Animal Friends Are Among God’s Best Blessings

 

Maddie

I’ve tried to wait a bit before writing this column. Since one of my life achievements is excellence in procrastination, I’ve been successful, although on rare occasions I’ve even put off procrastinating.

But I needed to wait. Some things are hard to keep in perspective. At the top of the list is anything—or anyone—that we love. And, no doubt about it, I loved that lazy furball, the little brindle-colored cross-breed canine critter we had to have “put down” recently.

People can be so crazy—literally—about pets that the excessiveness is obscene. I don’t doubt for a moment that a dog is “man’s best friend.” An incredible blessing.

But dogs are dogs. And though real grief at any level is still real grief, I’m slow to mention “this” grief in the same paragraph—or universe—as theirs.

But if it were possible, my sympathy for those facing severe loss is heightened as every time I walk into the house, get out of bed, open the blinds in the morning, or kick back in the recliner, I miss my friend.

Jesus tells us that his Father is so intimately connected to creation and his creatures that he sees when even a sparrow falls.

Hmm. That makes me wonder a little about grackles. You know, those goose-stepping, ill-mannered Nazi blackbirds. If I had my way, and my aim was better, lots more of them would be falling.

Up on their high branch, above the patio they’ve defiled, Grackle #1 growls to Grackle #2, “Say, did you hear what happened to ol’ Jake last night? Right in mid-cackle, he wing-clutched his chest, went inverted, and hit the deck. His heart? Not sure. One of the boys said he thought he saw something fly by and nail him. Maybe .177 calibre lead. Dunno if he was gone when he hit, but I’m dead sure he was gone once that Doberman down there got to him! The ol’ screecher leaves 42 children and a host of friends.”

Our little gal, Maddie, liked to chew on grackle when she could get it. I discouraged the practice. She seemed to have a hard time keeping it down, and I couldn’t imagine it being a healthy habit.

Son Josh was in high school when he brought the wiggling puppy home and unashamedly begged like a four-year-old to keep it. He said she was a Chihuahua-Shih Tzu mix. Definitely a puppy of the first part. But I’m not so sure about the other part. Some sort of short-haired terrier?

Opinions vary widely as to her “beauty.” But her heart was good—even when twelve years later, her ticker wasn’t. From the get-go, she was sweet, gentle, and, to me, cute. She could jump like a cat, but, at rest, and she was almost always at rest, she crossed her paws like a little lady.

The house was a renovation wreck, two of Josh’s brothers were in the throes of preparing to head to Africa for mission work, and Mom was wisely and firmly against importing a dog at that moment. Tears all around. I backed off to a safe distance, expressing no opinion aloud.

Josh won. Maddie stayed. I’d already fallen for her. When Josh left home, Maddie didn’t. She and I were thick as thieves.

I don’t know what plans God has for our animal friends when “all things are made new.” I’ll not be surprised if He delightfully surprises us.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Church Advertisement That Will Never Appear

 

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A very good friend just sent me an ad he saw for a new church in a city miles away from mine.

I’ve long thought that, for city churches particularly, some seriously thought-out and well done advertising might be very good. In this case, an existing church is starting a new one. The ad is well done, nicely packaged, and accurately reflects their approach to “church.”

They’ll kick off soon with a “rally.” Fine. Likely a very good idea. (But, please don’t tell my wife and dear friends who were cheerleaders, I never saw a rally with “pep” in front of it that I wouldn’t prefer to miss. It’s a personality flaw, I know.)

The ad says, “No perfect people are allowed.” Good. Such are hard to find and “wannabees” are annoying.

“Relevant” messages. Hmm. Theology lite or just good preaching? No organ for sure. I assume, no traditional hymns, but a “rockin’ band.” Right. This cool model requires it. “Casual dress.” Okay.

The ad didn’t say anything about a pastor. A plastic one on screen who preaches well but won’t show up at anybody’s surgery or do any funerals?

This really may be a great group, but its extremely popular approach is nothing new. In the 60s, mood rings, lava lamps, and the “church growth movement” showed up. The latter has lasted longer, but it has always felt a little plastic and trendy to me, a “consumer” approach that focuses on glitz and low to no expectations, assuming that discipleship will follow once folks are in the door. It is a troubling fact that Jesus ran folks off in droves taking exactly the opposite approach. Do I want to run people off? Noooooo!

