Children of The Mask

“Well, who are you? (Who are you? who, who, who, who?).  I really wanna know (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).  Tell me, who are you?  (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).  ‘Cause I really wanna know.  (Who are you?  who, who, who, who?).   – Who Are You? (1978)  The Who.  Composer:  Pete Townshend.

WARNING:  The following is a story based on actual events.

The breeze was slight, but balmy on that October evening of 1963.  The horizon was painted in orange stirred in hints of pink and mauve hues as a velvet black slowly crawled across the sky.  Holding a basket full of Tootsie Rolls, Juicy Fruit gum and candy corn, she eagerly waited in her living room for the next goblin to come knocking.  The festive excitement showed on her face in the glow of the lit Jack-o-lantern on the end-table.  Expecting guests, she wore her finest pearls, kid-leather pumps, complete with a gold charm bracelet.  Yet, this was no ordinary Halloween night in her Greenville, Texas neighborhood.  Little did she know the sinister duo approaching her home from out of the darkened street.  With Buddy Holly softly playing on her cabinet stereo, she heard the frightening voices anew at her door.

“Trick-or-Treat!”  An unanticipated chuckle came out of her mouth as she jumped up off the couch with the candy basket in hand.  As she innocently approached the front door, she could not have imagined the monstrosity awaiting just outside.  As she gleefully opened the creaking door, there, standing perfectly still and silent under the porch-light, were two 3-year old boys staring deeply into her eyes.  With a gasp, she held her hand over her heart while absorbing the sight.  She squinted to see two young mothers standing near the curb watching carefully over the lads.  Her head cocked slightly to one side as she noticed something odd about the boy’s appearance.  There was a lack of costumes.  They both were wearing button up shirts, cuffed bluejeans with Buster Brown lace-up shoes.  They both held simple lunch-sized paper bags in their hands with the top edges folded down.  The two had cheap plastic masks strapped over their faces.  One youngster had a mask of a Teddy Bear, while the other depicted Mickey Mouse.  A couple of seconds passed until she found the breath to speak.

Lady:  Well, hello, you two.  Happy Halloween!  Before I give you some treats, I think I might know who you are.  So, why don’t you tell me your names?  Go ahead, don’t be shy.

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

Lady:  (Giggling)  Yes, I can see that.  But, what are YOUR names?  Let’s start with you, young man.  And you are…?

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

Lady:  (Belly laughter)  I know.  But who are YOU?  I really wanna know.  Come on, tell me, who are you, really?

Boy A:  I’m Teddy Bear.

Boy B:  And I’m Mickey Mouse.

(I wonder if Pete Townshend heard this story and based his lyrics on the two kids of the mask.)

OMA-B W&Me 4yrs old

(L-R:  Woody, our grandmother Opal and me, one year later – 1964).

I will assume the poor lady surrendered and gave my cousin, Woody and I, our candy.  Woody was Mickey and I was Teddy.  My mom remembers it as if it were yesterday.  She, along with my Aunt Ellen (Woody’s mom), just split their sides laughing the entire time.  One thing is for certain, we were obviously not, under any circumstances, going to give up the characters played.  After all, it was Halloween when nobody was supposed to know who was under the mask.  Right?

My granddaughter is very much into masks and make-up.  It must be in the genes.  Each year I am always surprised at what she and her mom creatively put together.  It’s a shame, she’s got such a sweet face.

Mask - Skylar

Masks are nothing new.  Historical records tells the tale.

During the times of the ancient Greeks, the dramatic arts were the pastime of society.  Unlike today, each actor held up a mask on a stick to cover the face as a role was played on stage.  In fact, even today, the classic masks of comedy and tragedy represent drama and the theater in general.

Mask - Drama

Unfortunately, so many of us tend to do the same each day, as if we are playing characters in an amphitheater.  Have you noticed?

Recently, I was at an event where many of my old high school friends were in attendance.  It was a glorious night of hugs, laughter and recollections.  99% of my old friends were more mature, but somehow extremely timeless, some even ageless.  Many of us picked up conversation as if four decades hadn’t gone by.  Then, one of my high school acquaintances was spotted across the room.  This person was born into a family of great wealth.  If this person skinned a knee on the gym floor, the blood would’ve been blue.  We were never close.  There was always an air about this individual.  You know the type.  The kid was from the realm of community royalty and it was played out for all it was worth. (Excuse the pun.)  As a teenager, I didn’t understand it, totally.  It’s not that I didn’t have friends from wealthy families, but this schoolmate was of a different fabric.  My impression was that this person just didn’t have interest in the commoners.  Honestly, I’m not trying to be rude.  It’s the way the air hung over us all when this student walked into the classroom.  The nose was always pointed upward, which could be harmful in the rain.  After 40 years, I truly thought there would be a maturing — a different chemistry –coming from this old acquaintance.  How can you spend four years with a person, yet graduate as strangers?  So, two weeks ago, taking a deep breath, I spoke to this person.  I asked a couple of questions about mutual friends and mentioned how good it was to see this individual once again.  I am sorry to say, there was no change.  This person had plastered the old familiar mask to the skin.  It had become a lifestyle, a mindset.  How tragic.  Frankly, it saddened me.

Have you ever been there?  I mean, knowing someone, yet NOT knowing THEM, the person as they are at home.

