The House on the Hill

The House on the Hill

Detours in Life

Pentecost 173-182

Mega Post 15

 

In Anytown, Somewhere Country, there sits a big house on a hill.  We’ve all seen it – columns that support multiple floors with large windows boasting of opulence and grandeur.  And at this time of the year, such a house is usually blinged out with twinkling holiday lights that beckon us to dream and drool.  For many, the house on the hill represents their fondest dreams.

 

In a season that has brought about many detours and even the passing of a loved one, I should not have been surprised to have one last detour.  I postponed this posting out of respect for those 200+ killed in an earthquake and then, apparently lost it in cyberspace for two weeks.  A computer that seemingly reads my mind to suggest corrections had lost its ability to retrieve saved data.  In my moments of frustration and refusal to just give up and write a new post, I realized something important.  Life’s illusions often are just a detour that leads us to new realizations.

 

It was about twenty years ago that I came across a detour one night going home from a meeting.  My children had been great through their meeting but then the parents’ meeting ran long and well, even McDonald’s French fries were not keeping peace in the backseats of my van.  Everyone was tired and cranking and the beginnings of winter colds were evident.  Amid the sniffles and bickering, I subconsciously cried out for some quiet and peace.  Every house we passed seemed to be perfect while the environment in my car was anything but.  It was then that I came upon a road crew and the detour sign.  There had not really been a great deal of traffic and yet, soon I was stuck in a line of cars, all following the sparsely labeled detour.

 

It was still three weeks until Christmas and Hanukah, both occurring within a couple of days of each other and many houses did not yet have holiday displays.  My kids noticed we had taken a different road and were not interested in the detour.  “When are we gonna get home?”  “Did you get us lost?”  Suddenly the arguing in the back had stopped.  My kids had joined together in thinking I had gotten them lost and I confess, I was beginning to wonder myself.  My only comfort was that we had plenty of company because the line of cars continued both in front of me and behind me.  We had just slowly driven up a rather steep hill and then around a curvy, slight descent when we saw the house on the hill and suddenly I understood why traffic was going so slowly.

 

The sign was simple with its white paint and black lettering.  “Welcome to Green Acres and Tall Trees” is read.  What lay beyond was two acres of festive holiday lights, celebrating the Christmas season, Hanukah lights, and even a peace tree with yin-yang and peace symbols.  Clement Moore’s holiday poem about Santa Clause was displayed in a series of vignettes, all brightly light and some with animation.  There were boxes where people could donate canned goods for the local food giveaway pantry as well as the familiar kettle for loose change of the Salvation Army.  At the end of the drive, visitors were offered cups of hot cocoa and a candy cane.

 

A decades-old tradition in this small community, the detour had opened it up to all who normally would just pass it by, hidden amongst the hills and trees of the area.  Normally, there was an admittance fee but with the detour, the owners had decided to forego the charge.  The fee of $4 per car was given to the local ministry council for use in helping the less fortunate.  At the beginning of the drive, visitors were advised of this and many insisted on paying for the drive even though it was free.  As a result, that year the display brought in ten times its normal contributions.  This was one detour that literally paid off!

 

The following year my children eagerly waited for the holiday season and going back to our “Detour House” as they called it.  I spent several days driving around trying to find it during daylight hours to no avail.  Trying to retrace the detour was difficult and finally I shared my frustration with a friend who had grown up in the area.  “Get your car keys” my elderly friend requested.  We got in the car and she proceeded to tell me how to find this house on a hill that had brought my children and myself such delight. 

 

We drove around and my friend suddenly pointed out a rather plain looking house set back from the road.  “This is your holiday detour house” she said.  I looked at a two story house that seemed rather drab and plain.  The barn behind the house was a need of a good painting.  In fact, the house looked empty and I remarked about that.  I tried to explain to my friend and neighbor how the house had looked but she just smiled, positive this was our house.