I’m kidding a bit with part of what follows, but try this ad.

Large print. “We love Christ. We love you. We want you to come!”

Not-so-fine print: “Just so you’ll know, we sort of figure that commitment might mean attending at a faith-building (and not faith-withering) rate of more than half the time. That’s extremely generous, and nobody’s counting; we just love you and love it when the family’s together.

“You can call our building or sanctuary a worship center if you want to, but we don’t mind being called a church.

“We aren’t in the least embarrassed about taking up an offering. We can’t/won’t/shouldn’t require it, but we encourage sacrificial giving as a God-honoring blessing to all concerned.

“We won’t be ashamed to ask for some help doing stuff. What you say Yes to is completely your choice, but if you say No all the time, that says something, too. We are not a consumer church. If you want one those, glitzy and asking of you nothing at all, it won’t be hard to find.

“Formal dress is not at all required, but it’s just a fact that our pastor probably won’t wear jeans he paid extra to have holes in.

“We’re not very trendy and not all that cool. But when we say, ‘It’s all about Jesus, we mean it.’ It ain’t all about us or all about you. We figure serving a crucified Lord has consequences. You can ‘Have It Your Way’ at Burger King, but probably not 100% of the time here. You might even have to endure serious persecution by singing a song or two you don’t like that blesses someone else. That’s okay. They’ll do the same for you. We’ll never be mega-anything except seriously in love with Christ and the people He loves.

“If this picture seems God-focused to you, welcome! Come on in!”

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“How Little We Know” Is Well Worth Knowing

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Not long ago, one of my favorite columnists, George Will, wrote a column about his favorite columnist, William Zinsser.

Zinsser died last year at the age of 92, an amazingly accomplished writer, editor, and teacher. He was literally the man who wrote the book on writing well. On Writing Well has sold over 1.5 million copies.

If Will liked Zinsser, I figured I would, too. But I was sure of it after I read Zinsser’s essay on “postmodernism” (in a fine collection of his essays entitled The Writer Who Stayed). He titles it, “Goodbye and Don’t Come Back.”

Among my wide variety of valued friends are some who like to hang out, drink coffee, and discuss such topics as “postmodernism.” I suspect that most of the friends in that group are, like me, blessed to also have a good many friends who don’t know postmodernism from post nasal drip. If you talk about such topics too much, they’ll yawn, excuse themselves, and go mow their lawns or balance their checkbooks, thus accomplishing something of more lasting value than most folks who sit around discussing postmodernism.

Zinsser could tell you about postmodernism. He ran in circles where they’ve been talking about it for forty years. But he tired of all the prattling, probably partly because he spent his life teaching folks to write well, and that means learning to recognize slippery words and vapid thinking.

Zinsser says he looked for a definition of “postmodernism,” but the definition was more slippery than the concept. When the definition-writer used the word “problematization,” Zinsser cringed and tuned out.

He also experienced problematization with the term itself. (I couldn’t resist.) He felt sure the “moment” for post-modernism was long over, but he didn’t remember “anyone telling it to go away.” And he asked, risking annoying people who put up with slimy words, how can you ever put it out the door? If “modern” is past, how long is “post”-modern supposed to last? “The word floats in a vast sea of postness.”

Zinsser reckons that post-modernism was born in 1970. It died, he says, on the morning of September 11, 2001.

“At heart,” he writes, “‘postmodernism’ was unkind. But nobody really cared because everyone was so clever. Everyone who mattered knew everything. Then came 9/11 and nobody knew anything.”

Postmodernism aside, I like Zinsser’s writing. The best way to learn to write well is by reading folks who do.

Now, after some more coffee, I need to go mow the yard. But before I do, I might just mention that it’s worthwhile to keep a good eye open to try to understand something about the “times and the seasons” of our world and discern what is real, what is a passing fad, and what is something in between.

But to do that well means keeping both eyes focused on the One in whom there is “no shadow due to change,” who holds time itself in His hand, and who can handle all of our “times.” Compared to Him, nobody knows anything. And how little we know is well worth knowing. Always and even post-always.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“To See the Sort of Knights You Dub,” a Pub, Please

 

 

 

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For the many years I’ve been writing this column/blog, I’ve tried to avoid being political, and I intend to keep trying.

But I feel oddly at peace with making occasional comments that stand a good chance of making everybody—conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, red or blue, right-leaning or left-leaning, or just leaning half a bubble off of any kind of leaning—mad.

