Friday, July 27, 2007

A Bird Named Promise

For five weeks, a misguided little bird has pecked on four of our home windows. She’s some type of grayish bird with a tuft of feathers on top. It’s obvious we’re not ornithologists.

A snippy little thing, she pecks and taps, and then flutters her wingspread against the shiny glass barriers. She’s becoming bolder and doesn’t zoom off as often. Perched on a small twig, looking into our home, her head twists this way and that when I tell her she’s wasting her life. But, maybe her life is not so barren because she inspired this column and reminded me of a song.

In 1905, Dr. and Mrs. Martin (Civilla) visited in Elmira, New York. While there, they formed a deep friendship with the Doolittles. The wife had been bedridden for nearly 20 years, and her husband, an incurable cripple, propelled himself to work in a wheelchair.

The Martins took note of the Doolittle’s happy Christian lives, how they inspired others with their cheerful outlooks. When asked for their secret, Mrs. Doolittle answered, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

Cavilla Martin said, “The beau­ty of this sim­ple ex­press­ion of bound­less faith gripped the hearts and fired the imag­in­a­tion of Dr. Mar­tin and me.” The very next day, Cavilla mailed her poem/lyrics to composer Charles Gab­ri­el, who set the words to music. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Spar­row” was the out­come.

Today, I named my miscued bird Promise. I call her that because she reminds me of a security from God, one that involves his care of birds and us. When Jesus taught his followers about trust in God, he told how a common sparrow will not fall to the ground apart from God’s will. “So don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

Jesus also threw in the fact that the hairs of our heads are numbered, and with shedding, that’s a daily tallying, intimate knowledge of our bodies. Isn’t that comforting? That’s one reason to sing, that God knows everything about each person, from “irrelevant” information to the more pertinent things.

Poor little Promise is off her flight pattern. On a daily collision course, she’s out of step with her winged sisters. She gets up early, catches worms, and then worries at my windows. Maybe this is her destiny, but I wish she could supplement it with more soaring and singing.

We are God’s chorus of songbirds. We are in God’s line of vision, and despite barricades, we can croon the Doolittle inspired refrain: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Book of Hours

Book of Hours

The Book of Hours was the most popular book of the Middle Ages. Primarily belonging to the wealthy, written by hand and illuminated by noted artists, only nobility and the rich could afford them. Around the text, artists filled in with elaborate borders, colored miniatures and exquisite decorations. The Frick Fine Arts Library at the University of Pittsburgh contains a 15th century Book of Hours. There are many fine photos of this book at their website.

On July 8, 1999, Christie’s Auction House in London sold a Book of Hours dating from the early 1500’s. Confiscated by the Nazis during World War II and recently recovered, the book included 67 full-page illustrations. Nothing of that magnitude had been offered on the open market. The sale price was over fourteen million dollars, a record for an illuminated book.
The small handbooks were called Book of Hours because they encouraged hourly meditation and prayer and some sections are titled the Hours of the Cross and Hours of the Holy Spirit. They were produced in Europe, but were especially popular in France and Flanders.

Ages ago, town bells or church bells were used as signals within a community. If a need arose, the church bells could sound an alarm, or one tradition was to ring the bells on the hour reminding Christians to pray. Psalm 119:164 says, “Seven times a day, I praise you for your righteous laws.”

Daniel prayed daily: “He went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God” (6:10).

No one but God is truly aware of how often individuals speak with him. One of my favorite older books about prayer is Don’t Just Stand There: Pray Something by Ronald J. Dunn. Any prayer, no matter how inept in expression is better than no prayer. Occasionally an actor in a drama will say something like “Lord, I’m not used to talking to you, but if you’re listening. . ....” A one on one visit with God is a good prayer-start, a very good start.

Perhaps you began praying many years ago, or you may be a beginner. Today, when you notice the hour is about to change, be reminded that the Creator of time and prayer is longing to hear from you. You don’t need fancy printed prayers on decorated paper to get started. Just pray.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Funny Bone

In Melvin Helitzer’s Comedy Writing Secrets, he said nearly all humor is based upon feelings of superiority from the one who is laughing. Having never studied comedy writing before, the superiority reaction surprised me.

