Monday, May 29, 2017

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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

RED TULIP CHALICE HAIKU


Tulip Chalice, Greensboro, NC

Holy Grail tulip,
symbolic of Black Friday,
and blood shed for us.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

CONSCIOUSNESS



Waves, Jamestown, NC
Particles, Jamestown, NC


Science has been making some very profound discoveries and observations lately. USA TODAY announced in 2014 that the “smoking gun” needed to validate the inflation theory of the Big Bang has now been detected by a telescope in Antarctica. The team of U.S. scientists detected the tiny ripples in the cosmic microwave background that affected light created some 13.5 billion years ago. The universe was smaller than a marble just after the Big Bang when it expanded violently and instantaneously. The Bible is no science book and the narrative in Genesis simply states that our God, a conscious spiritual being, spoke the universe into existence. The three big things that astrophysicists are still looking for in the cosmos are dark matter, dark energy and extraterrestrial life. And science still does not have a good scientific answer for the creation of the universe.

Dr. Robert Lanza has been voted the third most important scientist alive by the NY Times. His initial background was in the biology field, but lately he has ventured into the world of physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics. His biological perspective has enabled him to recently coin the term “biocentrism”, which postulates that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe. In fact, he reasons that since the ultrafine-tuned laws, forces and constants of the universe sustain life, intelligence must have existed prior to matter. And it is consciousness that creates the material universe, not the common reverse theory. The mystery that is our consciousness can be defined as being mindful or aware of oneself as a thinking, feeling being. Our perception of our surroundings is limited to the brain’s interpretation of the stimuli received from our five senses. We humans have enough receptor cones in our eyes to see a rainbow of colors, but a dog cannot distinguish orange or red. “Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no observer is present”? We perceive the “sound” when disturbed air waves reach our ear drum and electrical impulses are interpreted by our brain. But no sound exists without an observer! The same logic follows with our other senses. Space and time are merely tools for our animal understanding and our God transcends them both.

Folks naturally identify themselves with their body, as we are conscious mortal beings. Many believe that when the body perishes, that’s it. But Lanza agrees with other scientists that no physical laws exist which would prohibit the existence of multiple universes. And our consciousness and soul may have been created right along with everything else at the Big Bang. Our nervous system and brain could be the receptors of this consciousness and the primary sites of quantum processing until our body expires. And then this information with our consciousness merges into another dimension apart from the body. In an era that now routinely resuscitates human bodies from clinical death, especially heart failures, more and more folks are returning back to the living with extraordinary spiritual accounts that try our sensibilities. The spectacular colors some perceive can only be related to our earthly experience with rare jewels.

One of the fascinating and thought-provoking premises of biocentrism is that “the animal observer creates reality and not the other way around…without perception there can be no reality”. Quantum theory tells us that everything in nature has a particle nature and a wave nature. Lanza discusses the “act of observation” in a famous two-hole experiment which “goes straight to the core of quantum physics…if one watches a sub-atomic particle or a bit of light pass through slits in a barrier…it behaves like a particle…it logically passes through one or the other hole…But if the scientists do not observe the particle, then it exhibits the behavior of waves that retain the right to exhibit all possibilities, including somehow passing through both holes at the same time”. German physicist Max Born demonstrated back in 1926 that quantum waves are waves of probability, not waves of material. This phenomenon applies to small discrete particles like photons or electrons. Large objects like a bus have smaller wavelengths that are too close together to be measured. A subatomic particle has been defined as a set of relationships that reach out and interconnect, not with objects, but with other interconnections. Lanza concludes that “without consciousness, matter dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state”. The Bible informs us that human beings were created for relationship with the reasoning power and free will to make the conscious decision to either accept or reject other human beings and even our Creator.

Bernard Haisch has proposed a mind bending theory about consciousness in his book, “The God Theory”. He contends that “ultimately it is consciousness that is the origin of matter, energy, and the laws of nature in this universe and all others that may exist. And the purpose is for God to experience his potential. God’s ideas and abilities become God’s experience in the life of every sentient being…God experiences the richness of his potential through us because we are the incarnations of him in the physical realm.” Many scientists are proponents of the universe of reductionism in which “everything can be reduced to the behavior of particles of matter and energy”, completely apart from any spiritual connection. As a learned astrophysicist Ph.D., he contends that our consciousness is the ultimate connection to God, the spiritual creative force in the universe and the source of all consciousness. While we are in our everyday state of consciousness, we remain aware of our surroundings through the filter of the physical world. But mystics who are conditioned to enter the unfiltered state of ultimate consciousness or nirvana experience a state of peace, love and bliss, something Haisch defines as “a concentration point within a single universal consciousness”. Haisch writes that “My inner life of thought and awareness utterly denies that my consciousness is nothing more than an inanimate, chemical creation. I know better, and so do you.”

