Too Simple


nacho

2 Corinthians 1:12: I tell you that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom, but solely by the grace of God. (Paul)

I don’t know if you enjoy simple things. I know I do. Maybe it’s because I’m rather simple myself. The world just seems so complicated sometimes, and it is a relief to retreat from that and enjoy what’s easy and, well, simple.

Take having a cat, for example. I know, our cat Nacho can get me up at 4 AM wanting to be fed (and she is always wanting to be fed) if I don’t leave her enough food for overnight. But that’s my fault, not hers, and when we lie on the bed reading or watching television or whatever and she snuggles close to us for warmth and companionship and purrs until she falls asleep and starts making funny little snoring sounds. If we get up for any reason and she’s awake, she moves over to lie where we were (for warmth or maybe also partly out of affection, I’m sure). Dislodging her can prove difficult. She’s an insistent cat, and she doesn’t want to give up her warm nest for someone six times her size and 190 pounds heavier. If she’s lying in the floor where we want to walk, we have to step over her. She’s not moving for anyone no matter how much they weigh or how much they feed her.

Nacho’s purring and presence create a sense of coziness and peace for us, but those cat sounds have actual health benefits. A purring cat can calm nerves, lower the risk of a heart attack by 40%, decrease blood pressure, lead to greater bone strength, and heal bones and muscles. Maybe doctors and hospitals could dole out cats to take home instead of prescriptions!

Obviously, inspite of some of the complications introduced by technology, inventions and improvements have made life much simpler through the years. Most of us in this country no longer have to fetch water from the river or warm ourselves solely by fireplaces or walk everywhere if we want to go someplace. Technology has made all this possible. None of us would want to spend months crossing an ocean or spin our own wool for the pleasure of wearing scratchy clothes.

It occurs to me that, in spite of the complex theology that has evolved around Christianity, becoming a Christian itself is the height of simplicity. We don’t have to pass an exam or run for miles or starve ourselves to achieve salvation. No, we have to answer a simple question and we are taken care of for eternity. That question is “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he came to earth to die for your sins so that you might live forever?” That’s all there is to it. We answer “yes” and we’re on our way. And when we are, we feel impelled to ask others the same question and await their answer. Then it’s up to them—they can’t be forced or tortured into giving the right answer. The idea of this unforced answer is also simple, and we should be glad for it.

Praise God for simplicity in this cosmically huge and complicated universe, for the simplicity of the question that makes us children of God, and for the death of Jesus Christ our Lord on the cross so that me might experience this beautiful and amazing simplicity both now and forever more. Amen.

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The Seeds of Peace

seeds-of-peace

Beth Johnson, an energetic thirty-something originally from Wisconsin, is a woman on a mission. Literally.

She will spend three weeks at a school in Cartagena, Colombia teaching English to local children at the Granitos de Paz School (which means, “Seeds of Peace”), assisting in other classrooms, helping with gym classes or in the cafeteria and in any other way I can.

She became interested in going there after going through the website of  the “A Broader View Volunteers program (https://www.abroaderview.org/) which directed her to the Granitos de Paz Foundation.

“I really love working with children, and the school dedicates itself to reaching out to them at an earlier young age to encourage them to learn and grow in order to have a successful future and to improve their quality of life.

“My trip will be coordinated through a company called A Broader View which has been doing that over ten years now.”

And her family’s reaction?

“They’re excited that I have this opportunity, and my husband has been my biggest supporter.”

She credits her love for children, babysitting and working as a nanny for a number of years for her interest in doing something more with them.

She also gained experience that would help her with this mission.

“During a summer in college I worked as a camp counselor where I taught children Spanish. I also attended school in Mexico for a few months and gained an appreciation of the people and culture from that.

“For me, learning about a culture is just as important as learning the language. What I learned about the culture in Mexico helped me connect with people on a whole new level. I found the more interest I showed in learning the culture or about the country, the more people would open up and share their stories. I also succeeded in building a level of trust with them.”

Beth goes well-prepared for her work there. “I have a degree in Spanish and, of course, knowing the language will be a huge help. I have also been fortunate to learn how ESOL classes are taught by observing Maureen Howe work with her ESOL students from several countries in the Manassas Baptist Church program. I am gaining experience about how to teach these students. Maureen put me to work helping students right away! That was all right with me since I like to jump right into whatever I am doing, and I think that combined with my outgoing personality will allow me to help out in a number of ways once I am there.”

