Saturday, August 31, 2013

Welcome to Kindergarten!

I tried to reassure my grandson that going to Kindergarten was no big deal.  One of my assignments during my vacation was to accompany my youngest grandson, Joshua, and his father to orientation day at his new school.  The Kindergarteners were to wear a yellow shirt to school that day, and I offered to wear my yellow golf shirt to help Joshua feel like he had a friend as he entered the room.  I told him he could introduce me to his teacher as his twin brother, Billy.  This strategy did not seem to console Joshua. In fact, the entire idea of having Grandpa Bill going to Kindergarten was adding to the pressure of the day.  But, off we went, Joshua in his yellow shirt, a bag full of supplies in Daddy’s one hand, and Daddy’s other hand firmly grasping Joshua’s tiny twitching fingers.

Kindergarten.  “Child’s garden.” When the term was first coined in 1870 by a German educator the goal was to provide a place where children would be nourished, like plants in a garden. (Source: Wikkipedia, “Kindergarten”)  Joshua’s teacher turned out to be this pleasant young woman with a big smile and a soft voice. If you were casting a movie part for a Kindergarten teacher, this woman would be a perfect fit. I was very happy that this was one of the teachers providing nourishment to our little plant in his new little garden.  Orientation began by “signing in” on an electronic whiteboard, where your name changed color on the board when you pressed it.  I didn’t see a “No. 2” yellow pencil anywhere.  Maybe it was a good thing Joshua hadn’t allowed me to be his twin brother after all.  I am not sure I would have passed orientation.  Another orientation task was to identify the place in the garden where one could “play house.” I spied this wooden house, opened up so you could move furniture around the rooms.  Of course, this was the wrong answer, as the place one “plays house” was an entire corner of the room set up as a play kitchen.  This was not his grandfather’s kindergarten.

I spent the rest of that day thinking about the millions of children heading off to the first day of school. And I thought about the thousands of teachers preparing classrooms and learning names and faces and getting ready to prepare kindergartners to become presidents and postal workers and pediatricians.  Can there be a greater occupational joy than helping brand new plants flourish in a strange new garden?  Can there be a greater responsibility than being the one of whom tiny mouths will utter, “teacher says…”? The nation’s future is about to, for the first and only time,  walk into a “child’s garden”. Thankfully, there are teachers and a Teacher we can trust to nourish them.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Love Persists"

It was a quiet summer supper with my wife, watching this cartoon movie, “Brave.”  A really long time ago there was an ancient and now lost kingdom in which there lived a king, a queen and their strong-willed daughter, who was the princess. The princess gets upset that her mother doesn’t really understand her so she wishes (to a witch) that her mom would change. The problem was that the princess forgot to tell the witch what exactly she wanted her mother to change into, so what she, the mother, changed into was a bear.  The king, husband to the queen and father to the princess, hunted the bear, not understanding of course that this was his wife, the queen.  But, just in the nick of time, the princess discovered that she loved her mom the way she was, so she stitched up the tear she had cut with a sword in the fabric of their family quilt.  As the sun was rising, the princess wraps the bear, her mom, in the restored quilt, thus saving the queen from living her life as a furry bear. The bear is transformed into the mom, now wrapped in nothing but the family quilt, and the princess and her mom and the king share their restored love. The end.

Which left me plenty of time to read Garrison Keillor’s quirky novel, “Pilgrims, A Wobegon Romance.”  Margie loves Carl, her husband of many years, but Carl has lost interest, or so it seems, in Margie.  Margie heads off to Rome on a pilgrimage taken with her neighbors and husband, hoping there to re-kindle Carl’s attraction to her. Margie finds love in all the wrong places.  Until Carl rediscovers Margie.  But is it too late for Carl and Margie?  There the pilgrims are, standing amid the ruins of the Forum in Rome, and one of the pilgrims bemoans the fact, that we all, no matter how glorious our past, will one day just be ashes.  “…(T)he enormity of it stunned him. All your life you strive to accomplish something. Aim for the stars. And for what? For nothing.” But maybe the stars aren’t the thing to aim for, Pilgrim.  Margie and Carl return to the ice-covered streets of Lake Wobegon and there Margie finds what she has been looking for. Not in some wild affair; not in the ruins of ancient civilization, but there, on the icy streets surrounding her plain house which was home, she and Carl found that, really, they did love each other just the way they are. The end.

Which left me thinking about how sometimes we want someone to change and that this will bring us joy and happiness and peace.  But we should be careful what we wish for, because we might get a bear instead of a mom, and then won’t we be sad.  And sometimes we think that if we just could go to some new place, there we will find the love we thought we lost.  But, if we are blessed, we get back home in one piece and find love never left, we were just looking in all the wrong places. The beginning.

Ruined civilizations and broken dreams come and go.  Love persists. That ancient story that never gets too old to tell. Or to experience. And that, Pilgrim, is God’s Story.  Now, go give someone a hug.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"When a Heart is Healed" Part 2

One of the repercussions of being confined to a hospital room after you have had suffered a heart attack is that you get to listen to a parade of professionals remind you of how you go into this pickle.  The circumstances and the setting for the delivery of such messages are ideal because, let’s face it, your body forces you mind to pay attention after someone has been poking a wire around your heart.

