A Bird-weight of Wordsworth

What we know of most everything is its thin outer covering. Poet Kay Ryan likens it to “a skin of ice/ over a pond/ only birds might/ walk confidently/ upon.” So it is with people. We see the obvious, what they want us to see as they muffle what they dislike of themselves. Never mind that concealment is only a delusion; that our friends like us despite what we think we’ve hidden from them. Our critics aren’t fooled either.

Dad is almost 91. He doubted a year ago that he’d reach 90. He and the rest of us were wrong, and now not even he doubts his vigor. He honed his writing skills early on mainly to augment perennially inadequate salaries. To many his writings are his outer layer, the thin skin he is known by. I don’t know what dad thinks of that, but I think it’s a pretty good way to be known. His outer skin is indeed as the poet says, “A bird’s/ worth of weight/ or one bird-weight/ of Wordsworth.” (from “Thin” by Kay Ryan)

Happy Birthday Dad

Love,
Keith

Mule Theology

Bob Johnson turned 90 last Sunday. All but one of his kids sneaked home to surprise him; Kathy all the way from Alaska. As they served after-worship goodies at Emmanuel, memories welled  up. Bob and Dagmar were beloved leaders at North Shore Baptist, my last pastorate. Dagmar was my organist, Bob a steady board member. I married Kathy to Scott.

Several North Shore families migrated to Emmanuel when conflict killed our beloved church two pastors after I retired. Many regular worshippers, wearied by church squabbles, sought shelter at Emmanuel. The spiritual ambiance Sunday after Sunday stirs me to tears. We have peace in the valley.

I unabashedly brag on my church. The congregation sings like a great choir. Most members are retired, but we don’t count years. Those who possess everlasting life are all the same distance from the end, though some at present move about slowly.

Last Sunday Pastor Dave zapped us with a healing sermon on forgiveness. He preaches a common-sense gospel, probing scripture deeply but gently. Don’t nobody mess with my pastor.

My repeated yammering about the equal holiness of every life moment leads some to think I hold a low view of religion and the church. Not so. I cherish my faith and my church, but God doesn’t rank-order our doings. All of life is equally spiritual. How we play is as important as how we pray. Servanthood is the highest spiritual state.

True faith always works.  Repentance means turn around and face a new direction. Salvation means taking up Jesus’ way of life, not buying into a set of doctrines. Trust in Jesus that does not change one’s life is not Bible trust. The church is its people, equally pleasing to God during prayer times or potlucks.

Emmanuel is a flavorful mix of backgrounds and viewpoints, yet no one is mad at anyone. We need no fundraisers. We work together in peace. A mule can’t kick when it’s pulling.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Twice as Much Noise

The last time I saw the Sand Hill Cranes that come for their thrice daily corn showers it was nearly the end of April and I was about to return to Ohio. They looked like this. You may recall the picture I posted at the time.

Sand Hill Craines

I’m back in Sarasota again after four months. The first day I was up bright and early to do morning pondering when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter I sprang to the window to see what was the matter. The Crane family was out on the lawn leaping and calling in unison. As I got to the window the clatter grew louder until, miraculously, it rained corn and they ceased their chatter.

DSC_4889

The babies are adult-size now, lacking only bright red caps, and they are working on that.

Young Grandpa Keith

(More than) A Little Off

In Sarasota, Florida there are two times of the year, the season and the off-season.  The off-season is very hot; the season less so. Right now in Sarasota it is definitely the off-season when you can get a table at a restaurant without waiting half an hour. If you are fool enough to go out in the sun you can find a parking spot at the beach when it’s 86 degrees at 9:00 in the morning.

One indicator of the off-season in Sarasota is the absence of the Amish and their cousins, the Mennonites. I drove past their winter enclave, Pinecraft, and saw nary a bearded man in suspenders or a woman with her head covered pedaling a three-wheeler. They’ll begin arriving by the busload starting in November.

These are strange ways to differentiate the seasons. I’m more accustomed to noticing the color of the leaves, or their absence, or whether precipitation is wet or frozen, or my neighbor’s RV is absent from his driveway because he is in Florida helping to distinguish the seasons there.

I prefer the off-season most everywhere because the season draws crowds. Crowds at the country fair or in big box stores on Black Friday are their own kind of fun, but I prefer most places when it is only me, a special friend, and, begrudgingly, a few other crowd avoiders to disturb the quiet. You can’t ponder in a crowd.

But, then, I’ve always been a little off.

Young Grandpa Keith

Goodbye Barb

Veteran Hole News readers may recall stories about my high school sweetheart Barb; how we first met and how we renewed our romance. As I write, Barb lies near death, victim of a stroke.

