Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays!
Advent One – 2014

Happy New Year! In case you are scratching your head in puzzlement, let me explain. For the more than two billion Christians in the world, today is indeed their New year. Today marks the first Sunday in Advent and Advent is the first season on the Christian church calendar.

In 1910 there were nearly six hundred million Christians in the world. In 2010 that number had increased to over two billion. In fact, the world’s population had risen from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. Christianity is the world’s largest religion but there are many others.

During this twenty-eight days of Advent 2014 I hope to explore some of the different religions in the world, their stories, the cultures from which they grew, and their contributions to us all. After all, religion influences every aspect of every day in every culture in every land. Individuals and nations use religion as an identifying marker and the rituals of our lives like marriages and deaths are greatly influenced by the religions in which they occur.

While every religion is unique with its customs, dress, worship, and beliefs, there are also strong similarities between the religions of the world and the folk myths from whence they sprang. Religion has been the cause of wars but also the proponent of peace and the healing from those wars.

Integral to religion are the celebrations each has. Celebrations are far more than just a special occasion or a reason to party. Celebrations mark milestones in our lives and separate the daily from the accomplished. The various holidays of the world are varied in both their meanings and their level of seriousness or joviality.

Two day ago, those in the Baha’i faith celebrated the Ascension of Abdul’l Baha. As mentioned before, today is the First Sunday in Advent for those in the Christian faith. December 8th is Bodhi Day for the Buddhists and the date of the Immaculate Conception of Mary for those of the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. December 17th – 24th is Hanukkah for those in the Jewish faith. Wiccans and some Christians will celebrate the holiday of Yule on December 21st and then all Christians will celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Eastern Orthodox Churches will celebrate the Nativity of Christ also on December 25th. While in England December 26th is known as Boxing Day, a day to show kindness to the working class with gifts generally given in boxes, for those practicing Zoroastrian religious principles, it will be the day to celebrate Zarathosht Diso.

In her book “Reach Your Dreams: Five Steps to Being a Conscious Creator in Your Life”, Dr Alice Chan talks about the importance of celebrations. “Celebration signals to your subconscious – and your inner critic – that you are thankful for the progress you are making toward your dream.” Dr Chan encourages us all to celebrate not just the big religious events in our lives but the smaller, daily accomplishments. “When you celebrate with loved ones, not only do you get the benefit of riding on the high of accomplishing a goal, you get the double benefit of basking in the energy of those around you who feel happy for you. What is more, your success may inspire them, too. Whatever gives you pleasure and marks the occasion in a meaningful way for you makes for a good celebration.”

And so, during this season of Advent, which means to come or to prepare, we will discuss various religions and their customs. I will also give a simple recipe for celebrating such. Today I will simply say that not every celebration has to be elaborate or expensive. The first time host or hostess needs to simply plan an event that will allow every to enjoy the communion of celebration. Save the complicated recipes for another time. Today’s recipe is as easy as they come!

Today’s celebration will be making an Advent Wreath. While the colors of the candles have become varied, most use blue, purple, or pink. The all pink wreath is a very modern change with the color representing the purity and love of the season. Churches often use purpose or blue to denote the Virgin Mary and the baby born being the King of the Jews but usually the third candle is pink, for reasons previously given.

Most wreaths include some greenery like holy or cedar branches but even artificial ivy looks great. Weave some around four candle sticks if you haven’t a proper round wreath holder. Even four cups with votive candles in them can be your Advent Wreath. If you are using the battery-operated candle, excellent for households with small children, try wrapping the appropriate color construction around the base of the candle. On each of the four Sundays in Advent, a candle is lit. The corresponding prayers or sayings vary from denomination to denomination so feel free to Google these to find.

Even if you are not a Christian, the Advent Wreath can be a celebratory way to mark the passing weeks. After the wreath is prepared, put out the leftover turkey or ham from Thanksgiving (or purchase some) and let people build their own Advent sandwiches. The bread or bun, the meat, the condiments, and the garnishes are the four corresponding foodie elements. Then have everyone play a game like Light the Candle, an Advent version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Have some blindfolded attempt to put the flame (cut-out of construction paper) on the candle (also made from construction and posted on a wall). A store-bought dessert can complete this celebration marking the beginning of Advent and get rid of those leftovers!

