Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Troublemaker

I’m a trouble maker. An instigator and agitator. I like to poke at things and people and ideas, just to see what happens.  When things get too quite I try to rile them up again.  I pick at other peoples’ scabs (mental not physical – that would be gross).
Now listen, I don’t want to be misunderstood.  I’m not mean.  I’m a kind hearted soul.  But I don’t like to get too comfortable and I don’t think other people should be allowed to become too comfortable.  Nothing changes when it is comfortable.  Comfort is just a dressed up way of saying stagnant.
Rearrange your furniture, move the silverware drawer, fold your underwear differently and you might have a new thought.  A new insight.  A revelation.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How To Name A Cat

We lived in a too small house.  A house built for two and we were more.  I needed an office space that I didn’t have to rent. 
My publishing business could be run as easily from a home office as from the office space it was currently in.  All I needed was space to put the equipment; computers, printers, copier, light table, files and more files.  But we lived in a too small house.
We found a house.  A big house.  An old house.  A house with a basement room with an outside door.  An office space where my sales staff could come and go without interrupting life in the home.  We bought the house.
The house was Victorian architecture built with huge, red, Colorado sandstone in 1890.  Although it was now in Des Moines, at the time it was built newspaper stories about it wondered, “Why would anyone want to live so far outside the city.”  Although it was no longer surrounded by fields and forests, we soon discovered that there was wild creatures who wanted to share our home.  Mice.
We need a cat.  A tom cat.  An old cat.  A cat wise in the ways of mice.  We need a cat.  We need a hunter.  A slayer of mice.
Having overheard that I wanted a cat, our daughter, knowing of a person who raised cats, brought us two female kittens in a cage.  A cage in which they’d lived most of their lives.  In a cage that they were to afraid to leave.  Two scaredy cats.  Two kittens ignorant of mice and their ways.  Kittens.  Not cats.  Not what I wanted, but I couldn’t send them back to that pet mill from which they came.
Names.  They needed names.  I don’t really know why people give names to cats.  Cats seldom come when you call their names.  They may come when you say, “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty” and have food for them.  Or they may just lift their head from where they lay curled in the sun, and stare at you with the most dismissive of looks.  But we feel the need to name them.  It is our God given duty to name the animals.  Read Genesis chapter two and verses nineteen and twenty, if you don’t believe me.  Names.  They needed names.
The black cat was easy to name.  Aren’t all black cats named Midnight?  The gray tabby cat … what to name the gray tabby?  Something to match her personality.  Crazy Cat?  Kitty Retardo?  Skittish Kittish?
It happened when my son and I were sitting at the table in the kitchen.  The kitchen was one of only three rooms in the house without carpeting.  The other two being bathrooms.   So, there we were sitting and pondering names.  That was when the gray tabby made and entrance.  I don’t mean to say that she came into the room.  I mean to say that she made an entrance.  And it was an entrance that we recognized.  We had seen that entrance many times.   On TV.  On Seinfeld.  The kitten came sliding sideways into the kitchen and then did a little twitch and looked at us expectantly.  Kramer!  It was obvious that this kitten’s name was Kramer.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Who is Nailed to the Cross"

       It is really hot under this metal helmet and this place smells of death. That's why I hate this part of the job! But I'm a centurion, and standing guard at executions is part of the duty.

     Listen! Can you hear the sound of the hammer driving those huge iron spikes Clack! Clack! Thomp!  Did you notice how the sound changed when it finally went through the hands and into the wood?  I'll never get used to that!

     Hmm ... Only three crosses today! ... business is a little slow. But there's still a lot of screams. Not just from the crucified but also from the crowd. Mothers, fathers, wives, children.

    Even thieves and murders have loved ones; tears are flowing like blood ... and blood is flowing like tears. Everything ... everybody is in motion.  The crowd is milling around trying to get closer to the crosses ... trying to get away from the crosses. It's a human swarm of the curious trying to see who is on the center cross. It's hard to look ... It's hard to look away!

     Who IS that on that cross? "The king of the Jews" That's what the sign over his head reads.   Oh yeah! Our Caesar and his governors would love to believe that!  What a show of power to nail the Jew's king to the cross.

     Rome has had nothing but trouble since we conquered this little hunk of "paradise" Hang their king on a cross ... yeah, that should break their rebellious spirit!  Bunch of trouble makers. If it weren't for them, I could be back in Rome with my family.

