Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To my friends who characterize yourselves as agnostics, skeptics, atheists, humanists, or doubters.  To those who have been alienated by, disappointed in, or disenchanted with the church or those who call themselves Christians.  Boy have I got a blog for you.

Over the last few months I’ve become increasingly and painfully aware of how poorly those of us who call ourselves Christians are reflecting the Savior we profess.  Even with often well-intentioned actions and words, Christians become something we are cautioned not to be: stumbling blocks.  We have offered arrogance in place of humility and self-righteousness in place of compassion.  On a broader scale, the business marketing of the church and Christianity has jaded this generation of non-churchgoers.   Many grew up in the church and have seen firsthand that Christians are sometimes guilty of “shooting their wounded.”

Now, I’m not just going to go on beating up Christians.  But if you’re one of my friends I addressed in my opening line, allow me to make a request.  Please set aside the hypocrisy, inconsistency, selfishness, and inadequacy of the Christians you now base your cynicism on.  Consider in its place the selflessness, sinless perfection, and all-sufficiency of Christ himself.  Forget for a few moments your disappointments in Christians and the Church.  Take the risk of embarking on a re-examination of Jesus Christ.  Not just his teaching, but his person.

If you have no confidence in the words of a preacher, take another look at the Bible itself.  You can always choose to reject what you find there.  But I believe the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit can accomplish what the futile arguments of well-meaning friends cannot.  Bear with me to look at just a few verses.

Christians often refer folks to the powerful logic of Paul in the book of Romans.  It’s good stuff. Likewise, I direct you to the 11th Chapter of Hebrews, the so-called Hall of Fame of Faith. 

Verses 1 and 2 state: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.”

Verse 6 says: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

No offense, but if you’re firmly established in your position of non-belief, it’s going to be hard to get past those verses.  Please—get past them.  The rest of Hebrews 11 is a chronicle of the faith of patriarchs and heroes from Abraham and Isaac to Samson and David.  I encourage you to read it all.  Then read the first two verses of Chapter 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Now we encounter a problem.  I mentioned that Christians’ very behavior can be a stumbling block that prevents others from seeing who Christ really is.  But Christ Himself is actually a stumbling block, as the Bible points out.  Or a cornerstone.  It all depends.

The prophet Isaiah proclaims a message that is a two-edged sword.  In Isaiah 8:14 he refers to the coming messiah as “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”  Then in 28:16 he says, “See, I lay in Zion a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.”

In our age, it is easy to misplace our trust.  We can trust in our skills, shrewd business acumen, accumulated wealth, work ethic, a network of friends or colleagues, or even luck.  The same has always been true.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1:20a-25):
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews [even to this day] and foolishness to Gentiles [that’s all the rest of us], but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Returning to Hebrews 12, verses 14 through 29 contain admonitions for believers and non-believers alike.  Christians first: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  I am afraid that is exactly what has happened in many cases.  A footnote in my Bible explains bitter root: “pride, animosity, rivalry or anything else harmful to others.”  There’s certainly enough there to bring conviction upon most of us Christians.  Let me go further with that “holiness” requirement.  Could we extend it to assume that without holiness no one will see the Lord in us?  I believe that’s a fair question.  Further, can our religion blind others to our Lord?

Since I believe no one will be dragged kicking and screaming into faith in Jesus Christ, I would like to show my respect for my readers by stepping aside and letting Jesus stand on his own words, his own person, and above all, his atoning sacrifice.  Hebrews 12:24 calls Jesus the “mediator of a new covenant,” and the following verse cautions us all: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” I am struck by the fact that only a few pen strokes can alter “condemnation” to “commendation.”  Or vice versa.  But because God has given us free will as well as an intellect, it is our choice.

While over 1,000 words by my hand may not persuade a single soul, a single touch of the Holy Spirit is both more efficient and effective.  If you would like to continue this discussion with me via Facebook, e-mail, in person, or by phone, I would welcome the opportunity. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Four on the Floor -- and other places

Please join me as a review some of
the grandkid fun from the past few days.

Brianna's latest favorite it to be Dr.
Shearrington.  Anyone knows that all
you need to look like a doctor is a 
stethoscope-- which Grandma provided.

During my appointment, the good doctor
diagnosed me with paper-itis.  Ever heard of it?
Neither have I.  But she says I'm getting better.

An old toy seems brand new when it's
taken outside under a shade tree.

This is one of our newer acquisitions, and
Hunter is still exploring the many options.

Hunter examines the shaped keyholes,
which are a challenge even for Bri and Claire.

And back to the old toy, which becomes
new with the addition of a dump truck.

See how easily he transitions into a World
War I pilot.  But is he Snoopy or the Red Baron?

You know, all the baseball greats kiss
their bats for good luck.

Now the hardest part of baseball is getting that
 ball perfectly balanced on that little bitty tee.

"Hammerin' Hunter" selects the bat called
the Mauler, and look at that ball fly!

And to show true domination, you must
also smash the tee to the ground
(and he wouldn't let me stand it up again).

When I ask Brianna to smile while showing
off her birthday pin for Grandpa Loyd's 98th
birthday, she cooperates enthusiastically.  If you 
can't quite count all the teeth, click to enlarge.

Different day, same playspace.  Enter Evan
and Claire.  A little bit of everything.

Evan says, "Isn't anyone gonna tell me
not to stand up on this chair?  A little kid
like me could get hurt, ya know."

Grandma: "Claire, is there room for one more?"
This is the tent my brother gave Jennifer and
Amanda over 25 years ago.  Still perfect.

Claire loves this little getaway.

So what if it's not totally private.

Evan: "You can't see me, you can't see me!"

"Okay, you can see me.  Now push me."

When any of the kids are around, Kitty Cat
picks and chooses when to show up.  Sometimes
he just disappears for a couple of hours, only
to return for petting.  When Kitty Cat sees Evan
and me playing in the old station wagon, he takes
a closer look.

While Evan "drives" in silence, Kitty Cat
resumes his restful nap on the hood.  On
the safe side of the windshield.

This video shows Kitty Cat choosing to pass
us by.  But he doesn't go unnoticed by Evan.

In this final video, Evan demonstrates his
pre-drive routine.  Check the door locks.
Check to make sure feet reach steering wheel.
Check the radio.  Check to see if there's a
cat on the hood . . . WHAT!!
More fun stuff as it happens.  Here on
your Eclectic Blog.  Please visit often.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Action Figures: Evan and Hunter

In this 2 minute video, you see and hear
the joy of Evan's spontaneous laughter.
He and Grandpa have devised a little game
of "swinging kickball."  It'll make you smile.

Hunter traipses off (rambles, tramps, wanders)
and I follow with the camera.  He's headed
toward the busy road.  He identifies the sounds
of birds (bwa?) and then of a motorcycle (cah-cah?). 
 He wonders if there will be more motorcycles. He
 throws a cute mini-tantrum when he wants to keep 
going toward the road and  I head him off.  But
he is satisfied just to detour to the front gate.

Hunter can be very methodical in his play.
First he plays with some Fisher-Price little people,
emulating sister Bri.  He discards them when they're
 no longer entertaining.Then with "baw" (ball),
he lets me know he wants the little football
 player who kicks field goals.
Note how he tells me exactly what to get
down, and precisely when to put each item

These young men are every bit as fun as
their sisters Claire and Brianna.  All four
are action figures whose next escapades are
entirely unpredictable. We like it that way.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rambling around the Loyd Place

After spending a morning painting, I was
glad to just take a leisurely ramble around
our property to assess the state of things--
living things, that is.  Starting with the garden.

The tomatoes are looking fine.  Two varieties
this year, Better Boys and Celebrities. First
sandwiches scheduled for July.  We trust.

Here's a nice compact row of potatoes. And
not one potato bug yet!  We can't wait to let
the grandkids help us dig some taters.

These healthy beans are white
half runners and will need poles soon.

That's a sampler of what Judy and I 
planted.  Now for a look at some of God's 
Garden that is with us year-round. 

Can't name this shrub.  Though its flowers
resemble huckleberries, there's a difference
I can't quite get a handle on.

We enjoyed seeing this little wildflower last
year.  Well, it's back, and I still don't know
what it is.

In the open area where timber was cut a few
years ago, a lush carpet of bracken fern has
established itself.  Other ferns need more shade
and the dampness of streamside or swamp, but
the bracken thrives on dry uplands in full sun.

Its stiff, not-too-delicate fronds allow it
to retain moisture, in contrast to most ferns.

In early spring we observed some patches
of wild irises.  It's past blooming time now,
but here's a newly-discovered patch, bigger
and healthier than the others.  We'll be
watching it next March.

Judy commented on how this patch of 
broomstraw looks just like an African savannah.

The resplendent shades of green abounded
everywhere, as the plant world flourishes
with the recent rains and mild weather.

This lone specimen of Royal Fern greets us
when we go down to our stream.  There may be
 more in the dense undergrowth accross the water.

And here's our little stream, beloved by us
and the grandchildren.

I've mowed the walking paths deep in our 
woods, and here is where you must choose
your path.  Unlike Frost's "The Road Not
Taken," you can backtrack and take both ways.
In fact, I highly recommend it.

The blooms don't show, but scattered among
these wetland-loving trees are Carolina Bay
Trees, a lesser-known cousin of Magnolia.
We had seen many blossoms the evening 
before, so they must close up in the daytime.

This is the cactus plant that I showed on 
a recent blog when it was full of blooms.
Those blooms are in business forming fruit now.

