Monday, December 21, 2015
Virgin Mary Icon, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
Prayer Candles, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
We entered the Church of the Nativity through the main Door of Humility. Our guide informed us that the stone entrance had been reduced to a height requiring one to bend over centuries ago so that crusaders would no longer enter on horseback. As we ventured into this dimly lit large expanse of interior space it was apparent that maintaining this aging sixth century limestone structure was a never-ending project. Constantine and his mother St. Helena had commissioned the original church to be built over the cave where evidence suggested that Mary had given birth to Jesus. When this church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, a larger church was built and remains today. The Persians spared this church during their invasion in 614 AD because they were impressed by a large representation of the Magi who were also Persians.
As we approached the narrow stone stairway leading down to Jesus’ birthplace we paused near an Armenian altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary. History notes that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion in 301 AD. A very ornate icon of Mary and child was placed next to the elaborate altar. A stand of lit candles was situated nearby. Lighting candles as worshipers enter a church is an important expression of the Light of the World who entered the world in this place to dispel the darkness. It is also customary to light a candle to venerate icons, showing respect and reverence for the subject of the icon. Candles are also lit to honor a saint, commemorate a deceased loved one and extend prayers.
I took the time to photograph the unique icon and the lighted candles that pilgrims had placed nearby in this dimly lit cavernous cathedral. The lighting was very poor and what lighting existed randomly reflected off the icon. But something spiritual and ageless beckoned me to these images like a moth to a fire. As I was reviewing my photos today and zooming in on the dark background, an image beyond the flickering candle flames caught my eye. Somehow in the dark room my camera had captured the image of what appears to be a woman wearing a black hijab present in the photo. I don’t recall noticing her at the time as I was literally focused on the candles, but the image of her face blended into the darkness beyond the smokey candle light creates a very ethereal scene.
--John 8:12, 2 COR 4:6
Friday, December 18, 2015
Mural Over Christ's Birth Place, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
Herod the Great's Tomb, Herodium, Israel
The Christmas story involving Mary’s virgin pregnancy and the birth of the promised Messiah easily overshadow the life of Jesus’s earthly father, Joseph. Joseph has been described as a man with strong beliefs and right living who was willing to heavily invest himself for those beliefs. An angel of the Lord first appeared to Joseph in a dream to assure him that Mary, who was pledged to marry him, was with child through the Holy Spirit. And the child was the long awaited Messiah. The angel appeared in a second dream to warn Joseph to flee to Egypt to escape a decree from Herod the Great to kill all males less than two years old in an effort to eliminate the threatening new King of the Jews. When Herod died, the angel appeared a third time in a dream to instruct Joseph to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel. However, Herod had divided his kingdom among three of his sons. A fourth dream revealed that it was not safe to return home where the most brutal son Herod Archelaus ruled, so they were directed to Nazareth where ironically Herod Antipas ruled. He was a key character in the trial and death of Jesus.
Our first excursions into the Holy Land early this year were to Jesus’ birth place at a cave entrance in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the cave burial place at Herod the Great’s fortified palace called Herodium, atop a man-made mountain south of Jerusalem. God’s hand was directing the events in this pivotal drama of human history through his angelic messenger. Herod the Great vainly attempted to kill the anticipated Messiah at his birth by using all of the worldly evil and power at his command without succeeding. And thirty three years later in Jerusalem Jesus was brought before Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, who found him innocent of his accusers and returned Jesus to the governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate’s wife was greatly troubled by a dream that led her to tell her husband not to condemn this innocent man Jesus. But Pilate was a man of the world and politics prevailed.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story. The first angelic message delivered to Joseph was revealed to all the world just three days later. Archaeologists believe they found Herod the Great’s cold empty tomb at Herodium in 2007 among the ruins. It was probably decimated by the first Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 C.E. And we all know why Jesus’ garden tomb which is now preserved inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was found empty. Dreams really do come true!
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Angel Mosaic, Bethlehem, Israel
There is a field just east of Bethlehem in this war ravaged region that is the hallowed ground of a momentous announcement. It is where an angel of the Lord and a heavenly host of angels announced the arrival of a Savior for the world. Isaiah prophesied that this child would lead the wolf to live with the lamb. It’s important to note that this message was not delivered to kings and religious leaders, but to one of the lowest classes of the time—shepherds who were watching over their flocks on one very significant starry night. The world of that generation was filled with hate and war and the people of the region were anxiously awaiting a warrior king to bring peace to their lives.
They received the Prince of Peace. The mystery of this miracle was that the Creator entered his creation wrapped in human flesh as a present to all mankind. The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid for he was announcing good news. And then a host of angels sang:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
As I walked this land in February, I couldn’t help but wonder why we still had not achieved that peace which was promised over two thousand years ago. As an adult, Jesus gave men a simple formula for peace—love God and love your neighbor. And He left mankind with a way of living through his teachings and model that can restore peace in the world.
