Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Birth of Christmas

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given …” Isaiah 9:6

Many years ago there lived a young girl; she was probably sixteen to eighteen and betrothed to a village handyman. Some traditions suggest he might have been in his thirties or forties, and possibly a widower. However, it’s more likely he was younger – perhaps eighteen to twenty-one years of age. We don’t know, of course, as the evangelists did not provide those details. Maybe age isn’t important for what followed, but I think it helps set the tone for our understanding Christmas a little better.

In modern-day America, Christmas conjures up images of reindeer, chubby elves, nativity sets, candy canes, and a saccharine yearning for a world that never really was – snow falling at the perfect moment, or families gathered Norman-Rockwell-like around a tree.

Consequently, Christmas can often be a let-down. For many people it is a blue season; it’s a depressing time of year that fits in with the long, cold, dark nights much better than the twinkling delights hung in windows and along eaves troughs, or images of steam wafting gently into the snow-chilled air from a cup of scalding hot chocolate,.

The first Christmas was definitely not a dazzling one for that first couple lo those many years ago. For one thing, while Mary and Joseph were betrothed and supposed to be looking forward to life shared together in matrimonial harmony, she came down with a sudden case of the “preggers.” This did not bode well on many levels, not the least of which was living in a town whose major trade was likely in the field of gossip.

Secondly, since Joseph was not the father, humanly speaking, Mary was seriously at risk of being accused of adultery and suffering lethal consequences. Even if she were allowed to slip away quietly, everyone would know she was “tainted goods” and she’d live out her days with a scarlet letter hung invisibly about her neck. Happy days? I think not.

Still, we are told that Joseph was a “righteous” man. That means he was trusted to act and judge wisely; his primary desire was to always do what was pleasing to God.

He was told in a dream, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary for your wife.” Therefore he did not condemn her, but chose instead to embrace the dream, and through the dream, he embraced Mary, and in embracing Mary, he received as his own the One whom she carried.

Mary herself was no shrinking violet. Although the arts have often portrayed her as a quiet, mouse-like figure “pondering” the words of the angel and puzzling out what they meant, she was not one to let life run her over; she was a typical teenager.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace …”

“What sort of greeting is that?” asked Mary in return. She wasn’t batting her baby blues, biting her lip, and acting demure (and please note, her “baby blues” were no doubt the chocolaty brown of her Semitic heritage). Having God drop into one’s life, whether directly or by angelic stunt-double, never bodes well for the recipient; it means one’s life and plans are being irretrievably changed.

As the old saying goes, God loves us the way we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way.

Mary doesn’t just blithely accept the words of the angel. She challenges the notion she will have a child when she hasn’t done anything to make that happen (and hadn’t planned to until after the nuptials!). But the angel assures her it won’t be her doing, but God’s, and while she has every reason in the world to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” she doesn’t. Instead, she bows her head, and gives herself to God – who gives himself to her.

Christmas isn’t about the tree, the tinsel, the lights, or the presents we exchange. As with Mary, it’s about God becoming vulnerable, placing his life in our hands, entrusting his own well-being to our questionable, human mercies, and saying, “I’ve got your back; will you have mine?”

And if, like Mary, we’ve got any gumption at all, we’ll accept the challenge, receive the child, and seek to bless the world – making a very Merry Christmas that much more possible in this, our valley – for unto us, the Son IS given.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

War on Christmas - Reporting From the Trenches

There will be wars and rumors of wars; do not be disturbed – Matthew 24:6
I see the War on Christmas has returned.
I have good news. It appears to be restricted to the world of Social Media. No one else in the world seems to be worried about it. I presume that’s because it is neither a real war, nor is it even a real thing. It’s a made-up war, mostly made up by people with a surplus of time on their hands.
That’s not to say there ISN’T a war on Christmas. Just because a war doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
A few weeks back a well-known coffee company brought out its holiday cup; they had the audacity to decorate it with people getting along peaceably with one another.
“What on earth has that got to do with Christmas?” cried a number of indignant souls. “Don’t they realize Christmas is about a mass of humanity smashing their way into stores the day after Thanksgiving and crushing all competitors underfoot?”
Yes, I guess one could say there is a war on Christmas; it’s being waged in the trenches of Social Media. Ironically, “social” media has become quite unsocial, if not anti-social: “Happy Holidays? Happy Freaking Holidays? It’s Christmas!!! ‘Like’ this post if you agree to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, or may your bed be filled with the fleas of a thousand Mooses if you fail to paste and post and pass along this Jesus-loving sentiment!”
I would like to offer my services as an Ambassador of Good Will and reflect on this pseudo-war of which I write.
First, Christmas is a Christian holiday. It is recognized for the most part by one billion people. That sounds like a lot of human beings, but there are another six billion or so for whom it does not apply. So while it might be nice to offer a passer-by a cheery “Merry Christmas,” it would not be inappropriate to wish them an equally cheery “Happy Holidays.”
Why? Because there are a bunch of holidays recognized and practiced by people of many faiths around the globe this time of year, and such a pleasant greeting includes Christmas, without denigrating the faiths of our neighbors.
Secondly, “holiday” is an English word combining (and contracting) “holy day.” A holy day is a day set aside. Set aside for what, you ask? It is a day set apart so people can focus on God. So to wish someone a Happy Holiday is a way of inviting them to experience a time of connecting with God – and enjoying the experience. Is that a bad thing?
What happens if we decide not to get worked up into a lather in the Happy-Holiday-Merry-Christmas flap? Will God be upset? I’m talking about the One who sent down a chorus of angels who sang “Peace on Earth, good will to all …”
I know there are some who have been rebuffed for offering a hearty Merry Christmas to someone who snapped or snarled, finding the greeting offensive or objectionable, but that hardly counts as a “war” and, frankly, says more about them than the well-wisher. It also doesn’t mean you can’t say “Merry Christmas,” or call that tall green thing in your living room a Christmas Tree. That’s our prerogative; that’s our option; that’s what the First Amendment allows us to say and do.
Personally, I like using all the tools at my disposal this time of year for offering gentle greetings. If I am talking to known members of a church, I wish them a Merry Christmas; if to strangers and passers-by, Happy Holidays. To change it up, I sometimes tender a Feliz Navidad (even if they aren’t Hispanic), or Joyeux Noel (even if they aren’t French), or God Jul (even if they aren’t Swedish).
The point is, it is a season for grace, and the more graceful we can be with one another, the more likely we will obtain the gift of peace that passes all understanding. I suspect that was the purpose behind that first Christmas some twenty centuries ago.
So let’s restore the social to our social media and greet one another kindly over these next few weeks. There are some folks who need loving in this, our valley. Mele Kalikimaka.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On Eagles' Wings

