Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween and the Fiscal Cliff


 “This Just In” blared the television in the family room.… I was immediately alert and ready for the next chapter of bad news from the TV news anchor. 

I’ve been “conditioned”!! When I hear that pronouncement, or the equally compelling… “Breaking News”… I am prepared for some vital piece of information or an earth shattering announcement regarding an unfolding story that apparently everyone must immediately know about it. Sometimes “Breaking News” turns out to be just an update that some little known 19 year old TV actress broke up a relationship with some other unknown young person. Always good to know!!! But mostly the announcements are more serious, and frightening.

Please note that "Breaking News" and "This Just In" are almost invariably BAD NEWS, not stories of good unfolding, of love or joy or beneficence. Hmmmm… 

I have discovered that most of the stories under the Breaking News category are geared to raise up feelings of fear, anger, resentment, disillusionment, disgust, disappointment and helplessness. With all due respect to the talented news professionals, the reporters and the broadcast stations are usually respectable, honest and well meaning, it is the stories that they report that need close scrutiny by the listener and viewer, a call to look deeper into the truth, and to put the story in perspective. 

Fear is one of the worst and most prevalent emotions. For example, I follow the stock market closely and most days, either before the market opens or at the end of the day, you will hear, “Market down on Fears of….” Or, before the opening bell.. “Market set to open down on Fears of…” Almost every day!! I keep wondering, If they are all afraid, why are they in the market!!

I was recently really concerned, fearful even, when I heard 
some of the news stories originating about the so-called Fiscal Cliff. Apparently at the end of this current year, the United States of America will experience a draconian reduction in the Federal budget which will send shockwaves through the country, the stock market, the economy and our individual lives, unless Congress takes corrective action sooner. 

I was really worried and ruminating about what I personally could do to stop this from happening, or prepare for it, and no sooner than I started to explore my options I heard another, even more alarming broadcast, a “This Just In… Breaking News…” originating from that same station. This story said that according to the Mayan calendar that a catastrophic event would happen in December of this year. 

Then, I heard still another announcer, with a great sense of urgency, commenting about predictions of the melting of the polar ice cap with subsequent flooding of some large cities, more on the threat of worldwide terrorism, then the horrible things that will happen if this political candidate is elected, or if the opponent wins, and the litany of the myriad threats facing the world. I’m sure you’ve heard them all. And when the announcer stopped  an ad came on warning about body odor and bad breath!!!  Now I was really overwhelmed with worry!

In a state of confusion I thought, what should I worry about first?? Should I fret about the Fiscal Cliff, the melting Greenland ice cap, a centuries old calendar prophecy or just the one that is supposed to happen first? I don’t want to waste my time worrying about the wrong one. What to do? 

I hope what I discovered will enlighten you and bring a sense of peace. And it’s about Halloween. In the USA 
Halloween is a Trick or Treat holiday where children dress up in costume and go door to door “begging” for candies, fruit and the like. They try to frighten the people that meet and threaten a “Trick”, some prank, if they don’t get some candy.

Now, some of these little darlings are dressed in really scary outfits, calculated to FRIGHTEN, just like Breaking News!!!! The sweetest little boys and girls pose as the most dangerous and chilling characters with gory and angry masks, trying to take us in, to make us believe their ghostly appearance. But we know that when the mask comes off, they are just the little children from our neighborhood, we are not frightened. 

Just so, I have been working on refusing to become unsettled  by the seemingly insoluble conditions of the world, the threat of physical, moral and financial harm.

Throughout history, followers of almost every recognized religion have been led to look deeper into reality than the view given by the current political, economic and cultural problems. This search, looking beyond the material view to God, Spirit, for answers has brought them a sense of calm and peace, a better sense of what life is really all about.

Certainly Christians, following the example of Christ Jesus, have found that unmasking threats and looking to God, Divine Love, for guidance, have seen these threats disappear, replaced by peace and joy. 

One excellent example that comes to mind when hearing of the Fiscal Cliff is when Jesus, a humble teacher, healer and comforter was facing an angry mob. The crowd was so incensed that they were going to throw him over the cliff. He just walked away. He didn’t fear the cliff, the threat that the material world posed, he just walked away.

The historical record of that event, written in Luke 4:24-25, is that the crowd was angry and “rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way.”

