Sunday, June 16, 2019

Quiet


I've just come into the house after spending 20 minutes or so out on the back patio. It's cloudy out, cool, and recently rained. I wasn't out long before I started trying to identify the sounds I was hearing. I was especially interested in doing this, because we spent most of yesterday evening at a wedding and after-celebration that just seemed to get louder and louder as the evening wore on. I was really enjoying the quiet out back.
In the few minutes I sat there with my eyes closed, I heard the faint sounds of a train whistle (the nearest tracks are several miles away), an aircraft taking off from the nearby Eisenhower Airport, a very faint, low-frequency rumble from the direction of the airport that I never could identify (just above the threshold of hearing), an evening dove, a cardinal, the occasional shriek or noise of kids playing down the street, a dog barking far away, the occasional goldfish jumping at the surface of the backyard pond, quiet conversation of hikers or walkers on the path in the park just behind the house, once-in-a-while vehicle noise...but not loud, and my own breathing.
It is fascinating to me how many sounds one can pick out when in a quiet place and is intent upon listening. It's also a reminder to me that there are times to be in a noisy place, and there are also times to be in a quiet place...and to quiet one's mind and heart and understand what is surrounding me.
I don't know about you, but the older I get, the more I like to just sit and listen. Sit and meditate. Sit and think. Sit and be quiet. No phone. No TV. No music. Just quiet. Just me by myself. We have enough time in the day when we are busy with something else. We have constant bombardment of television, movies, music, and general noise...both environmental and otherwise. We need to rest our ears. We need to calm down our brains. We need to just be quiet for awhile.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Blessings


It has been both a busy time post Memorial Day, plus it has been a time for great reflection on some things that are often overlooked in a life of busy-ness and the Internet.
We have taken time off, the two of us, to sit our six grand kids so their parents can take a much-needed vacation…just the two of them.  They went to Miami, Florida and had a great time there doing the things people do in that part of the world.  We were at home with the six kids, doing what people do when they are thrust into that kind of environment.
We gave them back to the parents a week ago yesterday.  We finally got the house back in order last Saturday by cleaning, washing, carrying out trash, and all of the other things we needed to do with 8 people occupying the house for the week prior.
We also learned of the passing of our niece Robyn, and made several trips to see the family.  We went last Wednesday afternoon, and the wife made a trip by herself to be with her sister, Robyn’s mom, the next day.  Sunday we went to the “viewing,” and Monday was the funeral.
Of course, being off work for that amount of time resulted in lots of sticky notes on my desk that I only this morning got cleared.
Catching up on the goings-on of the church organism was another thing that I just now am getting back up to speed.  And in the middle of all of this we had an adjuster take a look at our slightly hail-damaged roof and are having our car’s windshield replaced due to a crack that developed due to hail damage.  The car itself seems to be fine otherwise; it just is an additional thing…the repair of the hail damage and the adjuster…that we have to include in the schedule.
So, what to make of all of this?  Most of what we have been working with in the past couple of weeks has been first-world.  That is, the problems that we’ve faced are a result of living in the middle class culture of a first-world nation.  Had we been living in some other culture, much of what we’ve dealt with (except the death of Robyn) would not have been an issue.  Of course, there would have been other issues that we would have to have worked with, such as clean water, something to eat for the day, or some kind of illness and no health care for hundreds of miles.
Sometimes, we complain about our circumstances, but fail to appreciate the blessings that are also part of those circumstances.  The blessing of healthy grand kids.  The blessing of a house that is large enough for 8 to be there comfortably.  The blessing of transportation that is comfortable, convenient, and available.  The blessing of family and friends.  The blessing of knowing Jesus Christ.  The blessing of a church family who loves us.
All of these and more are blessings from God Himself.  We dare not disparage them, complain about them, or look disdainfully at any of them; rather we need to give God thanks for those things He has provided in abundance.
And so I do that just now, and ask that you take a moment to reflect as well on the blessings that come your way each moment of each day.  Praise be to God for His bountiful grace and mercy.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Memorial Day


Memorial Day is coming up yet again.  It seems that the months fly even more quickly than they did just a few short years ago.  Some of our Memorial Days in Kansas have been hot and sticky.  Others have been so cold, rainy, and dreary that we had to wear coats.  And a few others have been, as the old nursery tale suggests, “Just right.”
This holiday is a time for many to go to the lake or the beach and soak in some time off from work and the grind.  For others, it is a time of reflection on their friends and loved ones who have served (or are serving) in the military.  For still others, it is a time to visit the cemetery and reminisce about relatives and friends who have passed on into the next life.
For us, it’s a time for all of that in some form or another.  We make the annual trips to the various cemeteries where our relatives and friends are interred.  We place flowers and French gardens near the stones.  We also usually get together for a time of fun with family.  And we remember those of our number who have, and continue to serve.  It truly is a time for reflection for the Plank and Vincent families.
“Coming from a Mennonite pacifist background,” you might ask, “How can you celebrate those in military service?”
Fair question.  Sometimes people change their perspective, and in so doing change their opinions regarding such things.  I never believed, and still don’t believe, that the military and I would have gotten along very well.  It isn’t for everyone, and it wasn’t for me.  Thankfully, I received a high lottery number, and didn’t have to serve in any way, although I would have if called, to the best of my ability.
I wasn’t lazy.  I did find other ways to serve society.  EMS was a good fit for me for many years.  And I served civically as well in city government, Lions Club, and other endeavors.
But for those for whom the military is a good fit, there may be no better way to obtain an education, develop a lot of maturity quickly (read that “grow up”), and serve society.  I am in awe of those who serve in this way.  And I support them wholeheartedly.
So, whatever you do this Memorial Day weekend, take some time to celebrate the holiday as it was intended.  Remember.  Be thankful.  Support.  The lakes in the Plains states are overflowing anyway this year, so a trip to the lake is probably not in the cards.  Try something different.  You might just find a new tradition to keep.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Rossini Revisited


