Sunday, July 27, 2014
Roots by the Stream, Valley Forge, PA
The very first Psalm tells us that those who place their faith in God are likened to a tree whose roots are firmly established 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 significance and true value.
Jesus offered the woman at Jacob’s Well living water so that she would never be thirsty again. She wanted to be free of physical thirst, but Jesus was offering spiritual nourishment; streams of living water that flow from within. He empowers us to deal with our problems from God’s perspective. Jacob, Isaac’s son, actually purchased this land outside Shechem, north of Jerusalem, for a hundred pieces of silver (Genesis 33:19). After wrestling with God, his name was changed to Israel, meaning “he struggles with God”, and he became the third link in God’s plan to start a nation from Abraham (Genesis 35:10-11). Jesus was in the lineage of Isaac and Mohammad was in the lineage of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son. An angel of God called out to Hagar and Ishmael in the desert and told Hagar to “lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation (Genesis 21:17-18). Perhaps the one common thread of hope for peace in the Holy Land is knowing that the roots of the world’s three major monotheistic religions of Judiasm, Islam and Christianity all commence from one man, Abraham.
And the well of God’s living water still flows today as a reminder of His love for all nations and the promise of a restored Kingdom of God.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
High Country Aspens, Vail, CO
Rose Quartz Bloom, Jamestown, NC
About forty five years ago, my bride and I were spending our honeymoon vacation high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It was a carefree time to be alive in the midst of one of God’s most beautiful creations in this high country. We fell in love together with this glorious country and the experience became the first of many summer excursions through every corner of the Ute Indian territory.
The cold snow melt rushing headlong down rocky mountain streams was a tranquilizer for the senses along with the Mariah wind song slicing through the pine needles and rustling aspen leaves on cool breezes. Late afternoon showers wafted through the valleys as fire spears pierced the air and thunderous waves of war drums echoed off the ancient cliff dwellings. As the storms moved on to the east, the western skies cleared to reveal the low rays of the setting sun over the high peaks. The bright rays reflected and refracted against the trailing rain drops, revealing the Navajo Yeii rainbow spirit that is said to bring beauty to those in harmony.
We drifted high into the old mining town of Leadville and toured the Tabor opera house where silver mining barons once cheered some of the best entertainment of the time. Then our government switched to the gold standard and bankrupted them faster than their fortunes were made. The "Unsinkable Molly Brown" who survived the Titanic disaster met her husband in Leadville where they became rich through the Little Johnny Mine. Horace “Haw” Tabor made his fortune in the Little Pittsburg silver mine and then bought the Matchless Mine. He later legalized his relationship with Baby Doe McCourt after he divorced his first wife. We listened to an elderly woman who said her father used to carry her into the opera house on his shoulders to watch the shows. As fate many times has its way, she related that Baby Doe was found penniless and frozen on the floor of the Matchless Mine’s wooden tool shed one blustery winter's day. She had spent her last thirty years there after living the high life, silver had lost its luster and Haw had died of pneumonia.
Later, we ventured outside the Leadville area and stood at the site of the Matchless Mine, pondering Baby Doe’s life. At the very least, it was a sobering life lesson and a testament to how quickly earthly treasures can vanish. Especially compared to the investment one can make between your ears and spiritual treasures stored in heaven. As we departed from the mine along a winding mountain road, we happened upon one of the many serendipitous life events that we experienced during forty years of traveling together. We followed a crude sign to a partially abandoned mine that had a few rusting ore cars sitting on rails outside another small weathered building. The small cars were piled full of large chunks of glistening rose quartz rocks. When looking for a souvenir of some earthly location I’ve passed in the night, I like to acquire something germane to the country. So, we bargained for one of the largest pieces of rose quartz we could comfortably fit into our loaded car and took it home. It has remained a beautiful fixture in every flower garden that I’ve planted ever since that first Colorado adventure. And today, as I was photographing fresh blooms in the garden, I looked down to behold the perfect fusion of new life and old memories under the warm Carolina sunshine.
I’m certain that most folks regard that chunk of rose crystal as just a colorful rock. But to me, those magical crystals encapsulate beautiful memories of the Colorado high life that we also shared for a moment in time. For us human beings, a wide variety of things like words, songs, places, sounds, objects, etc. trigger the remembrance of those special times. These can be precious memories that we hold close to our heart. Perhaps that helps to explain why Baby Doe stayed so close to the desolate mine which others considered to be worthless, but she still treasured as “matchless”.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Morning Rush Hour, Greensboro, NC
I attend a men’s prayer breakfast at 7:00 on most Thursday mornings. We enjoy good fellowship, a better meal than I’d probably have at home and share personal praises and concerns. We then dismiss and go our separate ways. Some go off to work and others move on to wherever today’s retirement agenda leads them. I like the thought that transitioning from work to retirement is simply moving from a life of success to one of significance.
