Archive for July, 2007

Birds Do It…
July 27, 2007

I shall not ask Jean Jacques Rousseau,

If birds confabulate or no.

– William Cowper (1795) 

Every morning I take the dogs out for a walk and then go run or ride my bike. There are many folks doing likewise, but some are either blabbing on cell phones (who ARE they talking to that early in the morning?) or have earplugs in, listening to music on their iPods or a radio station. I prefer to look and listen to the world around me; sometimes I see some really interesting things! 

Birds, for instance. One game I play with myself is to focus on how many different, identifiable bird calls I can hear as I walk; the rules call for spotting the birds, too. About the most I’ve ever come up with is ten: sparrow, starling, woodpecker, mourning dove, blue jay, cardinal, wren, mockingbird, pigeon and a humming bird.  

My favorite? The wild geese as they migrate south in the fall. Most unusual? I actually saw a fancy blue peacock prancing regally across the street right around the corner! Who knows where THAT one came from? I also spotted a great blue heron in my backyard once, standing on the rocks surrounding the pond; he was checking it out to see if there were any fish in there for him. No luck, so away he flew on his gigantic wings, up to the roof. He was almost as tall as I! Most interesting bird call? Once I heard a cell phone ringing, but there was no one around. I looked to see if someone had dropped a phone, but then realized it was a mockingbird that was imitating the ring tone! 

The other day, I saw a flash of neon green in the bushes, and I looked closer to see a parakeet fluttering around. It must have been someone’s pet that escaped, and I felt a little sorry for it, although maybe it was having the time of its life! Who knows? I saw it again a few days later, among a flock of sparrows that were feeding on some seeds strewn on the ground by a neighbor.  

This time I really felt sorry for it, because it was obvious that although the little parakeet wanted to hang out with the sparrows, the sparrows didn’t want the parakeet anywhere close to them. The little green bird would hop hop hop up to a sparrow, and the latter would flutter a distance away. Again and again, it tried to get closer, but they wouldn’t let it. Finally, off flew the sparrows to a nearby tree, with the parakeet following hopefully along behind them.  

I wonder what bird dynamics are; are they self-aware? Did the parakeet know it was different from the sparrows? Were the sparrows repulsed or frightened by this strange, exotic bird? Did the little bird finally give up? I haven’t seen it these past few days, so I don’t know the answer.  

Watching these birds made me think about how some people shun others who are different. It’s often cruel when this happens, and although I like to think I don’t do this, I know that I struggle with it sometimes. It’s a challenge to welcome and befriend a person who looks different, sounds different, is maybe from a different culture or has different values. When my own brother struggled with cancer, he ended up with some physical deformities that made it hard for him to talk or eat. It was difficult to be with him, as he was a most unhappy person in his final years, but I regret that I didn’t try harder to see his basic humanity still there.  

So I hope to take the lesson of the birds to heart and try to have more compassion for those who may be on the outside looking in. I’ll look closer for the little green parakeets of the world and hope to make a difference in the life of someone who may need a friend.   


Dancing with the Ants
July 21, 2007

Proverbs 6:6  Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.  

I read in the paper this morning that this has been the wettest July in Houston since 1961. It has rained every day, often POURED every day, complete with thunder and lightning for weeks! We’ve got standing water in low spots, mildew-y slime on the driveway, tadpoles in the pond and a jungle of growth in the garden.  

This week we had our Bible Study group over for dinner, and since many of the ‘Ethun’s Heathens’ (our unofficial name) had never been out to our house before, we really wanted everything to look nice. So Joel and I decided to tackle the jungle and ‘work in the yard’ last Saturday, something we hadn’t done together in years.  

We have a very nice man who comes and ‘mows and blows’ the yard. (an aside: why do we say ‘mowed’ but not ‘blowed’? Or ‘blew’ and not ‘mew’?) But our back yard is what we call ‘natural’ with a forest of trees and a carpet of leaves. Daniel doesn’t work back there unless I pay him extra, so it really needed some work.  

