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Play Ball! with the Rumble Ponies

{One week to go…after today, six more pics, six more as-the-muse-moves reflections for Lent 2018}

We have our tickets for opening day. Here in Upstate New York it probably won’t be baseball weather, more the climate for football, damp and chilly, if not just plain freezing by game’s end. But, we’ve been waiting for this day since last September when the minor league season ended.

My first professional baseball game was between our local Class-A Eastern League New York Yankees farm team, the Binghamton Triplets — and whoever they played that first game. Dad took us from Endicott to the Johnson City ballpark (Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott were known as the “Triple Cities,” thus the Triplets) to see pro baseball in its purest form. Previously Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson, and Clete Boyer had played

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Triplets at Johnson Field, c. 1961

with the Triplets, but we saw Joe Pepitone and Al Downing play. Thurman Munson played on the last Triplets team, and when the team was associated with Kansas City we saw Ken Harrelson, among the future stars, plus countless players whose careers in baseball were very short-lived.

 

When Johnson Field was torn down to make room for a highway, minor league baseball disappeared for many years. In 1992 Binghamton had a new stadium and a new team, the AA Binghamton Mets, a New York Mets franchise. I had been away from my hometown for decades by then, but when I retired to the area the team was waiting for me. In my in-between years, I had thoroughly enjoyed the AAA Richmond Braves (including having a season ticket courtesy of my colleague Billie Starr Brightwell) and then the class A Vermont Expos in Burlington. In fact, I voiced a series of radio spots for the Vermont team; very classy spots I must add.

 

Now, the B-Mets are the Rumble Ponies, a rebadging in line with the “fun” DSC07473names of other minor league teams throughout the land. The Richmond Flying Squirrels play in our league, along with the Akron Rubber Ducks. See? Akron=rubber manufacturing. And Binghamton is famous for its six carousels with rumbling ponies. As for the Squirrels? Anybody’s guess on that one.

 

My grandson and I took in a New York Mets game at Citi Field last fall, viewing the nine innings from a “super box” down the right field line. Great experience, but not as much fun as minor league ball where you are up close and personal with the players, coaches, and managers. The play may get a little dicey (“It’s developmental baseball,” my next-door neighbor Bob reminds me, especially early in the season), but the game is both competitive and entertaining. Plus, there’s a sense of community. I like sitting in the uppermost row, near the press box, and the old man who yodels is down the row from me. There are the guys who bring their baseball card collections to every game, rubbing the cards so lovingly, sharing stories about players here and there, and hardly paying attention to the game on the field. (And what’s this rubbing ritual? Is that polish?)

There are the TV sports reporters, cameras recording every pitch just in case. They stop and talk with fans now and then between innings. And the park personnel, the ushers and vendors — we know their names and their stories. You might even know the umpires by name and/or reputation. There’s the guy who keeps his hand on the back of the catcher for every pitch. And in these intimate parks, when you shout something at the umpire, he can actually hear you.

But mostly our interest is in those young players and their mentors. We sit close enough to them, even from the very back row, to see their facial expressions on striking out, their at-bat rituals (especially memorable was Richmond Brave Deion Sanders who used his bat to draw something in the dirt around the plate as he came to bat), and the joy of crossing home after hitting one out of the park. Sitting so near the action, we get to count the number of times that player taps his helmet standing in the box, and that one adjusts his whatever. We need no Jumbotron to show us the players close up.

So, we have our tickets for opening night. But this morning’s newspaper brought troubling news about minor league baseball. The columnist was complaining about another new rule designed to speed up the game. Last year, we had the clock, a count down between pitches, to ensure that there wasn’t too much time between one pitch and the next. Wouldn’t want the game to drag in this era of speed, convenience, and let’s-get-on-to-what’s-next. This year, the report says, when games go into extra innings (free baseball!!), a player will automatically be placed on second base to begin the next inning. Thus, there will more likely be a score, and we won’t have to endure inning after inning of scoreless baseball until, finally, someone crosses the plate and wins the game.

On Friday nights, that would mean we can get the fireworks display going before the curfew. And we can drive home in time to see the 11 o’clock sports report and see game highlights. The only downside is: this isn’t baseball!! True fans don’t mind extra innings. True fans aren’t in a hurry to get home. True fans don’t want a damned clock or pawn at second. Let basketball and football and soccer have their clocks. We just want the game played until the last out, whenever it comes. And look…if the game is going on too long, it’s getting cold, your seat is numb, or enough-is-enough… feel free to go home. Really. The game might be on the radio as you drive away and you can keep up with it on the way home. But the rest of us? No rush.

