Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My particular interest in reading has to do with history and how little things affect big things. In my reading, which is another way I wander around, I came across some remarkable facts about alcohol, something a lot of us have an interest in, personally or historically. I am not only a beer lover but a Methodist pastor, by habit and church law a server of non-alcoholic communion wine invented by another Methodist back in the Temperance Movement days -- yes, his name was Welch. Anyway . . . During the Prohibition Era, a lot of people concocted alcoholic drinks using wood or methyl alcohol, since grain (ethyl) alcohol was not only illegal to drink but more expensive to make. In fact I remember how easy it is to make methyl, as we distilled it from wooden popsicle sticks in eighth grade chemistry — with the lesson in there somewhere about methyl being nasty and ethyl being nice. Leaving sensibilities aside for now, substituting methyl for ethyl to sell in speakeasies seemed like an even trade; until the pioneering forensic toxicologists of the time, trying to cope with mounting deaths from drinking, figured out why the first is a much deadlier poison than the latter. So, alcohols are all made up of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, molecules essential to life — since organic life is based on carbon, and hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water, also essential. Methyl and Ethyl alcohol are very similar chains of these molecules. But a slight difference in configuration changes how a human body metabolizes each. Ethyl alcohol is harmless in small amounts, as our bodies metabolize it leaving only a pretty harmless acid and water, easily purged. Methyl, on the other hand, leaves two horrible poisons behind — acetone (which is a poisonous solvent) and formaldehyde, best known as the mortician’s choice for embalming corpses. These poisons basically will either blind you or kill you, or both, and quickly. The difference is a little reorganization of small components. A little thing out of place makes the difference between pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and life and death. I’ve never been a detail person, really — but I’m thinking certain little things affect larger realities and are worth paying attention to.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We had to remove a large, very old Oregon white oak tree from the church property last week. The felling of the tree has evoked many feelings and thoughts for me and others. My friend Rhoda Markus wrote sublimely about a similar experience she had many years ago. Please welcome Rhoda as my guest blogger.
The piece of wood in my hand was beautiful - strong and smooth to touch, beautiful in its light golden color. My senses told me this thing of beauty was oak. It was. But, oh, there was so much more I did not know! Oregon White Oak is native to western Oregon and this is the only place in the world where it grows. Some of the large single oaks in pastures and around homestead sites are 500 years old - witnesses to Lewis and Clark. They stood there to welcome the first European explorers up the Columbia River. Holders of history, conveyors of beauty, needing to be cherished and widely used. These are the Oregon White Oak. What has man done in heedless and random harvesting? In forests the oak grew straight and slender, seeking the light. The early loggers felled it along with the fir, often hauling it off for firewood. Sometimes it was pushed aside into slash heaps. Today it is not replanted because it will not grow into usefulness rapidly enough. Firewood cutters and pulp seekers greedily use it up with none of its beauty preserved. Even a mill, dedicated to careful conservation, cuts ugly wedges to bury beneath the ground in support of man's technological advances. That is where the market is. Who can blame them. Privileged the few who walk upon the floor of variegated beauty or whose hands lovingly touch the satin smoothness of cabinetry. Blessed the eyes that see the continuity of life in these glorious and stalwart trees. Humble the heart that recognizes humankind's responsibility to the resources of the earth.
Balance - the tricky part of living. Needs for technological advancement, goods and services for increasing numbers of citizens of the world. Beauty and history and song for the heart and soul. Strength with roots as deep as the oak. Limitless heights to soar. Preservation. Technology. Balance.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