… (A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today… The Big Book

My wife and I were out for a drive not too long ago. We were on our way to Sheridan, driving down along the highway approaching Alder. I was keeping an eye on the road, watching for deer, moose, elk, badgers, skunks, and other assorted road-hazards when the one thing I was NOT watching for swooped into view.
Approaching our little tin-can on wheels was the largest eagle I have ever seen. Eagles are magnificent birds, but since I am normally a hundred yards or more distant when I see them, this one caught me quite off guard. I was shocked by the sheer size of the bird. I am sure it was the raptor that rescued Gandalf from Saruman’s awful tower in Middle Earth, but if not, it sure could have been a close relative (referring to the eagle, and not to the wizard).
I think the poor creature was also taken aback to find us in his (or her) glide path; I suspect it was en route to pluck a fish out of Alder Creek, or maybe a marmot along the bank. As it approached the side of our car, it recognized the error of its ways and immediately banked right, like an F-16 avoiding a Russian MIG (and lord knows it was rushin’).
Unfortunately, it was going so fast and was upon us so quickly, tragedy was imminent.
That’s when the poor bird did everything she needed to do for survival. The incident took on one of those slow-motion effects one sees in movies when life is happening too fast for the naked eye to keep up. My mouth opened up to shout some “oh, shoot” sort of expletive, as my wife balled up into a fetal position and made herself as close to her birth-size as possible. There was a shriek to be heard, too, but whether it was the eagle, wife, or me was too hard to tell with any precision.
As all of this was going on, the eagle continued her turn and made an effort to ascend. She flapped her great wings with power and purpose, and then … then the miracle happened!
She lightened her load explosively, which enabled her to streak skyward. She left her payload sprayed across the front and top of our car, but the mother of all collisions was avoided.
Simultaneously, our poor little Suzuki (which is a beautiful shade of black) took on the appearance of a skunk rolling along the highway atop a skateboard!
The good news, of course: we survived an accident that never happened due to the eagle’s quick thinking (and the fact birds lack a control mechanism in areas not spoken of in polite company).
In any case, time returned to its normal pace and we finished our journey, returning home none the worse for wear (after giving our car a run through the local carwash).
I am truly grateful that neither bird nor humans were injured or killed there along the Alder Gulch. I am also grateful I was able to see the magnificent grace of an American Bald Eagle up close and personal. I probably could have done without it costuming the car early for Halloween, but better to have it splashed on that than m’love and me, eh?
I learned a long time ago that it is quite helpful to “let go and let God” (as the old cliché puts it). If the bird hadn’t “let go” – there’s a chance God would have entered the picture for one or more of us sooner, rather than later. I’m looking forward to the trip through the pearly gates, but I’m not in THAT big a hurry, I must confess.
Sometimes we think of letting go as something of a sacrifice – of giving up things we like and appreciate. But sometimes it is the other stuff, the stinky stuff we have to be willing to give up, and in doing so, come to find our lives are better for it. I’m thinking of things like resentments, frustrations, or events from our past.

Giving those things up could be really good for us – our health and vitality, and dumping that stuff might just allow us to soar higher in this, our valley. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Parable for the Times

There was a man who needed to get to the Capital. He had a choice between two drivers.

The first was a two year old toddler who could not reach the pedals and see out the window at the same time. The boy was guaranteed (best case scenario) never to succeed in exiting the garage in the course of four years trying. The worst case scenario would involve crashing the car into the house, rupturing a gas line, blowing everything up and everyone dying.

The second driver was Ma Barker. She had years of experience driving successfully under both normal and abnormal conditions.

Who does the man choose to drive the car?

Silly question!

The toddler, of course. Women have no business driving!

The End

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Beautiful Minds

The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways … Proverbs 14

The other day I was wandering around the internet, aimlessly flitting from one site to another. My wife asked me what I was doing and I told her, “I’m killing time.”

It’s a funny saying, isn’t it? “Killing time.”

I have finally gotten to that age where I am more aware of my body than usual. Every now and then I reach to grab something and there is a twinge in my shoulder that was never there before. I wonder whether it is muscle ache or joint pain and, frankly, can’t tell. I’d have to be more in tune with my body, and that would take paying attention – something for which I haven’t got time!

I’m coming to realize that it isn’t time I’m killing as much as time is killing me! As I approach the Golden Years (at the pace of a sloth on speed), I find myself wondering how it is this “gold” has gotten itself wrapped in a crust of rust!

That’s one of the problems with a relatively sedentary life-style. I’d like to think I am an active sort, but maybe flipping the channels with a remote or wandering the world via the World Wide Web isn’t as active as it sounds. Flipping is a word we hear in gymnastics, but I’m not sure what I do qualifies as a gymnastic maneuver. I would also venture to state that logging onto the internet is less physical than logging a forest, so maybe I need to consider a change in life-style.

This idea of time killing us is nothing new, of course. The Greek word for time is Chronos, named for a nasty minor deity who was best known for eating his own children. He is depicted by artists as a ravenous old coot whose appetite is never satiated – always consuming, but never satisfied. That’s a scary-good picture of time, if you ask me.

There is another Greek word – a better word – for time: Kairos. This is sometimes called “God’s time.” This is time as an opportunity, a gift; time with a purpose. This kind of time does not steal life, but gives life. It is the sort of time Solomon referred to when he wrote: To everything there is a time and a season – a time to laugh, a time to mourn; a time to be born, a time to die; a time to speak, a time for silence, and so forth.

If we look at time this way, we find the questions we ask tend to change. Instead of asking what time it is, we ask what this time is for. How should I use this time that God has given me? Instead of crying, “Good God, morning,” when we awake, we shake off our sleep and declare, “Good morning, God!”

What I have discovered is that it isn’t time that needs to change, but my attitude toward time. Instead of grousing about where time has gone, I look to see how best to use the time I’ve got, and at the end of the day, admire the things I’ve accomplished, or how much less there is to do next time I get started.

That’s quite a difference, isn’t it?

Solomon said, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,” and I suppose one of the things he had in that beautiful mind of his was the idea that if we are wise, and if we are prudent, we will give thought to not just what we say and do, but to how we use our time.

When that computer of mine isn’t behaving properly, I find I sometimes have to reboot it; turn it off, unplug it, remove the battery, and after a minute, put it all back together, start it up, and it’s good as new. Maybe we need to do that with our lives, too; unplug and reboot.

