Saturday, November 22, 2014

Get the picture?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

When I was young I got my first camera.  Back then it was a big deal. Now, of course,  the common can-opener comes with photo capability.  But as a child I was excited to have my first camera.  I would take it on trips, or pull it out for the rare southern snowfall. Recently I discovered a few of those early photos.  There were about fifty shots of old faithful in different stages of faithfulness, panoramic shots of snow in the backyard, the Rocky Mountains from what seemed like about a hundred miles away, fuzzy frames of the traditional beach sunsets, and a dot in a deep blue sky which I am sure was a large bird, probably a buzzard which I had hoped was an eagle.  But from that distance it was impossible to tell.

 In those days  film had to be dropped off at the drug store to be developed.  Then there was a day or two wait  before they were ready to be picked up in sealed white packages.  Only then could you hope to see again the beauty of what you had seen in person.

 Generally speaking I was disappointed.

The photos I took never captured the moment.  I was either too far away or too close or I was moving to quickly as I quick-drew my camera, resulting in a blurry mess.

But the biggest disappointment now is that I failed to include the people around me in most of the photos.   My photos back then were all context.  All stage scenery.  But very few actors.

Things have certainly changed.  Most of us have excellent cameras in our pockets which also operate as phones.  And most of the photos stored on those phones are close-ups of people's faces, quite often including our own.  Wonderful pics of smiling faces.  Definitely better than my childhood photo archive.

But even so, the selfie explosion has also created an amusing exercise.  Was that when were were together at that concert? Or at that ballgame? Which concert or ballgame?  Or that trip? Or at that birthday, wedding, graduation, or whatever party?  Where was that taken? It's hard to tell, except maybe for the presence of sunburn or clothing or the brand of beer sitting on the bar.

I  prefer these close-ups of  faces, happy to be posed so closely together..  But still, context and scenery are important too, especially as we try to remember.  So the best are the ones that capture both.  The actors and the scenery.

I've got a bunch of favorite photos, if it is possible to have more than one favorite.  There is one that sits on my mantle made three or four years ago.  My sons Benjamin and Vann are on either side of me as we walk up the hill through the pine trees in front of my mother's house. We are all walking toward the camera, smiling the way that Bentley boys do,  each with our hands in our jean pockets.  Or a  black and white close-up of my dad and Vann sitting close on the sofa at my sister Terri's house at a holiday gathering, facing each other in deep conversation, a few months before my dad died. Another is one of those random phone pics that I took at Bryant-Denny stadium a few seasons back on a beautiful fall afternoon. I was in the nose bleed seats and noticed the Vanderbilt flag, one of the SEC banners that adorned the rim of the stadium, a scrim backlit by the sun and flapping in the breeze.  I was going to send it to Vann, who was a student at Vandy at the time..  Accidentally, and to my great fortune, the picture also captured my game companion, her face and hair shining in the sun, totally unposed and unprepared for a picture.

And of course every picture of my grandson Charlie.

And so it is with our life view.  There is value in huge, sweeping panoramic views.  And value in close up personal shots.  But sometimes both views are necessary to get the real picture. It can't always be all background. But the background is where we live and love after all, and tells a story that explains the smiles or the tears of the close-ups, and helps us to remember.

My Saturday morning routine around the house generally involves listening to some news shows while I piddle around.  This morning the news is dominated by stories about immigration and race.  Specifically President Obama's executive action regarding immigration and the anticipated grand jury report  from Ferguson, Missouri, regarding the shooting of Michael Brown..

I have my own strong feelings about both.  But for this morning I am just reminded that it is important to get the whole picture.  Panorama is important. The sweeping background of history and present context is necessary to understanding. We all choose which panorama vistas are worthy of a pic. And those choices say much about us.   But close-ups are what  make it truly personal. The things  we have chosen to get close enough to for a close-up also say much about us.

Both are necessary to make the good decision. Depending on one or the other too much can result in a lost opportunity for progress in the panoramic view, and justice for the individuals.

And of course some of our shots are blurred by our haste or by unsteady hands shaken by fear or cold. And sometimes we miss the best thing about the picture because it got in there by accident.

And sometimes we get the better view by  looking at someone else's album.

I love my pictures.  I've got thousands of them.  But they are all snapshots of a moment. There is not a one of them that explains what happened next.

I guess that is what journals and blogs are for.

Get out and find some close-ups in your panorama on this beautiful day.

..

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can I get a warm up here?

Sunday. Sofa. Coffee.

 As I pour a cup of coffee and let it sit on the coffee table while I get ready to write, it is amazing how quickly it cools on this frigid morning. Meanwhile, back at my beloved coffee pot on the counter, the precious liquid is still steaming, the heat being retained by the larger body of liquid in the carafe, and continuously restored by the coffee maker,  the source of the heat in the first place.

It is perfect as it sits in the beautiful glass and stainless steel carafe.

But as I try to write, it is worthless to me over there..

For the coffee to help me it must be poured in my cup and carried out into the cold, cold world of my living room.

A dangerous thing, this separation, this pouring.  But it is necessary, even if a little chilling,  if I am to drink from the cup.

