In those days, countless prayers on Bob’s behalf, and his family, were lifted to the Lord, 16 months streaming heavenward.

In early 2020, when the earth dropped right out from below, aggressive treatment immediately began, with meaningful progress. By July, many hard-earned victories were followed by gradual, consistent collapse. Treatment took a wrong turn before the promise. From that second, much more fragile low, Bob and crew climbed for the second time, eventually achieving an even higher peak. We celebrated and praised God even more.

Unfortunately, this new pinnacle in outlook, form, and function somehow imploded, completely laid waist over a frustrating, painful, 4 month battle. This despite incalculable, faithful prayers and wisdom, knowledge and and plenty of effort through misery.

Engulfing physical and mental exhaustion accumulated daily. Secondary stacked upon third-order treatment complications, among other things, resulted in a frustratingly willow wafty posture and clompy leaning gait. Well…this lean was indeed accompanied by another, an even greater lean on God. The professionals proposed a fifth-line treatment that rung of -meh-. But hope and a faithful, willing spirit remained present and unbound.

From the lowest low came four additional weeks into -meh- treatment, along with a host of continued struggle, decline, and plain ugly grief on behalf of many. And Yet.

What was that? Progress? Significant progress, the first glimmer since late February, occurred in many but not all relevant laboratory markers. At this point, who is foolish enough to put hope in one lab series, to dig out from this heap? And again, two weeks later, more of the same, along with some shock, and some noticeable lifting of function and gloom.

There was great thankfulness with far more reserved celebration. There was renewed hope, but not without complication. Now, will there be less leaning? A realization struck Bob, not yet either comforting or disturbing. What is this attachment? This is all we know.

“Thank you, Lord. But please grant additional time.”

If watching kids wrestle and splash in the creek and catch fireflys under the dusk of summer solstice, then why not the grill and sulfur smell of the 4th of July?
If the 4th of July, then why not a quick trip to the shore, present with the family to adventure and play through relaxed dog days?

If summer, Lord, then why not the twirling crisp fall and smell of decaying autumn leaves and camp fires, the old time atmosphere of Farmers Fair, the hope and excitement of fall sports, and the community of fun and myth in Halloween?

If Halloween, Lord, then why not howling bare branches with a newfound appreciation of the idea of shelter and family, and the words and smells of a season and culture especially absorbed with the idea of thankfulness?

If a season of heavenly smells and gratitude, Lord, then why not a quiet Advent followed by great celebration, the true joy of such Good News? Why not the lighting search of two small green spheres beneath countable antlers, and fairy tale glistening crystals under the moonlight bringing all the earth to a silent stand-still?

And if, then, a celebration of the Good News and frozen perfections, then why not full bloom daffodils and tulips shoving through the canopy of dirty white, breathtaking of itself, also representing that greatest hope of renewed life and eternal, unconditional love?

If another spring, Lord, then why not…

The understanding was that it would never be enough. He and they would likely keep pleading. Time is one thing we have been given, though he has been taught to see it drastically differently.

Excuse me, God. Help me toward more peace, more patience, more endurance, and more contentment. Your will be done.

Physical Activity: Helping Without Harming Yourself

Now more than ever, Americans are realizing the tremendous physical, mental, social, and other benefits of regular physical activity. Approximately 25% of adults currently meet or exceed the exercise guidelines recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

As a physical therapist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of injuries and movement related problems, I’d like to address another key facet of many studies examining this trend in Americas improved exercise habits. A few of those include:

· 25% of physically active adults report they incurred a moderate to significant exercise related injury in the previous 12 months. 

· In 2019, over three million exercise related injuries resulted in trips to the emergency department, and millions more less severe injuries occurred. 

· Higher intensity exercise is associated with more frequent and severe injuries.

· Repetitive overuse injuries due to the combination of both exercise and the day-in, day-out demands of life abound. It is my observation that the most typical problems are difficult to quantify for scientific study. 

Do we all find ourselves “between a rock and a hard place” here? At this point, I may need to remind you that sedentary living at the computer desk and on the couch comes with it’s own set of significant risks and problems! 

The solution to this dilemma does require some time and effort. Thankfully, there are relatively simple measures we can take to minimize the risks of being physically active, and keep moving and doing what is good for us, and what we love. 

Over the years, I have noticed patterns and trends among my physically active clients who suffer injury. At the root of these are our tendency to expect far too much, too soon, from our bodies. Ever since they existed, the far majority of mass-produced fitness plans and programs have been marketed to us in this manner. Unrealistic and short-sighted expectations, and eventual injury and burnout, may be some of the ramifications. 

