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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

FLAWED BEAUTY HAIKU


Broken Shell, Wrightsville Beach, NC

The sun awakens,
but is still not visible,
on the horizon.

Sojourners shelling,
as the eastern sky glows red,
and the tide recedes.

Shore birds chase the waves,
foraging in the sea foam,
as shells are exposed.

Lone footprints ahead,
leaving the tossed and broken,
gathering whole shells.

As I walk behind,
searching for imperfection,
gathering flawed shells.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

FLAWED BEAUTY



Kintsukuroi, Internet Domain
Weathered Shell, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Character Lines, Jamestown, NC


Staring down at my bare knees as I rode in a golf cart this past weekend on the brink of summer, I noticed that the sunshine had once again begun to highlight the two white scars that dissected my knees. I earned that pair through some tough days and physical therapy. Those “character lines” as I like to consider them, are a bit different from each other. The left knee joint was the first to go about ten years ago and has faint staple marks where they were inserted on either side of a very straight line. The most recent of about two years ago has more character without the staples as it was repaired by sewing the incision under itself. Only recently did I discover that the ancient Japanese understood this concept centuries ago. And they have two primary terms that have evolved over those centuries, kintsukuroi and wabi-sabi.

Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer or resin mixed with gold dust. The associated philosophy treats the breaks as part of the object’s history, making it more beautiful with its imperfection, rather than something to disguise. Originally, valuable broken pottery was repaired with metal staples. Later the craftsmen began using the golden seams which emphasized the mended imperfections that should be celebrated as a rebirth of the piece!

Wabi-sabi is a philosophy centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wabi implies uniqueness and understated elegance while sabi refers to beauty that comes with age, such as a patina and wear or visible repairs. Wabi-sabi acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Buddhists describe it as the wisdom and beauty of imperfection. I’ve written before about abandoning my search for perfect shells on the beach and instead began looking for uniquely imperfect specimens that have been rolled and battered by the sand and tides. The flawed beauty of these shells is sadly overlooked by many bearers of the footprints in my path.

And as we continue to circle the sun more times than we care to acknowledge, those “character lines” randomly crossing our bodies and the “crow’s feet” spreading away from our eyes are beautiful indications that we have lived and laughed, however imperfectly!

Monday, May 29, 2017

IN REMEMBRANCE

MEMORIAL DAY 2017

Calla Lilies, Jamestown, NC

MEMORIAL MYSTERY MEAT


Kabobs, Greensboro, NC

This Memorial weekend will be low key, so it seemed like a good time to drive over to one of my favorite shopping centers and have my eyeglass frames adjusted. After being told that the frames were OK but my ears were off center, I left and meandered over to a nearby department store where I purchased a pair of shorts and a printed t-shirt for the beach. That shot of island happiness lasted about as long as it took me to cut off the labels.

As I was driving out of the shopping center I passed by the new Whole Foods Market. I didn’t have a grocery list with me, but I decided to park and go inside to forage for food anyway. I picked up half a blueberry pie, corn on the cob, guacamole dip, two bottles of California Chardonnay and made my way to the meat counter for something to grill. There I discovered some mystery meat with a strange red marinade. When I inquired, the butcher behind the counter informed me that it was a special red pepper sauce indigenous to the middle east which I may have recently sampled in Israel. So, not wishing to appear biased, I immediately requested not one, but two of the kabobs smothered in the special sauce. As the young lady in the deli was filling a couple of small containers of cold salad, she remarked that folks always order something if she makes eye contact with them. Based on my experience, that's because you’ve got to stare at her if you want her attention!

The checkout counters are always a navigational challenge when committing to a line that will move the fastest. A trip to Disney World years ago taught me to always choose a line to the left, since most people are right-handed and will veer right. Then there’s always second-guessing who in the lines has a handful of coupons that need to be processed with a price check and manager’s approval. I selected a young college-aged girl who was flirting with a comparably aged young guy. I overheard him asking what day she was off work next week. Of course, she took her sweet time checking him out and bagging his three items which the young man obviously used as date bait.

