Monday, December 25, 2006


It will soon be the first day of the New Year and of all the rest of our lives. What have we carried forward from past days, and years? It has been said that an economist is a man who knows a great deal about very little, and who goes along knowing more and more about less and less, until finally he knows practically everything about nothing. So it seems with me, and so it probably is with many others--if we expect to become any wiser. Those who have attained a majority of years might try it for themselves. Think back to ages eighteen or twenty—recall how wise and knowing we were then. I would like to be so smart once again, if only for an hour. That is of course about as long as such wisdom can bear the light of this day. If the truth be told, we learn more and more of how much we do not know, if we learn anything. How wise then, are the ones who finally recognize how little they know after all; and possibly also how relieved. (A case in point might be our nation’s long-standing, revered economist Alan Greenspan who unburdened himself of his great responsibilities; beyond a couple of cautionary words he demonstrated admirable brevity in recommending very little for the future--clearly a wiser chairman).

Here it is another New Year and we have been facing the elements as never before; prior learning is not always immediately sufficient to this unprecedented onslaught of air, earth, fire and water. Winds and floods, snows, mud-slides and flames rage out of control as never before. We must learn new ways to cope, but where does one look for knowledge we have not yet learned? Here I am reminded of a line spoken by Reb Tevye when asked just how his ancient customs and traditions of Judaism came to be the way they are. With wonder and almost joyfulness in his voice he replies, “Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t know”! This simple and ordinary man was expressing his wonder and glory for God, who already knows what is unfolding—and how inadequate our own understanding is beside it. He was evidently impressed that God’s greatness is regularly proven by how far short we mortals are of such reasoning. For wisdom we might do well to heed Matthew 6:33 wherein he says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness”. All else will follow.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


It reminds me of something I had written before, something along these lines: “Christmas is a-coming and the goose is getting fat, please to put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny then a hape/ny will do—and if you haven’t got a hape’ny, then God Bless you.” Of course I did not write that part, it is from an old English nursery rhyme, but I did feel that there is nothing like the Christmas tradition to plunge older folks into second childhoods. Even as we are reminded, from our consciences and church meetings that the real meaning of Christmas is something else, something far more important than tinsel and colored lights,, there remains that flutter and tingle at the sight of bright packages and holiday food.

Counting out the days to the Eve of Christmas still arouses a half-forgotten anticipation—meaning that sometimes you wiggle and smile in spite of yourself. There’s all the delightful secrets that make you laugh out loud when you think of them, or itch with curiosity. The parties and the visits with friends and relatives only add to the growing crescendo, each one drawing the Holy Night nearer and nearer.

The point is, I think that here, quite unlike anywhere else, one can anticipate joy, and as the fine writer Henri Nouwen said, “Joy is always new. There is a lot of old sadness, but there is never old joy. Joy is always a surprise, and that’s ecstasy.” (from Radix Vol.15:6).

Friday, December 08, 2006


These are the results of doing right or doing wrong; they are administered by others, judgmentally or otherwise. They include parents, teachers, bosses, marital partners, social groups, peers and even our children. They can all make us aware of our successes or failures, great or small. In the nineteen fifties the school of behavioral therapy and operant conditioning came into prominence, and most of us have never been quite the same since.

We have learned to call these things positive or negative reinforcement, more politically if not socially correct. This is still reward or punish, and may hurt or please the recipients. We now are able to train and modify (This is sometimes called behavior modification) the behavior of animals, most children, and adults with behavioral disorders, as never before. Practitioners need to be trained and licensed, however, and may often (and most probably should) draw the line at some requests for their skills.

So much for the didactic stuff; other “people” may do these things to us but “Life” does not. It has been observed that in life there are no rewards or punishment, only “experience” as the teaching medium. Learning from experience is essential to continued well-being and success, but the latter is still up to us. Rewards may or may not follow; results are always in the eye of the beholder.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


This need not be morbid unless one makes it that way; it comes in the midst of life--and to all of us at some unspecified time. From warm seaside days, lazed away so carelessly, emerges another view of our endless ritual. There are people out on the shore of a late November afternoon, out in the ebbing sunlight, clinging to the fading light of shorter days—end of suntanned bodies, end of a season—each passing golden moment dies so quickly, each new one follows, dying in its train. These cherished moments are like departed loves—they will reappear only as dim memories—perhaps as dried, dusty and faintly aromatic rose petals in a keepsake box. This summer dies away and next year’s distant summer will be an altogether different one. What is now passing away—lost and gone, represents the whole ponderous weight of earth-time, a giant clock somewhere ticking out its lostness. Often easily foretold, here is a chosen hour—of mourning, of loss and separation—and regret. Perhaps this sense of mournful loss is closest to the picture of last moments we are most familiar with; so far as anyone knows it is not our own that we experience, it is always someone else’s. Unfamiliar dark and polished furniture, scent of fading cut flowers with muted organ music and muted voices—the humid hush of “a fine funeral”; “Death comes rubbing white-gloved hands, and smiling” (T. S. Eliot). All in Sunday clothes, the strangeness, coldness and stiffness of the designated “mourners” seem to mirror that of the “Dearly Departed” now occupying center stage. What is celebrated as an “Event” has probably been building up for years, and will now go on forever. From a study of Scriptures this is part of our eternity; how that will be played out is in our own hands—and God’s.

It must be said that He can deal with these things much better than we can all alone; last moments are often problematic. But some one has already asked, “How would anything ever get done here on earth if it were not for last minute dead-lines?”

Sunday, November 26, 2006


And what about? I found that I was mutely seeking some happy medium between cowardice and bravado. It all started when it was clear to me that all the things I needed to accomplish seemed too difficult or too perilous. The next thought was a picture of self-fulfilling prophesies—fear leading to a sense of defeat before the fact. I then decided that actually there were many problems, hazardous and otherwise, safely overcome during my checkered past; quickly switching positions the attitude became one of fearlessness in the face of any difficulty or danger that might crop up.

The dilemma here was that I could immediately see either position as largely untenable over time, almost any time span--like the next ten minutes! Some vague point midway between the two extremes now only seemed to leave me open to both possibilities in unpredictable sequence. It was clear that if I had any nemesis in my life it was me! I could manage to set myself up for defeat just by striking an attitude.

Just then it occurred to me to ask where the Lord was in all of this. It is most probable that no one does worthwhile things entirely alone, but between the Lord and I anything is doable and surmountable. I finally realized my nemesis of self-defeat and self-damage need not dog my foot steps any longer, thank God.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Some viewpoints are probably shared by most of us: There is a tradition in the annals of human affairs to select our heroes by their popularity, some more deserved than others. Tradition also has it that there are “conquering” heroes, like the Alexander’s and other military figures of note, or “suffering” heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi, who won his non-violent stature after a world renowned hunger strike. Places in history, once established, are usually secure for all time; the degree of their adulation often depends upon the balance of Hawks and Doves amongst us. But there are the silent and “unsung” ones too.

Many know the other kind, those “quiet” ordinary folks, our firefighters and police-forces living work-a-day stints, and some of the returning wounded from wars in other lands, who go on to live ordinary lives, like my uncles managed to do after WWI. Many more such heroes followed the Second World War and the other wars still going on. They are men and women who saw their families struggle with hunger and want through the great depression, like my father who silently walked up and down behind our “Auto Camp” one night, pulling his own aching teeth. Who among us has not seen the elderly battle-scarred survivors of illness and injury wordlessly living night after dark night, feeling the harbingers of all the ailments known to medical science flowing over, around and through them, knowing one such probably has their name on it.

If there is any point here it is that if you know them, you might celebrate them; let them see that the parades, the confetti and the blaring music is also for them. Chances are, however, they will mostly deny everything and avoid their places on the podium of fame.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Some may not like the reasoning here, but journeys through life’s ups and downs, ins and outs, sorrows and joys, and adventures good or bad may take a lot of different modes of transport; call them instinctual drives, motivation, inspiration, threats or fears—planes, trains buses, cars, tanks or ox-carts. Who is doing the driving? At the risk of being merely pedantic, it would seem that the passenger usually just goes along for the ride.

So where is the thrill of being in control of ones fate, of blazing the trail, of first discovery, of losing and finding the way again? The latent “Wagon-train Scout” in most of us rebels at riding inside the Conestoga rig. The same question can be asked a little differently, however: What in us is doing the driving? Those gifted in the practice of honest introspection will often find emotion mostly to be the spur to our motion through life.