There will be thousands of sermons delivered this morning. And that is just in Alabama.  Some of them will be part of a cleverly worded series advertised and marketed on social media, church newsletters and signs,  designed to attract the faithful back into the sanctuary for another Sunday, with the hope that somehow the artwork and wordplay will attract new numbers, seekers, the curious about God, to find that church and give it a try.   Come to us, all who are thirsty, and learn to be like us. Come here to share a hot cup in the welcome center. But come to us.  We are surely not going to bring it out to you. No curb service here.

It will get cold out there.

Out there.  The world.  The evil place. Certainly no place for the church, the Body of Christ to be hanging out.  The world might rub off on us if we rub up against it.  No, it is much better, much safer, much warmer, if we stay in this place, this sanctuary, this welcome center, that God has clearly created  to set the blessed apart from the world, so that we may not become of this dirty, dirty world. Jesus wants us to stay here, stay close, where the coffee is always hot.and the filth of the world never contaminates.

There will be some in the pulpit this morning who will blame the world for the woes of the church. Attendance is in decline.  Commitment is lacking. Sin is rampant.  It is the fault of the satanic entertainment industry, or the godless government leaders. It is because of the demon possessed gays and lesbians, or the Muslims, or the outcast and oppressed others, and especially because of those so-called Christians who stand up and stand with them, apparently with no regard for what may be rubbing off on them.  Some pastors will proclaim that the world out there is the problem, the cause of our chilling cold, and we must not risk tracking the dirt inside. Close the doors, the heat might get out.  Were you born in a barn?

Some will even point out that the world is an abomination to God.

The world that God so loves.  The world that Jesus came to, rubbed shoulders with, ate and drank with, wrapped his loving arms around despite abominable sin and filthiness of body, mind and spirit.

The world that is us.

The world that Jesus came not to condemn, but to show the way to live and die.

And most importantly,  to show the way to love.

In the world. In this world.

The world is not the problem, all who are preaching and listening today.  The world is who we are to love, wherever that is, and no matter how dirty it gets.

Because that is where Jesus is.  And he is not lonely. He loves it out there with his friends.

It is so sad when the glass that we are looking through darkly has become the windows of our churches, those of us on the inside unable to see clearly Jesus loving on the world in need of love. The world He came to save, whether we choose to be with Him or not.

My coffee is growing cold and I know where to go to remedy that.

And the same for my heart, despite what you may hear from a pulpit today.

Into the world. That's where Jesus is. And he doesn't just serve a drink of cool living water.

He gives warm-ups as well.

.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Changes (a little political for Saturday morning, but give me a break, we got shellacked)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It has been over a month since I have been home on Saturday morning.  Way back then the leaves were still green, with a little brown, and I worried if we were going to see reds and golds this year.  On that Saturday morning I didn't have a leak in the pipe to my water heater and Bama was still undefeated, if only by a few hours. It seems that things change while I'm not looking.   On that Saturday morning in early October, the sun rose close to the middle of my bedroom window.  It rose all the way to the left this morning.



I am a wreck. I don't know what to do. First the leak in the water heater, Bama has a loss,  and now it appears that either the sun or the earth has shifted radically while I was not watching. Heaven or earth has moved.

Surely the end is near.

So I might as well not fix the leaky water heater pipe.

Other things have changed since last week..

Last week our nation was under an imminent threat of an ebola epidemic disaster of Biblical proportion. But since then the massive outbreak of ebola in the United States has been brought under control. Other than health workers who were brought home from Africa for treatment, there have been a total of four people in the U. S. infected, two while administering treatment to a patient in Texas. Two contracted the disease in Africa, one of whom died.  One doctor, Craig Spencer, is being treated in New York and is in stable condition. There has been an international effort to assist the beset countries in west Africa in bringing the ebola outbreak under control.   The United States sent military troops to construct treatment infrastructure, offered the expertise of the CDC,  and provided economic aid, supporting those countries in giving the world hope that the corner is being turned at the source of the viral outbreak.  While thousands are still infected and being infected, there is cautious optimism that the virus is being contained.

ISIS, which as recently as last week was reported to be poised on our Mexican and Canadian borders to invade our country, seems to be concentrating its activities in Iraq, and appears to be weakening. The group has been exposed for what it is and isolated when it left the confines of Syria, even among Muslim nations in the region. The international coalition, put together primarily through American efforts and which includes several Muslim nations, appears to have turned the tide against the inhumanely cruel terrorist organization.

As recently as last week the American economy was in freefall.   But miraculously changes have occurred.  The U. S. economy is humming.  Unemployment is at 5.8 percent, the lowest since mid-2008.  The economy is on track to produce more jobs than any year since 1999.  The U. S. economy has produced private sector job growth for 56 consecutive months, the longest such period since these matters have been recorded. Government employment has shrunken significantly. Inflation is minimal.  The stock market remains at record highs.  Corporate profits are off the charts. The U. S. budget deficit has declined every year since 2009.  The GDP increased by 4.6 percent in the 2nd quarter, and 3.5 in the third quarter, both much higher than expected, and indicators of a growing economy.