 

I asked a friend who worked at the newspaper about the house.  Surely, I thought, someone had written a story on it.  She sent me a link to a story written ten years earlier.  It was an obituary about a woman who had escaped Nazi Germany as a child.  She had been sent to distant family in America.  The only surviving member of her family, the child spent her teen years depressed.  She worked for a farmer and lived in a small cabin on the farm, seldom speaking, mourning her lost childhood and family.  One night the farmer’s child became lost in the woods amid a snow storm but when daybreak arrived, the child was found at the woman’s cabin.  She had always lit a candle in the window at night for her family in heaven and the child had followed the light in the window of her cabin.

 

The farmer tried to pay the woman for saving his child but she refused everything.  When the child grew up, he inherited the farm.  The woman was very old by this time but each night he helped her light a candle in the window.  One Christmas, as she lay near death, he put up a display for her outside her bedroom window since she no longer could go into the front room and light her candle in the window.  The woman’s health improved and the next year the display grew.  The woman died three years later but the family continued to grow their holiday lights.

 

The young man had tried to move the woman who had saved his life into a batter cabin but she refused.  In her mind, her little three room cabin was a mansion.  The last holiday season of her life, the man and his sons had built a false front for their house, decorating it as if it was a huge mansion.  The woman smiled and said love made any house a mansion.  Her cabin provided for her and gave her peace and security as well as love.  It was enough.

 

When they were older, I drove my children pass the holiday house in the summer and, like me, they did not recognize it.  We had been making the holiday tour for several years at that point so they knew I had taken the right road.  The magic of the season – love – became very real at that moment, all because of a detour and a young child’s wish to leave a light burning so her family would know where she was.

 

Sometimes detours show us what had been there all along. The trappings of success are not what make us success.  It is what we carry deep inside that truly counts.  Pretty twinkling lights attract and are beautiful but real beauty lies deep inside the soul.  Sometimes a detour leads us just to where we need to be in order to learn.  We need to learn to recognize the love that is around us and do what we can to create more.  We might always wish for more but usually what we have is enough for us to spread some love and peace, making our own world a little brighter and helping us all find our way home.

 

This ends a most unexpected “ordinary time” of Pentecost.  In Advent we will wrap up this calendar year but combining all of our topics this year, starting on Wednesday December 6th.  Until then, may the light of your life shine brightly and be a beacon of hope for others.  We all can be a house on the hill for someone.

 

 

Evil and Grace

Evil and Grace

Detours in Life

Pentecost 158-163

Mega Post 13

 

Recently I have been silent on my blog out of respect for those who lost their lives in natural and manmade disasters.  A Middle Eastern earthquake was unavoidable, although loss of life might have been prevented with better housing and warning systems instead of monies spent of war.  Then in the United State of America there was yet another instance of a mentally ill white male obtaining too much firepower for his fragile mental state, resulting in injury and death to innocent people.  If we treated the threat from active shooters like we do from pesticides … well, suffice it to say that we have less threat from dying from DDT than we do at the hands of an angry gun owner.

 

Evil is a nebulous term and we have a better chance of defining a black hole than a definitive answer to what evil is.  Over the weekend it was announced that convicted criminal Charles Manson had died.  The response to this news did not speak well for the faith community.  Many see Manson as an evil man, the very definition of what a devil would be living in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Their faith that bespeaks of all mankind being children of God seemingly flew out the window, much like those politicians who want rules for everyone except themselves.

 

The world can be a tumultuous place at times.  How we respond determines what we really believe. Maintaining grace in all times is not easy but very necessary.  While others are ranting and raving, someone needs to carry on the good fight, do the good works.  A good person is not the one with the loudest voice.  A good person is the one that does the most good.

 

Sometimes people are just good people.  In 2015 the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award was awarded to John and Tashia Morgridge.  John became a part of Cisco Systems as president and chief executive officer in 1998 and quickly led the company into becoming a publicly traded company that was known as a technological powerhouse.  Tashia had studied at the University of Wisconsin and was a special education teacher.  As a couple, they became known for their charitable giving.