Consciousness exists apart from the body and survives death. The temporary physical world was created for the development and evolution of conscious human beings. Our natural timeless home lies in the wider supernatural realm of our conscious spiritual Creator. We are not only IN this universe, but we are OF this universe. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians (4:4-5), "There is one body and one spirit...one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”. And we were created in God's image!

"The human consciousness is really homogeneous. There is no complete forgetting, even in death."--D.H. Lawrence

Thursday, March 23, 2017

WOOD WIDE WEBS



Blue Ridge Forest, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Forest Floor, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC


Enchanted forests are a thing of fairy tales where trees like the legendary Ents walk and talk and live in community—or are they? I’ve always enjoyed watching videos of graceful long legged and long necked giraffes on the African savannah browsing for food among the tree top canopies of umbrella thorn acacias. But I missed the subtle movement of these giraffes as they suddenly stopped eating and moved about 100 yards away to another acacia. Peter Wohlleben writes in his New York Times bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees, that scientists recently discovered that the acacia trees immediately had begun to pump toxic substances into their leaves to ward off the herbivores. They also began to give off a warning gas of ethylene to signal neighboring acacias of the danger.

When an insect attacks beeches, spruce, and oaks they register pain as soon as the creatures begin to eat their leaves. The leaf tissue immediately begins to send out very slow electrical signals so that within hours defensive materials reach the leaves. The trees even release pheromones to summon beneficial predators. Surprisingly, both chemical and electrical signals are sent through fungal networks around tree roots. Individual tree roots extend more than twice the spread of the crown and become intermingled among other tree roots forming a “wood wide web”. There is an Oregon underground fungus colony known as mycelium that is estimated to be over 2,400 years old and extends for 2,000 acres. These signals are then passed along to other neighbors in the forest. Scientists have found that networked trees even share nutrients with each other if one of the trees is struggling and they will even keep a cut stump on life support for years, especially if the stump belonged to a harvested mother tree that had nourished the younger trees which are now thriving in the opened space.

Wohlleben writes that “A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.” He noted that a pair of trees that grow up alongside one another allowing each partner to share life-giving light and not infringing with dense branches in each other’s space have a sort of symbiotic relationship. And they can become so tightly interconnected at the roots that sometimes they even die together.

Dr. Suzanne Simard coined the term “wood wide web” after researching and writing her doctoral paper. She was studying the mystery of the decline of Douglas firs in Vancouver plantations where paper birches had been weeded out. After injecting stable and radioactive isotopes in a forest with both fir and beeches, she found that they were actively exchanging photosynthetic carbon in a mutually beneficial network! Each took different turns as “mother” depending on the season in a synergistic relationship similar to a caring human social network.

Isn’t it amazing that we humans can still learn so much for our own survival by observing the awesome behavior of the created nature around us?

PS
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is today. I've finally realized that also applies to a lot of other things like going to the gym. And the best definition of a legacy is planting a tree whose shade you will never sit under.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

WATCHING YOUTH SPORTS


Youth Soccer, Leawood Kansas

I remember playing sports as a kid and listening to all the parents in the stands or on the sidelines shouting at the top of their lungs to their children on the field. Fortunately, I don’t recall that my parents did that to me. If they had, I might have quit organized sports long before I had played my last game. I still enjoy the challenge and camaraderie of sports, but I also keep it in perspective. I don’t like to lose and I play to win, but losing or hitting a bad shot only inspires me to work a little harder and practice a little more.

I never made it into the big time in sports. At my age, I definitely won’t ever make it into the big time! But I’m OK with that outcome as long as I’m still able to answer the bell and walk out onto the first tee of a beautiful golf course and drive the ball between the ditches onto the short grass. I once reported to a vice president that called all of us direct reports into his office one Monday morning. He had a short and direct message for us; “I understand you guys have been playing a lot of golf lately. If I ever hear that any of you has a single digit handicap, you’re fired because you obviously aren’t spending enough time on the job!” I’m still not sure if he was joking or not, but I never played enough golf to find out or win a tournament because I realized that it was important to find a balance in the basic aspects of my life—family, spiritual, work and leisure.