People at the birth of Christ and people today expect him to save us from our enemies, but he came to deliver all of us from ourselves. And on that fateful night we were sent an ally to walk with us as we exercise our free will to do something actionable about the hate and darkness in this world we were given stewardship over. Darkness and hate were not eliminated that night in this field, but light and love were sent to checkmate them.
MAY THE PEACE OF CHRISTMAS ABIDE WITH YOU ALL THOUGH THE NEW YEAR!
Saturday, December 12, 2015
CTA Clark Street Bus, Chicago, IL
Neon Yellow Biker, Chicago, IL
Yellow Cab with Blue Man Group Ad, Chicago, IL
Hooded Lincoln Park Dog Walker, Chicago, IL
Neon Yellow Runners, Chicago, IL
Office Worker and Red Corvette, Chicago, IL
Traveler with Red Bag, Chicago, IL
I arose early and made my way down to the urban coffee shop in the small Chicago hotel where I was staying for the Thanksgiving holiday. The space for this little shop used to be occupied by the original hotel’s telephone operators, so it bore the name of Elaine’s Coffee Call. The comfortable shop had two baristas that could prepare just about any coffee drink you can find at a ubiquitous Starbucks without the corporate cachet. Freshly prepared scones of the day along with chocolate croissants and coffee cake rounded out the menu for me.
As I gathered my mocha coffee and an apricot scone I noticed that the limited seating at the storefront window was available with only one other customer sitting there reading the morning newspaper over his coffee. I seated myself with a view to Lincoln Park and the outside world and opened my IPhone apps. The man seated in front of the window soon departed leaving me an unobstructed view of the awakening world passing by my out of the ordinary surroundings. My normal breakfast view is generally lit up by the flat screen television inside my home as I consume breakfast with coffee oblivious to the outside world.
Three naked light bulbs hung from the ceiling in front of the window with “Elaine’s Coffee Call” lettered in a movie film font. They created an interesting foreground for the passing landscape outside so I switched my IPhone to camera mode. I then began recording the passing urban scenes outside the window on a chilly Chicago November morning. I quickly captured a passing CTA bus, a yellow taxi with a Blue Man Group ad, an office worker and a red corvette, a heavily hooded neighborhood woman walking her dog, a traveler carrying a red bag and early morning risers running and biking while wearing attention getting neon yellow tops.
Elaine’s Coffee Call suddenly became my unique window on the world while these urban scenes played out in front of me as if I were home watching my flat screen television. The scenes were somewhat detached as I comfortably sat in the warmth of the shop. I was reminded of the massive number of worldly scenes that play out with each new day’s creation. And at this holiday time of the year, it’s all too easy to detach oneself from the needs of all our other fellow travelers on the same journey and only see them as surreal players strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage and passing before us without substance or souls.
Friday, December 4, 2015
Shepherds' Field Angel, Chapel of the Angels, Beit Sahur, Israel
Shepherd and Flock, Qumran, Israel
Announcement Mural, Chapel of the Angels, Beit Sahur, Israel
There is more than enough war and hate all over the world today. Man’s legendary inhumanity to man ever seems to have no limit. I don’t remember a time during this advent season of expectation when violence was so prevalent. I don’t recall a time when the world was more in need of the promise of Christmas. The people of the world are more consumed with fear than possibly any time in this generation. The world is in more need of a message of peace and hope than any time in this generation.
There is a field just east of Bethlehem in this war ravaged region that is the hallowed ground of a momentous announcement. It is where an angel of the Lord and a heavenly host of angels announced the arrival of a Savior for the world. Isaiah prophesied that this child would lead the wolf to live with the lamb. It’s important to note that this message was not delivered to nobles and religious leaders, but to one of the lowest classes of the time—shepherds who were watching over their flocks on one very significant starry night. These men were not encumbered with the political and economic biases and filters that would have scrambled the angel’s message. The world of that generation was filled with hate and war and the people of the region were anxiously awaiting a warrior king to bring peace to their lives. The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid for he was announcing good news for all men. And then a host of angels sang:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
As I walked this land earlier this year, I couldn’t help but wonder why we still had not achieved that peace that was promised over two thousand years ago. As an adult, the Savior gave men a simple formula for peace—love God and love your neighbor. The lambs these shepherds were raising were quite possibly those used in the nearby temple for blood sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people. The Lamb of God who entered the world that day became the substitute for these blood sacrifices by shedding his own blood for us. And He left mankind with a way of living through his teachings and model that can restore peace in the world.
In this beginning of the twenty first century, God’s people need to rally around life change, peace, joy, love, hope and action to fulfill our Heavenly Father’s expectation for all humanity. People at the birth of Christ and people today expect him to save us from our enemies, but he came to deliver all of us from ourselves. A provocative newspaper headline after the San Bernardino massacre declares that “God isn’t going to fix this” while mocking politicians who were praying for those directly affected. No, the majority of suffering in this world is caused by other human beings who have the free will for good or evil, but God will help us bring good out of any bad situation.