It may not remove the arthritis and muscle strain one acquires with age, but it could well remove the twinge of guilt that arises when we find ourselves killing time instead of redeeming it for the sake of the kingdom. That could create in us a beautiful mind in no time at all, and wouldn’t that be a pleasant thing in this, our valley?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Poll Cats

It is more blessed to give than to receive – Jesus of Nazareth

I am seldom asked for advice or asked to express an opinion. I know, for instance, that when it comes to my sense of fashion, all my taste is in my mouth. If my wardrobe is at all coordinated, it is due to the good taste of my life-partner. Without her, I have no doubt I would mix checks with stripes, and goodness knows what wretched combination of colors I could come up with if left to my own devices.

However, times are changing and folks increasingly say they want my opinion. Some months back we became a “Nielsen” Family and got to share our television-viewing habits with the world. I presume that’s why your favorite shows have disappeared, and worse ones are airing to fill the void. I offer you my sincerest apologies.

I’ve also been receiving phone calls from researchers wanting to know my political views on things. Their stunned silence (at times) has suggested that perhaps my thoughts on such weighty matters are possibly skewed outside the group they’re working for, but that’s OK. I did a telephone survey one morning and that afternoon had another request for an interrogative poll. I told the poor soul I was limiting myself to one survey per day, and I am sure I left him holding the phone on his end with mouth wide open and a look of shock permanently frozen upon his face.

The fact is that I do have opinions, but have generally restricted myself to keeping most of them private. I learned early on that there are dog lovers, and there are cat lovers, and if one identifies with either group, one may become a pariah, viewed with deep suspicion by the other.

That has begun to change, however. As my bones have become more brittle, my perspective on matters has become more apparent and is sometimes expressed in a more prickly form. I am more prone to shoot off my mouth than ever before. It’s not that I want to place myself over and against anyone else; it’s just that there is more fatigue involved in holding one’s tongue. The muscle mass needed just isn’t there to support silence anymore.

That doesn’t mean I must become mean or cranky in expressing my mind (what little is left of it). It’s just that if there is discourse on some matter that affects me or the organizations and groups to which I belong, I don’t want folks to confuse my silence on such things with consent (Qui tacet consentit).

The challenge, of course, is in learning how to disagree without being disagreeable (as the old saw puts it). An old deaf couple were seen arguing one day and, like their hearing counterparts, as they got angrier, their gestures got bigger. Finally, one of them said to the other, “You don’t have to yell; I’m NOT blind!”

Anger, we’re told, is a secondary emotion. That means our anger is driven by something else – fear or shame, for instance. When your child runs into the street and nearly gets hit by a car, you scream at them in anger, because you’re scared out of your mind.

Sometimes, though, I think we scream because we want to show we mean business. “I’m mad as (heck), and I’m not going to take it!” thundered the character in the movie NETWORK.

I’ve come to learn, however, that one can express an opinion without getting angry or defensive if one realizes that it’s OK for everyone to have their own outlook on things. As one wag says, “Everyone’s got a right to be wrong. It’s not my job to change them or correct their perspective.”

The key, I think, is self-restraint. First of all, not everyone needs to know what I think or how I feel. Some folks have an insatiable appetite for speaking their mind. They have little or no self-restraint, and often evince that by then arguing every point with everyone. Their goal seems to be more to win than to learn.

That leads to the second point: conversation should be viewed and practiced as an opportunity to learn. When we value the experience, strength, and hope of our neighbor, we each win, and that’s a valuable commodity. Of course, that’s just my opinion in this, our valley.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lights and Shadows

“Never fear periods of darkness in life. They are the atrium to new phases of life, the threshold to new experience, the invitation to move on from where you are to where there is more for you to learn”  Joan Chittister

I’m not much for driving at night anymore. It isn’t the darkness that bothers me, but the brightness of oncoming headlights. Today’s headlights seem to be a reflection of changing attitudes in our world.

Back in the day, standard headlights were round and held in place by a ring of light aluminum or steel. They were mounted so you could adjust them up, down, left, or right. They had set screws for “aiming” them so you wouldn’t blind oncoming traffic. There seemed to be an understanding that roads were meant to be shared, and as important as it is and was to see at night, it was equally important not to blind those with whom we shared the roads.

In the 1970s, automakers began to upgrade headlights, transitioning from the sealed beam headlight technology that had been developed in the 1930s to halogen and other brighter lights. They were technically illegal when I was a cop, for the state code specifically required “sealed beam headlights” – but that was a throw-back to the days when sealed-beams were an improvement over the carriage lamps cars used to have.

I suppose I could have written tickets to folks with halogen headlights, but I suspect prosecutors and judges would have questioned my sanity before questioning the code, so I exercised the better part of valor (and common sense) and decided to keep legislators in the dark on the matter.

I have no idea if the code has been re-written to permit the various crazy headlights we see “out there” today (I presume it has), but things sure are different.

Headlights now come in every shape and hue imaginable, and I sometimes wonder if many of them do the job they’re intended to do. What’s worse, they don’t seem to be adjustable – there is no apparent mechanism for aiming them as in days of yore. Drivers are at the mercy of engineers. They seem to be designed more to make a car look cool, than to function as illuminators of the night-time road.

It also means it does little good to flick our lights at oncoming traffic at night, for as often as not, they may or may not be running with their high beams on. It’s a sad state of affairs when the automaker is more interested in form than in function, because the driver is at the mercy of the machine and courtesy, as an option, is taken away.

There’s not much we can do, of course. No one wants to spend a fortune buying a motor vehicle, simply to then turn around and spend another fortune reverse-engineering it to be more courteous and kind. And I am certain we don’t want to return to the days where an automobile driven at night is required to have someone walking in front of the car, lamp or lantern in hand, to show the way.

No, for good or ill, we have what we have – and we’re stuck with it until some better option comes along.

Until then, there are several tried-and-true alternatives we can employ when driving at night. The first is simply to slow down. If one is driving a tad slower, one has more time to react to dangers in the road. I know that goes against the grain as we all want to get to where we’re going as quickly as possible, but slowing down works.

Secondly, when cars approach with their lights glaring, look away (toward the fog-line on the edge of the road). This protects your retinal nerves from being overloaded with the light, and allows your eyes to recover more quickly when those oncoming lights have passed.

Jesus once said, “If your eye offends you, pluck it out.” He was exaggerating, but the point he was making was: Take responsibility; be responsible!