 

Quoting from The Tech.org website which announced this award, given each year by the Tech Museum of Innovation, the Morgridge’s philanthropically have sought to improve education worldwide, “and they have done much of that giving through the TOSA Foundation, named after the high school where they met. The Morgridges have supported the University of Wisconsin’s research facilities, special education programs and scholarships, founding the Morgridge Center for Public Service and establishing the Morgridge Institute for Research, a biomedical institute. They are also generous supporters of literacy programs in East Palo Alto, Calif.; Tashia has long devoted herself to improving educational opportunities in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Internationally they donate principally through CARE, an organization dedicated to fighting poverty, and The Nature Conservancy.”

 

Other people need a wake-up call.  Jon Huntsman, Sr. is well known as the founder of a global chemical manufacturing company.  What might not be as well known is that he gives away a great deal of his income.  He became a serious humanitarian in 1992 after a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  En route to the hospital, he wrote a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another to a local soup kitchen feeding the homeless and poor, and half a million dollars to the clinic that first diagnosed and discovered his tumor.  He later began his own cancer foundation at a cost of over one billion dollars.

 

This humanitarian has long been giving away his money, which totals well into the billion dollar range. Founder of a global chemical manufacturer, his serious giving days began in 1992 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. On his way to the hospital, he gave a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another million to a soup kitchen, and $500,000 to the clinic that first found the malignancy. Huntsman would go on to found his own cancer foundation, which cost him more than one billion dollars alone. His donations have even gone so far as to knock him of the Forbes list of wealthiest individuals.

 

We have already discussed ways to help with local educational projects on this blog in the past three years.  Volunteering to be a mentor or, if you do not feel academically capable, volunteering to help behind the scenes at such locations, is a perfect start to living your beliefs and helping your local community.  Baking or providing cookies is an easy first step.  Being a Big Brother or Big Sister is another and these programs have training sessions to help you get started.

 

If making hats or weaving plastic bags into water proof mats is more your style, your local homeless shelter would be happy for donations of your handiwork.  One of the easiest ways to make a blanket is to purchase a yard of flannel and then fringe each end.  That is done by cutting slits five inches long on either end.  The strips become fringe and the blankets is an easy yet warm addition to any homeless person’s bedroll, lightweight yet a good layering insulator for cold nights.

 

Our faith and spirituality is really put to the test when someone like Charles Manson dies.  Do we simply say we are glad he is no longer a drain on the coffers and our psyche or do we respond with the faith we profess to have?  Where was the resounding “May the Lord have mercy on his soul” that one cannot argue he desperately needed?   Evil done by others should not be our compass.   We all have the ability to help another and when we live grace, we receive grace.  Life is really just that simple and we all should exercise the grace to do whatever good we can.

Rejoice or Mourn

Rejoice or Mourn?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 153

 

AS we travel life’s highways, we encounter detours and stop signs. Our reaction to these often determines the rest of our journey.  We can treat a detour much like a speed bump, something that slows us down but does not deter us, or we can let it be a dead end.  The choice is ours – rejoice or mourn – and it all based upon our perspective and subkectivity.

 

Subjective probability is an individual person’s measure of belief that an event will occur.  Most of us believe in the eventuality of our own death and the death of every other person living.  Death is the natural order of things begun with our birth.  It is the belief of what happens after our physical bodies cease their function that separates people into groups.

 

Without sounding trite, there really are two sides to every coin.  A famous hymn written for the upcoming Advent season speaks of this.  “The time of grace has come, what we have wished for… Where the light is raised, salvation is found…. Therefore let our preaching now sing in brightness.”  The hymn these words are taken from is titled quite simply, “Gaudete”.  It was published in a collection of Finnish and Swedish tunes in 1582 in a collection known as “Piae Cantiones” although it is believed to have been a chant used at least one hundred years earlier. 

