Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Strobe Lights - Closing Doors - The Sights and Sounds of Christmas

As each year passes it becomes more and more difficult for Sandy and me to be away from our children. Not even on our most optimistic days of child rearing did we ever dream of one day sharing the depth of relationship that has become ours with Justin, Josh, and Meagan. Now when a major holiday comes around the great anticipation is not receiving a gift or a day off from work. Instead, we ache for a reunion with our kids.

Yesterday, Miss Meagan loaded her suitcase into Scooter's hatchback (Scooter is the name she gave her VW Golf), left Georgia College, and picked up Josh in Atlanta. Together, they turned their backs on the warm, sunny Southeast and began the journey toward the cold, snowy Northeast - destination Philly, then Massachusetts, and finally Maine. Last night they finished the first leg and spent the night with friends in Philly. This morning they resumed their journey to the Commonwealth. It's been a devil of a day. The traffic has flowed slower than molasses running uphill on a cold winter morning. But tomorrow all four of us will climb into the Expedition and make the final five hour leg of the trip - together - to Old Town, Maine.

For Sandy and me the sights and sounds of Christmas will be a set of headlights that will pierce the darkness and strobe the front yard - and the sound of two car doors and a hatchback open, then close.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Life Happens

Life is like a vapor. It appears for a little while and then disappears. ~ The Bible

Looking beyond the window pane at the pristine blue sky surrounding the golden sun, it was easy to imagine that we were in the midst of milder, fall-like weather (For more than one day). Not the case. Giving no consideration to the windchill factor, this week the mercury will grudgingly creep to 31 degrees! In the past week we have seen it all: snow; torrential rain - accompanied by booming thunder claps; sleet, and seasonally mild temperatures. During the snow, I saw entire families having snowball fights and making snowmen. On the day the skies above rumbled and rattled, I was awestruck to witness a thunderstorm in December. During the torrential rain day - rain that came down sideways - I passed four people on road bikes. Each with their head down - peddling into the teeth of wind, sleet, and a slashing downpour. All that was followed by a mild December and many bikers jumped on one more chance to straddle their Harley, and enjoy two wheels and a breeze, rather than leave their iron horses corralled in the garage. . .

Each day a vignette and metaphor of life.

Families slinging and sculpting snow, cyclists forging ahead undaunted by monsoon-like rain, and bikers taking advantage of a winter's day window of opportunity were situations where those involved responded in contradiction to the norm. Their situation did not cause them to downshift, or sit idly by in neutral to await more favorable circumstances. Instead, they lived in them. They lived through them. They enjoyed them.

That is the way life plays out - the metaphor. Just as we cannot allow the quality and activities of a day to be determined by Fahrenheit or Celsius, or whether it is windy or calm, sunny or cloudy, tranquil or thunderous - neither can we let the constantly shifting landscape of life dictate how we will live out the days God gives us.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hypnotic

Ten hours passed from the time I fell asleep to the time my eyes opened. Emerging from dreamland, I forget where I am, but slivers of dawn coming through the louvered blinds provide enough light for me to I see. I am in a four poster bed - not my bed. Reoriented, I know I am at The Farm, a log home shaded by towering pines, surrounded by several hundred acres in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Though I think mine is a fair question, I have never asked, Otis, why do you call this a farm? Yet, nearly every time I have turned through the rugged stone columns, that question comes to mind. Crossing the threshold of the entrance, you gradually ascend to the first of two humpbacks. At its pinnacle, your gaze is drawn downward to the perfectly manicured grounds, and the centerpiece of the landscape - the lake. A boat house, dock, ascetically placed benches, Adirondack chairs, and trellised vineyards are only a smattering of the artistry the biblical Adam's offspring use to follow the injunction to tame and cultivate their world. With that, do the images I describe evoke the succinct, two syllable description The Farm?

Nonetheless, I am staying in a log house, at Scarborough Farms, where Tennessee Walkers are raised and trained to compete (but never planted and harvested to eat).

I pour my fresh brewed coffee into a thermal cup and am out the door shortly after daybreak. Ever present are the four dogs. One is named Lou; the others I just call Dog 2, Dog 3, and Dog 4. They love people. I no more than crack the door when I hear them tearing through fallen leaves to greet me. I continue out the door and cross the deck. I am like the Pied Piper and his entourage as Lou, Dog 2, Dog 3, and Dog 4 follow me stride for stride toward the rising sun. In the crisp morning air our breath trails behind us and dissipate. Squirrels, who differ little from the dogs, except in size and the ability to climb trees, are chasing each other around a large oak, spiraling upward like the stripe on a candy cane. Bark is flying as they scamper skyward. Neither gravity nor my presence has any effect them.

To read and write is my purpose for hiking to this spot, but the canines are driving me crazy. Lou continually drops sticks and pine cones in my lap - she wants to play fetch. I don't. I decide I will feign sleep. A few minutes pass, and I cannot hear or smell the dogs. In a really sneaky way, I open one eye to see if the dogs have abandoned me to look for someone or something less boring. Doggone dogs are gone (The old act-like-you-are-asleep trick worked)!

Steam is rising through the sipping hole in my coffee cup like smoke through a chimney. Just as a helium balloon will rise higher and higher, earth's star is floating higher and higher above the edge of the world it scaled just minutes ago. Horses are peacefully grazing just beyond the fence - the only barrier that separates us.

Where I stand is a thin place - the thinnest of barrier separates the physical from the spiritual. I am comfortably alone.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Oops!

My last blog went out in rough draft form. Although my grammar is "nuttin to rite hoam bout. It iz fixt now. Wel - itz mor betta;-)"

Monday, November 9, 2009

HIgh Ground and Low Branches

Seated on high ground, beneath an oak tree whose leaves are making the autumn transition from green to a burnt orange, I am able to look down and across the entire length of the pasture that thoroughbred Tennessee Walkers call home. Some are chestnut, sorrel, roan, and black in color. Some have matched and mismatched stockings. Some, a blaze on their chest or above their eyes. Some were born this spring, and they are just like kids. No reason is needed for them sprint across their playground, kicking up their heels and clumps of sod. The sun has willed itself above the treetops, and the billions of dewdrops, that sparkle like diamonds, are slowly evaporating, or nourishing the roots of the rolling acreage before me.

I passed up an opportunity to hunt this a.m., and chose to write and meditate with my feet on the ground, rather than dangling in thin air. When the desire to craft one's thoughts and observances into prose strikes, I think it is probably like the inspiration that an artist experiences, but colors are his ink, a brush is his pen, and his pages are made of canvas. When I need to write the compelling will not pass without being satisfied.

Itself invisible, a breeze sneaks up behind me. Its stealthy nature is betrayed by the shower of oak leaves that tremble and slide by me on a slant. Each time the sky exhales, acorns plop and rattle the dry, fragile leaves. Temperatures are heading south from a low of 41 degrees. It is cold enough to wear my dark western duster; a long oilcloth coat, that stiffly drapes down to the top of my cowboy boots. I think dusters are cool!

Yesterday, with horses between our knees, Josh, Cary, and I threaded between planted pines and along trails cut through scrubby oak and brambles. We crossed an earthen dam, zigged and zagged around trees, and ducked under low hanging branches. From time to time, I hung onto the saddle horn as I leaned forward looking at forest floor for scrapes and rubs - signs that the rut had begun (makes you feel like a cowboy, even if you are one of those rhinestone kind). Speaking of cowboys - I rode Cowboy, a handsome sorrel, with a long smooth gait, and a compliant temperament.

Josh rode Chalk, who is a bit cranky and rebellious. Watching Josh handle a horse, it is obvious that the thin Native American bloodlines, found on both sides of his heritage, converged in Josh. He is an incredible rider and has that mystical bond with equines that our country's indigenous people were known for. He is a gifted young man that I am so proud of and so love.

Josh has spent a couple of nights with me at the farm. Last night we both wretched and gagged as we watched the Yam Dankees win the world series. Saturday is Josh's birthday, so Miss Meagan, our perfect daughter, is driving to Columbus from Milledgeville to celebrate with a group of us that are going out to a secluded place to shoot skeet, build a fire much bigger than we need, do lots of talking and philosophising, and more than likely see one day end, and a new day arrive. Father and son are very much alike in that way. For us, there is no greater gift than the gift of God's ingenious creation.

(My apologies to those of you who received this blog unedited. Sometimes I am more grammatically challenged then others)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Man on the Moon and One in a Treestand

Even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will be like the day. For darkness is as light to You. ~ Psalm 139

Beneath me is a food plot shaped like an L, and it wraps around the northwest corner of a 10 acre dove field. To the east, and just above the treeline, the full moon has appeared in broad daylight. Though it is daytime, it is only slightly dimmed. I can clearly see its most distinguishable and notable characteristic - the Man on the Moon.

The night is like the day. For darkness is as light to you . . .