The plan was for Joel to wield the weed trimmer and dismantle the old greenhouse ‘ruins’, while I pruned, weeded, thinned out beds, trimmed hedges, etc. Before we began, he fogged the area for mosquitos, otherwise we would have never survived. However, fogging doesn’t do a thing for ants, and typical of me, the ‘ant magnet’, I promptly stepped right in a bed of the little devils as I was reaching out with the hedge trimmer to begin my first task.  

Ants are stealthy. They have a way of sneaking onto one’s feet without notice, and then they all give the secret signal to BITE together. Which these ants did, and when they did, I proceeded to do the ‘ant bite dance’ and sing the ‘ant bite song’. Of course you know the lyrics, but they are unprintable here, and ONLY used when there is no one around to hear them. (Note: if there are others in the near vicinity, you must use the alternate lyrics, which go something like ‘DANG! DANG! DANG!’)  

The way to do this dance is to sing the official lyrics at the top of your lungs as you hop around on one foot while removing the shoe and sock on the other foot and flinging both to the ground to knock the ants off. Then you remove and fling your yard gloves when you realize that ants got on THEM while removing the aforementioned shoe/sock combo, and finally you remove and fling the second shoe and sock. The end of the dance is to limp into the kitchen for ice and count how many bites there are. I bet they don’t teach this particular number at Sonia’s World of Dance!  

Perhaps we might learn something from ants, who do toil ceaselessly, and do play an important role in our eco-system. I just wish they didn’t love me so much! Maybe it’s just my karma. I have a dear little nephew who once made place cards for the table at a family dinner party. Mine simply says, ‘Ant Carol’, which is most fitting, given my special bond with those little bugs. I keep it because it’s so cute, but also as a reminder to myself to be more careful out there. Watch your step!

Come to the Table
July 14, 2007

Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him…

-from the order of worship as written in the United Methodist Hymnal 

Each Sunday, our church offers Holy Communion at the 8:30 service, which is the service I attend. It’s a comforting and familiar experience, and I always come away with a sense of being renewed and refreshed.  

Shannon was with me this spring at the Palm Sunday service, and when the pastor began with the words, “May the Lord be with you,” we all responded, “And also with you.”  It was then that she leaned over and whispered to me that whenever she watches the movie Star Wars, she always wants to say “And also with you” whenever the words “May the Force be with you” are uttered. A good little Methodist! Of course I snickered at her confession, and think of it every time we begin the service. Those with whom I’ve shared the story all share a secret smile with me when we hear the words, and my thoughts drift towards my precious, funny daughter. 

At our service, ordained clergy and selected lay people together offer the elements; I have been privileged to serve on two different occasions, once the wafers and once the ‘wine’ (grape juice for Methodists!). 

The first time I was a little nervous, and was assigned to stand with a minister who held the cup. Before I headed up to the altar, I double-checked the wording I was to use, “The body of Christ given for you,” just to make sure I wouldn’t mess up! But I didn’t count on the minister varying his assigned message. Every time he served a church member, he’d give a different delivery of the familiar refrain, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” I really had to concentrate to keep my focus!  

Mostly I enjoyed the expectant expressions on the faces of those I served. Some were filled with joy, others were more solemn, but virtually all smiled as I placed the wafer in their outstretched hands. The experience was overall very positive for me, and I was happy to help out again the next time I was asked.  

The second time, I was a lot more confident. I was paired with a brand new minister to our church, and he was a little uncertain as to the logistics. Of course he knew the words, he just wasn’t sure how we ‘did’ Communion at St. Luke’s. The usher helped us stand in just the right spot for people to come partake of the elements, and we both did just fine. This time, I held the cup, and interestingly, not as many people looked me in the eye as I spoke my words. I think it was a function of their having to drop their eyes down to make sure the wafer got a good dunking, so I wasn’t really disappointed. But if I had to choose, I prefer serving the wafers!  

My minister friend thanked me for helping him through his first time serving Communion at our church. I told him he had done just great, and confessed that I had been nervous the first time, too. But both the Lord and the Force were with us, and I hope they continue to bless us through countless more occasions as we worship together!

