Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is this Mystery - Christmas

What is this mystery - Christmas,
that draws me out yet draws me in?
Tis' love perhaps or maybe,
what I do not know...and yet,

What is this mystery - Christmas,
when all of man companions mine,
do walk with me as arm in arm,
in hope of harmony and trust,

That crashes gates of parted time,
and brings me to the manger side,
To bid me look in honest eyes,
of childlike faith and openness.

What is this mystery - Christmas,
of carols bright and faces glow,
And all the best within the heart,
of man once made of stone?

Oh, teach me such a wondrous thing,
so simple and yet grand,
That God, who has no need of me,
yet reaches for my hand,

And turns my heart to fertile ground,
where once there grew but thorns,
To bring me to the breast of God,
and man alike as one and same.

Oh, wondrous glorious mystery this,
that I may never know,
It matters not, one single thought,
when willingly I go.

© 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Razzle Spazzle Dazzle Do

Razzle Spazzle Dazzle Do,
Woke up this morning with something to do.
She stretched and yawned heading to the dog door,
It’s her usual routine; breakfast, nap, and then chore.

She knew something was wrong when she tried to get out.
She bumped and she pushed the dog door with her snout.
But try as she might it just wouldn’t give way,
‘Cause there was two and a half feet of snow in the way!

She ran back upstairs and sat on my chest,
She pawed me and nosed me and gave me no rest.
She was so darn persistent I knew something was up,
With my little Black Labrador/Golden mix pup.

“Something is wrong with my little dog door,
I pushed and I pawed and I pushed it some more.
I can barely see daylight there’s just too much snow,
So get up and get dressed - I need to go!”

I pulled back the covers and slipped out of bed,
I walked down the stairs and scratched at my head,
But when I opened the door to my total surprise,
I squinted and gawked and I rubbed both my eyes.

In the open doorway stood a snow door imprint,
We both stood there starting in complete amazement. 

Then she suddenly jumped like a gazelle from her feet,
Between the snow and her belly her feet wouldn’t meet.

So she leaped and she jumped and she hopped and she flew,
‘Til she found a place where the drifts were but few.
And she happily squatted though the wind was still blowy,
Getting back to the dog door?  That’s a whole other story!



© 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Weaponry

When I was four I got my first cowboy cap gun and holster set for Christmas. My father and I developed a Sunday morning ritual of conducting a shoot out in the living room. He would start from the kitchen, I from my bedroom. Stealthily I moved from corner to corner and eventually hall to living room. We would sneak up on each other in true western movie fashion. It ended in a blaze of gunfire after which my father displayed a dramatic death the likes of which could never be improved upon by any TV character.

This time I was going to try a different tack and surprise him with my cunning and ingenuity. I crawled through the hallway to the doorway going into the living room and maneuvered behind the over-stuffed chair in the corner near the picture window and waited in silence for precisely the right moment.

Crouching down on my elbows, I quietly cocked my pistol in anticipation. When I saw he was unsure of my location . . . I lunged! One of my sneakers caught on the back leg of the chair and I fell face first on my gun. The sharp edge of the rigger cut the inside of my eye as the hammer pinched my eyelid in between. My mother came running into the living room wiping her hands on a dishtowel at the sound of my childhood scream. A sound only a mother can truly explain.

“I knew it”! she yelled. “Somebody was going to get hurt”! This was an oft-repeated warning that no one ever heeded.

She placed the towel over my bleeding eye and Dad quickly dressed and brought me to the hospital for repair. I returned a few hours later with a patch carefully taped over my right eye. No problem. I could be a pirate just as well as a cowboy any day.

We were always conducting different wars and battles in the neighborhood.

During the summer it was dirt clod fights. Dirt clods were amazing weapons. They produced a mortar round effect given high enough trajectory. It consisted of small pieces of pebbles bound into the sticky red clay that made up the majority of dirt in Bedford, Indiana. When the clay dried in the summer it cracked and broke into chunks the size of a hardball, just big enough for throwing. If they broke off larger they could be easily adjusted with a little light tapping. Indiana's red clay is dense enough to create sufficient velocity, but has enough air content to literally blast into pieces - spreading pebble shrapnel in all directions upon impact (the higher the lob, the greater the impact, the wider the spread of debris). The idea was to lob clods, not take direct aim at a person. Purposeful aiming was discouraged.