Hmmm. I wonder if just such an image inspired King David's words? I know it is a mystical sight and causes my heart to muse on the Divine. For me, God has made nature a significant spokesperson. The created world truly makes the invisible visible. My spirit is refreshed and encouraged when . . . The heavens declare the glory of God.

I am doing the rough copy of this post while sitting in a tree stand with a crossbow by my right side. Technically, I am hunting. But not really. Actually, disappointment will not show up if a deer does not. Soaking in the sounds, identifying different types of trees, the smells, and the amusement I get when dusk's shadows play tricks on my eyes and imagination (subtle movement of shades of light can make a bush look like a buck) keeps me entertained.

Earth and moon are drifting apart. Around me - my world grows dark. Above me - the heavens begin to glow. Rays from the sun, which I can no longer see, are bouncing off the pocked surface of our natural satellite. The Man on the Moon's silhouette is clear and sharp and dapper.

I took the bolt from the crossbow and disarmed it; legal shooting has long passed. Now, I am content to watch two does cast moon shadows as they cautiously approach the table spread before them. Though at first wary, they have settled in and are peacefully grazing. They have no idea I am 15 feet above watching their every move, and enjoying them for the magnificent creatures they are.

Perched on this moonlit pedestal it occurs to me . . . I, too, am finding nourishment. For my soul. Through God's created world. A nourishment a venison steak could never provide. Quickly, cooling Georgia night begins to chill my nose and cheeks and exhilarates me. Yet - at the same time - a warmth and soothing fills me. Why? Because in the midst of so much sensory awareness it has occurred to me . . .

God is just above me. Watching me. Enjoying me for what and who I am.

Even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will be like the day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Unplugged

I hoped that there would be a wireless network in our neighborhood we could . . . well pirate. No dice. You see, we recently canceled our Comcast bundle. No TV (which is absolutely fine with us). No internet. But we have a new IT headquarters--Dunkin' Donuts. It's only 10 minutes from the house, and the internet is free. It's a great set-up. There is a lounge area with comfortable, brown leather couches and chairs. Across the length of the back wall is a granite countertop with plenty of outlets to stay powered up. A television mounted close to the ceiling is broadcasting the Red Sox/Yankees game. No one seems very interested. Heads lifted for just a second when A-Rod hit a belt high fast ball out of the park. Next to me is a young couple, and they are loading programs into their new PC. They asked me to help them. Now that is funny--I can load a gun, load a hay wagon, load a wood stove, and I used to know how to load film into a camera (now they use memory sticks. Do you load memory sticks?), but beyond turning my computer on, and clicking a few icons, I am a clueless.

I told them I am a Mac user.

We can no longer access cyberspace as quickly, or as often, as we are accustomed. But I am not sure that is such a bad thing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Anchors Away

Etched into the dermis of my left shoulder is a tattoo—the tattoo is that of a Compass. Like the family crest of the old English, plaids of the Scots, or the signet ring of the Prodigal’s father, that Compass holds iconic significance for me. In my core, the desire for adventure never takes a break. Never. Those who are hard-wired in such a way, know there is a special set of curses--as well as blessings--that accompany such a disposition.

Adventurers are . . .

Blessed, because they do not live with a fear to explore, risk, or advance into the unknown.

Blessed, because their comfort with the unfamiliar, positions them to be unusually blessed to experience the unusual.

Blessed, because situations others would find frantic—they find the romantic.

Blessed, because, to loosely quote Saint Augustine, “Life is a book, and those who never travel read only one page.” Adventurers are on the move—even when they are sitting still! Wide horizons and broad perspectives fuel their imagination.

They are also . . .

Cursed, because their fearlessness often leads to recklessness—risk is not weighed against reward. They will charge into the unknown with little more than a generous supply of optimism and naïveté. Careless.

Cursed, because they thrive on the rush and challenge that comes with the unfamiliar. But they do not let—or get—familiar enough with any one place, or any one person. Despite having no desire to be a loner, they are often alone.

Cursed, because the fine line that separates frantic and romantic can get blurred—the romantic often morphs frantic.

Cursed, because they are page-turners—they move on from one adventure to another. Too quickly. Too easily.

The Compass reminds me of the tension and freedom—vision and confusion—exhilaration and exasperation—and the blessing and curse of belonging to the fraternity of the Predisposed Toward Exploits. Notional winds always find the sails of the explorer ready to billow, and skim toward uncharted horizons. Journeys can get messy, and it is not uncommon to see such adventurers damaged or dashed to splinters on the ragged reefs of life. Getting off course, and staying on course are constant and equal threats.

My iconic compass prompts me to monitor the confluence of blessings and curses that flow through my lifeblood. It points are fixed and help me right my ship or confirm my bearings. Even though the sojourn may be circuitous, I will get to the right port . . . and listen for the prompt, “Anchors away.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

32

Sandy was 19, and I was 21 when we were married in Dallas, Texas. Tomorrow, September 10, it will be 32 years. During that time we have raised 3 outstanding children, began 3 church plants, been the Sr. Pastor in 3 pastorates. For 2 years we represented an international ministry. Our successes have been many and our failures fewer. Unspeakable joy and seemingly unbearable heartaches have been ours. We have soared to great spiritual heights, and we have plumbed the depths of despair. Many of the mysteries of life and relationships remain unsolved. Questions? Many. Answers? Fewer. Both friends and adversaries are ours. To many, we have been a great source encouragement. Speaking for myself, to many, I have been a great disappointment. To advance the Kingdom, we have stayed in the homes of Gypsy, Bulgarian, and Greek families in Northern Europe. We have built a school for the deaf children in Mexico. Concluding the greatest adventure of my life, I celebrated Easter--in 2005--on the banks of the Mekong River. We have discipled Chinese on their home turf, and navigated the tensions and chaos of Venezuela in the city of Caracas. We have ministered in the warmth, opulence, and exotic beauty of the Bahamas, and we shoveled snow for 6 years at the top of Maine. I have seen the ravages of Katrina, and the rage of Mt. St. Helen after she blew her top. Together, we have watched a thousand sunrises and sunsets. Sandy's mom died in our home. Her dad and step dad died unexpectedly. Nearly all her aunts and uncles are with the Lord. Grief has been no stranger.

Our union has had all the elements of a great adventure. Excitement--discouragement. Fear--exhilaration. Rough waters--smooth sailing. We have gotten it right--we have gotten it wrong. We have known clarity--and wrestled with mystery. We have been strong--we have been weak. We have laughed--we have cried. We have run--we have fainted. We have stumbled--we struggled to our feet. We have had insight--we have had no sight. We have been in awe--we have been amused. We believe there is more--not less.

How do you sum up, or explain, 32 years of marriage? Is not a a single life immensely complex? Then are not two lives, becoming one life--an unexplainable paradox?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Big Brother

It had been at least 30 years since I had been to my brother's grave site. I almost didn't recognize the tiny little cemetery on my right as we drove through a wide spot in the road -- a town called Lowell -- in the state of Maine. I tapped the breaks, pointed, and told Sandy that is where my older brother, Glennie, (Glendon) is buried. We drove another minute, did a u-turn, and pulled up parallel to the black iron fence that separates the resting place from the restless world. I began looking at the cemetery in sections. First the oldest stones, and then from right to left to the newer stones. At the same time I was trying to turn back the clock to a time and place in my memory more than 3 decades gone by. I was trying to remember where my big brother was laid to rest.

Glendon was born in 1953, and he died of cancer, in my father's arms, just before Christmas in 1956. I was born December 16, 1955.

I have often wondered what Glendon would be like today. The pictures we have are those of a happy little guy--even those taken in his last months--pictures that reveal his sunken cheeks and tired eyes. Would he have loved the outdoors, writing, athletics, and adventure like I do? Would I have grown up in his shadow. Would there have been sibling rivalry, or would I have idolized my big brother? What vocation would he have chosen? What would his wife and kids be like? How would I be different, because he lived?

Within a few minutes I found his marker. The spray of artificial flowers mom and dad placed there on Memorial Day were centered at the foot of the headstone. The stone itself was dappled with lichen, and had a weathered, ancient appearance. Following the top, convex curve of the gravestone were the words, "Our darling." Along the base was the single word "Baby." In the middle, in prominent font was, "Glendon."

"Our darling baby, Glendon."

Without warning, I found myself convulsing in tears as I stared down through blurry eyes at my feet. I knelt down, and then lay down on his plot. I don't know why I am like that, why I do such things, or why I am touched so profoundly with melancholy at times.

Glendon's is one of three family markers clustered together. Next to him is Barbara, my father's sister. Influenza took her--she was only 8 months old. Next to Barbara was the single stone under which lay the remains of my grandmother, Myrtle, and my grandfather. Their stone looked brand new. I was named after my grandfather. I am William Vernon Shorey II. Papa Bill died of a heart attack in 1973. He was a kind, gentle, and loving man. On Saturdays, over four-and-a-half decades ago, Dad would walk us down Center Street hill for breakfast at my grandparent's home. My cousins would be there; they lived next door. When we entered Papa Bill's house, on the kitchen table would be a steaming pile of saucer-sized flap jacks he had cooked up for all us grandchildren. In minutes, we would be covering them with real butter and maple syrup, and fiercely competing to see who could eat the most! Papa Bill enjoyed it more than any of us.

