Friday, December 30, 2016
Urban Outdoorsman, Chicago, IL
It’s that winter holiday time of the year and summer vacation camping trips are becoming a distant memory. Families are gathering near and pleasant music emanates from carolers, choirs, and electronics everywhere. Just about everyone we meet and greet is filled with good cheer.
As I rode in the back of a warm taxi driving into downtown Chicago from O’Hare airport, the driver suddenly swung out into the right lane on our turn off the interstate. The cabbie behind us had the same idea at the same time and we clipped bumpers. We only drove down the exit ramp a short while until traffic was stopped and the offended cabbie swung out onto the shoulder and unloaded a tirade of four letter words. My driver responded in kind and the testosterone had now kicked into overdrive! I had my smart phone in hand and momentarily considered videoing the drama, but the possibility of gun play immediately shut down that thought. My next thought was to place my hand on the seat belt release so that I could hit the floor! Fortunately, the light changed and we moved on out of harm’s way. City streets can be welcoming, but we should always be aware of its dangers as well.
Another traffic light turned red as we drove under an overpass bridge. The Christmas weather was turning predictably below freezing and the ubiquitous Chicago winds were swirling through the overpass in typical Bernoulli speeds, scattering the freshly fallen snow. I glanced out the back window to spy a small pup tent erected in this somewhat sheltered but sketchy location. There was no sign of life, but the presence of boxes and trash outside indicated the tent was occupied.
I’ve heard of a homeless man on the streets of Chicago who people buy coffee for every morning that calls himself the Urban Outdoorsman. He’s a man that has maintained a sense of humor despite his circumstances. I wondered if this could be him. I wondered if he was a homeless veteran or someone with a mental illness that has been turned out by our healthcare system or someone that is simply a victim of circumstances. We all seem to be more aware of these disadvantaged people during the Christmas holidays, but many of these folks desperately need aid once the harsh reality of January arrives.
It’s been said that “the only time we should be looking down on another human being is when we’re helping them up”.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
First Christmas, Chicago, IL
The late comedian George Carlin had a comedy routine about his early start in school as the “class clown”. He had observed early on that it’s much easier to get humans to giggle if they’re in a “suppressed situation” such as a classroom, funeral or church. Mary Tyler Moore had a classic TV episode that featured her attempting to suppress the giggles during the funeral service of Chuckes the Clown. And most of us have experienced the real-life phenomenon of just how much the giggles can be utterly contagious and impossible to suppress!
Our family had gathered at church on Christmas Eve to continue a tradition that had been established for all of us since early childhood. The pews were soon filled to capacity as other families joined us, including a young family of four with a five-year old little girl and her small brother behind us. A cute company of little shepherds, wise men, angels, and the holy family recounted the Christmas story. As the very young virgin Mary held up the baby Jesus doll, another little girl had to be removed from the sanctuary by her distraught mother as she reached out yelling, “Baby Doll, Baby Doll!” A few giggles echoed through the pews from knowing parents as the restless little girl behind us was overheard telling her daddy that he was being mean to her, presumably by asking her to remain silent and still.
The priest’s Christmas message was a timely one concerning the reality that he, we, the church, the community, and the world were all imperfect in the light of that perfect birth those two thousand years ago. He encouraged all of us to come to the Christ child as little children, remembering a time before we adults acquired all the baggage of biases and filters that stripped us of our innocence. A time when we were more inclusive and accepting of all people and our defensive shields were not deployed so often. The relevant message resonated with the people and everyone was left standing for the closing prayer in reverent silence.
Then in the stillness as we all stood contemplating the dark night of our souls, there emitted a sharp passing of gas followed by a longer crescendo stretching out to what must have been an interminable amount of time for the young parents behind us. The cringe-worthy, unmistakable sound was within ear-shot of a radius of at least three pews within the circle of embarrassment. I and my unknown "pewmates" immediately began to cast curious glances to locate the uncomfortable source. And then a very sweet voice softly said “Sorry”. The red-faced mother behind us matter-of-factly remarked, “Well, after all, we’re all imperfect!”
That was enough to begin a mounting wave of addictive giggles emanating from the innocent epi-center following the sermon’s climax. The priest must have been completely befuddled about the strange reaction of our section in the back and quickly asked everyone to "pass the peace". As I shook the young father’s hand I assured him that timing is everything! He responded by announcing that "at least everyone will have a story to tell around the Christmas table tomorrow" (or perhaps a blog post). The young mother passed along peace to my pregnant daughter and reminded her of things to come with a child. And for that short period of time, we were all openly celebrating one another in the true spirit of the child we had come to worship.
We attended a family service at church which included a children’s time. Our director of education asked a group of boys what they would say on the count of 3 if an angel suddenly appeared to them like Mary experienced.
A single small voice piped up and exclaimed “What the........”
The sanctuary exploded in laughter!
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
STONEHENGE SOLSTICE, Internet Domain
The Earth tilts away,
withdrawing warmth and sunshine.
Dark night of the soul.
A time of stillness.
A stirring of inner strength.
A transition time.
Embrace the darkness!
Let die those parts of ourselves,
that do not serve us.
Embrace the bright light!
Welcome the new light within.
Plant new seeds that serve.
Nurture healthy growth.
Light is ascendant again.
Hope springs eternal!
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
December Moon, Jamestown, NC
The December moon,
slowly rises in the east,
among pastel skies.
The lunar halo,
symbolizes divine life,
the light of the world.
The December sun,
slowly descends in the west,
as day yields to night.
The full harvest moon,
reflects the sun’s light,
as a reminder.
The Christmas Christ child,
shines light into all the world,
and never leaves us.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Mother and Child, Chapel of the Angels, Shepherd's Field, Israel
During this Christmas season, it’s intriguing to ponder that the man who self-identified as “the bread of life” was born in a town whose name means “the house of bread”. His anointed young mother, whose ancestors were saved with the gift of daily manna, laid him in a manger, a feeding trough, and tenderly, lovingly, kissed the face of God.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Angry Birds, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Years ago, I was familiar with a situation where a man embezzled from his company. I remember a conversation with the man before he was exposed which involved him vehemently bad mouthing the company. Many folks have issues with their employer and occasionally voice those problems. But this man impressed me with the angry passion of his rhetoric. I didn’t hear a lot of facts supporting his emotional outbursts, just a litany of complaints about how oppressing it was to him. I remember thinking to myself that the guy needed to quit his job if he was that dissatisfied. Reflecting on his behavior after his dismissal, it was finally apparent to me why this man was rationalizing his disdain for his employer. It was he that was involved in negative criminal behavior, not the company that was providing his family with a paycheck.
I’ve also listened to folks who don’t want to always follow their conscience and do the right thing. It’s been said that if people want to do something they’ll find a way. If not, they’ll find an excuse. And excuses are generally much easier to come up with compared to actions. Sometimes complaints and negative conversation camouflage those excuses. As the adage goes, actions speak louder than words. It’s also been my observation over the years that it’s very easy to find fault in any endeavor, but it takes some serious effort to find solutions.
An ol' country preacher once remarked that in his experience many of the folks that complained most about the expenses and fund raising at charitable organizations were usually the least generous. Perhaps that also goes along with the way we human beings rationalize our dubious behavior.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
GOLAN HEIGHTS SNOW, ISRAEL
There is a great sense of peace when you find yourself safely within the warmth of home while snow is gently falling outside the frosted windows. As the snowflakes gently settle on every inert and living form, they morph into one of nature’s best sound absorbers. The winter moonlight sparkles over the ice crystals and even the persistent falling of these crystalline visitors is muffled by the white landscape.