 

The structure of the hymn is simple and reflects most of things written during this period.  A four line stanza composed the verse with a two line stanza being the chorus.  Today the chorus of a song is the part everyone knows and generally sings the loudest.  In the sixteenth century, though, such a two line stanza was known as the burden because it carried the song from verse to verse.  The difference between “chorus” and “burden” would be…you guessed it, subjective, in our modern times.

 

Generally about now, parents are running out of patience and time for upcoming holiday gatherings and chores is in short supply.  Meanwhile, children seem to pull energy out of thin air.  One does not have to believe in the meaning behind Christmas to feel the effects of the season.  As winter sets in, people are taking every chance they can to complete outside chores and get ready for that “long winter’s nap” known as “too cold to be outside” weather.  While lights adorn buildings and houses twinkling with glee, tempers become frayed and money woes abound.  There seems to never be enough time, money, or grace.

 

In selecting the themes for this blog, having decided to organize my posts by using a liturgical calendar, I tend to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek about things.  During Epiphany one year, Epiphany being the liturgical season which speaks of the recognition by nonbelievers and those not of the same culture of the true purpose of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, I wrote about the epiphanies men and women had.  These epiphanies led to some very common and amazing inventions.  One Advent, the first or beginning season of the liturgical calendar year, I wrote about creation stories, those tales about the first people and first lands.  Last year, though, I went to the very heart of Advent for my theme.

 

Advent is known as the time to prepare and it is fitting since it falls at a time of year when the season are changing.  Depending on which hemisphere you are in, you might be preparing for summer or for winter.  Regardless, change is coming and we need to prepare.  Once we have prepared, though, what comes next?  After you get up and get ready each day what needs to happen once you are at your destination – whether it be the kitchen counter in your own home or the office?

 

The answer to that is the true meaning of our living.  It is not just the coming – the coming of a new day or the coming of a Messiah – of which Advent bespeaks.  Advent is about grace, grace received and grace shared.   We do not all perceive nor share that grace the same, however.  For some an incident is a time for rejoicing and for others, a period of mourning.  Advent reflects not just that time during December but actually every day of our living.

 

Subjective refers to personal perspectives, feelings, or opinions entering the decision making process.  It is easiest to understand this approach if we use an example of investing in stock.  Let’s say your best friend owns a company and you want to invest in it because you like your friend.  Objectively, though, the company is not performing very well. 

 

Investors that are successful make their decisions based on hard analysis of the facts. They select a stock option with the best return for their money or that best meets their objectives. When making investing decisions it’s always important to make sure you think about and consider whether you are letting subjective thoughts work their way into the process.

 

Should we use that same approach when investing in people, when we engage in a relationship with others?  The empirical approach to grace is based upon observation while the classical was based upon known theory.  For instance, if someone slapped another with a glove in the sixteenth century, it was considered an invitation to a duel.  Using a classical response, the two would meet at a specific time and place and with chosen weapons.  Using an empirical response, the person slapped would select said weapons based upon his opponent’s skill with the options.  A subjective approach might consider the reasons for the slapping and one’s basic instinctive feeling about the sincerity of the fight.  After all, a perceived insult might just be a matter of misunderstanding.  This is where grace would be of great help.

 

History is full of pages and pages of interactions without grace evident at all to the observer.  To those participating, it might be all about grace, grace and respect.  This week I hope you take a moment to truly approach your situation and the detours life places in front of you.  I hope you can find the grace in such situations, not just for yourself but for everyone involved. 

 

It is easy to get angry and to mourn.  It takes courage to find the joy and rejoice. Life, like Advent, is about grace, grace received and grace shared.    Faith and generosity overcome impossibility.  Poverty and persecution reveal glory.  Life is a journey of believing, in spite of detours. 

 

 

Distracted Living

Distracted Living = Death

Detours in Life

Pentecost 135 – 142

 

Over the weekend I experienced a major detour of sorts.  It started out like your typical detour – orange cones on the roadway, a worker in a bright reflective yellow vest, and flashing electric signs that said… “Detour Ahead”.  It wasn’t the usual detour that takes you off the main road or around an obstacle.  It was simply lane closures while the pavement was being regrooved and then new asphalt applied. 