Some things in life just take time, and there is no use hurrying. I remember a Richmond Braves game that went over 20 innings, and then, if memory serves, the second game of the double-header started, with the PA announcer saying, “Good morning, baseball fans…it’s time for our second game…” It was long after midnight. (I’d love it if someone could corroborate that story.) I like baseball, but I didn’t stay longer that night.

Some things just take time.  A fine dining experience. A symphony. Grief. Wine. Weighing significant choices. Fishing. Growing in faith. Painting on canvas. Love. Oh, and writing! There is a line in “Othello:”

 

How poor are they that have not patience!

What wound did ever heal but by degrees?

Yes, the poet lives by patience, as Shakespeare well knew. So, to the man on the mound, I would say, you just wait for the right sign from the catcher; just wait for the batter to look uneasy there at the plate; wait until that ball feels exactly right in your hand. Screw the clock. (I know…that rule is in place, so best keep the screwing in the pitch!)

To the fidgety rule-makers more interested in marketing and sales than in the sport, I pray you’ll find this experiment in speeding up the extra-inning game brings the wrath of fandom to your door, and you’ll declare very soon that this change is ill-advised; no, just plain awful!

Let us all learn patience, practice it, and let the growing of it take as long as it needs.

End of sermon for the religion of baseball.

 

 

 

 

 

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New York City from the Staten Island Ferry

{Lent is winding down, but I have a few more panoramic photos to reflect on before the season is over. If you’ve come in late, you can backtrack to catch previous essays.}

Yesterday I wrote of a small town upstate, the town we now call home. Today, something–  some place — completely different. (Although it might be said that within New York city are thousands of small towns.)

The file attached to this image indicates that the picture was taken in 2009, with my first digital camera. I mention that because, unlike most small towns, the City is always changing, the skyline in flux, as cranes tower over Manhattan and new skyscrapers appear. Thus, while the icons are visible here, Lady Liberty and the Empire State Building, this view may have already been amended by new construction.

My history with NYC goes back to childhood. We lived upstate, but my Uncle Tom and Aunt Viv lived in Tenafly, NJ and when we made that rare visit south, Uncle Tom would stuff us into his huge station wagon and drive us across the George Washington Bridge into the City. Now, there were six kids in our family and ten in his and Viv’s, but this would have been before all were born. It was a big car, but not that big!

Tom worked in television at the time, so he knew people. He knew places. And he regaled us with stories, and drove around up and down town, through Times Square, and in total command. He spoke as if he knew Toots Shor personally. I have no doubt he did. Of course, we couldn’t see much from the windows of the wagon, so the next trips to NYC were more revealing.

Our church youth group “earned” trips to New York City (and Boston and D.C. in alternating years), getting points for good attendance in Sunday School, youth group, and worship services. So, we’d take a train to New York, stay at the Taft, and see the sights. For me, the highlight was always a movie at Radio City Music Hall. One year it was “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” with Doris Day. Another year, “The Brothers Karamazov.” Plus the Rockettes! We toured the United Nations, and ate at automats. Very cool, those trips.

(One other NYC visit came when our school journalism club went to a short conference at Columbia University. Again, we did the sight-seeing thing, but the sight many of us hoped to see was the very popular singer at the time Pat Boone. He was a student at Columbia and we did keep an eye out for him and his signature white buck shoes…to no avail.)

Oh, and there was the college era drive from western Pennsylvania to New York for the

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My 1964 slide of the World’s Fair

opening weekend of the 1964 World’s Fair. Ostensibly the yearbook editor and I went to see the photo studio that wanted the senior photo contract, but there was the World’s Fair. Who would miss that?

 

Skip ahead to the present, and we can take a bus into the city in the morning and come back that night; or stay over for a show, as we have done a few times in the past few years. My cousin’s daughter Erin Davie has starred in “Side Show,” last year’s revival of “Sunday in the Park with George,” and earlier in “Grey Gardens” and the revival of “A Little Night Music.” We saw three of four, plus other shows as the budget allowed. The theater district is one of my favorite small towns within the city.

Recently our church again offered a bus trip, this time for us adults, and we enjoyed one of New York’s cultural festivals, the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy. Oh, my!