We come to each day, preparing for the rest of our lives. To quote the great Henri Nouwen: “Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”

Pentecost 179

Pentecost 179
My Proverbs 29 – 31

The Affirming Dance

On an October morning in a small German village known as Rocken bei Lutzen near Leipzig, a baby was born mid nineteenth century and named Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. The son of a minister in the town, Nietzsche would become an influential philosopher and challenge the then-current thinking on Christianity. Usually in great physical pain, his mental status throughout his life is still being debated. However, his prevailing influence in many circles of theology, philosophy, and ideology are proof that his short life of under sixty years was a productive one. Nietzsche himself measure success this way: “WE should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”

We all know how to dance. Very few of us do. Many will claim it is because we don’t know how or don’t do it very well. The truth is most of us are afraid. We are afraid to move our feet, flutter our hands while our arms are in motion. I ask you to consider if perhaps the key to life is simply to dance.

“Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.” This advice from humorist Dave Barry could very well be the key to living. Dance is known in many different varieties but all cultures share the concept of dance. Today it is being studied for more than being a pleasurable way to enjoy the rhythms of music. Could it be that there is purpose behind our dancing?

Barbara de Angelis describes this connection of dance to life: “The moment in between what you once were, and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place.” The National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science is a network of scientists and professionals who are now studying this connection. Their results are very interesting.

Ancient cultures have long used the dance as part of the mating ritual but researchers at Northumbria University and the University of Gottingen have taken to science to determine the validity of this. They wanted to know what women look for in a dancing partner, since “dancing ability particularly that of men, may serve as a signal of mate quality.” One area of study was to determine if things like facial attractiveness, body shape and even perceived socioeconomic status play a role in how people judge the dancing ability of their peers?

In a piece originally published in March 2014 in “The Washington Post” Christopher Ingraham explained their findings: “They found that women rated dancers higher when they showed larger and more variable movements of the head, neck and torso. Speed of leg movements mattered too, particularly bending and twisting of the right knee. In what might be bad news for the 20% of the population who is left-footed, left knee movement didn’t seem to matter. In fact, certain left-legged movements had a small negative correlation with dancing ability, meaning that dancers who favored left leg motion were rated more poorly. While not statistically significant, these findings suggest that there might be something to that old adage about “two left feet” after all. One final surprise – arm movement didn’t correlate with perceived dancing ability in any significant way.”
In conclusion, Ingraham surmised: “Going beyond the dance floor, these findings could demonstrate that men’s’ dance moves could carry “honest signals of traits such as health, fitness, genetic quality and developmental history,” although the authors stress that more research is needed to be sure. It would be particularly instructive to see whether similar findings hold true for men’s’ assessments of women’s’ dancing ability.

Ballroom dancing has long been considered the elite art of couples. The truth is, though, that ballroom dancing is simply recreational dancing by a couple. Just as our living will inevitably involve another, so does the couples’ dance. The name is derived from the Latin word or dance, “ballare”, and now includes different formats and Latin dances.

Ballroom dancing has gained in popularity throughout time. Once considered proof of whether or not a man was capable of being considered a contender on the world stage, it is not the most widely known form of couples’ dancing. Interestingly enough it is the country dance, the square dance, that has that distinction.

The square dance is a four couples’ dance, hence the term square. First recorded in seventeenth century England, the square dance was also thought to be popular in Europe. Considered a folk dance, it was in America that the simple square dance gained status and recognition as well as variations.

Miguel Angel Ruiz also connected dance to affirming life. “Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.”

Life is changing all the time and sometimes we trip over our own steps. Just as on the ballroom dance competition floor, sometimes another will bump into us. What we need to remember is that dance also can involve freestyle. In the past twenty years, dance has been used to change perception, the attitudes that people have regarding the disabled. More importantly, dance has given the disabled a chance to move, to explore, and to rejoice.

Our lives, like the rhythm of a song, will change. As long as we keep moving our feet towards the celebration of life, we will make a beautiful dance. I agree with William W. Purkey who once said: “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching; Love like you’ll never be hurt; Sing like there’s nobody listening; And live like it’s heaven on earth.”

My Proverb 29
None of us is perfect. We might say the perfect thing in the moment. We might be in the perfect place for the moment. We might look perfect at the moment. We might be the perfect companion of the moment. Still, none of us is perfect. We are, however, able to be joyous in our imperfect life. Instead of striving to be perfect, we should strive to be joyous in our living.