So, today is a crisp, grey autumn day. I've watched the bright orange and yellow and brown leaves falling on the ground for several days. I need to move a bit, so it is a good time to heft the lawn rake and do some rearranging. I'm at it for a few minutes, uncovering some green ground and creating some nice fluffy rows of leaves. I listen to the sound the rake makes as it scrapes across the turf. I watch the heaps of color grow, stroke by stroke. I am at a happy place of thinking not a thing except the small effort of making each little dance step with the world. Down the block, a roundish lady, all in light blue, calls out to me as she passes by. I don't hear her exact words, but catch her drift. "More leaves are coming! Your work is only begun. But be happy! The day is beautiful, the moment sweet." She smiles, a beam of sunshine. I smile back. I continue to rake. Then, a bearded man, slim, pushing a child in a buggy, passes me, briskly. "I am so proud of you! Look at you, moving those leaves! Some people just wait for the wind to do the job! What a waste of an opportunity for exercise! But you have seized the moment!" He smiles and high steps away. No mockery, he really means it. So, two views of life. One pessimistic, another optimistic, reach the same conclusion. What is there in life, except the moment of it? How many moments are there in a day? How many opportunities are there for happiness, then, in a day? Such wealth!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

I’m at the auxiliary office, McD’s, relaxing, catching a little personal space with a Coke and a McChicken, watching NASCAR with subtitles. The sandwich is ESPECially goooood. I am thinking "Nummm” and apparently showing it. “Hey, are you enjoying that?” I look to my right. A large, expressive hand is pointing my way, attached to a weathered face with a gap-toothed grin set behind a black and silver Van Dyke beneath aviator sunglasses, crowned by thick hair swept back and tied in an impressive pony tail. A smallish, used-to-be blonde lady is sitting quietly to the gentleman’s right. They are drinking water and finishing cheese burgers. “Are you enjoying that?” “Yes, very much” (and I am not in a social mood which is why I am sitting here absorbed in my num num watching race cars of all things, not my usual). After a short smile I look up and away. “Do you like cookies?” OK. “Yes, I am fond of cookies” (are you offering me a cookie?). “Why did the cookie go to the hospital?”, he asks, intent, hands open in serious supplication. Hands gesture, come on, come on. OK. “OK, why DID the cookie go to the hospital?” Grin . . . “Because he felt . . . C R U M M Y.” The lady next to him remains expressionless. “So, do you have kids? Yes? How many?” I hold up three fingers. “Two, eh? Well, guess how many I have?” Ponder. “Fifteen”, I say. The lady raises an eyebrow. I’m getting somewhere. “I have eleven boys and seven girls from my first wife, and six with her! That’s twenty-five!” The lady turns to him and says, “He was a lot closer than anyone, guessing fifteen.” The lad pauses, mouth open but no words for a sec, then charges on . . . “How old am I? (He holds up his right hand) when I do this (thumb up) keep going, if I do this (thumb down) you are too far.” I take a moment and size him up. The lady puts one eye on me, one on him. “Eighty-two”, says I. He puts his thumb up. “Eighty-seven!" I blurt. Thumb still up. My last offer -- “Ninety-four!!”. The lady looks at him and says, “He was really close the first time. He said ‘eighty-two’”. Another pause. "People always think I am young! I was born in 1933! Do you know why I have so much hair? Because I was born in Casper, Wyoming, where it gets really cold! Plus I am Cherokee. That’s Native American. She (indicating his companion) is German. (Yes, that she definitely is). I’m not Latino or Hispanic or Cuban or anything like that. Want to know my name? What do the signs on the highway say, you know, the ones with the numbers? What is above the numbers?” “Speed”, says I. “Add a ‘y’ to that, that is my name!” “Speedy!” “Yes! Like the cat in the cartoon! You know, the one that drives a fast car and says ‘Andale, andale, yi yi yi yi yi yi yi!’ I created him! I WAS him! For many years. Then I was in the service for twenty-seven years in Oklahoma. I worked hard, but they didn’t give me any benefits when I retired.” The lady looks right at me and says, “He does not have any benefits.” “Now I give all my money to homeless people. I don’t need any money! All I need is my LIFE.” Some kind of happiness barges in here, the real deal. “I NEVER eat any food in my RV.” He points past me, toward the door of the restaurant. I look, and see, in a peculiarly clear way, a peculiar looking rig with a yellow dog sitting, peculiarly, in the driver’s seat. The dog is blondish, and is sitting completely still, somewhat Germanic. “See my dog in the driver’s seat? He never eats anything in the RV either.” I smile and say, “It must be nice, having the dog drive so you can relax.” “Yes!” He stretches back and puts both hands behind his head, and smiles. I offer, “I think your dog is day-dreaming. No wait, he just watched that person go out the door. I think he is looking for you.” The lady gets up, collects the leftover papers and napkins, and with a turn of her chin motions for the most interesting man in the world to come along now. He rises, steps toward me, and holds out his knuckles for a fist bump. I start bumping back, then he opens his hand as if to shake mine. I open my hand to shake his, and he closes his back to a fist. “I never shake hands! I always fist-bump!” So I make a fist and we bump. “Nice to meet you! God bless you!” he says, with enthusiastic warmth. “God bless you, too.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Last week I joined our youth group, and many others, in helping with a downtown Portland ministry that provides services and a human touch for homeless folks. The operation is called "Night Strike". You can read about it at bridgetowninc.org. The local leaders tabbed our group to do a "Walk About", which involves patrolling the streets in the Burnside Bridge vicinity for folks who may not make it to a big service mall under the bridge. We met interesting human beings as our feet carried us up and down city streets, offering conversation, PBJ sandwiches, socks, and a drink. The talking part meant the most to me, as we didn't just hand out gifts but some effort to hand out caring, as well. That all felt really good. After a couple of hours, we met back at the somewhat ramshackle downtown church that serves as the headquarters -- all of us except my friend, Rhoda, who did in fact go the bridge, several blocks away, to apply her sewing skills to help mend clothes. I left the group at one point, venturing out in the dark street outside the church, to watch for Rhoda, worried a bit that she might have to walk back by herself. Something in my demeanor or my dress attracted a couple of large, youngish black men. It might help to know I wore ratty, paint-stained blue jeans, a purple sweater vest, and a neon chartreuse running cap -- thinking that would help me fit in the setting, which it did, but more effectively than I anticipated, as things developed . . . As these guys passed our eyes met and they stopped in front of me. I just smiled and held out my hand as I had been doing all evening, and got big smiles and handshakes back. Then I got an offer to purchase what sounded like Chardonnay. Hmm. Well, I didn't tell the honest truth, that Chard is not my favorite wine, so simply smiled and insisted I was fine and didn't need any tonight. No, really, I'm good. Well, OK, take it easy then. You too, good night. You've probably already figured out that I was being offered the opportunity to buy street drugs of some kind. Well, Rhoda came ambling along shortly after that and home we all went. As soon as I got back to my computer I looked up "Chardonnay" as a code word for a drug, and sure enough "shard" is street slang for meth. So now we all know. Bad things are easier to get than good things, sometimes; all the more reason to do good things, as often as possible, I think.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I ran about three miles today, at an easy pace,enjoying a pretty October afternoon. I circled back home pleasantly sweaty. I drip for a while after a workout, so to warm down I snatched a broom and swept off spiderwebs from the front porch. I turned to sweep the steps and caught a neighbor lady giving her grey Scottie dog leash enough to lift its leg on the sweet gum tree on part of my lawn. A nice looking lady - also in the sense that she looks like a nice lady, maybe late 40's, fit looking, with a grey curly hair to match her pet. I looked curiously at the dog, perhaps somewhat accusingly, though I didn't care . . . The lady blanched, pulled her dog away from the tree, and ventured a distraction by saying what must have been the first thing to come to mind. "Whew, smells like we have a skunk in the neighborhood!" Remember I am still a bit lathered up from my run. "Gee", says I, "I hope it isn't me! I've just been running." "Oh! No, I don't think it's you!" Perhaps we'd both like a rerun on that exchange. When I see her again sometime with her dog, I will not will not comment on the resemblance.

