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.
March is here and the wild hares of the rabbit clan have come to visit. I’m shivering on a cold, dreary, and rainy day, but I’m about to have a cup of steaming hot tea and put dinner on the stove. While I waited for the water to boil, I visited the open AI project out of curiosity. My old daddy used to say, “curiosity killed the cat,” but I think he was trying to keep me safe by not poking my nose into some dangerous places. Without curiosity, we never learn anything new or stretch our horizons. We’d live a sad, constricted life if we always stayed inside the lines and never pushed the boundaries.
The chat bot took my name and combined it with that of Cornelia Adele Strong Fassett, who painted the Florida Case Before the Electoral Commission, to describe the importance of “Cornelia DeLee, artist.” Also according to the chatbot, I am long dead, so I must be communicating from “yonder.” Fassett’s painting was about the contested presidential election of 1876.
In January, 1877, when the Electoral College met, 20 votes were contested, but neither side would concede the election. Congress passed a law empowering the Electoral Commission at the end of January. Ten days of deliberations passed before the 20 votes passed to the Republican candidate, an act which the Democrats protested until they received assurances federal soldiers would leave the Southern states. With Reconstruction at an end, Congress declared Rutherford B. Hayes the new President of the United States on March 2, only two days before his term began.
The Civil War and the Reconstruction years have marked our nation with an ongoing trauma, which has passed from generation to generation. At some point in time, we’ll have to heal, for continually pouring salt into that old wound will keep it festering and it won’t ever heal. Then we’ll pass it down to another generation once more. However, if scripture has any truth to teach us, humankind continues to reenact the sins of our ancestors, even when we know their stories and have the God given gifts of redemption from these shackles of death and shame. But now this rabbit is preaching, and some would say, “meddling once again.”
Update: Heather Cox Richardson, a noted writer of American history, reminds us once again how Southerners rewrite our history to make us more heroic and powerful. The Federal Army didn’t leave the south right away, but stayed in some states for awhile. See the note below.
I’ll change the subject. I’m not much on poetry, but I thought I’d ask ChatGPT to write a “Poem in Praise of March.” After all, World Poetry Day is March 21, so I thought I’d give the ChatAI a run for its money (it’s free right now, while in training stage). The Artificial Intelligence project was delighted to instantly produce the following example:
March, the month of windswept skies, A time when winter softly dies. The earth awakens from her sleep, As days grow long and nights grow deep.
The snows of winter start to thaw, And nature’s beauty starts to draw A tapestry of green and gold, As springtime’s treasures now unfold.
The birds return with joyful sound, Their melodies now all around. The trees bud out, the flowers bloom, And life returns to end the gloom.
March, the month of change and hope, A time to cast off winter’s scope. The promise of new life and growth, As nature’s beauty takes its oath.
So let us praise this month of light, For all the wonders it brings to sight. And may we cherish every day, As we welcome spring in every way.
I was so amazed the Artificial Intelligence ChatBot could spit this out so quickly, I typed in, “Thank you.”
It immediately answered, “You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. If you have any other questions or requests, feel free to ask!” I quickly closed the application before it became sentient and asked for my hand in marriage or social security number and tried to enroll me in a monthly cryptocurrency investment program. Yikes!
Speaking of poetry, even the folks at Bloomberg News are writing haikus about global food shortages:
Onion shortage looms. Prices rise, nutrition wanes, Governments take aim.
When I was a child, my brothers and I amused ourselves by lining up dominoes in artful patterns all morning long. After lunch and before our required afternoon nap, we’d touch the first domino in line, and have a wicked joy of watching our entire morning’s work fall one after another. A food shortage (or a toilet paper shortage) happens much the same way in our global economy. Onion prices are still soaring across the globe and fuelling inflation, so countries like Morocco, Turkey and Kazakhstan have taken action and secured supplies.
Because onion prices are going up due to scarce supply, the price of other fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, and apples) also are rising and hampering their availability across the globe, according to the United Nations and the World Bank. In fact, prices have increased so much that onions briefly cost more than meat in the Philippines, and some flight attendants were caught smuggling them out of the Middle East.
This didn’t end well for either the attendants or the produce, since the food was sent out for destruction (it’s illegal to import food, except through proper customs) and the personnel got reprimands and retraining. Word to the wise: hoarding onions isn’t a good idea, since whole, raw onions will last two to three months when stored in a cool, dry place (between 45 and 55 degrees F). Places that provide these conditions may include your cellar, pantry, unheated basement, or garage. Usually, at room temperature, onions last only 2 to 3 weeks. Over the long term, the frugal shopper will buy some scarce items at a higher prices and other items at lower cost when the product is in season and at a surplus. The average price over a year will even out.
March is Women’s History Month. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as “Women’s History Month.” Every president since then has recognized the gifts, graces, and achievements of America’s women by presidential proclamation. Other important women’s days in March we recognize are International Women’s Day (March 8), Harriet Tubman Day and National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10).
The Jewish celebration of Purim begins on March 6 at sundown and ends on the 7th at sundown. The festival recalls Queen Esther’s faithfulness to God and God’s saving providence for God’s marginalized people. We should always remember God’s grace is wider than ours, even if the faithful seemed to be “assimilating to the current culture.”
Daylight Savings Time begins March 12, with all of us rabbits settling our clocks forward one hour before we go to bed the night before. If you have difficulty remembering which direction, there’s a motto for this event: “Spring forward, and Fall back.” No one falls forward and springs back—silly rabbits maybe, but not the smart rabbits, who have the good sense to “Spring forward, and Fall back.”
The Ides of March 15 were bad luck for Julius Caesar, but originally the Ides of March once signified the new year, which meant celebrations and rejoicing. Two years before his death at an assassin’s hand, Caesar himself had changed the Roman calendar so the Romans celebrated the new year in January. Some people really don’t like change at all. Plus they don’t like military dictatorships.
People celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 all over the world, whether they’re Irish or not. While the San Antonio River runs green downtown, Hot Springs National Park will have its First Ever 20th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the 98 foot long Bridge Street, which is the world’s shortest street in everyday operational use.
Spring Equinox on March 20 can’t come soon enough for this rabbit. Just knowing the light will become stronger with each passing day is a medicine for my spirits. So what if the pollen follows soon after? Eventually, that too will be history and we bunnies will find something else to fuss about. After all, nothing is certain except for change. None of us can stop the circuit of the stars in the heavens above or cease the changing seasons.
We can adjust to these great cycles of change, just as we can grow in love for one another and learn to forgive both ourselves (for our falling short of perfection) and others for harming ourselves. If we rabbits wait till the last moment for our death bed reconciliations, we may not have the time or opportunity to make amends with the ones from whom we’ve estranged ourselves.
If you think you’ll be foolish doing this, I suggest you desensitize yourself and celebrate International Talk Like William Shatner Day on March 22. I asked ChatGPT for a haiku in the voice of William Shatner. On the third try, I got something I thought resembled his breathless cadence and broken phrase delivery. I could almost hear him emphatically delivering the words GO and MUST!
Ramadan starts during the evening of March 23 and lasts until sundown on Thursday, April 20. Muslims commemorate the gift of the Koran to Muhammad by fasting if physically able, declaring their faith, prayers, charity, and pilgrimage..
Remember, if March comes in as a lamb, it will go out as a lion, or so the ancient weather proverb goes. The saying may have its origin in the stars, for at this time of year, Leo is the rising sign; by April, it’s Aries. (“Kid” or “ram” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “lamb,” though.) Also, this is the season Jesus arrives as the sacrificial lamb, but will return as the Lion of Judah. Both mean, weather-wise, a false spring.
To sum up, as I finish up this note on the last day of February, the high today will be near 80F and I’ll most likely turn my air conditioner back on before March comes to visit. Looking ahead to March, the Weather Channel outlook has only three days in the 70’s for my location, so Mr. Air Conditioner won’t get much of a work out. I only see one night in the 30’s, so even Mr. Heater will get light workouts in March. As one wag put it on their restaurant sign:
Until next month, I hope you have onions and potatoes in abundance, and you enjoy green eggs and ham, or green beer, or green tea.
Joy, Peace, and welcome to Springtime,
NOTE from Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, March 2, 2023—this corrects my research.
What did not happen in 1877, either before or after the inauguration, was the removal of troops from the South.
That legend came from a rewriting of the history of Reconstruction in 1890 by fourteen southern congressmen. In their book Why the Solid South? Or Reconstruction and Its Results, they argued that Black voting after the Civil War had allowed Black people to “dominate” white southerners and virtually bankrupt the region and that virtuous white southerners had pushed them from the ballot box and “redeemed” the South. Contemporaries had identified the end of Reconstruction as 1870, with the readmission of Georgia to the United States. But Why the Solid South identified the end of Reconstruction as the end of Republican rule in each state.
In 1906, former steel baron James Ford Rhodes gave a date to that process. In his famous seven-volume history of the United States, he said that in April 1877, Hayes had ended Reconstruction by returning all the southern states to “home rule.” In his era, that was a political term referring to the return of power in the southern states to Democrats, but over time that phrase got tangled up with what did happen in April 1877.
During the chaos after the election, President U.S. Grant had ordered troops to protect the Republican governors in the Louisiana and South Carolina statehouses. When he took office, Hayes told Republican governors in South Carolina and Louisiana that he could no longer let federal troops protect their possession of their statehouses when their Democratic rivals had won the popular vote.