We divided up into sides based on; friendships, conceived neighborhood boundaries (Route 58 vs. Bailey Scales Road), knowledge, skill level, and distributed age groups so there would be no unfair advantage. Next we got into our positions – usually with each team behind a large dirt pile to provide sufficient ammo and protection. It was even better if there was a large open space between. We broke off enough clods to supply an initial barrage and then, on the count of an agreed to number, began our attacks.

It was rare that anyone was injured. During one battle I lobbed an extremely large chunk at my "enemies". Apparently one of the kids didn’t seen it coming. It landed squarely on top of his head, exploding out in a fanned manner horizontal to the ground. War is a dangerous business. Injuries are expected. He ran home immediately to cry to his mother, which resulted in a call to my mother about my recklessness. It wasn’t as if I aimed! After that I called warnings if it looked like a close call, “Look out”!

Boys have different kill genes than girls. Once they get possession of a BB gun any critter is fair game. My sister and I felt otherwise. When we realized they were shooting harmless birds we came crying to Mom about the tragedy. Her solution was simple but a brilliant form of protest. She sent us out with cooking pots and wooden spoons. We followed the boys throughout the entire neighborhood, banging on the pots wherever they went scaring away the birds and squirrels and chipmunks. We continued to do this anytime we saw them out shooting at animals. After a while they gave up.

I never set out to do evil unless it was in direct response to another.

One summer day I caught some neighborhood boys picking on my sister. They had her stingray bike by the handle bars and were jerking them around. She was in tears. I came upon the scene with my friend Mark Bell. He had just gotten a BB gun that you could pump to increase the pressure. We had been out behind the railroad bed shooting milk cartons and tin cans. I grabbed Mark's gun and told them to leave her alone or I’d shoot them. The disbursement was immediate. They quickly fled on their bicycles. I managed to hit the slowest one in the hindquarters with a well-aimed, highly pumped shot.

Before I arrived back home his mother had already phoned and provided my mother an earful regarding my behavior and the resultant welt on her sons behind. I could tell she wasn't happy when I came in the door. I'm sure she had visions of armed robbery in my future and visiting me in prison. I explained the circumstances, which seemed to allay her fears and reduced my sentence to a brief lecture on gun control.




© 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Different Kind of Bible Story

God has a sense of humor and I can prove it.

Between my twin sister, Kathie, and I - I was the most mechanically inclined.  If it could be taken apart, examined, and reassembled I would do it.  I was curious how things worked.  Left over parts never worried me.

Kathie was more domestically minded.  She’d be in the kitchen with Mom learning how to make fudge while I was in the garage handing Dad screwdrivers and 3/16” open-ended wrenches.  Not a typical 10-year-old girl.  Life was an adventure meant to be lived on the front of your favorite tee shirt.

I had my heart set on a series of miniature soldiers at Woolworth Department Store on the Square in downtown Bedford.  My parents couldn’t afford to buy us toys whenever we wanted so many of my toys were homemade out of paper milk cartons and sticks.

 So I came up with my own plan.  I rigged a toy laundry basket between the handlebars of my stingray bicycle and each week I would peddle up and down the highway in front of our house and collect all the discarded soda bottles.  When my basket was full I would redeem the bottles for five cents apiece at Wray’s Grocery, a small mom and pop grocery across the street from where we lived.  I saved up my money so each week I could purchase another set in the series.

Kathie wasn’t much for long term investing at the time.  When she cashed in her bottles she spent it on penny candy and gumball surprises.  One day she put a nickel in the gumball machine and something besides a rubbery alien or gold plastic ring fell out.  Inside the clear plastic egg was a tiny plastic Bible that when you held it to the light and peered through the end you could read the Lord’s Prayer.  Kathie loved it.  It was the best thing she could have imagined and after that she carried it with her wherever she went - including school.

