Thursday, May 28, 2009

Whistling in the Light

O Lord … you send forth your Spirit, and all life is created; and so you renew the face of the earth … I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being. – Psalm 104:31, 34

I like to whistle as I work. Why? Because I enjoy work; I enjoy labor (as long as it’s not too intensive, laborious, or hot outside); and I enjoy being productive.

When one is happy, it is most natural to sing, whistle, or demonstrate the joy one is feeling through the outward manifestations of song and dance. Joy really isn’t joy until the body is involved. If you don’t believe me, just look at your dog’s tail when she’s about to get a treat, or when she hears the family car pull up into the driveway. Her joy is full and uncontainable, and her tail lets you know it.

My lips are my tail, so to speak. When I’m happy, I whistle. Whistling has the added benefit of letting people know I’m around, and let’s them know where they can find me. On more than one occasion my whistling has saved me from getting a door flung open into my oncoming face – and from inflicting grievous bodily harm on others while rounding a dark, blind corner.

I don’t think anyone else in the family whistles – or at least not that I’ve heard, but that’s OK. Not all are called to whistle. Some hum; others bop and nod to the beat of whatever is on their portable music player; and still others work quietly, letting the peace and tranquility of silence serve notice to the world of their joy and inner harmony. After all, when it comes to happiness, there are no rules – there’s “just right.”

I think God is a whistler. Astronomers and astrophysicists tells us that they can hear the music of the universe – the music of creation – through their huge radio telescopes, and even though I don’t understand the technology they use, I think I understand what they are saying. The music of the spheres bears witness to the glory of our Creator God.

I don’t think there is nearly enough whistling these days – real or figurative. It seems to me that many people take life far too seriously. It is almost as if there is a premium or a bounty paid to those who scowl, grouse, or moan. There must be; why else would we see so many grumps driving down the road?

On the other hand, I’m not sure that the problem is seriousness. Life is a serious business, and keeping a roof over one’s head and food on one’s table can certainly be challenging and trying. It’s nothing to be laughed at or scoffed at; but does it require folks to act so dour and sour all the time?

It seems the question isn’t one of seriousness, but of thankfulness or heart-felt gratitude – or the lack of appreciating what we do, indeed, have. I need to ask my more somber brothers and sisters: When faced with a challenge, would you rather find yourself in the company of those who wring their hands and fret, or with those who eagerly roll up their sleeves and dive into the fray with gusto?

Teddy Roosevelt was one of those people who loved to dive into a problem whole-heartedly. He was convinced it was far better to try mighty things and fail, than to try nothing and succeed. Life is a great and wonderful gift, given to us by God, and it would be a terrible waste of that good gift if we could not approach life with humility and grace, and tackle the challenges before us with a certain élan begotten by love, joy, peace, happiness, and thanksgiving.

If I have a choice – and I think we all do – I prefer to live life a happy fool and perhaps dare great things, rather than to live so carefully and soberly that the only evidence of my having passed this way would be a wan, gray trail of veritable slug slime.

I believe God whistled this, our valley into existence, and we do not honor God by slugging our way through life; rather, I believe we honor God best when we whistle, sing, and dance before him. You and I are His opus; how tweet it is!

From my lips to your ears, O Lord: Halleluia!

Note: Photo Credit embedded in Photo Name

Friday, May 22, 2009

Parting Sorrows

Success is a wonderful thing, but it tends not to be the sort of experience that we learn from. We enjoy it; perhaps we even deserve it. But we don't acquire wisdom from it. – Timothy Noah

The disciples looked up into the sky, shielding their eyes against the bright rays of the mid-day sun. John, whose young eyes were the sharpest, was least able of the lot to see Jesus disappear from view. You see, while his eyesight was keen, his vision was greatly impaired by his tears.

Yes, tears. Barely forty days earlier Jesus had been taken from them, tried by the religious leaders and Roman authorities, flogged, sentenced to death, nailed to a tree, and buried in a tomb not even his own. Two days later (three as some count the days), Jesus had apparently been evicted from the borrowed tomb, for neither he nor his body were to be found there.