Under orders from Hayes, the troops guarding those statehouses marched away from their posts around the statehouses and back to their home stations in April 1877. They did not leave the states, although a number of troops would be deployed from southern bases later that year both to fight wars against Indigenous Americans in the West and to put down the 1877 Great Railroad Strike. That mobilization cut even further the few troops in the region: in 1876, the Department of the South had only about 1,586 men including officers. Nonetheless, southerners fought bitter congressional battles to get the few remaining troops out of the South in 1878–1879, and they lost.
The troops did not leave the U.S. South in 1877 as part of a deal to end Reconstruction.
It matters that we misremember that history. Generations of Americans have accepted the racist southern lawmakers’ version of our past by honoring the date they claimed to have “redeemed” the South. The reality of Reconstruction was not one in which Black voters bankrupted the region by taking tax dollars from white taxpayers to fund roads and schools and white voters stepped in to save things; it was the story of an attempt to establish racial equality and the undermining of that attempt with the establishment of a one-party state that benefited a few white men at the expense of everyone else.
Clarence C. Clendenen, “President Hayes’ ‘Withdrawal’ of the Troops: An Enduring Myth,” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 70 (October 1969): 240-250.
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.
When faced with a complicated task, what’s the first thing we need to do? I usually vote to have a cup of coffee and sit down to think about it. Some may call this procrastination, but I call it contemplation. I need to settle my mind, focus my senses, and discern the most important parts of my task. This is necessary, for if I were cutting off a limb from a tree, I’d sure want to get my body placed on the part of the tree that wasn’t going to fall. Keep the most important thing the first thing in mind is always the best practice.
Once our youth group from church went to the Appalachian Mountains for a mission work project. Most of our kids came from poor homes and we arrived in a single church bus, which for some reason the license plate hadn’t got renewed. The group even let me be the navigator. Only by the grace of God did we arrive, for I’m known to be directionally challenged among all my friends.
The other group who attended this session with us came with another truck, complete with all their own tools. Our children were despondent at first, for they felt they couldn’t “compete.” Our adult team leaders reminded them, “We’re here to do the work God has called us to do. This isn’t a contest. Everyone has value and all our work counts toward the greater good.”
That big, well provisioned group got the job of replacing a front porch and a roof. They divided up into a porch and roof team. The porch team finished first, but then they got mad when the roof team had to destroy their work to put the roof on right. They had failed to talk out an overall plan first. If the roofers had started on the porch end, then the porch team could come behind them and work would progress along properly.
This is called team work in groups. Our small group was experienced in talking out the process before we began working, so we knew the consequences of our actions. “If…then” is always an important consideration, especially in our artistic endeavors.
If we’re familiar with the work of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, he talks about putting first things first by organizing and executing around our most important priorities. We live and are driven by the principles we value most, not by the agendas and forces which surround us. Pleasing others isn’t God’s purpose for us, but to do God’s work of loving all and serving the least of God’s people.
When we look at a landscape, we have to select the primary image to emphasize, and relate the other forms around this important image. In the still life, we might drive ourselves crazy trying to paint every single petal, pistil, and leaf of some flowers in a vase, or we could find the most important shapes, which give us enough visual cues to let the viewer say, “Yes, this is a flower painting.” Not every leaf needs to be given the same attention, since our goal is to make a painting, not a rendering of the subject before us.
Some might ask, “Why do we return to this well worn theme from time to time?” The best answer is we continue to learn from our repeated exposure to this theme. For another, our drawing skills improve over time, so we can see our progress. Also, our ability to handle the paint gets better, so we are more comfortable with mixing our colors and planning our composition. Besides, the great artists over the centuries have found this discipline fruitful, so if it benefited them, most likely we’ll get some good from it also. My nanny’s wisdom comes clear here: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
When faced with so many shapes of leaves, a central stem, and a glass vase with ridges and reflections, our untrained brain wants to explode. We have to catch our breath, inhale, and exhale to cleanse our nerves. This is the point we begin our first simplification. If we note the proportions, the leaves are about the same height as the vase, and we can set the vase on a plane (the table) so it has depth. We can mark these off on the bare canvas with light pencil or a light wash of yellow paint. We’ll paint over it later.
The next step of simplification is to get the basic lines and shapes down. These don’t have to be perfect, but give you an idea of where you’re going to paint. If you do this in a pale wash, you can paint over it with the heavier colors in the more exact form. In sculpture, Michelangelo was known for chipping away from the stone everything that didn’t look like his subject. In painting, we add color, tint, and shade until it looks like our subject.
The final stage of simplification is to get the background in. Here you can paint up close to the individual shapes and “clean up the edges.” You can add highlights in places to bring out the foreground shapes, and add a shadow in the background for variety. By this time, the vase ought to be dry enough to put highlights on it also. Notice the leaves aren’t all the same color and they don’t bend the exact same way. Nothing in nature is perfect, for each part grows according to the amount of sun, shade, and nutrients it receives. As one of my old teachers reminded me, “Nature has no straight lines, so you never have to worry about that.”
To show you how sustained effort and intentional looking over time can helps student’s work improve, I offer the following examples from February, 2019, and September, 2020. One was the spider plants and the other the daffodils. I’m not sure who did these, so I won’t identify them.
I merely throw these in here because Gail and Mike have been working with me for several years. If practice hasn’t yet made perfect, it certainly has made improvements, and that’s all anyone can ask for. After all, we’re not asked to be perfect, but to go on to perfection (in love of God and neighbor).
For history buffs a side note. Wild indigo is in the genus Baptisia, which derives from the Greek word, βάπτω, which means “to dip” or “immerse,” just as our baptism (βαπτίζω) does. North American indigenous peoples and early settlers would extract yellow, brown, and green dyes from the leaves and stems of wild indigo, notably blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and other species. Indigo dye was extracted from yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), but it proved to be an inferior source compared to the treasured true indigo (Indigofera species).
For years, wild indigo remained an obscure historical relic, its ornamental and ecological contributions undiscovered and under appreciated. Yet, in the springtime, wild indigo produces tall spikes of pea-like flowers that rise above the gray- to blue-green three-lobed leaves to provide nearly a month long display of color. The flowers sustain bumblebees and other winged pollinators, while the leaves feed the larvae of a variety of butterflies that include the wild indigo duskywing, frosted elfin, eastern tailed-blue, silver-spotted skipper, and various sulphurs. If you want to encourage butterflies in your garden, this is a hardy, drought tolerant, and deer resistant plant.
Gail found the plants with their unique seed heads on a hike last week. This subject matter was received with more joy than my suggestion of apples. Evidently, what was good enough for the great master Cezanne is an acquired taste for my students. I might need to bring apple pie to soften them up. I’m not above bribery for a good cause. Besides, pie would be a great still life. Gail got a very detailed drawing of the leaves, the vase, and the grouping’s placement on the table. She sketched in the counterbalanced stick with its mossy growth. This was the quickest I’ve seen her work, for she’s usually very deliberate in her choices.
We had a full house last Friday, so Mike sat at a different table. He had to paint with the added burden of looking over his shoulder periodically to check his work. He began to paint more from emotions than from sight, which isn’t a bad choice. As long as his work carries enough of the vocabulary of the image to speak its message, he’s good with it. It’s the energy, the experience of painting, and using his mind to solve a problem in his own creative way that engages his interest. So if his painting looks “less real” than Gail’s, it doesn’t mean it’s less successful. He began from a different place, so his destination is also different.
A new member of our group, Sally is experimenting with techniques and tools, as well as the paint itself. This week she came with heavy body Liquitex paints, the professional quality paint, which has more pigment than binder. She was so used to the thin bodied paints, however, she watered down these excellent colors. When she asked why they weren’t working like she thought, I pointed out, “You’re supposed to use them straight out of the tube, thick.” This is why we have a group session, so we can learn together. Sally also had a new fan brush, which she used to make brown decorative marks all over her canvas. “I just wanted to try it!” Now that she knows, maybe she’ll plan ahead. I really like the swaying energies of her leaves. They’re happy and full of life. If this were in bright colors, Matisse would be proud.
Lauralei brought an interesting solution to our subject this past week. The clear vase was a little intimidating, so she, like several others, colored it solid. When we first learn to swim, we want the security of water wings or the proximity of the edge of the pool. We all take small steps before we take bigger steps. She got the stick and fringed moss down and the many leaves of the plant.
Making all these decisions takes a lot of energy. Our brains use about 20% of our calories, so if we’re engaged in a new challenge, our blood sugar can dip if we’re not careful. If we aren’t aware of this, we can run out of energy or make careless choices. As someone who has prediabetes, I get low blood sugar easily. Stress and excitement can cause my blood sugar to dip. I always bring a small snack as well as eat a good breakfast with whole grain complex carbohydrates, like old fashioned oats. That snack is important, since I test my blood sugar before I drive home.
I’ve learned the hard way if my blood glucose reading is under 80, it’s falling and my driving skills will be going south too. I usually know I’m having trouble, for I can’t string two thoughts together and I begin to overwork my painting. I can’t make the good decision to stop while I’m ahead. Not everyone has this problem, but learning to recognize when you’re tired or just painting with no purpose in mind, is also an acquired skill. Taking care of our bodies so we can fully enjoy exploring a new adventure is a gift we can give ourselves. We only have one body in which to live out God’s purpose for our lives.