We were 15 when we first dated. The romance was brief. Within three months she left me for my best friend–a Tennessee Waltz thing. I was surprised to find her 72 years later at Chris Jensen nursing home, where I walked the halls with my Elsie. Barb was alert; mobile on her walker. I paused often on our rounds to chat with Barb. We laughed over the foibles of youth and sighed over the trials of old age.

Elsie died in February, 2009. I returned to Chris Jensen occasionally to lead chapels and visit friends, including Barb. Our growing friendship prompted an evening out at a restaurant where son Kevin was entertaining. I called it a geezer prom and invited friends. I bought Barb a corsage. The staff dressed her beautifully. Cameras flashed as we left for our first date.

On a whim, I had phoned the News Tribune to report I was dating a girl I last  dated 72 years earlier. A reporter and photographer showed up. The paper gave the story generous space and we had our 15 minutes of fame. Over the next months we enjoyed  haunts of our youth and reflecting on our lives. I wrote Barb often during my Tucson winters.

In June, 2013,  when I was allegedly dying, Barb visited me in the hospital. She cried and said, “Lloyd, you can’t die. You promised to take me fishing.” Maybe that’s what gave me the reprieve that led to six weeks of rehab at Chris Jensen. Barb and I visited each day.

Our times together grew less frequent after rehab, as I worked to regain mobility and strength. After my Tucson hiatus, visits resumed. I began to note Barb’s decreasing alertness and mobility. Last Wednesday, word came of her stroke.

I found Barb able to move but unable to swallow. I could detect no awareness of my presence. Today, on my third visit, I held her hand, prayed, and kissed her goodbye. We’ll hold the memorial service at Chris Jensen chapel. Kevin will sing. I will tell about God’s abiding love in Christ Jesus, and how grateful I am that his grace reunited two old codgers for companionship, brightening their final months together with ribbons of memory.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

The Gorilla

Every year brings two points of beginning: New Years’ and birthday. I blew my New Years’ resolution the first week. Hopefully, I’ll do better with my birthday. Time to get serious. Next week I start getting old.

Even after 90 years of church life, I’m stuck with flaws—a gentler term than sin. A gorilla in the living room that causes me to hurt others. His name: Self.

I grew up in a Baptist home where I gained the fundamentals of the gospel.  At age 13 I attended Holiness Methodist Red Rock Camp Meeting near South St. Paul, where I went forward and got saved. There was never a time I didn’t believe in Jesus, but you had to go forward to get properly saved.

When the Methodist bishop preached about entire sanctification (a sin-free condition, providing you didn’t backslide), it sounded like a good idea. I went forward again. A kind lady knelt by me. I told her I wanted to get sanctified and she patted me on the head and left. Not knowing how to get sanctified on my own, I left too.

Back home, true believers (Baptists) set me straight. They explained about election and perseverance of the saints, flaws notwithstanding. In seminary, Augustus Hopkins Strong’s Systematic Theology put my doctrinal ducks in a row. (Strong was a theistic evolutionist, but we didn’t pause there.)

Even with all that knowledge, flawing continued. I noticed I was not the only guilty party. Even the mighty fell. Then one day, Jesus’s words to Peter and the Twelve sank in. The one requirement for beating the gorilla was to crucify him. Deny self, take up your cross daily, and follow; all part of one command. Jesus didn’t mention Sunday school, sanctification, or preservation of the saints. Check it out: Matthew 16:21-27;   Luke 9:23-26.

So that’s my birthday resolution: study how Jesus treated people around him and follow his example. But let we warn you, that gorilla is one tough beast. Best not feed him.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Little Stuff

Hiking home from the store the other day, I got to pondering. Why on earth do Americans build such big houses and drive behemoths? Flash, power, speed; we live high and fast because we can, for a while.

I gave all that up; not that I ever had it. Yet, compared with most people in the world, I was rich and still am. There’s nothing I want I can’t get. I love my home and the people I live with; most of them take kindly to me. A very special friend cooks supper for me, and I can walk to the store.

In the dark of the night, when sleep won’t come, I write stuff like this for friends like you, many of whom I have never met.

Yesterday good friend Margaret Fait introduced me to her grandson, a new Boy Scout just back from camp. I told him about my Scouting days. Margaret asked him how old he thought I was. He eyeballed me and said 72, 73. He looked generally surprised when his grandma told him. I shook his hand and felt good all day.

Feeling good is true riches. I have peace in my heart, many friends, and my kids are good to me. I love my churches and pastor (got two). Everything I own is in my apartment and it’s way too much. I walked along ticking off my treasures, all little stuff.

Walking headed the list, wheeled walker loaded with groceries. I haven’t been able to walk a half-mile in nearly five years. I can rip off harmonica riffs like the old days; plenty of wind. I dropped a pencil and picked it off the floor without hanging onto anything and last Sunday I tied my shoes! A year ago I couldn’t dress myself. Best of all, I can think and plot the future with enthusiasm.

In spite of recent heresies, according to some, my faith burns bright. I’m finally learning what it means to live for Jesus. How many years I lost being holy!

Old Grandpa Lloyd

I Don’t Believe in God

Got your attention, didn’t I. If I said I don’t believe in Santa Clause, no one would bat an eye. But I don’t believe in God? Summon the deacons.

Think about it: Why do kids believe in Santa? They didn’t think him up. By the same token, I didn’t think up God. Santa was not part of our family tradition, but God was. Had my parents played along with the Santa myth, I surely would have believed. By and by I would have learned the old boy was just a myth and let him go. Well, my by and by is long gone and I believe in God more firmly than ever.  Mom and Dad started me on the God trail, led me into the God tribe, and I believe.

Try this: I don’t believe in UFOs. I don’t give a hoot for UFOs. Please don’t send me UFO websites or YouTube links or knock on my door. I’m not interested. I have my beliefs. I feel no obligation to consider yours. Find anything familiar?

All of us are the products of what we have been taught by people we trust. My parents believed in God and enrolled me in the God tribe. Personal experience convinced me God is real. But that does not prove my take on God is true. I am Baptist, not Catholic or Russian Orthodox. Guess why. Abandoning certain Baptist teachings proved painful, but my view of Jesus never wavered. I now own my faith. I ponder what I would be today if I had been born Catholic, Orthodox—or Muslim? How can I not be tolerant of people who hold views other than mine?

1 Peter 3:15 provides light: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (emphasis mine). Our job is to generate curiosity and we do that by living not talking. Live Christ and you will never lack opportunity to talk about him.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

Impending Autumn

It’s the middle of August and summer is winding down. Unseasonably cool weather adds to the feeling of impending autumn. When I drive around I see too many instances of colored leaves to blame on dead branches or sickly trees. That will do in July but not in August for explanation.

I fear for the tomatoes planted with such high hopes in June. We have some really big ones among a good crop of lesser specimens, but they are all still green with not a trace of red. So far this August there have been no “dog days” to help ripen them. Despite ample rain there may not be enough time for them to mature.

My six foot wide study window faces south. It is shaded by wide, low hanging eaves that keep out direct sun most of the summer. Yesterday the first inch wide bar of light appeared on the floor letting me know the sun is dropping lower in the southern sky. It’s my personal indicator of impending autumn. Soon I will be closing my curtains to reduce the glare on my computer screen, and were I here I’d open them to watch my maple tree turn red.

But I won’t be here. My Florida connections are calling. In a couple of weeks I’ll brave the height of hurricane season to spend a few months with one very special friend and my two equally special sons who make their homes there. I’ll return to the mountains in North Carolina in October to get my fall fix. If I see anything interesting in my travels I’ll take pictures.

Never mind my autumn musings. Enjoy the rest of summer.

Young Grandpa Keith

Rocks In His Head

He’s got rocks in his head. That old saying suggests a half-bubble off, but it says a lot more.  Carol Otis Hurst and James Stevenson borrowed from it for their homey book, Rocks in His Head. I almost one-clicked it to cozy up to Roadside Geology of Minnesota by Dr. Richard W. Ojakangas in my library.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had rocks in my head. Rocks talk to me. As a  kid, I couldn’t resist pretty rocks. Agates were diamonds. I came home from Scout camp with my suitcase so heavy with white quartz I could hardly lift it. The lakeshore was strewn with irresistible baseball-size pieces.

Sixty year later, I sat on an Alaska beach selecting pebbles tumbled smooth by eons of waves, each different in color and texture. I used them to tell stories to lots of kids. Now I keep them handy to remind me of good days on Lake Becharof with Paul Boskoffsky.  You can read his story in Alaska: A Man from Kanatak.

I still love rocks and love longs to touch. Last Tuesday we drove up the North Shore passing miles of Cambrian Shield formations—some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth. I itched to feel their rough surface, the early beginnings of Planet Earth, the covers of God’s other book. Rocks cry out to those who will listen.

The rough, stony fossil near my bed is the petrified outer layers a great Wyoming tree. I see in it strength and beauty equal to the ancient tree’s long years of vigor. Come to think of it, being an old fossil isn’t all that bad.

Old Grandpa Lloyd