    This guy had a family too. I've kinda gotten to know some of His story.  He was a carpenter like His father. A guy named Joseph. I don't know much about the father.  But His mother is named Mary.  Some say she followed Him everywhere.  That's her at the foot of the cross with one of His disciples.

     His disciples didn't call Him a carpenter. They called Him Rabbi ... teacher.  He was called teacher many times by many people (even some of the religious leaders!).

     I remember hearing Him teaching on the mountain. He taught the law and the prophets with an authority!  I heard Him again by the seaside.  (He was attracting such large crowds that some of us centurions were detailed to keep an eye on Him.)  You couldn't help but listen. He made things so easy to understand. All His talk of sheep and shepherds and sewing seed and masters and slaves ... even a soldier like me could understand that he was speaking of our relationship to each other and to God. What a teacher!

     Some say He was more than a teacher.  That He was a prophet.  You know, He did speak a lot about future events.  About the coming "Kingdom of God" and how to prepare for it.  About a place prepared for His followers in the afterlife and what it was going to be like.   Mostly though He spoke a lot about today ... about His betrayal, His trial, His beating and His death. Yes, I guess He was a prophet too.

     But why would a teacher and a prophet be nailed to a cross?  If He had just stuck with teaching and prophesying, He'd have been all right ... I think.  But He was an outlaw and a trouble maker. He made a real mess awhile ago in the temple courtyard, turning over tables and chasing money-changers and merchants away.  Calling them thieves in His Father's house.

    He broke many of the Rabbinical Laws (although He said that those were just human precepts -- not the Law of God). His disciples worked on the Sabbath! As did He Himself. A big Jewish no - no! He was even known to have healed people on the Lord's Day!

     Oh yes, He was a healer.  He would lay hands on people and cure them!  Even touched lepers!  That gives me the creeps to think about.  Made the blind to see and the lame to walk.  He even healed non-Jews! Can you believe that?  Isn't it considered consorting with the enemy when you heal a Roman Centurion's slave?  (They are friends of mine, the centurion and his wife, and that slave is almost like one of the family.)  And this guy healed him without even going to the house.  Now that's some powerful healing!

     And He healed people's lives not just their bodies. He called demons and evil spirits from people so that folks could return to a normal life.  Even that guy wrapped in chains that lived among the tombs.

     Oh yeah ... speaking of the tombs.  Now this is hard to believe ... they say He raised the dead ... on more than one occasion!  One guy, Lazarus, had even been buried for several days!  Now I'd call that not just a doctor ... I'd call Him a GREAT physician.

     It's when He healed their souls that really got Him in trouble.  He forgave people of their SINS!  Did you hear the conversation he had with those other two on the crosses?  He promised the one that he'd be in paradise.  And he even asked his father to forgive US. Saying that we didn't know what we were doing.

     But I'm beginning to suspect!  (Now I heard it explained something like this: If I step on your toes, YOU can forgive me.  No one else can forgive me because it wasn't THEIR toes!  So ... if I sin, that's a sin against God and nobody but God can forgive me).  Yet, He did! It was like He was claiming to BE God!

     That is what really angered the religious establishment most of all!  He claimed to have power greater than theirs.  He did a lot of miracles that demonstrated his divine power.  Walking on water, calming storms, turning water to wine and feeding 5,000 people on some little boy's lunch!

     That's the real reason He's hanging on that cross.  Or maybe it isn't the REASON.  Maybe that's just the EXCUSE.  I'm sure you may remember John. Yeah the guy in the hair coat that Herod had beheaded.  I think they called him the baptizer or something.

    Anyway, this guy on the cross went to see John at the Jordon River and to be baptized.  John sees Him coming and yells out, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

     If you ask me, that's who is hanging on the cross. The sacrificial lamb.  The lamb without spot or blemish.  That's what the Jews have to sacrifice every year to be forgiven for their sins.

     Well this is the perfect man who knew no sin and yet has taken everyone's sin ... your sin ... even my sin (even though I'm not even a Jew) ... all of the world's sin ... and nailed them to the cross in his own body.

     Listen!  He's saying something ... I've picked up a little of their Aramaic language while I've been stationed here. ... It' as if He's feeling abandoned as if the sins of the whole world and for all times were weighing on him.

     Now he's committing His life into His Father's hands and giving up His life.

     Did you get that?  Giving up His life.  Showing us that we couldn't TAKE it. But He is willingly giving it in our place.

