My shameful proclivity for superficiality


Enjoying a mug of hot tea
tonight I find it a reliable source
of comfort, to help ease away the
mental and physical distress
lingering on from a hectic day.
I’ve slumped into the soft cushions
of the love seat, the dog at my feet,
snuggled up next to my slippers,
that mug of my favorite
Ceylon Orange Pekoe steaming
on the table to my left by the lamp
with its warm white glow a friendly
assurance that darkness and fear
this night must keep their distance.
I didn’t actually brew it from tea leaves.
I just dip the bag right out of the box
into microwaved hot water, a thought
that makes me realize I’m not much of
a connoisseur when it comes to teas,
nor to wine.

I do like an occasional glass or two,
and I appreciate my Porto, tawny or ruby,
especially to help take the bite out of a
chilly Spring evening. But I could not
discuss with you the unique subtleties of
a Cab or a Merlot.

I’m usually prompted to make
my selection from the maze of displays
at the liquor store based on the
label design presenting the most
creative artwork and attractive typeface;
yet another realization that reminds me
of how I sometimes perceive people,
from the outside, like the proverbial
judgment of a book by its cover.
I can’t count how many editions of
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein I’ve wanted
to grab off the shelf just because of
the graphics on the jacket cover.
That in itself, a bit scary.

Such was my experience last week at
Bob’s Discount Wine and Spirits Outlet.
Cautiously inspecting it as though it were
some sort of mysterious, magical elixir,
I stood there wondering what would
actually come pouring out of this enticing
yet unfamiliar bottle of White Zin I had in
my hand and what might be fermenting
behind that anonymous face staring
at me from the next aisle over.
Perhaps in either case, a vintage
from the grapes of wrath.


Hello 2017!

I really appreciate and enjoy the cycles of nature. There is a time to plant, and a time to reap. Night and day. The four seasons. The calendar year – which we have an opportunity to begin anew today. I like seeing the moon waxing and waning across the sky. Like our long ago ancestors, I’m pretty sure that after the winter solstice, the sun will begin its climb upward, giving us a little more light day by day until the June equinox. Then we head backwards again for six months. Even the weather can have a certain rhythm to it, as warm and cold fronts come and go and high and low pressure systems race over the globe. There can always be some surprises thrown in now and then. Here in Nebraska we say, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around cuz it’ll change soon.”

I think God had a good idea when He made our environment this way. It’s a chance to periodically launch a new beginning. Every morning when the alarm buzzes, I know I have a fresh start at life. The so-called weeping prophet Jeremiah declares that the mercies of God never fail; that they are new every morning. And that’s after three chapters of lamenting over the immense suffering and distress of God’s people, whose arrogant disobedience brought them ruin and capture through the Babylonian invasion. But as is so often recorded and acclaimed throughout the Old Testament, after correction comes redemption.

So today it’s time to switch out the kitchen calendar, to start remembering to write the correct year on our checks. Ooops. But most importantly, this is a good day to realize that a “do over” is possible. Like taking a mulligan on the golf course, unless you’re touring the tournament circuit. Even if we messed up last year, our prodigal Father God is looking for us to come back home, to get back into the family where we belong. My New Year’s resolutions may include a long list of behaviors and attitudes I need to work on, but primarily I’ve resolved to truly surrender my life and all it involves on a daily basis to the Lord. That’s almost like having another January 1 every day.

Have a wonderful 2017 everyone!

Saddest Night of the Year

The evening wouldn’t be proper without hearing the tune Auld Lang Syne, to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight. Every year I have to look it up because I have forgotten the meaning. Originally a poem penned by Scottish bard and lyricist Robert Burns in 1788, the song’s title may be translated into our modern-day English as “long, long ago,” “days gone by” or “for the sake of old times.” The familiar first four lines pose a rhetorical question:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

Starting in 1929, renowned bandleader Guy Lombardo and his orchestra performed undoubtedly the most recognizable version of the song on New Year’s Eve for decades. Search for it on Spotify. It sounds like a funeral dirge. Maybe because we are in mourning for the end of the year? Putting it to bed for the last time so to speak. For whatever reason, hearing it and thinking about closing yet another annual chapter of my life always makes me more sad than festive.

