Friday, October 26, 2012
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.