     Look! The sky is darking and the earth quakes at his passing.  Truly this man was God's Son!

This story is inspired by the reading of Mathew 27:46-57 which I've included here. (Scripture quoted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 

Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God

Friday, December 2, 2011

“Single Occupancy”

Brightly the cold December sun hung low in the afternoon sky.  Naked trees cast zebra stripes on the blacktop road.  Sun.  Shadow. Sun.  Shadow.  Sun. Shadow.  Nearly mesmerized by the light flickering through the windshield, I drove.

Sunlight changed to heat as it passed through the car windows.  My face was flush with the warmth while my feet were freezing in the shadows beneath the dash. 

As if measured by a miser, an occasional flake of snow flew through the air.  For hours the snow had fallen thus, and yet there was no accumulation. “Where does the snow go?” I wondered aloud.  It’s too cold to melt and yet there is no sign of it on the ground.  “Perhaps it is the same five or six flakes accompanying me down the road.” 

It would suit my mood to have tiny shards of ice as my companion.  Straight and lonely this road had gone on for mile after mile and yet the scenery had never varied.  Half shutting my eyes against the sun’s glare, I thought that I should feel fortunate that I wasn’t driving directly into it. 

I didn’t feel fortunate. 
She was gone. The weight of loneliness sat on my shoulders and compressed my spine as I hunched over the steering wheel.  My mind had become numb from the sameness.  My eyes, that I had been holding half closed, were now a struggle to keep half open. Slowly fatigue overtook me and I slept. 
I awoke!  Still driving. 

The sun had dropped below the horizon and I had not noticed.  Grief and fatigue created a headache that now settled between my eyes. Beyond my headlights a sign appeared. “M  el” it blinked in red neon.  

My tires crunched on gravel as I pulled to a stop in front of the office.  Peeling paint and tarnished metal were the main decorating elements of a motel that had started out cheep and gone down hill from there. 

Ebenezer Scrooge’s twin stood up from his seat behind the counter and asked, “Single occupancy?” And I cried.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Memories of Spring Cleaning

The sun is shining so brightly this morning that, even though it is only 27 degrees outside, it warms my soul.  It made me flash on a memory from when I was a child of around eight-years old. 
            It spring time and one of the first truly warm days after a cold winter had arrived.  To my mother spring meant cleaning.  Not just sweeping and moping cleaning, this meant deep, deep cleaning.  This was when the living room furniture was hauled out onto the front lawn.  The room was stripped bare of furniture, pictures, curtains and me.  I was exiled to the front yard with the furniture.
            With a cotton cloth over the straws of the broom, Mom would sweep the ceiling and walls.  A dry cloth followed by a wet cloth wiped away the dust from the window and door frames.  The baseboards got the same treatment while she crawled around on hands and knees.
            The windows were cleaned with white vinegar and gave the house a pungent smell that lasted for days.  The outside of the windows would be cleaned the same way at a later date when the storm windows were taken down and stored away in the cellar.
            The walls were inspected and spot scrubbed before a general wipe down with another damp towel.  Touch up painting might follow the cleaning or possibly they would get a completely new color coating of fresh paint.  That year no painting was needed.
            The wooden floor was swept and then a well soaped scrub brush was applied to the floor, again on hands and knees.  The floor was then rinsed several times and then a few coatings of liquid wax were applied.
While this was taking place inside the house, it was my job to clean the furniture.  The cushions came off the couch and Mom’s chair.  This was a special treat because I got to keep any coins found in the couch.  I usually came up with more pencils and small toys than I did money but it was still a treasure hunt.  And then I got to whack the stuffed and upholstered furniture with a rug beater.  What young boy could pass up a chance to beat up a couch?  Of course in my imagination I was taking down a buffalo or some such beast with my bare hands.  Clouds of dust would come out into the bright sunlight and sparkle like flecks of gold in the air.  Sometimes they were stars as I went hurling through the cosmos in my space ship.
            The wooden furniture got a dusting and then I was allowed to rub them down with furniture oil.  This was long before I ever heard of lemon scented furniture polish.  I don’t know what kind of oil it was but it had a pleasantly earth aroma.  With the warm sun soaking into my skin I was transported to the old west where I was wiping down my horse after a long ride through the desert, where I had been tracking down rustlers.
            I was always done with my job before Mom finished her cleaning.  Sometimes I would transform the couch into a car and go for a drive.  Sometimes I would be chased by spies! I might be held prisoner in a jail cell formed by the back of wooden chairs. 
And sometimes exhausted by all my adventures I would lay on the cool green grass and be filled with the smell of earth, the sounds of robins and cardinals, and the heat of the sun with the feel of the breeze tickling the hairs on my arm.  And then I would sleep.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gray Flannel Sky