Finally, the line cleared to process my Memorial Day feast as the young coed glanced up at my thinning silver hair and thought “O great, I just went from a 2017 red Ford Mustang to a 1960 gray Ford Falcon”. But I’m sure she’d been trained to interact with customers and be cheerful. She appeared to be a bit flustered from the encounter with the young stock guy as she scanned the Chardonnay and asked, “Did you find everything OK?” I remarked that I had forgotten my list so I was just buying the basics. She then grabbed my middle eastern kabobs and asked, “Do you want your meat in its own bag?” I responded, “Naw, it’s not that special.” Then without obviously thinking too much about it, she asked, “Does your meat know you’re talking about it?”

Well, I believe that’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been asked that question, so I had to pause and then just said “Sometimes.” By this time, I knew she would give anything to retract that question, but she just quickly gave me my receipt and wished me a happy Memorial weekend. And I’ve got to say, that foraging encounter even was more entertaining than shopping for the beach outfit!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

SAILING THROUGH THE STORM


SAILING, Lake Michigan, IL

When you're sailing through a storm,
you don't bail out.
You start bailing and adjusting the sails.


(Photo my daughter took on Lake Michigan and published in USAToday)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

MIND THE TONGUE



I'm Blind, Jamestown, NC
It's a Beautiful Day, Jamestown, NC


One of the ubiquitous signs throughout the city of London reminds everyone, especially tourists, to “Mind the Gap” at all the train tube stations. They are reminders that we should be constantly aware of the danger of the gap between the station platforms and the arriving and departing trains. The apostle James also stresses the importance for all of us to “Mind the Tongue” in our daily discourse with each other.

-- “For we all often stumble and fall and offend in many things. And if anyone does not offend in speech, he is a fully developed character and a perfect man, able to control his whole body and to curb his entire nature.”—James 3:2

There’s an old story about a young man that has a lot of trouble controlling his words so he decides to join a monastery where they take a vow of abstinence to only say two words a year. After the first year, he has his annual review with the head friar and says, "Hard Bed!" The young monk returns after the second year and says, "Bad Food!". He returns after his third year and tells the friar, "I Quit!" The friar looks up and says, "Well, I'm not surprised. All you've been doing since you arrived here is complain!"

--“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it.” (death or life) —Proverbs 18:21

An old Kansas folk saying reminds us to "Make sure your words are sweet and pure, because you may have to eat them the next morning for breakfast!"

I ran across a short YouTube video clip a few years ago that illustrates the power of words which was created by an online company that uses words to enhance their customers’ web site content and get them noticed. At the time, the clip had gone viral and been viewed over 6 million times. Since I was facilitating our adult Sunday class on the Third Chapter of James regarding words and wisdom, I remembered the clip and looked it up again. Not too surprisingly, the clip has now been viewed almost 26 million times. It’s based on “The Story of a Sign” by Alonso Alvarez Barreda.

An elderly man was sitting on a city square with an empty food can and simple cardboard sign that read “I’m blind. Please help”. He wasn’t getting much action from those passing by. Then a young woman in a business suit stopped, wrote on the back of his sign, and left. Almost immediately, people were tossing lots of coins in the can. When she returned, the blind man softly asked, “What’d you do to my sign”? And the young woman replied, “I wrote the same, only different words”. As she walked away the old man thanked her and the camera slowly panned over to the new sign which read “It’s a beautiful day, but I can’t see it”. The final graphic read “Change your words. Change your world”.

I suppose most of us have lived long enough to understand the power of our words, especially those used in our day to day relationships with others:

Kind words continue to echo long after they’re spoken.

Words have the power to hurt and the power to heal.

They have the power to demoralize and the power to inspire.

They embrace the power to hate and the power to love.

They have the power to teach lies and the power to instill eternal truth.