We can’t change the auto industry (at least not overnight), but we can change what we do and how we do it, so we may as well use our heads, protect our eyes, and enjoy our nocturnal journeys as best we can in this, our valley.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Motels, Alarms, and a Meal

“I will try to be faithful in habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep …” A Morning Resolve (Author Unknown)

One of the joys of vacation is traveling from one place to another and experiencing life freed from the tethers of hearth, home, and the ol’ salt mine.

Now, I admit I am somewhat of a tightwad when it comes to vacation. We have many pennies at home that are about the size of a quarter because I squeeze them so tight when we’re out and about.

Never-the-less, this year I decided to be a bit less thrifty. While we normally camp out with relatives and friends as we make our way around the world looking for that silly globe-trotting gnome, we chose this year, instead, to check out the digs at various motels and inns along the way (for which our aforementioned friends and family breathed a collective sigh of relief, I presume).

Our first night was spent just west of Spokane in Airway Heights. We chose a moderately priced inn that was clean and comfortable and met our needs for a price that didn’t bankrupt us.

I had actually had the foresight to arrange reservations through an online travel site before we left. I did that because I learned some time back that motels in the area fill up quickly; it’s not unusual to find no rooms.

Further, checking into a motel without reservations practically guarantees one will pay the highest price for whatever room is left in the facility’s inventory (never a good thing for a traveling tightwad).

One doesn’t want to be reduced to choosing between hotels that charge by the hour, and those so far off the highway that even Norman Bates wouldn’t stay there.

So, I made reservations … in advance … and they were waiting for us with smiles and good cheer (apparently not realizing who I was). Sometimes it’s good being neither famous nor infamous.

The accommodations were standard issue: Queen Bed, table, desk, chair, and flat screen television. I found myself wondering why rooms are set up with a single comfortable chair. Where is the wife supposed to sit?

Someone should write a grant and research that very unfair practice in the hospitality industry. But until they do and we get some answers to that vexing question, we’ll just assume it is a cost-saving measure (which I heartily appreciate, being so penny-wise).

The only complaint I had with our room had nothing to do with its location or accommodations, but with the practical joker who apparently thought it would be hilarious for the next guests (us) to be awakened at midnight by the blaring klaxon of the room’s bedside alarm clock.

Do you realize how hard it is to find a tiny button to turn off an unfamiliar device in a darkened, pitch-black room (while hanging from the ceiling by what’s left of one’s freshly trimmed fingernails)?

Well, we found the light switch, silenced the alarm, and went back to sleep after almost firing off a quick letter to our congressional representatives asking for the outlawing of alarms. We thought better of it when we cooled down. After all, if one outlaws alarms, only outlaws will be alarmed, and we certainly can’t have that!

We soon fell back to sleep (having unplugged the alarm – no use taking chances with another incident) and slept quite well until sunlight began to filter through the blackout curtains. I looked at my watch and noted that it was about 7:00 a.m. – about an hour past my usual wake-up time – so I got up and began to prepare for our day’s continuing journey into the west.

It turns out, however, that my watch was still on Mountain Time, and we were now in the Pacific Time Zone, so the love of my life was a bit perturbed. Consequently, I decided to give her an upgrade from the motel’s free Continental Breakfast. We checked out and enjoyed our first meal of the new day across the street. The food was good, and the price so reasonable I wondered how they could afford those golden arches.

Still, to look across the table to see the beatific smile on the face of my main squeeze made the investment worth it, keeping my heart warm until we return home from vacation, back to this, our valley.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Technology Blues

“I will stop wearing black when they invent a darker color.” Wednesday Addams

Technology will be the death of me yet.

Now, I’m not a Luddite by any means, and I do enjoy computers far more than is probably healthy for anyone here when there are fish to catch, but still, there is a limit to what any one person should have to endure in his or her life.

I was sound asleep when my phone (which serves as my alarm clock) came to life to inform me that it was time for a major update, and asked if I wanted to proceed with the update now or wait.

Now, we are told there is no such thing as a stupid question, but that’s obviously a lie.

For one thing, it was two o’clock in the morning. How can anyone make a reasoned decision at that hour? I don’t wear my glasses to bed, so all I could see was the bright screen lighting up the room. Two or three synapses began to fire off low-voltage responses that mostly resulted in a muffled, “Wha …?”

My eyes began an arduous journey, making every effort to uncross and gain focus, and just as the App’s query began to organize itself into something resembling words, the screen faded back to black. I have learned that mean’s “Time’s Up” and the phone has no desire to fiddle around awaiting a reply. Sigh.

I closed my peepers and pondered the mysteries of life for a Nano-second or two and went back to sleep. The phone’s sensors, being well-programmed to look for signs of sound sleep (or death), leapt into action – trumpets blaring, klaxons clanging, lights flashing, and buzzers buzzing: “Major Update Needed … Do it Now?  Wait Until Later?”

I knew I had only moments to make a decision that would affect the future of life as we know it on this planet. Groggily, I started to weigh the benefits of updating now (to get the phone off my back) or pressing the WAIT button, which meant it would likely go into hibernation for another five minutes before going to Defcon 1, insisting on a different response.

I know how computers think. I don’t even know why they ask the question, because they consider any answer other than “Yes” to be an insult. They are like a three-year old. They do not like “No”. They do not like waiting. They have no sense of time or of timing.

Why on earth would the cell phone want to update its system at two in the morning, I wondered. Is there some programmer over in Helsinki who’s just gotten to work in her Dilbert Cubical, cup of coffee in hand, fluffy pink slippers on her feet, whose sole job is to press the SEND button on her computer interface when it’s 2:00 a.m. in Montana (because that’s when the bars close and people can make optimal decisions)?

Who knows? I don’t even know why they give people an option, because there really is no option. It will poke and prod and annoy the heck out of the user until they agree to do what the phone wants to do.

So I decided to update my device then and there. I could visualize little coal miners going to work inside the cell’s power pack, shoveling teeny bits of coal into the tiny steam engines that make it work, and over the next few minutes the device flashed on and off, alternatively plunging the room into darkness, then bathing it in a beautiful lightshow (broadcast straight from the Aurora Borealis, I presume), all the while humming and buzzing and bleeping away to its little heart’s content.

After a few minutes it finished the floor show (missing only a brass pole and dancer), told me it had successfully completed its task, then went back to sleep – something I was no longer able to do. Sigh.

I guess that’s why it’s called a cell phone. You may be “free” from a landline’s tether, but you’re shackled to five ounces of a digital Bubba who is NOT to be trifled with.

I suppose it’s a small price to pay for progress, but is it really worth it? That’s what I want to know. Stay tuned; I’ll let you know tomorrow at 2 a.m. with an update in this, our valley.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dog Days of Summer

If one cannot be sustained by smaller loyalties then will one be capable of solidarity with the whole of humanity? – Timothy Radcliffe, OP

We have reached the dog days of summer. I know, because the dog across the street has become more vocal.

