Thursday, May 31, 2012

PARADISE LOST & FOUND


Paradise Lost, Jamestown, NC

“I could never live in paradise, she said. I don’t look that good naked” --Brian Andreas

Genesis relates the event of mankind’s creator placing Adam and Eve in a garden of perfection with possibly symbolic trees of eternal Life and a Knowledge of Good and Evil at its center. Religious art has portrayed the fruit of knowledge as an apple, but the symbolism is really what’s important. I love the image of our Heavenly Father walking with them through the garden in the cool of the morning. There’s a great old gospel song that beautifully paints a word picture of the experience, In the Garden. Those first immortal human beings could partake of all the bounty in this perfect garden except the one which could open their eyes to both the good and evil that already existed, including the fallen angel Satan; the rebel, accuser and tempter. Perhaps sin could be considered our willful or free will disregard of God’s will for his children. It would seem that the fallen angel had already introduced this condition into creation.

So the fallen angel tempted Eve who in turn tempted Adam to partake of the knowledge of good and evil, which opened their eyes to their nakedness and loss of innocence. That same childlike innocence can be observed when a young child runs butt naked through a room full of startled adults with absolute joy and openness! And there is a distinction between them wanting to be like God and be God. It would seem that when we humans set our own standards or acquire them from the culture around us, we are attempting the latter which can spell trouble for our lives. This act against God’s will could have been anything really, but it separated them from a perfect relationship which they immediately recognized as wrong and they hid from Him. The consequence of this free will choice emanating from our natural condition was banishment from this paradise of perfection, loss of immortal life, increased pain of childbirth, painful toil for survival and a cursed, broken environment for a testing ground.

The consequences of that first act of human disobedience have caused subsequent generations of that first marriage a whole lot of grief. I guess we can’t be too harsh on ol’ Adam and Eve, however, as that sinful nature was knowingly endowed in all of our DNA from the get go. But God did promise in his judgment that the offspring of this woman would crush Satan’s head—which happened three days after the cross, affirming Jesus’ power over sin and death. And that divine act paved the way for forgiveness of all human sin and a restored paradise.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

GLOBAL SICKNESS

Mortal Life, Greensboro, NC

I recently ran across a quote by a noted critic of religion and self described “antitheist”, Christopher Hitchens, who died of esophageal cancer in December 2011. Hitchens contended that “once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes humans objects in a cruel experiment whereby we are created to be sick and commanded to be well”. This is indeed a very wry observation and worthy of a second reading. The Sunday Times described Hitchens as "usually armed with a glass of Scotch and an untipped Rothmans cigarette." In 2003 he wrote that his daily intake of alcohol was enough "to kill or stun the average mule". He argued, "The plain fact is that drinking makes other people, and indeed life itself, a good deal less boring”.

A true test of your convictions can rest in how you can handle critics that do not share your beliefs. If they can effectively change your mind, perhaps your convictions are quite shallow or quite wrong. Biblical references to sickness begin in Exodus 15 when God tells his chosen people that “I am the Lord, who heals you”. And many of the moral laws he gave them later were designed to keep them free from physical, emotional and spiritual sickness. In Matthew 4 Jesus demonstrated that he could heal all these forms of sickness to affirm his ability to restore the world and humanity to its original perfection and wellness.

In a Washington Post remembrance, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and former head of the Human Genome Project who helped treat Hitchens' illness, wrote, "I will miss Christopher. I will miss the brilliant turn of phrase, the good-natured banter, the wry sideways smile when he was about to make a remark that would make me laugh out loud. No doubt he now knows the answer to the question of whether there is more to the spirit than just atoms and molecules. I hope he was surprised by the answer. I hope to hear him tell about it someday. He will tell it really well.”

