavy traffic to avoid getting my windshield inevitably dinged for the first time. Now I can actually use my new acquisition for its intended purpose with less stress in my life. I followed the author’s advice and wondered “what good could come from this”? We can’t unring a bell and we can’t unding a windshield, but we can always choose to respond positively to keep our life between the ditches.

Monday, December 3, 2012

WAKING THE WATCHER

Daylight Stillness, Kiawah Island, SC
Twilight Stillness, Grand Lake, OK


The founder of modern philosophy, Descartes, rendered a famous answer to the ageless question, “Is there anything I can know with absolute certainty”? He replied that “I think, therefore I am”. He was equating thinking with being, but he had actually defined our ego. The ego is constantly chattering about all the things that we need to be doing to maintain our survival and perceived identity. Three hundred years later Jean-Paul Sartre examined these words and concluded that the consciousness that understands “I am” is not the same as the ego that thinks. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be capable of knowing we are thinking. That discovery of awareness led to an emerging new dimension of consciousness.

Once we begin to exploit that voice in our head that seems to be constantly in the foreground, we can position our consciousness in the background and observe the voice. By waking the watcher, we are now beginning to comprehend our true consciousness apart from the ego that dominates much of our thoughts and thinking life. And we begin to free ourselves from our ego and its need for form and self importance. When we learn to listen to the voice we soon discover our own conscious presence apart from the mind. We are then on the true path of human beings, our essential identities as conscious beings.

It’s been said that stillness is the language God speaks and everything else is a bad translation. When we focus on being still and quieting the ego within, we can then become even more aware of our true conscious self beyond our ego. We cannot become aware of it through thinking, but silently observing. It truly becomes an “ah ha” moment when we are able to consciously observe the mind raising up another thought that competes for our attention. That’s the moment we comprehend the separation between our ego and our conscious self. When we are still, we become aware of the formless, eternal, consciousness we will be when our bodily form dissolves. The Psalmist knew this when he was inspired to write Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God”.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

THE CHANGING RIVER OF LIFE


Headwaters of Valley Creek, Valley Forge, PA
Chicago River into Lake Michigan, Chicago, IL


The voices of Zen philosophy reach back into human thought for over 6,000 years. Those voices don’t erode my present views, but enhance them, especially the meditative thoughts of our place in the universe. I like the view that our lives are like streams that become rivers moving with ever increasing pace and acquired knowledge as we grow and eventually merge into a universal sea of consciousness.

We are the gateway through which the path of our lives is charted. Our personal job description is to build our character that will determine how well we negotiate the path and transcend this mortal life. The only way to make sense of change is to believe that I can benefit from it and I can bring some good out of it by staying in the presence of the conscious creator of the universe. Neither joy nor stress is contained in things or situations in this life. But how our mind responds to them can result in one or the other. When you can keep your head about you when all around are losing theirs and remain positive in the face of adversity, then you have attained joy in life that will sustain you. Being accepting of my present circumstance, but always seeking growth and challenges in order to adapt to the new normal, is a river that will provide smoother sailing.

And we can never sail on the same river twice, for by then both the river and we have changed once again.

Monday, November 19, 2012

DON’T GIVE UP

Hanging On, Jamestown, NC

Early morning temperatures this Thanksgiving week hover around the freezing mark heralding the onset of winter. Free falling leaves have been spiraling down for weeks as the life sustaining sap is withdrawn back into the core of the trees. All of nature is bracing for the fallow season of freezing weather and cold north winds. And yet, as I gazed up into the naked branches of a clump birch this morning, there are still a handful of leaves that tenaciously cling to the branches. These spirits of the forest know that the race is won by those who strive in the face of adversity; those who spend themselves in a worthy cause; those who exert the greatest enthusiasm; those who know the triumph of high achievement and at least if they fail, know that if they have given life their best shot they will never be with those timid souls who will never know neither victory or defeat. They’re hanging in there and hanging on!

I love the quotation from Calvin Coolidge that I kept with me all through my professional business career. Our 30th president stated that “Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”. It’s been said that skid row is full of talented, educated, intellectuals who lacked the prime asset of perseverance. Persistence is a great equalizer when it is applied with more grit and determination than your competitor or oppressor. Don’t give up when you have something left to give. Nothing is really finished until you quit trying. Jimmy Valvano said it best during his 1993 ESPY speech as he fought the good fight against cancer when he left us with the admonition, “Don’t give up…Don’t ever give up”!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

STANDING ON THE CORNER

Running of the Leaves, Jamestown, NC

I was casually driving in the climate controlled comfort of my car's leather cabin this morning while listening to a remastered version of The Beatles Abbey Road which I had downloaded onto the hard disc drive of the audio system. A mid-November cold front preceded by a cold rain riding a north wind was pushing its way into the Carolinas, reminding all who ventured out today that the holidays were once again knocking at our doorstep. Passing vehicles stirred rapid successions of mini-whirlwinds of leaf devils, like the dust devils that swirl over freshly plowed farm fields. They gathered in great bands and rapidly joined together in powerful wind gusts to race down the street and along banked gutters. The very high spirited among them raced onto the freeway, attempting to outrun the speeding vehicles in a scene reminiscent of the running of the bulls.

As I rolled past the edge of a local college campus, I caught the eye of a young man huddled on the street corner apparently waiting to cross over to his Spartan off campus apartment. He was wearing typical campus attire with a dark hoodie over blue jeans. He seemed isolated and a bit uneasy as the reality of a raw cold wind penetrated the exposed core of his body and the survival instinct of his psyche.

That brief glance shook me out of my complacency and the Beatles music whisked me away back to my simplistic roots of college days in the 1960’s. My father had died of cancer during my sophomore year and I had laid out during the fall semester to earn enough money to continue my education. I sold my customized Ford and eventually lived back at home to obtain a degree. I had worked as a construction laborer and welder on an industrial building expansion project. Just as we removed the immense north doors of the large building to reposition them onto the new expansion, a similar cold front hit the area with scattered sleet riding on north winds that stung your exposed face. We had to finish the job, so we worked out in the elements for twenty minutes and then sought shelter and warmth inside for twenty minutes until the building was secured. I made considerably less money on that job than I currently earn in retirement. But it was enough.

