Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Long, Long Ago, Thanksgiving Day

I remember a long, long ago Thanksgiving Day that has always held a special place in my memory. I was very young, but I remember it with mind and heart.

The hunting season opened in early November back in that day and many came from distant cities and towns to the more rural areas (where we lived) to enjoy the sport.  The sportsmen came with much eagerness and in that eagerness were often careless.  During one particular hunting season, my Grandpa, walking from his house to his barn, was mistakenly shot by one of the careless hunters.  Fortunately, the bullet struck him in the leg, but even so, it was a serious wound and Grandpa was hospitalized just a week or so before Thanksgiving Day.  

My mother and father hosted our family Thanksgiving dinner each year at our home.  (My grandparents hosted the family Christmas dinner).  Grandpa and Grandma each had a special seat at our Thanksgiving table, and it was always Grandpa who gave the prayer of thanksgiving as we all sat down to partake of the bountiful feast.  Grandma was present that day, but Grandpa was still in the hospital. I remember all us moping about and feeling like somehow this particular Thanksgiving Day would not be the same without Grandpa.  Just as we were about ready to sit down at table the local ambulance showed up.  What a surprise to see Grandpa, with his crutches, helped out of the back of the ambulance and led to his special seat at the head of that Thanksgiving table—and just in time to pray.  I do not remember what Grandpa said in his prayer—I only remember being at one with the many grateful hearts gathered about that table—we were living out the words Grandpa prayed.

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything thy goodness sends…” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Grandpa would pray:  We give thee thanks, O Lord.  Amen.”




Monday, November 20, 2017

Give Sadness Words

Sadness is a common emotion and one we cannot avoid if we are really alive and in tune with reality. A friend recently wrote, “Just realizing…that there was a ton of sadness in my day.”  She then went on to list some of the things that brought on her feelings of sadness.  A friend she has known and loved since childhood is moving away, another friend is in the throes of dying, and a grandchild will soon be going off to college, and so on.  “Tears have been shed and will be shed.”

Sadness is considered a negative and painful emotion by most of us.  And it really is!  Like many of its cousins, sadness is one of those emotions we resist, avoid, suppress, or try to ignore.  Feeling sad can be simply a general sense of melancholy or it can be a despair that leads to serious depression.  It  is caused by a variety of experiences:  a friend moving away, feeling hurt by the actions or words of others,  or feeling anguish and worry for a loved one.  Feeling sad happens when one feels  and experiences disappointment, regret, shame, loneliness, and rejection, etc. 

What do we do with our sadness?  First, it cannot be resisted, avoided, suppressed or ignored—that will only produce a greater sadness in days to come.  Like any emotion it must be faced head-on and its source identified.  Shakespeare gives good advice:  "Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break."

Give sadness words—put your feelings into words and share those words with another person.  Give sadness words—by writing down (I recommend journaling) what you feel and why.  Give sadness words.  Sadness brings tears and tears are a release—but always “Give sorrow (sadness) words; the grief (sadness) that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”

Steeples symbolize the lifting of the human spirit.
 Giving words to sadness is like building a steeple.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

“Churchianity” & “White Protestant Evangelicals”

Churchianity displaced Christianity a long, long time ago, perhaps beginning in the first century A.D. when the Church in Jerusalem (Jewish) confronted the Gentile Churches of Asia Minor  (Acts of the Apostles).  “No word in our language,” wrote Harold Bell Wright at the beginning of the 20th century, “is more abused, misunderstood and misapplied than the word ‘Christian.’”  But the same could have been said of the word “Christian”  in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 19th centuries, and it certainly can be said today.  The “Church” (of whatever denomination or grouping) with its rules, dogmas, creeds, and doctrines, has determined what Christianity is for its members.    

The Fundamentalism of the early 20th century grew out of FEAR, as did the so-called Moral Majority of the mid-twentieth century.  It was and is the same FEAR that has created the group erroneously labeled the “White Protestant Evangelicals” of today.  In the early twentieth century that fear stemmed from broad changes in the American culture (growing awareness of world religions, the teaching of human evolution, and the rise of biblical higher criticism).  The fear stemmed, too, from the social changes of the time  (“old stock whites” felt displaced by the waves of non-Protestant immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, felt betrayed by politicians, resented the elitism of professional educators, deplored the teaching of evolution in public schools, and felt like the Bible was being attacked and destroyed by modern science).   

