Tuesday, March 31, 2009


My recollections regarding Three Mile Island (last post)has had me thinking about landmark memories-those memories we all have of significant events that include where we were, what we were doing when the news got to us. There are some that are common, I think, to nearly everyone-at least Americans of similar age. If, like me, we are mid-fifties or older, the JFK assassination and September 11, 2001 are probably the most widely shared landmark memories. As a third-grader at the time, I was not old enough to have understood the impact of President Kennedy's murder, but I clearly remember the grave tone of our school Principal's voice, Mr. Noble, when he announced the president's death, and the teachers trying, unsuccessfully, to hide their own shock. We were sent home early, and I watched the news with my grandmother, whose explanations and her own reactions more clearly communicated to me just how big this event was than the news itself. I think my kids' understanding of 9/11/01, similarly, derived more from adults around them. Now 18 and 16, they were 11 and 9 at the time, so were, I'm sure, made aware of the seriousness of the events by the reactions of their teachers, the panicked parents picking up their kids, and the preempting of TV programming. Many folks would include on their landmark list, depending of course on age: the Challenger explosion of January 28, 1986. (Can that possibly be 23 years ago??? Impossible.); the murders of Robert Kennedy (June '68) and Martin Luther King (April "68). I am not old enough, obviously, to remember December 7th, 1941. But on a Boy Scout hike on the Appalachian Trail, on a much later December 7th, our scout master, Mr. Kessler, ask if any of us knew the significance of the date. We did not. He told us of hearing the news, as a young man on a Sunday afternoon that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. So, for me, Pearl Harbor Day is only a vicarious memory, but it always evokes the memory of stopping for lunch on that hike, and Mr. Kessler mesmerizing us with his landmark memory. These events are probably the 1st magnitude, in terms of clarity, and how commonly they are shared. The 2nd magnitude gets more varied by age, interests, and geography. The TMI story is near the top of my own list but surely less so for someone from Colorado, similarly, the Columbine shootings of April '99 were certainly more immediate and personal for nearby residents. The April '95 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, again, was certainly a gigantic news event everywhere, but to those directly affected in some way it is certainly a far more intense memory. Many York, Pa residents of sufficient age would likely include the riots of 1969 among their most clear and intense memories. Moving, again, down a rung in terms of commonality, the next layer of landmark memories, for me, includes the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970 and of Jim Morrison in '71. A ninth grader then, I woke up each school morning to a clock radio tuned to WSBA AM and those three stories, and I recall, the Sharon Tate murders were all shocking morning news stories. The killings of 4 students at Kent State by National Guardsman in May '70 is another landmark memory for me, one that represents the intensely divided sentiments of those days regarding Viet Nam. [in Don McLean's American Pie, which is really a musical collage of his landmark memories, that event is behind the lines "the players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to yield, do you recall what was revealed..." Do you? It was President Nixon's speech to the nation admitting the war had been expanded into Cambodia]. The shooting of President Reagan by John Hinkley Jr. in March of '81, and the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman in December 1980, are both events I clearly recall learning of. Then, thirdly, are the landmark memories that are personal and individual-shared only by a small group of family or friends. They are, of course, our clearest, most intense, and most personally impacting events-deaths of people close to us, marriages, births, divorces, career highs and lows, relationships blossoming, or terminating. All memories, I guess, no matter how widely the events they are built around are commonly shared, are very individual and unique, written into our brains against a backdrop of our own unique experiences. jls

Friday, March 27, 2009

tmi memories

It's the 30th anniversary (tomorrow actually-March 28th) of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident. For those of us from central Pennsylvania, who are old enough to remember those days and, in inverse proportion to the distance from the plant we then lived, it's probably one of those landmark memories-those events we clearly remember where we were, or, what we were doing when we heard. I then lived in an apartment in Manchester, Pa. that was, as the proverbial crow flies, probably 5 or 6 miles away. It was a scary time-many folks, including my parents, left town, many more loaded their trunks with their most valuable belongings, and planned escape routes and destinations. I recall visiting Goldsboro, a few-hundred people village on the York County side of the river from TMI, and watching from the boatdocks. The town was nearly emptied of it's residents but there were news trucks, cars with out-of-state tags, and civil defense vehicles everywhere, and a long line of folks, reporters I surmised, waiting to use the phone booth at the village center. It seems like the incident lasted many days, but I read today Jimmy Carter's visit, to reassure the justifiably incredulous public was April 1st, so the whole thing was only 3 or 4 days. Probably the most chilling of the many anecdotes I recall from the time, was the coincidental showing of the newly released China Syndrome at a York theater. While, just 10 miles or so away, a partial meltdown was occurring, Jack Lemmon told his costars and a packed theater-if the core of their fictitious plant melts down it will "take out an area the size of Pennsylvania..." The crowd leaving the theater was mostly quiet and stunned.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

