Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Malaise and other History Lessons

It is a pleasant fall night, the sky deep and an unseasonably warm moist wind streaming from the south.  I'm coming down around the big bend in US highway 63 through the limestone road cuts onto the Missouri River bottom under the darkening brows of the overhanging bluffs. I cannot see the autumnal blaze of the maples and oaks, but I know the hues of a Missouri fall still remain on the hillsides.  It is one of my favorite stretches of road; my trusty vehicle swoops out of the forests onto the plain.  As I have done since I was a child, I look for the glow of our glorious state dome floating above the spans of the Missouri river bridges; it has always been a beacon for the home stretch of a journey.

Wasn't always that way.  Back in a previous period of anxiety, of turmoil, chaos, and upheaval in the Mideast, of insecurity, doubt, and apprehension in the United States, the Missouri State Capitol and other public buildings went dark as part of a campaign to conserve energy championed by none other than the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.

The late '70s and particularly the year 1979 is back in the public spotlight this fall. The events of 1979 seemed far less dated and more topical to Blake and me than the dark rimmed plastic eyeglasses and long hair of the characters in 'Argo'.  We remember the first Nightline (with Ted Koppel) the news show born of the Iranian hostage crisis and a harbinger of the all news, all the time cable networks yet to come.  We watched from our living room in Tarkio in the house we bought after Ann was born in the summer of '80.  But we saw Jimmy Carter give his 'crisis of confidence' speech in the tiny little house in the bottom in 1979, with the image flickering on the screen as the rooftop antenna swayed in the unremitting wind.  The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan; the Iranians burned our flags; inflation measured 11 percent while unemployment was stuck at 7.5 percent.  The ugly word 'stagflation', coined during Nixon's presidency, reappeared in the papers.  We were a young family watching our savings wither under banana republic type inflation; we decided to buy that house in Tarkio because we couldn't foresee a time when land prices and interest rates would be affordable for folks like us.

I can't tell you I remember every detail like it was yesterday.  But I do recall, and quite vividly, the general despondency of Americans that year, the feeling of disconnect, impotency, frustration and even anger with our situation domestically and overseas. Despite effort, exhortation, and example, the economy tilted into an energy 'crisis'.  What do I remember from 1979?  I remember being told to 'make do with less', that solving our energy problems amounted to the 'moral equivalent of war'.  For instance, from the 1979 'crisis of confidence' speech: 
I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.
I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
When efforts to rescue the hostages left images of burning helicopters imprinted on our television screens, it only served to emphasize the inadequacy of all things American.  The piece' de resistance' of this spiral was the black comedy skit filmed from afar of our President beating off a 'killer rabbit' swimming toward him on a Georgia lake.  Was it any wonder we felt infected by 'malaise'?

I heard a podcast today with a segment focused on 'bad' presidents.  Herbert Hoover and Woodrow Wilson were held up as examples: one because of protectionism and his inability to keep the people's faith during the darkest days of the Depression even as he threw program after program into the fray, the other because he refused to admit his idealistic schemes and plans based on crystallized academic theorizing simply didn't work with real people representing real national interests. The people simply wouldn't behave as he believed they ought.  

We voted in that election in 1980; Blake and I stayed up way past our bedtime watching the results after the girls were tucked in their beds.  Perhaps polling has improved, or all that media is gathering more data; all I know is that we were not alone in our astonishment at the results of that election.  It wasn't just that Mr. Reagan won; it was the toppling of seemingly safe incumbents in the Senate from sea to shining sea.  It was the out and out upsetting of the apple cart as America looked into the dark tunnel of malaise and shrinking and making do and said, Thanks but no thanks.

Jimmy Carter spoke these words in his Inaugural speech:
"We have learned that more is not necessarily better, that even our great nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems."[2]

And on January 20, 1981 Ronald Reagan used this text:
"We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter--and they are on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They are individuals and families whose taxes support the Government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet but deep. Their values sustain our national life.
I have used the words "they" and "their" in speaking of these heroes. I could say "you" and "your" because I am addressing the heroes of whom I speak--you, the citizens of this blessed land. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this administration, so help me God.

Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic "yes." To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I have just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Let the Little Children Come

Home is more than three dimensions; time is of its essence.
We carry it with us as memory.
 Our corner of the Midwest is beautiful for those who can appreciate a landscape of subtle textures and harmonious hue, if one can overlook the periodic weather tantrums and months of Andrew Wyeth gray.
But never more so than after frost has sharpened the treeline, leaving branches bare and muffling the greening pastures with scarlet.

The church with the big white roof on the edge of town is home to my family.  The sanctuary has covered us during weddings, baptisms, Live Nativities, near sublime cantatas and near chaotic Vacation Bible schools. As behooves a gathering place for fallen man, it is forgiving of rambunctiousness, crayons in the pews, an occasional sucker, and other vagaries in behavior by those our Savior specifically welcomed in Matthew 19:14. " Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

The little children will be coming out of the woodwork on Sunday when parents, grandparents and other generous sorts open their trunks and hand out treats.  We'll fill the sanctuary with songs and silliness when the same sugar stoked kids practice the upcoming Christmas program.  And, before the afternoon is over, the church will empty into its backyard, where kids and helpers will carve letters into plump orange pumpkins, then march them out to the front yard, where they will be assembled into a coherent verse and brightly illuminated for all passers by.

I feel particularly rooted when I leave church, whether its after a service or taking the trash out to the dumpster after a pancake feed.  The vista from the parking lot is a microcosm of our lovely country.  Just behind the church is a cow pasture, the inhabitants of which have provided diversion and entertainment for little people ever since our church replaced the stained glass windows with clear glass.  Beyond the pasture is Tarkio Home Cemetery where family, friends, and forebears rest and we remember.  The bin site and elevator of what I still want to call Tarkio Pelleting is as close to a manmade skyline as we can muster on this rural prairie, but the rolling loess rises gently off the Tarkio River bottom east of town.  
This is the same vista we saw the stormy November day of Blake's grandmother's funeral and the boisterous April day Lee and Ryan married....the cows, the cemetery, the elevator below and the fields beyond.  In a couple of weeks, I'll look over that view after Aaron is baptized Sunday morning.

But today, there won't be time.  Today we'll carve pumpkins and corral kids and hand out treats. As silence falls again on the parking lot, the pumpkins will beam out a message straight from the little children Jesus loves.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Risen with Healing in His Wings

When you can't fix it......

Be silent, sit back and wait for prayer to come.

Give God a chance to show His mercy.

Meditate on James 1:2-4....Trials and Temptations
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Arm your faith with perseverance, trusting that God will not let you alone, will not send you down an unmarked trail without provision, without guidance, without map.

Daniel 3:16-18
New International Version (NIV)
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[a] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

If everything were easy, if every request were granted, if every wish were fulfilled, if every endeavor succeeded, we would not be grateful.  We would accept happiness as our due and not as grace granted and unearned.  Real thankfulness is achieved through what we name as adversity and God calls testing of our faith.

"We don't appreciate how good we have it" is not a truism, it is an inseparable part of being human. Like Mt. McKinley, our true happiness is glimpsed but briefly if we are separated from our Guide.

Close your eyes and wait for God's answer.

Matthew 11:28-30
New International Version (NIV)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

'Lean on me, When you're not strong, I'll take your hand, I'll help you carry on.' says the song.  Says our Lord.  We cannot succeed on our own; we cannot bear even our own burdens, much less those of our loved ones.  We are dishonest and misguided if we believe we can.  We are strongest when we lean on our Brother's stick or arm or shoulder....we can only be a lifeline if He holds the rope.

'For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

Malachi 4:2
'"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.

Monday, October 15, 2012

One Fine Day.....or The Game is Worth the Candle

"Maybe move out of the city, find some quiet little town
Where you can sit out on your back porch step
And watch the sun go down....
Call it chance baby, call it fate
Either one is cause to celebrate
And the question now is why would you wait
Don't be late for your life"
Mary Chapin Carpenter

 Some people dream about streets paved with gold
Only to find a yellow brick road
We know the way that story goes...Matraca Berg

Out here on the edge love dares us to try
 Baby, some people fall but some people fly
And baby, love has no fear leap
And a net will appear....Matraca Berg
Yeah ladies love outlaws like babies love a bunch of stray dogs
Ladies touch babies like a banker touches gold....
Waylon Jennings

 You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
The Beatles

Psalm 127: 3-5
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.