When I found myself on the sidelines with a young daughter on the field, I remembered the calls from parents when I played sports. My wife and I agreed early on that we would work on controlling our criticisms and focus on practice and encouragement. We discussed the proposition that we’d remain supportive of any initiative as long as we observed that she was giving it her best effort. And she always did that. But there were still parents beside us that I’m certain thought they were challenging their daughters to play better with shouts of “Hustle Jackie, Hustle!” And that only seemed to get negative results.

I recently ran across a shared article by Alex Flanagan, Ilovetowatchyouplay.com about youth sports that caught my attention. She quoted a thirty-year study where kids of all ages were asked “what their parents could say about the sports they played that would make them feel confident and fulfilled. Turns out the words children most want to hear from Mom and Dad are ‘I love to watch you play.’ It’s that easy.” And now that my retired soccer playing daughter and son-in-law have blessed our lives with a beautiful active grandson, I need to brand that advice into my aging brain for the duration!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I AM THE STORM


Meme, Colorado Plains

I converted one of my favorite photographs into a meme that I took years ago on the eastern plains of Colorado as a menacing summer storm approached with lightning, dark clouds and gusting winds. The stalwart wooden windmill had obviously weathered many such storms of life and was still resolutely standing tall, bracing itself to take on one more--and converting the winds into its own power!

This image speaks to me honoring the strength of the land, its people and the resilience of the human spirit.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

REVEALING SECRETS HAIKU



Whirling Sunbeams, Jamestown, NC
Mottled Sunbeams, Jamestown, NC


Bright whirling sunbeams,
streak to the labyrinth core,
revealing secrets.

The colors within,
encapsulated in glass,
dye secret gardens.

Camellia blooms,
absorb colors and unfurl,
revealing secrets.

Warm mottled sunbeams,
belie tomorrow’s secret,
of spring snow showers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

LOVE PERSONIFIED HAIKU


Instant Love, Chicago, IL

An imminent birth,
soon became reality,
and a child was born.

I scheduled a flight,
and traveled one thousand miles,
to meet my grandson.

I entered the room,
where the young child was laying,
serenely sleeping.

He was gently raised,
and I held a miracle,
love personified.

Friday, February 10, 2017

STRENGTHENING OUR LIVES


Sunrise Exercise, Body & Spirit, Kiawah Island, SC

Supervised physical therapy was a very critical aspect for the replacement of both my knee joints. I had known of others that complained the procedure hadn’t given them a whole lot of mobility, but they had also admitted that the difficult therapy caused them too much pain, so they didn’t finish the recovery process. Irreversible scar tissue immediately begins to form in the affected areas which is why it is so important to immediately begin physical therapy and overcome it. Also, my orthopedic doctor counseled me that I would know when to come back in for the operation based on how debilitating the joint would become. Since it is a natural reaction to favor a bum knee, we also allow the muscles and tendons around the joint to atrophy and they need to be stretched back into a stronger state that supports the joint. No pain, no gain!

All the above dictates that we begin physical therapy immediately after an operation. And the process sends natural pain signals to the brain that this area is experiencing some trauma. Normally, we associate these signals with something that is causing harm to our body and we react to neutralize the cause. But thankfully, I received a great reverse key thought from my therapist that sustained me to the end of a successful recovery. Her experience led her to remind me to focus on what was really going on in my body. She told me to focus on the key understanding that the perceived negative signals I was receiving were simply my body and brain communicating that I was experiencing “the process of weakness leaving my body”, being replaced by strength. This also applies to regular exercise and the consequences of ignoring it.

The process is definitely in play for our spirits. I still maintain that the only explanation for living in a broken world is the free will our Creator bestowed on us so that our relationships would be real. This was a big risk that could have only been made by a Creator that wanted us to grow in his created image. Creating beings that don’t have the free will to accept or reject doesn’t allow for the possibility of genuine love. Allowing us to make our own good or bad choices requires an environment in which they exist. I believe it didn’t have to be that way. We could have been created for eternal worship and left in a perfect environment, as other beings created before us. But genuine unconditional love requires work and good choices. It also requires grace when we imperfect beings fall. Love is strengthened when pain enters our lives and we have the desire and relationship that drives us to work through the trauma together.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

REVERENT ROSES HAIKU


Hellebore, Jamestown, NC

Winter is waning,
when Lenten Roses appear,
reverently bowed.

