Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Memorials: Tangible Comfort

Last week's wanton murders in Las Vegas were quickly memorialized in words, candles and flowers . Tangible markers may give comfort to the bereft and keep the loved one's memory alive with a loving gesture.

Numerous times I've passed this light pole on a residential street in Denver. It took several trips before I realized it wasn't just an odd piece of street art. On the next trip I stopped and noted the sign on the other side "In memory of Cole Sukle."  When I googled him I read tragic newspaper stories about this cherished fourteen year old boy. 

Last summer Cole was killed by an 81 year old woman with a history of unsafe driving. I felt outraged that her family hadn't taken her privileges away months before when she was involved in a hit and run accident. It would have saved Cole's life.

I could have continued to drive by this unusual flower-wrapped totem without ever stopping to pay my own homage. 

Memorials draw us in to learn stories and sympathize with those who grieve. They help us appreciate people we never met, and thus more highly value those we know.

On a vacation to Whidbey Island I passed a bench facing Puget Sound.  
Fresh flowers tied on the bench suggested wedding left-overs.

 But the other side of the bench carried a name plate. It revealed that the tribute was for  one H. Mark Bridgeman who had died the previous year. Thanks to the internet I understood that the bench looked out on the sea because he loved to go crabbing and clamming. 

How many other stories wait to be discovered by the curious passerby? 

Would you be pleased to be remembered in some concrete way that pointed to your uniqueness? How have you commemorated a life well-lived? 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Theology Thursday, Part Two. God: Architect or Pipe Bomb

Part Two, God is like...

In the first Theology Thursday (August 17) I argued that God might be like a shepherd, a scout master, or a bread baker. Here are two new-to-me analogies. Songwriter (24 Frames) John Isbell wrote:

"You thought God was an architect, now you know 
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow"

It seems the narrator wants God to be in control of all, and that life-bombs are unjust. The lyricist and the theologian would differ in whether God plays both roles. 

Gaudi's "Holy Family" in Barcelona,

I can relate to God as architect. Especially if He creates places I like. On the other hand,  I've blamed Him for events that instantaneously wrecked my happy world.

Sometimes our bad choices and habits are self-destructive.  Skewed brain and body chemistry wreck both the addict and her loved ones.

It gets more complicated when the IED is a combination of natural events like hurricanes, others' poor decisions, and failing bodies. 

But wreckage has causes other than God.  Just as the London terrorist left a bomb on the tube, often chaos and pain are result of others' actions. 

 Logically, it's not fair to blame God for the fallout humans cause.

Every person who believes that God is, has a theology.  So some of us Christians-as-theologians would say that God created mankind but does not mandate every person's actions. Thus He's not responsible for life's disasters. Does God-the-architect create cancer? I don't think so. But if God is all powerful, we would like Him to be all-powerfully good  in a way that we recognize.

An account from St. John about illustrates this tension. Lazarus' family wanted Jesus to come heal Lazarus. Although He knew Lazarus and loved him, Jesus intentionally stayed away until Lazarus died. 

He confounded his disciples when He said "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." (This sounds like an architect, there's a plan.) Two days later He said to them "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Whoa, the detonator on the pipe bomb went off and Jesus said "I am glad for your sake." 

He went to Lazarus' sisters, made the point that He had the power of resurrection, and called Lazarus to rise up and come out of the tomb. Lazarus did.  People recognized His divine power and put their faith in Him thus Jesus was glorified. 

The next time rockets, missiles and projectiles explode in my life, I want the Architect at my side. Even if He chooses not to interrupt the explosion,  He can rebuild the rubble into something useful, maybe even beautiful.  

How do you see God? Is He both architect and bomber, or one or the other? Does that tension matter to you?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Travel Tuesday: Private Dirt in Croatia

The Croatian people share a common trait with every other culture we've visited--even in the absence of "private dirt" they want to see something grow. 

Old cities always grew from the center out, with narrow cobblestone alleys.  Houses built next to common walls, like friends walking shoulder to shoulder. And it was cheaper to build up than to clear ground so that even buildings hundreds of years old have two, three, four stories. 