In effect, he removed the mask, the threat, even though his life was being threatened by the crowd. He understood that life is spiritual, not material. In other instances he lifted the mask of hunger when he fed multitudes with a few fish and loaves, lifted the fear of his disciples when the storm at sea threatened to sink their ship, removed the fear and anguish of suffering from all manner of fears and diseases. Time and again Jesus demonstrated, and taught his disciples to demonstrate their power over fear.

This unmasking of fear is something we can all do. As a matter of fact Jesus also said, speaking of his teaching said: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."  (John 15:11) And, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  (John 14:27)

Now, what about the Breaking News? Do we just close our eyes to the problems?

NO!! We unmask them, as Jesus did, we see through the claim of the material world, see that fear, cannot intimidate, threaten or cause us to lose our joy. Like going to the door on Halloween, we see the threatening costumes, the frightening masks, but we confidently face them knowing we have nothing to fear. 

As a favorite hymn goes:

Our God is All-in-all
His children cannot fear;
See baseless evil fall,
And know that God is here.
Christian Science Hymnal 267 

Ask yourself, as I do,  What is fear doing today to keep me from living, loving, sharing, supporting, confident living? We are not supposed to be afraid!!! So UNMASK FEAR and turn off the station. And, enjoy the candy!!!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Discouraged? Lessons from a Would be Athlete!

The pitcher stepped off the pitcher’s mound, so  I stepped out of the batter’s box and glanced over at the coach.  The count was 3 Balls and two Strikes.    Baseball players always have to get their signs from a coach or the manager in situations like this,  and even though I was just a young player,  I knew that much.   

I tapped my cleats with the bat to knock off the dirt, the way the professionals do.  It was then that I remembered I didn’t have cleats, just tennis shoes.  We won’t get our baseball shoes until they issue the uniforms later this evening.    I also became aware that hitting my foot with a bat was not a great idea.  

The coach flashed me the secret sign,  he  tapped his hat then his elbow then his hat again. I got the sign.  As I recall these years later, I actually only had two signs  to remember.  I think one was “swing and miss” and the other was “duck”.    The other boys had more complex signals but the coach didn’t have much faith in me.

After the game that evening the selections for the Little League teams were being made. There were a number of sponsors supporting the teams, supplying uniforms and some of the equipment, like shoes with cleats.  The teams would soon be playing “under the lights” at Chillicothe Ohio’s City Park baseball diamond.  I hoped to be selected for the Lynch Motors team, a local Ford dealer that provided really snazzy uniforms.  Snazzy was a word we used back then, today’s equivalent of WOW, cool, rad, awesome, “totally” and other adjectives. I’m a little out of date on these.

Dutifully following the “swing and miss” sign like a professional, I struck out. The game was over and it was time for Little League team selection.  All of the boys in the sandlot baseball program gathered around as the League organizers  started going through  the names of the players that had been assigned to various teams. I knew many of the guys. 
I could just see ME in this picture!!! 
 When they came to the end of the list, I was still standing there. Just me, and one other boy.  "Looks like we didn’t make any team,"  I, master of the obvious, said to him.  To  myself I said, 'I guess I don’t get one of those beautiful uniforms that I had dreamed of, had wanted so very badly.' My dreams of strutting onto the baseball diamond in my spotless uniform were just that, dreams. A real disappointment.

A few years later, as I was at football scrimmage in my freshman year of high school, I was lined up in the right guard position. We ran a number of plays as the coach watched, carefully evaluating the potential of each of us.   Later he called me aside and sat me on the bench. He told me that at a weight of 110 pounds, that weight including my pads and uniform,  I wasn’t really cut out to play right guard, or any position on the team if you get right down to it.  He suggested, as gently as he could,  that I might find a great position in the marching band. Another disappointment.

A couple of years later I headed off for my screening  for the United States Air Force Academy. I had received appointments from two United States Senators from Ohio, Senators Bricker and Bender. I was so excited when I went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton to take the physicals and the interviews.  

Why it would only be a couple of years and I would be graduating from just the second graduating class of the Academy, and soon after that, wearing silver aviator wings, jogging out to an aircraft on the ramp, ready to go.    But, as Dad would say, “Here again”… another disappointment.   Dad always said "Here again" when he was about to repeat himself!!  