The Moral Majority was a fundamentalist Christian organization founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell in 1979 and was based on the same fears.  Its goal was to preserve “traditional” American values (which were from their perspective Christian values) and to combat the increasing acceptance of movements and cultural and social changes (which had only multiplied since the earlier days of the century) by aligning itself with the Republican Party.  Critics said of the movement:  “The Moral Majority is neither.”  It was short-lived as a political organization, but, with the Fundamentalist Movement of the early part of the century and its followers, the Moral Majority produced the Christian Right or what is called the “White Protestant Evangelicals” of the present.  This group, too, is founded upon fear—the fear of losing what to them is holy ground. Four-fifths of this group voted Republican in 2016, even though the Party views did not fully safeguard the holy ground they seek to save.  


Just as Churchianity displaced Christianity, so “white Protestant evangelicals” may displace their own holy ground by their penchant for the GOP no matter who the candidate may be.

The ancient door is still open.




Saturday, November 18, 2017

Inevitable Change

There is an old saying:  nothing endures but change.  Change is inevitable.  One day everything is as it always has been and the next day everything is as it has never been before.  Change sometimes comes in tiny doses; sometimes in big doses.  Sometimes change is slow; sometimes sudden.  However it comes, we can count on change.  Life is not static, nor are we meant to be static.  Change is a part of our nature and life itself.

Reinhold Niebuhr is credited with what has become known as the Prayer of Serenity:  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  The late Annette Funicello (1942-2013) one of the original Mouseketeers on the Mickey Mouse Club, and later a popular singer and actress, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992.  She wrote, “When you are young and healthy, it never occurs to you that in a single second your whole life could change.”  She could not change the diagnosis, she could only accept it and live with it.  She did that with great serenity.

We have to accept the fact that change will and must happen. We also have to accept the fact we will instinctively be resistant and fearful of change of whatever kind, good or bad.  Such resistance, and the fear as well,  is a natural human response, but it will not stop the change.  If we continue to resist and fear change (of any kind) we will become nervous wrecks.  Far better, if we pray, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change is crucial.





Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mendacity

Who among us has not been mendacious?  What a word that is!  Mendacious.  It has a nice ring to it.  It sounds like a word that could be used in a resume; one of those words that would illustrate the depth of our vocabulary and build us up.  One word can make or break a resume.  Mendacious sounds similar to adjectives like agile, flexible, and resilient, which experts say should be included in every resume.  In spite of its ring and sound, however, mendacious is probably not a word you would want to use on your resume.  To be mendacious means “not telling the truth, lying, deceitful, dishonest, dissembling, disingenuous, insincere, fraudulent, and two-faced.”  However, if you want to present yourself truly, as you really are, you could use the word, but you would probably not get the job.  Who among us has not been mendacious?  The only exception I know is George Washington who is reported to have never told a lie—and that myth is certainly a fraudulent one.

“We love old travelers:” wrote Mark Twain, “we love to hear them prate, drivel and lie; we love them for their asinine vanity, their ability to bore, their luxuriant fertility of imagination, their startling, brilliant, overwhelming mendacity.”  Have you ever had a conversation with an old soldier?  A retired preacher or teacher?  Oh, the stories they can tell (sometimes called “war” stories).  Their “luxuriant fertility of imagination” often creates a “startling, brilliant, overwhelming mendacity.”  “Oh, what a tangled web we weave…” writes Walter Scott in Marmion, “when first we practice to deceive.”  It doesn’t really take much practice.  It seems to come naturally and begins at an early age when we tell a “fib” to our parents, etc.

We live in a mendacious world and we are all citizens of that world.  No one is exempt.  Has that world become more mendacious?  I think there is evidence to support that conclusion.

Antelope Canyon, Page AZ



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Whirlwind Will Come

"For they sow the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind" is a phrase from the Old Testament book of Hosea (8:7), one of my favorite prophetic books.  Those who heard Hosea's proverb understood what he meant.  The proverb illustrated the agricultural process familiar to all in that ancient agrarian society—the process of sowing and reaping.  

The kind of seed sowed by the farmer determines the type of plant that will eventually grow. An apple seed will yield an apple tree and a kernel of corn will produce corn.  What you sow produces its kind.

