Category Archives: Reflections

The Walking Stick

I have accumulated several canes and walking sticks over the years. I keep them in a large bucket along with a few fishing poles. I pull a walking stick out each time I venture out into the neighborhood. I have a metal cane that was handed out one year by the pipefitter’s union at the fair. It’s an actual pipe that was fitted with a plastic cap on both ends. I inherited a cane from my grandmother. She bought it in Haiti on her biggest adventure—a  cruise with her bridge club friends.  Her cane has a carved handle shaped like a horse’s neck and head. The body of the cane was made from various pieces of wood, stained and hand-painted with black designs of fish, birds and the aforementioned horsehead. My oldest cane was given to me by the family of a church member born in the 1890’s. It is a typical cane that men carried everywhere they went in the 1930’s and 40’s. 

I began packing a foldable cane in my luggage when I traveled overseas at the suggestion of a missionary. He felt it was wise to carry a cane when walking alone in foreign cities, just to have something that might cause would be thieves or hungry dogs to choose someone else.  It is also good advice for walking in the neighborhood. One time, after trimming our ornamental crabapple tree, I decided to make my own cane from a nice straight branch. I was overzealous with my knife, and it came up too short. I donated it to the church costume closet for the children’s Christmas programs. Every shepherd needs a staff.

I came across my ideal walking stick while on a personal retreat at Camp Tulakogee. I spotted just the right-sized limb from a recently felled tree by my cabin. It even had a decent fork at the top. I worked on this walking stick for months. I skinned the bark and trimmed down the remains of the small branches. I whittled the tricky knots and sanded it all smooth. I was not allowed to do any of this in the house. Finally, I put a few coats of clear acrylic finish over the entire stick. It is my favorite walking stick. 

We had a dear senior lady in our church who was self-conscious the first time she brought a cane to church. She told me with a wink that day, “I’m just practicing for my old age.” By the way, the church has all kinds of canes and walkers available free to anyone who wants one.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Keep walking. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Consider the Birds of the Air

We bought a new patio table and chairs early last year. It took so long to “come in” that we only were able to use it once before winter set in. The birds have really enjoyed playing in it and on it. A couple of pairs of doves use it as their shelter in the time of storms, when they are not roosting on the back steps. Of course, I feed the birds.

The sparrow house is now occupied by black and gray dark-eyed sparrows. Our pair of mallard ducks have returned, or at least the next generation. We have no water feature in our yard, yet they check-in every day during the nesting time to rest in the shade and enjoy the bird seed. Basically, they are just following my back porch example. But all is not at harmony by the bird dish. 

A scrawny young squirrel with an already chewed tail has discovered what he must call Squirrel Food Heaven. He loves our bird food dish. He spends as much time as he can right in the middle of it all. I try to discourage him. Nevertheless, he returns. I resorted to buying a special anti-squirrel birdseed, Sizzle N’ Heat, made with chili peppers. The bag reads, “Squirrels Taste the Heat, Birds Don’t!” Save your money. The squirrel eats the parts he wants, the birds are smart enough to leave it all alone. We have crows; three great big, chicken-sized crows who scavenger the area like a motorcycle gang. Lately one of the crows has been sneaking off to spend a little time with the doves, sparrows, and ducks at our bird feeder. The squirrel is not happy about it. 

I was surprised to see the crow land a few feet from the squirrel one morning at breakfast. I was prepared for a royal battle. The crow sized up the squirrel. The squirrel looked over at the crow and kept on eating. The crow, rather than presenting a menacing presence, began to “sneak up” on the squirrel by turning his body sideways and hopping over to the dish in which sat the squirrel. It was not an impressive or effective maneuver. The squirrel hissed at the crow, driving him back. The crow has since discovered that the squirrel is not always around. 

 Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Read Matthew 6:26. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Anguish of Our Lent

NOTE: This is adapted from an article Bro. Darryl wrote for the Center for Congregational Ethics, for March 23, 2022, based on the daily lectionary reading of Psalm 39, entitled “The Anguish of Our Lent.”

Based on Psalm 39

No one chooses anguish, yet here we are. The anguish of Ukraine ushered in our Lenten season. We see the constant stream of images of the death and terror of the innocent by weapons of war and mass destruction. Millions of families are torn apart, ripped from their homes to flee to another world, or forced to stay and fight to the bitterest of endings. We turn our eyes away from the anguish, but it does not the stop the pain. In today’s reading, the psalmist chose a path of silence, lest he say too much in his anger and grief. Suffering in silence. Suffering alone. Not speaking to anyone. Not speaking to God. “But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased.” 