But this other prickly pear cactus, closer
to the house, is on a different schedule.

It will take a discerning eye to distinguish
between leaves and tiny pears in this picture.
But it appears, we will have another bumper
crop with our three 100+ year-old pear trees.
We've already watched them go from acorn size
to ping pong ball size.  And they're still growing.

The final picture is the one that's not here.
Picture this:  With camera in hand, I heard
a mighty stirring in the thick brush behind me.
I turned to watch a white-tail deer bound three
times as it vacated its sanctuary I had intruded
into.  Just moments later, as I returned to the
house, this deer and its friend were leaving our
property very quietly and discretely on another trail.
I could have easily taken a picture, my camera was
right there.  But in the time I raised my viewfinder
to my eyes I would have lost the magic of the
moment.  So instead, I trust to my memory to
preserve that idyllic scene.
You get the picture?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Room With a View: Greenville Calls Us Back

Upon departing our festive birthday celebration
for Daddy in Atlanta, Judy and I headed to
Greenville, SC for the Mother's Day portion
of our trip.  We had the good fortune (again)
to get a deal on lodging by inquiring at the SC
Welcome Center.  We were able to stay at the
fabulous Westin-Poinsett Hotel for half price.
Here's the view from our fifth floor room, 
looking down on the geographic center of 
downtown Greenville.

The Poinsett has an illustrious history since 
its construction in 1924.  It underwent a 20
million dollar renovation in 2000 and has been
restored to its former grandeur, with all modern
accommodations.  It is Greenville's only four star
hotel, and one of the state's finest.

You don't see shoeshine stands like this any more.
I remember seeing them as a child in Atlanta,
but nothing this elegant.

Click here to read some of the hotel's history
and about its National Register status.  There
is plenty more to read about if you search it
on Google.  Scenes like these marble staircases
and finely crafted banisters were on every hand.

At the elevator, the old postal letter box
was still in place, so letters could be dropped
from the ninth floor or anywhere else.  If 
anyone wrote letters any more (I know some
special people that do, and they read this blog!).

An advertising bill from the hotel's heyday

The fabulous grand ballroom was the scene
of a Mother's Day brunch when we arrived.

Its classic design stands out, even in a city
full of venerable works of architecture.

Joel Poinsett, for whom the hotel is named,
was an ambassador to Mexico in 1825, but
is more famous for the unusual plant he
brought back.  Later named the Poinsettia,
of course!

I'm sure his family is proud of him for much
more than having a plant named for him, so
read about it all below.

Though Sunday was a rainy day, Judy and
I did like everyone else.  Equipped with our
umbrellas, we set out to stroll several blocks
of Main Street.  There were countless interesting
shops and restaurants.  One I'll mention is
O.P. Taylor's, a one-of-a-kind toy store that
is every child's fantasy-- if they have plenty
of money!  Another I must include is Handi
Indian Cuisine, where Judy and I enjoyed
Bewali Chicken and Chicken Korma, respectively.

The rainy weather was no surprise.  It matched
the forecast we had seen for days.  And it looked
as if it would rain out our planned Monday
morning walk.  But NO!  After a light breakfast
in the hotel coffee shop (delicious scone and
English muffin), we followed the beloved trails
of Falls Park for an hour and a half, with no rain.

Many pictures will follow, and if you haven't
been following my blog very long, I have
more extensive pictures from our trip two
years ago HERE.

The rains of the previous day had the 
Reedy Creek churning and roaring.

Here's the first of our pedestrian bridges.

This area is a focal point for community
gatherings.  Two years ago we saw a wedding
taking place in the old textile building pictured.

Beyond this bridge are the largest falls,
which once turned the turbines of two
great textile mills.

This would have been a convenient shelter
if it had rained on us.

From above the falls, a view of Liberty Bridge.
This 355 foot suspension is supported on only
one side by two 90 foot towers which lean
downstream at a 15 degree angle.  It is the
only bridge of its kind in America.

Let me insert a nature picture.  I don't know
what is going on here.  Is it a centipede eating
an earthworm, or an earthworm reproducing?
I'll try to find out.

Further downstream are more falls.

Under the Liberty Bridge.

A view of the suspension cables.

Moving downstream on the paved path.

Several shades of hydrangeas.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail we were following
goes all the way to the Greenville Zoo.  We
weren't going that far, but we went further
than on our previous visit.

A purple morning glory peacefully coexists
with the invasive kudzu.

And yes, I do mean invasive!

I love the old stone masonry that was part
of one of the original mill sites.

This scene in a memorial garden in a secluded
part of the park reminds me of The Secret
Garden, a favorite children's book of mine.

I love to imagine where steps lead.

On our walk back, we ascended Liberty Bridge.

And some friendly strollers took our picture.
We're home, back into something of a routine,
and with a passel of fond memories from
Daddy's birthday and a great stay in Greenville.