Down many paths we travel in a lifetime by Roy N. Martin

ImageDuring my lifetime, many Biblical passages have guided me. Some have become so much a part of my thoughts that they often surface to give insight into a particular situation. Deuteronomy 30:15-20 is one such passage. This passage is near the end of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. It represents Moses’ final words to the people of Israel, where he interprets God’s will for them. The image I carry in my mind is more personal but which is consistent with the message to that ancient people. This week of Advent, I want to share my personal reflections.

In verse 15, God speaks: “.. .today … I have set before you life and death…”

Yes, today there are two paths I might follow.

God’s message is always present, for “today” is always with me. No matter how hard I might try, I cannot escape the meaning of these words. They speak to me on all past “todays.” Every “today” in the future God’s message will again challenge me.

Yes, today there are two paths I might follow.

The two paths may be interpreted in ultimate terms, the culmination of one’s sojourn, “Life and Death” with capital letters. I prefer to think of these words as referring to various paths we pursue. Consequently, my journey may consist of actions which affirm blessings in others and in myself, the paths of life. Or my actions may lead to adversity for myself and for others who are affected by my actions, the paths of death.

What actions mark the paths of life and what actions mark the paths of death are known to me, through God’s continuous messages to me throughout history, as recorded in the Bible, in the life of Jesus whom we know as the Christ, and in the living testaments of fellow travelers who have heard the same message.

Yes, today there are two paths I might follow.

God gives me the choice to make. Having provided all the data I need, God permits me to choose how I shall turn. On most days the choice is easy and does not require much thought, for I am traveling familiar territory. I trust past decisions to be sufficient for me to choose the paths of life. On some days, I must evaluate past decisions to determine whether the circumstances under which they were made still exist or whether new circumstances suggest alternate paths of life. And then there are those days, thankfully infrequent, when I am confronted with a situation which calls for painful choice-making, guided by long hours of reflection and prayer. And there are times when I am confronted with realization that I have been on a wrong path, and need to change.

No matter the circumstance, the choice is mine to make, and clearly it is my choice.

And God continues in verse 19: “Choose life…”

While I am free to choose the path I will take, I do so with full knowledge and faith that God has clearly defined what I am to do. Divine Concern cares whether I make the right choice. Divine Wisdom understands that I, a human with limited knowledge, will make wrong choices. Divine Grace forgives my transgressions, providing opportunities to return to the path of life.

Divine Love etches that Concern, that Wisdom, that Grace in my life, and in all of your lives, through the Life of him whom we call Jesus the Christ.

Welcome the Kingdom with Song by the Rev. Wayne Barnett

Isaiah 35: 1,10

images35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; … For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;  35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Did you ever wonder way we sing Christmas Carols? One year I put a sign on our outside church bulletin board that read we sing Christmas Carols. I did it because in most U. S schools children are not allowed to sing Christmas Carols

When Israel suffered complete destruction, when the land was barren, when the temple lay in ruins Isaiah promised a complete reversal. When outward circumstances offered no hope, Israel hoped. The Judeo-Christian hope is different from a wish. When I buy a lottery ticket I have the wish my number will win, but I do not start spending the money. But when my dad was living he often told me he would send a check to Transylvania for my living expenses. With his promise I could start spending the money even though I didn’t have it. You cannot count on a wish, but you can base your life on hope. Christians and Jews do not wish, they hope even when all seems hopeless.

Christians believe that the highway into the heart of God comes when a person lets Christ into their life. When a person’s life is touched by the finger of God, dryness and dust are replaced by moist, fertile soil. In place of living death life blooms.

You and I have seen persons who had no vision, no hope, no direction, and who lived in hopelessness find a highway into the heart of God and that highway was Christ.

We have seen Christians crushed beneath seeming unbearable burdens, and yet those Christians have gone on believing that good can come out of evil, believing that a birth in a stable is the sign that God is with us no matter what because that stable is the cross – resurrection from another perspective. We believe that the suffering and death of Jesus Christ has conquered all suffering and death. We trust the angels had good reason to sing for joy in the skies over Bethlehem. We believe that beneath the wounds and scars that life inflicts on us all, deep at the heart of eternity, joy still awaits us in the presence of God. On the cross as Jesus was dying he said, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” On the Cross, Jesus let us know even as he died he experienced God’s love but also looked forward to the heavenly banquet that he promised his disciples when he said, “This is my blood of the covenant poured out for the remission of sins. I tell you I will not drink it againimagesuntil I drink it anew with you in the Kingdom of God.” It is that kingdom that lives in us now and that we look forward to in eternity and that is the reason we sing Christmas Carols. Joy to World, The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king let every heart prepare him room.