Those kinds of early experiences can define a life. The challenges became a crucible to harden my resilience and move ahead. I eventually also learned that I never stood alone as long as I asked my heavenly Father to stand with me. And here I am today, silently passing by another young man standing alone on the corner, full of promise and hope for the future as he shivers in the elements. I wish him all the best including the presence of his heavenly Father to sustain him, north winds to keep his attention focused and enough hard times to strengthen his resolve.

Friday, October 26, 2012

VANISHING AMERICANA

Vehicle Tea Leaves, Greensboro, NC

Ever have one of those “Aha moments” when all of a sudden you realize something is missing in your life? I was walking to my car in Home Depot’s parking lot today when I spotted a bumper sticker that caught my attention. It proclaimed, “You Text, You Drive, You Die”! And I thought to myself, “What a nice sentiment—too bad Hallmark Cards didn’t think of this first”. It would have been a nice thought to include in one of their fuzzy, feel good “Thinking of You” cards with some playful bunnies on the front holding paws in a field of green clover. The sticker on the back window read, “I wonder if you’d drive any better if that cell phone was up your butt”! This person seems to be technologically challenged, you think? Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen as many bumper stickers lately as I’ve seen in the past. So, since I’m retired and now have the time for special projects of little meaning, and since I was across the street from a fertile lot of Americana, I reached into my glove box for my trusty camera and proceeded to Wal-Mart.

It seems like I’ve always been an inveterate reader. If you place anything readable in front of my face, I’ll go into autopilot mode and digest every word. I’m programmed and conditioned to read the back of cereal boxes, both in-your-face and subliminal television ads, any sort of outdoor road signs, proclamations on a blimp, plane, train or automobile, warning signs for buried gas lines, etc. Much to my surprise, I actually didn’t find many vehicles with stickers on the back---but I did photograph a few. Could it be that folks have finally figured out that these things don’t add much value to their cars when it’s time to trade or sell them? Or must they prematurely part with them if they change political parties, religions, orientation, marital status, pet preferences, schools, teams, etc.? But it would seem that if someone is predisposed to use bumper stickers on their vehicle, they are generally all in. What I didn’t find were any political stickers, although I did hear that the “Cash for Clunkers” program our crack Congress passed after the last election cleared most of them off the streets! I did spot a couple Kiwanis stickers proclaiming “I’m the Proud Parent of a Terrific Kid”! But I missed the anti-sticker retorting that “My Kid can beat up Your Honor Student”! Alas, it would seem that the age of the Americana bumper sticker is fading fast!

One thing I‘ve also observed is that you can learn an awful lot about a person’s life by reading the tea leaves on the rear of their vehicle. For instance, take the photo of the green SUV I shot in Wal-Mart’s lot. This vehicle belongs to a core family living in North Carolina comprising a mother, father, boy and girl. They possibly have a New York connection as evidenced by their loyalty to both the Mets and the Jets and/or they relate to the New York attitude. And they are quite probably Hispanic as noted by the “Mi Orgullo” (My Pride) Spanish sticker, they worship in a Catholic church as evidenced by the fish symbol over the Jeep insignia indicating their value consciousness, and you can see they have a good sense of humor when you read the sticker proclaiming that “HAPPINESS IS…NO TAN LINES”!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

LIFE AFTER LIFE

Divine Light, Jamestown, NC

I recently came across a conversation between an avowed atheist and a seemingly agnostic. The agnostic had commented that “I wish I believed in God and there is an afterlife”. The atheist responded that “That’s always been repulsive to me. It takes all the truth and joy and humanity and love out of our lives. If there’s an afterlife, then the life we have here is not precious. I don’t wish that’s the way the world worked”.

The agnostic went on to comment that “The hard part about not believing in God is how many other things I can’t believe in”. Frankly, I don’t have a problem reconciling the issue at all. I believe the unique life we have been given here on earth is priceless beyond measure. I believe God created human beings in His image and when divine spirit meets human body, a soul is born. Our informed spiritual soul transcends this mortal life once we have experienced all there is to offer in this earthly existence. We all have trials and storms to weather in this life. Some folks have much more severe trials than most could ever imagine, and I have to believe that they may have never experienced truth, joy, love and humanity in their tortured lives. But they still qualify for a restored spiritual life. Of course, many who experience a relatively easy life with all of the possible earthly pleasures may quite possibly spend their spiritual life in eternal darkness apart from God’s presence. That’s why it’s important for us to spend at least as much time working on our spiritual life as our mortal life, since the relatively short time span of this life pales in comparison to an eternal timeless spiritual life.

Do any of us know for certain that there is life after death and God’s Son defeated death on the cross? I know that all His disciples were locked in an upper room fearing for their lives as their master teacher was dying on that cross. And then it is recorded that all but John met horrendous ends while proclaiming his divine nature and victory. They all had a very personal experience with a resurrected being. It is the one great hope of mortal humans and it is the basis of the sixth sense we all occasionally experience when we are privileged to glimpse into the spiritual realm. If the atheist is right, none of us will ever know. But if believers are right, he will have lost everything. That’s what’s repulsive to me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

FACING LIFE



Whimsical Cut Out, Jamestown, NC
Photo Time, Jamestown, NC
Face Time, Ashville, NC


October is Pumpkin Patch fund raising time at our local church and one of the benefits of retirement is selling pumpkins during the weekday mornings. That’s when the preschool children arrive for storytelling around the hay bales, a genuine old fashioned country hay ride and a small pumpkin to decorate. A few parents can generally be there with digital cameras to record the fall celebration. The toddlers that came to our pumpkin patch today didn’t disappoint. Their innocent and wide-eyed wonder always gives us “older and wiser” adults hope for mankind’s destiny. There’s a definite reason Jesus encouraged us to seek His kingdom with the openness of a child, before the world hardened our hearts and filters of bias clouded our vision. A UCLA study confirmed what Jesus already knew about the human condition: On a given day, five-year-olds engage in creative tasks 98 times, laugh 113 times, and ask 65 questions. Forty four-year-olds take on only 2 creative tasks, laugh 11 times and ask 6 questions daily.

How many times have you been out on a lark or a good time vacation and happened upon a whimsical face cut out with a buff body or cartoon character painted below the circular opening? And who can resist poking your head into the cut out for a self-deprecating photo taken from the other side? Once young children see the fun of it, they’re all in!