The lyrics to the classic song, Silent Night, were composed by a young priest prior to his arrival at the St. Nicolas parish church in the Austrian village of Obemdorf. A blizzard had stranded the tiny village the same day the church discovered that their organ was broken. He took the lyrics to the schoolmaster and organist in a nearby village to compose a melody for guitar accompaniment. They performed the song for the first time on Christmas Eve in 1818 in the quiet aftermath of the blizzard.
The first stanza perfectly sets the mood for the lullaby we all know and sing on Christmas Eve today:
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Our February trip into the Holy Land included a drive up into the legendary Golan Heights. The mountains were covered in fresh snow, somewhat camouflaging the defensive radar installations and the United Nations camp in the valley below. The scene from the warm comfort of our tour bus belied the tensions and conflict just across the Syrian border and not all that far from the place of this holy birth.
I recently learned that this song was sung simultaneously by the German and English troops during the World War I Christmas truce of 1914. The soldiers on both sides of the trenches knew the song and undoubtedly had sung it on many Christmas Eve services in a more peaceful past. And here we are one hundred years later in the midst of another war still romanticizing a night that was not so peaceful for those young soldiers and was quite probably not so peaceful for the young family on that night two thousand years ago.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Arnie's Army, Blue Hills CC, MO
That’s Life was a big hit for Frank Sinatra in the sixties. Its brash lyrics suited his style well:
“I said that’s life and as funny as it may seem,
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream.
But I don’t let it , let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around.
I’ve been up and down and over and out,
And I know one thing.
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race.”
This could have been the theme song for Arnold Palmer’s life as well. Life isn’t so much about how many times you’ve been knocked down as about how many times you get back up! In his last book, A Life Well Played, Arnold writes that “I suppose the honest truth is that my playing style probably caused me to lose as many majors as I won. But putting the control of a tournament into someone else’s hands and not taking the action of being in control of the situation is much more of a gamble to me. I would rather risk losing any day than lay up and hope for the best. You either go for the cup or you crawl to it…Even when the game gets frustrating, there is absolutely no reason not to remain positive. Because the things we get to do, the opportunities that we have, are tremendous. They are the stuff of our dreams.”
These thoughts took me back to a moment in time thirty years after Sinatra recorded That’s Life. I had taken a Friday vacation day to drive outside Winston-Salem to the Vantage Seniors Tournament where my sole intent was to join Arnie’s Army one last time. Arnie was nearing the twilight of his competitive golfing years and I wanted to just walk the course with him outside the ropes and take in the experience. After walking the front nine it was apparent that one of the young ladies in the small army was Arnie’s daughter who he took time to talk with between holes.
The small army dwindled to just a few of us as we neared the end of the round. But Arnie’s presence spoke volumes about his passion for the game and his desire to promote it. I know he was aware that I was one of the few along with his daughter that continued to follow him in spite of the fact that he was well out of contention. Arnie had lined up a right to left breaking putt of considerable length and he gave it a charge. The putt had just a little too much speed and passed over the cup on the “pro side”. There was still a spark of competitiveness in his reaction to the miss as he looked up into my view. I instinctively reacted by shrugging my shoulders and pursing my lips in a “That’s Life” gesture. Surprisingly, Arnie made eye contact and returned the same response. He gave that putt his best shot and there was no looking back. His legacy was already secure. And that’s an uncompromised life well lived.
(And I was in a much better position to relate to a missed putt than if Arnie had made it!)
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The King, RIP, Blue Hills CC, MO.
I learned a good lesson long ago from one of our previous pastors upon his return from dealing with a heart attack. He mentioned that prior to this game-changing event he would frequently get agitated and emotional when things didn’t go his way. That applied in spades when it happened to be something that was out of his Type-A character control. I can concur from personal experience. But, of course, there is always one thing we can control and that’s how we react to the situation. He used the example of a recent airline trip that was delayed due to severe weather in the Kansas City area which can be expected during the violent tornado season. He now simply pulled out a good book that he had brought along for just such an occasion, found a secluded seat in an inactive gate area and waited for the storm to pass.
Ever since I heard those wise words I’ve made it a point to bring a good book along for the ride, especially airline flights where a stranger in the cockpit is in complete control of my life as we soar through the skies in an aluminum tube. I had saved Arnold Palmer’s last book, A Life Well Played, for my recent Thanksgiving trip to Chicago and finished it on the return flight back to North Carolina. Thankfully, all my connections were on time and the book was a good traveling companion. Sadly, it was the last ride into the unfriendly skies for my long-traveled Road Warrior sidekick. The trusty ballistic nylon luggage bag had danced its last with one too many disgruntled baggage handlers. It emerged from the bowels of the airport conveyor belt with a ripped leather handle, a missing ID tag and the tongue of a lonely sock protruding from the wry smile of a broken zipper.
In the chapter on temper Arnold relays the story of throwing his putter in disgust over the gallery and some small trees when he missed a short putt at a junior golf tournament. He won the title but the ride home with his parents was total silence. Then his father told him, “If you ever throw a club like that again, you’ll never play in another golf tournament.” To Arnold’s Pap it was all about sportsmanship, “there was nothing worse than a poor loser—except being an ungracious winner.” Tiger’s dad Earl always told him to walk ten steps before doing anything after a poor golf shot.
That reprimand was life changing and reminded me of my high school tennis “career” where I lettered all three years in a new sport. As the first season progressed I had talked my parents into purchasing a rather expensive glossy black racquet for me. That was the kind of luxury that they seldom treated themselves to in those days. Later, I had observed the older players in practice tossing their racquets out of the court when they were disgusted with a poor shot. So, on one fateful afternoon as I hit a shot just outside the line, I wheeled around and tossed my racquet over the tall fence behind me. And then I watched in horror as it flipped and the frame caught the horizontal support pole which shattered the wooden racquet into a million pieces.
I anxiously returned home like the sad prodigal son. I was repentant and knew that saying all the older boys did the same thing was no good excuse. My parents weren’t happy with the loss of the shiny black racquet and most importantly my behavior. Later, I was informed the racquet would be replaced since I was doing a good job on the courts, but that would be the last one. Arnold finished his account by stating that “I never threw another club again.” Me neither. But I may have dropped a few golf clubs later in life before learning about the ten-step rule. I need to share that tip with a certain baggage handler!
Monday, November 14, 2016
Watching, You Tube Screen Capture
I believe that I’m among millions of Americans who endured this painfully too long and too contentious presidential campaign of 2016 featuring the least of two evils that were ever delivered to us by both political parties. Many folks I’ve talked to had to force their fingers to activate one or the other candidates in the voting station to comply with their conscious duty to exercise their right to vote this year.
And the political debates, rallies and television ads were the most repulsive in my entire lifetime. The vetting process for any candidate and their families can only be compared to the old Salem witch hunts with the obligatory burning at the stake even before any reliable fact checking could be attempted. For those of us in a battle ground state, the penance included additional visits to all corners of the state and a barrage of television ads that were relentless.
One of the most contentious attack ads included some of Trump’s most deplorable moments and sound bites. The ad was ironically titled “Role Models” and on July 16 The New York Times covered it as the Ad of the Week stating “The Clinton campaign is continuing to focus its negative advertising efforts on provocative remarks made by Donald J. Trump, this time in a commercial that invites adults to imagine what a child might be learning from his campaign.” One of the unfortunate sound bites related that “I could stand in the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes, OK” and another comment that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re bringing in drugs, they’re bringing in crime, etc.”
