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|These contributions of poetry and prose were shown as part of Faith and Arts Sunday at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu—February 12, 2012
Poetry and Prose by Writers’ Workshop (April 21, 2013)
The Writers Workshop is a group of church members and friends who meet once a month to work on their writing together. Everyone is welcome to bring something they have written that they can share with the group.
Group members displayed the following examples of poetry and prose as part of Faith & Arts Sunday 2013.
To Clare and Bill on their wedding day from Dad (Gary Buchs) with love
Years from now
When you wake on an ordinary day, what will you recognize?
When you cast eyes on each other at the new day’s rise
Will you utter for the untold time, “I Love You,”
Remembering the tie that binds your hearts and souls for all time?
Think today of the ones who love you and pause a moment.
Look around at those here who witness your vows
and remember those now gone looking down this day.
Forever believe the promise
Whispered quietly in your ear
Or shouted out with all you have inside.
It matters not for this promise of promises
Made today marks a new beginning
As two but also as one
Today you will see perfect this marriage.
But on a day, just an ordinary day,
When the wind has broken back a part of you,
When the leaves have fallen away and love will show all true
Pull out of your roots
Ponder your solemn vow
The promises made on this extraordinary day to each other,
These vows to be the one your partner wants to see
First each day and last each night
In thoughts and dreams and prayers
On the most ordinary of your days
Years from now.
Gary BuchsTop of Page
Those little black marks on the page
Neither move nor make sound,
Lying dormant, locked within a barred, lined cage
Until a proper key be found.
In time emerges a weightless, invisible tone,
A resurrection, following some rolled-away stone,
Of harmonies expanding in a once-silent tomb,
Lifting spirits, bodies, people out of gloom.
The great mechanical beast’s mighty lungs
Burst out, emitting melodic strains
Urged by deft touch on black and white tongues,
Voices now released in glad refrains.
Dressed in angelic white with skirt of cassock blue,
[One is told it’s Mary’s hue],
She gives witness to the mysteries of new birth—
Marks once lifeless between papery sheets,
Laid out in cadences of various beats,
Now liberated for sounds of feeling ’round earth.
Music is the sound of feeling, he said,
The Poet of the world who feels the feelings of all
In organic sympathy. Organic sympathy, we say,
On this day,
Music inspiring harmony for all,
Organic sympathy within this hall.
Not without human touch and human hands
And human care and human arts
Reaching toward all nature’s beating hearts.
For which we give thanks, among others, to Kathy’s clan,
Promising to continue this organic plan.
They brought her in covered with dust
Unable to cry
Once black hair malnourished rust on a skull head
Her belly bloated
A stick figure with round sightless eyes open
She understands only the screams
The concussive explosions
She knows nothing about the glorious bottom line of happy stockholders
Whose manufactured equipment is 100% effective
She doesn’t even remember the night
Her mother stopped bringing her bits of food
Donald K. JohnsonTop of Page
I remember being startled the first time I walked into the Hörmann home just before Christmas, the gifts under the tree were wrapped in newspaper. Mama explained, “Oh it is a family tradition, they are wrapped in our children’s favorite Sunday comics.” How do we wrap our gifts? In the text, Mary wraps her words of gratitude and obedience to God, with her heart.
The little child who tears open her gift and plays with the wrappings is on to something spiritually important in this gift giving time of year, because I believe that is what God does in worship when we send our carols and words of honor and thanksgiving as gifts to God. Consider your wrappings. As you give gifts to God carefully wrapped, you might listen to the Spirit whispers in your soul and hear God clapping in delight and playing with our heart wrappings. It is one of the beautiful things about Christmas gift giving: to quiet your soul and listen for God’s delight.
God of wonder who twinkles through our dark moments to whispers words of encouragement when we feel lost, thank you for wrapping the Christ Child, your gift of hope, in your love.