Beth doesn’t believe being in another country will pose a problem for her. “I love learning new things and about new cultures and being busy doing that will keep my mind off other things. My husband and I have now lived in three states, so we already rely on social media, email and calls to stay in touch with family and friends.”

And what does she hope to bring back from this experience?

“I hope to return with the satisfaction that I made a difference in the children’s lives and with the hopes that I was able to show these children that they can do anything they put their minds to.”

Beth smiled as she finished talking. “I am so excited to have the opportunity to participate in this program and know that it will be a humbling experience. I am blessed to be able to help out in this way.”

(For more information about the Granitos de Paz Foundation, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44ACWtK5zeQ for a video To donate to the school, visit https://www.abroaderview.org/fundraising/colombia/201-want-to-make-a-difference-in-a-child-s-life/details for one more week.)

 

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Please DON’T Take Me Out to the Ball Game

losing-fans

Oh, the humanity…

I want to whine for a while.

No, not about the election, although there’s certainly a lot to complain about there.

Here’s what it’s about: losing.

And no, it’s not about me losing or being a loser, although I have had losses, like everyone else, and have been accused of being a loser. But I ignore that.

It’s about losing baseball in Washington.

I’m sure you know. Who doesn’t after having suffered through season after season without winning the big prize. It has been ninety-two years since a Washington team won the World Series. Calvin Coolidge was President. And, you name your choice of invention or ideas we’re all familiar with today, and they didn’t exist. Some of them hadn’t even been thought of.

So, what gives? Is it the players or the management or the fans (I think not) or the stadium or the weather?

It’s definitely not low salaries.

Maybe it’s The Curse. Maybe we are as cursed as the Red Sox were after they traded away Babe Ruth. Nothing else would explain having two teams leave town in this century and being without Major League Baseball for thirty-six years. If you want to include nineteenth century clubs, we had eight teams in 36 years during those years. Most of these groups lasted only a year. Five of them were called the Nationals. One went by the Senators.

Permanent our baseball clubs ain’t.

Neither do winning seasons come to stay.

I’m going to sulk and pout for about six months.

Then spring training will and I will have forgotten all this. What else would explain why I continue to be so constant and faithful in my support of my team for years? Selective amnesia is a wonderful thing.

So, thanks for the great regular season, Mssrs. Zimmerman, Werth, Ramos, Espinosa, Belisle, Burnett, Carpenter, Cole, Davis, Giolito, Glover, Gonzalez, Gott, Grace, Hill, Janssen, Kelley, Latos, Lopez, Martin, Melancon, Papelbon, Perez,  Petit, Rivero , Roark, Rzepczynski, Scherzer, Solis, Stammen, Strasburg, Treinen, Kieboom,      Lobaton, Severino, Carroll, Difo, Drew, Moore, Murphy, Perez,    Rendon, Robinson, Stewart, Turner, Godwin, Goodwin,      Hairston, Harper, Heisey, Johnson, Keyes, Revere, and Taylor.

Don’t let the gate hit you in the rear on the way out.

Wait ‘til next year. See you in April.

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Get Back

Get Back

I took a break from writing earlier this summer, with mixed results. I put my sixth novel, On the Wings of Noontide, on hiatus until September, and didn’t take my laptop when we went to the British Isles in June. Then we were at the Music and Worship Arts Camp in early August, followed by our own music camp at the church a couple of weeks later. There didn’t seem to be much time for writing.

After all that was over, I decided that I should do some writing, but found it difficult. And not only could I not write: I couldn’t come up with ideas to write about. I felt a kind of absence in my mind as I found I wasn’t inspired by ordinary events and encounters which had given me ideas and subjects for writing for years. I lazed around the house, taking naps and watching movies. But the writing wasn’t there.

After about a week of this, I decided I was going to write something, even if I hurt myself doing so. I fired up my computer, called up a blank page and sat there and looked at it. And looked at it. And looked at it. I must have sat there for twenty minutes before I started putting some words down. I wanted to write a devotional for my choir with the title “Coming Home.” I struggled with the first paragraph, deleting and adding and finally tossing the whole thing out and starting over again. The words started to come more easily by then, and as I finished the paragraph, it was almost as if I felt something lock into place. I was back.