Watching that ad multiple times only lessened my opinion of both candidates—one for saying these things in public and the other for spending millions of dollars to repeatedly air them. After watching this ad multiple times, I began to wonder what effect it frankly had on children, not adults, that couldn’t miss seeing it. And today after I had just entered the elementary school where I volunteer I sadly found out. As I stood there making casual conversation over a snack, one little boy matter-of-factly looked up wide-eyed and said “Trump is going to be president. He kills people.” This prompted a little girl sitting next to him to look up and say “and he’s going to come get us.”
These kids’ impromptu statements caught me cold. I didn’t have an immediate response other than “No that’s not going to happen.” My heart sank for these innocents that had been exposed to bad behavior unbecoming of children their age by both presidential candidates. Clinton ended the commercial of crass Trump comments by stating that “our children and grandchildren will look back on this time at…the principles we will live by and we need to make sure they will be proud of us.” I won’t be proud to discuss this election with my grandchildren.
The timing of Christmas season couldn't be more relevant this year. Embedded in the final stanza are much needed words as we experience the carol of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; "And with true love and brotherhood, each other now embrace; this holy tide of Christmas, all other doth deface." It’s comforting to know that God is still in overall control and things of this world such as politics are a distant second place.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Dewey Defeats Truman, Internet Domain
Once again we have validated Human Behavior 101 revealing that those who don’t study history and learn from it are doomed to repeat it. Many of the political pollsters today have been apologizing to the American people about how badly their polling exercises left them with the flawed statistical opinion that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for our next POTUS! One of them this morning stated that they would have to go back and try to understand how this could have happened. I’m not at all familiar with all their polling methods and computer models but I have a theory and it starts back with the election of Harry Truman.
I’ve always liked the image of a good ol’ Missouri boy, Harry Truman, holding up a copy of The Chicago Tribune showing the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman!” It probably didn’t help that the newspaper had earlier referred to Truman as a nincompoop! What I remember from a college statistics class was that the headline was partly derived from a quick telephone poll of households. The serious flaw, however, was that it was a quick sampling of a biased demographic that could afford the new communications technology at the time and they were mainly Republicans. The common people of the time weren’t flocking to Dewey and that poll couldn’t reach them.
I’ve recently read that one third of our households including many young Millennials no longer have land lines because of the rapid expansion of the new technology cell phones. I’m one of the older demographics that still has both so that I have quick access to 911. I don’t yet receive harassing calls on my cell phone, but they sure come across my land line including those obnoxious robo calls. Fortunately, the new technology on my land line hand-held includes the standard “Caller ID” feature which lets me see either the caller name or number. If I don’t recognize it, I don’t answer the phone because it’s generally a harassment call like a political poll or message. If the call is important and the caller knows me, they’ll leave a message which I will promptly return. If not, the caller will drop the line or leave a message which I will quickly delete. My home is my castle and I resent the intrusions. I can make up my mind independent of a nuisance robo call.
If some of these latest political polls were taken via telephone land lines, here’s a problem. These pollsters missed a whole demographic of folks that no longer have a land line or use “Caller ID” on their land lines to their advantage and don’t answer the calls! And perhaps many of them didn't vote or didn't vote for Clinton.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Brightwood Inn, Whitsett, NC
Wurlitzer Jukebox, Whitsett, NC
Elvis Shrine, Whitsett, NC
Sitting on the Throne, Whitsett, NC
I’ve always had a love affair with automobiles since the boyhood day my Uncle Ed pulled into the driveway with a new dark navy Olds’ Rocket 88 with a V-8 engine. It was the first time I had ever noticed an automobile that was packaged in a beautiful assembly of sculpted sheet metal. The second I turned 16, I had earned enough money mowing lawns and stocking grocery shelves to split the cost of my first car with my parents, as we had agreed to years earlier. I recently paid more for a lawnmower than that 1951 Ford Victoria hardtop that I had pinstriped as La Bamba! I’ve never considered an automobile as basic transportation and that passion was highlighted a few years ago when I scratched off a convertible sports car from my bucket list.
Today’s 70 degree November weather could only be described as a career opportunity for a Road Trip! On days like this I simply enjoy driving to some destination strictly for the joy of the journey. So, when I awoke this morning with “nowhere to go and no place to be”, I immediately declared a “Road Trip!” At this stage of life, I still enjoy a Road Trip, but I just don’t necessarily venture as far from home as in days past. I set my GPS on I-40 to The Streets of Southpoint outside Raleigh-Durham where I did a little shopping and then enjoyed a casual late lunch at California Pizza Kitchen.
As I was cruising home down I-40, I vaguely remembered that there was still an aging roadside Inn just off the interstate outside Whitsett, NC that I had heard about for years. As the story goes, the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had stopped there after a concert in Burlington on February 15, 1956. Elvis had just recently signed a $40,000 contract with RCA records and was on a long Road Trip touring with The Blue Moon Boys with Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and DJ Fontana on drums. They performed some of the 21-year-old’s first hits; “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “I’m left, You’re Right, She’s Gone”. “Heartbreak Hotel’ had just been recorded.
After the concert, Elvis left with a couple of musicians in his pink 1955 Fleetwood Cadillac which he later gave to his mother. The next tour stop was in Winston-Salem, so they stopped at one of the popular roadside inns of the time called the Brightwood Inn for a late dinner. The waitress that chanced to wait on Elvis and his crew still works there. She mentioned that Elvis ordered a cheeseburger and milk while the other two drank Miller High Life beers. The local paper never mentioned the concert, but later that year it reported that Elvis “shakes and wiggles and jumps and bumps; it’ s like watching a strip-tease and a malted milk machine at the same time.” I remember my sister loaning me one of the first Elvis 45’s, “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, which I liked and played for our “Bring a record to Music Class” in high school. I was laughed out of the room! By the summer of 1956 Elvis was the most popular entertainer in the USA.
As I pulled up to the vacant parking lot, I stepped outside and took a photo of the inn. The proprietor must have spotted a customer and peered out the front door to announce that I could come in even though he was technically closed. I asked if this was the place where Elvis ate and he quickly acknowledged that it was indeed. He graciously announced that he had been here for 69 years and led me to the cluttered back room containing the Elvis shrine. I handed him my new iPhone7 and asked if he would take my photo in the booth. He was reluctant at never handling one of these new contraptions and the pick of the litter includes his fingers framing my face! I wondered why he kept saying he was cutting off my head! But since I came of age in the Rock ‘n’ Roll fifties with Elvis and later with my 1952 Seeburg C100 “Happy Days” jukebox loaded with many of his 45’s, it turned out to be one of those serendipitous Road Trip moments to be cherished forever.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Flying High, Jamestown, NC
Joseph Campbell dedicated his life’s work to studying and teaching comparative mythology and religion, encompassing many aspects of the human experience. He has written that "People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive." He encourages us to “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls…The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
Changing seasons always give pause to contemplate our place in the universe and our destiny, especially the Fall season of shorter days and cooler nights. All surrounding Nature is quietly winding down and withdrawing from the vibrant days of summer growth in anticipation of the fallow season to come. We humans subconsciously understand this as we move about in Nature, synching our heartbeat with the rhythm of life on this planet.