Those are some of the most pleasant memories of my childhood. I know Glennie would have cherished them, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Living on the Edges

It has been so long since I last posted I had to see what I had written. And it may be my greatest understatement of all time when I say that a lot has transpired since I last wrote.

For the first time in my adult life I am no longer starting or leading a church. There is no big story to report; this has been brewing for a long time. I just couldn't come to grips with what my heart was telling me. Now, the time has come to follow through on my commitment to Christ in a different venue. I am working in the secular work place.

Once upon a time . . .

Early on, as a church planter, I spent most of my time around un-churched people. God's gift to me was the ability to build relationships with people from a world so different from life inside the institution of the church. During that time, those in the churches I led knew that they possessed the gifts to minister to each other, and so they never felt like my absence from them was a case of neglect. Focusing on those not yet spiritually accounted for seemed like the right thing for their pastor to be radically committed to.

Over the years, however, I found that I was giving less and less time (actually no time) to building a bridge to those whom Christ came to redeem. To use biblical metaphor--the ninety-nine in the fold became my priority, and the one outside the fold was talked about, but never pursued. Can I be blunt? There are many witnesses who could stand and testify that I really suck at staying in the fold. They are absolutely correct, and I don't believe they would be trying to be unkind in saying so. Although I dare not speak for every pastor, for me personally, I don't believe staying with the herd or flock is where my gifts would be best invested.

I am sure that Jesus didn't (I know. I am not Jesus).

It is a tough transition, but not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. However, there is a lot to be said about the security, identity, and familiarity that leading a faith community on daily basis provides. Those who know me best, know that I struggle with insecurity and the need to be needed and accepted.

But all is well. . .

My friends within the church are still my friends.

We still talk--there is goodwill.

We still love and respect each other.

We still want to see the same end result--the advancement of Christ's Kingdom.

My brothers and sisters release me with their full blessing.

It is agreed. . . Bill will best enjoy the adventure and employ the gifts God gave him out on the edges.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Night Vision

There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.
~ Aragorn (Lord of the Rings)

When the valley I walk through is darkened by death shadows--I will fear no evil. For You are with me.
~ King David

Aragorn's quote sometimes seems backwards. In reality, though not always openly confessed, I sometimes wish I had refused some adventures--rather than choosing to begin them. Especially--when in the end--I am surrounded by spiritual darkness. Positive self-talk does little to ease my fear, rebuild a healthy self confidence, or answer my deepest questions as to why things concluded the way they did.

Then, there is David's quote. Think about it. Many an evening David's bed was a lush green pasture. and His quilted comforter was a shimmering covering of stars. When he awakened to a new day, he set out on a meditative stroll along water so still its surface looked like a mirror. With every step he absorbed energy, and spiritual renewal pulsed through his soul. With each step--vigor was restored.

Then, another step or two and--just like that--he found himself in a dark and shadowy place. A place of thick ebony night so dense he even lost sight of his God. But what his sight could not see, his heart could feel--the Presence. He was not alone. This too, was part of the journey.He had made the right choice. Rather than refuse this leg of the journey he stepped into it, and found that its dark ending was a portal to a new beginning.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ladies Day Out

Where are my binoculars? Across the river a healthy doe feeds along the bank. She is in the illuminating brightness of the sun as it makes its daily journey toward the western horizon. Her coat is the color of honey, and she pokes her nose into the lush green vegetation to get a bite to eat. Then it's "up periscope," craning her neck, she maintains a constant vigilance that raises her odds against becoming the victim of carnivorous predators on the prowl.

I am using the scope on the semi-automatic 22 caliber, Marlin rifle in place of binoculars. Memory reminds me that I bought it for Josh in May of 1988--he was five. At the same time, I bought Justin a single shot, 410 shotgun. Of course I did not let them use the weapons unsupervised, but we have had some good times leaving a trail of spent rounds through the years. Josh continues to shoot. He is a marksman. At 100 yards, he can plink the end of a soda can.

Looking pure white in the glare of daylight, her tail flickers and twitches randomly. That would all change if her finely tuned survival instincts sensed impending danger. Her tail would raise like a white flag--not of surrender--but retreat, and she would put space between herself, and a perceived threat. A couple of powerful leaps, and in seconds, the once peaceful doe would deftly thread through dense undergrowth, over dead falls, and around countless natural obstacles--a sight to behold.

Now there are 4 deer feeding on the ledges. Another single doe, and a doe and her spotted lamb just arrived. The little one hasn't a care in the world, because of the good care of momma. Why, all of a sudden is there so much activity? Starting Thursday night the weather deteriorated quickly, and a windy, cold, driving, drenching, apocalyptic worthy rain assailed the area. Friday was also miserable--the temperatures were in the low 40's (I had to fire up the Jotul (wood stove) to dry things out inside the cabin) and this spate of miserable weather probably explains why the deer are so active. They have been hunkered down--waiting out the storm--and now it's time to eat!

Bellies are full now, and as if a voice--heard only by them--beckons. The two eligible does go off in opposite directions. Mom and her little one also respond, and lazily move toward the cover of the woods. One by one, like wraiths, the quartet disappear into the deep shadows of their forest home.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Appearance Versus Reality

All that is gold does not glitter--Not all those who wander are lost.
~ J.R.R Tolkien

In a poem, Bilbo Baggins authored the above quote. A rugged man named Strider is on his mind. The elderly Hobbit, saw something in the rough-edged Ranger from the North that no one else could see. Gifted with uncommon insight, a gift that few have, the elderly Hobbit captured the essence, the intrinsic quality, in the one also known as the Ranger from the North. The diminutive Baggins could separate appearance from reality.

So could Gandalf . . .

The quote doesn't show up in The Lord of the Rings, until spoken by Gandalf the Gray. The ageless Wizard used Baggins' words in a note he left at the Prancing Pony for the beleaguered Frodo. Gandalf was referring to Strider, and if you have seen the movie version of Tolkien's life work, you would understand why Frodo would need his uncle's intuition, and Gandalf's assurances. When Strider shows up, you are not sure if he is good or evil. He is shrouded in brooding mystery. Stubble face. Sunken, shadowy eyes. Long, black, oily hair gives the beholder the sense that they are looking at a fierce and dangerous man. A troubling presence. But the Ranger from the North is good. First impressions would say otherwise, but he would prove to be Frodo's, Sam's', Merry's, and Pippin's unalterable protector--appearance versus reality.

Strider didn't glitter, but he was pure gold. He may have appeared to be a maverick. A shiftless wanderer. But he is not lost. No, he is on a mission. He is also a man struggling to discover his grand destiny. Seeking. Striving. Pressing. Reality veiled by appearance. Who would have guessed that blue blood ran through his veins. The personal journey of transformation from Strider to Aragorn, the King, is rarely glamorous, and few stay in it.

Inside every man is a Strider. He is pure gold. A striving man. A struggling man. A battling man. A valiant protector. Often, his glitter is covered with the dross of a thousand attempts and failures. His steps may leave staggering imprints as he trudges through the sands of time. This man needs another man--a man gifted with uncommon insight. A man who can scrape away the patina and help him see his truest essence--his intrinsic qualities bestowed upon him by his Maker. One person who can stay with a rough edged Ranger convincing him that he is a king in the making--his present appearance is not yet his future reality.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Defiance

Caught up with some friends at our church cookout. It's been awhile since I have talked to anyone except Sandy and myself. Dreary morning clouds gave way to patches of blue and then acres of soft, sunny skies. Kids were running around every which way, and there was plenty of hot dogs, hamburgers, and all kinds of other stuff that is rich in everything that will lead to poor health!

Tomorrow, I will drive to the office for a few hours and see if I can get some work done. I am looking forward to getting back into the stream of life that has been mine for the last 30 years.

BTW--I watched the movie "Defiance." It is based on a true story of a group of WWII Jews who took flight and banded together in an epic adventure of survival and determined resistance against the Nazi extermination. It is worth the investment of a couple of hours to watch.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where Do the Wests Really Rest?

Between the headstones marked McKechie and Miller is a headstone that bears the family name of West. The name is written in letters about five inches tall and embedded in the smooth polished surface of a large piece of granite. That piece sits on a squat base of granite that acts as its pedestal. Although the stone is not extravagant, neither is it simple. It is distinct enough to suggest those buried beneath it were people of means.

Smaller letters are also chiseled into the headstone's shiny face. They read, George R. West and his wife Lelia Cottam. George was born November 3, 1866. Lelia was born May 10, 1875. Were they alive today, the Misses would be 134 and her husband would be 143. I do not think I would be presumptive to conclude they are long deceased.

But that is where the mystery comes in . . .