I was small and underweight, a 16 year old boy, so naïve about what answers they were looking for.  I  apparently didn’t convince the psychiatrist, a forty something year old doctor who probably had forgotten what it was like to be 16 and excited,  that I really wanted a career in the Air Force.   You really have to know how to answer the questions these guys ask.  I’ve always wondered about psychiatrists anyway!

But this little article isn't about failure it’s about success, it’s about victory,  it’s about keeping up and keeping going, expecting good and listening for guidance..

Let’s rewind, return with me to those days where disappointment and discouragement seemed to have the upper hand.  

Hey, Get Your Dog Here!!  Hot Dogs!!  Pepsi! 
As the Little League teams were formed and the rosters closed, while I was standing there feeling down, no team, no uniform, no glory… a man came up and asked if I wanted a job selling soft drinks and hot dogs at the games each evening.  I jumped at the opportunity.   Me, a job??  ABSOLUTELY!! As the season began I found myself at the games each evening, learning to sell, preparing for a lifetime of selling, talking to girls in the stands, eating free hot dogs and drinking sodas, all the while making some forty five cents an hour.  Not bad money considering all of the hot dogs I ate!!  This, in contrast to the guys on the baseball teams, granted, wearing those great uniforms, but spending the evenings swatting at gnats in the outfield, maybe wishing they could have one of my mustard dogs and a cool drink. 

And about the football team.   I didn’t make the team of course but I did get into the High School Marching Band, playing the sousaphone, and loved every minute of it.  And that led to a place in the orchestra, the concert band, the basketball band, and who could forget playing bass fiddle in gigs with “Jack Armstrong and the All Americans” at such venues as the Jackson Ohio Apple Festival and Circleville Pumpkin Show!!  Well, okay, so it was just 2 electric guitars, drums, piano and my bass, playing small town Ohio "hits" like  "It Must Be Jelly Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That", (Click here to listen to that old standard), and other favorites!!!  Not quite Beatles level stuff, but loads of fun.

While I didn't get to the Air Force Academy, I did join the U.S. Air Force and, enjoyed my time serving the country.

What valuable lessons these early experiences were, how they gave me a perspective on being open to opportunities that I had never considered.   As I matured I realized that we are so much better off if our plans are not so “fixed in concrete” that we may overlook even better directions and opportunities, directions that are more suited for us, more natural.

 Young people can shake off disappointment and discouragement as new opportunities open up, but as we mature, disappointments seem more serious, more life altering, more devastating, and they can cloud our enthusiasm and defeat our positive attitude.  Childlike optimism is overtaken by the weight of worry, the “what if”, the “what will people think”, “what will happen to me”, the downward pull of the “gravity of fear”.  

How many times does it have to happen, I have often asked myself.  How many times does God have to prove to me that trusting, listening for the inner voice, being open and receptive to His guidance will lead me into the path that is best?   

The Bible, a wonderful handbook of how others have coped with life’s challenges in years past, is full of examples.  Now nothing I have faced is equal to being cast into a lions den like Daniel was, or being swallowed by a big fish like poor Jonah, or being confined in a fiery furnace like those three young servants of God, but the problems we face often SEEM that serious.   

But one thing I have learned.   When we listen, trusting that the BEST Way will open up for us, it miraculously happens.  Isaiah had this advice about what happens when we get ourselves, our will power, our sometimes stubborn, what my Dad used to call “Bullheaded opinions”  out of the way, and listen:    
And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left."  Isaiah 30:21.   

And Jesus said, about listening,  “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”  Matthew 6:6.

I can assure you, God is talking to you and me right now. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guest Column - Sharon Slaton Howell

Words that last

Most writers I suppose would like to think that their words will be, if not like those of Shakespeare, as least somewhat long-lasting.  But there are words that will be, that will be around as long as time is.

These words are those of Christ Jesus, who once said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."  And they have not, as Mary Baker Eddy says in one of her books.  They are as timely and potent and life-giving today as when they were first spoken.

Recently we saw a documentary about Mahatma Gandhi when someting the narrator said jumped out at me.  Gandhi, he said, would tell his fellow Hindus "unless you study reverentially all the teachings of Jesus, your life will be incomplete."  And he added, "Gandhi loved Jesus."