Wisdom may here seem like a kill-joy, but it says that when only “feelings” are in the driver’s seat the destination is most likely self defeat, damage or destruction. Emotions are very vital and important in our existence but must not be in charge of it. What is left to us then? The uncommon common sense, past experience and moral and spiritual values that God gave us to counter our rages, fears, and pleasure-bent impulses, and that is all—but that is quite enough. In short, we may enjoy all the best of life available to us—but not blindly.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Awestruck and bowled over by seeing my words posted last Sunday, I thought of words someone else had written on a similar subject—as my memory has it after many years. It seems there were some poor children living out in the farmlands of Chile who heard there was a special way to look at the morning star. The object was to “catch it”, so to speak, or at least its reflection, in the water; searching up in the sky had, as some of them knew, often only led to losing one’s balance in the dark.

The small band of children all arose in the early darkness and, shivering in the cold air, surrounded a muddy puddle left by the rain. And Lo! The bright morning star appeared in the water. The children were entranced and joining hands they danced and sang around its reflection. As they looked into the puddle they saw God looking back up at them and smiling.

I tend to believe the story, mostly because it was told, in the original Spanish, by the only women Poet Laureate in South America, Gabriela Mistral, who loved God and children, and loved the way the morning star shines in Southern skies.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Morning Star

For one thing, as I start to write it crosses my mind that I am sometimes not a morning person, but giving it more thought the association that seems to stick is “morning light”. Every day, or almost every day, it is the way the morning looks from my window that impresses as I press on with the rest of that day. Even given the seasonal changes it is clear that there are many variations in early morning light that may set the stage for life ongoing; one might be fairly heartened. For example, by a warm and bright cast to an otherwise wintry sky.

But that is not all of it, in whatever colors the dawn may cast its lights ahead I do know of an earlier light: the morning star—“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises n your hearts.” (2 Peter, 1:19). The day that is to dawn goes well beyond your everyday expectations; evidently, however, it is important to be aware every morning, of what mere men spoke from the will of God “ they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. We might pray the Holy Spirit to carry us along through each morning and day and night as well—every morning we awake.

Friday, October 27, 2006


An early pioneer to the field of world order, or world disorder, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz captivated the 17th and 18th century world, at least those Americans and Europeans of philosophical bent, with his notions of “The Best of All Possible Worlds”. Leibniz was intent on explaining evil as the source of good effects; courage, for example, is the God-given result of having to face bad things. As several natural disasters, floods, earthquakes or plagues took over public attention his work fell out of favor. Insisting on emphasizing all evils, Leibniz may have lost his audience by not really covering the better, and certainly not the best, aspects of our world as others might see it.

But that is an unwieldy task all by itself; no matter how many so-called “better things” have come along, faster automobiles, self-cleaning ovens, democratic governments, easier travel and daily living conditions, with labor saving devices that may take up more time than the labor, computers, high speed jet planes, cell phones showing full-length movies on a screen less than the size of a Fig-Newton--which also takes pictures of our ears, and increased social tolerance for things not tolerated since time began, there always seems to be something “better” coming down the pike. And even when that is not immediately evident people continue to ask for, and even demand, better things from life. This apparent inability of ours for ever being satisfied would seem to leave the whole idea of a “best” of all possible worlds completely out of the picture.

Yet not being satisfied with life on earth may represent the purest evidence of spiritual growth and biblical reality. Keep in mind that at the rate we are going it looks more and more like we will never be content with the planet as we find it; many problems get solved only to beget new ones. Your average teen-ager, in fact, can find on any given school day, enough difficulties with his or her life, if not to keep parents remodeling their world, at least worried about it; at this rate it appears anyone’s “better” world will never result in the Best of All Possible Worlds.

On the other hand there is little in Scriptural terms speaking against trying to improve our environment, especially the social part. There may be some verses against feathering our own nest or piling up wealth at the expense of poor folks, but even in the parts of the OT devoted to “obedience”, note; “The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children.” (Psalms 115:14): and “Houses and riches are the inheritance of fathers; and a prudent wife is from the Lord.”(Proverbs 19:14). The NT carries on as Christ does; “But when he saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion for them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no Shepard. Then he saith unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous. But the labourers are few: Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 4:19).

The very fact that people can sense deep within themselves the desire for that better world, that continued ancient myth of Shangri-La that is never quite discovered outside an old 30s movie, (Lost Horizons, 1937), suggests that we know something intuitively that has so far consciously eluded many of us! But some have heard a constant voice that continues to beckon: “I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3). And above all: “…it is written, Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (I Corinthians 2:9, 10). We can assume, therefore, that better worlds may come and go but the very “Best Possible World” awaits those whose love and devotion is shared with Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 23, 2006


My present home is on a rather barren corner close to the broad Pacific Ocean, confronting a coastal beach unsheltered by trees or structures—only sand and sea all the way to the southernmost islands—and New Zealand and Japan beyond. Because of this location I live from day-to-day like a sailor of old, perhaps a galley master or a proa skipper, with wind, waves and stars as my compass. A certain amount of skill and alertness is required in order to deal with changing wind and sunlight; air-conditioning is only for landlubbers but here there are sails and rigging ready to hand...

When the weather is warm, at first bell all Easterly blinds must be drawn against the early sun’s heat and blinding light, and all southern windows brought wide open to admit any winds from the sea, (along with opening the northern door, my only door), or else the heat could become unbearable later in the day. In that case, of course, I could turn on overhead fans, but such artificial air would probably cast a blight on seafaring tradition. In the balmy afternoons some eastern blinds are opened and windows partially closed against the cooler off-shore winds from the south. As the sun sinks low they die down and windows are again opened; here on the shore nights can be colder after midnight, and my small bark is mostly all battened down. At first dawn the routine is repeated as before. In winter, conversely, eastern blinds are opened wide to catch stray heat and light, but hatches—er, windows, are tightly closed. In these climes there occurs a condition called Santa Ana Winds and for this mariner that constitutes the “doldrums” when no air current moves and the heavy, sultry atmosphere is stifling. Thus my little boat sails through each day making port only at night—I have not yet learned, like old Samoans, the secrets of sailing by starlight--stellar navigation.

Thus it can be seen that living here is a rough and manly job, but even through the more perilous seas the words of Paul in I Timothy’ 1:10 ring clear, “Timothy my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding onto faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” And Paul was no stranger to shipwreck, having survived perilous sea voyages himself; learn from the older experienced hands, I always say, and so far my small craft has never been wrecked in the waves.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Having gone more or less through a fascination with death and dying some twenty or thirty years ago the subject is seen today in a very different light. In those days there was an upsurge of such works in the literature, especially in sociological and psychological annals, and there are several volumes that once were devoured avidly, but remain dust-bound on my shelves these days. I wrote a little myself, attended workshops of the currently famous authorities on the subject and even wove them into my clinical orientation. But it seems to me, like so many other faddish issues, even thinking about the topic with its stages of loss and separation, have simply withered away both in the literature and in thought.

For that reason I was surprised to note that at this more advanced stage of my life the subject began to enter into idle musings without its classic grimness of feelings. That lack of mourning or odor of “Shakespearean tragedy” is what impressed me most. Indeed it is not unusual, especially in later years, to contemplate and even privately, at least, anguish about ones death or the death of significant others. There is no surprise about such ordinary phenomena; what is surprising to me is that anticipations about ones own death can so often be unaccompanied by commonly associated fear, dread or expectation of radical change. At the same time I am well aware of the tradition common with Christians, (among which I hopefully count myself), that fear of impending death should be conquered and overcome in anticipation of a better life ahead. Even so there are times when all of us, in spite of our faith, can get into an occasional modest frenzy about the process of our own death, its probable course, our conscious fears about pain, lostness, and the often recurring “great unknown”—all the more prevalent of course at certain critical times in life.

At other times, however, I have found myself musing about death in quite another form, say for example of plans to parcel out my meager net savings to my children, imagining that they will think well of me. Or I ruminate over the possibility that one of them will down-load my writings from my word processor, or wherever it is in my computer, and share them with the others “after I’m gone”. Clearly I am basking then in solicited vainglory, not to say outright vanity--no wonder the thoughts are not morbid. But I have even ventured into visions of my own funeral in a calm and curious way. There is also the rather happy thought that those offspring of mine will be enjoying more than adequate finances of their own and may in all probability be too busy with their lives to reminisce on their largely inadequate fathering much at all. Sometimes I experience a deep sorrow and sense of loss about not seeing my children, and children’s children, but I am sure these ruminations are not unusual, especially in these later years; my point in all this is to show that our orientation to death, our own or that of others, commonly represents a dichotomous and disparate set of attitudes. The probability is that some persons or groups, in this world of ours, leans more consistently toward one rather than toward the other end of that dichotomy. Thus there is the tendency on the part of some groups or individuals to place a great deal of value and importance on earthly life, its material wealth or its romantic or emotional pleasures; emphasis is given to this life and all it holds, often to the greater dread, as time goes on, of eventually giving it up. This orientation to life might be termed “hedonistic” or “earth centered” while the other extreme is represented by those who may appear so Heavenly involved that they are seen by some as “no earthly good”, and indeed may give less thought or energy to the “ungodly” issues of everyday living.