Don’t get me wrong. In my younger days, I was guilty of my fair share of shameless debauchery in celebrating the evening away into mindless oblivion, with regrettable results. Of course my first resolution the following day was always, “I’ll never do that again.”

So hours before and after the ball drops in Times Square, there will be millions of folks reveling around the world. Lots of merriment and cheer. Truth is, that will probably go out the window or down the toilet tomorrow, when normalcy dawns with an aggressive hangover headache.

I’ve nothing against partying – within legal, healthy physical and emotional limits, of course. But I guess in finally aging into responsible maturity I have found other ways to express a sensinew-years-eve-clockble sense of rowdiness. I’ve no need to blow up leftover Fourth of July M-80s or to fire gunshots into the below-freezing midnight sky. Go ahead. Do it if you have to.

But the wife and I plan to spend the final hours of 2016 in relative comfort in the sanctuary of our home. First we’ll enjoy a home-cooked, medium-rare prime rib and all the fixins dinner. I may even crack open an ice cold can of Sam Adams Winter Lager (Santa left me a 12-pack). Afterwards I will probably spend some time in the easy chair reviewing the year in quiet meditation. Last January, the Lord presented me with a challenge to be more resourceful and deliberate with my time, to make what I do with my life count, and especially to have an encouraging, inspirational impact on other men for the kingdom of God. I will ask Him how I did.

Before the midnight hour though, I will probably doze off and miss the dessert round of a taped episode of the Food Network’s Chopped. When the fireworks go off around the neighborhood, the dog will bark, and the wife and I will wake up to a new year – to be thankful for each other, our health and well being, our family, for old acquaintances never to be forgotten, and joining in with the aged poet, “We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

Headline: Baby Boy Born To Save World

For Americans, this has been a year of politics at its worst in campaigning for the highest office in the land. Millions of dollars were spent just to seize a four-year long opportunity to occupy that renowned chair in the White House as Chief Executive of the most powerful country on earth.

This Christmas season then especially as I read again what the prophet Isaiah wrote 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, I can’t help but see an obvious contrast between what men – or women – will do for a position of power versus how God operates in expressing His rightful ultimate authority. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 KJV) Sound familiar? Handel included this verse in perhaps one of the most famous of choruses in his 1741 Messiah oratorio. Chances are you have or will hear it on the radio or at a church service. There are enough theological statements in this scripture to contemplate and write a book or two about, but for today, the phrase that speaks to me concerns the government being on His shoulder. It’s a metaphor of course, a symbolic and very visual representation of a real circumstance yet to be realized.

Think about it. The same shoulder that bore the cross up the bloody road to Calvary will carry the glorious weight of governing the nations of the world, no longer the enterprise of either good or evil men. He will reign in righteousness on the throne of David with a scepter of compassion in one hand and a rod of iron in the other. And so will be fulfilled another messianic prophecy: “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore.” (Is. 2:3-4)

But as for now, as it has been for countless centuries, the world remains full of suffering people, especially in the lands of the Bible. The solution to conflict and war will not come from a political party’s agenda, or a UN resolution, or even from the good will of well-intentioned religious men. What we need now more than ever is the Prince of Peace. But His appearance will come at a great expense. It means that the almighty creator of the universe would lay down His divine rights and become like His creation, in the form of a helpless child, born in a hostile land occupied by a brutal Roman Empire; and it ultimately would cost His innocent life as a sacrificed lamb for the sins of the world. There will be a cost required also for his followers: If you want to be my disciples, He said, deny yourself, take up your own cross and then you can follow Me.