A recent Gallup poll shows each of the two  main presidential nominees coming in with an “unfavorability” rating of more than 50% (52% and 62%, to be precise; you can guess who wins the contest for most “unfavorability”).

An Internet search will net a bunch of stats, but one poll shows that “one-quarter of voters” dislike both candidates. Still another confirms that “most Americans dislike” both. “Record-breaking” is the term used to describe the numbers reflecting, well, Americans’ level of nausea when they consider presidential candidates they evidently consider to be far less than presidential material.

The wry wordsmith G. K. Chesterton almost 100 years ago now penned a little poem (“Ballade of an Anti-Puritan”) poking fun at the quality of the knights being “dubbed” to preserve grand old England.

“Prince,” he opined, “Bayard [the faithful and chivalrous French knight of old] would have smashed his sword / To see the sort of knights you dub— / Is that the last one of them?”

And accurately taking the measure of the new “knights,” he just hangs his head and begs, “O Lord / Will someone take me to a pub?”

I won’t be advising drunkenness, but viewing our present choices, I can well understand the temptation to and serious need for some sort of potent anesthetic. Whichever way this circus goes, the pain-killer may need to be of a long-acting, “sustained release” variety.

If you have a choice on a difficult Monday as to which you’d prefer—a root canal or a colonoscopy—on Tuesday, I suppose you’d have to admit that it’s a real choice. But I wouldn’t blame you for being a tad depressed on Sunday. And no surprise that either one would be a lingering pain in the tail section on Wednesday.

And that, my friends, pretty much sums up my feelings about our 2016 incredibly un-presidential presidential choices. In two words, utterly appalling. If I trample on your political position, my apologies. The polls, however, show that, on this rare occasion, my opinion is the majority opinion and, if it were an option, “None of the Above” would be elected to the presidency in November by a landslide.

This mess is hard to swallow. That this great nation can do no better than this boggles the mind. But a reminder to Christians that we are citizens of a kingdom with one all-powerful and all-loving King, and that the universe is not a democracy, is not without its blessings.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


God’s Love Never Goes Out of Style

 

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I’ve been looking at some old family photos. Old! Some of them were of me, and, yes, that makes me . . . more than middle-aged.

Some of those pics were from my high school years. They simultaneously beg a question and shout an answer. What does “cool” do? Cool marches on!

I graduated from high school in 1975. We thought the music was cool. (Some was!) We thought the cars were cool. (My VW bug wasn’t.) And we thought the styles were cool. (Oh, the shame of it!)

I’ve been afraid, for at least a decade or so, that I’ve lived too long because . . . aargh! More than a few of those 1970s styles are back! Once was too much. But this time around, we get (no offense to my friends in this honorable line of work), the “plumber” look, too.

Behinds and belly buttons, very few of which are particularly appealing. And tattoos, too, so that with a very little body art artistic flair, it is now possible, against all celestial odds, to have the sun and the moon rising at exactly the same time on the very same  teeny or tweeny hemisphere. Amazingly immodest at times (just thought I’d toss that word in since nobody ever hears it anymore), but still amazing. Not least, because the tats will still be hanging around on an 80-year-old tail section years from now but a lot farther south in the hemisphere.

Not sure if it’s a blessing or a sentence, but I might actually live long enough to see the present teens and tweens hit 40 or so. I think they’re gonna hit pretty hard.

Yep, we thought we were cool in the 70s—very full of ourselves we were—with bell bottoms and six-inch wide patent leather belts and peace symbols on chains and shaggy manes. But I will be forever grateful that none of that stuff was tattooed on! And, except for the economically disadvantaged and aging hippies, or the really wealthy and aging hippies who you can still find in some mountain areas, some southwestern desert areas, etc., where the air is really thin or mind-numbingly hot, most of my generation was pretty much cured of the style-viruses of the 70s by the 1980s.

It turns out, though, that this style stuff is like cerebral malaria. After a long period of latency, it builds up again in the bloodstream. You wake up with a fever and a throbbing head, and you’re wearing bell bottoms—again! Then you look around at some modern-day really “cool” folks, and they look exactly like the poor pathetic style-slaves still trapped between the pages of your high school yearbook who scrawled in its margins profound stuff like, “Whatever you do, don’t change!” And, good grief, maybe some didn’t. They’re baaaaaaack!

