A bigger world

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“The universe is wider than our views of it.” – Henry David Thoreau

Sometime yesterday a little known spacecraft ended its mission. Rosetta which has been orbiting around Comet 67P for the past two years landed on the object of its study, transmitted a few more incredible pictures and data then died, running out of energy.

Why should we give a crap about some ugly rock floating around in outer space? Because 7.5 billion people share this universe with that ugly rock, and billions, probably trillions of other ugly rocks floating above our heads. Unfortunately for some, the universe doesn’t extend beyond their noses.

I like the concept of space. I like both the physical and mental aspects of space. Space ties in nicely with my Buddhist sensibilities. I see the benefits and the rewards of expanding my space both internally and externally. Of freeing the space in my mind as well as allowing others to venture into the space I call my own.

The universe is a big place filled with the known, the unknown and the unimaginable. And as George Carlin so eloquently stated “If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.” 

Everyday you have the opportunity to expand your universe by reading, thinking or by letting someone new into your world. The last one is the hardest and the one I struggle with the most, maybe we all do, because it is the one that has the most risk. I also know that it has the opportunity for the most reward as well.

“Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” – Carl Sagan

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Evangelicals- Presidential Despair

Evangelical: of or relating to a Christian sect or group that stresses the authority of the Bible, the importance of believing that Jesus Christ saved you personally from sin or hell, and the preaching of these beliefs to other people.

Some of you may remember when Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was the Republican nominee for President in 2012 opposing the incumbent President and Democrat Barack Obama. Billy Graham, through his son Franklin, “blessed”, though did not endorse, Romney paving the way for Evangelicals across the country to effectively have someone (read not a Democrat) to vote for. What many have forgotten about this episode is that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website removed a page shortly after this “blessing” which identified Mormonism as a “cult”, along with the Unification Church and Scientology.

So far, neither Billy nor Franklin Graham have offered Donald Trump an endorsement or a “blessing”. At least I am not aware that they have. What they have offered is a voters guide on their website and their “interpretation” of each candidate’s position on the following Evangelical hot button topics; 

  1. The Supreme Court
  2. Religious Liberty
  3. Abortion
  4. National Security

The narrative concludes with this quote from Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C. based Family Research Council; “It is the church—armed with the Gospel—that can fix hearts. It is the Gospel that transforms lives. It is the church through the witness of the Holy Spirit that can preserve a culture. But without the space to do that openly in public, it’s difficult. And elections in our country determine that.” Well, so much for the separation of church and state. As I read this statement, it is only through the Christian faith that 322,762,018 American citizens can grow, thrive and find happiness. So what do the other 96,828,605 (30%) non-Christian American citizens do, just watch?

If you read the guide you understand why I use the word “interpretation”.  There is a very simple intent implied, the Democratic party does not stand for or support Evangelical morals or values. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Evangelicals aren’t 100% sure Trump does either but he has one thing going for him and one thing only, the big R in Republican.

I live in a densely populated Evangelical area and this has been the quietest I have ever seen them during a Presidential election. Once they lost Ted Cruz it seems as if they have been wandering the desert without a Moses. I know at the end of the day most Evangelicals will vote for Trump, but not for Trump, while they wait for the second coming of………Ronald Reagan.

 

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The REI look

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

My wife and I spend a number of weekends in small towns in and around the Blue Ridge Mountain region like Brevard, Hendersonville, Asheville and Blowing Rock. We travel to these areas for a purpose, either visiting family or riding our road or mountain bikes. Though we are not residents of any of these communities when we visit them we don’t consider ourselves “tourist”.

I have spent enough time in say Brevard to know which restaurants to eat at and which ones to avoid. I know short-cuts, how to get from one place to the other like the locals. I don’t need to go into the quaint shops along Broad or Main St., though there is an art gallery I try to stop by every time I am there. I am not a local, but I am local enough to not act like and most importantly, dress like a tourist.

I thought about this last night shopping for mountain bike gloves at REI. A thirty or so year old yuppy (is that still a category) looking couple were shopping for what looked liked their outfits for an excursion to the mountains this weekend to pick apples, leaf watch, or stroll and shop on main street. I know what they are trying to do, I have seen it on the streets of Blowing Rock a thousand times, they want to “fit in”. What’s so funny to me is the harder they try to fit in the more obvious it is that they don’t.

