Tuesday, May 30, 2006

March Snow

Already in May we've had several days with temperatures in the mid-90's. Humid, too--almost as bad as my boyhood home in Ohio. So I'm in the mood for snow to cool off this premature summer.

This was the scene at Bottle Creek Retreat on March 21, just a bit over two months ago. Actually, I'm not a great fan of winter, but I do love the change of seasons, and winter is the price we midwesterners pay for the glories of spring and fall. Jamaica, Hawaii, or southern California may have perfect weather most of the time, but the price of perfection is sameness. Give me variety!
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A Time of Fear

It was early morning, and I was walking along the downtown streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, camera in hand. Beatrice, Nebraska, has no beautiful skyscrapers, so I was taking photos. The shapes, colors, textures, and mixtures of architectural styles provided rich photographic opportunities.

My best photo was my last one; you can see the original below. One downtown building was fully reflected in another, and the little rectangles of yellow light showed which offices were occupied at that early hour.

It was my last photograph because, immediately after taking this shot, a uniformed security guard walked briskly and purposefully toward me. "You're going to have to stop taking pictures," he ordered.
"Why?" I replied.
"The owners of the buildings don't want any photos taken."
"Why?" I asked again.
"Security concerns," he explained.

I felt like arguing. I was standing in the middle of public sidewalk, a spot where thousands of people walk each day, looking up at a rather obvious skyscraper. And I'm not allowed to take a picture? Surely there's no actual law against what I just did, is there? Does he (or his bosses) really believe that the photograph I just took could be of value to terrorists?

But I decided I wasn't ready to challenge the system that day, and immediately turned off my camera and assured the security guard that I wouldn't take any more photos of buildings.

We've moved into an era of fear. We'd rather feel secure than free. Fear leads to debacles like the war in Iraq, and it feeds the immigration debates as well. I keep wondering how our world would be different if--in response to 9/11--we had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and other Arab countries with doctors and teachers and community development workers and electricians and heavy equipment operators and agricultural experts and folks skilled in conflict resolution. What if--instead of lashing out in fear--we had led the world in an outbreak of compassion?

Reactions based in fear increase fear; fear responses decrease security. If this were a Christian country, we would be laying down our lives for the sake of our enemies, like Jesus did. But since it's not, we can practice the Christian faith ourselves, saying "no" to fear, and demonstrating how "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18).
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Monday, May 29, 2006

Clouds and Impurities

Without impurities in the air, there would be no clouds. As air becomes saturated with water, droplets begin to form around impurities such as dust, smoke, or air pollution. Perhaps, because of our persistent humanness, we should not be aiming for total perfection and absolute purity. Maybe we should be seeking only the purity level of Ivory Soap: 99 44/100%. After all, look what God can do with impurities!
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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Aspen Clones

Humans have only recently begun to do cloning, but God's been doing it from the beginning. When an aspen seed gets established it sends out roots, or suckers, that form new trees which are genetically identical to the original tree--clones. The largest known such aspen grove covers more than 17 acres, has more than 47,000 trees, weighs 13 million pounds, and was recently nominated as the earth's largest living individual. The more you know about nature, the more you appreciate God's creativity.

This aspen grove stands next to Cascade Lake (see yesterday's blog) south of Kremmling, Colorado.
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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cascade Lake

Cascade Lake is a jewel nestled in the mountains a few miles south of Kremmling, Colorado. An easy path makes a complete circuit around the lake. If you have a chance, take a hike here toward the end of September, when the oranges and golds and yellows are at their finest.

My crosses are formed at transition points--from one color or texture to another. Here, the water forms the background, while the shoreline forms the cross. We're usually most aware of God--and of our need for God--in times of transition. Good News: that's where the crosses are, the signs of God's love at all life's changes.
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Friday, May 26, 2006

Big Blue Bridge

This is the railroad bridge over the Big Blue River in Beatrice, Nebraska. The river's name hearkens back to the time--before agriculture and development--when the river was actually clear and blue. The late afternoon sun emphasizes the warm colors of the bridge.

I remember--in one church or another--a Sunday-School class called the "Bridge People." Their goal was to build bridges of acceptance, understanding and love between people. The Apostle Paul says that Christians are called to be "agents of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). God's agents are bridge-builders, attempting to bridge the gap between you and the guy in the next pew who likes a different style of church music than you do, between you and the recent immigrant who speaks a different language, or between you and the terrorist who seeks to destroy you. Bridge-building can be risky, it usually takes a long time, and it's our job. After all, the greatest bridge ever built was the cross.
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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Burning Bush

Each fall we look forward to the time when our "burning bush" shrubs transform from green to fiery red. For eleven months of the year they draw no attention to themselves, but for a few glorious weeks they make you turn your head and say "Wow!"

Moses' burning bush was the ultimate attention-getter. Your burning bush may not be a bush; it's anything that God uses to break you out of your routine, to get your attention. And once God gets your attention, exciting things happen!