Can you see the small flower pots on the balcony?

Even though farming took place within reach of ancient city walls, some folks just crave their own little bit of dirt. As we looked down on the confines of the walled city of Dubrovnik we saw pots with herbs and flowers and small arbors covered in grapes for eating or making wine.

The first peoples learned to grow food rather than gather because it gave them a more reliable diet. But I think there's another reason agriculture developed.  Being fruitfulLatin fructus "an enjoyment, delight, satisfaction; proceeds, produce, fruit, crops,"  is innate. We are wired to choose activities, either in leisure or work, that give us something to show for our effort.

These photos show gardeners’ creativity and passion to grow something, anything!

Narrow staircase? No problem, there is room to set out planters. In this case there's a tree at the top. 

Your house is on a paved courtyard? Just set out pots. 

I like the ascending order.

Maybe your shop's exterior lacks pizzazz. This invites people to stop and look.

The restaurant needs to be set apart from all of the others in the alley.  Use plants to create outdoor "rooms" lining both sides of the walk.

These botanical examples can be a metaphor for using our limited talents to help others flourish. Don't diminish the value of your efforts. Here's proof that much can be accomplished with restricted resources. 

How are you most fruitful? 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Travel Tuesday: Sailing in Croatia

As soon as I zipped up my bags for the outbound flight to Croatia I was an explorer rather than staid grandma, a discoverer rather than an observer.

Our ten day sampling of the culture and land of Croatia was delectable. 

Now, Bill’s favorite hat is stiff with dried salt from the Adriatic Sea. My swim shoes smell pleasantly fishy. Already the spills, sweat and wrinkles are laundered out of my sundresses. 

We’re still in a time frame to remember that last week we were tromping through 1,900 year old ruins from a Roman emperor’s palace.  Dinners included things like octopus salad and dried figs, four kinds of cheese and delicious fresh bread. 

We strolled seaside cities as the sun set over Croatian hills and lit up the harbor. We slept on a ship for the first time and cruised two hundred miles of coastline over a week. 

We didn’t miss an opportunity to take a swim, then sit on the upper deck of the boat and treasure the sensations: the sun warming our faces or the colors of the sunsets, breezes tossing my hair like riding in a convertible.  The water splashing as it surged away from the boat and the engine's rhythmic thrum- thrum-thrum. When dark winter takes hold we’ll sit on the couch to relive those moments. 

Some grappa may help. That’s the plum brandy traditionally made by most households in the region. Its high alcohol content scalds the throat as it goes down and enters the stomach with a small explosion. Our guide told us his grandmother started every day with a cup of coffee and a shot of grappa. It would get you up and moving for sure, and probably dull  annoyances.

Of course we weren’t easily annoyed on our holiday, except by the crowds the ocean liners disgorged into medieval cities too small for the their numbers. Dubrovnik’s walled city has decided to cut the daily visitor county by half to make visits more pleasant and reduce the burden on the city.

If I had it to do over, I’d still take a small ship (through Intrepid Travel, 29 passengers) over a large one, and be able to swim in coves chosen by the captain for calm seas. I’d be willing to repeat a week in our lower deck cabin with just the port hole for light. (I wouldn’t repeat my visit to the ER!) 

But I’d extend the cruise another three to four days and linger a little longer in the small ports, like Korcula or Sibenik. I’d ask for the tours to include folk music concerts. The snatches of singing and folk dancing we happened upon didn’t satisfy, I want whole concerts. I’d eat even more ice cream, and visit more wineries.

This trip was our reward to ourselves for a hard year, and a toast to forty four years of marriage. It didn't disappoint.

Ċ½ivjeli, cheers.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Theology Thursday: Is God a Shepherd, a Scout Master or a Baker?

This is the introduction of occasional Theology Thursdays. Theo, latin for God, and ology, derived from logos, word. 

I believe that God exists, but it's not a simple relationship. Last year my foundational beliefs were jarred, and since then I look for new ways to understand how God is involved in my life. 