Today as I was coming back into work, I had the pickup radio on Radio Kansas, the public station out of Hutchinson.  I didn’t pay much attention to what was playing in the first few seconds, but a sliver of the classical piece that was on caught my ear after a minute or so.  Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” was playing, and was in about the middle of the piece.  I immediately turned the volume up to max and set in to enjoy the piece all the way in to work.
The Cincinnati Orchestra didn’t disappoint.  The work stirs up more than just musical emotions in those of us old enough to remember old radio and TV shows.  As you may well know, the final movement of the work is the theme of the old Lone Ranger shows.  And when I hear the overture, I think of that relationship and all that goes with it.
In 2006, I had a similar experience with the overture and wrote a blog post about it.  I’m repeating that post here, as I cannot say it better than what I did 13 years ago when we lived in Topeka.  Here is that post.
When in the pickup going somewhere, I usually am tuned to a public radio station.  In this area, it’s KPR from the Kansas University campus.  I can also receive Radio Kansas out of Hutchinson, as they have a transmitter in the Manhattan area.  Public radio is so much better than the drivel of 100 commercial stations all vying for my ear.  Does that mean I’m getting old?
I was coming back from a “pastoral” visit today and was tuned to KPR.  They started the Overture to William Tell by Rossini.  As I listened, I saw that I would arrive home before it was over, so I pulled into a parking lot in a public park, under some shade, and listened to the rest of the overture.
I know that much guffawing, many jokes, and a lot of fun has been poked at the overture, as it is the basis for a lot of the old cartoon background music, and was the theme song of the old series, “The Lone Ranger.”  But as I listened to it…all of it…I sort of came to a different point of view.
Yes, I recall the cartoons and the TV shows (I’m not old enough for a lot of radio).  I know the Ranger was an extraordinary shot, always shooting the gun out of the bad guy’s hand, but never wounding him.  I know that he always managed to rescue Tonto as well as the people in distress (often children), and that he never wanted thanks for his work.
But I was also drawn back in my mind to a simpler time both in my life and in the life of our society; when it seems right was right and wrong was wrong; when decency and morality meant something other than as fodder for ridicule; when heroes were indeed heroes, worthy of emulation; when funny was funny, when entertainment was just that, and when times were more innocent.
I’m grateful to Rossini for his composition.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Helpers


These past few weeks have been a little more trying than most recently. And the thing is, not much of what has happened has happened directly to me or to my wife. Here's a summary.
Two weeks ago mynephew, the Rice County Sheriff, was shot in the leg trying to apprehend a scofflaw. His deputy was injured more severely. They are both on the road to recovery. A week ago four of my grand kids along with their dad were involved in a head-on collision. The Prius did its job in protecting them, and they came away with scratches and aches. The other driver was arrested at the scene for DUI at the 7:30 AM crash scene. My niece, who has been battling cancer for the past two years, was placed on hospice care and is expected to succumb to the illness in the next few days to weeks. She's in her mid-50's
Those are the big ones. Then there are the little things. The continual battle with allergies and vertigo. The press of the work of an Elder in the church. Church family members having surgeries, discovering cancer, and undergoing tests and further treatment. Other church family members having domestic issues, child issues, or blood family issues. It's a never-ending cycle, it seems.
I sometimes feel a little like the Apostle Paul (although in no way do I claim to be the person he was in life), when he said that he had a continual burden for the churches in II Corinthians 11. Paul had his own issues, but seemed to concentrate his prayers and concern not for himself, but for those who did not know Jesus Christ, and also for the churches he helped establish.
Life is sometimes difficult. One's own physical limitations, a sapping of emotional strength, the inability to be everywhere one is needed, and obligations one has for one's own family and life make life and living rough in spots. Were it not for the spiritual strength that comes from a relationship with the God of Heaven, it may well be unbearable at times.
I don't mean to take anything away from those who are suffering from disease, injury, or mental illness. I don't mean to be cavalier about domestic troubles, issues with family, or mental health issues. Those are very real, very tangible evidences of the fallen state of the creation. And people suffer, greatly, because of it.
Then there are those who are on the periphery of some of these events. I often find myself there in my work and life. We pray. We agonize. We comfort. We aid and help. We do what we can, even though it almost never seems to be enough, or even helpful at times. There is a real burden on the helpers as well. It wears. It is stressful. It is indeed a burden.
Thank God for those who will stand with those who are suffering from cancer, liver disease, mental illness, marital issues, job loss, and a host of other ailments in this modern culture and life. To suffer alone has to be one of the worst things anyone could do. If you are a helper, be compassionate. Be there. Be available. Be a prayer warrior.
And if you are one who is suffering, know that others are going on the journey with you. And if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, know that He is beside you as well.
This has been a difficult blog to write. I didn't want to minimize the suffering that people go through in life; yet I also wanted all to know that there are others who walk on the journey of suffering with them, and suffer in their own way. Praise God that there will come an end to the suffering, the pain, and the loss.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It's That Simple


At RiverWalk, we have a rather eclectic group of men who stay under our drive-up canopy overnight.  We also have guys that camp out by the dumpster, behind a bush, and out on the front lawn.  These guys are some of the homeless on the streets of Wichita.  Many of them are semi-permanent residents of this part of town.  Some show up for a day or two and then move on.  Once in a while I have to tell someone that they are no longer welcome on church property due to the mess they leave or for some other reason.  And rarely, we have to call in the police or the ambulance to take care of a specific situation.
I’ve gotten to know several of the frequent or long-term guests on our property.  Rick, Brian, Mike, and others appear to be decent individuals who have chosen, for whatever reason, to spend their time on the street.  They see that the property is cleaned up when people camp out, maintain some order and peace, and generally look after the church building and the grounds.  They’ll tell me if someone is a troublemaker or doesn’t clean up after themselves so I can send them on their way.  They see to it that whenever there is an event or meeting at the church building, they and the others are out of sight, because they know that most people aren’t used to the homeless and have a fear of the unknown.
In return, the church allows them to stay under cover.  We allow them to use the restroom facilities when needed, and can provide some simple food items from time to time.  We keep their personal property in our building for a couple of hours should they need to leave it for some reason.
But more than that, and I think most importantly, we provide them with a sense of dignity and no judgment.  We treat them like human beings.  We sit with them from time to time on the river bank at the back of the building and just visit on a nice evening.  We ask about their welfare.  We listen.  We interact.
Yes, the odor is sometimes not the most pleasant.  No, we don’t ever expect that they will attend worship services (although some have).  Yes, we hold no illusions that we will be able to somehow get them a house and two-car garage.  And No, they don’t always use the best and finest language when they visit with us.  We just serve.
We have a few simple guidelines that they, for the most part, respect.  No alcohol or illegal drug use while on the premises.  Clean up after yourself (you’re welcome to use our dumpster).  Don’t use our yard as a bathroom.  Take any fighting, carousing, or other disruptive activity somewhere else.  And I believe they respect us enough that these guidelines are pretty much followed.  They know that if they mess it up, and we know about it, they’ll be told to move on.
This is, in a real way, the meeting of two cultures—the middle class with the homeless.  The homeless culture is not the poverty culture.  It is not the low-income culture.  It is its own culture with its own norms, standards, and customs.  And those of us in the middle class culture can no more truly understand the homeless culture than we can the culture of the Mayan Indian tribes until we put in some effort to learn about it from those who are part of it and those who know that culture through study and observation.
Our effort to “help” those in this culture to become “normal” like us is doomed to failure unless and until we make the effort to see, hear, and understand.  Our attempts to “normalize” them will be fraught with failure unless we see them as human beings, hear their stories, and understand their way of life (at least to some degree).
Many do not wish to make the leap into a different culture.  Many have been in the middle class and decided, for whatever reason, that the middle class is not for them.  Some do not have the capability or capacity, intellectually or emotionally , to make the decisions necessary to leave that culture and enter into another.
So, what to do?  Love them.  It’s really that simple.  Not always easy, but simple.  Try it.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