The farmer planting his one kernel of corn expected to reap a whole ear of corn from that single seed.  The seed you sow not only produces its kind but also multiplies. 

Sowing the wind ("wind" meant something worthless and foolish in Hosea's mind) would result in reaping exactly what one sows—wind—a storm of consequences. Sowing something foolish and worthless will bring forth its kind and will multiply.  Sowing the wind will reap a whirlwind eventually, just as the one kernel of corn multiplies into a  whole ear of corn.


Sowing seeds of division will produce its kind and will multiply into a whole ear of division.  Sowing seeds of hate will produce its kind and will multiply into a whole ear of hate.  Sowing seeds of bigotry will produce a whole bunch of bigotry.  Sowing seeds of lies will produce more lies.  Sowing seeds of unity will produce its kind and multiply into greater unity.  Sowing seeds of love will produce its kind and will multiply into whole communities of caring people.  We reap what we sow.

Grandson Ethan trying to hold it together in Washington DC


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Promise Kept

The promise I made to two of my grandsons has finally been fulfilled.  It only took me a year to do what I promised to do:  visit their respective colleges and take them out for lunch.  I connected with Austin back in October and yesterday I met up with grandson Nick at his campus in Shepherdstown, WV.  Naturally, I think these guys are special; they’re my grandsons!  They are, along with my four other grandchildren, “the apple of my eye” (Psalm 17:8).  

It was a three hour drive to Nick’s campus, traveling west to Frederick, Maryland and then south toward Harpers Ferry, WV.  It was a beautiful fall day and some colorful foliage till clung to the trees along the highways.  Of course, the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia (separating the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains) is beautiful at any time of year.  

Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet.  It has a long history, starting way back in 1733.  Thomas Jefferson and his daughter Patsy passed through Harpers Ferry on their way to Philadelphia in 1783.  Jefferson called the site “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”  And it still is a stupendous scene. The abolitionist John Brown led his famous raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Nearby Harpers Ferry is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) which was once called the “Grand Old Ditch.”  It operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac from Washington DC, to Cumberland, Maryland, hauling coal from the Allegheny Mountains.  It is now maintained as the C&O Canal National Historical Park.  Antietam battlefield is nearby, as well as the Appalachian Trail which passes directly through the town of Harpers Ferry.  


This land is yours!  This land is mine!  What a beautiful land it is, though scarred, marred, and dangerously polluted by our misuse of it.   It is still “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”  

Austin and Nick--Only Yesterday


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Upgrading

After weeks of research and much discussion with those who seem to know, I have finally upgraded my cell phone. The big question:  should I get the iPhone 7  or the newer iPhone 8?  (I didn’t even consider the new iPhone 10 because I figured the learning curve would be overwhelming).  I even discussed the issue with my young barber friend while getting a haircut.   He hardly ever talks while trimming away my grey locks, but, given my question, he became an animated conversationalist. He just happened to be a technological guru when it came to cell phones—a “walking encyclopedia.”  It was perhaps the longest haircut I’ve ever had. I felt obligated to give him a big tip, not so much for the prolonged haircut,  but for his sharing of his expansive knowledge and recommendations.

My iPhone 5 was purchased “secondhand” a few years ago to replace my antique flip-top phone that had been my companion for a number of years. That up-grade from the flip-top to the iPhone 5 was a gigantic learning curve.  So why would I want to upgrade and experience my ineptness in technology all over again?  My excuse for considering a new iPhone was rather flimsy.  It was based on the fact that my phone seemed to need constant recharging.  Why not, I contemplated, buy a new battery rather than upgrading? My barber told me nobody bothered these days to replace a cell phone battery, and that was all it took for me to consider a new phone. To be really honest and straight-forward, I must confess,  I really wanted to be up-to-date, and like the kid at Christmastime,  I wanted a new technological toy.