Neither of their birth dates are followed by the dash and then the date of death. Why? I saw that peculiar marker this morning when I took a walk through the cemetery. It piqued my interest, and I decided I would return with notebook and mechanical pencil in hand, sit in the shade of a giant oak, and write out questions about where the Wests really rest (I know this is unusual. Perhaps it is a result of the accident). My questions . . .

Are they actually buried there?

Did they divorce, and the courts are still deciding who gets the grave plots?

Did they decide if they couldn't sleep together in life--the prospects of sleeping side-by-side forever seemed unappealing?

Do the remains of one lay beneath the sod, and the remains of the other somewhere else?

Did they grow old, senile, and forgotten--so that no one knew of their prearranged resting place?

Were they unable to bear children, or did they outlive their children, or were they estranged from their children, and had no immediate kin to see to their final arrangements?

Were they friendless or outlive all their friends?

Did they hold peculiar religious beliefs that recognized their day of birth, but did not recognize their day of death, because they believed their soul would reincarnate forever?

Did the headstone chiseler chisel them out of a few bucks?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sheepskin

At 53 years of age I finally earned a Masters degree. This milestone may mean more to me than many of the millions before me who made the grade and received their sheepskin in higher education.

As an aside . . . In the backdrop is a story I want to write about. Enjoying the Adventure is a journal primarily for my family (at the present, it's possible others find it more interesting than they do). Sometimes it is deeply spiritual. Sometimes it is painfully candid. Sometimes it is hard to follow. Sometimes it connects with a reader. Sometimes it sounds angry. Sometimes it is just the unimpressive musings of a sojourner. But every life is worth writing about . . . so I record my Adventure. . . warts and all!

During the month of May and the first few days of June, Sandy and I had the privilege of lecturing at two different universities in China. Our impetus for traveling halfway around the world is to continue building a network of relationships with Chinese business leaders and educators. If our dreams come true, a joint venture between East and West is in the offing. I am hopeful that my last rodeo will be in the Big Country. Also, my work in China was part of a 250 hour practicum required to finish my degree. We arrived back in the United States on June 3, and my class graduated on June 5. I was unable to walk with them. Darn!

Thankfully, the registrar went above and beyond her call of duty. Posthaste, she got my diploma to us before we left for Maine to celebrate Independence Day as a family. Unknown to me, Sandy and the kids had a celebration in mind--a graduation party! The following is what I will put in writing . . . !

Sandy rushed around before leaving Massachusetts and got my diploma framed for a grand display--come party time. That alone would have been great, but my family conspired to go over the top . . . just a little! Picture, if you can, six adults, in good spirits, with cans of silly string, and no inhibitions. Sandy was the quick draw gunslinger, and in seconds, my white hair became twisted strands of bright pink. Meagan and Justin and Erika and Josh shot me up the nose. Though outnumbered, and like a desperate man fighting blood thirsty savages, I turned the attack against Sandy and Justin and Erika and Josh and Meagan. I fought bravely and died quickly! However, just before I was blinded by a thick cobweb of rainbow colors, I succeeded in turning Sandy's raven hair into multicolored braids (she looked quite exotic). As all our low-browed predecessors have learned the hard way--women stick together. Meagan wheeled, and with both cans firing, gave me a mouthful of silly string spaghetti! In less time than it would take Jack Bauer to disarm a bad guy, the interior of the cabin was striped and draped in thin, curling neon threads! Guns were empty, the air was filled with laughter!

Time for cake!

Here comes the part of the story that may sound a little corny to you, but means everything to me. After we picked lines of silly string off the cake, Meg began to serve it to everyone. Standing behind me, Sandy touched me on the shoulder. When I turned, she was holding my mortar board cap, black robe, and Masters hood. I would march after all. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or shout!

From Columbus, GA to Taunton, MA, literally through wind, rain, and more than 1,400 miles of hard riding, Josh stopped at our home in Massachusetts, picked up a special package, strapped it to the back of his bike, and set out on the final leg of his cross-country trek to Greenbush, Maine. Like the true Jedi he is, he secretly got the package to his co-conspirator--his mother. Safe and sound and dry.

Yes, over my hiking boots, jeans, and denim shirt, I donned the complete regalia --mortar board cap and tassel, black robe, and Masters hood. For that moment in time, I captured a glimpse of myself as a much younger man. With my family surrounding me, the Penobscot River behind me--my favorite spot on earth--my thin place--the late bloomer graduate proudly, and a little awkwardly, held a framed sheepskin--a Masters degree.












A Surreal Moment

The Middle River road runs north and south; I entered it from the north. It is seldom used, but it's a pleasant and peaceful drive. Along it, a small family farm has been raising impish miniature goats for years. Their milk is used to concoct a specialized soap. Ducks, going no place in particular, happily scoot and paddle around an algae-skimmed pond. Chickens are always pecking and scratching at the dirt searching for a bug or two for a snack. The road itself is a patchwork of potholes filled again and again with asphalt. Serpentine veins of jet black tar seals cracks caused by decades of expansion and contraction brought on as winter blends into spring. Trees keep squeezing closer and closer toward its middle leaving it with frail, skinny shoulders. Age-old oaks and maples stretch from side-to-side, forming a lush, shadowy canopy. Under low, dreary, rain-laden clouds, I journeyed through twilight at four in the afternoon. Windows rolled down, I could hear the puddles splash and the lilting voice of my favorite songbird -- the Wood Thrush.

Our rustic getaway is on a gravel trail intersects with the Middle River Road. As I passed the home of the curious little goats, I could see a dim glow emerging from the entrance of the drive. Gently, and in slow motion, a swath of light eased its way across the dark, wet pavement. Then, in an instant, the remaining veneer of translucent skies above vanished, and a clean-edged, laser-like beam flashed across the Middle River Road. I pulled over, shut down my vehicle, and quietly -- almost reverently -- sat marveling at the scene before me.

Were that the only natural, spiritual, and spectacular phenomenon - it would have been enough. When I got underway again and made my final turn toward the cabin - what I had just seen was merely the opening act. I was still in the thin tunnel of brilliant light, but over the river, not more than 50 yards away, the muted, moody skies released illuminated, shimmering, syncopated raindrops, and amid them was an iridescent arc of red, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

It was surreal.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beat Up -- but Up Beat






























At approximately 7:45 yesterday morning I was on my motorcycle traveling north on Rt. 140 from Taunton to Norton, Massachusetts. My speed was 40 -- 45 miles per hour. I saw the blue Hyundai to my right, stopped at the red octagon sign at the end of Old Taunton Avenue, with its nose pointing south. Suddenly the car lurched out in front of me -- I had nowhere to go. I hit my break, but I knew I wouldn't get stopped in the few feet that separated my front wheel from the driver's side corner of the car directly in front of me.

If you are a bike rider, you, too, have probably thought about what you would do if you were unfortunate enough to be in that kind of situation. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to do just that. I was traveling too fast to lay the bike down, so at the last second I raised up on the pegs -- my only chance was to get my body over the top of the vehicle, rather than slam into the side of it.

According to the police and the newspaper article, I was launched over 20 feet beyond the impact point. I never lost consciousness -- even when I hit the ground. I don't know what height I fell from, but I do know that I landed squarely on my back. I was wearing a Joe Rocket riding jacket. It is made of woven kevlar (the stuff they make bullet proof vests with), and has kevlar plates designed to protect the back, kidneys, chest, and elbows in a collision. I didn't skid -- there were no raspberries on any part of my body -- I just splatted on the highway. Apart from God's miraculous protection, the kevlar and helmet most likely saved my life.

Just above my tailbone the jacket ends. That is why my L4 was fractured. Also, there is immense swelling in my lumbar area, a good gash on my left leg, and one-thousand aches and pains. Significantly more so today than yesterday. Vicodin every 4-6 hours helps, but I can't imagine how I would feel without it.

PICTURES:

My knees crushed the gas tank

The front wheel and forks are pushed under the bottom of the frame

How the windshield survived is a mystery

The blue Hyundi is curled up at the impact point -- the airbags deployed

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Back Soon!

Got lots to write about, but I am temporarily on too much Vicadin (pain killers) to post. Talk to everyone later.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Truth About Truth

One of the stops in China was Morningstar School. Like many private schools in China, they are pressing forward trying to educate children, many of them from the lowest rung of the economic ladder, so cash is in great demand, but in short supply. Also, teachers are in great demand and in short supply. Educators are in desperately needed throughout the entire country. The sparsity is so acute, that with modest qualifications, you could be on a campus, almost immediately, using your expertise, and pouring your life into young hearts and minds hungry to learn.