And on that fateful night we were sent an ally to walk with us as we exercise our free will to do something actionable about the hate and darkness in the world we were given stewardship over. Darkness and hate were not eliminated that night in this field, but light and love were sent to checkmate them.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Honor Flight, Washington, DC
So thankful on this Thanksgiving week that I paused my busyness long enough to wait on an elderly man wearing a navy hat and using a walker. As I approached the heavy door of our local Jamestown Post Office, I noticed him slowly making his way to the entrance. I waited and held the door open for him as he approached. He looked up under the military insignia on his hat and with a wry smile said, “I walked across Europe and into Germany but now I can’t even get into the Post Office.” Wow. I returned the smile and told him I was thankful for his service.
On the drive home, I was reminded of a time when I was waiting on a connecting flight at Washington Dulles International airport. A noisy crowd was gathering close by so I got up and walked over to witness a plane load of military veterans coming off an Honor Flight to see the WWII Memorial on the Mall. Some were gamely walking with canes and walkers, while some were attended in wheel chairs. Some had tears in their eyes. Every hassled passenger in the crowd paused and began clapping as a men’s chorale sang fight songs.
I paused once more to thank God that I am among the very fortunate to be born in a land of freedom and to have known the greatest generation that sacrificed so much for it.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Jordan River Headwaters, Banias, Northern Israel
I admire the no-nonsense attitude exhibited by Pope Francis who is now the spokesperson for the world-wide Catholic Church. This week he went on record in a sermon stating that “Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes. It’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path…We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it. God weeps, Jesus weeps.”
Over 2,000 years ago God came into this world wrapped in the flesh and blood of a human being. Mary delivered the young baby who was sent to deliver her and all mankind. The people of the time were looking for a warrior king to save them from the occupying Roman army, but his mission was to save us from ourselves. Or as the prophet Isaiah writes, he came as the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. Our God never seems to select humans for incredible tasks that we humans would choose. And He never seems to act in ways that would seem logical to us humans. He impregnates an aging Elizabeth who is well past child rearing with John the Baptist and a teenage Mary with His only Son. That leaves no doubt concerning the source of the power behind the human.
Thirty years later, the Son Jesus was walking through the northern kingdom of Israel with its capital at Samaria. The chosen people had been defeated by the Assyrians after they had turned their backs on God and He withdrew his protection. The remaining Jewish Samaritans had intermarried with the invaders and were shunned by the southern Jews, but Jesus didn’t acknowledge such cultural bias. He met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that legend says was named Photina. She was even shunned by the Samaritans because her life had spiraled off the tracks. But Jesus knew her heart and crossed all barriers to speak to Photina, offering her “Living Water” so that she would never thirst again.
The Old Testament has many passages which Jesus knew that speak of thirsting after God as one thirsts after water. God came into this world on Christmas as living water to satisfy the soul’s thirst to be connected to the one true universal power that is grounded in love and relationship. He came to reveal Himself to us and what he desires for us—to structure our lives so that we could all ultimately love one another and our Creator. And he demonstrated His loving grace through the Prince of Peace who has the power to accomplish it through us. This was no charade but an act of unconditional love for all mankind that the world needs more than ever this Christmas.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Burst of Glory, Jamestown, NC
Fall is vanishing,
As nature braces itself.
Betray the ominous storm.
The last rose of fall,
Unfurls with a burst of life.
Defiant and proud,
Beaming glorious splendor.
This tender fragrance,
Fills the cold air with sweetness.
Of brighter days in the sun.
Saturday, November 14, 2015
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Different Perspective, Internet Domain
“The first day or so we were all pointing to our countries.
The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents.
By the fifth day, we were only aware of the earth.”
--Sultan Bin Salman Al Saud
I ran across this quote from one of the International Space Station astronauts recently. It’s always interesting to view any situation from a different perspective. I remember confronting the term “alien” years ago on one of our first trips to colorful Colorado. We were returning to our car that was parked in a remote lot at beautiful Maroon Bells National Park outside Aspen. A nearby jeep had a green bumper sticker with jagged mountain outlines and the bold word “NATIVE” overprinted on it. Parked right next to it was a van with the exact sticker design on the back window that proclaimed “ALIEN”. And here we were in the midst of one of the most outstanding natural places on the planet with two families proclaiming their differing right to be here.
Another one of my favorite Internet meme’s consists of a portrait of a “Native American” Indian proclaiming “So you don’t like aliens. When are you packing?” And then one of my most mind cringing quotes from some History Channel episodes on the origins of modern man always begins with the phrase “according to ancient alien theorists”. According to some “revered theorists” human beings evolved from biological experiments that may have possibly originated from another race in another universe.
