Tag Archives: perspective

Cemeteries Help Keep Life in Perspective

I’m weird, and I know it. But I sort of enjoy spending some time in cemeteries. I’m talking, of course, about the times when I want to be there, not the times when I have to be. Big difference. There’s been way too much of the latter recently, it seems to me.

But I find cemeteries peaceful and interesting. Strolling among the tombstones (since I don’t have to mow around them, I much prefer the standing ones), I get the chance to play Sherlock Holmes and deduce all sorts of life stories from all sorts of inscriptions.

Some cemeteries are quite beautiful with well-kept shrubs and trees and grass. They are quiet places; I like quiet places. And, if I may say so, the folks who populate cemeteries tend to be incredibly easy to get along with.

Since I’ve been a pastor in my community for over thirty-four years, more than a few of the names I see on the stones in our area cemeteries are connected with lives and stories that I know. I stood at the heads of quite a few of those graves and spoke words I hoped would point to the Author of Life just before the earth’s blanket was rolled over those remains.

When I think of my life and the life of our community, it’s hard for me to visualize life without many of the folks I’ve just mentioned. I no longer bump into them at worship or at the coffee shop or wave at them as we pass on the street. I miss that.

But they are still very much a part of me. A part of us. And that’s especially true if they were part of the community of faith. They may or may not have been part of my congregation or my denomination, but so what? Christ’s church is so much larger than the fences we build to try to keep God all tied up and tamed. Thank God indeed, God won’t be shut up in anybody’s box, and he has never been willing to be successfully tamed.

Death is the harshest reminder of all that we’ll never get even this world tamed, much less its Creator. We may not look long upon those boxes that we bury, but they are nonetheless a constant reminder that life can’t be successfully controlled.

Cemeteries help put our lives in perspective. The “drop dead” late-filing date for filing federal taxes just passed, but folks who have passed away care not at all. And even if life’s cost is (almost certainly) increasing at a steadier clip than your paycheck, once your heart stops, the meter quits running, too. Perspective.

Cemeteries help us divide what really matters from what really does not. What matters most is who we chose to ultimately trust in this life—ourselves or our Creator. That’s a serious decision.

But once that decision’s made, cemeteries also remind us that life is far too precious to be taken too seriously. God is the God of all joy. Those who love him can dance in his presence both here and hereafter. They know better than to think that love and laughter and beauty cease on the other side of the tombstone.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Stars Speak Loudy, Wisely, in Silvery Silence

The yard mowing was finished. One more time. A personal best, by the way. Two hours. Mowing our 10,000 square foot yard usually requires almost three hours.

The last part of the job had pretty much been accomplished in Braille. It was a Wednesday evening. We’d gathered, as usual, with our church folks for a meal, etc., 6:00-7:00. (I am so very glad we meet that early.)

But Daylight Saving Time, a very mixed blessing, meant that I faced a decision at about 7:30. To mow or not to mow. That was the question. I did not want to. That was not in question. But this was the window I had for mowing for the next several days. If I waited, the yard would be, even this early in the season for us, a jungle.

So I mowed, figuring I’d get at least part of it done. I was amazed to finish the whole thing. (Only because I had trimmed pretty seriously on the previous mowing and got away with very little of that on Wednesday.) As I mentioned, darkness was coming on as I throttled down my mowing machine.

It really was a beautiful evening. So, once the rumble of the engine was silenced, I decided to sit out on the patio for a few minutes, partly to nurse my aching feet, and mostly to enjoy the quiet and the stillness.

The slivered moon was headed down behind my friend and neighbor’s workshop. Optical illusion, I know, but it surely seemed to head down faster the closer it got to the horizon. A lunar voyeur, I spied on it, lest it sneakily rebel and head back upward with no one watching. In the space of ten long breaths (I was counting), it slipped away, down for the count.

And, of course, as the moon went under, the stars, always there but needing the darkness to make their shimmering silvery presence known, began their sparkling dance.

