Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Free Taco, Jamestown, NC
“My job isn’t to take your money. My job is to feed you.” That was the response of a food cart owner as he handed a taco to a man who just discovered that he had forgotten his wallet. This story was related in The Power of Meaning by Emily Smith who writes that “Not all of us will find our calling. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find purpose...no matter what occupies our days, when we reframe our tasks as opportunities to help others, our lives and our work feel more significant. Each of us has a circle of people whose lives we can improve. That’s a legacy everyone can leave behind.” And feeding people not only involves the body, but also mind and spirit!
William Damon, a developmental psychologist, notes that purpose has two important dimensions. The first is “the forward pointing arrow that motivates our behavior and serves as the organizing principle of our lives.” The second involves a contribution to the world, “the desire to make a difference in the world, to contribute to matters larger than the self.” The German thinker Immanuel Kant asks us to consider a person who “finds in himself a talent that by means of some cultivation could make him a useful human being in all sorts of respects…Should he abandon the cultivation of his natural talents for a life of enjoyment and ease? Or should he pursue his purpose?”
Kant’s questions pose the issue that one’s purpose may not be exclusively pursuing worldly pleasures but devoting one’s life to help others live better lives and thus making the world a better place. I spent about forty years of my life studying and working to add value to my skills tool kit and exchanging those life years for a paycheck to support my family. Visualizing a stress-free retired life on the beach and golf course helped keep me going during those challenging days of working nights and weekends against a deadline or arriving home at 2:00 AM from a weather-delayed flight when I knew that associates at the office were dealing with their own issues and not concerned with mine. I also realized that a good part of my identity was associated with my job, especially since it consumed much of my time. As I neared retirement, I read Bob Buford’s book on Halftime, Changing your Game Plan from Success to Significance. Buford reminds us that halftime is a time of revitalization and new vision that encourages us to “multiply all that God has given me, and in the process, give it back.” So I made sure that my second half game plan to emphasized giving back, understanding that burning that much limited time on leisure would not be a very fulfilling life.
Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Driven Life that “Self-help books, even Christian ones, usually offer the same predictable steps to finding your life’s purpose: Consider your dreams. Clarify your values. Set some goals. Figure out what you are good at. Aim high. Go for it! Be disciplined. Believe you can achieve your goals. Involve others. Never give up…But being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same issue!” These approaches are all self-centered versus God-centered and he created us for a much larger cosmic purpose into eternity. The atheist Bertrand Russell wrote that “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.”
Brene Brown notes in her book Rising Strong that a critical component of resilience and over-coming struggle is spiritual practice. All of us experience the storms of life. She defines spirituality as “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” We find support and celebrate our spirituality inside our houses of worship and we exercise our spirituality outside the walls of those houses.
Bob Buford concludes his book with the prayer “that you will have the courage to live the dreams that God has placed within you. See you at the end of the game.”
Sunday, April 23, 2017
KC FAMILY TRIBE, Overland Park, KS
Who’s in your tribe? We humans all have a basic need to feel that we belong. People in our tribe mutually care for one another and frequently have positive interactions with one another. Belonging adds meaning to our lives. Author Emily Smith notes in her book on the Power of Meaning that there are “four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence.” Even though we may move around and our life circumstances may change, we can still find meaning in these pillars in our new circumstances.
It’s very fundamental for us to find belonging from our very first breath to our very last on this planet to feel affirmed. Those within our circle of influence represent our high-quality connections and are tuned in to reciprocate positive regard and care. After giving this some thought I have more folks in my tribe than I realized. I suspect that applies to most people when we stop the merry-go-round and take inventory. Those in our tribe include our creator, family, friends, neighbors, work associates, classmates, church members, small group members, sports teammates, etc. Even though there are billions of people currently sharing this planet with us, there is a very limited number that we have the time and capacity to maintain meaningful relationships with in our tribe.
We interact with a much wider group of people on a very limited scale in our lifetime. Sadly, if we don’t have the time or inclination to acknowledge their humanity, it can have a negative effect on both the rejected and the rejecter. I think this especially applies when we may interact with some of them on a somewhat regular basis such as those who provide services to us. Not acknowledging their presence in our life can leave them feeling devalued, diminished, and feeling that their lives are less meaningful. So we need to be more deliberate about being respectful and appreciative of their service and existence.