In a couple weeks, on the steps of the capitol building in Washington, D.C., a change of administration will take place. Like so many others before him, a president-elect will swear the oath of office and a new perspective on how this United States should be governed will begin to take shape. Sooner or later, though, the long foretold epiphany of the most momentous transition of all time will finally be accomplished. It will be apocalyptic – the commencement of an everlasting government, the kingdom of God in power and glory on earth – so much more ambitious than any human effort to build a novus ordo seclorum, boasted about on our dollar bills; and far outlasting famed Egyptian and Chinese dynasties, it will be forever, not a proposed mere thousand year Reich.

A foreshadowing, a hint of this transition from man’s way back to God’s way has already begun, long ago on that silent and holy night in a little town called Bethlehem, in a stable, in a manger. As Isaiah wrote, a child is given, the Son of God, to save the world, to bring us long sought-after and longed for peace.

This is truly good news! It should be every newspaper’s headline. Or Breaking News on CNN and Fox News. Remember what the angel told the shepherds: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (KJV) Even Charlie Brown has heard about it! Like Linus said on stage to the Peanuts gang after quoting it, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

To all my readers, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and express my sincerest hope that during this festive but often stressful season you will find comfort in the message of the herald angel to you personally. As the old carol says,

“God rest you merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy.”

Can I see some I.D. please?

I am so weary of all the slander, name calling, lying, and the literal and verbal rock-throwing back and forth in what has become a shameful, self-perpetuating “their side versus my side” news media frenzy. These days, because both rational and emotionally driven sentiments are so sharply at odds, one cannot in good conscience sit on any kind of a fence. You have to take a stand. Actually, that’s pretty much the way the Kingdom of God works. Jesus said you are either for me or against me. You cannot serve two masters. Choose between the broad road to destruction, or the narrow path to eternal life. It’s all very black and white, with no shades of gray to hide in. Pick a side then.

A couple days ago I read a guest post on a politically oriented website I occasionally take a look at. It was an article about the ugly, hateful divisiveness expressed during the long months of campaigning rivalry and especially after the shocking results of the election became known. It was written by Riaz Patel, who characterizes himself as a gay, Muslim, Pakistani-American immigrant TV producer.

“The worst outcome of the election” he said, “is that we have each been reduced to a series of broad labels that no longer reflect who we are. Mexican. White. Republican. Immigrant. Muslim. We may try to look at people as labels but we’ll never truly see them because THEY do not look at their own lives and families as labels.”

I think Patel is right about the accelerated tendency for prejudicial bias, for pinning labels on the fine citizens of these United States, regardless of whether the appraisals are accurate or assumed. trumpclinton3On one side of the political battle fighting to the death you will find liberal elitists — sophisticated intellectuals, yoga practitioners, art lovers, wine tasters, rainbow flag waiving ultra-tolerant, all-inclusive I’m okay/you’re okay Unitarians. Who’s on the other side? Hillary said that Trump supporters were all ”deplorables,” relegated onto a curbside trash heap along with the great unwashed of society — the twelve-pack guzzling, vulgar, trailer park Neanderthal bigots who pick their noses in the check-out lines at Walmart and have to sign their names with a big “X.” Sounds like we now apparently have fabricated our own brand of caste system, like India?

Garrison Keillor of public radio’s Prairie Home Companion fame commented in the Washington Post the fateful morning after the votes were tallied: “Raw ego and proud illiteracy have won out and a severely learning-disabled man with a real character problem will be president. [We] Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids.” Wow. Maybe he and those loathing the newly defined four-year future of America should all just retire to Keillor’s fictional retreat at Lake Wobegon for imaginary group massage therapy and lament together over cocktails the demise of an egocentric progressive era the Clintons failed to force on the rest of us. What they believe is mostly make-believe anyway.