My youngest son, Luke, advised me on how to transfer the stuff from the old phone to the new  one using iTunes—and it worked like a charm, even for me.  The new phone was activated online rather than by a phone call so I didn’t have to reveal my technological ignorance with some stranger.  The new iPhone is slim and slippery and with my arthritic hands I knew I would need a protective case to keep a firm grip on it.  I realized, too, that I probably needed a protective screen cover to prevent it from becoming all scratched up like my old phone. These were ordered online and were delivered the next day! What an adventure it has been to get a new iPhone.  Only one problem occurred—I forgot my new passcode!  Fortunately, the new phone recognizes my thumbprint—unless I happen to turn the phone off!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veteran’s Day

Everyone who is serving or has served in the US armed forces has taken the oath of enlistment, or the oath of office.  Every naturalized citizen of the United States of America has taken a similar oath.  Every person elected to public office, local, state or federal government) has taken an oath of office.  The oaths differ, but the essence of each is that the person who takes the oath swears or affirms to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and will “bear truth and allegiance to the same.”  The word “oath” means a solemn vow or promise.  Sometimes I think every US citizen who reaches voting age should be required to take this oath—“to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and to “bear truth and allegiance to the same.”  Now, it is important, of course, that anyone and everyone taking such an oath should be familiar with the Constitution.

As the Holy Scriptures of various religious faiths can be interpreted in many different ways, so, too,  the Constitution can be interpreted in many ways.  In spite of this, the “spirit” of the document, the principles and separation of powers it sets forth, seem to be generally accepted and agreed upon. 

While there are many non-military “veterans” who have sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,”  and have in every sense given their lives to that purpose, we honor today the 20-million veterans who have taken the military oath of allegiance.  Those who signed a “blank check” to support the Constitution with full knowledge that they  might have to “cash it in” some future day.  I honor those 18  and 19-year-olds, who wrote their “last will and testament” at the moment of taking that oath.  I celebrate and honor those veterans with whom I had the privilege of serving with in the US Air Force for over 38 years.  I honor those who have been wounded and maimed because they took that oath and lived it out in the field of combat.


On this day, however, I also hope that every citizen will read our Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States (not the flag or the national anthem, and other spurious forms of patriotism now floating around) against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and will “bear truth and allegiance to the same.”



Friday, November 10, 2017

Two Trails or Many?

Harold Bell Wright’s novel, The Shepherd of the Hills (1907) begins with this paragraph: “This, my story, is a very old story.  In the hills of life there are two trails.  One lies along the higher sunlit fields where those who journey see afar, and the light lingers even when the sun is down; and one leads to the lower ground, where those who travel, as they go, look always over their shoulders with eyes of dread, and gloomy shadows gather long before the day is done.”

In our finest moments we have sometimes walked that trail “along the higher sunlit fields,” and from that trail we have seen afar, “and the light lingers when the sun is down.”  In our human frailty and brokenness, however, we have also, at times, traveled the trail which “leads to the lower ground and we have experienced the “gloomy shadows” that seem to “gather long before the day is done.”  My own journey has taught me that there are more than two trails meandering through “the hills of life.”  Each of these many trails have ruts, dips, detours and horseshoe curves, and create many a blister on the human soul. There are also many trails “in the hills of life” that are not taken, and may never be traveled as Robert Frost tells us. Like Wright, Frost implies that there are just two roads: 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could…

I know there are many roads in the hills of life. I’ve walked a good number of them. Some we choose and some are forced on us by the uncontrollable circumstances of life.  Many years ago I read Mary T. Lathrap’s poem, “Judge Softly” (1895).  It helps me recall the many trails of my journey (and the blisters) and those  trails traveled by my brothers and sisters the world over.  

Pray don't find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Don't sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too....

Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse.






Thursday, November 9, 2017

One Half-Penny Out of A Dollar

Many young men (from 1948 to 1973), including myself, enlisted in the military to avoid being drafted at some later and more inconvenient time. In 1973, at the end of the combat operations in Vietnam, the United States ended conscription (the draft) and established a large, professional, all-volunteer military.  This ended our long-standing tradition of the citizen-soldier.  Samuel Adams in 1776 warned of the dangers inherent in this new development:  “A standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People.  Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens.”  For two generations, no American has been obligated to join the military (nor coerced to join by the threat of conscription).  Less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces today, according to Karl Eikenberry (retired Army general and US commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007).  Eikenberry warns, as did Adams long ago, “Here are the makings of a self-perpetuating military caste, sharply segregated from the larger society and with its enlisted ranks disproportionately recruited from the disadvantaged.  History suggests that such scenarios don’t end well.”