A Wondrous Creation


Often, especially in the spring and fall, as I go on the streets of Wichita, I see people running. Many times these people are young people anywhere in age from 8 to 28. I presume that some are running just for the exercise. Others, especially school-age young people, may be running to get or stay in condition for track, softball, or some other school sport. And each time I see someone like that, I remind myself that I once was able to do the same thing in as effortless of a manner as these people are seemingly running.
They go along the walk, the path, or at the side of the street in an effortless sort of way, some of them with a rather good kick, and others in it for the long haul. Their bodies are in shape, muscles toned, and coordination at its best. They seem to be enjoying what they are doing, often running in a small group, talking to one-another as they run.
I then wonder if they truly appreciate what their body is able to do for them. The fact that they can be upright, running, remaining balanced, and burning enough calories to provide the energy they need for what they are doing. Their muscles work in coordination with hundreds of other individual parts of their body, propelling them along. And all the while, their brain is working both consciously and sub-consciously, regulating everything from heartbeat to blood sugar level, and giving them a sense of presence and consciousness while it looks out for oncoming traffic and other dangers.
At my age, there are some things that I can no longer do, and other things that it would be best if I didn't do. Oh, I know that if I put my mind to it, got more in shape physically and emotionally, and did the proper training, I could give running a decent effort. But I have to wonder if even that is something I might want to think twice about, given my impaired sense of balance, the constant tingling in my feet (not diabetic neuropathy...had it checked out), and arthritic joints. Maybe it's better if I stick to the 20 to 30 minutes of mostly-daily walking and the occasional work in the yard and let the younger people enjoy the hard stuff.
Yet, I am grateful even for what I am able to do. Yes, my body is wearing thin and wearing out. But I can still function at a reasonable level, both physically and mentally. And on those days when things are a bit worse, I need to continue to be grateful for a body that mostly works, and does what it needs to do to get me through the day. Headache or not, achy joints or not, dizziness or not, I have had, and continue to have use of a wondrous creation of God.
No, I'm not 16 years old anymore. I don't run the 1500 meters (used to be the mile) any more. Nor do I jump from heights above my head and land on my feet anymore. But I do what I can do, and praise the Maker of Heaven and Earth for each day He gives me.

Friday, April 26, 2019

A Wondrous Gift


On my way to work this morning, I stopped by a branch of the bank we use to get some cash out of the account.  I like to carry some cash, and usually get a “refill” every couple of weeks on payday.  And, as I like to have tens rather than all twenties, I go into the bank rather than use the ATM.
After greeting the security guard, who held the door open for me, I entered the building.  I stopped at the only window that had a teller.  Ashley (not her real name) was “manning” the station.  After a greeting, I told her I wanted some cash out of the account and prepared to swipe my card.  She looked at her computer screen and told me she would have to re-login as something had kicked her off of the system.  In trying to log in, she got an error message which wouldn’t let her log in.
While she was trying to fix the problem, she apologized to me for the wait.  I told her in the most cheery voice I could muster at that time of day (I’m not a morning person), “It’s OK.  I’m not in any hurry.”  And I just casually waited.  There was another teller in the building, but he was helping a customer at the drive-in window.
Ashley told me that she was re-booting the computer, and that it was being slow.  We had a brief conversation about the Windows platform the bank was using (Windows 7), and a little about the weather.  Finally, the other teller was finished at the drive-up window and helped me at another station.
On my way out, I checked in with Ashley.  She said, “It’s working!”  I responded with something I can’t even recall now and gave her a thumbs-up.  I then thanked the guard at the door and went out to the truck.
On my way to my vehicle, something washed over me.  It was a kind of combination of an “Aha,” moment and a feeling of gratitude and worship.  Yes, worship.  I had just had interaction with three other people…Ashley, the other teller, and the security guard at the door.
Do you realize what a gift that is…the gift of interaction with others?  Do you understand that it is interactions with others, even in that kind of setting, which give us our humanity, lighten our mood, and validate our place in the world?  We have the incredible God-given opportunity to communicate with other beings in His creation…to share life and living, even in the briefest and most routine circumstances of our day.  We have the wondrous opportunity to affect another human being in ways that we may never, ever know or understand, even to the point that such can happen when we smile, do business with, or greet them in a casual way as we go about the course of our day.
I have the pleasure of interacting with several people many times a week…Curtis…our preaching minister, Doug…our evangelist, Linda…our office manager, Eric…our worship leader and children’s minister, Jonathan…our youth and family minister, Pat…my wife, and many others.  I also have occasion to interact with others such as wait staff at a restaurant, the check-out person at the grocery, church family, those who need benevolence help, my relatives and blood family, and a host of others…many of whom I don’t know, and will never know their names.  And that interaction is my opening to make their day a little better and brighter, as well as keep me grounded in terms of who I am and Whose I am.
God has given us a gift…a gift that we mostly take for granted as we do most of the gifts He lavishes on us.  Please use the gift of interaction with others wisely and for the glory of the God who created you and those with whom you interact.  Blessings.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Teach Us to Number Our Days


Every so often, when I am driving from point A to point B, I take a side trip of some kind, “just because.” Sometimes, when going to work in the morning, I'll go South into the county, then back East on one of the county roads until I get to Old Highway 81...then go back into Wichita proper that way. Sometimes, when I have an errand to run before I get to work, that errand takes me to a part of town I haven't been to in awhile, so I sort of meander to work from wherever that errand had taken me.
Such was the case when I found myself driving past my old Alma Mater, Newman University. When I attended, it was Kansas Newman College. I slowed down and turned into the campus. Driving around the campus a couple of times (it's a relatively small place), I reminisced in my mind about some of the buildings I had been in, the new buildings that had been constructed since I had attended, and a few of the people I had classes with back in the mid-1990's. I saw some of my favorite parking places, and even thought about a kind of circular path I would take at times if I had some time and needed some exercise.
I took a degree-completion course there in business management, and did not participate in the extra-curricular things, or have much to do with college life. I had a full time job at the time, a family, and had to drive 50 miles one way just to attend classes (there was no on-line then). Each semester was a 9 credit hour semester, with three classes, each five weeks long. So it was indeed an accelerated curriculum. Not much time for ball games and the like.
I've done the same in other locations in Wichita and surrounding area. I lived here for a time in the late 1960's, attending WTI (Wichita Technical Institute) and still recall some of that experience. Some of the neighborhoods are still somewhat familiar, and some of the buildings still stand that I haunted back then.
I also like to, from time to time, just go for a drive in the country. Yes, there is country in and around Sedgwick County, although it's getting harder to find nowadays. I enjoy going when I can roll down the window, drive 40mph or less, look at the crops (really!), the farmsteads, and the livestock.
And I enjoy going back to Harper County, where I was born and raised, and raised my kids. Some things have changed; a lot has stayed the same. I'll take off in the rural area of that county too, thinking about families who used to live here or there, or who farmed what land. And, of course, look at the crops, the farmsteads, and the livestock.
I think the older I get, the more I enjoy such times. I don't know if that's a natural by-product of older age, or if it's something I just seem to enjoy. But those times seem to take me back to a younger time in life. And I usually manage to recall the more pleasant of those times and put aside some of the less pleasant aspects of those days.
The Bible talks of someone living about 70 years, or if by reason of strength 80 (Psalm 90:10). And in that verse, it also talks of those days being filled with trouble and sorrow. I know that chapter also talks of God's eternal nature and our sinful nature, and that the key point of the Psalm seems to be in verses 12, which says, Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” And verse 14, Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
No matter the days we have “consumed,” or the days we have left; no matter how often we reminisce and long for a simpler time; no matter how much we may spend some time in the past, we dare not lose sight of the fact that we are to be aware of our limited days and use them consumed in the love of God, singing and being glad in all the days He chooses to give us.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Faith and Belief