 

We could discuss for great lengths about the wisdom of the timing of the construction work.  The three hours it took to drive what usually takes forty minutes is testament to the fact that someone planned quite poorly.  Traffic was backed up not just on the major highway I was traveling but also on secondary roads and the backups lasted for hours.  Cars were changing lanes at the first sign of a six-inch opening, only to discover none of the lanes were moving faster than the others.  At one point the three lines traveling in one direction became two and then all traffic was reduced to just one lane.

 

The real danger was not in the speed but in the fact that all but two drivers of the over one hundred and fifty we passed (I stopped counting at that point.) were all on the cell phones.  Truckers, commercial bus drivers, and passenger car drivers alike were all keeping themselves entertained by using their phones.  While our speed was obviously not great, the volume of vehicles and the fact that we did inch forward required attention to the road and yet, most drivers were more attentive to their phones than the traffic and road conditions.

 

Yesterday Bloomberg.com published a great article regarding the danger of cell phones when combined with driving a car.  Written by Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold, the article should be required reading for all operating a vehicle.  Now before you go to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration website, let state that, for the record, fewer than one in seventy road fatalities are attributed to cell phone usage.  Those statistics are misleading, though.

 

In 2014 only 1.5 percent of traffic fatalities were linked to cell phone usage, although the total number of deaths rose significantly while the number of miles traveled stayed the same.  The details are in the reporting of traffic fatalities.  The state of Tennessee has one of the most thorough traffic reports in the USA with law enforcement asked to notate distractions in general and cell phone usage in particular.  Statistics rely on data and many states simply are not acquiring such data.

 

While traffic fatalities in Tennessee accounted for less than five percent of the national tally, those attributed to cell phone distraction accounted for nineteen percent.  This is not because more people in Tennessee own a cell phone than elsewhere.  It is because they are acquiring their facts better than other states.

 

Almost eighty-two percent of the public now owns a smart phone and most are using them in the most distracted ways possible.  Using a smartphone to make a telephone call is low on the list of uses for these devices.  Most of us are texting, sending or taking pictures or videos, checking Facebook or Instagram or sending an email.  These uses are even more distracting than simply talking on a cell phone.

 

As reported in their article, Bloomberg states that it is illegal to use a cell phone at all while driving in fifteen states and in forty-seven states it is illegal to text while driving.  However, proving cell phone use after a crash is very difficult and often privacy laws prevent such. 

 

Like most of the people on the road this weekend, I was hoping to get home quickly.  What should have taken me ninety minutes ended up taking well over two hundred minutes.  Stress levels began to rise until my traveling partner suggested we listen to some music.  In looking through the available CD’s we found some favorites and began to enjoy the ride.  Since we even found some Christmas songs, we laughed about being on the road that long.

 

Life is full of detours and often we cannot avoid them, just go along the best we can.  We should try not to create our own distractions, though.  They are enough speedbumps and potholes on our journey to challenge us.  Creating more is just counter-productive.  We need to improve our culture to the point where time and speed are not the primary goals.  Life and living it well should be.  After all, we are not here to die but to live.

 

The Monster Within

The Monster Within

Detours in Life

Pentecost 126 – 134

Megapost #8

 

Halloween is nearing and it is that time of the year in which the mythologies of the world invade our reality.  “We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”  It may seem a bit ironic that one of the leading authors of a book on a giant, human-like mythological creature that may be real is actually an expert on much smaller animals.  Robert Michael Pyle studies moths and butterflies and writes about them but in 1995 he also penned a book about the supposed primate known, among other names, as Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.

 

The giants in the American Indian folklore are as varied as the different tribes themselves.  It is important to remember that although they are grouped together much like the term European, the designation of American Indian applies to many tribes, most of which are now extinct.  Many millions of Americans over the past two hundred years could and should claim American Indian ancestry.  The story of Bigfoot is one story of their ancestral stories, the tale of a much talked-about and feared mythical creature.