Dusty concentrates well and gets a good shape on his canvas before he sets out to paint. I can’t read his mind, but it seems as he draws, the steps he needs to paint his image come into his mind. This is contemplating at a deep level. It’s not surface thinking, but an inner, deep knowledge that percolates up from within. I mention it’s an icon, for the tablecloth is tipped upward as if it were a background, not a flat plane on which the vase sits. This isn’t something he did by choice, since we haven’t done a lesson on perspective together. In the language of icons, the four cornered shape represents the world and its cardinal directions, or all creation. So we have one plant and all creation, as Paul said to the Romans (8:19-21):
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
We’ll take Friday, February 4, off due to the frozen roads. On February 11, we’ll do paper Valentine collages. Y’all stay warm and safe. Eat hearty soups and enjoy the beauty of the snow.
Joy and peace,
Manet: Chrysanthemums and Clematis in a Crystal Vase, 1882, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
February is a cold month here in the northern hemisphere. Maybe that’s why we rabbits yearn for the warmth of love, since those emotions kindle a fire in our hearts. It’s a cold, dead heart of a bunny that can’t quicken with love. I find those who have difficulty loving others often are struggling with an inner pain or grief, which often expresses itself in depression. Depression closes a person off from others. As we used to say when we were young, “Been down so long, it looks like up to me.” That phrase was originally used by bluesman Furry Lewis in his 1928 song “I Will Turn Your Money Green.” Both Jim Morrison of the Doors in 1966 and Bob Dylan in 1978 incorporated a lyric from the old bluesman’s song.
Yet February is also known as a month for love. In the middle of the month, for this one has only 28 days, we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Of course, history gives us not one, but three men by the name of Valentinus, Latin for strong or powerful. It was a common name in the Roman Empire back in the early years of the Christian church. One Valentinus was a general stationed in North Africa, who died on February 14th with his men in battle. The other two, who also died on the same date, have a better claim to the sainthood. One was the bishop of Terni, who healed a crippled boy and converted his whole family to Christianity.
The Roman senate heard of this heresy, arrested Valentinus, and decapitated him. The boy’s family arranged to take his body back to Terni, but all of the funeral procession was killed by the Romans. Chopping up bodies doesn’t just belong to Zombie movies. This is how pieces of the saints’ bones were distributed to various churches. Of course, sometimes this results in multiple skulls, but the saints didn’t have double heads.
The third Valentinus had a similar story about healing and conversion. He came to the attention of the emperor because he was preaching Christianity. Then he was sent to house arrest, where the owner was promised a bounty if he could dissuade Valentinus from his faith. Instead, the faithful man healed his jailer’s daughter. Then he baptized the householder and all who lived there, more than forty in all. Of course, everyone went to jail and did not pass go. No one collected $200. There was no get out of jail free card. This is how one becomes a red martyr, which is why our Valentine hearts are red, not white or blue.
What’s interesting is none of the historic Valentines were ever connected to love and affection. They were known instead for healing and faith, especially epilepsy. There are almost 40 saints associated with epilepsy, a number only surpassed by those related to the black plague. In France they were called “saints convulsionnaires” (convulsion saints). During the middle ages the difference between epilepsy and chorea (neurodegenerative diseases affecting movements) wasn’t well known yet. This is how St. Vitus became one of the saints to which patients with epilepsy prayed more often for help. Epileptic people also sought the help of St. Willibrord, St. John the Baptist and St. Matthew.
Undoubtedly, the most renowned was Valentine. The cult began in several European countries, up to the point that this condition became linked with the saint’s name. In France epilepsy was called “maladie de Saint Valentin,” in Germany the “plague of Saint Valentine” and in Dutch the word sintvelten was a synonym of the type of epilepsy with falling seizures. In German, Valentine is pronounced “fallentin” and is connected with one of the symptoms of epilepsy, the falling sickness or the falling-down disease.
How did we get to cute cupids with tiny bows and heart shaped arrows aimed at our sweetie pie’s love center? We can thank Chaucer, who wrote The Parliament of Fowls in 1380, and mentioned “seynt Volantynys day/ Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make. [Saint Valentine’s day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.]” Bird love apparently occurred on Valentine’s feast day at the start of the English spring. If birds can do it, maybe we rabbits and humans should take the hint. After all, it’s been a long cold winter.
February 2nd is Ground Hog Day, and if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, then that means there are six more weeks of winter. If not, then we’ll have an early spring. Or so the legend goes. Of course, any time Phil’s prediction has turned out to be wrong, it’s always been a result of a “mistranslation” by his handlers. Of course, we’ll have what we have. We rabbits take the good with the bad. An early spring means fresh greens in Mr. McGregor’s garden, while more winter means more warm soup and cuddling by the fireplace.
Everybody needs somebody to love. We can love another person, we can love our country, we can love our neighbors, we can love god, and we can’t forget to love ourselves. Love is one of the most popular themes in music, as the lion’s share of pop music lyrics in every decade contained references to relationships and love (67.3%) and/or sex and sexual desire (29.9%). In my own music library, I found 117 songs for 8 hours and 43 minutes worth of “love” playlist.
When I think of love, I remember the many texts I’ve preached to various congregations over my time in ministry. The most important is 1 John 4:19-20—
“We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Gods love for God’s creation is the source of all other love, for if we’ve known God’s unconditional love for us, then we can share that same love for others. Our lack of forgiveness for others and our need to control them “so they deserve our love,” only shows how little most of the rabbit population understands the steadfast love of God, which persists, even when our love fails and turns away.
Popular music reminds us over and over, “Everybody needs somebody to love.” Jerry Wexler signed Solomon Burke to Atlantic Records in the early ’60s. Together, with producer Bert Berns, they turned that song for the offering into Burke’s most famous 1964 song: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” You can hear him preach and sing it here:
We probably know this same song better from The Blues Brothers movie. The Blues Brothers’ version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” not only included Burke’s introductory spoken words, it modified those words to adapt to the plot. It was the climactic performance of the movie, and as such, it became one of the more memorable renditions of the song. In 1989, The Blues Brothers’ “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” was released as a single in the UK, peaking at Number 12. Here’s the movie clip:
“Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” has been covered by groups as famous as The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, as well as Wilson Pickett, not to mention psychedelic garage rock bands. Those rabbits are still having flashbacks, and there’s no accounting for taste if they’re still listening to that in garages today.
February 20th is Love your Pet day. I know you want to give your pet the love and attention it deserves as one of God’s creatures, for it didn’t ask to be born into this world and it depends on us, just as a child does. Pets give us unconditional love and appreciation, something we can learn from them. Too often we love only if someone reciprocates tit for tat for us. This is called conditional love. It’s transactional, a give and get, or a mutual backscratching. This is the lowest form of rabbit love: “I’ll give you a carrot if you don’t interrupt me for fifteen minutes.” I confess I’ve stooped to this in my life with my own small daughter bun.
The third Monday is always Presidents’ Day, which is a three day holiday for many people. This is a day to love your country. It celebrates George Washington, our first President, who led our ragtag armies, but was a man of deep thought: “The foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens, and command the respect of the world.”
The other President we honor is Abraham Lincoln, who steered our nation through its most divisive period, the Civil War. In his first Inaugural Address to Congress on March 4, 1861, he closed with these fateful words, only to have the Confederate States fire on Fort Sumpter in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861.
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect and defend” it.
I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
So much for the “war of northern aggression,” for some rabbits have been dispensing “alternative facts” for over a century and a half. But, we yearn always to make the broken whole, for like the Saints Valentinus of old, love is a healing balm. The love of God flows through these miracle workers and it’s God’s power, not the human beings, that heals the afflicted. Indeed, even today, when we have modern medicine, we faithful rabbits say, God called people into healing ministries, God provided the resources of intelligence and inspiration, and also the generosity of funding.
Some rabbits want to restrict God’s miracles to those which happen without medical assistance (extraordinary means), but some of us recognize God most often works in and through ordinary means. This isn’t an alternative fact, but healing miracles happen all the time. At the time of the Civil War, life expectancy in the USA was only 40 years. Today, it’s almost twice that! We have 40 more years to live, love, and laugh. We now have 40 years to be “over the hill,” so I think for every rabbit’s sake, we need to banish this ridiculous rite of passage, or at least move it to age 50.
If today’s rabbits would take better care of their bodies than my generation, they might extend the life expectancy and enjoyment by some years. Love your body and care for it with nutritious food, adequate sleep each night, and appropriate exercise at least three to five days a week. Also think of activity minutes, and move about a bit every hour, rather than just sitting all day.
There’s many a holiday in February, but Fat Tuesday will be March 1 with Ash Wednesday on the following day. So let’s practice LOVE all month long to prepare our hearts for the greatest gift of love of all (John 3:16-17):
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Remember, Every bunny needs some bunny to love!
Joy, peace, and love,
Percentage of top-40 songs referring to 19 content categories by decade. | Download Table
After the initial burst of summer excitement, my community is not only sweltering in a heat wave, but we’re also smack dab in the midst of the third wave of this Covid-19 pandemic. We might be more than halfway through 2021, but at the rate my home state of Arkansas is pursuing vaccinations, it’ll be years before we reach the holy grail of herd immunity, estimated to be at 80% immunity. Only 37% of our people are fully immunized, with Alabama and Mississippi pulling up the rear nationally with 35% and the states of Louisiana and Wyoming tied with us at 37%.
Like the old gal who’s always worn a certain size shoe or dress, my state now tries to fit an increasing number of Covid patients into a fixed set of ICU beds in our state. My days of a size seven shoe or skirt are a dim memory, as are the days of empty medical facilities.
“We have nowhere to send COVID-19 patients within the State of Arkansas. There is limited bed capacity at trauma centers increasing pressure on the time-sensitive healthcare system,” said Jeff Tabor, program director for the COVIDComm system, which helps match covid-19 patients with hospitals.
Tabor said the one COVID ICU bed which is available is located in southern Arkansas. There are five hospitals, also in southern Arkansas, showing limited COVID bed space. Tabor said some COVID-19 patients are so critical at rural Arkansas hospitals that they cannot be transferred to other hospitals because the patient is too critical and because of bed space.
Recently our state legislature adjourned a special session without amending their misguided law mandating no masks ever in public schools or government agencies. Act 1002, by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, prohibits state and local governments, including public schools, from requiring people to wear masks. Act 1002 became effective on July 28.
The state’s largest school district, joined by a small district already suffering from Covid quarantine attendance problems in its early opening days, filed suit in court to stop this law from going into effect. The judge issued a temporary restraining order. The reasons for this aren’t political, but are found in the Arkansas constitution.
LRSD and MSD are likely to succeed on the merits. Act 1002 violates the Education Article of the Arkansas Constitution, Article 14, § 1, which requires that “the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.” A suitable and efficient system of public education would not require students to risk their health and their lives to get the education promised to them in the Arkansas Constitution, especially when the State is required to “adopt all suitable means” to provide them “the advantages and opportunities of education”.
An affidavit provided by Dr. Glen Fenter, the superintendent of the Marion School District, said that incentives, including gift certificates, groceries, and even big-screen televisions, didn’t entice many local citizens to take the vaccine. Only one out of every three students in the district has acceptable home internet service, making remote learning difficult; even then, “very few” students who did “participate in the virtual education option last year achieved an acceptable level of academic progress,” the affidavit said.
The Marion superintendent said that his district was forced to “quarantine over 500 students and employees” based on CDC and state health department guidance after the second week of school. The school year in Marion began July 27, 2021. This rural system has only 3,325 students enrolled for the 2021-22 school year. Their math proficiency score averages 22% and reading averages 31%, compared to the statewide averages of 47% and 45%.
The broader lawsuit argues that the Act violates an education clause of the state constitution, the equal protection clause of the state constitution, and that certain federal laws preempt the state from enforcing the Act. It also argues that the Act violates separation of powers principles, conflicts with a subsequent state law, and violates the premise of Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Mass., the 1905 U.S. Supreme court case during the smallpox scourge, which allowed mandatory vaccination policies — and penalties for those who refused to comply — to stand.
On another front, the mayor of Little Rock, Frank Scott, Jr., said the capitol city’s covid-19 task force had recommended to him that “masks be worn again in public spaces for which the city is responsible.” He strongly exhorted businesses to follow suit. Scott made note of the many children who visit city parks and community centers and who will be returning to school later this month, adding that “right now, they don’t have the ability to mask up.”
In the middle of all this stress, I ponder these questions: “What inspires a work of art? In our search for beauty in this world, do we have to forget our pain and become as the lotus eaters of the ancient myths?”
Worn out from the years of the Trojan war fought in a foreign land and tired from an unending journey full of trials and tribulations on the way home, Odysseus found his men succumbing to the hypnotic lure of the magic flower. When eaten, it caused people to forget both their troubles and also their future plans. In the words of the hippies of yore, they were content to “get high and get by.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Lotus Eaters, inspired Robert S. Duncanson, an African American landscape painter, prior to the Civil War:
Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o’er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.
Odysseus had to bodily carry his men back to the ship and tie them to their seats to keep them rowing on a straight course for home. Today we’re treated to videos of airline passengers taped to their seats because of their unruly behaviors. Rage flying has taken the place of rage driving. Neither the roads, the post offices, nor the skies are friendly anymore. “Going postal” has almost lost its meaning when no workplace is safe these days.
In the midst of the record deaths of despair, come now the increasing deaths of our most precious inheritance—our children. The number of children contracting Covid-19 has increased fivefold since the end of June, with a “substantial” 84% jump in the last week alone, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. This number comes as numerous states report upticks in child hospitalizations amid the ongoing delta surge. In Arkansas, we’ve had three children die from Covid.
Some would say this is an “acceptable loss or trade off to allow others to have freedom.” I find this line of reasoning heartless at best and cruel in reality. I wonder what these folks would say if their child had lost their life instead. It seems not too long ago some of these same persons were advocating for the elderly to accept a shortened lifespan, since their productive lifetimes were expended. They seem to value people only for their economic ability, rather than for their humanness or for their lived experience. Allowing the “weak” to die in this part of the pandemic also devalues those who aren’t yet ready to produce economic gain for the big machine. (Yet, they fail to recognize the loss of future gain of these young “production units.”)
I would rage blog at the inhumanity of our legislators, who couldn’t find an giant acorn in the midst of an empty football field, even if they had the scales removed from their eyes, but then there’s always the hope they might learn the lesson of Job, for whom suffering brought new understanding of God. Then they’d call themselves back into session and amend their own misbegotten law so it’s flexible enough to meet our current, extreme circumstances. Who knows, they might even rescind this unconscionable law, for persons who truly have the capacity to lead with courage also have the ability to change their minds. Some say it’ll never happen, but I’ve always been afflicted with incurable optimism.
In the meantime, I paint and pray. Even this dire event can inspire a work of art. One of our local hospitals has already canceled elective surgeries in order to concentrate on Covid care. The other hospital has very limited intensive care unit availability. Right now, no one in our tourist town needs to get sick and we certainly don’t need a mass casualty incident. Of course, I could live in a rural county and my nearest medical facility with a trauma unit could be hours away. I remember my early years of ministry when I reminded people, “If I’m ever unconscious, please just have them stabilize me and send me off to the big hospital in Little Rock or Memphis.”
Today I blog about another painting based on a Google map of my adopted city, so it’s another “cognitive map.” I used scraps of an old preaching stole. I made the stole from odd pieces of fabric, plus an old pair of overalls, and a garden glove. I deconstructed the stole, since I’m no longer preaching in my retirement years, and added a few worn out face masks, in which I sewed small pleats. I took some of my grandmother’s old crochet and rickrack trim to mark some of the roads, but let the three dimensional shapes mark the other directional lines. My mother made Belgian lace collars for my young daughter’s dresses, so I’d used these for masks.
I too wore these masks until I was tired of them. I was hopeful when those who know more than I do believed the virus had subsided and we were safe to shed our face coverings. One day in early July at Kroger I had an hour long conversation with a young man who was also glad to be shed of the mask, just to see people’s smiles. We talked for a while and I learned he was just a few weeks past a suicide attempt. This pandemic has been hard on him. We talked some more, for I’ve been in the dark place before too.
I don’t need a preaching stole anymore, for preaching isn’t what I do best in this season of my life. God sets people in my path who need an encouraging or healing word. The world, in its beauty or its sadness, inspires me to paint a new vision of the world as it could be, for I don’t think I’ve ever painted what was ever “real.”
People ask, “Why don’t you make a painting that looks like real life?”
I answer, “We have cameras today for this. In any event, how do we know this ordinary world we see today is what God intended? This could be the fallen world, and not the original world of colors and joy, which God originally created.”
Perhaps we need to rethink our cognitive maps or how we view our world. If we consider all persons to be made in the image of God, then caring for them becomes important also. We can’t separate the Spirit of God from the body in which it resides. We also have to recognize God works through extraordinary events as well as through ordinary events. If we are to reject the inspiration and special providence of God in the matter of scientific discovery, then we’re going to go back to living in caves for a long time.
I remember when my daddy came home from his medical office with a small vial and a special double pronged needle. The windows were open, so it wasn’t yet the heat of summer. He stood next to the light, as he always did in his office when he worked, and gave us children the smallpox vaccine.
“Let’s put a little light on the subject, shall we?” I laughed as I proffered my left arm. He washed it with a cotton swab and alcohol, in his usual calm way. I went first because I was the oldest. Also, I was a role model for my brothers, but I was used to this because of my birth order. I knew to trust my daddy and to show my brothers the way forward. A few tiny pin pricks later, a bandaid, and I was good to go. My brothers followed suit, and we were all told, “Hands off.” We were restricted from playing with our friends because of our parents’ fear we’d end up with a limp or in an iron lung. Polio was eradicated in the USA in 1979, but it still occurs in war torn and poverty areas worldwide.
Finally, while some will write off as heartless idiots the ones using the tired canard of freedom of choice (the ones who fail to protect our vulnerable children), I remind them we require measles, mumps and rubella vaccines to enter schools because medical professionals deem it important for the children’s health and welfare. Of course this same group throws back to us the name “liberal whackdoodles” in return. Maybe we’d all be better off if we thought less of our own egos and territory, and cared more about the welfare of our future generations.
We could then fulfill the promise of God in Isaiah 57:19—
“Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the LORD;
and I will heal them.”
God is full of grace and love, given to offering gifts of healing to those who are both close to us—our neighbors—and those who are far from us—the strangers. If only we humans could love one another as God loves us all.
Changing the way we see our world, one map at a time, brings
Here in this Common Era of 2021, we Americans are now 245 years into this project we call democracy, having declared our independence from the British crown on July 4, 1776. We didn’t effectively become an organized, constitutional nation until June 21, 1788, when nine out of the thirteen existing states ratified the United States Constitution, thus officially establishing the country’s independence and a new form of government. Based on the date of our constitution, which is still in place, the United States is the oldest continuous democracy in the world.
I realize some of y’all rabbits might disagree with my description of the USA as “organized,” but I may have a higher tolerance for disorder than some of you. Then again, I taught art in kindergarten, so that probably explains a lot. When we make a mess in art class, we always clean it up. That’s just part of the lesson plan. Art, as in life, isn’t always neat, but the end product is worthwhile. In art we learn from our failures as often as from our successes. This takes courage and resilience, two life skills any rabbit can use in this fast changing world.
The preamble of the Declaration boldly states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.”
In our modern era, this is the section of the Declaration of Independence which we rabbits so dearly cherish, for it suits our individualism to a T. The next statement which follows complicates life, as King George discovered in 1776:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Way back in the 18th century, the practice of slavery still allowed others to profit off the the lives of human beings as if they were livestock, women couldn’t vote or own property, and states often excluded from the voting rolls certain classes of men for religious reasons or lack of property. The American Revolution changed the landscape of voting rights to some degree. Once the constitution was enacted on September 17, 1787, it created a new, federal layer of government, in which there was absolute freedom of religion—and no religious test that might prevent a Jew from serving in Congress or even as president—without removing the religious tests that existed in many individual states.
The Freedom to Vote came by Stages
Most of the states wrote new state constitutions in the 1770s, and some softened or removed their existing religious tests, but some did not. The real work of abolishing religious tests for suffrage was done at the state level, largely in the half-century after the American Revolution. Not until 1870, when Congress passed the the 15th and last of the three of the so-called Reconstruction Amendments, which stated that voting rights could not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” did African Americans get the right to vote, if their local communities did not make it impossible due to Jim Crow laws.
Doctrine of Original Meaning
Today, voting rights are under attack once again, not against religious minorities, but against racial and economic minorities. It makes this old rabbit wonder why the “doctrine of original meaning” by the founders has any worth when our 21st century world of today is so drastically different from the 18th century times of yore. Also, if “original meaning” is seen only through the eyes of our white founders, how can we be a nation for all people “created equal(ly)… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness?”
Scholars agree the original framers actually were more intent on the Declaration’s first paragraph, for only the Declaration of Independence officially proclaims the new American nation’s assumption of a “separate and equal station “among the “powers of the earth:”
“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
As we rabbits know, if we plan to start a tussle, good manners suggest we tell why we’re fixing to throw the first punch. If there’s no honor among thieves, at least we rebellious rabbits have the good form to stand up in the pure light of day and list our grievances before we overthrow a bad king. Only the uncouth sucker punch the unwitting. The reason this American Democratic experiment has persisted for nearly two and a half centuries is the vast majority of us have freely chosen to change our leaders through the ballot box, rather than revolution.
Only the past unpleasantness of the Civil War in the 1860’s has marked this unbroken transfer of power by the vote, until the assault on the US Capitol and the Houses of Congress on January 6, 2021, by a motley crew of domestic terrorists, QAnon supporters, and admirers of the former President. Because they violently assaulted the police guarding the building and public servants inside, and interfered with the duties of duly elected government officials attempting to exercise their public duty to certify the electoral college vote, the Department of Justice has charged them and they’ll have their day in court. You can read all their names and cases at the link below. Maybe you’ll find a friend or neighbor there. As Mother rabbit always warned Peter Rabbit, “Don’t go into the garden; Farmer McGregor will get you!”
What exactly did the signers of the Declaration of Independence mean when when they wrote “all men are free and equal?” Abraham Lincoln said, “The men who signed the Declaration did not mean to say that men were “equal in all respects. They did not mean to say,” he said, that “all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal.”‘ Men were equal in having “‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this [they] meant.”
This quote comes from Lincoln’s 1857 argument on the Dred Scott case before the Supreme Court, which decided against him, with Head Justice Roger Taney, who became best known for writing the final majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which said “all people of African descent, free or enslaved, were not United States citizens” and therefore “had no right to sue in federal court.” In addition he wrote, “the Fifth Amendment protected slave owner rights because enslaved workers were their legal property.” Taney’s reputation was vilified for this decision during his lifetime, for it contributed to the growing divisions between the north and the south. The U. S. House of Representatives voted in 2021, to remove Taney’s statue and replace it with a statue in honor of the first African American Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall.
The big holiday in July is Independence Day. While we rabbits lounge about the waterside or in our backyards, eating our favored picnic and cookout foods at the nation’s birthday party, not many of us will be thinking on a biblical text. Instead, we’ll be eyeing our paper plates and hoping they’re substantial enough to make it to the table before they collapse from the excess helpings of foods we’ve piled on them. A special bunny secret: you can go back for seconds, and laugh at everyone when you say, “I just want to make sure all you little piggies get your fill—oink, oink!” Don’t let them bother you, since you made sure everyone who came late would have something to eat by not taking it all at once.
In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Love
Have you ever wondered why some groups are so strictly homogeneous, while others are a kaleidoscope of differences? Some rabbits feel safer when everyone is more like them and differences are kept to a minimum. Other rabbits seem to thrive in the creative intermixing of unusual and unique personalities. I know when I entered the ministry, my parents’ friends were amazed I went into the faith I’d been birthed into, rather than some new age, air fluff religion. Oddly enough, I related more to the historic beliefs of Wesleyan Methodism better than my contemporary generation. In that sense, I had faith in a “different religion” than my friends. Yet we all saw ourselves as “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
This marked a freedom of thought, but it required an understanding we were all on the same journey and were progressing toward the same end. I admit I have the type of mind that wants the idea to lead to the behavior and then the consequences. In art class I called it Attitude, Behavior, and Consequences. If the first attitude was positive, the rest followed suit, but if a student had a bad attitude, they weren’t going to work, and then they had the negative outcomes of poor efforts, sad projects, and little improvement. While in life we’re saved by faith, in art we’re saved by works, for work will bring rewards.
One way for all good rabbits to be free is to have no regrets, or worries about what might have been. As my mother often said, “That’s water under the bridge.” The River of life has moved on and the choices we’ve made have gone downstream also. She believed in living in the now. The third Saturday in July recognizes Toss Away the “Could Haves” and “Should Haves” Day. In short, don’t go through life with regrets.
Created by author and motivational speaker Martha J. Ross-Rodgers, this day is intended for us rabbits to let go of our past and live for the present. The first step to participating in this day is to find a pen and paper. Then write down our “could haves” and “should haves” on the paper.
Finally, throw away the list and make the following resolution: “From this day forward, I choose not to live in the past. The past is history that I can not change. I can do something about the present; therefore, I choose to live in the present.”
As I’m going through boxes in my storage unit, I’m coming across souvenirs from my high school and college years. Some of us are sentimentally attached to the memories imbued within these objects, but they’re merely memories, not the actual people. My parents and grandparents saved things, for they experienced hard times. I make new art every week, so if a painting doesn’t hold up to my critique after six months, it goes into a pile to get destroyed and remade.
Now, take care of yourself and your health by living for now. Do your best and make the best of each and every day! Strike a power pose and smile when you do this. You’d be surprised how much energy flows through your body, I kid you not.
A final word for all rabbits who want to live in truth and freedom: we have only one God given life, so let’s live with joy and peace. We aren’t promised tomorrow, but only today. Now is the time to care for the broken, to right the wrongs of the world, and to make a difference, no matter how small.
Charles Derber, in Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Time, says: “Resistance can be symbolic, but at its core it must also be empowering and even shocking, in the sense of awakening the people to the evils of the system and the terrifying end-result if we allow business as usual to continue. Resistance is rage at injustice and at the insanity of institutions that kill and exploit for money and power. Melding that rage with love is the art of activism.”
Now that I walk more slowly in this world, this old rabbit has found I notice people whom everyone else hurries past, even if these folks are standing in the middle of a store entryway and are obviously lost. I stopped today at Sam’s to ask if this older woman needed help. Right away I realized she had trouble processing words, so she might have memory problems. I asked where her people were, but she didn’t know. We went over to customer service, since I knew they could use the announcement system to call for them to come get her. At least she knew her name. I was sad they had hurried off without her, especially in her condition, but I prayed with her before I left. The service staff got her a chair and made sure she was safely seated.
I hope as the holiday approaches, you don’t find yourselves so busy getting your celebration together that you overlook the ones in need who are right in front of you. Once we cared for one another in communities, but now we look after only ourselves. We wouldn’t have become a nation 245 years ago if every man had tried to take on the king’s men alone.
Be the spark that starts the fire of love and joy,
Every nation has its Golden Age. Usually, it’s a bye gone time, located in the dim past, and remembered faintly only by the oldest of the old. My Golden Age is my childhood, for I spent much unfettered time out in nature, whether it was in the backyard, the neighborhood, or at camp. I was so excited about camp, I would lay out my clothes for day camp, and pack my dad’s old army duffle bag a whole month in advance for week long camp. Mother would see this overstuffed cylinder, and laugh, “What are you planning on wearing between now and then?” My excitement and my planning didn’t always get all the facts together.
Going out into nature has always revived my soul, even as a child. Walking under trees, beside a lake, and sleeping with the sounds of the wild places instead of civilization has always appealed to me. If I have a choice between traveling on a major highway or on a back road, I often choose the back road. Today with GPS, we know how far the next gasoline station or rest stop will be. The back roads often have the most interesting sites and sights. The main highways are efficient, but the little roads retain their charm.