Monday, October 5, 2015

I walked to my first day of school, around the block and up a hill to first grade. I remember feeling nervous and excited about what school would be like. Turned out I rather enjoyed school, but most of all I enjoyed walking there in the morning, and walking home in the afternoon. As years passed, I continued to walk or bike to school when I could. Some days I continued to feel nervous about going to school, depending on what faced me any particular day. But these were not issues of safety. I would worry about a speech in the works, or a P.E. test, or the occasional meathead classmate. Getting myself there and home just required putting one foot in front of the other, and gave me space to think and day dream. On to college, then grad school, and still I walked, and still that time between home and school felt like a pleasant world between worlds. I think it helped me a lot to have confidence that if my feet carried me in the school door they would carry me out the door at day's end. I knew I would live through the day. I don't use the word hate much; it is to me a violent emotion. But there is something I am coming to hate, and using the word seems appropriate. I hate it that children go to school these days, and wonder if they will be killed during the day by a nut with a gun. I am not against guns, and I feel compassion for nuts. But the two together are a bad, bad thing. I think more than thoughts and prayers are needed. Time to take real steps.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I grew quickly twittery this morning when I read that particle physicists have successfully demonstrated the plausibility of communication with applied quantum entanglement. Over-simply put, the scientists "entangled" two blue photons, separated them, exposed one of them to a yellow photon, and the other photon reacted, over a distance of about 100 meters. This idea stokes my imagination -- that entangled particles communicate with each other instantaneously, no matter how far they are separated -- even be it by galaxies -- which means information can travel faster than the speed of light! So later this morning, I put on my old running shoes, demoted to lawn mowing shoes, and fired up the grass cutting machine. While I am purring around the yard I am pondering how to use ideas from quantum mechanics and Einstein's other theories in sermons. My thoughts move from a possible explanation of voodoo dolls, telepathy, and emotional entanglement of identical twins to the theory that gravity is not really just an attractive force but a beautiful, graceful bending of the structure of space time by massive objects. And that this has practical application, because our GPS devices which tell us where we are would not work unless the satellites in synchronous orbit above the earth have been set there with mathematics that take the influence of the earth's mass on space/time into account (otherwise they would drift, if purely Newtonian laws of physics were considered, and we would be forever arriving at the wrong address, which may explain those glitches with Googlemaps). I wondered how I would illustrate this, and remembered playing with my baby son on the floor of our home, an farm old house whose weak foundations, exposed for years to the influence of the earth's mass, settled and so set the floors out of level -- so that when I rolled a ball to my son, it travelled in an arc across the linoleum rather than in a straight line. After an hour of cogitating and collecting leaves and grass in the mower bag, I put the labor down, picked up the latest Smithsonian magazine which arrived in the mail earlier today, which I had not yet opened, and went out to my office at McDonalds for a fish sandwich and a read. I settled down across from my french fries and opened the magazine, to find an article all about Einstein's arduous but successful arrival at a General Theory of Relativity, including an interesting exposition on the challenges of comprehending gravity as a function of mass affecting the structure of space/time. How to explain this? The illustration concerned not a floor, but a table top, which I was asked to imagine had been warped in some fashion so that a marble rolled across its surface would travel not in a straight line, but an arc . . . So perhaps you've been thinking about this, today, as well, eh? http://www.technologyreview.com/view/520886/japanese-telco-smashes-entanglement-distance-record/

