Saturday, May 30, 2009

"The world is full of theoretical, one-sided, impractical men, who have turned all the energies of their lives into one faculty until they have developed, not a full-orbed, symmetrical man, but a monstrosity, while all their other faculties have atrophied and died. We often call these one sided men geniuses, and the world excuses their impractical and almost idiotic conduct in most matters, because they can perform one kind of work, that no one else can do as well."

When I read this it reminded me of some Christians I have known who have but one subject, the Bible, which they quote over and over again, "verseoblenders" to quote Matt.

They would call themselves evangelists; now the world may excuse one sided geniuses, but most often the world just ignores the "evangelist" the way they would a persistent Amyway salesman. I doubt our company is enjoyed if we see nothing but through an evangelistic lens. If people are only souls to be saved from hell-fire not people to be listened to and learned from, cared about, enjoyed and appreciated I think we paint a one dimensional portrait of Christ. The photo I chose above shows a one dimensional family, it causes repulsion and has no likeness to reality. I think some people see Christians that way.................. not good.

Picture by Nina Levy

Thursday, May 28, 2009

“When Dickens entered a room,” said one who knew him well, “it was like the sudden kindling of a big fire, by which every one was warmed.”

I read that quote from Orison Marden’s book “Pushing to the Front”; it was in a chapter about manners and I immediately visualized a scene of a London hearth with a warming fire and what a wonderful thing to be said on someone. As Christians we are to show ourselves friendly and to carry the fragrance of Christ, but all too often it is not the case. I read on in the chapter and ran across this –

“A guest for two weeks at the house of Arthur M. Cavanaugh, M.P., who was without arms or legs, was very desirous of knowing how he fed himself; but the conversation and manner of the host were so charming that the visitor was scarcely conscious of his deformity.”

It’s a rare thing to be so engaged and drawn in by a gracious person; but it is a trait that we all admire and would aspire to, although we,(certainly myself), rarely captivate people. I generally spend most of my time trying not to offend them; sometimes I remind my self of what an acquaintance of Carlyle said of him when he saw him for the first time -- “His presence, in some unaccountable manner, rasped the nerves. I expected to meet a rare being, and I left him feeling as if I had drunk sour wine, or had had an attack of seasickness.” But when grace is running freely connections happen that are truly spiritual. I think whether Christian or not, we should aspire to rear our children to be gracious and well mannered.
This chapter has many little stories for example of the best and worst of manners; here’s the good –

“The late King Edward, when Prince of Wales, the first gentleman in Europe, invited an eminent man to dine with him. When coffee was served, the guest, to the consternation of the others, drank from his saucer. An open titter of amusement went round the table. The Prince, quickly noting the cause of the untimely amusement, gravely emptied his cup into his saucer and drank after the manner of his guest. Silent and abashed, the other members of the princely household took the rebuke and did the same.”

Now here’s an illustration of the bad –
“Here is a man who is cross, crabbed, moody, sullen, silent, sulky, stingy, and mean with his family and servants. He refuses his wife a little money to buy a needed dress, and accuses her of extravagance that would ruin a millionaire.
Suddenly the door bell rings. Some neighbors call: what a change! The bear of a moment ago is as docile as a lamb. As by magic he becomes talkative, polite, generous. After the callers have gone, his little girl begs her father to keep on his “company manners” for a little while, but the sullen mood returns and his courtesy vanishes as quickly as it came. He is the same disagreeable, contemptible, crabbed bear as before the arrival of his guests.”

I wish I couldn’t relate to that last story but sad to say it happens too often. But that is why I read things like this to check me, remind me and encourage me to be more Christ like.
Top photo by Stephane Le Gal, bottom photo by Mike Malloy

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"I once killed birds in my wantonness - God forgive me! - merely to test my skill with the rifle. But I received a bitter lesson.

While once passing through the woods I carlelessly fired at a bird, caring only to discharge my gun, so as to make my next fire sure. I wounded a bird which sat upon the fence. I felt guilt stricken at once, and tried to catch it. Failing in that, I thought it would be humanity to shoot it. Before I could load my rifle, it fluttered across the field, where I followed it, and found the panting sufferer at its nest, and the blood dripping upon its young. My cruelty flashed upon me in all its nakedness, and I cringed under my reflections like a guilty butcher as I was." Animal World.

When I was a boy, something like this happened to me and it was not long before I lost interest in hunting. Now I don't condone the animal worship that oozes here in the West. We spend far more on our pets than we do on the orphans or widows; but suffice to say; cruelty in any form is evil in its fullness.