Whenever I longed for the gentler days and the healing powers of nature, I would seek out the back roads of Arkansas. Sometimes I would get into my car and drive until I found the solace of the natural world. If I got lost, it didn’t matter, for I had no particular place to go. I would find the place I was meant to discover, as Aldous Huxley, the English writer said, “The goal in life is to discover that you’ve always been where you were supposed to be.”
I’ve always trusted the word of the prophet Isaiah (58:11):
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Of course, those who know my navigating skills might question how I ever found my way anywhere. The secret is all small roads lead to a larger road. Also, if I ever grew concerned, I’d stop and ask for directions back to the big highway. I’ve met some interesting folks by getting lost, just as I’ve found some beautiful landscapes. I’ve never been in such a hurry I can’t stop and take a photo. These images I use for inspiration for future paintings. I took this photo by the roadside off interstate 30 west, near Texas 44 west, near Simms, Texas, in 2014.
While the flowers by the side of this road were only yellow, I decided to add in notable reds and blues, since those are well known colors from Texas also. These primary colors represent lazy Susans, Indian paintbrush, and bluebells. The wind and light in the trees were beginning to freshen up, a true sign of spring on the plains. The whole is full of light and has the promise of the new life and hope, which every spring brings to those who find renewal in nature. William Allingham, an English Poet of the 19th century, wrote a poem called “Wayside Flowers.”
Pluck not the wayside flower,
It is the traveller’s dower;
A thousand passers-by
Its beauties may espy,
May win a touch of blessing
From Nature’s mild caressing.
The sad of heart perceives
A violet under leaves
Like sonic fresh-budding hope;
The primrose on the slope
A spot of sunshine dwells,
And cheerful message tells
Of kind renewing power;
The nodding bluebell’s dye
Is drawn from happy sky.
Then spare the wayside flower!
It is the traveller’s dower.
When we speak of a dower, this is a treasure or endowment gifted to a future visitor who passes by. Because of this, all travelers should respect the wildflowers and leave them in situ. All living organisms need to reproduce. Digging up wildflowers, picking wildflowers, or collecting their seed will reduce a plant’s ability to reproduce and will adversely affect its long-term survival in that location. Removing wildflowers from the wild can have a detrimental affect on pollinators and other animals that depend on that species for food and cover. Removing wildflowers from our national forests and grasslands prevents other visitors from enjoying our natural heritage. Most wildflowers when dug from their natural habitat do not survive being transplanted.
Every nation has its Golden Age, an idyllic past in which all her citizens were supremely confident, filled with energy and enthusiasm and utterly convinced that their country provided the heights of artistic, scientific, and civic achievement for all. The Greeks had their Golden Age after the Persian Wars with the building of the great architectural monuments on the Acropolis, the morality and philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and their followers, as well as the physician Hippocrates, who’s considered the father of western medicine. “Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now,” remarked Pericles, the Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during the Golden Age.
America had her Golden Age also, that period time we know as the post-World War II economic boom when manufacturing and employment were at their peak. Many people my age wonder why these present times don’t continue the past prosperity, but most forget our world economy has changed, especially since the 1980’s. To give an example, I had friends in the oil business back in Louisiana. They let the roughnecks go and they went out into the fields to take their place. At the same time, when oil prices were so low, the private school where I taught art let me go, since they considered my subject an elective. The art classroom was the only place some students could achieve and find positive affirmation during the school day, but the school would oversee the increased discipline needs. Even during this decade, employers were cutting jobs and asking employees to do the work of two people. Labor has taken a beating in the decades since.
In the forty years since, our whole life has changed. When I was young, a high school education was sufficient for many entry level jobs. Back in 1941, less than half the U.S. population age 25 and older had a high school diploma, while today, 90 percent has that achievement. When my dad was a young man, an 8th grade education was more than sufficient for blue collar jobs. Today at least two years at a community college is the new “Union Card” for employment. Why is this, you ask? Our young people need to know more than we did! Our adults also need to keep learning! This is why I keep teaching myself new things, going to seminars, and writing blogs that require research.
I’m very proud of our class members who attend the Friday Art Experience at Oaklawn UMC. Work can sometimes take a priority over this enrichment experiment, and we went on hiatus for part of the pandemic. One of the goals I gave the group was to find their own voice and not to copy mine or someone else’s. We can learn from each other, for we all have a unique perspective on life and how we interact with the world. When we stretch ourselves, we create new pathways in our brains, a process called brain plasticity. A new activity that forces you to think and learn, plus require ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy, since eventually our cognitive skills will wane. Thinking and memory will be more challenging, so we need to build up our reserves.
Much research has found that creative outlets like painting and other art forms, learning an instrument, doing expressive or autobiographical writing, and learning a language also can improve cognitive function. A 2014 study in Gerontologist reviewed 31 studies that focused on how these specific endeavors affected older adults’ mental skills and found that all of them improved several aspects of memory like recalling instructions and processing speed.
I don’t know about you, but I was born with only two brain cells and one of them seems to travel regularly to the planet Pluto. I need to be in the studio as often as possible if I’m to call that wandering cell back from its journey elsewhere. Art for me is life, just as a walk among the trees or beside a creek renews my soul. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 19:1, The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Gail was the only one attending this week. Graduations, which were happening in various academic settings, kept others away. She brought a photo of a field of yellow flowers, with a house up on a hill. In the middle ground was a pond and on the crest of the hill were a windrow of cedars. We discussed the formal elements for a bit. I showed a series of wildflower ideas as a slideshow to give a sense of the varied way artists across history have approached this subject.
Then we got down to work. Note the sense of light and air in Gail’s painting. The windrow of trees shows the direction of the sun and we can sense the breeze coming from the same side. This is an unfinished painting, so we can’t tell if the yellow meadow will have more varied colors, but the first layers of the wildflowers in the foreground give us the sense it might.
Sometimes we can finish a painting in one sitting, but other times, even a small work takes another session. Life is a work in progress. We can’t hurry it. When we finish a work, we often find flaws in it. This is because we’ve learned new skills, and we judge our work by our new abilities, rather than by those skills we had when we began. Artists aren’t like those who look to the past for a Golden Age. Instead, they look to the future.
Benjamin Franklin said, “The Golden Age was never the present age.” Usually the Golden Age is a fondly remembered past, but only the best parts of it are treasured by those who benefited most by it. We need to remember, as William James, the American philosopher reminds us, “There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other.”
Or as 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, so aptly puts it:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
If we do this, we can bring the Golden Age into the present for all people.
We’ve made it to May, the official door to summer, picnics, swimming pools, backyard cookouts, and slower paced lives. Or so we hope, as the temperatures warm and the pandemic wanes. Of course, this last is dependent not just on our individual responses, or even on our citizens’ cooperative actions, but it also depends on the developed nations of our world sharing our expertise and resources with the larger world’s need. If we ever thought we could build a wall and isolate our people and economy from the outside, our need for imported goods and our desire to travel on cruise ships seems to trump our need for isolation. India’s ongoing coronavirus catastrophe results from an inadequate health care system and a lack of vaccines, oxygen, and PPE. Less than 10 percent of Indians have gotten even one dose, despite India being the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer.
As we come out of our enforced hibernation, like bears we shed our winter coats and start foraging for foods in an ever widening territory. We’re looking for reasons to celebrate and tantalizing foods to taste. The yum factor and new environments suddenly become sirens singing irresistible songs, which have the opportunity to dash our small bark against the rocks if we’re not careful. Like Ulysses, the ancient Greek hero, we travel between Scylla and Charybdis, hoping not to wreck.
Fictional heroes make a big splash in May. On May 1, 1939, Batman, the caped crusader, made his first appearance in Detective Comics Issue #27. Star Wars Day is “May the 4th be with you.” On May 5, 1895, Richard F. Outcault published the first ever cartoon, The Yellow Kid. Since all those years ago, cartoons have seeped into our lives through every media outlet possible. If it weren’t for The Yellow Kid all those years ago, we probably wouldn’t be watching Iron Man and Captain America slugging it out on the big-screen. May 25 is a tribute to author Douglas Adams, who wrote the famed novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
It’s a rather easy day to celebrate and it’s done by taking a towel with you wherever you go: to work, school, or just to the shops. This way you can celebrate such gems of wisdom as, “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” The only thing that’s truly important on this day is you don’t forget to bring a towel!
Oh, and the answer to the “Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything” is “forty-two.” In the 1979 novel, the supercomputer Deep Thought takes 7.5 million years to calculate the answer to this ultimate question. The characters tasked with getting that answer are disappointed because it isn’t very useful. Yet, as the computer points out, the question itself was vaguely formulated. To find the correct statement of the query whose answer is 42, the computer will have to build a new version of itself. That, too, will take time. The new version of the computer is Earth. To find out what happens next, you’ll just have to read Adams’s books. For a math geek discussion of the significance of 42, read the link “For Math Fans” below.
Having dispensed with heroes, we can move onto the significant May Days that truly appeal to me. “April showers bring May flowers” is a saying I’ve heard since my childhood ever so long ago. Historians believe this phrase may date back to a 1610 poem, which contained the lines, “Sweet April showers, do spring May flowers.” A longer phrase, “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers,” has also been traced back to 1886. Of course, this tidbit of wisdom depends upon your geographic location, for folks inland and north may wait until what we southern folks call “early summer” before they get their “springtime.”