I’ve always advocated that it’s much more effective to personally visit versus calling or texting another person for some quality “face time” if you really want to make a point or an impression. And we show many faces to the world in this life--faces of great love, joy, surprise, fright, somberness, anger and grief to name just a few. But when we show our face in a whimsical cut out, it’s almost always the face of happiness!

Monday, October 15, 2012

SEVENTY YEAR GIFT

Autumn Rain Shower, Jamestown, NC

On the Occasion of the First Day of my Seventieth Year on the Planet

I spent the entire morning at my church yesterday presenting the message for our annual stewardship campaign. I enjoyed the experience as it really was the culmination of a lifetime occupied with business, family, spirit, and learning. Our team’s message this year is how God’s overflowing blessings of grace have touched our lives to enable us to act as the vessels of clay that can in turn pour out additional blessings to others in need of both material and spiritual nourishment.

I had risen earlier than usual this morning since I had spent all yesterday afternoon outside in my yard celebrating the glorious fall weather and balancing my morning time spent indoors. It wasn’t that I was so anxious to rise early on a Monday as that my body was in a bit of revolt from the excessive physical labor of planting, raking and pruning which I enjoy. Sometimes the best way to cope with life is to simply focus on the task at hand, get a “good kind of tired” night’s sleep and vow to try again tomorrow. I’ve always liked the closing lines of Voltaire’s Candide after he’s been confronted with all the woes of the world. He acknowledges the brokenness, but responds to his mentor Pangloss with the enigmatic precept that “we must now cultivate our garden”.

So, fortunately, I was up and drinking my morning coffee when a lifelong friend called to wish me a Happy Seventieth Birthday! At this point in life, I try to appreciate every present moment on the green side and the occasion of my seventieth birthday had quite frankly escaped me. Life has been relatively good when viewed from the perspective of the reality of the temporary, broken world we inhabit. And I’m still able to acquire my few needs as they arise, so birthday presents aren’t highly anticipated at this stage. I did, however, receive a book gift card from my daughter and son-in-law, quietly delivered by the UPS guy in brown soon after the call, which was nice. I’ll have it redeemed by sundown!

It’s been a dry season for most parts of the country and the small patch of the earth that I tend was showing signs of stress as I toiled in my yard yesterday. I was satisfied with my labors and retired at nightfall, but I’ve learned that no amount of watering from my insignificant little garden hose can ever match a good soaking rainfall. And then at morning’s first light, I heard the slow crescendo of rain drops on my fireplace flue followed by a more rapid and louder rhythm on the deck outside my window. I reflected on past Mondays as I rose and drove to work on a chilly, raw autumn Monday. I reflected then on how beautiful it might be someday to simply sit at home on a Monday morning and enjoy the blessing of raindrops being poured out over the land. And so I savored the priceless gift.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

CHANGING THE GUARD

Evening Light, Jamestown, NC

The long, golden rays of the setting sun cast a sharp contrast onto the slender trunks of a crepe myrtle tree and transparently filter through delicate strands of decorative grass. A distant chorus of crows caw a litany of curses after a hawk that had sought solace from the days hunt in the tree top canopy. A departing airline’s jet engine breaks the silence and its alien sound rises and then falls as it passes overhead, giving way to a distant drone and then silence again. Even the three crows give up their taunting and wing overhead toward their night’s secluded roost in the trees. Not a leaf is stirring amidst the soothing calls of distant insects settling into the resurgent green grasses. And in the midst of the peaceful calm of the glowing fall sunbeams, you can sense the seasons changing the guard.

The hot days of summer quietly slip away and acquiesce to the cool nights of fall. The temperature drop prompts green liquid chlorophyll to ease from the tree leaves finally revealing their true colors. Rose branches make one last desperate reach to the heavens and unfurl their colorful blooms in silent and reverent wonder. Song birds lower their singing in response to their circadian systems slowing to the rhythm of the cool ambient air surrounding them. All creation pauses and breathes a sigh as the growing season surrenders to a melancholy time of winnowing down into fallow fields and barren landscapes.

Another circle of life has marked the earth’s passage around the sun. The sky turns a clear blue grey while a trough of colder air passes, triggering an ethereal fog that settles into the low lying valleys and lakes. Spirits rise and gracefully dance on the water’s surface to herald the autumnal equinox. A brightly shining harvest moon provides just enough reflective light to enable rural farmers to gather the last remnants of the growing season’s bounty. And God whispers through the stillness, “Well done, rest and be at peace” as dark shadows silently descend on the motionless land and its muted inhabitants.

Monday, October 8, 2012

SUN FLOWERS

Sunflower Spirit, Jamestown, NC

I exited onto a spiraling loop during a recent road trip and experienced one of those rare visual feasts that sometimes await us around the next curve. Standing at the base of the loop was a field of brightly glowing sunflowers facing toward the rising morning sun in the east. Vincent Van Gogh was fascinated with painting sunflowers and they’re just as fascinating to photograph with the sun’s rays back lighting the yellow petals. I waited for the long rays of the lowering sun in the west to cast their light across the horizon and drove back to the field. Perhaps sunflowers could just as easily be called sun catchers the way they gather up sunbeams and give them color and definition. The bright colors in the sun not only attracted my curious spirit but there were also butterfly spirits deftly winging about the ripening seed faces. Whoever first named these bright reflections of the sun couldn’t have taken more than a second. These shining flowers don’t reflect light so much as they transpose it into a personification of the life force that sustains our planet.

Higher mathematics actually reveals a beautiful order underlying this seemingly chaotic world. The Fibonacci sequence of numbers is prevalent in many facets of nature such as the spiral of a chambered nautilus shell or the branching of trees. This sequence can be derived by starting with zero and one and determining the next sequential number by adding the previous two. The sequence appears to be one of the principal laws of nature. And they can be seen in the growth pattern of petals and florets in the sunflower to affirm its universal beauty and form.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

UP IN THE AIR

Air Force Two, Piedmont Triad Airport, NC

I was on a late flight into Charlotte on a recent Sunday night. I had previously booked an aisle seat when I made my reservations on-line which is my preferred location on a plane after numerous road warrior trips. My absolute last choice is the center seat on planes with three seats together in a row. Inevitably, one or both persons in the aisle and window seats either hasn’t bathed since leaving home to work in the tropics with a primitive tribe of headhunters or they are constantly eating, drinking and listening to loud rap music or an Armageddon movie on some electronic device. And of course, I always cringe when some harried mother boards with a screaming child and begins to eye the seat next to mine.