It’s the stuff of nightmares. To have decades-old styles, the equivalent of my old purple-striped bell bottoms, inked on and be condemned to live out your latter years with tats zagging six inches lower from where they once zigged. Ouch.

I’m glad God’s love never goes out of style. He loves us in all times in all places and even when we’re all caught up in all kinds of styles. He loves us—and that never changes.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O Lord!”

 

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It’s amazing how often we can find ourselves within the pages of the biblical Book of Psalms. Consider Psalm 130.

I hope we’re not in this psalmist’s sandals often, but anyone who has lived very long can empathize with him. Hurting and almost hopeless, he writes, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” And then he reveals something about the nature of this fallen world, the nature of needy humans, and the nature of our mighty and merciful God.

The rendering in The Message well paints the picture: “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cries for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.”

A Latin term has at times served as a title for this psalm: De Profundis. Something that is “profound” is deep, and the word used for “depths” here has to do with deep waters.

The psalmist is saying, “I’m in trouble! I’m sinking in the deep waters. I’m headed down into dark oblivion! I can’t get myself out! Dear God, help!”

When you’re going down, it’s not a time for polite words: “If you don’t mind, would you help me, please? Ever so sorry to be a bother, but I really believe that I may be drowning.”

In Uganda, in 2007, my wife and I visited our sons who were then in Uganda, and son Joshua and I went rafting down the Nile. We had great guides, and most of the trip was incredibly beautiful. But part of the descent was through what has been called “five of the greatest kilometers of big volume white water on the planet.” (That famous section is lost now, submerged under waters piled up behind the new—in 2012—Bujagali Dam. I’m so glad we rafted it when we did.)

As we came to the Class 5 rapid named Silverback, we knew we’d be tossed out of the raft—yet again. But we wanted to ride it as long as we could. Outside the boat in that class of white water it is surprisingly difficult to get your breath even if you’re on the surface—and we soon weren’t. Cast into the depths and carried off underwater in different directions, we later both confessed that for several long dark moments, we thought drowning was not unlikely. (In the accompanying photo, Josh  & I are in the front of the raft, and headed, in every sense of the word, down.)

“O Lord, out of the depths I cry to you!”

You don’t have to go rafting down the Nile to understand the psalmist. Life has tumbled in, and gone are the illusions that we can handle it ourselves with our strength, our bank account and investments, our professional expertise, our uncommon common sense, our noble character. No! We’re going down, and we’re fresh out of wise words and self-help strategies.

Our words are cut down to three: “O God, help!” From the “depths,” we recognize God as our only help, our only hope. No longer foolish enough to assume we deserve anything, we plead instead for sheer mercy.

In the Lord, both we and the psalmist find forgiveness and mercy and hope. And we praise Him: “My soul waits for the Lord / more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

We can trust our God. He won’t leave us in the depths.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


“We Have Given Our Hearts Away”

 

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In one of Jan Karon’s delightful “Mitford” books, the winsome Episcopal priest Father Tim Cavanaugh shares with his dear old organist some lines from the sonnet (1807) by Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

I admit it: the English major under my hat has always felt a bit (a lot!) deficient with regard to poetry. I love Father Tim, but the good rector is not only a far better pastor than am I, he has a far better grasp on poetry!

But if I understand Wordsworth’s lines at all, I’m with him. The “world” is far too much “with us.” Twenty-four hour news, one of the scourges of our time, is at least 23 1/2 hours too much, a curse to our souls. And, yes, “getting and spending” occupy far too much of our precious time.

Forgetting that the real “bottom line” of our lives has nothing at all to do with the bottom line of any balance sheet, we hurry and scurry and worry our way through God’s gift of life, and barely pause to really “see” nature or, for that matter, beauty of any kind. We hardly notice the stealthy atrophying of our hearts, the shriveling of our souls.

Ah, but we produce, in hopes that the balance sheet nailed to our tombstone will be quite impressive.

I’m reminded of an interesting article from The Washington Post (“Pearls Before Breakfast” (4/8/07), by Gene Weingarten who tried a fascinating experiment with the invaluable aid of Joshua Bell, arguably the best classical violinist in the world.