Independence Day!
July 6, 2007

God Bless America, Land that I Love!

-Irving Berlin 

Taking history in school was always a mad dash through dates and names, with few of the interesting details thrown in. And as time marches on, the younger the students are, the more years need to be packed into their course of study.

Unfortunately, because of this phenomenon, the juicy details usually go by the wayside. As a result, I think most people feel that history is a pretty dry subject, but I disagree after recently reading some well-written and fascinating books.   

I’m talking about the latest popular bios of Ben Franklin, John Adams and the book by David McCullough titled, 1776, which is a recounting of the struggles that our nation suffered through during that pivotal year. After this immersion into the 18th century, I have a new respect for July 4th, one of my favorite holidays.  

What’s not to like about July 4th? It’s kind of like Thanksgiving, in that it’s a totally American celebration, one not shared with the rest of the world. It’s a chance for our country to shine, to show everyone else how much we appreciate our heritage. You don’t have to exchange gifts, and there is no religion involved, so to speak; you just gather round to eat, drink, salute our country and be merry!  

When I was growing up, we always had sparklers to twirl and write our names in the air as we ran through the dusk. I don’t recall having any major fireworks; after all, we were city kids, and my dad was a law-abiding type of guy! Perhaps there were some little popping firecrackers, but they don’t register in my memory. That’s the nice thing about having siblings; I asked them what they remember. 

Camille remembers the money scramble at the Briar Club, when they would throw coins into the pool for the kids to gather. There were coins of all denominations; some were silver dollars! Her memory jogged mine, and I’m grateful for that. Do they do that anymore? I’m betting not… 

Nowadays, I think one of the very best ways to capture the feeling of American pride is to go to a small town and take part in its annual celebration. One of my favorite July 4th memories was the year (1998) we spent the evening in Utopia, Texas with my aunt. The townsfolk gathered in the park by the Sabinal River and enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner under the shade of the oak trees, with patriotic music for atmosphere and the kids all enjoying the park amenities. When the sun went down, we gathered at the rodeo grounds where the volunteer firefighters had set up a fireworks display that rivaled any I’d seen in the big city. We were right there with a front row view, and it was awesome! 

Another cool July 4th memory came from the summer of 2002 when I found myself on a jet headed for London with my family. We took off from Houston at dusk, and as we headed northeast across the country, I looked out of the window to see many random bursts of fireworks scattered in the darkness. Every town across the country was celebrating, and it was absolutely one of the most moving sights I’ve experienced in recent memory. Particularly given that it was the first July 4th celebration after the sad events of September 11, 2001, I believe that it was an extra special show of patriotism. It sure worked for me… 

On this July 4th, my plan WAS to run down to watch the Memorial Villages parade in the morning, which features school bands, floats by the Scouts and other local groups, citizens who’ve decorated their bicycles, cars, and who knows what! I love to watch this hometown display of patriotism. Alas, it rained all morning, so I didn’t go look. Perhaps they marched in the rain? I don’t know yet, but if they did, hooray for their spirit! 

(note: my immediate family members celebrated July 4 in New York and Alaska, respectively; my hope is that they enjoyed the holiday, however it was celebrated locally!) 

That evening, I picked up my mom and took her back to the neighborhood where I grew up, and where sister Mary now lives in our old house. The rains had stopped, and it was overcast and cooler (by Houston standards, albeit humid!). We re-connected with old friends, watched the new generation’s bike parade and enjoyed live music, great food, a fire engine and the coolest ever Art Car (an old Volvo covered with 250 animated singing fish/sharks/lobsters, all synchronized to perform opera in unison). My favorite bike parader proudly rode with her tiger gecko lizard, whose name was ‘Geico’. He  (she?) was very patient as we all gathered round for an opportunity to pet its soft little chin, as directed by his young owner.  

It was a wonderful day to appreciate friends, neighbors, our country and its rich heritage. How blessed we are to live in the United States, and how much we take these blessings for granted.  Irving Berlin’s lyrics capture it perfectly: “God Bless America! Land That I Love…”