Many Americans are happy to thank volunteer service members for their service, and well they should, for it is the volunteer soldier, sailor, airman, etc. who make it possible for them not to serve (in the military).  Our present all-volunteer force may be the most lethal and professional force in history, but, let me repeat, it represents only 0.5 percent (some round that figure off to 1 percent) of our population.  This means, as Eikenberry suggests, a “sharply segregated”group from the larger society. 


We like to divide the world up these days in terms of us vs. them:  the wealthiest one percent and the rest of us—the 99 percent.  We must be extremely careful not to do so with our military members, even though the same division exists:  the military one percent and the rest of us—the 99 percent.   Is it any wonder that Adams suggested years ago “Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens,” for indeed, they are!  Yet, we must ever be aware (both those in the military and those not in the military) of George Washington’s maxim:  “When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.”  And, as Veteran’s Day approaches we might also say, When we assumed the Citizen, we did not lay aside the Soldier.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Proverbial Pondering

Have you ever taken the time to ponder (to think carefully, contemplate, reflect on, mull over, meditate on, ruminate on) what you really believe or think about this, that, or the other thing? Pondering is an important exercise in all matters of life and in all the various seasons of life.  Life is ever in the making, growing with each passing day as our experience expands.  We never step in the same river twice, as Heraclitus said long ago, for it is not the same river and we are not the same persons we were yesterday. This ever-changing river and this ever-changing person requires some pondering.

Some people become “stuck” or “frozen” in a particular stage of life, (arrested psychological development), ignoring the fact that instead of being 16-years-old they are now 70-years-old.  This happens to some degree in all of us as we age, and our society actually promotes such arrested psychological development with the suggestion that we all could use a little  anti-wrinkle cream and maybe even a brain enhancer (even if it comes from the Jellyfish).  Many live wrapped up in days gone by (living in Mayberry R.F.D, before iPhones and computers, malls and polluted streams and poisoned fish) rather than living in today’s world and pondering over it and how to cope with it.  Some say this “arrested state” happens particularly to older folk, who live in their memories of yesteryear rather than in their present reality, but it really happens in all ages and stages of life.  The water in the river is not the same water of twenty years ago, as Bob Dylan’s song, “The Times They Are A’Changin’” suggested over a half-century ago.  It is not what you believed  or thought back then about this, that, or the other thing, but what you believe and think about this, that, or the other thing NOW.  Ponder over it.

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If our time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimming’ (ponderin’)
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a’changin’.



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Winterizing (aka Retirement)

Oh, how I dread the task that lies before me today—the winterizing of Odysseus, our faithful mini-RV.  I’d much rather have Odysseus “On the Road Again,”  but winter is coming and bringing freezing temperatures that can be harmful to Odysseus’ plumbing system unless protected with anti-freeze.  

“Winterizing” the RV is not a difficult task, but the actual doing of it always dampens my spirit because it means Odysseus will be in retirement for a few months.  Winterizing Odysseus is a good thing and a wise thing to do even though Odysseus will just sit dormant in the driveway filled with anti-freeze.  But Odysseus is a “thing”—not a person!  

Retirement for a person is liberation! Retirement sets one free from former demands and schedules, giving “new time” which can be used at his or her own discretion. Whatever else personal retirement may mean in terms of less restrictions on time and of freedom, it does not mean the abandonment of one’s commitment to serve.  In fact, retirement can and I believe ought to enhance that commitment.  On the occasion of my “last retirement” my 92-year-old mother asked, “How will you speak now?  How are you going to share the important things you have to say?”  That my mother thought I had something important to say was really significant and it was her affirmation that prompted me to create this blog.

“While It Is Day” is my attempt to speak (bark) and to serve in these days of retirement.  I refuse to be “winterized” and filled with “anti-freeze” and sit around dormant, even though some may wish that were the case.  I have things to say and to do—and so do you.  Don’t winterize!  Don’t fill your veins with various forms of “anti-freeze” and hibernate. 


Monterey, CA

Monday, November 6, 2017

Transcending Tragedy

The shadow of sadness hovers over me this morning after the horrendous mass shooting in the little Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas, yesterday morning. It could have happened here in my little town, or in one of the little rural churches nearby.  It could have happened anywhere.  Those who think, “Nothing ever happens in little towns,” are mistaken. A little more than ten years ago (October 2006) it happened not many miles from where I live at a little one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where five girls (age 6-13) were killed by a deranged person.  

