Sunday, May 29, 2016

FLOWER OF REMEMBRANCE


Red Remembrance Poppy, Jamestown, NC

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
between the crosses, row on row,
that mark our place; and in the sky,
the larks, still bravely singing, fly,
scarce heard amid the guns below.
-- In Flander’s Fields by John McCrae

“Honor the Dead by Helping the Living”

Memorial weekend is a great beginning to the summer beach days in the sun with outdoor grilling and good times culminating with Labor Day to bookend the season. But the blooming poppy in my backyard garden on this overcast day with a tropical storm on the doorstep gives us all pause to remember the reason for the holiday. Memorial Day was created to remember the men and women who died while serving this great country while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all military veterans. It also gives us all pause to remember those loved souls who have gone before us.

Whenever I see a poppy flower I’m always reminded of my grandmother who all of us grandkids called Mom. She proudly displayed a gold star in her front picture window like many others in our central Kansas town. The practice was started in World War I when families hung Service Flags in their windows. A blue star on the flag represented any family member serving in the military during a conflict and it was replaced by a gold star if that loved one died. My grandmother and our family tragically knew that grief along with Grace Seibold of Washington, D.C. who lost her son in WWI. Grace realized that self-contained grief is self-destructive, so she organized a group consisting solely of those special mothers whose sons had lost their lives in military service and named that group the Gold Star Mothers.

The Gold Star Mothers held regular meetings which we would call support groups today. I distinctly remember my grandmother dressing up and never missing her Gold Star meetings. I didn’t understand the full meaning of those gatherings, and her profound grief, until much later in life. And I remember my sister and me standing on a Main Street corner with Mom passing out VFW Buddy Poppies to shoppers. These small artificial flowers are made by disabled and needy veterans in VA hospitals and other locations. You do not sell them, but the donations from those that accept the poppies are returned to these veterans along with widows and orphans of veterans. I do believe that Mom suggested a five cent donation when we were asked, however. These red poppies were inspired by the WWI poem In Flanders Fields. We always looked forward to accompanying Mom on those ventures, never suspecting that she was modeling a lifetime of partnering with others to help heal the world and us too.

And she was also modeling a behavior of partnering with our Creator to always try to bring something good out of a tragic situation when a loved one does not emerge from one of the devastating storms of life.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

WEATHERED COUNTRY HAY BARN



Hay Barn, Summerfield, NC

These hot and dusty bad boys can teach a young man a great life lesson in the summertime--stay in school and store up your treasures between your ears!

This old storage barn and its contents reminds me of the parable Jesus taught of the rich man who had not learned the life lesson that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”. When the country gentleman had a bumper crop his only thought was how to keep his hold on it, instead of sharing his great blessing with those in need. So he tore down his barns and built bigger barns to hold the great harvest. His plan was to lay back, eat, drink and be merry. But that night his life was demanded of him.

What a sad legacy. His great harvest was left for his heirs to divide and his legacy was that of greed and gathering for himself instead of gratitude and gracious sharing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

REDEEMED ELEGANCE


Glass Art, Jamestown, NC

REDENTO RAFFINATO

There’s a glass studio in Oklahoma that has perfected a process of creating beautiful pieces of fine art glass from a variety of broken colored glass pieces. Ross Alan Hill writes about his experience with his commissioned vase in his book Broken Pieces, Nothing is Wasted. His tall and colorful Redento has enabled him to discuss redemption with countless folks in desperate need of it.

The artisans combined two Italian words to describe their newfound art technique: Redento Raffinato, meaning Redeemed Elegance. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, deliver folks from their brokenness and remold us into a beautiful living vessel that God can use for His glory.

These Redento art pieces reminded me of the conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. I recently stood at Jacob’s Well in Nablus, Israel and drank the pure cool water that still flows at this sacred site. The very fact that the woman was drawing the water necessary for all physical life during the heat of the day when other villagers were not present was a telling sign that she was a broken outcast. Jesus knew that she desperately needed spiritual water for her life and soul. He offered the woman the “Living Water” of God’s Word so that she would never thirst again. Like the Redento glass blowers, this Living Water can gather all the broken pieces of a life and remake it into something that is even more beautiful than the original—redeemed elegance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

PERSISTENCE



Persistent Vine, Capernaum, Israel

I took this photo of a vine that was literally growing out of the ruins of a two thousand year old synagogue in Capernaum, Israel that was the site where Jesus had taught and healed people. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but the fact that it was actually blooming and flourishing in such a desolate place caught both my attention and imagination. And the image goes a long way in giving life to the concept of persistence.