Our modern culture certainly seems to be moving in a less inclusive direction. More people are leaving their air conditioned offices in their air conditioned vehicles and arriving home through their automatic garage doors into their air conditioned cocoons. We can now purchase almost everything we need inside our cocoons on-line without the assistance and interaction of a human being and have it delivered to our doorstep sometime during the day by the invisible UPS guy. When we do go foraging outside, many retailers such as the grocery stores and gas stations encourage us to use self-service stations and many fast food franchises have a drive-thru.
I recently returned to the “good old days” of interaction by frequenting a new local bakery owned by a young woman who always had the dream of having such a business. She understands the value of quickly establishing a relationship with her customers. It’s tough to compete with the big franchises on both price and variety, but the concept of belonging has a significant competitive advantage. This little bakery is one of the few places that I frequent where I have a relationship based on first names that offsets her competitors’ advantages where I’m just another transaction.
Emily Smith concludes her discussion on belonging by writing “meaning is not something we create within ourselves and for ourselves. Rather, meaning largely lies in others. Only through focusing on others do we build the pillar of belonging for both ourselves and for them. If we want to find meaning in our own lives, we have to begin by reaching out.” It’s no coincidence that when challenged about the greatest of all the laws, Jesus answered that we simply need to love others and love God.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Green Bank Telescope, Green Bank, WV
Country singer Kenny Chesney has a new hit song titled “Noise” lamenting that “in the streets, in the crowds, it ain’t nothing but noise. Just trying to be heard in all this noise.” Emily Smith in her new book on The Power of Meaning notes that “we humans have a primal desire to impose order on disorder—to find the signal in the noise. We see faces in the clouds, hear footsteps in the rustling of leaves, and detect conspiracies in unrelated events. We are constantly taking pieces of information and adding a layer of meaning to them; we couldn’t function otherwise.”
I like the analogy of seeking the signal in the noise. It reminded me of the ongoing scientific quest to detect intelligent extraterrestrial life in all the electromagnetic radiation noise in the universe and beyond. Phenomena such as gamma-ray high energy bursts originate throughout the universe and are candidates for extraterrestrial communication. Many folks aren’t even aware of the very sophisticated technology that’s been developed and employed around the world such as the Green Bank Observatory in a remote West Virginia woodland that listens to the noise in outer space. Then the challenge is to attempt detection of some possible signal in the noise indicating a transmission from civilizations on other worlds.
Our modern world is indeed contaminated with noise from our activities including all manner of transportation and electronic devices such as smart phones and 24/7 cable television. This makes it very difficult for us humans to place life on pause, jump off the merry-go-round and find a place of solitude. The Psalmist knew this when he wrote in chapter 46 verse 10, “Be still and know that I am God.” For our own sanity, we really need to have times and places of solitude so that we can listen to our creator and sort out the signals in the noise that can help us maintain order in our lives.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Apparition, Glenola, NC
was moving from west to east,
sunset to sunrise.
Formed like cirrus clouds,
but much lower in the sky,
Flowing wispy hair,
directing us to the east,
pure white flowing robe.
What is the meaning?
What's the signal in the noise?
Vapor or spirit?
revealed Christ to the Wise Men,
announcing his birth.
An angel of God,
revealed His second birth to
Look to the sunrise,
on Easter morning!
Friday, April 14, 2017
Road Warriors, KCI, Kansas City, MO
"The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."--George Eliot
Not everyone will find fame,
but everyone can find humility.
Not everyone will find their calling,
but everyone can find purpose.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Peace, Olathe, KS
A sleeping baby,
gently breathing in my arms,
gives purpose to life.
Gently brushing cheeks,
to let him know he is safe,
so precious and sweet.
Eyelids are twitching,
hiding rapid eye movements,
and dreams of new worlds.
His small hand in mine,
feeling the warmth of trusting,
and the bond of blood.