Advent blogs

imagesI asked two special friends from George’s and my long-ago days in seminary to write a blog for Advent for another point of view than mine.  Both of these men were George’s roommates while he was in seminary.

Wayne Barnett and George were friends from CYF Conference (summer church camp) and all through college.  Wayne and his wife LaDonna were parts of our lives for many years.  George performed their wedding and Wayne was George’s best man.   He retired from a long pastorate in Kentucky but still keeps busy.   His blog will be up this afternoon.

Roy Martin lived down the hall from me in seminary until he moved in with George and Wayne.  We lost touch but with the magic of Facebook discovered each other–and Roy’s wife–two or three years ago.  Roy retired from years of ministry but keeps busy by going back to school, picking up degrees and learning things he shares.   His blog will be up December 16.

I cannot tell you the joy I feel that these two ministers and dear friends agreed to write a blog for Advent.

Advent 1

imagesI’m not the best little homemaker in the country.   I seem to have a very high threshold for clutter.  Although I keep my home clean, there may be (and usually are) stacks of papers or unfinished projects or notebooks filled with books I’m editing on tables and chairs and even a few in baskets on the floor.   For that reason, before anyone enters the house, I have to clean, clear the clutter, sweep out the corners where dirt seems to collect,  use a feather dust to get rid of cobwebs on the ceiling.

This is what preachers do: we tell a story, then say something like, “This reminds me of why we celebrate Advent.”

For many years, George and I hosted a Christmas open house for church members and neighbors and, yes, I had to plan and clean and cook until the time came and we opened the door to our guests.

This reminds me of why we celebrate Advent.  Christmas doesn’t start with the hanging of the greens and shopping.  That’s Advent, the period of preparation.  Christmas starts withimagesthe birth of the Savior, when the prophesy comes to pass and the miracle is shared, but even with the joy of the season, there is a reason for Advent, those days before Christmas.

Exactly as I prepared for our guests weeks before we welcomed them, Advent is the time we prepare ourselves for the new birth, the light, the appearance of God made human.  And, yes, I do this before He arrives because I have clutter in my brain and unpleasantness lurking in the corners of my soul and cobwebs covering my often unused commitment which makes me less able to receive God’s gift to us.

What is the clutter in my mind? Can I admit to the racism I attempt to pretend doesn’t exist there?  What about my certainty that my beliefs are the only true beliefs–the clutter I hide behind a smile?  What about that ugliness hiding in the corners of my mind, jealousy and pettiness?  And my uncertain and wavering commitment to love and spread the good news?  I need to sweep all those away before the arrival of our Savior so I can welcome Him with open arms.

Preparation:  this is why we celebrate Advent.

 

 

 

 

Honor code

Because there is great concern that the Rolling Stones article about a rape victim at the University of Virginia is falling apart, I am making changes to this blog.

I was brought up to be honest.   I shoplifted a box of Jell-O when I was four because I loved raw Jell-O.  My mother took me back to the grocery store.  She made me apologize to the manager and pay for it out of my five-cents-per-week allowance.  Thanks, Mom.

George always said I was a twit.  Although he was very honest, he thought I made too much of it.  Whenever I noticed I was undercharged for an item, I always brought it to the attention of the store.  I won’t go on with other examples but, yes, I am a twit.

In 1969, we moved to Charlottesville, VA, where I started  work on a master’s of education at the University of Virginia.   In those years, the campus was segregated by gender.  Women could only attend classes in the School of Education and no other departments because–well, I don’t know why not.  However, all students had to attend a meeting about the HONOR CODE which was very important then.    We listened to a speaker explain honor for thirty minutes, then had to sign an honor pledge.  I was married with a small child and had only cheated on a test once in my life, in sophomore general science and have felt shame for years.  This is the only time or place I’ve confessed that.  But, very simply, when working on a master’s degree, I wasn’t going to cheat on a test or do anything dishonorable and felt a little insulted I had to listen to an explanation of honor as if it were a virtue I’d never understood or considered, then sign a pledge that I would be honorable.

Those who already plan to cheat are not going to be stopped by signing a pledge.  They’re perfectly willing to lie if they plan to cheat.