So how is it that we are to I.D. ourselves? About those labels . . . it’s difficult to not find yourself in one category or another — Single or married. Male or female. Employed or not — although a small segment of our current culture in decline is making a strong effort to blur those traditional distinctions. I find it interesting that Paul in his letter to the Galatian church writes “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So does this mean that in a mystically spiritual sense Christian believers are transformed into some kind of science fiction automatons, marching through life on command like mass produced troopers in Revenge of the Clones, except without the weapons?clone-troopers

I’m sure there are many discourses on the theological interpretation of Paul’s simple statement. In my opinion, I think it points to the contrast between enmity with and separation from God as a consequence of Adam’s disobedience, and our reconciliation with and acceptance by God as a result of redemption through the saving work of Christ.  As a part of Adam’s natural lineage, without Christ I was defined as a fill-in-the-blank sinner, with a broken mindset, doomed to a propensity for falling short of God’s standards and marked by every sort of human fault. But now by faith in Christ, I am found in Christ, in whom there is no division. The fracture is healed. I’m not defined and separated by my gender, my job, my social status, my family heritage, and not even by my pre-salvation past. Rather I am who God says I am: a warrior, an over comer, forgiven, a new creation, holy, victorious, a beloved child of the King. In Him all believers are united, as one, without human distinctions, but also without surrendering the personal uniqueness that makes each of us, well – unique. There’s only one me.

I will, of course, continue to mark the appropriate boxes on surveys and applications, identifying myself for a pertinent piece of the big demographic pie. And I will always without hesitation acknowledge my particular station in life as a husband, father, grandfather, retired senior citizen, Caucasian male and a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. So are those labels, or actually just part of my exclusive name tag? Let me introduce myself.

HELLO, I’m . . . so much more than just words.

Super Duper Moon


Last night I took the dog out for our usual after dinner walk. It was chilly, in the mid-forty degree range. Of course the most distinct feature of the evening’s outing was the much-publicized Super Moon. In a scientific sense, it was “super” because it was the closest a Full Moon has been to Earth since January 26, 1948, and it will not match that proximity again for another 18 years. Visually, it was estimated to appear about 14 percent larger than usual, but what I saw Monday night around nine o’clock was more than super. It was spectacular.

Emma and I headed out on our regular route for a couple blocks and then on a path up a hill into and through the neighborhood park. There’s a bench at the top of the incline. I’m usually a little out of breath by then so often we just pause there for a few minutes. But last night I was so captivated by the natural beauty of the moon in its glowing whiteness, I had to just sit a while and take it in. The sky’s customary black canopy was washed out by the amazing spotlight brightness of that ashen sphere some 223,000 miles distant from my little dog and me. Mars was twinkling red in the west and diamond shimmering Venus was still prominent, just about to dip below the southwestern horizon. But overhead only the blinking lights of an occasional 747 and a couple first-magnitude or better stars were visible. I had to strain and squint to find the North Star.

There was such an atmosphere of peace, there on that cold metal park bench, saturated in pure moonlight. The folks in neighborhoods all around me were undoubtedly about their regular household affairs, getting ready to call it a day. But at that moment in time, in my personal center of the universe, it was just me, the dog, the Super Moon – and God, the One Who long ago spoke the cosmos into being and Who arranged like some epic musical composition a unique astronomical event last night just to reveal His awesomeness to me. On the way home, I kept looking back over my shoulder. moon2_0Through silhouettes of bare maples and even thick spruce trees the view was hauntingly majestic. I thought about Psalm 19 where it says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Last night that reality couldn’t have been more obvious.


It happened fifteen years ago. Doesn’t seem like that long, maybe because every year at this time we tend to relive it, with so much attention given to recount the worst occurrence of terrorism within our borders. And so we must. The horror of the event and its aftermath has been seared into our national psyche.

September 11, 2001. Everyone can tell you where they were, what they were doing when they heard about it. Just like our now senior citizens can talk about huddling up next to a radio broadcasting the shocking news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt just a few hours later would forever label that day, December 7th as the Day of Infamy. My generation can remember where they were when they heard that JFK had been shot, and then to an on-edge nation pronounced dead in Dallas at 1pm on November 22, 1963. We were glued to our black and white TV sets for days, watching and grieving as a painful episode of history unfolded live from Love Field to Arlington Cemetery.