I walked onto a golf course practice range early one morning and casually asked an attendant how it was going. His reply caught me off guard, since I was expecting the standard “OK”. Everybody has something going on in their life and nobody expects to sit down and talk about it, let alone listen to it in the middle of a busy day. But the guy looked me in the eye and said “Well I woke up on the green side again today, so it’s going to be a fantastic day after that great start!” This man practiced the art of seeking the experience of being alive and appreciating it!
I’m consciously working on the concept with a little more intention this Fall as I just completed another trip around the sun totaling over seventy revolutions. I’m not necessarily looking for death defying experiences, although those most certainly have left me with a very acute appreciation for being alive over the years. Our culture is fast paced and rampant with auditory and visual distractions. Even so, when we find the time to stop the music and exit the merry-go-round, we don’t always pause to give thanks for this life and being alive. And many times we must be intentional in seeking those experiences of being alive so that we can be fully appreciative of the limited time we have to follow our bliss. As the old saying goes, today’s the first day of the rest of my life.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Sunrise over Price Lake, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
My wife Karen and I were introduced to the ancient practice of mindful meditation years ago. Frankly, it’s a wonderful practice of calming your mind to achieve a peaceful and cleansing goal of reducing the daily stress of life. Experiencing peace doesn’t mean that our lives are always joyful. It implies that we have found the path to calming the mind in the midst of a normal hectic life. One of the first teachings we discovered was to focus on the present moment by surrounding our senses with a calming environment such as aroma therapy candles, pleasant music or silence, a gentle breeze on the exposed skin, and the beauty of a magnificent landscape. We learned that mindful meditation can be practiced almost anywhere if we focus on our favorite “go-to” quiet place in our mind. We found peace and relaxation on vacation trips out into the serene beauty of nature.
Quietly standing next to the mirrored surface of a Blue Ridge Mountain lake surrounded by the reflections of colorful autumn leaves has become my latest quiet place of nirvana. As I stood at the waters’ edge, I could subconsciously hear the soothing sound of water cascading over the spillway in the distance. My previous quiet place was imprinted in my mind’s eye on an overcast morning in Israel on the Sea of Galilee. As our wooden boat motored out to the center of the water our captain cut off the engines and instructed everyone to remain silent as we simply drifted in this sacred place. A light squall slowly sprinkled rain drops around the boat and the accompanying breezes sent them gently descending on my face. My first quiet place remains vivid in my mind as Karen and I hiked into Maroon Bells National Park outside Aspen, Colorado. We emerged from under the aspen trees and into view of two magnificent Rocky Mountain peaks encompassing a still lake surrounded by the aspens and a few beaver dams. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves as they shimmered in the sunlight. All of these memories occurred in the early morning light near the calm waters of expansive mirrored bodies of water.
Deepak Chopra has noted that “Meditation is a way of entering into the quiet in the mind that is buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day”. The key to quieting the left-brain ego chatter which organizes our outside lives and dominates our thoughts is to calmly go within the right brain as an observer and discover our true soul that transcends this mortal life. We enter that present moment quiet place by simply becoming aware of our breath of life. I recently ran across a play on words related to mindfulness breathing that simply encourages us to “Inhale love, exhale gratitude”. When we focus on loving others and loving God in our lives and returning our gratitude back into the world, we experience the true joy of life. And we become more aware that we are all interconnected to the true power of the universe who reminds us in the Psalms to “Be still and know that I am God”.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Scenic Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Natural Color Filters, Price Lake, NC
We human beings are continually evolving and those beings that adapt and reproduce will pass along the traits that have enabled their survival. Endless spirals of DNA molecules contain the elaborate and awe-inspiring language of God himself in every creature that has been created in his image. I’m intuitively certain that one of those critical traits is the innate ability to sense the changing of the seasons and make the appropriate preparations in time to survive the next one. The season of Fall seems to trigger deeply known warnings that the cold and desolate season of Winter is imminent.
The October sky is pattered by high flying wispy circus clouds occasionally highlighted in the late afternoon by colorful fire rainbows as the setting sun reflects their embedded ice crystals. The night air turns cooler and begins to restrict the flow of life-giving nutrients that sustains all living plants and trees. Green chlorophyll recedes from the tree leaves revealing their true colors of red, yellow and orange at the extreme tips. The subtle transition isn’t missed by the human beings that scurry beneath the wide-ranging tree top canopies of colorful leaves. The trees relish the opportunity to show off their new colorful garments to the wondering creatures below.
The air temperatures at the highest altitudes are the first to grow colder, so they become the “canary in the coal mine” to sound a quiet alarm that the leaf shackles of the mother trees will soon be broken. Mankind constructed paved pathways among the colorful trees long ago to enable travel in the high-country mountains. Now the multi-colors that were painted with a broad brush across these hills and mountain peaks are in full splendor. The embedded DNA of the human survivors attracts them to the colors like a moth to fire light. They begin to drive, ride and hike along the winding paths under the filtered sunlight in the woodland forests as if they were experiencing a walk through one of the grand stained glass cathedrals of Europe. But these places of spiritual worship are not man made; rather they are fashioned every year by the loving hand of a God that has never stopped creating.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Lost Everything, Chicago, IL
Recent technical developments in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of our human brains have opened up all sorts of fascinating insights into our human behavior. A recent study in the AARP Bulletin revealed that “more than half of all donations to charity are made by those over sixty. And it’s not just because those people have more money”. The article noted a study at the University of Oregon of volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 67 where they were shown money going either to charity or to themselves while being monitored with an MRI.
MRI scans have showed that both pure monetary rewards and charitable donations activate the primitive mesolimbic reward pathway of our brain. However, when volunteers generously placed the interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, the subgenual cortex/septal region was also activated. This area is intimately related to social attachment and bonding. The experiment suggested that selfless altruism, caring about the welfare of other people and acting to help them, was basically hardwired in the brain and pleasurable. It is usually contrasted with egoism, which is defined as acting to the benefit of one's self.
Altruism is central to the teachings of Jesus found in scriptures such as the Sermon on the Mount. Love and compassion are components of all forms of Buddhism and are focused on all beings equally: love is the wish that all beings be happy, and compassion is the wish that all beings be free from suffering.
The AARP study found that the brain’s reward areas tended to become more active in volunteers over 45 when they saw money go to charity. It became more active when the money went to themselves in the younger volunteers. The article concluded that “your odds of experiencing suffering and others’ suffering goes up the longer that you’re around. As a result, you become more benevolent, more altruistic as you get older.”
And that’s a good thing, as folks over sixty have hopefully had a lifetime to earn, save and invest and they’re now in a position to transition from lives of success to lives of significance. This fourth period of life enables reflection and experience to give back and help those that are now in struggling stages that they quite possibly emerged from as they themselves sailed on the storms of life.
Friday, October 7, 2016
City at Night, Chicago, IL
There’s an ancient story in the Old Testament about a small group camped at night that was outnumbered by their pursuers. The enemy approached the camp but then retreated. When the soldiers interrogated one of the enemy men later, he stated that they had observed all the armed soldiers guarding the camp. But the others knew that they had set no guard. There were spiritual beings guaranteeing their safeguard that night.
I can recall at least three occasions when it could be possible that I had such a night watch. The first occurred in New York City on a cold and drizzly night at Times Square before the city finally restored the area. This was my first trip to the city and I was with another business associate having an authentic Italian dinner with one of our sales managers. As we departed the restaurant I mentioned that I had never walked the streets of New York and our hotel was only a few blocks away. So the two of us began walking into the dark misty night. As we passed a sheltered doorway, we glanced over our shoulder and noticed that two men had suddenly began walking behind us. We stepped up our pace while considering the possibility of fight or flight. Just then two NY policemen walked around the corner towards us and the two men miraculously evaporated into the foggy night. The policemen mentioned that the area was a bit dicey for a night’s walk so we hailed a yellow cab.
