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Sunday, January 11, 2015


            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


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:


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

(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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Heavy Reading

            I have now FINALLY completed two very long reads: Gabriel García Márquez’ one hundred years of solitude, and Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Embracing Israel/Palestine:A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East.  Reading in these two very different genres at the same time provided challenges of focus for me, but also relief when one book might overwhelm me without having the other for contrast.

            Márquez’ long story of a family in a remote mountain (in the Andes?) in South America was difficult to follow if I tried to keep all the characters straight.  Every generation had similar names, not only for the male lineage, but also for the women in the families.  The founder of the family and the village, José Arcadio Buendía,  and a son, Aureliano Buendía, provide names for multiple descendents through the Arcadio and Aureliano names.   I gave up trying to follow these relationships and simply took delight in the many stories of war and peace, chicanery and loves and sexual activities that were detailed in this lengthy history of the beginning of a village until its destruction a century later.  How Márquez kept the many characters and events straight was indeed a phenomenal achievement.  In fact, his book took a Nobel Prize.  Reading a few chapters at a time was the only way I could manage this voluminous creation, but it was worth the effort.  The humor, the hijinks, the sorrows and tragedies all kept me reading to the end, of over 450 pages.

            In contrast, Rabbi Lerner’s non-fiction study (also around 450 pages) of the disturbing and frustrating relationship between Israel and Palestine, particularly since 1947, held my attention for other reasons.  Lerner’s Network of Spiritual Progressives and his Tikkun Community provide the basis for his current efforts to find a sure path toward healing and community between Israel and Palestine.  In his study of the current situation and a broad historical view leading up to the present, I found this clear account enlightening.  His strategies for healing the relationships between these two people, his detailed steps for ending the terrible conditions that exist for everyone in that land, are a light we could follow successfully if only this effort were realized.

            Reading two books at the same time has become for me helpful in keeping up both with important publications and what I love so much: mysteries and the methods for solving those mysteries.  My current very favorite reading has been with the Canadian author Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series set in Quebec.  I would dearly love to live in Three Pines among all those delightful characters.  Now on the latest of that series I am already sad that another is not waiting in line.  The author recently spent time in Durham, but alas, I was not able to be there to see and hear her.

            Old age is a great time to catch up on the books that were once put aside in deference to required reading for degrees, or for learning skills about writing, or some other Important Reason.  Now I can read what I want, in both Kindle and real book forms.