 

The Bigfoot phenomenon is proof that there is a real place for mythologies in the present day.  The past several years saw people viewing a popular television program, “Finding Bigfoot” which aired on the Animal Planet network as well as being replayed via internet formats.  A group of four traveled the world, speaking and exploring the myths about a large, here-to-fore undocumented bipedal primate thought to be a link between the great apes and Homo sapiens.   One member of this group was a female naturalist and botanist but the other three were educated men in other disciplines.  To date, the three men have yet to convince their female scientist companion of the existence of the myth known as Bigfoot although she has dedicated several years of her life to searching for something she claims not to believe exists.

 

Even the more popular terms are modern additions to the myth.   A photograph allegedly taken by Eric Shipton was published with Shipton describing the footprint as one from a Yeti, a mythological creature much like a giant snowman said to inhabit the mountains of Nepal.  Several years another set of footprints was photographed in California and published in a local newspaper.  This time the animal was described as “Bigfoot” and a legend dating back to the earliest settlers in North America had been reborn.  The interest in such photographs is proof of the opening quote of today’s post.

 

The Lummi tribe called their giant ape/man mythological character Ts’emekwes and the descriptions of the character’s preferred diet and activities varied within the tribal culture.   Children were warned of the stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai who were said to roam at night and steal children.  There were also stories of the skoocooms, a giant race which lived on Mount St. Helens and were cannibalistic.  The skoocooms were given supernatural powers and status.  A Canadian reporter also reported on such stories and he used a term from the Halkomalem and named the creature “sasq’ets” or Sasquatch.   Rather than to be feared, though, some tribes translated this name to mean “benign-faced one.”

 

Mythologies of such giant creatures can be found on six of the seven continents and if mankind had been able to survive on Antarctica for thousands of years, there would probably be some from there as well.  We do seem to need to believe in something larger than life, as our mythologies bear witness.  What if there was proof of these creatures?  What if they really did exist and perhaps still do?

 

The Paiute Indians, an American Indian tribe from the regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains also had folklore of such a character.  Their legends tell of a tribe of red-haired giants called Sai’i.  After one such giant gave birth to a disfigured child who was shunned by the tribe, The Paiute believed the Great Spirit of All made their land and living conditions barren and desolate as punishment.  Enemies were then able to conquer the tribe and kill all but two – Paiute and his wife and their skin turned brown from living in such harsh conditions. 

 

In 1911 miners working Nevada’s Lovelock Cave discussed not the guano or bat droppings for which they were searching but bones they claimed were from giants.  Nearby reddish hair was found and many believed the remains were those of the Sai’i or Si-Te-Cah as they were also called.  However, some like Adrienne Mayor in her book “Legends of the First Americans” believe these bones and others found nearby are simply untrained eyes not realizing what they are seeing.   A tall man could have bones that would seem large and hair pigment is not stable and often changes color based upon the conditions in which it is found.  Even black hair can turn reddish or orange given the right mineral composition in the soil in which it is found.

 

What the mythologies of the world tell us, and especially the many celebrations regarding All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween, is that mankind needs to believe in something. In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz writes:  “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”  

 

Maybe you believe in the yeti or Sasquatch and maybe you believe in the disproof of them.  We create giants in our own minds every day – those problems that seem insurmountable or the dreams that seem impossible.  The only Bigfoot that matters is that one foot that takes a big step towards progress, towards peace, a step taken with hope.  The dawn of a new day requires us to take a step forward.  If we believe in ourselves, that step will have purpose and accomplishment.  The longest journey really does begin with a single step.