Every major city around the globe has its sights to see, its iconic views, its restaurants and museums, festivals and nightlife. But there is the underside of the urban environment. Homelessness, crime, corruption. Things not missing from small towns, no, but more pronounced, more reported perhaps, than in the suburbs or countryside that surround the city. In NYC, 63,000 people are homeless, including 23,000 children. It’s difficult to conceive that many people have nowhere to lay their heads. New York City is rightfully proud of having lowered its crime rate to far below the per capita rate of other large U.S. cities. But homelessness is a crime too.

In 1974, I recorded an hour-long radio program that centered on urban ministries, the ways churches in larger cities reached out to the “least of these,” our brothers and sisters, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the disenfranchised. That radio program in the “Celebration Rock” series changed the course of my ministry. It was awarded a Gabriel Citation by UNDA-USA a national association of Catholic broadcasters. “Celebration Rock” was basically a music-themed local program on a Richmond AM station, but once the Catholics awarded the show, it drew some national attention, and the program went into limited syndication. (For more information than you will even need, see my other blog at http://www.celebrationrock.wordpress.com.)

Among the songs I chose were Cashman and West’s “American City Suite,” Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” “Freddie’s Dead” by Curtis Mayfield, and “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago. I filled the hour with similar songs and several stories of downtown churches at work in their neighborhoods. That led to many other radio programs I produced in Richmond, highlighting urban issues and the people who were committed to address them in positive ways.

Look at that gleaming city in the photo at the top. Those massive buildings create dark shadows. And in the shadows are people in need. Hidden now in the skyline are the once-prominent tall steeples of the houses of worship of people of faith. Those churches, synagogues, and mosques may struggle for membership these days, but those that remain vital are the ones that embrace the poor who slip through the cracks of a city’s social services. Those who have slipped through the net are caught by those who were called to “fish for people,” for people to serve, to shepherd, ultimately to partner with.

I love that city. I look forward to every bus ride there and back. But I have to remember to honor the work of the people of faith who minister to the city’s needs and who sing with the characters in the movie “Godspell,” “We Can Build a Beautiful City.”

 

WE MAY NOT REACH THE ENDING
BUT WE CAN START
SLOWLY BUT TRULY MENDING
BRICK BY BRICK, HEART BY HEART
NOW, MAYBE NOW
WE START LEARNING HOW
WE CAN BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CITY
YES, WE CAN; YES, WE CAN
WE CAN BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CITY
NOT A CITY OF ANGELS
BUT WE CAN BUILD A CITY OF MAN*

* [That’s the way they put it back then; today, I’d make it “a city of love.”]

 

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Owego on the Susquehanna

 

 

{Lent 2018 — I’m choosing a panoramic photo each day and letting the image prompt some idea to write about. Many times, it works.}

This is how Owego, NY looks on the approach from the bridge over the Susquehanna. At the end of the road is the towering Tioga County Courthouse (and it might be the end of the road for someone sentenced there).  The downtown buildings that make up “River Row” are restaurants, boutiques, some residences upstairs, and an insurance company that is run by a high school classmate of mine and his sons.

There’s a “river walk” a couple of blocks long that gives one a good view of those old buildings and their history. We can see evidence that boats docked behind those 19th century structures to deliver goods to village merchants, long before the four-lane Rt. 17 carried 18-wheelers and their cargo. Not visible in this photo is the independently-owned Riverow Bookstore, three stories of stories, if you get my drift. Used and new books. Also not visible, but of great interest to me, are two other businesses that most

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A Hometown Station

American small towns have lost: a neighborhood movie house and a storefront radio station.

 

Of course, there are churches (one that boasts that John D. Rockefeller worshipped there from time to time when visiting his childhood home), a couple of small grocery stores, and a big old firehouse.

 

I grew up about 15 miles from Owego. The word was that the village got its name from “Indians” (as we called them in my childhood) who would say, when traveling west from our neck of the woods, “Oh, we go.” Not true, of course. We didn’t follow the Native Americans west to Owego very often. We had everything we needed in Endicott. Schools, stores, factories (lots of them), churches, neighborhoods. But now and then a Sunday drive would take us along the river to Owego, just because it was a scenic drive. Owego was a railroad town, but not much else as I grew up. The old shopping district, sizeable for a small town, shows that there were commercial interests there, but I don’t recall thinking of Owego as anything but a neighboring town.