What happened next was as big a mystery as any of the good folks at CSI-Jerusalem would ever face, and no ancient sleuth or detective type would ever really figure out what happened to the body of the man they had executed. All they could say for sure is that the body had gone missing. They had at least twelve persons they could suspect of being grave robbers, and yet it seemed highly unlikely that those who fled into the darkness when Jesus was arrested would have had the guts or skills to spirit away a body lying in a tomb, guarded by heavily armed soldiers and police, and further secured by a heavy stone. But gone he was, and the locals were abuzz with rumors too bizarre to be considered seriously.

For forty days Jesus had become a now-you-see-him and now-you-don’t phenomenon. Sometimes you would find him popping up in a locked room; other times you might find him walking with friends along a dusty road, eating fish, breaking bread, and continuing to teach as was his custom; and at yet other times he might fix you breakfast on the beach after helping to turn around what had been a horrible night of coming up empty fishing to netting an unbelievable catch.

But now … now he was gone.

We are told that Jesus “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father …” We, especially we of a more rational or scientific bent, may have trouble understanding some of the physics behind the ascension, perhaps even to the point of calling it a myth or a metaphor; but what seems clear to me is the depth of sorrow one feels when another – especially one who is loved – is taken from us.

We grieve death; we grieve loss; we grieve those we love and see no more. And yet …

And yet the story we hear, and the story we read, and the story we tell is this: God did not allow his holy one to see corruption (that is, did not allow the body time to decay and feed the worms). “He is not here,” says the angel at the tomb. “He has risen, just as he told you.” He did not descend to the depths to stay, but has gone directly to be with God in heaven.

We do not seek Jesus among those who have died; rather, we seek those who have died among the One who lives – Jesus. Jesus has gone to be with his father. So do those we love and see no more. The body is sown corruptible, but is raised incorruptible.

In the pain of separation we feel like we’re stumbling around in the dark. It doesn’t matter if the darkness and despair are connected to a literal form of death, or in the loss of a job, or the death of a marriage, or in the loss of one’s health, or in the death of one’s dream; it doesn’t matter if the loss has been anticipated, contemplated, planned and prepared for, or if it comes to hit us like a bolt of lightning from out of the blue. Death is devastating, and its horrifying, and it is hell on earth.

But in the ascension, we see in picture-form God’s promise that we’ll not be left in the lurch; we’ll not be abandoned or dismissed with wishes for “better luck next time”. Instead, God who dwelt with us in human form will come to us again in the power of his spirit to embrace us, to strengthen us, and to carry us forward.

The ascension of our Lord tells us, in the end, two things: First, that where Jesus goes we will follow (we have his word on that); and secondly, that Jesus leaves the world in good hands. Those hands have wounds, to be sure. They are, after all, hands that were nailed to the tree, and we have been every bit as wounded in life as Jesus. But if we listen to the Spirit, we will know that we do not have to lash out in pain, but hold on in love. Hold on to God; and hold on to one another.

It will never get any better than that in this, our valley. Peace!

Note: Photo Credit embedded in Photo Name

Friday, May 15, 2009


As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might. – Marion Anderson

The other night I was watching TV when Barb came and said, “Keith, come here; there’s something wrong with Sophie!”

Sophie is our cat, and as cats go, she’s actually quite delightful. Unlike many felines, which are often snooty and stand-offish in their demeanor, Sophie enjoys her people. She does not consider herself our superior, but does take a leadership role in the family. She’s not arrogant and demanding, but when she wants something, she lets you know with a gentle nudge.

One of her favorite past-times is playing fetch. She will bring a hair scrunchie and drop it at your feet, waiting patiently for you to shoot it across the room. She loves to go pouncing after scrunchies, chasing them down like vermin and bringing them back in triumph as trophies of the big hunt; then she drops them at your feet, ready to go again.

Sophie is an indoor cat – mostly because we’d rather not deal with ticks and fleas and evidence of her hunting skills which would please her far more than they would please us, I am sure. Being an indoor cat simply means she doesn’t associate with neighborhood puddies as much as she might if we let her run loose. She doesn’t seem to mind. She may not be able to make mad, passionate love, being an indoor sort, but then again she doesn’t come home the victim of a neighborhood brawl, either – which brings us back to our story.