And many times, they’re most potent when they’re used sparingly or simply not spoken at all. It’s possible that the most powerful message we will ever deliver is the unspoken language of our life. That would be a nice legacy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

THOUSAND MILE ROOTS


Roots, Valley Forge, PA

The summer storm season always challenges just how deeply rooted most trees have become when the violent winds begin their assault across the countryside. Trees like southern pines that are shallow-rooted generally don’t fare too well. When we moved to the Carolina's and purchased a lot, the contractor asked if we would like to remove the eight tall pine trees scattered among the other trees in the backyard at a reasonable cost. We immediately replied that we had moved from Kansas and loved the idea of a wooded backyard, so we ultimately had the fallen trees removed one at a time at considerably more money! I sadly watched from our back window when the last pine tree slowly began its fateful descent during a bad wind and ice storm as it unceremoniously smashed a new wooden arbor.

Roots are the critical anchoring part of all plant life. Those life forms that have developed deep roots will weather the storms of life much better than their shallow-rooted neighbors. Roots growing downward into the soil also absorb life sustaining nutrients and moisture to keep them healthy. I took the accompanying photo along the banks of the Valley River a few years ago where the deep roots of our democracy were forged. The tough winter at Valley Forge for George Washington and his troops tested their resolve to its core. The new album from the Zac Brown Band reminds us that “My roots always keep me grounded. Roots remind me where I’m from…Even when I’m a thousand miles away, I’m still home.”

Ironically, I now live a thousand miles away from my hometown in the heartland of America. But the spiritual roots of our lives have an infinite reach, even through the thin veil of other dimensions. My family will always be part of the grounding that helps to keep me vertical. Those formative years of growing up surrounded by their love and care along with their faith will sustain me all the days of my life. I didn’t always get my way, but I always got what I needed, although some things weren’t apparent until many years later. Just one example was my father’s rejection of a ragtop convertible that I had chosen for my first car when I turned 16. Although disappointing at the time, that was a good decision in retrospect, as I’m still here writing about the experience.

And I still draw sustenance from those roots, even when I’m a thousand miles away.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

YOU’RE FIRED!


Hay Barn, Summerfield, NC

Our 45th POTUS recently hosted a reality show that should have been subtitled “You’re Fired!” in which folks who tuned in could live vicariously and have the experience of being terminated from a job without living the experience. His first one hundred or so days in office seem to be an extension of that show, but of course, this happens a lot in real life too.

There are a lot of reasons that organizations release employees including financial or performance and not all of them are fair. Life isn’t fair and this is just another example for all of us. Changing jobs and even careers needs to be a realized fact for those in the workforce going forward. Technology and the assimilation into a world economy has already drastically altered the employment landscape and one of the keys to future success is a lifelong embrace of learning. Organizations will pay for our life years based on the skills we maintain in our tool kit and the availability or unavailability of those skills in the current job market where we all compete.

I stumbled upon a hay barn recently as I was driving home from a golf game and it reminded me of the first time I was impolitely “dismissed” from a job. There weren’t a lot of reasonable paying jobs or good manufacturing openings in the central Kansas town where I grew up. So, I sought out openings that involved good old manual labor that offered overtime and steady work. One of those jobs involved driving an ensilage truck in tall corn fields and then to the local cattle feed lots. When that work was between jobs, we also baled alfalfa hay fields and unloaded them into dusty, hot barn lofts.

On one late summer afternoon, my buddy and I had loaded a flatbed truck to the brim with freshly baled hay. We took care to interlock the bales to assure that they would stay put. But as evening fell and I slowly rounded a sharp curve on an old country road, the load shifted and half of the bales slid off into the ditch. It took an extra two hours to recover the load and get the bales into a hayloft.

As we returned to our home base completely spent and hungry, the manager of the company who was known for having a beer or two after work, charged out into the yard and demanded to know why we were so late. I explained what had happened and much to my surprise, he fired me on the spot! I was shocked! That was the last response I was expecting and he followed up by directing me to pick up my paycheck for the week. I was so taken aback that I told him I didn’t want his money and left. Later I reconsidered and returned the next morning to retrieve my earnings.