In the early 1960s, Endicott’s then-sprawling IBM complex built a new plant in Owego, and my Dad had something to do with the facility there. History is full of irony, and here’s the thing: IBM ultimately closed down its hometown plants, and after a series of other landlords, the IBM-Owego plant became home to Lockheed Martin. So, Owego’s chief employer sustains the local economy, and fills the neighborhoods, stores, and churches with its employees, and Endicott struggles with loss.

This is not to say that Owego is immune from lay-offs and economic challenges. A circuit-board plant next store to Lockheed is shutting down, and maybe 300 people are out of jobs. That means fewer folks in church, eating at the old hotel, buying books. Still, the village storefronts are mostly filled, and people who visit consider the place quaint…in a good way. A travel magazine ran a contest a few years back and named Owego “The Coolest Small Town in America.” It was announced on national TV, and then after a film crew visited, the magazine never mentioned it again. It may be that the river-side of those downtown buildings look less than quaint from the bridge.

In fact, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, in his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, mentions the view in the image above. When hitchhiking in New York State (from St. Bonaventure College in Olean to Harlem), Merton was picked up by a businessman in a shiny Oldsmobile who gave him a ride “as far as Owego. At Owego I stood at the end of the long iron bridge and looked at the houses across the river, with all their shaky old balconies, and wondered what it was like to live in such a place.”

“Such a place?” Such as “shaky old,” or residences on the river? Some of the homes in the historic district (where Maj. Henry Robert wrote his noted “Rules of Order”) are not quite mansions, but are large and lovely nonetheless, as one might think homes along the river should be. They sit on a wide, tree-lined boulevard with some impressive boat houses where a garage normally would be. But those shaky-porched business district buildings? Well, they do look tenement-like from the back, as if a small town Tony and Maria might sing “Tonight” to one another as the sun set on the Susquehanna. Even seven or eight decades after Merton had done his Owego-wondering.

That river, by the way, doesn’t discriminate. In 2011, it flooded the whole downtown area of our village and affected residents whether they lived above the old store fronts, watching the Susquehanna from their rickety-looking porches, or resided in the mini-mansions up the street, and had to move first floor furniture upstairs for the duration. The flood pushed into the streets, causing the radio station to valiantly broadcast emergency information from a camper on higher ground, and pouring into the Riverow Bookstore, which had to lug soggy volumes into a 15-20 foot pyramid of ruined literature onto the street corner when the waters had receded. The movie house still has no carpet all these years later, and a musty odor persists as we watch first-run films in an auditorium built for vaudeville.

Eighty per cent of the businesses and homes in the village were flooded. The small town churches, built into substantial edifices in an era when membership was strong and “everybody” went, faced perhaps millions of dollars in damages. The Presbyterian church had basement flooding, but being on slightly higher ground, much of the building was useable even during the flood. The church provided bed space, meals, and face-to-face support for neighbors and strangers. For several weeks after the flood, the church served as a recovery center, a hub of hope and healing. It lived up to its purpose in ways that never occurred to those who had fashioned its mission statement.

Some scars remain. But this one-time “cool” small town, where a boy named Rockefeller once ran through the streets, where Robert’s Rules first guided meetings, and where Merton wondered about its people…this small town is more than simply viable; it is vital, alive, and even art and music and theater thrive here.

It was a man named Nathanael who once asked his friend Philip if an itinerate rabbi coming from an obscure place could be any good. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see” was the response. And there was Jesus.

I’m hearing this John Mellencamp song now: “Small Town”

 

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me…

…No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be.

Sure beats the Paul Simon sentiment in “My Little Town:” Nothing but the dead and dying in my little town.”

No, it’s not for everybody. Unless they yearn for quieter streets, a usually friendly river, a movie house where the owner sells you a ticket, pops you some corn and starts the projector, and churches that work together to love their neighbors…literal neighbors.

Tomorrow…I’ll show you a city. THE city.

 

 

 

 

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A Trio Sitting Out the Season

 

{Lent…40 days…40 panoramic photos, and some reflections on the images}

I quote myself here:

Seasons Smile
Winter’s smile was icily sinister.
Spring’s will be warmly sympathetic.
Summer’s smile brightly inviting.
Autumn’s gently reflective.
Mine is always seasonally appropriate…
except when the climate is laughable.