I was on a consulting assignment in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on another occasion and staying at a hotel that shared a common plaza with a casino. After finishing a late dinner, I decided to walk over to the casino to check out the action. I didn’t place any bets but simply meandered around the casino floor for a while and took in the smoky atmosphere. Then I slowly made my way outside and started to walk across the dark plaza. Something nudged me to glance over my shoulder into the darkness. I noticed a dark figure had again suddenly fallen into lock step not far behind me. I didn’t waste any time considering my options and ran into the hotel's side door.
Another consulting assignment found me in McAllen, Texas after spending a long day crossing the border at Hidalgo in and out of Reynosa, Mexico. I stopped for another late dinner and decided to park in a corner spot of a Barnes and Noble Bookstore to buy some late night reading. I browsed the bookstore and made my selection, not knowing that I was once again being observed. I then exited the building as night descended and walked to my rental car across the parking lot. As I opened the car door and stepped inside, I glanced over my left shoulder and noticed a dark figure extending his arm. I shut the door quickly and hit the door lock as he grabbed the door handle! The stranger knocked on my window and gestured for me to roll down the window. I started the car and cracked the window as he asked me for a ride to some location just a block away. Both his actions and comment raised plenty of red flags so I dropped the transmission into gear and drove away.
I’ve often wondered how I managed to escape those close encounter night walks without being held up or experiencing a more serious fate. In each instance I was prompted to glance over my shoulder just in time to see the danger walking behind me. The world is full of good and well-meaning people, but nevertheless we shouldn’t be naive about the presence of some who would do us harm. Some street smarts are requisite in addition to perhaps having the company of a night watch along the way.
Love Light, Jamestown, NC
Jesus summed up the 600 commandments and laws of the Jewish leaders in his time quite succinctly; “Love your neighbor and love God.” As our society has become more diverse than ever, this mantra is more relevant today than ever before. Non-Biblical phrases like “Love the sinner, hate the sin” are more hurtful than helpful. And that’s not what Jesus said. Using a phrase like this negatively affects the way we interact with anyone regarding any implied behavior. We are all children of a loving God.
Jesus knows the hearts of human beings. When we’re in a majority, no matter how large or small the pool we’re swimming in, we appear to have a tendency to build up our own fragile self-worth at the expense of a minority. There doesn’t seem to be a need for any particular qualifying attributes of either. Which is quite probably why he keeps it simple and teaches that it’s not our call to judge but only to love one another.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Lone Donut, Jamestown UMC, NC
I operate the PowerPoint presentation for our church contempory service on the first Sunday of each month so the regular operator can volunteer for another assignment each month. Seated at an elevated position at the back of the service gives me a unique perspective on the folks that attend. The service attracts a lot of young families with children which is great. There is always a hospitality table at the back which includes coffee for the adults and lemonade with donut holes for the kids and an occasional adult as well.
After the service had gotten underway this morning I noticed two young girls slipping in the back door. They were holding onto their youth Bibles and made a bee line direct to the basket of donut holes in focused anticipation. The first girl reached into the basket to retrieve her prize while the second arrived just in time to discover that there were none left. I glanced over to curiously see how they would both react. The girl with the prized lone donut hole pondered the conundrum for just a moment and then warmed my heart when she offered it to her empty-handed friend. I could observe that she too was in a quandary about eating the only donut hole left in the basket.
I fully expected them to possibly handle the issue like wise King Solomon when two women came to him demanding the same baby. He instructed them to split the prize in half and share which prompted the true mother to offer the baby to the imposter. But with childlike grace, the girls agreed to return the lonesome donut hole back into the basket. They then poured two glasses of lemonade and toasted one another for their selfless decision. After they were seated, the mother of one of the girls entered and plucked the lone donut hole from the basket without realizing her own daughter had left it for her. She then proceeded to join the girls with a nice hug for both of them.
You know, I’ve often wondered how much grief the human population can present to God before he simply says, “OK, that’s enough!” when he observes how all we adults are managing His creation. But then our only salvation has to be when he watches our children and how they take care of one another and he wonders to the Trinity, “Well, let’s wait just a little while longer. Maybe this is the generation that will get it right.”
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Together, Jamestown, NC
I’ve reached the age in life where I no longer leap out of bed in the morning the minute the clock radio unceremoniously disturbs a pleasant night’s sleep. My first instinct is to check that I didn’t transition to the other side in the night. Once that’s confirmed my next move is to see that all the extremities are functioning good enough to transition from a horizontal to a vertical posture. Then, and only then, do I emerge from the bedroom.
One of my weekly activities includes foraging for food at a local supermarket. As I entered the parking lot this morning, I noticed an elderly couple emerging from the exit doors. Since I normally park on the edge of a lot in an attempt to minimize the inevitable parking lot door dings, I had the perspective of watching the couple very slowly inching towards their Buick in a handicap space near the doors. Neither was rushing the other and it was a wonderful example of helping one another after a probable lifetime of togetherness.
It’s not something to dwell on, but inevitably one partner is destined to pass over to the other side ahead of the other. In the meantime, many years of bonding as a couple through all of the highlights and slings and arrows that life throws at us will guarantee that we have each other’s back. This couldn’t have been more visual than watching this couple holding hands and navigating such a mundane activity as a trip to the supermarket.
And even though we complain and experience the aches and pains of growing old gracefully, it’s still cause to be thankful, for it’s a blessing that is denied to so many.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Little League Baseball, First Row, Second from Right, Emporia, KS
In the course of a lifetime we all have had thousands upon thousands of experiences in our daily lives. The vast majority are uneventful and mundane. They pass without notice almost immediately. As we age, they pass with even more immediacy. For instance, there are days when I have to pause and consider what I had for breakfast! But a breakfast of cereal and coffee which I have enjoyed for years is mundane and uneventful.
However, there are those milestone events in our lives that will stay with us forever. Somehow, our memory cells keep these on a short leash and we can recall them at a moment’s notice. And It’s certain that one man’s eventful experience will have a much different priority than another’s. When you think about it, there may be some that are universal like graduations, marriages, births, deaths, first loves, near death experiences, etc.
For some reason, one of the early milestone memories for me occurred when I was probably around the age of ten. That’s now over sixty years ago for me. And this memory has popped up in my mind’s eye off and on all of my life. It wasn’t an experience that the hundred or so other people who witnessed it were even aware of at the time. I alone knew that it was special.
My father was a very good baseball player and he had me fielding baseballs at an early age. I especially liked to catch fly balls. When he was available to assist our little league team practices, he would hit fly balls to us kids. After a few years, I was catching fly balls that were as far as he could hit them. It was even more challenging in the ever present Kansas winds that always are moving around the land. I got good enough to finally make the All Star game one season as a right fielder. The wild card for that game, however, was that it was played under the lights at night. I didn’t have a lot of practice catching balls at night.