A smile slowly forms,
and transfigures the child to
a cherub of peace.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Waves, Jamestown, NC
Particles, Jamestown, NC
Science has been making some very profound discoveries and observations lately. USA TODAY announced in 2014 that the “smoking gun” needed to validate the inflation theory of the Big Bang has now been detected by a telescope in Antarctica. The team of U.S. scientists detected the tiny ripples in the cosmic microwave background that affected light created some 13.5 billion years ago. The universe was smaller than a marble just after the Big Bang when it expanded violently and instantaneously. The Bible is no science book and the narrative in Genesis simply states that our God, a conscious spiritual being, spoke the universe into existence. The three big things that astrophysicists are still looking for in the cosmos are dark matter, dark energy and extraterrestrial life. And science still does not have a good scientific answer for the creation of the universe.
Dr. Robert Lanza has been voted the third most important scientist alive by the NY Times. His initial background was in the biology field, but lately he has ventured into the world of physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics. His biological perspective has enabled him to recently coin the term “biocentrism”, which postulates that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe. In fact, he reasons that since the ultrafine-tuned laws, forces and constants of the universe sustain life, intelligence must have existed prior to matter. And it is consciousness that creates the material universe, not the common reverse theory. The mystery that is our consciousness can be defined as being mindful or aware of oneself as a thinking, feeling being. Our perception of our surroundings is limited to the brain’s interpretation of the stimuli received from our five senses. We humans have enough receptor cones in our eyes to see a rainbow of colors, but a dog cannot distinguish orange or red. “Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no observer is present”? We perceive the “sound” when disturbed air waves reach our ear drum and electrical impulses are interpreted by our brain. But no sound exists without an observer! The same logic follows with our other senses. Space and time are merely tools for our animal understanding and our God transcends them both.
Folks naturally identify themselves with their body, as we are conscious mortal beings. Many believe that when the body perishes, that’s it. But Lanza agrees with other scientists that no physical laws exist which would prohibit the existence of multiple universes. And our consciousness and soul may have been created right along with everything else at the Big Bang. Our nervous system and brain could be the receptors of this consciousness and the primary sites of quantum processing until our body expires. And then this information with our consciousness merges into another dimension apart from the body. In an era that now routinely resuscitates human bodies from clinical death, especially heart failures, more and more folks are returning back to the living with extraordinary spiritual accounts that try our sensibilities. The spectacular colors some perceive can only be related to our earthly experience with rare jewels.
One of the fascinating and thought-provoking premises of biocentrism is that “the animal observer creates reality and not the other way around…without perception there can be no reality”. Quantum theory tells us that everything in nature has a particle nature and a wave nature. Lanza discusses the “act of observation” in a famous two-hole experiment which “goes straight to the core of quantum physics…if one watches a sub-atomic particle or a bit of light pass through slits in a barrier…it behaves like a particle…it logically passes through one or the other hole…But if the scientists do not observe the particle, then it exhibits the behavior of waves that retain the right to exhibit all possibilities, including somehow passing through both holes at the same time”. German physicist Max Born demonstrated back in 1926 that quantum waves are waves of probability, not waves of material. This phenomenon applies to small discrete particles like photons or electrons. Large objects like a bus have smaller wavelengths that are too close together to be measured. A subatomic particle has been defined as a set of relationships that reach out and interconnect, not with objects, but with other interconnections. Lanza concludes that “without consciousness, matter dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state”. The Bible informs us that human beings were created for relationship with the reasoning power and free will to make the conscious decision to either accept or reject other human beings and even our Creator.
Bernard Haisch has proposed a mind bending theory about consciousness in his book, “The God Theory”. He contends that “ultimately it is consciousness that is the origin of matter, energy, and the laws of nature in this universe and all others that may exist. And the purpose is for God to experience his potential. God’s ideas and abilities become God’s experience in the life of every sentient being…God experiences the richness of his potential through us because we are the incarnations of him in the physical realm.” Many scientists are proponents of the universe of reductionism in which “everything can be reduced to the behavior of particles of matter and energy”, completely apart from any spiritual connection. As a learned astrophysicist Ph.D., he contends that our consciousness is the ultimate connection to God, the spiritual creative force in the universe and the source of all consciousness. While we are in our everyday state of consciousness, we remain aware of our surroundings through the filter of the physical world. But mystics who are conditioned to enter the unfiltered state of ultimate consciousness or nirvana experience a state of peace, love and bliss, something Haisch defines as “a concentration point within a single universal consciousness”. Haisch writes that “My inner life of thought and awareness utterly denies that my consciousness is nothing more than an inanimate, chemical creation. I know better, and so do you.”
