Saturday, December 23, 2017

WALKING ON WATER & EARTH

Calming the Storm

The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 starting with five loaves and two fish on the shores of the Sea of Galilee was seemingly the end of an extraordinarily long and successful day of teaching and healing for Jesus and his disciples.  But that turned out to be just the beginning of a day of miracles as Jesus sent the disciples off to the other side of the lake while he went up a mountainside by himself to pray.  During our holy land trip, I learned that there is a dramatic difference in temperature between the shoreline at 680 feet below sea level and the surrounding hills which can reach 2,000 feet.  This can generate strong winds funneling through the hills, whipping up high waves in the relatively shallow waters of only 200 feet.

The disciples encountered a violent storm on the lake and became very afraid.  During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went out to them, walking on the water saying, “Take courage!  Don’t be afraid.”  Peter asked to join him but then took his focus off of Jesus and he had to reach out his hand to save him.  When they climbed into the boat the wind died down and all was calm.

People through the ages have marveled at this second miracle of Jesus walking on water that night, but as we enter the eve of his birth, we pause in reverent silence to acknowledge the greatest miracle of all--that he walked on earth! 

As Adam Hamilton writes, “This weekend we celebrate the birth of a child, a child who was born to be our deliverer, our King, our Lord.  He came to be Emmanuel (God with us), God’s Word made flesh, the Light that would drive back the world’s darkness and the Life that would conquer death.  Like the angels and shepherds, we come to see this child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

When the storms of life come and lightning flashes, the thunder rolls across the land, the winds howl through the bending trees and the waves break over the ship’s bow, we can still be assured of calm seas as we seek the safety of the other side.  God can appear to be absent in painful times, but perhaps that’s because when we’re struggling, we take our eye off of him and focus on the area of pain.  That’s the time to focus on His ultimate authority over all creation and His promise to be with us always, because he has also walked in our footsteps as we strive to walk in the footsteps of that babe born on Christmas day so very long ago that was sent to calm the storm.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

CHRISTMAS CHECKMATE

Chapel of the Angels, Beit Sahur, Israel
Shepherd, Qumran, Israel

There is a field just east of Bethlehem in this war-ravaged region that is the hallowed ground of a momentous announcement.  It is where a messenger of the Lord and a heavenly host of angels announced the arrival of a Savior for the world.  Isaiah prophesied that this child would lead the wolf to live with the lamb.  It’s important to note that this message was not delivered to kings and religious leaders, but to one of the lowest classes of the time—shepherds who were watching over their flocks on one very significant starry night.  The world of that generation was filled with hate and war and the people of the region were anxiously awaiting a warrior king to bring peace to their lives.

They received the Prince of Peace.  The mystery of this miracle was that the Creator entered his creation wrapped in human flesh as a present to all mankind.  The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid for he was announcing good news.  And then a host of angels sang:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

As I walked this land and followed in His footsteps, I couldn’t help but wonder why we still had not achieved that peace which was promised over two thousand years ago.  As an adult, Jesus gave men a simple formula for peace—love God and love your neighbor.  And He left mankind with a way of living through his teachings and model that can restore peace in the world.

People at the birth of Christ and people today expect him to save us from our enemies, but he came to deliver all of us from ourselves.  Sadly, the line between good and evil passes through the heart of every man, but we have been given the free will to choose where we stand.  And on that fateful night we were sent an ally to walk with us as we exercise our free will to do something actionable about the hate and darkness in this world that we were given stewardship over.  Darkness and hate were not eliminated that night in this field, but light and love were sent to checkmate them.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

HALLMARK CHRISTMAS KARMA

Mickey Mouse Christmas Card, Jamestown, NC
Mickey and Minnie Christmas Wrap, Jamestown, NC

I packed all my earthly belongings in my new car after graduating from college and moved to the Kansas City area to follow my bliss for adventure and opportunity in the big city.  One of the first job offers I received was from the headquarters of Hallmark cards in their operations area.  However, instead of joining the company whose motto was “When you care enough to send the very best” I opted to join Hercules, a company that was supporting the Vietnam war effort by sending out our very best helicopter Mighty Mouse rocket propellants.  Nevertheless, that first real job offer made me a lifelong fan of Hallmark cards.  Ironically, I recently sent my new grandson in Chicago a Hallmark Disney Christmas card with Micky Mouse on the sparkly red and green cover!  

Joyce Hall saw the opportunity in the new postcard craze of 1903 at his family store in Nebraska.  Soon he was producing them and moved his business to Kansas City.  By 1915 the Hall Brothers company had migrated to greeting cards and changed their name to Hallmark in 1928 after the hallmark symbols used by London goldsmiths.

Walt Disney was born in Chicago in 1901 and his family located to Kansas City in search of new opportunities in 1911.  He and his brother Roy woke up at 4:30 every morning to deliver the morning Kansas City Times and repeated the exhausting route after school for the evening Kansas City Star.  Walt copied newspaper cartoons and attended Saturday courses at the Kansas City Art Institute.  He worked as an apprentice artist in 1919 drawing commercial illustrations for advertising and theater programs and catalogs.  Disney moved to Hollywood, California in 1923 to be with his convalescing brother Roy where they formed Disney Studios.  The now infamous cartoon character Micky Mouse was created in 1928, even though Walt initially named him Mortimer Mouse, which his wife Lilian considered too pompous and suggested that he be named Mickey Mouse.    
   
Isn’t it interesting Christmas Karma that both Joyce Hall and Walt Disney had their roots in Kansas City where my family lived for 25 years, Hallmark and Mickey Mouse were both introduced to the world in the same year of 1928, and now ninety years later I purchased a Mickey Mouse Hallmark card for my grandson In Chicago whose father works for Disney?

Monday, December 11, 2017

CHRISTMAS MOVIES

Ralphie, A Christmas Story
Flyer Sled, A Christmas Present

I just noticed in the news that the top three Christmas movies are It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation.  I think the reason these movies are so popular this time of the year is because they are so relatable to so many including me. 

When I was about Ralphie Parker’s age in A Christmas Story I hounded my parents to death, especially my mother who was the primary hold out, because I so wanted a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas.  Of course, both Ralphie’s mother and even Santa Claus sternly told him that “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  And my B.B. gun was actually delayed by at least two years when my mother learned that two brothers about my age who she knew were playing with their B.B. guns when one of them got his eye shot out!

