Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Images of Honor

This post is merely images which tell the story of the Restoring Honor Rally in Washington D.C., on 8-28-2010, far better than I can. These are a collection of images caught not only by myself, but also by my son, Nathaniel, who serves in the Army and is now home on leave, and my daughter, Kate, who is about to leave for Art school. (I have no idea why this is underlined- sorry.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Restoring Honor

photo courtesy of AP News.

Well, we did it. We ended Summer with an amazing trip to Washington D.C. for the Restoring Honor Rally at the Lincoln Memorial with Glenn Beck. We learned about this event months ago and had thought that we'd join one of the local Patriot groups on a bus. As the day approached, however, we changed our plan to allow more flexibility. So, early Friday morning we piled into the van with lunches packed and water bottles full and drove 2 1/2 hours to Silver Spring, Maryland to catch the Metro into D.C.

We and hundreds of others who were also headed for the rally squeezed into the train, (we actually had to wait for a second train before we could board!). Easily recognizable by the folding chairs, patriot t-shirts, and friendly faces, those headed for the rally carried with them an air of excitement. Once we reached our stop in the city, the way to the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial was easily found- we merely had to jump into the flow of the crowd. It was so exciting, not only to be in Washington for such an event, but to be there with the whole family.

We arrived before 8 am, and there were already crowds numbering in the thousands filling the area in front of the Lincoln Memorial and around the reflecting pool. As we walked from the Washington Memorial, around the WWII Memorial and toward the reflecting pool there was so much to see, so many people, it was difficult to take it all in. Sarah Palin later said what was beginning to dawn on us, that, "we are not alone". Many thousands of people had traveled to Washington D.C. for a common purpose; we shared a common bond. We don't want to see our Nation "fundamentally transformed", we want our Nation to be restored to the Honor and ideals of our Founders, (which, no, do not include slavery and reversing women's rights).

Working our way around the pool to the left-hand side, (facing the Lincoln Memorial) we walked forward until we found a patch of grass big enough to accommodate our family. Many people had brought chairs, but we had not, since we didn't want to be hauling the extra weight all around the city and on the Metro afterwards, (traveling light!). By the time we settled in there was still an hour and a half to go before the beginning of the rally, so Nathaniel, Kate and Isaac went for a walkabout to see what they could see. They rejoined us before the event began and just in time for the flyover. Behind us we heard the crowd applauding and shouting, and as we turned to look we saw a formation of geese flying right down the center of the crowd over the reflecting pool! What a cool sight!

There were several "jumbotron" video screens around the area so that we could see what was happening way over on the steps where Glenn Beck and his guests would be speaking. The first face we saw, after a beautiful slide show, was a Boy Scout, who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. When I saw that I almost cried. The next three and a half hours were filled with speeches by Glenn, Sarah Palin, and Dr. Alveda King. Glenn introduced us to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, an organization which provides full scholarship grants and educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions. Sarah Palin presented three heroes from our Armed Services who endured great sacrifices in the service of our Country. Glenn then presented three medals of merit along his theme of "Faith, Hope, and Charity" to three men who embody those principles in America today. Dr. Alveda King, MLK's niece, encouraged us to seek the Lord and remember the essence of her uncle's message in judging others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character- which I not only strive to do already, but request of others concerning their judgment of me as well.

Through all of the speeches and presentations ran a thread of humility, service to others, and hope for our future, all undergirded by the idea that we must turn back to God. Not collectively, but as individuals and families. Now, when Glenn goes beyond the basic ideas and treads into theological territory, we disagree with his interpretation of Scripture, and the astute listener on Saturday would have picked up the Mormon hints that he dropped periodically as he spoke. But we do agree on his basic premise: that we stand before God as individuals, and before the future of our Nation can be secured for our children, we must repent of our sins and serve God openly and honestly. We must pray with and for our children, and they must see us praying and see that our faith makes a difference in our lives. We must be changed before we can affect any lasting and true restoration in America.

Near the end of the rally we shared such a beautifully moving experience. Accompanied by bagpipes, the crowd sang together the timeless hymn, Amazing Grace. I know I cried as we sang.

Once the Restoring Honor rally was finished we sat in the shade and waited for some of the initial dispersing of the crowds to clear so that we could walk together to the Jefferson Memorial. We had neglected to bring a map of the area, but Nathaniel's handy-dandy iphone with its GPS app led the way. There was an area closed off due to the construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and we had to find our way past a fence and across a field, where, coincidentally, another rally was setting up... Neither Jim nor I have ever seen the Jefferson Memorial, and it was worth the hike to see. Once we finished there we took a moment to purchase some cool beverages for the kids before heading back to the Mall area to see other Memorials.