Hutchins was right in his assessment that every human being that ever lived was endowed with the sickness of a sinful nature--and a free will to exercise it. Many times life can seem like a cruel experiment, but I believe the experiment is designed to test our free will to attempt overcoming it while placing our trust in our creator to heal the sickness. And although we’ll never achieve perfection in this life, the effort alone in not acquiescing can make other people and life itself a good deal less boring!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

LIVIN' ON WEEKEND TIME

Road Trip, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

There’s nothing like a weekend road trip with no place to go and no time to be there. Getting by in this world normally requires a certain amount of organization and planning along with a certain amount of multi-tasking for survival. So the freedom of time is a priceless commodity to be savored and spent wisely. We normally leave our assigned parking spaces each morning and set off for a round of destinations and deadlines. It’s such a beautiful release of the human spirit to simply fire up any mode of transport available and randomly turn to the left or right for any unspecified amount of time while aimlessly cruising through the landscape. The scene can be urban or rural or generally some combination of visual frames passing by with the measured movement of celluloid escapism. The process converts ancient organic matter into speed and carbon dioxide which is a key ingredient for the creation of more organic matter. And when the thrill is gone, you only have to punch “go home” on the GPS to journey back into reality.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

RESET BUTTON

Reset, Jamestown, NC

“He discovered his reset button early on and there were not many things that bothered him all the rest of his days just because of that...” --Brian Andreas

Needless to say, Brian Andreas has a very quirky way of seeing and interpreting the world around him and I love his creative perspective on life. Andreas considers the wisdom of his StoryPeople as the fiber of human community and a reflection of the experience of being alive. He says that “it is in the sharing that a greater wisdom evolves. Finally, in a turbulent world, it is easy to lose sight of the small beauties and moments of grace that occur constantly around us. I wanted to give voice to that side of ourselves that recognizes that this is as much a time of renewal as it is a time of decay”.

My home is wired with micro circuit breakers scattered throughout the rooms. I recently walked away from a morning cinnamon raisin bagel in the toaster which became stuck and tripped the reset switch. That little switch possibly saved me the cost of a new toaster, an overloaded electrical circuit and a rude awakening from my fire alarm after the bagel was smoked! I like Brian’s discovery of our own internal reset buttons that can save us a lot of grief during the days of our lives. When the circuits are getting smoked, it’s always a good plan stop the music before the situation goes from overheated to destructive. Or if we’ve been going down a destructive path of our own choosing, it’s always good to know that the power source of God’s grace is sufficient to enable us to stop the destructive energy, hit our reset button and begin a new path to energized renewal.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A MARKET SOCIETY

Tournament Logo's, Charlotte, NC

In his book “What Money Can’t Buy” author Michael J. Sandel observes that “we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society”. Actually, it doesn’t seem that there isn’t too much that is not for sale in our market-driven age. The airlines have found a revenue stream for just about every little upgrade involved in air travel these days. Of course, if all this action provides lower “gateway pricing” for those who might not be able to afford the product or service, that’s not all bad. Product placement has been seen in the movies for some time and now it’s showing up in contemporary novels. Corporate logos are springing up on all sorts of sports venues and folks are even auctioning off advertising space on their foreheads via the internet. These recessionary times with the accompanying budgetary constraints are driving otherwise reasonable people into selling off the naming rights to just about everything along with placing advertising just about everywhere. Sandel queries whether there are any civic and moral goods left that money can’t buy.

I guess we still haven’t run across the Wells Fargo Presbyterian Church and communion services still don’t advertise Mogen David wines and Wonder Bread in the bulletins. So perhaps there may be hope for a few islands of respite from the barrage of subliminal and down right “in your face” consumer-driven demands on our credit card limits. Let’s hope that at least our Sunday morning services can continue to provide a refuge from all the material world’s chatter, even as we return home to the Sunday newspaper ads that now constitute more pages than the news that we thought we were buying.