Like I said, my parents didn’t have a lot of extra money.  It was rare for them to take an evening out for dinner and a movie.  Usually when they did go on a “date” a relative would sit for us, but this particular night they left us with a baby sitter.

 May parents never allowed us in their bedroom, which made me all the more curious.  That’s why, once they left, I took the opportunity to go and stand just inside the door and look around.  I didn’t want to touch anything.  I was just trying to figure out the mystery.

Kathie had decided to take a bath that evening.  Of course she took her tiny plastic Bible into the tub with her.  Somehow she accidentally dropped it into the soapy water.  By the time she found it water had gotten inside so you could no longer read the Lord’s Prayer.  Upset and barely dry from her bath she found me standing in our parent’s room and begged me to fix it.


I examined the small toy and, after careful consideration, determined that if water had gotten in - water should to come out.  I carefully positioned the tiny Bible between my fingers and began to suck the water out.  As fast as you could say, “Amen to that!” the Bible slipped from my fingers and I swallowed it.

Kathie immediately noticed the absence of her beloved “Bible” and demanded that I return it.  I, at that point, had started some serious choking.  The Bible had lodged itself somewhere in the vicinity of my larynx.  After much effort I managed to get it down.

When I could finally speak I explained to my sister that I had swallowed it.  She couldn’t believe it.  Neither could the babysitter.

When Mom and Dad got home later that evening we explained the situation to them.  Mom was hardly surprised.  I was the know choker in the family.  I could choke on mashed potatoes (although stewed tomatoes were my specialty).

Mom, who took me down to the small town emergency room of the local hospital for lack of a better alternative, had the joy of engaging in the conversation below:

ER Nurse: "May I help you?"  [Very professional, even for a small town hospital.]

My Mother: "Yes!"  [She yanks me by the arm towards the desk.]

 ER Nurse:  "What seems to be the problem?"  [This is triage.  Looking me over she can't help but notice I appear perfectly healthy.]

 My Mother: “My daughter swallowed a Bible."  [She says this without cracking a smile.]

ER Nurse: "A what?!"

 My Mother: "A Bible."  [Once again without a smile.  She is not in the mood to go into detail.]

[Here there is a long moment of silence and a lot of staring.]

 ER Nurse: “Please fill out this form.  A doctor will be with you shortly."  [She looks at me in disbelief.  I stick my tongue out at her.]

 After the doctor examined me he explained to my Mother that nature would take its course and to wait for the expected results.

Until then I was the focus of remarks such as, “Kristie loves the Word so much she carries it around inside of her”, “Kristie eats the Word”, and my favorite . . . “This too shall pass”.



© 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Man Who Had No Name

There was a man who had no name, so he went searching for someone who might look into his face and recognize him and call to him and tell him who he was.

He roamed through all the cities and towns, but there was no one who could satisfy his search.

He walked a ways out into the countryside where there was no hustle of commerce or society of man; where the songs of birds and rustle of wind in the leaves gave him rest from his searching - for his quest had made him so tired.

He sat under the shade of a tree to rest his weary feet and he listened.  He listened to the wind.  He listened to the songs of the birds.  He listened to the tumble of the brook and the chatter of the squirrels.  And he rested.  His mind roamed the hillsides in thought.

"The Wind," he said, "Is simply the wind."

"The Water," he said, "Is simply the water."

"The Earth," he said, "Is simply the earth."

“And God,” he said, “who created all things upon the earth - knows exactly who I am."



© 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Silence

Anyone who has sat through a “moment of silence” knows that awkward, it should end right about now moment. Most of us are uncomfortable sitting silently with a group of people – so uncomfortable that our minds aren’t focused on the power of that moment, but on when it will end.

Here we miss the easiest and most simple opportunity to experience the spiritual side of “when two or more are gathered”. Why then are we so uncomfortable with the experience?

Any moment of silence is a stopping or ceasing of the onward pace of our lives. Perhaps we associate that stopping with the ultimate ceasing - as if activity reinforced our existence, but inactivity was its death. The truth is inactivity is the sister to activity. Both are necessary in order to have a balanced life in the same way breathing in and breathing out has purpose.