My Proverb 30
The more I study about spiritual beliefs, the more questions I have. The more questions I have, the more I study. In the midst of being on this wheel, I learn about living. Studying the beliefs of myself and others is like being on a treadmill. You don’t see physically the benefits but hope they are there. It is called faith. We continue and suddenly, we realize the benefits of our exercises. It is not a life with all the answers but one of faith, well-toned in hope, prayer, and kindness to others.

My Proverb 31
It is when I awake and realize I neither make the world revolve on its axis nor know everything that I am at my most faithful. The Supreme Being of my soul doesn’t have to exist for everyone. It is enough that He/She exists for me and it is my responsibility to live so that others can see the reality of the Creator.

Pentecost 178

Pentecost 178
My Proverbs 28

The Gathering

Somewhere around 950 ACE, the word “haerfest” came into usage. Approximately four hundred years later man had an implement that became known as the “harwe” in the Middle English language. Following the paths that languages took, based upon traveling bands and invading armies, the “w” sound became a “v”, the “ae” diphthong became just an “a”, and the word “harvest” entered the English dictionary.

The concept of a harvest was nothing new. Regardless of whatever story you believe about mankind’s beginnings, food was an integral part of survival. As man became communal, food needs became organized in how they were secured. One can wander around and eat berries but a clan soon depletes a thicket of available plant sustenance. Thus, as food sources became crops, the yield of those crops became an annual event. It is an unconscious habit to say a word of gratitude when someone hands you a small cake, piece of sweet, or drink; the mind recognizes the need for the body to have fuel. Many hands made short work of the harvesting of food sources and giving thanks for such was as natural as breathing.

Thus the countless harvest festivals held worldwide not surprisingly became festivals of gratitude. Yesterday those in the United States of America celebrated Thanksgiving Day. While many remember President Abraham Lincoln for being killed by an assassin or for being the president during America’s only organized national civil war, it was this president during this was that made the USA’s Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.

Today many countries are in the midst of their own civil war. Fanatical religious factions are holding parts of Iran under siege. Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are under similar threats from terroristic regimes attempting to overthrow the governments. Russia has acted in such a way as to incite and exacerbate the situation and governments in its former satellite nations. On a lesser note, several countries have infighting between native groups and the current governments. How many of those have stopped, in the midst of the turmoil and fighting, to proclaim a day of thanks? How many people caught in the battle between Islamic tribes and Jewish tribes find attitudes of gratitude, are able to see the good things for the fighting?

In his proclamation, Lincoln wrote: “t has seemed to me fit and proper that they [Lincoln had previously made note of the gains during the past year compared to the misery and fighting] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

Regardless of whether you celebrate this time of harvest thanks, time of communal appreciation and gratitude in November, October, September, or whenever, many things are constant and one of those things are the expectations of family gatherings. All too often, this holiday, like others, brings with it a sense of drama and unfulfilled expectations.

The community which sprang up centuries ago around the fields of food led to our present day family unit and celebrations. However, family relationships are complicated. Families share similar DNA and yet, no one member is an exact clone of another. Even identical twins have differences of opinions, varied tastes, contradictory likes and dislikes. As family members age, recollections differ, stories are told in various recantations, and what seems funny to one group causes pain in another. Add to that the various ages and stages of aging and the mental issues that often arise with such and the stage becomes set not for care-free celebrations but intense family dramas that result in hurt feelings, stress, and anxiety. Going “over the river and through the woods” to a family gathering becomes a trip to an emotional mine field.

Holidays can cause so much stress that there are catch phrases for it such as “holiday blues; holiday blahs”. Even the website webmd.com has multiple entries regarding such including one which speaks directly to the gathering of family. “During the holidays, a lot of childhood memories come back,” says Duckworth, who is also an assistant professor at Harvard University Medical School. “You may find yourself dwelling on what was inadequate about your childhood and what was missing.” Even parents, especially older parents, can lead the drama. The same parents who years earlier would have disdained elevated anxiety are now seemingly causing it.

Any group of people is also a group of personalities. With that comes a gathering of not only food but possible health issues, both mental and physical. Suddenly one becomes caught up in differences instead of similarities. What has been easy to ignore the past eleven months suddenly becomes impossible to bear.