Also, we all naturally and continually work at the areas of fitness we enjoy and are strong in while neglecting weaker components. And yes, sometimes accidents do happen, or we simply hurt due to nagging long-past injuries. Here are a few of the most common patterns that I have witnessed over the years. If you’re physically active, see if you happen to fit into one of these five generalizations:

· If you have lower back pain or hip issues like bursitis, tendonitis, or instability of the pelvic bones often diagnosed as sacroiliac dysfunction, you may want to temporarily curtail Zumba or other Latin dance type activities. They often claim to work core muscles, and to some extent they do. But this is encouraged to occur in positions that do not teach and maintain trunk and pelvis alignment and stability. This is especially unhelpful when it comes time to lift a bag of yard mulch or vacuum the living room. 

· Some love to lift a lot of weights! But all the time on the bench press or any number of weight machines at the gym would likely be much better spent working on strength activities that demand body control in proper posture, balance, and flexibility. Weekend warriors should not expect to suddenly jump, sprint, and more without preparing their body. If you are going to compete in middle age, spend the time preparing specifically for the activity. Nearly countless times over the years have I been asked questions such as, “Bob, what should I be doing for this hip flexor strain?” Of course I attempt to provide the best fit advice based on a number of factors. But ideally, such problems can often be minimized by building up gradually. “Bob, can we schedule some time for you to take a look at things and write up what I can do to be ready for the softball league in about 6 weeks?”

· Flexible individuals often focus on that component of fitness through various forms of yoga and other means. But please remember that the muscles, bones, joints and nervous system are integrated as a fine-tuned whole. It is entirely possible to have too much joint and muscle flexibility, which actually causes some loss of controlled mobility and increased wear-and-tear on congruous bony surfaces. Those who have attained sufficient flexibility benefit greatly from developing strength and body control under moderate resistance.

· Some are intensity hunters! They love the thrill of the runners high, the pre-workout slightly nervous jitters, the push into greater capacity, and the feeling and results that come with doing a lot of challenging work in a relatively little amount of time. These individuals often need to be far more mindful of recovery. Cycling through exercises and physical tests, and a week off for vacation is not nearly enough. Even professional athletes value and schedule drastically different phases of training and preparation throughout the year. In our 30s, 40s, and 50’s, we should not expect to compete against ourselves and our peers week in and week out without eventual injury, physical stagnation, and burn-out.

· Many using exercise as part of their weight loss or maintenance plan are in the daily or near-daily habit of doing lower intensity activities such as walking, light jogging, and various cardiovascular machines at the gym. This is a great. However, as the weeks roll on, it does add up to a lot of wear and tear on the lower body. Hip, knee, and especially foot complications such as plantar fasciitis abound. It is often well worth the time to consult with a physical therapist or qualified personal trainer to teach you various means to work up a sweat with total body workouts that incorporate the upper body. and low impact strength and flexibility components.

We can and should stay active and well by primarily doing what we enjoy! However, if we want to keep moving, we need to temper what we like to do with what we need to do. Long-term health and wellness often requires both what we enjoy and what we need!

the improbables

“I’m sure you have your reasons.

But I have my doubts.”

-Jon Foreman in Doubts

The reflection that I recently entered here, [complaint box] may have unintentionally given the impression that doubt is no issue for a sturdy and steadfast faith such as my own. This is certainly not the case. The fact that I don’t tend toward blame, anger, or remorse regarding this complete and sudden, overwhelming flipped-upside-down life is related. But that’s a different issue than doubt.

To say that doubt has plagued most of my life would also be largely inaccurate. It’s more like a chronic nag that comes and goes. I think this may be the cost of having a lifelong history, curiosity, and genuine faith, and the ability to want to understand other perspectives in our pluralistic society.

For some, a complete and unquestioning buy-in of a certain denomination, author, or group seems so neat and easy. If the pastor says the earth was formed 4000 years ago at which point velociraptors dwelled peaceably among the waterfowl and puppies, then so be it. Because you should interpret the poetry in the book of Genesis from a young-earth creationist perspective or you don’t really believe in Jesus because of this doctrine and that, quite clearly connecting the two.

I do not believe that most church leaders pigeonhole folks to that extreme. But there are plenty more not-so-extreme examples. I’m not claiming that explanations for claims like the above don’t exist. To me they are huge leaps of logic and stretches of the imagination that defy both plain-as-day Scriptural and life-experience. But what do I know, merely a physical therapist by profession?

Over the years I have gradually learned not to judge the unquestioning types. Sometimes they seem more than a bit contrived, and underneath such unwavering confidence and certainty lies fear, insecurity, or a simple lack of maturity to look directly at some cold hard facts.

But this is completely my own problem. Judging motive is always plain wrong. Each of us walks in our own shoes. Perhaps, for those types, they have simply learned that absolutely nothing good comes from allowing a splinter of doubt or questioning. Of course, I have also repeatedly witnessed their genuine strengths and weakness as both representatives of Jesus and as plain people.