Donald K. JohnsonTop of Page
I have a tooth fairy appointment to keep
Sheathed in shimmering wingless white
She promises a pot of gold
I can hold in my mouth
Till the crematorium director
Dandy-decked in black with mirror shoes
Scrapes my treasures from his oven floor
Cinders for recycling
Along with my hard to melt titanium hip
Although for another few years
The tooth fairy predicts
My smile will remain complete
Donald K. JohnsonTop of Page
As happy a yellow as you’ll ever find
Trumpets spring into our breakfast time
Where ominous doctor words are
Softened by the spirit’s swirl
Through coffee fume and daffodil
Still dread is abed in the back room
Plotting the final night
We have circled that mountain
Now’s the moment for hope to rise up like incense
Smiling about the sun's glory light
Donald K. JohnsonTop of Page
Fretful yet graceful, Cardinals hold their proud heads high
Cooing Doves keep low and purposeful, mindless of people nearby
Impertinent and swift are the Mynah-birds,
whistling their borrowed tunes
Elegant and gangly the Egrets alight with a bounce
looking for a tidbit
Plovers perambulate in winter, intent on catching the elusive insect
The Albatross fly effortlessly but are so ungainly on the ground
Many other colorful birds can still be seen chirping sometimes
But none can surpass the great Terns soaring far above in dancing pairs.
Oh, what of the rainbows?
Heavenly arches in the sky
Glorious shimmering colors
By the sun rays splayed
On gentle rain clouds.
They soon appear
For a moment
Only to fade away
As if by magic
Play of the Sun
Hiding behind clouds
Beauty to us all
On our gentle Earth.
Dyma weryd y morwr—o gyrhaedd
Gerwin for a’i ddwndwr:
Ei dderbyn gadd i harbwr
Heb don ar wyneb y dwr!
Voilà le tombeau du matelot—à l’abri
De la mer sévère et ses profondes eaux:
Il a trouvé son calme dans un hâvre
Sans vagues à la surface de l’eau.
[à la mémoire de Richard James, âgé de 79 ans,
Here is a sailor’s tomb - beyond reach
Of the severe sea and its cruel depths:
He has reached his berth in a harbor
With no waves at the surface of the water.
[to the memory of Richard James, Master Mariner,
I live in a chair
between the sidewalk and the curb
On the edge of the park
You see me you do not look
I look at the trees the passersby
Turn my back on the busy boulevard
And on the cars and hills
I do not see the hills
I do not lift up mine eyes unto the hills...
from whence cometh my help?
does the world need another bad poem?
no but maybe I do
maybe tonight the need justifies
facing down the end of quiet
rushing over the edge
of the waters of indecision
to spill waves of words
on worthy shores
hoping for a soft landing
for just the chosen few:
my words to somehow conjure
a place to breathe, hoping for
a chance to catch their breath
and move up the beach;
words made of letters but drownproof
and ready for the break
of the real poet’s next line
One day as I was going into Albertson’s Grocery for a late morning latte, I saw a woman of perhaps middle-late 50’s standing at the entrance. Usually younger, male panhandlers with their cardboard printed signs occupy this spot. She had no sign. She simply stand there with her hands at her sides, in a long bright red coat, double-breasted with one of the top buttons missing and a facial expression of (what I deemed) “last resort.”
I went in and enjoyed my coffee drink and newspapers, but as I walked towards my car, saw that she was still there. I couldn’t stand it, thinking: if I can afford a latte, there is surely something I can do. So I walked up to her and asked, “What are you doing here?” And she quietly replied, “ I’m hungry.” I asked if I could get her something to eat, and she said—yes, please. So after a brief discussion, I “took her order” and went to the Deli. After hearing the story, the deli staff built a monumental sandwich for her, with chips! Then I went back to Starbucks and asked them for a freebie huge coffee with lots of cream and many packets of sugar on the side, complete with a big piece of cake.
When I took these to her, she was sitting at the table outside the store, looking very tired and worn. She gazed up at me with such a look of gratitude and—grace. I said, “That’s a beautiful coat,” and she answered, “Thank you, I made it myself—I used to be a seamstress.”
I left her then, and, I have never seen her again. But her image lives in this drawing which I did when I got home. Home.
Barbara Williams Richmond
Top of Page
This is what I hope to discuss while in Rome with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. I will argue that the New Testament approach to economics shares the same logic that I have put forth here and the archdioceses’ world wide create a functional community at the level of the common citizen to implement the change.
Peace, not merely dogma, will distinguish the new Catholic Church.
