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.

 

 

Life Interrupted

Life Interrupted

Detours in Life

Pentecost 146-152

Mega Post #11

 

When I first began this blog several years ago, I never thought about when I would not post out of respect for lives lost.  As an optimist, I tend to think happy thoughts.  Life interrupts such a practice, though, and it soon became apparent that perhaps respectful silence was in order.  Thus, at times of terrorist mayhem, I have not posted.  Sadly this week required yet another detour from my schedule.

 

My life is not perfect and there are times that I get frustrated.  This Pentecost has been a time of detours for me and Tuesday afternoon as I prepared to post, word came of a disturbed young man driving through a crowd of people.  I quickly gave thanks for friends in the area of the tragedy who were safe and chastised myself for my trivial frustration of being mildly inconvenienced. 

 

Most of us go through our day on a schedule of sorts.  We take pride in adhering to that schedule and are happy when our agenda for the day is met.  Too often, though, that schedule becomes our purpose and our focus for living, instead of merely a means to live better.  The space we occupy can become disoriented as far as what we profess to believe and hold dear and what we actually place in top priority.  As we travel through our life, we sometimes forget just exactly what we are traveling toward, what space we are seeking.

 

In 2012 Eric Weiner wrote: “TRAVEL, like life, is best understood backward but must be experienced forward, to paraphrase Kierkegaard. After decades of wandering, only now does a pattern emerge. I’m drawn to places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again. It turns out these destinations have a name: thin places.

 

“It is, admittedly, an odd term. One could be forgiven for thinking that thin places describe skinny nations (see Chile) or perhaps cities populated by thin people (see Los Angeles). No, thin places are much deeper than that. They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the “Infinite Whatever.”

“Travel to thin places does not necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a “spiritual breakthrough,” whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel.

 

“It’s not clear who first uttered the term “thin places,” but they almost certainly spoke with an Irish brogue. The ancient pagan Celts, and later, Christians, used the term to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona (now part of Scotland) or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

 

When we experience or read of terrorist tragedies, our world seems to become smaller and the spaces between ourselves and the chaos very narrow.  We think of spirits as being able to traverse solid structures.  The saints of time seem to live high above the rest of us mere souls trying to get through the day.  Suddenly we wish for a way to travel through those divisions, a map for finding those thin spaces the Celtics believed existed.  Perhaps in such thin spaces, our life would not be such turmoil and we could better cope with the inevitable interruptions.

 

In the wee hours after which we have placed candles in our pumpkins to guide the departed home, we easily envision such a thin space. Halloween is the prelim of a day set aside to honor all those who lived noble lives.  All Saints Day follows for those who have endeavored to lead goodly lives and leave a legacy of benefit to all.  Today, All Soul’s Day, is for the rest of us.

 

May today we detour from the norm to seek that connection between the past and the future. Today is our present, both meaning the here and now and a gift. Let us value our space today and the living we create.

To Retreat or To Remain

To Retreat or To Remain

Detours in Life

Pentecost 106-115

Mega post #6

 

I have an affection for coffeehouses and the wave of humanity that comes ashore in them.   Although I usually order tea and not coffee, the throng of humanity found at a coffeehouse is delightful.  Add children to that and you have a writer’s mall for thoughts and conversations.  In short, at a recent visit, I found myself in a compositional heaven.  A recent visit solidified my penchant for both coffeehouses and children.

 

I had just sat down when I noticed the table across from me.  The grandparents were at what appeared to be their regular Bible Study/Social meeting and the young boy that had accompanied them was obviously a grandson.  His delight at the large-sized orange juice his grandfather had ordered for him was heart-warming.  “I’m gonna grow big and strong with this!” he exclaimed.  His grandmother offered him a spoonful of her coffee upon his request and the expression on his face made everyone laugh.  “That cannot be good for you.” He advised his grandmother.  “You need to drink more orange juice.”  [Somewhere the Minute Maid Company had just loss a great commercial idea.]

 

Introductions were made to the young lad as others joined their group.  I was impressed with the “adult” way they introduced themselves to him.  After all introductions were made, he then asked if he could repeat their names.  It was clear no one expected him to do so but he did.  Upon saying the name of the last person, his grandfather began to open their meeting.  The young boy politely told the grandfather he was not finished talking.  Chuckles were heard and the grandfather pointed out he had named everyone, correctly. 