The completely unquestioning, over-confident and uncharitable atheist types are even more baffling. Says who? Tyson Neil Degrass? Truly, if you look very deep down ANY belief system or worldview, be ready for cracks and usually major crevices that will emerge to strike you with some severe improbables there as well.

If you’re even somewhat like me, faith sometimes comes hard. For good reason or none at all, you’re just not feeling it. In those times, it’s hard to hear the song. You doubt because, well, just open your eyes.

Sometimes all the repetitive singing, reciting, even the preaching, self-convincing hashing and rehashing, makes me numb. The sanitary churchy words upon words upon words upon words begin to mulch and garble resembling the (in truth) delicious food that now so often tastes like cardboard to my chemotherapy affected senses.

“Away with your noisy hymns of praise.

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.”

Amos 23-24

Thankfully, my case of the improbables always came and went quickly and infrequently. By my late thirties and early forties, this was far less of an issue. It felt great to be able to move on to more important things like attempting to live out rather than defend or obsess over faiths and beliefs. What happened to cause this shift?

As a child I had memorized a few dozen prayers and creeds as part of mass and CCD. I think these were mostly true and good for me in their time. Later, I had read quite a bit about faith and doubt, knowing that doubt itself is normal for many. But any sort of formulas were met with limited success. In my 20’s and 30’s I had read the Bible at least three times through, once in a hulking volume with study guide, taking in every references and commentary in the margins.

A few years ago I memorized, at a much more relaxed pace, a portion of the Scriptures I have always cherished, chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the book of Matthew. With a few promptings I retain most of it! This has proven meaningful, to say the least. Yet somewhere I came across the idea that the best way to deal with doubt is to simply walk with it, letting your works carry you through.

“Gasp. Works.”

[“Works are simply what you DO in the name of your faith, your exterior actions and deeds, rites, and rituals, as opposed to inner qualities such as heart motive, grace, or faith.]

Cool your jets, John Calvin. “Let your works carry you through” does not mean that good works earn some kind of approval and a ticket to heaven. It doesn’t mean that a gracious God is not the prime mover at the bottom of it all. I -think- it simply means that on this side of complete knowledge of the mysteries of God and this life and faith, there are times when you are going to choose not let your “feels” of the moment rule the day. You are going to lean on what you have chosen to do and how you live in your community, what you have done and believed, and the rituals and creeds that we all keep in one form or another.

You’re simply going to keep at it when you don’t feel like it.

In the same way that I have difficulty completely understanding the unquestioning faithful, they have difficulty understanding what I (and others) have feebly attempted to explain. And that’s okay. Please know that having serious doubt at times, or even just the improbables, is no sin. You’re not alone.

Suddenly your eyes are open to the wonder and beauty literally everywhere! You hear the music again.

I suspect that God has even more grace for the doubters who nonetheless desire to seek Him. Or at the least, there is an extra measure of mercy where either type is in error.

And all the words? I think, probably, it is sometimes well and good to get hepped up on C major and caffeine, or write an essay ; ) . But there is also a time when all that needs to be and should be said …

“Thank you, God. I love you.”

“If you can, Jesus, take pity and help us.

“If you can?” said Jesus. Everything is possible for one who believes.

Immediately the father replied, “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

According to Matthew, Chapter 9

complaint box

A few weeks ago, someone who has always been near to me expressed her general feelings about my declining health. It just doesn’t seem right, and it’s difficult not to be bitter. I understand these perspectives, especially things not seeming right. Not yet. Too bad it’s not up to me.

Bitterness is probably also normal, especially in her position. Anyone close to the situation certainly has the right to work through bitterness and grieve any way they need to.

Is it odd that I truly have no bitterness? No anger. No major regrets. The physical discomforts definitely drain, putting out various fires as we still attempt to tackle the primary problem. That frustration and tolerating those painful moments is what puts me in “poor spirits.” In those moments, it’s nearly impossible to think about anything else.

Where would I even direct anger and bitterness? Not-god, the formless void? The ever expanding entropy is not exactly looking for feedback, including anything near the notion of fairness. To expect anything at all is logically inconsistent.

Would I be disappointed by something like karma or vibes? To me, these have always sounded like a fuzzy disguise for the notion of an omniscient, unfathomable great judge and provider of values and justice that will one day redeem things. But it’s chasing the feels and benefits with no real accountability, service or sacrifice, which rings true of nothing in life.

What about the great “I’m Not Sure?” Agnosticism has always held some appeal to me. I mean, there are mysteries in life and especially in death, things that we truly cannot know or are not meant to know. Recognizing and admitting our human limits to knowing is a humble and simply honest position. I think we have to admit that many of the faithful, despite our best efforts, do put God in a bit of a box of our times and culture. Where there is a little mystery we fill it by pretending to know things that may simply not be for us to know.

