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.