Consciousness exists apart from the body and survives death. The temporary physical world was created for the development and evolution of conscious human beings. Our natural timeless home lies in the wider supernatural realm of our conscious spiritual Creator. We are not only IN this universe, but we are OF this universe. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians (4:4-5), "There is one body and one spirit...one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”. And we were created in God's image!
"The human consciousness is really homogeneous. There is no complete forgetting, even in death."--D.H. Lawrence
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Blue Ridge Forest, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Forest Floor, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Enchanted forests are a thing of fairy tales where trees like the legendary Ents walk and talk and live in community—or are they? I’ve always enjoyed watching videos of graceful long legged and long necked giraffes on the African savannah browsing for food among the tree top canopies of umbrella thorn acacias. But I missed the subtle movement of these giraffes as they suddenly stopped eating and moved about 100 yards away to another acacia. Peter Wohlleben writes in his New York Times bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees, that scientists recently discovered that the acacia trees immediately had begun to pump toxic substances into their leaves to ward off the herbivores. They also began to give off a warning gas of ethylene to signal neighboring acacias of the danger.
When an insect attacks beeches, spruce, and oaks they register pain as soon as the creatures begin to eat their leaves. The leaf tissue immediately begins to send out very slow electrical signals so that within hours defensive materials reach the leaves. The trees even release pheromones to summon beneficial predators. Surprisingly, both chemical and electrical signals are sent through fungal networks around tree roots. Individual tree roots extend more than twice the spread of the crown and become intermingled among other tree roots forming a “wood wide web”. There is an Oregon underground fungus colony known as mycelium that is estimated to be over 2,400 years old and extends for 2,000 acres. These signals are then passed along to other neighbors in the forest. Scientists have found that networked trees even share nutrients with each other if one of the trees is struggling and they will even keep a cut stump on life support for years, especially if the stump belonged to a harvested mother tree that had nourished the younger trees which are now thriving in the opened space.
Wohlleben writes that “A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.” He noted that a pair of trees that grow up alongside one another allowing each partner to share life-giving light and not infringing with dense branches in each other’s space have a sort of symbiotic relationship. And they can become so tightly interconnected at the roots that sometimes they even die together.
Dr. Suzanne Simard coined the term “wood wide web” after researching and writing her doctoral paper. She was studying the mystery of the decline of Douglas firs in Vancouver plantations where paper birches had been weeded out. After injecting stable and radioactive isotopes in a forest with both fir and beeches, she found that they were actively exchanging photosynthetic carbon in a mutually beneficial network! Each took different turns as “mother” depending on the season in a synergistic relationship similar to a caring human social network.
Isn’t it amazing that we humans can still learn so much for our own survival by observing the awesome behavior of the created nature around us?
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is today. I've finally realized that also applies to a lot of other things like going to the gym. And the best definition of a legacy is planting a tree whose shade you will never sit under.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Youth Soccer, Leawood Kansas
I remember playing sports as a kid and listening to all the parents in the stands or on the sidelines shouting at the top of their lungs to their children on the field. Fortunately, I don’t recall that my parents did that to me. If they had, I might have quit organized sports long before I had played my last game. I still enjoy the challenge and camaraderie of sports, but I also keep it in perspective. I don’t like to lose and I play to win, but losing or hitting a bad shot only inspires me to work a little harder and practice a little more.
I never made it into the big time in sports. At my age, I definitely won’t ever make it into the big time! But I’m OK with that outcome as long as I’m still able to answer the bell and walk out onto the first tee of a beautiful golf course and drive the ball between the ditches onto the short grass. I once reported to a vice president that called all of us direct reports into his office one Monday morning. He had a short and direct message for us; “I understand you guys have been playing a lot of golf lately. If I ever hear that any of you has a single digit handicap, you’re fired because you obviously aren’t spending enough time on the job!” I’m still not sure if he was joking or not, but I never played enough golf to find out or win a tournament because I realized that it was important to find a balance in the basic aspects of my life—family, spiritual, work and leisure.