The writers of Psalms used metaphors like God as a shepherd. The shepherd (God) walks the sheep (me) through pleasant places (sometimes) and the valley of death. Rather than a walk through green pastures, 2016 blasted me with high winds and torrential problems that knocked me flat. I didn't find comfort there.

I looked to the New Testament. 

Jesus was onto a good thing when he used parables, which are analogies in a story form. Jesus's parable of the house built on sand came to mind. My life was the house, and it was either built on a solid foundation (God) or sand (anything else.) My house was falling apart in the rising flood waters, so what did that say about my foundation? 

The parable doesn't include rebuilding, but I kept hoping God would come back to the ruin and fix me. Circumstances deteriorated further. If He wasn't going to rescue me, was there at least some silver lining? If there was I missed it. Was there at least some new insight I could clutch as my reward? 
from Pinterest

It reminded me of my time as a Girl Scout. One of the badges we earned was the difficult knot badge. We tied knots that would hitch a boat to a dock, or securely suspend a hammock in a tree. Once the requirements were satisfied, we got to sew the medallion embroidered with a knot onto its place in the neat rows of our uniform sashes. 

Maybe my recent experience was designed to untie the knot when faith and reason tangled: Who is God and how do I relate to him?  How involved in my world is He?

After tugging on loose ends, and making the mess worse, I was still mystified about the Scout Master. What badge was I working on? Purpose in pain? Character Development through Loss? 

I gave up that line of thinking and created a bread analogy.

Maybe the spiritual life is like a batch of bread dough. Once the yeast is added, it's kneaded. It felt as though divine knuckles pressed, and  strong hands squeezed me.  The punishing purpose is to make the bread light and chewy.  Then the dough is put aside in a warm place. (I was feeling heat alright.) It rises, proof that the dough is alive with yeast. But the bread is not yet at its best. The baker punches it back down again to rise a second time. 

"The second rising, or proofing, gives a better volume, a more mellow yeast flavor and a finer texture to breads." 

Did you catch that word, proofing? I'd like to believe the difficult circumstances in the not-distant-enough past are working to prove me stronger, more resilient, refined. 

For now I'll stick to the bread comparison. But the next step for bread is a hot oven, and that makes me nervous. 

How do you understand the hard things that happen to each of us? What's your theology? 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Beach Numbers

Mark the happy days of summer with beach numbers. In fact, sing them out!

On the first day of holiday I was blessed to see 1 boy in a sand-filled hole.

double rainbows over Sunset Beach pier
On the second day of holiday, I was blessed to see 2 arching rainbows and a sandy boy in a deep hole.

On the third day of holiday, I was blessed to be one of 3 hardy boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a sandy boy in a deep hole.
3 brave and unsuspecting boaters

                                              On the fourth day of holiday, I was blessed to see 4 castle towers, 3 wiser boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a sandy boy in a deep hole. 

                                   On the fifth day of holiday, I was blessed to see 5 tempting rockers, 4 castle towers, 3 wiser boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a boy in a sand-filled hole.

On the sixth day of vacation I was blessed to see--6 pair sandy sandals, 5 tempting rockers, 4 castle towers, 3 wiser boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a boy in a sand-filled hole.

                        On the 7th day of vacation I was blessed to see 7 glasses waiting, 6 pair sandy sandals, 5 tempting rockers, 4 castle towers, 3 wiser boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a boy in a sand-filled hole.

thanks to Janet Head, group's photographer
 On the 8th day of vacation I was blessed to be one of 8 happy readers,  7 glasses waiting, 6 pair sandy sandals, 5 tempting rockers, 4 castle towers, 3 wiser boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a boy in a sand-filled hole.

blanket flowers 
   On the ninth day of vacation I was blessed to see 9 flowers blooming, 8 happy readers,  7 glasses waiting, 6 pair sandy sandals, 5 tempting rockers, 4 castle towers, 3 wiser boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a boy in a sand-filled hole.