An interesting question was brought up in class last Wednesday evening.  “Is there a difference between belief and faith?”  My response was that yes, there was a difference, but I hadn’t studied that in awhile and wanted to do more research.  So today, I did.  Here’s what I found.
The Greek for both belief (or believe or believing) is the same as the one for faith…some derivative of the root peithow (πειθω).  The word has a variety of derivatives and translations.  Depending on the exact spelling of the word and the context in which it is used, it can mean “to be of the opinion, have a mental persuasion, to give credit to.”  Those definitions fit best the English word “believe” or “belief.”  It can also mean “assurance, firm conviction, confidence in, sure, certain, guarantee.”  These definitions best fit the English “faith.”
As you can see, the word has a wide-ranging definitive stable, which depends in large part on the exact derivative of the root, and the context of the text it is part of.
As an example, in James chapter 2, the text talks about faith and works.  In that text, both the English “faith” and “believe” are used.  Both terms are translated from some form of the Greek pistis or pistos, which of themselves comes from peithow.  Yet the meanings are very different.  Take a look at this example.
“James 2:18-19”  But someone will say, “you have faith, I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that-and shudder!”
The words that are underlined in that passage all are translations of the same Greek word.  Yet their place and context in the text give a very different meaning to each one.
As Christians, we need to take advantage of any textual helps that may be available to us.  Yet we also need to rely heavily on the translations to give us the proper nuances and shades of meaning.  We also need to have some mind of the context of the text as well as be familiar with other texts that speak of the same topic.  To consult only one source of information may well lead us into a place we did not desire to go.  May God bless us and His Spirit lead us to a greater understanding of His Word and Will.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Stagger Onward, Rejoicing


The Hutchinson News this week, an editorial mentioned something that Kelsey Grammer, an actor in several television shows, said about something he found in a poem when he was a youngster. Here is what he had to say. “'Stagger onward rejoicing.' That line came to me at age 15 in my little refuge, my bedroom, after my dad was murdered and my grandfather died. Eleven years later, I found the line in 'Atlantis,' a poem by W. H. Auden. He became my touchstone. I named our youngest child Auden.”
This is Jay again. Now, I don't normally quote actors in my posts, and I've really never watched (or wanted to watch) Mr. Grammer in any of his shows. I always felt like I got enough of real life in my real life, and besides, I had better things to do with my time. That's also, by the way, why I usually don't watch movies, either at a theater or on television.
But this quote from the poem by Auden gripped me somehow. “Stagger onward rejoicing.” So much of life seems to be in the staggering onward department. We do the best we can in life, making decisions as best we know how and pressing onward as best we can. But often, something gets in the way of our plans...sickness, financial reversal, job loss, death of a loved one, auto accident, or some other malady. And we often just seem to stagger onward in spite of the obstacles in our way. In reality, if we don't stagger onward, we cease to function, as there is but one way to go in life...and that's onward.
Just as remarkable is the “rejoicing” part. Especially for the Christian, rejoicing brings to mind an inner peace and joy that can't be fully understood, but can indeed be experienced. Even in the face of the most terrifying circumstances, we can indeed find rest, peace, and joy in the God of the Universe.
I don't know if you are staggering right now in your life or not. My guess is that there is something in your life that isn't like you'd like to have it. And my guess is that you just “stagger onward” at times. In those times, remember this quote, and add that word “rejoicing” to your thoughts. You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Are You a Festus?


I like to peruse YouTube videos.  I like to view science, railroad, music, and other videos.  But once in awhile a video will pop onto my initial YouTube screen that is special.  Such was the case a day or two ago when one came up featuring Ken Curtis (Festus on the old “Gunsmoke” TV show) singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”
As you may or may not know, Curtis himself was nothing like his alter-ego Festus Haggen.  Curtis was a singer and performer, having done so professionally for many years before Gunsmoke came along.  He was a lot like Jim Nabors, whose alter ego Gomer Pyle seemed to be unable to carry a tune in a bucket; but Nabors was a great singer.
I watched the video and did a little research on Curtis.  I remember him well as Festus Haggen, as the weekly ritual at our house on Saturday nights (the show moved to Monday night after I left home) was to be sure the TV was tuned to channel 12 for Gunsmoke.  It was a family affair, with Dad being the one who really wanted to watch it.
I recall Dad’s fondness for the show and for the characters.  He was especially proud that Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams, was a Kansan.  And he thoroughly enjoyed the shows where the outcome was firmly in favor of the good guys.  Some of the shows had endings that were a little on the “confusing” side with no apparent, obvious winners…with these shows, Dad was somewhat confused by himself, often saying something like, “Well, that was a strange ending!”
As often happens when being reminded of things like this, my mind went back to those years, and there quickly developed a longing for those days when life was simpler, television was more family oriented, and intact families were more the norm.  Yes, there were issues even then…life wasn’t a bowl of cherries, as Erma Bombeck would say.
However, watching Curtis sing in his Festus costume on that video, with many of the same mannerisms of the character he portrayed, was a real treat.  Maybe one reason Festus sticks with me so much is that he reminds me of some people I have known…rough and gritty on the outside, unshaven, prone to imbibe if free beer is offered to him, a little on the stinky side (not bathing until really necessary), and not one for the niceties of polite society.  Yet, Festus also has a moral code that upholds honor, truth, honesty, dignity, and reliability.  And he’s not afraid to demonstrate that in his everyday life and living.
Festus is Festus.  He is who he is.  He doesn’t pretend to be anyone else.  And he doesn’t allow political correctness or politeness get too much in the way of his way of life.  But he also has the qualities that make him someone you would want for a friend.  When push comes to shove, and you’re between that rock and hard place, you want Festus with you.  You’ll choose him first.  Because you know he will go the full ride with you.  He’ll have your back.  He’ll come through for you.
I have one or two Festus friends.  And I trust that I can be counted on to be that kind of a friend for someone else.  There are scriptures that deal with friendship.  “A friend loves at all times.”  “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”  “Better is a friend who is near than a brother who is far away.”  There are others as well, and different translations may have slightly different wording.  The point is the same.
Strive to be a Festus friend to someone.  Live your life in such a way that people will know you can be that kind of a friend.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Small Things


