Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dedication

Listening to BBC on public radio the other afternoon, the amazing dedication of health care workers in difficult situations was brought home. They were interviewing a volunteer worker who has just returned from West Africa and the Ebola Virus outbreak. She had just described the horrors- medically, physically, and psychologically of the situation. She reported on her own nightmares she has been experiencing since returning. She talked about the graphic awfulness of the scenes and the upheaval in so many lives.

The interviewer then asked, expecting an obvious answer, "Would you even consider going back there into the midst of all that?"

"In a heartbeat,"
was the immediate answer.

The interviewer was flabbergasted. So was I.

Amazing dedication. These workers are amazing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

To End All Wars?

The war that was so awful it was supposed to end war started 100 years ago this week. It was July 28, 1914, that war was declared, one month following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand while visiting the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. It was a horrible war. It was known as The Great War or The World War until 1939 when another war surpassed it as the Second World War.

Watching the news the past months reminds us that if World War I was supposed to make wars unthinkable, it failed. So did modern communications, mutually assured destruction or worse and worse horrors. Today it's the Ukraine or Gaza or Syria. It has been other places. It will be still other places.

War.

Again we are reminded that it isn't the soldiers who are the only ones killed. A civilian airliner is shot down in a show of bravado gone wrong. Children and civilians in close quarters the main losses in Gaza. On and on and on it goes.

As Pete Seeger sang in Where Have All the Flowers Gone:

When will we ever learn?
Or in the timelss words of Bob Dylan:
Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Post 5500



It all started in March, 2003. I'm still at it. The discipline of writing a daily post has been (and on most days still is) fun. I'm not sure I will ever reach 10,000 posts, but I keep on keeping on.

One would almost think I had something interesting to say.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Five Views of the Kingdom


Preached again yesterday at the church where we are now members. It was based on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.

One of the fun things about writing a sermon has always been the research- which in my case is usually a fancy word for wasting time looking up semi-relevant information. I had a couple of really good opportunities in this morning's Gospel.

I started with something Father Justin planted in my brain one Sunday last year about the idea of "Kingdom." That is a word that is not an often used- and probably less understood word in our 21st Century world. Since this word is at the center of today's Gospel, I decided to play some word games with it. I dug through my computer Thesaurus and synonym finder and found some interesting replacements. 

Some of the expected words came up- domain, place of rule, country, nation, realm. But they also had their issues based on politics or lack of general usage. Territory came up. That has some potential since a territory is an area that is under the control or jurisdiction of a country, state, etc. But that feels a little too legalistic. I found the word "turf" which the rebellious side of me liked- Sort of like Fonzie as God- this is my turf. Nah. Not the right attitude. Then came the word neighborhood. Hmmm. That has a nice feel to it. I thought of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and the calm, peaceful atmosphere he provided there. We are in the neighborhood of God. A safe place to go where a visitor or stranger could feel right at home. That's good. 

Finally came a down-to-earth kind of phrase: Neck of the woods. The neck of the woods where heaven is made real. Which, for me, picks up the sense that Jesus is using in this passage this morning. 

Jesus gives us five descriptions of God's neighborhood and how people respond to it. It is not about control or even "turf." It is about experience and value. He tells us that the kingdom, the neighborhood is like a mustard seed  or leavening, what we call yeast. It is like a treasure in a field or a pearl of unlimited value. It is an all-encompassing net thrown into the sea pulling all into it. When you are in heaven's neck of the woods, something happens.

Jesus' first two descriptions are surprising. We are not talking about good things here. The mustard plant is an invasive species. The local farmers of Jesus audience would not have thought it something to cultivate. And it doesn't take much. Just a tiny seed does all that- or at least gets all that started. 

The same is true of leavening agents. Here is where, as a bread baker, I took another research detour and was reminded that what Jesus is talking about is not a package of Fleishmann's yeast from Hy-Vee. He is talking about that little lump of yesterday's dough known as a starter. A piece of slightly spoiled dough. Or the other way to get a leavening for bread is the heady foam from beer when it is being fermented. That was learned centuries before Jesus. But like the tiny mustard seed, leavening too doesn't take a lot and is potentially destructive. Let the sourdough starter sit too long and it's ruined. Use too much beer foam and it doesn't rise properly.

Why then would Jesus use an invasive weed or yeast to talk about God's neighborhood? Well, and this is an interesting thought- because they both have a way of spreading beyond anything you could have imagined. They are both powerful in spite of their seeming smallness. The neck of the woods where heaven is made real doesn't take a lot to get started, but wow! when it starts, it can be like that sourdough starter that you can never get rid of- and don't want to- it just keeps providing load after loaf.

