Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The (Reverend Dr. Martin Luther) King and I

I never met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Never marched with him or heard him speak.  We both graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary.  King graduated in 1951.  I graduated nineteen years later.  King and I both heard the lectures of Dr. Kenneth L. Smith, Crozer Professor of Christian Ethics, who urged his students to work for social change.  I met King's wife Coretta at the Philadelphia airport years ago, and I once talked with his daughter Bernice on the telephone.  I've listened to his recorded speeches and I've read most of his writings.  Not much of a connection to warrant the title, "King and I."

Yet there is a deeper connection.  That connection has to do with our common commitment to the Christian faith.  King and I are soul-mates at the point of our commitment.  King and I, and that great cloud of witnesses, who have gone before us, and who are yet to come, affirm that we are called to "overthrow the existing order!"  We proclaim that the world as we know it is broken.  A little mending here and there will not do the trick.  A new world is in the making.  Even now we experience "the birth pangs of [that] new creation."  It is not just a change within an individual life (though it must begin there) but it is a new order that overcomes the existing inequalities of our society--both here at home and abroad.  There are so many!  King and I share a dream.  It is a dream that sees beyond today and looks to the future from a mountaintop.  From that vantage point we can see a day coming when everyone will have equal pay for equal work, when all shall be accepted (regardless of race, creed, or gender) and given an opportunity to be all that they are meant to be.  There are times when, standing on that mountaintop,  my eyes fog up and I have difficulty seeing.  Can this dream really be?  Yes, it can be and it will be.  It is happening now, and will be happening tomorrow.  Will you be a part of "overthrowing the existing order" and bring this dream to reality?

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Epiphany Dream

Epiphany's dream is that all people (Wise Persons from the East, Jews, Gentiles, Shepherds, yes, even King Herod, and the children of Bethlehem too) are to be accepted and valued, not because they hold a particular faith, or hold my values or yours, and not because they adhere to the same laws as you and I do, but simply because they (we) are all human beings.  If we give credence to God creating man/woman, then we must, or so it seems to me, accept the Quaker notion that there is "that of God" in all persons.  We are all human!

The distinctions or categories we have made up:  Us/Them; Democrat/Republican; East/West; Christian/Jew/Muslim; Black/White; Male/Female; have no place in the Epiphany dream.  Indeed, these separations are really ludicrous!  We are all human!

Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the words penned by Shakespeare in the "Merchant of Venice":

"Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?  If you prick us do we not bleed?  If you tickle us do we not laugh?  If you poison us do we not die?"

You can substitute any of your categories in place of the word "Jew" and it still gives the same message.  The Epiphany dream could become REALity if we would simply accept and value one another, and work hard to avoid our made-up categories.  We are all human!  We are meant to become community.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Born To Be Odd!

There was nothing anyone could do about it.  Some tried.  Mrs. Constable, a second grade teacher made an attempt.  It failed. Mrs. Morse, a fourth grade teacher also tried unsuccessfully.  Nothing could be done.  I was born left-handed!

Being odd is not easy.  Mrs. Morse told me I'd never be able to write with a fountain pen.  You see I write with my left-hand turned upside down.  This creates smudges on whatever I have written in the lines above.  That doesn't work well when using a fountain pen.  Mrs. Morse's comment stayed with me for years.  Then, in my college years, I took up the challenge and began to write with a fountain pen and I still do.

Growing up being odd created many problems.  Every instrument, tool, and even spiral notebooks are made for right-handed people.  I tried to play soft ball.  I'd catch the ball, pull off the glove on my left hand and then throw the ball with my left!  I soon gave up that sport after much teasing.  There is a glove for left-handed people, but I never had one.

When I was forty years old a friend gave me left-handed scissors.  For years I found using scissors (right-handed scissors) a real chore and avoided the use of them.  I enjoy wood-working, but every table saw, band saw, hand saw, and most other wood-working tools are made for right-handed people.  Even automobiles are made for right-handed people, as are lawn mowers, chain saws, weed whackers, etc.