 On the last day of the holiday I was blessed to see ten pipers scuttling, 9  flowers blooming, 8 happy readers,  7 glasses waiting, 6 pair sandy sandals, 5 tempting rockers, 4 castle towers, 3 wiser boaters, 2 arching rainbows and a boy in a sand-filled hole.                              

Enjoy the rest of the summer. Until your next beach trip keep singing. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Busted: the HOA Commandments

That cute bike I mentioned last week got me in trouble with the Home Owner's Association. Their rules are like commandments, except they exceed God's basic ten, and judgement comes more swiftly.

To reach the community garden I must pass through a gate. A long gravel path leads to the raised beds. I rode on the completely empty path leading to the empty garden as one of the garden board members pulled up in her car.  I was 20' away when she yelled. "Pam, if you don't get off that path I'll have to call the Community Response Office. " (Think minor league law enforcement in small white cars without sirens or fire arms.)

It's not as if I were leader of a pack of serious cyclists descending on hoards of helpless old people who had to scatter to safety.

Surely she wasn't serious. But I got off the bike. I  hollered "Go ahead, it'll be their excitement for today."

"I mean it," she threatened. "I'll call them. You have to obey the rules. Do you think you're better than everybody else?"

"I think I'm pretty special." The unconciliatory tone fired her up. 

She must have had CRO (Community Response Office) on speed dial. 

I parked my bike, ignored her, and focused on watering my dehydrated tomatoes. While chatting with another plot holder the chubby community responder walked our direction. He hitched up his belt.  He planted his feet apart and put his fists on his hips. I really expected him to give me some body language, a wink maybe or tiny grin, to indicate how ridiculous this was. But he didn't. I guess he was serious too.

"Did you ride your bike on the path?"

"Yeah, for about 6 feet and I got off when Martha Sue told me to. It's better to use a bike than drive here." My concern for the environment didn't strike him as virtuous. 

"Well," he pulled out his little pad of forms "you can bring the bike into the garden, just don't ride it. What unit do you live in?" 

I told him and he filled out the brief form. To his credit, he was polite, and he was making the nitpicker happy for sure. (Ooh, I wish I'd known her information to give him instead of mine.)

As he walked away the neighboring gardener looked at me in disbelief. "I can't believe that. It makes me wonder why I live here." Yeah, me too.

It's my opinion that the HOA is trying to recreate paradise by committee. 
Or perhaps they distend their limited control to compensate for the dwindling influence aging can cause. Although the HOA deals with some weighty issues, they deviate when control is about where a bike is ridden or a flower is planted.

I knew I'd run afoul of the HOA eventually. There are other written rules I am breaking.

ajuga I planted in an empty space
#86 Do not plant anything in the manicured, narrow line of shrubs planted in single file in front of your "lanai." Why would they name a small slab of concrete after a Hawaiian veranda? 

And #129 "Do not dead head the flowers." I held my breath when two staff gardeners stopped in front of the rose bush I've been trimming for two months.  A few fading flowers and hips remained on the bush so it wouldn't be obviously pruned. 

The elder gardener said to his trainee, "This is a lovely rose." Yep, I've taken good care of it. It is full of new growth and I'll have the only bush with a second flush of blooms later this summer. 

Runamuck HOAs are common complaints elsewhere too. Online testimonies include one man  who walked his dog in a "covenant" community although he didn't live in it. A control freak accosted him, called the police, and they ended up citing her and towing away her golf cart which wasn't licensed for the roads. Ah, justice. 

Not so for the senior citizen who planted unauthorized purple flowers and was fined $50.00.

Every month people in this complex rack up more than three thousand calls to the CRO (more than one per unit.) They call for emergency medical assistance (which isn't provided.) Garage door violations make up a fair number of calls, as do "suspicious" people. There are noise complaints, odor complaints, and family disturbances. Alleged burglaries must not bear up under investigation because they always number 0 in the final report. This month there were 41 warning tickets, including mine. 

And just to protect myself from the whistleblowers, Pam Glover is only my pen name.