For the past several days, I’ve had a pain in my left foot.  Right below my big toe, in the fleshy “ball” portion of my foot, I would experience some rather sharp pain from time to time.  It was so bad at times, I would be gimpy, and favor that foot when I tried to walk.  I thought, though, that it was probably a strain of some kind and would get better with time.
Over the course of a few days, however, it did not get better.  It seemed to be getting a little worse.  I wondered if I needed to make an appointment with my provider to check it out since it was some kind of internal thing.  Maybe it was more than a strain.  Maybe it was an infection or some kind of misplaced bone or something.
This morning, after my shower, I walked out of the bathroom and almost fell to the floor when it started hurting.  Sitting down on the cedar chest at the foot of our bed, I thought to myself what I needed to do, and decided to just take a look at the bottom of my foot, not expecting to see anything as the pain seemed to be internal.
To my surprise, there was a sort of “pimple” there right where it hurt the most.  Fumbling for my glasses and making my eyes focus, I looked at it closer and noticed a dark line about 1/8 of an inch long sort of imbedded into the thickened skin.  Could it possibly be?
I went to my junk drawer and found a hypodermic needle, one of three or four that we have specifically to remove splinters.  I will tell you now that we have those needles, sans syringes, from our time in health care…they’re great for digging out splinters!  I dug around a bit and out popped some kind of splinter.  I cleaned up the blood, bandaged up the wound and dressed.
An hour later, I marveled at how much better my foot felt.  And now, toward the end of the morning, I can barely feel where that thing was.  There has to be some kind of life lesson here.
Something about 1/8 of an inch long, imbedded into a thick skin so superficially that it could be readily seen without digging at it had caused me some considerable grief over the past three or four days, even to the point of making it difficult to walk at times, and uncomfortable most of the rest of the time.
One can reap a multitude of life lessons from my experience.  The one that comes out for me is how such a small thing can cause such a great (relatively speaking) pain and disruption in the normal course of life.  A slender piece of wood almost too small to see gave me moderate pain, difficulty walking, and was a constant reminder through the day that it was there.
In the same way, seemingly small things in life can cause great heartache, disrupt one’s day (or week, or month), and change relationships.  We need to be especially aware of the little things that come our way, as they have a habit of causing big waves in life.
So, the next time you have one of those nagging little splinters in your skin somewhere, remember the lesson…it’s the small things that sometimes cause the biggest problems.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Driving the Streets


Every time I drive the streets of downtown Wichita, and even at times when I look out the door or a window of the church, I see people.  But the people that I see many times aren’t like you and me.  These people, many times are the homeless or the near homeless.  And they are easy to spot without being stereotypical.  Many are carrying oversize backpacks or trash bags.  Some are riding bicycles with backpacks hanging off of the handlebars or fenders.  Some are pushing shopping carts.  Most are disheveled, have clothes that don’t fit, and need some basic hygiene.
And although I am happy to see the development that is taking place in the city…Old Town, Delano, the baseball complex, the apartments, the new library, a new Century II, and other areas of development, I have to wonder what all of this development will do to the population that I just spoke about in the prior paragraph.
These people are already marginalized.  They already are on the outskirts of society.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to be on the upper end of the scale enjoy the new shops and restaurants.  We like the new entertainment venues and the upscale apartments.  But for those who are on the other side, my fear is that it will only drive them farther from the possibility of redemption and extinguish what little hope they may have for a somewhat normal life.
Oh, I get it.  I understand that in many cases, it was the prior choices of these people, or choices made for them that put them where they are now.  And it is their continuing choices which many times keep them in the poverty whirlpool.  But there are many who have no choice but to continue to make those choices; because any other choices are not within the realm of possibility, or are not within the capability of the person to execute.
But does that mean that we just turn our gaze away and pretend they don’t exist?  Do we spout worthless platitudes like, “Well, if they would only get a job…?”  Do we go ahead and build and develop knowing that it will only drive them to another part of town that is less foreign to them, but is out of our sight?
Or do we at least develop some compassion for them and try to find what little we can do that would bring about a productive change in their situation?  Do we at least try to get to know some of them in terms of hearing their story, treating them like human beings, and offering that proverbial cup of cold water?
We will never, in this universe, solve the problem of poverty and need.  Jesus himself said that we would always have the poor with us.  And although with a wave of his hand he could have fed everyone in the world, he didn’t do so.  But he did develop relationships.  He treated individuals like the human beings they were.  He gave them not only food for their stomach, but also spiritual food for their soul.
We would do well to look at the life of this Great Teacher of ancient Israel and emulate him as best we can.  The poor are all around us.  The need is right outside our door.  The impoverished are on the next street corner.  The poverty whirlpool is actively seeking, finding, and devouring human beings at a dizzying rate.
I can’t do everything, but I can do something.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Remembering Darrell Ryan


Darrell Ryan of Anthony, Kansas passed away late last week.  Now, unless you are a Harper County resident of some longstanding time, you probably don’t know who I’m talking about.  But that’s OK.  I’ll fill you in on some details.
Darrell Ryan was an Anthony, Kansas businessman along with his wife Karen.  He first started in business as an associate sales person for Mueller Brothers Menswear in Anthony.  In about 1980, he and Karen bought the business and continued to operate a classy menswear store on Anthony’s main street in a building that reeked of history.
The store, along with about a city block of the downtown, burned to the ground about 10 years ago, and the Ryans retired rather than try to rebuild.  But during their time as owners of Muellers, they helped keep the small-town economy in Anthony going and growing.  They provided a valuable service to the community and to the area.  And they were business people of honesty, integrity, and the traditional values of family and faith.  They never tried to make themselves stand out in a crowd, but were wonderful examples of decency, humility, and honesty.
Karen, Darrell’s wife, remains alive but I am certain she is struggling to cope with the loss of a life partner and lover.  The family is also, I am certain, struggling to find ways to cope and live without the life and example of Darrell.  And the Christian church in Anthony, the Anthony business community, Darrell’s friends, and all of the others who knew him are pondering the meaning of life and are considering and appreciating a life well-lived to the full.
The only two pair of dress shoes that I now have (and have had for many years) came from Mueller Bros.  One of those pair was sent to me “on approval” when we lived in Topeka, along with a pair of Nike shoes.  I bought both pair and sent them a check.  Of course, the Nike shoes are long gone, but the Florsheims are still looking good.
The only dress socks I have came from Mueller Bros.  And, I still wear some dress slacks from that store.  However, the suits, shirts, and sport coats I have purchased there are mostly gone now, my measurements having grown beyond what they were when I bought the clothing.
I remember going to Muellers when I was a child, with Mom buying my “Sunday best” clothing there.  Moving back to the area in the mid-1980’s, I was pleasantly surprised to find the store still going strong.  It was one of our regular stops when doing clothing or shoe shopping for myself or the boys.  The odor of the store, the layout, and the historic building took me back to my childhood years, and my mind was brought to remembrance why we moved back to my hometown.  I truly enjoyed shopping there (and at Jett’s just down the street); and if you know me, you know that is a statement I seldom make about ANY retail establishment.  I was saddened to hear of its demise in the Anthony downtown fire ten or so years ago.
In the great scheme of things, the world will, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “little note nor long remember” Darrell’s life and his passing.  But for many of us, he had a place in our souls that can never be filled by another…even if that place is just a small one…and even if that place was one that was fueled primarily by a business relationship.
Enjoy your eternal rest in the arms of the Almighty, Darrell.  And to Karen and family, know that Darrell WILL be remembered and appreciated for many years to come.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

