Category: Life

Take a trip to Ideas

A vacation for me is having time to travel, not to places but to ideas. I go there by means of books.

The books grabbing my attention now sit on the flat arms of my recliner in the study and on the top of my nearby desk.

This morning, I started with The Thickness of Glory by John Killinger; it’s in my lap.

The New American Standard New Testament rests to my right. It will be next.

On the left is T.S. Eliot’s For Lancelot Andrewes and Denise Shekerjian’s Uncommon Genius.

In the middle of my desk is Will Durant’s The Age of Faith. And on top of it is A Game of Thrones, which is how I ended Tuesday and probably will end today.

I’m not sure why I thought to share this; maybe because it is a way of enjoying a day that seems so foreign to this time. For many of us, the best traveling occurs in our minds.

Last night I started watching a movie that included an airport scene. I found myself getting stressed just watching it. Exit. This is vacation from stress time.

I do like seeing interesting places; I just hate the getting there if it involves airports and airplanes. I do like a good road trip because there is plenty of time to think. One of the best trips of my life was driving from Texas to Vancouver with Cameron. There and back again, to quote a hobbit. Thousands of beautiful miles and precious company.

With books and ideas I like both the trip and the arriving at the end.

My perfect vacation day continues.

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Learning the art of listening

It struck me today how fortunate I was to have been a journalist.
 
Real journalists ask questions, lots of questions, and most of their time is spent listening to the answers — getting the responses right but also thinking about the responses. Is it a real answer to the question? What new questions does the answer raise? Thought upon thought, all while listening and trying to understand.
 
Then, after all the asking and listening is done, you try to make sense of what you learned, fitting it in with what you’ve learned from others and also letting it stand on its on.
 
Usually by the time I got to a keyboard, I had shaped in my head what I thought was most important in what had been said and how I could convey it. A one-source story is simple, but it gets more complex as you layer in sources trying to get at broader truth, not just one person’s perspective on what is true.
There are good and bad journalists just as surely as their are good and bad ministers, politicians, cops, plumbers, housewives, etc.
A bad journalist doesn’t really listen. He or she is more interested in finding what he or she wants or expects to hear or even “making” a person say what the writer wants. It happens.
A good journalist listens and shapes the story to the emerging understanding of reality, wherever it might take the reporter. And a resulting story is never the last word; it is part of the word, often the first word, which one hopes will lead to more understanding.
My thoughts surfaced as I read the introduction to Denise Shekerjian’s book, Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born. She wrote about the process of interviewing 40 recipients of the MacArthur Prize. Here’s some of her words about the process:
“In the end, the common themes linking these creative people separated and floated to the surface like cream. . . .
“But some of what I learned was a surprise. . . .
“With these conclusions in hand, the problem then was to devise an artful structure for telling the story. . . .
“Somehow, I had to allow for the untidiness and inconsistencies of it all. And, too, there were the subtleties of reducing an interview to the written page: people should sound the way they really talk. A casual statement, isolated from the whole, shouldn’t be made to stand for an entire formal dogma.”
She reminded me of what it’s like to listen, to really listen, to listen for understanding, to listen for honest sharing. That’s what good journalists do; that’s what all of us could benefit by doing.

Holding hands is for more than romance

I remember the excitement of holding the hands of girlfriends in youth.

I remember the connection when holding the hand of the woman I came to love. Not like the others, she remained from day to day.

I remember the tenderness of holding the hands of our babies; small and soft, they grasped your finger.

I thought of hand-holding this morning when listening to a song by David Kauffman — “A Hand to Hold.”

It reminded me of another hand-holding song first heard when I was 8 in 1963 — “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by The Beatles. The excitement of that song thrilled and laid the foundation for the excitement that would come a few years later when I held the hands of girlfriends.

But, excitement is only part of life. Kauffman’s “A Hand to Hold” points to something deeper.

“Someone asked me what I want, the question sent me spinning off in circles. I could not see. Seems like so much of my time is spent chasing what my mind invents, that my heart lost its way.

“It took stripping away every plan in me to understand the simple things I need, a hand to hold, a heart that knows, a soul that welcomes and makes a whole, a smile that warms what’s grown cold ’til I’ve become a hand to hold.”

To hold a hand is one of the great joys of life. Yes, it can be exciting, but more joyously it can become a true connection with genuine tenderness, and it’s not just about romance. To rephrase Kauffman’s words:

We all need hands to hold.

We all need hearts that know us.

We all need souls that welcome and make us whole.

We all need smiles that warm us when we’ve grown cold.