When I found myself on the sidelines with a young daughter on the field, I remembered the calls from parents when I played sports. My wife and I agreed early on that we would work on controlling our criticisms and focus on practice and encouragement. We discussed the proposition that we’d remain supportive of any initiative as long as we observed that she was giving it her best effort. And she always did that. But there were still parents beside us that I’m certain thought they were challenging their daughters to play better with shouts of “Hustle Jackie, Hustle!” And that only seemed to get negative results.
I recently ran across a shared article by Alex Flanagan, Ilovetowatchyouplay.com about youth sports that caught my attention. She quoted a thirty-year study where kids of all ages were asked “what their parents could say about the sports they played that would make them feel confident and fulfilled. Turns out the words children most want to hear from Mom and Dad are ‘I love to watch you play.’ It’s that easy.” And now that my retired soccer playing daughter and son-in-law have blessed our lives with a beautiful active grandson, I need to brand that advice into my aging brain for the duration!
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Meme, Colorado Plains
I converted one of my favorite photographs into a meme that I took years ago on the eastern plains of Colorado as a menacing summer storm approached with lightning, dark clouds and gusting winds. The stalwart wooden windmill had obviously weathered many such storms of life and was still resolutely standing tall, bracing itself to take on one more--and converting the winds into its own power!
This image speaks to me honoring the strength of the land, its people and the resilience of the human spirit.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Whirling Sunbeams, Jamestown, NC
Mottled Sunbeams, Jamestown, NC
Bright whirling sunbeams,
streak to the labyrinth core,
The colors within,
encapsulated in glass,
dye secret gardens.
absorb colors and unfurl,
Warm mottled sunbeams,
belie tomorrow’s secret,
of spring snow showers.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Instant Love, Chicago, IL
An imminent birth,
soon became reality,
and a child was born.
I scheduled a flight,
and traveled one thousand miles,
to meet my grandson.
I entered the room,
where the young child was laying,
He was gently raised,
and I held a miracle,
Friday, February 10, 2017
Sunrise Exercise, Body & Spirit, Kiawah Island, SC
Supervised physical therapy was a very critical aspect for the replacement of both my knee joints. I had known of others that complained the procedure hadn’t given them a whole lot of mobility, but they had also admitted that the difficult therapy caused them too much pain, so they didn’t finish the recovery process. Irreversible scar tissue immediately begins to form in the affected areas which is why it is so important to immediately begin physical therapy and overcome it. Also, my orthopedic doctor counseled me that I would know when to come back in for the operation based on how debilitating the joint would become. Since it is a natural reaction to favor a bum knee, we also allow the muscles and tendons around the joint to atrophy and they need to be stretched back into a stronger state that supports the joint. No pain, no gain!
All the above dictates that we begin physical therapy immediately after an operation. And the process sends natural pain signals to the brain that this area is experiencing some trauma. Normally, we associate these signals with something that is causing harm to our body and we react to neutralize the cause. But thankfully, I received a great reverse key thought from my therapist that sustained me to the end of a successful recovery. Her experience led her to remind me to focus on what was really going on in my body. She told me to focus on the key understanding that the perceived negative signals I was receiving were simply my body and brain communicating that I was experiencing “the process of weakness leaving my body”, being replaced by strength. This also applies to regular exercise and the consequences of ignoring it.
The process is definitely in play for our spirits. I still maintain that the only explanation for living in a broken world is the free will our Creator bestowed on us so that our relationships would be real. This was a big risk that could have only been made by a Creator that wanted us to grow in his created image. Creating beings that don’t have the free will to accept or reject doesn’t allow for the possibility of genuine love. Allowing us to make our own good or bad choices requires an environment in which they exist. I believe it didn’t have to be that way. We could have been created for eternal worship and left in a perfect environment, as other beings created before us. But genuine unconditional love requires work and good choices. It also requires grace when we imperfect beings fall. Love is strengthened when pain enters our lives and we have the desire and relationship that drives us to work through the trauma together.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Hellebore, Jamestown, NC
Winter is waning,
when Lenten Roses appear,
and blustery March wind gusts,
shake stalks heavenward.
emerge from the center roots,
amid forest floors.
sprouted from a young girl’s tears,
as a gift for Christ.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Parking Lot, Greensboro, NC
I used to enjoy listening to my older friends and relatives relate their humorous senior moments. It happens to all of us eventually and it can certainly be tragic for some, but if we can laugh at these moments while we still can, it takes the sting out of those golden years.
