Monday, August 26, 2013

Inspired--Not Stumped

Psalm 8 is one of my very favorite passages in the Bible:
O Lord, my God,
How wonderful is your name in all the earth.
When I look to the heavens,
And see the stars that you have made,
I wonder, what are human beings that you care for them?
Yet you have made them little lower than the angels themselves!
I have had that experience more than once as I have gazed at the night time sky--and I had it again last week as my wife Linda and I visited the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California
and experienced the redwoods.  What incredible trees!  Some are said to be up to two thousand years old!  Imagine, some of them were standing when Jesus walked the earth!
The Stout Grove in the Jedediah Smith Park was the gift of Clara Stout who wanted to honor her husband Frank and protect the beautiful 44 acre stand of redwoods.  It was donated in 1929 to the Save the Redwoods League.  Thank God for Clara--and the League!  Because of their efforts we can all be moved by their beauty!
Cathedrals are built to draw our attention heavenward--to help us consider the majesty of God. No wonder the term "cathedral-like" is often used to describe Stout Grove, for there the redwoods do just that.  Like the stars that inspired the psalmist, they too prompt us to consider the majesty of God.

Monday, August 19, 2013

It Ain't Dodgeball, Folks!

I love baseball.  I have ever since I was a boy.  And I'm an ardent fan of the Red Sox.  So I look forward to those occasions when a Red Sox game is broadcast on a national network.  And this weekend featured two such broadcasts.  Saturday afternoon's game featured a fine outing by pitcher John Lackey and some excellent fielding by Dustin Pedroia.  And they won! 

Sunday night we shifted over to ESPN--and a night game.  I settled in expecting another good game, and was sorely disappointed.  Not so much because of the outcome (the Yankees won, 9-6), but rather because of the showed baseball at its worst.

If you are not a baseball fan you may not know that Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod, has been found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs and then trying to cover it up.  He has been given a 211 game suspension.  But due to a technicality, he is allowed to still play while he goes through the appeals process.  There is a great deal of controversy about it among sports fans.  Even some Yankees fans feel it would be best if he did not play.  But he is playing.  And Sunday, at the top of the second inning, when he got up to bat, he faced four consecutive pitches thrown by Ryan Dempster that seemed designed to hit him.  The fourth one did.  Dempster claims he didn't do it on purpose, but many folks doubt that is the case, including the ESPN announcers for the game.

That's bad enough--but what disturbs me even more was (and is) the reaction of the fans at Fenway Park.  They cheered.  First they booed him when A-Rod when he got up to bat, and then when he got hit, they cheered.  I agree, A-Rod shouldn't be playing.  I am saddened that he and others have besmirched the game I love, but that doesn't excuse Dempster's behavior, if he did indeed hit him intentionally, nor does it excuse the behavior of the fans.

I don't normally address sports on this blog, but some things transcend the world of games and play.  For our games reflect larger societal attitudes.  As the cameras panned across the stands on Sunday night, I couldn't help but notice just how many children were in the crowd.  Which is great.  I remember well cheering at Fenway for one of my boyhood heroes, Carl Yazstremski.  And the Red Sox helped me learn some important lessons about perseverance and hope.  All those years of losing, yet still carrying on!  I can't help but wonder what lesson those children were learning as their Dads and Moms booed and cheered. 

We fans are fond of saying baseball needs to clean up its act.  And so it does.  But maybe we do too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Diet Coke, Death and Caskets

BJ's, Sam's Club, Costco--they're all pretty much the same.  You don't get waited on, per se.  It's all do-it-yourself.  The decor is Spartan at best.  It's true, the prices are often a real steal, but the inventory is unpredictable at best.

They carry some of this and some of that.  Most of it in bulk.  Gallon jars of mayonnaise.  Number ten sized tins of cling peaches in heavy syrup.  Eighteen roll packages of toilet paper.  Sometimes they have electronics, tires and best-selling books.  Sometimes patio furniture, huge packages of t-shirts and cases of motor oil.  You never know for sure what's going to show up on the sales floor.  So no one should be really surprised to learn that among the items offered for sale at Costco are caskets.  That's right, caskets.  Oblong, metal coffins perfect for burial--and priced under a thousand dollars, considerably cheaper than most funeral parlors.