my amazing Dooder

I have two boys, who consistently amaze me. Their range of pursuits, the fun stuff they do make me wish I was back in high school, just so I could hang out with them-but if I was, I doubt I'd be cool enough to be in their crowd. They, of course, face the minefield of temptations and dangers that all modern teens face-and I'm increasingly alarmed by the evils that lurk in schools. And, they have not been completely unscarred by those evils. But "proud" inadequately describes how I feel about them. Today, I need to brag about the younger one, Unit 2, Dooder, our 16 year old tenth grader, Jordan. Yesterday afternoon he competed, for the first time, as a pole vaulter. POLE VAULTER! And he cleared 9 feet! He has been a crosscountry runner since, I think, seventh grade, has run track as a distance guy (mile, 800, 4x400) also since middle school. He is among the leaders of the high school swim team. This year, on a whim, he tried pole vaulting and found he was pretty good at it. But that doesn't really surprise me-he's good at every thing he does-skateboarding, snowboarding, paintball. He is never satisfied with his times, as a swimmer or runner, and practices very hard-sometimes I'm afraid he demands too much of himself. He carries a tough academic schedule as well, and has often made the honor role. When I watch this young man run, or swim, and now polevault, I am just amazed! I am privileged to know him!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Back on the Road

I live near the top of an approximately mile long hill-some of it fairly steep. If I were to leave my driveway, point the car down the hill, then throw it in neutral and take my hands off the wheel, the car might find the bottom of the hill-it would at least go somewhere. I am far less confident, though, that it would stay in the correct lane and not be the cause of damage to itself, or other things. In fact it would most certainly drift left or right until it bounced off the curb, or ran through neighboring yards, or got hung up on a pole or tree. To get to the bottom unscathed, I need to input constant course adjustments.

Such it is with this odyssey we are all individually on called life. I find, as a professed Christ follower, that at times I feel connected, in tune, actively aware of His Lordship, and provision, and guidance in my life. Other times His presence, it seems is, to borrow a Pink Floyd line, a distant ship smoke on the horizon. Like the "business cycle" we are told about in Economics, my spiritual life seems to drift from periods of growth and expansion to periods of recession-of negative growth. The past few weeks have been just such a period of seeming distance between the things of the Spirit, and me. Today, I had a half-hour or so to spare between leaving the house and being where I had to be, so I went to my secret place-a fairly quiet road on a steep hill that overlooks the North side of town-where I sometimes park to "think". It takes a while, but in that spot, I can usually calm my mind and quiet my spirit and find some clarity. Today I worked through the following:

-It is not Christ who drifts away from me. Quite the opposite. It didn't take much analysis to see why I was in a spiritual recession. Like the car headed down the hill, I need constant, or at least frequent course adjustments, and over the last two weeks or so that has been absent. First, for no more than selfish, indulgent reasons I missed Sunday services 2 weeks in a row. Second, my Tuesday morning get together with 2 Christian brothers couldn't happen last week. That brief, usually unstructured time of sharing, and honesty, and mutual reinforcement has become a vital part of my spiritual diet, as well as the contemplative time alone on the 40 minute or so drive there and back. Tuesday mornings, when we're on, sustains me until Thursday night's Mens Fraternity meeting (which is now ending until the Fall). Third, the discipline of reading either the Bible or something biblical each morning has recently slipped. Instead I've spent that time watching CNBC, trying to make sense of the DOW, and my evenings watching junk like American Idol (trying to make sense of Paula). The reality is, for me, it takes only a few days of spiritual indifference for it to become malignant and poison my attitudes, my thoughts, my language, my whole being. I've just begun reading a book highly recommended and lent to me by one of the Tuesday morning guys The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. I'm only 30 pages or so in, but, already one short passage has rung my bell. Some fellow, much as I have felt of late, had trouble reconciling-or remembering- His need for dependence on Christ within the details, and minutia of the world of work, and business, and just real everyday life. He tried an experiment, so to speak, of "thinking of Christ 1 second out of every minute", and in only 4 weeks had found a sense of partnership, reliance, and reality that was new and different. Reading that pretty quickly opened my eyes that I might not think of Christ for days at a time! At least not in the sense of real, dependent, surrendering conversation. I'll flounder through my days, frustrated by one difficulty after another, wondering where the "joy" we're promised is! When, in fact, I've turned my back on Him. But He calls me back. He sends a friend to lend me the right book, with the right anecdote, on the right day. He has a radio preacher talk to me, today, about our powerlessness without Christ. And He puts my hands back on the steering wheel, with His.