Morningstar, has outgrown several locations. Recently, they purchased a large building and are giving it an entire makeover. Their investment will allow them to double their growth. While visiting Morningstar, Robert and Sara and Sandy and I was given the VIP tour. Children rose to their feet, and greeted us loudly and warmly as we entered their classroom. Each of us gave them a little bio, and they listened with rapt attention. Placards with ancient Chinese proverbs could be seen on every wall. Surprisingly, cleverly matched, were proverbs taken from the writings of monotheistic Jews -- pearls of wisdom from both cultures -- and they were in agreement on a central truth or core value. As I stood reading the compressed conclusions of spiritual sages, most of them only one line long, I was reminded that the Truth can be rejected, buried, twisted, or exchanged for a lie. But the Truth about Truth is that it finds its way into every culture and people group. There is always someone -- everywhere -- who catches a glimpse of truth's transcendence.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SIAS UNIVERSITY- CHINA

SIAS University started with 230 students in 1998 -- while we were in China we celebrated its 10th anniversary. SIAS now has nearly 20-thousand students and faculty. Sandy and I were VIP guests and witnessed the graduation of over 4,900 students from the second row. Overwhelming.

In the days leading up to graduation we had the opportunity to speak into the lives of hundreds of students as we lectured day-after-day. Nearly every day's schedule began at 7:30 a.m. and ended around 10 p.m. We spent little time in our room, because we were constantly going from one function to another. Neither of us has ever been so graciously hosted or lavishly toasted. Banquet after banquet glasses were raised in our honor. When roaming around the campus, we had more conversations with students than I could count. Many of them wanted a personal audience with us, because they had questions that our lectures raised, and some of them just wanted to drill a little deeper into our life -- Chinese love Americans.

Since I was 21 years old I have been a public speaker -- that's 32 years of experience and experiences. For the most part, I have been able to keep my audience's attention (people are gracious). But I have never addressed such motivated listeners as the young Chinese students that hung on our every word. Body language can speak as audibly as a voice, if you know how to read it and listen to what it is saying. A silent voice is not necessarily a silent person, and our listeners laughed or frowned a puzzled look, and their eyes followed me as I talked and moved around the classroom.

In China, if you can walk into a store, you can buy alcohol. There is no legal age requirement to purchase. Yet, on just about any of the university campuses alcohol abuse is negligible. Not one out of control fraternity can be found -- Animal House does not exist. The reason? Students are so focused on learning that they don't have the time or desire to do so. If they wanted to, they could party without impunity.

If you went to college you probably changed your major at least once. Nobody chooses their major in Chinese universities. Every student is assigned their major in the best interest of the State -- and there is no recourse. Pressure takes an immense toll on the collegians -- depression is pandemic -- suicide is rampant.

Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~ Howard Thurman

Every lecture began with the quote above written on the chalk board. Thurman's insightful quote laid the foundation for our lecture topic - Finding and Pursuing your Passion. They got it. I think that explains why we were received so warmly, and listened to so intently. Words are powerful, and ours stirred something latent in their spirit -- they began to dream, and come alive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Perspective

Maybe my perspective is infantile, but I put a much higher value on experiences than on my financial net worth. I have always had enough Benjamins, but when my days here are over, I will not leave a lot of cash behind. Yet, if experiences and adventure have value -- then I am Bill Gates. If my life and money runs out simultaneously, Father has more than held up His end of our partnership.

Today, I pulled one of my neighbor's kayaks out of its cradle (ours are still in Massachusetts), carried it to the cabin, slid it down the steep bank, and eased the bow into the Penobscot just shy of its current's edge. How many times have I skimmed down the river? At least one-hundred. But every time I do, its like the first time. I absolutely come alive! If what one of the early Church Fathers is quoted as saying is true, The glory of God is man fully alive, then Bill Shorey is not only going with the flow of the river as he leans into his paddles and pulls away from shore. He is going with the flow of God -- the physical is transcended by the spiritual -- he is fully alive!

All my experiences have not been pleasant. Maybe it would be more honest to say many of my experiences have not been pleasant. A realization about myself has come to light -- I always expect life to play out large, and in one sense it does -- just as my adventures always exceed expectation, so do my disappointments. Most of my heart and spirit is stout and sturdy, but there is a boyish part that can be faint and fragile.

That's my perspective . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quick Trip

I raised the large front windows, and the cabin got its first gulp of fresh air in months. Daylight is trailing the sun west, but I have a few hours to decompress after the 5 hour drive from Massachusetts to Maine. Temperature -- seventy-eight degrees!

I lugged one of the red, canvas chairs from the cabin, and settled into it. Along with the chair, I brought out a small note pad, and a #2 pencil that has about 4 inches of use left in it. The eraser is petrified, and all it does is smudge and smear as I try to make a mistake disappear. I could have scrounged around in the Expedition and found a pen, but a rod of carbon sheathed in a sleeve of wood fit the environment and my mood. At the cabin, I always turn into a minimalist.

Across the river, the ledges are covered with a thin blanket of green. The water between me and the ledges is flowing by, and carrying all my stress away with it. A gusty breeze is coming on strong from the south. I know that behind it are low, heavy, dark clouds with enough rain to fall for 3 days.

When the last of the daylight fades -- darkness will bring more light -- I am going to build a campfire. A pile of twigs and pine quills will be the tinder. One struck match, and I will coax a flickering flame into a hungry, wood consuming blaze.

Fires mesmerize me. I think it's the brightness in the midst of black, and the phenomenon of stored energy releasing and dispersing, while slumbering people and animals try to recharge and restore energy for another day. Darkness also conceals all movement, but my fire reveals its every leap, twist, rise and fall. The sounds a fire offers up are distinct and out of harmony with the hushed sounds of night -- it hisses, cracks, pops, and makes tinkling sounds as it fuel gives its all, and then collapses in on itself.

So, in just a few hours I will spend hours enjoying the simple and satisfying pleasures of a campfire. In the quiet, my mind will begin retrieving memories from the recent adventure in China. Dancing flames will not provide enough light for me to journal my musings, but without paper or pen or pencil, sentences, then paragraphs, and then pages of written word will begin to organize in my thoughts. When the sun delivers a fresh, new day, I will ease into the red, canvas chair, pick up the #2 pencil, and write.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

One Wrong Turn

If you are following my posts about China you know that I have jumped around a bit, so this goes back to an event upon our arrival in Shanghai. I had been in China, O, let's say 15 minutes. I needed to find the Men's room -- quickly.

In China, the restrooms are set up differently than in the United States. I thought it was just in the airports, but in general, they were all nearly identical. The biggest difference being that both men and women use the same sinks, which are outside the bathrooms, to wash their hands, etc.

As fast as my feet could carry me, without running, I started down the long, long hallways looking for that familiar, small, blue sign with the outline of a man and a woman. Finally, to my left about 25-yards away and 15 feet above the floor, I saw it! What a relief -- well actually it would be another minute or two before I found relief, but I had made it! When I threw open the door, two things surprised me. First, there were no urinals (sorry, how else do I describe it), and second, a short, stout, Chinese, with a Beatles style haircut, began excitedly waving at me, and jabbering something in a tone that sounded angry. Immediately, I opened my eyes as wide as I could, pulled down the corners of my mouth, raised my arms with my palms up, shrugged my shoulders, and said, Ma, ma, hoo, hoo (incorrect spelling). Which in Chinese can mean, "I don't understand" or, "I am confused."

What we had was a failure to communicate. My bi-lingual abilities were not working -- my new acquaintances voice became louder and his arms flailed more demonstrably.

"What does he want?" I began to think. So I studied my situation more closely. Once again, I scanned all four walls looking for urinals -- there were no urinals in that bathroom. Then I looked more closely at the the short, stout, Chinese guy with the Beatles hair style. He-was a she.

Oops.

Believe it or not, for a few seconds, using hand signals and gestures, (don't ask "What kind of hand signals and gestures) I tried to explain to her how I had mistakenly chosen the wrong door -- she wasn't in the mood to talk.

I turned, left, and chose door number-two.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bailey: March, 1998 - June, 11, 2009

If you have followed my blog you have read posts about our dog, Bailey. Our irascible pooch made it into about 8 posts. In most of them I was cataloging some kind of mischief he had gotten into. Yesterday, we had to have Bailey put down. I say, we, but it was our son Josh who took him to the vet. There were no options -- a degenerative spine left him paralyzed in his back legs -- his time was up.

All the Shorey men are fierce. My sons are Jedi. None of us have ever picked a fight, but neither have we let a bully cower us -- not once. We are stand up guys to the bitter end. All the Shorey men put a high value on loyalty. We are also tenderhearted, and life often makes our heart ache. So, true to form, I want to tell Bailey and Josh's story. Like I said, all the Shorey men are tenderhearted, and to me, what I am about to write is a story worth telling . . .

Since Bailey became paralyzed, Josh has talked with Sandy, me and his brother and sister every day. All of us have cried. Sandy, me, Justin and Erika are in Massachusetts, and Meagan is away at college, so Josh had the lone responsibility to say a final good-bye to the only dog we he had ever had as a family.

Josh made sure that Bailey's last day was special. Even though Bailey was paralyzed, Josh got a big kick out of the fact that he never quit being his goofy self. Though paralyzed, every time someone showed up at the house he started his excited barking and tried his best to go bounding to the door to greet his guests -- Bailey thought every time the doorbell rang, no matter who it was, they dropped by to see him. Throughout the Bailster's last day, Josh gave him scoops of his favorite treat -- peanut butter. That night, Josh cooked him a steak, lovingly fed it to him, and spent the night sleeping beside him on the floor.