If we could get past that awkward moment and persist long enough to settle into that silence with our fellow travelers we would discover something more powerful than the pace of our lives – we would discover its immediacy and the spiritual Presence that is always with us in our haste.

This is why Quaker Meeting for Worship has such a special meaning for me. In that purposeful silence – when each and everyone seek the same Source with the same focus – something magical happens.

In 1996 I attended a Quaker Conference held on the University campus of UMASS in Amherst, Massachusetts. One evening the Meeting for Worship contained almost 300 people. We sat in silent worship for nearly an hour before anyone had the “leading” to speak. The person who did share said one of the most profound things I had ever heard in my life.

“When it is so silent, and I am so full, it is not because something needs to be said, but because something needs to be lived.”

Simply put, if we took the time to get past the discomfort of silence we would experience the fullness of emptiness. In our logical minds silence is emptiness – our worst case scenario for what happens after life – and noise if fullness. That’s just the point. We need to be empty to receive. When we are full of “noise” nothing gets in; not even “that still small voice”.

It is our discomfort with silence that keeps us from staying with it long enough for our spirits to learn the difference. Sitting silently with other people is the most basic form of worship. When we can let that void exist among us it will naturally fill with God’s love, because that love is the pervasive force behind everything that ever has been or ever will be.

So do yourself a favor. Wait a little longer. The result will surprise you.




© 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Frank Bunker Gilbreth

There are things we do every day that give us a sense that “all’s right with the world”. An orderliness that allows us to face an otherwise chaotic world we can't control. For some it’s mediation, for others it’s exercise, and for yet others its a walk in the morning stillness. For me it happens in the shower. As a matter of fact I have been showering exactly the same for nearly 40 years.


It all started when I watched a movie made in 1950 called “Cheaper by the Dozen” starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. Clifton Webb plays the father, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, an efficiency expert who in one particular scene carefully instructs his children in the proper way to same time and water in the shower. Don't ask me why this made such an impression on my 15 year old mind. Let's simply accept the fact it did. From that time forward I followed those instructions as if they had come from my own father.
I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s based on the principle that water flows downhill.

1) Shampoo hair – rinse thoroughly
2) Suds up wash cloth
3) Scrub face, chin, neck, and behind the ears
4) Rinse face so as not to get soap in eyes
5) Continue with left arm then right arm
6) Followed by the stomach (etc here)
7) Continue to back left side the right
8) Followed by right leg then left leg
9) Then left foot and right foot
10) Finally by holding the wash cloth over the right shoulder reach behind and grab the tail of the cloth with the left hand and use an up and down sawing motion to wash the back.
11) Rinse out wash cloth and thoroughly rinse from head to toe.

I realize this may seem silly or even a bit peculiar, but it does give me a sense of stability and order in my life and I figure whatever it takes to face the day . . . it’s alright with me!


© 2009


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sputnik

Sputnik ruined my life.

I was three years old in 1957. I wasn’t interested in world politics, international tensions, or the pace of scientific research. I was working on the transition between walking and running without falling down. It didn’t matter to me that the kid next door could already do it.

After Sputnik the emphasis went on kids who excelled in math and science. Like a grow your own astronaut program. I was never good in math or science.

In my way of thinking you didn’t need to understand the principle of trajectory to make a good hit on a hornets nest with walnut or understand E=mc2 to hit a homerun during a neighborhood baseball game. I had something more valuable than mere scholastic aptitude - I had imagination. (Ok, my teachers referred to it as daydreaming.)

My book reports seldom resembled the original story. Common objects became extraordinary in my hands. A dirt clod was a perfect mortar shell. A stick with just the right fork could easily become a gun.

My mother worked for the Navy and would bring home those official looking plastic retractable ballpoint pens with “US Government” stamped in white ink on the side of the black barrel. This made an exceptional spaceship, which I would to launch through the “silo” of the ink reservoir hole of my wooden flip top desk at Shawswick Elementary School.

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, Weewah, Weewah, Blast Off!” The rumble of the engines drowned out my teacher and her blackboard instructions.

The Captain of my spacecraft sat in the fat end of the pocket clip, the black plastic barrel was the fuselage, and the metal ink reservoir was the solid rocket fuel. Whenever the ballpoint was engaged I was ready for battle with any antagonistic extraterrestrial (their spaceship was inferior and usually resembled a pencil).

That experience successfully created in me what I affectionately refer to as my “pen fetish”. Refillable retractable pens are my favorites. It’s not uncommon for me to refill a pen over and over and over.
A while back I was at the laundry mat. When my washers finished, I put down my writing tablet and pen, and transferred my clothes to the dryers in the usual manner. I sat back down at the folding table I had commandeered and realized my favorite pen was gone.

I should tell you here that I have this sort of sixth sense about the location of my pen. As a matter of fact its safe to say that I know where my pen is at all times. If a friend or co-worker picks it up to jot down a note or a phone number I watch them carefully to make sure they don’t walk off with it. So I was pretty sure I had indeed left it on the folding table, but on the off chance that I had it in my hand when I had swapped my clothes, I went over to the washers and next the dryers and performed an extensive search with no success. Then reality struck. Someone had stolen my pen.

I scanned the laundry mat for suspects. No one in particular stood out. I decided to use the well-worn technique my mother had always used in such cases – guilt. I walked around the laundry mat and with all the sincerity I could muster asked each and every person if they had seen my pen, loudly bemoaning my concern that if I had mistakenly dropped it in the dryer my clothes would surely be ruined. After completing circuit of the room I went back over to my folding table and waited.

Several minutes later a young boy of about eleven approached me. He held my pen in his hands and sheepishly asked if it was mine. I said it was.

My first thought was to throttle the little “varmint”, but I held back. I thanked him for helping me find it and told him how much I appreciated his help. He nodded a thank you and went back over to the other side of the laundry mat to sit down by his mother who smiled her approval of his actions.

It was pretty obvious that this boy had never seen an pen worth more than twenty-five cents before. A blue BIC “globber” was probably the best pen he had ever had. Now I was the one starting to feel guilty. I knew I had another pen in the glove compartment of my car. It was identical to the one I was using only the barrel was green and the lettering was worn.

I went out and retrieved it and brought it over to the little boy.

“Here, I had an extra,” I told him. “I thought you might like it.”

“Wow”, he said as he held it with both hands.

I felt pretty good about myself after that. I went back to my writing. When I had finished my laundry chores (folding and stacking and matching socks) I placed my clean clothes back into their baskets and, just before I was about to leave, leaned back to look into the other room.

There sat the boy with the retractable pen erect on the seat bottom. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, Weewah, Weewah, Blast Off! Up it went in an arcing motion that I clearly recognized.

I had to laugh at myself.


© 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In Our Shoes

I assume it would be safe to say that if you pressed your open hand into the dirt, whatever stuck to your palm at that moment would be rightfully yours. And I assume that if the creak of an old door suddenly awoke something deep within the historical memory of your ancestral DNA, it would be wise to listen. Wise to enter that moment where the past intersects the spiritual vortex that leads to the crystal clear absolute now.

If we could, for that fleeting moment, be so deeply "in our shoes" that our socks were squishy with the sweat of God Himself, then we would see with our own two eyes that the Bush still burns - that our lives are changed - how different we are!

This is the secret of life. To fully live in the present moment. To drink in the Truth that all of life is sacred down to the last crumb of bread in an ant's grasp . . . if we are there and truly awake to it.

© 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Holy of Holies

If You would be so kind, my God,
to meet me in this quiet place,
and hold me in the Light of light
and love and hope and grace.

Where Face to face we reconcile,
the only distance that exists,
a veil as thin as dewy mist,
within the mind of man forgot.

In Truth, there is no distance here,
and never was if tale be told,
it only was because of fear,
instilled by those who sought control.

But now their places are mere dust,
and ashes left to blow away,
for all are priests and free to come,
into the House that holds the soul.

Which has no walls or floor nor roof,
and yet is better Home than hearth,
for weary traveled souls as ours,
and all who come to seek the Light.

© 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Flying

This is a true story.