But a few steps down the road of agnosticism begins to feel like a gift from the dollar store. You sacrifice the notion of some ultimate truth (which may not be entirely knowable to us, but does exist) and comfort of the soul for some flimsy intellectual comforts. There’s nothing at all worth hanging your hat on, meaningful for the stuff of life. This is certainly not Love. I don’t imagine history ever has or will turn on truly selfless, courageous acts of service done in the name of “Well-I’m-Not-Sure.”

That leaves God. Abiding. Loving with a peace that is not at all of this world. Yes. I have had (and usually hold) that peace! I try to trust these words and meditate on them while also still fighting this disease like hell. I think God would have me do both.

I wasn’t bitter at God just a short time ago when all-out launching into mid air and landing with my toes in the grass after a productive and fulfilling day of work. Far more joyous than that, I wasn’t blaming God as I had the blessing of five healthy children, a (to me) dream home to raise them in, and 20 years of marriage to the most beautiful person I have ever known. I’ve never complained to God about my loving parents, extended family, background, and being truly blessed with so many friends and even neighbors, and oh so many adventures.

I wasn’t raising my fist to God then. And I’m not about to now.

Lent Reflection 6 – when i watch too much tv

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5

With a relatively recent lack of energy or enthusiasm for doing much, the TV has unfortunately been blaring again. The March Madness college basketball tournament also has something to do with this ; ) This means that I’m hearing a lot of ads again. They are all commercials for cars and trucks, to normalize getting or leasing a new vehicle every six months. They are ads for cell phone companies, insurance, and gambling apps, to get us locked-in and loyal for a long-term relationship. The rest are for food, which until very recently, I would often fall for if it wasn’t 7:45 and I already ate plenty.

This is simply where my head is today. The intention is not to bring the guilt or shame, although upon rereading this, it sounds like a bit like a lecture. Maybe you need to “hear it,” or maybe not. Forgive me if it’s a bit off the rails. None of these ideas are run by an editorial team. And feel free to close the window, of course.

Is the Pennsylvania Lottery mascot Gus not the most annoying creature invented? Why did they give him a shrill, nearly painful voice? Why do they make him a bit creepy with the ladies? His motto, and apparently that of the PA Lottery system, is “Keep on Scratchin.” Seriously? Scratching is one of our most compulsive and primal actions, and rarely a good thing. It usually indicates some type of unhealthy condition, medication side effect, or parasitic feeding with possible transfer of bacteria and viruses.

Consider typical patterns of behavior and addiction- compulsive, primal, unwell, feeding mostly off the compromised or unknowing. I suppose the motto makes complete sense of the Reverse Robin Hood reasoning that mostly feeds off the poor and gives to some of the rich, their middle class admins, and yeah, “older Pennsylvanians” to save face.

Then there are the fairly sudden onset “bookie apps.” Their numbers look to be proliferating and we can now conveniently lose without getting off the couch. The old adage should still apply.

“Look around the room. If you don’t see a sucker, then you ARE the sucker.”

Of course the ads are targeting a younger, tech savvy but life inexperienced audience. That’s…fine? But what’s deceptive and almost hilarious is the authoritative and matter-of-fact tone by which every one of these ads speak of not gambling for some fun and entertainment, but for profit.

“Make it rain!!” [cash]

“Now you’re winning with the King of Sportsbooks.”

Oh. I see.

I haven’t participated but very lightly in Big Gambling and not for around 20 years. Yet somehow, I know so many stories of friends, acquaintances, and clients of losing big.

I suppose we need to differentiate the above two scenarios from throwing $20 into the March Madness Tournament picks, wagering a few bucks with the kids over the Super Bowl, or hanging out at guys poker night, eating pizza, coming out up or down $20 or $50. You have to admit this is far different than doubling down to “parlay UConn with the over,” or despite the clear evidence, playing “lucky numbers” fifty or one hundred and fifty times per year.

Somewhere around thirty percent of the population simply does not gamble in lotteries, apps, and casinos. It’s altogether off their radar or they simply don’t enjoy it. This group should probably not claim the moral high ground. That would be like commending your pet hamster for not believing false doctrines.

Somewhere around forty percent of the population gambles occasionally, on average ten days per year. They may know that including every single winner great and small, they will lose close to $.40 for every dollar they spend. But they gamble for fun and can afford it to the extent they do. They mostly know when to fold ’em, walk away, or run.

The remaining ~30% who gamble the most (on average 24 days per year) are poor, largely minorities, and often addicts. They may be well aware of the math behind all of this, and do not give a rip. It goes on year in and year out, with little to nothing mentioned in these woke times. Those who were trapped in this and somehow by Gods grace pulled away from it can absolutely claim moral high ground.

I have read that rich people care and think about money far more than anyone. In my experience, that’s not the case. I don’t personally know any of the ultra rich. But the many well-off people and families who I do know are also some of the most humble and generous folks around, including one luxury car salesman. For some of them, it is literally their job to think about money. All of them have worked extremely hard and made sacrifices over many years, and I fault none of them for their position. Please hold the comments about “Rich Dicks,” as if they’re all the same. Are there not dicks of every race, creed, and socioeconomic status?