We need real love, the Jesus kind of love. The love that touches our hearts, warms our souls, makes us whole, and smiles upon our lives.

We can receive these spiritually, directly from our Creator and Sustainer, but we also need to receive these from the people God brings into our life path.

God may touch our spirits, but God knows that flesh is important and needs to be touched, as well. Jesus became flesh so he could actually touch people. What might it have been like to walk a path in Palestine holding the hand of the one who loved perfectly and would one day give that hand to be assaulted in crucifixion?

And, as Kauffman’s song says, when we have been touched and changed, we will “become a hand to hold.” We need others to hold our hands, and others need us — the power of touch.

(David Kauffman has been one of my favorite Christian songwriters for years. “A Hand to Hold” is on his album by that same name.)

 

Oh, the friends you will make

When first told I had cancer, my initial thoughts were these: This could kill me. This will cost me. This is going to disrupt the lives of my family and me. I did not think of how God would bless me through the process.

One of the blessings is that I have gotten to know a bunch of great people — competent and caring. They’ve brightened my life.

Today marked the 31st day of my 38-day radiation treatment. I get to see the folks at Urology Austin’s radiation center every morning at 7 a.m. to get zapped.

Dr. Garza is the ring leader, but there’s also Isabel, Kristianne, Angela, Erick, Katherine, Que, and others. They rotate. They’ve become my friends. In the brief moments before and after they leave the room we get to share tidbits of our lives.

They know their stuff, which is critical, but they also show they care, and that is just as important for me. I’m going to miss them when this is over.

I would have preferred to forego the cancer, but I am surely thankful for the people — the blessings — I have encountered through the journey.

Trustworthiness is tied to truth & actions

Trustworthiness is so important. Understanding it can help us understand why lying and deceit are so damaging.

I want to simplify a sentence from Christopher Hall, quoting Robert Wilken:

Authority sometimes refers to power, but it can refer also to trustworthiness. One way we establish trustworthiness is through “teaching with truthfulness,” which resides “in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence.” A person’s “trust is won not simply by words but also by actions, by the kind of person the teacher is—in short, by character.”

Hall and Wilken were referring to the pursuit of truth and trustworthiness in the Christian tradition. It is, I think, something that can be applied to all of life. We win the trust of others not merely by our words but also by our actions — by being a person of high character, by being trustworthy.

The paraphrase and quote come from Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (p. 28). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Making sense of a personal past

Reading about others can help you see yourself better.

I was reading this morning about the differences that emerged during American slavery between house slaves and field slaves. I cannot begin to compare my heritage to the black experience, but I as I read knowing my own heritage I realized that in many ways I’m from the white field hand tradition.

One of my grandfathers was a sharecropper. Both of my grandfathers were eventually land-owning farmers (thanks, in part, to the women they married). I still see the field hand in myself. I’m not comfortable in the world of fancy; I like to dress more simply and behave more casually.

But I went and got a bunch of education, so I don’t really fit in with the field hand world either. I would rather talk about ideas than the weather.

So now I see a little better why I sometimes feel alone. I’m not alone regarding people; I’m a bit alone within myself — connected, yet disconnected from my past and in my present.

That may sound like a sad thought. It’s not, because I know there are lots of people who are like me in feeling disconnected from something old and yet connected to something new.

Introducing a hero — Mary Scott Skinker

Mary Scott Skinker helped change our world, but most of us have never heard of her. She started by changing Rachel Carson’s world, who then rocked the whole world. And most of us do not know of Carson today either.
 
Mary Scott Skinker died sometime in the 20th century; I’m not sure when. She does not have an entry in Wikipedia, but she does have a phrase. “At the urging of her [Carson’s] undergraduate biology mentor Mary Scott Skinker, she settled for a temporary position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. . . .”
 
Rachel Carson, who does have an entry in Wikipedia. Read this three-paragraph intro, especially the third one:
 
“Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.
 
“Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award. . . Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths.
 
“Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially some problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was the book Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.”
 
Mary Scott Skinker leads to Rachel Carson, who leads to a world concerned about the environment, and rightfully so.
 
I think most of us feel pretty “small” much of the time. We will never have an entry in Wikipedia or any other pedia. But we can be a Mary Scott Skinker to someone. We can encourage, educate, help, promote, and encourage some more.
 
We may be lifting up the next Rachel Carson or the next Mary Scott Skinker. We need each other. And the ones who leave big marks on history need the “little” ones of us to help them.
 
I once wanted to be a Rachel Carson. Now, I would settle for being another Mary Scott Skinker.