Anguish is always accompanied by the whispers of despair. Despair leads us down the darkest of paths. When grief is the loudest voice in the room, we have endless questions with no simple answers. The psalmist cries, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end.” What is the point of my life? Then he remembers that life is already too short. “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” With that declaration, the psalmist honestly unleashes his anger toward God by finally speaking out, “…for you are the one who has done this.” Why does God not make it all stop? An honest conversation with God, and trusted others, begins the healing. Anguish without hope is despair.

The inscription at the heading of Psalm 39 implies that this personal lament of anguish was to be sung as a corporate act of worship. Can you imagine singing a song like this on Sunday morning? We see the images of the Ukrainian people worshipping in bombed churches and refugee shelters. It is a reminder that, strong as we may think we are, the people of faith need healthy opportunities to express their own anguish, grief, and anger together.

How are we listening for the emotional silence of those around us? How are we providing opportunities for honest conversations for the anguished and distressed? How do we acknowledge the anguish of today in our Lenten worship?

Our hope of mercy and justice is built on God’s past faithfulness. We know about Easter.

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Pocket Knives

I grew up with a knife in my pocket. As a boy I carried a small pocket knife—a simple one-bladed jackknife. It was about 3-inches long. It was very handy for sharpening pencils and eating fresh oranges. In those days we were also taught to always carry a handkerchief or two. The extra one was in case we needed to help a lady in distress. In high school I carried a two-bladed pen knife, the kind with a big and a small blade. I also had a multipurpose Boy Scout knife and a fixed blade Scout knife. I still have both of my Scout knives and a few old pocketknives, including one that my father carried. When the Swiss Army knife became popular, of course, I had to have one of those. I found a handy-sized Swiss Army knife that I attached to my car key ring and used until the invention of the bulky car fobs. Over the years I almost donated a couple of pocketknives to airport security. I now keep my pocketknives strategically placed in the house, the garage, the church office desk and in the car. 

Some of my knives try to do too much. The Scout knife and the Swiss Army knife come equipped with bottle and can openers, serrated blades and an awl, which are handy when camping or fishing. They also have screwdriver bits, tweezers, scissors, a corkscrew and a plastic toothpick. You must have strong fingernails to open some of those knives. I prefer to have a few different-sized general purpose multi-tools for actual repair jobs. 

Most of my handy, ready for service knives sit neglected. How many assorted knives do you have tucked away in miscellaneous drawers? The secret to a good knife is a sharp, clean blade. I have some well-worn whetting stones in my workbench. Rusty knives do not help anything. Tender care helps everything. Proverbs 27 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  There is an art to keeping a blade sharp. It takes practice, persistence, patience and a little bit of oil to smooth the way. Then the knife is always ready to fulfill its purpose. Who are you helping to spiritually sharpen today? Who is helping you? 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Stay sharp. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Lighten the Load

How are you doing today? The already grim world in which we find ourselves grows darker with Putin’s war on Ukraine. The consequences of sin are always death and destruction. Covid-19 still lurks in the shadows. Bird Flu is sweeping through the chicken farms of America. World and local economies are being upended by an unpredictable inflation. The daily grind is burning us out. One day it’s like spring, the next day brings snow and ice. Climate change is trying to kill us. Bullies are loud and angry. The strong are grief-stricken and depressed. It is time for us all to lighten our loads. At least the cows are not mad, just yet.

According to God’s Word, sin shattered everything, even the earth itself. All this weighs us down. Our daily circumstances are harder, and our relationships are at breaking points. The longing to get back to “normal” does not seem to be happening. How do we lighten these burdening days? I have a couple of pastoral suggestions: 1. Give yourself permission to experience joy each day; and 2. Share some of your load with others.

With suggestion 1, Dorothy and I have little rituals that help us smile or laugh each day. For us, it involves reading the daily newspaper cartoons out loud, even on the busiest days if we can. For a few decades we also ended each exhausting Sunday by reading a Dave Berry story just before going to sleep. Lately, we have started ending as many nights as possible, rewatching very old 30-minute comedy shows. Right now we are in season one of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Give yourself permission to find joy each day.

With suggestion 2, listening to someone else tell their story and sharing some of your story with them helps to lighten the load for both. We have become isolated from others, even when we think we are connected through social media. The telephone works both ways. So does slowing down long enough to have a conversation or volunteering some time to serve your neighbors.