At 7:51 on a Friday morning, the 39-year-old Bell stood by a trash can at the Metro subway stop at L’Enfant Plaza in Washing-ton, D.C., and played his violin for 43 minutes as a street musician. Tickets to hear this “street musician” routinely fetch three figures. And, by the way, this “street musician” was playing a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin.

As Joshua Bell played three of the most beautiful violin pieces ever written, the whole thing was captured on video. Sixty-three people walked by before one even slowed his pace. Of the 1,097 people who hurried by, 27 people, barely slowing down, threw $37.13 into his violin case. Seven stopped for just a minute to listen, but there was never a crowd. A few children wanted to stop, but their parents were far too rushed.

Many of those who get off the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza are government workers rushing off to crunch numbers and catalog regulations. Bureau-crats and bean counters rarely have time for beauty. But I’m afraid those of us whose lives they live to complicate have exactly the same disease.

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

  

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Decidedly Delusional Discourse in the Key of D

 

Deeeeee

I wonder why “D” words are so often downers?

Death, disease, depression, despair, desperation, divorce, doom, despondency, doldrums, detritus.

Decompose, destruct, deconstruct, demoralize, demonize.

Decrepit, dim-witted, dumb, disheartened, disemboweled (sorry), dead, discombobulated, dilapidated, dingy, delusional, desperate.

That last one’s a cheat. We’ve already listed its brother Darrell and its other brother Darrell: “despair” and “desperation.” Darn!

On, though, we go. Don’t forget dark, drear, and dreary. Cheating again. I admit it.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

I don’t doubt it. I’m betting it was dreary, too. But I’ll betcha dollars to donuts that it wouldn’t have been half that dismal if it had been a night described with “J” words. It’s the “D” words that tend to be joyless and short on [exception noted] delight.

Just admit it. For general dreariness, the “Ds” double down. To get to the heart of “gloom, despair, and agony on me,” you go to the “Ds.”

In the, uh, duh, “D” section, the “Dis-” section (not to be confused with actual dissection) could easily fill up their own dreary chapter. Some of these we’ve already mentioned.

Disgraced, dishonored, disheartened, disenfranchised, discombobulated (my favorite).

Yeah, and a dodgy, downright whiny cut-rate word degraded as a verb, a word that was much more respectable as a noun: disrespect. Ironically, it’s used most by folks who are misbehaving and haven’t figured out that respect, unlike love, can’t be bestowed on demand. By its very nature, the real thing has to be earned.

But “demand” brings us back around to the “Ds” and a dismal start to a downer of a story.

“It really was a dark and dreary night. Demas Diddledeedump, quite frankly a bit of a dim-witted, disheartening, sometimes almost delusional doofus, dwelt in a dingy, dilapidated dive of a domicile, almost as dark and dreary as the night. He lodged with an attack dog, a defanged dachshund, amidst the decomposing detritus of what might be despondently described as a discombobulated and decidedly depressing life.” Hmm.

I admit it. This story, which I’ll not complete, and inDDDeed, this entire essay, isn’t worth a drat and has no particular direction. Since I write columns with points all the time, I figured it was high time for a pointless one.

But here’s a little bit of a blunt point, and if you have any wordsmithing in your blood, poetry in your soul, or any alliterative inclination, you’ll be cursing me in the key of D (which is easy) after you’ve read this. You see, if you breathe “D” air too long, all you can see is da Ds. A little like an ear-worm of a song, it’s more of a tongue-tying twist.

I’d suggest, as God’s people, we skip on over to H for hope, J for joy. Or just center on a different D. Just a little of God’s real Delight trumps a boatload of Ds of the depressing sort. That’s something delicious worth dwelling on.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Americans Need to Keep Hyphens in Perspective

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As an English major and an occasional copy editor, may I say that the hyphen, as tricky at times as it is versatile (think, confusingly, of dashes, en hyphens, em hyphens, etc.), is a noble and useful mark of punctuation. But it pays to keep hyphens in perspective.

In our present age and culture, the hyphen, too often seen as a mark of division, can serve us better as a mark of unity, all the more noble because that unity occurs in the richness of genuine and joyful diversity, as opposed to the insipid and sterile “politically correct” kind.

I’m just thinking, during this Independence Day week, that almost all of us in America can justly lay claim in one way or another to a hyphen. Some of us just got here. But many others of us are from families who have been in America for generations and are so mixed up genetically that our hyphens might actually extend for paragraphs. Even so, lots of us still have at least some idea of the parts of the world from whence many of our ancestors hailed. Hence, hyphens can happen.