February sun,
and blustery March wind gusts,
shake stalks heavenward.

Colorful flowers,
emerge from the center roots,
amid forest floors.

Lenten Hellebores,
sprouted from a young girl’s tears,
as a gift for Christ.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

AUTO SENIOR MOMENTS


Parking Lot, Greensboro, NC

I used to enjoy listening to my older friends and relatives relate their humorous senior moments. It happens to all of us eventually and it can certainly be tragic for some, but if we can laugh at these moments while we still can, it takes the sting out of those golden years.

Within the past few years I’ve experienced a few of these moments myself that revolved around the possibility of my vehicle being carjacked! I like the old story of the senior couple that drove to the shopping center one day. The husband was complaining all the way there that he didn’t like to go shopping, so the wife just told him to drop her off and pick her up in an hour. Forty-five minutes later she finished shopping and proceeded to walk to the location where she usually parked her car. As she searched for her keys, she realized that she must have left them in the ignition again! When it became obvious that the car was missing, she called 911 on her cell phone and reported her car stolen. She waited for a while hoping for a miracle and then reluctantly called her husband who had repeatedly admonished her for leaving the keys in the car. When he finally answered, she hesitantly blurted out that her car had been stolen! “Are you kidding me?”, he barked, “I dropped you off!” Embarrassed, she replied, “Well come and get me then.” He retorted, “I will, as soon as I convince this police officer that I didn’t steal your damn car!”

I finally returned from a grueling five-day business trip on a delayed winter flight and slowly dragged my luggage down to the terminal’s parking garage. During those Road Warrior days, I always tried to park in the same location so that I could walk directly to my car on a late Friday night. That was one of the conveniences of the KC airport that has three identical terminals accommodating local travelers. As I approached the parking spot my heart raced to notice that my car was missing! My groggy brain processed all this and my first inclination was to call security and report that my car was stolen! Then the brain fog slowly lifted as I realized that I had transferred to another airline to outsmart the weather and all the cancelled flights. That airline was in one of the other duplicate terminals! I boarded a transfer bus and drove home.

A few years later and a few brain cells shorter, I pulled into the parking lot of a local restaurant with out-of-town guests late in the evening. We luckily found one of the last parking spaces and got all the doors unlocked and everyone exited out of the tight spot. As we were enjoying a nice bottle of Merlot with dinner, the manager stopped by our table and asked if we were driving a Buick? Perhaps my thinning white hair prompted the question, but we responded that we were not. In passing, she remarked that someone would possibly be out of gas when they returned since the engine was running with the keys in the car. We laughed and laughed. And only until we returned to the parking lot did we discover that my car was still quietly running!

Finally, I recently made the decision to buy a larger smart TV for my man cave to watch sports events including the impending Super Bowl. So, I did my Internet research and settled on a deal at Costco. I arranged for a friend with a pickup to meet me outside the store to cart it home. We made the connection and decided to have lunch at a nearby Panera. The conversation turned to the new Calloway Epic driver, so we made our way across the vast parking lot to Golf Galaxy for a test drive. By this time, it was getting late but we finally got the new TV installed. As I emerged into my garage the next morning, I was surprised to find that I must have left my car in the driveway overnight as I have done on occasion. But when I opened the garage door, it was missing from my driveway as well! My immediate reaction was that my car had been stolen! And then I realized that we had left it in the Costco parking lot all night.

Welcome to the Golden Years!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

RESUME & EULOGY VIRTUES


Line of Good & Evil, Internet Domain

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik has noted that the two accounts of creation in the book of Genesis represents the two opposing sides of our nature, which he labeled Adam I and Adam II. In the introduction to his book on character, David Brooks writes about the resume virtues of Adam I and the eulogy virtues of Adam II. In our initial struggle to survive in a very competitive material world we need our tool kit loaded with career-oriented and ambitious virtues that enable us to achieve success. We strive for victories and status as we build, create, produce, and discover. We list these attributes on our resumes and use these external achievements to support ourselves and our families. Our culture celebrates the Adam I side of our nature. The internal Adam II embodies aspects of our moral character. It’s these virtues that reveal themselves in our ability to love and connect with others. These are generally the attributes of living a moral life of faith in a greater authority and respecting our fellow journeymen which are extolled in the eulogies at our passing. This is the language of our life that people observe and choose to follow, as we have observed others that have gone before us.