While looking for a picture to go with this post I found the following piece on the Four Stages of Cruelty. I think it pretty much covers the issue --

Hogarth's Modern Moral Series: The Four Stages of Cruelty.
Hogarth tells us that the images ‘were done in the hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind, than any thing what ever, the very describing of which gives pain’.

First Stage of Cruelty

This street scene shows a group of youths, almost all of whom are participating in or encouraging the abuse of animals and birds. Boys are seen tying a bone to a dog’s tail, cauterising the eyes of a bird, stringing up kittens from a signpost or cockfighting.
The worst abuse is being inflicted by Nero, who pushes an arrow into the anus of a terrified dog being restrained by two other boys. Another youth is distressed by what Nero is doing and attempts to stop him by offering a tart. To the left of Nero, a boy draws a hanged man on the wall and points at him, underlining the inevitable: that Nero’s behaviour will deteriorate further and cost him his life.

Second Stage of Cruelty

This scene suggests that the abuse of animals is widespread in the streets of London. On the left Nero (now grown-up) beats his horse, the poor creature having collapsed under the strain of the cart. This is overladen with four lawyers, who are too penny-pinching to hire two carts and insensitive to the suffering they are causing.
On the left a poster displayed near the door of ‘Thavies Inn Coffee House’ advertises ‘Broughton’s Amphitheatre’, a well-known venue for boxing. ‘James Field’ and ‘George Taylor’, named below, were celebrated pugilists.
Importantly, Field was hanged for highway robbery eleven days before Hogarth’s print was published, thus establishing an interrelationship between violent sports, entertainments and criminality.

Cruelty in Perfection - Third stage of cruelty

Nero has embarked on a life of highway robbery. He is seen here being apprehended after committing a murder in the dead of night.
As with Tom Idle in Industry and Idleness, Hogarth underlines that the reality of being a highwayman is far from the glamorous, romantic existence presented by popular heroes such as Captain Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera.
Indeed, Nero’s grotesque appearance conveys the inherent viciousness of his character and brutalising way of life. His victim, Ann Gill, his lover and partner-in-crime, lies prostrate on the floor, her throat slit. Her swollen stomach makes it clear that she was pregnant.

The Reward of Cruelty - Fourth stage of cruelty.

As a piece of propaganda, this macabre image was calculated to deromanticise criminality and its consequences. It takes place in the Cutlerian theatre near Newgate prison.
Nero has been hanged at Tyburn and, as was the case with other executed criminals, his body is being dissected for the purpose of studying anatomy. The chief surgeon sits in the centre on a high-backed chair with the royal coat of arms hanging above, thus resembling a high court judge. This neatly represents the official process of judgement and punishment, which in the case of hanged criminals could extend beyond death itself.
The skeletons of dissected criminals were usually refused a Christian burial and subsequently displayed as specimens, as can be seen in the niches to the left and right.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

We have been blessed with an unusually warm spring this year and I think it must be my favorite time of year. Everything is bursting into a riot of color. Everywhere I look there is a sprout, bud or bloom. The many shades of green just energize the days. I ran across the following piece on Resurrection as it relates to Spring and I can't think of a better way to begin a day than with such a delightful read; hope you enjoy it.

"It is the Resurrection season, and the glad word itself shall be our theme today. We will simply say it over and over, and listen to the echoes which it raises among our thoughts. It is the word in which the twins Death and Life declare themselves to be not two, but one; and the echoes, although vague, must needs be strong and musical, and they will bring us hints from afar. Not all from afar, however: the echo which reaches us first, from the hills and fields, sounds near. Very beautiful, was it not? That picture of the opening springtime which I gathered from our Bible, catching here a glimpse and there a glimpse as it lies reflected in the song of psalmist and prophet, and of Jesus, who had so often watched it as a boy on the hills of Galilee. Doubtless He used to go out to gather early lilies and note the green garments of the fresh young grass. Ten million, million tiny strugglers on our hills and in our fields today are trying to show us that ours, too, is Holy Land. The flowers have begun to greet us in our walks, - dumb angels, with faces all ashine with the glad tidings that the Savior-season hath arisen.

