A Kind of Hush …

I closed the door softly as I stepped onto the front porch. Nature had dialed down the volume across my little world and I didn’t want to be intrusive or irreverent. In the distance came the sound of someone scraping ice and snow from their windshield. further yet and also unseen, was the drone of a prop-plane struggling to gain altitude. The weather must have forced a change in flight patterns.

My brain somehow made the leap from a snowy January night in Ferguson to 1967 and the summer of love, when Herman’s Hermits released what was to be their final top 10 hit, “There’s a Kind of Hush All Over the World.”

The hush in front of me didn’t extend “All Over the World,” it was real … though not at all what Herman’s Hermits were crooning about. I gave my head a little shake to dislodge the potential earworm. Nothing against the song, but I didn’t want it running through my brain for the rest of the night.

I had the luxury of no longer having to drive or work in the snowstorm, I could take it all in from the security of my front porch. If I lived in Minnesota, I might not feel this way, but here in the heartland snowstorms are not so common as to not have a certain magical quality about them.

Slow down, God tells us, I have provided the perfect excuse to calm yourself, you couldn’t hurry if you wanted to. Listen as I quiet your world. Watch as I soften the light of the street lamps and headlights. Breath deep as my snow filters and cleanses the air around you.

It is a night for meditation. A night for turning off the TV and computer. A night for opening a book and curling your fingers around a mug of hot cocoa, or a mug of hot cocoa with a splash of brandy if you are so inclined.

In this part of the country the snow will be gone in a few days. Cars will once again race up and down the streets. The pace of life will pick up, we will once again become frantic over trivialities. The sounds of honking horns and sirens will once again pollute the airwaves, but for tonight … enjoy the hush.

Poppy

 

Five-Legged Dogs and Getting Small (a Resolution)

 

Within hours of the event, dozens of fingers hammering on dozens of telegraph keys sent the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to all the major cities across America and Europe. Away from major metropolitan areas the news traveled more slowly. Even a major event on the scope of a presidential assassination  took days and even weeks to arrive in more remote locations.

Today we are bombarded with news and pseudo news almost instantaneously, and we feel slighted if there is not video to accompany it. To say that the news and reporting businesses have changed could be the understatement of the decade. These organizations must now survive on clicks, rather than traditional advertising. There is no time for fact checking, proofreading or in-depth research. To survive in that business, you need to be out there first and be just a little more sensational than your competition. Accuracy be damned, there is another story coming in the next 10 minutes and by tomorrow we will have moved on to another crisis, real or imagined.

Atrocities and absurdities, events from around the globe … things that I have no ability to affect, change or cure. If I allow myself, I can be overwhelmed by stories that are less than news, stories that at their core are nothing more than schoolyard name-calling, except the participants are elected officials, not children.

I can muster up all the righteous indignation and outrage that I want, stew over perceived stupidity, create posts on Facebook and other social media outlets, only to raise my blood pressure and offer no solutions, comfort or aid to anyone over stories that may not even be accurate or based on half-truths. To say that something is this or that does not make it so. To publish it online does not bolster its accuracy, honesty, or credibility.

Abraham Lincoln once asked this question to a group of religious leaders who had come to petition him, “How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? ” He answered his own question with this response, “Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

Mimsy and I go for a walk on this last day of 2018. Like all Japanese Chin, she has a fine tail, it arches over her back with long feathery plumes.. FoxNews or CNN (not to mention even less reputable news feeds) can call it anything they want, but it is just a tail and Mimsy will never have more than four legs.

Here is my prayer and resolution for this coming year.

Lord, make me small, contract my world. Help me to focus on the people that I can look in the eye or shake their hand, from family members to those checking out my purchases at the grocery store. I will do my best to not overreact to some half-baked story before all the facts are in. I will try to expend my energies not on Putin, U.S. politicians or political correctness absurdities, but on mustering patience with co-workers when I’m not feeling particularly patient. Remind me to offer a smile and a “How’s it going” to a stranger. Give me the wisdom to speak words of encouragement rather than words of outrage, words of healing and not division. Help me to listen to a neighbor’s opinion, rather than offer mine unasked for. Make me small.