Now that the columnist, David Brooks has exposed how the U.S. federal system of checks and balances has been transformed into a counterproductive and tedious “game,” the average member of any organization should take pause and wonder how they might respond effectively so that they might also have a chance for a better future. (“Why Washington politicians came to love sequestration.” Honolulu Star Advertiser, p. A9, 2/25/13)
Unlike “Katrina” and “Sandy,” governments, churches and corporations have created their own “perfect storms,” leaving their members as victims, and with “self-help” as the only legal solution. What we have learned from the two major natural disasters, neighbors, family and local agencies—not big government, nor churches, nor cash money—provide the first and some times, the only help required by those in need. Rethinking governments, churches, and corporations as the agencies committed to serve the “Common Good” and to bring “liberty and justice for all,” we discover that the man-made perfect storms created by them do not serve the “Common Good.” Social institutions—the officials that run them—all have become themselves vested interests that function to serve other vested economic interests as their means of staying in power. (No wonder people believe that they need to arm themselves, or to make a farce out of government, in case they might have to confront them.) Worse, those who do nothing—who surrender to the economic manipulations of their patrons—become “acceptable” because their records show that they have done nothing. . .wrong.
Rather than turn our backs on their dysfunctional behavior—one that works, but against our best interests—we must find a functional one—a local one, that deals directly with the people—and make it our primary social unit, as we do with health care when we identify our primary care giver. In short, let’s introduce an inverted form of social federalism where the least relevant and unhelpful social institutions atrophy while we build a better community that serves the “Common Good,” precinct by precinct, diocese by diocese, community by community.
Socially functional federalism pools resources across agencies with the local unit administering their implementation. In the tradition of English common law, “self-help” constitutes a remedy when the law provides no suitable remedy or when existing laws prevent ethically better solutions that do serve the common good. How will we create the reforms necessary to bring this about?
The French Revolution, and in economic terms, the more violent one, the American Revolution, both revealed that the masses meeting in an arena to vote—thumbs up, or thumbs down—yields high emotion, great injustices, and social disruptions that serve only the need for revenge.
To modulate this tendency and to produce socially fair and effective outcomes, the Liberal Tradition disengaged the most emotional cultural element—religion—from the governing process and as a countervailing balance, wisely instituted the concept of “limited government.” By limiting government to contend with subjects and solutions that did not include metaphysical dimensions and by reserving their attention to problems and needs that could be rationally dealt with, government could focus on the common good. If it did not meet the latter test, then its actions exceeded the scope of a “limited government” set out in a written Constitution and would therefore be disallowed by the Supreme Court. (Note: limited government does not refer to the size of government, but to the function of government.)
In the Twenty-First Century, we have been hampered by the abuse of “religion” to sway the masses and elections and to formulate policies that some believe correlate with their religious doctrine. Ironically, both limited government and freedom of religion are undermined by the belief that religious doctrines supersede a limited constitutional government. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda assertion of the supremacy of shari’ah law defeats human rights in an unlimited government, just as “liberation theology” makes God an ally in a political coalition.
Freedom of religion under law preserves the right of the individual to hold and to practice their faith without interference from the state—except when such practices violate the basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution. God does not rule the state, nor do religious hierarchies or ethnic tribal clans define what governments must do. Consequently, we see that the protection from the sexual abuse of children becomes the default function of a limited government and not a function reserved to an all powerful, unknowable God and his priests. Just as the “honor killing” of sexually promiscuous girls under shari’ah law by their families becomes “murder” under a limited government’s rule of law.
TYRANNY OF THE CORPORATION AS AN EQUAL
Equally disturbing, however, the present U.S. Supreme Court made a long-standing common law assumption—called a “legal fiction”—into an anthropomorphic transformation that created an “individual” under law when it declared all incorporated (pun intended) corporations (a tautology) to be such. (Vide: Citizens United v. U.S. Federal Elections Commission, 558-US-310 ) This may not be metaphysical, but certainly it transubstantiates papers of incorporation into “flesh” under law. What are the consequences of this act to a “limited government?”