I used to think the dog days of summer were named after the cranky attitude dogs get when the weather is hot and sultry, but the fact is they are so named because of a star – Sirius. Sirius is the nose of the dog in the constellation Canis Major, and in late July or early August it rises just before the sun, so the Greeks referred to this time of year as the Dog Days of Summer.

Interesting, eh?

But still, I think there is some truth to the crankiness of dog theory I’ve been hounded with all these years. The weather is hot; the sun rises and wakes me up earlier than I want to really get up; the house is hot and stuffy when I want to trundle off to bed, so falling to sleep is a trifle more difficult. My temper isn’t quite as calm, cool, and collected as it normally is the rest of the year, so the egg shells upon which the world must walk are more readily found underfoot.

And as it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

The other day my wife and I had to run into Butte to take care of some business. We dropped off some parts to a copier drum kit I couldn’t figure how to put together, and left them to be installed by the friendly photocopier guru located across from the Courthouse, and while he did his incantations and wand-work, Barb and I went down to a local coffee house for some tasty tea and scones.

When we got back to the shop a bit later, Steve (the repairman) admitted the reason I hadn’t been able to figure out how to make the parts fit was they had sent me the wrong parts to begin with. Ach du lieber! But hey, stuff happens, and so that didn’t bother me at all. I’d been wanting to take in the sights and sounds of beautiful downtown (or is it uptown?) Butte for some time, anyway.

What got my goat, though, was Barb started spinning around the shop like a whirling dervish and complaining something was biting her. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what it might be, but I got her to stop her twirling for a moment and as I pulled back the collar on her shirt, out popped a yellow-jacket about the size of your basic, run-of-the-mill, AH-64 Apache Attack helicopter (fully armed).

Now, I must admit my identification of the varmint in question may not be completely accurate as I smacked it down with an astonishingly quick lightning slap of my hand, simultaneously pulverizing it underfoot with every ounce of my being.

Never-the-less, I knew it wasn’t a honey bee, for it had stung Barb several times and hadn’t lost its stinger. Furthermore, it is the sworn duty of honey bees to protect a hive’s honey; attacking my honey would have been an unthinkable act of treachery for an Apis Apini.

Anyway, I cannot imagine why a yellow-jacket, wasp, or hornet would have attacked the love my life unless it was due to a crankiness induced by the dog days of summer.

We thanked Steve for his efforts, and he promised to order the correct part and get it to me as quickly as possible. “Copy that,” I said, and we got back into the car and drove around Butte for a few minutes to see if the stings would produce an allergic reaction requiring medical attention. It didn’t, so we returned home, leaving Butte and the Vespula’s corpse in our rearview mirror.

I have come to realize there is no such thing as a boring day in Montana, unless it is a stinger doing the boring. Every day brings something new and unusual to see, hear, do, or experience. Sometimes those experiences are painful, but they are mostly opportunities to experience life in its fullness.

God is good in this, our sometimes cranky valley – even in the dog days of summer – and for that, I am “Siriusly” thankful. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Robin in Pane

Humility is having a proper respect for oneself … It is liberation from rivalry, from the compulsion to measure (oneself) against other people. Timothy Radcliffe, OP

I have a certain fascination with birds. In my last column I recounted an experience I’d had with a group of magpies. As it turns out, the avian world is apparently not done with me yet. I’d gone into the garage to take care of some business when I noticed a robin flapping away against a window at the back of the garage.

Normally we keep our garage doors closed, but I had left one bay open as I was going in and out and, apparently, a robin decided to come check out our digs. Unfortunately she had gotten up against the window and couldn’t quite figure out why she couldn’t get to the tree on the other side – a paneful situation.

She flapped and flapped against the window but made no progress, and that’s when I had noticed her. Always having delusions of being the reincarnation of St. Francis of Assisi, I spoke gently to my feathered friend and, using the simplest words I could find, I implored her to turn around and look for the big, wide-open garage door behind her.

“There! There,” I said in perfectly plain English – well enunciated and clearly articulated. “That’s the way out. Fly, little bird; fly!”

But she wouldn’t listen. Could she really be that dumb, I wondered to myself, but I knew better. The fact is that birds do not speak (or understand) English at all well. Alas and alack, I do not speak Bird, let alone Robin (after all, I ain’t Batman)!

I tried to open the unscreened window to let the bird out, but one of the levers keeping it locked in place was out of my reach, so I couldn’t crank it open. I looked around for something I could use to maneuver her away from the window and to the outdoors, but the shovels, picks, and home gardening implements looked like they would do far more harm than good; I needed another option.

That’s when it occurred to me. I just needed to capture the little aviator and carry her to freedom! Worrying I might come down with avian flu or pick up mites that would do me grievous bodily harm, I donned a pair of hardy work gloves that I was sure would offer me some semblance of protection should the red-chested thrush decide to start pecking or, heaven forbid, call for reinforcements ala Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.

Surprisingly, the robin continued to flap against the window, but she could gain no altitude (let alone passage to the great outdoors); that made it relatively easy for me to wrap my gloved hands around her as gently as possible and walk with her to the exit. As soon as I got her there, I pointed her in the right direction and released her. I don’t think I hurt her at all as she shot out of my hands at warp speed and was last seen leaving a vapor trail across the valley.

I’m trying to recall whether or not I have ever had a bird in hand, but I don’t think I have. This was a new experience for me and proved true the old adage; a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush – but only if one’s goal is to walk around all day with an angry, frustrated bird.

It was exciting being able to catch the robin – to discover I still have some semblance of speed and agility as my years advance – but it was even more pleasing to let her go to return home to her nest, her kith, her kin, where she may live out the remains of her life seeking worms, fleeing from predators, and telling tales amongst her feathered friends of her captivity and escape from some old geezer in his fowl den.

The pane was real; the cause of the robin’s consternation was clear, which is why she couldn’t see it – but I could. It wasn’t until she was wrapped in scary, yet caring hands that she came to gain her freedom. That’s our story, isn’t it?

God, it turns out, is in heaven, the universe continues to expand, and life goes on in this, our valley.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Peddlers at the Manor

A short story by Keith Axberg

George rolled his cart up the hill from the town’s Main Street until he found a spot in front of The Manor.  It was just past eleven in the morning, and George was huffing and puffing to get there on time. As he rolled into view of the main doors of the Home, he could see the residents were already jockeying for position along the concrete pad.