One of my favorite quotes on our environment is that “we don’t inherit the earth from our parents. Rather we borrow it from our children.” This world doesn’t belong to any of us. All of us are simply stewards of this planet that we use for just a short span of time. And all of us have been wired with this underlying low level of anxiety that unconsciously reminds us that we are all just aliens here, since our real home lies beyond this life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somehow we all could understand this eternal truth from the perspective of our international space station--or better yet, from the perspective of the One who created it all in the first place?
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Church Steeple, Strong City, KS
Brene Brown notes in her book Rising Strong that a critical component of resilience and over-coming struggle is spiritual practice. All of us experience the storms of life. She defines spirituality as “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” We find support and celebrate our spirituality inside our houses of worship and we exercise our spirituality outside the walls of those houses.
Adam Hamilton offers a path to spirituality in his book on Making Sense of the Bible. He professes that “I share Christ with others because I believe that in Christ we see the clearest picture of who God is and what God longs for from humanity. I share Christ because I believe it is in knowing, loving, and serving him that we find the fullest and most authentic life possible. I share Christ with others because I believe God wants all people to know the good news of Jesus Christ. I share Christ because I believe he is the way, the truth, and the life.”
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Monday, November 2, 2015
Slip Slidin' Away, Internet Domain
Growing up in central Kansas with a father that had a passion and talent for the game of baseball imbued me with a life-long loyalty for Kansas City baseball. Unfortunately, my dad suffered through the long seasons of the KC Athletics, but I had the pleasure of being in Royals Stadium (now The K) during the George Brett glory days and the 1985 World Series. Brett is still with the Royals organization and his gritty style of play is stamped all over these young players I just watched win the 2015 World Series. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting George and his wife when they hosted a Las Vegas charity event at their home. His three silver bats on display in the study represented offensive excellence in three separate decades.
This Royals baseball team whose motto is “keep the line moving!”, puts the never in “never say die”. They not only trailed in all five games of the World Series but were still behind into the eighth inning in three games which they won. That has never happened in 110 years of World Series history. They seldom strike out because they feed on two strike counts and love fast balls. They keep the petal to the metal on the base paths. Eric Hosmer personified this grit as he made a dash for home plate on a routine throw to first base to tie the final game. They live the NY Yogism that “it ain’t over till it’s over!”
In retrospect, I couldn’t help but think about the 1969 movie True Grit where John Wayne received his first and only Oscar as a tough old U.S.Marshal who had a reputation for getting the job done. Grit is plain old rough granules of stone and folks associate it with a strength of mind and the conviction to see things through in the face of strong adversity. Persistence and practice with a purpose are great equalizers over superior talent. The Royals have a team attitude and connection with overflowing self-confidence. Add in a lot of talent and you have a recipe that’s becoming more legendary than KC BBQ!
And the irony of George Brett’s quote at the beginning of the ninth inning of the last game wasn’t lost on me. As Lorenzo Cain gritted through seven pitches to lead off with a walk against the Met’s ace pitcher Harvey, Brett was overheard to say, “I’ve seen this movie before.”
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Spirits Rising, Greensboro, NC
Cooling air descends,
On low lying warm waters.
A golden sunbeam,
Reveals the stirring dancers.
Vapor spirits rise,
Gliding on placid waters.
Silently dance unrehearsed.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Two Boys Trusting, Internet Domain
I only recently made the connection between two boys of the Bible. Both of their stories were so outstanding that they have endured for over 2,000 years and have been retold countless times throughout the ages. One of these boys of the Old Testament became a great king whose name lives on to this day and the other boy of the New Testament remains nameless.
The young shepherd boy David was bringing food to his Israelite brothers who were fighting the Philistines. David had brought his three oldest brothers ten loaves of bread, ten cheeses and some roasted grain. When he arrived at the battle scene he encountered the giant Goliath who was over nine feet in height with armor weighing over one hundred pounds. The giant had been demanding a mano a mano fight with a warrior from King Saul’s army for forty days during an impasse of battle, but all of the men were afraid of him. Goliath then continued to insult the army of the Living God and the God who had been with David when he had successfully defended his sheep from both a lion and a bear. David took the challenge and placed his trust in his God. He only had a small sling and five smooth stones in his pouch as he approached the giant. But he killed the giant with one quick stone flung into Goliath’s forehead.
Jesus was preaching on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to a multitude of over 5,000 people who had come to hear his living words. Many in the crowd were quite probably pilgrims from the surrounding countryside who were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Included in this vast gathering of humanity was another young boy. This boy had been listening to the teachings of Jesus and was unhampered by the bias and filters of his older adult journeymen. The disciple Philip didn’t think it would be humanly possible to feed the people as Jesus had instructed. Nevertheless, Andrew brought the small boy to Jesus when he had offered his five loaves and two fish. Jesus knew the trust in the boy’s heart and he took the small offering and blessed it over a large rock outcropping near the sea. The large multitude then ate their fill with food left over.