Many all over the world are just entering the winter holiday season. Whether rejoicing in a good harvest or trying to brighten the dreary winter months, families will gather, friends will party. Expectations will be high, perhaps impossibly too great. Just as many have forgotten that the American Thanksgiving Day became legal in the midst of fighting and the grief that such brings, we forget that the past year also brought the spoils of planting as well as the bountiful harvest. Sri Sathya Sai Baba once said: “Life is a mosaic of pleasure and pain. Grief is an interval between two moments of joy. You have no rose without a thorn. The diligent picker will avoid the pricks and gather the flower. There is no bee without the sting. Cleverness consists in gathering the honey nevertheless.”

The fragility of life includes both the thorns of living as well as the sweet smell of harvest and beautiful vision of joy. It has been said that only a country such as the United States would legalize a day of giving thanks in the midst of a civil war that pitted brother against brother, town against town, region against region. Perhaps we should not be surprised that such a gathering of people, in spite of continued differences, annually celebrates that day and the hopes it represented then and now. Perhaps that is why we continue to gather in spite of drama and remembered grief.

Perhaps we should return to the origin of the thanksgiving celebrations and think of the harvest. No farmer always reaps a plant from every seed. Earlier this month, the University of Illinois Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics released a comparative table of average annual percent changes in yield per harvested acre, 1967-1971 versus 2010-2014. Their findings were as follows: peanuts 2.4%; corn, 2.0%; rice, 1.5%; barley, 1.4%;soybeans, 1.4%; wheat, 1.2%; oats, .5%; sorghum, .3%. With all of the technological advances in equipment, weather forecasting, pest management, etc., none of these yields, which are considered quite good, was over 2.5%. Maybe our average annual expectations of our gatherings should be more realistic, especially since they involve people – different people living different lives in different situations all coming together in close spaces trying to impress and increase their expected “yield” of gathering.

It is a quote credited to several: “Patience with family is love. Patience with others is respect. Patience with self is confidence. Patience with God is faith.” Our life begins with family and how we spend it largely depends on family. Holidays are how we define ourselves and our creeds for living. I hope that however you celebrate, you do so with kindness and respect. When we show love and honor to others, we give it to ourselves. Responsible celebration involves more than wise imbibing of food and drink. We are the hosts and hostesses to every situation of our lives, especially the gatherings. The kindness we show to others may not be immediately reflected back to us but the character we build by doing so is a harvest worthy of the effort. We are not defined by our harvest but by the way we plow our lives. Whether it be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Winter Solstice celebrations, we all have much for which to be thankful. We all have much to for which to dream and be of good cheer. We all have the need to gather together in hope and love. No man is an island. No more stands alone. We need our gatherings. We need to prepare for the harvest.

My Proverb 28

We should worry less about the harvest and worry more about the plowing. If we live a life of sowing goodness and kindness, then we reap a clear conscience.

Pentecost 177

Pentecost 177
My Proverbs 27

Harvest of Thanks

Born in 1821, Somerset, England farm boy George Williams described himself as “careless, thoughtless, godless, swearing young fellow”. He left his rural roots to go to London and, working as a draper, he found that there were few activities for a young man trying to live as he’d been raised. He gathered a group of coworkers who also worked as fabric merchants and together they began a club. It was a place where they could gather and live without being tempted into sinful activities – a place of fun and companionship, simple yet delightful celebrations of life encompassing the body, mind, and spirit.

For his efforts, which less than ten years after he began had become an international organization to provide a place for the young people of the world moving into the cities, George Williams was knighted by Queen Victoria. His Young Men’s Christian Association is now the World Alliance of YMCA. Their motto is “empowering young people,” and it is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. A stained glass window in the nave of Westminster Abbey denotes the world’s gratitude to this simple farm boy from Somerset who saw a need and went about filling it.

Born into a rather affluent family in Nottingham, young William Booth saw his family sink into poverty. At the age of thirteen, he became apprenticed to a pawnbroker and subsequently converted to the Methodist denomination of Christianity. On his twenty-third birthday he became a full-time preacher. However, Booth left the organized denomination nine years later and became an independent evangelist. As such, he was invited to speak at the Blind Beggar Public House. Tents were set up in London’s East End for the event and Booth found himself preaching to the most poor and destitute of society.