Bailey was a little nervous as Josh carried him into the vet's office and laid him on the table. With great tenderness the pet doctor injected Bailey, and soon he became calm and peaceful and then his once endless energy was gone.

Josh took him back to our home in Columbus, GA. and buried him in the woods behind the house. Geesh, I love that boy.

I thought it would be good to repost one of our adventures with Bailey. He was a force of nature, a pain in the butt, and larger than life.

Bailey, our dog, now under the exclusive care of Josh, got out of the house and did not return a few hours later covered with red, Georgia mud, and stinking to high heaven, as was is his usual routine. In fact, he never returned at all that night. The next morning, Josh got up to see if he was at the back door. No Bailey. Josh returned later that day, and there was still no Bailey, so he decided to call the dog pound and see if he had been incarcerated there.

Sure enough, the lady answered our son's inquiries and said that, indeed, she was in possession of a white wheaton terrier. . . Check that. She had been -- he was no longer there -- the owner had picked him up earlier.

Josh was taken aback, to say the least. "I am the owner, and I don't have him." he said.

The lady at the pooch prison said, "Well, we know that the dog's tags said he belonged to Bill Shorey, but the lady who came and got him told us Mr. Shorey gave Bailey to her over a year ago."

"No. My father didn't give Bailey away (Although I have unsuccessfully tried to do so on numerous occasions. Ask Richard, Kendall, Maris, Emily, Luke, Tim, Ben, Sarah, Alec, Miranda, the Mitchell family, random people asking for directions, and every salesman who ever rung our doorbell). Bailey has been with me, but he escaped yesterday and didn't return."

Neither Josh, nor I know how the dog warden got Bailey back from his temporary owner, but my guess is that even though she may have been a thief -- she was not completely stupid. After about an hour of Bailey's antics she probably figured out that she had gotten a lot more than she bargained for!

Bailey is now back in the possession of our son.

I guess that is good news . . .

Welcome to the Party

Communism. I read about its political doctrine and mission statement as I delivered newspapers in Howland, Maine as a kid. I feared Communism and Communists. Those thoughts emerged from my memory as I sat in conversation with several Party members. Some of them men and women who held places of authority and significant influence within the government of China.

I was surprised that in every one of those settings I never once experienced fear. True, I knew that my goals and sense of purpose in life were very different, and in some cases in direct conflict with the person on the other side of the desk or conference room. And I did not really want to engage in a conversation that would drill too deep into those differences for the time being. Words were carefully weighed and considered before they were spoken, but I never felt fear. On the contrary, there was exhilaration. Few times have I possessed a stronger confidence that the foundation I have built my life on, and the passion drives my life is, in the end, indestructible, rugged, profound, and capable of standing on its own merit. Each encounter opened my mind and heart to broader perspectives that were fresh and challenging and troubling and worth taking the next few months, or the rest of my life, to ponder, sort through, and consider. Was it possible that a script was developing for a much bigger stage and production in which I would play a part.

Is that arrogance?

No. Not in my estimation. But it does require me to return to my statement about being free from fear, because there actually were times during each of those encounters when a palpable fear -- a fear I could almost taste and smell swept over and through me -- an almost audible voice. . .

It emanated from an Evil presence that chided me to embrace a false sense of humility -- that same sick humility that convinces so many to live a terribly small life.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Wall

We left Jinan and flew to Beijing. In Beijing, as well as Jinan, and Shanghai, and several other smaller cities, we met with brother and sisters that were part of our global spiritual family. At all times we were mindful that we were guests in China, and we took pains to honor the governments view on Christianity. Our role was that of a responder to any and all who were exploring the nature of Faith. China is a land of mysticism and many of its people see merit in the historic Christian message.

In our hotel were about 100-hundred rambunctious teens from an ex-pat school in Shanghai -- they were in Beijing for a "cultural" study. They were also a source of entertainment (not all the hotel guests would share my disposition), and a great opportunity for my own personal anthropological and cultural study. You know, at the core, youngins' have not changed that much. I witnessed all the usual, juvenile pranks played out -- the same shannigans I would have been up to at that age. Racing each other -- one group using the elevators and one group using the stairs. A red faced boy -- wearing nothing but a towel and his birthday suit -- pounding on a door trying to get back in his room. You heard them before you saw them -- there was noise, noise, noise, and more noise. Shadowed alcoves and turns in the hallways made a good place for the love-struck to get out of sight and catch a quick smooch. Also, there were a couple of break-ups, and the accompanying tears, hugs of consolation, and empathetic consolation that life would some day be worth living again.

The Great Wall of China . . .

On day two we walked through the lobby to the awaiting Chinese driver named Tiger. Over and over again I kept giggling, I can't believe we are going to see The Great Wall of China. The ancient barricade is cloaked in myth. One being that it is the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon. Not true, but I want to believe it! Long before we were able to actually set foot on the storied landmark, we caught glimpses of its serpentine trail wriggling along rugged hillsides or atop and along jagged ridge lines. It was my opinion that we were passing up some pretty impressive places to breach the wall, but that wistfulness disappeared when at last I found myself standing on the highest point of the entire Great Wall. Breathless from my highspeed ascent to the summit, I stood gasping for air -- my imagination going at full throttle. Again, I found myself saying audibly, I can't believe I am really here!

Where does one start in trying to describe something so indescribable? I will try. Steep slopes and carefully laid, massive, gray, stones worn smooth by the foot traffic of millions of people, were neatly and closely fitted together high above the contours that formed its base. Severed, skeletal sections of the wall appeared and disappeared for miles among the vistas of undulating topography that surrounded it. People of all ages trudged up the ramped inclines. One of the most striking scenes of my entire time in China was that of the young man plodding step-by-careful step carrying his aged (I presume) grandfather on his back to the Wall's summit. The elderly man was clinging to his carrier and looked to be clinging to the last days of his life. A steel cylinder with clear, slender tubes provided the air that hissed into his nostrils. Gaunt cheeks and pale lips that lay tight to the bone, stretched even tauter as he labored to gulp oxygen into his lungs. Twisted and powerless, his legs dangled awkwardly, and swung lifelessly, from side to side with each stride of his loving porter.

It was a beautiful moment. It was an excruciating moment. It was a humbling and tearful moment . . . Throughout the centuries the Great Wall had stopped the advance of conquering Legions, but it could not stop the advance of conquering love.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HAZ-MAT

Almost forgot to tell everyone about our most unusual reception upon arriving in Shanghai. As you know, there was much ado about the H1N1 virus (swine flu) splashed over every major news outlet. Upon the break out and breaking news, the Chinese government put extreme measures in place to protect its citizens from the reported pandemic. Even when there isn't an over-hyped, over the top, media driven catastrophe it is customary to see Chinese routinely wearing dust masks. Air quality in their big cities is of the poorest of quality. Most days the sun is filtered through a brown-gray smog (I found it impossible to wear contacts while there). Also the past pandemic of the "Bird flu" heightened the fear of airborne deceases and that led to extra precaution. Glancing up the hundreds of passengers, as they filed in and stowed their carry on luggage, many identities were concealed behind beige and white masks.

So . . .

When our plane taxied to the gate in Shanghai a little surprise awaited. As the door opened at the front, left side of the cabin, in rushed 3 very serious looking men and one woman. Each was sealed inside a pristine, white haz-mat suit, and their oxygen was being supplied by air packs -- ours could not be trusted. Methodically, they went row by row pointing a laser at the forehead of every passenger. The flight attendants told us not to worry about the infra-red slash across our brow (yeah, that worked), and informed us that the laser was being used to scan for fevers. We were told that if one person was carrying an elevated temperature, and considered a potential carrier of H1N1 virus, the entire plane would be quarantined for seven hours -- or just long enough to find a large holding place to quarantine several hundred for 7 days!

As the Chinese version of the Ghost Busters squeezed their bulky bodies down the aisle toward me, I thought about the last 14 hours we had just endured with the darling little marathon screamer -- the one who pushed every passenger to the brink of insanity. I thought that even though it was but a remote one, it was still within the realm of possibility that I could end up being hellboy's cell mate for 7 days!

I gave serious consideration to making a run for it. But I remained cool -- just like every forehead on the aircraft!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Shandong Jiaotong University

We left Shanghai and flew to Jinan. It was in Jinan that I experienced the most treacherous driving in my life. I tell you -- I have no fear of exaggerating just how wild the chaotic, random, serpentine, darting, swerving, braking, honking, and near death experience of riding in a Chinese taxi! Someone said that there are 54-thousand auto accidents a month in the Big Country. I can't verify that, and to be honest, I never witnessed one collision. Also, I might add, regarding traffic, that Oprah, a Chinese friend of ours, gave us one simple rule to remember -- Autos are more highly valued than people!