Poppy … wishing you a very happy New Year. Let’s get small!

 

Two Funerals, a Cold Rain and the Great Ledger

I cranked the thermostat up a notch. It was not freezing, the temperature was in the lower 40’s, but after several days of persistent rain, an unwelcome guest, the dampness, was starting to creep in. Our 1890 house has many charms, but energy efficiency is not one of them.

Mimsy and I set out for our final stroll of the night. Neither of us pleased to be out in the weather, but it had to be done. We walked down the sidewalk as the cars traveling up and down Elizabeth Avenue created a spray and swooshing sound unique to tires on wet roads.

Mimsy had her mind on the scents contained within the piles of damp leaves along our route, my mind was on two funerals confronting us this week. We humans have a habit of attributing deaths that happen close to major holidays as somehow more tragic than those happening on a date with nothing more important than Fire Prevention Safety Week on the calendar. It’s not true, but hey, that’s what we humans do.

As Mimsy was busy sniffing, I thought of the two people recently deceased. One, a former co-worker, a woman only slightly older than myself. She had the gift of selfless giving and attending the needs of others before herself.  She will be missed. The other person … well, I feel sorry for the minister asked to give the eulogy.

Funerals seem to come often these days. It goes with the territory, I suppose. As Christians we have the head knowledge that we are not saved by our works or inner goodness, but as the tendrils of dampness find a way to sneak into my house, thoughts of doubt and insecurity sneak into my mind. What have I done?  Have I made a difference? Have I contributed to the great ledger? Will I, in some small fashion, leave the world a better place? Why am I even here?

It’s a safe bet you will never see my portrait on the cover of Time magazine as Man of the Year or read the announcement that Poppy has just won the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor I would kill for. (sorry, couldn’t resist)

There will never be any fanfare over any action of mine, angels will not suddenly appear, singing a heavenly chorus above my head. (this is for the best as it would scare the crap out of Mimsy and myself)

I am as far from a celebrity or public figure as is possible. My sphere of influence is limited to my family, co-workers, neighbors, the check-out people at the grocery store ( because I’m there every other day). If I am to make any sort of difference, to contribute to the great ledger, it is with these people. Fortunately they are just as ordinary, just as flawed as I am.

I would love to be a veritable cornucopia of the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control … but I am not that guy. My best hope is to let a little of God’s grace show through, maybe just a touch of patience as the lady in front of me at the checkout line slowly and thoroughly searches through her purse to find the pennies needed to pay for her purchase with exact change.

Poppy

 

 

The Unrecorded Prayer and a Thankful Heart

At the time we didn’t know it would be Dad’s last Thanksgiving. We gathered around the dining room table, patiently waiting as Mom scurried back and forth from the kitchen, retrieving some item she thought we would need. Finally everyone settled and we bowed our heads. There was no question who would offer the grace. At 98, Dad was very much the patriarch and spiritual leader of the family. As he started his prayer, I realized too late that I should be recording the moment. I fumbled for my phone, but then stopped.

There are times I regret not capturing that fragment of time, but perhaps it is for the best. It was too sacred a moment to be sullied by technology.

I can’t recall any of the specific words, only the emotion.

Ray Agnew was unencumbered by any vanity. More than anyone I’ve known, he had a servant’s heart. Every deed, every action was done to further the kingdom of God, never to seek recognition for himself.

The words he spoke were plain. The meaning profound. Simple words. Words of love for everyone gathered at the table. Sincere words of appreciation for the food before us, spoken from one who had lived through times when food was not bountiful. And of course words of thanksgiving to his Savior, always ending the same way … “in Jesus name.”