Right fielders don’t get a lot of action in a ball game. I had been moving around the outfield looking for four leaf clovers. But then the game got interesting as the batter singled to left field. The next batter up was a pretty big kid, so we all shifted and backed up. It only took a couple of pitches before he found one he liked and he hit a long fly ball to right field! I quickly maneuvered over about a dozen steps to my right and backed up another few steps with my glove over my right shoulder in anticipation of a throw to the infield. The ball sailed up into the night sky and suddenly I was blinded by the overhead flood lights! I totally lost sight of the baseball that was hurling towards me. I had about two seconds to react. I could duck to avoid getting a concussion or I could trust my instincts and stay put. So without much time to debate my choices, I held my ground and no one was more surprised than me when the ball smacked into my baseball glove. I quickly noticed the runner at first base running to second knowing that the skinny kid in right field couldn’t possibly make that catch. So I fired a strike into first base for a double play. The stands erupted (as much as our parents could muster) and I trotted into our dugout amid shouts of “nice play!”
To this day I still remember that blinded catch. On reflection, I probably would have never made that play if I hadn’t practiced catching hundreds of fly balls prior to that one catch. I didn’t realize it at the time but all those hours of practice had prepared me for the only catch I still remember. I remember the days of practice, but I don’t remember any other catches. That one catch taught me early in life that there’s only three things that we need to do to get better at anything—practice, practice and practice! Something I taught my daughter as she grew up. And the older I get I’m still not certain in the midst of that bright white light that I made that catch by myself. My guardian angel has worked overtime on many occasions and just might be a baseball fan.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Childlike Love, Chicago, IL
I volunteer at an elementary school where over 90% of the young students qualify for free lunch. One of the activities we volunteers participate in is assisting these children with their homework and reading skills. I personally witnessed the tragedy of passing children on to middle school without the basic reading skills needed to assimilate and survive in any further advanced learning. I had volunteered for my wife in a Media Center where these students worked with computers and books. Many of these frustrated students become the ones who continually disrupt classes and occupy 80% of the classroom teacher’s attention to the detriment of those students who are there to receive an education and better their lives.
On this afternoon I was working with a very sweet little girl. She had initially told me that she couldn’t read which prevented her from doing her assigned homework. But our coordinator pulled me aside to point out that she was smart enough to master the art of manipulating adults. So we regrouped and started the reading lesson once again about a Frog and Fox dealing with a very hot and humid summer day. When the girl stumbled on a word, we simply took the time to sound it out and become familiar enough with the word for the next encounter.
About half way through the assignment we were interrupted by the presence of two policemen and a young boy outside the glass doors of our room. Our coordinator went outside to help with the situation. I tried to get the young girl back on task, but she was obviously shaken by the policemen. She looked up wide-eyed and proclaimed in a foreign adult manner, “I’m afraid of the police! They put my daddy in prison. My mamma had to go to the police station and get my daddy!” When the coordinator returned she mentioned that the boy had apparently gotten off his bus at the wrong stop and became lost in the community. Since he couldn’t speak very fluent English, the policemen were returning him to the school to help get him home safely. This became a teachable moment to talk to the girl about how the policemen are here to help us and keep us safe.
The little girl was then able to finish the story and answer the follow up questions. We finished our lesson with the frog and fox helping each other to turn on a fan so that both of them could survive the heat of the day. And the girl not only read the entire story with a little help, but perhaps she also learned that the policemen are here to work together with all of us to help keep us safe. And I learned why I was present that day.
It’s been said that God helps those who help themselves, although that’s really not scriptural. The Benedictine monks had a Latin phrase of “ora et labora” or “pray and work”. But there are plenty of folks out there that literally cannot help themselves, especially children, and scripture does reveal that God will provide his grace through people like you and me and first responders throughout the community.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Summer Porch, Internet Domain
I grew up in the Midwestern days before central air conditioning, garbage disposals, attached garages and a lot of other amenities we now take for granted. We all have the tendency to look back on the good old days, but realistically the only thing that was really good about most of those days is that we were younger back then. The neighborhood I terrorized, or rather roamed around, had shared alleys in the back which provided access to the detached garages and breathing distance from everyone’s garbage cans.
My grandparents lived next door in a house that had a wraparound sheltered porch. We cousins enjoyed slipping out one of the upstairs windows onto the flat porch roof and harassing the minions below. That porch was a gathering place for all the neighbors, aunts and uncles and cousins. Sunday afternoon family dinners that exceeded the home’s interior occupancy rate inevitably found the outside porch filled to capacity as well. It provided a swell place to gather and discuss politics and weather along with everyone’s personal lives. There was always a lot of love and laughter swirling around that summer porch and there were always new additions to the family as we cousins got cheaper by the dozen.
Neighbors walking the tree-lined sidewalks would generally find someone sitting on the porch to stop by and chat with on a summer’s day. Or relatives would drive up the alley and park in the back driveway to visit. The summer porch was different than today’s air conditioned shopping mall where you stroll around with total strangers on a hot August day. And folks now-a-days leave their air conditioned office in their air conditioned vehicles and drive home into their air conditioned houses where many will stay until they repeat the isolated air conditioned cycle all over again the next day. Summer porches still exist, but mainly on vacation homes surrounded by a body of water.
The summer porch was a wonderful place to sit and enjoy a late afternoon rain shower, heralded by the sharp call of a distressed Blue Jay high atop the towering Elm trees. The air was crisp and clean and the sound of the rain drops on the flat roof was melodious. An occasional gust of wind would even provide a hint of the interior air technology to come. Once the rain clouds passed, cicadas would begin their evening serenade among the towering elm shade trees. Their soothing songs sounded like a team challenge match between one group that would have the stage only to be silenced by another group joining in from across the street. Then the sun would lower in the west and cooler air would begin to penetrate the summer night. On some of the hottest summer days when even the nights didn’t cool off very much, we would stay outside on the porch and continue the casual conversations into the night. Sometimes my grandfather would place the AM radio by an open window and we would listen to those grand old audio shows like The Shadow, Amos and Andy, Gunsmoke with Chester and Marshal Dillon and the Jack Benny Show. They actually left some room for a young boy to engage his imagination.
I drove by our old homestead a few years ago. The house I grew up in had burned to the ground and was replaced by university student housing. My grandparents’ home was still standing, but like the old neighborhood it wasn’t aging well. What really caught my attention was the summer porch that I had envisioned many times in my mind since I left to follow my bliss. It was actually rather Spartan and much, much smaller than my youthful memories. So I’ve suppressed that memory in favor of those from my youth and continue to retain those Camelot images of that summer porch so full of life and all those people that I still cherish even more than I realized.
Monday, September 5, 2016
After the Storm, Jamestown, NC
I was out walking on the golf course last week when a buddy commented on the very hot and humid August weather. Without giving it much thought, I responded that was quite true, but if we weren’t enduring the heat and sweat that day, we wouldn’t have much appreciation for the beautiful fall golfing weather that we'd be enjoying in just a few short weeks.
Isn’t it ironic that we generally have to experience the extreme negatives in life to fully appreciate the wonderful blessings we receive all the time? There are many times when I’m driving down the interstate highways with the windows partially down and the wind is coursing through the interior cabin. That prompts me to crank up the volume on the radio to sing along with some of my favorite road trip songs. Then just as I become aware of the noise pollution surrounding me, I close the windows and turn off the radio. Only then do I really have a genuine appreciation for the beautiful silence that was there all the time.
We’ve been given life so that we may experience it to the fullest. Of course, there are stretches of time where the fullness is overflowing and overwhelming. If we can just make it to what I like to call “the eye of the hurricane” after a grueling project or rough patch in the road and take some vacation time off, that period of rest and relaxation can really get our batteries recharged again. And we appreciate the peaceful moments even more.