Monday, May 21, 2012

MAGNOLIA CENTEREDNESS




We're all here to help one another muddle through.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

HOLISTIC LIVING

Green Cathedral, Greensboro, NC

The philosophy of Holistic healthcare involves treating the whole person, both the physical and spiritual, and it helped sustain both my wife and me through her fight with breast cancer. The same philosophy applies to the art of holistic living. We need a balance for our work life, our family life and our spiritual life. I read years ago about an ancient order of monks that maintained a garden at their monastery. They always had a practice of planting one row of vegetables and then one row of flowers. They took a holistic view of life and devoutly believed that they needed to focus as much on their spiritual well being as they did on maintaining their physical health. They knew quality of life depended as much on food for the soul as food for the body. Our community parks scattered throughout our life space provide a vital environment for our holistic well being. They’re a green space amidst the concrete and asphalt that can better enable us humans to commune with our creator and the creation that surrounds us. Walking through the parks enhances our physical well being by connecting us to the good earth and being mindful of the world’s beauty. A church building provides a refuge for worship and fellowship with God and others. And a green space provides a similar refuge that can be even more introspective and personal for worship and meditation.

THE NINE AGES OF MAN

Aging Vincent, Chicago, IL

Not old enough to know better
Old enough to know better
Not old enough to know
Old enough to know
Not old enough
Old enough
Not old
Old
Not


--Internet Domain

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

COIN TOSS

Coin Toss, Jamestown, NC

A lonesome windmill wobbles in deliberate circles as its tail interminably forces it to always face into the relentless west Texas winds. The elevated Texaco sign on the horizon is the only other landmark the dark stranger sees as the pale rider deliberately moves across the desolate land. The red and white porcelain sign sharply contrasts against the stark background and quietly sighs in the wind above the isolated weather worn country store.

The dark stranger enters the aging store as unsettled dust devils whirl in the distance amidst the rising afternoon heat. He confronts the apathetic clerk at the register who probably hasn’t seen a customer all day today and would appear to be satisfied with calling it a day while turning over the dog eared “closed” sign at the front door.

The clerk hardly looks up to ask “Will there be anything else”? He hasn’t taken notice that death is at his doorstep.
The foreboding stranger replies “I don’t know, will there”?
The clerk now senses that the atmosphere in the dusty store has become tense and threatening as he sheepishly asks “Is something wrong”? He then begins the most high stakes conversation of his life.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about do you? What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss”?
“I don’t know. I couldn’t say”.
The dark stranger flips a quarter onto the counter and covers it with his fingers. “Call it” he sternly demands.
“Well, we need to know what we’re callin’ it for here….I didn’t put nothin’ up”.
“Yes, you did. You’ve been putting it up your whole life…..You just didn’t know it. You know what date is on this coin? 1958. it’s been traveling twenty two years to get here and now its here and it’s either heads or tails and you have to call it.”
“I need to know what I stand to win”.
“Everything. You stand to win everything. Call it”.
The reticent clerk finally wakes up to the reality that the stakes are high, very high. The stakes are his very life that is now squarely in the hands of this dark stranger that has suddenly invaded his boring existence for all time. He looks the hit man in the eyes and with all the conviction of a man who is looking deep into his executioner’s twisted soul reluctantly says “Alright, heads then”.
The two men remain transfixed as the high stakes coin toss has suddenly transformed a boring every day afternoon into a heart pounding, nerve tingling, jaw setting, life bursting moment. They both stare at the dusty counter as George Washington’s profile slowly appears from under the stranger’s fingers and reprieves the clerk’s life.
“Well done” intones the dark stranger. “It’s now your lucky coin. Don’t put it in your pocket and mix it with the other coins so that it becomes just another coin, which it is.”

That bit of riveting dialogue from the movie No Country for Old Men is one of my all time favorite scenes. The environment is stark, the dialogue is measured, and the casting is perfection. The country store clerk has just had his life jolted into overdrive and it slowly begins to soak into his mind that he has just bet his very life on a coin toss. Yet it was just his temporary mortal life. How many of us don’t give much more effort into deciding how we will gamble on the fate of our immortal spiritual life? Some believe God’s son when he tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life everlasting. Some believe otherwise. If they’re right, neither party will ever know. If they’re wrong, they’ve sadly lost a restored and eternal life in the loving presence of their creator. And it’s worth more effort than a coin toss.

