Sunday, July 26, 2015

Soaring in the Valley

Behold the birds of the air; they do not sow, reap, or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? – Jesus

I was driving over the Norris Hill with a friend and looking high above the hill we saw a flock of large, white birds flying around quite aimlessly. Manny gazed at them for a moment and said, “There’s a flock of pelicans up there.” He paused and added, “… they just seem to love to fly, don’t they?”

I peered up at the aerialists and had to agree. They were not flying south for the winter or north for the summer; they didn’t appear to be looking for the river or lake, nor did they seem to be on the hunt for food. They were in a formation of sorts. That is, they were flying loosely together in one direction and then another, but their turns were slow and lazy, and not quite in sync with one another if one was expecting the military precision of the Blue Angels, but certainly their aerial choreography had a sweet rhythm to it.

As we climbed the hill heading home toward Ennis I could see they were enjoying the thermal drafts carrying them up; when they got as high as they felt appropriate they turned and began their slow spiral back to a lower altitude and then, once again, they would find a draft to carry them high aloft for another ride into the wild blue yonder.

Looking back on that trip, I couldn’t help but recall Jesus’ remark about birds. They do not plant, nor do they reap, nor do they store up in barns or fruit cellars, and yet God takes care of them just fine.

That doesn’t mean birds don’t have to work for their supper, of course. Pelicans have to go fishing, robins have to go worming, and hummingbirds seek nectar. All creatures, including sloths and nematodes have to take care of themselves for the sake of survival. The point is they don’t seem to fret over it.

Out on my deck I have a Valley Girl tomato plant I bought at the Farmer’s Market in town one recent Saturday. She had some nice flowers in June and today has three tomatoes. I was disappointed in the numbers as I was hoping for more. I wondered if I should have gotten several plants; maybe she craves company. She has a wonderful home and, when I caught a deer trying to make a meal of her I chased it off the deck and blocked the stairway. I have become quite maternal over my baby (and her babies).

I keep an eye on her soil and see to it she has the water she needs; I protect her from predators and the wind; I chat with her each day to see how she is doing. I have also gone online to research tomato basics to ensure I am meeting her needs.

Growing up I was taught to remove suckers from tomato plants but learned it is better to leave them alone. They do not steal nutrients but will produce fruit of their own – I did not know that!

So, if I – the poster child for Brown-Thumb-Gardeners – can figure how to take care of a silly little tomato plant, how much more is God – the Author-and-Giver-of-Life – able to take care of the silly little creatures we are?

Like the birds, we each need to do our part to make sure there is food on the table and a roof over our heads. I believe God created us to be creative and productive; I also know that not all “fear and anxiety” is created equal – some of us suffer from mental health disorders of which fear and anxiety is a part.

Jesus was not addressing mental illness, but the sin of avarice – greed – which steals our joy because we fear losing what we have and believe we need to have even more in order to “be” happy.

To we avaricious types (and that afflicts most of us, I suspect) Jesus says, “Look at the Pelicans. With their wings they rise on thermals and return safely to the earth. They let go, and they let God.”

I want to fill my wings with God in this, our valley.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bullets in the Valley

The kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Jesus

For the past few weeks I have been in beautiful downtown Salt Lake City for our church’s national convention. We meet every three years to see where we are, look to where we’re headed, and discerning what we need to do to get there.

I have been impressed with a number of things about both the convention, which was being held at the Salt Palace Convention Center, and the city. Our motel was only four blocks from the Palace, but the blocks here are humungous. Apparently they are each an acre as the city founders wanted everyone to have space for a garden.

The streets are also very wide as the city planners, led by Brigham Young, did not want drivers to be tempted to curse while turning or maneuvering their horse drawn wagons. The best part of all this was that I really got to put my new fitness trainer to work counting steps and stairs as I chose to walk rather than availing myself of the shuttle. There were a few days in which that seemed less than wise as temperatures hit triple digits, but I survived and felt pretty good in the process.

One of the non-convention events I participated in was a march against gun-violence. There were about 1,500 to 2,000 people gathered for the march; we were led by the bishop of Utah, Scott Hayashi (who was nearly killed as a young man when he was shot by a robber while working the counter at a convenience store), and marched from the Salt Palace to Pioneer Park and back.

The point of the march was not to promote the end of gun ownership, but to encourage folks to seek solutions to the epidemic of gun violence. Simple laws requiring universal back-ground checks, cooling-off periods, gun registrations, and the like have been shown to be effective in reducing gun-violence in states that enact those laws. They don’t eliminate gun violence, but they do reduce the number of deaths and injuries.

If all life matters, and I believe it does, then doesn’t it make sense to work together to address the problems directly and find solutions?

I have never been shot, but I have been shot at. I stood on the fire escape of an old flea-bag motel in Spokane – I was a cop back then – and watched the muzzle blast of a handgun fired through the window while the bullet went whizzing past me. The gunman was a fellow with mental health problems; he then turned the gun on himself, ending the standoff.

Winston Churchill once confessed that there is nothing as exhilarating as being shot at and missed, and I agree.

Another time I stepped into the back yard of a home where a counselor was asking for help with a troubled client. As I passed through a low opening in the hedge surrounding the yard, I found myself standing twenty feet from a young man holding a 30-30 lever action rifle. If he had wanted to, he could easily have taken me out. Instead, he chose to end his own life right then and there (and I am still haunted by the memories of that most tragic event).

No one believes laws will prevent firearms from getting into the hands of criminals, but criminals aren’t the only people using guns in acts of violence. Of the 30,000 gun-related deaths each year, about a third are homicides, while two thirds are suicides (with a smattering of accidents and unintentional fatalities recorded each year). That coincided with my experience.

I know that gun ownership does save lives occasionally. I saw a report just the other day of a former CNN reporter and her husband being robbed at gun-point in their motel room. The couple were armed, a gun-fight broke out in which the robber was killed. The husband suffered a gun-shot wound in the melee, but he (and his wife) survived.

Jesus recognized the human propensity to solve problems with violence and power. Human history shows us just how ineffective that route can be to bringing about peace.

If life matters, and I think it does, perhaps it is time to turn down the rhetoric and lower our voices, and to start talking with one another here in this, God’s Valley. There has simply GOT to be another way.