Well, I didn’t get the personal hygiene person with a strange rash this trip, but I did get the crying baby. And then I noticed as I rose to allow access to the center seat next to me that an older woman in the center seat behind us knew the young mother. It was soon apparent that they were traveling together. Now I was conflicted with a choice—either sit next to the fussy baby for the next two hours or offer my coveted aisle seat to the grandmother in a center seat--decisions, decisions. I weighed my limited options and opted for the center seat in the next row in hopes that the grandmother would be much better suited to quiet the fussy baby. And I have joined other passengers in the past to give up seats to allow family members to sit together on crowded and chaotic flights.

Fortunately, the young man in the window seat to my right was a professional hockey scout and my traveling companion on the aisle seemed subdued enough. After making our introductions, I opened the book I was reading on Jesus’ life and his vision for us to lead lives of love, dignity, compassion, forgiveness, and hope. Since I was in the center seat with my overhead reading light on, I noticed that the young man on the aisle was also casually reading along once we were up in the air. Only when he spoke did I finally notice the camouflage hat he was wearing along with civilian clothing. He acknowledged the Christian book and implied that he had grown up in a Christian home. Then after he had apparently become comfortable with talking to me, he blurted out a serious issue that he had carried home to Tennessee after his return from the Afghanistan war.

I learned long ago that most folks who share a serious issue with someone are not really looking for a solution. And we men have the knee jerk DNA to immediately offer one. But people generally just want to talk out their pent up frustrations to someone who can patiently listen while keeping their mouth shut. So I just sat back in my center seat and let him talk through why he came home to Tennessee with this issue and occasionally offered any insights I had gleaned from the teachings I had learned from studying Jesus’ life and words at church and through readings. Our plane soon reached a comfortable cruising altitude and speed. The young soldier seemed to settle down and we toasted small plastic containers of soda drizzled over ice served by our aging steward. Later, friends suggested that perhaps a higher power had a hand in changing my seat assignment and a crying baby led me to a stranger in need of the message in my book and someone to listen to him while up in the air at 30,000 feet. And I’ve learned over the years that many times God will use human vessels of clay to pour out His grace to others in need if we are open to the experience. We’ve all been instructed to go out into the world to teach others of God’s love for His creation—and if necessary, we should use words.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

SHADOW COLUMNS

Shadow Colunms, I-40, NC

I was out on the open road recently and encountered another of those “Aha moments” as a passing cloud partially obscured the sun and revealed the sun’s rays shining through to my line of sight. I had learned earlier that meteorologists have actually named these light shafts crepuscular rays. But what I finally realized was that those rays of light had been with me all the time. It was only when a passing storm seemingly blocked them from my sight that I took notice. And what I was really observing were the consequent columns of dark shadows that provided the contrast in the skies above.

Our Carolina church celebrates old time “camp meeting” services for a few Sundays in the summer time. We sing old time gospels and imagine images of folks gathered in gingham dresses and shirts goin’ down to the river for salvation during the Victorian farming days. The spirit of that service brought back memories of my youth growing up in a small church in central Kansas, with the windows open wide on a warm Sunday morning. You could feel the spirit of God coming into that sanctuary on those warm summer breezes. But the invited spirit of God can arrive in many different ways, as demonstrated by a little blond girl that was sitting next to me.

At the conclusion of his sermon, our pastor asked anyone who felt the need to come forward to kneel and pray at the altar for God’s healing touch. And folks of all ages and probable reasons did come forward to be closer to their creator to receive His blessing. As the kneeling rails were vacated, I noticed the young little blond girl nudging her parents. She then reached into the busy bag they had carried with them into the pew and retrieved a small, well-loved, wide-eyed, white lamb. Then the four of them made their way to the altar and kneeled to pray, as the little girl placed the little lamb at the altar among the family. The symbolism was quite touching as the Lamb of God revealed His presence within that family and our congregation to shed His grace among all of us on a bright summer’s morn down by the Deep River.

No one is exempt from the dark days we experience in life, not even God as demonstrated on that Black Friday. But a bright light did shine out of the darkness on Easter Sunday to reveal a way through to the other side. And just as the shadow columns had helped to reveal the rays of light that were there in my presence, the life challenges that were being experienced by those people who had come forward gave us all pause to reflect and be aware of the Eternal light that could help everyone get through those dark shadows.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

THE TREE BESIDE LIVING WATERS

Beside Living Waters, Yorktown, VA

"The patriot's blood is the seed of Freedom's Tree."
--Thomas Campbell

I take a lot of photographs out in nature and I especially like to photograph images of light such as sunrises, sunsets and reflections. Not too many images of trees catch my eye, but one did as I was standing on the hallowed ground of the final battle of the American Revolution in Yorktown, Virginia. The graceful, wide ranging branches of a tree that was growing beside the York River immediately caught my attention. This living creation seemed to be bowing in silent reverence. Its symmetry and innate beauty is a visual testament to the last breaths taken by so many patriots that had fought and fell in the pursuit of freedom at this place. Their life blood had literally been spilled on this ground and it’s plausible that elements had eventually been drawn up by the giant tree’s life giving root system to sustain the organism.

I’m reminded of the writings of the very first Psalm in which those who place their faith in God are likened to a tree that is planted beside flowing, cool streams of water that never run dry. The Psalmist relates that your fruit ripens in its time and your leaves never fade or curl in the summer sun. No matter what you do, you prosper, i.e., when we apply God’s wisdom the fruit or results we bear will be good and receive God’s approval. This doesn’t imply an easy life, but a worthwhile life of true value. The Psalmist continues that those who turn their back on Him are like fallen husks of wheat, tossed by an open wind, left deserted and alone. Their path will end tragically, but the journey of all has been charted by the Eternal if we choose to follow. Those first Americans sought individual and religious freedom and dreamed of a future where their descendants worshiped God in a grand experiment of diversity and the unbridled pursuit of happiness. They planted their dream of a new country and new beginnings beside a stream of living water and the roots ran deep and they were never thirsty again.

