This week as I recovered from cataract surgery, a memory from my childhood finally surfaced. In the late 1950’s in my hometown, I had met an artist who could barely see to paint anymore because of her vision loss due to cataracts. Doctors hadn’t yet invented the modern replacement lenses and use of small incisions for implantation. Complications back then were common, rather than rare. I can still remember my dad’s response to my desire for contact lens, “What? Put a foreign object in your eye? You’re asking for an infection!” Perhaps this was why I worried myself to exhaustion while waiting for my first surgery.
As it turns out, I can now see my television set without my glasses and I read my iPad with my untreated eye. I’ve always had my glasses within arm’s reach of my bed or my chair for over sixty years. It feels strange not to put them on first thing in the morning.
If there were things I could not see before, I could always feel them if I were still enough to notice their subtle movements. Most of the time I, as many others do, stress over what “might happen,” instead of being present to the moment in which the important stuff is actually happening.
After I worried myself into an exhausted heap on my couch, I woke up in a different mood. I realized I’d been going “from house to house” to borrow a cup of trouble for a cake I didn’t need to bake or eat. It was going to be a decadent cake with multiple layers and a. rich icing. If it were autumn, I’d probably get first prize in the cake competition at the state fair.
But no one needs a Trouble Cake. I saw all my ingredients were as nothing, for I had a great doctor, people who would care for me, and this was a new age in medicine. Moreover, the Spirit of God would sustain me in my recovery and remind me my wellbeing depends on following my doctor’s instructions. As we read in John 3:5-8 NRSV—
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Sometimes we need to feel the wind and not try to know from whence it comes or why it goes, but merely thank it for arriving to be with us in this present moment.
Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina Rossetti
Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the trees bow down their heads, The wind is passing by.
Sometimes we need a fresh wind blowing through our hearts and minds to get a new outlook on life. We can’t be wedded to the past like the old farmer who said of the new fangled plow he saw at the farm supply store, “My daddy plowed with a two pronged plow, so a two pronged plow is good enough for me.” He never bought the new and improved three pronged plow.
Much like the church that can’t recognize the fresh movement of the Spirit moving through the world today, if we can’t feel that wind, maybe cataract surgery would help us see the movement in the leaves.
Joy and Peace,
NOTE: The Greek word for Spirit and wind are the same: πνεῦμά. Strong’s Greek Concordance 4151 pneúma – properly, spirit (Spirit), wind, or breath. The most frequent meaning (translation) of 4151 (pneúma) in the NT is “spirit” (“Spirit”). Only the context determines which sense(s) is meant. When used with Holy, the word is Holy Spirit, not holy breath!
Utagawa Hiroshige: Yokkaichi: Mie River (Yokkaichi, Miegawa), from the series “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido (Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi),” also known as the Hoeido Tokaido, wood block print, 1833-34, Art Institute of Chicago.
Luke Howard: Graph detailing prevailing wind directions, rain depth, and mean temperature over a period of eighteen years, 1815-1832, in London. The Royal Society.
Bernard Evans: Cannock Chase – ‘When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, and they did make no noise’, circa 1885, watercolor. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia.
Unknown Artist: Inlay in the Form of an Eye, Glass and gypsum, Egypt, (9/16 × 1 13/16 × 3/8 in.), 1540–1070 BCE, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA.
Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes, 1963, National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
April Fool! Caught you! Were you the prankster or the pranked? Even an institution as stuffy as the British Broadcasting Corporation isn’t above pranking the public on the first day of April. If a fool and his money are soon parted, then whatever the BBC was selling, they were having a jolly good time in their advertising department. You can watch their mini documentary on Flying Penguins below:
When I was at Perkins Seminary, we editors of the weekly newsletter had a tradition of an April Surprise. This followed the practice of the former Babylonian Schismatic, which was an alternative, satirical student newsletter published occasionally between 1981 and 1988.
One year, when I was coeditor, it was more of an April Debacle. My partner in crime and I were sure the beach ball bouncing off the usual chapel steeple logo would be enough to clue our community into the prank. However, we failed to realize how little sleep our fellow students actually got during school weeks, how seriously they took the printed word, and worst of all, that our newsletter also went to bishops’ widows in faraway places. This last was what got us into the real trouble.
Our faux reports of Perkins losing its accreditation due to shenanigans of prior graduates, who were in the news at the time, had graduate students storming the dean’s office. Even worse, the bishop’s widows were calling him to inquire what kind of school he was overseeing. The fact schools can only lose accreditation for their own failures (and not the trespasses of former students or faculty) never crossed anyone’s mind in the ensuing uproar. So of course, we criminals wrote handwritten letters of apology to the widows and printed retractions in the next newsletter for the students. I now understand why my mother said I sometimes take things too seriously. Still, I’ve have found others who make me look like a giggle queen.
Speaking of giggles, although the historical roots of April Fool’s Day are shrouded in mystery, the British, who are mostly known for their dry wit and stiff upper lip, seem to enjoy this holiday to excess. Especially at the BBC, which back in 1957, produced a fascinating prank documentary on the Swiss Artisanal Spaghetti Industry. They showed a Swiss family harvesting ripe spaghetti strands from their spaghetti bushes. At the time because of rationing, spaghetti wasn’t widely available. After 1956 in the British Isles, Italian companies opened spaghetti factories and Italian immigrants opened restaurants. The British developed a taste for this food. As a result, some British families were so enthusiastic, they wanted to purchase their own spaghetti bushes for a home garden. Others were unhappy to be pranked. This may be one of the first times the medium of television was used to stage an April Fool’s Day hoax.
Moveable Feasts: Passover and Easter
Israel was an ancient agricultural culture and followed a lunar calendar, so sighting the full moon was important. Passover is always pegged to the Hebrew calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. It starts in the middle of the month of Nisan, when the moon is full, typically falling in March or April of the modern Gregorian calendar. As a result, Passover typically begins very close to Easter. Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. However, due to the shorter Hebrew calendar, sometimes it gets a leap month to keep it in tune with the seasons. In 2024, when the leap month plays a part, we’ll have an early Easter on March 21st, but Passover won’t start until April 22nd.
These religious holidays are forever entertwined because of the historical events of the Last Supper, which we assume was a ritual meal or Seder, and the crucifixion on a Friday, which required Christ’s body to be taken down from the cross due to the beginning of Passover at sunset.The Last Supper took place on a Thursday night, even though the actual Passover didn’t begin until Friday night.
As Wesley’s Notes on The New Testament observe, “Jesus took the bread—the bread or cake, which the master of the family used to divide among them, after they had eaten the passover. The custom our Lord now transferred to a nobler use. This bread is, that is, signifies or represents my body, according to the style of the sacred writers.”
We know this because Jesus was arrested in Gesthemane after this meal and then taken to the Roman Governor Pilate on Friday morning, the day of Preparation for the Passover. John 18:28 reminds us how the temple priests “…took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.”
The Jews in the first century kept faithfulness according to laws of separation and purity, so they kept away from unbelievers on holy days. This was the biblical practice of the time. Early Christians continued this practice until Paul began his outreach to the Greek and Roman citizens of the world. When in the later gospel of John (14:15) Christ says, “if ye love me, keep my commandments, Wesley’s commentary understands this to mean: “Immediately after faith he exhorts to love and good works.” This is why we United Methodists practice an open table at Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, for all who love the Lord and desire to be in love and fellowship with their neighbors are welcome at his table. We don’t exclude anyone, for God includes all people into the circle of God’s love.
Since Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, this makes Easter a “moveable feast.” Unlike a picnic, for which we tote our fixings from our kitchen to a park or to the countryside, or unlike a house to house “progressive dinner,” Easter is called “moveable” because it’s not on a fixed date like Christmas or New Year’s Day.
My family’s Easter feast always centered about a baked ham, often covered with canned pineapple rings and studded with cloves. We were a modern American 1950-60’s family and Betty Crocker reigned in my mother’s kitchen. Just this week I saw a tv advertisement of a family feast with this very same baked ham. I suppose when the economy gets dicey, people pull out old familiar recipes from the great-great-grandmother’s kitchen. Since I have a new great-grandchild on the way, and a knitting project started, I can safely say, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. I’ve seen the sonogram images!
“April showers bring May flowers” is an ancient rhyme. Unfortunately, these showers also bring pollens of every kind, since trees and flowers both acquire crowns of glory. The Old Farmer’s’ Almanac notes while November has a bit more rain in store for Arkansas than April usually brings, this month’s warmer weather favors conditions for flowers to bloom and trees to bud. While we might tire of the storms and the havoc they wrack upon the populace, we’re always thankful if they only cause damage to property and don’t take human lives.
Across North America, the pollen season has lengthened by 20 days since 1990. Pollen concentrations have also increased by 21 percent over the past three decades. This means some of us have been doctoring ourselves or visiting the RD—real doctor—since February. The stubbornest of us waited until almost April because we were convinced we could heal ourselves. If you still have no energy and are grumpy to boot after a month, you too need a RD. Better living through chemistry with put a perk back into your bunny hop.
Speaking of the weather, I have seen many years now of Easter sunrise services, and even more later noontime Easter feasts. One thing ties them all together: no matter how cute my spring outfit is, no one ever sees it because I’m always wearing a raincoat or a winter coat over it. My guess is rain and cool weather will come and our egg hunts will likely be inside. As long as there’s a dark chocolate Easter rabbit for my personal gratification, I’ll be happy. I discovered last year’s version stored in the cabinet, so I’d better make some chocolate chip cookies soon.
There’s plenty of silly or merchandising holidays in April, but you can read about them at the link below my name. Until May, I remain your April Fool…
Aristotle said in his Poetics, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality.”
He spoke mainly about poetry, which was the highest art of his age, but his words also apply to the fine arts. Today, many people are still mesmerized by artists who practice various styles of realism, but they overlook the artists who show us the realities of emotion and inner vision.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” said the spiritual writer, Thomas Merton. Some people use art as a cathartic exercise, and pour out their inner emotions on the canvas or their chosen media. Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Van Gogh’s late works are good examples of emotional expression. We all know folks who have a project going in their garage. They go work on “that worthless piece of junk” to focus their attention and energy on fixing something on which they can make a difference, instead of getting tied up in knots about things they can’t change and must accept. Gardening and knitting are also good hobbies for focusing this energy.
We know our nervous system grows to the modes in which it has been exercised. This is what we call building a habit over time. Just as a child doesn’t walk straight out of the womb, they have preparatory skills that must be acquired by stages as they grow. Exercising their muscles by rolling over also helps to strengthen their necks to hold their heads up. Crawling leads to pulling up, and that leads to letting go to learn balance.
Each time a child repeats these movements, he or she will simplify the movements required to achieve the needed result, make them more accurate, and diminish fatigue. In this, they’re building habits that bring them closer to walking. Rushing them to achieve “early” walking actually puts them behind cognitively.
Not only are there twenty five body parts in a baby’s body that are used in the crawl movement, but crawling also strengthens the hip sockets, so the baby will have a strong platform on which to stand. Crawling helps the corpus callosum, which is a band of nerve fibers between the hemispheres of the brain. Criss-cross crawling on the knees and hands stimulates the corpus callosum to develop in a balanced way, facilitating the hemispheres of the brain to communicate. These cross lateral movements work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of the eyes, ears, hands, feet, and core muscles. This helps support cognitive function, problem solving, and ease of learning. Exploring the floor in a baby proofed home allows your baby to achieve his or her optimal potential.
“Practice makes perfect” is only as true as the practice is directed in a true direction. This is where a teacher, a parent, a coach, or a spiritual guide comes into play. Only one who’s been led well can lead others with grace. We don’t tear down the learner, but ask questions, give guidance, help them see alternative paths, and allow them a safe place to explore their choices.
Art class isn’t brain surgery. No one will die if the painting isn’t successful, and no one’s salvation is at risk if the painting doesn’t come out the way we hoped it might. Art class is a safe place to take risks, unlike jumping from a tall tower without a parachute. Learning to accept failure on our canvases and coming back next time to try again is a mark of resilience and courage. Every time we fail closer to our target, we realize we’re gaining on it! We never say I CAN’T in art class.
The sad reality is we can teach and expand the horizons of young people up til the age of 25 or 30. After that, they seem to lose energy and desire to learn more or to change. They “habitually” repeat their previous acts, for good or for ill. We’ve all heard the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Those of us who are no longer young have sometimes been accused of being set in our ways. Some of us are afraid we won’t excel at a new challenge, for we’ve always been held to a high standard of achievement. Since none of us will be the next Georgia O’Keefe or Leonardo da Vinci, we can set that worry aside. They both had more years to practice than we have left in front of us. Instead, we should give our remaining time our most focused attention, so we can get the most from our experience.
My high school chemistry book had the same information in it which my daddy’s college chemistry book covered. He was amazed I was learning “advanced” ideas at my young age. In 1982 R. Buckminister Fuller introduced the idea of the “knowledge doubling curve.” Up until 1900, knowledge doubled every century. By 1945, knowledge doubled every 25 years and by 1982, it doubled every year. Some say it’s now doubling twice a day! The newest computer we buy off the shelf today is already obsolete.
We can’t train our students for the jobs of today because these jobs likely won’t exist tomorrow. We need to train people to be lifetime learners instead. Luckily, we don’t have to know all things, but we do need the skills to find the knowledge and sort through the best sources for the best possible information.
Today, knowledge we acquire in high school, college, graduate school, and our last job may already be obsolete. (I’m one who still grieves the loss of Pluto as a planet; it exists but is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt). This is especially true in fast moving fields like technology. As futurist Alvin Toffler wrote, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
This means all of us will need to become lifelong learners or we’ll risk losing touch with an ever evolving world. Maybe we think our brains can’t handle something new, for we’ve heard about the effect of aging. Cognitive process studies with older brains show learning, memory, and problem-solving in humans are often less efficient in these areas.
However, it has recently been established that dogs show many of the same kind of age related changes that humans do. A study in Vienna showed that older dogs learned new tasks just as well as younger dogs, although they took longer to do so and required more repetitive corrections. This aptitude is also known as “resilience training.”
I think it’s also important to know why we want to keep our brains agile as we move into our later years. John Wesley was fond of repeating William Law’s summary from the Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection,
“Do all the good you can, to all you can, by any means you can, as long as you can.”
Because Wesley was better known than William Law, this quote is now attributed to Wesley alone. We Methodists have made it our own, however, and have carried its banner around the globe in our world wide mission efforts made possible by our Connectional ministries. Wesley thought enough of Law’s writing to reprint 19 editions of his work.
My late mother, at the age of eighty, learned how to use a laptop computer. She was motivated because she wanted to see emailed photos of her grandchildren, but then she realized she also could find recipes. When a child in her hometown needed a Mercy Flight, she used her new skills to get him transportation to an out of state hospital for treatment. I occasionally had to reteach her on how to double click quickly on her icons, rather than slowly, but she finally caught on.
If we want to keep our brains agile throughout our middle, silver, and golden years, we always need to try new things. Doing art challenges makes our brain build new neural pathways. Every time we look at a still life or a landscape, we have to make multiple decisions: what shapes do I see—circles, squares, triangles, or rectangles; how do these shapes relate to one another on the plane of our canvas; what is most important; what colors will I use; what emotions do I want to express; and where will I begin?
Eventually, we will find our “style.” We don’t find a style by copying another’s work, but we create enough works until our hand becomes one with our spirit. Since God has placed a special spark of God’s own creative Spirit within each of us, eventually we’ll experience the joy of being one with God when we are in our painting moments. As Paul said to the Romans (8:16):
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Last Friday we had a simple still life as our inspiration. Half our class was out sick with spring pollen troubles, but it was good to see those who could come after a two week hiatus. After a brief show and tell to get us inspired by other artists’ takes on the subject for the day, we got started. I reminded everyone not to make the fruit too tiny, so it wouldn’t get lost on the canvas. I believe everyone succeeded with this goal!
Mike painted his whole canvas with one brush. This gave the fruit a certain texture with contrasting colors, and the background, which was in a close value, didn’t show much brush strokes or texture. I like the perspective he chose, which brings the viewer in close to these fruit.
Gail tried a larger canvas with bolder colors than she normally uses. It was more dramatic and stronger in contrast than usual, while she kept her smooth strokes of paint as usual. She also took a view from above.
I stuck to a traditional rendering of the still life, since I do many abstract paintings in my own studio. I’d call these two Day and Night, for the Apple is quite awake and the Pear seems to need a little nap. It’s a study in contrasts: red and green, blue violet and yellow orange—a color wheel study masquerading as a still life.
Next week we’re in the season of Lent. As Christ turns his face towards Jerusalem, we’ll begin a study on the icons. This will be accessible and interesting. You’ll end up with your own icon for your personal worship center also.
Valentine’s Day is all about love. Television advertisements push candies, dipped gold “eternal” roses, gaudy jewelry—a price for every pocketbook—and the dating apps have been in full swing since the new year.
“Everybody needs somebody to love,” the old song goes. The Blues Brothers sing this oldie before their mad escape from the Illinois Law Enforcement Community. Solomon Burkes treats it with his indigenous soul blues from his lived experience and The Rolling Stones give it their percussive upbeat treatment. Wilson Picket has a good cover, but I don’t recommend the explicit version of Rod Wave’s Sneaky Links. Fitz and the Tantrums was interesting. My “old person “ is probably showing about the edges here.
We all can love our friends or sweethearts, especially in mid February. After all, February is “for lovers.” The bigger question is, How do we love our enemies? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book, A Gift of Love, writes:
“First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. (The one) who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us.”
Well, how can I forgive the person who hurt me, my child, my family, my tribe, or my community? We all want that person to come crawling to us and ask for forgiveness, but that’s not how radical love works. We want the wrong doer to show remorse and ask us for mercy and forgiveness. This puts them in a subordinate position and us in a position of power. But that’s not how radical love works. Radical love initiates forgiveness, even if the wrongdoer never shows contrition.
Dr. King goes on to say:
“It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression.”
Why must the wronged take on the indignity of offering forgiveness to unrepentant wrongdoers? In this act, we become most like Christ on the cross, who in his final moments, forgave not only the thief who asked for forgiveness, but also all those who crucified him, who had no intention of repenting. Our problem is we enjoy being like the risen Christ, the one with the “name above all names,” but most of us don’t want to “pick up our cross and follow” Jesus, especially if it leads to an ignominious death on that very cross.
As Dr. King wrote,
“The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.”
The injured one, whose heart has been broken and wounded by someone else’s words or deeds, is the only one who can heal the broken rift between them. This is why the deepest lovers of Christ are most often the wounded ones who’ve been healed by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The woman with the alabaster jar of ointment anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of the Pharisee, but the host had failed at the minimum hospitality for his guest, so Jesus reminded him (Luke 7:47):
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
If we would be healers in our broken and fragmented world, we need to first address our own woundedness. Each of us has a hidden pain or suffering, for this is the human condition. If we give this to God, our healing makes us into vessels where our cracks are filled with precious gold. We can offer more love, more forgiveness, and more hope to people who have been sitting in darkness and despair. People are waiting for joy and love to flow out in abundance from God’s heart into our hearts and into their world. Then we can be the light in the darkness for them, the holy fire that lights the embers of hope in their hearts, not just on St. Valentine’s Day, but every day.
Joy, Peace, and Love,
Excerpt from A Gift of Love | Penguin Random House Canada By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapter 5, Loving Your Enemies
Rabbit! Rabbit! Welcome to 2023! This old bunny may not see the clock strike midnight, but I’m recovering from a bad cold. Rest is more important than ringing in the New Year. Every year has its own character.
Zeitgeist is a word that comes straight from German — zeit means “time” and geist means spirit, so the “spirit of the time” is what’s going on culturally, religiously, or intellectually during a certain period. When it comes to the turn of the New Year, we bunnies wonder if our new broom will sweep clean or if the old broom will leave the same mess as always in our cozy rabbit dens.
Are we filled with hope or with foreboding? Do these dark days and deep nights of winter fill us with a gloomy spirit? Or do the imperceptibly lengthening minutes of daytime give hope to the shadows the cold of winter has left in the depths of our souls? Or have the coastal grandmother bunnies among us learned to ignore all this stum and drang by blending their afternoon tea time into early evening wine tasting?
Everything a culture considers taboo, evil, or immoral typically ends up being proscribed or “consigned to the outer darkness.” From there it ends up inside us in what Carl Jung called “the Shadow,” or our inner “Satan,” as it were. Repressed and inhibited, it festers and rages in the darkness of our “unconscious.” Even in extreme cases, it takes on a quasi-autonomous existence of its own, occasionally intruding as the famous “voices in the head” or even as a multiple personality.
