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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Calling of Other Voices

            When I was finishing high school and looking for a good college or university, my preference was Michigan State University’s School of Journalism.  I wanted to be a journalist, and my work on our school newspaper had convinced me of that calling.  My heart was set on it. My father had other ideas.
            He feared my exposure to radical ideas such as communism, and also had concerns about how far from North Carolina I would be.  He was nearing retirement from the Army Medical Corps and my parents would be moving back to the Old North State soon.  Disappointed in not having such a great opportunity to study journalism at a school known for such, I began searching through the Blue Book of colleges.  Because my boyfriend planned to attend Georgetown University in Washington, DC, I decided to seek a school in Virginia, my mother’s birth state.  Randolph-Macon Woman’s College won the prize and I began my freshman year there, graduating in 1955 with a major in political science and a minor study in English.
            It was at R-MWC that I began writing for the two campus magazines and the newspaper.  I spent my senior year as editor of the newspaper, The Sun Dial.  The experience whetted my appetite for more of the same, and when my husband, daughter, and I settled in Madison, NC after our first home in Bremerhaven, Germany with the US Air Force, I found the opportunity.  The Madison Messenger and papers in nearby cities took my feature articles.  I wrote a column in the local paper as well.  I loved writing about interesting people and also helped husband Charlie with articles on Madison’s history for a publication honoring the town’s sesqui-centennial.  It was a fulfilling time that I could manage while at the same time caring for our four children as they grew up.
            At some point, however, my direction changed and I became deeply involved in the life of our local Presbyterian church.  The effort eventually led me to seek ordination at a time when women were barely recognized for such leadership.  Before I began that journey, graduate studies in English at UNC Greensboro broadened my understanding of literature and enhanced my writing skills.  The latter became important as I worked on church newsletters wherever I found a chance to minister.  I also became extremely active in women’s organizations that supported opportunities for leadership in many fields, and my choice was to serve as a chaplain in hospital and hospice settings.  Writing sermons, a challenging genre, occupied much of my creative efforts.
            Retirement provided opportunities to consider other possibilities.  I began working seriously with different genres: poetry, varieties of prose, letters to the editor on political and social issues, and eventually managed to publish some books.  Two are by a small press in Maine, the rest self-published by a North Carolina company.  Included are poems, a collection of stories about a small town, and stories of children in WWII and of rescued pets.  The latter two books are closer to my former journalistic efforts. 
            What now?   Well, I think another path is calling me: some form of feature writing about interesting people and events.  I don’t know how that will materialize, but I see myself headed along other directions in my writing, part of which will include my blog page.  Watch this blog for further news.
                                                      

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Alligators!



            I like alligators.  I respect alligators.  After seeing how they surround our national government, however, how they are up to our President’s knees at times, don’t ask me to befriend them.   To make friends with alligators at the same time I keep my distance from them seems to be an impractical relationship.

            Alligators lurk in many places.  Once they showed up in a church that I served.  Circling, menacing, snapping . . .  They hissed falsehoods and sang old songs no one knew.  They are kin to crocodiles, and some might mistake one breed for the other.  Both are dangerous to keep around as pets.  When they are let loose in a congregation, the dangers last long after their audition, and leave their wounds, which then leave scars, and then bad memories.  When they began to circle me, I tried to play nice, say kind words to them, and pet their knobby heads.  Almost lost a few fingers with that last attempt.   

            It’s best to avoid alligators in churches.  There they tend to be even more deadly, and can destroy everyone who is present.  My own efforts to befriend them resulted in their becoming even more destructive.  I learned finally to get out of there and find safe haven elsewhere.  The ancient church alligator grinned a huge toothy smile of joy upon my departure.  I later learned that it consequently attacked the congregation, with the help of a bevy of younger beasts.  Stay away from churches that nurture alligators.  They are bad news.

            As for alligators in swamps, when they remain in their natural habitats I have no complaints.   


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Woman Who Never Died


            It was difficult enough to outlive her children.  To watch them die from illness, or accidents, or old age.  How intolerable  to witness her grandchildren and great-grandchildren die while she lived on . . . never to die. 