Monday, May 14, 2012

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN



Warning Messenger, Reynosa, Mexico
No Country for Old Men, Border Town, Mexico


This morning’s headline read, “49 Bodies Dumped on Mexico Highway”. Their heads, hands and feet were cut off to make identification difficult. The bodies were found on the nontoll highway to the border city of Reynosa, an entrance point to Hidalgo and McAllen, Texas. I spent about five years traveling alone in that “no country for old men” while doing private consulting work until the escalating violence between warring drug cartels became a bit too risky. A human head had been tossed into a bar not too far from where I was staying on the night of my last trip there. The bodies are apparently a cruel evil message from a rival cartel not to tread on their lucrative business of smuggling routes, the local drug markets and extortion rackets, including shakedowns of South Americans attempting to enter the United States.

Laredo, Texas shares our southern border with Nuevo Laredo, Mexico and the I-35 corridor that flows all the way through the United States. It’s a strategic beach head for trafficking. I learned of one local law man who was gunned down in broad daylight within twenty four hours of declaring that he would not be defeated by the cartels as was his dead predecessor. Today’s news also reported that so far this month twenty three bodies were found dumped or hanging along the streets of Nuevo Loredo. I had sensed the growing cancer of dirty money as I watched the violence spread along our borders from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. And as the growing number of armed border patrols and check points began to interrupt my travels. Watching the riveting Coen brothers movie, No Country for Old Men, about an aging Texas law man who was even more involved in this morbid exhibition of man’s inhumanity to man was a very personal experience.

In the beginning chapter of the book of Job, it is written that God’s heavenly messengers were assembled to present themselves to the Eternal One and to give reports and receive instructions. The Accuser was with them as well. When God asked Satan “where have you been?” he replied that he had been “roaming through the earth and going back and forth”. There is much goodness and righteousness in this world, but we should never be blind to the explosive potential for evil. When we read of violent, repulsive, evil accounts like those that are occurring with ever more frequency at our southern borders, we know evil continues to walk among us. And I found that it was no country for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

WHY FORGIVE?

Open Heart, Greensboro, NC

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them what we now recite in most Christian worship services, The Lord’s Prayer. In that universal prayer we intone God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But how many folks have continued reading in the book of Matthew to find that Jesus goes on to say that our Heavenly Father will offer forgiveness only if we do likewise. It seems that fellowship with a merciful God is only possible if we too are merciful.

I believe one of the most teachable events in contemporary times revolved around the Amish school shooting in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 2006. A father with three children of his own had lost his first baby daughter after only twenty minutes of life. He blamed God for her death and the anger fermented within him for nine subsequent years. He never forgave God and instead chose to enter the school house and shoot ten girls to get even with him and then killed himself. The Amish community did not respond with revenge or outrage or lawyered up in press conferences or blame games. They quietly impressed the world by extending forgiveness to the terribly ill man along with comfort and assistance to his mourning family.

When we’re wronged by another person, often times we humans have a knee jerk reaction for revenge and retribution. And the reaction can fester into a focused hate and sullenness. Yet many of us that have experienced this reaction eventually do come to realize that as long as we harbor these negative feelings, the offending individual still has control of our lives—we’ve allowed them to occupy free space in our mind. The Amish demonstrated that offering forgiveness and holding no grudges enabled them to focus on their own healing. Although God has still not restored this world to its original perfection, this broken test environment provides the ideal conditions for exercising free will choices such as revenge or forgiveness. And a closed and hardened heart is neither capable of giving or receiving forgiveness.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

LIGHTNING MEDICINE CLOUD

Spiritual Blessing, Internet Domain

A central myth of the Plains Indian tribes tells the story of a very beautiful woman in shining white buckskin that entered camp and presented the people with a bundled sacred pipe. She told them to offer it to the four directions and that its smoke symbolizes an exchange between humanity and the spirit world. Then, as the beautiful woman walked away from the camp, she morphed into a white buffalo and disappeared. Over time White Buffalo Woman has become identified with the Greek goddess Athena and later, with the introduction of Christianity, the Virgin Mary.