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a famous light and dark shadow character from fiction, but too often in real life we rabbits point out our own dark shadows in the lives of those we so easily demonize. As my wise old granddaddy rabbit would reprimand me, “When you point out the faults of others, you have three fingers pointing back at you.”
I always find life more refreshing on the first day of the year, perhaps because I don’t over indulge in strong drink as I once did in my wayward bunny youth. We bunnies all have a wayward youth, for how else would we know what the immature among us are getting into? My old daddy rabbit believed, “Experience was the greatest teacher of all time, as well as its most costly tutor.” Indeed, we remember the costliest lessons best of all. The young ones today say, “Go big or go home.” My grannie would say, “If you’re in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound.” After all, everyone who participated, either in a small or large way, would be held accountable.
As I look back on old 2022, grizzled and worn out by conflicts both at home and abroad, I can understand why the ancients thought of Janus, for whom January’s named, as a two faced god. One face, which looked backwards, was lined, bearded, and craggy featured, while the forward looking face of the new year was youthful, smooth, and clean shaven. Every new year is fresh and clean as a beardless youth’s face, as well as untroubled by any recollection of pains or past memories. Most of us bunnies also have short memories, for we tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Rabbits have short term memories of around 4 minutes, but can remember bad experiences for longer periods, just as humans can.
In Ancient Rome, as the poets Ovid and Horace recount, Janus was the god of war and peace. They differ as to whether the Temple of Janus was a prison for peace or war, but they both agree the prison was meant to maintain PAX ROMANA, or the great Roman Peace. If peace were impounded, peace would be guaranteed to the nation. If war were imprisoned, it wouldn’t rampage about to destroy the countryside. Just as Janus had two faces, Roman religion was open to multiple interpretations and meanings. Perhaps today, they’d be known as “freethinkers,” as opposed to “literalists” or “strict constructionists” in their interpretation of their ancient stories.
Maybe in 2023 we bunnies might want to look at different ways of thinking, instead of one fixed way. There’s a difference between a straight and narrow path and a rut. On the path we can still see other twists and turns, which might change the outcome of our experience and existence. In a rut we’re stuck for life, with no where out, until it becomes our grave. If the world is changing more quickly than is comfortable for us, I give the example of my old granddaddy again. He pushed a button to turn on one of the first electric lights in his home town and lived to see men walk on the moon. Be resilient, be adaptable, and embrace change. After all, we’re always changing, so the option of never changing is death.
Romans would celebrate January 1 by giving offerings to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the new year. They believed their acts set the stage for the coming year, so it was a common practice to make a positive start to the year. Not only did they exchange well wishes and sweet gifts of figs and honey with one another, but according to the poet Ovid, most Romans also chose to work for at least part of New Year’s Day because they saw idleness as a bad omen for the rest of the year. If 1st century Romans were to drop into some of our 21st century celebrations by means of Dr. Who’s traveling blue Police Box, they would wonder how the barbarians, who sacked Rome in 455 CE, had managed to take over our modern New Year.
We toga wearing bunnies, who are long of tooth, know from experience the barbarians are always at the gate of our safe little gardens. Sometimes they’re even inside the gardens of delight, as Peter Rabbit and his Cottontail friends perpetually discover when Mr. McGregror chases them with a rake. If we cast a look back on 2022 with our rheumy eyes, we saw Russia attack Ukraine, an outrageous act which sent millions of people to emigrate from their the destroyed cities and ravaged countryside, with the hope of finding safe haven in another European country.
Across the pond, on our southern border, thousands of migrants have fled disaster and violence in their homelands, but even though the US economy is hurting for workers in our entry level jobs, they have difficulty getting in. Are these people actually “barbarians at the gate?” Or have we projected our Shadow Fears upon them because they are foreigners? We did this with the Japanese, who m we placed into Internment Camps in World War II, much to our disgrace. This bunny asks us to search our hearts in 2023 to see if our three fingers are pointing back at our own selves.
Think about how Woodstock symbolized the 1960s: Woodstock was part of the Zeitgeist of the 1960s. Whatever seems particular to or symbolic of a certain time is likely part of its Zeitgeist. I came home from college one Christmas wearing a necklace of tiny black and white seed beads, only to be greeted by my old fashioned daddy, “Are you a hippy now?” For him, any one thing represented the whole, for he grew up with the ancient bunny wisdom, “One bad apple spoils the bushel.” We were only reconciled when he realized I hadn’t lost my fondness for his beloved Cowboys football team.
If we can find one common interest in this strange and fraught world with those with whom we would be at war, then we might be able to come to peace with them. If we insist on all or nothing, no bunny will get anything. We all want to have endless days of peace and joy, but the life of a bunny also has days of struggle and sorrow.
Carl Jung, the great psychologist once said, “There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
We also have this promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13—
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Many of my southern bunny kinfolks will eat a variety of this New Year’s Day meal: black eyed peas, ham, greens, and cornbread. We think every pea consumed equals another day of good luck. Of course, we’re not the only superstitious clan.
Our cousins in Japan, celebrating Ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve, gather together to eat long noodles to cross over from one year to the next. At midnight, many visit shrines or temples for Hatsumōde. Shinto shrines prepare amazake, a sweet low alcohol drink, to pass out to crowds and most Buddhist temples have large cast bells that are struck once for each of the 108 earthly desires believed to cause human suffering.
I found some interesting New Year’s good luck traditions, which are practiced around the world. In Greece, folks hang onions outside on their front doors to ward off evil. On New Year’s Eve, Colombian households have a tradition, called agüero, of placing three potatoes under each family member’s bed—one peeled, one not, and the last one only partially. At midnight each person, with eyes closed, grabs for one. Depending on the potato they select, they can either expect a year of good fortune, financial struggle, or a mix of both.
In Ireland, people bang Christmas bread against the walls of their house for good luck. If any of you bunnies have a Christmas fruitcake still lying around, please choose another loaf to prevent damage to your walls. Good contractors are backed up and hard to find, especially around the holidays.
The Danes chunk plates at their friends’ doorsteps for good luck on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps all that darkness from the winter solstice makes my northern relatives harebrained, but we love them just the same. I suppose every bunny has some weird relatives.
Old bunny weather lore says, “The first 12 days of January foretell the weather for each month of the year.” Another way to forecast the weather for the coming year depends on the wind. The old bunnies are at odds as to when this poem should be recited, with some advocating for sunset on New Year’s Eve and others at the break of dawn on New Year’s Day. This bunny notes the poem mentions New Year’s Eve, and since none of our ancient bunnies had time traveling abilities, I’d think we are safe to practice this on the Eve at sunset, then go out to do our responsible reveling.
If New Year’s Eve the wind blows south It betokens warmth and growth. If west, much milk and fish in the sea. If north, cold and storms there will be. If east, the trees will bear much fruit. If north east, then flee it, man and brute. Then throw your new year wishes to the wind!