As we age, we realize the importance of achieving a better balance in striving for more of a life of significance. Balance in life is good. We seek a life that acquires more meaning than money, status, or applause. We are interested in serving a higher purpose rather than our own selfish desires. As we pass through the storms of life we begin to understand that every experience of both joy and pain is never lost on those that have learned to profit from the experience. Brooks writes that “these are the people who have built a strong inner character, who have achieved a certain depth. In these people, at the end of this struggle, the climb to success has surrendered to the struggle to deepen the soul.”

Brooks concludes that people of character have generally solved life’s essential problem by using one of my favorite quotes from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”

Friday, January 27, 2017

CRUCIBLE CHARACTER MOMENTS



Potter's Kiln, Seagrove, NC
Radiant Crucible, Wrightsville Beach, NC


All of us are subject to the crucible of life at times which forms our character like a blacksmith’s crucible shapes and hardens iron to steel. The extreme heat of a potter's kiln transforms malleable clay into strong vessels. Some call this maturity. David Brooks writes in The Road to Character that there is one pattern that recurs on this road for people; “They had to go down to go up. They had to descend into the valley of humility to climb to the heights of character. The road to character often involves moments of moral crisis, confrontation, and recovery. When they were in a crucible moment, they suddenly had a greater ability to see their own nature. The everyday self-deceptions and illusions of self-mastery were shattered. They had to humble themselves in self-awareness if they had any hope of rising up transformed. Alice had to be small to enter Wonderland.”

I’ve also talked to people who have turned from praying to our creator because their requests never materialized. But we must be careful about our attitude of prayer. Not everything we ask for is provided or arrives on our time schedule. Asking to violate the natural laws of nature that God set in place or violating someone else’s free will doesn’t work either. And I’ve always liked the thought that we shouldn’t ask for an easy life, but rather a strong character.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LIVIN’ THE DREAM


Beach Holiday, Kiawah Island, SC

The Transmission of Generations

We had just been seated at a nice island restaurant along the Atlantic intracoastal waterway as a young man approached announcing that he would be our waiter for the evening. We were all in a holiday mood and after spending our day on the beach destressing, reading, and walking with the waves we were ready to cap off the day with a cocktail and dinner. I casually asked our waiter how it was going? Without hesitation, he smiled and much to our delight replied, “I’m livin’ the dream!” But whose dream?

In his book on The Road to Character, David Brooks writes “Some people seem to have been born into this world with a sense of indebtedness for the blessing of being alive. They are aware of the “transmission of generations”, what has been left to them by those who came before, their indebtedness to their ancestors, their obligations to a set of moral responsibilities that stretch across time.”

Despite all this country’s warts and troubles, I was among the lucky five percent or so of the world’s population to be born in America. Regardless of our circumstances, that endows all of us with a privilege and a responsibility for those we share this marvelous planet with every waking day. I have never known extended hunger and I have always had a warm bed to sleep in at night, except for those dubious adventures in the great outdoors. I arrived here strictly by the grace of God and the sacrifice of my great grandparents who journeyed here on those same Atlantic waves that I've wandered into on many occasions.

I have no doubt that those folks who shared much of my DNA did not have nearly the good life I’ve been blessed with so far. Their hard lives were probably the exact antithesis of mine. But I believe they had faith and a dream for a better life for their children and their children’s children. That would be me and now I’m living that dream, so I need to honor the “transmission of generations” that got me to this place and time. And invest in “paying it forward” for others, like my great grandparents did for me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

WINDS



Wind Woman, OKC, OK
Wooden Windmill, Western KS


Native Americans of the Kansa tribe that lived in the central prairies were known as the “people of the south wind”. Growing up on the plains of central Kansas made it easy to understand why. It seems as if there is always a wind of some sort blowing across this land and the summer winds are most noticeably from the south. Without even being consciously aware of it, I came to know that this invisible energy force had become an integral part of my existence. Shortly after our family had transferred to the Carolinas, we were sitting outside on the deck one calm evening. And I remarked that I had finally realized what was subliminally missing—it was the perpetual movement of the winds that had been replaced by a calm silence.