Pretty valuable I would say which leads to the next two- the treasure and the pearl. This kingdom- this neighborhood surprises and delights us when we discover, even stumble upon its peace and joy. It is so great we are willing to bet the house on it. You don't want to lose it. You want to pull it in. You want to embrace it. The first church members 2000 years ago obviously felt that way. This teaching resonated with them. 

The first members of Alcoholics Anonymous 80 years ago responded the same way about their new and revolutionary idea for recovery from alcoholism. They put it down in their text- If you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it- then you are ready. No wonder some contemporary theologians see AA as a model of the church- and maybe even God's neck of the woods.

At first glance this all seems like some pie-in-the-sky idealism. Is God's Kingdom worth THAT much? Would I be willing to put all my savings, life, and future on that presence? Would living daily in God's neighborhood be worth that? Many over the years have believed that the answer to that is "yes." It doesn't take much to get it started- that pinch of sourdough or that tiny mustard seed in one's experience and suddenly things have changed. A commentary asked the question: I wonder, not simply would I be able to risk everything for the treasure hidden in the field, but would I even know the treasure worth risking for, if I came upon it?

The writer went on to say: Life is short. If there is anything worse than not reaching your goals, it's setting goals too low and reaching them. We can get life, oh, but adventure, treasure, the life worth living? God help us. We sell out too quickly, we settle for too little, we make nothing more important than money, and thereby we miss the treasure.

Which I think brings me to the fifth  simile Jesus used- the net, cast out into the widest waters possible. The neck of the woods where you can find the peace, joy and hope of God is not a narrowly defined location on a map. Nor is it a narrowly defined set of rituals, activities, theology, or ideologies. You get started and see where it leads. Later it gets sorted out. Not necessarily just at the end of time as in that passage, but also as we allow ourselves to experience more of the eternal life in the here and now, we will grow. The little seeds or the pinch of leavening within our own lives and souls will slowly permeate. It will fill us to overflowing- to life abundant. It will let us know that this is a safe neighborhood. It has a way of spreading beyond anything you have ever imagined.

Which is why I have no doubt that Paul knew that. In the end that is what he is talking about in that wondrous final section of Romans 8:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That's a neck of the woods worth exploring.

Just as a postlude, the following quote was posted by a friend on Facebook. Just thought it was worth passing on:
"Sermons: every week another one hanging around your neck like a penance, supporting the traditional assumption, from the days when the priest was the only person in the village who could read, that you could stand up there in the pulpit having universal truths channelled through you, when all you really had were questions."--Phil Rickman, The Smile of a Ghost: A Merrily Watkins Mystery (Macmillan, 2005), 69.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Powers of Flowers

 

Mid-summer in the forest, the wooded lands, is not a time of variety of color.
It is the in-between time.
The explosions of spring have settled down.
The colors of fall remain hidden.



In the forest it is green. At times, even a slightly tired green, but it is the sign of life moving on in its day-to-day process. Chlorophyll doing its job.




Out of the vast chemical bath of the Sea, not from the deeps, but from the element rich, light exposed platforms of the continental shelves wandering fingers of green had crept upward along the meanderings of river systems and fringed the gravels of forgotten lakes.
-L. Eiseley






Ferns and horsetail, the living fossil, show the primitive, primeval life of the forests that once ruled the earth.




A little while ago about one hundred million years, as the geologist estimates time… flowers were not to be found anywhere on the five continents. Wherever one might have looked, from the poles to the equator, one would have seen only the cold dark monotonous green of a world whose plant life possessed no other color.
-L. Eiseley

Then one comes around a corner, or looks across the creek and colors break forth in the sunshine. I immediately remembered an essay by Loren Eiseley, “How Flowers Changed the World” and I saw its reality portrayed in front of me. Colors, reaching out to the food of the sun’s energy, attracting pollinators and unwitting accomplices to spread the angiosperms (seeds) far and wide. What a miracle, for without it Eiseley reminds us, life as we know it would probably never have appeared.

 

 




Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles, there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms the flowering plants. Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them "an abominable mystery," because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast.


Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know even man himself would never have existed. Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he had sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. Today we know that the appearance of the flowers contained also the equally mystifying emergence of man.
-L. Eiseley

The weight of a petal has changed the face of the world 
and made it ours. – L. Eiseley
(Loren Eiseley quotes from "How Flowers Changed the World" from The Immense Journey, 1957)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Keep the Music Going

One of those fun groups of the 60s was the Association. I saw them in college (and interviewed on of them). Here they are from the Smothers Brothers show. A little of their "humor" to start things off.