The multinational corporation, backed by the full force of the U.S. military might, now assumes that an attack on a corporation is an attack on a U.S. citizen. The Roman Catholic Church imposed this same logic when it enforced the rule, “Any attack against a Christian was an attack against God and willfully unleashed the Crusades against Islam. (Sadly, it took until 1973 to relinquish this curse when the Concordat of Tripoli was signed.)
In terms of the recent national election, corporations were allowed to freely express themselves by using their aggregated wealth to sway voters toward the candidates that they favored. Or so it seemed. The outcome proved less promising than the cynical contributors believed.
In a “free enterprise” economic system, the economy, like religion, operates independently of the government. However, since government prints the currency (The Treasury) and controls its distribution and its proper uses (The Federal Reserve), monetary policy by the government modulates the ebb and flows in the total economy through macro/micro economic policy and theory. Or at least, it used to do that.
Governments and churches around the globe have discovered that their economies no longer respond to their emergency infusions of cash and the lowering of interest rates. Nor do they respond to the moral dictum that man is not a commodity. The intentional manipulation of people for excess profit by the economic vested interests has been revealed in the New Testament, and later by Karl Marx, as unethical.
The euro, unlike the dollar, lacks the structural homogeneity that makes economic policy effective across the whole commercial market. Instead, nations operate within an economic confederation that does not grant full faith and credit to its partners—particularly when they appear to have economically abused the process. What makes the process futile, however, is not the differential degrees of economic prudence, but the alarming fact that an independent financial system has superseded both in wealth and in scale, the nation-states of Europe—yes, including Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. It even threatens to destabilize the eight richest nations and the twenty emerging “wannabe” economic powerhouses. Not to mention, the Roman Catholic Church. How is this possible?
Simply, they control more capital than all these nations combined. Instead of printing money, the investment banks in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States created derivatives—private debt obligations attached to some tangible collateral—e.g., real estate loans, corporate bonds, futures contracts on soybeans, short-sale bets on currency fluctuations, etc..
In short, a financial casino with products of differing value are bundled together and re-issued as gambling “chips” to risk takers. For another commission, bankers cash in their chips to another risk taker, who must show a “profit” to justify his wealth management portfolio. Some hold onto their “chips” as an asset or re-sell them to multiply their profit rating in a global market and unburden themselves of “chips” for cash that has a less dubious value.
Today, $122 trillion of derivatives float in the world’s financial markets.
Like an unlimited government that defines its interests absolutely, the financial system lacks the will to rethink its exposure and instead, threatens national governments with the collapse of their economies to force them to support the global market that they have created. Central Banks consequently keep the interest rates low so that investors who seek greater returns can cull through the maze of derivatives to find “bargains” like collectors seeking value at a “flea market.” What can the average citizen do under such conditions? Ironically, here in front of our eyes, we have options, but they involve local action and not global solutions.
TO REINVIGORATE LIFE AND MAKE PEACE POSSIBLE:
Reverting to the Greek polis—the smaller, city-state—becomes the most viable and sustaining, humane socio-political unit. In this context, the members can redefine how they will live and survive. In the United States, the existing unit that equates with the polis is the electoral precinct, in religion it’s the diocese, in corporations it’s the local community. Reconfiguring them to encompass contiguous areas, embracing shared interests, and consisting of populations of equal size, creates constituencies that are more homogeneously cosmopolitan in urban areas—where the majority of the worlds population now clusters. Consequently, the employment needs, food supplies, water, sewer, electricity, transportation, etc., all take on a relevant, human scale. Corporations who seek to do business within these precincts also must behave as “legal individuals” and relate to the common good, not solely their greatest return on investment. Having formerly defined fellow citizens as “consumers,” corporations now must redefine themselves as “fellow citizens within the polis” and the human individual no longer can be identified as “one who eats it”—a consumer. Together, the corporation and the human individuals become new persons—citizens—that now have reason to expect fairness, justice, equal access and a right to share in benefits that improve community life. Corporations that cannot become fellow citizens, then should be allowed to wither away as unwanted and unneeded organizations that provide a dysfunctional service within the polis. As Voltaire recommended at the end of his epic novel, Candide, when the quest to find El Dorado, the lost city of gold, failed: “We must now all cultivate our own gardens.” We all now must assume the call to establish our own self-reliance and shared self-sufficiency as a community. After all, this resolves our common needs better than an idealized quest, a singular, compulsive drive for greater wealth, and the acceptance of our dependence upon those who shape social reality inequitably for great profits.