As recently as last week the oil industry was under attack in the United States, making it virtually impossible to conduct business.  But this week American oil production is at record levels. America exports more than it imports. Oil prices are down.  Gasoline prices are down. Russia's economy  which depends to a great degree on the sell of oil is suffering because of the falling prices.  It is the same issue that was the demise of a couple of Putin's predecessors in office.  That might be even better than cheap gas.

I can't imagine what happened, how all of these disastrous things and so many more could have changed so abruptly.  I heard and watched for myself the awful reports of a disastrous freefall economy, the ebola outbreak unchecked, the imminent ISIS takeover of our homeland, the attempt to destroy the oil industry.  It was all on video, narrated with creepy Halloweenish voices, proving that all of the assertions of doom and gloom were true. And all apparently President Obama's fault.

I was in Colorado.  And I was watching political advertisements on TV.  And every one of the assertions, and more, were corroborated by reliable Facebook posts here in Alabama.. How in the world could things have changed so quickly?

There is only one answer I guess, as much as I hate to admit it. I guess it was the Republican wave victory on Tuesday.  I just couldn't have dreamed of results so quickly.

And no doubt they will quickly correct the issue of the liberal sun moving so far to the left.

I guess I'll have to fix the water heater pipe after all.  I feel like I need a hot shower.

Just kidding. I pray for nothing but wisdom and good things for all those elected. And a return to a political environment which allows us to laugh together.  Otherwise this whole writing thing is not nearly as much fun.

.

.

.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Afraid in the dark . . .

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
                                                                                                -President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 
                                                                                                 First Inaugural Address, 1933

When I was very young, about three or four years old, my brother and I shared a small bedroom.  The walls were stained pine tongue and groove boards.  At night a faint light from the bathroom down the hall weakly rested against the doors of the closet and released the true terror contained in the grain of the boards.  The beautiful natural  wood grain of the day became nocturnal wolves with fangs bared, or bears or dinosaurs with teeth and claws, all poised to spring on all who would dare to leave the bed and pass by to the hall, which is where the bathroom was located.

And if that were not enough, there was a hole in the window.  A hole through which snakes would probably be crawling  from the back yard into my bedroom and onto my bedroom floor in the middle of the night. The reptilian portal was created by the impact of a bb shot from a Daisy air rifle (accident).  The hole might have been as much as 1/32 of an inch in diameter.  Everybody knows that snakes can crawl through really tiny holes if they want to. And I knew they wanted to.

So sometimes, in the middle of the night, in the middle of all of that fear, I was faced with a dilemma.  I needed to go to the bathroom.  But that would require getting out of bed, carefully avoiding the writhing snakes on the floor and the beasts lurking in the dark shadows of the walls.  I could have turned on the light, but my brother would yell at me.  And that was scary too. All those fears only heightened my need to go. But I would just lie there most of the time, hoping I could  go back to sleep and hold it until the morning light scared the demons of the dark away. 

Sometimes I couldn't hold it.  So, my fear caused me to wet my bed. 

 And that really stinks.

In the light of day I knew that was right.  It wasn't real wild animals that kept me in my bed. It was just fear.  Of nothing real.  

But in the dark of night, I just couldn't think right. It was scary.

And that is still true. Not the me wetting the bed part.

The fear. And the darkness.

In  darkness created by ignorance, and prejudice, in darkness created by the absence of the light of love with a capital L,  scary illusions appear.   All young black men are thugs.  All young white police officers are bigots  Illegal immigrants are taking over the country. Their children are spreading disease willy nilly.   All politicians are crooks.   All government is corrupt. All government is inept.  Gay marriage will destroy the family.  Muslims secretly want to kill us all.  Ebola will eat us all up by next week.  ISIS is taking over the world.  Someone is  coming to take our guns. .The homeless and poor are scamming us.  All  Democrats are communists. All Republicans worship money and war.  All Tea Partiers are nuts.   We will all have implanted computer chips in a couple of years.  President Obama is . . . there is not enough space to address the lies about him born of irrational fears..  Facebook is taking my picture all the time . . . okay, that might be absolutely true. You get the idea.  Feel free to add your own favorite irrational  fears in the comment section.

Sure, there are things in the world that are scary, and real.  LIke the snakes and wild animals I had been warned about when playing outside were real.   But my fears that kept me shaking fearfully in bed in the safety of my house were irrational and  ridiculous.

We can only know which is which by having the courage to pull our heads out from under the safety of the covers, get up and turn on the light.  But sometimes we  prefer to stay in the dark.    Because light will reveal the truth. And the truth is not always easy.

There are people who will yell when we try.  They want to keep the light turned off, and the irrational fears to mount.  They want us to be scared enough to be paralyzed, to keep us where we are, to keep us in the dark, to make us wet the bed.   Because let me tell you, wetting the bed is not exactly an empowering experience.  

And that is really what some people want.  To create fear.  Ridiculous, irrational fear. Of something that doesn't exist.

Because if you are controlled by fear, you are controlled. You are powerless.

And that really stinks.

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . ."
                                                                                            I  John 4:18 

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