Reflections by the Pond

#543: Perfectly Reasonable

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Reflections by the Pond – March 19, 2012

Satan is one of the characters in my play, The Surrender. To be sure, it is a small role—and then, only the voice. But it comes at a pivotal moment in the story: Christ's temptation in the wilderness.

Along with directing the inaugural performance of this play, I also took the role of Satan, delivering the lines into a microphone from the front pew. In that production I gave Satan a menacing, gravelly, other-worldly voice, having great fun with the over-the-top interpretation.

It was great fun—and dead wrong.

#542: Unto Your Sons

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Reflections by the Pond – March 12, 2012

"You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up."

Dad never did tell us much of his history. In snippets here and there, in off-hand references we would learn that he left school during the eighth grade to support his mother and sister; raised goats when a youth; a few years later joined the "Three Cs" (Civilian Conservation Corps), one of F.D.R.'s public works projects for giving meaningful work to unemployed young men; and was rejected for military service in the Second World War because of a heart condition (a "bum ticker," as he called it). He told us even less about his father, who was in his youth an immigrant from Europe, and who was—this born and bred Baptist learned more than twenty years after Dad's death—almost certainly Jewish.

And it was not until much later, only a few years before his death, that Dad opened up about God's working in his life...

#541: The Homespun of the Sincere, part three

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Reflections by the Pond – March 5, 2012

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

It is not uncommon, when visiting neighboring farms or homes, to come upon dogs or cats who are being forced to live something less than ideal lives. Dogs are given a filthy blanket by the back door and may be expected to live with the rain that pelts their face, or the snow that collects on their matted fur. Cats are left to fend for themselves, working animals who must earn the farmer's miserly shelter by ridding his barn of vermin.

Not so here. God has given man the beasts of the field to manage—but not to abuse. We are all God's creations, and are to treat each other with respect. Because this is the philosophy of this household—one in which even marauding mice are gently caught and released (at least, that is, by the humans) —it came as an unpleasant surprise years ago when Angel, our outdoor cat, slashed my face with her claws...

#540: The Homespun of the Sincere, part two

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Reflections by the Pond – February 27, 2012

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

We all have our little kingdoms.

Not long after I was mustered out of the Navy, I took a job at a camera store in downtown San Diego, California. It was owned and run by a belligerent cuss whose word was the law of the land. This being a time when there were far fewer laws and regulations protecting the employees of a small business, those of us in his employ were at his mercy. He could hire and fire at will, without cause—and often did. Harassment and intimidation were not only his management methods, but also his manner of doing business. Customers were sometimes browbeaten into making a purchase.

That man's store was his own little kingdom. Within it he could harass attractive female employees, cheat his customers, publicly and profanely abuse male employees, and in general make life miserable for everyone around him. Once a week (every Wednesday, as I recall) he even cheated on his wife—at the store. Within its walls he was king.

Though they may not be built in this same perverse image, we all have our little kingdoms, our own spheres of influence...

#539: The Homespun of the Sincere, part one

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Reflections by the Pond – February 20, 2012

After this manner therefore pray ye...

At a funeral for an old friend, some time ago, the pastor leading the simple memorial service had everyone in attendance sing the hymn How Great Thou Art, verses one and four.

The singing of the hymn was a sad, anemic chorus, muttered more than sung, a distracted, otherwise-engaged rendition that barely reached the low, tiled ceiling of the funeral home—let alone the throne of heaven. The gathering of homemakers, business people, retired folks, and the farmers seated behind us sang with the conviction of damp moss growing on the bark of a dead oak tree.

Later, near the end of the service, the pastor led us all in reciting a familiar passage of Scripture. This chorus was only slightly more robust; perhaps it is easier to speak, than to carry a tune. Most knew the words, and they were delivered with typical I-can-do-this force. Yet here again there was a sad poverty of conviction, the syllables spilling from the lips by rote: unfeeling, uninspired, insipid.

Both the hymn and the Scripture consisted of words directed upward to God, yet the words spoken were mumbled into the chest, as if the people uttering them were embarrassed by their sound...

#538: In Remembrance of Me

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Reflections by the Pond – February 13, 2012

"You shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.' And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is this?' then you shall say to him, 'With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.'"
Exodus 13:8,14

The talking I heard, during the taking of the Communion bread Sunday last, broke my concentration to the point that I reluctantly opened my eyes to see who it was. When I looked, I saw two boys, each holding between their fingers the Communion bread, chatting away with each other as if they were Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn lazing about a fishing hole, chatting about the fine weather and the best worms to use for bait.

The picture of their disassociation from the holy moment cut into me like a knife...

#537: Paying a Heavy Price

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Reflections by the Pond – February 6, 2012

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
2 Corinthians 4:17

Even old hands who should know better are singing the praises of our mild winter weather. "How do ya like this weather we've been havin'!" They rhetorically exclaim. "Isn't this beautiful weather?" They swoon with delight, their eyes sparkling with unfrozen rapture.

Let us set aside the fact that this writer actually (some might say, strangely) enjoys the cold weather and the more typical winter vistas of beautiful white snow. Let us set aside considerations of preference, taste, aesthetics, and convenience as we focus on more pragmatic matters...

#536: Faces

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Reflections by the Pond – January 30, 2012

Odd, the process of strangers becoming familiar acquaintances, then, perhaps later, becoming friends. One steps into a roomful of strangers for the first time; each face is a mask representing an unknown: no background, no common history, no point of reference. Just a face, perhaps a voice and a handshake. A greeting is proffered, but is it real? Does it give voice to genuine interest, or is it just another perfunctory recitation?

Who are these people? What do they believe, what do they stand for? What are their names, and to whom do they belong? What do they do, how are they dressed during the other days of the week? What are their lives like when they have removed their good clothes, when they have removed their Sunday face...

#535: Revelation

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Reflections by the Pond – January 23, 2012

Though we are homebodies at heart, Linda and I recently stepped out of our normal routine to visit a number of different friends in their homes. And in each case the home we were in revealed what was important to its owners. I do not speak here of right or wrong, good or bad; simply priorities—those things each family deems important to them.

For example, in one home there were a number of modern televisions prominent. By contrast, in another home we saw only one television, but the walls of practically every room in that house—including the bathroom—were decorated with oil or watercolor paintings. Two homes were filled with...

#534: Decide

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Reflections by the Pond – January 16, 2012

He was an old man, sick, tethered to oxygen, coughing up blood. But still working. The last completed film he directed was entitled The Dead. In his final days he was in and out of hospitals, each time he was thought to be at death's door.

John Huston was a brilliant director and screenplay writer (The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, The Kremlin Letter) and accomplished actor (The Wind and the Lion, The Bible, Chinatown). He was charming, entertaining, intelligent, and could spin a good yarn. He was also an unapologetic womanizer, a drunk, utterly self-centered, brutally callous toward his many wives and mistresses, and someone who loved to play vicious, cruel jokes on others.

During his last stay in a hospital, when he believed himself to be close to death, he was visited by Zoe Sallis—never his wife, but mother of Huston's son, Danny...