My particular hyphen firmly links British with American. British-American.   I’ve never understood why we rarely, if ever, hear that particular hyphenated term of ancestral description. Prejudice? I don’t know. We hear of Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, Spanish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, etc. Why don’t we hear of British-Americans? I’m not kidding. I really wonder.

In any case, in my case, the Shelburne & Caudle, Shropshire & Key blood mingling in my veins points back to merry old England. And, for what it’s worth, though I had nothing to do with my birth, I am absolutely okay with that. When I read the words of my personal heroes, like the man singly most responsible for leading in the defeat of Hitler in World War II, Winston Churchill (whose mother, by the way, was American and who himself near the end of his life received honorary American citizenship), I look back on the long history of British-American relations and am thankful for the exceptionally warm ties of friendship and, for most of their histories, faith, that have long bound England and America wonderfully and almost always together.

But what about your own hyphen and your own heroes? I can be happy with mine and at the same time be completely happy that you’re happy with yours. I guarantee you, I’m richer (and fatter) for having feasted on the food, enjoyed the flair, and learned to love a bunch of the customs that have come with lots of different hyphens to the nation that nurtures us all. We are first and foremost simply Americans, hyphens be celebrated or hyphens be hanged.

God, the Father of us all, hates divisiveness. He paid the highest price to unite his children. But he loves, celebrates, and makes possible genuine and joyful diversity of the very best and richest sort. If you doubt that, just visit a zoo. Or . . . America.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


An Old Picture Inspires Some Timely Thoughts

 

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C.S. Lewis writes that the very fact that time itself seems so strange and surprising to us is proof that we were not originally created to live in it as our natural habitat. Presumably, fish don’t feel wet in water, but we fight with time continually.

Within just a few days I’ve officiated at the funeral of a dear friend, helped bear the caskets of my uncle and his dear wife to the open graves in the family cemetery I’ll be mentioning, and held in my arms my newest granddaughter, Ella Vernell Shelburne. Time seems to stand still as I gaze into that beautiful face. I could hold her forever. But standing still is exactly what time never really does here.

My oldest brother once scanned and shared some great family photos he’d borrowed from our Uncle David (who I just mentioned). My favorite is a wonderful picture of my maternal grandfather, Granddaddy Key,  who died back in 1975.

I never remember Granddaddy as having anything but a full head of the thick, cottony white hair. But in this old picture, my dark-headed grandfather is wearing a big cowboy hat and is dressed in a white shirt with a vest and ribbon tie. Maybe 12 years old, he sits beside his two daintily-dressed and lady-like young sisters who are wearing lacy white dresses complete with white bows and white ribbons in their hair. The three siblings are perched on a small dock jutting out into a little pond. Aunt Vida and Aunt Grace, looking pretty and pristine, each have an arm gently extended and are gazing down at the little white ducks feasting on the bread crumbs my great-aunts are dropping.

Granddaddy is looking calmly down into the water, and he’s feeding the pond populace, too, but with a different goal. He’s holding a cane pole with line and hook attached, and he’s waiting for the tug that will mean the end of the worm on the hook below.

In the distance, sitting cross-legged, relaxing and lost in thought, gazing across the pond from the other bank, is my great-grandfather Alf Key who was born in the same week Abraham Lincoln died. Alf has a big hat, too, and, if you already know to look for it, you can just maybe make out the tips of his big wide moustache.

I can’t see the eyes of any of them. They’re all looking calmly down or across the pond, just feeding the ducks, or the fish, or just thinking.

But they make me think.

Real people, their blood runs in my veins and in Ella’s. Three of them were, in that picture, far younger than I am now. All have long since gone on, their bodies at rest in the little country cemetery that sits just across a mesquite-filled pasture from the old windmill and the ruins of the old house where my mother was born. All of this, along with the tombstones, are quiet reminders that, as colleague Bert Mercer reminds me, “once there lived here a race of people a little lower than the angels.”

The human race. And in that old photo a little group of my ancestors eking out a living when life was truly hard, just taking some time to relax. To sit. To think. I never entered their mind. But they certainly have entered mine.

So much has changed, but what is truly important is exactly the same. You and I will pass on the values, the faith, the love that is the real legacy we are building today for generations yet unborn. Sooner than we think.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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