An inverted federal social system would look like, and function as a community, not a center of power. Responsible government at the higher level, thus, would have a new basis upon which to define the national self-interest—an aggregate of the “common good.” Accountable to the combined interests of all the constituencies, the leaders who prove themselves incompetent to rule, would be exposed and deposed. Democracy does not exist in fact; government by representatives presumes to substitute for it. The model proposed here provides the means to hold all social institutions accountable—national and state governments, churches and the economic systems. By not consuming whatever they say, preach or sell, human communities cooperating for the “Common Good” enable us to sustain ourselves in a more perfect union.
To achieve the same goals globally, we do not invade others to impose our national model as the norm. Instead, all we need to do is issue citizenship green cards to all immigrants and honor their dual citizenship and passports so if we mistreat them unjustly—without including them in the general well-being—they may abandon us and take their skills, motivation, and creativity to an alternative place where they believe they can achieve their dreams. (More importantly, they enrich us when they return after we restore equal opportunity to all. If they were unable to realize their dreams elsewhere, they return wiser and better. We’ll call this the “Ai Wei Wei Phenomenon.”) To immigrants who have become U.S. citizens, we encourage that they too would receive dual citizenship from their countries of origin, as a matter of our new global nationalism and community based peace initiative. As a city-state, a global polis, Vatican City, should issue passports to all those who claim membership in the koinania of Christ, and seek the blessing of dual citizenship to carry out the humanizing mission that he set in place. All those who apply for dual citizenship retain an advocate from the nation-state in which they are not residing, and become an activist for constructive change in the one where they are living.
When they return to their native land and villages, they know what they want and how to obtain it. All that remains to achieve it is the creation of a limited local government, diocese, corporation that understands the benefit of seeking the common good as a community. It may not be a substitute for war, but it certainly sets a standard that works better than any foreign invasion and massive destruction that war brings in its wake.
Welcome to the Twenty-First Century.
Robert TellanderTop of Page
The plane to Lima was hours late. My brother Dan and I chose to wait outdoors at the Cuzco airport in hopes of thawing out in the winter sunshine. The icy cold and the brilliant sunlight, amplified by the crystalline sky and high altitude, felt bitter and refreshing at the same time. The weather had been unseasonably cold, with temperatures well below freezing and snow recently blanketing the region for the first time in over two decades. We sat down on the chilly base of a giant granite monument to some long-dead war hero, wrapped our already-bundled bodies in alpaca wool scarves, and opened our knapsack in search of a snack.
We always traveled with bananas and oranges in our bag, nature’s original fast foods that come pre-wrapped in their own air-tight waterproof biodegradable packaging. Happily, there was one orange and one banana tucked inside. Dan carefully peeled the orange and divided it into segments. We feasted on this sweet, juicy treat, savoring every bite. The awesome, thrilling, overwhelming events of the past days at Machu Picchu still fresh in our minds, we recounted some of the highlights as we wiped the sticky juice from our hands.
The banana was the next item on our breakfast menu. Dan pulled it out of the bag and laid it on his lap. As he prepared to peel it a man appeared from around the corner.
The man’s tattered clothes were painfully insufficient against the cruel temperature. His dilapidated sandals provided no protection from the freezing ground, and he wore no socks. His weather-beaten, creviced face revealed a genuine smile with only a few teeth. The poorest of the poor, no doubt homeless and hungry, he smiled and greeted us with a polite Buenos dias as he passed by.
Without hesitation, my brother reached out to the man and offered him our last banana. The man graciously accepted. He took the banana and thanked us gleefully. We naturally assumed he was grateful for something to eat, and were puzzled by the fact that he did not immediately devour the banana.
Instead, he turned and walked back around to the other side of the monument where he met two friends. He showed them the banana, explained where it came from, and slowly peeled it. Grateful to have something to share with his friends, he proceeded to divide the banana into three equal parts. Together, all three of them shared one banana. To them, this was a feast! A typical American family’s enjoyment of a grand Thanksgiving Dinner paled in comparison to the appreciation and bliss these destitute men expressed and experienced as they ate their few small bites of this simple fruit. From the laughter and delighted conversation we overheard, they seemed happier and more excited than children opening Christmas presents!