Figuring that the way we came was actually more direct, we re-traced our steps and stumbled right back into the other rally area as people began to flood in through the narrow fenced-off walkway. This was, as it turned out, a rally organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton to remember Martin Luther King Jr. on the 47th anniversary of his "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, yet situated next to the future monument to the Civil Rights leader. As we swam like salmon fighting upstream against the flow of people flooding into the area through the narrow pathway, we held onto one another so that we didn't get separated. Glenn Beck had urged those coming to his rally not to bring signs. These folks had signs. Those we saw were not friendly signs. And here is where I find my heart troubled.

In the past couple of days I have read a few of the blogs and opinion pieces written about the rally. The majority of them seem to be in the same vein and tone of the signs and t-shirts that we read in that crowd, and reflect a foundational misunderstanding of why we were there and what we believe. I've been thinking a lot lately about being misunderstood, and here it was displayed before me, as clear as day. When I protest- and let's be clear, the Restoring Honor rally was NOT a protest march- but when I protest a policy being championed by our President, I am disagreeing with an idea, a plan, or a law which I feel will do damage to our Nation. I am not, nor have I ever, protested because of the skin color of the man who holds the office of President. I disagree entirely with everything promoted by Nancy Pelosi- and her skin is the same color as mine.

Glenn's message on Saturday was that we need to "pray, be honest, and serve others", delivered with humility. The clips that I saw on the News of Al Sharpton's comments were "fight, fight, fight", delivered with anger. I'll take him at face value, please take me at mine. An open exchange of ideas without hurling invectives or twisting one another's messages is the only way to be understood. Is the gulf so very wide between us that honest debate is impossible? Perhaps. I am no good when it comes to such conversations anyway, but please don't tell me what I'm "really saying" when you won't listen to me in the first place.

Moving right along, we visited the Korean War Memorial and had the opportunity to thank a couple of Veterans for their service, which was a moment that I won't soon forget. I pray my children remember. We then went to the Lincoln Memorial and took a good long while soaking in the words of the addresses which are etched into the walls. After this we walked to the Vietnam War Memorial where we slowly took in the many, many names and the offerings left for fallen loved ones, memorials in their own right. Time was quickly passing and we were moving slower by the minute, but there was at least one museum which we might be able to reach before it closed.

We managed to arrive at the National Archives with a few minutes to spare before they closed the line down. It seemed fitting, somehow, to finish our visit to our Nation's Capitol by seeing the documents written by our Founders. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, together with the Bill of Rights, were on display in the low lighting and cool interior of the building and were captivating to all of us. The kids, I'm afraid, were more familiar with these documents because of the movie National Treasure than because of what they have learned in History class at school. But we have been watching Glenn Beck's "Founders' Friday" programs, and have been filling in their educational gaps at home. Too quickly we were told that the Museum was closing and we needed to leave.

Our exhausted crew made it back to the Metro station, onto the train, and back to Silver Spring. Hungry, we stopped into a Mexican food place that made the best- and biggest- burritos we have ever been served, with delicious tacos for me and a Mexican take on Gumbo for Bekah. The drive home was a snooze-fest for the kids as I tried and failed to stay awake so that I could keep Jim company as he drove.

We are now a couple of days removed from the day in D.C., and trying still to process all that we saw and heard. Pray, be honest, and serve others. Nothing new to those of us who listen in church and read our Bibles. Refreshing to join a sea of others who believe the same thing. May God have mercy on our Land.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Empty House

What a blessing to have Nathaniel fly home last week for a whole month of post-deployment leave! Now that his unit has left Iraq behind for good, they are all allowed an entire month to get away. Nathaniel arrived on Tuesday morning, having flown from Hawaii the day before, and with the exception of a nap or two, hit the ground running. With the end of Summer quickly approaching, the weeks have filled up with more and more activities.

After a bit of recovery on Tuesday, most of the family joined me for a run on the Thune trail. I forget now exactly how that came about, but in the end it was a demonstration of the route we would be running for the Thirsty Thursday race, and convinced Isaac and Jim to join us two days later, along with 400 of our closest friends, for the 5K!

Thursday evening Erin, Nathaniel, Jim, Isaac and I donned our racing numbers at Trooper Thorn's and took off with the pack. I was so proud of Isaac, who has only recently begun running with the Middle School cross country team. Since this race is so very crowded on a narrow trail, I had him stay right with me until the crowd thinned out and he had gotten the hang of it. Right before the half-way point he looked at me, said, "I'm passing!", and took off ahead. Passing people at this point was difficult since there were now folks running in both directions and we didn't have the whole trail. I saw him after he'd turned around, and caught glimpses of him ahead of me on the straight-aways later, but he was running his own race. What fun for us to have been able to complete that together. Erin and Isaac each came in third in their age groups, the rest of us were thrilled to finish. I was still behind my first time, though I suspect that my starting position had something to do with it, since this time my running felt alright.