Lucretia was first in line. She’s always first, thought George to himself. She must wend her way through the nursing home like Jeff Gordon at Daytona, he continued. He could see her in his mind’s eye, walker firmly in hand, rolling as speedily as nature and arthritis would allow, weaving between the slower patrons as they streamed toward the exit, seeking the best place in queue – the front.

You would think these folks never ate the way they hustled their way to the parking lot, but that’s just the way it was. I guess when I get to be that age, George mused, I’ll see every meal as my possible Last Supper, so I’ll want to hit it as quickly as possible, too.

Behind Lucretia, Annie and Marvin bickered about who should be next. They’d been married nearly seven decades, and every day it was the same thing: “I got here first, so I should be first,” spat Marvin to his nearly deaf wife. “Well, it’s ladies first, you ol’ poop!” she spat back. And on and on it would go like that until they got what they came for, and seconds later they would both be chomping away on the fresh, hot pretzels George dispensed with speed and good cheer.

George finally managed to get his cart up to its usual spot a few feet from Lucretia. He set the wheel blocks beneath the wheels fore and aft, raised the shade umbrella with the “George’s Fresh Hot Pretzels” sign spelled out clearly on the dangling fringe, and popped the folding counter up into place – Ready for business, he was, in about forty seconds flat. George looked at his watch and grunted, “I’m slowing down.”

He opened the Plexiglas door to his pretzel case and the aromatic flavor of his fresh hot pretzels wafted out into the warm breeze, and the queue began to drool. The queue; the whole darned line began to drool in unison as George sang out, “Pretzels! Fresh Hot Pretzels! Anyone in line looking for Fresh Hot Pretzels?”

Lucretia shuffled forward as quickly as legs and walker would allow. “I’ll have one,” she said through hungry, quivering lips. George gave her a big smile.

“Coming right up, darling,” he said, as he grabbed a big ol’ fluffy pretzel with his tongs, tucked it into a paper holder, and handed it to her in one fell swoop. “On the house! And have some mustard; salted pretzels are better when you slather on some of that real French mustard – Gray Poupon; none of that nuclear yellow stuff you had as a kid!”

Lucretia took the pretzel with the fancy mustard and put it in her mouth so she could steer her walker with both hands back into the Manor. The nurses smiled at the yellowish gray grin on Lucretia’s face, and on all the smiles that followed.

NO PEDDLING PERMITTED IN TOWN reads the sign as one enters the village, but that didn’t apply to George, for he never sold his famous Fresh Hot Pretzels at the Manor – he only peddled smiles, and there’s no law against that, ever.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

God Speaking Through Magpies?

I think a spiritual journey is not so much a journey of discovery. It’s a journey of recovery. It’s a journey of uncovering your own inner nature. It’s already there. Billy Corgan

I was out moving the sprinklers in the yard when I happened upon a pack of magpies on the south side of the house. Now, I know birds are routinely said to gather in flocks, and if one wants to get technical, a group of magpies is more properly referred to as a “Parliament” of magpies. I presume that’s because they are related to Ravens (a group of which is called a Congress).

It is tempting to theorize on why magpies and ravens are given such illustrious titles when gathered in a group (inane squawking and copious droppings come rather too quickly to mind), but such a mental exercise is beyond the scope of this modest monograph.

I referred to the magpies next to my house as a pack because they were engaged in a nefarious activity when I happened upon them. I’d startled them with my cat-like approach, and they took off like Roman Rockets, abandoning the focus of their attention, which was, surprisingly, an unopened pack of cigarettes!

I didn’t realize they smoked, and have no idea where they could possibly keep their matches. They had just managed to tear open the pack when I caught them. The poor darlings apparently don’t know about the easy-open cellophane pull-tab. It is a good thing I stopped them as I am sure they would have ignored the surgeon general’s warning.

Many people dislike magpies, and I understand. They’re noisy and obnoxious and seem intent on stealing whatever they can, wherever they can, whenever they can. Now, in my line of work I don’t generally condone thievery, but I admire magpies for their tenacity and for their ingenuity. On top of that, they are simply doing what they do best. They are being magpies.

Whatever else one might say about them, magpies are smart. You hardly ever see them getting hit by cars, although they’re always out there on the road grabbing a quick snack off some inattentive creature that failed to heed their warnings. You see, magpies have learned to warn one another to watch for traffic and, interestingly, on those few occasions they get hit by motor vehicles, more often than not they’re killed by trucks.

This has been both documented and studied, and behavioral scientists theorize it is because they know to cry “caw” when they see an automobile coming, but can’t say “truck”.
Anyway, I enjoy watching the local birds in action, and magpies – love them or hate them – seem to be amongst the smartest of the bird-brained neighbors we’ve got (and I think they know it).

You can never outsmart them and it’s illegal to shoot them, so they’ve got us right where they want us. When they find something that interests them, they grab it, fly off to a safe spot, post a lookout, and then explore their new-found treasure to their hearts content. If you stumble upon them, like I did, they fly off a few feet, stop, look, and either scold you for spoiling their fun, or laugh at your inability to catch them.

If they only knew. I have no desire to stop them in their frivolity, and I certainly don’t want to catch them. I like peace and quiet, and I’d have none of that if I had a house full of magpies. And if I COULD catch them, would I want to surround myself with the slowest and dumbest of the bunch (for that’s what they’d be)? Of course not!

I guess birds don’t bother me so much, even if they are raucous and messy, because they are what they are. It’s not my job to change or control them. It’s not my place to shoot them or run them over. In fact, if I accept them for what they are, I find my petty irritations pretty much disappear and I can get down to the business of actually appreciating what they have to offer.

It could well be that by stealing a pack of cigarettes, they were speaking to their victim on God’s behalf: “Listen to the surgeon general, fool!”

God certainly speaks to us in many ways in this, our valley.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bear Tooth Highway

The SHADOW knows what lurks
in the hearts of chipmunks ...

A Rodent off the road
of the Bear-tooth Highway ...

In Northeast region of Yellowstone NP
the Pronghorns run wild ...

Yellowstone can be very scary ...
this tree, for instance, was too Petrified to move!

Shards of Peace

When we believe in our right to happiness we will have happiness – Melody Beattie

I looked outside the other day and saw a foreign object lying on the grass in our front yard. Going out to investigate, I found someone had tossed a beer bottle against the line of rocks that separate our castle’s keep from the unbridled hoards who might wish to break our peace. Instead, they broke the bottle and the shards littered our lawn.