I watched the towers burn and fall on a small TV at work. I kept saying, “This can’t be happening. This isn’t real.” It looked like a computer-generated special effects scene from a Spielberg movie.

As that morning went on I couldn’t help but wonder, “Are we done now? What’s next? The Sears Tower? Hoover Dam? An A-Bomb detonating at the strategic command center at Offutt Air Force Base, only a few miles from my neighborhood?” That’s where Bush was headed on Air Force One, to weather any further threats deep underground. I thought maybe tonight I should revive and recite the faith of my childhood prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake . . .”

Every year at this anniversary time I tell myself I’m not going to watch any of those documentaries. No more film footage of planes hitting buildings, over and over, in slow motion. No more faces of terror and disbelief, ash covered first responders, exhausted, gasping for breath. And that unforgettable, ugly pyroclastic cloud of dust and debris chasing hundreds of panicking New Yorkers down the streets and avenues of our nation’s premiere city. But this week, I did. Mostly on the History Channel. I still get pretty choked up, even sick. I can’t bear to see those poor souls hanging out of windows, waving for help, then leap to their deaths; anonymous faces now referred to simply as “Jumpers.” I even had the nerve to view some posts on YouTube, where you can find dozens of opinions by conspiracy theorists with elaborate “proof” that what our government says happened wasn’t the truth.

Regardless of what you choose to believe about the incredible circumstances of that fateful day and who was responsible, it did happen. I think you can be sure of this, however, that hundreds of men and women were just settling in at their desks, sipping coffee, starting their computers when all hell was unleashed beneath or above them, and that was not what they expected to experience a few hours earlier when they shut off the alarm clock. Another hundred or so were planning to land safely at their destinations, to spend their time visiting relatives or friends, or to get on with the business schedule for the day. But flights and lives were abruptly rerouted.

There are probably as many lessons to be learned from the events of 9/11 as there are people who have been touched by the tragedy – our lifetime’s day of infamy. To me it affirms what the Bible says in James 4:14: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In other words, life is fragile. But we tend to see the end as far away, and I’m sure most victims of 9/11 felt that way. Sadly, I’ll bet many hugs and kisses were deferred for a later time, which was never to be. Psalm 103:15 says, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone.” So today while you are mowing the lawn, catching up on the laundry, watching football, grocery shopping, or even working at a job, stop everything and say “I love you” to that person you know who needs to hear it the most. Let’s remember to cherish the minutes we have, even if they are difficult, because in an instant, everything can change. And it will.

Summer, 1956

Sixty years ago, a boy had to find his own
adventures, especially when the rest of his
neighborhood pals disappeared inside for
an afternoon nap or headed downtown
to a movie matinee with their moms.
The quest then for my personal version
of excitement often led me on a solo
make-believe expedition into the shadowy,
secluded terrain in our expansive backyard.

Tiptoeing from one stone to the next,
carefully weaving around stalks of iris
and day lilies to avoid leaving any trace
of my climb through the rock garden,
I summit the top of the rampart to face
the challenge of my mission’s objective:
an enormous, stately weeping willow tree,
its forlorn limbs dancing hypnotically
in the gentle breeze, beckoning me onward
into unexplored territory, taunting me
to test my courage at perilous heights
like some kind of wild creature
instinctively familiar with the
forest primeval.

Worm's-eye view of a fresh green weeping willow with spring's clear blue sky in the background

Grabbing at one branch after another,
I ascend as far as I dare, feeling the supple
top of the tree bending with the wind.
The willow and I are seemingly one now,
high above the rooftops, commanding a
bird’s-eye view of my little world far below.
The clouds appear almost within my reach,
and the sky has never looked so deep and
blue. I could stay perched here forever,
just gazing upward, looking for heaven.

