Thursday, October 25, 2007


The “Witch House” earned its name. Constructed in the mid 16th century and painted black, it’s the only structure to remain that is connected with the infamous witch trials. We toured the house in Salem, Massachusetts and the $20.00 spent on the guided tour was well worth the fee.

The house belonged to Magistrate Jonathan Corwin at the time charges of witchcraft were brought against Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba as accused tormentors of two young girls, Betty Parris, age 9, and Abigail Williams, age 11.

Through centuries, the witch trials brought about much speculation as to the original events that eventually caused the hangings and deaths in prison of 24 people.

The Peabody Essex Museum houses 552 original, preserved documents pertaining to the witchcraft trials. On display are eerie memorabilia such as “Witch Pins,” used in the examination of withes. A small bottle containing the supposed finger bone of victim George Jacobs remains at the Courthouse in Salem.

While Magistrate Jonathan Corwin never wrote anything about the witch trials, he did later offer an apology for his part in the proceedings. The imaginative minds of children and the dynamics of Puritanism obviously played a key role in the deplorable accusations.

“The Crucible,” first a play, early 1900’s, and then later revived in movies, portrays the witch trials of Salem. If you want closer-to-the-truth facts rely on historical documents because liberties were taken in the latest movie, 1996, and known facts were changed to enhance story lines.

Most historians agree that the Old Testament ninth commandment was broken during the accusations and trials: “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16). Bearing false witness means that one whispers, bears tales or slanders a person. Of course bearing false witness is as common today as it was at the villainous witch trials in Salem.

When I was a child and first read about the Salem trials, I remember the feeling of horror that young girls could wreak such havoc and cost lives. Not long after, a tale I’d started landed me in trouble, but my parents found out and nipped my insult before anyone went to the gallows.

When someone behaves badly we tend to measure their words, intents, and actions, with an ugly stick. As a listener we have choices to make with what we see and hear. We can think the worst or we can pause and wonder what might have caused their irritability. Reputations, businesses, and lives can be lost because of misconceptions or deliberate slander.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The only person who acts sensibly is my tailor. He takes my measure anew every time he sees me. Everyone else goes by their old measurements.”

A proverb says, “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (17:9). If you lived in Salem in the 16th Century, tittle-tattle could have separated the neck bone from the backbone. Gossip and slander sever. Follow the tailor’s actions and take new measurements when you meet folks.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Honing Instincts

It flitted by and surprised us. While 13 miles out to sea from the Gloucester, MA harbor, a Monarch butterfly flew close to the deck railing of the whale watching boat. My husband said to a nearby man, “He’s a long way from home.”

That same day, aboard the Hurricane II (115 foot) boat, we saw five juvenile humpback whales. The rich krill feeding grounds of the cold Maine Gulf served ample meals to the youngsters. They filtered gallons of water through baleen plates, and with teenage appetites, fed around the clock, doing their part to reach adult size, up to 50 foot long.

From my vantage point at the rail, the humpbacks looked about the length of their granddaddies. Like us, the juveniles were on a round trip journey. Soon, they would migrate to the warmer waters near the Dominican Republic, the humpback delivery and breeding grounds.

After we returned home, we watched a television special about migrating Monarchs. University and nature programs monitor the Monarch flights. A tagging system, a whisper-light sticker for a wing, allows researchers to track distances and destinations.

School children can get involved in the tagging process at, a comprehensive site with interesting facts and statistics. Monarchs need to store plenty of fat in their abdomens to fly 1,000-3,000 miles to warmer climates. The Monarchs maiden-fly to exact locations and often to the same tree as their late grandparents and great grandparents roosted in the previous year.

Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains fly to trees along the California coast. Those east of the Rocky Mountains fly to forests in the high mounts of Mexico. In South Texas, you may have seen a lot of Monarchs earlier this week because it was peak time for their travels through our neck of the woods.

“Another unsolved mystery is how Monarchs find the overwintering sites each year,” states, in cooperation with the University of Kansas. “No one knows how their honing system works; it is another of the many unanswered questions in the butterfly world.”

During migrating season, if a Monarch is caught and then released hundreds of miles away, it will seem confused for about five days. And then a remarkable thing happens, it somehow gets new flight bearings and joins up with its kin.

People stray, too. Some walked godly paths before, and some have never believed in God. But, I’ve noticed that many will return to belief or find God for the first time, late in life. Solomon said God “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccl.3:11).

God excels in creating honing devices in animals and men. His implanted human-heart compasses are capable of pointing folks to him. Seeking the meaning to life is an earth-old quest. The deep seated hope of something eternal is from God.

If you are floundering outside your flight pattern, take hope, this old world is not all there is to life. There is still the God-friendly climate of eternity to return to and explore.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Need Wisdom, Just Ask

Early morning sun filters into the king’s throne room. Loyal servants hover about, but the peace is shattered by frantic women’s voices from the outer court pleading for an audience with King Solomon.