Barb was sure there was something wrong with Sophie, as she (the cat) was sitting in the hallway moaning in a very peculiar manner. I got up to see what was wrong, and found her sitting in the hall staring at our neighbor’s orange long-hair gib*. Somehow, the neighbor’s tommy had gotten into the house (probably through the garage door when Barb came home) and was simply sitting in the hallway, looking at Sophie.

Harley (the neighbor cat) just sat there with a small bemused smile. He seemed quite pleased with himself, and was most unconcerned with my arrival on scene. The crisis came to a resolution and conclusion when I picked up Harley, scratched the underside of his chin, wished him well, and returned him to the great outdoors. Sophie didn’t say “thank you” but did seem somewhat relieved and appreciative of my efforts, and that is as much as any cat owner can ever hope for – even from a scrunchie-chasing phenom like Sophie.

I felt a little bad for Sophie at first, for it seemed like I had deprived her of a golden opportunity to get to know her neighbor better, and yet I know that cats are social isolationists and that what I did was beneficial and possibly prevented a major Maul in the Hall.

But people are different, aren’t we? We’re not well-suited for isolation. We want company; we need other people if our hearts are going to sing in purr-fect harmony. We need people to lift us up; we need people to share our burdens, to help make things right when things go wrong, and to light a lamp when life goes dark.

It is so tragic to see people put down because their language is different, or their skin is different, or their culture is different, or their religion, or their food, or their clothes. Too much of what we say or do isolates us from one another, squashing hopes and dreams of a better life for everyone. How tragic, and how sad: going through life with claws bared so no balloon will ever dare come near to lift you up onto the thermals that promise a view of greater things.

How Cat-astrophic. How Myow-pic.

The truth is that when we put one person down (as Anderson says above), we ourselves are grounded with them; but when we lift a person up – any person – we are free to fly, to soar, and to see one thing most clearly: We need one another in this, our valley. Believing that – wouldn’t that just be the cat’s pajamas?


* gib is a term used to describe a male cat that has been neutered.

Green to Grow

inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness. – Brenda Ueland

Have you ever been to Spokane?

Some of you have, but many have not, and that isn’t surprising. Many of you probably didn’t get to the World Exposition that was held there in 1974, and while it is a delightful town, there probably isn’t a lot that would draw you there right now, and that’s OK.

I was thinking about Spokane as I was stuck trailing behind a city bus here the other day. I couldn’t see around it at the time, which isn’t unusual when one considers how much taller and wider they are than the cars, trucks, and motorcycles most of us use. That’s when it dawned on me that our local buses haven’t got one key safety feature I have seen on buses in Spokane.

What is interesting is that one wouldn’t normally think of putting “Spokane” and “cutting edge” into the same sentence, and yet it seems that Spokane may have developed or discovered cutting edge technology when it comes to traffic safety. If it isn’t cutting edge, then it is at least unique, and it isn’t something I’ve seen replicated elsewhere in my travels.

And what is this “cutting edge” innovation? Lights. Spokane’s city buses have an extra set of lights that help make getting stuck behind them less nerve-wracking.

Centered on the back of each bus is a set of three lamps: a green lamp, flanked on either side by yellow (or amber) lamps. When the driver is accelerating, the green lights up; when the driver takes his or her foot off the accelerator, the ambers light up; and when the driver steps on the brakes, the red lights do their usual job.

I really like knowing that when I am following a bus in Spokane (keeping a safe and legal amount of separation, of course) I am not completely blind to what lies ahead. The bus’ lights keep me informed so that I can respond appropriately, even to that which is unseen, for the bus driver’s feet have become my eyes, and I think that makes the streets there just a little bit safer for everyone.

I don’t know if there is any way to hang a set of lights on life that will help us see the road ahead through the eyes of the One we follow. The future is a mystery and always will be to us mere mortals.

On the other hand, if we’re heading the same way as the One we follow, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate the personal transportation device we’re in (sometimes called “ego”) and simply climb on board the bus and enjoy the ride?

In that way, we don’t need to worry about where to hang lights or lamps, nor do we need to fret about what lies ahead. Rather, we can keep our hands, feet, eyes, and ears open and free to be of service in this, our valley. Constructive idleness might even allow us the capacity to be more creative with our time and energy by granting us solitude and idleness enough to prime the pump of godly inspiration.

Spiritual progress only comes when we make time for it in our lives: Green for Go, and Green to Grow. Peace!