I turned to my brother, who (for the first time in his life) was speechless. Tears welled up in our eyes. In spite of his own desperate hunger, this poor man had offered his friends all the food he had. He valued his friendships more than food. For him, the joy and satisfaction of sharing superseded everything, even his unspeakably dire circumstances.
What we had just witnessed compelled us to reassess and overhaul our attitudes and well-crafted (though often flawed) belief systems about ourselves, other people, dignity, gratitude, abundance, and charity. This nameless man had exquisitely demonstrated the true meaning of paying it forward.
Nothing, not even his own extreme poverty, could obstruct his abundant heart. In a brief moment, by his simple act of untainted generosity this gentle man taught us more about friendship and values than all the sermons and scriptures we had ever heard.
I arrived at school very early that morning. My mission: To completely eradicate all visible numbers from my classroom. For one entire day, no numbers would be seen, spoken, heard, written or referred to by anyone entering this no-numbers zone. Yesterday’s math lesson had focused on positive and negative numbers, the concept of infinity, and other mind-numbing philosophical concepts. Who invented numbers? Who invented math? Why? Some of the fourth and fifth-grade students in this multi-cultural, multi-ethnic public school classroom had expressed their lack of appreciation for mathematics, even going so far as to question why numbers even existed. My task this morning was to attempt to answer their questions and revive their flagging interest in math and numbers in general, by offering them the opportunity to experience an entire school day in a numbers-free environment.
First of all, I covered the wall clock with dark paper. The calendar was removed. Newspapers were stashed away. All references to numbers, including page numbers, volume numbers on books, test scores, row and seat numbers, times, dates, sizes, and even money were removed, covered, erased, or hidden. By the time the morning bell rang, the numbers-free classroom was ready to welcome my eager students.
The children entered excitedly and took their seats. They knew today was the day there would be no math and that was a good thing, or so they thought. The day began with announcements, which proved challenging (and almost useless) with times, dates, grade levels, periods, or other numerical references omitted. Fortunately, Canada has no Pledge of Allegiance, so we were spared the awkwardness of pledging allegiance while leaving out the word one in the phrase “One nation, under God”. Taking attendance was no problem, because every student was present and that could be indicated on the attendance slip with the phrase All Present. However, the student monitor in charge of taking the count for milk and juice (the equivalent of “lunch count”, but without the lunch) ran into difficulty, because the form required tallying the numbers and a total dollar amount. HmmmŠ.what to do? The student monitor walked out into the corridor to record the numbers, then hand-delivered the tally sheet to the office rather than clipping it inside the classroom door.
Teaching presented some challenges. I could not ask the class to turn to a specific page number or give due dates for any assignments. Our class had an on-going contest, with each row a separate team. Points were awarded for good behavior, clean desks, cooperation, positive attitude, improved test scores, completed homework, and a variety of other things. Points were deleted for poor attitude, lack of cooperation, bad behavior, and anything else that might diminish the learning environment. Every two weeks the row with the most points got to choose a particular activity or field trip to enjoy together, with me, at my expense. On this no-numbers day, points were not awarded or deleted. There was no way to keep score without using numbers or things that represent numbers. This disappointed the students, but it was a small price to pay for not having math class that morning!
Time became an issue. Not lack of time, but knowing what time it was and how much time remained before recess, lunch, or next period. The students had no idea how long they had to finish an assignment. (This was in the 1970’s before every kid owned a watch and decades before cell phones were invented, so the wall clock was a necessity in every classroom). Observing their squirmy frustration amused meŠ until I myself became annoyed at the absence of any time-keeping device.
Grading, scoring, testing, recording results ~ all this had to be temporarily tossed out the window because it required the use of numbers in some way. Even the spelling test had to be shelved for another day, as it was impossible to score the number of correctly or incorrectly spelled words. Curriculum options narrowed rapidly. The morning recess bell hadn’t rung yet, and the students and their teacher were running out of ways to handle school life without numbers.