And how nearly universal the Resurrection is! The green tide comes pouring up from the South, pressing over the hills and running through the river-valleys, and presently not one inch that can wear green but is bathed in the living glory. The trees, swelling with buds, set their brown nets in its path, and soon the meshes are full of crinkled leafage into their rooty arms, and the vines creep up their bodies. No secret place is left unvisited by Spring. The lone plant in a desert, the seed buried under a dead leaf in the wood or prisoned in the crevice of a city pavement feel the touch and turn to life again. Within the room of a sick girl, in a foul city garret, stands a solitary rose in an earthen pitcher, cut off, like a caged bird, from the companionship of kin. The Spring flying over, knows the spot, stops, and bids the plant and the sick one turn again to life and beauty. She works for no eyes. She works for all eyes. The green deep of the forests, the deep of your little parlor fernery, turning to a tropical jungle, - both are alike to her; and all her work is finished with equal exquisiteness."
W.C. Gannett

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

“A description of Mr. Opie Read, the American humorist, reveals heart-sorrow where the reader has seen nothing but mirth. “Sometimes”, says the writer, “his work is marked by the deepest pathos. He had lost two of his children, to whom he was devotedly attached, and these melancholy events made very marked impressions on the man and his work. ‘When one of my babies died,’ said he, in talking of the matter to me, ‘I was working for a magazine, and I was required to do just so much work every day. I was compelled to do it – it was my only means of support. During that awful time I would frequently rock the cradle of my dying babe for hours at the time. With one hand I rocked that cradle of death, and with the other I was writing stuff to make people laugh. I sobbed and wept, and watched that angel and wrote that stuff, and I felt every minute as if my heart would burst. And yet some people think this funny business is all sunshine. Sometimes even now I see articles floating around that I wrote while under that shadow of death, and occasionally some editor will preface these very things with some such remark as, “The genial and sunny-souled Opie Read says so and so,”
Yes, about these same things that I penned when my babe was dying and my heart was bursting.’”

When I read this story (author unknown) Psalms 14:10 came to my mind – “The heart knows its own bitterness and a stranger does not share its joy”. One never knows what another is going through even though they may seem perfectly content. Each has his own burden to bear and we will never know the great weight some are under, because they carry it without apparent strain. Psalms 14: 13 goes along with this theme as well – “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief”.
Painting by Lord Frederick Leighton

Monday, May 18, 2009

I’m the proud owner of my first Peter Rollin’s book. This is his new book of parables. I have to share the second parable in his book; it is so relevant to Western culture.

“Jesus withdrew privately by boat to a solitary place, but the crowds continued to follow him. Evening was now approaching and the people, many of whom had traveled a great distance, were growing hungry.
Seeing this, Jesus sent his disciples out to gather food, but all they could find were five loaves of bread and two fishes. Then Jesus asked that they go out again and gather up the provisions that the crowds had brought to sustain them in their travels. Once this was accomplished, a vast mountain of fish and bread stood before Jesus. Upon seeing this he directed the people to sit down on the grass.
Standing before the food and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks to God and broke the bread. Then he passed the food among his twelve disciples. Jesus and his friends ate like kings in full view of the starving people. But what was truly amazing, what was miraculous about this meal, was that when they had finished the massive banquet there were not even enough crumbs left to fill a starving person’s hand.

The initial shock of this story relates to the way that it inscribes selfish and inhumane actions onto Christ himself by twisting the story we all know of Jesus feeding the multitude. While it would seem perfectly acceptable to attack governments, corporations, and individuals for failing to distribute goods appropriately and turning away from the poorest among us who suffer as a direct result of our greed, it would seem inappropriate to read such inhumanity into the actions of Christ himself. If anything, Christ was one who demonstrated a life of joyful simplicity, radical healing, and unimaginable love. Christ challenges us to look outward, and thus he should not be the one whom we condemn.
Yet in the Bible we read that those who follow Christ are nothing less than the manifestations of his body in the world today. The presence of Christ in the world is said to be directly encountered in the presence of those who gather together in his name. In very concrete terms, people learn of Christ through those who claim to live out the way of Christ. However, if Christ is proclaimed in the life of his followers, if the body of believers is thought to manifest the body of Christ in the world, then we must stop, draw breath, and ask ourselves whether the above tale reflects how Christ is presented to the world today, at least in the minds of those who witness the lifestyle of Christians in the West.”
The Orthodox Heretic, Peter Rollins - Photo from the Internet

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"You know, I hate Christian people," said a poor English girl dying in Paris, "because all that they give is good advice. They do not know how to take a girl by the hand and save her. They build fine institutions for us when we are lost; but who will build one to prevent us being so? Do they know that many a girl sins to live?"
Words can never express the dying energy with which these words were spoken, or the bitterness with which they sank into the heart of the only one, save God, who heard them. To the lady who visited this dying girl, in connection with Miss Leigh's Homes and whose kindness gave this girl new thoughts about some Christians, the dying girl said: "Let me die on something of yours -- the pillow on which your own head rests." The request was readily granted, and there was good hope that the poor, tired soul was led to rest on the bosom of Him, whose messenger had brought her the first clear evidence of Christian love."