 

The young boy looked around the coffeehouse and then leaned over to his grandfather.  “I just learned their names,” he explained.  Now I need to ask them something.”  The group seemed amenable so the grandfather sat back and encouraged his grandson to continue.  The wide young person then looked at the first he had named and asked:  “What are you?”  The gentleman began to say he was s retired teacher when the boy interrupted him.  “No, that is what you did.  What are YOU?”

 

I recently attended a retreat and this week I found myself wondering something similar.  That is the question I hope you ask yourself this week.  What are you?  In past series we delved into the question “Who are you?” in our attempt to improve and grow some self-love.  This week we cannot improve our self-worth without knowing what we are.  More importantly, what do you want to be?

 

Any good gardener knows there are various things that need to be done in the process of growing a garden.  There is the cultivating and tilling of the soil, preparing the soil, nurturing the soil with water and perhaps fertilizer and plant food.  The list might seem endless to a non-gardener but to those who believe in growing things, the list is simply a part of daily life.  Essential to gardening, though, is knowing what one is planting.

 

I have stated here that I do not have a “green thumb”; that is to say, my talents do not include being a master gardener.  The truth is that I can grow a nice garden, whether it is flowers or vegetables.  What hinders my success in gardening is my lack of interest in learning about the plants themselves.  I can bore you to no end about the difference between a xylophone and a marimba because I am interested in those things.  The nutritional needs and their differences between a cauliflower and a bell pepper hold no interest for me at all.  For one thing, I am allergic to bell peppers and mildly so to cauliflower.  Ask me about tomatoes, though, and I am right there with answers.  You see, I adore tomatoes. 

 

Life cannot be lived just eating tomatoes, though.  While they hold great nutritional value for our bodies, we do need other things.  I have come to learn how to grow carrots and cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and kale, and attempt to grow beans, although pole beans and legumes are still at the “getting to know you” stage with my gardening skills.  Corn and I have an on-again-off-again relationship and I have never attempted fruit trees although I do love to eat their bounty. 

 

Clearly, if I had to grow my own food I could survive but I would have to alter my eating habits and pray for good health and weather.  I rely a great deal on the convenience of shopping at local markets and stores.  I can grow an avocado plant but cannot get it to bear fruit.  Life for me without avocadoes is unthinkable and I am grateful for imports from other states and neighboring countries.  The same is true for olives.  I am something of a cheese-a-holic and yet, having a herd of cattle and goats would not yield me any cheese homemade.  Again, I am grateful for those for whom making cheese is a talent they share.

 

When it comes to growing my soul, I also rely on others.  I myself can only do so much based upon my skills and knowledge.  I reference many things and listen to many people.  Just as with an actual gardening, there needs to be some weeding out of the information we have available.  Not everything is beneficial and unfortunately some people are more interested in creating followers than helping people grow.  Albert Camus once wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”  This past weekend I did just that.  My retreat was in a beautiful country, wooded setting and no cell phones or electronic devices were allowed.  Time was something measured jokingly with a ruler.

 

It may sound funny but I took the time to be on a retreat to make sure that I did not remain, getting stuck in the whirlwind that our lives can become.   I agree with Anna White and this quote from her book “Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith” when she writes “I want my heart to be the thin place. I don’t want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.”

 

Kairos is a Greek word dating back to antiquity and it refers to an opportune moment, that right and critical moment in time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a critical action.   Many times we are so busy reacting to the world that we fail to take the time to deliberate about our actions and what they represent.  We are so busy being that we lose sight of what we are or would like to be.

 

My three days plus seven hours were not a time of hearing but rather a time of listening.  To be sure there were presentations and discussions but there were also times of meditating and truly hearing what all of creation was offering.  The serene setting, fullness of life experienced, and the sharing of emotional, spiritual, and physical gifts were encouragement to move forward, not just remain caught in the busyness of everyday living. 

 

I hope this week you find your own sources of nurturing to help you grow in this endeavor we call living.  Sometimes we must retreat from life to move forward in our living.  Take a detour from your usual path and you might just find yourself.   More importantly, I hope you find and increase your self-worth and are then able to answer to the question:  What am I?