Within the past few years I’ve experienced a few of these moments myself that revolved around the possibility of my vehicle being carjacked! I like the old story of the senior couple that drove to the shopping center one day. The husband was complaining all the way there that he didn’t like to go shopping, so the wife just told him to drop her off and pick her up in an hour. Forty-five minutes later she finished shopping and proceeded to walk to the location where she usually parked her car. As she searched for her keys, she realized that she must have left them in the ignition again! When it became obvious that the car was missing, she called 911 on her cell phone and reported her car stolen. She waited for a while hoping for a miracle and then reluctantly called her husband who had repeatedly admonished her for leaving the keys in the car. When he finally answered, she hesitantly blurted out that her car had been stolen! “Are you kidding me?”, he barked, “I dropped you off!” Embarrassed, she replied, “Well come and get me then.” He retorted, “I will, as soon as I convince this police officer that I didn’t steal your damn car!”
I finally returned from a grueling five-day business trip on a delayed winter flight and slowly dragged my luggage down to the terminal’s parking garage. During those Road Warrior days, I always tried to park in the same location so that I could walk directly to my car on a late Friday night. That was one of the conveniences of the KC airport that has three identical terminals accommodating local travelers. As I approached the parking spot my heart raced to notice that my car was missing! My groggy brain processed all this and my first inclination was to call security and report that my car was stolen! Then the brain fog slowly lifted as I realized that I had transferred to another airline to outsmart the weather and all the cancelled flights. That airline was in one of the other duplicate terminals! I boarded a transfer bus and drove home.
A few years later and a few brain cells shorter, I pulled into the parking lot of a local restaurant with out-of-town guests late in the evening. We luckily found one of the last parking spaces and got all the doors unlocked and everyone exited out of the tight spot. As we were enjoying a nice bottle of Merlot with dinner, the manager stopped by our table and asked if we were driving a Buick? Perhaps my thinning white hair prompted the question, but we responded that we were not. In passing, she remarked that someone would possibly be out of gas when they returned since the engine was running with the keys in the car. We laughed and laughed. And only until we returned to the parking lot did we discover that my car was still quietly running!
Finally, I recently made the decision to buy a larger smart TV for my man cave to watch sports events including the impending Super Bowl. So, I did my Internet research and settled on a deal at Costco. I arranged for a friend with a pickup to meet me outside the store to cart it home. We made the connection and decided to have lunch at a nearby Panera. The conversation turned to the new Calloway Epic driver, so we made our way across the vast parking lot to Golf Galaxy for a test drive. By this time, it was getting late but we finally got the new TV installed. As I emerged into my garage the next morning, I was surprised to find that I must have left my car in the driveway overnight as I have done on occasion. But when I opened the garage door, it was missing from my driveway as well! My immediate reaction was that my car had been stolen! And then I realized that we had left it in the Costco parking lot all night.
Welcome to the Golden Years!
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Line of Good & Evil, Internet Domain
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik has noted that the two accounts of creation in the book of Genesis represents the two opposing sides of our nature, which he labeled Adam I and Adam II. In the introduction to his book on character, David Brooks writes about the resume virtues of Adam I and the eulogy virtues of Adam II. In our initial struggle to survive in a very competitive material world we need our tool kit loaded with career-oriented and ambitious virtues that enable us to achieve success. We strive for victories and status as we build, create, produce, and discover. We list these attributes on our resumes and use these external achievements to support ourselves and our families. Our culture celebrates the Adam I side of our nature. The internal Adam II embodies aspects of our moral character. It’s these virtues that reveal themselves in our ability to love and connect with others. These are generally the attributes of living a moral life of faith in a greater authority and respecting our fellow journeymen which are extolled in the eulogies at our passing. This is the language of our life that people observe and choose to follow, as we have observed others that have gone before us.