This little story really struck me. Some nameless Christian woman came to the aid of this dying, wayward girl, and made such an impact on her that the girl asked that she may die on something of her new Christian friend. Somehow that just penetrates me and makes me admire the kind of tenderness and lovingkindness that would impact a person to make such a sweet request.
"Let me die on something of yours"; that so gets to me. Will I ever impact someone to feel that way about me? I doubt it will ever be so, but I wish it were.
This is someone with a true gift of mercy and a heart filled with the holiness of God. To be able to endear someone like in a lifetime is one thing, but in a short time? that is so inspiring to me.

I chose this smiling face of a volunteer in Burma as an example of someone on their way learning of this grace.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

“From the time that the mother binds the child’s head till the moment that some kind assistant wipes the damp from the brow of the dying, we cannot exist without mutual aid.
All, therefore, that need aid have a right to ask it from their fellow-mortals. None who have the power of granting aid can refuse it without guilt.”

I like this thought; it made me stop and ponder its truth. I was raised to be self-reliant, and I think it is a good thing if not taken too far. This quote made me consider that there may be times we don’t think we need others, we can make it on our own, or we won’t accept charity, but the times are coming in life, when if not for others, we would doubtless suffer greatly. There are occasions in the nursing home when a new resident is admitted and they resent being dependent, and are very difficult and belligerent, but in the last years of one’s life, we will become increasingly dependent whether we like it or not. When these prideful people come and refuse to cooperate with the staff, they are simply put on medications that make them more compliant. It is sad to see but if one needs help and refuses it to their hurt, what choice is there? In the end when we are in the throws of dying, we will cry out for someone to help us, and in our culture there will be someone there to “damp the brow” and help ease us into death. Thank God for caring nurses, family and volunteers. On the flip side, bringing a child into the world leaves us equally dependent; and once again we have need of care givers.
All through life we need some degree of assistance, as nurse, teacher, doctor, or just the social needs we are designed with. So his point of being eager to help others struck me in a deeper and fuller way. When rearing children and one of them suffered a serious accident, I will always remember the gratitude I felt when my child was finally in the care of a doctor.

Samuel Smiles - photo by Richard Baillie

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"But it is needful we should know that we have no sufficiency in ourselves, and, in order to know it, we must feel it; and, therefore, the Lord sometimes withdraws His sensible influence, and then the buzzing of a fly will be an overmatch for our patience; as other times, He will show us what He can do in us and for us: then we can adopt the apostle's words and say, " I can do and suffer all things through Christ strengthening me."

I always enjoy the lessons on humility that John Newton has; I can spend a day where God has graced me with his presence so bountifully that I think I am quite the man of God; then to remind me of where the power comes from, and to whom it belongs, He withdraws and I am left, like Newton's illustration, cursing a house fly. We are a strange lot indeed.

Picture from the Internet

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I have this picture in a collection of Cemetery art that I have captured off the Internet, and when I read this piece by Samuel Rutherford I thought it the perfect match. Of all the counsel I have ever heard to a grieving parent who has lost a child, I think this is about the only thing that may bring some comfort.

"But what! do you think her lost, when she is but sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? Think her not absent who is in such a friend's house. Is she lost to you who is found to Christ? If she were with a dear friend, although you should never see her again, your care for her would be but small. Oh now, is she not with a dear friend, and gone higher, upon a certain hope that you shall in the resurrection see her again, when (be you sure) she shall neither be hectic nor consumed in body!......
Now your daughter was a part of yourself; and therefore nature in you, being, as it were, cut and halved, will indeed be grieved; but you have to rejoice, that when a part of you is on earth, a great part of you is glorified in heaven."
A letter to a friend April 23, 1628
Well, I've finally succeeded in bringing my entire body to fatigue; every muscle is screaming and in pain to the very marrow of my bones. My typing is hindered by two blisters between my fingers but I have survived a sunny weekend in Oregon! You see it is a rare event when a weekend in May provides sunshine, and any gardener knows one must make hay while the sun shines. So I took Friday off and worked non-stop from Friday morning until about an hour ago.
My blood has stopped pulsing with fatigue, the tremors have subsided in my fingers so I can type, and I have enough energy to sit upright; So, now to catch up on my blog. I included a picture of the side of my house which is bursting with new life and blooms are popping and others on the verge. I love to walk in my garden and anticipate blooms to come and enjoy the early birds. But it is work, more work than I remember in my younger days.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