That experience was an eye-opener. It taught me early on that no job regardless of the simplicity or the complexity is ever guaranteed. No excuse or fact is necessarily pertinent to the one in charge. And life isn’t fair, so get over it and move on. But even negative experiences in life can be worth something if you learn from them.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

GANDY DANCERS’ BALL


Straight Rails, Jamestown, NC

“I don’t know but I’ve been told,” was one of the opening chants for many diverse verses following that iconic line. As our section crew on the Santa Fe Railroad labored under the hot and humid Kansas summer sun, these chants kept us in rhythm as we manually aligned waving railroad tracks out in the boondocks. Every one of the seasoned men and temporary college students such as myself had a favorite line to keep the dance in synch. As we speared our lining gandy into the rail bed ballast, we would put our shoulders into the iron gandy bar and simultaneously shove it into the heavy rail to move it fractions of an inch. Straightening a stretch of track took multiple repetitions and a good caller.

Some say the term “gandy” originated with the workers using iron tools manufactured by the Chicago Gandy Tool Company, while the reference to “dancing” derived from the rhythmic motions associated from the crew moving together with the chants as they aligned tracks or drove spikes in pairs. Our caller would voice the first two lines such as “I don’t know but I’ve been told, Eskimo women are mighty cold.” Then everyone positioned with their gandy would chant the refrain “I don’t know…huh, but I’ve been told…huh, etc. We’d muscle the bars into the rail with each “huh” to get the job done. These calls would range from the racy to the spiritual. Thankfully, these jobs are now all mechanized, but the folklore lives on in such songs as the 1951 song The Gandy Dancer Ball by Frank Laine and the facetious Moose Turd Pie by Utah Phillips that's on YouTube.

Working shoulder to shoulder with the regular crew members that had been on the job for years was quite an incentive to bank my paychecks and return to school the following fall. One of our mates named Lucky was anything but a reflection of his moniker. When our superintendent was notified of an approaching train, we would jump on our hand cars and motor down the rails to a side rail out of harm’s way. Lucky would be the first to bring out the dice and initiate a game until the interrupting train passed. I rolled my number one afternoon just as the train flashed by and he threw the dice away in disgust! Later he calmly told us that his wife had a baby much to their surprise the past winter. But I noticed that he was normally saving his energy when it came time for the “Huh”! I never mentioned it because I knew he would be out here doing this long after I had left.

We’d position our manual hand cars back on the main line and return to our job of lining up tracks, replacing rotting ties, driving spikes to hold the rails down on the ties, raising the rails with ballast and even pumping liquid grout under the rails to bolster the rail bed. But the entertaining job was always lining up the rails with our gandy irons and chanting in unison some ditty like:

“Up and down this road I go,
Skippin’ and dodgin’ a 44.
Hey man won’t you line ‘um…huh,
Hey won’t you line ‘um…huh,
Hey won’t you line ‘um…huh,
Hey won’t you line ‘um…huh!

A chance railroad track crossing near downtown Jamestown this afternoon jolted my memory of the brief Gandy Dancer career that I actually enjoyed early in life. The experience kinda reminds me of Paul Newman’s movie character in Cool Hand Luke where he was part of a prison chain gang in the south. Of course, the big difference was that I applied for the job, received a paycheck, and escaped by finishing my college degree!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

SEEKING MEANING


Love, Jamestown, NC

PRISONER NO. 119104

Viktor Frankl survived three long unimaginable years of his life in a Nazi concentration camp while most of his family including his wife perished in another camp. His book on Man’s Search for Meaning has been read by millions of people searching for meaning in life. There were other survivors in these horrendous circumstances besides Frankl, but it was quickly observed that when a prisoner had lost any reason or meaning for living, they wouldn’t last very long. Others who knew the why of their existence could withstand almost any how.

Frankl wrote that “we who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”

Although Frankl’s wife didn’t survive the holocaust, the possibility brought him hope and a reason to live. His epiphany in the camp was “that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire…The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

My favorite definition of unconditional love is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. And it also applies when we make a difference in somebody’s life who has no possibility of returning the favor. Otherwise, we’re just doing business. There are many things in life that we encounter which are out of our control, except one thing—how we choose to respond.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

MEANINGFUL TRANSCENDENT EXPERIENCES


Maroon Bells, Colorado, Internet Domain

Hiking into Maroon Bells Colorado on a cool summer morning and emerging from the aspen trees into view of a clear mountain lake reflecting the twin Maroon Bells peaks was one of those memorable transcendent experiences. The entire glacial valley is shaped like a grand cathedral with the wind playing the quaking aspen leaves in chorus with the bird songs echoing from the pines. I turned to my wife and whispered, “If God seeks sanctuary anywhere in the universe, it has to be in this place.” Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that nature is a manifestation of and a portal to God. If you look deeply into a blooming flower, you see the face of God.