I love different. I am not a fan of sameness or copies. Different looks, different thought and different opinions make me comfortable. Being around clones, people who follow the crowd, the party line scare me. Clones garner their power from mass not necessarily from their intellectual views. They cluster together, not as individuals, but as comfortable comrades, people who look, speak, think and at times, dress the same. If you find yourself in one of these groups you will find it very difficult to escape. It becomes your identity, your social life, your circle, in short, who you are.

I escaped one of these groups in my late forties or I should say, my wife and I escaped together. We paid a price for it, primarily a social price but that has ultimately been a blessing. We replaced the social part, the beer and fatty hors devours with the healthy, riding bicycles and hiking together. Leaving this group freed our thoughts, our actions and our opinions about the world we live in. Why? Because we expanded our sources of information beyond the opinions of the six or eight other people we were trying to impress or appease.

Don’t let REI dress you, dress yourself. Pick the clothes, the thoughts and the actions that fit your personality and your morals. Don’t let a group or a political party make decisions for you. Someday you may have to account for those decisions or actions. If you do, they are easier to justify if they were yours and yours alone.

“All people are born alike – except Republicans and Democrats.” –  Groucho Marx

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Things happen for a reason

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” –His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

If I had to pick a mantra for my life it would be “Things happen for a reason”. Over the course of my life I have had some marvelous “things” happen but I have also had some devastating “things” happen. Now, have the two balanced each other out over the course of fifty-five years? Well, honestly it is still too early to tell but if I were to expire today, right this moment as my short stubby fingers pounded out this very last wordddddddddddddddd

I don’t always understand the why. Much like Christian believers, there should be some mystery about life, living and faith. Sometimes answers are short or simply nonexistent. That’s okay, as I have gotten older I have grown more comfortable not needing all the answers or the control for that matter.

Living, like our health, is at times just a roll of dice. I had a friend who died six years ago at the age of forty-seven from a massive heart attack. Drop dead working in his yard. If you had placed him in a line-up with ten other men and ranked who would have been most likely to have health issues he would have been the last one picked. The picture of health. He exercised, ate right, did all the things we should all do to take care of ourselves. But he had a heart issue, an issue he was unaware of as well as his doctor and sadly it killed him. Here is the thing, the silver lining if you will, by taking care of himself he added years to what may have been a very short life. Rather than abusing his body and dying at say twenty-two at a keg party in college, he lived long enough to marry, have three wonderful children, coach church basketball, and support wonderful organizations in our community with his time and energy. Did it suck that he died so young? Yes. Would it have sucked more if he hadn’t lived at all? Also, yes.

Things happen for a reason. It is okay to wonder why and to even ask why me. But it is also okay to simply accept and acknowledge. If you spend your entire life searching for the answers you will ultimately be disappointed by what you find. Some puzzles just can’t be solved. The world is filled with unanswered why’s and how’s. It is the mystery of life the mystery of living. Whether you fight it or accept it is up to you.

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The passing of an icon

 

He didn’t have an army followers on the fairways or a country to create and lead. He was soft-spoken and unassuming but always smiling. He led by example, never asking you to do something that he wouldn’t be willing to do himself. You couldn’t tell him no, he knew you could before he asked. He knew your name before you knew his. A handshake from him came with two hands, a friendly firm grasp for as long as it took. Yes the world lost several icons this week, my church and community did as well.

Frank was already retired before I joined the church thirty years ago. It is hard for a twenty-five year old to estimate the age of anyone over fifty but even back then this old retired guy had more energy than most men half his age. He transitioned smoothly, seamlessly from businessman to volunteer. He saw hole he filled it, he saw a need he created a program, and when he needed help he asked, in a calm soft voice staring at you with piercing blue eyes and a tight grip on your hand. You simply COULD NOT tell Frank no.

There are thousands of Frank’s in thousands of churches and communities all over this great country. People who care, love, cry and comfort all of us. Their mission is making the world a better place one life at a time. We lost an icon this week. His time here was simply over. But his spirit remains in the hearts of those lives that he touched. My heart is one of those.