ONE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA




Liberty, One Country, One Constitution, One Destiny, Yorktown, VA

I just had the pleasure of visiting friends who are native to the historic Yorktown, Virginia area. Since I still find stories of human struggle and victory so fascinating, I also found the area to be equally fascinating, especially the final battle of the American Revolution at Yorktown! The end began for British General Cornwallis here in North Carolina when General Washington’s second in command, General Nathaniel Greene, engaged Cornwallis’ troops at the battle of Guilford Courthouse. Greene and his revolutionaries didn’t win this engagement, but they did cripple the opposition who marched on to the Outer Banks and Yorktown.

Destiny awaited both armies at Yorktown via both French and divine intervention. Cornwallis dug in with earthen redoubts and an escape route at his back across the York River if necessary. He knew reinforcements were sailing from New York in the form of 24 British war ships. But the French had deployed 36 warships from the West Indies to assist the young upstarts and they engaged the British ships in the Chesapeake and routed them out to sea. That victory left the ports open to sail ships up the river with siege mortars and reinforcements for the Americans. The French Comte de Grasse commanding his naval army and the Comte de Rochambeau commanding his auxiliary troops joined Washington’s troops and the Marquis de Lafayette to begin a nineteen day siege of Cornwallis’ defenses. He was outnumbered two to one and ordered a retreat across the York in numerous boats. One wave of one thousand men made it to the opposite shore before a severe storm scattered and sunk the next wave. Cornwallis understood the grave implications and surrendered to end the revolutionary war on October 19, 1781.

A 95 foot tall memorial rose above the shore of this hallowed ground near the York River to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the struggle. The chosen designer, Richard Morris Hunt, fittingly studied architecture in Paris and left an indelible imprint on the American landscape with such other designs as Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, the Administration building at Chicago’s World Columbian exposition, the Tribune building, the fa├žade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty in New York. Lady Liberty stands atop the site as the cool breezes off the York still power sailing ships and billowing storm clouds pass in remembrance of the deciding blow to the defeated army. And circling around the monument are kindred souls locked in unity for the hope of “One Country, One Constitution, and One Destiny”—One United States of America!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

STANDING ON HOLY GROUND

Rocky Mountain High, Colorado
Ground Zero, New York, NY
Peaceful Garden, Greensboro, NC


Four years after we met and were married, my young wife and I spent our honeymoon in and around the colorful Colorado Rocky Mountains and rushing river valleys. I still have a sharp memory of standing together early one morning at the rim of a deep gorge in the Mesa Verde high country. An eagle soared on the winds’ warm updraft and his call echoed off the cliffs. The ancients that had built the stone cliff dwellings in this gorge had mysteriously abandoned their village long ago. As we stood there in the shade of weathered pines and quietly listened to the wind singing in the needles and the great chasm below, we began to experience God’s presence around us. There was a keen sense of awe and inspiration that we were standing on holy ground in the midst of God’s magnificent creation.

Almost forty years later, my wife and I were in New York City in 2004 celebrating my birthday and we took a taxi to the recently cleared “ground zero” site. Our female taxi driver was on duty the morning of September 11, 2001 and soon afterwards. On our drive to the area, she respectfully shared her experience that day and of hearing pinging sounds coming from the destruction for weeks later. It is sound that she will never forget. We stood at the security fence quietly observing the stark area with a lone rusting iron cross that had been fashioned out of the rubble where almost 3,000 souls had perished. I took this photograph on my birth date of an inscription left by another pilgrim. We instinctively knew that we were standing on hallowed ground as we reverently read the heartfelt message.

Four years later, the two of us were sitting on a park bench near home viewing one of the most beautiful images I had ever captured in my camera lens. I had just wandered over to a Magnolia tree in the small garden park where we enjoyed walking together in the cool of the day. My wife was uncharacteristically tired on this morning after a rather severe chemo treatment, but we were both overwhelmed by the sense of peace and love this image gave us. We didn’t quite understand it at the time, but we were once again standing together on holy ground at that moment. Fifteen days later, I was standing with my family on holy ground as she was welcomed into His presence.

The experience of these holy present moments can be life changing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

SLOW DOWN

Fast Ball, Wrigley Field, IL

I recently received an e-mail containing a poem written by a terminally ill twelve year old girl. It was titled Slow Dance and included the request to slow down and not dance too fast. This young girl was forced to mature beyond her years as time was short and she knew the music wouldn’t last. She characterized a day filled with hurry and worry as an unopened gift thrown away. Her final admonition not to dance too fast was that life is not a race, so take it slower and hear the music before the song is over.

The poem reminded me of a baseball I saw in an impressive trophy case years ago in Kansas City. My wife and I had been asked to represent our company at a charity Las Vegas party. It was generously being held at the home of the professional baseball player I most admired at the time. He had lost a good friend to ALS and the event was being held to raise donations for a cure. My baseball possessed father had me playing baseball from the time I could hold a bat without dropping it on my feet. So I was transfixed and blown away when we discovered that we were free to wander around the home which included a workout room and awards den. Most of the rooms were a testament to a long and storied sports career. However, there was one trophy case of signed baseballs that immediately caught my attention. No, it wasn’t the signed Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig baseballs, as impressive as they were for me. After all, ALS has been called Lou Gehrig’s disease since it stopped short the career of this giant of the game all too soon.

There was a signed baseball in one glassed case that was addressed to our gracious host for the evening and it said, “You’d better slow down. I hear you’re getting to be a lot like me”. It was obviously given to our host during his early single years of fame and fortune before he settled down with a wonderful wife and family. And it was signed by another baseball legend that died after a contentious liver transplant. He'd been quoted as saying, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself”. The man’s father had died far too early in life and Mickey Mantle apparently assumed his was the same fate, so he’d lived fast and never slowed down before it was too late. But I believe that baseball did make an impression on our host and it definitely made an impression on me.

Today is a good day to tell someone close to you that you love them.
Today is a good day to hug someone so they know you care.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Today is a good day to be still and know your God.