Have you ever seen a right-handed person and a left-handed person paint together?  It's hilarious.  The right-handed person sets the ladder one way (the right way) and starts in the "right" corner.  The left-handed person sets the ladder just the opposite way and starts in an opposite (that is, odd) corner.

So, I'm odd.  I've been this way for threescore and ten years.  I don't count it a disability.  I've managed to survive in this right-hand world.  I just wish Mrs. Morse could see me writing with a fountain pen!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Prayer That Went Flat!

The old '67 yellow VW bug moved right along that morning as if it knew the importance of the mission:  to open the State Legislature with prayer.  Just a short distance from the Harbor Tunnel, however, that little "yellow canary" began to hum and to sing, and then to wobble and shake.  A flat tire!  No problem.  It could be fixed quickly and I would soon be on my way and make it to Annapolis on time.  Unfortunately, my teenage son had borrowed the lug wrench and forgot to return it.  Now what?  The last exit before the tunnel was behind me--only an on-ramp was available to avoid driving through the tunnel with a flat tire.  So I backed down the shoulder of the on-ramp with the buses, trucks and cars going the right way giving me welcoming horn toots and other signs.

Frantically, I looked for some place where the tire could be fixed--and at last, found one.  It was a non-descript gas station that appeared to do small auto repairs.  I went in, extremely frustrated by then, and told the attendant my story.  "I'm on my way," I said, "to Annapolis to give the opening prayer for the State Legislature this morning.  Can you fix this tire right away?"  He looked at me strangely and with a slight smile, nodded and agreed to put on the spare.   The minutes were ticking by.  Finally the "bug" was ready to go.  I asked, "What do I owe you?" and thanked him profusely.  He replied, "No charge.  I can't charge someone who can come up with a story like that praying in Annapolis business."  I assured him that it was not a joke.  I really was going to give that prayer and would like to pay him for his trouble.  "No," he said, "you go on and make that prayer a good one.  Those government people in Annapolis need all the help they can get."

The VW bug purred on to Annapolis and I arrived a half-hour late, missing the photo shoot and the opportunity to get together with the law-makers before the session began.  Several security guards were watching for a "yellow VW bug" to arrive and escorted me into a parking slot, and rushed me into the building.  With great relief, the delegate who had invited me to give the prayer, was there waiting with bated breath.  She had called her staff together to help her write a prayer in the event I didn't show up!  It was time for the prayer--the session was about to begin.  I failed to compensate the nice fellow who fixed my tire, who had urged me to make a good prayer to help those people in Annapolis.  I fear that prayer went flat.  There were no signs then and no signs now, as far as I can tell, that there has been any divine guidance given those "government people."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reconnecting: The Joy and the Pain

Bing and I first met in a Sunday school class in 1953.  We connected again in high school graduating together in the Class of 1960.  Then we went our separate ways.  Bing joined the Navy.  I enlisted in the Air Force.  He went to Morocco.  I went to Crete.  The years went by, each of us living out our unique journey--marriage, vocation, children and grandchildren, and the experiences, struggle, and cares as life tumbled in on us.
On February 5, 2012, fifty-two years after our graduation from high school, Bing and I were reunited.  Realizing we could not share all the happenings of those many years in a single phone call, we agreed to communicate through Email.   We wrote day after day of our experiences through the years.  Bing wrote that he had been diagnosed with cancer some months earlier and was receiving treatment.  I wrote that I would be in his area in March and perhaps we could meet.

What a joyous time we had together!  We talked and talked for hours.  After that visit we continued to connect electronically and by phone.  The radiation and chemo treatments, the frequent hospitalizations and surgeries often made that communication difficult.  Some days Bing would call, barely able to speak, but needing company.  We planned to meet again in September, but Bing was too weary to do so.  Still we continued to communicate with the means available to us.  Bing put up a mighty fight, winning some battles, but he could not win the war.  He died, just one year and 23 days after our reconnecting, on March 1, 2013.