And while we are on the Smothers Brothers, here's Mason Williams with his classic:



And finally, before it was the Glen Campbell show's theme, here's Campbell and the amazingly wonderful John Hartford, Gentle on My Mind.



And if you have some more time to waste use for some good music, here is John Hartford years later as he was getting ill, doing a remarkable bluegrass version of Gentle. No comparison, though both are good, this is outstanding.


Friday, July 25, 2014

(More) Playing Around the World

What the wonderful people at Playing for Change have started continues to be exciting, enchanting, and downright fun. Here's the song, "La Bamba" played around the world.

Oh- and go here for info on sending in a fan video to accompany this. I might even figure out how to get a trumpet part in there. Mariachi La Bamba. Why not?



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Heroes: Part 2- More About My List

A month ago I posted about a list of my heroes. I wasn't talking about the individuals that touched me personally- professors, elders, etc. I have talked about some of them in other posts. Many of them (most of them?) are now passed on, my mentors are gone. But these heroes are some of the world-changers who have most motivated, inspired, challenged, and ultimately changed me. It started as an introduction to a post of pictures of Cesar Chavez that I took over 40 years ago. It is now morphing into more than just Sr. Chavez.

Here then is that original list, in alphabetical order, with one addition that I can't believe I missed.

  • Louis Armstrong- perhaps the greatest, most creative and even talented of all 20th Century musicians. He inspired me as a trumpet player, but also as one who stood up and did what needed to be done to be successful.
  • Dan and Phil Berrigan- The Brothers Berrigan, both originally Roman Catholic priests, although Phil left to get married. Their faith led them to some acts of civil disobedience and time in prison. Jesus, they believed, wanted His followers to speak out against war and injustice. Their witness was a challenge to my easy, comfortable, "personal" faith.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer- Deeper than even the Berrigans, Bonhoeffer may be the quintessential theologian/witness against the horrors of the 20th Century. His challenge to "cheap grace" and the "cost of discipleship, opened understandings into being a Jesus follower that he barely had a chance to live out. A man of amazing trust in God and a challenge to cultural christianity.
  • Cesar Chavez- I spoke of his witness for the poor and oppressed. He was another man of faith, non-ordained, but one whose life was guided by an awareness of the ways of Jesus.
  • Robert Kennedy- In my mind, the most challenging of politicians of the mid-20th Century. A complex and probably conflicted person who showed both the good and bad of politics in his short history. In the end, he was attempting, I believe, to make the changes in himself and the country that were, and still are, sorely needed. His announcement of Martin Luther King's death on the streets of Indianapolis is one of the more moving moments of a very difficult year.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.- The man I would nominate for American of the Century. Another man of faith, working at his best to make a difference. His commitment to non-violence helped move civil rights into the mainstream. He and others lost their lives to make it happen. His "I have a dream" speech still stands as a beacon and guidance for the future.
  • Mahatma Gandhi- The guiding saint of non-violence. He died the year I was born, but his teachings and witness still reverberate. An amazing individual.
  • Harvey Milk- A man who kind of fell into the right place at the right time. He didn't know what to do with his life so he became an activist for Gay Rights- or at least that's how it looks from the outside.He came out of the closet, won his place in the city of San Francisco, and lost his life. Yet he helped give life to that part of the civil rights movement that we are finally seeing the results from.
  • Nelson Mandela- In my book, the Man of the World for the 20th Century. With every reason to be angry and vengeful, he turned toward reconciliation. Oppressed and imprisoned for his fight for equality, he didn't try to take away the equality of his prisoners or oppressors. Along with Bishop Desmond Tutu, a witness to the world of the right way to forgive- anything!
  • Pope John XXIII- A quiet man of gentle faith who pulled the Catholic Church out of the middle ages and showed that the church should have a voice in the modern world. In way too short a time as Pope he accomplished hundreds of years of reform. While some of it slowed down after his death, he gave faith a hopeful name. Pope Francis appears to be trying to walk in his holy shoes.
  • Archbishop Oscar Romero- El Salvadoran Bishop, he believed in liberation of the oppressed and to change a corrupt system based on wealth and prestige. He had called for Christian soldiers to put down their arms and stop oppressing the poor. A day later, as he stepped to the altar for the Eucharist, he was assassinated. The oppression of Jesus' followers can be just as powerful in Christian countries.
  • Elie Wiesel- Holocaust survivor, Nobel Prize laureate, the voice for the voiceless millions of World War II genocide. The only man on the list (other than Chavez) who I personally saw and heard speak. A gentle man who in his demeanor maintains that innocence that continues to ask the awful question, "How can this happen?" while always working so that it will happen "Never again!" He is an icon for me, an image that allows me to see into the pained face of God as God looked down on our human insanity of the 20th Century.
Many of these were paradoxes- mixtures of good and bad, healthy and unhealthy habits. Just like me.

