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Monday, November 30, 2020

Flying in Formation

 Recently I started the day outside on our deck under a clear pre-dawn sky. The stars were brilliant, Orion settling in the west.  A meteorite streaked across the sky just before the east began to fade into gray. No sooner had the crimson and gold dissolved into the soft pastels of morning than the geese began to fly.     

 I heard them honking in the distance and watched as a long line winged their way to the west, silhouetted against the dawn.  They continued to come, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Canada geese in small and large groups, sometimes stretching from one horizon to the other.  They flew in imperfect V formations, sometimes in long diagonal lines, one behind the other, wingtip to wingtip.  One squadron flew low overhead, so close I could hear the wind in their wings. I suppose they were flying to the fields near the foothills to feed.  

 The beauty of migrating geese is one of the things I love about Colorado.  Who taught them to fly in formation?  Scientists who study this phenomenon say the V formation reduces drag and adds lift for each goose.  By flying together in this way, they increase their range by 71%.  And, since the lead birds put forth the greatest effort, they rotate the lead position.

 They don’t do this because of any legislation or decree.  They are not obeying anyone’s order. They do it because it is their nature to do it. They fly this way because they have learned over many millennia that they need one another for survival.  Life is easier when they fly in formation. 

,Watching the geese at sunrise reminded me of the unique global challenges we all face, including the Covid pandemic, poverty and famine.  To survive and thrive we need to fly in formation. Not because our elected officials tell us to, but because we need each other.  During Covid, that means wearing a mask, washing our hands, remaining six feet apart.  During and after Covid, it means providing for the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, opening doors of opportunity for the underprivileged.

 The Bible consistently teaches us the importance of “flying in formation.”  John the Baptist who introduced Jesus said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).  

Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. … Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-40). 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfishness or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you looking to the interests of others” (P9hilippians 2:3-4).

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Long Dark Winter

 They say we are in for a long dark winter.  Covid cases are surging out of control.  Many states are breaking records and the U.S. single day case count exceeded 180,000 on November 13.  It has been a long, difficult and wearisome journey since the first U.S. Covid-19 case appeared on January 21 in Seattle, Washington. 

 We weathered the lock-down in March, huddling in our houses, shutting down non-essential businesses, shuttering restaurants and shops.  We howled at dusk in our neighborhoods, a good-natured national protest against the virus.  And we did it.  We lowered the infection rate, survived the spring and earned a slight reprise from the restrictions in summer. 

 The bicycle business boomed as people took to streets and trails for natural distancing, fresh air and exercise.  I pulled my 27-year-old Giant bike out of storage; the same one I rode across Wisconsin in 1997.  It took 6 weeks for an appointment to have it tuned up, but I put over 400 miles on it and dropped 25 lbs. of excess weight.

 We walked our dogs and greeted neighbors who were walking theirs.  We attended church outside, setting up our lawn chairs under shade trees on green lawns where small children played in the grass.  The NBA played basketball in a bubble. Major League baseball completed an abbreviated season with empty stadiums and professional golfers competed without patrons. For the first time we watched the Masters with fall foliage.

 Many returned to work. Schools cautiously opened for students. Some ignored the Covid restrictions altogether and rode their Harleys to the Sturgis motorcycle rally.    But, as many of the epidemiological experts had predicted, fall and winter weather has resulted in an uncontrolled surge in Covid cases.  Increasingly we are hearing of people we know who have fallen prey to Covid.

 The most painful period of the pandemic is immediately in front of us.  We are faced with foregoing our most cherished American traditions: gatherings as family around Thanksgiving and Christmas tables; packing churches to hear children sing as shepherds and angels; The Messiah sing-a-longs.  We can scarcely imagine the echo of holiday music in empty hallways at the mall or virtual worship streamed from empty churches at Christmas.

 But there is hope.  Scientists have identified two vaccines promising 90% and 95% effectiveness against Covid by the end of the year.  The experts predict that we could have wide-spread distribution and “herd immunity” as early as spring or summer of 2021. 

 Now is the time, in this long hard winter, to redouble our efforts to protect our families, our friends and ourselves.  We are like a marathon runner nearing the finish line, weary an exhausted, but determined. The end is in sight.  It is time to sprint to the finish.  We must double-down with the disciplines of distancing, wearing our masks, washing our hands, never failing to encourage one another.

 Jesus set the example for us.  As Hebrews says, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2).  We can do this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Lift Up Your Eyes to the Stars

I normally begin my day outdoors where I spend time in prayer.  When winter drops the temps and the sun rises late, I bundle up and find my place on our back deck, under the stars.

 Our deck is on the south side of the house.  Orion and Taurus greet me in the winter sky, easily distinguished among the lesser lights.  They have always been there, occupying their same place in the sky since time immemorial.

 These are the same stars Abraham saw when he left Ur of the Chaldees. The same stars that guided Moses in the wilderness. The same stars David watched when he shepherded sheep. The same stars the Magi studied when they found a star in the east that led them to Bethlehem.  When I look at the stars, I feel connected to the entire universe, no longer limited by time and space. In my fleeting moment on earth I am part of all that has gone before and all that will yet come.

 They are a stabilizing force.  Nothing we can do on earth will change them. The nearest star is approximately 25 trillion miles away, or 4.24 light years.  When the dust has settled from the Presidential election and the pandemic has passed, the stars will remain in their place as they have done through every plague, every war, every natural disaster, and every lifetime.  They are a constant, silent and brilliant testimony to God’s majesty.   

 The Bible has a lot to say about the stars: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them?  Human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4) NIV.

 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  He determines the number of the stars; and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:3-5).

 “Praise him sun and moon; praise him all you shining stars. Praise him highest heavens, and you waters above the skies.  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created and he established them forever and ever” (Psalm 148:3-6).

 “’To whom then shall you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. … Do you not know? Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:25-26).

 The stars have a way of putting things in perspective. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Dogs To The Rescue

 When Covid first hit us in February, we thought perhaps it would be short-lived.  As it raged through Europe and set its sights on the U.S., we accepted the “stay-at-home” initiatives, hunkered in our houses, gave up shopping and eating out.  When the NBA cancelled its season, we knew it was serious.  We hoped, tough, that by summer it would be over. 

 Perhaps it was the sacrifices we made in the spring, perhaps it was luck, but Covid seemed to relax its grip and we ventured out.  Sports found a way, with the NBA bubble, golf tournaments without spectators and stadiums mostly empty.  Major league baseball concluded an abbreviated season and delivered a nail-biting World Series.  In some respects, we have learned to live with Covid.

 But, with our guard down, the number of infections has sky-rocketed and we could face more stringent measures going into winter and the holidays.  At least, for many of us, we have our dogs to get us through.

 Dogs are an important part of our neighborhood.  Our young neighbors across the street moved in a year ago with their pet bulldog, Rooney.  They adopted him as a puppy, pure white.  He is now full-grown and built like a bowling ball.  Rooney never meets a stranger. Everybody loves Rooney.  The newlywed couple next door to them just adopted Scout.  I am not sure of Scout’s breed. She is 5 months old and already a big dog, sweet, compliant and happy to have a home.  They treat her like their child. 

 We have a 12-year-old Pembroke Corgi named Buddy.  If you have read this column in the past, you are familiar with Buddy.  When he was younger Buddy went fishing with me in my flat-bottom boat.  The front of the boat was his.  He stood in the front and sniffed the wind to locate the fish.  He was good at it. At least he thought so.  Corgis think they are good at anything.

 Once he leaned too far and sniffed too hard and fell in the lake. Corgis aren’t built for water. Their stubby legs don’t give much traction for swimming. He coughed, sputtered, went under and splashed for all he was worth until I grabbed him and hauled him back into the boat, soaked and shivering.

 It reminded me of Peter’s experience when he stepped out of the fishing boat to meet Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.  I expect Peter was a better swimmer than Buddy, but there he was splashing and floundering around in the sea, helpless. Until Jesus reached out, lifted him up and hauled him back into the boat.

 God has done that for me many times. Across the years I have fallen out of the boat financially, unable to sleep at night, worried about how to make ends meet.  I have sunk over my head in work, overwhelmed by responsibilities and challenges.  I have found myself drowning in grief with the loss of someone I love.  And now Covid, and an uncertain future, seems to be overwhelming us all.

 Every time I have fallen into waters over my head, God has pulled me up and hauled me back into the boat. He is strong enough to save you and He will not let you drown when circumstances threaten to overwhelm you.

 Jesus said, “In the world you have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33).  “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you.  He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:8).