Booth felt he had found his calling in life and organized a group of volunteers to help him assist the needy, the poor, and even the criminal element that attended his meetings. Using the actual original definition of the word volunteer which is derived from the French word for army, Booth named his group of helpers the Salvation Army. In his book, a best seller in the late nineteenth century, Booth wrote: “I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Today the Salvation Army is in over one hundred and twenty-five countries and provides services in one hundred and seventy-five languages.

Many school and colleges are requiring volunteer experience as a part of their academic curriculum. Harvard Medical School defends its requirements for volunteering, also called service learning,: “Service learning unites academic study and volunteer community service in mutually reinforcing ways. …service learning is characterized by a relationship of partnership: the student learns from the service agency and from the community and, in return, gives energy, intelligence, commitment, time and skills to address human and community needs.”

The Hindu Temple of Indiana describes volunteering of “a gift of the self”. It is, in my humble opinion, the best possible definition. Prehistoric mankind needed his/her fellow man/woman in order to survive. Life was hard and the environment harsh. Survival depended upon working together. What we now call an altruistic spirit might be a holdover from our ancestors. There is no one demographic or socio-economic profile for a volunteer. They come from all races, all ages, and all belief systems.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 61.8 million individuals in the United States of America contributed 8 billion hours of volunteerism in 2008 alone. The estimated, average value of just one hour of that volunteer service is $22.13 an hour. However, the real value of volunteering is the satisfaction and good-feeling the volunteer receives for being of service and help. Some volunteer to gain skills while others do it to improve their community.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.” Today in Thanksgiving Day in the United States and it recognizes the community of helping that occurred almost four hundred years ago in a place that would later be known as Plymouth. The group seeking a new world for living their faith came together with people vastly different. They had nothing in common except their being of the same species. One group saw a need and filled it and another group was grateful. That is the true meaning of volunteer servie. That is the true meaning of gratitude for being alive. That is the only way to live.

My Proverb 27

It will not be the prettiest face or the most expensive gown, the fanciest car or the biggest house. It will not be the one with most “likes” or the most Twitter followers. The best living is found in the warmest hug, the simple smile, the heartfelt look of gratitude. No fancy parades, shiny trophies, or elegant red carpet events will determine winning in life. It will be a life made better, all for my having passed quietly through the world.

Pentecost 176

Pentecost 176
My Proverbs 26

Them vs. Us

The blond teenager could play piano and oboe and had a delightful smile and beautiful face. Her tall, lithe body was the envy of fashion models. Yet she felt alone. Moving to a different part of the country from her native upper Midwest, she knew her classmates considered her an outsider. Her senior year was going to be lonely.

The little girl came running inside with tears streaming down her face. “Mommy! Mommy!” Jessica said I can’t play with them because I’m too dark!” She took the cookie her mother gave her and slowly walked to her room to play paper-dolls all by herself … again.

She had been so excited when she found out she was pregnant. However, taking a day off to go shopping with a best friend, making it a whole day’s adventure with lunch out and lots of giggles and planning, had proven disappointing. Finding clothes for her proud Nordic build was not easy. Reluctantly she left the clothing stores and went to a fabric store and looked at patterns and fabrics.

He had bravely enlisted voluntarily even though the nation was in the throes of a losing war halfway around the world. The number of casualties was staggering but he loved his country and was not going to let fear stop him. He looked forward to becoming part of a “band of brothers” but when he arrived, he got the same hassling for his bright red hair that his childhood peers had given him. What happened to spirit de corps?

He gained notoriety and popularity by becoming the first of his “color” to win such an election. Thing was, calling him by that designated skin color meant the other half of his heritage was being ignored. Why did he need to claim one over the other? What was wrong with being a mix, plaid, diverse in one body?

Genealogy had been an interest but researching his own family tree had led to some startling and yet not surprising facts. He proudly embraced his newfound ethnicity, finally understanding where the dark curly hair had come from and devotion to duty that was historically prominent in the culture of his ancestors. Returning home from the country of his family centuries ago, he proudly showed the flag he had purchased. Then he quietly folded it up. Hanging it outside his house would lead to harassment and, most likely, property damage. His pride would have to remain in the cedar chest.

I once lived next door to a family who were most active in a group that discriminated harshly against those who were not “pure”, not “white”, not “like them”. The neighbors had four adult children, none of whom had the same color hair, the same build, the same marital status, or the same number of freckles (I did not count but I am certain that is a true statement.). They harassed us for “being different” and yet they themselves were different. I had to explain to an eight-year-old daughter that they had killed her pet rabbits because her skin, like mine, was darker than they thought acceptable.

