THUNK!

Image: Ray Miller — Pixabay

Tyrant Turnaround

Sipping coffee at the table with my back to the open inside door, I was startled by a sharp THUNK. I jumped up and looked out the screen door. Just as I suspected: a bird had hit the glass and was lying beside the Welcome mat, gasping. Our cat, Angus, was heading up the steps to see about a possible lunch. I shooed him away. He knows the rules here. No Birds!

The bird, an eastern kingbird, was all askew and definitely stunned; it fluttered a bit when I stepped outside. I grabbed a few tissues from the house for padding and gently cupped it in my hands. It offered no resistance as I carried it to the flower bed and tucked it in the shelter of a shrub.

Much against his will, Angus was forced to come inside.

The kingbird lie there gasping, head on the ground, tail straight up, feathers ruffled, for about fifteen minutes. When I checked again it had pulled itself together into a sitting position. Half an hour later it was gone. Since there were no other cats about, and no tell-tale feathers, I’m sure it flew away.

I thought of a childhood song:
“God sees the little sparrow fall; it meets his tender view.
If God so loves the little things, I know he loves me too.”

This was no tiny sparrow, no warbler or wren with a beautiful song. The kingbird, a.k.a. “Tyrannus tyrannus” is a bigger bird. An acrobat when catching his meals in flight. Lordly, top-of-the-tree type. One guide calls them pugnacious. The ones in our yard live peaceably enough; I’ve never seen them bother smaller birds. But kingbirds are famous for their aggressive attacks on hawks, crows and other predators – even humans – that invade their territory.

To me its reputation didn’t matter. Here was a bird – and I like birds. I was able to help it, so I did.

Helpless little birds, gentle doves; it’s not hard to take pity on them. What about the tyrants of this world, the bullies, the belligerent, the viciously defensive? But God – so the Bible says – loves all people. No matter what our issues, He’s ready to help where He can. When we don’t thrash around and fight him off.

We can’t always see hope for change, but God knows how a lion can make 180-degree turn and become a lamb, gentle and merciful. History is full of nasty types who turned around when they met God. I think of Saul, who became the apostle Paul.

“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord…” Acts 9:1 But Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and Saul did a major turn-around. He became Paul – meaning “Little” – the one who later wrote, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10

A Place Prepared

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is SWIM. This is cheating, but in response I’m going to post a devotional article I wrote some years ago, back when I was keeping a betta fish.

Image by Rebecca Lehman — Pixabay

A Place Prepared

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Alphie was a millet-brained betta fish. What did he know? His one-gallon fish bowl was the only world he’d ever experienced and he was content there. He had no clue that there could be a better environment, or that I was preparing one for him.

I’d learned that betta fish deserve a better environment than a fish bowl, so I was setting up a proper ten-gallon aquarium where he could enjoy life to the full. He’d have a heater and filter to keep his water fresh and pure. Bliss, betta style.

But this preparation couldn’t happen overnight. An aquarium needs to go through a nitrogen cycle to develop the right kind of bacteria in the filter so it will purify the water passing through. Alphie’s new home sat on the counter for over a month as it went through this cycle; during this time I added driftwood and various ornaments that would make his new world so much more interesting. Meanwhile he circled round and round in his little fish bowl, relaxed in the world he knew.

Then one day his new home was ready for him. I set his bowl beside the tank, then scooped him out in a small ladle. Now he was really confined! And scared, too; he squirmed and fought this new situation. Just a little fish; he couldn’t comprehend the big picture, or imagine a place where he could swim to his heart’s content.

Though the transfer was uncomfortable and confusing for him, it was accomplished quickly. I placed him in his new tank and his delight was obvious. So much room! So many interesting things to explore. Constant warmth and pure water. For a little fish this was paradise!

Most of us are fairly happy in this world. Some content, some not so content in our little lives, but it’s the only space we’ve ever known. Like my betta, we’re not very willing to leave it. For sure we’re not enthused about being carried out in a small box! Our comprehension of what waits on the other side is so limited.

Unlike my little fish, however, we can know God’s plans for us. Jesus has revealed them to His followers; by faith we can believe His words. He has prepared a place for a people who have prepared themselves: those who have placed their faith in his promises and their lives in his will.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14: 2-3

And we can rejoice like the Psalmist:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Psalm 23:6

Blackbirds in the Lilac Bush

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today was LILAC. I’ve been doing some serious thinking today and decided to share my thoughts in a story of sorts.