Saturday we all piled into the van to go to cousin Ginger's for a Birthday/ Graduation/ Eagle Scout/ going away to join the Navy party for Kyle Nelson, (not a relative, but might as well be). Nathaniel was able to meet and be met by this branch of the family at last, and we enjoyed a relaxing evening visiting with Ginger, Gladys, Brent, the Nelsons, and the gang. We had planned to leave around 6-ish; 7:30 arrived and we said we needed to go; at 9:15 we were finally back into the van and pulling away... Good times.

Yesterday was a blessed Sabbath of worship with our church family, lunch then rest at home, and prayer meeting at the Sallade's in the evening. In between, the kids were all busy packing. Nathaniel, after all, had plans, which were a mystery. All week he had been dangling this mystery over their heads, tormenting them with clues and non-clues. All they knew was that they were going away for several days and they needed to pack for a water activity, a theme park, and a tourist destination.

This morning, bright and early at 5 am they left for Busch Gardens, Water Park USA, and Colonial Williamsburg, all in Virginia! At some point in the first couple of hours of driving he told them where they were going. What a treat! With his military discounts the park tickets are very reasonable and the hotel rates within easy reach. Their first stop is Ft. Eustis, where Nathaniel trained for his job in the Army, to pick up the tickets. So they even get to see a bit of his personal history which we'd only heard about from him before now. But the most special aspect of it all for me is the love that these kids share with one another, that they would so enjoy going away together like this. They are going to build a lifetime's worth of memories in the next few days, and they are will need to work together and get along even when they are tired or wanting to go in different directions.

Once they get back our lives swing into high-gear with one last day-trip for all of us, school beginning for Erin and Isaac, and Kate leaving for Lancaster to begin at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. But for now they have this time together, just the five of them, for fun and memory-building.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Beauty, Language

Ever since I can remember, I have loved words. I can't recall the exact moment when the shapes on the page began to make sense to me and became decipherable language, but I clearly remember sitting in my reading group in first grade at the Episcopal Day School, waiting impatiently for the slower readers to stumble over their portion of our text, (Dick and Jane, of course); reading ahead to pass the time until my turn arrived. Books were wonderfully magical, and I devoured them as fast as I could. Through these portals I was able to visit far lands and different times. From a sweltering courtroom in Maycomb County, Alabama, to flying across the finish line on the back of the wild Black Stallion, the adventures possible through books were limited only by the time available to read them.

Certain books still stand out to me. One Sunday morning when I was a child in Wichita Falls, TX, where the "Blue Laws" were still in effect so most stores were closed one day of the weekend and Treasure City (think Kmart- but sorta dumpy) was the only place to pick up a garden hose since they closed their doors on Saturday in order to serve the Daddies in town who hadn't realized until Sunday morning that the garden hose at home was inoperable, I lingered in Books as Dad found what he need in Lawn and Garden. (Somewhere in downtown Reading there's a chop-shop that could cut that sentence down and sell it for parts...) I convinced Dad to buy The Golden Stallion, a large format, illustrated, chapter book about- yup- a boy and his horse, (horses were my thing). I may have started reading it on the way home, and once there I do remember spending the day physically on my bed, as my imagination spent the day way out West on a horse ranch with a wild Palomino. Dad looked in on me a couple of times, I think, and by day's end I had finished the entire book.

The Swiss Family Robinson, Smokey the Cow Horse, and Heidi I first read at age ten, when I spent the Summer with my name-sake and her family, the Hicks, in Cocoa Beach, FL. Yes, swimming at the beach was very memorable; Barbaranne took me to see the new movie everyone was talking about, namely, Star Wars; and I spent so much time in their pool that I developed a case of swimmer's ear. Yet she also took me to the library where I chose a stack of books.

The Summer of 1979, I lived with my Mom and brother in an apartment complex as our home in Wichita Falls was being rebuilt after the tornado that destroyed our town on April 10th. The gang of folks who socialized around the pool each evening and weekend had a book swap and I acquired my copy of Watership Down.

All of this reading widened my vocabulary and my Dad believes that it's responsible for erasing my Texas accent almost entirely. The magic of a well-written story which fires the imagination is replicated nowhere else. Though the movie screen may fill in some details, those created by the mind are far more enduring. I went through a Stephen King phase as a teenager, and I'll tell you that his book caused me to be wary of Saint Bernard dogs far more thoroughly than the movie Cujo ever could. Ideas are expressed in words which then rattle around the intellect, get sorted through in the heart and mind, and help to shape what we believe, and therefore, who we are.