The most inspiring and difficult challenge for me came from Wendy Dion.  Wendy’s “sermon” delivered to me, a captive audience dressed for the occasion in my hospital gown, was the importance of finding balance in my life.  She summed it up with a phrase something like this: “If you don’t make time to be well you have to take time to be sick.” Boom!  A “brick between the eyes” message.  She knew that I really wanted out of that hospital room so I could get back to my life.  Her message to me was pretty clear: make time in your life to be well or you will be forced to take a lot of time dealing with being sick. And I hate taking time to be sick.  The next part resonated with me really well: “you need to engage in some spiritual practices each week if your body and mind are going to be in balance.”  I can do that. In fact, people pay me to do it!

But then came the right hook out of nowhere:  “You can’t work seven days a week and say your life is in balance.” Pow! Kaboom! A direct blow to the solar plexus.  And she had corollaries to that bit of wisdom: “You can’t watch bad news seven days a week and be in balance. You need to find outlets for service to others that refocuses your attention.”  Wendy of course was echoing ancient wisdom here, but it is as relevant, and maybe more so, today than it was when Moses and Jesus walked the earth.  We need Sabbath-times in our lives.  And Sabbath isn’t doing “nothing”: it if refocused time, time focused not our ourselves or on earning money or pleasing people; but time focused loving God and loving our neighbor. So, I shutting off my laptop and going for a walk.  Why don’t you join me?

Will you join me this week in trying to find that elusive balance in life?  Physical exercise. Spiritual exercise. “Me” time.  “Others” time. Rest.  Is your plate filled with a healthy portion of each serving?  Because when we live our lives out of balance, eventually we will fall down and hurt ourselves. Thanks for the sermon, Wendy!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

When a Heart is Healed, Part 1

So, I had a heart attack this week. A mild one, praise Jesus.  And now I am home. My being here was not a sure thing 48 hours earlier. I am trying to process this event; this “major life event”.  On the one hand, my own cardiologist, Robert Huxley, has done thousands of these procedures.  What’s one more? No big deal. On the other hand, he put a stent in my right coronary artery. Mine.  Big deal, right? He showed me the pictures of my heart and his handiwork. I told him, “Look, doc, I know this is science, but to us mere mortals, this is a miracle.” He shrugged it off as another day at the office. My mind and my heart beg to differ, doc; you did some really amazing and important work. In one day I learned how many people it takes to heal a heart: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nurse aides, nutritionists, rehab specialists, dieticians, administrators, clerks, people to deliver food and clean rooms.   The next time I pray with someone facing a medical procedure I will have a much more informed prayer than “help the doctors and nurses.”  It takes a dedicated, coordinated, well-trained crew of people who love what they do to heal a heart. And it sure helps if they are nice people.

I suppose this is my way of saying “thank you”, and I realize how truly inadequate words are.  My one hope is that the people who treated me knew that we had one more team member working with them.  I believe that.  I got myself sick.  God, through his servants, got me well.  How can I say thanks to the God who heals my diseases, but more importantly, heals my soul? I echo the Psalmist:

Praise the Lord, my soul,
All my inmost being, praise his name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
And forget not all his benefits-
Who forgives all your sins,
And heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit
And crowns you with love and compassion,
Who satisfies your desires with good things
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

And so it is.  Thank you.  Amen.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Why Didn't God Make Us More Like Pigeons?

I was reminded recently of my childhood neighbor whose hobby was raising pigeons.  The reason people raise pigeons is that they have a unique ability: when properly trained they always find their way home, and without detours.  For 3000 years pigeons have been used for everything from sport to military operations. The French gave a medal of honor to one  bird credited with saving 100 lives. The work of Le Vaillant, flying through German bullets and gas-filled skies to deliver news back home was deemed worthy of the Cross of War. Until quite recently French pigeons were used to deliver blood samples from the hospital to the lab, proving faster than vehicles at the task. Today there is some debate about whether to upgrade the French Defense Ministry’s dovecoat  which has 150 birds as a defense against the shutdown of communications systems.  China has gone even further than France, building a dovecoat of 50,000 birds which are trained by 1,00 trainers.  The fascination with pigeons in China led one racing hobbyist to pay $328,000 (!) for one pigeon. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

This all is made possible by one unchangeable fact, when the sender releases the receiver’s pigeon, the pigeon will fly through storms and heat and cold with a single-minded purpose: get me home to the one who trained me and cares for me.  Wouldn’t that be a comforting certainty for parents of teenagers about midnight on Friday: the child will come home, you can go to bed.  And it would save a great deal of angst among parents of toddlers who walk through malls in fear of little Suzy straying. But, as we know, our tendencies as humans to stray from home doesn’t end when we become adults.  We may be home physically, but emotionally and psychologically, we stray far and wide from the “homes” we have made with spouses and friends.  And centuries ago God sent prophets to his people to remind them, “I formed you, I trained you to walk, I fed you, won’t you please come home.”  The need for that message exists still today, perhaps more than ever. People have forgotten, or maybe never knew, their spiritual homes. So we keep on flying down so many different paths, thinking each one will finally bring us home to joy and peace, when all they really lead to are dead-ends.

Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”  Maybe if God had made us like pigeons, where we couldn’t take any other paths than the one back to our home with God, then we wouldn’t need prophets. Do we have the ears to hear God’s call to our souls, and the courage to fly straight home to our rest?