A dark and dismal day in late autumn with a nuisance misty rain coming down for hours can certainly create a sad and depressing mood. There’s a realization that the warm days of summer and fall are quickly fading and the cold and fallow season of winter is near. Then the clouds begin to clear, a rainbow appears in the east and sunbeams stream through the windows. As you step outside, the air is crisp and clean. The light is filtering through the colorful autumn leaves, creating an atmosphere of standing in the middle of a grand European cathedral with the soft light of multi-colored stained glass warming your face. The switch to happiness clicks on in an instant.
We enjoy one another’s presence for years. We become so complacent with someone’s company that it is easily taken for granted. Then one day that presence is absent forever. That gives us plenty of time to appreciate the memories of being with them. Isn’t it ironic that we have to experience the negative and positive opposites in life to fully appreciate our blessings? And sometimes that works in reverse.
Backlit Sunflowers, Jamestown, NC
We see in life what we look for--if we seek beauty we will find it.
If we constantly seek the negatives, they are there.
Those who don't believe in miracles will never be aware of them.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Sanctuary, High Point, NC
The tall twin silos,
stand resolute and fearless,
The approaching storm,
alerts the hawk to danger,
flying to safety.
Lightning strikes nearby,
winds ground all birds of the air,
and sheets of rain fall.
The hawk knows no harm.
He is sheltered from the storm.
God has provided.
Prepare me also,
to be a sanctuary,
a living shelter.
Saturday, August 6, 2016
The Road Less Traveled, High Point, NC
waits on the road less traveled,
when adventure calls.
The path is grassy,
and few folks have passed this way.
No footprints are seen.
Nothing leads the way.
No road signs exist.
But as we travel,
road blocks become stepping stones,
and we find our bliss.
Friday, August 5, 2016
Weathered Willard Dairy Barn, High Point, NC
The old dairy barn,
braces itself for the storm,
as the sun withdraws.
Twin vine-wrapped silos,
stand resolute and fearless,
facing the dark clouds.
A hawk seeks shelter,
as he soars on the brisk wind,
and glides safely home.
Tall pasture grasses,
wave in synch as the wind gusts,
welcoming the rain.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
Elevator Panel, Chicago, IL
I just returned from a couple of trips to Chicago and Kansas City where I briefly stayed in hotels with multiple levels which required elevators to ascend to my room and descend to the lobby. It occurred to me as I entered and exited these mechanical wonders of the world that we human beings can be very strange creatures in our encounters with each other.
On a number of occasions I started my vertical journey alone. But then the elevator stopped on another level and complete strangers entered my confined space. Silence ensued as the other humanoid quietly pressed a numbered button. As the doors closed on the two of us, the silence became deafening. The two of us were stoically staring intently at the flashing floor numbers that would ultimately hit the magic number we were so desperately seeking which would free us from such an uncomfortable situation. There really isn’t time to strike up a civil conversation. Sometimes folks are so desperate to escape from this “uncomfort zone” that they bolt off into the hallway when the elevator stops at a floor before their intended stop, without even realizing that it is not their destination until after the doors close behind them.
Realizing that most folks immediately find themselves out of their comfort zone once they enter the confined space of an elevator, I’ve adopted a couple of “ice breakers” to ease their anxiety. Sometimes I’ll stand by the floor selection buttons and ask the total stranger what floor they would like? Then I push the button for them and remark that “I’ve been interning on this job now for three weeks and I’ve almost learned all the routes!” That generally eases their anxiety, unless they take me seriously. Other times I just stand stoically at the back of the elevator and let the person enter and select their own floor. Then they silently stand by and nervously eye me with darting side glances to try to determine if they have just closed the door on a serial killer or someone who just triggered a bed check back at the home. I find a casual remark like “I’m wearing new socks today” generally communicates that I’m not a serious threat.
Elevators that become filled to capacity are another issue. Now you have unknown people, some with claustrophobic and dubious personal hygiene tendencies, physically invading your personal space and rubbing thighs and arms against one another. One of my favorite Gary Larson Far Side cartoons shows an elevator slammed full of people with the doors just beginning to close. One of his goofy characters has brought his pet lion on board and everything is in order with the exception of the lion’s tail which is still dangling outside the closing doors. The lion’s clueless owner is telling the wide-eyed riders,” Oh don’t worry. He’s never a problem as long as nothing surprises him.”
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Friends, Chicago, IL
The scripture reading of John 15:14-17 from the New Testament and the new covenant should give us all great solace to know that even though Jesus is Lord, he has chosen us all to be his friends. In the Old Testament reading of Exodus 33:7-11, Moses didn’t find favor with God because he was gifted, perfect or powerful. It was because God befriended Moses. Fellowship with God at the time was out of reach for the other Hebrews and it was a true privilege for Moses. But Jesus has made it possible for any of us to become his friends.
It may sound a bit trite to some but the universal truths in life don’t ever lose their luster and I know that God answers prayers and connects to us in ordinary people who come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Our lives take countless forks on the path to our final destinations and we have the great honor to interact with countless folks along the way. And every encounter adds another thread to the fabric of friendship that is inextricably woven into our very soul and character.
Thanks be to friends!
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Spirit Line, Four Corners, NM
In memory of longtime friend Mike Ruggles who died July 21, 2016
Now that I’ve crossed over into the second half of life, I have the benefit of looking at my life in the rear view mirror. The recent loss and separation of old friends has prompted me to reflect on all the friendships and relationships of strangers and relatives that I’ve had the good fortune to experience. It may sound a bit trite to some but the universal truths in life don’t ever lose their luster and I know that the eternal weaver answers prayers and connects to us in ordinary people who come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Our lives take countless forks on the path to our final destinations and we have the great honor to interact with countless folks along the way. And every encounter adds another thread to the fabric of friendship that is inextricably woven into our very soul and character.
Sometimes those friendships don’t always end as we would have preferred once we’ve moved on, but I learned long ago to substitute the words “next time” whenever I find myself uttering the words “if only”. There are times when there is no going back, but there is always next time. And in the course of a life there are inevitable differing circumstances that leave us in a position to take opposing forks on the path and we drift apart. But that doesn’t alter the woven threads that are set in place within our fabric of friendship that will someday complete the tapestry.
I recently read a post challenging us to consider the use of the term "being blessed”. That can imply that you have found favor in a higher being and are being showered with good things and people. And it can begin to give us a feeling of entitlement and rewarded for good behavior. That may be the case in some instances, but I agree we have to be careful here. The author suggested substituting the words “being grateful” instead of “being blessed”. I think that being grateful for the people who have guided and shaped my life is a much better frame of mind. And we can always emulate those words and actions that we admire and do the opposite of those we don’t as others observe the language of our own lives.
I believe there is a plan for all of us, but we’ve been given the free will to either follow it or take a detour every so often as imperfect human beings. That also applies to all the people who enter and exit our lives over the years. Never-the-less, they all contribute to the colors and patterns they leave in our tapestry. I can honestly say that I’m grateful for all the friends that have participated in weaving the fabric of my life for a reason, a season and a lifetime.