And yet, written words are just that, scribbles on a page from a human imagination. Until one opens the Bible. In the Holy Scriptures we find words which not only produce images and ideas, but Words of Life which can save the soul. The words of Scripture express spiritual realities; eternal, non-subjective truths; and cosmic mysteries. But even more than that, it is a mystery that the same words which can be read by all and intellectually apprehended, when accompanied by the grace of Christ, will actually transform the heart and mind of the reader. This is why we read in the book of John that, though Jesus' crowd of followers departed in droves after a particularly difficult teaching, his chosen twelve remained.

So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,..." (John 6:67-68)

As Jesus prayed for his disciples, and for us, on the night of his betrayal, he distilled his requests of the Father down to what he, in his infinite and loving wisdom, knew to be most important.

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17)

The writer of Hebrews would later explore the mystery of the transforming power of God's Word.

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

There is no question in my mind or heart that the Word of God is to be given the highest place, therefore, in our home and the church. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he did not destroy his arguments with the brilliance of logic or attempt to reason with him. He answered him with the Word of God, against which the deceiver had no defense. If the Omnipotent One relies so on the Word of the Father, how much more must I? In our day and age, those who insist on objective truth are ridiculed and suspected of haughty pride. And yet to embrace the truth of Scripture is to acknowledge that I am nothing outside of Christ. I have no wisdom, power, or gifts of my own; all to Christ I owe.

I therefore defer to Scripture, to the Words of life, which will build a foundation of rock upon which God is preparing me to weather any storm which, in His providence, may threaten to sweep me away.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beautiful Morning

Saturday mornings of late have been refreshingly busy for Erin and me. She runs with the Cross Country team in Nolde Forest on Saturdays, and I've been running on the Thun trail with a group from A Running Start. This morning, however, was a bit different.

Earlier this week I stopped by a house on our street to ask the folks who live there permission to photograph their flower gardens in the early morning hours. I have been running past this house on occasion, and their home is almost swallowed by the vibrant plant life growing all around. Trees, flower beds, and a vegetable garden all attest to a love for beauty and growing things, yet the wild state they are in also speaks to a lack of ability to quite keep up with it all. Scattered all through the beds are morning glories, phlox, tomatoes, cucumbers, and regally waving above them all; sunflowers galore.

Every morning since I received permission to photograph to my heart's delight, the days have dawned to overcast skies and drizzling rain. Now, I am thrilled to have the rain- and so is my poor, parched yard. But these were not the conditions in which I wanted to shoot photos in a flower bed. This morning brought the return of the sun, and my plans to run were shifted as the flowers took priority.

I dropped Erin off at Nolde and drove to the garden. I have a Minolta film camera that was generously given to me by a friend, as well as my digital SLR. Still testing the Minolta, I was planning to duplicate my shots on identical settings with both cameras. Wandering around the flower beds as the sun slowly rose gave me many more things to shoot than I originally planned, and the film was soon finished. There are numerous gadgets and gizmos fashioned by the elderly couple who lovingly tend this garden intending to keep the birds and varmits away from their veggies. Whimsically scattered among the plants, these became some of my favorite shots.

As the sun crested the row of pine trees to the East of the property, there was a magical 60 seconds or so when everything first caught the direct rays of light and I shot as fast as I could, moving gingerly through the garden. Even the cucumber vines took on an endearing quality in this light.

At some point I realized that I was finished and went back to the car. Picked Erin up after her run, got home, loaded the photos onto the computer and took an initial look. These decisions won't be easy- there are a lot of neat shots mixed in with a lot of mediocre and poorly lit shots as well.

Since the morning isn't as blazingly hot as we've recently experienced, I went for my run, stream-of-consciousness pondering of the photos and their possibilities gave my mind something to do other than list the roll-call of physical complaints as I pounded down the road. I ran my normal, relatively flat, three miles and grabbed few sips from my water bottle which I'd left on the bench in front of our house. Erin had put my energy-chewy-thingies next to the water, so I popped one of those and continued back on the road in the other direction.

The hills are this way.

Down the one severe drop I ran the way Erin had learned in training, opening my stride up and letting myself fly down the hill. It was a bit scary as gravity took over and I knew that the wrong placement of a foot here would end in disaster, but there was an exhilaration as well. One and a half miles later I turned around and headed back home, walking on that one severe incline, and finished strong.

Six miles.

I have finally run six miles! I don't know, since the uphill walk broke it up slightly, if I experienced the five-mile thing where it doesn't hurt anymore- a theory one of the Saturday morning marathoners shared with me. But I am euphoric over getting that distance under my belt! Good, long stretching with my kitty Emmi, refreshing shower, and I'm ready for the rest of my day.

I think tomatoes may be involved...