You Always Had It

You Always Have It

Detours in Life

Pentecost 99-105

Mega Post #5

 

Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”

“You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”

 

If you are a fan of Judy Garland or one of her iconic movies, “The Wizard of Oz”, you probably recognized the lines above.  They are the most notable of all screen lines and yet, they don’t occur in the film until just before the end.  Since it was published in 1900, many have interpreted this story has something more than just a children’s tale.  “The story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to pleasure children of today” claimed the author L.  Frank Baum.  Still, many believe it is much more. 

 

A high school teacher decided this story was a commentary on the collapse of the Populist movement in the United States.  The green of Emerald City represented the green of currency; the characters represented either ordinary citizens, politicians, or various facets of the workforce.  Even the name “Oz”, the abbreviation for measurements of gold, illustrated by the Yellow Brick Road, became symbolic.  Bankers were portrayed by the Wicked Witch of the East and drought, an enemy of all farmers, was seen in the form of the Wicked Witch of the West who is, conveniently enough, eliminated by water.  This interpretation of Baum’s story by teacher Henry Littlefield is no longer held to be credible but it is an interesting read.

 

Others read this story and see a Glinda the Good Witch conspiracy.    It is her speech that tells Dorothy she can return home and always could have if she had but faith.  Then there are the Jungian believers who see this in light of the philosophies of Carl Jung and still more who see this as a commentary of feminism.

 

Ultimately, for many, this simple children’s tale is either a religious allegory or proof of atheism.  The perspectives for both are interesting and illuminate how two people can see the same thing but believe they saw completely a different thing.

 

Someone asked me recently what the best advice I would give for traversing a detour was.  My answer was one word – prayer.  I think perhaps prayer is like that.  For me it is a very simple thing and something in which I engage daily if not hourly.  For others, however, prayer is much more complex, almost legalistic in its formation and process.  The same could be said about this time of year, a noted holiday period worldwide.  Prayer can be very diverse in format, form, and even function.  That doesn’t make them less powerful or important.  All we really need to do is realize and believe.  When I was a child, it was a custom for the guest to be asked to say grace before we ate.  Many times, the guest would defer, saying they couldn’t possibly do justice.  I always wondered if God graded our prayers.

 

Many times it is the simplest of prayer that we utter:  Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”  Somewhere, a Great Spirit smiles and replies: “You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”  There is no special power required to pray.  I suppose one could mentally clap their hands together three times to echo Dorothy clicking her heels.  And by the way, the actual quote is “Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home’.”  All we have to do is pray and think to ourselves “My prayer will be heard”.  For the faithful, they’ve always had the power needed to pray and for the new believer…so have you.

 

Detours tend to give us alarm – whether it is an actual rerouting of our path or just an interruption of our schedule.  A friend traveled recently and found themselves stuck in traffic.  Road construction was causing delays and then an accident put even more strain on everyone’s time.  Could prayer have helped that?  Probably it would, even if only to divert one’s attention for a minute.  Prayer is one of those things that remind us life is not all about us nor are we the only ones living it. 

 

When life throws you a curve ball, all we have to do is take a second, breathe, and then move forward intelligently.  Detours are not instruments of fear.  And while they are inconvenient, it is good to remember the words given to Dorothy:  You’ve always had the power.

 

 

Lessons from the Vikings

Lessons from the Vikings

Detours in Life

Pentecost 90-98

Mega Post #4

 

 

When Jacqueline Kennedy referred to her husband’s tenure as a new Camelot, we understand that she meant it was a golden age, like that of King Arthur. When the Greek government dubbed a campaign to rescue ethnic Greeks from behind the walls of the Iron Curtain “Operation Golden Fleece,” we understood that they were invoking an ancient name to communicate that these people belonged to them. Each generation of storytellers adds another layer of fact and fiction to the myths, such that the themes and characters of myths are timeless, and endlessly relevant, as they are reinvented and reapplied to the lives of each new generation.  The purpose of these myths is to provide examples of how detours in life can be navigated.

 

Many today are spouting words of the hopeless.  Many feel the times in which we are living are bleak.  It would seem that mankind has lost its heart and that all feelings are cold and uncaring.  No one wants to listen; everyone just wants to scream their own opinions and fears, none based upon fact.  Let’s takes a moment and see if the stories of our history could shine some light and perhaps hope for us today.  Stories of the Vikings who lived in certain cold times and locations might just teach us something.