“The month of May was come, when every lust heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit,” wrote Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur. The early Greeks called this month Maia, after the goddess of fertility, many of the early May festivals relate to agriculture and renewal. May Day, celebrated on the first with the Maypole, is one such festive event that was more debauched in earlier times, but now survives as a chaste minuet of colorful ribbons woven around a tall pole by children dancing in an interweaving circle below it.
Other modern May festivities include No Pants Day on 5/1, originally an end of the college year prank at the University of Texas, Austin, which spread to other realms needing release, and World Laughter Day, celebrated on the first Sunday of May. This holiday helps raise awareness about the benefits of laughing and promotes world peace through laughter. Laughing can instantly help reduce stress and brings us closer to other people, as we share our happiness with them. Those who take part in World Laughter Day can help spread positivity and cheerfulness to help change the world for the better. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What potent blood hath modest May.”
No Diet Day is May 6, a good day to remember our good health isn’t based on a scale number or a pant size. Instead, our health is dependent on nutritious foods, adequate exercise, and sufficient sleep. Extreme weight loss, except under a doctor’s supervision, usually leads to yo-yo weight gain, with the body gaining back the lost weight and more after severe deprivation. Slow, long term, weight loss is more likely to be permanent loss, since we aren’t “dieting,” but changing our habits. May 11th is Eat What You Want Day. I suggest we don’t follow Oscar Wilde’s habit: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four, unless there are three other people.”
Speaking of breaking a fast, May 12th ends the month of Ramadan, the holy month of observance for Muslims. It was during Ramadan Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, received the revelations from angel Gabriel that allowed him to compile the holy book of Quran. Upon arriving in Medina, Muhammad announced Allah had established two days of celebrations for Muslims, Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. The purpose of Eid Al Fitr was to commemorate the end of the fasting of Ramadan, and mark the start of the Shawwal month, as well as to thank Allah for giving Muslims the perseverance to fast during Ramadan. The customary feast day greeting is “Eid Mubarak,” which translates to “blessed celebration” or “Happy Eid.”
The dessert of May is apple pie. Originally invented in England, the earliest apple pie recipe dates all the way back to 1381. The original recipe is very similar to the one we currently know, but it also included figs, raisins, pears, and saffron. The Dutch also created their own version of the apple pie, and the first recipe was published in a 1514 cookbook. This recipe is very similar to the apple pie we know and love today. Apple Pie Day is May 13th.
English and Dutch settlers brought the apple pie recipes into the colonies of what would become the United States, during the 17th and 18th centuries. They had to wait until the apple trees they planted grew and bore fruit, so at first apples were mainly used to make cider. It was only in the 18th century, when the first apple pie recipes were printed in America, that the dessert quickly grew in popularity. Following this came the 19th century Legend of Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman. He crisscrossed the expanding American frontier to bring seeds for apple orchards for homesteaders. He also brought news and the gospel for fifty years.
Chapman, or Appleseed, lives on as a barometer of the ever-shifting American ideal. Some see him as a pacifist, others as an example of the White Noble Savage (so remembered long after the settlers drove indigenous peoples from the land), and others see a mere children’s book simpleton. Some see him as a frontier bootlegger, since he helped expand the hard cider industry. Others see Johnny Appleseed as the patron saint of everything from cannabis to evangelical environmentalism and creation care—everything, that is, but the flesh-and-blood man he really was.
Our heroes are too often cardboard cutouts, and we don’t spend much time reflecting on their shadow sides. Of course, much like a Flat Stanley, a two dimensional character doesn’t have enough density to cast much of a shadow, unless the light is just right. This is why continuing Bible study is so important: most of us stop in grammar school and never get an adult insight into the scriptures. When we meet grownup problems, we have to wrestle the questions of faith that we once easily accepted trustingly. Or we walk out the door and never come back.
One of the most difficult sermons I ever preached was on the first Mother’s Day after my mother died. One of my best clergy pals, who was a mentor in my ministry, had arranged for a single rose to be on the pulpit beside me on that morning. It was a gift of grace and an empowering symbol, for roses were my mom’s favorite flower. Every time I thought I might cry, I held on tight to the polished oak wood and inhaled the fragrance of the rose. Even now, nearly two decades later, I can clearly see this rose and pulpit, and while I remember where I was, I recall the congregation’s faces were a blur on that day. It’s always the second Sunday in May.
I talk about my fresh grief from years ago, for during this current Pandemic too many of us have had present grief and stress, but either have no words for it, or perhaps have no safe place to express it. Then again, we may be “managing the grief of others,” and don’t have time for caring for our own needs. I call this Deferred Maintenance Grief. If you have an old, leaky faucet, you can keep turning the handle tighter for only so long. You can keep the leak stopped for a while, but soon you’ll strip out the insides of the faucet. Once it’s stripped down, it both streams steadily and needs a completely new fixture to replace it, instead of a minor repair.
I experienced this DMG once after a spate of ten deaths in a week, or maybe it was seven in ten days, followed by the death of one of the old, beloved black clergymen in my community. As I lay on the parsonage couch watching a rerun of Babylon 5, I was crying as if old E.D. were my own daddy. I then realized I’d been too busy caring for others and doing the “work I was called for,” to do the grief work I needed to do for myself. I needed to honor my loss and give myself dedicated spaces to deal with my feelings, so I could be present for others. That’s Deferred Maintenance Grief in a nutshell. If I were eating Cheetos by the bucketful, I’d be in a deep hole of DMG and digging it deeper!
Most of the churches I served had a “Don’t fix it unless it’s broke” policy. I grew up in a Depression Era family, so I was familiar with this attitude. However, these same people didn’t live this way in their own homes. We usually had a long list of deferred maintenance projects in the church property to finish in my time there. Then I’d go to the next place and do it all over again. “Always leave a place better than you found it, both structurally and theologically. Teach people the law of love. As we learn in Romans 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Most of us human beings have “deferred maintenance projects” also: days off, doctor visits, exercise, healthy meals, quiet times, and family times. Taking time for ourselves means we’re refreshed and eager to serve from the quickening power of the Spirit. Without this resting or love for our own embodied image of God, we end up working from the dying embers of our body’s frail resources—burnout calls our name.
When we get this broken, our families and our ministries both suffer along with us. We know better than to drive our vehicles with the gas gauge on empty past every filling station on the road of life. We aren’t called to die on the cross to prove our worth to Christ or to anyone else. He’s our savior and we claim his work on the cross. Anything else is workaholism or salvation by works. We need to name and claim this.
For clergy moving to a new appointment, this is an opportunity for a reset. For those who remain in place, I suggest a planning book. Mark off in advance quiet times, office hours, and visitation times. Take educational events, even if zoom is the only offering. Read for pleasure. Take a day off out of town. Don’t answer the phone after 9 pm unless it’s an emergency. Boundaries are blessings. I always told people up front, “I take my brain out of my head and put it inside a brain box at 9 pm. I put it back in at 9 am. If you call me between those hours, somebody better have died, be on the way to the ER, or the church is burning down.” They laugh, but I’ve had friends who wanted their pastor to be their bedtime Bible expositor. Boundaries keep us from burning out.
Speaking of burning, the official door to summer begins with Memorial Day Weekend. This holiday celebrates those who gave their lives in the great wars of our nation. It began after the Civil War in 1865 as a way to deal with the shared grief of a nation, which lost 750,000 people, or 2.5% of the population, in the struggle. If we were to translate this to today’s world, the number would equal 7,000,000 deaths. War is a pandemic all its own.
As a parting commentary on Memorial Day, the Pandemic, and Extreme Care Giving, I leave you with a portion of the 1865 Walt Whitman poem, “The Wound Dresser,” which he wrote after serving as a hospital volunteer in the Civil War.
But in silence, in dreams’ projections, While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on, So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand, With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up there, Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)
Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go, Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in, Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground, Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital, To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return, To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss, An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail, Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again.
I onward go, I stop, With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds, I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable, One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you, Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.
Remember to wear sunscreen to protect your skin if you plan outdoor activities on the first three day weekend of the summer and watch the temperature of the grill. We don’t want anything to burn if we can help it. Charred meat and burned skin are both indicated for cancer risks. Be safe and continue to mask up in public. Get vaccinated as an act of love for your family, your neighbors, and the world community. Since we’re all wound dressers, as well as the wounded also, we want to give as much care to healing our own wounds as we do to the wounds of others.
Nearly a century ago, no one had “Pandemic Shuts Down Halloween “ on their bingo card. The Great Influenza Pandemic griped the nation back in 1918, so most Halloween celebrations were cancelled due to quarantines. At least 195,000 people had died of this novel disease in America by October, 1918. The CDC estimates about 500 million people—or a third of the world’s population—had come down with this killer virus. By the1920’s, at the end of the Pandemic, at least 50 million people died, with 675,000 victims in the United States alone.
At the time, we had no vaccines to protect against influenza and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. Many doctors and nurses were serving in World War I, so the civilian medical professionals around the world tried to control infections with nonpharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, masks, use of disinfectants and limitations of public gatherings. An interesting side note is all the flu pandemics which have happened since — 1957, 1968, 2009 — are derivatives of the 1918 flu, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health.
