Monday, July 30, 2012

REACHING UPWARD AND OUTWARD

Reaching Upward & Outward, Jamestown, NC

Nurturing Vertical and Horizontal Spirituality

When we seek vertical spirituality, we reach upward to a higher power. We come inside our church to worship our creator God who is outside and above the human condition. To facilitate this worship experience we sing songs and hymns of praise, recite our creeds or beliefs, offer up prayers of thanksgiving and requests, participate in the Lord’s Supper of Communion, participate in growing our spiritual character through study and discussion and listen to the Word of God as written in the Christian Bible. We welcome the light of God into our presence.

When we have attained a level of understanding about what God is expecting of us regarding our spiritual growth, we begin to also seek a horizontal spirituality. We begin to understand that God also moves among us and relates to us by way of studying the example of His Son. We see what Jesus would do in our world today and we begin to reach outward. We focus on our common community of man, the people of God. We nurture a compassion for our fellow citizens and reach out to help the young, aging, widowed, lost, sick, poor, dispossessed and unchurched. As a congregation of believers we exhibit a spirit of warmth and hospitality. We work with groups in the local community. We promote respect for human life and support one another in our faith journey. We take the light of God out into the community.

We accomplish all of this through our presence, our gifts of our precious time and our giving back of a portion of the blessings God has given to us. We ask and become the vessels of clay that God uses to pour out His blessings into the world. And as we continue to reach upward and outward we continue to grow the light of God within.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

American Rebels, Greensboro, NC

It seems that there aren’t too many actions we take in life that don’t have unintended consequences. I suppose it can be compared to knocking over curving lines of dominos as one falls over the next in rapid succession, but there is no intent or plan to do so. It’s just that there always seems to be some sort of reaction to a decision that was completely unexpected at the time. Perhaps that’s because everything is so interconnected that any disruption in the network we inhabit triggers other events that couldn’t be anticipated at the outset.

One o f the “lessons learned” during my project management days was to always brainstorm possible outcomes and unintended consequences prior to installing new systems. Then we could possibly install measures to avoid them or document our reaction if they did occur. And it was always a good idea to have an exit strategy or “back door” in case everything went wrong and we had to bail out.

History is replete with examples of major unintended consequences. For instance, I’m pretty certain the British legislators had no idea regarding the unintended consequences of passing a tax on the young American colonies for the tea they were importing. They were seemingly far too removed from the high level of discontent that was brewing in the new world at the time. Subsequently, the Americans revolted, the French later joined the cause, the new colony was lost and the rebel progeny would far outpace the British medal count when they hosted the 2012 summer Olympic Games in their capital of London!

Friday, July 27, 2012

DEFINING MOMENTS

Continental Freedom Fighters, Greensboro, NC

One of those eternal truths in life is that some of the issues we confront are simply out of our control—but we can control how we respond to the challenge. The Penn State child abuse scandal prompted a lot of conversation regarding how men in a role of leadership responded to the situation. Theirs was a failed response of omission where they stood by and did relatively nothing in an effort to protect their own self interests. It was as if the noise from the football stadium drowned out the cries from the locker room.

There are countless other examples in human history where folks courageously rose to meet the enormous challenges before them and they admirably met them head on with grit and honor. The challenge before the young American colonists seeking freedom is a prime case in point. Situations of extraordinary mountains to climb have long been characterized as “defining moments” in life’s journey. And many defining moments define a man’s legacy. The criteria, however, does not necessarily include a successful outcome.

A man’s legacy in a defining moment primarily revolves around how admirably he rises to the occasion or fails to act. These defining moments can overshadow and trump a lifetime of decisions and actions and a thousand “Atta Boys”. Some of these moments in life can be preceded by ample time for contemplated options and others must be decided on the spur of the moment. The strength of character or lack of it that one has developed up to that moment will have a lot to do with how we react. That one defining moment becomes a legacy forever stamped in the annals of history. Even more importantly, it is etched and highlighted in the eternal Book of Life for all time.