So powerful are our Master's teachings, I couldn't help thinking about the lives of those Indians who were transformed as something Jesus said took root in their thoughts and hearts.  This was the case with Felix Mendelssohn, composer of glorious music, who happened to pick up a New Testament one day and was forever changed by a statement of Christ's.  Although brought up as a Jew, Mendelssohn at once converted to Christianity.

My life would certainly be incomplete without God's Word.  More than this, life would lack joy and peace, and a sense of divine power with which to overcome difficulties that arise.  How have Jesus' words impacted my life for good, you may wonder?  How have these sublime saysings not had an influence for good.

I could fill a book with real-life examples, but let me give just this one.  I was working at an international daily newspaper.  My desk was right across from a woman who was a long-time employee in the newsroom.  In fact, she was secretary to the Editor and wielded a lot of clout.  For some reason, she took a dislike to me and over time, began to make my life miserable.  Things became so bad, I dreaded going to work each day.

Finally, I reached out to a friend who was experienced in helping people with their problems.  After a lengthy recital of the wrongs being done to me (I thought), I paused to hear this Christian Science practitioner and teacher ask, "Do you really want to be free?"  This was quite unexpected, but I said, "Of course I do."  "Then you will have to love this lady", my friend said.  "There is no other way."  Shocked was a mild word to describe what I was feeling.  Didn't you hear what I said? I wanted to say.  Clearly, I was in the right, and it was my co-worker who needed to change.

However, after I hung up the phone, what this woman said began to take hold.  It was plain that if I wanted to be obedient to Christ's commands, I would have to tackle this the right way.  To say that this seemed insurmountable was an understatement.  And I recall one afternoon while waiting for a commuter train out to the suburbs, I was walking up and down that platform in tears, so hard did it seem to get over my resentment of the fellow worker.  "I can't do this", I said to God.  "Ask me to love anyone but her."  Eventually, however, Christ got the victory, and by the time my co-worker retired, we were very good friends, someone I was going to miss a lot.

Our Master spoke words that will last.  And so will we -- eternally -- as we live by what He said.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lesson from a Tree Frog

The afternoon email brought an interesting and cute message.  My nephew and his wife and daughter found a small tree frog on a plant they had just bought.  Now that lucky tree frog has taken up residence as a pet in their home.

Now I am not an expert but in case you don’t know much bout them, tree frogs are usually tiny, as their weight has to be carried by the branches and twigs of their habitat. They are typically smaller and more slender than terrestrial frogs, and have well-developed discs at the finger and toe tips resulting in a superior grasping ability.

 And not only are they cute, they sing their loud songs in the evenings, brightening up the woods with their joyous proclamation that life is wonderful. 

Tree frogs teach lessons too. I was reminded of a valuable lesson and a real uplift, courtesy of a tree frog,  at a time when I really needed encouragement.   I had recently been facing some difficult and unsettling situations at my job and dreaded the prospect of going to work. 

On this particular day, as I backed out of the driveway and headed to the office, I saw a frog on my car’s rear window.    That cute little guy clung tight to the rear window as I drove the 40 miles to work in Houston at highway speed.  He was still clinging steadfastly to the window as I pulled into the parking lot nearly an hour later.

I actually worried about him during the day, feeling bad that I had taken him from his home ground, bringing him to a strange place, so far away for a tiny frog, and him with no car or bike to make the trip back home!!!  I guess I am a sentimental type. But when I got off work and rushed to the car, I was DELIGHTED to see his shiny green little persona still sitting on the back window.  Boring day for him!!

I drove home, another 40 miles of Mr. Frog hanging on tightly, and when we pulled up to the driveway, he jumped off and went home to see his wife and kiddies. I envisioned him taking off his little frog hat, putting down his little frog briefcase and telling his wife about another day at the office, just like me!!
The lesson for me was that this little guy, finding himself in a precarious circumstance, braving the dangers, hanging on when his future was uncertain, undoubtedly feeling insecure, using the only resource that he had at his disposal, those little feet, to stick to the window,  he served as a great example to me.   