It seems to me, among the earth centered, occasionally there are represented certain Christian writings, with emphasis on monetary success and the “good life”, in some way cast in scriptural terms. To be sure, several of these writers tend to address a minority or underprivileged group that has been sorely dealt with in the past; they may include “Women”, who have experienced exploitation or discrimination by men,(such as the glass ceiling), or those parishioners who have felt excluded by more apparently well-to-do, typically white, middle class, church people. Among writers who seem to take a balanced stand between life and death I would count C. S. Lewis of course, and Philip Yancey for another random example. We have to wonder what effects the more extreme attitudes would have on daily life in the “burbs”.

Among people for whom death and dying represent less important issues could be included the non-religious, atheists, and probably those who have never learned a personal moral code, including persons who may actually kill others for their own peculiar needs, and those routinely under the impress of war or civil police services. It is important to most of these more “tough-minded” ones that the issue of death does not impinge in a way that overawes their lives in other respects; their eating, sleeping and relating styles may remain intact. Here also, however, are the antisocial, the insensitive, and the thoughtless and impulsive ones, especially when under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or strong emotions. Most of these people seem able to keep their personal attitudes tenuously to themselves until life experiences push them into reflexive, deadly actions. And of course there are variations within the course of each life that may change one’s attitudinal polarity, (some may eventually hopefully come to Christ). We might expect many so-called criminal types to be at this end, but also some very successful and well-functioning people who are seen by others as self-sufficient “winners”; egocentricity often requires an unsentimental view of fellow humans. But very important to my way of thinking are the individuals representing a wide range of ages who have become preoccupied with, and enamored of, death. They include the Columbine shooters and the man who killed those little Amish school-girls, the ones who are so impressed with controlling the advent of death that they are impelled to “make it happen” rather than wait for it; “suicide by cop” is just one form of controlling one’s death and the death of others. Their fifteen minutes of fame, which they often avidly seek, must frequently be their last memory among the living.

Occupying the other pole may be counted those in denial of death’s importance; as Lord Byron wrote, “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis that I do not weep”, an attitude that often crumbles under the approach of death itself. But here too are many people so impressed by hell-fire and damnation that, even more than death, they may fear to enjoy anything this life on earth has to offer—though there are Scriptures capable of modifying that attitude in equal profusion. They may perhaps prefer to see their lives continue right on into the great beyond without any temporary hitch. Included at this end of the continuum are those who are so wary of, or repulsed by, the idea of death and dying that they “avoid it like the plague” so to speak, and speak of it they rarely do. Their hope may be that to keep such ideas out of sight and out of mind is not only to avoid death but perhaps to conquer it; for them death will hopefully and finally just slip by un-noticed in the midst of life ongoing.

If there is any purpose in all this it is to demonstrate that persons occupying more extreme ends of the dichotomous range of attitudes towards death are most likely to be strongly antagonistic to each other and oppositional with respect to the other in the course of their social behavior. Included here would be political actions, or lack thereof, social skills development, management of money and buying habits, or consumerism, and more or less concern with just who should, or should not, have nuclear capabilities in this world, to name a few areas of likely variance. The conflict between pro-lifers and those favoring abortion is clearly fierce, and the opposition to any war, Iraqi or otherwise, might be predictable; those who compulsively vote at every election could be seen as oppositional to those who never go to the polls. Certainly the ones who vote for improvements to the lives of the elderly or improvements for future generations would likely be opposed by people who see no value in these issues. There are the famous examples of the careful ones who save up for a rainy day, spending money mostly on non-perishables, and the “party-time”, impulse buyers of quickly used up “good-time” goods; it is the eternal fable of the grasshopper and the ant--moral values proven useful in many modern-day contexts.

With these variables in mind a scalar questionnaire could easily be generated to test the hypothesis that these attitudes toward death and dying really do stand as polar opposites, and to what extent the general population is represented in these terms, and furthermore, what particular characteristics might be found for the different sub-groups. For the initial phase of scale construction both a verbal approach by the investigator utilizing only oral questions needs to be accompanied by an attitude scale filled out by an experimental population. In its final short-form verbally administered questions may be all that is needed to discriminate the sub-groups in terms of keys to more practical applications.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Running through my mind is that line from the scalawag poet Francoise Villon: “Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!”; Villon makes it uncomfortably clear that no matter how alluring and engaging at their first embrace, the old things no longer exist save in the toils and recoils of memory. Perhaps the lines of John Keats are appropriate following on that list of famous women who lived, were often tragically disposed, and now entirely vanished: “La belle dame sans merci hath thee in thrall”. Upon what may be the brink of moving from my choice location at this lovely beach and bay-side to another residence seems to bring all those pleasanter times in this old place close around me.

I know I will miss the sight of the many little boats gliding leisurely by--a mere stone’s throw from where I am wont to sit beside the bay-shore, and the bright flashes of billowing sails out on the blue-green ocean so very near to the south side of my present home. There are other allurements to be left behind , but most difficult of all is probably leaving forever that part of my life in which I was more active and mobile; sadder still is the knowledge that I can no longer walk out to the water’s edge and take full advantage of a neighborhood that I realize I now inhabit unjustly. Others, younger and stronger, deserve to live here.

The place where I may be going to live is, in some respects, a step backward rather than forward. It is inhabited by older people closer to my age who will surround me whenever I dare leave my own apartment, rather than the company of these younger, more athletic, and shapelier folks--though I probably need to become more sociable with my own group anyway. Having already had a quick visit to the prospective new quarters I am left with a vision straight out of a Noel Coward drawing-room farce, which actually pleases me a lot. From its large southern facing windows I could see the town stretched out below, all the way to the blue shore-line, and I am informed that on the proverbial clear day one can see Catalina Island. Though I already see that island from my present living room closer to the water’s edge, along with the Queen Mary and hordes of sea-birds, it is very reassuring to know there will be familiar sights even at some distant. My fantasy includes a vision of clusters of city lights glowing brightly below my windows as darkness begins descending all over the town, much like those movie scenes filmed from the Hollywood hills, and in my imagination I entertain guests at candle-lit suppers here in this urban setting. Since I have never done so before the whole prospect improves my outlook about moving—I may become an entirely different person with heretofore unseen talents for the high-life.

That term is particularly fitting since I will hopefully be on the eighth floor or higher, (though I may rue the choice when riding the elevator daily in the company of so many walkers and canes). On the other hand, however, much of the business of daily living will presumably be taken over by the staff people who will cook, clean and drive where my inclination leads—at least that is what is told to me by the management—and every Friday there is held what is called a “Happy Hour” where one is, I gather, expected to become happy. I will also, I vow, walk daily over the nice grounds and pathways—and upon the treadmill on the fourteenth floor--in order to maintain strength and health.

But back to the snows of yesteryear; after some serious thought it has come to me that past times are always lost and gone, it is the present and future that we live within, and change is after all the order of the day. It comes to me, in fact, that nothing of times past endures as a tangible part of ongoing reality. In that respect attempts to cling to them are quite futile, and I do feel ready for newness and changes--is it not written (I CO 7:31) “The world in its present form is passing away”. I always like to refer to Scripture when I write and my son Pastor Doug pointed out Haggai 2:9 for me, wherein the people were lamenting the loss of their former temple: “The glory of the present house will be greater than the glory of the former house’, says the Lord almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace’, declares the Lord almighty”. May it also be thus here in Long Beach—thank you Lord and Amen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Recently in the mail came a form, easily filled out, to renew my life membership in a professional association in which I had been a member since 1966. As I stamped and sealed the return envelope I noticed for the first time, writ large in the lower left, the words: “Must include Life Statement in order to be processed”. Now I’m in a quandary, and for several reasons; for one thing I have already sealed the missile and do not recall making any particular statement, much less one covering my life—even partially. Also I do not know if I, or it, will be processed, whatever that is, but most unsettling is the awareness that I have not now, or even will I ever, reach a position to comment on so personal a thing as “My Life” in any comprehensive way—and certainly not in such a public forum.