I met a 90 year old man diligently working out at the gym recently that also gives life to my understanding of persistence. He plays tennis doubles every week. That alone really made an impression on me. I asked him if he has a secret formula. He looked straight in my eyes and said "it's all about persistence". Later I found out he had been on Schindler's list. Wow. That absolutely gives a whole new meaning to the word.

Today I noticed a motivational poster hanging in the gym that echoed a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” I have to believe my new acquaintance has read that poster and fully understands it.

And that quote reminded me of Calvin Coolidge’s observation that I have kept with me ever since I stumbled across it years ago: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Finally, Tobias Wolff observed that “We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.” So don’t shy away from seemingly unsurmountable challenges—embrace them! Facing and overcoming obstacles with determination and persistence is the pathway to self-discovery, culminating in the most elated feelings that any one human being can ever experience. And even if you may fall short, you can rest assured that you will never be counted among those timid souls that never ran the gauntlet. If you don’t lose the lesson in those events, then the experience can still be counted as a win.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

SPIRIT WIND BLESSING HAIKU


Wind Woman, Cherokee, OK

Listen to the wind,
as it shakes the tall corn stalks.
Listen to your heart,
and know your Creator lives.

God is in the wind,
her Spirit moves through the land.
She gives us first breath,
and she receives our last sigh.

May heavenly winds,
blow gently on your household.
May the winds blow strength,
into your body and life.

May you move freely,
with winds always at your back.
May destiny’s winds,
carry you among the stars.

May you gently walk,
in the shadow of rainbows.
May the winds recede,
into a golden sunset.

Footnote:
The winds in the Carolina's aren't as active as Kansas,
but today they have ushered in welcome dry and cool weather!

Monday, May 9, 2016

BEING ALIVE


Feeling Alive, Lake of the Ozarks, MO

Joseph Campbell has famously mused that we human beings are possibly not so much seeking the meaning of life as we are striving for the experience of being alive. We have to go through the motions of staying alive for a good portion of our lives that includes eating, drinking, working and sleeping. For millions of people in third world countries there isn’t much time for doing anything but surviving. However, these people are also spared the constant distraction of all the noise and disruption that comes with modern urban life such as all the electronics, jobs and activity. On more than one occasion I’ve dragged my body into the house after work and announced that I’m brain dead.

Perhaps the time is far overdue to take a time out and seek those experiences of actually appreciating that we’re alive and living in this mystical universe. There may be some universal experiences that qualify for most everybody and there must be some that are unique to an individual or a group of people in specific cultures in different parts of the world.

I think the trick would be to find a quiet time and place to really stop life’s merry-go-round and sit silently while remembering those moments in your life when you felt that every cell of your being was blissfully alive. I’m sure any moment of tender love would qualify for just about everyone. Walking in the raw moods of nature with the wind in your face along with sun, rain, snow and radical temperatures certainly gets your attention. Listening to a full orchestra performing the classical language of God heightens our senses There’s a real sense of being alive when standing in front of a Van Gogh impressionist painting and letting the artist take you through the swirling olive orchards, across to the shadowy hay stacks and into fields of waving wheat with menacing black crows flying overhead. Sitting in a dark theater in London and experiencing a performance of Les Miserable takes you down an emotional gauntlet. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where he fed the 5,000 was a very alive experience. My first flying experience in a business jet as we gracefully glided around massive Midwestern thunderheads was awesome. A pensive moment of relationship with our Creator connects us with the ultimate source of life. When you pause to reflect, these moments come alive as well.

Being alive is a priceless gift that should be appreciated and not squandered or ignored. It’s a sad legacy to have lived one of those lives of quiet desperation. Certainly seeking those times of feeling intensely alive can involve risk as well as reward. But that risk is everything to being human.