My New Year’s wish for 2023 is for each and every one of my bunny friends to have a better year than last year. And especially to know deep in your hearts, each of you are God’s own beloved children. Remember this good word from Romans 8:28—
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
This shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice, which is on Wednesday, December 21, at 4:48 P.M. EST, in the Northern Hemisphere. Some think of this as the Longest Night, but I’m a person of the light, not the darkness. I always prefer to look to the light, no matter how dim or feeble it may seem.
Yet darkness is a necessary experience in our lives. We do not yet live in the land of the “unclouded sky” or the heavenly realm:
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” —Revelation 21:23
In the darkness, growth often happens: germination and rooting are two types of unseen activity that help produce the plant we see above ground. Without adequate light, the visible plant won’t thrive. So both darkness and light are at work to produce fruit in our lives.
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28
The Winter Solstice in Hot Springs is at 3:48 pm CST on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. In terms of daylight, this day is 4 hours, 37 minutes shorter than the June solstice. In most locations north of the equator, the shortest day of the year is around this date. The good news about the Winter Solstice is the days will begin to lengthen, although imperceptibly at first: one minute, four minutes, seven minutes, ten minutes, thirteen minutes, sixteen minutes, and so on.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the sun’s return, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. Today we recognize the source of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song in this festival. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Prosperity for all in the New Year!
In this time of stress and strain, grief and gripes, let’s look to the in-breaking light, and the renewal of life and love. Here’s a “Winter Solstice Chant” by Annie Finch, for your pleasure:
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, now you are uncurled and cover our eyes with the edge of winter sky leaning over us in icy stars Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.
Of course, if you can’t get your travel plans together at the last minute to visit Stonehenge, England for the winter solstice celebration, you can always make Rice Krispies Bars in the shape of the ancient monument. The recipe link is at the bottom of the page. Hint: don’t turn the heat up high or your treats will be hard. Due to high carbohydrate count, one “pillar” of Stonehenge Krispies is actually two servings.
Springtime is the season of youth, growth, and promise. It’s full of hope and anticipation for the future. It’s the season of our youth, for we identify with the vigor of nature’s growing and fertile surroundings. Winter isn’t the season for most of us, for it’s cold, dark, and the world is buried under ice, snow, or an interminable rain. It reminds us of our own mortality, our own aging and weakness, and our lack of power over our circumstances. No wonder people have searched for the fountain of eternal youth in many cultures across the ages.
As a pastor, I know people die in every season of the year, but somehow the deaths in winter seemed to strike me as more difficult to deal with than those of summer. In recent years, U.S. death rates in winter months have been 8 to 12 percent higher than in non-winter months. Much of this increase relates to seasonal changes in behavior and the human body, as well as our increased exposure to seasonal respiratory diseases. Cold temperatures exacerbate preexisting diseases, plus this weather brings on strenuous activities we don’t do at any other time of the year. Some people work outside all year round, so they’re always subjected to extreme weather conditions. I’m not sure which is worse: extreme heat or extreme cold. I’ve always used the premise, “We can always put on more clothes; taking them off is risky business.”
Of course, summer heat now is more extreme than it used to be. The dinosaurs among us keep saying, “When I was a kid, we played outside all day long and drank from the garden hose. We came inside for lunch, rested during the hottest part of the afternoon, and went back outside to play until it was almost sunset. Then we had a late, light supper, took our baths, and we were in bed by the time the stars came out.”
Weather records back from 1954 tell a different story. It was actually so hot, the extreme heat caused a Kansas City weather beacon to malfunction and forecast snow (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12 July 1954). The Dinosaurs’ memories of their childhoods aren’t fossilized in stone. They remember what they want to remember. Most of us forget the difficult times and remember the times of joy instead. I remember this era as so hot and humid, my daddy would stand in the back yard with the water hose on full blast as he cooled down the west facing brick wall of our house. The overflow water nurtured the orange day lilies in the flowerbeds below.
I think some of our Dinosaur generation’s memories might have moderated over the years, just as the extremes of any pain—childbirth, war, or cultural changes—have been moderated by the joys of survival and bringing a new generation to adulthood. Also, we tend to remember the better parts of our lives if we have an optimistic outlook.
I wasn’t around for the “The Great Heat Wave of 1936,” which affected around 15 states during its three-week run that brought temperatures above 100 degrees. During the summer of 1936, The United States endured its worst heat wave on record. Ozark, Arkansas exceeded 100F every day from August 3 – 23 and reached a chart topping record 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also known as the “1936 North American Heat Wave,” it exacerbated the levels of human suffering during the ongoing Great Depression. During this time, the all-time highest temperature in Arkansas was 120° F (Ozark on Aug.10, 1936). For comparison, in 2010 Little Rock, Arkansas had to endure its hottest summer between June and August when the temperature went above 90 degrees for two months. The Western states, currently under a mega drought that’s the worst the area has seen since 800 AD, hope to see rain and cooler temperatures soon.
It’s not just the weather I connect with the cycles of life, but also the changes in my body. Gone are the days when I could stay up all night talking or frolicking and then go to work without missing a beat. Of course, I was once an energizer bunny, or maybe I didn’t get all that much done when I was “working.” It was a mark of hubris for me that I could still work, no matter how foolish I was the night before. My friends and I thought of ourselves as heroic.
Arthur C. Clarke speaks of youthful infatuation with heroes, who in their minds should benefit from the eternal bloom of everlasting youth. Age and decrepitude shouldn’t affect heroes, for they’re either blessed by god or nature has given them have supernatural bodies. As Clarke describes the movie star walking on the low gravity space dock in his science fiction novel Islands in the Sky,
“Tex Duncan followed close behind. He was trying to manage without an escort and not succeeding very well. He was a good deal older than I’d guessed from his films, probably at least thirty-five. And you could see through his hair in any direction you cared to look. I glanced at Norman, wondering how he’d reacted to the appearance of his hero. He looked just a shade disappointed.”
Young folks think 35 is ancient. They never met George Blanda, the oldest NFL quarterback. Blanda played for 26 NFL seasons, the most seasons played by a single player in NFL history. During that time, he broke numerous other records as well. He held the record of most pass attempts in a single game, 68, until Drew Bledsoe broke his record in 1994 with 70 attempts. Blanda also was the first player to score more than 2,000 points, and he’s one of only two players to play in four different decades before he retired at age 48, one month shy of his 49th birthday.
Tom Brady, age 45, is the oldest quarterback to ever start an NFL game, but to break George Blanda’s age record for playing, Brady would have to play for four more seasons to break the age record and play until age 50 to break Blanda’s record of 26 seasons. Brady also has yet to throw seven touchdown passes in one game, a record Blanda and seven other NFL quarterbacks hold.
My old daddy often watched in agony while many young quarterback desperately tried to move a team downfield until the coach sent in Blanda, who somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“Finally!” he’d shout at the tv. “How ‘bout that old man?” he’d exclaim to the rest of us. Agonizing over a football game was a family affair.