There is now, however, the lingering and niggling doubt that should I be required to make such a statement anytime in the future, rank wordlessness and failure would surely be the result. Perhaps just sweeping the whole matter aside with some remark about not suffering fools gladly would get me by, but not for long. If the association continues to insist I might choose a more global and broad –brush response as, “I have always, throughout my life, tried to stand for that which is good and pure”, leaving aside whether or not I had been particularly successful in that effort. Yet even to me it sounds pretentious and lacking in any credible, creaturely life experience.

In fact what occurred to me was the parable of the two men in church who presented themselves to the Lord. The first man asserted that he had lived a good and blameless life and no doubt was pleasing and readily acceptable to the Lord. The second man, poor and contrite, did not even dare to raise his eyes up to heaven. He said “forgive me Father, for I am a sinner”. Of course it proved to be the second man that was closer to heaven’s gate. Thus forewarned and forearmed I began painfully to search out any instances of unprofessional, even unethical thoughts or impulses of conduct over the years. My humility was well settled in by the time I unsealed the blinking letter and found that the “Life Statement” referred to the form I had enclosed indicating that I did indeed intend to remain a Life Member. I might add that after the sense of relief. I am determined to suffer fools more gladly, myself included.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


And blank mind. It has come to me that to be in a good frame of mind one needs to be able to look forward to something in life. I don’t mean in life after, which is a given, but in this life hopefully ongoing. That idea, however, seems to leave me with a profound sense of “dependency” on what might develop from the world around. A trip somewhere, perhaps a future event such as carnival, birthday, holiday-- an invitation of some sort. The thought, if true, leaves me with a frank distaste for the human condition.

“I dreamed I saw a coach and four, that stood beside my bed.
I looked again and saw it was a bear without a head!Poor thing I said, poor silly thing, its waiting to be fed,

A headless bear waiting to be fed mirrors the blank mind hopelessly awaiting something agreeable to look forward to. And all the while the hunger for that something comes from deep inside. For one thing, any future events, to be motivational or attractive¸ needs to strike some inner chord of recognition or interest, some correspondence to the time and place of our historical state. The blind acceptance of an uninteresting project, like the infamous blind date, is unlikely to meet any unfulfilled dreams. This being the case it would follow that such hopes and wishes must originally materialize from inside ones self; the pointless meandering of a blank mind is anathema to my forward-looking efforts to improve a leaden will.

But even now the light begins to dawn! Once I started to write there arose a distinct hankering for some way to end the thing. To write is to hope, to look forward to words that may yet come, and to know if others understand. They who seek find a way, as Isaiah 30;21 says, “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left”. So that hope, that is faith, may always expect the inner spirit to guide the way, and find what is needed. As for that life after, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. I Corinthians 2:9, 10

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Mazes are confusing and frustrating emotional predicaments that I have found can crop up and confront me any time and any place. They are tangles of misdirection, lost directions, and time-consuming snarls of irrelevance. Most strikingly they are usually made up of all the commonplace elements of human relationships and of daily life that have somehow gotten out of hand and become heavier and more cumbersome than one ever expects them to be. I found to my shame and horror that these emotional struggles may lead even to hurting close friends and family members. The effect is often for me to tend to fall into despair and spiritual dismay along with lethargy and defeat, but the tendency is also present to disbelieve my own helplessness and make frantic and ineffectual efforts to find my own way out. Who wants to own up to inadequate life skills--though clearly that seemed to be my “problem”. On the other hand, going to so-called experts or apparently competent others usually gets me into areas I have never been and never wanted to be.

Having repeatedly bumped my head on problem situations that I kept somehow bringing about myself, my thoughts turned to the many words I had written in past times about self defeat and self damage. These ideas matched in many respects with the words of the wonderful Pastor Lewis B. Smedes, whose work on unrecognized shame and guilt, deserved and undeserved, healthy and unhealthy, I finally read. I had both, of course, which is usually the case. That great man of God, or at least his written word, made me acutely aware of my need for saving grace—where I would be accepted, welcomed and not rejected, as I had often covertly felt would be my lot if my problems were known. This also firmly reminded me that I cannot do it by myself. I needed to accept the Lord and his life-giving grace in order to get on with my own life.

How wondrous it is that once awareness to the Word is opened up, confirmation comes from all sides: The fine Pastor C.D to whom I tuned in this Sunday morning pounded out a powerful sermon on the fallacy of permitting our emotions to direct our lives! I had in fact written and spoken many words on the importance of using our God-given brains and our knowledge of Scripture to direct our lives—not our feelings! Feelings are present in all our lives, they are very important, but they should never be in the driver’s seat. Once there they will invariably drive us to self-defeat and self-damage.

That I had forgotten my own words was a bit unsettling, but having lost sight of my ever-present need for the Lord in my life and His saving grace, which I now so earnestly seek, was earth shaking! At the same time it has been my liberation from out of those mazes of defeat and damage. To attain the “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me” is not usually a one shot cure, but it is the beginning of a wonderful process” which includes the need to accept oneself, as Dr. Smedes reminds us, along with the joy of being on the right path at last, to freedom.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Daily life is generally pleasant here at the beach but once in a great while something comes along to make it far and away better. This is always a surprise, which is enjoyable in and of it’s self. Such an event came today in the person of a neighbor named Buzz—or Howard—whichever; he is always warm, genial and a pleasure to talk with on any day.

Today he came bearing gifts! It must be understood that Buzz is a man of many parts, ex-oil-field worker, pilot, world traveler, builder, all-around repairman, often seen on a rather forbidding ladder, and many more roles I am sure. He usually wears a friendly smile and so it was today, when another whole new set of skills came into view; he gardens somewhere, perhaps on a roof-top I imagine, and he prepares the champagne of soups! If gazpacho is the wine of soups then Buzz’s version is pure champagne. It increases my profound respect and gratitude to note that he hand-carried jars of this ambrosia together with the tastiest croutons I’ve ever munched, and carefully diced cucumbers for garnish. Now it appears he is a master chef; gazpacho is a cold soup from Spain and needs the freshest of vegetables, especially tomatoes and garlic, praise the Lord.

This signal kindness leaves me “filled” with truly good feelings and gratitude—did I say life can be better? It really doesn’t get much better than this, thanks and kindest regards to Buzz—or Howard.


It is entirely probable that the true harbingers of summer are children. As someone once said, this is the time of year when kids begin to slam all the doors they had left open all winter. Father’s Day having just come and gone, all the memories are rekindled anew. This was their time to celebrate and who cares, if in the process, they managed to attract strange germs that mostly their elders succumbed to or actually caught. Even now children go to the beach in droves and exhibit that old wound-up “springs in the legs” phenomenon as soon as they hit the perimeter of the shore. All the great battles of history may be staged and restaged here, even the one involving a beach-towel covered, fake wooden horse, with weapons of water and sand. Oh, to have some of that energy, and imagery, now.

In memory it seemed to me that kids were never manageable from the start: first they were far too wriggly and smart—they out-wriggled and outsmarted me. Then they outran me, and finally they became much too strong physically. I didn’t have an edge anywhere and looking back it appears that I was the one being trained—a slow learner at that; and it is probably just as well that I was the learner—I discovered that in their own way they were, and are, incredibly wise. As a case in point I was recently visited by my daughter Jenny and her two wonderful little boys, essentially my grandsons, as it were! The two Ts, Trygve and Thorsen, were glad to see the beach again, and me too, I think. Pizza had bee ordered in and after lunch we settled stomachs before a swim with a drawing contest which I may have won—ages 6 and 7 are still too young to win arguments, especially on esthetic grounds. However, though I am a poor loser they both won first prizes to avoid bitterness on all sides. But in this brief encounter I could again see my own kids around this age and was overcome with nostalgia and longing just to hold them again and lavish kisses and spanks. I can remember how beautiful and they were—and are.

For one important thing, they taught me to love. I really know how precious and miraculous they really are; gifts from God in truth and in fact—and my grandchildren are here to prove it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Everybody around here is getting older--day by day and moment by moment. This is remarkable, especially because as older gets, well, older, some of us undergo changes, and sometimes for the better. And some of us know this and some of us do not. I say this because someone who I don’t know said that as we get older we realize more clearly that kindness is synonymous with happiness--both giving and getting.