The "In God's Care Casket," as an example, is offered for $949--delivered!  That, of course, is standard shipping.  Expedited shipping costs you a bit more.  And, as the caskets are basically an on-line item, you need to place your order by 11:00 AM EST.  Death, and now it turns out Costco, waits for no man or woman!

Of course, you can buy it in advance, store it in your attic or garage until needed and be assured of today's price.  Truly a matter of being prepared!

Now the idea of picking up a coffin along with a case of Diet Coke and a jumbo pack of Twinkies (yes, they are back!) may repulse you--even if it is all on-line!  On the other hand, you may be thinking, "Well, it's about tiome!  Even caskets should be competively priced."  But either way, the reality is that it wasn't that long ago that such a thing would have been totally impossible.  Not because of any law or regulation preventing such sales, but rather because it was considered impolite to even talk about death and dying.  So the things of death--like caskets--were hidden away.

I probably won't place an advance order with Costco for a casket.  Partly due to the fact that I plan on being cremated.  (But fret not, they can take care of that as well.  Urns are also on sale, including the "American Pride Adult Urn," complete with an etched US flag and eagle for only $89.99!)  But I for one am glad that as a society we are more willing to talk openly about the end of life.  I am glad we have things like hospice, and advance directives.  The truth is, being open about death makes for a better life.  Before or after 11:00 AM EST.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Things I Learned on My Bike Ride

Well, I'm back in my office.  The only wheels under my feet are on my desk chair.  Feels a little strange not to be riding, but my congregants might get a little worried if I start scooting down the church deck in the chair!

I've had some time to reflect on the ride itself, and have realized that I learned some important truths.  Or, actually, relearned them.

     When I set my initial fundraising goal for this Wheels for Wheels adventure I figured I'd be very fortunate to reach $6000--60 times the $100 needed for each wheelchair.  But from the moment I started to talk about it, folks were making pledges and writing checks.  When I approached the Rotary Board of Directors about sponsoring the ride, they immediately put up a $3500 challenge grant.  My friends and family came through with flying colors!  Almost every one of the 40 or so people I wrote to responded with kinds words and a donation.  And my congregation?  My word, what incredibly generous folks!
      All too often we forget the old fundraising maxim that people really do want to give if they have some worthy cause to support.  Buying a wheelchair for a kid in the third world who is dragging him or herself along the ground because he or she has no legs is a worthy cause!
      Never underestimate people's generosity!

     When we decided to have our grandson Zak come along and ride part of the way, I figured he'd be good for ten or so miles a day.  I didn't want him riding on day one because of the city traffic, so that left about twenty miles.  He rode twenty-seven.  And he could have ridden double that! 

     On the last day of the ride I was on a bike path on one of the lower Keys, when suddenly ahead of me I saw three construction workers.  They had a plank across the path, and a wheelbarrow right in front of it.  Before I could get off the path, they had whisked away the plank, moved the barrow and essentially apologized for being in the way.  Apologize?  No need gents!  You were just doing your work!  Thanks for being so kind!

     As much as I enjoyed the ride, as much as Zak did as well, poor Linda really got the short end of things.  There was a whole lot of waiting by the roadside, anxiety about connecting up at the right spot, and downright concern as she stared down the narrow passage called the Seven Mile Bridge and watched me take off.  But there she was, every step of the way.  Thanks Linda.  Thanks for helping me make a dream come true.

I learned lots of other things too--like the importance of hydration, and the benefits of cell phones and the reality that ours is a fragile planet.  I learned anew the importance of protecting the environment, and the beauty of the state where I live, and the sheer majesty of the setting sun.  And most importantly, I learned that God has given us a world that works well when we are willing to work together.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Wheels for Wheels--Day 3

Key West, FL

We're here!  It was 55 miles today from Marathon.  I lost count of the various Keys we passed through.  Some were smaller than the Causeway Islands going to Sanibel!  Grandson Zak was with me for about fifteen miles of the ride. 