My wife Karen and I enjoyed the adventure of traveling in the Southwest during our early years of marriage. One of those trips included a quest for woven Navajo blankets. We purchased a storm patterned piece on a drive through the four corners region one summer. We were a bit disenchanted with the blanket because we had noticed what we perceived to be a flaw in the lower right hand corner. It was only later that we discovered that the Navajo sometimes weave a “spirit line” into their creations so that the weaver’s spirit has a path to escape after the piece is taken off the loom. I’m perfectly at peace to know that my spirit stays inextricably woven into the fabric of friendship that has influenced my life.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Spirit Dance, Cloudgate, Chicago, IL
CIRCLE OF LOVE
Hands are joined in dance,
as life revolves in circles,
hours, days, seasons, years.
Sunup to sundown,
the earth spins on its axis,
moonrise to moonset.
One more cake candle.
One more trip around the sun.
One more circle dance.
Ring around rosie,
ashes, ashes, all fall down,
in gales of laughter.
We dance to connect,
to life forces around us,
for joy, rain, worship.
The circle of arms,
extends to community,
The world is broken,
but the circle never breaks.
Love is the answer.
Monday, July 18, 2016
Lipstick on a Pig, Internet Domain
There’s an old story about a man leisurely driving through the countryside on a fall afternoon and passing by an apple orchard. He notices an old farmer feeding his pigs by holding them up one at a time and letting them eat the apples hanging from the trees. So the man pulls off the dirt road, walks up to the farmer and quizzically asks, “Wouldn’t it save time if you simply shook the apples onto the ground and let the pigs eat them all at once”? And the farmer looks up even more quizzically and responds, “What’s time to a pig”?
We humans are the only creatures on the planet, and possibly the universe unless you watch the ancient aliens segments on the History Channel, that have a developed frontal lobe in our brain that can ponder the future. And of course, some have a more or less developed right brain that can reason about such things as time. A pig, for instance, wakes up every morning thinking he’s going to live forever—so far, so good! But we humans have been given the capacity to understand that our mortal time is limited and there are only so many turns of our life clocks, while no man knows the exact hour and minute it will stop. We’ve also been given the capacity to ponder life after life. When you think about it, why bother if there is none?
It’s a matter of being committed to life, not simply involved in it—like a breakfast of bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed! Maybe it's time to pause and consider if we are really, really making good use of our time.
We may choose to ignore time and merrily soldier on with the pig’s mindset that life will go on forever. The pig can be excused. But we’ve all been given the priceless gift of life with the caveat that it comes with a limited amount of mortal time for a reason. And we’ve been given the free will to do with it as we please—to squander it and wake up one final morning wondering to ourselves “Is that all there is?”--or to wake up on the other side of the thin veil rejoicing in our legacy. We could argue the point forever, but that would be like wrestling with a pig. We’d get mud all over us and the pig would enjoy it. We can continue attempting to convince ourselves that our time doesn’t matter, but that would be like putting lipstick on a pig. It doesn’t change the eternal truth that it’s still a pig and our time does matter. Perhaps the answer lies in pausing time to ponder our destiny. Perhaps over a breakfast of bacon and eggs.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Swallowtail Butterfly & Dragonfly, Summerfield, NC
To become a butterfly you must have a desire for flight that is passionate
enough to enable you to sacrifice your life as a caterpillar.
Blue pickerel plants,
swallowtails and dragonflies,
line the summer lake.
and glossy green leaves abound,
under lazy clouds.
Earthbound at the start,
swallowtails and dragonflies,
transition with grace.
The flying spirits,
The power of light,
reveals beautiful colors,
reflected by wings.
When they touch your life,
swallowtails and dragonflies,
renew your spirit!
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Saturday, July 9, 2016
Lost Everything, Chicago, IL
I took this image of a homeless man sitting on the Magnificent Mile of prosperous retail shopping in downtown Chicago. His cardboard message relayed that he had “lost everything”. There are charities that help people like this if they are sociable enough to contact them. So we added a donation for food to his cup as we passed by with all the people hurrying along the street. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, so that leaves us plenty of opportunity to do something.
Europe was overwhelmed with hungry, homeless orphaned children after WWII. Large camps were created to house and feed the children, but the caregivers noticed that they were anxious and fearful which resulted in sleepless nights. Finally, a psychologist resolved the issue by instructing the caregivers to give each child a piece of bread after they were put to bed. The bread was not placed in their mouth, but in their hand and the results were astounding!
The children slept all through the night because the bread gave them a sense of security (they were safe), significance (somebody cared), and satisfaction (there was bread for tomorrow). We need these things also and Jesus has proclaimed that he is the “Bread of Life. He satisfies the spiritual hunger of the human heart and the eternal hunger of the human soul. Once we’ve received this bread of life, it’s up to us to help provide bread for the body.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Buck and Jonathan, Art Institute, Chicago, IL
Are these two students friends or enemies? I took this image of Buck and Jonathan’s photograph at an Art Institute of Chicago exhibit last weekend. I was drawn to the photo when I noticed an Asian man taking great pains to record the image on his camera. The photographer, Julie Moos, spent almost a year at a high school with students and staff to understand the students’ relationships and then invited them to be photographed in pairs. However, she didn’t let them know with whom they were paired until the last minute. They might have been with friend or foe. The students were asked to sit beside one another and look directly into the camera lens.
Once the photographs are placed on exhibit, observers are challenged to determine which of the duos are friends or enemies. The exercise forces us to re-examine not only our own high school relationships, but also our own filters, biases and stereotypes.
What first impressions do we perceive that is surely based on those filters and biases? Could these cloud our perception and judgement of people we meet to block interactions that fate has placed on our path? Would we now re-evaluate how we respond at the next meeting? This project is as much a social experiment as it is photographic art.
Too often we get more concerned about the outside of a person than the inside, e.g., if we don’t have tattoos we judge people who have them. It’s been rightly said, “Never mistake the moment for the man.” Appearance and first impressions can be deceptive, so we must be aware. These students may or may not look similar, but we are only seeing their outside and we must recognize that sometimes we see a splinter in someone’s eye while overlooking the log in ours! We should always look in the mirror before peeking out the window.
And what about Buck and Jonathan? How do you think their different races have affected their relationship? Does Jonathan’s “Harvard” sweatshirt provide any clue? Do they seem at ease or in tension beside each other? Ms. Moos provides no clues or answers. It’s up to us to decide and in the process we may just learn something about ourselves.
Additional pairs from the “Friends and Enemies” exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, can be found at:
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Rose of Sharon Veins, Jamestown, NC
Warming spring weather,
stirs the formation of leaves,
and new life abounds.
permeate a plant’s structure,
Xylem cells supply,
phloem cells return.
Large veins with branches,
provide netlike logistics,
supporting the plant.
Cold autumn weather,
slows and then stops the process,
setting the leaves free.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Low Tide, Lowes Foods Aisle, Jamestown, NC
"Time and tide wait for no man."—Chaucer
I always consult the NOAA tide tables before I set out to forage for food in the local grocery aisles here in the Carolina's. It’s much easier to navigate the aisles at low tide and I’ve also discovered over time that prices are lower every twelve and one-half hours during the two tidal troughs every 25 hours. That’s because the earth rotates on its axis and the moon completes one orbit every 25 hours. So, the times for high and low tides change by fifty minutes every day. That’s why you should keep a NOAA tide table handy in your coupon book at all times!
And the highest and lowest tides occur when the sun and moon are on the same side of the earth during a New Moon or on opposite sides of the earth during a Full Moon. Those periods generally create double coupon savings at low Tide, especially on beer and detergents!
The image above of a low Tide at Lowes Foods was taken close to the beer corral.
There’s a reason they call themselves Lowes.
I think not!
Low Tide, Kiawah Island Beach, SC