What we do about this is another matter, but the truth of that statement is undeniable and writing about it is one thing to do. Anne Frank knew that when as a child close to death she wrote in her diary “How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”. We read it again over 60 years later. Margaret Mead said, never doubt that a few caring people can change the world—there has never been any other way. Acts of charitable behavior are cited in ethics of religion and in many cultures: “If you have not often felt the joy of doing a kind act, you have neglected much, and most of all yourself.” (A. Nielson). Even Aesop, presumably in later years, said “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”. There are volumes of such confirmations and a Society for RAK (random acts of kindness) is well known.

But a researcher in England named Geoffrey Miller found, after extensive study, that most people feel they are about as happy as they need to be. This finding held true across gender, income, marital status and almost every other social parameter—in most every part of the world. This is by self-report of course, which has its drawbacks, but it is concluded by some students of the matter that the basis for such behavior is genetically ordained. It may, however, clearly be questionable that these findings apply equally to the poor and sick people, say of Calcutta, or anywhere else for that matter, where they suffer the things many people somewhere always do. Acts of kindness can be spiritually powerful in any painful circumstance. On May 21st, 2006, it is reported that a girl in Zimbabwe named Rita wrote as follows about an incident she witnessed: Riding on a bus in heavy traffic on her way to visit a home for orphans, what she saw and heard brought tears. A “terrible accident” happened; a motorbike rider lay bleeding in the street, apparently in critical condition out there in the road, and most probably dying. Members of a nearby church called an ambulance and women from the church rushed to his side forming a circle around him; “they sang beautiful hymns and said prayers, some to save his body, some to save his soul. They sang like angels—the music was sad and beautiful. This gesture (of caring) was so touching and I shall never forget the kindness of those women in time of need”.

We may remember, love is kind; “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians:2, 6-8). “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians: 4; 32). It occurs to me that one can get older at any age—and as time goes by we can all learn to be kinder to each other--before it is too late.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Memorial Day week-end and everything is beautiful here. The sun is out early but it is not too hot—just right for lolling out on the sand. Though not quite June, it is a rare day in May. So many people are away on holiday trips that the free and open roadway is not as crowded here as it might otherwise be on such a day, providing clear easy paths for the cyclists and strollers in bright beach togs. As this day unwinds it’s leisurely hours each one appears better than the last and seems, in it’s own way, perfect for all God’s Memorial Day children—but there is a rift in the lute!

Like the fellow who keeps making silly blunders said, “I am not at all well”. Confined to quarters on this beautiful Military Remembrance Day with an undefined and so far unnamable ailment for three days now, my undisciplined creative bent has brought vividly to my mind many incurable and interminable ailments, some quite unknown to medical science, and all sure to result in great pain and suffering. Which, by the way, I already have some of, and since my sanest guess is that I harbor a strange kind of food poisoning I eat only packets of oatmeal cooked with water. For three days. I would describe my symptoms but they so far elude description; when I think of the task of telling a doctor what they are I realize immediately that I am probably beyond help, because I have never heard of some of those vague, ill defined aches and pains either.

But I have still wanted to somehow make use of that venerable phrase “a rift in the lute’ for no other reason than because I am fond of older English words and expressions. This one roughly means that one false or omitted note may ruin the whole cantata, and dates at least from the Sixteenth century—(Alfred Lord Tennyson also used it in a longish verse called Vivien’s Song). So just here, amidst my moaning and groaning comes, quite appropriately, the flash-back that a wiser one than I wrote one of those “Hee Hoo” adages, as I choose to call them, to wit: “He who is not grateful for the good things he has would not be satisfied with what he wishes he had.” And there you have the “rift”; before your very gaze I have spoiled the beauty of this day the Lord has made, and have yet to be really glad in it. Do you out there think that Forgiveness is too much to ask?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Bright, clear and airy, the shores of beach and bay appear freshly laundered this morning: “If seven maids with seven mops swept for half a year, do you suppose, the Walrus said, they could sweep the seashore clear?” I don’t remember if the Carpenter, who was reportedly walking close at hand, ever committed himself on this point, but something very much like it seemed to have come about. No maids or mops were in evidence, but all the old sand, water and sky we had endured throughout the winter and sultry grey spring were washed to a shiny newness.

This day had all the earmarks of a truly new day; to contemplate its ending, or imagine shifting its venue to unhappy hospital wards for example, seems unthinkable at the moment--where one goes or what one does on this day is irrelevant; being in it is everything and the response of choice can only be gratitude “ be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:23, 24). Do you doubt? “…you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires,… But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness”. (2 Peter, 3:3,13.).

Yet by now the nostalgic afternoon shades begin to extend across streets and walkways and this day is beginning to look like so many others. It will surely go where each day is lost to eternity, although this one has brought a message of prophecy and hope. One can be very grateful for that.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Though it is dim and muggy this morning I thought surely, as I stepped outside, that the seasonal rains were over and now I can walk freely about the neighborhood on a daily bssis. I noticed some chalk-marks on the pavement near the red no parking strip on the curbing and at closer inspection they clearly read “Wet Pain”! In my reclining years, (not wanting to use the less delicate “declining years), I have had some experience with pains of various sorts. To my knowledge there has never been anything I could refer to as ”Wet Pain”.

The street was a bit wet, perhaps from the night before, and it occurred to me that these words were a weather report of sorts, some impromptu observation from a vaguely disgruntled neighbor perhaps. On the other hand, who am I to brush aside a pain that one day may be my own; just how it is dealt with could be crucial. Such a pain may be, like that well known thorn of Paul, (2 Cor. 12: 7-10), which enabled him to say “In my weakness I am strong”, in the Lord, of course. My guess is that such a reaction does not come automatically and may need some practice—it is never to soon to begin.

Musing as I walked, thinking maybe it is something experienced only in the bathtub, I noticed what you have already guessed; all the red curbing up and down the street was clearly marked “Wet Paint”. But I am alerted and prepared now for something that could occur to me at any time in the future, Praise God.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


We have recently had a few such days but from the bayside this one is striking for its complete, still, grayness. Gray sky, gray water, gray air all rendered more drab by the presence of two long, slender, wind-surfing boards pointed sharply at both ends, left leaning up against the dark skeletal dock near the water. They exert a fiercely discordant effect largely because those are the only colors out there except gray--they are bright red-orange, with purple accents—shades of Mauna Loa!

Looking in the other direction great merchant ships and oil tankers float at anchor on a calm, murky ocean, waiting to dock and discharge cargo. They invoke memories, worn and faded images of these same ships berthed and waiting to be boarded. It was important somehow to go aboard off one’s watch and get a special place out on the bow. Once the vessel leaves the breakwater and the harbor mouth in its wake, this vantage-point becomes an elevator plunging from 40 feet to six feet and back, above the sea spray; there were dolphins, and in some parts flying fish on either side--escorts out into that wide expanse of billowing sea air and an unknown future. “When ever I feel myself growing grim about the mouth; when ever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;…--then, I account it high time to get to sea.”—so go the familiar lines of Melville.

Merchant ships are noted in Proverbs 31:10 and14; “A wife of noble character who can find?...She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.” In war-time of course, it was aviation gasoline and munitions, but the simile is appropriate; not that I could reliably manage a rowboat these days, but the lure is powerful and compelling. Especially on a gray day like this one I can just begin to note a touch of grimness around my mouth, a surge of November deep within, and feel mildly resentful at being caught up in a land-locked state of mind and body.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


The place around here is changing again. A word of caution: it is easy to confuse time and place. Yesterday morning a few canoes put out on the bay, some chronic beach people were back looking paler since the brief cold spell, and this morning bright spots of color from several beach umbrellas enliven the scene. I emerge to bask lizard-like on a stony wall while bathers frolic or relax in the sand, kids and roller-skaters race in the street, the sun warm and bright. There is a definite change in the air; “balmy” can in some contexts mean “crazy” and may indeed suit some of us intending to have summer fun so early in the year.

The day wears on and some compelling force I do not quite understand brings my attention to the changing light and shade; the effect is to shadow more darkly the backs of everything and highlight the details of each object in clear and bold relief. “Look away from the sun in the afternoon” is the painter’s axiom, “to see true color in nature”. Shadows have become more prominent and people moving in and out of them seem oblivious to the stage-craft, the drama, and the marked visual changes they are bringing about. The shadows are not oblivious however, and continue to inch longer and splash more widely along pavements and sandy stretches, mysteriously moving out from behind trees and figures into the open spaces. Things are changing; a different place and time—like last year and the year before, and the one to come, but different still than all the others. Time and life have already moved ahead perceptively--and lights will go on in all our houses later this day.

“Those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer” are almost upon us—and also foreshadow their oncoming death. In these our times of quick changes, information glut, E-mail, cell- phone messages, and ubiquitous TV—shifting sands beneath us, one writer noted that it is important to always try to say something eternal. Surely nothing said here so far approaches that standard; specious times and tides are perhaps the most perishable of all.

Time, and place, and person—these you would be asked to identify to prove your sanity out here so early, but it is already proven that time and place are hopelessly blurred; the person, you, are the only eternal thing so far. Our Lord Jesus promised He would be with you forever, and will send the Holy Spirit to guide you, and that is perhaps what eternity is really all about. But then, maybe summer will prove to be eternal too.

Monday, April 17, 2006


I must truly confess that I sorely miss the near-sacred tradition of gorging myself on candy purloined from the Easter baskets of unsuspecting small children—usually ones own children, of course. Sweets obtained any other way on this day are never quite as soul-satisfying or as free from the ordinary guilt associated with gluttony. I take some bitter comfort from an obvious loss of stealth and dexterity in this maneuver over time, and in the fact that my children are old enough now to not only protect their trove from me, but are fully capable of stealing their own—from their own, so to speak.

I admit that in times past they have occasionally gotten wise to me, so over the years I have traded rather heavily on the passage from Luke that asks, “Which of you fathers, when his son asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion?”. This has left me with some assurance that I will be nipped by no scorpions in the course of secret retrievals—or even from behind innocent faces of mock-generosity.

These days it is a different time and place, and little kids here at the beach are different too, somehow. I won’t say they are stingy exactly, but they prove to be remarkably wary and amazingly quick in their protective actions. That being the case, and it being Easter Sunday, our dear Lord risen and all, I have fallen back on more honest means of procuring those eggs--but they never taste quite as good.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Saturday and Sunday mornings here at the beach are, compared to other days, marked by frenetic and blustering bursts of activity. Runners and joggers, skaters and bicycle riders, and yes, brisk walkers, come hurrying out as if, on these brief days, time is of the essence. Even with the recent cold, wet weather they are out there early--at times and under conditions which, from my protective kitchen window, I sleepily judge to be fit for neither man nor beast. They stream out from workaday confines in their “sweats” and Adidas and onto the breezy, sandy, surf-ringed pathways in order to gain or keep healthy bodies in proper shape; they have only the better part of two days in which to do it.

At these times I try to take some meager comfort in the familiar lines from Ecclesiastes 9:11,
“The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;”
The very next line is even more conclusive, “but time and chance happen to them all.” Time, in this sense, I take to mean occasions, events and unexpected happenings, including the process of aging over time—and what I don’t have a whole lot of. In spite of my indolent refusal to join in those energetic activities I still have a fragmentary hope not to let time and chance catch me napping, as it were. After retiring from gainful employment I have jealously guarded my time as my own, especially these week-end kick-back days, and strive to keep them aside, mostly for loafing, which I think I do with a fair amount of grace and panache.

On the other days, of which there are usually five, except for holidays, days with appointments, or I-don’t-feel-much-like-it days, I realize one should manage to move around quite a bit more, since the body may be falling, just a tinge, into disrepair. You might also note food, wealth and favor are not particularly reserved for the wise, brilliant or learned and hence probably not for me either. By the same token, the swift and the strong may or may not win the race or the battle, nor probably should I--all of which leads me resolve from my window-sill to maintain at least a moderate and sedate level of exercise. The fervent hope is that like Paul, my efforts will be construed as the good fight, finishing the race and keeping the faith—I also pray for a quick cure for laziness.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Every year about this time we are notified that some studio will be filming in our neighborhood; for unknown reasons most of the birds seem to leave the area for 3 or 4 days of shooting, though no one has as yet credited them with obviously astute cinematic sensibilities. The huge trucks and vans come rolling in, lining the streets and sandy off-road way-sides; they are carrying a virtual small city of props, lights, reflectors, dressing rooms, hoists and camera dollies of every description. I happen to know this because a lot of it is unloaded across the street from my dwelling--but I do not venture outside anymore in its midst. I know there will be appetizing food spread over long tables for the film people and on a couple of occasions in the past I was offered something at breakfast or lunch—knowing full well, however, that someone might also try to press me into a leading role of some sort. I do not know why this always happens—I have heard some muttering about a “great profile”, but while I may be available for advice from time-to-time, (my expertise goes back to the 40s), acting is far too wearying a job.

A year ago they were doing a thing called “She Spies”, probably a take-off on the old “Charley’s Angels” series. They used my entrance-way for many of the scenes and most of the action took place outside my kitchen window; I was in most of the shots though undetected by the busy crew. They did one scene with as many as six retakes and that just goes to show why it is such hard work; a gun had been dropped on my porch, purposefully of course, and the female lead, who appeared to have been originally cast for a production of the Ziegfield Follies of 1938, was supposed to rush up to retrieve the weapon and foil the baddies. Unfortunately, directorship not being what it used to be, they could not get her to reflect the right degree of aggression and militancy; she had to run a short distance beside a fast-moving camera rigged to roll on wheels, and I sensed immediately that her stiletto heels must make it difficult for her to dash out of hiding and appear menacing at the same time. After each take a stunt man would follow her steps with rather vicious gusto, throw himself on an imaginary gun and coming up in a crouch, finger firing as he came in order to illustrate for her the proper level of urgency; she gamely crouched with him, but still seemed to approach my porch as if inspecting an invisible array of weapons for just the right color combination. Any director worth his salt would have whispered that her boy friend was flirting with one of the pretty extras, or that a big once a year sale on Rodeo Drive was about to end, just to get the scene over with. By the way, that gun was picked up and put back after each of those takes by a man who, by law, was hired only for that specialized task; then, and only then, the cameras would roll again.

This year the series is called “Criminal Minds” and it is obvious to me they have already missed a big advantage. It is rather prosaic to expect criminals to have criminal minds, what else would they use to plan those things they do? The real interest arouser would be to change the title to “Criminal Bodies”. Imagine all that rapaciousness and mayhem committed without a single thought—as much of it may in fact be. They evidently plan to go ahead without my input as it is the fourth day and the last of the huge, bulging, air-conditioned vans is huffing its way down the road. Birds are flying back again, some with feathers ruffled, making plaintive noises of disapproval. Quiet descends on our street like an answer to silent prayer; some people hereabouts are breathing sighs of relief.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


When first introduced to this beach-side community I was advised to avoid formality and wear anything I wanted to wear. In that pursuit I may have stumbled on a principle of life that should be recognized as inviolate and omnipresent for us all. It came to me when I realized that some of my clothes were wearing out. There had been a closet full of them when I retired and I continued to wear them, cleaning and laundering shirts, trousers, coats and jackets, some of which began to get pretty raveled and frayed. The important thing to note, however, is that the things that remained in the best condition were the ones I liked the least.

The principle applied to clothing would go something like this: Over time we will tend to dress ourselves more frequently in the things of which we are most fond, and will eventually be left with only those items in our closet we do not particularly care for—or more or less hate.

The principle applies to any number of things; another example is with foodstuffs. When I fill the pantry and larder by shopping for groceries, I find by the end of the following week I am subsisting on cans and boxes of things that are probably only palatable to chemists and for which I have no memory of buying. You see, the point is unavoidable: we wear or eat ourselves into a relatively miserable existence.

How about our furniture? Those comfortable and comforting but now worn, shabby sprung sofas and chairs may still, but not for long, stand beside pieces that are uninviting, stiffly formal and impossible to relax with or around or upon. What about those dishes and tableware gradually reduced to heirlooms which must not be scratched or broken under pain of death, or crockery that not only doesn’t match but were visually intolerable with oatmeal and good old stew in them over the years? I do not want to belabor the obvious, which I am now doing, but think if you dare of the various body-parts, muscles and sensory areas, that will eventually be the first to go.

This inevitable descent into a relative purgatory must be avoided at all costs. Its operational center is pure vanity and pleasure-seeking of course, but is that all bad? In Ecclesiastes 8:15, the writer finds life’s pleasures not only acceptable but commendable. “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat, drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” Living as I do under the beach sun, you may think I have written myself into a corner here, but I will show the case to be otherwise. To continue on the path of wisdom only requires that you either replace everything you own with things you like, credit card at the ready, or at least bring in only a few disliked activities or possessions at odd intervals and in the smallest increments possible. Even these you can whittle down as you advance in years. This, at least, is my advice and my plan, thank you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


If, as philosophers have surmised, life consists of sturm und drang, here at the beach it seems to me the sturm of life is usually calmly taken along with its drang, but with relatively less urgency and a few grains of salt; recent news stories rarely appear to excite, or even rankle, these laid-back shore dwellers. Personally, however, as important news stories break on our informational shores, which they seem to do with greater frequency now, the less I understand or know, and the less secure I actually am of my position--and the more aroused and upset I can become about it; many of my neighbors must, beneath those cool exteriors, feel quite the same way.

But yesterday’s earth-shaking issues have apparently already become old and familiar; it is as if all their concerns quickly enter a limbo of out-of-date news-flashes, even when Christianity itself comes under fire! I suspect, however, if I should start a rumor that alien body-snatchers, many millennia ahead of us scientifically but incidentally lacking the skill to replace their own bodies are at work in the neighborhood, I could almost guarantee unruly mobs of peasants carrying oaken cudgels, haying-forks, pine-tar torches and sporting surly scowls, all in very short order, (perhaps with me amongst them).

It has occurred to me, however, that I may be only visualizing reactions like those followers of Artemis, “Artemis of the Ephesians,” (Acts:19, 2-41), about whom riots regarding The Way broke out. What confusion, what alarms, violent reactions and urgencies to violence among the roistering crowds around the town square and on into the theater. These were people who had heard or fancied threats to their belief system and to what they saw as the sanctity and financial advantages of their preeminent goddess. How powerful then were the calm directives given by an ordinary city clerk urging legal assembly in place of rioting. Thus, words and reason seemed, momentarily, to stand up for faith in the Word; as in Psalm 46 (10): “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth…The Lord Almighty is with us;”. One is presented there who is slow to anger and abounding in love--in this way the words of Paul finally were recorded in The Word.

But now I can’t decide whether my neighbors know something of which I had lost sight, or whether they just don’t pay much attention to the news.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Have we not had enough of spring already, even after my last writing? I can’t seem to let it alone, but the reasons are far from clear. I am no fan of weather reports, I don’t usually find them either interesting or particularly believable, but three national surveys agreed that of the entire country, our area is today most spring-like. And to cap that I noticed for the first time this year there were a couple of gondolas out in the bay practicing their gala trips through local canals. The outside air confirmed the reports; warm and balmy, with perfumed breezes and greening plants—the whole nine yards. That is, until I met that downhearted fellow.’

He spoke to me as follows: This dawn found me reviewing my entire life—without one redeeming feature coming in with the sorry tide. This being the time of rebirth and change, I faced the prospect of a daunting task: give it up as a bad job or begin to redo the whole mess from scratch—I fell so low in spirits that some words of Isaiah came to mind, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud” (57:20). The man certainly knew his Bible, but had apparently set it aside some time ago for other pursuits.

Isaiah is my favorite OT book; so literate, so incisively insightful, so painfully true. However, now that he thought of it, written therein is--”I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15). Off handedly I asked him what he thought should be the occupation of the contrite--he also asked himself: One word only came; repentance! It was then that the vision of an insurmountable task began to lose some of its impossible dimensions. While he still looked at an entire life of mistaken, often selfish, hurtful actions, where even its purposes were poor choices, and most everything came out plain bad, a choice to change everything might not be entirely out of the question—anything he does now can only be an improvement! Already so wrong, if change is his game, he couldn’t go wrong for going right. Besides, Isaiah says he is not doing it alone.

He seemed a happier man, and I reflected that if winter has indeed come and gone, can spring be not far behind--in fact, staring us in the face?

Sunday, March 19, 2006


After a couple of fairly rainy days, this morning a few kayaks and sculls are energetically making their way across the bay. Patches of warm, bright sunshine countered by short and sharp gusts from the sea keep a few early walkers moving briskly along too. Our perpetual little sailboats cluster like white puff-balls over the blue-green water, but wind flurries strike and cause them to flitter like early spring butterflies on stubby white wings. In fact, the calendar insists that spring is about one week ahead of us.

The balance of this day, however, surely bodes little comfort out of doors unless one is addicted to raw edged, windblown walks, and the thunder-storms that are predicted in the area; winds hereabouts tend to increase after lunch time, although today a wayward breeze here and there is scented vaguely of lifted spirits. As early as Genesis 1:14 God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years…”. In Leviticus 26:3,4 He said, “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit”.

With notable exceptions that has usually been the case, and the lights in the sky are giving their signs. I don’t know how careful or obedient any one has been; unusual warmth at earth’s extremities and melting polar ice-caps suggest to some a reckoning might be somewhere down the road, and we are advised to count our blessings only after the harvest is in the barn. Signs aside, we are blessed by a forgiving Father who knows both our foibles and our hearts—and if it comes to that, a new earth and a new Heaven will be mighty fine—dare I hope for new sailboats too?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Passing by the new building site has been almost a daily event for several months. Each phase of the construction was duly inspected; razing of the old structure, the framing of wood and steel, the plumbing and wall-boarding, wire and tar-paper, stucco and plaster, glazing, and more to come. The crews usually wave to me from across the street and when the second-story roof was set in place the waving was even more celebratory than usual. Perhaps this camaraderie was partly due to the fact that as I lurched by with my walker I frequently assured them if they needed any help they could call on me.

The new structure is squeezed into a row of similar small apartment houses facing the bay and the morning sun. It is mostly of the Modern style, or perhaps because of Spanish type details here and there it could be called Moderne. In any case, with its straight and angular lines the rounded tops of two large windows and the entry-door insures that it will feel at home with its older, more venerable neighbors. Speaking of neighbors a young woman who lives nearby informed me that she grew up in the house that was demolished. Her grandmother had owned it for years and finally sold the property to renovators. I wonder now if that woman ever thought about what had been left in the rubble--or the layers under the latest rubble. What about the wells of Abraham or Jacob, built over older wells, or like Tells and digs of Egypt, and the whited sepulchers of old, what of dormant blessings

“…because of the Shepherd, the Rock
Of Israel,
Because of your father’s God, who
Helps you,…”.

I suddenly wanted to know, too late, what relic or lost art lay under the older structure. It is rumored that the Chumash of early California were no great shakes at building houses and the Clam-diggers, or the Wailiki were reportedly uninterested in architecture, but the centuries must be made of more than that. It occurred to me that soon the bright new place would be lost in the obscurity of its rows of counterparts along all the streets—in all the towns around, hiding perhaps forever what had been there before. Is it like that with people? Each one of us may indeed cover over ancestral lives that are now lost, but surely only in earthly rubble are things of value hidden. Fortunately no child of God is lost in eternity. The newcomer is welcome to stay too.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Until recently, here at the beach little kids seemed like visitors from another planet, but that has changed. I began to realize how completely happy those tots could be—when the weather is warm they develop a peculiarity--at, or anywhere near the sand and water, they suddenly grow springs in their legs, leaping, dancing and running faster than any battery-powered bunnies could do. They laugh, scream, squeal and splash; they gaze with wide-eyed joy and wonder at seeing things for the very first time. They somehow make the familiar beach scene much more fun. I do not consider myself to be the playful type, but perhaps rather like Paul in 1st Corinthians, (9:22, 23), I tried to join in and become all things to all men—or in this case, to all little kids. Now that the weather is cooler they come bundled up and are usually pushed in strollers; since I miss the squeals and the laughs, I make faces at them.

As they wheel past my seat on the low wall, putting them momentarily almost eye-level with me, my “Crazy Willie” face usually gets their attention. I smile broadly right away and get back a smile, a laugh, or at least a look of round-eyed wonder. Encouraged by this I find that noises help and my little tea- pot routine with “Tip me over, pour me out” is sure fire. Anything for a laugh, I say. Voices work too; not only do I get a “frog” in my throat, I occasionally get a “dog” in it as I bark at them. Some times it is a “horse”, I have a “bird” in my throat when I “swallow”, and the “swoop and soar” may leave me “sore”. The kids often lean out of their buggies, looking back at me--and we wave. If all else fails I can go into my “man being hanged” routine as a last resort.
I have noticed, however, that during the recent week more and more “stroller pushers” are going by me from across the street. I get a rare wave or a smile but that’s about all. Perhaps it has become clear that I am no virtuoso—or my audience has become jaded with the same old material. Public fame being what it is, fickle and short-lived, I will just have to find another gig—or maybe add tap-dancing to my repertoire.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