Some of my crosses are from far-away places, but this one is from our front yard at Bottle Creek Retreat--before we removed all those plum trees!
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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bayou Boat

Bayou residents have shrimp boats like farmers have tractors. When a tractor dies, it's left to rust out behind the shed. When a shrimp boat dies, it's left in the bayou. Boats and tractors are tools--useful for a time, but destined to end in rust.

The Good News is that we are not God's tools, but God's children. Our End will not be in abandoned rust, but in embraced re-creation.

This abandoned shrimp boat rests in the bayou at Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana. The highway follows the bayou for miles toward the Gulf, but at this very spot, the road ends.
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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Duomo tower

In 1296 the first stone of the duomo in Florence, Italy, was laid. In 1886 the cathedral was completed. In between were many additions, revisions, and six centuries of history.

A good photograph helps you see things in new ways. This perspective-bending cross asks your eyes to adjust and your brain to interpret. If you're encountering this cross first thing in the morning, it can shake loose your mental cobwebs and prepare you for the challenges of the day--and for the spiritual discipline of seeing places, situations, and people in new ways.
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Monday, May 22, 2006

Twillingate sunset

We're drawn to sunsets because of their warm color palette, their subtle lines and shapes, and their hint that something lies beyond. We stand and watch the transition from day to night, knowing that the light will return, but hanging onto today's light as long as possible.

Twillingate Island is one of many islands that lie off the northeast coast of the main island of Newfoundland. If you're a Newfoundlander, you probably live close to the ocean, you probably own a boat, and you absolutely would rather live here than anywhere else.
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Sunday, May 21, 2006


In Beatrice, Nebraska, this is known as the Ratigan building. The old, deteriorating structure was lovingly restored by Jerry Ratigan into an object of beauty and local pride. The gold trim must have taken a long time and great patience.

God is also in the restoration business. The Apostle Paul calls it "new creation." Since that's God's business, it's also the calling of God's people. And yes, it often takes a long time and great patience. But it IS possible--and that's the Good News.
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Friday, May 19, 2006

666 + 7

With the opening of "The Da Vinci Code" yesterday, I'm sharing this cross created from the glass pyramid that stands over the Louvre entrance in Paris. To repeat what I said in my April 10 blog (click on the 04-09-2006 archive), Dan Brown is incorrect in saying that the pyramid has 666 glass panels; there are actually 666 + 7, and if you're into numerology you can also make a lot of hay out of that.

Some Christians are in quite a panic over Dan Brown's work of fiction and Ron Howard's movie adaptation. The book and movie DO take some discernment, because they include: lots of indisputable historical facts, plenty of reasonable speculations, some valid critiques of a pattern of male domination in the church, a number of very old theories for which there is no real evidence, a great many mistakes, inaccuracies and bloopers, and a generous infusion of creative imagination. It's called "fiction," folks; no need to panic, and no threat to faith. Indeed, books and movies like this can provide a dialogue opportunity with folks who otherwise consider the Christian faith uninteresting and irrelevant.

You probably haven't read this 1532 quote from Martin Luther: "Christ committed adultery first of all with the woman at the well about whom St. John tells us. Was not everybody about Him saying: "Whatever has he been doing with her?" Secondly, with Mary Magdalene, and thirdly with the woman taken in adultery whom he dismissed so lightly. Thus even Christ, who was so righteous, must have been guilty of fornication before He died." [Luther's Tabletalk, LW 54:154 ; 1532 ]

Now perhaps Luther was drunk when he said this. Or maybe he was being sarcastic. Or perhaps he was trying to make the point that Christ took all of the sins of the world on himself at the cross. It's an embarrassing paragraph that is desperately ignored and creatively explained away by those who know of these words; but he DID write them.

The Mormon leader Brigham Young believed that Jesus was married. And we must admit that the Gospels never explicitly say that Jesus was NOT married. We would also believe that Peter wasn't married if it were not for one little story that refers to his mother-in-law. For the Gospel writers, wives were not necessary to the story they were telling. Other than Peter, we do not know the marital status of any of the major Gospel figures.

No, I don't think Jesus was married. But my faith doesn't depend on that opinion, and it certainly is not threatened by a work of fiction.
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Generations of God's people have sung, "Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by thy help I've come" without having a clue about what an "Ebenezer" is. Perhaps they picture Ebenezer Scrooge being hoisted up on a forklift, or perhaps they think it's like "raising your glass" in honor of someone, or perhaps they think nothing at all and just dutifully sing the words to "Come thou fount of ev'ry blessing."

In Hebrew, "eben" is "stone' and "ezer" is "help," so the word means "stone of help." It comes from 1 Samuel 7:2 -- "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and named it Ebenezer; for he said, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."

Setting up an Ebenezer is a prayer which says, "God, you've got a great track record; please keep up the good work!"

This is our "Ebenezer." We built it along a path on Quirpon Island on the tip of Newfoundland's great northern peninsula. We were seeking God's guidance on some important questions and wanted to affirm that the God who had guided us in the past could guide us again. We don't know if our "Ebenezer" is still there, but God did guide, and we are thankful.
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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mountain Peaks

No, not a snowflake; they have six sides. But there is snow in the picture--at the high elevations of the gorgeous Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.