Above is another “drive-by” photo. All winter we’ve passed those three hay wagons (or whatever the official name for them is), and I’ve thought about taking a picture of them. On the way to church one Sunday, we stopped, I pulled out the camera, and took the shot. I’m thinking that today’s theme could be “seasons.”

Here are pieces of farm equipment standing idle for the winter months. Do I see a small plow there, too? And maybe a rake? Not much use for them on a frigid Upstate New York farm from fall harvest to spring planting. So there they are parked.

I’ve previously written in these “pages” that I like living in a part of the world with four distinct seasons. Every season has its blessings. Every season has something less than a blessing to endure. But the rich variety of weather events, of colors and temps, of light shows and seasonal activities — I’d be bored if I lived anywhere else. This is not to judge my Florida friends or south Texas relatives. I’ll admit that our northern winter lasts a little too long here, but I can take it. We lived through 27 hot, humid Virginia summers, so some slush or black ice is tolerable.

As the ancient philosopher of Ecclesiastes sang, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” And so sang the pop version by the Byrds:

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

We lived in Vermont for ten years. Though winters were long and harsh, spring would come gloriously. And seemingly suddenly. Once the snows had melted and the ground had thawed, the khaki colored lawn “greened up” almost within a day or three. And citizens of the Northeast Kingdom made up for winter’s drear with flowers lining walks, colorful gardens, window boxes…as if to say to the world, “Look! We’re alive! And we can match your southern blossoms and blooms with our rosy floral resurrections.”

Spring here in New York State is just as appreciated and celebrated as in Vermont. We might join New Englanders in shivering through an Easter Sunrise Service, but when April arrives, we are ready for our migrant birds to resume their posts at the feeders, for jonquils and daffodils to push through thawed soils, for opening day at the ball park, and for pumping up bike tires.

Summer will come, and there will be those Florida days when the AC saves our sanity. But for the most part, we’ll enjoy every meal on the back porch, when I take over some of the cooking on the grill. (I rarely order salmon in a restaurant because no one does a better job than I at delivering a truly succulent salmon steak.) We’ll take longer bike rides, hike in the cool glens and forests, take in the longer hours of daylight while listening to the peepers and chirping insects in the not-quite wetland beyond the backyard.

And then autumn in New York. Not quite as garish as the Vermont maples, our leaves will turn brilliant reds, yellows, and golds on the hillsides, and cooler breezes will mean a light jacket as we ride the bikes in a nearby park. Here’s the bonus pic of the day: that nearby park in autumn.

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Hickories Park

I can identify with that Sinatra signature song “The September of My Years,” by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.

 

One day you turn around, and it’s summer
Next day you turn around, and it’s fall
And the springs and the winters of a lifetime
Whatever happened to them all

I have been blessed with all the seasons of life, with a few more calendar pages to turn, season-wise. (Please…not actual months; we’re talking figuratively here…I hope.) The “September Song” sings of days dwindling down to a precious few. Again, figurative! But, yes, seasons. Our childhood, then adolescence, the young adult years, and before you know it, you have children who speed into adolescence while you haven’t finished growing up yourself! Then grandchildren. The seasons of life. “Whatever happened to them all?”

Again to the image at the top — a time to plant, a time to reap, and there in that photo, a  time to be idle for awhile. To await. Rest. Prepare. And then, engage again. Hook ’em up to the tractors and put them to work in summer’s heat and fall’s harvest.

I write in Lent. Where, while not exactly stationary, the Church and its people of faith slow down to await, to rest, to prepare. We breathe more deeply in Lent, I think. Meditate more mindfully and reflect more intentionally. The season of lengthening days will culminate in an Easter sunrise hard to believe, a surprising burst of daylight difficult to take in with eyes so used to winter’s subdued rays.

For everything there is a season. A time to die, and a time to be born again.

Turn, turn, turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Road in Winter

{Forty days of Lent 2018, and forty images prompting a writing exercise. Proceed at your own risk. I’m pretty ticked off that WordPress didn’t save my previous draft and I am about to rewrite with a chip on my shoulder. As I said…your own risk.}

 

I was a good scout growing up, not the official Boy Scout goodness, but honest, loyal, and kind. And I obeyed the rules. Mostly. I wasn’t sinless, but I tried to do the right thing.

Most of us aren’t big fans of rules. We don’t like to be limited or to be told what to do or how to do it, even if the rules mean well. Yet, rules are important to set some moral, ethical, or organizational standards. Or, safety standards. Imagine highways without speed limits, a government with laws, Presbyterians without that “decently and in order” thing.

Many of life’s rules are unspoken, but some are made perfectly clear in words. The first rule I remember wasn’t, “Don’t play in the street.” That may have been said, or shouted, but the one I remember very clearly was spoken by my Dad when I was in about second grade.

I had learned the “choosing rhyme,” eeny-meeny-miney-moe. Because it contained the racist “n-word,” I doubt I was taught it in the classroom. I probably heard it from classmates on the playground. But when Dad heard me saying it in the front hallway of our house (see? a clear memory), he told me that in our family we didn’t ever use that word. “Well, what should I say instead?” I asked. He repeated the rhyme to me saying, “Catch a doggie by the toe.” And that’s the rule I kept forever.

A few years later, when we had moved into a house only three blocks from the Susquehanna River, I heard another rule stated plainly. “Don’t go near the river.” Dad couldn’t swim, and he didn’t want us kids anywhere near deep, flowing water. Since I hadn’t learned to swim either, it was an easy rule to follow.  Within a year or so of that rule, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a flood wall between our street and the Susquehanna. That meant it was easier to follow Dad’s order.

When even later in my senior year of high school I took driver’s training, not only did New York State have some strict rules of the road to follow, it was Dad again who suggested his own rules. Among them, when you drive down the street, be aware that at any moment a child could dash between two parked cars. And keep your car in gear at stop lights, not in neutral, in case you have to move quickly in an emergency situation. Dad’s rules I drive by even today.

As we grow older, we realize that some rules no long apply. They are suspended because they are archaic (the Apostle Paul’s rules to women: keep your heads and mouths covered in church), silly (no whistling on the Sabbath), or were wrong-headed to begin with (“whites only” restaurants and drinking fountains).

I finally broke that rule about the river when I was an adult with children of my own. I visited my hometown with my young son and we found our way to the banks of the Susquehanna, and watched the river run. I realized that I had missed something in my childhood, the calm beauty of that place that looked across to an island I had never seen before. I guess we might say that some rules do wear out. (Credit Dad though: I never fell in!)

And there are the misfits and rebels who escape the constraints of rules by bending, conveniently forgetting, or just plain breaking the rules in order to “go where no one has gone before.” Steve Jobs no doubt broke a few rules along the way. Someone has said that though rules may not have been made to be broken, they were made to be tested.

Essayist and critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) wrote: “Rules and models destroy genius and art.” The photo that heads today’s entry and prompts this essay of mine may signal proof of Hazlitt’s theory. What do you see in that panoramic photo? Our semi-rural road, winter thaw, looking west toward the golden glow of sunset. Looking into the sun. That breaks a long-held rule of photography. The first camera I ever owned was a Kodak Brownie Holiday Flash that used 127 film. And the first rule I learned was, “Always keep the sun at your back.” That way, your subject will be well-lighted.

What a dull photo that wide shot would be if I had followed the old rule. We’d never see a picture of a sunset or sunrise. Here’s still another example of shooting right at the sun. There’s a cairn (see a previous entry here) as seen in the Canadian Rockies. Backlighted. I love it! To be sure, theIMG_0741re are still some reasons to avoid pointing a camera directly at the sun. You can permanently damage the camera’s image sensor, melt something critical, or just flood the film (film?) with too much light. But still, that first photographic rule is one I’ve often left behind.

Jesus certainly broke a number of rules. The beloved story of the “Good Samaritan” illustrates the bending of a couple of rules until they shattered. In his ministry he was accused of breaking the Sabbath rules, touching the untouchables, and, eventually, committing the crime that got him crucified: sedition.

Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Tutu… breakers of rules…and heroes.

What am I advocating here? Nothing. I’m just saying that God gave us heads and minds inside those heads, so that we can measure the alternatives that life brings, and make good choices that contribute to the common journeys we share along roads like the one pictured above. Before the sun sets on our lives, let us consider what guidance is truly helpful and just, what leads to civility, yes, but also to peace, the Shalom that is the best rule of life.

{Another rule I must abide: back up your work, Jeff. It’s a simple step really. Save it!}

 

 

 

 

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Trucks, Ready to Rock

We’d been driving by this line of trucks along New York’s Rt. 17 for years, sometimes more than once a day. Finally, seeing the potential for a panoramic photo on a weekend when the trucks were all present and accounted for, I took this photo. The two trucks in the foreground made the shot all the better. Happenstance makes for good pictures.