Today wasn’t much different than most Thursday mornings as I drove in the rush hour traffic after breakfast. I’ve found that I actually enjoy driving the long way home to relive the experience that was so much a part of my life for so many working years. There’s a sense of camaraderie as you glance around you at multiple lanes of vehicles migrating to distant office parks, retail malls, school buildings, production plants, warehousing centers, downtowns, airports, etc.
I witnessed many familiar scenes today as I observed young women making last minute touches on their makeup and young men straightening their hair or using an electric razor. Folks were hoisting their cell phones at every stop light to get caught up on the night’s texts and e-mails. Mothers were giving instructions to the unseen child in a car seat behind them or possibly calming the family dog in a crate on the way to doggy day care. And dreary-eyed men were sipping their ubiquitous Starbucks Grande coffee cups as they attempt to ramp up their heads for the morning’s challenges.
As I moved through an urban business park, I recalled that I was generally fully engaged by the time I parked my car in the company lot. The commute had given me time to gather my priorities and my sense of urgency to tackle a new day. I was locked, loaded and primed to dive into all the opportunities cleverly disguised as problems. Every day is another chance to grow and learn and expand your circle of relationships. And since challenging work is generally good for us if we keep our family, spiritual and career life in balance, I was excited to see how life would unfold.
Admittedly, there were also those exceptional days when driving to work with all the other nameless faces could only be compared with voluntarily taking yourself to a beating. Like those mornings when you were faced with sitting down with associates you had known for years and explaining the terms of their termination. When I catch myself getting nostalgic about those mostly good days at work, I just conjure up one of those repressed dark days. And when the string of vehicles ahead of me begins exiting off the roadway and into a corporate lot, I simply look straight ahead and placidly drive on.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Donald Ross Golf, Asheville, NC
I have a golfing friend that gave me some good advice recently. My drive had landed in a precarious location in the edge of the rough and I was considering the safe shot using my wedge to lay up away from the green. That was a conservative boring choice that in retrospect might have been the difference between me scoring in the 80’s or 90’s. And it occurred to me that I generally don’t remember my score from one week to the next, nor do I really assign it that much relevance in my life. I go to the golf course for the joy of nature, the camaraderie, the exercise, the game, the focus and the occasional beer on the nineteenth hole.
But I do remember the fantastic, low percentage shot I hit one fine day through the forks of a tall pine tree and onto the green where I sank the putt for a birdie. I was actually trying to hit that shot and my playing companions now refer to that pine as “the Larry tree”. And it’s still standing, unlike “the Eisenhower tree” at Augusta National. So, when my playing companion told me to “go for the green; you can lay up when you’re dead”, I went for it with all the gusto and skill I could muster. No new landmarks were to bear my name that day, as I missed the green. But I was in a handy spot and still managed a par. I remember that par as vividly as the birdie, because I was really enjoying life on those occasions.
I was having a lunchtime conversation with a friend that professes atheism who commented that most people are afraid of dying. We have a survival instinct deep within our DNA that speaks to the ability of our ancestors to stay alive. But if you have no hope for a spiritual existence after this mortal one, dying must definitely be more daunting. And there are unfortunate folks that experience a debilitating phobia about dying that distracts them from the joy of living. Woody Allen famously noted that “I’m not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens”. Yet it’s a common destiny for all of us and part of the circle of life.
I’m a firm believer in living in the moment and trusting in God for my future existence. I don’t recall being anxious about coming into this life, so why should I be anxious about leaving it? I believe there’s a fantastic existence waiting for us on the other side, but I can be patient about crossing over. And then there are those who long for immortality, but never considered what they would do with it. Many of those are the same folks that generally don’t know what to do on a rainy Sunday. For myself, I don’t plan to lay up in this life or the next!
Friday, July 11, 2014
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Clearing, Carolina Beach, NC
Fierce driving rain squalls,
driven by hurricane winds,
descend on the beach.
Relentless high waves,
erode the defenseless sands,
and reshape the land.
Long buried treasures,
now lie exposed for shelling,
as the storm passes.
The rain dissipates,
as the clouds begin to part,
and the sun breaks through.
Golden sea oats bow,
in the peaceful aftermath,
of the storms of life.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Island Sunset, KI, SC
The sky glows golden,
as intercoastal waters,
absorb its beauty.
Long shafts of sunbeams,
light the radiant aura,
as the sun withdraws.
Graceful white egrets,
slowly glide over the marsh,
as dark shadows fall.