We humored my daddy, who was just past his mid century mark. As young and vigorous twenty something’s, we kids knew mortality’s chill breath was on his neck, while we were still able to outrun any shade creeping up on us in the night. As young people, we were still at the age when we began to see our parents less as heroes, and more as the flesh and blood realities of their true selves.
Not everyone survives this transition gracefully. Some need to see their parents as “forever heroes,” and are disappointed when the folks don’t measure up to this lofty standard. Likewise, we can transfer these same “forever hero” desires to God, and want God to be our superhero to rescue us from dangers and keep us from harm. We don’t take responsibility for our own lives, but wait for the external power to fix our lives in a dramatic way. We’re forever dependent on the superpower for every thing good.
There came a time in my daddy’s life when Parkinson’s disease and dementia weakened both his body and his mind. This wasn’t all at once, but a slow progression. He once had a strong handwriting, firm and legible. As his fine motor skill diminished, this beautiful signature became cramped and small, but it had the same stroke pattern as his original. My mom would fuss when he could no longer open jar lids for her, but I reminded her, “He wants to do this for you, but his hands can’t manage it. It’s a case of the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak.”
She wasn’t used to hearing this verse quoted in this context. I did get her piercing look, like I’d stabbed her to the heart, but she stopped fussing at him for what he couldn’t do and began to enjoy what he could still do. She too had always thought of him as a Superman type because he’d always been there for her. She now understood she would have to be there for him as he began to lose his powers.
We all have our own personal kryptonite, the mineral from our home planet that can drain our super powers the way it does for Superman. For some of us, it’s toxic substances, toxic environments, or toxic people. Some of us make poor choices about the people or places we hang about in, some of us think we need to please everyone, and some of us work too much to avoid emotional involvement.
At an advanced age, after multiple attacks from criminal types, and the burden of saving the planet over the years, even Superman gets tired. We Christians take the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” as a Superman quote, forgetting all the other verses which reflect the humanity of Jesus: he was tired and hungry, so he rested at a well in Samaria; he was moved by the death of a friend, and wept at the news. We might need to recover the superhuman courage of the disabled and the aged instead. These find their strength in their weakness, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:25—
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
The older people I know all believe, “If I get out of bed, I’m going to have a good day. It’s my choice and I’m going to make it a good one. At my age, I don’t have time to waste on bad days!”
If I roll out of bed singing and wondering where my coffee cup is, I know it’s a good day. Then again, I always have a daily plan to do something creative: paint, write, quilt, cook, and if I must, make the condo more beautiful by cleaning it. I share my spiritual thoughts over several media platforms. It’s good to do ministry this way, since I have to keep a low profile due to my seizure disorder.
When we get to a certain age, people begin to ask, “Can he or she still do the job?” We make several assumptions when we ask this question:
The way we imagine the work of ministry requires lots of energy.
We prefer a young person to do this work because of our preconceived ideas about the nature of the work.
We want a fresh face to represent us in the community because a young person reflects well on us.
We think like attracts like, so a young pastor will attract young families.
However, we sometimes get more than we bargained for when our Wonder Woman or Superman “young hero” pastor prayers are answered:
We don’t want to move as fast as the energetic young leader.
Young leaders have novel ideas, but we’ve never done it that way.
Young leaders often believe everyone should be in ministry.
Young leaders remind us the congregation is the best representative in the community because they continue, while clergy come and go.
The leader doesn’t change us, for we can only change ourselves.
While a leader may attract new people, those who are part of the ongoing system will keep them by integrating them into the faith community.
One of the interesting aspects of working with the differently abled is an employer’s willingness to restructure the workplace setting or requirements to mesh with the employee’s abilities. We still have a notion of ministry that hasn’t been seriously reimagined since the 1950’s, when married clergy men were the norm and non working clergy wives were taking care of the children, house, and volunteering in the church and community.
One thing never changes, however: clergy bear the existential burdens of ministry—they carry the weight of others’ emotional and spiritual burdens, they’re overwhelmed by others’ needs and the importance of ministerial issues, and they’re expected to solve unsolvable mysteries of life in relationships.
This would age any Superman or Wonder Woman, but they persist in their callings to love and serve others. As Paul would say of his own people, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). We are all called to serve by virtue of our baptism into the life, death, resurrection, and ministry of Jesus Chris. Therefore we each have gifts, and these we must use for God’s glory as long as we have breath and strength.
Maybe we won’t be the starting quarterback anymore, but we’ll wait our turn on the bench to take on the last ditch two minute drill, or comfort the grieving when they come off the field in whatever loss they suffer. God will use us as long as we have breath, and God will put us in the right place, at the right time, to be the hands and heart of Christ for those who need us at that opportune moment.
Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, wrote about aging in this way, basing his commentary on Job 12:12 (NIV), “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?“ He said,
“Much violence in our society is based on the illusion of immortality, which is the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not a gift to be shared. When the elderly no longer can bring us in contact with our own aging, we quickly start playing dangerous power games to uphold the illusion of being ageless and immortal. Then, not only will the wisdom of the elderly remain hidden from us, but the elderly themselves will lose their own deepest understanding of life. For who can remain a teacher when there are no students willing to learn?”
Joy, peace, and May you find your inner superhero,
Unknown Artist: Alexander the Great, from Alexandria, Egypt, 3rd cent. BCE, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (5), CC BY 2.0,
Michelangelo: David, 1501-1504, marble, Academia Galleries, Florence, Italy.
On September 5, we celebrate Labor Day, and our kids are already back in school. We’re once again slowing down in school zones in the morning and afternoon, and setting an extra plate at the kitchen table for our absent college freshman. We might even see the first fall colors when the Fall Equinox comes around at the end of the month.
September is when we set aside our summer white clothes and shoes to change our closet over for darker colors and longer lengths. My dear mother had a rule of never wearing white past Labor Day. This quaint fashion principle dates from before Memorial Day, which was instituted in 1868 after the Civil War. This rule helped to separate the old money families, who summered in the country and at the seashore, from those who stayed to struggle on in the grimy cities, which were polluted by coal fired engines. These urban families usually wore dark clothes year round, as the rich did when they returned to their city residence.
Air conditioning has changed this now, but wearing starched, white cotton still reminds people you either have money to send your clothes to the cleaners or hire laborers to do it for you. Or, you might just work extra hard to look like one of the first two. This bunny has reached the age of dripping dry all those cotton clothes. I actually do more ironing when I do a craft project, such as quilting, since those seams need to be pressed open to make a good square. As this bunny has aged, I’ve changed my mind about what I think is important enough to worry about.
September is also a time to reassess the three core myths which animate much of American life. These myths are we can give 100% to our work, 100% to our family, and 100% to our personal health. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to do this type of higher math without going bananas or feeling significant amounts of guilt that I’m not doing enough in one of those areas. Eventually I learned I was only Wonder Woman in my fantasies, but not in real life. I also realized other people who managed better than I hired help for the housework to free themselves up for family time.