Only one in ten million buffalo are born white, giving rise to the belief that they symbolize big medicine and are a sign of a harmonious world. One year ago on May 12, a rare non-albino white buffalo calf was born on a stormy night at the Lakota Ranch in Greenville, Texas and named Lightning Medicine Cloud. He was immediately seen by Native Americans as a spiritual blessing from God for all nations. They reveled in its appearance into today’s broken world with all the hope of a prophetic new beginning of life’s sacred hoop that it symbolized. On April 3, the calf’s father was struck and killed by lightning during a severe Texas spring storm. Last week, the young calf was found killed and skinned and the mother, ironically named Buffalo Woman, poisoned while the caretaker was away. The bloodline that created the sacred hope is also now destroyed.

The attack has shaken the community to its core. But what of the greater significance of this travesty to the world in general? I’m not so sure the brutal act on such a sacred symbol of hope would have been any greater if those responsible heart-hardened people had left the innocent skinned bloody carcass of the young calf on a windblown barbed wire cross. Perhaps the legacy of Lightning Medicine Cloud is that symbols of hope are now beginning to appear in this world with increasing frequency to those who look for them-- like weeping statues, bleeding icons and the visions of heaven many humans have most recently reported in an increasing number of near death experiences. And they may ultimately be revealed as the “canary in a coal mine” messengers trumpeting the onset of humanity’s final restoration.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

THE THREE INNINGS OF LIFE

Wrigley Stadium, Chicago IL

I received a call today relating the death of a high school classmate and the cancer diagnosis of another. We only recently celebrated our fiftieth class reunion and this is the year most of us turn the big seven O. I just had an annual checkup and a Cortisone needle in my one original knee yesterday. My doctor has me on a regimen to drive my bad Cholesterol below 100. We had gotten it down to exactly 100 and he was excited to announce that we were making great progress in assuring me a great life. I couldn’t hold back a reply that I’ve already had a great life. So, I left the office and ordered a 5 Guys burger for lunch to celebrate my LDL victory!

While I was thoroughly enjoying my greasy hamburger and fries, I thought once again about the baseball analogy that I came up with when I was actually a pretty young boy. I suppose it was a time of loss of innocence when my grandfather suddenly died of a heart attack right after a wonderful Sunday luncheon with all our family. My father was a Cracker Jack baseball player and had me playing the sport as soon as I could hold a bat. And since that time, I've always characterized the three innings of life from those early years as a little league baseball batter:

The First Inning represents growing up "In the Hole"
and our grandparents are dying.

The Second Inning represents middle age "On Deck"
and our parents are dying.

The Third Inning represents our senior years "At Bat"
and guess who's dying?

Then you get three strikes if you're lucky
and you're out of the game.

Our high school class mates are all "at the plate” now
and some already have more strikes than others.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

SUPER MOON



Cloudy Super Moon, Jamestown, NC
Super Moon Search Light, Jamestown, NC


Within the past few days we’ve experienced a super moon in the night sky as our moon passes at its closest elliptical path for the year. It seems 14% larger and 30% brighter right now! As you probably know, the moon simply reflects the light of our sun from the other side of planet earth, just as we should reflect the light of God’s son as we complete another trip around the sun!

We are continuously in awe of the ongoing process of creation that God orchestrates with every new sunrise AND moonrise in our lives, demonstrating just how active he is every day AND every night in this world. And yet how many times do we forget to simply pause and remind ourselves that this temporary mortal life is God’s gift to us and how we live it is our gift to him? The trials of this life are manageable with his presence, especially when we consider the eternal life that he has assured us we will experience at the end of our journey. We trouble our minds with regrets of the past or worry about a future that may never happen, especially in the dark hours of the night. We need to simply recognize the vast potential for joyous living in this present moment in the light of a new day with gratitude and exaltation. Sorry and worry are transient, while our spiritual soul is both timeless and boundless. The Psalmist reminds us that our creator will preserve our soul and that his loving presence is always with us.