Thankfully, Shandong Jiaotong University sent a driver to pick us up and bring us to our first speaking engagement. The University is a provincial school with a student body of nearly 20-thousand. As we walked through the campus my eyes swept back and forth and up and down trying to take in -- and catalogue -- my unique surroundings. As we passed by several thousand Asian Collegiate, some playing basketball and tennis and some practicing Kung Fu -- they did so in near silence.

Before I was to speak to the students we were scheduled to meet with the University President and several of his key people. It was my first of many such meetings and we carefully, and somewhat nervously followed protocol -- giving due respect is very important in the Chinese culture. Our hosts followed the Asian custom of giving gifts. We were given a unique bookmarks engraved with Chinese characters. I cherish mine.

Finally, we were escorted into the the large theater-style lecture room which seated approximately three-hundred. It was a little intimidating. I kept thinking . .. what if only 20 people show up? Part of the presentation I would give required powerpoint, and also a video clip of Yao Ming. Neither my powerpoint or my video clip would load, so for my first presentation I had to make immediate adjustments (as in, just before I walked to the podium the sound and audio tech told me he couldn't load the powerpoint or clip)! Yet, when all was said and done, my impromptu changes -- made in the time it took to walk from up the steps to the platform -- went off without a hitch.

One more piece to the happy ending . . .

Approximately two-hundred Chinese students and faculty, focused, hungry, interested, and fully engaged hung on to every word I had to say. When I finished they had so many questions for Sandy and me and Robert and Sara that the English department leaders had to move everyone out of the building so that it could be closed and locked!

Pretty cool, huh!

Shanghai-Day One (continued)

Some young Chinese were scheduled to meet us in the lounge, so we freshened up, entered the elevator, and descended to the ground floor. Our three guests arrived at staggered intervals. Each one had similar physical characteristics -- black hair, dark brown eyes, and the tight, Asian eye lids. Introductions and small talk paved the way for the young ladies to find the ease and confidence to take the conversation deeper. Our new friends began to share their dreams and aspirations. It was then, as matters of the heart were shared, that each one's distinct uniqueness--and dogged determination to live a life of significance--became evident. It is difficult for us (at least me) to appreciate the intense commitment it takes for a young Chinese woman to find her heart and pursue her passion -- high hurdles and daunting challenges resist every attempt. But the Big Country is changing -- women by the millions are finding a seam in their country's cultural fabric. Like the beautiful hand-stitched and woven silk that has given China world renown, women are bringing shimmer, color, and beauty that are transforming the fabric and culture of one of the world's oldest civilizations.

Listening to them manipulate and convert their Chinese thoughts into English words was at times tedious for them -- but nothing less than impressive (and sometimes amusing) to their hearers. Most of them had been speaking our language for a very short time, yet had an extensive vocabulary and command of our native tongue. We listened with great attentiveness and fascination.

Outside, the sun settled and the horizon transitioned from daylight—to dusk—to darkness. The ceiling-to-floor glass wall between us and the out-of-doors slowly became a mirror. Translucent images began to appear in the window -- ours. Soon, identical replicas of each of us reflected and mimicked our every move and gesture. It was then that a personal perspective began to emerge that I tried to maintain for the entire adventure in the Big Country. I will attempt to explain it . . .

As we chatted in the lounge, because of the reflection in the window, I could see myself contributing to the dialogue -- fully engaged and animated. But also, because of the effect of the window becoming a mirror, I could stand apart from myself. Observing and listening to my own words as an outsider, eavesdropper. Interestingly, I tried to give an interpretation to my every word and gesture as an observer, rather than contributor.

Hmmm.

My life is an ongoing conversation, and I am slowly learning that it takes on an entirely different perspective when I learn to process it both ways -- as an engaged contributor and as a silent, outside observer.

Friday, June 5, 2009

First Day In Shanghai

Our plane stayed aloft for 14-hours. During the flight, I learned that a 2-3 year old child can scream from Newark, New Jersey, over the North Pole, and on to Shanghai, China without taking a break. Time-after-time I tried to catch a few winks only to find I was merely rehearsing. Every last passenger on the big, Boeing, bird continually tucked their nerves back under their skin and I am quite sure battled scary, dark thoughts about how to silence the dear little boy!

Mercifully, we finally touched down, disembarked, and climbed into a dinged and dented subcompact auto for a one-hour taxi ride to our hotel. Arriving, we pulled up to a glass entrance that opened to an impressive lobby. Inside, the light colored, polished, granite floors sparkled. The ceilings soared for a couple of stories with a giant, crystal chandelier as the centerpiece. Brass rails separated the bar and lounge from the restaurant, and the black surfaced check-in counters from one another. Subtle artistic Asian décor clung to the walls.

Once in our hotel room, I set down my luggage, and flopped down on the bed. It was then that I was rudely reminded of something I had learned on my previous trip to China. What had I learned? As a rule, most beds in China are a hard wooden surface covered with a thin layer of foam—not a Posturepedic pillow top mattress. Mine was no exception to that rule. There was no soothing ahhh, as my back, backside, and the back of my head met up with the deceitfully enticing surface. Instead, there was a thud and my audible groans!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Spare Parts

"I guess God just gave us some spare parts. We use the plantaris tendon to repair a torn Achilles, and other major tendons." So said Dr. Pavolich, my orthopedic specialist.

Yesterday I got the low-down on my MRI -- a ruptured plantaris tendon. Never heard of a plantaris tendon? It could be because not everybody has one. Honest. The good doctor also told me that it is the same case with some people's hand -- they have an extra tendon.

He said it will take 3-6 months to heal (My vote is for the 3 month time period). Fortunately for me, there is a professional trainer at Planet Fitness, so I won't have to go through a rehab program at a hospital -- if all goes well.

Thanks to my friends who kept checking up on me and praying. It is a great relief that no surgery will be required!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Playing In The Dirt

MEMENTO HOMO, QUIA PULVIS EST ET IN PULVEREM REVERTERIS.

Just as there are Baptist churches on every corner in the southeast, here, in the northeast, the beautiful spires of Catholic churches reach from the horizon toward the heavens. Sandy and I now live in an area where the religious are predominantly Catholic. Wednesday, February 25, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of the 40-day Lenten observation of devout Catholics.

At Planet Fitness, I met dozens of people, both young and old, with the black smudge of the ashes of burned palm branches on their forehead -- some still retained the blurred image of the Cross.

Prior to the arrival of Ash Wednesday, I had taken time to reacquaint myself with this tradition observed by most of my good neighbors. As a rule, Baptists, do not recognize Ash Wednesday, so we can be pretty clueless about the spiritual rhythms of people, who, like us, are seeking a connection with God.

Also, I have learned to avoid trying to dazzle people with one-sided conversations. It finally dawned on me a few years ago that monologues do not really connect people with each other. God constantly intersects our lives with fellow humans of a diverse cultural and spiritual background, and I don't want to miss the opportunities to swap stories with with other sojourners. It has become increasingly more important to me to be able to dialogue with my world. I have many new friends in my life -- who are not in the Baptist church -- where I am the lead pastor.

O, I almost forgot. Let's get back to that Latin phrase . . .

MEMENTO HOMO, QUIA PULVIS EST ET IN PULVEREM REVERTERIS

It is closely connected with the tradition of Ash Wednesday. If we translate the phrase back into English we find that it is a verse from the Bible . . . Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

Ash Wednesday . . . a reminder . . . all of us are dust . . . all of us will return to dust . . . then what?

Monday, February 23, 2009

MRI

I met with an orthopedic specialist this afternoon regarding my lower right leg (see my last post). He will call me to schedule an MRI for Thursday or Friday.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scant Information

May the LORD do what seems good to him. ~ Joab

And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this . . . Then I [Esther] will go to the king, though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish. ~ Esther

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace . . . but if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods . . . ~ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Why you don't even know what will happen tomorrow . . . you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and so this or that . . ." Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it sins. ~ James

Look closely. Joab, Esther, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abegnego, made difficult decisions. Decisions to do what seemed to be the right thing with scant information. They weren't sure how things were going to work out, but they did know they must act.

Joab believed it was time to go to war with the Amonites. His forces were outnumbered and surrounded. A mercenary army of thousands had him boxed in -- both front and flank. All he could do was make a decision -- fight or flight. Success or failure, winning or losing, would be determined by what God deemed best. He acted with incomplete knowledge. He took a risk.

Esther made a decision to go into the king's presence unannounced on behalf of her people. It was a desperate measure. Breaking royal law was a capital offence. But Esther threw caution to the wind. She did the right thing as best she could determine. A close ally suggested that maybe God had positioned for just such a time as she and her people faced -- no one was absolutely sure -- but it was possible. She made the decision that seemed to be the best and left her fate in God's hands.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego assessed their situation and made what they believed was the right and best decision before God. They were not sure how their noble and courageous testimony would shake out. Would God deliver them or not? It didn't matter -- they were making the best decision with the understanding they had.