Somewhere along the line we’ve bought into the myth of the “ideal worker,” who “has no competing obligations that might get in the way of total devotion to the workplace.” The second myth is the “perfect parent,” who “always puts family first.” The last myth is the “ultimate body,” which is cultivated through diligent dieting and exercise, and doesn’t deteriorate with age.
The authors of Dreams of the Overworked, note in the digital age, when people can post curated images of their best lives, “Achieving even one of these myths would be impossible, but achieving all three is ludicrous.” If your daily stress has increased and you feel like everything you do isn’t enough, I suggest deep breathing with your eyes closed (unless you’re driving a vehicle!). Once you get some extra oxygen to your brain, you’re in a position to calmly reconsider your situation. Not all situations are hair on fire, unless you’re a two year old with separation anxiety. Most of us beyond this age have experience and memories which can guide our future behaviors. An ancient proverb is “Experience is the mother of wisdom,” or as my folks used to say, “The school of hard knocks is the most expensive degree you’ll ever pay for.” Live and learn. With age comes wisdom.
Now that you’re calmer, you can decide, “Do I have options? Do I have a support system with people who can help me discern my way? Can I lay down my false self image of competence so I can ask for help? Can I triage my priorities to say NO to the less important ones, even if it means not pleasing everyone in my social circle?”
Speaking of options, women are primarily responsible for housework and childcare, not only in America, but also across the pond. About 91% of women with children spend at least an hour per day on housework, compared with 30 % of men with children. The latest available data shows that employed women spend about 2.3 hours daily on housework; for employed men, this figure is 1.6 hours. Gender gaps in housework participation are the largest among couples with children, at 62 p.p., demonstrating an enduring imbalance in unpaid care responsibilities within families. This leads to women taking lower and slower career paths.
September 22 is the Fall Equinox. We’re already seeing signs of seasonal leaf color changes, due to heat stress and drought. Some call this “False Fall,” but I call it a sign of hope. Trees will drop their leaves in order to survive in extreme conditions. Although some claim plants are sentient, they don’t have a brain or consciousness that we can recognize. They do interact and react to their environments. Their first priority is survival. Photosynthesis and the subsequent leaf abscission after changing color is part of this process. I always look for the change of light which precedes this event. One morning last week, I noted the color of the morning light had turned cooler, and wasn’t the warm yellow of summer. I also had a spark of energy I hadn’t had before. I look forward to more daylight.
This bunny is very fond of September, since I’ve always been eager to start fresh and new. I always got new pencils and a new manilla paper writing pad when I started elementary school. Later on, as I progressed up in grades, ink pens with cartridges were a special treat. Even to this day, I keep my journals with hand written ink in good paper books. I love the feel of these materials in my hands. I probably would have stayed in school my whole life if possible. The day our brains quit learning something new is the day our minds begin to die.
That leads me to remind my bunny friends that Alzheimer’s disease is the 7th leading cause of death in the USA and it’s the most common cause of dementia in persons over 65. While most of you may not be baby boomers, you young bunnies have grandparents or parents of that age. Today, about 6.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, but that number is expected to almost double to 12.7 million by 2050. Perhaps beginning September with World Alzheimer’s Day is a good reminder for all of us to be proactive about our health choices, so we can live independently as long as possible into our senior years.
I also like Positive Thinking Day, since reframing negative thoughts into positive ones changes our attitude, our behaviors, and then we get better outcomes as a result. If you don’t feel like being Batman on the 17th, you can ARRRGUH yourself about, MATEY, as you Talk Like a Pirate on the 19th. Bonus points if you wear an eye patch, earring, and tricorne hat or bandana on your head.
The Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on the 25th. It’s one of the four “new year” celebrations in their religious calendar. This one recalls God’s creation of humanity, as well as the legal new year. On this one night in September, when the faithful eat apples dipped in honey or other sweet sauces, they remember how God originally created humans in a sinless state and wish each other a good year to come.
Did I forget International Bacon Day? How can any rabbit forget bacon? Someone will cut my carrot rations for the future, I fear. But if I remember to keep the coffee pot full, I’ll probably get out of the rabbit hoosegow before National Coffee Day on the 29th.
Some interesting holidays we can celebrate this month are: Better Breakfast Month (I suggest bacon, eggs, and pancakes on the weekend and old fashioned oatmeal during the week). There’s also Hispanic Heritage Month and National Sewing Month. Finally, every year on September 30th is National Love People Day. The purpose of the day is to show love to everyone—no exceptions. National Love People Day offers us the opportunity to show unconditional love, which many have never experienced. When we genuinely love our neighbors and express it with kind words and thoughtful deeds, we make our world a better place. This the true meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Maybe one meaning of loving your neighbor is offering a meal to them. Food insecurity is increasing once again, this time due to increased rents and costs of transportation. Consider a weekly meal service from your church building or organization’s meeting place. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but calories and nutrition would help hungry people have the strength to move on from their current situations. Joining with other groups to cover all the days of the week would be a bonus to your community, not only for the hungry, but also for the smaller groups who could team up to share in the blessing of loving their neighbors.
Until the spice is on the pumpkin, I wish all my bunny friends
Ready or not, the creative juices must be stirred. If the brain has lain fallow all summer, or it’s been overworked keeping the youngsters occupied, now you can find your own groove again. Yes, it’s time for Adult Art Class at Oaklawn UMC.
Our first meeting will be Friday, September 9, at 10 am in the old fellowship hall. Bring your own acrylic paints, brushes, and a canvas or canvas panel to paint on. We begin with a short visual inspiration from some great art works, I’ll give some direction on the skill we’ll work on in the session, and then everyone is free to bring their own unique expression to their paintings. We don’t copy my work and judge how well a person can match it. We learn from the great masters and stretch our own skills to create something new.
Of course, making great art isn’t our first purpose. As we age, we will lose our ability to learn new skills until we lose our memory of what we just ate for breakfast. Challenging our brains is one of the best ways to keep our brain cells firing and “chatting with one another.” Our brains have the immensely powerful ability to remodel themselves because each of us have 1,000 trillion synapses, which are constantly being modified every second of every day. Socialization and encouragement also helps to keep our brains young.
Of course, we have to give up our desire to be perfect. Perfection comes from practice, or working at it. Every baby stumbles and falls when they learn to walk, but dotting adults encourage every trembling step. This is what art teachers also do. I’ve always had a rule in my classes, especially when I taught in middle school: No Negative Talking about People or Art. This included a student’s own art works. They always had to give at least three positive comments about their work before they spoke about the negative. “My work needs improvement” became the replacement phrase for “My work stinks!”
Of course, we’ve all grown up and worked in environments where negativity is the rule. Art class is a place of grace because this is how life should be. If we can transform a blank canvas into a field of color, why can’t we transform our communities and our world into fields of hope, joy, and love? Perhaps because we try to make everyone copy/fit into our idea of the proper end product, rather than allow everyone discover their own creative response to the given subject of the day. The museums of our world are richer and more vibrant because artists have listened to the Spirit of the Creating God. We might do well to realize God’s creative energies are varied and vibrant also, just as Isaiah wrote about his vision of God’s Glorious New Creation:
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.” (65:17-18)
I hope to see you there. I don’t charge for the class sessions, since this is one of my ministries as a retired elder in the United Methodist Church. As John Wesley once said, “The World is my Parish.”