And then there was the experience a few years ago in our own church sanctuary that even over-shadowed walking into Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on a Sunday morning as the choir raised a hymn in praise. Our choir was breaking out into the classic Easter hymn of Christ the Lord is Risen Today on a very overcast morning. Then as the choir and congregation unified into a spirit-charged crescendo, sunbeams burst through the clear glass vertical windows in concert with the raw human emotions being expressed at that moment. Time stood still for everyone in attendance and we were transformed into a greater reality or mode of being, comprehending a deep and powerful sense of meaning.

Emily Smith in The Power of Meaning notes that “This is the power of transcendence. The word transcend means to go beyond or to climb. A transcendent, or mystical, experience is one in which we feel that we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality…transcendence is sometimes described through the metaphor of flight…Many people have had transcendent experiences and they consider them among the most meaningful and important events in their lives.”

These transcendent moments inspire a sense of awe within our whole being. They also leave us with a calm spiritual feeling of mystically being one with a greater divine consciousness as the ego is absorbed and connected into it. As I traveled in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land recently, I fully expected to have multiple experiences of elevated awe. But the reality is that most locations where significant events took place are only approximations and generally have stone churches built over them. Of course, it’s important to understand that you are acknowledging the event and not the precise GPS location. However, there was one highlight of simple calm and awe as we embarked onto the Sea of Galilee. Our captain shut down the engines and allowed our replica boat to drift in the middle of the lake as scattered morning rain drops created circular rivulets across the mirrored surface. Just knowing that the Son of God and his fishermen disciples had undoubtedly been part of many similar experiences transcended the moment into one of peaceful awe.

Monday, May 1, 2017

THE SANDBOX


Little Tykes Green Turtle, Internet Domain

Warming days of spring that herald the lazy days of summer always prompt me to flash back to my idyllic days of childhood. I was one of the lucky ones that can say my parents provided me with a happy and innocent childhood. My adult years have revealed stories of children growing up that are beyond heartbreaking. Our family like many was anything but wealthy back then after two world wars, but we were living a good life without extraordinary hardships and America was embarking on a postwar period of peace and prosperity while much of the world was recovering from the devastation of those wars.

Children today are products of the digital age. Now a secondary definition of a sandbox is “a virtual space in which new or untested software can be run securely.” I recently observed a short clip of a young mother that was completely blocked out of her young daughter’s attention while the girl played games on her device. Activities that stimulate young minds are always productive if they are monitored by a responsible adult and not abused as substitutes for childcare. I think there are times when we don’t give a child enough credit for having a rich imagination. I could have a great time challenging imaginary swordsmen with a “Johnny Lightning” stick that I found lying on the ground after a wind storm. And there were no batteries to contend with like in a Star Wars lightsaber! But the good news is that we could purchase the classic Little Tykes Green Turtle sandbox for my young daughter and they still exist!

I have fond memories of spending hours in the simple sand box that my father built for us kids out of four two-X-six’s and a few bags of sand. He located the sandbox between our neighboring houses under the shade of a spreading elm tree. As a child of the postwar boom, I had the requisite platoon of plastic green soldiers along with cowboys and Indians. Ironically, many of the poor-quality props in the sandbox were Made in Japan. But I had them all engaged in epic battles to the end. These episodes became even more intense around July 4 when combatants could be seen loudly hurling out of the box from Black Cat land mines that wandering terrorist felines had planted overnight.