 

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A Short Story: Basketball Dreams

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I pass this scene every Sunday as I drive to DuPont State Forest to ride my mountain bike, a basketball goal that appears to be growing among the trees and shrubs on an overgrown parcel of land. At this point in my trip I have approximately 45 minutes to think and contemplate about this visual before I arrive at my destination. The possible storylines behind this landscape intrigue and fascinate me. My mind fills with narratives about the why and the how. Some are complicated, others, simple tales, but all become real because of this monument I pass each Sunday left standing to battle both nature and time.

The boys were driving her crazy, in and out of the house slamming the screen door a hundred times a day. This will be a long hot summer, she thought. A summer of short tempers, a house full of flies and a collection of switches to tan some butts with. This was Dad’s problem, it was his idea for her to spend the summer at home with these wild creatures. Her solution was simple, she would go back to the mill and he could stay home. Why should he have the pleasure of eight hours of daily peace. That, in her mind, would be a summer vacation.

When he hit the door at four with his empty lunch pail in hand she jumped his ass. Fix it, solve it, now! With a wink and a smile he had part one of the solution figured out already, a cold beer on the porch swing with his brother Dan. Just one more item to add to the list of all the world’s problems they planned to solve this Friday before dinner.

Dan, ever the analytic thinker boiled the dilemma down to three issues, boys, energy and time. A deadly combination for three youngsters and a mother with a hickory switch in her hand. With a single sip, Dad had a single solution, a trip to the hardware store before five.

The brothers filled the truck with the items of salvation or at least the salvation to save three butts from a broom stick. What they didn’t have they would make, what they couldn’t make they would fake. More than anything else this project would require beer, more beer than they had. They both believed any good solution requires plenty of lubrication. 

On a flat grassy plot at the woods edge the younger brother dug a hole. Steadily, a twelve-foot long, galvanized gooseneck post was raised up into the sky and carefully backfilled with two fifty pound bags of concrete and a garden hose. Standing on top of the trucks cab, the two brothers fastened a simple white backboard and rim to the end of the anchored arch. A cotton net, a night to dry and peace would be restored once again to Mom’s household. Yes, lubrication was the key, butts saved or at least until the next home game is rained out. 

 

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Losing Dogwoods

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At the time of the crucifixion, the dogwood had reached the size of the mighty oak tree. So strong and firm was the wood that it was chosen as the timber for Jesus’ cross. To be used for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the dogwood. While nailed upon it, Jesus sensed this, and in his compassion said. “Because of your pity for my suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used for a cross. Henceforth, it shall be slender, bent, and twisted, and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross–two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal will be the print of nails. In the center of the flower, stained with blood, will be a crown of thorns so that all who see it will remember.” – The Legend of the Dogwood

I have had a love affair with Dogwood trees for as long as I can remember. As a kid, wandering around the vast woods of my grandfather’s farm, I marveled at how these slight, bent, twisted trees grew under the dense canopy of the hardwoods towering above. In my mind, these were trees with character, distinction and a beautiful flower unlike any other in the forest.

When my wife and I purchased our home almost 20 years ago there were eleven Dogwoods on the property. These wonderful trees bloomed with my azaleas making my yard a spectacular canvas of color that was the envy of my neighbors. Unfortunately we are down to just three and after having just experienced one of the hottest, driest Summers that I can recall I suspect that we will lose one more, the last one in my backyard. The slow demise of my Dogwoods has been affected by both the climate and a disease called Dogwood Anthracnose, sadly neither of which I can control.

Fifteen years ago I planted a Dogwood that was supposedly immune to Dogwood Anthracnose. The sapling was one foot tall when I planted it in my azalea bed. Fifteen years later, it has grown a total of two feet. At that rate of growth, I am afraid I won’t be around to ever see it bloom but I hope that it will survive for another generation to enjoy the pleasures of my memories.

My grandmother told me the story about Jesus and the Dogwood many years ago. It is a silly tale but certainly an envious one. It is a story that cured the questions and imagination of people long before we could Google to get the “facts”. But never the less, this simple, remarkable tree has a story, a reason why. Sadly, it just makes my loss that much more heartbreaking.

 

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