Was I, admittedly facing the near certainty of being laid off, of becoming unemployed with all of the probable repercussions to my life, demonstrating as much faith, courage and perseverance as this little creature.  He might be small but his heart was huge!!!!     
Displaying such persistence, awaiting the outcome with such patience, just being a frog…WOW. He didn’t whine, didn’t complain, didn’t blame me, didn’t curse the wind… or even the Houston drivers.   I was definitely outclassed!!! 

If I could have found his home in the trees I am almost 

certain that I would have found a Bible open to the book of James, maybe these verses highlighted:

James 1:2-4 
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

Thank You, Mr. Frog, wherever you are, for showing me that when we persist, hold tight, patiently cling to the Truth of God’s Love and goodness, not letting the winds of discouragement and fear blow us away, that we always come home to peace and joy. Keep on singing!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Station Identification

“This is WLW in Cincinnati Ohio, the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation broadcasting on 700 on your radio dial.” 

As a youngster I remember hearing that voice, strong, confident, probably some famous guy sitting in front of an array of dials and needles, headphone on undoubtedly, cup of coffee steaming, sitting  in a padded studio with a large red “On Air” neon sign glowing, a sure indication that something really important was going on.  

The hourly Station Identification  is the practice of radio or television stations identifying themselves on the air, typically by means of a call sign, usually four letters.   Back in the 1940s the call sign was given on the hour and usually on the half hour, as required by law.   Call signs are still required for radio stations to identify themselves since is critical to be able to positively identify the source of a broadcast

Identification is important for people too.  Maybe others, like me, have wondered about "Who am I"?  About "WHY am I"?  What identifies me?  If a radio station has to announce who they are, shouldn't I at least know my identification, my call sign?  Do I have an Identifier?

Many times we go through life aimlessly, one day at a time, one foot ahead of the other, or as Ohio State Football fans would say...“three yards and a cloud of dust”, not really examining what is happening and who we are. Life can be spent groping for the next paycheck, the next promotion, the next weekend, holiday, vacation,  or the next inspiration.  

A good friend once told me to “have an identity”, to be careful not to be like a chameleon.  He explained how a chameleon changes colors to match its environment.  Perhaps he saw me trying to change to “fit in” or to not “stand out as different” in a group.    I began to see how tempting it sometimes is, when involved in a political or business discussion, to become angry or self righteous; or when associates in a group begin criticizing or judging someone, to join right in.  I have seen close up the adverse effects of the contagion of negative thinking in business and family environs.

When my friend reminded me about the chameleon, I remembered that the Bible has a caution about staying true to our identity, and it sounded like he was talking about me when he said:   

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:   For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway  forgetteth what manner of man he was.  James 1:23-24

That’s when it is time for… YES… Station Identification!!  We need a call sign for our station:  maybe LOVE, or KJOY, KIND, PEACE… the possibilities are endless.  And we need to go to remember this Identification at least every hour!!

Now back at The Station… there are other things we need. We already have a marvelous Sponsor, namely God, divine Love, the Father that created us as His spiritual reflections, to love, to understand, to trust, to feel, to rejoice in life!!  And, we have a wonderful "instruction-procedure" manual, the Holy Bible.      We’re well on our way to Identification!!  

In addition to our Sponsor and Procedure Manual, we need some real life Identification experience. Now in this area Christians have a wonderful tutor, Christ Jesus, who has already performed the roles of, set the example for, and whose Station Identification could be characterized as: Teacher, Healer, Minister, Shepherd, Forecaster, Rescuer, Lie Detector Expert, Soldier, Preacher and Selfless Friend.  And his script is available for those who want to learn under his tutorage.

In her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Religious Leader and Pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy observes:  
Man's genuine selfhood is recognizable only in what is good and true.  Man is neither self-made nor made by mortals.   God created man.    And Jesus, who certainly knew His identity said: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”    Matthew 5.  

Other wonderful assurances from his Sermon on the Mount that are being proven every day may be seen by clicking here.  MATTHEW 5

I’ll be On Air with you!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lessons from Kuwait

Flying over Europe at 30,000 feet I looked down at the countryside. I guess I was expecting to see little dotted lines separating the countries like we see on a map, down below is Germany, and there is Switzerland, over there, that must be France.    But it wasn't that way at all but it seemed like that would of been an appropriate thing to do   How do they keep it  straight themselves, without lines?  