By lunch-time the students asked if they had to endure the remainder of the school day without numbers. They really missed numbers! They begged to have them back. I reluctantly agreed to allow numbers back into our classroom. We uncovered the clock, put the calendar up on the wall, and breathed a deep sigh of relief. The necessity of having time and date as a frame of reference was now understood at a visceral level. The next three hours proceeded more or less as a normal school day, including homework assignments (complete with page numbers to be read and math problems to be solved), due dates, a spelling test, dismissal times, and the ever-popular row contest.
* * *
The next morning a sense of exhilaration filled the classroom. The sight of the clock, calendar, score sheets, textbooks, and the Number Scramble bulletin board matrix puzzle was comforting in an odd sort of way. Life felt more normal somehow. On this day, math became something to celebrate instead of complain about!
The students settled into their seats, and before the class started a hand shot up. Actually, the entire body that the hand belonged to emerged from its seat. Excitedly, Nicholas blurted out “I got it!”
“Got what?” I asked, with a puzzled expression.
The words tumbled over each other as Nicholas answered with conviction and animation. “God is like numbers!” Now I was really confused. Nicholas continued. “God has no beginning and no end. God is infinite. We don’t understand everything about God or about numbers, but we depend on them. Numbers don’t change. Even if we don’t like numbers or believe in them, we still use them. We can’t live our lives without numbers or without God. Our lives won’t work without numbers or without God. Whether we admit it or not, we need numbers. And we need God.”
I was awestruck. My mind and spirit were suddenly illuminated, like the night sky during a summer lightning storm. All I could do was listen speechless, as the students added their own lucid comments to this powerfully simple analogy. I shook my head in amazed agreement.
In that profound moment, a ten-year-old public school student brought to light more about God than any sacred literature, commentary, inspirational book, Bible class, or sermon. Complex theological issues no longer concerned or confused me because now I also “got it”.
Yes, my God is like numbers ~ infinite, eternal, unchanging, invisible, dependable, ever-present, universal, indispensable, absolute, and beyond my full comprehension. I can’t live without Him.
The similarity ends there. God loves me. Numbers don’t.
(This story took place in Kitimat, British Columbia in 1979)
It was a dark and stormy winter night in Hawaii. Tropical breezes had morphed into fierce winds howling and whistling through the jalousie windows, still open a tiny crack even though I had closed them as tightly as I could. Constant rain battered the windows and poured from the roof. I lay alone in bed trying to warm up, a beach towel covering me because I had no extra blankets. I drifted in and out of fitful sleep, unable to fully relax.
No wonder I had trouble relaxing. All of my adult life I have felt responsible for taking care of everyone and everything ~ house, yard, business, pets, pool, family, grocery shopping, cooking, gardening, laundry, sewing, finances, and of course numerous volunteer activities ~ while running a business single-handedly and working at least 60 hours a week. Anything and everything that could be done to save money, I learned to do myself. Cutting my own hair, growing vegetables, sewing a cover for our 22-foot boat, reupholstering the living room furniture, cooking everything from scratch (including beans), mowing the lawn with an old-fashioned push mower, hanging all the clean laundry on a clothesline to dry, washing and waxing my car and my husband’s truck, and countless other activities filled my duty roster.
I enjoyed the learning process and gained great satisfaction doing things myself without hiring outside help or depending on someone else. The part I did not enjoy, however, was that I was expected to do it all myself. A little genuine appreciation would have been appreciated, but no such luck. And hiring outside help was simply not allowed, even when I desperately needed it and funds were available.
I always tried to do my very best and things usually (but not always) turned out fairly well, but I still got a lot of flack because I didn’t do things exactly as my husband thought I should, and I didn’t make “enough” money (although I was the only one working). So I tried harder, worked more, but finally gave up when I realized that nothing I did would ever be enough or good enough.
Well, that’s easier said than done. Decades of living in this mode made it difficult to give up. I had not taken into account that Eldest Daughter Syndrome, a condition unique to eldest daughters regardless of age, holds a permanent grip on my psycheŠ. Some symptoms include an overwhelming feeling of responsibility for everything and an irresistible desire to fix things (and people). An inescapable, non-specific guilt, coupled with not-so-subtle frustration usually emerges when these “repairs” are unsuccessful or less than perfect. This incurable syndrome is never completely outgrown, although in rare cases of divine intervention the symptoms can be brought under control.