Cool breezes refresh,
as suntanned sojourners pause,
to seize the moment.
Insects sing praises,
with the rhythm of the waves,
as they rise and fall.
is measured by watching tides,
as they come and go.
Courageous folks pray,
“I’ll try again tomorrow”,
as daylight dissolves.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Garden Cone Flower, Jamestown, NC
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies
and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
It is about appreciation”.
Years ago my wife Karen and I were hiking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado. We had been there before and I’ve often said that if God had been asked to design and build a cathedral, it would have been here nestled among the twin maroon colored peaks surrounding a clear blue mountain lake in a glacial valley of wildflowers. The area is reputed to be the most photographed spot in colorful Colorado. I had my trusty Nikon with me loaded with my favorite slide film. I really like the digital camera I use now, however.
We had happened along a fallen pine tree near the most beautiful wild mushrooms growing in the decaying forest floor near the trail. I paused to gather my gear and photograph the image. Fortunately, I was able to capture a few moments in time before a family of four rounded the trail and approached us. The two small children noticed that we were admiring the colorful mushrooms, walked over to us unattended, reached down and pulled them out of the ground. I just stood there aghast as the parents praised them for finding such wonderful things and they casually continued up the trail.
As the family moved almost out of hearing range, I commented to Karen that it was a good thing no one else wanted to enjoy the beauty of those mushrooms. It’s never a very good idea to tell other parents how to raise their kids, but they had blown a teachable moment. And then as we later rested near the public parking lot we noticed the family piling into their van close to a park ranger sign that read “Take only memories, leave only foot prints”. I hope the parents at least read the sign on their way out, since it was apparent they had missed it on the way in.
That incident has stayed with me for all these years, possibly because it plainly illustrated the need to teach our children about being considerate of one another and the world around us. Sadly, the main memory I took from that hike wasn’t of the beautiful wild mushrooms in a national forest, but the callous lesson that those parents defaulted to their children. I now generally enjoy the flowers in my garden all the way through their life cycle with few exceptions. And there’s one particular Native American Indian Proverb that has always been one of my favorite quotes regarding our environment:
“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children”.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Eastern Sunset, Chicago, IL
Storm Cloud, Chicago, IL
Light Show, Chicago, IL
I’ve observed that life in the Carolinas doesn’t normally involve the excitable anticipation of violent storms like those I’ve experienced in the Midwest. The more prevalent ice storms that wreak havoc on trees and electrical lines cause a lot of damage and inconvenience, but they arrive as a slow layering of light frozen rain. Watching an approaching bank of storm clouds over Lake Michigan near Chicago rekindled my memories of those nights of imminent danger, as threatening bands of thunderstorms spawning destructive tornados moved through my homeland in Kansas. It was always an adventure to count the seconds between a jagged lightning strike and the deep rolling thunder that followed to count the dwindling number of miles that separated us from the approaching menace of nature’s wrath.
The storm moving over Lake Michigan reminded me of the 1975 wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, or as the native Chippewa called it, Gitche Gumee. Strong winds and waves were said to have capsized the ship as all twenty nine hands on board perished that fateful night. The disaster inspired Gordon Lightfoot to write one of the most famous story songs ever recorded. And the echoes of those lyrics reminded me of the Gospel story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee or Lake Gennesaret.
James Martin, a Franciscan priest, spent the majority of his life as a spiritual director. As he stands on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he recalls that “this story of the stilling of the storm is by far the most helpful for people going through difficult times”. Jesus had been preaching all day from a fishing boat to better reach the crowds on the shoreline. He was exhausted and asks his disciples to sail the boat to ‘the other side’. Evening was approaching on the lake when the conditions were ripe for storms. Martin mentions that the dramatic difference in temperatures between the shoreline at 680 feet below sea level and the surrounding hills which can reach 2,000 feet generate strong winds funneling through the hills, whipping up high waves in the relatively shallow waters of only 200 feet.
The disciples find they are caught in the middle of a dark storm at sea and are understandably afraid, while Jesus lies on a cushion in the stern of the boat engaged in untroubled sleep. They wake him up and ask “do you not care that we are perishing”? Jesus rises, rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” A great calm instantly falls over the lake, as even the wind and the sea obeyed him. Martin concludes that “everyone faces stormy times, when God’s presence is hard to perceive. One of the most common struggles in the spiritual life is a feeling of God’s absence in painful times…Perhaps because when we are struggling, we tend to focus on the area of pain”.
When the lightning flashes, the thunder rolls across the land, the winds howl through the bending trees and the waves break over the ship’s bow, we can still be assured of calm seas as we seek the safety of the other side. Because all we ever need to focus on is His ultimate authority over all creation and His promise to be with us always.