Then there was the scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold is going for a new amateur recreational saucer sled land speed record.  His surprise Christmas house guest cousin Eddie explains why he won’t be joining Clark because the metal plate in his head has been replaced with plastic; “Well, they replaced it with a plastic one 'cause every time Katherine revved up the microwave, I'd piss my pants and forget who I was for a half-hour or so. And it ain't real sturdy so... I don't know if I oughta go sailin' down no hill with nothin' between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic.”

Clark gets wild eyed and shouts “Remember, don't try this at home kids; I am a professional. Later dudes. Let 'er rip. Hang ten!”  Then he gets the ride of his life!  Since I didn’t get a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas, I went for my second choice which was a Red Flyer sled.  There it was under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and I couldn’t wait to “Let ‘er rip”!  The only problem was that it never snowed that winter.  But as I was outside playing with my cousin that spring, we noticed that my uncle had deposited a large pile of soft sand near a roadside ditch for a new home construction project.  So, I grabbed my shiny new sled that we had been using to pull each other around in the pasture and eyed the sandy downhill slope that was beckoning, no challenging me to assault it.  I took an Olympian dash towards the sand pile and flung myself onto the slope where my new Red Flyer sled came to an abrupt stop as I went sailing over it and sand blasted my face and knees all the way to the bottom of the ditch!
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has hit a very rough patch in his life at Christmas time and is prepared to jump off a bridge.   His guardian angel Clarence is trying to earn his wings by helping George finally see what the world would have been like if he had never existed.  Once George has a chance to understand all the good he has contributed to all the friends and family that have been in his circle of influence, Clarence remarks “You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?” 

And watching this movie for millions of people has also given them and me the benefit of looking back over the span of our lives and reminded us of what a wonderful life it truly has been over the years, especially at Christmas time. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE MESSENGERS


 
Holy Family and Angels, 
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2017

Our adult bible class is currently studying a new series by Adam Hamilton on Faithful: Christmas through the Eyes of Joseph.  The Christmas story primarily unfolds with Mary and the virgin birth of baby Jesus.  We don’t give Joseph much attention, but as Hamilton notes, “God’s plan for the redemption of the world depended on one man’s willingness to raise a child who was not his own.”  Some scholars think that Joseph may have been much older than Mary and it could be possible that he may have even died before Jesus’s three-year ministry which is why the writers of the New Testament don’t have much more to say about him.

There are many accounts of angels visiting humans either in person or in dreams.  Angel is a derivation of the Greek word Angelos, meaning messenger.  Mary was visited by an angel to announce her pregnancy.  Joseph received four critical messages from an angel in his dreams.  The phrase “Don’t be afraid” is one of the most recorded messages in the Bible and was the opening phrase for many celestial conversations with human beings.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the angel’s presence scares the wits out of us human beings, but many times they are comforting words for someone in distress.  That certainly was the case of the holy family that was presented with the awesome charge to raise God’s son! 

Renaissance painters and others have long depicted angels with wings, primarily to denote their spiritual nature.  Hamilton reminds us that the writer of Hebrews challenges us to welcome guests into our lives, for some folks have entertained angels without knowing it.  We’d probably notice it if they arrived at our doorstep with wings though!  We too can be instruments of God’s purposes and be seen as angels in the eyes of others.  We too can sometimes be the recipients of the good works of angels on earth when seemingly regular folks give us a helping hand in our time of need.  God generally works through others like me and you these days. 

I personally encountered a man with snow white hair years ago when I was alone outside our church attempting to finish a mission project while in the middle of completing an annual budget for my job.  He appeared out of nowhere on a cold late winter’s day, helped me gain entrance to the building and then vanished.  The next day I described the man to our senior pastor but he did not recognize him.  Later I had a short conversation with a man whose father died suddenly when he was a boy on the family farm.  He was understandably distraught and walked out into a nearby tobacco field.  Then he was suddenly met by a being that calmly told him not to be afraid and that everything would be OK.  These words of comfort and assurance immediately gave the young boy a sense of warm peacefulness and he went on to enjoy a successful career in business later in life.

Hamilton concludes his message by stating that “As we look for joy during Christmas, we can often find it in being an angel for someone else.  We experience joy when we take our eyes off our situation and focus on blessing, building up, encouraging, or serving others.”


Merry Christmas 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IF THE FATES ALLOW

                                         New Beginnings, Philadelphia, PA

I have now knowingly celebrated over seventy holiday seasons.  Those seasons have covered many miles, many smiles and many relationships, beginning with those first simple family Christmas Eve gatherings around a real pine tree with bubble lights, colorful ornaments and silver icicles streaming off the drying branches.  My father was a railroad engineer and my widowed grandfather gave me an electric train for one of the earliest Christmas memories that I still retain.  And my grandmother always gave me a monogrammed handkerchief with a present which I still possess.  They sustained me through innumerable winter colds and still do today even though my grandparents have long since passed away to their eternal reward, along with my parents, all of my aunts and uncles and my wife of forty years.  Christmas and the holidays always will evoke sweet memories of them all as they have indelibly influenced my life.  I’ve been blessed to still hold those precious memories and it’s a privilege that is denied to so many, including uncles decimated by war.

I’ve experienced the joy of worshiping and feasting with my extended family for countless holidays.  Those memories of gathering around the table and sharing a meal always bring a reflexive smile to my face.  And later in life my wife and I enjoyed the company of countless friends we encountered as life unfolded in our work and social lives and as our daughter grew.  Christmas Eve candlelight services at many churches completed a day of anticipation and opening presents under our own family tree after re-experiencing the story of the Bethlehem gift.

Now I have the pleasure of being with a new grandson to celebrate his first Christmas.  I can’t begin to describe the immense joy that prospect brings to my life.  He has such a challenging and exciting adventure ahead of him and I have lived to experience its beginnings.  

And the lyrics of the standard holiday song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas still prompts me to pause and reflect every holiday season.  Those words had to be written with the hindsight of someone like me who experienced a full life:

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us,
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years we all will be together,
If the fates allow.
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

As we continue to experience life, fate continues to remove those many people who are permanently woven into the tapestry of our life.  And those ties that bind will always remain in our hearts, especially during the holidays. Whenever I find myself thinking of them during these sensitive times, I remind myself to celebrate the happy golden days we enjoyed together in the precious olden days.