Our individual lives are woven into the encompassing tapestry of human history while our defining moments can be wildly public or intensely private. Jesus’ death on the cross where he chose to do his Father’s will and his subsequent victory over death were perhaps his ultimate public defining moments as a mortal. And it can be a very private moment for an individual when you wake up one morning and resolve to put on your big boy boxers, grow up, and make something of the priceless gift you’ve been uniquely given to live.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

HAY BALE TALE



Kansas Hay Bales I,II,III, Lake Kahola, KS

Sharing life on this planet is a lot about relationships and learning about human behavior in the “school of hard knocks”. Not everyone treats you the same or acts the same for sure. My brother-in-law recently shared a story which revolved around a 1950’s conversation between his parents who lived on a farm in central Kansas all their lives. This particular “lesson learned” is now securely in the verbal lore of the Flint Hills. And it also reinforces one of those eternal lessons which states “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”!

It seems the farm family had a neighbor who was not only tight with his money, but had developed a severe character flaw. Frank had sold the neighbor about seventy dollars worth of prairie hay and the neighbor was exhibiting a reluctance to pay for it. So Elsie asked Frank to visit the neighbor and collect the past due money. When he returned, she asked if he had collected the debt. “No”, Frank replied, “he said that he didn’t have any spare money right now”.

Frustrated, Elsie requested that Frank try to barter for an equivalent number of young calves. When Frank returned, she asked how many calves he had brought home. “None.”, Frank responded, “He said he didn’t have any calves he wanted to part with right now”. Elsie then demanded to know what Frank was going to do right now.

“Well, Frank matter-of-factly replied, “I’m not going to sell him any more hay”.

End of conversation.

End of story.

Frank didn’t get mad. He didn’t think about retaliation. He didn’t lawyer up. He simply chose to avoid dealing with the unethical man again and left him to deal with himself. And a few prairie hay bales seemed a small price to pay for the lesson.

“Trust everyone, but brand your calves.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

PAUL’S THORN

Thorny Rose, Jamestown, NC

The Apostle Paul has been credited with creating about half of the New Testament books in the Bible. Both Jesus and Paul defied the ruling Roman Empire and proclaimed a new kingdom of God on earth based on faith, not force, and a diversity in Christ, not Caesar. Their message caught on and spread like a Kansas prairie fire, even though their threatened religious and political enemies had them both executed. Jesus defeated death to inspire a new religious movement. And Paul was the fallible but dedicated Jewish convert whose subsequent teachings and suffering enabled him to define it.

One of the many fascinating aspects of Paul’s life was a reference to what he described as a a thorn in his flesh in the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians. Paul apparently prayed for God to remove this affliction, but it remained as a demonstration of His power in Paul. In fact, we learn that many of the people God choose in the Bible were weaker than most of those around them. And it generally left no question as to where these prominent “vessels of clay” were receiving the strength and blessings they poured out over their contemporaries. By acknowledging their weakness, they affirmed God’s ability to effect lasting change in the world by using their divinely inspired abilities.

Perhaps it is by design that Paul’s euphemistic “thorn” is never defined for certain. That leaves the door open for us to relate to any weakness, either mental or physical, that we ourselves may have acquired on life’s journey. And this “thorn” can assume the form of a wide variety of afflictions from debilitating diseases to crippling addictions. Many of these maladies may ultimately only be healed in the next life. But dealing with these “thorns” can prove to be a powerful testament of God’s grace working through you as you persevere in this life and the “language of your life” inspires others.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

DOG : GOD


Two Angels*, Jamestown, NC
Doggy Coolness, Jamestown, NC


One of my favorite definitions of God’s unconditional love is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore and nothing we can do to make God love us any less. God doesn’t ask anyone to sign something like a prenuptial agreement prior to committing to a relationship in case things don’t work out. And God’s unconditional love doesn’t have a time limit one way or the other. His love for his creation has no expiration date. As the criminal on the cross beside God’s Son discovered, his love is available to anyone who repents and believes, even at the last minute of our life. That shouldn’t bother anyone either. Our primary focus should be on our own soul, not our neighbor’s. And we don’t have to look any further than the cross to measure the depth of His unconditional love.