Friday, March 6, 2009


I met a lady today, a new customer, named Mary. She is a 60 year old black woman who, I learned, lives on her $760 a month Social Security disability check. The address on her identification, she pointed out, is actually her daughters address, where she sometimes stays, at the risk of her daughter getting evicted. Most of the time she has been sleeping in her car. She observed that it has, at times, been cold, but not too bad-she has a quilt that was her mothers. They all shared an apartment some months ago-she and her daughter and grand children-but when a large slab of the ceiling plaster fell on her sleeping granddaughter they withheld rent in an effort to force the landlord to make long-sought repairs. He had them evicted, prevailed at a hearing, filed a delinquency report with the credit bureau, so she needs a large security deposit to rent again. With this month's check, she finally has accumulated enough cash to get a place of her own, and this very night she will, as she very proudly reported, sleep in her own bed! The apartment is at an address that most of us would take a wide detour not to drive past-and wouldn't consider walking past. She hasn't been employed for some years, but worked in a sewing factory for 14 years. Eventually, the pain associated with a bullet lodged near her spine since her youth rendered her unable to do, as she said, factory work. She does, however, as a volunteer, go to the homes of elderly or partially disabled folks to help them bathe, or do housework, or just sit and visit for an hour or so. She talked a bit about the Baptist Church she attends here in York. Each year, the church gives their elderly or in-need members a check at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. She, and her 68 year old brother both gave the checks back! Why? Because she is so blessed! Her God, her Jesus, provides for her, and others need it more than her! Her Mama taught all her children to love the Lord, to treat people as you would wish to be treated, and that the reward for doing so would be an eternity without cold nights and without pain from a bullet. She told me over and over how blessed she was, had no worries, and trusted completely in her Lord.

Last evening I, and some friends, talked with a recent acquaintance, I'll call him Bill, about the trials he was experiencing in his life. He, as I understand it, has, until very recently, enjoyed great financial and material abundance. He and his wife live in their "dream house". His business has taken a turn that has led to a precipitous drop in their finances. He is facing imminent eviction from their dream house, and will be moving soon into a mobile home. He is driving some old vehicle, as he said, his daughter won't even ride in. While he is, to some extent, coming to terms with this new season of his life, his wife less so-and he has no confidence that his marriage will survive this upheaval. As we gently probed to what extent he is seeking God's help, and guidance, and clarity, he admitted to being angry with God. "Why are you doing this to me?" It's easy, of course, as mere onlookers, to point out God's purposes are perfect-that perhaps this is a painful pruning of an unhealthy attachment to houses, and cars, and stuff. Perhaps the purpose is to renew-or ignite-a sense of faith and dependence. Perhaps it is to take their marriage to a place of fulfillment without material abundance. Perhaps none of that! Only God knows what will unfold. But what, thanks to Mary, I do know is this-a spirit of thankfulness, and praise, and love of the Lord, and confidence in a reward to come is a choice-a matter of perspective! If any one of us were to compare Mary's life today, and "Bill's," even in it's new downsized version, we would all choose his as the one with the blessings, and comfort. And that is exactly why we get angry with God when He doesn't provide in the way we think He should. None of us want to be Mary. But, oh what a better world this would be if we were all like Mary.