Everyone dies twice. The first time when you stop breathing. And the last time your name is spoken. We can’t control the first, but we can control the last. The holidays are a wonderful time to pause in remembrance.

A link to my favorite version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:
https://youtu.be/dTHrecJXFTE



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

GIVING THANKS THIS THANKSGIVING

Sale Sign, Jamestown, NC

Returning from a brief shopping trip, I once again had to drive around the mall parking lot to find a space, search in vain to find someone who could assist me, listen to old familiar holiday tunes on the ubiquitous speaker systems that followed me on my quest, pass innumerable sale signs announcing the season, stand in line just to give the retailer my money, drive home in four times the normal passage of time as the traffic dodged all around me, and finally I arrived home only to discover that I forgot to stop at the service station to refill my gas tank. All of these familiar signs of the season including the markedly colder temperatures were subliminally and not so subtly heralding the arrival of Thanksgiving Day! Retailers continued to jostle for any leg up on their competition which lately has included who will be open on Thanksgiving Day and how soon they will unlock their doors. It seems they’ve outdone themselves in the rush to capture our consumer-driven culture’s almighty dollar by stretching the revered Black Friday sales day well beyond the space-time continuum for multiple days this year. Hopefully, no one will be crushed to death once the doors are opened as has happened in years past.

In spite of all the hustle and bustle, this is a good time to pause life and focus on giving thanks. I’ve always liked a short story with an O. Henry twist like his famous Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi, about a young couple and sacrificial giving out of unconditional love. Our senior pastor recently relayed a story about perfection and thanks giving. Long ago there was a king with a devoted and very positive advisor. Whenever any situation arose, the advisor always remarked that “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”. One day the king suffered a painful accident that severed his thumb. When his devoted advisor again said “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”, the enraged king had him thrown into prison. Months later, the king was with a hunting party deep within the kingdom when they were captured by savages. As the natives began boiling water and preparing their captives for a slow death, they noticed the king’s missing thumb. Since they worshiped their perception of perfection and were suspicious of imperfection, they released him. Whereupon he returned to his castle and immediately released his old advisor. He fervently asked for forgiveness in treating his friend so grievously, but the advisor once again stated “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. When the king incredulously asked “How this could be?” the old sage replied “If I hadn’t been in prison, I would have been with you”.

I became acquainted with Francois-Marie Arouet who wrote under the pen name of Voltaire when I took a philosophy class years ago in college. One of Voltaire’s more famous quotes that caught my attention is that “Perfect is the enemy of good”. As one who was schooled in engineering and spent my entire professional career in operations, I learned early on about the law of diminishing returns. Folks can spend an inordinate amount of time and effort striving along that final stretch to perfection when “good” will get things off dead center and actually accomplish something in short order. Someone obsessed with perfection may never accomplish anything. A college professor related the story of a mathematician and an engineer who were both vying for the hand of a beautiful young woman. Since she couldn’t choose between them, she proposed a challenge that each should stand apart from her and then begin moving in successive steps half way towards her. The first to reach her would get her hand. The mathematician immediately threw up his hands and forfeited, complaining that it couldn’t be done as there would always be a minute distance to travel. The engineer immediately started walking, stating that he knew he would never arrive, but he would get close enough for all practical purposes! Should we constantly seek perfection in life or will “good enough” see us through? I’d argue that perfection is a nice goal, as long as we understand that falling short will be the norm and only one person ever walked this planet in perfection. Accepting imperfection as long as we can attain a level of “good” can immensely improve our productivity and peace of mind for the good life. Don't lose the joy of life waiting on perfection. Life is neither perfect nor fair, but life is good.

As we journey through life, we can serenely look back on a good life well lived and say “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. And besides, there are times when elusive perfection might get us into hot water!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

LAST OF THE GINKGO'S





Ginkgo Biloba, Jamestown, NC

The popular urban street tree we know and recognize as Ginkgo Biloba is the sole survivor of a long lineage of seeded plants and may even be the oldest existing tree that dates back 200 million years to the Jurassic period.  It has no living relatives.  No doubt dinosaurs dined on its fan shaped leaves which are now unique to these colorful yellow fall trees.  The leaf shape has inspired the Japanese to call the tree “I-cho” meaning “tree that looks like a duck’s foot”.  The tree was considered extinct at one time, but the species Ginkgo Biloba was found surviving in a few isolated mountain areas of China south of the Yangtze River.

I was first attracted to these trees on a weekend trip to Atlanta, Georgia.  Ginkgo’s make wonderful street trees around the world for a variety of reasons including their presence makes the passage feel narrower and causes drivers to slow down.  We turned through an intersection in the inner city on a brisk fall afternoon resplendent with sunshine and stared directly into a stand of Ginkgo trees in full splendor lining an urban center.  That beautiful sight remains in my mind’s eye even today.  I was landscaping our yard at the time and the next weekend after many phone calls I was able to locate one male tree for sale.  I immediately planted it in the backyard and it has thrived there ever since.

I’ve always found it interesting to walk out to the backyard in the late fall and find that practically all of the intense yellow leaves had fallen overnight and blanketed the ground around the base of the tree.  Since then I have learned of people around the world who make a ritual of gathering around the trees where they try to catch the leaves as they spiral downward in the breeze.  One college has even proposed the appointment of a Grand Lorax to sound the alarm when the leaves begin to fall, as you’ve got to be quick! 

Because of the Ginkgo’s long history and the fact that they can live over 2,500 years, a lot of magic and medicinal properties are ascribed to the tree.  Interestingly, the East has focused on the seeds while the West focuses on extracts of the leaves.  People have also noticed that the leaf shape resembles one half of the human brain which has resulted in products for memory and aging.  One legend proposes that if a girl sits under a male Ginkgo tree on a moonlit night and combs her hair, her wish will come true.  I have the male tree in my yard, but a lack of hair could be problematic!     