It’s interesting to consider what might have happened on those two miraculous days over 2,000 years ago if the young boys bearing bread had NOT put their trust in the Bread of Life. These occasions might have never been recorded for us. And there’s no telling how many miracles the world is denied when humans do not step forward into action with God at their side. Thankfully, miracles did not stop at the end of God’s first covenant with the Israelites or at the end of Jesus’ three year ministry. We can still enable miracles all around us with a firm trust in the Living God of the Universe as he joins us when we seize the initiative!
Friday, October 16, 2015
Scared to Death, Internet Domain
As we near the time of All Saints Day or Halloween, Chapman University has released a survey of America’s top fears for 2015. Their study included areas of crime, personal anxieties, daily life and natural disasters. The top fear reported was a fear of corruption of government officials. About 25% of folks fear robots in our society. Interestingly, more people fear reptiles (33%) and public speaking (28%) than dying (22%).
When it comes to Halloween, close to 10% of people fear the supernatural such as ghosts and zombies, while a surprising 7% have a deep fear of clowns! The theme of All Hallows Eve revolves around using humor and ridicule to confront the power of death. And the contemporary objective of All Hallows Eve is to scare the wits out of somebody by dressing up in scary costumes, telling ghost stories, watching horror movies and visiting haunted houses!
I’ve read that the most frequent phrase in the Bible is “fear not”. Every time mere mortals were confronted by supernatural beings such as angels, it apparently and literally put the fear of God in them! But that supernatural being quickly brought comfort and peace to those who had the great privilege of receiving their message. In medieval times, witches were believed to accompany malignant souls seeking vengeance on their enemies until All Saints Day. They had one last chance on All Hallows Eve before moving on to the next world. So people would don masks and costumes to disguise themselves in fear of being confronted.
So this Halloween, beware of a supernatural robot wearing a clown outfit with a python wrapped around his neck knocking at your door and proclaiming, “Fear Not, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you prepare and deliver a speech to the United Nations on World Peace.” That should scare the daylights out of you!
Monday, October 12, 2015
Three Sisters, Wikipedia
As we move into the heart of fall, the maple leaves are beginning to turn color at the tips as the nights grow colder foretelling the fallow days of winter. History records that the first winter for the new world pilgrims would have been devastating if it had not been for the American natives that showed them how to grow crops here. Many of the native tribes had found a lifesaving secret and a variety of legends about the three sisters emerged from these practices. They had discovered the symbiotic relationship among Corn Girl, Bean Girl and Squash Girl that sustained the three sisters and the Native Americans. The Cherokee and Iroquois legends tell of Corn Girl who wore a pale green dress and her long yellow silky hair blew in the wind. But the hot sun burned her feet while weeds grew around and choked her. Bean Girl was very thin and relatively weak as she lay on the ground. And Squash Girl with the yellow dress was short and hungry.
The Native Americans soon discovered that the primary crop of corn provided more energy calories per acre, but it grew healthier in community with beans and squash. The corn provided a much needed pole for the bean vines to climb and thrive. And the wide prickly squash leaves growing on the ground provided shade to control weeds and retain ground moisture from the rains. The beans fix nitrogen on their roots to improve the overall fertility of the soil for all the crops. Corn or maize is high in calories, but low in protein and amino acids. The bean is high in protein and has a complementing amino acid. The squash is high in calories, vitamins, and minerals while its seeds are a source of protein and oil.
The three sisters taught the Native Americans, the first pilgrims and still teach us today that there is strength in diversity and teamwork! And the bounty of that first harvest in the new world was evident on the first Thanksgiving Day when Americans demonstrated hospitality and fellowshiped with undocumented aliens from Europe!
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Loaves and Fish Mosaic, Tabgha, Israel
The disciples were so impressed with the miracle of Jesus feeding a multitude of five thousand with a young boy’s five barley loaves and two small preserved fish that it is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. We’ll never know exactly what happened on that grassy plain near the Sea of Galilee, but it was miraculous! Jesus was demonstrating to all of us how to share our generosity and showing us that “Little is much when God is in it!”
I was excited to arrive with our group at the Church of the Loaves and Fish early on a cool February morning, but we had to wait outside as other pilgrim groups were already inside the small sanctuary. Groups were also gathered outside on the veranda singing impromptu hymns, some in foreign languages.
Our group was finally able to enter the church and experience a simple stone alter over a large rock outcropping, that tradition says Jesus used to bless the young boy’s offering. We all silently paused awhile in this spiritual place and then began to disperse outside to make room for others. Because visiting this location was one of my primary reasons for making this long journey, I lingered behind to study the ancient mosaic of two fish and four loaves in front of the alter. When we later asked about the missing fifth loaf, we were given a very beautiful answer; “We are still receiving it”. After all, even Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life”!
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Lookin' Left, High Point, NC
(With apologies to Yogi)
• Ninety percent of golf is played on over 7,000 yards of heavenly green grasses. The other half is played on hell’s half acre.
• OK, we’ll determine the first tee order alphabetically by height.