It’s not common hereabouts but usually well tolerated. Starting with a noticeable change in the air—which becomes cooler--with over-cast sky; the lavender, violet clouds merge into purple, with blacker edges here and there, serving to urge rain-people to walk out-of-doors.
It began with ...
a .
and a drop
and more drops
walking with wet faces
can be fun, with smell of
steamy wood, wet grass; even
damp dust from rainless days, is
fragrant. Now raindrops are falling,
falling on our heads—and all over this
land. Northern winds picking up speedy
delivery--rain commands its own perform-
ance—the choice to endure rain is not our own
choice to make. Big wet splashes are leaping up, up
from the street and filling the bay; looking more and more
like a regular gulley-washer now—the sort of rain only a
fool would not have brains enough to come in out of, at
once. Through windy coal-black sky and hills, the
soughing of wind and shriek of flailing, drenched limbs are
eerie, like the cry of poor damned souls. Overhead are
plumed branches, leaves and fronds thrashing, lashing,
and cracking loudly, wildly; heard amid the strange thick
darkness the bones of ancient dead warriors must come
alive—with Ezekiel the end-times witness, and the clash
and roar of warring armies—deafening rumbles and
groans, flashes of lightning. God bless all the sailors out at
sea in ships today, and all those souls on land, too. Signs
appear now in the sky, signs of further change—but
welcome sun rays break through and reveal the sloshed,
glossy-wet trees, now bathed in tints of warm amber-
greens and bronzes, starkly limned against the cold, grey-
black thunder-heads still looming above the churning
bay—contrast in lurid color and light. A fantastically
colorful rainbow arcs dramatically across the heavens—a
promise; the rain goes away as it came, from buckets-full,
to dribbles
to drops
to drips

And the land is new-wet and reborn, for a short time at least, the way the Lord first made it, the way He must have looked at it, and saw that it was good. So clean it smells good, feels good and everyone forgets--even little two-foot-high runaways splashing through lingering puddles in their best shoes and stockings--forget the darkness and revel in the heavenly light.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Lots of days here start like this early morning; windless times that fishermen know well--boats glide easily and cleanly out to the banks. There is no rustling from nearly transfixed palm-leaves; water in the bay is glassy, fog-colored and reflecting only the silence. The ocean is moved by smooth, sprayless currents; a day perhaps to go after lenguada, the tongue-shaped flat halibut.

It must have been such a morning at the Sea of Galilee, when Peter and his brother Andrew came ashore to find a stranger waiting for them. It is recorded, “Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Mat. 4:15, 16). The brothers learned they were to be fishers of men, and followed willingly!

Here at the beach it is a Sunday; sea-birds in neat rows natter fitfully like parishioners restively waiting for the service to begin. The hush is almost chapel-like and a prayer rushes forth unbidden: “Dear Lord, let me be caught in the net of men such as those, and lifted up.” Amen.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


When I write something that I think is both well-written and original, it is like telling secrets or revealing the answers to riddles. But the results then seem to me less interesting, like the punch line to a familiar joke; as if there is really no artfulness to the obvious. My tendency is then to resist writing down thoughts that come to mind in order to protect their pristine importance. The net result is an exercise in self-defeat; when I turn again to those undoubted gems of literary skill they are completely forgotten.

There is so far no way out of this predicament because if I write anything down the result is just ordinary at best—it remains great only if not written—and lost beyond recall. Of course it will also be forgotten by everyone else if written down, perhaps a sort of notoriety, but why share my lack-luster words with others?

The solution to the predicament is presented by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the elder, who recorded that he shared some lines of a humorous poem he had just written with his man-servant, who broke out in helpless laughter. “Ten days and nights with sleepless eye, I watched that wretched man. Since then I’ve never dared to write as funny as I can.” I will just not write as splendidly as I can—or as funny, for that matter.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Signs in the sky and over the waters! From my bayside lookout post there is a dark patch in an otherwise clear sky. There is a similar patch in the bay below. The water there is a warm gray, a dull mixture of blue and darker ochre, on either side it is the usual cerulean blue—sky-color to most painters. Here at the beach the map shows us further out from the rest of California shores than most surrounding terrain; there is sparse vegetation here. Little of this is indigenous to the area; nearly all of it, palm trees included, was carted in from somewhere else, and fire hazards in our local brush is not usually a problem. But today looks different.

A chunk of my distant panorama of the Sierras and local Anaheim Hills is obscured by smoke—and where there is smoke there is also the scourge of fire. “I read the news today, oh boy!” People up there in the hills are fleeing their homes at the very last minute (though it has been said that if there were no last minutes very little would get done in this world), taking the few most precious articles one can think of, almost always door-keys and hairbrushes. I don’t know if the lintels or sills of those doors were marked by more than the fire-inspector’s notes, probably not blood from a freshly slaughtered lamb. But the local exodus has begun and smoke marks a path across the waters—from this side we can only pray that all the children of God shall emerge safely, all the children, and that the evil flames of their pursuers be drowned.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Not many people know that as I walk daily with my indispensable walker around a modest circuit, I usually sit down briefly by the bay-side in order to inspect the day—and check out the action on the street. Even fewer know that when skate-boarders glide past me I often ask if they want to trade with me, walker for skateboard. Some times I even ask roller-skaters and cyclists. So far I have got quite a collection of blank or bemused stares and an uncertain laugh or two—but no actual takers. The closest I have come to a live one was when a toddler came toddling over and put a vise-like grip on my walker. Not understanding the childish garble I appealed to his nanny who, as it turned out, spoke no English. It was then made clear to me that he had asked “Es esto su jueguete?” (“Is this your toy?”). I reluctantly turned the kid down. Although I might have really enjoyed a ride in his stroller, the nanny seemed less than impressed by the idea. Whatever!

The reverie of sailing swiftly down the street, carelessly and carefree, is hard to let go, but this “incident of the playful child” reminded me that the common term, in Spanish-speaking countries, for my walker is “burro”. As I made my way back home, lurching along, plodding slowly, I was also reminded of Balaam and his little donkey. When he wouldn’t go as swiftly and directly as Balaam wished, the poor little beast was cursed and beaten—about the way I have occasionally felt towards my metallic mount. But the little “burro” was only obeying the Lord, and how bravely he persisted.

It came to me that perhaps it is not the Lord’s will that I sail down the street on a skateboard; for that matter, perhaps it wasn’t anyone’s will, even mine, truth be told. This thought has probably saved me from a most unkind fate, for which I thank the Lord.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


This morning at the beach seemed, in a manner of speaking, strictly for the birds. No one else out there, they made the most of it; fishing once in awhile but mostly soaring and diving, dipping and gliding, they rose and wheeled as a flock. Of course someone had to ask, “Where would birds of a feather flock, if not together”? But they rose and fell gracefully and I must say, for the most part, gravely and soberly!

Such madcap antics should, as a matter of propriety, be accompanied by gleeful shouts, but their cries were low-key and raucously solemn. It came to me that these displays were actually deeply ingrained and, if likened to human mannerisms, ritualistic. After all such a bird flew tirelessly from the mountains of Ararat one day long ago-- and these descendents appear to know their job, to herald eternal hope for all humanity—officious and solemn this morning and every day. Or maybe they are just looking for rainbows.

Monday, January 02, 2006


This is the first day of the New Year and of all the rest of our lives. What have we carried forward from past days, and years? It has been said that an economist is a man who knows a great deal about very little, and who goes along knowing more and more about less and less, until finally he knows practically everything about nothing. So it is with me, and so it probably is with many others if we expect to become any wiser. Those who have attained a majority of years might try it for themselves. Think back to ages eighteen or twenty—recall how wise and knowing we were then. I would like to be so smart once again, if only for an hour. That is, of course, only about as long as such wisdom can bear the light of this day. If the truth be told, we learn more and more of how much we do not know, if we learn anything. How wise then, are the ones who finally recognize how little they know after all; and possibly also how relieved. (A case in point might be our Nation’s long-standing, revered economist Alan Greenspan. Unburdening himself of his great responsibilities only last year, beyond a couple of cautionary words he demonstrated admirable brevity in recommending very little for the future, clearly a wiser chairman). Here it is day two of this New Year and we have been facing the elements as never before; prior learning is not always immediately applicable to this unprecedented onslaught of air, earth, fire and water. Winds and floods, mud-slides and flames rage out of control as never before. We must learn new ways to cope, but where does one look for knowledge we have not yet learned? Here I am reminded of a line spoken by Reb Tevye when asked just how their ancient Jewish customs and traditions came to be the way they are. With wonder and almost joyfulness in his voice he says, “Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t know”! This ordinary man was expressing his wonder and glory for God, who already knows what is unfolding—and how inadequate our own understanding is beside it. He was evidently glad that God’s greatness is regularly proven by how far short of such reasoning we mortals fall. For wisdom we might do well to heed Matthew 6:33 wherein he says, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”. All else will follow.