Many were men of deep faith who allowed their faith to guide their whole walk in life. As a result, most were willing to stand up to the established order so that it would be more open and receptive to more people.

All, in their own ways, were rebels, radicals, even, hoping to make a difference. Whether through music, words, or actions, these individuals have shaped my faith and my outlook on the world. They all make sense to me. I have no idea if I could ever do what they did in the face of what they lived. When I look at them, I can only repeat what the father of a boy with an evil spirit said to Jesus:
I believe; help my unbelief.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As I noted in the previous post last month, this is a list of men. They came to mind first probably because of the simple fact that I am a man and the ones who most moved me into so many challenges gave me different understanding about being male. In another upcoming post I will take a look at the women who are my heroes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nerds Succeed

Watch out when nerds get successful. Like David Kwong on TED talks. He takes two nerdy obsessions- magic and crossword puzzles and puts them together. How does he do it? I have no idea but he's good.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unsurprising Surprises

Like most everything else in the world, we should not necessarily be surprised by what happens when change begins. Just because we plan on the change, try to think through it, even believe we are ready for it, when it comes right down to it, we are clueless about how we will respond.

Or at least we need to be open to be surprised, shocked, enlightened and expecting the black swans we didn't know would happen to us. Last week the black swans came out of their hiding place and I was surprised that I was just like everyone else.

"This is what happens when you move into retirement," my wife said as I couldn't figure out why I was feeling like I was. "It can take months to be ready for this."

"But I was so ready," I wanted to say. "Why is this happening to me?" Yep, that good old fashioned expression of terminal uniqueness. Yep- I'm unique just like everyone else. That means when, even with a year of planning and processing, as the events truly do unfold, you begin to realize that this is really happening.

The times aren't changing- they have changed! It is a whole new world. All the things that move along with this change of movement toward retirement is one of those major life-events that bring to the front all the feelings of loss and grief. It is a time, again, when the passage of time becomes more than real- it is right there in your face. "Look at me! See me! This is real!"

It is as much a step into the unknown as the graduations from high school or college, the new career or new job. Even looking at this move as a "third career" for myself insulates me from some of the underlying issues of mortality, physical ability, health and change.

Then word came that a colleague had died suddenly. He went for a bike ride and collapsed. He is just ahead of me by five years. He is the first of my cohort to die in our older years. Several have died of cancer, AIDS and premature heart attacks. This one is that reminder of reality.

So I have been unfocused, distracted, angry, sad, working harder at staying healthy (bargaining?), depressed and just generally denying things.

I wasn't supposed to do these things. I was supposed to have worked hard so they didn't happen and I could just slide into this whole retirement with no repercussions. In short, I wanted to do it without the pain and the fear, the uncertainty and concerns that always happen.

But here I am anyway. Just like you or anyone else. So w hat do I do about it?

The same thing I have learned how to do over the past 25 years- accept it and move through it. Make the most of what I can do and let life happen. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind, of course:

God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
But that is only the beginning. It is a deep sense of acceptance that must also be rediscovered anew each day. In order for that we all need to learn to look inside ourselves and be honest about what is happening- and then talk about it. Other people are essential to that process. They call us to be aware- mindful- of who we are and what is happening. Denial is not a healthy place to stay. It gets us stuck in what was instead of what can be.

So for myself, this (re)newed awareness empowers me by pulling me out of where I was into where I can go. That's all I have. That's all any of us has. So take that energy and channel it into hopeful and productive actions.

Let's see how that works.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Backyard Harvest


The time is getting close for these first cherry tomatoes of the season
With a promise of more to come
Not to mention peppers
And the still flowering hen and chicks

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A 45-Year Memory: Man on the Moon

A bunch of things happened in 1969. Perhaps the most momentous, July 20, when humans stepped onto another place in the universe for the first time.

I was working for WMPT radio in South Williamsport, PA, that Sunday afternoon. We switched over to ABC News feed and I watched the coverage on TV.