Monday, September 3, 2012

ETERNAL PRESENCE

Moon Reflecting Sun, Carolina Beach, NC

When Jesus states in John 3:16 that everyone who believes in him should not perish, he is referring to hell. The short one chapter book of Jude likens unbelievers as clouds without rain blown along by the wind, foaming wild waves of the sea, and wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. Jesus tells of a rich man in hell who attempted to appeal to a beggar in heaven for relief, but the chasm between the two was impenetrable. It’s thought provoking to consider that if you were born in this great country of America, you are considered as rich by most of the world. One of the best definitions I’ve come across regarding the concept of hell is simply eternal separation from the love of our creator. We know that nature abhors a vacuum and once goodness is removed, evil replaces the void. Once light is removed, darkness fills the void. Jesus tells us that he is the light of the world.

One of the greatest benefits of being born in this age is our ability to fly into the heavens aboard commercial airplanes. On many occasions I’ve walked into an airport on a bleak and dismal winter’s day where the sky was overcast and dark. But just minutes later I was airborne and breaking out of the dense cloud cover into brilliant sunshine and dazzling white clouds that are illuminated from above. That experience is always a reminder that even on our darkest days, there is always a light presence even though there may be obstacles that obscure it from us at the time. And a normal night sky generally reveals the reflection of the sun from our moon as the earth completes another rotation on its axis and we are reminded that the light is still present.

I’m reminded of the human issue of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s now an acknowledged disorder that affects many of us in varying degrees during seasonal changes where sunlight is withdrawn from our presence. It manifests itself in the human psyche as a depressed feeling of hopelessness. The most common prescribed treatment for SAD is exposure to a bright light. One of the oldest questions asked by inquiring minds is “why would a loving God condemn someone to an eternal life of darkness in a state called hell”? The short answer is that he doesn’t—they volunteer. When the chosen people of Israel turned their back on God, His response was to simply respond in kind and withdraw his protection. Jesus says that in the final day, some will be confronted with the admonition, “I never knew you. Away from me.” Once we have breathed our last, our book of life is closed and the light may be extinguished forever. But there will be no need for a sun or a moon in the new earth, for God’s light will be then be present and unobscured forever.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

SIGNS

Sunrise Jogger, Kiawah, SC

People often say that they'd believe in God if he would only show them a sign or appear to them. My response is that every day is filled with all sorts of miracles of creation starting with each new sunrise. Almost every recorded meeting of mortal man and a spiritual being begins with the words, "Fear not", as the experience will apparently scare the daylights out of you! I think I'll pass, thank you. And our creator actually did appear to thousands of people and even walked among us to tell us all we need to know for three years. But we killed him because the people were looking for a warrior king to free a nation instead of a peaceful savior for all mankind. Ultimately, we need that proverbial leap of faith from within to know Him.

There’s a story about a man wishing to know God by some sign. When he asks God to speak to him, a nightingale sings and distant thunder rolls across the land, but the man is wearing ear buds as he jogs and doesn’t hear. When he demands to see God, the morning star reflects in the sparkling waters just before a brilliant sunrise, but the man is running to the west and doesn’t see. So the man shouts to God for a miracle and a colorful flower unfurls its delicate petals while a child is born, but the man keeps his focus on running straight ahead and doesn’t notice. Then the man cried out in hopeless despair that life is meaningless and without purpose, and God revealed a book telling of the sacrifice of the Son he sent to guide him, always be with him, forgive him, and prepare an eternal home for him, but he doesn’t stop long enough to pick it up and read it. The man received many blessings that day, but he didn’t devote the time or attention that was necessary to recognize and receive them as he raced through his life.

We do live in a broken world with lots of trials and challenges along the way. And we can take heart in understanding that God has promised to be with us at all times, especially when invited. God doesn’t cause evil as much as he manages it and is always capable of helping us to bring good out of it. Just as darkness is the absence of light, so too evil fills the void in the absence of goodness. So those speed bumps on the road of life can actually prepare us for the major roadblocks that lie ahead. Every one that we successfully negotiate strengthens our character and faith for an eternal life after this mortal life. And guess what? Many times after we have awakened to a bright and clear morning after facing one of life’s severe storms, we actually find that we are the sign and blessing for others!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

VITRUVIAN SUNSET


Vitruvian Sunset, Flint Hills, KS

A good friend on chemotherapy suffered a heart attack early this year which was controlled with the application of a stint in his heart. He knew I liked to photograph the worldly beauty found in things like colorful blooms, sunrises and sunsets. After a few days in the hospital, he was released late in the day. He sent me a message that he and his wife had encountered a beautiful sunset building in the western Kansas sky as they drove home. As he related the experience, a large opening formed in the clouds to release a burst of brilliant light rays “shouting to all that GOD IS IN THE HOUSE”! The scene played out quickly just as they drove into their hometown and heard the sound of church bells ringing. His closing salutation read, “WOW!! Life is GOOD”!

My friend had experienced one of those anagogical moments in life. I hadn’t ever encountered this term until that very morning as I ironically finished a book about Leonardo Da Vinci’s image of Vitruvian Man. It seems that the term anagoge can be defined as the uplifting spiritual sense that is experienced when we encounter glimpses of heaven in worldly things such as aha text or breath taking images. I’m certain that at some point in your life such an image has crossed your path as well. The astronauts of Sky Lab II used it for their mission logo.

The Roman architect Vitruvius first proposed that the human body could be fit within a circle, representing the divine, and a square, representing the worldly. That gave rise to the theory of microcosm, man representing the cosmos in miniature—created in God’s own image. Leonardo was able to actually draw this concept, possibly using himself as a model, and keeping man at the center of each symbol, by lowering the square and positioning Vitruvian Man with arms and legs spread in the circle while overlaying Virtuvian Man standing with legs together and arms outstretched in the square. The iconic image was the culmination of numerous hours of studying human anatomy to gain an anagogical perspective on ourselves and our universe. Leonardo was the consummate Renaissance man whose genius and inquisitive mind literally moved the bar for all mankind.