Though I did not record the moment, it is clear in my mind. Dad sitting back as Mom fussed over the food, his shirt slightly crumpled, softened by a hundred washings. Hair thin, but not given over entirely to grey. A slight smile on his face as he viewed Lillie Bell unnecessarily worrying over some small detail.

When it comes to parents, I have an embarrassment of riches. This is our first Thanksgiving without Mom. Dad has been gone for several years. Technically I am the patriarch of our little family. If I’m totally honest, I feel like an imposter, but I am a thankful imposter none the less.

Donald Trump is a Jerk and Why I’m Voting Republican

I pray for forgiveness of sins done and undone and this is why I’m writing this post. I don’t know that I will change anyone’s mind, but I don’t want the regrets of not giving it my best shot.

Let’s get something out of the way right now, God is neither a Republican or Democrat, in fact he’s not even an American. I hope that doesn’t shock you too much ( I still hold to the hope that he prefers the Cardinals over the Cubs, but have not been able to find any evidence of that in Holy Scriptures). While God may be neither Republican or Democrat, I believe that he loves every human everywhere as his child and values the sanctity of the life he has given us all..

The political landscape is as divisive as I have ever seen. Civility is not just missing, a stake has been driven through her heart. The hot topics (generally) are not ones of foreign policy or financial philosophies  but social issues; immigration, gender identity, LGBT adoption rights, healthcare, religious freedom act, gun control, etc. These are all important and very emotional issues.

I find it ironic that we are living in an era where by most measures we are more sensitive than any other point in time. We agonize over using plastic straws for fear that they may end up in the ocean inserted into a sea turtle’s nostril. We debate safe spaces for students at universities where they can gather to avoid a speaker or event that may offend them. We have raised the level of awareness for animal rights but yet we are willing to stop the beating heart of an unborn human baby, to suck him or her from the safety of it’s mother’s womb or dismember it all under the name of “reproductive health.”

But … but … but that’s just one issue among many you say.

Yes, but it’s the only issue that at it’s core is a matter of life and death.

I am hesitant to mention Nazis because that is so overdone, but imagine a defense of the Nazi party based on the argument that extermination of the Jews was just one plank in their platform. Any reasonable person would find that argument repugnant and indefensible.

Every year in America the Democratic party salutes as over 300,000 babies are violently torn from their mother’s wombs. That’s harsh you say … but the Democratic Party has made abortion a major plank in their platform and chooses their judges and candidates accordingly.

I wish this were not true. Neither Republicans or Democrats hold a monopoly on good policy ideas, but I will not sell out my principles for legislation that will benefit me financially or provide some measure of convenience when there are matters of life and death at stake.

Imagine a country where we truly embraced the sanctity of life from the beginning  until death, across every social, economic, religious and racial strata. I believe this has to start with the most innocent and helpless among us.

Yes, Donald Trump can be a real jerk, offensive and abrasive, but I have no other choice than to vote Republican this Tuesday.

Addendum, 11-15-18:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” …Elie Wiesel

 

 

To Gavin, on the Occasion of Your 13th Birthday

Gavin,

When your mom asked me if I would be willing to contribute to the book she was creating for your 13th birthday, I jumped at the chance. There were 3 reasons why I accepted; the first being respect for your mother, and knowing her love for you, the second … it’s rare that someone wants to hear your opinions and advice (though you notice she was asking advice for you, not herself), and thirdly, I have a grandson a year and a half younger than you, I want him to hear the same ideas that I am passing on to you.

Where to begin? The transition from boyhood to becoming a man does not happen at a specific age or chronological point. It happens early for some and never for others. There is no guidebook or manual for this journey. Like most things in life it is often messy and confusing. It is a stew made from relationships, character, learning, self-awareness, kindness, patience, self-control, and perseverance among others. It is stirred with experiences, successes, failures and time. Done properly this topic would take volumes, following are just a few highlights, things that I am working on during my journey.