I return time and again to the advice of Paul in Galatians 6:1-10. Here he talks about restoration, reaping what we sow, weariness, bearing each other’s burdens, and dealing with our own. Read it for yourself right now. It is another way to refresh your soul.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Lighten your load. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Olena Zelenska

She is the mother of a daughter, 17, and a son who is 9 years old. She and her husband had a comfortable life, she as a screen and comedy writer and he as a show business entertainer. She was adamantly opposed to her husband entering the political world. He was elected president of Ukraine. Now Olena Zelenska, age 44, is thrust into the life and death struggle that is Putin’s War. Listen closely, that’s what this horrific invasion of Ukraine by Russia is being called, Putin’s War.

In a remarkable show of world leadership, Volodymyr Zelensky has inspired a nation and won the admiration of the world. He has also proven to be a formidable opponent of Russian aggression. His addresses have brought tears to his translators and standing ovations in the European Union. I wanted to highlight a little of what Olena Zelenska, (Zelenska is the feminine form of Zelensky), has been revealing to her people through her Instagram messages since the invasion Thursday February 24.

As I write this on March 1, I do not know how the Zelensky family story is progressing by the time you read this. According to news reports, at least one assassination attempt has been prevented. I cannot imagine what it must be like for any family, famous or not, to suddenly have everyone and everything you love under attack with real weapons of mass destruction. Picture Tulsa or any other favorite city with missiles and bombs exploding in the city centers and random suburban areas, rich and poor alike. There is no safe place to run or hide, even in a country the size of Texas. In these times, a full-scale war anywhere is a war everywhere, just like a pandemic. As you are praying for the Ukrainian people, know that Baptist relief efforts are underway in partnership with the mission ministries and agencies in the surrounding countries. 

After her husband stated on Friday, February 25 that Putin had designated him as “target number one” and his family as “target number two,” Olena wrote to her nation:  It is said that many are a crowd. It does not apply to us because thousands of Ukrainians are not crowds; this is an army! I shall not be in a state of panic or weeping. I’ll be composed and certain. My kids are staring at me. I’ll be right next to them. And right next to my hubby. And with you. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Support a free Ukraine. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Heavenly Dogs

My first dog was named Nickel because his mother was named Penny. It seemed logical at the time. I called him Nicky. Nicky was a mixed terrier. He loved chasing mice down holes and digging up anything he could find. We had him for a few years before he was hit by a car and gravely injured. The vet “put him down.”  I was heartsick as most who lose a favorite pet. Children occasionally ask us, “Do dogs go to heaven?” Grief is a tricky emotion.  I was reminded of this when I came upon a story about a woman’s grief. After her dog died, she confessed that she missed her dog more than her father. 

Dogs have a way of demonstrating unconditional devotion to their owners. The woman’s father, it seems, was distant and judgmental. She could talk to her dog but not to her father. Her father died. Her dog died. She felt guilty, sad, and angry about the whole thing. Do dogs go to heaven? Her dog was affectionate and would curl up next to her whenever she sat down or went to bed. She and her father could not even hug each other. Her father was not a bad man or abusive. He just retreated into himself and never did live up to her expectations of being an affirming, loving Dad.  Grief and guilt walk hand-in-hand. 

Our girls grew up with a dog named Dusty. He died of old age at 16. When the girls were pre-teens one of the young adults from the church took them home for us one Sunday evening. Dusty lived in our backyard. The girls could not get in the house, so they all went around to the backyard to wait for us. Dusty, seeing a strange man in the yard, immediately sprang into action. He started barking and positioned himself between the girls and “the stranger” until we got home. Dusty was their protector. They never forgot his spontaneous devotion. Of course there are dogs in heaven—and cats, horses, lions, lambs, and other incredible creatures of God’s making we know nothing about yet. In our grief and in our guilt, it is good to spend time in quiet reflection. Include Psalms 145 and 148 today.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Spend time with your family and your pets. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Wordle, The Saga

A British man who works in Brooklyn, New York, Josh Wardle, invented an internet word game to play with a friend way back in October of 2021. Someone in New Zealand discovered it and started sharing it with their friends. The game found it’s way to the US again and now it is the puzzle rage of the world. Mr. Wardle called it Wordle. Meanwhile, five years ago when he was 18, Steven Cravotta of California invented an app for a word game that he called Wordle! See the difference. Mr. Cravotta’s game, which had not attracted much attention, was suddenly downloaded 200,000 times in a single day a couple of months ago. He thought someone was trying to pull a scam on him. Those first 200,000 people got a different word game to play. Mr. Cravotta contacted Mr. Wardle to talk about Wordle. Both agreed they had no idea about the other, and they were enjoying their new-found incomes. They agreed to both send a portion of the proceeds to a non-profit literacy program called Boost! West Oakland.