THE PUTTING GAME


Practice, Practice, Practice, Jamestown, NC

Golf is a series of games within the game including driving, long irons or hybrids, short irons and wedges and putting, not to mention the seemingly infinite ways a group of golfers can wager on the overall game like Skins, Bingo, Bango, Bongo, etc. Golfers go to all sorts of extremes to save strokes once they’re on the green. The combination of putter heads, grips and shafts is also off the charts. I do believe, however, that if you no longer trust in a putter it’s time to move on to another one that you do feel can work for you. That little flat stick can make millions for a PGA player. When Jack Nicklaus did the improbable and won the 1986 Masters with an extraordinarily oversized putter head, the immediate backlog of orders saved Macgregor’s year. I know of no one who now uses one of these and even the Golden Bear doesn’t know what happened to that putter, although he thinks one of his sons may have given it away to a friend. If found, it could be worth a cool million to the Golf Hall of Fame.

A golf analyst recently mentioned that Jack believes there is much more of an art to the game of putting versus a science. He noted that he only concentrates on keeping his head still and making contact with the ball squarely in the sweet spot. The rest of the game of putting is an art of sighting the break of the greens, pacing the ball accordingly on that line and willing the ball into the hole. In my case, I’d have to add keeping my feet on the ground and not moving backwards! Jack apparently always told himself “that ball has to go in the hole!”

My putting is admittedly not stellar, as my playing companions will attest. But I’ve experienced days when I really was in that mystical “zone” of mindlessly stroking the ball into the hole. And it doesn’t take long for someone to say “where is Larry and what have you done with him?” Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the old Larry returns. And there are plenty of instruction books on the subject like Zen Putting, The Art of Putting and Your 15th Club that promote leading you to the promised land of one putt greens. One of the best teachers of the putting game, Dave Stockton, says there’s way too much over thinking going on in putting. He doesn’t even believe in a practice swing because it interferes with your brain’s autopilot that has already figured out how to make the putt. That’s considered “getting out of your own way” with too much mind chatter.

I always try to be philosophic when driving the golf cart back to the club house after holing out on the 18th green by repeating “if this game were easy we wouldn’t come back.” And the devil always seems to let you make a good putting stroke on 17 or 18 just so you don’t get too discouraged, throw your golf bag with your car keys into a nearby lake (which just swallowed your next to last ball) because he wants you back again so he can mess with your head and dance with you on the greens.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

PERSISTENCE HAIKU


Poeny Ant, Jamestown, NC

HIGH HOPES

Everyone knows that,
ants can’t move poeny plants,
but he has high hopes!


Saturday, May 7, 2016

CHECKING OUT


Live Transaction, Greensboro, NC

This Saturday is one of those career gardening days in early May that stirs primal urges to go dig in the dirt. Since I’m the first generation on both sides of my family to be born and raised off the farm, I understand that I still have dirt coursing through my veins. So I dropped in on one of my favorite “candy stores” that sells living gardening plants, shrubs and trees to just browse around and finish my morning coffee I had grabbed in Starbucks’ drive-thru. Naturally, it didn’t take long to fill a shopping basket and head for the checkout counters to be greeted by a friendly young woman who scanned my store card, addressed me by name and thought my selections were priceless. That certainly qualifies as a positive life experience.

I had previously turned into a “service station” to personally fill up my car and then stopped by a local grocery store to pick up and scan some essentials like aluminum foil and lite beer. They now have more self-checkout stations than those that are manned by a breathing human being. I worked at the local neighborhood grocery store as a kid, sacked groceries and actually carried them home with customers that would have walked to the store on a day like today. I used to walk into a bank lobby to complete transactions with a friendly teller who knew my name. Now I use the ATM machine in the drive-thru. I’m old enough to remember the “good old days” at a legitimate service station when an attendant filled up the tank, washed your windshield, checked the oil level and tire air pressure, asked about the family and gave you a free set of glasses after returning with your change for a five dollar bill. That actually does qualify as one of those long gone good old days versus those that are only predicated on nostalgia.

It occurred to me on the drive home that I’ve probably stood in hundreds of checkout lines in my lifetime at this stage of the game. It’s truly one of those mundane chores that all of us have experienced multiple times. Those activities only qualified as positive when the attendant engaged us in small talk during the exchange. If not, you might just as well be using the robotic self-checkout station equipped with a voice recognition and texting response. And we are rapidly getting there in all of our internet transactions and daily chores. We’ve all been created as relational creatures but the relationships are being dehumanized by our automated society in a rather disturbing and increasing manner. We no longer even need to leave the cocoon of home for most of the material things we use these days. And our basic human need of relationship is rapidly checking out on us.