• When you come to a fork in the cart path, take it.
• You can’t think and hit the golf ball at the same time.
• Nobody plays that golf course anymore. It’s too crowded.
• A nickel Bingo point ain’t worth a dime anymore.
• Hitting a provisional shot into the hazard is déjà vu all over again!
• Even if you’re lying five off the green on a par five, just remember that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.
• If golfers don’t call for a tee time at your golf course, how are you gonna stop them?
• I usually play a four-hour round of golf from 1 to 6.
• I don’t play much winter golf ‘cause of my 50 degree rule and it gets late early out there.
• I practice putting by pairing off three golf balls at different distances.
• Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t scoring.
• You can observe a lot by watching how the pros throw their putter into a lake.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Fallen Feather, Jamestown, NC
Wanderlust for the Hero's Journey
I’ve had a wanderlust with automobiles since I was just a kid growing up in central Kansas. My uncle drove up in a new dark navy Olds Rocket 88 one day and I immediately recognized that this sculpted Adonis on wheels was the perfect fusion of art and engineering. I couldn’t wait for the day when I could drive a car and begin the Hero’s Journey. In the meantime, I probably added a hundred miles or so to the family car driving it up and down our driveway. Since then, I’ve easily logged well over a million miles behind the wheel of these modern chariots.
My friend and I made a daring escape away from the driveway and around the block in our sleepy neighborhood one sunny afternoon. As luck would have it, a friendly policeman noticed the probability that the driver of my dad’s car was sitting on a pillow to see over the dashboard. He pulled us over and asked if I had a driver’s license. I’m pretty sure that he already knew the answer. Fortunately, I was contrite enough and he was forgiving enough to follow us back into my parent’s driveway with my assurance that I wouldn’t venture out again until I was old enough to have a license—and no longer needed a pillow!
One of the milestones of my life was the day my father helped to finance my first automobile. It wasn’t the convertible that I had coveted, but it was a Ford Victoria hardtop that I quickly began to customize. The convertible with a teenager behind the wheel would have been trouble anyway. Ironically, I recently paid more for a lawnmower than that first car that sparked a lifelong love affair with these machines! A car has always represented more than basic transportation for me. I’ve owned a variety of automobiles since then and I’ve always taken pleasure in detailing them on a cool Saturday morning in the fall. There’s nothing like driving a car that’s been cleaned and shined on a bright fall weekend day. I swear that they have more energy—just like a kid or pet dog that has just emerged from a bath!
This September Saturday morning was no different than many others. The air was cool, the sun was shining and only a slight breeze stirred the trees. I was putting the finishing touches of a liquid shine on the hood of my car. The metallic surface was reflecting the blue Carolina sky like a clear Blue Ridge Mountain lake. And then a very petite and fragile feather drifted ever so silently out of the sky and landed ever so softly right in front of me. As you may know, feathers are a sacred universal symbol of flight, serving as messengers between this mortal world and the other side of the thin veil. Their primary message is that “all is well.” And on a glorious fall morning in September, how could life be anything else?
Monday, September 14, 2015
Touch of Fall, Jamestown, NC
Receding green chlorophyll begins to reveal true colors
at the tip of a lone Maple leaf.
It's been said that one's true character is revealed
when all those around withdraw leaving the person alone.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Sunflower Golden Spiral, Greensboro, NC
Beauty is a mystery in its knowing, but yet we know it when we see it. It exhibits itself in the golden spirals of a sunflower’s seed arrangement, the florets of a daisy, the bracts of a pine cone and the branches of a tree. These Fibonacci numbering sequences are nature’s mathematical order in the universe all around us. Mathematical proportions that are pleasing to the human eye were discovered ages ago by the Greeks and Egyptians in the form of the Golden Means, the Golden Sections, the Golden Proportion and the Golden Ratio. They are subliminally evident in our observations of the Greek Parthenon, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa” and the pyramids.
Fibonacci numbers have been called the Fingerprint of God that is hidden throughout nature and man’s creations. They certainly belie randomness. In fact, the Golden Ratio is seen in the proportions of the sections of a human finger. We have 8 fingers in total, 5 digits on each hand, 3 bones in each finger, 2 bones in a thumb and 1 thumb on each hand. The ratio between the forearm and the hand is the Golden Ratio. There is a beautiful Golden Proportion related to the width of the white in our eyes and the distance between our eyes.
It’s been said that if you look into the face of a flower, you look into the face of God. And it would seem that when you look into the face of a sunflower, you look into the beautifully patterned order of all creation that shows the way into the Language of God in the form of spiraling DNA double helix strands.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Fellowship Meal, Sea of Galilee, Israel
Philip Yancey in his book on Vanishing Grace relates the results of a survey in which Americans were asked what words they would most like to hear. The first choice was predictable; “I love you”. We were made in the image of a God who is defined by love for all creation, including all of us. He wants us to thrive and we need to look no further than the cross to understand the depths of that love.