As we age, we realize the importance of achieving a better balance in striving for more of a life of significance. Balance in life is good. We seek a life that acquires more meaning than money, status, or applause. We are interested in serving a higher purpose rather than our own selfish desires. As we pass through the storms of life we begin to understand that every experience of both joy and pain is never lost on those that have learned to profit from the experience. Brooks writes that “these are the people who have built a strong inner character, who have achieved a certain depth. In these people, at the end of this struggle, the climb to success has surrendered to the struggle to deepen the soul.”
Brooks concludes that people of character have generally solved life’s essential problem by using one of my favorite quotes from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”
Friday, January 27, 2017
Potter's Kiln, Seagrove, NC
Radiant Crucible, Wrightsville Beach, NC
All of us are subject to the crucible of life at times which forms our character like a blacksmith’s crucible shapes and hardens iron to steel. The extreme heat of a potter's kiln transforms malleable clay into strong vessels. Some call this maturity. David Brooks writes in The Road to Character that there is one pattern that recurs on this road for people; “They had to go down to go up. They had to descend into the valley of humility to climb to the heights of character. The road to character often involves moments of moral crisis, confrontation, and recovery. When they were in a crucible moment, they suddenly had a greater ability to see their own nature. The everyday self-deceptions and illusions of self-mastery were shattered. They had to humble themselves in self-awareness if they had any hope of rising up transformed. Alice had to be small to enter Wonderland.”
I’ve also talked to people who have turned from praying to our creator because their requests never materialized. But we must be careful about our attitude of prayer. Not everything we ask for is provided or arrives on our time schedule. Asking to violate the natural laws of nature that God set in place or violating someone else’s free will doesn’t work either. And I’ve always liked the thought that we shouldn’t ask for an easy life, but rather a strong character.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Beach Holiday, Kiawah Island, SC
The Transmission of Generations
We had just been seated at a nice island restaurant along the Atlantic intracoastal waterway as a young man approached announcing that he would be our waiter for the evening. We were all in a holiday mood and after spending our day on the beach destressing, reading, and walking with the waves we were ready to cap off the day with a cocktail and dinner. I casually asked our waiter how it was going? Without hesitation, he smiled and much to our delight replied, “I’m livin’ the dream!” But whose dream?
In his book on The Road to Character, David Brooks writes “Some people seem to have been born into this world with a sense of indebtedness for the blessing of being alive. They are aware of the “transmission of generations”, what has been left to them by those who came before, their indebtedness to their ancestors, their obligations to a set of moral responsibilities that stretch across time.”
Despite all this country’s warts and troubles, I was among the lucky five percent or so of the world’s population to be born in America. Regardless of our circumstances, that endows all of us with a privilege and a responsibility for those we share this marvelous planet with every waking day. I have never known extended hunger and I have always had a warm bed to sleep in at night, except for those dubious adventures in the great outdoors. I arrived here strictly by the grace of God and the sacrifice of my great grandparents who journeyed here on those same Atlantic waves that I've wandered into on many occasions.
I have no doubt that those folks who shared much of my DNA did not have nearly the good life I’ve been blessed with so far. Their hard lives were probably the exact antithesis of mine. But I believe they had faith and a dream for a better life for their children and their children’s children. That would be me and now I’m living that dream, so I need to honor the “transmission of generations” that got me to this place and time. And invest in “paying it forward” for others, like my great grandparents did for me.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Wind Woman, OKC, OK
Wooden Windmill, Western KS
Native Americans of the Kansa tribe that lived in the central prairies were known as the “people of the south wind”. Growing up on the plains of central Kansas made it easy to understand why. It seems as if there is always a wind of some sort blowing across this land and the summer winds are most noticeably from the south. Without even being consciously aware of it, I came to know that this invisible energy force had become an integral part of my existence. Shortly after our family had transferred to the Carolinas, we were sitting outside on the deck one calm evening. And I remarked that I had finally realized what was subliminally missing—it was the perpetual movement of the winds that had been replaced by a calm silence.