I’m not going to jump into privileged backgrounds that allowed for opportunities. Though I believe this is undeniably real for many of us, it’s not relevant to this discussion.

And that’s where this is going. Having great wealth or means without having accumulated the life- and various other skills that lead to wealth is unsustainable on many levels. In that case, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” is absolutely true. In the same way that The State taking advantage of the most susceptible is wrong and the opposite of Christ-like (or unnatural, if you prefer), hitting it big is the same, much less the great, irresistible allure of hitting it big that the more powerful often use for leverage.

“Big Gambling” is a lose-lose-…lose, very much unmeek proposition. It’s like cigarettes’ or asbestos or other ideas from decades ago that seemed like a good idea at the time, but have long been proven to not really be good for anyone.

So according to my argument, there may be some kind of narrow ground between “well off and generous” and “ultra rich and powerful.” In the grand scheme of all times and people, the far majority of those reading this will fall into one of these groups.

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished…Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 

– Matthew 19

I don’t really know, but I doubt Jesus wants all of us to give everything away. I suppose he may be using hyperbole, or obvious and exaggerated overstatement, to intentionally shock those listening and drive home a point. Or who knows, maybe Gods people will pass through only after witnessing the miracle of a shrunk-to-scale camel or greatly expanded needle.

Have I become poor by trying to live gently, peacefully, and generously rather than boisterous, greedy, or contentious? What am I doing with my time and resources?

My resources are unfortunately quite limited at the moment. But over the years I have posed the question to some of the teen- and twentysomethings who I worked with, as well as my own kids. I often don’t know the answer, other than the fact that being a Professional Videogamer or Cellphone User/Consumer is probably not in their calling. Bickering online over subject matter that is best left to more intimate, in-person conversation over some tea, coffee, or a drink is probably not the best use of an adults time.

With this entry, I may be running the risk of exactly that!

According to the state lottery, 27 cents of every dollar spent on tickets goes into the state lottery fund. This is allegedly helping older Pennsylvanians. And some does. But the lottery contributes a significant amount to funding Medicaid, which only .035% of elderly Pennsylvanians have. The other 73 cents goes to “prizes and lottery administration costs.” 

During 2019, the PA Lottery reported sales of more than $4.2 billion. It paid out prizes of $2.7 billion, and it reported paying out more than $1 billion in benefits. That leaves somewhere around 500 million dollars for admin costs.

The study concludes that “increased levels of lottery play are linked with certain subgroups in the U.S. population — males, blacks, Native Americans, and those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

Lent Reflection 5 -an ounce of faith & green

It’s almost St. Patrick’s day, the day we are to remember and celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland. Most years, March 17th is a day where I call my parents and subtly harass my father.

“Are you wearing something green today? Well then, what are you doing to celebrate St. Patrick?”

This inevitably causes him to recognize the ruse, prompting him to ramble on with feigned (?) grumblings about the overstated fame of St. Patrick and do we really need a national holiday and why doesn’t everyone go to the bars at nine in the morning to celebrate a St. Stanislaus Day?

This year I come armed. I’ve been learning some Irish history for my “seasonal” reading, taking in an entire two books on the topic.

In the past, I did learn the basics on Stanislaus, patron saint of Poland. He was murdered around 1080, literally at the hands of the king of Poland, for repeatedly calling him out on unjust wars, negligence, and immoral acts against his own people. Stanislaus life and death may be good to remember and dwell on, especially in these times. Who knows exactly how far his influence reached and continues to effect the course of history?

But while the life of Stanislaus was largely isolated to eastern Europe, we have the life and times of Patrick, who lived in the year ~400. Born into wealth and an identity both Roman and British, he would later sacrifice these to live in poverty for thirty or more years while traveling through a harsh third world country full of Celtic barbarians.

You could say these were relatively isolated western European events until you learn that this work was critical, and barely in time, for the people of Ireland to form their own identity, become somewhat literate and Catholic and highly value the Scriptures. When the rest of Europe was burning and reshuffling after the fall of Rome, western Christianity and much of the literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans only survived the middle ages by (sometimes literally) clinging to the hidden away rocks and caves of the Irish countryside. From what I understand, Patrick’s founding work, leading to the Irish Monastic Scribes who were determined to make copies of all they could get their hands on, would nearly single-handedly “save” western civilization.

I suppose dad has to admit that all Americans have the right to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. Okay, shamrocks to help explain the divine mystery of God three-in-one Holy Trinity. But the green beer and milkshakes, leprechauns and pointy hats? Of course legends will continue to flourish. I would not at all be surprised if, in a few hundred years, the legend of Jebediah Springfield driving all the snakes out of Springfield will be crossed and confused with St. Patrick’s day. For years, many hardcore Simpsons fans have celebrated May 10th as Snake Whackin’ Day.