Joy and Peace,
Wes Ely: How long covid reshapes the brain — and how we might treat it
Are we the United States of America or the Un-Tied States of America? One of the apocryphal sayings misattributed to the great Benjamin Franklin is “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Many are the words of wisdom from those who can’t speak up for themselves anymore, but especially numerous are the aphorisms of those we hold in high esteem, the founders of our nation.
As a young rabbit, my summers were often spent in the game of “School,” as the days lengthened beyond the end of actual school. My mother rabbit, a school teacher in real life, would find me underneath the shade tree in our backyard where I’d be instructing my younger neighbor rabbits sitting in neat rows. Since old school teachers never lose their calling to teach, the upcoming anniversary of the birth of our nation is an opportunity for all of us to remember our national struggle for independence and liberty was a cause both difficult and hard won.
As we rabbits pull out our flags, bunting, firecrackers, and ice cream churns, we might want to take a moment to remember the danger and risk our ancestors took to become an independent nation, rather than colonies subservient to the English crown. For many great reasons we can thank our ancestors for their refusal to endure the insults of taxation without representation and the indignities of having all their judicial decisions subject to revision by a foreign party. Indeed, the colonists lived as second class citizens, a fact which grated upon their very souls. Many were their entreaties to the King of England for redress of these wrongs, but to no avail.
Redress is the righting of a wrong. Some wrongs are more wrong than others, to be sure. As a young rabbit in the first year of junior high school, I discovered all my classmates had later bedtimes than I did. In fact, I was still turning in at 7 pm along with my baby brother, who was a mere 8 years old. I made an extensive survey of my different class groups and discovered the average bedtime was 8 pm. I knew my old fashioned rabbit parents would never let me stay up until 10 pm at my tender age.
My daddy was always saying, “Young rabbits need their sleep to grow up big, strong, healthy, smart, and good looking.” I never had a good argument against these reasons, so I’d go to bed, even if I might sneak a flashlight and read a book under the covers. I did get permission to stay up to the late hour of 8 pm, however. Perhaps rebellion is part of the American DNA.
Birthing the American Union wasn’t easy. The collection of individual colonies operated separately and had their own interests. Joining them together into one whole wasn’t an easy task, for each would have to put the common good ahead of their own individual needs and desires. Benjamin Franklin proposed The Albany Plan In July 21, 1754, for a union of the American provinces, which he proposed to a conference of provincial delegates at Albany, New York, to better battle the French and their Indian allies. We remember this era as the French and Indian Wars.
The Albany Plan called for proportional representation in a national legislature and a president general appointed by the King of Great Britain. It served as a model for Franklin’s revolutionary Plan of Confederation in 1775. His original idea germinated in people’s minds, along with other writings which Franklin “lay upon the table.” Not everyone was ready to approve these proposals, but his proposed Draft Articles of Confederation helped the committee when they finally began to focus their action in July, 1775 to write what became our constitution.
In November, 1755, Governor Morris of Pennsylvania pressed for a Militia Act in order to recruit persons for defense of the area from Indian and French attacks. The military units contemplated were purely voluntary and the officers, though commissioned by the governor, were to be elected from below, not appointed from above. The most important difference was that in 1747 the Association was a completely extra-legal body created by the volunteers themselves, while in 1755 the military units were, for the first time in Pennsylvania history, to be established by formal legislative act. And during the eleven months before news of its disallowance by the King reached the colony, the act did serve, in spite of its limitations, as a basis for raising reserve forces for provincial defense.
The Virginia delegates to the Philadelphia convention of 1774 went with this charge in hand:
“It cannot admit of a Doubt but that British Subjects in America are entitled to the same Rights and Privileges as their Fellow Subjects possess in Britain; and therefore, that the Power assumed by the British Parliament to bind America by their Statutes, in all Cases whatsoever, is unconstitutional, and the Source of these unhappy Differences.”
The crown had placed an embargo on the colonists and had forbidden them to import any manufactured goods, books, and while they might trade with other parts of the realm, those countries didn’t have to reciprocate. Economic sanctions were used for political purposes even in the 18th century.
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, was sold by the thousands. By the middle of May 1776, eight colonies had decided that they would support independence. When the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia Hall on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read his resolution beginning: “Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
After 21 years of planning, priming, and planting of the seeds for the fragile fruit of a New Democratic nation, it would finally come to life in the July 1776 Declaration of Independence and the 1789 Constitution of the United States of America. Yet not everyone was on board, not everyone wanted to leave the established relationship, even if it wasn’t the best situation.
Jefferson modeled the Declaration of Independence on the Virginia Bill of Rights, which became the basis for the Bill of Rights of the new Constitution of the United States of America. Notice the sections on 3: Governance by the Majority, 5: Separation of Governmental Powers, with Executive and Legislative members returned to private service, 12: Freedom of the Press, and 13: Armed State Militias.
“That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
Section 13 of the Virginia Bill of Rights is one of the founding documents of our nation. Many today talk about “what the founders wanted.” One way we can know in part is to look at the historic records, although they are few and far between. We can find these in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and at the Smithsonian Museum, among others. We don’t have to be mind readers or seek some medium to channel the spirits of their ancestral vision. We’re fortunate they and their descendants recognized their importance to history. Today we throw away records at a fast pace, not knowing what will be important for the future.
While today nearly every young rabbit instagrams their lunch or their night out with a comment, which lasts in perpetuity on the internet, sometimes to a more mature rabbit’s shame and embarrassment, people nearly 250 years ago had to sit down, collect their thoughts, sharpen a quill pen, dip it frequently into the ink well, and write on precious sheets of paper.
Scholars think the Declaration of Independence was not signed by any of the delegates of the Continental Congress on July 4. The huge canvas painting by John Trumbull hanging in the grand Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol depicting the signing of the Declaration is a work of imagination. In his biography of John Adams, historian David McCullough wrote: “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.” We do have Jefferson’s draft copy as well as several printed copies that are “originals,” plus the clean, handwritten copy we treasure as a founding document.
If we had been members of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, we would have been rebels and considered traitors by the King. He would have posted a reward for the capture of each of us, since we were the most prominent rebel leaders. Soon enough the largest British armada ever assembled would anchor just outside New York harbor. By affixing our names to the document,we pledged our life,our fortune, and our sacred honor to the cause of freedom. Perhaps this would causes us today to pause. Then again, we might dip the quill into the ink well and take our first breath as a free American. We’d sign our name with pride. We would be part of history now.
As we prepare our menus for our backyard barbecues and make our plans for block parties, let’s remember in most urban areas firecrackers and explosive devices are banned, except for professional light and sound experiences. Be safe in large crowds, especially at night and in entertainment districts. Be safe, be smart, keep hot food hot and cold food cold.