I took in all the sites and watched the landscape change as we made our way from London towards the desert of Kuwait, all the time fending off the flight attendant who wanted me to close my tiny little window blind on the million dollar view of the earth so people could watch a $2 movie about a talking dog!!   There was no question when we reached the desert. The landscape changed drastically and the sand went on for miles, and the movie was over so everyone was happy.  Talking dog… good grief!!.

This was my first trip to Kuwait and the purpose was to discuss setting up a consulting company in the Middle East. I knew things here would be different but walking into the airport filled with people of so many different nationalities wearing different garb speaking different languages was quite an experience.  Here I am with briefcase, suitcase, don’t know one person and don’t speak Arabic, sounds like a recipe for success!  But they were glad to see me, a handsome young American with funny clothes.

While my job was to partner with a Kuwait government company to bring information technology consulting services to organizations in Kuwait, I myself learned a lot about life and how folks in the Middle East have learned to live in the heat, and marveled at the timeless wisdom of these wonderful people.

I learned about hospitality and how simple kindness and friendliness can bring friendship even when there are language obstacles.   One day my Kuwaiti business partner invited me to his mother’s house for lunch. Now he was married and had his own house but he was going to his mother’s for lunch and a short visit.   As a “proper” American, I didn't want to show up unannounced and told him we should call and let her know that I was coming along.  He looked at me and, laughing, said, “No Pat.  Don’t worry.”

When I got there expecting to have a quiet lunch with him and his mother, I found that there were about 25 people there, mostly uninvited and unexpected I am sure, all milling around a bountiful serving table with lamb and fish, rice,  hummus, vegetables,  fresh salad, fruit and beverages. Everyone seemed to know each other but they weren't all relatives. My partner said, “ You've got a lot to learn. Arabs welcome everyone and when friends want to stop by and visit they stop by, even if it’s lunchtime or dinnertime.”

What an interesting time we had.  Listening to his elderly mother who graciously welcomed me and agreed to  describe what life was like in Kuwait in the early 1900s, sleeping on the roof since there was no air conditioning, walking everywhere  since there were no automobiles in those days, only camels, horses and donkeys, describing the food and how they lived… fascinating.  

I had to be reminded which hand is used for eating.   Since we didn't have eating utensils and we were eating with our hands, you use your right, or “clean” hand. My plea of being a lefty fell on deaf ears and so I learned to be a “switch eater.”   Apparently every Arab is right-handed!!! 

Most of the water used in Kuwait is produced by desalinization since the underground water is mostly brackish, meaning that it is not fit to drink.   Water is the brought to the homes by tanker trucks. Not too long before the time that I was in Kuwait during the mid-1980s, water was brought to the homes on the backs of horses, donkeys or camels... Each residence or office building has a huge water tank on top of the building.  Water is pumped up to the roof top tanks and gravity feed brings the water down into the building facilities.

Now the water in the rooftop tanks becomes very hot.   When I first arrived in Kuwait and moved into my villa, naïve and innocent, I drew a glass of water to drink and it was very hot. Too hot to drink and too hot for ice to stand up to.  What to do???

Here’s where the “hot shot” American consultant learns a thing or two from his Arab brother.  I do have a hot water heater in the house, fed by the roof top water tank.  The water in that rooftop tank is already hot from the sun.   I learned to reverse the normal process that we’re used to by turning off the hot water heater and letting the hot water from the rooftop go to the water heater where  it slowly cools off to room temperature.   This is what you can use as “cold water”.  Are you confused yet?    Now, since the cold water faucet brings water directly from the roof, and this water is very hot, this is what we can use for showers, laundry and other hot water needs.  Simple when you know the trick and the system worked just fine, and saved energy.  Just do't get confused when you are in the shower!!!   In the winter we reversed the process since the sun, while still shining brightly is not nearly as hot and the problem is ameliorated.