Isaiah 55:8-9 is often quoted or partially misquoted, sometimes flippantly and often without much context, to provide some kind of answer in the midst of loss, hardship, or suffering.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

From my current perspective, sitting in at least some degree of constant discomfort and uncertainty, I do find comfort in this. Sure, I will freely admit that I accept and meditate on these ancient words based on faith. But having some basic knowledge of historical lessons, like the loss and suffering of St. Patrick for something exponentially greater, also helps (at least for me).

-The loss and suffering associated with destruction of Solomon’s temple around 600 BCE was immense. But the scattering of the Hebrews and gradual accommodation into the Greek speaking Mediterranean world would cause the Old Testament to be more valued and translated into Greek before the time of Jesus (and later the apostles) message to the gentiles (all people). “The Way” would not have been prepared without the gentiles having the Scriptures in their language.

-The life and especially martyrdom of all the apostles against terrible odds; The life and death of St. Patrick, the first human being in the history of the world known to publicly speak out against slavery; The transformation of Dietrich Bonhoeffers anti-Jewish -theology- into strong, far reaching anti-Nazism -action- that would cost him his life. And the examples of many MANY others through the ages.

-The reformation to provide the needed reform and long-term checks and balances to the numerous mishandlings of the “one Holy Catholic and apostolic church.” It would be the worst thing ever and then essential to the life of the church and original message of Jesus.

-In the founding of the United States, the process “…by which there would be no established church, but all would be equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of their conscience.” Most churchy Americans of the day knew this was the worst thing ever. The newly formed nation would quickly go to hell in a handbasket. Only, it didn’t. This “anti establishment” directly resulted in the flourishing that is now known as the First Great Awakening.

-Those who knew “Gods Word” but did not understand it in spirit used the Bible in their arguments to keep slavery. Abolition of slavery would clearly be to the destruction of both church and state. Unfortunately we’re still dealing with this 150 years later. The only real hope for understanding, reconciliation and mutual respect may be those who know Scripture in word and in spirit. At this point I’m truly doubtful that we can somehow legislate away the real mess much less the pissing wars so readily encouraged by the left and right media.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

    his love endures forever.

Let the redeemed tell their story—

-Psalm 107

These examples come to mind at the moment while thinking historically, with so much I do not know or understand. Don’t you ever wonder if redemption of all pain and suffering, misunderstandings and corruption is a real thing, or just a nice Sunday school idea? I mean, I still don’t even know if I really prefer to shave with an electric or stick razor, much less these type of weighty and often unanswerable questions. I’m definitely dealing with quite a mess of my own right now. It’s not like any of us are some kind of tortured martyrs. But the affliction does often cause me to hope and pray there is -and will be- some type of greater good coming from this life.

Of course we’re all going through some degree of pain and uncertainty, if not now, then in the past or future. Of this I’m certain. May HOPE in the love of God be our unstoppable force coming against those immovable objects. And may our life testimony be a great light given off in that collision.

“It is possible to be brave – to expect every day…to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved, whatever may come my way, and yet be a man of peace and at peace, a man without desire to harm, a man in whom the sharp fear of death has been smoothed away.”

-St. Patrick, quoted by Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization

Lent reflection 4 – hellbender graves reach skyward

And forgive us our trespasses, ..

-Matthew 5

This short story from my youth has been transported over from a simple post that I initially placed on Facebook. Here it is copied.

——- For much of childhood, my dad and his brothers would often take me fishing. Uncle —— (who is otherwise a good dude and now, -35 years later, is far more conservationist) caught a HUGE Helllbender in Indian Creek, Fayett county. He was not certain how aggressive it may be, and apparently didn’t want to find out or otherwise mess with it. After all, common water snakes similarly grow huge and are highly aggressive with a bite that carries bacteria and an anticoagulant that leaves you trickling blood for hours.

He realed it in until around 10 feet remained in the line, and aggressively whipped the Hellbender back and forth, trying to dislodge the hook. I was thinking, “Whoa, let me get my net. We’ll take it home to my fish tank or put it in the pond.” A boy that age does not think about the fact that he too knew nothing about these creatures, and it did appear…nasty. Nor do you think about the practicality of putting a nearly two foot long living creature into a 15 gallon aquarium, or the requirement of properly transporting an animal that probably requires clean and cold water with high oxygen levels. Oh, and there’s no way you tell uncle — something like that when he’s down to business. He simply does not suffer frogs or turtles or rare, poorly understand water hell demons, or anything other than a trout.

When the herkyjerks didn’t work, he dragged it over some rocks and roots to a nearby boulder, bashed its head off a rock, then stepped on the neck so it would die quickly. Now twenty feet or so away with net in hand, I stood frozen and jaw-dropped for what seemed like 20 minutes.