The canopy of two huge trees in the backyard obscures part of the sky (blessed shade in the heat of the day), but the Big Dipper was shining through brightly. A very elementary knowledge of astronomy will reveal that drawing a line from the “pointer stars” (Merak and Dubhe), five times the distance between them (about twenty degrees), will land your eye on Polaris, the North Star, the anchor of the northern sky and friend of long generations of sailors.

The second star from the Dipper’s bowl is Mizar, and right beside it, if your eyes are good (this was an ancient eye test) you can make out Alcor.

The Big Dipper hasn’t changed recently. In about 50,000 years, I’m told, a bit of a shape change may be apparent. But on Wednesday night, I noticed what looked like another bright star in the pattern. What?!

And then the “star” moved. Jet airplanes do that. And that’s what it was. I had momentarily confused a few-years-old man-made object flying six miles high with God-made stars billions of years old, 51-123 light years away.

We should spend more time sitting in the darkness looking up at the stars. That night their silvery silence spoke loudly. My “airplane” difficulties may masquerade as stars, but they flit away, and God’s love-lit starlight remains.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2018 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 Fool-proof Formula for Everything? No Fooling?

 

caldron

American magic.

It’s a funny term, particularly when spoken by missionaries who deal with witch doctor types and superstitions regularly. You just don’t expect them to look back across the Pond, smile, shake their heads indulgently, and say, “Yep, that’s American magic.”

You see, magic, at its heart, has to do with manipulation. You get the formula right— eye of newt, tongue of frog, liver of lobster—and out pops a potion-produced prince or hex or whatever.

American magic? It’s the idea that there’s a fool-proof formula for everything. There’s not. And we’re fools if we think so.

The hard truth for sinners like us, and like everybody else, is that we’ll never get life right. Deal with it. Actually, God already has, and we’re not God—which is quite a load off. God absolutely will not allow us to file Christianity in the Self-help Section of life.

But American magic, peddled by folks who may wear business suits but still bear a serious family resemblance to their brothers across the ocean dressing for shaman success in loin cloths, says that if you just work hard enough, long enough, and, with exactly the right formula, you can’t help but “succeed.” Add on to the garage and order your Ferrari!

Want to build a mega-business, a mega-church, a mega-life? Somebody will sell you a formula. If it doesn’t work, you just didn’t cook it right.

Want to live almost forever right here—or maybe five minutes longer than folks who ignore a good many health rules but in the dastardly unfairness of life chose parents with better genetics than yours? We’ve got non-transfat, non-caffeine, non-gluten, non-[pick any three letters of the alphabet], non-taste formulas for that, and we’re busily commissioning food police to help us make food choices that masquerade almost as “moral” choices.

Couple the right number of sets and reps and rounds with the other gerbils on the treadmills, the right vitamins, and an amazingly dreary preoccupation with abs and gluts, and off you go to live long, healthy, thin, annoying lives.

Well, maybe. (I admit that even the Apostle Paul said that “bodily exercise” has at least a little value.) But life is unfair. Even American magic fails. The economy tanks. We pick one of two appalling candidates for president. Merger mania mangles your company. One microbe or cancer cell cancels out a lifetime gym membership, and a life. And you’re surprised to find yourself standing before the Almighty with low cholesterol and great abs but a tad ticked in a postmortem sort of way that, drat it all, you died anyway!

So what to do?

Maybe get some perspective. A life lived joyfully in love is far better than a life just lived lengthily any other way. Moderation in enjoying lots of good gifts at the right time and with the right kind of gratitude to God will bless most of us a good deal more than world-class low cholesterol.

It ticked Pharisees then and now, but Jesus eschewed magic and lived a life of trust, not manipulation. He lived a life of divinely robust holiness that could never be confused with pious sterility and the cut-rate pseudo-sanctity that’s as shallow as it is stern, and all about lengthy lists of things we don’t do and don’t chew.

Magic doesn’t work. Trust does.

 

 

      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 profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


%d bloggers like this: