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Archive for the ‘Darkness’ Category

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I was “away from home” ever so briefly a week or so back. The colleagues I was due to meet and work with my first full morning abroad had yet to arrive, and given the beauty of the spring morning, I went out for a brief walk.

As I often do when traveling, I was looking with great interest at all that surrounded me, and I was snapping pictures. “Toto was not in Kansas anymore”, so to speak, and I wanted to remember what was all around me. It was then that I noticed the odd looks, if not stares, from those who quickly passed by on the street all around me.

Touristen” was likely their thought. “I must look silly” was mine. Seeing the above captured “headless” reflection, I could not help recall that book from generations gone by “The Ugly American”.

As I looked up some summary info on the book, the following synopsis reminded me that lessons to learn, and awareness to maintain, is the same today as 30 or more years ago….and I’m glad I have the picture to prove it.

This is a book that is certain to deepen students’ understanding of the complexity of international affairs. Its terse, episodic style and its many portraits of individuals engaged in the process of diplomacy give readers an important sense of the dimensions of the problems which receive such cursory treatment on the nightly news. The Ugly American is mandatory reading for the citizens of a participatory democracy, in terms of understanding the mistake of the past and in order to prevent their repetition in the future.
“(chs.d211.org)

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On the left, a symbol of the ancient Chinese practice of “high tea”; on the right, the embodiment of Western Culture infringing on “Tea Boy’s” place in his world. He looks a little worried, if you ask me, and I certainly would feel the same staring into the eyes of a dragon like that.

But, stare we must, and stare down even. You see, left ignored, our dragons (and we all have them) will not simply go away.

So, what are our dragons? Fear? Insomnia? Anger? Need? Pain? Disease? Loneliness?

I am deep into reading the biography of Steve Jobs that was released after his recent death. The book is a fascinating account of the development of the personal computer industry and how it so rapidly ascended and began to change the world. Imbedded within that amazing story, however, is Jobs, and the man was apparently as much a product of his demons as he was a visionary. He had amazing insight and some philosophical views that make great sense, and yet, he struggled to stare down his dragons, as well as to exercise out his demons.

In the middle of this read, I can’t help but see similarities between the multiple characters in this book and their experiences to those I know, myself, and to our own experiences.

At the heart of so much it all is the great dragon of worry. Jesus talked about it in Matthew 6:

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God[d] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

What interested me most after reading this earlier today was the context in which Jesus began to discuss worry. It was not from the point of need, but from the place of those who already possess:

24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

We have a lot in this country, and in this era, our world. There are those in need, but so many in abundance. I wonder which of those two groups has the most worries?

So, casting fears aside, I think I’ll go drink some calming Chinese tea. I would have coffee, but that dragon looks a bit ominous for this time of the day…

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This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:10-14

His name was Daniel, and best I can tell, he never got to go home. He had trial after trial. He was called upon to make hard choices. He defied a king’s decree as a young man, and was honored for it. He prophesied about the demise of another king. He defied yet another royal decree, this time as a part of another kingdom, and he was fed to the lions for it, at least the effort was made to feed him to the lions. And through it all, God loved him very much. Even more importantly, God had plans for him, but those plans did not include getting to return to the way things were before. Daniel was an educated man. I’m sure he knew of the 70 years prophecy, and that given his age he would likely not live to see Jerusalem again.

How did Daniel respond? He prayed. He refused to deny God. He prayed some more. He did not give up.

Which brings me to today’s brief thought: are you currently in Babylon? If so, how can God use you in the place where you find yourself today? If not in Babylon, maybe you feel like part of “the remnant”, those who were left behind in a desolated Jerusalem without the ones they held dear. The same question is true here: what are you called to do? Help others pick up the broken pieces and rebuild, like some did with Nehemiah?

Maybe your captivity is disease or chronic illness, with little if any hope for cure. Maybe Babylon for you is unemployment, or underemployment. Maybe captivity means being courageous and doing the hard thing, again, and again, and again, knowing full well that it will never really get any easier.

Daniel did not give up, as I understand it, and neither should we.

Daniel’s account closes with him receiving a promise, and I think we have hope and a promise for the same.

Daniel 12: 8-13 I heard what he said, but I did not understand what he meant. So I asked, “How will all this finally end, my lord?” But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. But the wicked will continue in their wickedness, and none of them will understand. Only those who are wise will know what it means. “From the time the daily sacrifice is stopped and the sacrilegious object that causes desecration[b] is set up to be worshiped, there will be 1,290 days. And blessed are those who wait and remain until the end of the 1,335 days!

“As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.”.

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As referenced in last night’s post, I encountered a team of people during my early morning jog on the beach yesterday. They were a clean, well dressed, polite looking bunch. They carried fish net poles. And they were intensely focused. I approached the lady at the end of the column and simply verbalized my two hunches in the form of a question: Jellyfish, or tar balls? She half smiled, half grimaced, and nodded her head in acknowledgement. “Tar balls”, she said.

I never would have known it was an issue. Since that time, however, I’ve been on the internet, and the pictures of this very beach from exactly one year ago are shocking and sad. How they got it cleaned up is a mystery and a marvel. A regular “reconstruction” is what it is.

It is beautiful here today. But I wonder, “how did it look 15 months ago?”. My wife and daughters came to this place at that time, and they raved about it’s beauty and clear blue water. When we arrived here a few days ago for my first visit, they commented about how the water is “not as blue as last time; maybe it is the time of year…”.

How did the accident causing all of this “collateral damage” occur? Because of the decisions of a group of only a few people, primarily those in roles of authority on the Deepwater Horizon rig itself, and some in the halls of corporate power.

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The book I brought along on this trip is “Flyboys” by James Bradley, the author of “Flags of Our Fathers”. The premise of the book is to tell the story of the flight of men, including President George Bush I, who were shot down over the island of Chichi Jima and what eventually happened to each of them. It is a fascinating account, but is almost as much cultural history and a treatise on the horrors and crimes of war (on both sides) as it is about the men he calls Flyboys.

The horrors of war and the mass number of civilian deaths and suffering from WWII are astounding. Even more astounding is how much death and destruction occurred in the final days of each theater of war, mostly because the few refused to read the handwriting on the wall and give up their positions and demands. Millions upon millions, and suffering beyond measure, all because of human pride, greed, and ego. And hatred, lots of growing and compounding hatred.

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The same was true of the civil war, as my kids so earnestly discovered in our tour of Vicksburg earlier in the week.

I won’t even attempt to touch today on the bigger basic points of “original sin”, “death thru Adam and Eve”, redemption, and the like. My point today is about leadership: vision, motivation, and responsibility. There is a management saying that “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. It is a fairly innocent saying, mostly condemning policies and practices that hold people and companies back from achieving to their full potential.

An even more sobering reality, though, is that with bad vision, people will perish. And suffer. Lots of people.

It all starts with one person: Me. You. The other guy.

We are each responsible; responsible to be responsible. And to be loving, caring, and cautious. Can this decision hurt others? Is the desired outcome worth it? Is it about me, or my agenda? Is it driven by greed, lust, pride, anger, and the like?

But, reconstruction can occur. It happened in the Confederate South. It happened in Japan. It happened in Germany and throughout Europe. And it happened on this beach. Yes, scars, remain. Maybe the water is not as blue as it was before. The name Hiroshima will always conjur up images other than the place of beauty it represented 70 years ago and prior. What happened in Dresden should never be. We need to remember.

Scars remain, and diligent people remain to ensure the cleanup happens and that the accidents and incidents hopefully don’t repeat themselves. Leaders are more aware. Constituents are more aware. The memory of the cost is vivid.

So long as time continues, history will repeat itself. Memories will fade. There will be greed and renewed self interest. There will be mistakes. There will be more wars.

But, not here, and not today. We have beautiful friends in Japan. We have beautiful friends in Germany. And it is a beautiful day in Gulf Shores, even a mere 12 months after the devastation, and I can see the morning cleanup crew forming down along the water’s edge, and it’s not even 7 AM yet. Diligence and caring will pull us through.

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Circa 2007: “All is well; buy our stuff”.

Circa 2008: “Dumb question: that won’t happen”. (new BearS chairman speaking to yours truly, 2 months before their doom).

It’s Friday the 13th. The CNBC prognosticators are talking about the Fed, inflation, the SEC, and “the reason it’s different”. And, of course, Goldman is always in the background: the circa 2011 version of Bear, I would contend.

I’m beginning to think the whole lot of them is corrupt with self interest.

Cynicism expressed, I’m cheering for my retirement account. Go baby, go….

:/

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 1996: Dateline – Weatherford, Texas.    A lunar eclipse was experienced tonight.    The young family of Jeff Bingham, age 30, his wife Sherry, age 28, and daughter, Hannah, age 4, put down the tailgate of their new Mazda B2300 pickup and sat out in their driveway and watched the moon as its brightness slowly turned a faded shade of blood red.    

Life was a little simpler, then, maybe.   Maybe not.   Smaller family, smaller house, smaller bills.     More hours at the office, but definitely much less technology, so when you left work, you left work.       Extended family was smaller, and bigger, all at the same time.   Generations come, and generations go.     Both of Jeff’s grandmothers were only a short 20 minute drive away that night that he, Sherry, and Hannah experienced their first eclipse together. 

2010: Dateline – Edmond, Oklahoma.   A lunar eclipse was experienced tonight.    The young family of Jeff Bingham, age 44, his wife Sherry, age undisclosed, and daughter, Hannah, age 18, got up at 2:00 am and went out into their front yard and noticed through thin cloud cover that the moon had turned a faded shade of blood-red.    Being wintertime, the air had a chill to it.   Suddenly, after what seemed like seconds had passed, Jeff and Hannah realized that Sherry was no longer standing with them.     With this being such a historic event, siblings not present for the 1996 eclipse, Alec and Rebecca, were retrieved from their beds, and they too made cameo appearances on the front porch.    “So that’s history?   When’s it coming back again?   That long?”.    And they too disappeared back to the warmth of their beds.

As Hannah and I sat outside for another 10 or 15 minutes, my greatest joy came not from watching the eclipse, but in watching her wonder at life and how she finds pure excitement in the simple minutes.     Many minutes have passed since 1996, and many of them filled with joy, as well as occasional heartache.    Too much house, too many bills, too much technology, and not enough sitting down in the chilled air to experience a still moment in time with someone you love.

2010: And we were there.   As we approach the finish line on this calendar, I’m reflecting on all that has happened this year; so much so, that after 30 minutes back in bed (post eclipse watch party) the mind was racing too much to not get back up and jot these thoughts down before they too were a fleeting memory, like all the eclipses of history that have come and gone.    Generations come, and generations go.     The younger generation of the family saw its first wedding this year, and we saw the last of the oldest living generation, both grandmothers, go on to the life that follows this.     

Perhaps a lunar eclipse can be an analogy of this life transition: the moon rises early, shines brightly for a while, and then is dimmed to a faded shade, with only its past glory faintly visible.     But the time of eclipse always passes, and the brightness of life is dimmed no more.     You see, the moon does not shine its own light, but in reflects the light of the Sun, as we reflect the light of the Son.    Our glory and brightness an an image of His.

2094: Dateline – Somewhere in timeless.    As Hannah and I prepared to come inside tonight, we talked about the next eclipse that will be visible from North America occurring in 2094.     I’m glad she asked us to get up and experience this one with her tonight.    I don’t plan on residing in North America in 2094.    I don’t think she does, either.     Perhaps, if the Sun, Moon, and Stars are still in existence, we can find a good vantage point, one not obscured by the clouds.       Maybe my grandmothers will join us that night.     I think they will be in the neighborhood.    You are welcomed to join us too.    It promises to be a good night.     I’ll even put the tailgate down on the truck for us…

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