Thursday, September 10, 2015

I ride a 1980 something Schwinn Mangusta 5000 super light weight, aluminum frame road bike with a bio pace sprocket. Some of you road bike geeks will find that interesting, as this is an ellipsis shaped sprocket that supposedly increases efficiency and power and is happily dweeby. Others maybe are still waiting for a story. Anyway, my son Phillip, age seventeen and an upcoming beast, has taken to timing himself on a few routes we share, on my Mangusta. We are, for the moment, competitive on elapsed time, and usually have more to say to each other about how taking on the hills hurts. "Murderous" is my favorite observation from the offspring. Well, how to get faster on thos inclines . . . Sometime back I removed the old fashioned rat-trap pedal straps, but around hilly here soon have realized how helpful they are in stabilizing our feet in the pedals and enabling "spin" in addition to "pump", especially on the climbs. He has taken to the modification easily and so now I have, no doubt, hastened the moment when he will exceed me in this, as well. This gives me great joy. "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable." - Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I just celebrated my life upgrade to version 6.0. The new operating system is downloaded, now in the process of installing. While this runs in the background, my feet carried me to the lookout fence next to the Cape Meares lighthouse. Clouds and sun shared the sky, leaving a gorgeous shadow pattern on the sea. As I watched this, I began to see great plumes spurting from the glittering waves. Whales! I did not expect to see whales. They swam all around in front of us, some only a bare hundred yards off shore.
We oohed at their steamy plumes and ahhed at their graceful backs breaching the waves. "It leaves a shining wake behind it; one would think the deep to be white haired. On earth it has no equal, a creature without fear. It surveys everything that is lofty; it is king over all that are proud." - Job 41:32-34

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I felt like an ant gazing up at a gigantic airplane, one with the greatest wingspan of any aircraft ever made. I felt nine years old gawking at the scorched underside of an Apollo capsule plucked from the sea after orbiting the moon. I felt queasy and aghast touching a black ten foot nosecone built to deliver a nuclear bomb. I stood amazed in front of a restored B17 Flying Fortress bomber, with its tiny, fragile bubbles bristling with machine guns. Does that tiny airplane that I could fit in my dining room really fly? I AM TOUCHING A BLACKBIRD. And the lunar landing module looked larger and sturdier than it did on T.V. from the moon as Neil Armstrong set first human foot there. I chuckled reading Buz Adlrin's comment about Armstrong's famous words -- something like, "That may have been a small step for Neil, but it's a long step for me, he is taller than I am." I passed up the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum many times on the way to the beach. I think it is very worth a few steps off the main road to see. I've been to the Smithsonian, it's wonderful. But for me EASM outdid it for accessibility and a feeling of wonder.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I keep thinking about this part of Sunday’s lesson, James 1:22-25: “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” I’ve read, and found it plausible to believe, that the very act of moving from one place to another effects short term memory loss. Often I resolve to get or do something in one room, walk into another, and immediately find that I have forgotten what I came in for. If someone is in the room I enter, I usually stare at the person blankly for a moment, then confess I have, in a small way, just lost my mind. Some researchers believe they have demonstrated that the act of passing through a doorway is what triggers forgetfulness. No wonder many people of faith put reminders of God, and themselves, on the doors of their homes. James knows human nature. We all want to know what we look like. Poking at my vanity, he seems to say “If you would pay attention, you would only need to look once.” Or better, perhaps, why worry so much about how I look, when it matters more what I do when I am on the move? I’m about to go for a walk; I hope I remember this.

Monday, August 24, 2015

So, I'm finishing an ambitious 5 plus run, and feeling good on the home stretch into Forest Grove. The road slopes just slightly downhill, and I'm feeling gooood. A city police officer is parked at an intersection I am about to pass. I wave at the officer. As I pass I see he is pointing his radar gun my direction. My first silly thought is that he is checking to make sure I am not exceeding the speed limit. I strut inwardly for a microsecond. Then my soul blushes. You could not have seen it, but it happened. What is my message for the coming Sunday? Let no one think more highly of himself than he ought. Nailed. Thank you, God.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hello, and welcome to my blog! Thanks for checking it out. You'll find my occasional short devotional thoughts, miscellaneous comments, and observations from the paths I walk, run, and cycle. Even if you never come back - consider yourself prayed for. I believe God who knows and loves you is right beside you.