If we’re reluctant to experience God’s love because we possibly consider ourselves unworthy or beyond forgiveness, our view of God simply isn’t big enough. God is bigger than addictions, depressions, struggles, setbacks, failures, bad decisions, wrong choices, fast living, power grabs, and the myriad road blocks we humans encounter on the journey of a life.

I think the dog is one of the best models for this behavior. Irregardless of how badly we treat a dog or ignore him, he will always be there for us. If we’re in danger, he will think nothing of sacrificing his own life to save ours. A dog’s unconditional love has to be the main reason there is such a mirror image of DOG & GOD. One of the best tests that I’ve run across recently involves locking your “significant other” and your dog in a garage, turning your back on them and walking away. Then return, open the door and see who’s* the most excited to see you again!

* Well, maybe one out of two.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

CELEBRATING LIFE’S LITTLE VICTORIES

Chagall Celebration, Chicago, IL

Most all of us celebrate some of the bigger milestones in our lives like our birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, child birth, etc. But we should also be acknowledging those little victories in our lives that all too often go unnoticed like an improved report card, acing a final exam, breaking 100 or 80 in golf, finishing that first week of school or the new job, successfully driving the family car around the block, moving to our first home away from home, running our first marathon, a good medical report, etc.

We see in life what we look for and we can always see both the positive and negative energies that surround our every waking day. Many times the negative aspects get our attention simply because of their need for immediate action. That distracts us from seeing the positives in life that round out the balance in the universe. So if we’re on the lookout for them, we’ll begin to understand that we have a lot to be thankful for in this life. And sometimes, that can include those things we do NOT have in life. By celebrating these positive life experiences with family and friends, we share the good vibes and pass them on to others. If that’s not possible, it’s still important to hoist a nice glass of wine and offer up a prayer of thanks to assure that the moment does not escape unnoticed and has a continuing influence on our life view.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

WREN’S SONG


Marsh Wren, Wikimedia Commons

Today’s early morning temperatures were relatively cooler than previous days which begged for a short top-down road trip and a quick detour through Starbuck’s drive through. Armed with a cranberry-orange scone and a stiff cup of coffee, the open road was beckoning under the bright summer sun rising in the blue Carolina sky.

Once I had reached the taunting curves of a two-lane rural asphalt road, the caffeine had stimulated enough brain cells to sharpen my reflexes and morph the drive into a pleasurable experience. That’s when the rather loud and complex song wafted into my hearing range. It was one of those “comfort sensations” that we all experience, like eating home-made vanilla ice cream on a hot Fourth of July family picnic. But this sensation was very pleasant to my human ear and evoked even more pleasant memories of my youthful lazy days of summertime.

The soothing sound of this little brown ball of unbridled energy has been with me since early childhood growing up on the plains of central Kansas. We would roam the pastures and parks or simply sit on open porches as the small short-winged spirits would zip from place to place gathering insects for their multiple broods each summer. And all the while they would be singing their unique and spirited song, sometimes as duets with their monogamous breeding partner. If you did catch them alighting on a small branch, their upright tail would immediately give them away.

It’s one of those spiritual experiences for me to pause and savor these serendipitous moments in life-- moments when a sound or a smell or a sight can jar your senses into remembering a past experience that has always conjured up a pleasurable and warm memory deep within your soul. Such is the remembrance of a small frenetic wren’s song for mine that now reaches decades back to my idyllic youth. And it’s a sensation that also grounds me in the knowledge that there are aspects of life in this imperfect world which can echo the perfection that exists in the next.

Wren’s song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8wjCGQhhRI

MAYBERRY VALUES

The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry, NC
Copyright Paramount Pictures

Doing the Right Thing

“A ship’s compass will enable it to steer in the right direction
by always knowing True North”


The folksy Southern manner of North Carolina’s favorite son, Andy Griffith, was silenced with his passing on Independence week 2012. Andy Griffith got his big break in 1953 in Greensboro when he spoke to a life insurance convention and related a comic tale about “What it was, was Football”. Capitol Records soon sold 600,000 copies of the comic account--and the rest is an American success story.