Both the media and the nation were baffled by the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation extended by the Amish community after the incident. The book, Amish Grace:  How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, written by Donald Kraybill, Stephen Nolt, and Daniel L. Weaver-Zercher, tells the story.  In 2010, Lifetime Movie Network presented a television movie-version of the book.  It was the highest rated movie on Lifetime that year.   

If we are called to serve our fellow human beings, to be “Foot-Washers,” as I suggested yesterday, then it is incumbent on clergy, religious communities, artists, farmers, laborers of all sorts,  authors, actors,  film directors, teachers, retirees, and those who work in Walmart, McDonald’s and in universities (everybody) to lift up the very best of what it means to be human.  Our “service” is to emphasize the enrichment of human life, a movement toward better things, rather than emphasizing its debasement.  Our task or service to one another is to emphasize the mountain-tops accessible to everyone, which are just as real as the cesspools. 


Forgiveness is better than hate.  Reconciliation is better than division.  Kindness is better than meanness.  Redemption is possible—failure is not the end of the story.  Reverence is better than irreverence.  Honesty is better than deceit.  Giving is better than greed.  Hope is better than despair.  Knowledge is better than ignorance.  Diversity is better than sameness.  Community is better than disparity. Our service is to help one another find  a “beautiful life,” to transcend what is not yet, and find what is meant to be, even in the midst of our tears.

Even the rose sheds tears--
and yet, continues to bloom.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

“Called to Be Foot-Washers”

My son, Luke, asked me a question about Harold Bell Wright and his connection with Tucson, Arizona, where there are a number of streets named after the characters he wrote about in his novels. Luke’s question prompted me to take from the shelf again Lawrence V. Tagg’s book, Harold Bell Wright—StoryTeller to America.  Wright was the first American ever to write a novel that sold over a million copies.  Yet few people today have ever heard his name or read, That Printer of Udell’s, Shepherd of the Hills, A Son of His Father, The Calling of Dan Matthews, When a Man’s a Man, etc. In 1930, Harold Bell Wright was “America’s Favorite Author” and in 1973, he became my favorite author.  

Wright, through his books, fueled and nourished my developing theology. His spiritual experience paralleled my own experience.  In his initial religious experience there had been no dramatic emotional upheaval, “no spirit message from a heavenly throne.” God had not appeared to him “in clouds and lightning,” nor spoken as in a dream, but rather, the events brought out "the God within me,” he said.  

His concept of ministry emboldened my own understanding of ministry.  “The ministry of the pulpit was to me, no more holy than the ministry of art or of labor, of science or of teaching.  The call to preach was no more divine, than the call to paint a picture, to write a book, to plow a field, or to build a house.  The purpose that inspired the work made the call divine.”  Wright’s vision of ministry was that he must try to use his life in a way that would be of the most service to his fellow human beings.  “All who in any capacity serve are God’s ministers,” and “to live is to serve.”

Do we live to serve?  Does the farmer plow his fields because it is a way of serving his community?  Does the artist paint in order to provide beauty and wonder for those who look upon the finished product?  Does the writer write to serve?  Or do we do, whatever it is we do, in order to gain our own profit, to fulfill our own need, or to gain recognition?  When we cease to serve, we cease to really live.  Like it or not, “We have all been called to be foot-washers" (R. Alan Woods) and not just our own as some primates do! 





Saturday, November 4, 2017

An Empty House

I awoke this morning in an empty house. All our guests are gone after a week of celebration.  I could even get into my study this morning.  Ethan and Eleni claimed my study as their guest room and slept here on their air mattresses throughout the time of their visit.  There is a world of difference between a full house and an empty house.

A full house can keep one mighty busy.  There are meals to plan and fix, dishes to wash and put away, all routines are lost, and so much more.  An empty house allows for more flexibility—you can just fix whatever you want for dinner without checking to see if it fits the needs of your guests, and you can just let the dishes soak in the sink if you want to do so.  I suppose the writer of Ecclesiastes had it right—there is a time and a season for everything, both for a full house and for an empty house—and neither need be considered either “a good thing or a bad thing” or one more valuable or meaningful than the other.  Both are “winning hands.”