Another lesson helped me understand a little more about how the Kuwaiti business persons think, sometimes so different from what I was accustomed to in the U.S.   My Kuwaiti partner and I made a formal proposal presentation to one of the government agencies and the management seemed very favorably impressed. They agreed to review the material and that we could discuss it later after their scrutiny. As we went back to our office I conferred with my partner and told him that I was excited that they really liked the proposal and that our prospects for getting the business were very good.   My partner said “No they didn't like it.”   I was shocked.  He said, “OK, here’s some Arab logic, if they liked it they would have said, ‘No we don’t like it’.  That would force us to negotiate and they could end up paying less.   Since they said they did like it, apparently that meant they didn't like it and they told us they did just so we would leave quietly and they could go back and drink tea in peace.  Who knew?   I am learning fast!!!

And so, mind in a whirl considering how at my age I could have been so naïve about so many things, I went home and went to bed.

One of the most touching experiences, and something I will never forget, was at a burial.  A relative of my partner had passed away and he asked me to go with him to the burial.  It was simple ceremony.  The men, family members and friends, gathering close to the grave while the women stood back in a group.  It was a gray day with the gentle wind blowing the sand, whistling softly, the quiet of the desert embracing our little group.  Since, to their view, everyone is the same in the hereafter, no big elaborate headstone was needed to proclaim a person’s importance.  The body was wrapped in a white cloth and gently laid into the grave, his head resting on a rock. A quiet, somber, ritual but I have never felt such a sense of God’s presence, an assurance of everything being right and good.  A sense of comforting peace embraced me.

So many things to learn.  So many differences in the culture.  So many wonderful people.    

When I hear derogatory comments about Arabs, or Muslims, the fears and concerns about differences, the misunderstandings and the perceived threats by people that many Americans don’t understand,  I remember the love and kindness of those I met and worked with every day in the Middle East and recall the Bible verses:  .
“Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?”    (Malachi 2:10)     And…. 

“ There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”    (Galatians 3:28)      All ONE, regardless of religion, culture, belief system, God just made one brand…ALL GOOD.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lessons From a Yard Sale

The yard sale signs were staked out in the front yard and were pretty much ready to go. This was our first, and as it turned out to be, our only yard sale, ever.

For a week or so we had been selecting things and trying to put prices on them. 

As we prepared for the sale, our little daughter Paige was involved in selecting what should go.  She had a large number of toys, dolls and games that had accumulated, most of which were no  longer of interest to her. We made our selections and put things out on the table.

The first lady that came to the sale immediately saw a doll that was laying at the end of one of the tables. She picked it up and just loved it at first sight. As she came over to pay, daughter Paige started screaming and crying saying “That’s my baby doll!!  You can’t have it.”  Shaking and sobbing, she made a pretty convincing display of how cruel and thoughtless was her Daddy to let this happen!! 

The lady put the doll down gently, told us what she thought of parents that would sell their little child’s doll, expounded on parents that were cruel, thoughtless, and  voiced other descriptors that, fortunately, have since been forgotten.   She then marched off in a huff.    Mark that down as a  "No Sale"!!!

It would have been no use to explain to her that our daughter no longer played with the doll and had gladly agreed that it should go to a new home. It was too late anyway.  But the lesson was not lost, the importance of sorting and classifying.

Actually, a yard sale is excellent practice for determining what kinds of thoughts we are entertaining. Over the years I have learned that thoughts are really the only valid part of our living. We live, love, enjoy, prosper or fail or become discouraged only in our consciousness.   

As a matter of fact, in the Bible, Paul stated it very appropriately. He said, speaking of God,   “In Him we live and move and have our being.”   Obviously, he wasn’t talking about being in a material God somewhere in space, he was talking about being the "image and likeness of God", reflecting Godlike qualities, right here, right now.  

I personally have found it to be quite an adventure, going through the attic of my thoughts, okay, sometimes the basement too, looking at thoughts and values to see if they still fit my life, are still useful, are the kind of things I want to have around in my consciousness.,   My wife would prefer that I not keep so many material possessions  around, I am the type of person that hangs on way beyond the useful life of things. And so too, in my thought, I sometimes hang onto ideas, attitudes and positions outgrown,  and thoughts that are not beneficial nor even wanted,

Join me as I start sorting.   

Okay, over here is “Love” I sure want to keep that one. And there is Life, Joy and Happiness, keep them for sure.   And over in the corner, Kindness and Tenderness, I need to get those out and use them more often. 