There is no country that is free from discrimination. There has never been any culture that did not discriminate. No need today to point at the United States and Ferguson, Missouri. The actions there are shameful but that either have been repeated or are being repeating everywhere on this planet. So if you are going to point a finger, point it at your own face, the face of your country, religion, group. At some point, every culture, every faith has been persecuted.

It is never about “them” and “us”. Everybody at some time is a “them”. What we need to realize is that we are all “us”. I pray today that we, all of mankind, wake up and realize that. Mankind is like a really big litter of retriever puppies – all colors, heights, weights. Both the Creator and evolution love diversity. Just look around; you’ll see what I mean.

Every living thing has value. Somewhere, you are a “them” and I love you because of that and in spite of that. Violence and sarcasm does not do justice to the potential of man nor grief over the death of a person or a legal decision. Remember that, please, and pray to your Supreme Source that we all learn to live as “us”.

My Proverb 26

We need to use our hands for kindness, see with our hearts, share the love of all spiritualities, religions, and reason for being.

Pentecost 175

Pentecost 175
My Proverbs 25

Floods and Fires

Buddha once asked: “What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?”

The teenager walked home dragging his feet. All of his friends were at the new skateboard park but his lackluster grade on the history midterm had earned him a Saturday of doing chores instead of fun with his friends. He had walked the two blocks to get gas for the lawnmower and was now dejectedly walking back home. Unknown to him, however, was the minute leak in the gas can which left a faint trail of gasoline behind him. He reached the corner and waited as the approaching car from behind him made a right turn. The passenger in the car, a college kid, tossed his finished cigarette out the window. Littering was not his next biggest problem, though. That was the immediate fireball as the cigarette hit the thin trail of gasoline dripping slowly from the gas can in the teenager’s hand.

Nature can provide enough fires for a lifetime. Even the skilled expert fire-fighters can get caught and lose their lives. Then there are the fires of neglect, the chimneys that aren’t properly cleaned, the cigarette dropped and forgotten into the crevice between two couch cushions. Even naturalists can destroy that which they love with an ill-planned campfire or one not properly extinguished.

The largest of waves result from earthquakes but hurricanes, tornados, and water spouts can lead to flooding and destruction. Recent events like Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina remind us that no coastline is safe from the waters of the surrounding ocean and gulf water. Inland, however, the threat of floods occur with snow melt or excessive rainfall totals. The old saying “The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” can quickly become one’s reality.

Venerable Wuling, in the book “Path to Peace”, penned: “Just as earthquakes bury floods sweep away and winds demolish all of our physical accomplishments, the fierce fire of anger consumes all of our goodness and serenity. “ Fear often floods the human soul with harsh consequences. Each day in this country families become victims of domestic violence, the fire of a loved one’s anger destroying the family unit.

Almost every culture has a flood myth. The early Greeks believed Zeus sent a flood to destroy all mankind of the Bronze Age as they had become evil. The Arcadians believed their first king was driven from the lowlands and pastures to the mountains. Some stayed in the mountains but one group went down to the lower lands. However, the sea flooded part of Asia and the Samothrace area the traveling band of Arcadians had reached. The Romans also had a deity angry with the evil paths mankind was walking. Their god Jupiter decided to set fire to everything but, fearing such a fire would reach the heavens, instead enlisted the aid of the god of the sea, Neptune< to help flood the earth.

The Scandinavians had three folk heroes slay a giant, causing ice water to pour from his body and flood the land. The Germans had a flea and a louse brew beer in an eggshell. The louse fell into the brew and was burned. The flea cried and then, in a series of events too long to list here, a young girl broke the water pitcher she was carrying and caused the nearby spring to flood everything and everyone.

Fire and flood might seem like contradictory ends of the spectrum but in actuality there are both a natural part of life. Sometimes a person “burns his bridges behind”, meaning he has not left on good terms. Another day someone might “cry me a river”, meaning they were overdramatic with their tears.

The Methow Valley of Washington state, USA, is no stranger to either floods or fires. They know that both are a natural progression of life. Forest fires burn the foliage and leave the land barren. The rain comes and mudslides are inevitable because the resulting ash from the fires creates a slick, non-soluble path for the rain. The soil becomes what is known as “hydrophobic” which means it is too slick to absorb the water so the water runs off which creates even more problems.