 

We find it so easy to believe in the fear we imagine and yet, believing in the positive is much harder.  Most of us could readily list our shortcomings and the monster within but stumble when it comes to describing our talents or positive attributes.  The best thing to believe in is you.  Let yourself be your creature to believe in today.  Detour away from fear and into your bright future, a future in which you believe you can do anything.  The reality is you can do whatever you set your mind to doing.  Turn your fears into lessons and steps toward success.  Believe in yourself.  You are amazing!

Really? You Seriously Expect Me to Believe That?

Really? You Expect Me to Believe That?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 44-45

 

Two years ago in the late fall, we delved into over twenty-five various religions and spiritualties.  Of recent years there has been much debate regarding religion and spiritual beliefs.  Usually it is in the form of an opposing debate: religion versus spirituality.  I always find this very interesting because the religious explanation(s) of the universe are derived from the philosophies of various spiritualties.  Today it would seem that religion and spirituality have both been detoured by politics.

 

The country of India was the beginning of many religious traditions.  The early civilizations of India all contributed their own versions interwoven with their specific cultures but most shared similar basic concepts.  Today we know these as forms of Hinduism which believes in reincarnation.  The samsara spoke of the cycles of life – birth, life, death, and rebirth.  A person’s rebirth was based upon their living a good life, our focus during Lent, and introduced moral philosophy as a basic part of religion.

 

Siddhartha Gautama was born in India during the sixth century BCE.  Better known by most of us as Buddha, he introduced the Four Noble Truths.  They included suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the Eightfold Path to the end of suffering.  This Eightfold Path told one how to live a life of fulfillment and centered around the eight principles of right, mindfulness, right action, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right speech, and right understanding.

 

Then the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was born and after living approximately thirty years began to spread his own version of philosophy around.  He claimed no great title or crown but neither seemed confused about life – its origins, its purposes, its ending.  He spoke of many of the same things Greek philosophers had wondered about and eastern spiritualties referenced.  Thus it is no surprise that the teachings of Christianity dominated the philosophical world in Europe through the first ten or more decades ACE.

 

Questioning was not forgotten, though.  The first noted Christian philosopher is considered to be Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine’s mother was a proud Christian but he himself at first followed Manichaeism, a Persian religion.  Intense and careful study of classical philosophy led him to his Christian beliefs, however.  He saw no divisiveness between his faith and philosophy and wrote “The City of God”.  In this book Augustine explained how one could live on an earthly place and also live in the heavenly world of what he called the kingdom of God, an idea he adapted from Plato.

 

While Augustine encouraged open thinking, he also warned against ego in one’s thinking.  “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”  All too often, we believe until it makes us uncomfortable or we believe only what we want to believe.

 

It is easy to believe in something that benefits us.  Recently one very prominent politician has been noted for saying one thing and then within twenty-four hours professed to believe something else.  The earliest statements were then said to have been said in irony and that the general public simply was not clever enough to understand.  One’s belief should be constant and steadfast, not something that wavers like a dried up cornstalk on the Kansas plain in a windstorm.

 

The true test comes when we believe in something that might not give us everything we think we want or should have.  “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.”  Augustine encouraged learning but lamented that many people saw this as an outward exercise, desiring only to learn about things and others, not themselves.  “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”

 

Taking time to study one’s self or one’s life is tough.  It truly puts the test of learning through its paces.  We are often so busy navigating life’s detours that we do not appreciate the scenery or the lesson the journey can teach us.

 

It is always much easier to see the dirt on another than on ourselves.  I remember hearing a friend remark on her recent weight gain.  Having been ill, she stayed inside recuperating.  She knew rationally that her medications could result in weight gain but really had not given it much thought, that is until she needed to dress for an outing with friends.  “I stood in front of the mirror every day, brushing my hair and teeth, putting on a robe, etc.  Yet, I never noticed I had gained weight until my “going-out” clothes did not fit when I put them on!”  From her perspective, the added weight was invisible until she had her eyes opened by a zipper that would not close.