We Must Do Better


Last Sunday, we cancelled services due to the weather.  While we were home hunkered in our basement with the gas fireplace glowing, I turned on the TV and happened upon the church services at one of the local churches in Wichita.  This congregation has been broadcasting their services for many, many years, and I have been in their building several times.
The minister giving the sermon, a woman, was talking about the recent vote by her denomination to restrict ordination of LGBTQ people as well as restrict the performing of marriages of LGBTQ people.  Her comments showed her obvious bias against the vote of the denomination and her favoring of both issues.
That didn’t bother me all that much.  People hold different opinions about issues such as this.  Much of the difference centers on one’s interpretation of Scripture, and how much one reads into the command to “love one-another.”  Obviously, I believe my opinion on the issues is the correct one; otherwise, I would hold to a different opinion.  And, obviously, she believes her opinion on the issues is the correct one; otherwise, she too would hold to a different opinion.
What DID bother me, though, was that several times she said that those of us who hold different opinions are haters.  That we have hate in our hearts.  That we hate those who are different that we are.  We were all thrown into the same mold.  We were stereotyped.  There was no room for respectful disagreement while we exercised the command to “love one-another.”  We were haters.
I have to wonder just how much true love this woman has for those of us who happen to disagree with her.  To call someone that one doesn’t know a hater is, in my mind, close to the pinnacle of irresponsibility, ignorance, and extreme bias.  Speech such as that serves only to further divide, not heal.  Speech such as that is not fitting for any kind of religious setting where Jesus Christ is held up as the example of true love.
We are all guilty of what this woman did on Sunday morning.  We all tend to paint all who disagree with us with the same brush.  We all stereotype.  We all categorize.  We all are guilty.
As Christians, we must do better.  As Christians, we must listen more and talk less.  As Christians, we must, as best we can, remove our biases and prejudices.  As Christians, we must take the WHOLE of Scripture into account when forming an opinion.  As Christians, we must love with both words and actions.  As Christians, we must refrain from division-causing speech or deeds.
What this woman said was not becoming of her, her denomination, her vocation, or her congregation.  It was petty, mean, divisive, and seemed almost hateful in itself.   We can do better.  We must do better.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Enjoy This Time


I know enough about electronics that I can usually understand at least some aspects of the newer technologies...how they operate, the basic electronics behind the technologies, etc. I can usually read articles about some of the electronic technologies and make some sense of what they articles are trying to say.
I had electronics training way back in the 1960's, and held an FCC First Class Radiotelephone license for a number of years. My training included basic electronics, vacuum tubes as well as solid state devices, rudimentary computers and flip-flops, and commercial broadcast technology.
I say that to say that even though I know something of the technology behind things like cell phones, HDTV, modern computers, automobile computer systems, and communications, I have to say that I am regularly blown away by the advances in technology that I am seeing. Stuff that was not on anyone's radar “back when,” or even just a few years ago are now supporting relatively common-place technologies. Things no one could even have imagined some years ago are now everywhere. And I'm not just speaking of the explosion in cellular and computing systems, although that is part of it.
Back in the 1970''s, for example, I would have given my right arm for a mobile telephone. Working primarily from my car in Western Kansas, knowing where the public phones were was a necessity, and kept me from being as efficient as I would liked to have been. Now, everyone...EVERYONE...has a cell phone and can call anywhere in the world.
Another example is the advent of smart vehicles...automobiles that can sense where the vehicle is, other vehicles that are nearby, and where on the road a vehicle is. Such technologies send out a radio signal that reflects off of objects and comes back to the vehicle. The computer systems in the auto then use that information to make a decision on whether to steer, brake, warn, or whatever. Such signals are in frequency bands as high as 77gHz. That is 77 billion hertz, or cycles per second.
Not that many years ago, 10 gHz was about as high of a frequency as could be generated and used in any meaningful way. The radio frequency spectrum has been expanding upward by leaps and bounds in recent years, and I cannot fathom that progress in any meaningful sense.
There are other advances in electronics technology that just boggle my mind. We take for granted, for example, that we can email to the other side of the earth in a matter of seconds and receive a response in just a few more seconds. We have no comprehension of the incredible technologies and the equally incredible infrastructure behind those incredible technologies which make that possible.
Just regular cellular service involves an intricate and incredibly advanced technology that was not even comprehendable 40 or so years ago. Then look at the explosion of video, remote control, connectivity, entertainment systems, and all of the other, and an old electronics dinosaur like me just salivates and marvels, seeing things not even dreamed of en my earlier years.
Enjoy this time. Appreciate this time.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Whatever Your Tradition


We’re fast approaching the time of year that some view with great anticipation and excitement.  Others view it with an attitude more like that when in the dentist office waiting for a root canal.  The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season can be the most exciting and pleasant time of the year for some.  But for others, the holidays bring back memories better left forgotten, or bring with them the inevitable family quarrels and struggles.  This time also brings shortened days, which can lead to a very real physiological reaction known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I don’t know how you and your family react to the holidays.  For the Planks, it’s a time of family dinners, get-togethers, present exchanges, and celebrating the grace and goodness of God in our lives.  We make a big deal out of Thanksgiving, and enjoy the nieces, nephews, and grand kids as they experience the wonder of Christmas.  We have traditions that we repeat year after year which are important to us as a family.
One of those traditions is song.  At virtually all of our family gatherings, we sing.  The Doxology is a must-sing.  We also will sometimes sing other songs out of the older genre of hymns that we mostly all know…many of which are imbedded into our minds from long, long ago during the acappella days at the old Pleasant Valley church in Harper.  It’s a special time for us, and we hope to pass the tradition along to those in our family who come after us.  Those who have married into the family, or have been adopted have quickly caught on and join in.
I don’t know what your family traditions are during this time of year.  But I’d like for you to take some time this week and just think about some things that are traditional with you…how the tradition started, why you continue it, and what the value of the tradition is.
My prayer for you is that you will discover anew the wonder that is the love and grace of God this season.  Whatever your tradition—however you celebrate—do so with a grateful heart and joyful spirit.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Least of These