What’s in those boxes labeled Politics and Human opinion… ahhh, they are filled with “criticism”, “judgment” and “condemnation”. I’ll put those out on the curb, those aren’t even good for a yard sale and they should just go immediately to the trash.  Look over there, Why are those things still here, "self justification, self importance, selfishness".   I thought I got rid of them long ago, they are hard to get shake loose.   “Bye, Bye. Guys”  

This mental housekeeping is something I should do, every day.   Why do I wait for my mental “Yard Sale” day to go through my thinking to see what is worth keeping.. and what needs to go?   

Next week I will definitely start examining my thoughts every day.   NO Wait.   That’s Procrastination…Tricky little fella!    He’s gotta go too.  

Once again the Bible has the perfect advice. Joshua said:   "Choose you THIS DAY whom you will serve.”    Joshua 25:15    

The world will love us for it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lessons from an Air Raid Warden

I really wanted one of those hats.  What a great hat. How important I would be if I had one, but Dad said  I am too young to be signed up as an Air Raid Warden.   I guess you have to be a Warden to have the hat.

Sitting on the front porch swing, huddled up with my Dad and Sister, I could see him coming down the street.   It was almost dark but I could see his figure dimly through the dusk, looking at each house, peering carefully for any faint sign of light.

It was 1944 and an air raid drill was underway.  

Midway through the Second World War, air raid drills and blackouts became common activities. In towns across the United States, Air Raid Wardens assumed leadership positions in educating their neighbors on drill procedures.   These volunteers, the lucky ones with the neat pith helmets, patrolled the streets, checking each house to make certain there was not a speck of light visible.  All street lights were turned off, window blinds were closed, no lights on, and certainly Dad would not be lighting a match for a smoke here on the front porch.

If a light was spotted in a neighboring house, unnoticed by the resident,  perhaps just  a small ray of light from a window, the warden was quick to correct the infraction.   "Put That Light Out” or "”Close Your Blinds” or  “Kill that Match”!!

As a small boy I didn’t even question how an enemy bomber could make it cross the United States from either the East or West Coast to bomb a small Ohio town.  Or… Why!   Was our paper mill a threat to the enemy?  Did the shoe factory, and fear of the consequences of  thousands of shoes being made, frighten them into a long range strike,  which was probably not even possible due to the distance from enemy territory?   Logic was not on the side of our being attacked but I bought into the whole idea of sitting close to Dad and wonderful Big Sister, wondering what was coming next.

How far away, how long ago those times were.   The fear, the hiding, the unknown, staying in the dark,  window blinds closed,  keeping our light from shining.  And how different is  the view that I now have. 

In more recent years, my study of the Bible, and especially of the teachings of a humble spiritual guide, Jesus of Nazareth, over 2000 years ago, I have learned that our light SHOULD shine, it SHOULD be visible.   In fact, when our thoughts are spiritual, when our every thought and deed reflects  the  Love, intelligence, tenderness, kindness and wisdom that is ours as the “image and likeness of God”  we are the light of the world, and THAT is our defense.

In the Bible, that wonderful guidebook to life, Christ Jesus  counseled:    "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."

He encouraged us to "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify  your Father which is in the heaven."   (Matthew 5)".

His words were so simple, so direct, so specific, words applicable to all Christians certainly, and I believe they apply to all …to  Jews and Muslims,  Buddhists and Hindus, all people…whatever their level of spirituality, whatever their religion or creed, whatever their light looks like, or high brightly it burns.   Each of God’s ideas, each one of His children,  has within him/her self the spark to light a candle for good, and let that light shine for all to see.    

Harking back to those days on the front porch, I often ask myself,  Is the fear of attack, of worldly opinion, concern about being misunderstood or of being too forward or intrusive, keeping me from sharing the healing message that God has for us, keeping me  hiding on the porch, lights out, blinds drawn?   Or is my light shining in the darkness?

The words of a gospel children’s song written in the 1920s by Harry Dixon Loes (1895-1965) is a wonderful reminder.  Here are the words, the first line of each verse:
This little light of mine I'm gonna let it shine
Everywhere I go/I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel Oh no!/I'm going to let it shine
Let it Shine/All the time/Let it shine/Oh yeah!
Jesus gave me the light/I'm gonna let it shine
Don't let the Satan blow it out/I'm going to let it shine

Let it shine,  Let it shine, Let it shine!!!!