      Gray flannel sky this morning.  The slight breeze turning thirty degrees into a wind-chill of 24.  After days and days of rain, a little overcast sky looks pretty good to me.  We’ve needed the rain, so I won’t complain.  However, I’d like a little sunshine sometime before snow falls.
      I’m amazed at the number of trees still holding tight to their leaves.  It’s like their afraid to let them go.  Maybe they’re cold!  Soon enough they’ll look like black skeletons coated with white cotton.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dry Bones

         I was reading from Ezekiel, "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’  I said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’"
I thought to myself that if the Lord had asked me that question I would have replied, "Are you nuts?   Of course not!"
I realize that this is meant as a symbolic story to help visualize a lesson that God was teaching Ezekiel.  I can easily accept the story of dry bones coming to life as an allegory but not as a true event.
Strange thing is, there was a show on the Discovery Channel about "gene hunters".  These guys are trying to piece together the genome of saber-tooth tigers to be implanted in modern day lion or tiger.  Another set of scientists is working on recreating mammoths.
Hmmm!  ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thinking On Rain

Today it rained. I had driven my wife to the mall. Not feeling like shopping, I sat in a parking lot for a while listening to the gentle rain on the roof of the van.
I was trying to think of a way to describe the sound it made. It was so faint. So soft. Sometimes there seemed to be almost a rhythm like butterflies marching on the roof. Sometimes it was as chaotic as ants using Q-tips to do battle!
I reclined the driver’s seat to better hear the rain on the roof.
My wife woke me when she returned from shopping!
I like rain. I particularly like gentle, windless rains. Those are the best rains for walking in. Not bent over, collar up, running through the rain. Walking head back, mouth and eyes open, twirling in circles, laughing at the sky!
Of course, since I’m nearing sixty years old and a rather large man, that may frighten some people!
Have you ever noticed how rain changes the smell of things? Oddly enough when it first starts to rain the air smells dusty (if you’re in country). In the city the rain, at first, seems to bring out the smells of hot sidewalks and old oil.
Usually you can smell the rain coming before it arrives.
During the rain, smells are suppressed. All you smell is rain!
Now! After the rain! That’s when everything smells fresh and cool and clean.
Except the dog!

Remembering Gran’pa Coons

I have been thinking about my grandfather.  There are some things that I remember and there are some things that I know about my grandfather.  My memories of my gran’pa are few.  He was in his nineties when I was born, so I remember him as a frail old man who had big gaps in his memory.
What I know of him paints a different picture that is hard for me to visualize.  Trying to picture him as tall, lean and muscular is difficult.  I know he was these things, because he had to be. 
He made part of his living digging wells.  This was before big drilling machines.  This was in the day when they were dug with muscle and sweat.  He was what was known as a well witch or water diviner.
I remember that he showed me how to cut a forked branch from a sapling to use as a divining rod.  He held it in an overhand grasp and then walked with it in front of him. When the end dipped of its own accord this is where there was water.  He could tell by the pull of the rod how deep the well would be.
I’m not sure that I believe in diving for water, but I’ve held it in my hands and felt the pull for myself.
They other thing that he did was fiddle for dances.  All of my grandfather’s relatives played various musical instruments.  These are things I’ve been told by my mother.
These things I remember: I remember gran’pa sitting at the table just staring and not saying a word.  This was his way of letting us know that we needed to pass something to him.  I remember him eating peas with his knife and saucering his coffee for it to cool. 
I recall his mustache.  I’m, at the time of this writing, fifty-six years old and I still envy that mustache.  It was a glorious, bushy thing that completely covered his lower lip. 
I can still see him sitting in his easy chair with his feet propped up in the open door of the oil burner.  The oil burning stove sat in the living room and was the only heat for the two story house.  Gran’pa would sit there and go to sleep with his eyes open.  That both fascinated and scared me.  Once he’d gone to sleep, his pipe would fall out onto his chest.  I think every shirt he owned had burn holes in it.
He had holes in more than his clothes.  He also had holes in his memory.  He knew I was his grandson, but he didn’t recognize my mother as his daughter.  He always called her “that woman”.  I remember how much that hurt her.