The Lure of Everest

EverestTwenty years ago today, eight climbers died on the slopes of Mount Everest. At that time, it was the worst single loss of life on the world’s highest peak.

The weather had been favorable for climbing the day before, and several people had already reached the summit and were on their way back to base camp when a fierce blizzard arose within a matter of minutes. Temperatures rapidly plunged to 40 degrees below zero with winds of up to 70 miles per hour. Massive snowfall buried the fixed ropes that aided climbers in their ascent and descent. Many of them simply got lost in whiteout conditions. The victims were all seasoned climbers and guides.

climbersAlso on Everest that day were several “amateurs” who paid $60,000 apiece for an opportunity to challenge the peak. Since 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary became the first to reach the summit of Everest, technological advances have enabled less experienced climbers to also reach the peak. But technology has also fooled amateurs into a false sense of security. When faced with unpredictable situations such as this blizzard, these climbers are extremely vulnerable – especially if they become separated from the experienced guides they’ve hired to lead them.

For some reason I have for decades been intrigued with Everest. I think it started the winter of 1956 when I had the chicken pox. Quarantined from grade school, I had little to do but daily homework assignments dropped off by my classmates and listen for hours to the local rock and roll station on my tiny plastic transistor radio. I also had a small pile of books from the neighborhood library. One of those books was High Adventure, Hillary’s own narrative of his historic achievement. In vivid, magical detail he described the far away mystery of the Himalayas, the exciting dangers of traversing over glacial ice flows and around deep crevasses, and finally, clawing his way up an ancient shaft of granite to the unimaginable 29,029 foot summit. It was inspiring.

Since then I have seen many documentaries on the History Channel about both men and women and their teams who made a decision to face that mountainous giant, to put it under their feet. Tragically, some fail. Others return just short of their goal, losing fingers, toes and noses to frostbite in the process. I also read other accounts, including Into Thin Air, the best selling book by amateur climber and writer for Outdoor magazine Jon Krakauer, one of 20 climbers to reach the summit before the fatal blizzard of ‘96 hit and later wrote about his experience.

bp30    I am wondering if the lure of Everest and the challenges it represents might be some sort of metaphor for my own attempts to achieve something in life. Something big, historic. Something to write about. No, I understand that I will never be a mountaineer. I have a hard enough time hiking and catching my breath at 10,000 feet in the Rockies. And I might be just an “amateur climber” through the rest of my life, someone who always depends on experienced guides to help me along the way. But what exactly are my goals and how much am I willing to risk to get there? Will it be a mere transient achievement, or will it have eternal value?

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” In other words, often we develop our own ideas and boast about our plans, but God will ultimately accomplish His sovereign desires. I think then my goals should be in line with God’s, so that no matter where the path leads on earth, it ultimately ends up in heaven. Everest is and always will be for many a lofty goal, but I think I will start aiming even higher and believe that I will eventually get there, step by step.


This year March wants us
to think it’s still February.
Tonight neighborhood chimneys
exhale wispy columns of smoke
straight up into a chilly black sky.
But then I see Arcturus climbing
above the northeastern rooftops
and remember what that means.
The cycle of seasons is turning
again right before my eyes,
with every tick on the clock.
But the progression seems slow.

Stars are like old friends to me,
faithful and familiar.
The brightest have proper names,
and even the dimmer ones
bear a Greek alphabetical tag.
I was 37 years younger when
the light I see this quiet evening
headed my way from that
first magnitude twinkling
orange speck in the Herdsman.
That time went by fast for me,
with light speed.

Winter will not surrender
just because the calendar
says it’s time to do so.
Here we are then, waiting for
the dawning of spring,
looking for our cue from nature
like tight little tulip buds
yearning to bloom, to gradually
let go, risking the threat of a
late frost, to finally unclench
supple petals and reach upwards
to our very own star.