  1. Always be learning, always stay curious. Staying curious will be the closest thing you will find to the fountain of youth. It’s a big ol’ crazy world out there, packed with different people, cultures, ideas, music, food, literature, etc. Sample as much as you can and learn from everything … and not just once. At age 13 sushi may not appeal to you, at age 25 it might be your favorite. At 13 you might shake your head at be-bop jazz, at 30 you might be the drummer in a local group. You can’t possibly know or experience everything, but there is enough to keep you busy your entire life.
  2. Accept that life is not fair … never has been, never will be. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people. You can’t control most things that happen to you, but you can control how you react to those events. When bad things happen (and they will) don’t give in to feeling sorry for yourself, and don’t take on a victim mentality (ever).
  3. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. Develop the skill of self-awareness. As you grow and mature you will learn your strengths and your weaknesses. Think about the people you are most at ease with, chances are they are comfortable with themselves, They have learned that they are not perfect, neither are they losers. It’s likely that you also know people who feel the constant need to impress others, or pretend to be something they are not. Learn that being Gavin is a good thing, that God created you exactly as he wanted.
  4. Hard work beats luck every-time. Hard work is hard, and there is no substitute. Hard work can also bring joy and happiness. We don’t often think of hard work and happiness together but nothing will give you greater sense of satisfaction than setting a tough goal for yourself and achieving it.
  5. Just a few good friends. Aside from your family, your friends can be the biggest influence on the kind of man you will become. Choose wisely. Friendship like any relationship will take work (see point 4). A few solid friends are worth more than a hundred “friends” on any social media site.
  6. Walking among immortals. I can’t make this point half as well as C.S. Lewis, so I will just quote him,“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal … it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.”
    This was eye-opening for me. I don’t always succeed, but I try to view everyone I see, first as a child of God, before I make any snap judgments based on their looks, dress, speech, etc. You will never meet anyone who is 100% good or 100% bad, but everyone will have a story to tell and something to teach you.
  7. Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. I purchased this t-shirt for my grandson a few weeks ago because I wanted him to remember this. There is a lot of wisdom to unpack in these 9 words. Though this comes from William Shakespeare and not Holy Scripture, we all could do a lot worse than trying to apply this to our lives.

Gavin, I look forward to seeing the grown man you will become. Godspeed.

Poppy

The Perpetual Flirtation: a play in one act

In this drama the role of the young maid is played by the sea.
The part of the mature gentleman is played by the land.

I stood at that magical demarcation, where the sea ends and the land begins, watching the never-ending flirtation between the two principal characters.

The sea gathers herself, curling and flexing, thrusting herself upon the land … stroking, teasing, then pulling back, laughing. The land gave of himself to the sea. She accepted the offering, rolling his essence in her waves, considering the gift before returning it to the shore.

The tempo and pace of this eternal flirtation is ever-changing, from the gentlest of caresses, to the violent and angry crashes of the most severe lovers quarrel. The lovers can never be truly joined or truly separate, living in an endless state of give and take, ebb and flow.

The sea is the ultimate seductress, her craft honed from the practice of thousands of years. Her siren’s call extends not only to the land, but all who live on the land. I am not immune. I stand at that junction where the lovers meet and feel her call just as sure as I feel the sand being pulled from beneath my feet by her force..

This is a drama that begs for audience participation and has no problem gathering volunteers of all ages.

Children run uninhibited along the shore and into the waves, their squeals and laughter mingle with the mews of the gulls, no grownups admonish them to be quiet. Young lovers stretch out on the sand letting the waves caress them as they have caressed each other, dreaming of the future and children of their own. Those of a mature age watch the children and young lovers, remembering, smiling, feeling the warmth of the sun and the massage of the water work wonders that no pills can deliver. Those with worries and stress walk along the line of magical demarcation and feel those cares melt and drift out to sea.

Tomorrow I leave this elemental flirtation and head far inland, God willing, I will return.

Poppy

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
by John Masefield