It was sad to see this little idyllic town of ours marred by the thoughtless act of some dunderhead who felt it proper to lighten his load by tossing his empty container into the quaint little lot with which God had seen fit to bless us. But, that’s what he did (referring to the dunderhead, not to God).

There was a side of me that wanted to gather up fragments, bag them up for evidence, and send them off to the finest crime labs in the country to be reassembled in CSI fashion, so that our town Constable could chase down the impudent creature and toss him/her off to the State Rock-pile for maybe a day or two shy of eternity.

But then again, I am a man of peace and know better than to think that way.

Oh sure, there are times I would like to stand fast like Gandalf the Gray on the Bridge of Moria, face the Balrog, staff in hand, and declare with thunderous power, “You shall not pass!” But those times are far and few between, and one really shouldn’t be doing that to the four and five-year-olds who ride up and down our street on their bikes. They could start to think me quite weird and, besides, are probably not the ones who desecrated my front yard.

It occurs to me that the desire to wreak mayhem upon those who do bad things isn’t always a healthy response. It’s a natural response, naturally, but it isn’t necessarily healthy. For one thing, I find it gets my blood pressure up. I can practically feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins, raising my pulse and respiration and, frankly, it’s not a feeling I like (although it is better than no pulse, to be sure).

Now, some people enjoy an adrenaline rush, but I’m not one of them. It makes me irritable. When I’m watching a game on TV and my team is not doing well, I start to yell at the players, coaches, and referees. I start to take what’s happening personally, and the results aren’t always pretty. Even though purple is an appealing color for a flower, it doesn’t look that good when it is the primary shade of a television viewer, like me.

So while my initial response to an event or situation may be primal, I find it helpful to take a moment to actually … oh, what’s that word I’m looking for? Oh right … I find it helpful to actually “think” – to put some thought into what’s going on.

While there are some things for which digging a ditch and dying in it are appropriate, a broken beer bottle in the yard is probably not one of them.  Gathering stones and building an eight foot wall around my yard and topping it with razor wire is probably not the best response I could make. Digging a moat around the property and filling it with alligators or piranhas is probably a bit of over-kill, too. 

The point is, there are some things that are simply out of my control. Yes, a broken bottle is an irritation, but it does not call for a nuclear response. In fact, most of us can actually control how we respond to those petty annoyances in life (and by extension, the larger issues of life, as well).

I can choose to wish the person ill who tossed their garbage into my yard, or I can wish him well. That choice is mine to make. I find when I wish someone well, no matter what they’ve done, it is easier to forgive and forget. They will eventually suffer the consequences of their actions if they continue the path they’re treading, so I don’t need to fret over it.

Anyway, that’s been my week and, I think, this is more than enough trash talk for now here in this, our valley.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

American Goldfinch


A small tiny bird came a'flappin' at the door

"Lemme in, lemme in," was his fervent implore

He pecked and he flapped and he raised quite a fuss

but no matter the song, he not once did cuss

When I asked him to enter, away he did fly

and went to the bush, where I'm sure he did cry.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Solving Life's Puzzles

The world is not dying for another book. But it is dying for the rest of God – Mark Buchanan

The story is told of a man who dies and finds himself in a foyer with two doors. Before each door stands an angel identical in every way. One door is a portal to the hot-house, while the other leads to God’s presence. The only aspect in which the angels differ is this: One always tells the truth, while the other only lies. What question must the man ask the angels if he is to enter paradise and avoid perdition?

I’m not fond of puzzles, but I like figuring things out.

Years ago I lived in Spokane and needed to contact a friend in Pullman. This was in the mid-1970s. I had some important information to pass along, but when I dialed the number I received an automated response: “We are sorry; due to technical difficulties, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please try again later.”

I tried a bit later, but received the same message as before, so I called the operator to see if she could put me through. The operator told me the lines between Spokane and Pullman were down, so the calls could not be completed.

“But I have to get through,” I insisted. “It’s not life or death, but it’s really important.”

She was sympathetic to my plight, but knew she couldn’t put my call through when the lines were down.

“Well,” I continued, “Can’t you go in through the back door?”

She asked what I meant, so I asked if she couldn’t route the call over to Coeur d’Alene, down to Moscow, and into Pullman that way.

Her voice brightened; she told me that was possible, and so that’s what she did. The connection was made, the message communicated, and all was right with the world!

I like problems that have solutions. Actually, I don’t like having a problem, but I like knowing that there are few things in life that happen for which we can’t find a way through. The best problems are those we tackle – not alone, but with companions, friends, associates, or others who care enough to help.

There is the old adage: A problem shared is a problem halved, or (as Shakespeare might have expressed it): To half or to half not; that is the question.

People sometimes complain they see no reason to go to church. “It’s full of hypocrites,” they often say.

Of course, they are correct. I’m in no position to debate the matter, for the fact is the church IS full of hypocrites, but there’s always room for more!

If one can have a conversation, I would not challenge the assertion, nor would I challenge the conclusion. One is certainly free to attend church or not as one sees fit. That decision is theirs to make, and not mine to challenge or correct.

If, on the other hand, one asks me why I go to church (and no, it’s not for the paycheck), I would tell them I go because it is a watering hole for the thirsty, a buffet for the hungry, a first aid station for those who hurt, and a house of hugs for those who are lonely.

I go to church because it is a place where people share their experience, strength, and hope with one another; where they find forgiveness for the wrongs they’ve done, and healing for the wrongs they’ve endured.

I go to church because it is the back door through which God’s message of eternal love for the other gets through, even when other lines are down or the power is out.

Oh sure, the pews are hard and the people are – oh, how shall we express it? The people are so human, but hey, that’s where God has called us; so we gather with all our little quirks, imperfections, and defects of character; we share our problems, we find them halved, and we see God in the process.

So, that’s why I go to church.

It is also where I learned the answer to the story with which I opened: “What door did you say this was to the last person who asked?”

Think about it, and have some fun with life’s puzzles in this, our valley.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What Color is your Apron?

Give a boy a horse, he’ll ride for a day; teach a boy to horse around, he’ll have friends for life – An old proverb I just made up.

My wife and I were at a megastore one day for a bit of shopping. There was one small item we needed, but weren’t quite sure where to find it, so we located a Customer Service Representative (CSR) to help us. You could tell she worked there by the apron she wore.

I asked her where I might find what we were looking for. She scrunched her eyes together for a moment and concluded that was a good question.

She seemed equally baffled by what it was exactly we were looking for, so we gave her the name of the product, the brand, and added the “as seen on TV” prompt the advertisement on television had used to direct us here to this establishment in the first place.