Much later I sat at home and saw the incredible fuzzy black and white pictures as Neil Armstrong made the giant leap for mankind.

I will never lose the awe of that day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In Memory: Johnny Winter

He looked and acted old when he started. His soul was that of a blues master.



Friday, July 18, 2014

Closing The Barn Door



Picture of the Chevy Truck on the concourse at Target Field after Futures Game MVP Joey Gallo's home run hit the windshield.


Perhaps, then, it is best to call this next picture, 
taken two days later of a different truck 
on the concourse at Target Field:

Closing the Barn Door After the Cows Have Been Stolen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Overwhelmed

  • With Baseball: The All Star Game activities were wondrous and fun. More- much more to come. But it has taken its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Pictures: All that baseball has given me more than enough pictures to sort through, tag, classify, and decide what to keep. It is taking its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Change: I didn't realize it until my wife put it together for me at lunch today, I am just now beginning to really work on this whole retirement thing. I have been a little unfocused, preoccupied, and somewhat inattentive. That, too, is taking its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Ideas: Perhaps because of the first three, my mind is having a field day of thoughts and possibilities. Then they kind of flit around, go whizzing by the edge of consciousness, then dive back under the surface before some of them have a chance to be caught. Such takes a toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.

Forgiveness is therefore requested if any of this has had any impact on you. Not that I'm all that important, but I thought I would just say it anyway.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All-Star Game Festivities: 1

It all started on Sunday at Target Field. A beauty of a day with all the pomp and fun of baseball - the summer game.


Bullseye with the ball outside the field.

The outfield ready for The Festivities!

The Futures lineup of teams. Flags for each country.

The MVP, Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers prospect,  hit a two-run homer in the sixth. It hit the Chevy Truck on the concourse. He may very well become a star!

The Legends and Celebrities softball teams.

Vikings football star Adrian Peterson hugging Snoopy.

Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers warming up with Peterson. Yes, Fingers still has his mustache.

Keep tuned. There's lots more to come.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Taking (Another) Walk


Just some pictures from my exercise walk last week. It seems like there's always something to take pictures of.






Rochester is a beautiful city.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Memory: Charlie Haden

One of the greats, Charlie Haden, jazz bassist died yesterday. A remarkable musician in many genres and styles. His bass gave foundation and life to a great deal of music. One of my favorites was his duet album with pianist Hank Jones, a Grammy nominated album in 1996.

Here is my favorite cut, Spiritual. Perfect for a Sunday morning. Rest in peace, Charlie.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hens, Chicks and Sand Worms???

It starts out with just a good, standard, backyard hen and chicks.

All of a sudden it starts to get these things that look like they are the prototype for the sand worms (or whatever they were) from Dune.

Then I realized that this is a flower... a real flower.

Or rather, these are flowers.

Many flowers.

Kind of neat, huh?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Miscellaneous

1) Futbol!
Go Argentina! No reason other than to keep Latin America strong.

1b) George Vecsey's book Eight World Cups is a fun read and a good way to get initiated into the futbol culture. You will also find out how corrupt FIFA has been.

2) All-Star Game!
Fun begins today in Minneapolis. I'll be there on Tuesday- another bucket-list-type of event.
Go American League!

3) LeBron who?

4) I missed this on 7/1. We've been Midwesterners for 30 years! I don't miss much from the East Coast except the closeness of the ocean. Other than that, give me the more open horizons. (I guess the oceans are a really open horizon!)
On Wisconsin! Go Minnesota!

5) Bart Ehrman has a book to refute those (very few) writers who have tried to say that Jesus actually never existed in any way, shape or form. It is an interesting book, considering the subject is really kind of "Ho-hum!" in theological circles. Never thought that Jesus DIDN"T exist.

6) If you are already three years behind on your reading, why would you even stop in the library and only get out more books to push the old ones further back? I guess I am addicted to reading. One book is too many and a thousand never enough.

7) I am trying to kick up my exercise a notch or two this month. I am attempting to do some exercise every day in July. (One month at a time!) So far I have been 11 for 11. This includes biking outdoors, biking indoors, a group cycle class, a group Indo-row class, a Yoga session, a hike and a 3.5 mile walk. If you get the chance to find an Indo-row class- do it!

8) Surprise! The most difficult of all the above activities? Yoga. It just never stops. Quite a good workout. And it's good for the soul, too.

9) A two-week break from music performances. But then four in one week. It is a melodic summer!