As these trucks rumble past on the highway on work days, you can glimpse the company slogan: “We Rock the Southern Tier.” So, a theme for today’s image? Power comes to mind. Upwards of 500 horsepower, I’d guess. Front axle weight 20,000 pounds. Best guess. And they haul rock. Big boulders down to smaller stone. And anything else you want.

These trucks communicate power, yes. Another word comes to mind. Macho. Short for machismo, meaning, according to my old dictionary, an “exaggerated sense of masculinity stressing courage, virility, aggressiveness, and domination of women.” I mean, look at those trucks, man! I can’t help but wonder if the company has any women behind those wheels! Since they can’t discriminate in hiring, they must have. But, still…

You remember that saying, “The only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys?” Our stereotypes often spring from deep-rooted prejudices and archaic models. (Or, vice versa?) And macho stereotypes abound. I kid my wife sometimes about my compact SUV: I’m taking the “truuuck,” I say with the southern accent I learned after 27 years in Virginia. I suspect that many of the pick up trucks I see around the semi-suburban neighborhood here are unneeded male accessories. Driving a truck is, well, kinda manly.

The best-selling motor vehicle in the USA? The Ford F-Series pick-up. [I can’t help but hear our Virginia church secretary Opal Keller refer to the genre as a “pick-’em-up-truck.”] I know trucks can be handy, utilitarian, a helpful vehicle if you are into construction, heavy household projects, hunting, that kind of thing. But don’t you wonder if just maybe some of those trucks were purchased for the image, or for how the vehicle makes the driver feel about himself? Strong. Powerful. Just a tad macho.

I fully acknowledge that women also buy trucks, and drive them. Just as women are  likely, maybe even more likely to get a tattoo. Wasn’t the case when my uncles got theirs during WW2. It was a “guy thing.” And guns. Can’t get much more macho than guns! And the bigger the toy… the more dangerous to us all. Really need a truck that size to park in your driveway? Really need a gun that size to hunt deer? But it sure be manly, huh? Except that women are also arming themselves heavily, certainly more so than, say, four decades ago.

We spring from the image of power (as suggested by the photo of many, many powerful heavy hauling trucks) to empowerment. Men may still like to practice their swagger, get their carry permits (or not bother), and smoke their stogies, but whatever stereotypical images of macho power they once enjoyed are being shared now by em12525283_927926670657742_668031892565673463_opowered women.

Here’s another photo, a bonus pic today. It shows the dedication of the village municipal building in my hometown. The year was 1961. Look at the dignitaries. Men. All but one, and she is in the back row, far right, difficult to see in this small image. All the local civic power was in the hands of men. And in that era, the same was true of the church. Women had their “circles,” but men made up the clergy and the governing boards. By the end of that decade, however, the culture was changing. Remember? “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Women had their own cigarette. Baby.

But cultural changes come slowly, and while women gain power on every front, there remain brutish discrimination in industry and business, gender bias in politics, and sexual harassment wherever men objectify women. As I was thinking about this, the Sunday newspaper arrived with an article from the AP by Matt Sedensky. The headline: “Efforts to decode men gaining steam in #MeToo era.” The story was about Professor Michael Kimmel’s leadership in “masculinities studies.” To summarize his focus one might say Kimmel is interested in issues of gender equality, from men’s misdeeds to more general men’s studies. One of his books is entitled Manhood in America: A Cultural History, and another is Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.”  

To quote the Sedensky article,

At a recent [SUNY] Stony Brook workshop Kimmel held for a group of invited students, Alicia Jones was among those taking part in an animated discussion of the difference in perception of what makes a good man versus what makes a real man.

Manhood. Guyland. Machismo vs. the Gentle-man. What about the power? The power of love? Can we men become aggressive enough in love, agape love, to forswear domination, and celebrate the equality our Creator intended (no matter what the patriarchal biblical writers and historical church leaders believed…at the time)? Shared power doesn’t diminish our strength, but shows our commitment to courageously build a world where Adam and Eve, Sarah and Abraham, Barbie and Ken, Gloria Steinem and Michael Kimmel will live in harmony and grace.

And rock the Southern Tier and the global community together with mutual respect, equal pay, and shared leadership.

Amen?