            When she was still a girl, she had said out loud, but to herself, “I wish I could live forever.  I wish I could see how the world changes, and how life turns out for everything in it.”  What she did not notice was the presence of the Wish Spirit who had lingered over her that day, listening to her wishes, as the Spirit does for everyone.  The Spirit then chooses whether to grant or deny wishes she hears.  The reasons need not be specified, whether about longevity or good and evil, or even human sexuality.  Thus the Wish Spirit hovers over all the living at some time or another, to hear our desires.  She has the power to choose which ones to bring about.

            This time the Spirit made a vital decision, perhaps as an experiment, in granting the wish of that woman, who at the time was young enough yet to experience much of what life might hold for her.  What the rest of us have yet to find out, however, is what this young woman discovered simply because she made a wish that we too may have uttered at some time. The difference is that the Wish Spirit has not yet granted our wishes but has done so with the woman who once was young and now is ageless.  Her name is Evelina.  She will live forever.

            We don’t know with certainty when she entered into human life.  Her birth records were destroyed in a fire long ago.  Nor do we know how long eternity will last.  We can see Evelina only as we experience her presence in our current lives.  We can wonder how she relates to the fact of death as she is witness to it in times of war, disaster, illness, or accidents or other kinds of destruction of human life.  Her memory is intact. She has not been through any diseases or illnesses that would cause her death.  What we cannot know or predict is when, and if, her human life comes to an end.

            The question: “Is Evelina satisfied with the result of her wish for life forever?  Does she consider eternal life to center solely upon existence as she is now: a living human being who, like all, is fully flesh and blood?”

            What, dear Reader, would you choose for your own life?  Eternity of human existence?  A time that your life in the flesh will end, whether from age or ill health or violence?  Think about Evelina and how she has discovered the power of a wish.  Do you envy her?  


Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7, 1941: Honolulu, Hawaii

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the day the United States was launched into World War II.  It was a surprise to all but those who were expecting an an act of war against our country.  The date itself turned out to catch even the military at Pearl Harbor unaware, when Japanese planes bombed the Naval base on Sunday morning, December 7.  President Roosevelt was to give that day a name: the Day of Infamy.
I will give an account of that time as it affected me and my family, from this excerpt from my book, Rachel’s Children: Surviving the Second World War (All Things That Matter Press, 2010).   It is found on pages 9-10 of the book.

“Children in American territories joined their counterparts around the world, by spending the next few years in a climate of war and its accompanying horrors.  It was not a time of glory, no matter how many patriotic speeches would be delivered, no matter how many inspiring songs were sung and encouraging prayers offered.  It was instead, a time of war.

“My own experience as an eight-year-old in Honolulu was shared with classmates many times after my mother, brother and I returned to the “mainland.”  My father remained in Hawaii where he was a pathologist with the Army Medical Corps.  After the attack, he was to continue his service as Commanding Officer of the North Sector Tripler General Hospital.  He remained at that post until the end of the war, when he was assigned to the Army hospital at Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY.  By then I was in grade 7B at Public School 104, and wrote an essay duringthat time about my experience of the December 7th day in Hawaii.”

From a poem in my book:

            Black smoke on a Sunday morning,
            planes appear from the sea
            to interrupt the December weekend.
            Sirens scream through streets
            indiscriminate of homes and buildings
            where Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian
            and wahine neighbored.  Church bells
            call worshipers to services while whine
            of bullets and flash of light accent
            the morning bright with hope transformed
            into fearful surprise.
           



Monday, October 13, 2014

What's On My Plate

This is one of those details of how I did my most recent chip carving piece, a plate.  

Here is the first step: getting the pattern on to the wood:  there are various methods of copying that pattern.




Now to begin the actual carving.  There are knives designed especially for this.





Then you keep on until the whole pattern has been carved.