My day started with a phone call to the Friday morning meeting of the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary.  Using a coupling of a speaker phone and a microphone, I was able to provide an update to my fellow Rotarians.  Imagine my surprise later in the day when we discovered the "Welcome to Key West" sign was provided by--you guessed it--the Key West Rotary Club!

The big challenge today was the Seven Mile Bridge.  Granted, it is a beautiful passage.  Water all around, turquoise and green.  Gorgeous.  But it is also a two lane road, with fairly narrow shoulders and no formal bike path.  And trucks traveling at fifty-five miles an hour!  So my attention was fully focused on riding and not on the view!  But, thank God, I made it safely across.

I learned today that the word "key" is a very poor translation of the Spanish word cayo, which basically means an island made of coral or sitting on coral.  Some suggest that our growing Hispanic population here in Florida is a new development, but the truth is Spanish has been part of our heritage of the last five hundred years (at least!)

This has been an amazing journey.  I am so very grateful to all of you, my congregation, my family, my friends, me fellow Rotarians, for your support, and most especially to my wife Linda.  She had to endure a fair amount of waiting for us to catch up. 

It looks like we will at least triple the original goal of 60 wheelchairs--we may even reach 200!  I feel so blessed to be able to help make life better for those who have great need.  God is good!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wheels for Wheels--Day 2

Marathon, Florida

We are half way down the Keys tonight.  I rode a total of 75 miles.  My grandson Zak was with me for about twelve on some very safe bike paths.  I started in Florida City, crossed the Everglades, then passed from Key to Key, beginning with Key Largo.  I even passed the bar where they made that terrific old movie by the same name!

Crossing the Everglades was a real chore--it was about twenty miles of sawgrass and stunted palms.  I was riding into the wind, and had to work harder than usual.  I was disappointed by all the litter.  I saw more empty water, soda and beer bottles than I could count.  I saw lots of shreds of blown out tires.  There were car parts, beer boxes, hardware, and empty paper cups.  The Glades are one of our great national treasures, and essential to our health and well being here in Florida.  We really need to take better care of them!

All along the road yesterday, and then again today, I saw roadside signs that I have never noticed before.  They were very low to the ground, and while presumably designed to be seen from a car, much more visible to folks like me on bicycles.  They were all white, round, and every one said "Drive Safely."  Then in smaller letters, "In memory of . . . "  Oh my, the list of names is long!  One per sign.  I saw Blake and Jason and Pauline and Martha and Anthony and many more.  All victims of auto accidents.  If each sign stops one driver from being reckless, it will indeed serve as a fine memorial.

Zak wanted to be sure that I told you all that he saw a gator and some iguanas.  He's a real wildlife buff (a fine trait for a young boy!)  Linda and I both enjoy him.  And she's not only been taking care of grandparent duties, she's also been a great support for the ride!

The best part of the the trip today was crossing from Long Key to Duck Key, where a beautiful bike path runs parallel to the US 1 bridge at that point.  Truly awesome--and Zak was with me!

Three things to share about some old friends.  One, who suffers from a leg injury, reminded she can't ride a bike, not even a stationary one.  How easily we forget the simple blessings of life!  This trip, with it's goal of raising funds for wheelchairs (she, fortunately, doesn't need one) is a constant reminder of what I often take for granted.

Another friend, an older friend, wished he could have joined me on the ride.  We've shared several long bike trips together over the years.  You would have loved this one, Jerry!

And finally, the friend I've known the longest.  Always a bit of a wise guy, Charlie sent a check to support the ride, with a note:  "I thought I'd keep the sixty theme going," he wrote.  The check was for $60.60!  I called him last night to wish him Happy Birthday (he too just turned sixty) and he noted I could change the name of the blog to "Pastoral Pedalings."  Love ya Charlie!

Thank you all for your prayers!