At that point her eyes widened a bit in near-recognition of what we were seeking, then went back into a deep-dive scrunch before concluding, as before, that it was a good question for which she had no answer.

Good soldier that she was, though, she stood her post and did not move. She suggested we try a spot in the exact opposite corner of the store from which she was located, and wished us well on our journey.

We departed for the far reaches of Wally’s World (name changed to protect the identity of the store; any similarities to establishments real or imagined is purely coincidental), but never did we find the gizmo that would have made our lives much more meaningful and complete. Sigh.

That’s quite different from what I experience when visiting a local establishment where I’m able to find true and genuine value in the world of, oh, let’s say “hardware” just for the sake of the story.

Whenever I drop in like “Tim ‘the Tool Man’ Taylor,” I am greeted by black-shirted CSRs who know me both by sight and (often) by name.

Knowing the skills and expertise with which I carry out life as a human being on planet earth, they immediately go into full blown blue-light-special-compassion mode and enquire as to how they might help me.

I generally assure them that all sorts of specialists and professionals have been trying to find the answer to that question for a number of years now, and yet the CSRs insist that this time things might just be different.

Having filled me with a sense of hope, I will confess what it is I’m looking for, and they will walk with me, and together we will look for what it is I seek. Not only that, but they will answer questions I have regarding the project I’m working on, and if that particular CSR doesn’t have the answer, they will find an in-house specialist who will pick up where they left off. That’s true customer service.

The best thing about that store is that being helpful seems to be a part of their culture. It doesn’t appear to be an affect or something they’re regurgitating out of a training manual or online course. When you pop into the store, they’re glad to see you and they want to help you find what you’re looking for.

Whether at home or out and about, I think it is important to be of service – to be ready to help. I think it is important to see a person – not a customer; to see a person and not a purse.

That’s something Jesus taught. “I came … to serve” and his followers suggest we “have this (same) attitude in us.”

He’s given each of us an apron - our smile - and any way you slice it, we are Christ’s Service Representative; we are expected to actively seek the face of Christ in everyone we meet.

Every person is walking around with a list of needs tucked away in a pocket, and as God’s CSRs, we have the privilege of asking them, “May I help?”

In time, we might even discover with joy that we’ve not been called to stand guard over some spot in some aisle, but to join hands with those who seek, and scratch items off our lists together as we journey with them here in this, our valley.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Sacred Host

With weary hands, the priest lifts the host

Gazing upon that flattened disc – that unleavened mass

As it hovers over the paten, the chalice, and the sacred linens.

Priestly eyes are fixed thereupon,

Watching to see if God will swoop down to land

and change that bit of bread into flesh

into blood

into God’s very own self.

Every eye in God’s own House is upraised
In Holy Expectation

In Mystical Silence

In Sacred Reverence.

Soon, the weary arms begin to tire

And the bread is lowered once again

To the plate from which it was taken.

Jesus finds his rest upon that sacred space

As the hands of the old priest hover o’er it

Thumbs crossed, left on right.

In silence, God alights, and all is right

And the reverent crowd,

Saintly sinners all

Behold the grace of God in mercy broken.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Bluebirds in the Valley

Freedom shows the point of Christianity because it discloses the final goal of our lives, which is to share in God’s unspeakable freedom. Timothy Radcliffe, OP

A Mountain Bluebird swept down from the East and landed on the fence across the street. The air was warm and still, making the landing appear quite effortless.

The bird gazed across the yard. His back was to this observer, and he seemed to be surveying his realm with peace, grace, and serenity.

After a few moments he was joined by another of his species. She did not share his powder-blue coloring, but she was definitely “of a kind”.

The two stared at one another for a few moments and then departed. At first their journey took them briefly north. I wondered if they had to fly into the wind like planes off an aircraft carrier. What happens if there is no wind? I often ponder such matters when I am alone.

As I meditated on the world of my feathery friends, they circled back and made their way to the shelter of the trees outside my front window, disappearing into the needled greenery of the old spruce.

I say “old” but it is really just an adolescent in the world of trees. She has only seen about three decades come and go, but what are thirty years in relation to all eternity? The tree neither knows, nor cares. She simply rises from the ground, drawing her energy from sun, soil, and air.

“She neither spins nor sows, yet not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like her,” said the rabbi on the Mount, “so why fret? Why worry? Why be anxious?”

At that point a movement caught my eye and the birds flew out of the tree and onto the stone path beneath. They hopped to and fro for a moment, and then stood still.

“Why aren’t you standing watch over the nest,” asked the blue-feathered one (seemingly) as he glanced at his mate with unblinking purpose.

“Why aren’t you?” she shot back with an equally unblinking stare-down.

They stood motionless like that for a few seconds, glaring at one another with focused determination, and then … they smiled. I swear to all that is, they almost broke out into birdie laughter and went about checking the ground for food, grubs, seeds, worms, or whatever it is bluebirds find their nutritional delight in, and after they had found all there was to find in our sparse space, they flew away to points unknown.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have an abundant life.” He did not say he came to give us an abundance of things, but an abundance of life.

Watching those birds for ten or fifteen minutes might have seemed wasteful to some, but not to me. They stuck around long enough I was able to retrieve my camera and even take a few photographs. That’s highly unusual as it has been my experience that birds (especially) don’t like to sit still to have their pictures taken.

Either that or I set a too leisurely pace as a photographer.

With digital photography, one can snap away and select the “perfect” picture out of a hundred (or thousand) taken, but I have always been of the “slow and steady wins the race” variety of shutterbug.

Some people are “whipper snappers” – whipping out their cameras and snapping away. I’m more of a “slugger-snapper” – sluggishly deciding … to … get … my … cam … era … and … zzz.

But that’s OK; that’s alright; that’s just the way I am, and I’m used to it. I really relate to a shirt I saw the other day. It said, “I’m a man of my word. I said I’d fix it. You don’t have to keep reminding me every six months!”

The birds of the air know enough to find what they need on the land and in the trees that surround them. They do not water their lawns; nor do they mow or trim. They haven’t got fingers or thumbs, yet they build exquisite nests. They haven’t got computers, and yet they know egg-zactly how to multiply.

That’s not a bad life all in all. They may be blue, but I confess I’m green with envy in this, our valley.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mother's Day Tribute

My mother (RIP), Barb, and our daughter Jennifer (1986)

Barb, Dave, and Jennifer (ca. 1994)

My Dad, Dave, Mom, and Barb (ca. 1987)

Barb, ca. 1980

Barb, ca. 1955

I searched hi and low for pictures of my bio-mother,
but the search yielded nothing,
although I know I've got some.

I shall continue my search and report back.