The second choice was “I forgive you.” In an act of moral justice and unconditional love God became flesh and blood to offer himself as a sacrifice of radical grace so that we could be forgiven, no matter what we may have done in our life.
Finally, a rather surprising third choice of words Americans would most like to hear was “Supper’s ready!” Our God is a relational divine presence as witnessed in the triune godhead at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River near the Sea of Galilee. We humans enjoy fellowship around the dinner table and enjoy each other’s company. Jesus constantly engaged others around meals and feasts including his first miracle at a wedding feast, feeding the 5,000 and of course, his last supper has been immortalized! And our natural response to the blessings we receive in life is to offer ourselves as willing clay vessel dispensers of God’s grace to a world thirsty for love, forgiveness and fellowship.
Monday, September 7, 2015
Friday, September 4, 2015
Spring Azalea, Jamestown, NC
Masters Suspended, Getty Images
It’s been said that a good golf course is heaven at a lower altitude. And April in the southeast welcomes azaleas, sunshine, and April showers. Those April rain showers resurrect the land and all that’s green, including some of the most beautiful real estate on earth. The first full week of April signals the arrival of The Masters Golf Tournament played in Augusta, Georgia. This is the first of four majors played each season which marks the career of all winners. Even casual golf fans will tune in to watch the Masters just for the beautiful scenery if nothing else. I had always longed to be there in person. Just the names of some of the holes at Augusta give you the idea such as Pink Dogwood (2), Flowering Peach (3), Flowering Crab Apple (4), Magnolia (5), Yellow Jasmine (8), and Carolina Cherry (9) on the front nine. It’s a spring ritual like nothing else for those of us who love to play the game and admire those who have come as close as human beings can come to mastering the game—at least mastering the game well enough to better most other human beings. Leading up to the 2006 tournament there had been seven out of eight Masters experiencing a rain delay in Georgia.
The legendary Bobby Jones envisioned the course and the first Augusta National tournament was played in 1934. The tournament is steeped in tradition. A green jacket has been awarded to the winner ever since 1949 and it is retained at the clubhouse for the golfer’s use every Tuesday before the tournament at the Champions Dinner. Honorary past champions hit the first tee ball to commence every tournament. A par 3 contest is played on Wednesday in a family-friendly atmosphere where many players go out of their way to lose, since no winner has ever won the regular event. Historically, fans arriving early can place their portable chairs around the ropes and leave them there to be undisturbed whenever they return. A disruptive fan with a pass can also immediately have it confiscated for life. Caddies must wear a uniform consisting of a white jumpsuit, a green Masters cap, and white tennis shoes. The defending champion always receives caddy number 1.
Tickets to the actual tournament are sold only to members of a patrons list which is closed. People are said to keep tournament tickets in the family for years, but there are a limited number of tickets available on the internet where demand far outstrips supply. I had my first knee joint replacement at the beginning of 2006, followed by a heart attack on my first day of therapy, followed immediately with a stint, followed by quadruple bypass six weeks later. As I was starting my heart surgery recovery therapy, I received a call from the owner and president of the company I had been consulting with in Mexico. He calmly informed me that he had just acquired an incentive on the internet for me to get back on the job. He now had three tickets to the Masters and one of them was mine if I could get my doctor’s approval to board a plane to Atlanta in eight weeks. I made it!
I flew into Atlanta just before the tournament and the three of us stayed on an estate that was primarily an expansive man cave with a driving range, shooting range, indoor batting cage, television rooms, bar, game room, pool tables, etc. We got up early on Saturday morning after the night’s violent storms and drove through tornado debris on the outskirts of Atlanta. The weather was ominous but we arrived in the unpretentious town of Augusta, parked in a remote lot and made our way to the course. My companions asked me to check out rental seats as we made our way into the course in the madding crowd. That’s the last time I saw them until after the rain delay. Cell phones and cameras were forbidden on the course, which made it impossible to communicate. We had agreed to meet by a telephone complex, but we never made contact there either.
Fortunately we had distributed our tickets as we departed the SUV in the parking lot. I finally entered the course through security and it was indeed enchanting and even more like hallowed ground than seen on television. The grounds were lush from all the rain and flowering blooms were almost everywhere you turned. I took the time to route myself through a nearby permanent merchandise building where I purchased a golf shirt, an umbrella and two Masters hats, one promised for my physical therapist. Then I made my way over to the telephone complex where I did not find my two companions. So I walked to a green and just took in the experience of being at the Masters. We made it for a few hours and then the lightning and thunder of another approaching storm became more ominous. In minutes the rain began and sirens sounded to suspend play. A loud speaker was encouraging fans to leave the premises and return to their vehicles until the all clear siren was sounded. Once again I made my way to the telephone complex but could not find my travelling companions, so I decided to walk to the SUV to see if they were there. They were not and I did not have the keys.