"The true way to feel rich is not so much by amassing a tremendous fortune as by putting a curb upon our own desires. It is of self-restraint that the feeling of prosperity is begotten. When Diogenes went to a country fair, and observed the ribbons, and the mirrors, and the fiddles, and the hobby-horses, and the various other nick-nacks that are always to be found at such places, he exclaimed, "Lord, how many things there are in the world, of which Diogenes hath no need!" He felt rich, though his personal possessions were but few.
It was the same individual who, when requested by Alexander the Great to demand a favor, asked the conqueror of the world to stand from between him and the sun, whose light and warmth he was at the time enjoying." -- Beaten Paths
I was looking back for a quote on my blog and ran across this old post. It is about five years old and so I decided to replay it because most of us don't go back to earlier posts on peoples blogs. Either way, it's worth repeating and I think I will do that from time to time and call it "Replay".
I love this picture and it seems to capture the spirit of the quote; sun on her face, simply tea and conversation.
Photo by Jose A. Gallego
Please forgive me as I gloat a little on one of my grandsons. This is Nic, who is not yet six years old, out with his father Matt catching a wave in Thailand.
Pretty impressive if you ask his grandpa.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Passing Crowd

“The passing crowd” is a phrase coined in the spirit of indifference. Yet, to a man of what Plato calls “universal sympathies,” and even to the plain ordinary denizens of this world, what can be more interesting than “the passing crowd?”
Does not this tide of human beings, which we daily see passing along the ways of this world, consist of persons animated by the same spark of the divine essence, and partaking of the same high destinies with ourselves? Let us stand still but for a moment in the midst of this busy, and seemingly careless scene, and consider what they are or may be whom we see around us. In the hurry of the passing show, and of our own sensations, we see but a series of unknown faces; but this is no reason why we should regard them with indifference. Many of these persons, if we knew their histories, would rivet our admiration, by the ability, worth, benevolence, or piety, which they have displayed in their various paths through life. Many would excite our warmest interest by their sufferings – sufferings perhaps, borne meekly and well, and more for the sake of others than themselves. How many tales of human weal and woe, of glory and of humiliation, could be told by those beings, whom, in passing, we regard not!......

These, I humbly think, are reasons why we should not look with coldness upon any masses of men with whom it may be our lot to mingle."
When I read this piece it has certainly rung true in my experience. Regardless of the appearance, position, status, people all have a story, and all matter to God and so should matter to me. Shame on me for rushing through life negligent of these thoughts. The times when I have struck up conversations with strangers have nearly always been productive in some way, whether it be spiritual, humorous, or fascinating. Everyone has a story to tell.
Robert Chambers - Photo from the Internet

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My seventeen year old granddaughter Carissa was invited to visit a church with a friend she grew up with. I went along with her out of curiosity having learned there was a new Pastor there. We found our seats and I began surveying the congregation, facility and all the things we humans do. About two rows up to my right sat a thirty something white couple holding two 18 month old girls. The girls were dark black skinned, almost ebony. To find words to describe how cute they were is far beyond my vocabulary but I immediately felt like there must be something of God going on here when orphans are included.

The friend of Carissa is a seventeen year old boy, Josh, who’s father just ran off with another woman and left the state. Josh decided on his own that this was where he wanted to worship and he normally comes alone. The worship music began and there was a sweet spell cast over me and apparently over Josh and Carissa as well, if one can judge by flowing tears. While we worshiped it seemed as though the lyrics of every song applied to the wounded and I could imagine Josh hiding in the cleft of God’s refuge. Here all was good; here pain was eased, comfort applied, hope restored.
As the service concluded I was hard at figuring a way I could tactfully get a squeeze on one of the little orphan girls. I found the mother alone with one of the girls on her back nearly asleep; I introduced myself and conversation came easy as we each shared bits of our faith and circumstance. I asked if I could give her daughter a little hug and after she agreed I moved in close to this angelic gift which had now lapsed into slumber. I gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek and she didn’t even stir, but my heart filled up with the miracle of it all. I think I have bathed in the after glow of that sweet, soft little cheek all day.

Later in the afternoon we went to the nursing home and I noticed a woman sitting in the hallway right outside of the open room we worship in. She had tears in her eyes and I approached her to see if I could comfort her in some way. She had dementia and had just recently been admitted. She was at a loss as to where her husband was. She kept asking me if I had seen him and she just couldn’t understand why he had left her waiting there. The more she talked the more she wept and as I hugged her I found no words that could relieve her. It was a sobering and sorrowful way to begin the service but as I left her there, with no resolution, I was prepared to speak in a more fervent way. The need for a Savior was so clearly etched in my mind by this time that I frequently fought back tears; tears of joy that we have a place, an answer to it all; and I felt privileged to proclaim it.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon in my garden with the memories of lingering kisses, hugs and worship interchanging in my mind as the springtime works its miracle of new life. It is good to be a Christian.
Photo by Federica Fortunati