Sunday, January 14, 2018

I walked the length of a very small beach along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon yesterday. In the space of about a hundred yards and less than five minutes I passed a young family speaking in Arabic, a pair of men walking together chatting in Chinese, a couple in their thirties complaining to each other in a Slavic language, a very young man and young woman strolling closely and whispering in Korean, and various people rich to homeless whose language is mine. I also saw a very white young man fishing peacefully right next to a very black young man who had just emerged from a chilly swim. I saw and heard these things in view of Tilikum Crossing, a lovely new bridge that joins the west and east banks of the river. A few minutes earlier, I saw the rock in this photograph. Why anyone would feel a need to declare anyplace in the world a ****hole is a great sadness to me.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

On a sunny day in late spring mom buckled me up in the backseat of our Ford Fairlane and motored out with a friend to a mountain meadow. I'm guessing from my memory of wild grass up to my waist and how much taller mom was than me that I was about five years old. Our target that day was wild native iris which mom loved and coveted for her garden. Later on in life I learned she had an interest in genetic engineering, hoping to cross breed a certain wild strain with domestic plants and create a whole new breed, hopefully in a perfect true blue that so far had eluded everyone in that line of work. But on that bright day I just remember being set free to poke about on the alpine fields with the instruction to look for little blue iris flowers. I found one! In my excitement I picked the blossom and carried it to mom and her prospecting buddy. Her eyes lit up and she smiled when I presented the flower, sky blue with unusually wide petals for a wild iris. Then she asked me to show her where I found the plant. I didn't remember where it was, exactly. And it turned out this particular plant just had one flower, I had picked it, and so we could not find the plant, though we searched for a long time. This little story feels typical of my mother's life -- lived with deep dreams that sometimes seemed just a lost glance away from coming true. Regardless of setbacks, though, she kept working at it, and this is, I hope, is a good trait I learned from her. I think I've been luckier, as many of my deep dreams for love and happiness have come more true than hers. When mom died after a battle with cancer I offered to do a drawing for the folder for her memorial service, which I modified to be engraved on her grave marker. The image is my memory of that little blue iris flower I found for her, a promise that dreams exist and are worth pursuing. She died on January 4, 1992, and I miss her today.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Some larger homes in Jesus’ day had an extra room more properly called a guest chamber. This room was not used day to day. It was like the guest room many of us have in our homes. We keep it clean and ready for company, should they come to visit. In Luke’s story of the birth of Christ, the word for this chamber is normally, and inaccurately, translated “inn”. But the Greek word “kataluma” actually refers to a guest chamber in a home. With this insight, here is what Luke really describes as Jesus comes into the world. Joseph arrives, with a very pregnant Mary, in Bethlehem at the door of the home of a relative. He and Mary are, in the ways of the those days, made warmly and thoroughly welcome, even though they could not have notified anyone about their arrival ahead of time. The holy couple were not the first to arrive, so the guest room is already full. Does this mean they will be turned away? Even we rather cynical westerners can understand that, when family comes, you make room. In this case there remained space in the living room. The common living area in such a home, back then, would also have included a nook for animals such as sheep or a donkey. The presence of animals in the house meant that a manger, or feedbox, would have been a common feature in this large family living space. So Mary had help, and Joseph had relatives to pace with as the time came. Jesus was born in a family home, surrounded by his uncles and aunts and cousins. His birth happened right out in the middle of the place where a big family cooks, eats, laughs, plays, argues, and sleeps together. Even the livestock get in on the fun. Mary and Joseph and Jesus were not alone. In fact they could not have been any less alone! This was not a private birth. Jesus came into the world in a warm little sea of humanity, and no doubt when he was delivered everyone smiled and cheered and hugged and cried for joy. This is the more factual, and also the more true, story of Jesus’ birth. Jesus came into a world where he was welcomed and loved. He arrived in a setting of warm hospitality. When Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem, they came home to have their baby. Why not, then, believe that THIS is the way the world is, and this is how people really are? There is always room. If there is room for the Son of God, there is room for everyone. If we believe the real Gospel story, we should live it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I drove a little 1991 Toyota for twenty one years. The car served well as my work car — my little four-speed pastor chariot