Now you are ready to finish it up by adding a stain and then spraying on a polyurethane finish, and  you have this:




There are other ways to do this, but this is the process I use.  The most beneficial aspect of carving is first the therapeutic process of carving, and then the pleasure of giving your finished work to someone else, or have it displayed somewhere in your own place.  Many relaxing hours are the effect.  I studied this with Wayne Barton, a master carver who comes regularly to the Brasstown Folk School.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rainbow

Charlie's brother, Leigh Rodenbough, died two weeks ago, on September 21, at the age of 90.  A retired attorney, he went full time into his art after years of finding a moment here and there to spend time with a canvas during his law practice.  His work was remarkably beautiful, showing his love for nature and his children and grandchildren.  Seascapes were dominant for the former Naval officer, who spent World War II on ships.  He also loved clouds, farm scenes, wooded areas, trees, rivers and skies.  My favorites were the scenes from nature.

The evening of funeral visitation, his new work of art was the absolutely beautiful double rainbow visible from the the funeral home in Madison.  It was stunning, and viewers were convinced Leigh was once more plying his art, this time with the canvas of the heavens.  I was moved to put the experience into a poem:

                                                 RAINBOW

 “This is what all art strives for: the creation of a living permanence.”  John  O’Donohue


Rainbow
(for Leigh Rodenbough – 1924-2014)

                              sea foam, star, cloud of  clear puff
                              or dark edges, they caught his eye
                              and found homes on canvas

                              old barns, woodlands, river scenes
                              on the Dan and Mayo, leafy trees,
                              mountain views, autumns of clear sky

                              boats that sail, ships that cross seas,
                              each trusting waves to bear their weight,
                              small craft lead the way, sing lake poems

                              shores with children shaping sand                                    
                              into castles as sea water fills holes
                              a sand crab scrambles seeking safety
                              while shovels work their artistry

                              it comes to us framed, the artist’s gift
                              to tell us the story he learned from ages
                              of study and the glory of light:
                              a rainbow that carries the love he sends
                              arcing over skies but touching earth



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Jesuslove in an Alien World


            A recent issue of Christian Century takes a second look at the book Resident Aliens, as viewed 25 years later.  The authors, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, were former professors of mine during my sojourn at Duke Divinity School.  Commentaries by a number of current theologians, church leaders and seminary professors critique the book in light of our own time.  Some find it wanting, others see its continued relevance.

            The book defines resident aliens as Christians who stand apart from the common culture, in communities which consider themselves unaligned with the state but instead are the church in its broader scope: as witness against the state or society on occasion.  As assessed by the authors, they were part of the counterculture.  Today as I stand outside that time, I wonder how we as Christians can remain in the alien fold, when it is more likely that the world around us is alien and we have become part of the culture that surrounds us.

            Our measure is Jesus.  Did he represent the culture of his day or the counterculture?  As I consider the matter, I realize that Jesus was actively political.  He stood squarely against the injustices of the Roman rule, the discrimination against women in his society, the needs of the poor and the sick who did not have access to the health care of that time, and the society of rank, which marked the boundaries between the wealthy and the poor, as well as including the economic needs of those between those two categories.  Today we label them the middle class.

            To follow the teachings of Jesus calls for us to live in a world that is alien to Christian practices.  We are not the aliens, we are the inhabitants of an alien society, when we try to show love to others in a way imitating Jesus’ love.  To remove the barriers that we cannot breach is a daunting effort.  The discoveries of what I call Jesuslove among those we condemn as undeserving because of their failures defines one way we can carry that love with us to the alien world surrounding us. 

We are all failures in some manner, yet so was Jesus.  He failed to follow the religious laws when human need interfered.  He failed to acknowledge the power of the Roman rule over his people.  Yet the failures were the very factors that brought forth his love for others.  He dared to include the fallen of society, and declared himself on a mission to bring the Creator’s love to everyone.  The result was to be punished severely for such efforts.  He visited the sick and restored life to those believed to be dead.  In the last chapters of his story, he overcame even his own death at the hands of an evil power.  The aliens did not win then, nor will they do so ever, because what is lasting is the kind of love no one can adequately define.  We do know, however, that it is most powerful in an alien world, the world we live in.