Each day when I wake up, I do my bathroom stuff, then come out and check my phone for appointments I have that day, or messages I need to know about.  Today when I checked, I saw one from a good friend of ours…I’ll call her Sarah.  Sarah’s immediate family consists of herself, her husband of almost 30 years, and a daughter who is now a young adult.  They were our neighbors for several years, and we became well-acquainted with them over the years.
Sarah texted me this morning before I woke, telling me she was homeless as her husband was seeing another woman, filed for divorce, and threw her out of the house via temporary restraining order.  She said she was living at a homeless shelter in central Wichita, but had spent some nights in her car before getting a bed at the shelter.  This was all quite a shock to her, as she had no clue what was going on.
Additionally, Sarah’s husband cleaned out the bank accounts and absconded with a lot of community property.  The hearing on the temporary order is this coming Tuesday when it will either be lifted, modified, or made permanent.  She has very little in the way of “things” right now, and an income of a little over $900 a month from a disability.  Sarah was in shock, had no idea what to do next, and was pretty much lost.
I texted Sarah and invited her to come to the office so we could talk.  She did, and we talked for an hour or more.  As today was her birthday, I took her to lunch and we talked more.  We talked about a lot of things, but one thing stands out.  Sarah, almost 50 years old, raised middle class, living a middle class life, suddenly within minutes was thrust into the culture of the homeless.  She has no family she can rely upon, and was able to sleep on the floor of a friend’s house for a short time, but needed to quickly do something besides that.  So she found the Interfaith Inn in downtown Wichita.  It was there where she ran headlong into the homeless and poverty culture, which provided her with an additional shock to her already fragile situation.
She said to me, “Jay, I don’t even know the language they are speaking.  I don’t understand what they are saying.”  Additionally, she went on, they behave differently; they think differently; they think of their families differently; they live differently; they use money differently…in short, the entire world view of the homeless and poverty-stricken is different than the typical middle class outlook on life.
That, to Sarah, seemed to be the biggest hurdle of all…the sudden immersion in another culture and another way of life and living…no, make that survival.  And that’s what most people don’t “get” when thinking of ways to work with the homeless and poverty-stricken folks.  Politicians don’t have a clue.  Bureaucrats don’t have a clue.  Churches don’t, by and large, have a clue.  And the general public certainly doesn’t have a clue.
The old, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” is a good one-liner, but is useless in the poverty and homeless culture.  These people don’t have bootstraps…and if they happen to have them, they haven’t a clue how to grab hold of them; they haven’t a clue what they are for; they haven’t a clue what it means to pull themselves up by them.  The barriers to an education, gainful employment, and middle class life start with having to obtain an ID, which means they have to have Internet access, transportation, a mailing address (not a P.O. Box) to have the ID mailed to, money to send off to get a birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc., a utility bill or some such to use as proof of address, and so on.  Additionally, they need to know the state or jurisdiction where their birth certificate is kept, which for some is an unknown.
Getting a valid ID is just almost impossible for a homeless person.  And without a valid ID, there is no job.  There is no renting an apartment.  There is no checking into a motel.  In many cases the shelters and pantries are closed to them.  Government assistance is difficult or impossible to get without a valid ID.  The middle class and ruling class have effectively relegated the homeless person without an ID to the status of non-person.  He or she doesn’t exist.  And the barriers to getting an ID are pretty much insurmountable.
I know I’ve talked about this before…but it hurts me greatly to see this culture relegated into non-existence.  These are human beings.  These are people.  These are the “least of these” that I believe will surround the throne of God Himself while those of us who had lives of comfort are judged according to whether or not we recognized these people as our neighbors and loved them as we loved ourselves.

Friday, October 05, 2018

God At Work



”Driven”



RiverWalk Church of Christ
Wichita Ks<span style= 
Minister" />

What follows was written by a dear friend who I have known since her childhood days.  Her story is real.  It is riveting.  It is brutally honest.  If you follow this blog, you know I’ve talked of her in prior posts.  Recently, she wrote and posted this on Facebook.  Somehow, it went viral and she has over 87,0000 shares and 18,000 comments on this post.  Even if you’re familiar with her story, read it again.  And again.  And know that God does indeed work in the hearts and lives of men and women.
If someone would’ve told me three years ago what the love of Christ would do in my heart and life I would have given you and God the middle finger. If someone would’ve told me that in the next three years that same God that I spent the last nine running away from would restore relationships with my family and with my children...out of fear…I would’ve told you I’ll only mess it up. Three years ago, I had two options to die or live, and to be completely honest I didn’t want either of the two but somewhere within my broken heart I chose to reach out that day and went to detox. (Kicking and screaming might I add)
I had about two weeks clean when I was invited to a Bible study at a little coffee shop that I really had no interest in going to at the time. It was in that place that I met a woman and eventually an entire family that whether by word or selfless deed would show me the grace and love of Christ. There was something different in this woman that The Lord used to speak truth into my heart. She still does. 
Samantha Sutton Duncan and Heath Duncan I am forever grateful to you both for loving me and showing me grace and a different way of life.
I’m grateful to my family…all of my sisters and brothers for all that you are. Which is a lot of goodness. Thank you to all the new relationships and reconnections that have been beautifully placed in my life. I deeply love you all and I’m so excited for what the future holds.
But beyond all of the many blessings and even beyond my sobriety I am thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t deserve a single ounce of your never-ending eternal love and yet here you are still loyal and so faithful in all your promises. You and I both know God that it wouldn’t have mattered if a million someone’s told me what all you could do within my life over the past three years. But you had a very specific way of revealing it to my heart, because you know every intricate part about us.
To all the men and woman reading this that struggle with addiction...there is hope. You are not too far gone. You are not forgotten, and you have a father in heaven longing for you to let him in.
To the children and the families affected by addiction. Do not lose hope and NEVER cease praying. 

Friday, September 07, 2018

Do We Really "Lose Everything?"