gave me good economy and happiness in driving. But the car was ready for a new owner, so we sold it to a neighbor for his commuting car. In the meantime, we cast about for a replacement, something nice, not too expensive. The neighbors right across the street - the same house I found gold in front of - put a for sale sign on what I thought was a rather plain looking silver sedan. So we looked into buying it. The car docked in their garage for several years, undriven. The husband bought his wife a dream car, a 2007 Buick LaCross CXL, with a dash of chrome trim here and leather everything inside. We took it out for a drive, marveling that the car still smelled new and had only 686 miles on the odometer. Ann, the little old lady neighbor, meant to drive at least to church on Sunday, but never did because she became ill. The car offered a terrific bargain for us, so we made a deal and soon the Buick, as I coldly referred to it, moved across the street into our driveway. I think I missed my little blue scooter, and also nursed a negative attitude about GM cars. Seven years passed in a wink. The Buick provided quiet and solid service, even though I never really liked the car — not one I would have gone out in search of. With time passing our solid Honda van came ready to bequeath to our son, and all things looking flush we are buying a new Subaru to serve as our adventures in retirement car in a few years. But after a trip or two the windshield in the car we named SubyRu developed a crack, such that we have left it parked for over a month awaiting a replacement windshield from the Mothership. So I’ve spent a lot more time than I expected with the Buick. In the past few weeks I’ve bonded with her. I’ve realized she has a beautiful ride, is a solid and reliable car, and is lovely, her paint a gleaming Platinum. As I washed and waxed her recently I remembered Ann wistfully saying goodbye, and asking us to take good care of her (the car), which we promised to do. As I’m detailing the inside, conditioning the leather upholstery, and, now, marveling that the car still looks new after ten years, I have a warm feeling and realize that I have fallen in love. This shy, elegant, strong sedan is in my heart. As such things happen, now that she has won my trust and affection, she gives me her name. Silvia - roughly translated, Traveling Silver. Hi yo! Away!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Yesterday morning I spotted a big grey squirrel clamped on to a sunflower stalk. It was about six feet up in the grove of flowers that have grown around a bird feeder in my back yard. As I watched it broke off a six inch sunflower head, looking like a wrestler doing a take down, dropped to the ground with it, and dragged it off in triumph. So then I walked to my office, which is next door to my house, and sat behind my desk, with a view of my landscaped courtyard through a patio door. Up walks that same squirrel, carrying the sunflower head, as if it wanted to show me what it had done! Maybe it was coincidence, but I got a feeling of being either taunted our thanked. It felt like the squirrel had followed me to work with its trophy sunflower head! After our eyes met it toted the prize away and I haven't seen the critter since! "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." - Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I'm fond of scanning territory, ground level, as I walk and run around the neighborhood. One sunny day I found an item I would never have expected to see. I ran a three mile route that day, a loop that starts and ends at my driveway. As I finished I walked back and forth in front of the house for a few minutes to warm down. As I'm walking I'm watching the ground out of habit. A small yellow object glints at me in the gutter in front of the house across the street. My first thought is that I somehow dropped a yellow guitar pick of mine, perhaps crossing the street on the way to the church where I often played. So I bent down and picked it up out of the leaves and dirt. The object was too heavy for a guitar pick, and gold, not yellow. I brushed it off and it started looking more and more like actual gold. I wiped it clean enough and put a tooth to it, arr matey like pirates do. My right canine left a nice dent. I was mostly sure by now that the thing was, actually, a lump of gold. I had a friend at the time who worked in a science lab and had access to an electron scanning microscope and, curious as I was, offered to take the lump of metal in to check it out. She brought back a little printout from the scan that declared the object legitimate. I had found a one ounce lump of gold right in front of my house. Keep those eyes open!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Last week I camped with my wife in and around Redwoods National Park. We left many light footprints on several forest trails, walking beneath ages old gigantic trees. The silence in the great woods surprised me as much as the enormity of the ancient giants. With a canopy high overhead, and hundreds of feet of trunks beneath, the sound of wind and birds is far overhead, leaving a deep quiet along the path. The height of the trees is difficult to grasp from below. Here and there, however, an old redwood had fallen, stretched out with massive root ball tipped up. Here is a video of one that tumbled so long ago it is decaying into the ground. It took me a minute to walk its length. (Copy and paste this Youtube link into your browser):