 

Most of us know right from wrong.  We know it is wrong to drive faster than the posted speed limit but sometimes feel our reasons warrant the infraction.  Many people feel they can tell when they are inebriated.  Sadly, the statistics on deaths from drunk driving prove most people cannot tell accurately.  “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”
Life is about growing and growth comes from knowledge.  Augustine himself explained life as a journey of hope.  “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”  We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day.  After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”

 

Mapping the Deep

Mapping the Deep

Pentecost 43

 

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once remarked that “Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with land surveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.”  I love that quote because it speaks to the effects of what is written today on tomorrow.  I have mentioned in the past that these blog posts are a type of theological reflection with less emphasis on the theology and more on life itself.  The final step of such a reflection involves moving forward, living tomorrow based on how one has mapped out the reflection.

 

Maps have always been of interest to me and if I lived somewhere with enough wall space I would have a map in every room.   I marvel at the earliest cartographers, those explorers and artists that took the land they were standing on and turned it into a drawing with the highest importance and meaning. 

 

I marvel at their ability to take a path well known and walked and turn it into a one dimensional drawing that others can interpret and then travel.  Recently I threw in the recycle bin several paper maps,  They were out of date and yes, I have Google maps on several devices so I did not need them but still, tossing them out was difficult. 

 

I found the algorithms used by cosmologists and physicists fascinating in mapping outer space.  Their confidence in knowing what to be positive about and what to estimate (read guess) boggles my mind.  The most talented of cartographers, however, for me must be those that map out the ocean’s floor.  They not only tell us where we are but can also tell us where our world has been and what it looked like eons ago at the beginning.

 

When you read this, no matter where you are or when you read this, an earthquake will have occurred in the past twenty-four hours.  Hurricane Maria is still churning in the Atlantic while people in Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey and people in Florida and the Caribbean deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  The importance of these is understandable.  For people in the affected areas, it is an upheaval and often a matter of life and death.  For the rest of us, though, we tend to forget about them.  We should be ashamed of ourselves.

 

Earthquakes are the world’s biggest makeover show, a reality program by every definition possible.  Earthquakes have created and changed and created again much of the world we know today.  And yet, the Teutonic plates and their movement which create the earthquakes was never fully mapped out until the mid-1900’s and yes, it was co-mapped by a woman.

 

Maria Tharp first earned degrees in music and English before getting graduate degrees in geology and mathematics.  She was hired as a geologist and typical to members of her gender, given mostly desk work.  Hired at the Lamont Geological Observatory at Columbia University, Maria could not go out on ships to obtain the necessary data used in attempts to locate downed aircraft.  She worked with coworker Bruce Heezen using photographic data.  For the next eighteen years, Heezen would go out on a ship while Tharp stayed in the office.  Women were not allowed on the Observatory’s ship so Heezen collected the data and then Tharp would map it out.  This was the first systematic attempt to map the ocean floor.

 

Tharp’s maps gave much credence to theories that North and South America were once connected to Europe and Africa.  The mapping of Teutonic plates and the puzzle pieces of the continents that became one big continent based upon such oceanographic data has helped to explain the similarities of flora and fauna as well as bacteria found in differing parts of the western and eastern hemispheres.

 

In 2009 Maria Tharp’s Historical Map layer became a part of Ocean in Google Earth so you can check out her cartographic ability yourself.  It is simply fascinating.  Maria Tharp knew the importance of maps.  They represent our living, our past, and our future destinations. 

 

Detours take us off the beaten path.  They create a sense of chaos and inner turmoil because we find ourselves suddenly without a map for our living.  Maria Tharp knew how to navigate the detours caused by gender discrimination.  She made the best of her situation and navigated the world, creating the maps that we still use today, maps that help us navigate not only the familiar paths but also the detours.

 

Life is about doing just that.  Each of us will at some point find our life shaken to its core, an earthquake not of geological proportions but one of emotional or professional disorder and/or confusion.  At some time the tides of life will flood us to the point we doubt our ability to continue.  Life is a puzzle at times but we all have the power to solve and carry on.  Life is a journey, full of detours.  Where will you go today?