I finished the devotional quickly, but what’s more important, I was able to find ideas and themes in everyday life and ordinary encounters. I found inspiration in the book I was reading, in television commercials, in going to restaurants and observing people there and in going down the stairs with my cat Nacho.

I felt like I had learned some things. Taking a break from writing is fine, but writers need to expect that there can be some negative consequences. It’s axiomatic that we as writers need to write every day. If we don’t, the ability to find ideas and put them into words vanishes, and it takes some effort to recover that ability. I’m glad that my recovery wasn’t any worse than it could have been, and I’m so happy to “get back to where I once belonged.”

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Caravan

Caravan

Yesterday, sitting at a table near the door

Of a restaurant, I saw a family—

Mother, father, daughter in her early teens—

They passed by me, and

As I watched them leave, it seemed to me

That they had the gait of a camel,

All of them, going by with their

Slow dromedary walk,

And for an instant, I was transported

To a land of hot suns and blazing sands

Where caravans of man and beast,

Laden with untold treasures,

Make their way to exotic and mysterious cities

With a slow dromedary walk.

 

Dan Verner

August 1, 2016

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Realization

Nacho

The cat ascends the stairs more quickly than I

But we go down them together,

She two steps ahead, looking back in mid-staircase

To see if I am there.

I wonder if she thinks I will disappear if she doesn’t check.

Usually we go to the kitchen so I can feed her

And, that done, we climb the stairs again.

Later, she asks with an outstretched paw if she might

Sit in the window and watch birds in the trees and

Traffic on the street.

She hates being picked up, but when I raise the blinds and sash,

She purrs when I lift her to the sill.

She sits there a moment, looking around

And then I take her from her perch

And deposit her on the floor.

Still later, she invites me to take a nap with her

By going to the bedroom door and looking back.

When I lie down, she stretches herself out

At a forty-five degree angle to my body

And we sleep like that,

Two aging creatures who are

Not what we used to be

And not what we will become.

 

Dan Verner

August 2, 2016

 

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What I Don’t Understand

Puzzled

Well, the list is long, so I’ll limit myself to three or four things. And I know some of these things that make no sense to me make perfect sense to other people, so I hope you’ll understand if I’m not on board with these interests and preoccupations, some of which might be your favorites. It’s just the way I am.

First on my list is adult coloring books. I know they’re wildly popular, but I don’t understand why. Some people find coloring in hundreds of tiny shapes to be relaxing and renewing, but even looking at a page covered with those geometric designs sets my teeth on edge. For me, the thought of using colored pencils or crayons or whatever to complete a design seems more tedious than soothing. So I’ll pass on the coloring books, thank you.

Next up (pun intended) is the ridiculous spectacle of an intentional walk. I understand that there are times when a manager wants to fill first base to set up a double play or force-out, but is it necessary to go through the faux drama of a pitcher and catcher tossing the ball back and forth four times? I think not. Just award the batter first base and get on with it. Baseball is sometimes criticized for being a slow game (which is one reason I like it. It’s possibly on your list of things you don’t understand for that reason), and intentional walks don’t help. I know they wouldn’t speed matters up that much, but maybe it would make someone happier. Someone like me.

Two sports complete my list: cricket and curling. I have watched cricket games, read articles and even had a student from Pakistan try to explain the sport to me, but nothing helped. I keep thinking that it should make sense since it resembles baseball, but not so much. My student told me he didn’t understand baseball, so I told him I would explain the sport to him if he would help me appreciate cricket. After a month or so, he understood some of the rudiments of baseball, but cricket remained a mystery to me. Maybe I’m thick, but I just don’t get it.

Actually, if I think about it, I understand curling (It’s like bowling with a tea kettle. On ice.). I just don’t see why anyone would want to watch it. I’m sure the curlers (if that’s what they’re called) enjoy being out on the ice and exercising with their brooms, but baseball by comparison is hyperkinetic, even with intentional walks. I dunno. Maybe curlers had to find something to do in the winter when they couldn’t play baseball. Or cricket.

So, these are a few things I don’t understand. I’ll try to think of some more and write about them. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your reaction to my list and I’d also like to know a few things you don’t understand. Share your thoughts and ideas with me, and thanks for reading.

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