The native Indians prayed to the Great Spirit of the South to melt the ice that gathers around our hearts with the warm breath of compassion. They were wise to associate these summer winds with the growing season—winds that could shake the tall corn stalks up towards the heavens. I’ve been fascinated by these natives all my life because I believe they lived a harsh but harmonious life out in God’s creation every day of their lives. They were convinced of the existence of a Great Spirit and the sacredness of the earth. Much wisdom is lost when we distance ourselves from direct contact with the land and sky. Violent storms are fueled by moisture laden southerly winds from the Gulf of Mexico colliding with colder air dropping down from Canada into the central plains. These powerful events generally produce circular updrafts to form the intense whirling and straight line winds that serve as reminders of our fragile existence. Summer storms in the plains with their towering thunderheads personify the energy and majesty of God’s character.
Because God is a conscious spiritual being, His presence is more to be felt than seen. I've intimately felt His presence while walking the beach with the ocean's breezes, sitting under ancient pines as the wind sang in the needles through Colorado canyons, standing by the Dead Sea at Qumran while dry desert winds shifted the sands, and quietly listened to gentle breezes rustling the leaves in my own back yard.
The warm southerly winds are a welcome relief to naturally cool sweaty brows and backs. Red tail hawks glide easily on this uplifting wind beneath their wings. I learned that lesson early on while bailing hay under the Kansas sun. That was quite possibly the most exhilarating, fulfilling, healthy, dusty, and honest sweaty work I ever accomplished in my entire life. When we’re out in God’s creation and enjoying the experience of the life He has given to us, we can begin to feel His presence. I believe God is in these winds more so than anything else in His created universe. And these caressing breezes provide closeness for some of the most sublime moments in our life as a child of God.
Dodge City, Kansas had the highest overall average wind speed last year while Nashville, Tennessee had the most wind events at 21 in the USA. The Windy City of Chicago wasn't even in the top ten as that moniker was tagged in the 1800's because of their "hot air" politicians! —USA TODAY 1/17/17
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Civil Protest, Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL
I drove through Starbucks on my way home from the gym and ordered a coffee and a "cold" cranberry-orange scone for tomorrow's breakfast. The sweet disembodied speaker voice responded, "OK, would you like that warmed?" At least a dozen replies immediately raced through my brain, overloading millions of synapses. Sometimes we listen to learn and sometimes we listen to reply. Then civil discourse prevailed and I simply said, "No, cold please." I'm admittedly no model of behavior, but wouldn't it be nice if all our politicians and celebrities just put it on pause for a change? We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
About sixty-three million people in the United States recently voted for Trump and sixty-six million people voted for Clinton. A Hollywood actress just used an artistic achievement show as bully pulpit (ironically a term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt) to call out the bullying behavior of the president-elect and set off a national firestorm on social media. One defender reminded folks of the bully behavior towards an opposing candidate by his own party. Another observer stated that divisive language attempts to divide us but it only serves to unite us (into two polarized factions!). Scanning these comments was disheartening as both sides were name blaming and disrespecting one another like an out-of-control second-grade class with a substitute teacher. Einstein warned us that technology had outran our humanity and the founding father of our country admonished us saying “every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” Welcome to the new digital social world where it’s too easy to say things to other brothers that we would never say to their face with thousands of people present.
You know, it’s possible that a “canary in the coal mine” that we should all pay attention to is the trending lack of attendance in our country’s churches. It just may be reflecting the state of our culture as well. Paul issued a warning about this condition in his letter to the Galatians (5:15), “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Since Paul addressed this problem over two thousand years ago, I guess it’s safe to say that it’s not a new problem. And that gives us hope that it’s a problem that has solutions. Dwight Currie observed that “we have a choice about how we behave, and that means we have the choice to opt for civility and grace.”
George Elliot, aka Mary Anne Evans, ended her greatest novel, Middlemarch, celebrating those who lead humble, everyday lives; “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who live faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Elaine A. Heath is the dean of Duke Divinity School and she writes in her book God Unbound that “The strongest quality a congregation can exhibit in the community is to love well—within and beyond the walls of the church.” I think that also goes for a country and a world. François Fenelon noted that “all wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.”
Sunday, January 1, 2017
New Year's Sunset, Jamestown, NC
NEW YEAR'S DAY, 2017
Emerging from one of life’s “crucible moments”
doesn’t mean we are healed,
but we will be different,
and that’s OK.
A sunset is life’s way
of acknowledging this,
and giving us something beautiful,
as we journey on.