“Damn that thing is ugly. No wonder they call them Hellbenders, huh Bobby.”

Over the next few years I unsuccessfully searched for one of the mysterious creatures…or demons-? I wished to hook one on my fishing line, just like uncle. I will admit to hoping that if such good fortune would strike, it would be much smaller.

Ten years or so later, I finally did come across a much less intimidating Hellbender living in a small tributary of Slipper Rock Creek. I examined it for thirty seconds or so before tossing it back. It was harmless, with an appearance young in years yet ancient, of another era.

This sad reminder was written yesterday, a Friday during Lent. In some faith traditions, this is supposed to be a day of quiet prayer, reflection, and fasting. This is the time of year where I often did spend an hour on Fridays standing beside that same uncle during 5:00 Mass.

Some current friends who are historians by profession have often reminded me that historical figures should not be morally judged by modern standards. The events in this story are historical. They occurred (only?) 35 years ago, and my uncle and I are not exactly historical figures. But I ask that you would extend that grace to us. He held a Masters Degree in Education from the Indiana University of PA. Hellbenders and certain degrees of environmental conservation were on the radar of no one outside of Environmental Science majors and fringe specialists.

In those days, I learned some Scriptural things, a few liturgical things, and otherwise payed -some- attention during Mass. But “Church” was honestly more of a serious, highly valuable session of Forced Internal Quiet, passing time, mind wandering, and even some self reflection. And standing beside Uncle in church, surely there was a small spark of dissonance inside my small developing mind. I knew how we lived, mostly good but not all, what I thought and wished, and how pitifully short it all fell of the Glorious standard.

More on that in an upcoming post. But for now I’m thinking about the irony of the fact that Hellbender graves reach skyward. We have unrolled the tombstone on these and many other things ancient and priceless. Hellbenders need pristine water and larger rocks to thrive. Their habitat in lower elevations was destroyed long ago through various development. Now, their final retreat to deep forest under tree and rock cover are threatened, mostly through innocent messing with the rocks. Oh, I’ve done my share of that through critter searches, dam building, and other tomfoolery.

There’s also the irony of Cairns, the somewhat popular and fun stacking of big rocks under small ones to create a stalagmite-like pillar right in the creek bed. It’s like playing with big legos, or a more creative Jenga. I’ve also read of it being viewed as a type of spiritual practice, this gathering and shaping of odd shapes and sizes into a work of perfect balance and harmony. 🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️

The even greater irony is our own blaring unawareness, recklessness, and even ravenous ways of everyday living that lead to the loss of some of our most spectacular sources of beauty, wonder, and our very own long term well being, spiritual, physical, and otherwise. No church building can fully capture and contain this sanctuary.

I don’t know exactly how far we should go, or at this point need to go in making everyday sacrifices of convenience. There is absolutely a point where the tail wags the dog. Some kind of guilt lecture is truly not my point here. But I know that most of us have our basic necessities far more than met. May we at least carry on with awareness, humility, and a measure of restraint. There are about a million and one small and large helpful, truly sacrificial things we can do beyond cutting back on sweets or not eating meat on Fridays. May we put thought to it and find a way to make it part of our very own quiet spiritual practice.

That is why it has been written:

”Wake up, sleeper

Rise up from the dead

And Christ will shine among you!”

-Ephesians 5

lent reflection 3 – family system

I appreciate the latest Progressive Insurance commercials that portray a professional hopelessly attempting to teach a handful of middle-aged clients How To Not Become Your Parents. Here are a few examples.

“Do we really need a live, laugh, and love sign? No, we don’t.”

(At a restaurant) “We don’t need to tell the waitress our name.”

(Outside a grocery store) “We see it, we all see it. Yes, he has blue hair. We don’t have to say anything.”

My parents are not guilty of these particular crimes. But they definitely have their own twists. And I’ve seen plenty of this type of thing over the years in friends, aunts and uncles, and especially in working with 50- and now 60-something clients. I prefer not to use the term “Boomer” because it seems a bit derogatory. I’ve met far too many sharp, selfless people in that age bracket.

I do often notice becoming my dad in certain ways. It seems inevitable. I’ve talked to the TV when watching professional athletes make basic juvenile errors, calling them “clowns” and “teaching” my kids that physical errors will always be part of the game, but mental errors just shouldn’t happen at the professional level. I often catch myself watching the History Channel and reading books with titles like the Original Trails and Roads of the Ohio River Valley. I saw a few of my teenage clients smirk when I told their group, “You’re only running two of these at full speed, so don’t loaf.” There are plenty more quirks that my kids could tell you about.