The native Indians prayed to the Great Spirit of the South to melt the ice that gathers around our hearts with the warm breath of compassion. They were wise to associate these summer winds with the growing season—winds that could shake the tall corn stalks up towards the heavens. I’ve been fascinated by these natives all my life because I believe they lived a harsh but harmonious life out in God’s creation every day of their lives. They were convinced of the existence of a Great Spirit and the sacredness of the earth. Much wisdom is lost when we distance ourselves from direct contact with the land and sky. Violent storms are fueled by moisture laden southerly winds from the Gulf of Mexico colliding with colder air dropping down from Canada into the central plains. These powerful events generally produce circular updrafts to form the intense whirling and straight line winds that serve as reminders of our fragile existence. Summer storms in the plains with their towering thunderheads personify the energy and majesty of God’s character.

Because God is a conscious spiritual being, His presence is more to be felt than seen. I've intimately felt His presence while walking the beach with the ocean's breezes, sitting under ancient pines as the wind sang in the needles through Colorado canyons, standing by the Dead Sea at Qumran while dry desert winds shifted the sands, and quietly listened to gentle breezes rustling the leaves in my own back yard.

The warm southerly winds are a welcome relief to naturally cool sweaty brows and backs. Red tail hawks glide easily on this uplifting wind beneath their wings. I learned that lesson early on while bailing hay under the Kansas sun. That was quite possibly the most exhilarating, fulfilling, healthy, dusty, and honest sweaty work I ever accomplished in my entire life. When we’re out in God’s creation and enjoying the experience of the life He has given to us, we can begin to feel His presence. I believe God is in these winds more so than anything else in His created universe. And these caressing breezes provide closeness for some of the most sublime moments in our life as a child of God.

FOOTNOTE:
Dodge City, Kansas had the highest overall average wind speed last year while Nashville, Tennessee had the most wind events at 21 in the USA. The Windy City of Chicago wasn't even in the top ten as that moniker was tagged in the 1800's because of their "hot air" politicians! —USA TODAY 1/17/17

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

CIVIL DISCOURSE


Civil Protest, Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL

I drove through Starbucks on my way home from the gym and ordered a coffee and a "cold" cranberry-orange scone for tomorrow's breakfast. The sweet disembodied speaker voice responded, "OK, would you like that warmed?" At least a dozen replies immediately raced through my brain, overloading millions of synapses. Sometimes we listen to learn and sometimes we listen to reply. Then civil discourse prevailed and I simply said, "No, cold please." I'm admittedly no model of behavior, but wouldn't it be nice if all our politicians and celebrities just put it on pause for a change? We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

About sixty-three million people in the United States recently voted for Trump and sixty-six million people voted for Clinton. A Hollywood actress just used an artistic achievement show as bully pulpit (ironically a term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt) to call out the bullying behavior of the president-elect and set off a national firestorm on social media. One defender reminded folks of the bully behavior towards an opposing candidate by his own party. Another observer stated that divisive language attempts to divide us but it only serves to unite us (into two polarized factions!). Scanning these comments was disheartening as both sides were name blaming and disrespecting one another like an out-of-control second-grade class with a substitute teacher. Einstein warned us that technology had outran our humanity and the founding father of our country admonished us saying “every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” Welcome to the new digital social world where it’s too easy to say things to other brothers that we would never say to their face with thousands of people present.

You know, it’s possible that a “canary in the coal mine” that we should all pay attention to is the trending lack of attendance in our country’s churches. It just may be reflecting the state of our culture as well. Paul issued a warning about this condition in his letter to the Galatians (5:15), “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Since Paul addressed this problem over two thousand years ago, I guess it’s safe to say that it’s not a new problem. And that gives us hope that it’s a problem that has solutions. Dwight Currie observed that “we have a choice about how we behave, and that means we have the choice to opt for civility and grace.”

George Elliot, aka Mary Anne Evans, ended her greatest novel, Middlemarch, celebrating those who lead humble, everyday lives; “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who live faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Elaine A. Heath is the dean of Duke Divinity School and she writes in her book God Unbound that “The strongest quality a congregation can exhibit in the community is to love well—within and beyond the walls of the church.” I think that also goes for a country and a world. Fran├žois Fenelon noted that “all wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

LIFE’S CRUCIBLE


New Year's Sunset, Jamestown, NC

NEW YEAR'S DAY, 2017


Emerging from one of life’s “crucible moments”
doesn’t mean we are healed,
but we will be different,
and that’s OK.

A sunset is life’s way
of acknowledging this,
and giving us something beautiful,
as we journey on.