The Ginkgo Biloba may be the last of the Ginkgo’s, but it’s a survivor!  And perhaps it has survived to this very day as a beautiful reminder to all of us that we’ve been given stewardship of this blue orb, but once we lose that last species our very own existence will be in jeopardy.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

SHIPS IN THE NIGHT


Overcast Fall Morning, Jamestown, NC
Outreach Center, Jamestown, NC

As we turn the calendar over to November, or swipe our touch screens, there is now a chill in the air as scarlet and yellow leaves gently glide down in slow death spirals around us.  The changing seasons are always a good time of renewal and preparation for new beginnings.  It’s a great time to go through the clothes closet and weed out those items that you haven’t worn this past season or probably for the past year or two.  And a thrift center is the perfect place to take them so that someone else can benefit from the bargain prices.

I burned some quality closet time this morning and filled a large plastic bag with polos and t-shirts.  Then I dropped it off at our local church thrift store.  All of this rather mundane activity left me with a warm feeling of giving back to help total strangers in their life struggles.

As I exited the thrift center to my car, I passed a man very close to my age and appearance walking out to his weathered truck with a small bag of clothing.  It was a scene from the perspective of a casual observer of two similar ships passing in the night.  One was giving and the other was receiving.  If that observer had caught us in the middle of the parking lot, only the shopping bag might have revealed the receiver and from all appearances, both strangers could have been brothers. 

Of course, we are brothers in the broader sense and hopefully the experience was equally satisfying to both of us.   

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

AN AUTUMN BLESSING

Fall Leaves, Blue Ridge Mtns, North Carolina

May God's peace flow into you 
as sunshine flows into the trees and 
cares drop off like the falling autumn leaves.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

THE TELEPHONE BOOTH

British Red Box, Internet Domain 

Every now and then I run across an article or experience something or hear a message that resonates with me.  I frequently listen to NPR radio in the morning as it wakes me from a night’s slumber.  I consider this such a better way to start the day versus the jarring alarm I used in the past.  I recently awoke to one of their reporters that had come across a story from the area in Japan that experienced the devastating tsunami five years ago.

The narrator told of a man who longed for the conversations he had experienced with a close cousin that had been lost in the tragedy.  Later the man had the idea to place an antique telephone booth at the edge of his property near the sea to seclude himself in quiet conversation with his cousin.  The telephone booth provided protection from the coastal winds and the disconnected receiver became a familiar invitation to talk candidly.

Once word spread that this sanctuary had such a cathartic effect on the man, others who had lost loved ones in the tsunami approached the booth when it was not occupied.  Another family had lost their loved one who was a husband, father and friend that had been driving his truck near the tsunami’s landfall when it struck with such tremendous force.  His body was never recovered and there was no closure for those who knew him.  They entered the booth and finally resolved their repressed feelings after a long five years in silent mourning. There is no communication line connected to the booth but these people were connected nonetheless.

That coastal phone booth is a wonderful metaphor to consider when we read Psalm 46:10 where God implores us to “be still and know that I am God.”  Our creator communes with us provided we come to him and are in a quiet, open frame of mind to listen.  He speaks in a variety of ways including on those ocean breezes and the never-ending heartbeat of the waves.  And we have been assured that he is always with us to hear our conversations.

“Listen to the wind, it talks.
Listen to the silence, it speaks.
Listen to your heart, it knows.”

--Native American Proverb

Sunday, September 10, 2017

LAST FLIGHT HAIKU


                                          Beached, Kiawah Island, SC
An anomaly,
walking the beach at sunrise,
colors in the sun.

A lifeless shadow,
washed up by retreating tides,
covered in time's sand.

The butterfly's life,
is one of resurrection,
and spiritual flight.

Reaching the shoreline,
at long last the journey's end,
hearing "Job well done".

Saturday, August 26, 2017

YOU BET YOUR LIFE




Coin Toss, No Country for Old Men
Call It, No Country for Old Men
Heads or Tails, Jamestown, NC


A lonesome windmill wobbles in deliberate circles as its tail interminably forces it to always face into the relentless west Texas winds. The elevated Texaco sign on the horizon is the only other landmark the dark stranger sees as the pale rider deliberately moves across the desolate land. The red and white porcelain sign sharply contrasts against the stark background and quietly sighs in the wind above the isolated weather worn country store.

The dark stranger enters the aging store as unsettled dust devils whirl in the distance amidst the rising afternoon heat. He confronts the apathetic clerk at the register who probably hasn’t seen a customer all day today and would appear to be satisfied with calling it a day while turning over the dog eared “closed” sign at the front door.

The clerk hardly looks up to ask “Will there be anything else”? He hasn’t taken notice that death is at his doorstep.
The foreboding stranger replies “I don’t know, will there”?
The clerk now senses that the atmosphere in the dusty store has become tense and threatening as he sheepishly asks “Is something wrong”? He then begins the most high stakes conversation of his life.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about do you? What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss”?
“I don’t know. I couldn’t say”.
The dark stranger flips a quarter onto the counter and covers it with his fingers. “Call it” he sternly demands.
“Well, we need to know what we’re callin’ it for here….I didn’t put nothin’ up”.
“Yes, you did. You’ve been putting it up your whole life…..You just didn’t know it. You know what date is on this coin? 1958. it’s been traveling twenty two years to get here and now its here and it’s either heads or tails and you have to call it.”
“I need to know what I stand to win”.
“Everything. You stand to win everything. Call it”.

The reticent clerk finally wakes up to the reality that the stakes are high, very high. The stakes are his very life that is now squarely in the hands of this dark stranger that has suddenly invaded his boring existence for all time. He looks the hit man in the eyes and with all the conviction of a man who is looking deep into his executioner’s twisted soul reluctantly says “Alright, heads then”.
The two men remain transfixed as the high stakes coin toss has suddenly transformed a boring every day afternoon into a heart pounding, nerve tingling, jaw setting, life bursting moment. They both stare at the dusty counter as George Washington’s profile slowly appears from under the stranger’s fingers and reprieves the clerk’s life.
“Well done” intones the dark stranger. “It’s now your lucky coin. Don’t put it in your pocket and mix it with the other coins so that it becomes just another coin, which it is.”