I had already experienced one of my own anagogical moments while driving at sunset across the Kansas Flint Hills with my daughter and sister. Fortunately, I had a camera at the ready and captured one of those “lucky present moments”. The sun had just been obscured by a passing cumulous cloud revealing glorious crepuscular light rays casting God’s grace upon the earth. I sent the image to my friend after receiving his message. I’m thankful that my friend had this reassuring experience of God’s presence in such a sunset, as he died of cancer just four months later. And the Roman cross that held Christ’s body in much the same image as Vitruvian Man assures all of us that He defeated death and secured eternal life for those like my friend who believe.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

BURNING GASOLINE

Passing Jaguar, I-40, NC

We Americans love our vehicles and the open road. President Eisenhower enacted the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956 to construct 41,000 miles of beautiful ribbons of concrete and asphalt that just beg you to jump on them and drive simply for the enjoyment of cruising out in the open spaces of this great country. The initiative was actually started in 1938 as a national Great Depression jobs initiative and we’re now due for another one to reconstruct the system. If I’d been born one hundred years earlier, I’m certain I would be out riding my favorite and fastest horse over the unpaved hills and valleys on an inviting, sunny morning every chance I got. But in this generation, an open air sports car with a wind deflector works very well. And the prime value of a vehicle for me is measured in units of “satisfaction per gallon”. I use a vehicle to move my body from point A to B like most folks, but I really enjoy the freedom of driving out on the open road as the mile markers mark time and space.

The Second World War delayed the project, but it also provided the exposure of our troops and General Eisenhower to the German autobahn highway network and its enhanced mobility. One myth is that there was a provision for one straight mile in every five to accommodate airplane landing strips, but the mobility of our troops in case of a land invasion along with effective evacuation routes and highway safety were also incentives. However, one significant unintended consequence was the flight to the expanding suburbs from urban centers and the resulting construction of unplanned loops and beltways. The pattern of community development and national priorities was subsequently based on the automobile and its dependency on oil.

I’ve found it amusing lately in observing how many of my fellow motorists seemingly find it difficult to distinguish between driving fast and speeding. There seems to be a Pavlovian response for many folks when they’re approaching a sports car out on the interstate highways. Even though the legal speed limit may be 70 miles per hour and I’m cruising along at about that speed, they apparently have an instant infusion of testosterone and instinctively must speed up to pass. My car could keep up with them, but I don’t need a ticket and higher insurance rates-- or a confrontation with a stranger that’s having a postal kind of day. So I generally just let Scotty speed by at full warp speed and quietly wish him a good day. And occasionally on a day like today, I have the satisfaction of waving at ol’ Scotty as he is being pulled over a few miles ahead by Captain Kirk in a flashing interceptor land rover!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

DARKNESS

Out of Darkness, Jamestown, NC

Darkness is said to be the polar opposite of brightness or the absence of visible light. The appearance of black in the color space also represents darkness. We perceive color as combinations of light and darkness, unless one of them dominates our space. Darkness can evoke rather negative emotions and perceptions such as evil, ominous shadows and depression. Satan has been called the prince of darkness. Dante described hell as solid darkness stained. It is interesting to note that when we mix either the three primary colors or the three secondary colors, they will absorb all visible light and create black. Shadows add perspective around light, such as when we seemingly observe shafts of light emanating from behind clouds that drift in front of the sun.

Light colors reflect light and appear bright, compared to darker colors that absorb photons and do not reflect much visible light. Since visible light cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be converted into another type of energy to be reemitted such as heat. The reemitted frequency may be still be relatively bright, but not one that the human eye can perceive. However, when the iris in the human eye dilates it permits more light to enter to improve our night vision. Since these cells regenerate, prolonged exposure to less light generates more rods and cones that can adapt.

Darkness can play tricks on the mind as well as the camera lens. I took the image above at night while I was attempting to capture the Super Moon of 2012. I was using a telephoto lens and the optics got a bit confused as I zoomed in on the larger image of the moon rising over the trees in my backyard. The resulting photo turned out to be more than a little skewed, but I liked the imagery, so I kept it and published it here. Could it be a vision of the darkness that was over the earth when our creator first spoke light into the world and He separated the light from the darkness? And there was then evening and morning on that first day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BEAMING THE LIGHT OUT


Inside Sainte-Chapelle , Paris, France
Outside Westminster Abbey, London, England


The chapel of Sainte-Chapelle was built to house Jesus’ crown of thorns. Once you climb the stairs up to the second level you are instantly bathed in colorful light from the surrounding stained glass windows towering overhead. For the human senses, being bathed in warm colorful light can enhance a very religious experience. When a service begins with youth walking into the sanctuary carrying glowing candle lighters, the symbolism of bringing the light of Christ into our midst can prepare us for spending quality time with our creator. Churches and cathedrals the world over have invested huge sums of money in installing these wonderful works of light art that prepare our hearts and minds as we enter into our places of worship.

When the spiritual service is concluded, the youth reenter the sanctuary and relight their candle lighters from the alter candles as they snuff them out. Then the light is taken back out into the world. The symbolism is important, but I can’t help but wonder if it is lost on many folks. If you’ve ever passed by a large cathedral or place of worship with stained glass windows, have you noticed how dark and uninviting they can seem to be from the outside? On the other hand, clear glass windows with interior lighting brightly shine outward on a dark overcast day. Colored glass windows can add to the worship experience, but I think we need to be careful not to capture the beautiful light for ourselves and be certain to let the light reflect outwards into the world with us as we worship and as we depart.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

OVERFLOWING VESSELS OF CLAY





Potters Kiln, Seagrove, NC
Pouring Blessings, Jamestown, NC
Overflowing Blessings, Greensboro, NC


One of my favorite movie scenes is from the George Burns movie Oh God! A young man is suddenly confronted with God sitting beside him in his car. God has assumed the image of an elderly man so that he won’t appear too overwhelming. He perceives that the young man is holding back a long held question that he is bursting to get out, so he encourages him to ask it. The young man then blurts out that since God is so all powerful and loving, why doesn’t he do something about all the pain and needs of the world? And God simply replies, “I have........I created you”. And as we learn from the book of Genesis, God formed man from the clay of the ground and breathed life into his nostrils.

In Malachi 3:10 God challenges us to “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house and thus put me to the full test; see if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour down for you an overflowing blessing”. That blessing of God’s grace poured out for us is the salvation we have received through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus. We have been given the responsibility of being the stewards of everything in this world which belongs to God. As we receive His blessings to help us journey through this life, we’re compelled to follow His Son’s example and pour out a portion of the blessings we’ve received to sustain God’s church and other fellow travelers as well.