Mr. Wardle’s Wordle is a fancy version of the old game Hangman using only one 5-letter word. Mr. Wardle sold his game to the New York Times. He did well. The player gets six tries to guess the word of the day. The player starts with a random word. Correct letters in the correct place are highlighted in green. Correct letters in the wrong place will be highlighted in yellow. All wrong letters will be grayed as out of play. There are approximately 130,000 5-letter English words. About 1,000 of those words are the ones we most commonly use. There is a British version of the game if you want to learn some extra 5-letter words. 

I had managed to avoid this game until last week. Dorothy and I work the puzzle together when we have time. A success story like this motivates other puzzle creators. Now there is Worldle, a geography game, and Nerdle, a mathematics game. The most amazing thing about this story for me is the level of courtesy and restraint demonstrated by the players to not reveal the answer to the word of the day. People can play nicely with others on a world-wide scale. We can treat others like we would like to be treated. We can show respectfulness. We can refrain from spoiling someone’s joy and pleasure. We can be a people of integrity. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Play well. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

Bro. Darryl

This is a free internet game: 

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Time Anxiety

I did not even know time was something to be anxious about. But here it is showing up in some of the current events I am reading about—Time Anxiety. This is another something (malady?)  that has bubbled to the surface because of the pandemic. Time anxiety is defined as a form of  chronophobia, “the fear of the passage of time.” It is a dread that some express that time is slipping away too quickly; their time on earth is limited; they have wasted their life; or it’s too late to accomplish their goals in life. In other words, there is too much to do and too little time in which to do it. Also known as every day.

I talked about the Great Resignation last fall. It is still happening. Millions of U.S. workers continue to resign from their current jobs every month. But that is not the whole story. While these millions have left their jobs, we have near full employment of the work force. The labor shortages are in the low wage, less rewarding jobs. The lock-down period of the pandemic was characterized by a Great Exploration. An unprecedented number took the opportunity to sign-up for on-line enrichment and educational classes. Many invested in their life hobbies by creating a “side hustle,” or new income stream. Working from home eliminated commuter time and vehicle expenses. Many have chosen to “retire” to give a deeper meaning to their relationships and explore their spiritual nature. Others have found higher wages in less stressful jobs. According to some sociologists, political activism is replacing traditional religious fervor and volunteerism. 

The answer to time anxiety is a re-evaluation of what truly matters, followed by consistent actions to “seize the day.” Poverty, disability, perpetual debt, and medical uncertainty are overwhelming. Anxiety overload is detrimental to our well-being no matter the circumstances.   Things do not always work out for everyone the way we plan, but Psalm 90 is a good place to start. Here are a few other Scriptures I have found helpful: 

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.”   (Isaiah 41:13)

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.    (Psalm 56:3)

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.   (Philippians 4:6)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Redeem the time. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Shakespeare and Co.

When I walk into a bookstore, any bookstore, I become a treasure hunter. I am looking for just the right book to treasure, at least for the moment. Sometimes the treasure is the bookstore itself. Discovering a used bookstore is, for me, like finding a new outlet mall for some I know. I try to poke around in bookstores wherever I may be traveling. My favorite kind of bookstore looks like my church office did before the great disruption, with stacks of things piled here and there.*

Dorothy and I spent a wonderful few days one April wandering the streets of Paris. After visiting Notre Dame Cathedral, before the great fire, we crossed the street and sat down for a cup of coffee at one of those outdoor cafes we had always seen in the movies. We watched the people and talked of the blessings God provides. As we started walking back toward our hotel, I spotted one of the most famous bookstores in the entire world, Shakespeare and Company. Of course, we went in it.

This discovery was like opening a treasure chest filled with gold coins and precious jewels—stacks of new and used books filling shelves, nooks and crannies everywhere. The shop is three stories tall. An old cat kept an annoyed eye on the place. People with legal pads, laptops and even portable typewriters were writing their inspired thoughts and future bestsellers. It was part avant-garde commune and part Airbnb, with cots here and there and little rooms for people to sleep—some staying for weeks. Many famous and not-so-famous writers got their start researching and writing at this bookstore. Its scandalous early years add to its mystique. And the elderly owner at the time of our visit, George Whitman, directed all the apparent chaos of a typical day in his store. Mr. Whitman died a few years ago at the age of 98. In the midst of all of his books, George Whitman hung a sign that paraphrased Hebrews 13:2Do not be inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Look for treasures (and angels.) And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

*The great disruption refers to this time in history where my eclectic pastor’s study has been turned into a neat and orderly looking video studio. Finding where things were put away is also a treasure hunt.

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