 

It was in 2013 that the lead character of the computer-animated musical fantasy “Frozen” sang the following:  “The snow glows white on the mountain.”  Like many films, this highly successful film was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Snow Queen”.  The nineteenth century Danish tale also served, many believe, as the premise for one of the characters in the twentieth century book by C. S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. 

 

Andersen’s tale of seven stories depicting the story of the Snow Queen had its roots in Norse mythology.  Like many myths, the earliest ones of the Northern Germanic tribes that settled in Scandinavia, Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Iceland centered on creation.  The Norse myth of creation begins in the land between two celestial areas of contrasts.  The frozen land of Niflheim and the hot land of Muspell both portrayed the landscape of Iceland which has both frozen tundra and bubbling geysers. 

 

According to the legend, the heat of Muspell takes a toll on the frozen glaciers of Niflheim and as the ice begins to that and melt, an evil giant the Norse named Ymir appeared.  A cow of formed out of the melting snow and produces milk for the giant to drink.  As the heat continues, the giant Ymir sweats and from that sweat, two more giants are created.  The cow known as Audhumla licks the ice and another giant called Buri is freed from his frozen lair.  The giants rule the skies and the stars and one has a son which marries another’s daughter.  Ymir continues to be evil and is disliked.  He is later killed by the children of the god Bor and his body made to create the rest of the world.  From his skull, the Norse believed the sky was created; from his brains, the clouds.  Ymir’s bones became rocks on the earth and his blood the rivers and seas.  However, all but the god Bergelmir and his wife drown in the overflowing blood of Ymir.

 

One of the children of Buri, the god freed from the ice, is known as Odin. His brothers are Vili and Ve and the Norse believed these three could breathe life into inanimate objects.   When everyone else is drowned by the blood of Ymir, Odin, Vili, and Ve give the remaining children of Bergelmir a region in the east known as Urgard for their home.  The three brothers then use the last remaining part of Ymir, his eyebrows, to erect fortifications around their own home, Asgard.   The brothers were, according to the myths, out walking along the coastline one day and came upon tree trunks that had washed up on the shore.  They breathed life into them creating humans.  Odin is said to have given the trunks breath and life; vili, emotion and intelligence; Ve, the senses of sight and hearing.  In some of the myths, Ve also is said to have bestowed upon the humanoid shapes, expressive features, and the ability to speak.

 

From the lifeless tree trunks now transformed with new life as humans, came the first man and woman.  In Norse mythology they were called Ask and Embla.  Because they also needed a home, the creator gods as the brothers were called, created a new realm for the humans that was called Midgard or Middle Earth.  Between the realm of Odin, Vili and Ve known as Asgard and Midgard was a bridge.  This bridge was known as Bifrost and looked very much like the natural phenomenon we know as a rainbow.  Ask and Embla were given the responsibility of caring for their Middle Earth realm and for populating it with more of their kind.

 

Norse mythology often gets forgotten in its origins and most of us think of the exploits of later humans from the region which we know as of Vikings in thinking about tales from this region.  We think of the land of Wales from whence the writer of the most popular tales of Middle Earth came or the New Zealand landscape where the films were made when we think of Middle Earth.  Few realize that we live on the original Middle Earth.  Perhaps this is where the true beginnings of the heavens, earth, and hell trilogy came.

 

The readings we have of the more modern day religious tales bear witness to similar beginnings in part to the mythologies of mankind.  This should not be taken as evidence that such readings or scriptures are false.  The best stories incorporate what the listener knows as familiar with what is trying to be told or taught. 

 

Mythologies were the original lessons of life for ancient mankind.  J. Michael Straczynski explains:  “The point of mythology or myth is to point to the horizon and to point back to ourselves:  This is who we are; this is where we came from; and this is where we’re going.”  Straczynski feels we have lost our purpose in the last century and are merely wandering through life aimlessly. Perhaps that is the attraction of such modern day myths like the popular film series” Star Wars” and  the British television program that has run for the last forty-plus year, “Dr. Who”.