This cross raises the question: Why is the sky blue? The sun is yellow, the dark sky is black, so why all this blue? If you really want to know, click here.

I'm one of those people who connects to God through nature. I see mountains, stars, or a deep blue sky and I say to myself, "I think Somebody's been up to something."
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Trestle Support

Quite near yesterday's freight cars is today's railroad trestle. A trestle is a supporting structure, a bridge framework that spans a low or empty space, allowing the rails above to be straight, smooth, and level.

True support doesn't call attention to itself. A perfectly constructed trestle is one that is unnoticed by the passing train above. A trestle exists not for itself, but for the highway or railroad tracks it holds.

So if I want to support someone, I'll do it best if I keep the focus on them rather than on me. The moment I say, "Please notice how hard I'm working to support you" then I stop being supportive. Today's cross reminds us that trestle ministry is beautiful; the cross, after all, is the ultimate symbol of support. Order a print of this cross

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Freight Cars

These freight cars are waiting patiently for loads of grain near the used-to-be-a-town of Hoag, Nebraska. If all of them were red, or if all of them were gray, the photo would be much less interesting. In the world and in the church, it is our diversity that keeps things interesting--and beautiful.
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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Web Light

Just a thick spider's web and some twigs, plus a helpful angle from the sun. Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, Nebraska, is not one of those "Wow!" places like the Grand Canyon or Devil's Tower. You could drive right past and never notice it. So I love the challenge of finding color and beauty there. Doing so requires careful observation and a slow pace. If you move too fast, you miss the beauty.

Seeing beauty in people also takes time and intention. The beauty that lies within is not always immediately obvious, but it's there, somewhere, in one shape or another, in everybody. Beauty is always revealed by the Light.

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Basilica Ceiling

In hilly northwest Missouri is Conception Abbey, located in the tiny village of Conception (and no, Intercourse, Pennsylvania, is not a sister town). As would be appropriate in this center for training in Benedictine spirituality, the most prominent building is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, renovated in 1999. The entire building is spectacular, but I was drawn particularly to the ceiling. Architecture does shape our minds toward God.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Columbine transformed

The columbines are blooming at our house, so it seemed timely to offer this red and yellow columbine cross. This is one of those images that's not complete or balanced without a word of text along the bottom. I've chosen "Transformed", but "New Creation" or "Beauty" or "Good morning!" would work just as well. What word or verse would YOU suggest for this one?
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Friday, May 12, 2006

Tree Frog

Though I am trying to sell my cross photos in various ways, I'm not sure this one has much commercial value. But I'm astounded by the iris's intricacy in the eye of this tree frog (or is it a toad?). The black pupil, the orange and black criss-cross iris, and the round orange typanic membane (eardrum) and various patches of skin provide the colors and textures.

Making a cross out of this humble little creature reminds me that even the most insignificant parts of God's creation are marvelously detailed works of art. And if God put this much care and design into a tree frog, perhaps we should not de-value ourselves.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Yesterday's Rainbow

Rainbows appear only when rain and sun happen together. Hope also happens in the intersection of darkness and light, in the territory between despair and victory. It's easy to forget God in sunny times and it's hard to find God in the depths of the storm, but when those two realities overlap, we look up, and start to notice.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Continuing to roll with our motorcycle theme this week, here's a lineup of wheels. My crosses are constructed from the raw material of lines and colors and shapes, which this photo has in abundance.

Nobody knows who invented the wheel, but it may have included some conversations like these: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/i/invention_of_the_wheel.asp

And by the way, God's got wheels, too! See Ezekiel 1:15-21 . . . "Their rims were high and awesome . . ." Sounds like God would appreciate a nice bike!

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Motorcycle Rally

This past Sunday, there were 29 motorcycles in our church parking lot. Lots of Harleys, of course, plus assorted Hondas, Kawasakis and a BMW. Mostly a bunch of middle-aged guys from Henderson and Beatrice, Nebraska, fulfilling their life-long dream of having their own bike, and riding together for fun and to support Mennonite Central Committee.

Motorcycles are like any other object, any other possession; they can be used for good or for ill. No, they weren't all Harleys, but I kept imagining "Heaven's Harleys" imprinted on the backs of 29 leather jackets.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Motorcycle Engine

I like the way motorcycle engines combine power and beauty. For bikers, it's not enough that the engine make the bike go; it has to go in style. Sort of like the difference between surviving and living.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

St. Mark's Square

St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy, is about 1,000 years old. Its unique art, architecture and history make it a perpetually popular tourist stop. Along the front of the church are several rows of closely-spaced multi-colored marble columns. The colors seem random--sort of a "Let's demonstrate how many colors of marble there are" kind of approach.

When the guide books talk about "St. Mark's Square" they're talking about the huge piazza in front of the cathedral. But this is my St. Mark's Square, a strong, classic red-purple cross formed from the top of one of the marble columns.

The basilica, a mixture of Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and Moorish design, stands historically exactly halfway between today and the time of Jesus, and therefore serves as an important connector to the cross that began the Christian faith.

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