James tells us that we are not to presume on God, because we don't know what a day may bring about. Who knows, the sentence we are speaking, or the plans we are making, may be our last. But such an admonition from James is not given to keep us from making decisions because we do not have complete knowledge. We can take risks for the advancement of the kingdom.

It seems that James keeps things in balance. Sometimes, we just have to do what is right simply because it is right. Prevailing circumstances may mean we have scant information to go on, but we just decide to do the right thing. To do anything less is sin, says James. Guaranteed success is not the determining factor.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Freakish Thing

I have played sports my entire life. As a 53 year old man I cycle spring, summer, and fall. During these cold New England winters I work out 6 days a week lifting weights and getting generous amounts of cardio, I am blessed with the blood pressure of a 25 year old, and I eat food that is good for me, and rarely indulge in food that is not good for me.

I returned from the emergency room a couple of hours ago . . . I should have gone on Wednesday.

What happened?

A totally unexpected injury that reminds me of the gospel invitation I heard in church as a kid. You probably heard it yourself . . . The preacher tells a story about a guy who doesn't come forward during the invitation, leaves church, steps off the street curb, and a bus runs him over. Missed his last chance. Seems like a highly unlikely scenario, but he attests of its truth.

I wish I could tell you I got hurt on some grand adventure doing something like rappelling, hiking, rock climbing, or even a non-life-ending-step off a curb-get hit by a bus-story! Nope. Not the case. Mine is a highly unlikely story, but I attest of its truth. It was a freakish thing . . .kinda like stepping off a curb and getting smooshed by a bus.

On Wednesday, I stepped out of my truck, and when my right foot hit the ground I heard a pop, and I went to the ground in a heap! I should have gone to the ER on Wednesday. But instead, every waking hour for 3 days I iced my lower right leg, optimistic that the intense pain would subside. It did not.

Now, my right leg is completely immobilized in a cast from the tip of my toes to the middle of my thigh -- my calf muscle shredded. In 7 days an orthopedic specialist will re-evaluate it. I am incredibly grateful that it was not my Achilles tendon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Good Thing

Wow! It's been a long time since I posted.

I recently started a part time job working at Planet Fitness. I know there is a fat boy living inside me that wants to get out -- and I believe being physically fit is not a spiritual option -- it is a spiritual discipline. This secondary employment is a gift from God. For me, the interaction with hundreds of people a day, four days a week, is energizing.

More and more, I am becoming convinced that vocational Christian ministry can institutionalize you. No -- not the padded room and singular wardrobe of a tight, white jacket institutionalizing (although it can do that, too) -- I mean, you can spend all of your time within the church institution and culture. You can become completely detached from life outside the church.

I don't know much -- but what I know -- I know for certain. I know for certain that those of us who pastor a church, or teach in a Christian School, or are in some other full time ministry have a propensity to become completely occupied with responding to all the concerns of those already eternally accounted for. All the things that command and consume our time and demand our attention and response can be good and noble, but they become the lesser good when we isolate ourselves from life outside our faith communities.

It's a good thing when we get to experience the world of those we minister to.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Laura Linnie

We just returned from a whirlwind trip to Maine -- left Massachusetts at 9:30 on Friday -- left Maine at 10 am on Saturday! From Taunton, Massachusetts, it is about a 5 hour drive to Old Town, Maine. All five children and a gaggle of grandchildren gathered at my mother's and father's house to celebrate mom's 80th birthday. Needless to say, mom was elated to have her offspring hovering around her extending birthday wishes and sharing a bountiful, thanksgiving sized meal. Laura Linnie (mom's given and beautiful name) is an incredibly resilient woman irrepressible optimist, and nothing seems to get her down. She is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. Everyone loves her. She and Dad are running their race and finishing strong!
Mom also sent me home with my own belated birthday gift -- homemade fudge! I, along with many of the church staff, send her thanks!

Interstate 95 was a dirty, salt crusted, ribbon of asphalt snaking along between filthy snowbanks. Traveling along the highway, though, I found great joy in taking note of the constantly changing scenery just beyond the glass that surrounded me. Snow fields, frozen rivers, lakes, and expanses of purest white yielded their own unique beauty. I saw the beaver tail-like snowshoe tracks, that left evidence of someones lone trek, along the edges of a pond. Two giant nests built by osprey, one on the cross bar of power line poles, and another, in the middle of a bog atop a dying evergreen tree looked as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. In the middle of a frozen expanse, the rounded arch of a beaver's lodge covered by a thick mantle of snow, gave it the appearance of an igloo. Faint traces of old woods roads, once hidden by thick foliage, were distinguishable, twisting through denuded stands of hardwood forests. Meandering jab-and-drag trail of a deer pierced and pocked the smooth surface of snow, and criss-crossed the shallow, elongated tracks of a snowshoe rabbit just outside the perimeters of the tree line. Cattails were mottled and unraveling in the wind, and from time to time a bird would flit from tree to tree.

For 5 hours, Sandy and I squinted against the reflected sun and marveled at the brilliance of the created world around us and talked non-stop about an even grander spectre -- life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Another Cup of Coffee

Ah, waitress pour me another cup of coffee. Pop me down, jack me up, shoot me out, flyin' down the highway. Lookin' for the morning. Oooh, I'm travelin' my life away, lookin' for a sunny day for me . . .

~Eddie Rabbit (Travelin' My Life Away)

I have nothing in particular to say about the lyrics above, except that I found a CD with an eclectic collection of "Classic Hits," slid it into my computer and started listening to Eddie Rabbit's big hit from the 80's. I love words, phrases, and poetry. I love the brilliant creativity of wordsmiths. They can capture my imagination, unravel confusion, unlock my soul, or give me a rush and . . . Pop me down, jack me up, shoot me out, flyin' down the highway. Lookin' for the morning.

Sometimes I write just for the fun of it!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cuz (part 2)

"No blogs for a while!" Exclaimed my friend, Cuz
"I haven't had time, so busy I wuz"

Snow and temps are drastically fallin'
I do think I hear a wamma' place callin'

I could cuss the freezin', but I won't be crass
Because for now my task is in Southeast Mass

Monday, January 19, 2009

Update

The forecast for yesterday's snowstorm was 3-5 inches -- it dropped more than a foot on us! At this point I am still enjoying every flake that falls (although in a perfect wonderland the storms would not fall on five consecutive Sundays).

Waking up to a world of pristine white is something I wish everyone could experience. Unless you have been privileged to step into a cold, brilliant, colorless ocean that a winter storm brings, any attempts to describe it is like trying to explain the substance of a frozen crystal of ice to someone who has lived their entire life in a dry, arid, desert.

The Master Artist never leaves an empty canvas.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two-for-Three!

Massachusetts is facing a mammoth budget shortfall due to uber over-spending on the Big Dig. One of the cutbacks chosen to remedy the money squeeze is snow removal during storms. Secondary roads get little or no attention at all. Traveling ain't like it used to be.

Which brings us to today . . .

Last night, before I went to bed I listened to my weather man one last time: Three-to-five inches of light, fluffy snow. Accumulation inconsequential. A prophet he is not -- forecast was way off! As it turns out we have about 7 inches on the ground, and it's supposed to snow throughout the evening into the wee hours of Martin Luther King day. Five-for-five! We have had 5 Sundays in a row with inclement weather of some kind! Once again, we had to cancel services today -- that's 2 of the last 3 Sunday services!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let the Old Dreams Die

For the first time since 2006 I am watching American Idol. As I watch I am also in a running dialogue with friends on Facebook . . . lots of sarcasm (one of my friends suggested I use the time to do a bible study. My response . . . I am studying idolatry).

For sure, there are cringe moments -- some of the performers are absolutely over-the-top. Absurd. Others, you simply feel sorry for them, they come to American Idol believing they will be discovered, change their world, and change their life -- they are painfully untalented. Then, there are contestants, like a blind performer, named Scott MacIntyre, who is pure inspiration. My guess is that an audience of millions is pulling for him.

But there is a bigger reason for writing this post then to comment on American Idol. We are all dreamers . . . we can't live a healthy, meaningful life without a dream. This morning Sandy and I were engaged in a deep and emotional conversation about our dreams. We have had to grind through the dilemma and agony of what to do with dreams that seem unlikely to come true. Do we hold on to the dream or do we let it go.

We finished our conversation by phone later this morning. I listened intently as she read the lyrics from this song by Avalon.

Dreams I dream for you

You taste the tears
You're lost in sorrow
You see your yesterdays
I see tomorrow

You see the darkness
I see the spark
You know your failures
But I know your heart

The dreams I dream for you
Are deeper than the ones you're clinging to
More precious than the finest things you knew
And truer than the treasures you pursue

You see your shame
But I see your glory
You've read one page
I know the story

I hold a vision
Of what you'll become
As you grow into the truth
As you learn to walk in love

Let the old dreams die
Like stars that fade from view
Then take the cup I offer
And drink deeply of
The dreams I dream for you