The joy of reconnecting with a friend of the past is an experience beyond words to express.  The pain of reconnecting with Bing, my friend of the past, makes the following words of poetry poignant.

Here are the struggles and striving;
Here are the cares and the tears;
Now is the time to be smoothing
The frowns, and the furrows and fears.
What, to closed ears, are kind sayings
What, to hushed heart, is deep vow?
Naught can avail after parting
So give them the flowers now!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Story of the "Flying" Squirrel

I went to the woods one autumn day to check on the cabin.  As I opened the door I was surprised to find it inhabited.  There were scurrying noises everywhere and from the loft and the rafters tiny black eyes stared down at me.  As I closed the door with a bang, little brown bodies began to fly everywhere over my head. "Flying" squirrels!  They don't really fly, but they have a flap of skin between their fore and hind legs which allow them to leap great distances.  Taking a jar from a shelf, I captured one of these creatures to take home to show my son.

That very summer we had caught a caterpillar and placed it in an aquarium.  We fed it milkweed leaves for weeks it seems.  The caterpillar ate and ate, leaf after leaf, until one day it began to wrap itself into a cocoon.  We observed the beautiful monarch butterfly emerge some time later.  Luke was fascinated and I just knew he would enjoy seeing the rarely seen nocturnal flying squirrel.

Luke was thrilled.  A few days later we carried the aquarium with the squirrel back to the woods to release it.  But that squirrel would neither leap nor fly; it would not budge from its corner in the aquarium.  We tried to force it out, but it refused to accept its freedom.  After several attempts, we used a stick to lift the squirrel up a little and found attached to her tummy three tiny hairless infants.  Now what were we to do?

We carried the mother and her children back home much to my wife's chagrin.  A large cage was built and placed on the back porch.  The cage even included an exercise wheel!  We gathered corn from the fields and acorns from the woods to insure our "flying" squirrels had appropriate nourishment through the long winter months.  What fun it was to watch that mother care for her infants and the infants grow into an adulthood.  When spring came, both mother and offspring were released back into the wild.  I don't remember what happened to the fancy cage!  I do remember the poem Luke wrote many years later:

The Art of Lifting Stones
Lifting rocks in the forest marsh,
I smell the decrepit moss
and the life of the underneaths
of things as the earth's crust crumbles.
Insects flee the light and cold air
like criminals under search-lights,
except a slug who creeps away
aloof as a glacier.
Ant refugees scurry from my eye,
tugging their larvae like luggage
over a ravaged countryside.
But they do not perceive me,
only the fear, fragmented light.
My father taught me this:  to turn
over rocks on banks of streams, to glimpse
crayfish stirring in clouds of mud mist,
to watch turtlebugs ball up like porcupines,
or panic, darting into crumbling tunnels
like dreams upon waking.  But this above all;
to return gently all stones, to allow dampness
darkness, to let dreams creep
hidden under sleep, to leave things
as they are, snug in the body of God.
But I searched the streams dry
and tossed all shadows aside;
I wanted God to have no place to hide.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany Moments [Not to be confused with Senior Moments]

Today is Epiphany, a Christian festival celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Christ to the Gentiles.  In the west, it is normally represented by the story of those wise persons of long ago who had sense enough and faith enough to follow a mysterious star!  In the east, it is represented by the baptism of Christ.  Epiphany has come and now is the time to "show forth" or "manifest" that divine birth of Love that has happened to some degree within every human heart this Christmas.  The real work of Christmas can now begin.

The word, epiphany,  also describes an experience of sudden, unexpected and striking revelation or realization, which often seems to come from outside ourselves.  It is a moment when we are struck with a sudden recognition of truth, either about a problem, situation, circumstance, or even some truth about ourselves.  An epiphany moment occurs when out of nowhere we gain a new and deeper perspective of what is real, or what is true.  It is an eye opening, mind opening, spirit opening, and often a life changing experience.  Epiphany moments come to us when least expected.  We cannot make such moments happen--they just happen!