We experience figurative floods and fires in our own lives. The person who has lost both parents unexpectedly, the couple whose nine-month pregnancy results in a stillborn child, the lightening strike that destroys a just-completed dream home. These are all examples of the floods and fires we ourselves face. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

It is all too easy to look at another and compare ourselves. Sometimes we consider our lies useless because we have failed to meet some childhood measure of success. William Shakespeare said: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

The measure of a man or woman is not how many floods or fires he/she has avoided but how many he/she has survived without retreating from life. Aeschylus stated: “My friends, whoever has had experience of evils knows how whenever a flood of ills comes upon mortals, a man fears everything; but whenever a divine force cheers on our voyage, then we believe that the same fate will always blow fair."

There are no guarantees in life. That includes ways of living to be absolutely certain you will never experience either a flood of emotions or the fire of passion for something or someone. In fact, most would hope to have both. The perspective with which we face our life enables us to discern the acceptable behavior for living. Just as the fire makes way for new growth, so do our mistakes, our fires and floods. We are washed anew and rise from the ashes to live another day. It is, after all, the circle of life.

My Proverb 25

Wise and prudent living brings a new dawn and with it, the chance for new success. The lessons of yesterday were taught with pain and tears, embarrassment and angst. The hope for the future depends on how quickly we embrace the life that the new sunrise brings, the new opportunity for excellence in living.

Pentecost 174

Pentecost 174
My Proverbs 24

A Binary Life

Binary code is the code of language for computers. It makes sense of everything to the little electronic square or rectangle on your desk or lap. It is, quite simply, made up of either a 0 or a 1. There are only two because there are only two possible signals within your computer, laptop, net book, or tablet. The “0” can be either off or false; the “1” is therefore on or true. The concise bit information stored within this language is not surprisingly called a …(wait for it!)…bit.

Right about now the computer experts in my audience are probably screaming because this is a most elementary and probably somewhat misleading explanation. It is also not complete. Basically what is true and complete is that while many of us operate in a world of base 10 numbers, such as 10, 20, 100, 1000, etc., your computer operates with base 2 numbers. A computer bit represents the values from 0 to 1 which indicates two values. However, add two bits and you get four values, etc. Computers speak base 2 – 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. Somewhere in that line is the number 256 which represents the number of bits in a byte, the next largest unit of storage for a computer’s information.

Most of us try to go through life living a binary code. After all, it is how we are first taught. “Yes” or “No” are the first things we are told, right? Wrong. I do not think anyone ever first saw an infant and said “No”. Even if the child is not yours, we still respond with our hearts. The soul within us realizes there is another soul within that baby. We subconsciously recognize that life is not a series of binary code. Life is just not that simple.

Life may be a series of yes or no, right or wrong, but it is up to us to become stronger. Life is more than the harsh bite of another. We are not computers, relying on electrical bytes. We are strong in our living and by living our beliefs.

Middle Tennessee writer H. Jackson Brown has penned over thirty books regarding wise living. Of his work he says: “Most of us know what we need to do to make our lives more fulfilled and useful, but sometimes we forget. My little books are gentle reminders of those simple things which, if done well and in a spirit of love, can significantly change our lives. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Today I happily quote twenty-seven of his wise instructions for living both as the rest of this post and as My Proverb 27:
1. Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.
2. Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.
3. When you say, I love you, mean it.
4. When you say, I’m sorry, look the person in the eye.
5. Never laugh at anyone’s dreams.
6. In disagreements, fight fairly. No name calling.
7. Talk slowly but think quickly.
8. When someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, smile and ask, “Why do you want to know?”
9. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
10. Remember the three R’s: Respect for self, Respect for others, Responsibility for all your actions.
11. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
12. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
13. Smile when picking up the phone. The caller will hear it in your voice.
14. Spend some time alone.
15. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
16. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
17. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll get to enjoy it a second time.
18. A loving atmosphere in your home is important. Do all you can to create a tranquil harmonious home.
19. In disagreements with loved ones, deal with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
20. Read between the lines.
21. Be gentle with the earth.
22. Never interrupt when you’re being flattered.
23. If you make a lot of money, put it to use while you are living. That is wealth’s greatest satisfaction.
24. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a stroke of luck.
25. Remember that the best relationship is one where your love for each other is greater than your need for each other.
26. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
27. Remember that your character is your destiny.