I walked back to the main gate in the rain to regroup with the telephones where it turned out my companions were waiting on me and getting more impatient by the hour. That’s when I began to lose my star-struck innocence at the Masters. A gate attendant (bridge troll) wearing a green jacket barred my return. That wasn’t mentioned in the loud speaker address. I was told that once you leave the course during a rain delay you cannot reenter even though there were still plenty of people inside the gates. I proceeded to provide the litany of trials that I had overcome to get to this place and this time. It didn’t matter to the green jacket. I asked to speak to a supervisor. Another green jacket was summoned. I repeated my sad story. It didn’t matter to the green jacket. I asked to quickly slip just inside the gates by the telephones to get my friends and leave again, but it didn’t matter to the green jackets. So, I stood outside the gates of paradise in the cold rain with my fresh zippers on my left knee and my chest getting colder and wetter. Finally my two companions walked to the gate and we all agreed to blow the joint! So much for the fantasy of paradise!
We drove back to the man cave complex outside Atlanta, had a couple beers with some warm food and watched the conclusion of day three on the big screen television in dry clothing. The next day we slept in and spent the balance of the day watching the final round where Phil Mickelson hit the brilliant 207 yard six iron off the pine straw on 13 through two pine trees and onto the green over menacing Rae’s Creek for a birdie and a two shot lead to clinch the 70th Masters major championship. And I still look forward every April to welcome spring by watching the tournament on television. But be careful what you wish for because I also still wince every time I see one of those green jackets!
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Towering Tee, Internet Domain
I’ve had only one opportunity to play golf close to its beginnings when I was on a corporate team that was installing and training for an MRP operations system at one of our subsidiaries. We were working in a small town just outside Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland. We had walked into the midst of a thirty year period now known as “The Troubles” where the Protestant majority wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom and the Catholic minority was pushing to become part of the Republic of Ireland. By the time we arrived on the scene, the British government had imposed direct rule on the area from London in an attempt to quell the unrest. Ultimately, 50,000 people were adversely impacted by the violence. The company car that had been reserved for our use had been blown up by police the week prior to our arrival, since it had been recovered as stolen. Stolen cars were generally wired booby-traps. There were recurring news accounts of men being “knee-capped” or shot in the knees in drive-by reprisals. We were instructed to always be seated in a restaurant with our backs to the wall and eyes to the front door after being checked for weapons in case someone busted into the room shooting.
Our small team was working long hours for two solid weeks to prepare for the systems installation. That left us with a Saturday for some R&R before we turned on the new system and began the rigorous process of debugging and trouble shooting. So we discussed the possibility of playing a round of golf on one of the local historic courses to stay out of harm’s way. It was early spring and the winds coming off the white capped Strangford Lough were raw and cold. Our hosts at work arranged for golf clubs and a tee time for three of us. I was very fortunate to find a wool stocking hat that evening which proved to be a life saver.
We arrived at Scrabo Golf Club early on Saturday morning. Green fees included 18 holes and a pint of beer. The famous landmark Scrabo Tower overlooking the course was built as a memorial to the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry. From this vantage point on a clear day you can see the coast of Southern Scotland, Northern England and the Isle of Man. Christy O’Connor has written that the formidable opening hole is “awe-inspiring and terrifying. You get to see the entire hole rising above you. There are glorious views and your drive rifles up a hill flanked by razor-sharp gorse. At the top sits Scrabo Tower and the green. Two mighty shots are required.”
We were quickly introduced to intersecting fairways which really gets your attention. There were blind shots all over the course due to the gorse covered contours of Scrabo Hill. I hit what seemed to be at least a 300 yard five iron to a par 3 green because I over shot it into the wind and my undersized ball sailed down into the depths of the lough. One of my playing companions stepped off the front of a tee box, slipped on the wet grass, and immediately disappeared from sight down the hill. Errant balls that found the dense gorse were lost for all time. The raw winds coming off the lough were bone chilling and numbing. My two partners saw their escape chance as we trudged close to the shelter of the clubhouse on the 15th green and they bailed on me. But I was determined to finish my one opportunity to play a round of golf in the cradle of its creation, so I soldiered on. When I finally stumbled into the clubhouse and a warm fireplace, my companions asked how I shot. With no sane golfers left on the course as witness, I softly muttered through my chattering teeth and a wry smile, “All birdies!”
Monday, August 31, 2015
Hang onto Your Hats,
Wrightsville Beach, NC
I always return to the ocean beaches to walk the shoreline at sunrise and listen to the calming influence of the synchronized waves lapping onto the sands. Every sunrise has its own personality and beauty fused with the fluorescent sky and blue waters. But the unseen presence that is always near the water in varying degrees is the ocean breeze, caressing the skin and soul and subliminally reminding us of the divine presence that always accepts an invitation to walk with us.
MILESTONE POST NO. 600
Sunrise Surge, Wrightsville Beach, NC
1God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
2So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Sunrise Stillness, Wrightsville Beach, NC
10“Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
11The lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us.