From chortles to guffaws, humor is an emotional response that is extremely subjective. If a comic pokes fun at something we revere, we tend to not laugh. However, when watching reruns of comedian Lucille Ball stomping grapes or stuffing candy in her mouth, most get tickled because we feel superior to her antics, knowing we would never fall prey in similar situations.

Humor aimed at fears allows release. Tell a joke about low wages, poor crops, or life-fumbles, and moods can ratchet up from wretched to barely miserable. Steve Allen said that good mental and physical health often depends on the ability to laugh at self.

Helitzer says, “Humor is criticism, cloaked as entertainment, directed at a specific target.” Bill Mauldin, wrote, “Humor is really laughing off a hurt, grinning at misery.” Both of these men echo a common saying, “It’s better to laugh than cry.”

To warm up an audience, speakers often begin presentations with a bit of self-deprecating humor, allowing the audience the chance to feel a wee bit superior. After an audience hears a speaker’s story about land-sliding mountainous oranges at Wal-Mart, they are more likely to sense that the speaker is just a normal person like them. They are more open to listen, friend to friend.

Wholesome, quick wit is also fun and engaging. Newsweek said Ronald Reagan sealed his election with a clever comeback. Reagan debated the younger Mondale and the subject of age came up. Seventy-six year old Reagan said: “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

God created very capable hearts, ones that can even experience humor in the middle of misery. Wise King Solomon said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person's strength” (Proverbs 17:22 NLT). Our supreme God’s gift of wholesome humor is a blessed outlet from the grim side of life.

Go ahead, giggle, snigger, snort, chuckle a bunch this week. Who knows, a few belly laughs might lower your medical bills.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Stamp Out Starter Marriages

So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. ~ Genesis 29:20

We attended two weddings in June. One of those couples, Amy and Morgan Hughes, have four living sets of grandparents, all past their 50th wedding anniversaries, one couple at 60 years.

The grandparents’ names and years of marriage were listed in the wedding programs. As grandparents exited the ceremony, a country song “Long Line of Love” played. Arm in arm, the mature couples strolled out to the words, “My granddad’s still in love with my grandma.”

At Jean and Jamie’s wedding, their parents and guests pledged to assist him and her achieve their vows. The promises of help from wedding guests placed a catalog of mellow marriages, of know-how in the hands of the newlyweds.

A Conroe, TX couple, Kay and Bart Massey, met January 1956 on a blind date. Kay, a freshman at Texas Tech, and Bart, just out of the Army had one year of eligibility on his football scholarship. The blind date took, and they married November 17, 1957.

Bart retired as executive principal at Conroe High School, and then spent five years part time in building operations at central office. Kay retired as area superintendent at Aldine ISD. Last fall, their 50th anniversary finally arrived, but it didn’t bring about the usual fête.

Bart, otherwise in good health, needed hip replacement. The best surgery date encompassed their anniversary. Then, Kay needed emergency surgery.

They spent November 17th in hospital beds in different facilities. That day they celebrated by phone, and after healing, they cruised with four other couples having “fun the whole time.”

Starter homes I’ve heard of, but who dreamed up “starter marriages”? The descriptive is sad commentary on the high divorce rate among newly married couples.

To help wipe out “starter marriages,” here’s sage advice. One couple observes each marriage anniversary with a “growing” ceremony by planting a tree on their farm, a grove nearing 40.

Bailey McBride, married 51 years, says we grow and change. Husband and wife will need “commitment to understanding the heart and mind of the other.”

Kay Massey says “Keep God first in your life, love and respect each other, have patience, keep a positive attitude and a good sense of humor.” Our “humorous times began on our blind date and have continued.”

If you spot the Masseys, watch for the glow. A final word of advice for marriages from Bart:

“Be nice, and don’t hit.”

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