In a full house there is great joy in being together.  In an empty house there is also  great joy in being alone and remembering the time when the house was full.  The memories of the full house  live on.  I felt that this morning when, in my stocking feet, I stepped on a Lego piece that was missed in the picking up of yesterday.

So it is that I sit here in this empty house this morning, remembering the fun I experienced yesterday with my youngest grandchildren at the zoo.  Suddenly the house is full again, and by changing the words of James Whitcomb Riley’s poem just a little bit, I can say of this empty house of mine:
As one who cons at evening
o’er an album, all alone,
And muses on the faces 
of the friends that he has known,

So I turn the leaves of Fancy,
til, in shadowy design,
I remember the smiling faces of 

the full house that once was mine.







Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Full House

Our home seemed so empty yesterday after a week of being “full.”  (Our house was so full,  in fact, that my wife and I spent several nights in Odysseus [RV] out in the driveway.)  I didn’t pick up the Lego pieces scattered about with little “stick em” labels attached to them, knowing that Ethan and Eleni were working on something when they left on Tuesday and would want to continue their project when they return today.  The new Joy couple (Katie and Liam) and Liam’s family from the UK will join us today for lunch and an afternoon visit—a full house again.


A “full house” can be a poker hand containing three of a kind and a pair, or it can be what I’m thinking about—a house filled with family and friends.  I like a “full house!” I like it especially when it includes our youngest “pair” of grandchildren, Ethan and Eleni.  We see them at least twice a year at their home in Arizona, but that isn’t quite the same as having them visit us here at our home.  A “full house” is a “winning hand!”



Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Katie (aka Katydid) and Liam Joy

My granddaughter has always brought me Joy (“a source or cause of delight”) as have all my grandchildren (Matt, Austin, Nick, Ethan and Eleni).  Now, my Katydid has taken on the name of Joy, her husband Liam’s surname.  Liam and Katie Joy has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?

What is joy?  Is it the same as happiness?  J.D. Salinger, the author of Catcher in the Rye, once wrote, "The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid."  Can you figure out what he means?  I'm still working at it.

Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure.  Joy, on the other hand, is a stronger, less common feeling.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta describes Joy "as one of the pivots of our life.  It is the token of a generous personality.  Sometimes, it is a mantle that clothes a life of sacrifice and self-giving.  A person who has this gift...is like sun in a community."  Helen Keller put it this way, "There is joy in self-forgetfulness. So I try to make the light in others' eyes my sun, the music in others' ears my symphony, the smile on others' lips my happiness."  And Mother Teresa adds, "A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love.  She gives most who gives with joy."


I sometimes wonder, after all,
Amid this tangled web of fate,
If what is great may not be small,
And what is small may not be great.
So wondering I go my way,
Yet in my heart contentment sings...
O may I ever see, I pray,
God's grace and love in Little Things.
(The Joy of Little Things, Robert William Service)




Friday, October 27, 2017

My “Katydid”

“My life is blessed.  I have held my children’s children.” (Jeremy Taylor)

Like Tevye, in the musical,  Fiddler on the Roof,  I find myself thinking this morning about how “swiftly flow the years, one season following another.” (Sunrise, Sunset) “Is this the little girl I carried?” he wonders, and then asks, “When did she get to be a beauty?  I don’t remember growing older.  When did she?” 

It seems like only yesterday that I first held “Katydid” in my arms, watched her take her first steps, celebrated her birthdays, helped her capture lightning bugs in the back yard and catch toads in the flowerbeds around the house.  She loved to climb trees, too.  Maybe that’s why I began calling my granddaughter Katie, “Katydid!”

All of a sudden, Katydid was a college student.  “How can this be?” I remember thinking at the time, and then,  by the time I got that reality down, Katydid graduated and went off a’traveling around this great big world of ours.   

Her adventurous spirit took her to many places and her Grandad followed her every step of the way with awe and wonder.  Then she went to France to teach for a year.  That is when something new happened.  It happened in Paris, that city of romantic fame.  Katie met Liam and Liam (who is from the United Kingdom and was also teaching in France that year) met Katie. 


On Sunday, Katie and Liam will be wed.  Grandad will officiate.  How swiftly flow the years!  When did she get to be a beauty?  I don’t remember growing older?  When did she?