So now you know why I was having trouble sleeping soundly. Pounding rain, howling wind, cold weather, a brain with a constantly scrolling to-do list, and eldest-daughter guilt kept me on the edge of sleeplessness most of the night.
In the murky darkness of the early morning, in the hour just before dawn, I awakened with a jolt. Panic-stricken, I suspected the rains had filled the large nine-foot-deep backyard swimming pool. It would only be a matter of minutes before the pool water overflowed and flooded to levels high enough to rise over the threshold and into the kitchen and family room.
I leapt out of bed, threw on a terry-cloth bathrobe, and quickly staggered downstairs and through the kitchen. Sliding open the glass doors, I surveyed the situation as best I could without turning on any lights. I didn’t want to awaken the neighbors. The water had risen almost over the top of the pool and I knew it had to be drained several inches (or even feet). Still half-asleep, I jumped into the deep end of the pool wearing my terry-cloth robe. My plan was to drain the pool by pulling the plug.
What was I thinking?? This was a swimming pool, not a bathtub. Pools can’t be drained by pulling a plug. And I’ve never been able to fully submerge my body without wearing forty pounds of lead weights. The bathrobe made it impossible to swim or sink. Thoroughly soaked and shivering, I ripped off the robe and climbed out of the pool, frustrated and miserable. I had to do something fast. Panic drained what little mental focus I had been able to muster.
Staring into the pool I noticed something very odd. A layer of small dark reddish-brown pebbles thickly covered the entire bottom of the swimming pool. Where did they come from? How did they get there? And how was I ever going to remove them? Being a vinyl-lined pool, the pebbles may have already caused thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Helpless and curious, I stepped into the shallow end of the pool and picked up a few of the pebbles from the bottom.These “pebbles” were not stones, they were kidney beans! Millions of dried kidney beans were now soaking in my swimming pool. Yikes!!!
When beans soak for awhile and the soak water warms up even a little, foam and froth happen. As the water heats up, the froth expands quickly and rises high. Gasses are released and it isn’t pretty. It smells odd. Worse yet, the soaked beans can begin to sprout and the little sprouting ends can puncture the lining, causing thousands of gallons of water to leak out of the pool. Either way, the entire pool would be a disgusting mess and completely ruined.
I was far more worried about the blame than the possible damage. Although I had nothing to do with what was lying at the bottom of the pool, I knew that I would be held accountable. I was the only person staying in the house at the time, as my husband was on the mainland for a lengthy visit with his mother and another woman. Since he quit his job fifteen years ago, I was also saddled with all the financial responsibility. The nagging pressure was taking its toll on me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I could hear it now: If you had been home all the time this would not have happened. You never pay attention. You don’t take proper care of things. It’s all your fault! In my head, I heard his angry voice relentlessly pounding these accusations. Strangled and paralyzed by fear, I knew I was doomed. I silently prayed that he would stay away long enough for me to figure out a way to resolve this impossible situation.
* * *
In the depths of my despair and confusion, an audible voice pierced the condemning noises inside my head. It was my own voice, loud and clear, reminding me of a new reality: I don’t live here anymore, and these are not my beans!
Sunlight streamed through my bedroom window, piercing the chilly morning air. I opened my eyes and realized I actually was in a different house. I crawled out of bed and grabbed my robe, which was hanging in the closet exactly where I had put it the night before. I walked over to the window and looked outside. The storm was subsiding.
Wrapped in my fluffy terry-cloth robe, I hurried out to the back yard. Where was the pool? And where were the beans? Had this all been a dream? It didn’t seem possible. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and gratitude. Waves of peace flooded my spirit. For the first time in years, I felt completely relaxed. I knew I had nothing to fear.
From that morning on, whenever I feel an onset of symptoms of the insidious Eldest Daughter Syndrome, I recall this dream and ask myself two questions: Where am I living?* immediately followed by Whose beans are these, anyway?
*Abide in Me. ~ Jesus Christ (John 15:4)
(Based on an actual incident in January 2003)
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