One such epiphany moment is found in this excerpt from Nikos Kazantzakis', Zorba the Greek.

"I dressed and went down to the water's edge. I walked quickly.  I was gay, as if I had escaped from a danger or a sin.  My indiscreet desire of that morning to pry into and know the future before it was born suddenly appeared to me a sacrilege.

I remembered one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as the butterfly was making a hole in his case and preparing to come out.  I waited a while, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient.  I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it.  I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life.  The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled.  The wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them.  Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath.  In vain.  It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun.  Now it was too late.  My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled before its time.  It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience.  For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature.  We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

I sat on a rock to absorb this New Year's thought.  Ah, if only that little butterfly could always flutter before me to show me the way."

Ah, if only we could have more epiphany moments.....

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas.  Tomorrow the work of Christmas must begin....

The Work of Christmas
[Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas]

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
    To find the lost,
    To heal the broken,
    To feed the hungry,
    To release the prisoner,
    To rebuild the nations,
    To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
    To make music in the heart.

Our best human resources will fall far short.  This work will take more than our own power, ambition, commitment, money, desire or belief to achieve.  The work of Christmas requires something far greater than we can muster.  It requires a new burst of  energy, a "divine birth" within us of a Love that exceeds our own limited capacities.  It is the purpose of Christmas to bring this burst of life, light and love to every human heart.   On this Twelfth Day, "Christmas," as Thurman puts it, "is waiting to be born:  In you, in me, in all humankind." 

Walnut carving, 1986
Photo by Nancy M. Reynolds
"Our best resources fall far short for
the work of Christmas."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

Today is the Eleventh Day of Christmas. 

Have you heard your annunciation yet?  Have you revisited the Bethlehem within your heart?  Have you found the Child? Are you following the guiding star?  We are always more apt to work with the outward stuff of Christmas rather than the inner stuff.  We prefer to deal with the trappings of the season rather than its real meaning.  The real business of Christmas is that something is supposed to happen and it is suppose to happen in us.  Love is meant to be born in us in some new way--a "divine birth."

I know this sounds preposterous, but the annunciation to Mary was preposterous too.  Indeed the whole Christmas narrative in the Gospels is a bit preposterous!

This Is the Season of Promise
[Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas]
Let the bells be silenced
Let the gifts be stillborn
Let cheer be muted
Let music be soundless
 Violence stalks the land:
    Soaring above the cry of the dying
    Rising above the whimper of the starving
    Floating above the flying machines of death
        Listen to the long stillness:
      New life is stirring
        New dreams are on the wing
        New hopes are being readied:
Mankind is fashioning a new heart
Mankind is forging a new mind
God is at work.
This is the Season of Promise.   (Preposterous?)

Woodcarving in oak, 1980.
Love is at the heart of all things,
waiting to be born anew in us
this Christmas.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Tenth Day of Christmas

Today is the Tenth Day of Christmas. 

"Christmas is a time when we are invited to revisit Bethlehem and to reconsider its miracle.  Bethlehem does not change and the miracle does not change, but we change, and the eyes with which we are able to see change.  Hence what we see from year to year is not the same, which makes this annual visit an adventure rather than a routine pilgrimage (Douglas V. Steere)." 

There are two more days of Christmas to experience.  There is still time to revisit Bethlehem, which is not some far off place, but rather the Bethlehem within every human heart.  It is here in this inner place that we will find the Child into whom God poured out His very being; all His love--demonstrating in human flesh His passionate care for each of us and the world in which we live.  Here, in this Bethlehem of the heart, we will find the Child, who became the Son of Man--being and doing what man and woman are called to do--letting God's passionate love shine through His life.  When we find the Child, we begin to know at a deeper level that Love is at the heart of all things.