The world back then was falling apart on two fronts from the first world war and disease. People at home were dropping like flies. Bodies were stacking up like cordwood and were placed in mass graves. Then, as now, we rabbits, like people, can only take so much stress before we need to release it. Many of us are pots with tight fitting lids: as soon as we reach the boiling point, our lid begins to rattle and clatter. If the cook doesn’t remove the lid and stir down the goo inside, we’ll be an over flowing volcanic mess, much like my morning oatmeal I’ve neglected when I’ve had too little coffee. Then Halloween, with its ghouls, goblins, witches, and other demons of the dark, arrives like Washington Irving’s ghost of the Headless Horseman, which we meet in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, written in 1820.
Flu Pandemic Inspired Fiction
H. P. Lovecraft was one of the great horror writers, famous for his zombies, which may have been inspired by the grisly experiences of the influenza pandemic. Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft’s hometown, wasn’t spared the pandemic’s ghastly atmosphere.
As one local witness remembered, “all around me people were dying… [and] funeral directors worked with fear… . Many graves were fashioned by long trenches, bodies were placed side by side.” The pandemic, the witness laments, was “leaving in its wake countless dead, and the living stunned at their loss” (letter by Russell Booth; Collier Archives, Imperial War Museum, London).
Lovecraft channeled this existential horror into his stories of the period, producing corpse-filled tales with infectious atmospheres from which sprang lurching, flesh-eating invaders who left bloody corpses in their wake.
In his 1922 story “Herbert West: Reanimator,” Lovecraft created a ghoulish doctor intent on reanimating newly dead corpses. A pandemic arrives that offers him fresh specimens. This echoes the flu scenes of mass graves, overworked doctors and piles of bodies. When the head doctor of the hospital dies in the outbreak, Dr. West reanimates him, producing a proto-zombie figure that escapes to wreak havoc on the town. The living dead doctor lurches from house to house, ravaging bodies and spreading destruction, a monstrous, visible version of what the flu virus had done worldwide. Lovecraft wrote about a zombie super-spreader even before we knew such a thing existed. Who says “life sometimes doesn’t imitate art?”
Infection, Prejudice and the Viral Zombies
In other episodes and stories, Lovecraft’s proto-zombies suggest an additional thread of prejudice that runs through the zombie tradition, one fueled by widespread fears of contagion during the pandemic. Even before the outbreak, Lovecraft believed that foreign hordes were infecting the Aryan race generally, weakening the bloodlines. These xenophobic anxieties weave their way into his stories, as contagion and pandemic-soaked atmospheres blend into racist fears of immigrants and nonwhite invaders. We hear these same themes repeated today in our pandemic times by white supremacists and far right groups who want a sovereign nation within the land of the free.
Indeed, many of Lovecraft’s stories are unwitting templates for how prejudicial fears may be problematically amplified at moments of crisis. Such fears are evoked and often critiqued in later depictions of viral zombie hordes, such as the infectious monsters of Romero’s 1968 movie, “Night of the Living Dead” and the film’s subtle commentary on race, as when the white police force mistakes the main African American character for a viral zombie. Amazing how systemic racism persists in making “walking while black equate to viral zombie” even today.
Small Rabbits Fear Large Monsters
Lovecraft’s proto-zombies also provided a strange compensation for some of the pandemic’s worst memories. Like the covid-19 virus of today and the flu of the last century, these monsters consumed the flesh of the living, spread blood and violence, and acted without cause or explanation. Lovecraft assures his readers that these monsters are far worse than anything they saw in World War I or in the pandemic, the twin defining tragedies of his era. Unlike the virus, though, these literary monsters could be seen, stopped, killed, and reburied. Every decade seems to need its own monster or zombie, and Lovecraft offered his readers a version that spoke deeply to the anxieties of his moment.
Modern Fears Birth Modern Monsters
Our modern monsters are more in tune with the unimaginable horrors of our present world. In the 1950’s we had nuclear terrors, so our monsters were Godzilla and the Creature From The Black Lagoon. In the 1990’s, cloning was a scientific advance we knew could go amiss, so we had dinosaurs run amuck in Jurassic Park. Aliens have always been the most foreign of foreigners, so whether it’s the Thing from Outer Space or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we can scream into our popcorn all afternoon long. If we don’t scream, everyone will know we’re one of the “pod people.” Even before cinema took over entertainment, Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of the H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds caused mass panic among listeners who believed Earth really had been invaded by Martians on October 30, 1938.
Dangers of Dualistic Thinking
Maybe this is why we rabbits need structured experiences which bring us up to the edge of fear, but in a safe environment. We need to learn to deal with our feelings and emotions as they threaten to overwhelm us. We need reassurance we can handle the frightening experience. We don’t need to be thrown off a cliff, but tested appropriately. If we don’t deal with our inner fears, we’ll see a ghoul in every dark shadow. This is why movies today have ratings for age groups.
When I was young, I was certain monsters lived under my bed and in my closet. I couldn’t sleep unless my closet door was shut. I was in art school before I could leave that door open. Something clicked in my mind, or I realized I was now at the age of responsibility. If this were so, I needed to give up this childish fear of invisible monsters. It was time for me to be the monster slayer in real life.
My daddy had a fear of monsters all his life—he called them communists. As a member of the now discredited John Birch Society, he claimed there was a “commie in every breadbox.” We’re no different today, for we rabbits seem to need our own monsters in the world beyond us. If we can’t deal with the brokenness or fears within us, we’ll project it outward onto an outside “other” group. Just as we too often put certain rabbits on a pedestal and are shocked when they fall, we also put some rabbits in a pit and wonder why they can’t get out of it. We tell ourselves “they don’t try hard enough” or “they aren’t worthy enough,” but neither of these statements are true. People are individuals, so we can’t make conclusions about them as a group.
Mischief Abounds All Night
By the 1920s, Halloween in America had become synonymous with mischief, which young people used as an excuse to break windows or damage property. Mischief comes from the Middle English word meschief, or “misfortune,” which itself derives from the Old French meschever, “to end up badly.” In the U.S., mischief has a legal definition: “Criminal mischief” includes true vandalism, such as the defacement or destruction of property, but also includes fully reversible pranks, like toilet-papering a house. In some states, it covers even vanishingly minor annoyances, like ding-dong-ditch, or ringing the doorbell and running off before the homeowner can answer the door. In 1923, the police chief commissioner in Omaha, Nebraska, went so far as to designate the “city’s worst boys” as junior police officers on October 31 and relied on them to report criminal behavior in an attempt to curb vandalism.
I met two of my young students dressed in black garbage bags as my daughter and I returned from trick or treating one Halloween night. Their too guilty grins as they said hello and hid their hands underneath their costumes was a dead giveaway they were the likely culprits for the artistically draped toilet paper on my giant live oak tree. I let them pass on by and got my car keys to go visit their home, which was just up the street. After a drink and a chat with the parents, we agreed the boys would clean up my tree. My parents also were visited with this “sign of endearment” more than they liked when I was young. I imagine it’s still going on today.
Reflections on a Non Traditional Halloween
While we grownup rabbits think our little bunnies are going to miss Halloween traditions, the smallest ones don’t know what is tradition yet and the older ones can understand why this year will be different. Trick or treating began in the USA after WWII, as a way to discourage mischief, for if the kids get candy, they’ll be less likely to wreck havoc. As far as long term memories go, I’ve stretched mine, and can remember only one neighborhood walk about. I was slowed by my Carmine Miranda costume, while my brothers ran two houses ahead. I was delayed by holding my fruited headdress on my head.
Another Halloween we had a party at home with apple bobbing, snack making, and games. This was probably due to a fear of poison or pins in candy bars. This fear comes around every year, but it seems to be an urban legend. I also remember attending a school haunted house and walking through the dark and spooky cloakroom. There I touched all sorts of icky, gooey substances purporting to be “brains, eyeballs, and assorted body parts.” I do remember I did everything I could to not be banished to that same cloakroom for bad behavior the rest of year. No sense tempting fate, for sure, my eight year old mind reasoned.
If this holiday is for four year olds to twelve year olds, I can only remember one third of the years. In the short run it seems important, but in the long life of a person, only a few extraordinary moments will rise to peak memory. If this isn’t a year for house to house galavanting, or trunk to trunk acquisitions of treasure, then we’ll use our creativity to make it special, for that’s what we do.
This Is Not the Apocalypse
We rabbits live in a world of apocalyptic scenarios, yet we have safer, healthier, and longer lives than people in any other point in history. Still we constantly imagine our whole world could all fall apart in a heartbeat. We take our worries and translate a lot of our anxiety into fears about our children. If we listen to the new or hang out on social media, we might get caught up in “doom scrolling.” This is the internet version of rubbernecking at a gory traffic accident. Halloween began as the dark and terrifying compliment to the following bright and glorious All Saints Day celebration of November 1st, when the faithful remembered the saints, martyrs, and ordinary believers who have touched the lives of all the living.
The World of the Living and the Dead Meet
In both these festivals, the world of the living and the dead is permeable and fluid. These two days help us meet our fears about death, the uncertainty of our world, and our inability to control the seeming chaos of a world spinning out of control. We look to fallible individuals today for the change we seek, forgetting that we ourselves need to become the change we want to happen. Moreover, we forget the power of faith and the purpose of our combined faith communities called to work for a just and better world, which reflects the heavenly world to come.
The prophet Isaiah (65:17-18) speaks 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.
The promises for the Hebrew people in exile belong also to us today, for we find ourselves living in “exile from the life we once knew.” If we live in the past, we’ll always live in exile from the present. Perhaps we should choose to live in hope for a better future and spend our time in this now making that promise come true.