 

Mankind may indeed be hungry for heroes like Odin.  What we forget is that however life became breathed into our bodies, we do have life and we can become an integral part of that mythological struggle we know as life if we but place ourselves in it.  Too often we go through life reacting instead of creating.  The Viking warriors were present in their moment and lived, finding ways to overcome life’s detours.

 

While the events of the past two months have been frightening – nature seeming to attack and then man waging war upon innocents – there have been heroes.  People volunteered from all walks of life and location to help others.  In Las Vegas, when a call went out for blood donors, people stood in line for hours to donate.  One of the neatest things about a detour is that we often have the opportunity to gain a new perspective.  As long as we keep our faith and continue to do good, we will make strides on our journey of life.

 

 

Resilience versus Weakened

Resilience Vs Weakened

Detours in Life

Pentecost 46-65 Mega Post

 

Travel south in Interstate 65 between Birmingham and Montgomery and you pass through history.  It is a trail of civil rights and farmers and if you happen to get stuck in a repaving project, you might find yourself detoured through the town of Prattville. 

 

Most people have few positive thoughts regarding the state of Alabama unless you are talking football.  At first glance, it appear as if the detour would confirm those negative thoughts.  Prattville comes across as a sleepy little rural town where dust hangs in the air and farming is the mainstay of life.  Detours afford us a chance to rethink and Prattville is certainly much more than just cornfields.  This coming month, for example, there will be a fall pops concert, an art walk, and a community trick or treat opportunity for children to participate in centuries-old traditions safely. 

 

What might not be quite so evident as you follow your detour back to the mainstream of society if that Prattville, Alabama is a member of the International Association of Character Cities.  Each month a different character trait is emphasized.  Additionally, citizens are encouraged to recognize that character begins with the individual.  There is a pledge to take as well:  “I pledge to… to practice the character quality of the month; to take the high road, the higher thought, the kinder word, and the best action in my daily life; to uphold what is true, right and just; to be a model of good character for those around me to operate with honesty and integrity in my dealings with others, and; to do my part to make the Autauga County and all its communities, including Prattville and surrounding cities, communities of good character where individuals and families are strong; homes and streets are safe; education is effective; business is productive; and citizens care for one another.”

 

September’s trait is resilience and that is often needed as we confront life’s detours.  Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, the resilient person will find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and continue.  Resilient people do not see detours as a roadblock or dead end.  They dee detours as a lesson and move forward, equipped with the new knowledge their detour has offered them.

 

 Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell has written extensively on the topic of resiliency.  “Over 100 years ago, the great African American educator Booker T. Washington spoke about resilience when he said, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed.”  Research has since established resilience as essential for human thriving, an ability necessary for the development of healthy, adaptable young people. It’s what enables children to emerge from challenging experiences with a positive sense of themselves and their futures. Children who develop resilience are better able to face disappointment, learn from failure, cope with loss, and adapt to change. We recognize resilience in children when we observe their determination, grit, and perseverance to tackle problems and cope with the emotional challenges of school and life.

 

“Resilience is not a genetic trait. It is derived from the ways children learn to think and act when they are faced with obstacles, large and small. The road to resilience comes first and foremost from children’s supportive relationships with parents, teachers, and other caring adults. These relationships become sources of strength when children work through stressful situations and painful emotions. When we help young people cultivate an approach to life that views obstacles as a critical part of success, we help them develop resilience.  

 

“Many teachers are familiar with Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s important work with growth mindsets—a way of thinking that helps children connect growth with hard work and perseverance. Educator David Hochheiser wisely reminds us that developing growth mindsets is a paradigm for children’s life success rather than a pedagogical tool to improve grades or short-term goals. Simply put, it’s a way of helping children believe in themselves—often the greatest gift teachers give to their students.

 

“The ability to meet and overcome challenges in ways that maintain or promote well-being plays an essential role in how students learn to achieve academic and personal goals. Resilient young people feel a sense of control over their own destinies. They know they can reach out to others for support when needed, and they readily take initiative to solve problems. Teachers facilitate resilience by helping children think about and consider various paths through adversity. They also help by being resources, encouraging student decision-making, and modeling resilient competencies.”

 

Simply, we illustrate our own personal resiliency by learning from the detours in our lives.

 

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.”