When King Solomon’s reign began, God offered to help, and Solomon literally asked for a “listening heart” to govern his people. An example of Solomon’s inspired wisdom is found in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Here’s how I imagine the scene.

The women’s arguing made Solomon chuckle to himself, he didn’t like to get involved in women’s quarrels, after all he’s gaining a reputation as a wise king. However, his heart is drawn into the unfolding drama because of another sound--the cries of an infant mixed into the fray.

He motions and two disheveled women walk toward his dais. A bawling newborn is swaddled in a sling in front of one, and the woman makes no effort towards comfort. King Solomon signals for a burly bodyguard to take the infant.

Massive-soldier Hiram does as the king asks, but a frown creases his brow as he awkwardly lifts the tiny babe to his shoulder.

Intent, Solomon listens as the women argue their plights, each claiming to be the birth mother. These facts emerge through their accusations. They live in the same house and both delivered sons the previous week. However, one of the sons died in the night, and now both women swear the tiny babe is theirs.

Solomon wonders which woman is telling the truth. He knows two facts: last night, one woman had a son die and one had a son stolen. Even a fool knew that information added up to two inconsolable women. A swift move of his hand signals for their bickering to stop.

Like a refreshing breath from above, a solution descends upon him. He looks toward Hiram who cradles the mewing infant and wonders how the giant guard has managed to calm the babe? He calls him forward and commands he unsheathe his sword.

Solomon reads his trusted guard’s eyes. Doubt briefly flickered, but he obeys. Hiram stretches out huge palms, in one the babe, in the other the haft of his razor-edged sword. A hush falls over the room.

Solomon steadies his gaze on both women and gives a command to half the child between them. Immediately one woman’s face registers smug pride, but the other woman’s eyes reflect indescribable pain, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” Solomon has his answer. Only a real mother would be willing to give her son to another to spare his life.

When Solomon became king, God offered him gifts. Instead of wealth, power, or fame he asked for good judgment. All of us could benefit from wisdom that descends from the King of Kings, the kind Solomon received.

James encourages, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

That’s a wise request king or not.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friendly Award

A man who has friends must himself be friendly~ Proverbs18:24

In the past when someone labeled Texans as unfriendly, I bristled, like the spine-fur on a dog’s neck when its territory is threatened. Even in our huge-hearted state, the unfriendly-label-blanket can be thrown over an entire community when visitors encounter town grouches.

My husband David and I would like to give out a “friendly” award to the Northeast town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Last week in Gloucester, David and his army buddy (Vietnam) Chris Larsen reunited for the first time in nearly four decades. Over the years, phone calls and mail kept them in touch, and we finally met his lovely wife Joan and family.

Of Finnish descent, Chris Larsen comes from a long line of stout-hearted commercial fishermen. Lost at sea, his grandfather’s and uncle’s names are at a cenotaph, a memorial to those whose remains are elsewhere.

One memorial features a fisherman’s wife and two children gazing toward the Atlantic horizon, searching the seascape for the husband and father they kissed goodbye. Some 10,000 Gloucester fishermen have lost their lives since the 1600s. Over 5,000 known names are honored at the memorials.

Chris owns Larsen’s Shoes on Main Street, a much safer occupation. On a touristy Saturday, he didn’t open his store. Instead, he guided us around Cape Ann. We visited granite rock quarries, wharfs, filming locations for the movie “The Perfect Storm” (about the fishing vessel, “Andrea Gail,” lost at sea 1991). I dipped my toes in the Atlantic, just because I could.

At Stage Fort Park, we walked Half Moon Beach, home to a 1600’s settlement. And, moored on towering rocks we photographed an arsenal of antique cannons, jutting toward the Atlantic. There, we climbed atop 50 foot granite boulders.

Driving in any new area can be challenging. In Gloucester, some streets allow for parking on both sides, narrowing the lane for moving vehicles. Traffic rotaries are abundant, road-hubs where—three, four or five—side roads converge onto the paved circle. Rotary vehicles have the right of way, but on other roads, Chris said, “Everyone has the right-of-way.”

When Dave and I drove in town, friendly folk often let us cut in line. We’d be waiting to turn out of a parking lot onto a busy street, and a charitable driver would stop, honk-honk, and wave us into the traffic. Innumerable times.

Soon, we too had our windows down, waving cars into the bumper-to-bumper parade ahead of us. Like a communicable disease, Massachusetts friendliness went around, and we caught some.

While there, we discussed wild turkeys. Massachusetts still has plenty. To our surprise in downtown Boston a few days later from a trolley window, we saw a lone wild turkey foraging with pigeons on a grassy area. The easygoing pigeons seemed to accept him as one of their own.

To glimpse God’s extravagant handiwork and experience pleasant people, visit Gloucester. And I imagine our friend Chris could outfit you with a nice pair of walking shoes, too.