I reflect on this because of what we’re hearing about the great number of rapes on college campuses that are not investigated, are covered up, when the woman is encouraged not to call the police or to rock the boat or to open herself to the inevitable attacks that come when a woman cries rape.

And in the midst of all this is the University of Virginia.  I wonder if a campus leader still discusses the importance of being honorable, the need to be an honorable gentleman and Cavalier.  Does that leader realize there are men in the audience who don’t consider rape to be a dishonorable action?  Obviously there a few young men who haven’t been taught what honor really means, didn’t learn during the required meeting about the honor code that all deserve to be respected, even women.  Seems to me that many universities ignore those offenses because they believe the reputation of their institution is more important than the protection of all their students. Or perhaps they believe boys will be boys.

NBC News said tonight that since 1998, 180 UVa students have been expelled for honor code violations.  None of those infractions were for sexual assault.  Does this suggest that as long as a man doesn’t cheat on a test, whatever else he may do is just fine?

Which brings up my question:  Why bother with an honor code?

What a difference

imagesThe other day, I asked a woman how she met her husband.  “I worked for the government in DC at the end of World War 2. While I waited for transfer to France, I went to a small store to buy clothes.   The owner said she had a nephew there with the FBI and gave me his name and phone number, telling me to call him. I did. We went out and got married a few months later.  I always wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t gone to that store or told the owner my story.”

I ended up teaching Spanish for thirty years because my mother didn’t like the French teacher in high school and enrolled me in Spanish.   Because a huge percentage of my life and income has been based on speaking Spanish, I can’t get my brain around the imagesdifference in my life because of a chance remark from the French teacher to my mother.

In your life, do you see a place where you might have been a different person if one tiny event had been different?

Do you see a way chance or coincidence changed you life?  I wonder what I’d be like today if I’d majored, for example, in PE.

The tiniest difference

imagesAs I imagine you all know, the First World War began one-hundred years ago when Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand.    During the years of the war, nineteen million soldiers died.  19,000,000.  Nineteen million.

What we don’t realize is the inciting incident of the war to end all wars happened due to chance and bad communication.  Several nationalists had planned to assassinate the Archduke that morning but following a plan riddled with mistakes, didn’t get closer than one grenade that missed the car of the Archduke and his wife.  Later in the morning and after that initial incident, the driver of the Archduke’s car took a wrong turn because no one had told him the route had been changed.  The car stalled only a few feet from where Princip stood.   He took out a gun and shot both the Archduke and his wife from five feet away.

Would history have changed if the driver had been given the correct information or if imagesPrincip hadn’t been released by the police?  Probably not because nations determined to go to war will find a context.   Remember the Gulf of Tonkin  Resolution? Weapons of mass destruction? However, the spark probably would come at a different time and a different place.

My challenge for you:  think of a moment in history that could have gone one way or another if one tiny event had changed.  What if Columbus had headed north?  Or if President Lincoln had had better security or gone to bed early?   I’d love for you to share that.

 

The medicine is worse than the disease

imagesIf you’ve read my Facebook posts, you know I’ve been sick for two weeks.  I thought it was allergies until I woke up with a cough that hurt my entire body and a voice like a dying  buffalo.  Another hint I’m really sick is that I wake up in the middle of the night hearing a very soft, “Meow, meow,” and realize the sound is coming not from a cat but my lungs.  Finally went to the doctor who gave me a strong antibiotic, a steroid pack, codeine-laced cough syrup and several inhalers.  I think she was worried about me.

And for two weeks, I suffered not only the breathing/coughing problems but also the side effects of the drugs.

I don’t take steroids because I experience ‘roid rage.   Terrible, terrible ‘roid rage.  I’ll be chatting with a friends and, suddenly and without warning, flames come out of my mouth.   This time, I’ve stayed home and talked to as few people as possible because I do like to keep my friends and I don’t want anyone to gossip about the vicious woman in apartment 514.

With the antibiotic, I discovered two side effects after I looked them up last week: imagesconfusion and extreme drowsiness.  Not a surprise.  I was so confused and sleepy, I was barely able to google the side effects.   Add to that the cough syrup with copious amounts of codeine and I might as well stay in bed so I wouldn’t hurt myself or others.   In my confusion, I forgot the time change and arrived at church an hour early Sunday–just in time for Sunday school.   About the drowsiness:  Saturday I sat down to a full day of college football and slept through entires halves.  Once I slept through most of a game and woke up to see teams in uniforms I didn’t recognize.

DSCN0445One of my favorite times of the day is after breakfast when I sit on the sofa, drink coffee and watch the news with one cat on my lap and the other next to me.  The three of us slept all morning.   I tried editing a book and kept falling asleep on the pages.    When a writer falls asleep while reading her own novel–well, not a good sign.

And the confusion!   I looked for an early voting place and never found it.  I called about an electric bill which I don’t owe and never understood the explanation.    I worried I’d entered the zone of elderly confusion but, having taken the lat of the antibiotic on Saturday, I discover the fog has cleared.

I’ve lost two weeks but am well.  Thank goodness.  Excuse me.  I think I’m going to take a little nap now.

Things that go BEEP in the night and during the day

imagesThis morning I woke up to the sound of beeps.   The complex is getting a facelift.  The Conservatory is beautifully maintained which takes a great deal of work.  So for a week we’ve had cherry pickers ascending and descending with a lot of beep-beeps.   After the first few, the cats settled down.  I didn’t do that nearly as well which surprised me because I thought they were much more high maintenance than I.  It took me two days until I stopped noticing the beeps.

The other day, I heard very light beeps, about four or five minutes apart.  The tone wasn’t loud enough for me to discover where it came from–odd because this is a very small apartment.  I got a chair and put it in the middle of the kitchen where I sat to try to locate the sound.  Nothing.  I moved to the hall.   All this movement away from them worried the Maggie-and-Toy1cats.  They followed me every place my chair and I went meowing and generally upset.  I finally decided it was  low battery on the sprinkler system and called maintenance to take care of it.  Aah, the luxury of having people who do these choirs.

Then there was another beeping that came at varying times and I could not catch the culprit no matter how I listened.  Finally figured out it was a warning the battery on my cell running down.  Most of you probably know that, but I’m helplessly behind with cellphones.  If I plug it in, I’m fine.  If not, I wonder where that buzzing’s coming from.

The  sounds I love to hear come from real creatures:  Scooter purring and Maggie meowing loudly to nag me to come with with her and pet her.  People outside laughing and enjoying.  The sounds of people dining together or laughing in water aerobics.

For sounds are not always noise.  They warn and comfort and remind us that we aren’t alone, that the world is going on and we can join in.

Whoops–the beep on the dryer just sounded.  Excuse me while I fold sheets.

Courtesy at the H-E-B

kindness-is-contagiousI went to the H-E-B grocery store yesterday.  As sometimes happens, I was really tired and drove the little electric cart around to pick up the items I needed.   This happens a few times a year–when I hurt or exhausted–and every time I think I need to write about how rude people are to the handicapped.   So, here I go.

Many able-bodied people (a pejorative in some circles) see a person in a wheelchair or the electric mobility aid and think, “Slow.  Must get ahead of.  Must get around.”   I have seen shoppers actually hurdle the feet of people in wheelchairs or dash in front of me so I have to hit reverse suddenly so I don’t run over them.   It’s as if there were a race with money riding on who got the loaf of bread and carried it to check-out first.  Why?

Even worse than the shoppers who do this are the workers there who have nearly pushed me out of the way in their haste.   I’m a woman of little patience but I’ve learned it in the grocery store because otherwise I’d probably start yelling profanities.   Yes, I write the sweet books in which the characters don’t use those words, but I have heard them and I could use them.

So I beg of you, concede the right-of-way or wait and please don’t run in front of handicapped people.  It shows more about you than you might think and teaches your children a negative lesson.

What can shoppers do to help?  At first, when people in front of me in the check out lane asked if they could unload my cart for me, I was insulted.  I can take care of myself, thank you.   Now I appreciate the offer and accept it.

Also, if there’s something on a high shelf or in a freezer case, offer assistance.  I can stand on my own but getting up and down often is painful and many in wheelchairs cannot.    We can always turn you down but I’m always grateful for the possibility.

Treat handicapped people as you treat anyone else.  I have a brain.  Talk to me.  Don’t ask my friend if I want something.   Ask me.

Wander around the store to see if it seems accessible and tell the manager if it’s not.  Today I’m calling my local H-E-B because in the bakery department, many small tables had been set up to display items, so many that I had great trouble getting around.  I had to back down aisles, move back and forth to make a turn.  If I’d been going straight, the aisles were wide enough but having to turn, no.

What else can you thing of?   I’d like to add to the list.