Neighborhood kids would meander over and join in the action which provided the basis for some lasting childhood friends. As we grew older, the toy soldiers and cowboys were set aside for other interests, as poignantly depicted in the movie Toy Story. I recently stumbled across a couple of survivors in a priceless cigar box once used by my grandfather of boyhood treasures that I’ve managed to keep all these years. I’m certain the Littlest Angel and God’s newborn son would have treasured them also. But the good news is that my senior years still include moments of intense imagination as I visualize my path out of challenging sand bunkers on the golf course. Sometimes I wonder if my brain gets melancholy and steers me into these hazards just for old time’s sake! And when that becomes too much of a hassle, there’ s always the sandy Carolina beaches.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

STORYTELLING


NICU, NWM, Chicago, IL

"Where's the good?” the young father asked himself on the eve of his young daughter Kate’s third brain surgery after being struck by a car. Their story is related by Emily Smith in The Power of Meaning who posits that storytelling is one of the pillars of meaning in our lives. Anthropologist Mary Bateman notes that storytelling is an act of creation improvising like a jazz musician. Smith observes storytelling translates into an effort to make sense of the world and impose order on disorder, creating a coherent narrative.

The third surgery followed months of therapy and was scheduled to replace the piece of Kate’s skull that had been initially removed to ease pressure on her brain. Kate’s father found the redemption he sought shortly after Kate came out from under the anesthesia. Hospital staff began to enter the recovery room one at a time to introduce themselves. Most of them began by stating that “You don’t remember me but…I was the admitting physician when you came into the ER, I was the nurse with the operating team, I was the chaplain on duty that spent time with your parents, I was the social worker on your case, I was the nurse that cared for you for the first days after your accident.”

The last visitor of smiling faces was the nurse that worked with Kate during the long summer days of therapy. Kate’s father thanked the nurse for coming by to wish Kate the best, but remarked “There’s something else going on here, isn’t there?” The nurse responded that “for every ten kids we see with this injury, nine of them die. There is only one Kate. We need to come back and we need to see her, because she is what keeps us coming back to work in this place every day.”

The young father later reflected that this redemption “doesn’t make the crisis worthwhile, but it makes it worth something.” Psychologist Dan McAdams concludes that people rate their lives more meaningful when they have redemptive stories to tell about extraordinary events in their lives. These stories come from scars that have healed over wounds that make a lasting impact on the person’s life.

When a monitor indicated a slight blip of concern for my newborn grandson, he was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at Northwestern Medical in Chicago. Thankfully, there was no problem, but the ensuing few days of cautionary testing were intensely stressful and bonding, although positive. The unit is locked and staffed with advanced technology and extraordinarily competent, nurturing specialists and practitioners.

We quickly got to know one of the senior nurses on the night shift who had returned out of retirement on weekends. She assured us that my grandson would be fine. I asked how she managed to keep it together all these years while working in this intense environment with premature infants and critically ill newborns. One in eight babies is born prematurely in the United States. The senior nurse responded that within the past few weeks, she was requested to report to the front lobby. When she entered the lobby a young mother introduced herself and then asked her twin daughters to introduce themselves. They told her that they were the preemie twins that she had nursed to health during their first weeks of life and they wanted to meet her and personally give her a hug of thanks. “That’s why I can get up and come to this place, even out of retirement”, the nurse replied with a smile.

Adam Gopnik observes in The New Yorker that when stories are told well they “levitate the room.” The emcee of The Moth where these stories are shared concludes that storytelling “is reaching out into the void and connecting with people and letting them know they’re not alone.” Kinda like a blog post.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

FEEDING PEOPLE


Free Taco, Jamestown, NC

OUR PURPOSE

“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 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

MY TRIBE


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

SIGNALS IN THE NOISE


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

EASTER APPARITION HAIKU


Apparition, Glenola, NC

The apparition,
was moving from west to east,
sunset to sunrise.

Formed like cirrus clouds,
but much lower in the sky,
appearing quickly!

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?

An apparition,
revealed Christ to the Wise Men,
announcing his birth.

An angel of God,
revealed His second birth to
Mary Magdalene.

Look to the sunrise,
symbolizing victory,
on Easter morning!

Friday, April 14, 2017

HELPING ROAD WARRIORS POWER UP


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

LAND OF NOD HAIKU


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.