Michael Horton has written an excellent opinion piece in Christianity Today.  He talks about President Trump’s announcement to an evangelical gathering at the White House recently in which the President said this regarding the upcoming election.  Evangelicals, he said, were “one election away from losing everything.”
I commend Mr. Horton’s comments which follow to you.  I thought about condensing his thoughts; however, it all needs to be said.  The words speak for themselves.  I can add no more.
As evangelicals, we would do well to correct the president on this point.  If an election can cause us to lose everything, what is it exactly that we have in the first place?
Surely we can be grateful for any public servant who upholds the First Amendment.  And we should applaud fellow believers who ply their education and experience as lawyers to defend religious freedom (as long as they don’t seek to privilege Christianity legally above other religions).
However, the church does not preach the gospel at the pleasure of any administration or decline to preach it at another administration’s displeasure.  We preach at Christ’s pleasure. And we don’t make his policies but communicate them.  It’s not when we’re fed to lions that we lose everything; it’s when we preach another gospel.  “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
And yet, swinging from triumphalism to seething despair, many pastors are conveying to the wider, watching public a faith in political power that stands in sharp opposition to everything we say we believe in. To many of our neighbors, the court chaplains appear more like jesters.
Something tremendous is at stake here: whether evangelical Christians place their faith more in Caesar and his kingdom than in Christ and his reign. On that one, we do have everything to lose—this November and every other election cycle. When we seek special political favors for the church, we communicate to the masses that Christ’s kingdom is just another demographic in the US electorate.
Let’s face it. Liberal and conservative, Catholic and Protestant, have courted political power and happily allowed themselves to be used by it. This always happens when the church confuses the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this present age. Jesus came not to jump-start the theocracy in Israel, much less to be the founding father of any other nation. Even during his ministry, two disciples—James and John—wanted to call down judgment on a village that rejected their message, but “Jesus turned to them and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54–55). He is not a mascot for a voting bloc but the savior of the world. He came to forgive sins and bring everlasting life, to die and rise again so that through faith in him we too can share in his new creation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Monarch


Last year, I planted some milkweed in order to attract butterflies…and particularly, Monarch butterflies.  And although we had a caterpillar or two last year, I never saw a chrysalis or much in the way of Monarch activity.  The milkweed we planted is a perennial, so it came up again this year, much more vigorous than the first year.  And this year, I sort of hit the jackpot for Monarchs.
We have eleven in the chrysalis stage right now, with hatching to start shortly.  I never really saw any Monarch adults earlier, but evidently something happened, because the caterpillars were all over the milkweed plants.  The plants look a little haggard now, but they will recover nicely.
I have a DVD called “Metamorphosis” that describes in some detail the life cycle of butterflies, and gives some concentration on the Monarch, which is unique, they say, among the butterflies of the world.  It seems that only the Monarch as a life cycle as an adult that varies depending on the time of the year when it hatches.  Of the five or so “hatchings” of Monarchs during a calendar year, all but one of the adult life cycles is about 4 weeks.  The remaining one….the one hatching now…has a life cycle of several months.  From now until next March, these adults will live and will migrate from the USA to certain unique places in southern Mexico to winter.  They will then start back as the milkweed begins to come out of winter hibernation, lay eggs and die.  The next adults will continue the migration northward.
The DVD also describes the incredible complexity of the life cycle…from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and finally to adult.  It gives credible information that would lead one to believe that chance and natural selection played little, if any role in the life cycle of the butterfly.  And the life cycle of the butterfly begs the question, “Why?”  Why would natural selection have resulted in such a life cycle?  And even more, how could natural selection have created such a life cycle in the first place?
The clinching factor for me regarding intelligent design versus chance evolution in the life cycle is the fact that there are two separate animals involved…the caterpillar and the adult butterfly.  Caterpillars are living stomachs, eating constantly.  There is no hint of compound eyes, articulated legs, a proboscis, or wings in the makeup of the caterpillar, except for a few cells, called imaginal cells, located in certain places within the body of the animal.
During the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar’s cells are digested into a soup…all except for the imaginal cells, which, instead of being devoured like all the other cells, go into action.  They use this soup to create wings, legs, and so on.  In other words, the caterpillar disappears…the heart, muscles, brain, nerves…all of it…are digested into a nutrient-rich soup to be used to build a butterfly.
Dr. Lincoln Brower, Entomologist and research professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, and recognized authority on the Monarch butterfly, says this about the chrysalis stage.  The monarch "changes its ecological niche entirely when it transforms from a caterpillar to an adult butterfly," says Dr. Brower. "They are two ecologically different organisms, as distinct as a field mouse and a hummingbird.”
I don’t know about you, but the more I see of what goes on “out  there,” the more I am convinced that there is a Force beyond the natural…beyond the chance encounter…beyond the happenstance…that has and is guiding, directing, and working in this existence.  And the quicker we acknowledge that, the more quickly we can begin to live as we were created to live…in freedom in the glorious grace of God Almighty.

Friday, August 03, 2018

The Ark Valley Interurban


Recently, I’ve become somewhat fascinated with a part of the history of Wichita and surrounding area that involves a long-abandoned rail line, the Arkansas Valley Interurban.  The Ark Valley Interurban, or AVI, was built just before WWI, and ran until WWII.  In it’s short life, it saw the explosive growth of the automobile as a favored mode of transportation, as well as great improvement in roads that those automobiles traveled upon.  And as you might surmise, that was, in large part, the reason for its eventual demise as a passenger, and later on, a freight carrier.
The AVI line began where the Drury Broadview is now in downtown Wichita, and ran northward through Valley Center, up to Newton, and over to Hutchinson.  Plans were made to expand the service south and farther to the north and west, but never really materialized.
Few remnants of the AVI are visible today.  The Broadview has an arch over a door with “AVI” inscribed in the limestone.  There are a few abandoned bridges left in rural areas, and one of the parts of the main building at Botanica is a depot for AVI.  Additionally, a few streets just to the north and east of the intersection of McLean Blvd. and 13th Street N are at a peculiar angle, which was made necessary because of the angle of the rails of the AVI line running in that area.  Other than that, not much is left except for some memorabilia and a few books.
I myself was a child toward the end of the era of what might be called “interurban” transportation.  I recall vividly the “doodlebug” that made regular trips to Harper, where I grew up, and then on to Anthony and other places before going back to Wichita.  Carrying little of anything…freight or passengers…the railroads were forced by the Interstate Commerce Commission to continue running these routes until into the 1960’s.  One could purchase a passenger ticket on the doodlebug and ride, for example, from Harper to Anthony, or from Anthony to Wichita.  Tickets were inexpensive.  My regret now is that I didn’t take advantage of that, just for the experience of having done it.  We had no need for it; we had good vehicles.  But the experience would have been one of the best of my childhood days.
I do recall being with a farmer friend of mine who had a few dairy cows on his farm.  I was going with him to run some errands.  He had a five-gallon cream can full of raw cream from his dairy that he wanted to go to a dairy in Wichita.  We stopped at the Harper depot and he dropped off the can, signed a paper or two, and we were off to another errand.  What I didn’t realize then was that the doodlebug would leave Harper soon and take that can to the dairy in Wichita.
We all have things that we wished we either had or hadn’t done earlier in life.  My hope for you is that you have few of these, and those that you do have are those which haven’t had a huge impact on your life.  We cannot live in the past.  We cannot let the past rule our present.  We must look ahead and live life as God intended, and as the people of God that we are.