That bit of riveting dialogue from the movie No Country for Old Men is one of my all time favorite scenes. The environment is stark, the dialogue is measured, and the casting is perfection. The country store clerk has just had his life jolted into overdrive and it slowly begins to soak into his mind that he has just bet his very life on a coin toss. Yet it was just his temporary mortal life. How many of us don’t give much more effort into deciding how we will gamble on the fate of our immortal spiritual life? Some believe God’s son when he tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life everlasting. Some believe otherwise. If they’re right, neither party will ever know. If they’re wrong, they’ve sadly lost a restored and eternal life in the loving presence of their creator. And it’s worth more effort than a coin toss.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MAKE THE WORLD GOOD AGAIN


TOTALITY ECLIPSE, NASA

The Greek historian Herodotus noted that a solar eclipse in 585 BCE occurred during a fierce battle between the Lydians and the Medes. As the the daylight blended into darkness, this celestial event prompted the soldiers to immediately lay down their weapons and declare peace. Steve Ruskin, a historian of astronomy, has observed that “no matter the time period or the scientific knowledge, human responses to an eclipse are consistently, universally, expressions of awe and wonder, and even fear and terror.”

Astrologists consider an eclipse a time of new beginnings and an awakening. Native American Shamans consider a solar eclipse a powerful time of healing. It’s considered a time of mutual understanding that can help the world unite in love and harmony. What better time in world history could this heavenly alignment of the cosmic trinity of earth, moon and sun bring to the human race? According to NASA, a total solar eclipse of the moon covering the sun’s rays happens somewhere on the earth every year and a half, but it generally only happens once in a person’s lifetime. And it’s been 99 years since the grace of a total eclipse descended on a 70 mile wide swath of America from coast to coast. That prompts many to consider this an omen or a portent.

And what more timely words from Martin Luther King, Jr. than those spoken during the civil rights era that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” "Experiencing an eclipse changes the way we feel about space and how we are connected. I hope this moment reminds us all that we share a common origin among the stars, and that we are all citizens of the same planet," said Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society.

There are two ways of spreading light in this world: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. Jesus spread love and light and we can reflect His light back into the world through our lives and our actions. Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life noted that “receiving, reading, researching, remembering, and reflecting on the Word are all useless if we fail to put them into action. We must become ‘doers of the word’. Your heart represents the source of all your motivations—what you love to do and what you care about most.”

We Americans were drawn together for a brief few minutes yesterday by a rare cosmic event that reminded us of our place in the universe. It also reminded us of our ability to join in peace as one brotherhood of man. And it was a visible clarion call to action so that the words of Edmund Burke would not be our legacy; “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Monday, August 21, 2017

SOLAR ECLIPSE HAIKU


Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017

Day blends into night,
as the moon crosses the sun,
blocking the sun’s rays.

Encroaching rain clouds,
ominously add darkness,
and glow in the sky.

Bird calls go silent.
The pulsing song of insects,
pauses all nature.

Totality reigns.
The sun’s corona shimmers,
and bright stars appear.

The action is swift,
as a diamond ring bursts out,
and bright light returns.

People gaze in awe,
“Magical, spiritual”,
shouting and crying.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

NEUTRINOS--THE SECRET OF THE SUN


Light, Jamestown, NC

I recently ran across one of those “What did he just say?” comments in The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far, by Lawrence Krauss. It seems that every second of every day, more than 400,000 billion neutrinos are passing through our bodies and the Earth undetected. Wikipedia confirms that “the majority of neutrinos in the vicinity of the Earth are from nuclear reactions in the Sun. In the vicinity of the Earth, about 65 billion solar neutrinos per second pass through every square centimeter perpendicular to the direction of the Sun. And neutrinos can be created artificially with nuclear reactors and particle accelerators.” Just to be clear, that’s 24,000,000 billion neutrinos passing through us every minute of every day of our lives!

Who knew? I’ve been walking all over this planet for over seventy years and was never once aware of all these billions of extremely tiny particles slipping through my body 24/7 without even the slightest tingling of my skin! Krauss continues, “the whole chain begins with a reaction in which two protons collide, and via the weak interaction one of them converts into a neutron, allowing the two to fuse into the nucleus of heavy hydrogen, called deuterium, and release a neutrino and a positron. The positron later interacts in the Sun, but neutrinos, which interact only via the weak interaction, travel right out of the Sun, to Earth and beyond…This fusion releases about a million times more energy per atom than is released when coal burns…This allows the Sun to last about 10 billion years.” Hans Bethe received the Nobel Prize in 1967 by predicting this scenario and the experimental observation of neutrinos almost 40 years later confirmed his predictions. Krauss concludes “The secret of the Sun—the ultimate birth of light in our solar system—had been unveiled.”

I suppose we all might be better off if I had never pointed this out. I’ve been blithely wandering around being bombarded with these tiny neutrinos my entire life and was quite content in not knowing this, but science marches on with or without us. The good news is that this assault on our being is nothing like being microwaved, or we’d all be crispy critters by now! It seems that the more we learn about this mysterious universe we inhabit, the more it leaves us in awe.

Note: See August 10, 2017 USATODAY article on the new Sanford Deep Underground Neutrino Research Lab.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

ISLAND DELIGHTS HAIKU



Chasing the Sun, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Ocean Breezes, Wrightsville Beach, NC


The island delights,
to feel your bare feet on sand,
as you walk the beach.

The island delights,
to feel your legs in cool tides,
as you walk the beach.

The island delights,
when the sun darkens your skin,
as you walk the beach.

The island delights,
when the breeze tosses your hair,
as you walk the beach.

The island delights,
to join its spirit with yours,
as you walk the beach.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

OUR COSMIC LIFE




Blue Orb, Internet Domain
Cosmos, Internet Domain
Space, Internet Domain


Buddhist philosophy teaches that we and our planet Earth are linked into one living, breathing cell, eternally linked in symbiosis. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist that extends that thought into the entire cosmos. When we have the luxury of time not spent on basic survival we can begin to contemplate our place in the cosmos as well. The few astronauts that have had the perspective of viewing our blue orb from outer space always seem to be able to succinctly verbalize this concept. Frank Borman, NASA Apollo 8 Commander, famously said “When you’re finally up on the moon looking back at the earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people?”