 

 

 

 

 

cairns in Glacier Park

Cairns In Glacier National Park

{Forty Days in Lent, and forty wide pictures from my albums…a discipline of almost daily writing which you are invited, though not required, to read.}

I border on being a hoarder. I know that there are some deep psychological reasons for such behavior, but I haven’t researched the data or gone for counseling. That is my confession. And this is my salvation (in this regard anyway): my beloved Joan is well-organized, tidy, and, if this is not redundant, orderly. And, though there are some little stashes and shallow piles where I leave some debris, I try to pick up after myself so as not to embarrass her when company comes. Also, the older we get, the more we are cautioned about having things to trip over.

So, evidence of my inability to toss stuff is not necessarily visible when you see our home. But the nook where I write? Bookshelves full, some clutter on the floor begging to be filed (in one place or the other), and the odd CD, knickknack, and scribbled note. The closet behind me? Boxes of memorabilia (some of it family history stuff, fairly important), CDs of maybe 75 of my old radio shows, and the general clutter you probably have in your closet.

And there’s the attic. Lord! (That’s a sincere prayer, nothing “in vain.”) I don’t have room here to catalog the stuff there’s room for up there. Let’s just say that my record collection and audio tapes have somehow survived the range of Upstate New York seasonal  temperatures, and weight of the material I intend for multiple scrapbooks tests the rafters and plywood floors. Scrapbooks. Scraps. Uh-huh.

I’m heading toward my mid-’70s. It is time to “downsize.” We are in Lent. It is time to “give up” something, right? Last year, we joined those who had determined that we who wallow in our affluence could easily sort through our abundance and give up something from a closet or drawer each day for forty days. Joan said a sock wouldn’t count. Had to be a pair! So, we did that. And it was hard for me. Because, as I said, I border on being a hoarder and I hold on to stuff. For some reason (see paragraph 1) I have trouble letting go. To illustrate: I had worn out a radio station t-shirt, and it was clearly time to dispose of it. But I held on to the memory of it by…don’t judge me … taking a picture of the logo.

That picture is in my files around here somewhere…

The photo I chose for this pathetic profession of weakness shows a couple of piles of rocks on the shore of a lake in Glacier National Park. The piles are called cairns. Originally, cairns were meant to be memorials or landmarks, but these days they are usually just playful signs that someone passed by and left their harmless, and temporary mark. Kids see the stones as prehistoric Legos. Adults? The jury is out. But the word so apropos to today’s reflection is “temporary.” Neither of the little rock piles seen in my photo is there now. Maybe someone respected the stacks of stones for a while, but eventually some meanie kicked them over, or a strong wind, or rising waters.

I’ve noted in my blog on a previous occasion a book from decades ago entitled “Celebrate the Temporary,” by Clyde Reid. The book’s blurb says Reid’s thesis is to issue “an invitation to live more fully in present experience, rather than focusing life in the future or the past.” I read the book back in the ’70s. I liked the book. I believed the book. But I did not heed the book. I still save stuff from the past thinking it might serve some purpose in the future. What makes me think someone died and made me an archive?

Is this junk that surrounds me a burden? Does it weigh me down? Does it affect my spiritual life? It must. Because I’m writing about it. A voice inside (no, it’s not Joan; I said inside) says, “Let go!” Let the clippings, the old sermon files, the VHS cassettes, the t-shirts GO! Empty those boxes in the attic. Clean out the books you’ve saved, the ones you’ve read and won’t read again, and the ones you’ve merely saved thinking someday you might read them. Let go!

Or, maybe I could just stack the books into cairns in my workspace here, monuments to good intentions never carried out.

I’m going to do something now that I haven’t done in any of these Lenten reflections over the past several years of “Peace, Grace, and Jazz.” I’m ending with a prayer. You needn’t join me, unless there is some clutter, physical or spiritual or emotional, in your life that you’ve been intending to toss out. Here is a mash-up of biblical phrases and present concerns:

Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know my going out and my coming in. You know my piles of stuff, boxes of memories, and things to avoid tripping over, both literally and figuratively. You have given me such blessings in the past; I have the evidence. But my future is in your hands only. I must learn to trust that. So, let me more fully live in this moment, the gift of this present time. Free me of what has been and liberate me from the fear of the future, that I might now live and move and have my being in you. God, help me to let go of all that clutters, and to grasp the treasure of this very day.