Image by koala0815 — Pixabay

The Lilac Bush

One day a lilac sprout appeared on this earth and began to stretch toward the sun. Soon the sapling attained a nice size and sent out branches, attractive and green, with the promise of a heavenly lilac scent every spring. As it bore larger leaves and spread out more branches people found it a sweet shade from the hot sun.

However, blackbirds passing by discovered the shrub and began using the branches as a regular perch. I suspect they saw themselves as ornaments. Mingling among the blooms the birds even picked up some of the lilac scent. But they were not happy campers, those blackbirds; they tended to be a contentious bunch. Some were especially harsh, constantly picking at the birds on nearby branches.

In time the lilac seemed so dotted with blackbirds that folks hardly saw the flowers. Here and there people may see a purple bloom, or catch the lilac scent, enough to realize there was a bush there. However, all those squawking, squabbling birds definitely spoiled the beauty of the shrub.

People started to say, “It’s ugly! Cut it down.

Others protested “There really is a lilac here and it is blooming. Can’t we rather shoo away those dreadful birds? Why should the world be deprived of the beauty of lilacs because there are blackbirds?

“But they like it so well. They’re always coming back to this shrub. Let’s get rid of it and we’ll be rid of the blackbirds.”

“Are you sure?”

Jesus told his followers that Kingdom of God was like a mustard seed; tiny when seeded, it would grow and become a great tree. So great that the birds of the air would lodge in the branches. (Matt 13:31-32) Over the years many different birds have settled in the branches of this great tree and claimed to be residents of the Kingdom, bringing many different dogmas and and so much strife.

Some years back John Lennon wrote a song about how wonderful it would be if we’d wake up one morning and there’d be no more religion. He was definitely thinking of all those squabbling blackbirds. But really, how much would change?

There are and always will be blackbirds. All-wise and inclined to squabble, many will perch in the tree of religion because it’s a handy shelter. If that tree were to disappear they’d find a different shrub. Race. Ethnicity. Color. Nation. Education. Military might. There’s always some reason to lord it over your neighbors and squash them.

However, don’t most of the world’s religions teach their disciples to respect your fellow man, at least in principle? I can’t speak for any others, but Jesus taught his followers to help those in need, care for the weak, turn the other cheek and live at peace. In spite of the extremists that make the headlines, virtue and beauty still bloom. People do get glimpses of the real tree; a bit of loving kindness still perfumes our air. Take that away and what would be left in this world?

Rusty Nail

A verse reflecting on the death of Jesus

A Rusty Nail

I ran a nail into my hand,
The wound was hard to heal;
So bitter was the pain to stand
I thought how it would feel,
To have spikes thrust through hands and feet,
Impaled by hammer beat.

Then hoisted on a cross of oak
Against the sullen sky,
With all about the jeering folk
Who joyed to see me die;
Die hardly in insensate heat,
With bleeding hands and feet.

Yet was it not that day of Fate,
Of cruelty insane,
Climaxing centuries of hate
That woke our souls to pain?
And are we not the living seed
Of those who did the deed!

Of course, with thankful heart I know
We are not fiends as then;
And in a thousand years or so
We may be gentle men.
But it has cost a poisoned hand,
And pain beyond a cry,
To make me strangely understand
A Cross against the sky.

–Robert William Service

Ready to Face It?

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is READY. A very useful word that should give oodles of responses.

“Are You Ready to be Well?

The Gospels relate an incident where Jesus met a man who’d been a cripple for many years. Jesus stopped in passing and asked the man, “Wilt thou be made whole?” In other words, “Do you want to be well?”

The man was lying by a miraculous pool where an angel troubled the waters occasionally and the first one in after the turbulence was cured of their affliction. Many folks had gathered there, hoping for a cure, and this particular fellow had been lying there for years. He explained to Jesus how he could never get to the pool fast enough when the water started roiling. Someone else always beat him to the cure.

Jesus question seems very odd, but I see a number of undertones here:
“Are you ready to be well? To face the real world?”
Are you ready to leave behind all these friends you’ve been commiserating with for so long?
Will you give up the sympathy and charity of folks who pass by and start earning your own living?

There are many kinds of sickness and dependency in our world, and perhaps physical ailments are probably the easiest to say good-bye to. It may be hard to see the sympathy of friends dry up, but how wonderful to be able to move and breathe and function. No wonder people who’ve been cured are ready to sing and dance for joy.

Folks can get in a rut that’s uncomfortable or painful, but what they can see over the top looks pretty scary, too. One day a friend was lamenting her dependence on tobacco. She admitted that it was a costly, controlling habit. “It’s got your life,” she said. “I just can’t make it without my smokes.” Being a believer in prayer, I asked her if she’d like me to pray with her that God would give her the strength to quit. “No, I guess not,” she said. Either she didn’t believe God could help her leave this habit — or she was afraid He really would!

I think Jesus’ question is as relevant for us as it was back then. If medical science could come up with an amazing drug that could instantly cure people of substance dependence — replace all that dopamine the body’s lost so the person could truly start fresh — how many would accept the cure? Leave their old life, their friends? Or would the real world be too scary? As fellow blogger Martha K said not long ago, “You can’t get a person into rehab. If they don’t choose to go in of their own free will, it won’t do them any good.”

That First Step

We all have issues we put off as long as possible because they’re hard and will likely have unpleasant consequences. But finally we’re ready. We’ve circled this hill too long. Crossed the bridge emotionally dozens of times and still aren’t over. So we grit our teeth, square our shoulders and march forward.

Health issues. Quitting a habit, starting a diet and sticking with it. Undertaking a new and possibly risky treatment. Deciding what to do about your parent or child in a coma. The doctors are pressing for a decision.

Moving. All that packing and loading, unloading, rearranging! Moving away from home, having to stand on your own two feet, maybe having to support yourself financially. Moving elderly parents. Sorting out a lifetime of stuff. Moving an unwilling elderly parent. Facing the prospect of physically removing a parent with dementia from the home where they think they’re coping perfectly well. Taking away Dad’s driver’s license and/or car keys.

Tackling and finishing a project. Mending a fence when you know someone’s upset with you. Making that apology you know you should make. Backing up. And so on.

What “first steps” have you taken lately?

Faith is a Choice

Musings on Easter Morning

This time we call EASTER, or PASQUE (Peace) in Latin countries, and in particular this day, is the main event Christianity hinges on: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Most anyone will say Jesus was a wonderful example by the way He lived, by the things He taught. Philosophers and holy men of all kinds, even atheists quote his words and cite his examples. His death was cruel and needless, the outcome of putrid jealousy. But it’s his rising from the grave that has become the cornerstone of Christianity. This belief/fact has changed the course of our world. Two thousand years later people are still talking about God’s plan and believing it.

I just listened to a church group singing the song,
“Have you found rest and peace within, rolled far away your load of sin?
Stepped from the old life to the new? Tell what the Lord has done for you.”

(From a poem by Lizzie DiArmond)
This is not ancient history. New life through Jesus is a constantly current thing. Today the Lord gives peace and rest within, or so believers claim.

I ponder the questions: Why did God enact such an odd plan to redeem man? Why does man need to be “saved”? Why did Jesus have to die as a sacrifice? Why must a price be paid? Why doesn’t God just take everyone to heaven – or at least the basically good people? “Grading on the curve,” some wise soul has called it. As a human being I’m okay with a few faults.

Why did the divine Creator and Father come up with a scheme human minds can barely grasp, a story people are constantly stumbling over? He could have chosen a simpler way than faith in Jesus? He could just appear to each one of us and set us straight. “Here I am; believe me or else.” As a human being I respect force. A little jolt from above when we say or do the wrong thing might make it easier to know and obey his wishes.

Yet the Eternal, all-wise God says people shall have a free choice; He won’t force us to believe him. He allows that, as we go through life, we’ll get enough prompts that we can each decide to believe or reject his plan. Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find.” The choice is ours to seek, to ask, to believe, to reject.

I came across the following old poem by Dora Greenwell (1821-1882) that expresses my musings quite well:

I AM NOT SKILLED TO UNDERSTAND

I am not skilled to understand
what God hath willed, what God hath planned;
I only know at His right hand
stands One who is my Saviour.

I take Him at his word indeed:
“Christ died for sinners,” this I read
and in my heart I find a need
of Him to be my Saviour.

And was there then no other way
for God to take? I cannot say;
I only bless Him, day by day,
who saved me through my Saviour.

Yes, living, dying, let me bring
my strength, my solace from this spring:
that He who lives to be my King
once died to be my Saviour.