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist Zen master, notes that “we contain earth, water, air, sunlight, and warmth. We contain space and consciousness. We contain the continuing DNA string of our ancestors…Looking into the child, we can be in touch with her parents and ancestors, but equally, looking into the parent, we can see the child…Everything relies on everything else in the cosmos in order to manifest—whether a star, a cloud, a flower, a tree, or you and me.” Neil Tyson notes that “I learned in biology class that more bacteria live and work in one centimeter of my colon than the number of people who have ever existed in the world…From that day on, I began to think of people not as masters of space and time but as participants in a great cosmic chain of being, with a direct genetic link across species both living and extinct, extending back nearly four billion years to the earliest single-celled organisms on Earth.” He concludes, “We do not simply live in this universe. The universe lives within us.”

We can get pretty wrapped up in ourselves and our daily struggles at times. As folks grow older, it’s understandable that their world slowly collapses into a very small corner of the world. We older adults can also get too focused on all the boundaries and differences that separate us on this blue planet in the darkness of space. But for our younger generation, it’s important to experience a general change of vision and ponder the reality that we are living on one planet in a galaxy of over a hundred billion stars, and the known universe contains over a hundred billion galaxies! There are currently forty billion Earth-like planets now cataloged in the Milky way alone that exhibit properties similar to Earth. The possibility of multiverses is even more mind-blowing. Things that separate us in this world are far less important than everything that we share.

Edgar Mitchell, NASA Apollo 14 astronaut, observed that “There seems to be more to the universe than random, chaotic, purposeless movement of a collection of molecular particles. On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.” Homo sapiens need to look outward to the stars more often rather than focusing inward to a self-centered Earth-bound life and reach up to a more God-centered cosmic life.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

FROZEN IN TIME


Glacial Mummies, Switzerland

The digital issue of USA TODAY this morning had a fascinating article about a Swiss couple that had disappeared without a trace almost exactly 75 years ago on August 15, 1942. A ski lift operator found their mummified bodies at the edge of a melting glacier at 8,600 feet. Items including ID papers found in a backpack led to the identification of Marcelin (40) and Francine (37) Dumoulin, the parents of seven children. Their youngest daughter Marceline who is now 79 said that the family had spent their entire lives looking for their parents and praying for their return on the glacier every August 15. The two surviving siblings can now give them a proper funeral with a deep sense of calm.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if modern science had progressed to the point today that would enable scientists to restore life to Marcelin and Francine? The thought occurred to me as I read this compelling article because I was born exactly two months after they apparently disappeared into a crevice in the glacier. My entire lifetime of watching world events unfold would enable me to be an ideal person to fill in the blanks of the past 75 years.

I would begin by telling them that the horrific world war that had begun just before they were frozen in time was eventually won on the European front primarily by overwhelming logistics and the Pacific front was ended when the world was introduced to the nuclear age with two devastating atomic bombs beyond comprehension. And now today, rogue nations have this capacity to destroy our planet. We have made great strides in technology and have even put a man on the moon. But now we have the capacity to trigger another ice age. We have eradicated many diseases, but are now vulnerable to mutations that could one day resist all our vaccines. We are depleting our natural non-renewable resources at an alarming rate and the world population is soaring. Our youth has never been exposed to a world-wide conflagration and many find no place in their life for a divine Creator. The human race does not seem to be keeping pace with the technology that hardly anyone can understand. We have mapped the basic human building blocks of DNA, but some are already crossing the ethical line of playing a dangerous game of creation. The line between good and evil still crosses the heart of every man.

But the world is still producing good people that care about this planet and future generations. We are far from self-destruction, but we need a new revival. Native Kansa Indians of my homeland prayed to the Great Spirit of the South for winds to melt the ice that gathers around our hearts with the warm breath of compassion. These natives 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. They understood that we do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children and grandchildren. Perhaps we’ve reached a milestone in human evolution where we pause the music and relearn the lessons of being in touch with creation and our Creator.

Perhaps we can make a compelling case for restoring new life into the planet and assure a now 115-year-old Marcelin and his 112-year-old wife Francine that there is still hope.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

TIME IS LIFE


Sands of Time, Jamestown, NC

I entered the full time working world as a graduate Industrial Engineer. One of the primary objectives of this career is to optimize the cost of a product or process. That usually involves optimizing the time that it takes to produce a given deliverable. This is a discipline whose mantra states that “time is money”. Living a working life around this mantra was in opposite conflict with the need to balance my time with other priorities. In fact, I worked for a Vice President at one point that called all of us young managers into his office and noted that we all seemed to be spending too much time on the golf course. He put us on notice that if he ever heard any of us had a single digit handicap, we’d be fired. He said that somewhat jokingly, but we got the message that he expected us to be spending an inordinate amount of our waking time on the job.

The opposite point of view is adhering to a mantra that “time is life”. And "time is love". To live a balanced life, we need to be conscious of the time we clock on our job life, our family life, and our spiritual life to have a full and satisfying life. It’s important to take inventory of where we spend our time—for where we spend our time is where our heart resides.

Spiritual time includes time to be still. Time to listen to the sounds of life all around us; the sound of wind gently moving through the trees, the sound of waves rhythmically breaking onto a sandy beach, the sound of a baby’s cooing in his mother’s arms, the sound of a wren singing in the first light of day, the sound of melted snow in a mountain stream rushing over smooth stones in the spring, the summer sound of a loon’s melancholy song across a northern lake at dusk, the sound of rain drops slowly falling on a metal roof in the fall, and the lonesome sound of a train whistle on a winter’s night.

We need to pause life occasionally and shake ourselves awake to the reality of time and its precious availability to us all so that we can live it to the fullest. Each of us is born with a variable number of grains of sand in our hourglass. And the hourglass is always in motion until the last grain is spent.

Monday, July 10, 2017

STARDUST




Starry, Starry, Night, Internet Domain
Condensed Stardust, Jamestown, NC


The general theory that matter can neither be created nor destroyed seems to apply if you include energy and its photons into the equation. Matter emerged from an extraordinarily condensed mass at the instant of the Big Bang! That mass was one-trillionth the size of the period at the end of this sentence. And one thing is certain from that time on—matter is in a constant phase of transformation. The stardust was attracted by gravitational pulls that condensed into planets and stars. Matter became the basic building block for all the other diverse forms of the universe. Matter is everything around us. Atoms and molecules are all composed of matter. Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space.

I’ve read that even when we drink a glass of water, we are taking in the stardust of long forgotten ancestors along with matter that could have been manifested into any number of earthly creations. The Biblical book of Genesis relates the story of Adam and Eve, an archetypal couple of imperfect human beings representing all of us that were formed from the stardust of the earth. When our Creator confronted them for disobeying the one rule they had been asked to follow, they were destined to share a common legacy of their mortal bodies returning to that stardust at the end of their lives. The stardust is never destroyed, but transformed into something new in a creation that is never ending with each new sunrise.

Everything in this existence is subject to birth and death, being and nonbeing. Nothing of matter lasts forever in this world, except the stardust of creation. Fortunately for human beings, we were created in the image of our Creator. We are conscious mortal beings with a spirit while our Creator is already a conscious spiritual being that has created us with a soul that transcends our time on earth. When our earthly body returns to stardust, our spiritual being returns to the one consciousness of the universe. This knowing frees us of any fear of dying as we gaze in wonder at the night sky filled with a bright moon and stars beyond counting in the darkness of space.

We walk around and say we have a soul, but we do not have a soul.
We ARE a soul with a stardust body.

Heaven's Gate, NASA

MEDITATION HAIKU


Serene Sunrise, Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

Breathing in, I see,
creation’s stardust in me.
Breathing out, I smile.

Breathing in, I see,
the light of the world in me.
Breathing out, I smile.

Breathing in, I see,
all my ancestors in me.
Breathing out, I smile.

Breathing in, I see,
I am always transforming.
Breathing out, I smile.

Breathing in, I see,
there is no death and no fear.
Breathing out, I smile.

Breathing in, I see,
all the wonders of this life.
Breathing out, I smile.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

INFLUENCE OR IRRITATE


American Gothic, Columbus, OH

Do you listen to understand or reply?

It’s rather alarming to observe just how polarizing America has become in recent years. This year’s presidential election was nothing short of contentious. When either side of an issue refuses to listen to one another to better understand where someone is coming from, it illustrates the height of hubris. These divisions are tearing at our social fabric.

Adam Hamilton, a Methodist minister and writer, recently noted that it’s much easier and far more productive to take the time to discuss an issue with those on the opposing side. Once we see where people are coming from we can better influence both our own position and possibly theirs. He makes the point that we can all achieve a better world if we seek to influence versus irritate those with whom we disagree. Once we see the humanity in others, we can quite probably even think differently ourselves. To ascend a ladder, we must first let go of the rung we're holding onto so that we can reach for the next one. And I'm sure that we've all learned by now that it's much easier to irritate than influence someone.

The ancient teachings of the Bible are still relevant today and it’s important that we read them through the lens of understanding God’s ultimate will for our generation. Those 66 books split into nine sections including wisdom literature were written by inspired men in ancient times through the lens of their culture. Jesus left us with the simple but profound commandant to love God and our neighbor. That acid test for all issues in life can still enable us to sort out the direction for our lives. Does our position still adhere to that one ultimate commandant?

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”—Carl Jung

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

MYSTERY WOMAN


Mysterious, Charlotte, NC

As I was making my way to an airport newsstand during a long connection with my iPhone in hand, I looked up to notice a rather mysterious woman walking just ahead of me. “People watching” at airports revives the good old days in the 50’s of parking on Main Street in my hometown on Saturday afternoons with my mother and big sister and watching all the people walk by. My dad was always smart enough to be working or shooting pool with his relatives and railroad friends. Talk about excitement! That was especially entertaining during the Christmas holidays. I always fantasized about who they were and what they were up to solely by their appearance without ever knowing them!

This woman was walking rather gingerly in a pair of orange Nike clogs with a pair of nylons rolled down to her ankles. She had on a pair of very tight fitting black Yoga pants with racing strips down the sides. But what really got my attention was the bright pink and white stripe poncho over her shoulders capped off with a jaunty straw hat. As fate would have it, she also turned into the newsstand ahead of me. I couldn’t resist the impulse to quickly switch my iPhone to “camera” and snap an image for posterity.

Who was this mystery woman? Why did she choose to stand close to a fire extinguisher? Where did she come from and where was she going? If she was traveling incognito, it wasn’t working. Was she wearing sunglasses? Is she "the most interesting woman in the world"? Was she moving under the government’s secret witness program? Was she working as a mule smuggling illicit drugs into the country under that suspicious outfit? Did her checked luggage contain a secret compartment with encoded top-secret information that had the potential to destroy the civilized world as we know it? Was there a cyanide suicide pill in there in case she was outed? Did the poncho conceal a buff body that could break a concrete block in half? Was she on her way to an extreme sports competition? Did she look like Wonder Woman or the cashier at Home Depot?

Or was this just an eccentric twenty-something teacher that was on a much needed vacation from an overcrowded classroom of fifty third grade kids on her way to Puerto Vallarta? We’ll never know, but I think the poncho might offer a clue. On the other hand, perhaps judging a person strictly by their appearance might not be such a good idea…

INTERBEING




Sunflower Heart, Jamestown, NC
Camillia Heart, Jamestown, NC
Magnolia Heart, Greensboro, NC


Beauty is a mystery in its knowing, but we know it when we see it. It exhibits itself in the golden spirals of a sunflower’s seed arrangement, the florets of a daisy, the bracts of a pine cone and the branches of a tree. These Fibonacci numbering sequences are nature’s mathematical order in the universe all around us. Fibonacci numbers have been called the Fingerprint of God that is hidden throughout nature. They certainly belie randomness. It’s been said that if you look into the heart of a flower, you look into the face of God. And when you look into the heart of a sunflower, you look into the beautifully patterned order of all creation that shows the way into the Language of God in the form of spiraling DNA strands.

Buddhist philosophy teaches us that the earth is one giant, living, breathing cell and when we simply consider the heart of a flower, we can see that it is full of life. It is full of soil, rain, sunshine, clouds, oceans, minerals, space, and time. That’s one of the main reasons I find it so fascinating to photograph the heart of a flower and then edit the image even further into its interior. When we walk through a garden and observe patches of flowers, we don’t always bend over and look closely into their hearts.

Thich Nhat Hanh, whose students of mindfulness call Thay (for teacher), writes that “We too are full of so many things and yet empty of a separate self…The whole planet is one giant, living, breathing cell, with all its working parts linked in symbiosis.” Like the flower, we contain all its elements along with consciousness and the continuing DNA strings of our ancestors. Christians would add the critical element of an eternal soul that transcends this mortal life. The whole cosmos has manifested into who we are today. In fact, everything relies on the critical balance of life in this universe we occupy to survive and prosper. We are one with the universe.

Thay teaches that our parents “are in us and we are in them. We are the continuation of all our ancestors. Thanks to impermanence, we have a chance to transform our inheritance in a beautiful direction.” We have a chance to manifest the beauty of this existence as it was originally created, as we see it’s potential in the fleeting beauty of a flower’s heart.

And although there have been many disciples in the history of humankind, only we can be a disciple for our time.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

THE DATA RELIGION


Pointing the Way, Jamestown, NC

Yuval Noah Harari has written a very stimulating and thought-provoking book titled Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow. He covers a wide spectrum of human history up to the present and then dares to speculate on the future demise of current homo sapiens. Harari writes that “dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing…the life sciences have come to see organisms as biochemical algorithms…and computer scientists have learned to engineer increasingly sophisticated electronic algorithms…Dataism puts the two together, pointing out that exactly the same mathematical laws apply to both biochemical and electronic algorithms”. And he “expects electronic algorithms to eventually decipher and outperform biochemical algorithms.” We’re currently developing unprecedented computing power and giant databases beyond the human brain’s capacity to fathom the new master algorithms. But perhaps organisms really aren’t algorithms after all.

Harari notes that humans distill data into information, then into knowledge, and finally into wisdom. But he observes that the world is changing faster than ever before and we can no longer process the vast amounts of data out there these days. Although having power in ancient times meant having access to data and yesterday having the ability to interpret data meant having power, he advises that having power today means knowing what to ignore! Harari considers humankind a single data-processing system with the Internet-of-All-Things as its output. After all, who writes Wikipedia? All of us! Once this mission is accomplished, he boldly predicts that Homo sapiens (wise men) will vanish. They will be replaced by an elite and controlling upgraded minority of Homo Deus (God men).

Harari got my attention when he predicted that humans will want to add value because “when you are part of the data flow you are part of something much bigger than yourself.” After all, “what’s the point of doing or experiencing anything if nobody knows about it, and if it doesn’t contribute something to the global exchange of information?” I’ve personally always considered any learning experience only worthwhile if it is put into practice and shared. He instructs us in this digital media world to record experiences and share them by uploading them. Harari muses that one of the key ways we humans are superior to animals is in our ability to write poems and blogs about our experiences, thereby enriching the global data-processing system. Our value lies in turning our experiences into free-flowing data. And ideas change the world when they change our behavior.

Harari concludes with the questions “Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? What’s more valuable—intelligence or consciousness? What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?”

It's always good to forward think about the future and our Homo sapiens frontal lobe was the last to evolve for just such a purpose. That brain function is a major factor that separates us from animals that blithely go through life not knowing that there is an end to mortal life. But that ability not only gives us pause to speculate on the future, but to consider the potential for a spiritual life after this mortal one. I’m also convinced that we Homo sapiens can navigate the uncharted territory of Artificial Intelligence and super computers with God’s guiding hand.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

WAKING BABY HAIKU


Sleepy Baby, Chicago, IL

“Good Morning baby.”
The sleepy baby awakes,
knowing mother’s voice.

“Hi, were you sleeping?”
The dreamy fog clears away,
and eyes open wide.

“Hi, did you sleep well?”
He raises up on his arms,
and his whole face smiles.

“Did you sleep all night?”
He contentedly replies,
happy and secure.

Friday, June 16, 2017

REFLECTIONS ON FATHER’S DAY


Fading Memory, California Beach

The photograph of my father and me shelling in California on a Pacific Ocean beach has become about as faded as my memories of him. It’s been said that most of humanity is only remembered for about two generations until there is no consciousness left to retain their memory. Fortunately, on the eve of Father’s Day, my consciousness still retains a few dim memories.

I only vaguely remember family meals, as my father was an engineer on the railroad and worked a variety of shifts due to the rigid seniority system. He never outlived the system, since he experienced a relatively early death, partially due to that system which never enabled him to live a normal life of sleeping and waking. But I do remember good times fishing, hunting, and participating in his favorite sport, baseball.

As a young man playing baseball, my father was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals and offered a low paying position at shortstop on their farm club. He decided to abandon the dream and stay at home to help the family. That major decision in my father’s life quite probably resulted in our family’s creation. It’s good to have goals and dreams in life, but when life throws you a curve ball, it just might not be strike three. It could be ball four and a pass to begin a new path around the bases that leads to a new home. I didn’t become a professional baseball player either, but I learned that we’ve got to work hard at something to be good at it, sportsmanship, how to be a team player, developing lasting friendships with teammates, the thrill of competition, how to be a good winner as well as a good loser, and the love of a father to impart his dream to his child so that the dream remains alive.

He died as I was only beginning to transition to adulthood in college. I remember a conversation about part-time college students that were hired to supplement the summer wheat harvest and vacations. He mentioned that many of them partied and then slept on the job to recover. When I challenged their right to do this, he just smiled and noted that many of them were superior’s sons and he would be the one in trouble. That was a rude introduction to the real world. During a blustery Kansas winter snow storm, I went to the back door late at night where my mother was looking outside and inquired about my father. She mentioned that he was outside putting chains on the rear tires of our car so he could get to work. I remarked that no one should have to go outside on a night like this, but she just smiled and suggested I get bundled up and go outside to help him. When I went outside and suggested that he call in sick so he could stay home out of the storm, he just smiled and said someone had to work so our family could live—another rude introduction to the real world.

And like the movie Field of Dreams, some of the best times growing up involved the simple act of playing catch in the backyard. It’s a very human act of I-give-to-you and you-give-back connectedness, many times discussing something about life and many times in serene silence, with just the sound of the rawhide ball hitting the leather glove. The final act of redemption in the movie unfortunately doesn’t happen all too often in real life. The prodigal son gets a second chance to say, “Hey dad, you wanna have a catch”? And his dad replies, “I’d like that”.

As I became a father, my daughter and I played catch (although I quickly learned to slow it down a bit) and now there’s always the dream of playing catch with that future Hall-of-Famer, my new grandson.