Years ago I worked for TJ Maxx in the corporate office in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Leo Beaudette was a young man in his mid-twenties. The son of an American GI and a Samoan mother, he was a slim built and handsome young man who looked like he stepped out of GQ magazine. He had long jet black hair, which he pulled back during business hours.

I had the privilege of being his Supervisor.

One morning before work I saw Leo sitting by himself in the cafeteria. I poured myself a cup of coffee and went over to sit with him.

“Mind if I sit with you?” I asked.

“Sure,” he answered. “You know Kris, when I was a kid I actually believed if I tried hard enough I could fly.”

I joked with him and said that’s why a lot of kids jump off their garages and break their legs.

“I know,” he said, “But yesterday on my way home I got that feeling again. I pulled off the highway, got out of my car, and ran down the breakdown lane as fast as I could.”

I knew the route Leo took home. The Mass Turnpike is a busy six lane highway. I pictured him running down the breakdown lane; tie flipping over his shoulder, hair streaming behind him. I could only imagine what the other commuters speeding by on their way home must have thought of this crazy young man.

“And you know what?” he said looking me deep in the eye. “For a second I thought I almost did it!”

Implausible as it seemed there was something in his spirit that was certain of the possibility.

 “Leo,” I said as I looked back into his dark chocolate eyes, “I need more people like you working for me.”


© 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

What I Know of Love

I'm not sure what I can add to all that’s ever been written about love. People more articulate and emotionally honest than I have tried to explain what I can barely begin to describe. But it seems to me that love is pervasive, that is, it permeates all of life. Love is what makes life worth living. It’s what gives life purpose and meaning, because love is in our DNA. Love is intrinsically and inexorably a part life.

Love is not so much something we experience as much as something we actively chose to do. Love is the action and interaction of every part of your being. It's not a separate entity. You love with everything you have or it isn't love.

Loves younger impetuous sister, Infatuation, judges all her relationships by how she feels. Love judges hers by what she knows. This knowledge takes time and self-awareness. Within six months Infatuation is bored and on to something else, but love goes deeper.

I have been loved and I am loved, but none of this is my responsibility. My responsibility is how I love, and of this I am confident - the best life is the life lived in love.

So here’s what I know and can say for certain about living in a loving relationship:

1) Patience is important, because not everybody operates the same. People need room to figure things out sometimes and giving them that opportunity is important.

2) My father once told me true religion is kindness. By being kind to each other we give people the room to be human. No one wakes up in the morning and says, "I'm going to make a bad decision today." Kindness demonstrates that you’re not judging them for that.

3) There’s no limit to the number of people who will love you or who you will love in your lifetime. For some reason people have gotten the idea that there's only so much to go around in this world; whether it’s money, popularity, love, or anything else. The idea of scarcity is the root of envy. That’s why envy is so foolish. It’s just plain shortsighted and untrue.

4) No one is better than anyone else. If we’re lucky we accomplish good things in this life – things that hopefully help other people. It’s best not to make a big deal about what you’ve accomplished because it makes other people feel small and artificially inflates you.

5) Try never to be so proud that you can’t admit when you've messed up or say your sorry. This goes a long way.

6) Try to show respect for everyone. Sometimes the lady that cleans the bathroom is the most important person in the company. Rudeness and disrespect are just wrong.

7) Real love is self-less. When you care about someone try to be less egotistical. This isn't easy. It's work, hard work.

8) People get mad too easy. Granted the more things build up the easier it is to fly off the handle. More stuff = bigger explosion. That’s why it’s important not to leave things unsaid. It keeps life much simpler in the long run. Frustration in conversation is better than anger in silence any day. And when you do talk, try to do your best not to yell. There’s too much yelling going on.

9) Loving someone isn't about keeping track. It’s about fresh opportunities.When you start keeping track of things you think someone has done wrong you create a wall even the biggest heart has trouble getting over.

10) To love someone is to be true to that person. When they know they can trust you you take an element out of the mix that sabotages the best of intentions.

11) To love someone means being willing to put in all your effort to protect, trust, hope, and persist - because your heart can’t do otherwise.

By the way, if you’re with someone who can’t (or won’t) do these things . . . it's time to find some one who can [refer to item #3].

© 2009