Mom and dad are mostly healthy, and I usually check the “No family history” box. Somehow, it only recently sank in that both of my grandfathers had been diagnosed with cancer, though cancer itself did not directly cause their demise. This has possibly eluded me because both of their issues were absolutely due to lifestyle factors, whereas mine is not (that I know of).

It was a blessing to spend a fair amount of my childhood with my grandparents. But both granddads smoked for the majority of their lives, drank fairly heavily for a time, and over the years one of them gradually lost control of his body mass. He carried a stressful daily workload all the way to the iconic PPG building always included in pictures of the Pittsburgh skyline. One of my worst childhood memories is my parents yelling his name in a terrified voice that I never heard them use before. He completely lost consciousness, I assume due to some kind of carotid artery issue. For a minute I thought that he died right there at our dining room table.

To say that everyone loved both of my granddads is a huge understatement. And you could say that a traumatic event like that described above is unfortunate in the life of a ~7 year-old. But due to witnessing this and a handful of other experiences such as a lifetime of nonsense yo-yo dieting, nobody has ever had to lecture me on temperance in food and drink. To this day I have not smoked a single thing, sure, by the grace of God. And this undoubtedly saved me some aggravation over the years. But health-wise, it doesn’t seem to have worked out as planned. Life seems to have no such straight laced formulas.

Sometimes when I’m sleepless during the night, I sit on the ottoman leaning forward with my head down, elbows propped on knees. I stare out the window or into the floor, sometimes praying and often just thinking. Where did I see this before? It’s not like some kind of never-invented behavior. But it is the exact posture that my grandfather would assume, sitting at the picnic table on his back patio late at night, staring at nowhere, usually while slowly eating something like pistachios and smoking a cigarette. And there were a few times of witnessing my other grandfather on a bent knee beside his bed. He was alone, silent and still. This was unlike anything I had previously seen; not in the house of worship or on street corners, to be seen by others…

Progressive Insurance is right. Our families obviously influence us for the better and worse, probably far beyond our own comprehension. Science has taught us that it’s not all nature or nurture, but both. And it’s the stories of our family history, our memories, and insight given from above that help us make even a little sense from any of it.

lent reflection 2 – envirostewardism

One of the kids suggested that we watch, or re-watch, one of the films in the Jurassic World series. Someone here found a relatively new Jurassic World short film (posted below), and suddenly most of us are on a renewed full fledge dinosaur kick.

This reflection is not meant to be about the gross inaccuracies of the dinosaur timeline, DNA recombination, and more. The films are Hollywood fun and for the most part highly entertaining. They do make me think, some…

All of the films force you to renew the wonder of what it would be like to walk among these living monsters. The short film especially seems to somewhat realistically attempt to portray dinosaurs as a part of contemporary society.

I think, if Dinosaurs really did come later, or last long enough to somehow share the earth with humans, they certainly would not be threatening our current camp-outs and roadways. Assuredly, we would have wiped them out long ago, probably by 1800. The large and most dangerous ones would have been taken out, maybe led off cliffs like the great Buffalo Jumps created by the Native Americans. We would gradually weaken their ability to thrive through intentional and unintentional encroachment on their habitat. A few hundred years later, the last of the small chicken-like species in the far reaches of the jungles would have been eliminated on the grounds of being technically dangerous, or hunted for game and the satisfaction of “bagging a monster.”

I’ve been warned by real live historians to resist the urge to judge historical figures, or really anyone of a different era, by modern standards. So I will not come to conclusions here about what rotten stewards we have been**. But I think the consideration, for now, should be how we can get more people to even think about good stewardship in this time where everything is, or becomes, automatically highjacked into a politically charged issue.

I think there are answers out there. But they require a lot of awareness, ingenuity, and like everything else, plain old sacrifice. I don’t think that we were ever meant to “have it all.” Not as a species, and especially not as individuals.

**I once had a patient who was a fascinating elderly geology professor. He formerly taught at both state- and private colleges, and he collected fossils, arrowheads, and minerals since he was eight. I visited he and his wife at home once, and he STILL grew animated showing me his smallish house literally packed with tidy and professional case displays.

Once at the office, he explained to me how he was often requested to give two talks. The presentations were titled with “environmentalism” or “good stewardship” depending on the audience. But they were the same talk, and very well received by both audiences, so long as he used their preferred vernacular.

Man is a finnicky species, for sure.

Lord, save us, indeed.

lent reflection 1 – dust

“Dostoevsky (great Russian author 1821-81) paid a special visit to the Museum of Art in Basel to see a painting “Christ Taken Down From the Cross,” by Hans Holbein. The painting overwhelmed Dostoevsky, and he stopped in front of it, stricken… On his agitated face was the sort of expression I had often noted during the first moments of an epileptic seizure. I quietly took my husbands arm, led him to another room and made him sit down on a bench…Christ had to be a man like others in order to die for them. He truly was a man.”

-Found in A Third Testament by Malcom Muggeridge

“From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19