The Andy Griffith Show from the 1960’s has been immortalized in endless television reruns centered around the make-believe town of Mayberry. One article from the New York Times neatly summarized the Andy Griffith Show’s “simple but appealing formula: characters would confront a problem, then resolve it by exercising honesty or another virtue”. The local Greensboro News and Record observed that “The show was not a caricature of Southern life so much as a tribute to it. Mayberry’s residents were sometimes petty, envious, greedy or arrogant, but they almost always came around to doing the right thing”.

In Micah 6:8, the bold prophet answered a question many people wonder about today: What does the Lord expect of us? Micah’s answer has been defined as the Old Testament in one verse: God calls us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him. The first of these three expectations requires us to do what is right, regardless of the consequences. We find an example of such courageous obedience illustrated for us in the lives of the first-century apostles. According to church legend, all but John died horrendous deaths by doing the right thing and proclaiming their faith in the teachings and the resurrection of the Son of God.

It’s also been said that the New Testament can be summarized in the short response Jesus gave to the Pharisees who were challenging his wisdom and authority. They asked him which was the greatest commandment in the law and by that time they had added hundreds of them to their religion. Jesus basically answered in Matthew 22:40 that we should love God and love others.

And one of the greatest challenges of living in a postmodern world that shuns absolute truth and creates a blurred line between right and wrong is to discern and then choose to do the right thing. The failure of leadership in the Penn State Sandusky scandal now joins similar ones in the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America. Sadly, when faced with the choice of doing the right thing for the abused children, the leadership of these institutions chose to do the self-serving thing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

RIVERS OF LIFE--THE THAMES, SEINE, HUDSON & CHICAGO


Hudson River, New York City, NY
Chicago River, Chicago, IL
The River Thames, London, England
Seine River, Paris, France


After spending some time with my images of four major cities of the world, it occurred to me that one of the many attributes of these global urban centers was the presence of a key water artery that snaked throughout each one of them. A little research revealed the obvious—these tributaries were the life blood of early settlements that evolved into world trade centers along these watery highways.

The Island of Manhattan is the oldest of the five boroughs of New York City and the most densely populated. The city had its beginnings on the southern end of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River. I took this photograph from the top of the Empire State Building looking out over Manhattan with Liberty and Ellis Islands in the far distance of New York Bay.

The Chicago River is actually a system of rivers and canals that became the link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley waterways. The three major branches of the river can be found symbolized in a Y-shaped symbol on numerous structures throughout Chicago and the two horizontal blue stripes on the municipal flag of the city. We were sitting on the deck of an Architectural Tour Boat when I took this photo close to the entry point of Lake Michigan. The river becomes the center of attention every St. Patrick’s Day when powered vegetable dye is used to turn the river green as part of the city’s celebration.

After flying across the Atlantic to London without much sleep, we soon emerged from the Westminster Underground tube station beside The River Thames and opposite the London Eye across its unceasing flow through the city. My photograph from this perspective was one of the first of hundreds from that trip. We then proceeded to walk by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben onto the Westminster Bridge to view the river and the city from the fantastic viewpoint of one of the rotating London Eye capsules. William Wordsworth’s sonnet On Westminster Bridge closes with the lines:

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

The Seine River snakes through Paris surrounding Notre-Dame Cathedral which sits on a small island in the middle, while most of the city’s treasures are located within five blocks of the river’s eternal flow. I took this photo while walking on a bridge and crossing north over the Seine to the Right Bank and the Louvre after viewing the stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapell. Like all timeless urban rivers, the Seine has always been a major player in human activity from its source to its mouth, e.g., Joan of Arc’s ashes were thrown into the Seine after she was burned at the stake in 1431. George Seurat’s pointillist depiction of people relaxing in a park on a “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is now on display at the Chicago Art Institute, on Michigan Avenue about one kilometer south of the Chicago River. And a focus on the upper left area of the famous painting distinctly shows the river Seine as their focal point.
Sunday by the Seine with George, Chicago, IL