We read in Isaiah 64:8 that God is our father, we are the clay; He is our potter, and we are the work of His hand. In the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul states that “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. Paul likens us human beings as breakable clay vessels that contain the priceless contents of God’s power dwelling in us. There are many accounts of God showing his presence in the Old Testament, but He mostly uses other human beings to dispense his grace to others. This power of Christian giving is returned tenfold, not only in this earthly life but also in the promise of life eternal through the grace of God’s overflowing blessing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

TRAVELOGUE OF A LIFE

Cover of Travelogue, Jamestown, NC

I've been encouraged to publish some of my blogs and images for the general public in the past, but I've never found an economical medium and do not want to personally profit from my creations. But I did recently find that I can publish e-books for $2.99 and I will donate any proceeds to outreach missions. So, here's a link to preview my new book and the first 24 pages:

http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/reader.html?e=302988

INTRODUCTION TO TRAVELOGUE OF A LIFE

I’ve spent a reasonable amount of adventure time on “planes, trains and automobiles” traveling to various parts of the planet. And I’ve walked urban streets and rural trails that have “grounded” me with a sense of knowing the cities and lands. I’ve found that this is the only way to genuinely get a feeling for both the place and the people that inhabit it. You need to mingle with the local populace, enter the indigenous shops and look around, dine at the locally owned restaurants and visit the noteworthy landmarks that come to define an area. Once you expend the time to breathe the air, share a meal, experience a work of art or natural wonder and walk the streets together you begin to gain an intuitive understanding of these people and this corner of the world we all share as one human family. That place can be as exotic as around some of the world’s major cities such as the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, the Tower of London, Ground Zero in New York City, Chicago’s Millennium Park, the central Kansas Tall Grass Prairie, cascading waterfalls in the North Carolina Nantahala Forest, Blue Ridge Mountain trails, Atlantic coast beaches and my very own backyard. These niches in God’s good creation have been the primary stomping grounds of my recent photographic life and yielded some of my favorite images.

I didn’t always have a good digital camera with me on these excursions and many of my trips as an actively employed road warrior were for business. But once you start a life of photography as a pastime, I know that I began to always keep a keen eye out for the unusual “lucky moments” that are all around us. A few of the images in this book may be standard fare for photographing notable landmarks, but I sought to both shoot and print images that won’t be found on a quick internet search. For instance, when I photograph art in a museum without a flash, I try to see just a section that will create a completely different view of the piece. And it was a fun exercise to juxtapose both the urban and rural worlds we journey through all of our lives.

P.S.

I've never stayed at the Rainbow Motel below, but many similar ones!

Friday, August 10, 2012

RAINBOW MOTEL


Rainbow Colors, Chicago, IL
Rainbow Motel, Greensboro, NC


One of the common threads woven into the accounts of near death experiences which I’ve studied is the sighting of images colored like rainbows and other colors that are beyond human imagination or experience. In the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation, the apostle John writes about a vision while in the spirit. He describes colors like jasper, carnelian, gold; a sea of crystal glass and a rainbow resembling an emerald. When you think about it, if a mere human has a spiritual vision that is beyond our present worldly experience and the capability of our eyesight, when writing about it we could only compare that to something we have seen in the world around us. Human eyesight and the ability to view our environment in colors are extraordinary. The cones in our eyes facilitate the ability to see in color, although some folks are color blind. There are 4.5 million of these photoreceptor cells in the retina. Some folks dream in color and there are some who only dream in black and white. Cats and dogs do not have as many cones in their eyes, so they do not see primary colors like red and green, but scientists have determined that they can perceive blue and yellow. As magnificent as our human bodies with their integrated systems can be, there are limits on what we are able to perceive through our six senses.

It’s been said that if we want a glimpse of the spiritual bodies we will receive in the next spiritual life, we need to look no farther than the resurrected body of Jesus. He could be recognized, but not readily. He appeared inside the disciples’ locked room. He ate bread and fish with them at the sea shore. I don’t consider it much of a stretch to consider that our sense of sight might be greatly enhanced. Perhaps that accounts for the exquisite colors that defy description for those who have had spiritual visions as they try to relate them after returning to this mortal life. When Jesus talked of His father’s house with many rooms, it quite probably is not a gigantic Rainbow Motel where the “Vacancy” sign is always lit. But perhaps He was referring to that vast infinite space of spiritual consciousness somewhere over the rainbow. And our spiritual bodies will quite possibly be informed with senses to perceive this new world around us that have enhanced capabilities far beyond anything we could ever imagine!

FYI FOOTNOTE Dated 8/17/12:

Today's newspaper has a short article relating that the boyfriend of a young 24 year old stabbed her to death and also stabbed her sister and mother yesterday at the Rainbow Motel which I photographed last week, so I'm now pretty certain that is definitely NOT where heaven resides!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

THE GREEN SIDE

First Light on the Course, Kiawah Island, SC
On the Driving Range, Kiawah Island, SC


One of the golfing legends I heard years ago at my first company golf tournament concerned the origin of the “Golden Garbage Truck” award we gave to a golfer who had demonstrated a certain demeanor on the course. It seems that the president had teed off on a road side fairway with a wicked slice into the windshield of an oncoming garbage truck. The disgruntled driver approached the tee box demanding what the offending golfer was going to do about it. Our long retired president, without looking up from addressing his second ball and completely in the zone, casually replied that “I think I’ll turn my grip over just a little bit to the left”. He was totally immersed in the present moment and would handle replacing the guy’s windshield after the shot.

Today’s Golf Channel presentation of Live from Kiawah reminded me of that little story and an encounter I had a few years ago at one of the golf courses on that beautiful island. We were walking up to the driving range and I casually asked an attendant, “How’s it going”? He didn’t stop what he was doing and quickly remarked, “Well, I woke up again on the green side of the grass, so it’s going to be another good day”! What a great reply on a beautiful island golf course on a perfectly beautiful morning and what a beautiful mantra to live by every morning! Every day we walk this planet is a gift to be relished and appreciated. Every present moment is where life is played out for us to either squander or grow on our journey. And every day teeing it up on some of God’s most beautiful real estate can be as good as it gets on the green side!