During my career in radio, once a week I worked with a particular part-time air personality.  During my time at this one radio station, at midnight I signed off the air Monday through Friday nights.  He worked overnight on Friday nights/Saturday mornings.  We would banter a bit during the shift change just before I left the control room.  Over a two year period, I never felt like I knew the man.  He always “put-on” his air-time persona before he walked into the building.  As frustrating as it was, I always wished that I could’ve gotten to know HIM, the real HIM.  In the end, I only was allowed to meet the mask.

The masks we choose can be the mask of concrete, without smiles, frowns or expressions of any kind.  We use masks to masquerade, as a shelter, an easement or comfort to the one behind it.  The theory is, if they don’t get to know you, you will be safe from whatever they may throw your way.  In this way, the mysterious veil stays in place.  It can be a very lonely place.  Some masks have an etched smile, common in beauty pageants.  If someone wears a constant smile, we may believe life is always perfect for them, without flaw.  If the mask is overcooked in a joyful, party-all-the-time-mold, we may not understand the deeply seeded depression beneath the plastic.  Robin Williams could testify to that concoction.  Maybe it’s a mask of stoicism.  This shield on the face appears as if nothing touches the heart, whether sadness, happiness or enlightenment.  The idea speaks of hardness, emboldened strength or skin made of iron.  In reality, the opposite may be true.  You may be married to a mask, gave birth to a mask, have a cleric who is a mask, or have a boss who is a mask.  It’s not always so easily detectable.

Mask - Me

There’s a biblical instruction on the authenticity displayed in all things, as God sees it.  “But let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:37 (CSBV)

It’s not so much how life-like your self-placed mask may be, or how faulty it may be. The crux is to be a synthetic person, or not.  It’s not just about how others see you, or the portrayal you select toward a path of protectionism, but rather how YOU see them.  Ironically, the viewers see your entire mask as you hold it up, but there’s a problem looking back at them.  Most physical masks I’ve ever worn, tended to have slits or tiny holes for the eyes.  Lots of kids trip and fall on Halloween night.  Nothing much in life is ever gained by tunnel vision.

YOU are gifted.  YOU are stunning.  YOU are worth it.  YOU have lots to give.  No need to hide it from us.

If the truth were revealed, we all hide behind something, even if for short periods of time.  If you feel you don’t, it may be proof that you are Teddy Bear or Mickey Mouse.

When transparency directs the day, it might be conducted by fuel for the race.

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:14-16 (NAS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Slicing of Words

“It’s only words.  And words are all I have to take your heart away.”  Words (1968) Recorded by:  Bee Gees.  Composers:  Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb

He said/she said…They said/I said…We heard he said…It’s been reported that she said… There’s so many words firing through the air and not many reach the heart.  Often they are aimed at the brain, the brain that is influenced, pushed and branded.

In case you don’t know, as many readers are from various countries, it’s another political season here in the USA.  As a rule, I refrain from speaking on politics on this platform.  If you’ve opened my blogs you have found me opining on topics which might have come out of political activity, but not politics, per se.  Here’s another example.

Click the Food Network and you will find a mixing bowl of slicing and dicing of some of your favorite veggies.  Some will be baked, some will be stir-fried, while some will be roasted.  All mouth-watering moments of yum.  Channel surf a bit and you will land on another sort of slicing and dicing.

If you watch TV news networks long enough, oh, let’s say :53 seconds or so, you will find talking head shows swiping sentences at one another as if they were..well…swords.  Have you noticed?  There are rants, rages and ravings aimed at slicing up the words, or thought processes, of the other person.  It’s important to note there will be some you agree with, yet still, rants, rages and ravings flying faster than the blade of an hibachi chef.  Most noticeably, the trend of the times is to interrupt and yell over the other person who continues to speak.

Piehole

Earlier this week, I watched three political pundits, plus the host of the show, all on one screen shot in four different camera frames.  No problem with that, until one person said something highly disagreeable to the others, and in one lengthy strand, all four were engaged in yelling over each other.  As you can imagine, no translation came out of the verbal brawl, with the exception of who could speak the loudest.  In those moments of feathers-flying, whoever shouts the loudest falsely believes he’s the one who not only knows the most, but is also right in his ideology.  Honestly, it’s enough to make you watch a Gilligan’s Island marathon.

Have you ever been on a debate team in school?  Have you ever watched a classic debate from years gone by?  There were always rules of engagement, standards of civility and expectations of respect.  In vogue now, envelopes are pushed, rules are ignored and standards are trashed, in many cases.  The public arena is a fighting ring, or so it seems.

Angry screaming woman on the chalkboard backgroundPhoto;  Darkbird

What does it teach us?  What have we learned from it?  Better yet, what are our children and grandchildren absorbing from the fray?  I fear the future battles to come.  Why?

For many, words don’t come easily to a mentally altered mind at war.  Far too often we experience individuals who can’t debate their way out of an ammunition box.  Many of them feel they have exhausted their library of words.  When words fall short, some pick up long rifles.  Just ask John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, or a loner on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.  It could be that these deranged individuals felt they weren’t the loudest voice in the room.

ANTIFA

Photo:  Phil Valentine

I would be remiss, if at this point, I avoided the subject of ANTIFA, and other outrageous antics in public places, with revolting violence and words that urge it, or support it.  As for ANTIFA themselves, there’s no need for me to spell out their doctrine.  Frankly, when they’re not contradicting themselves, the rest is meatless.  The word, “numskulls” comes to mind.  How many times must we see these young kids, decked out in black with bandannas covering their guilty mugs, destroying property, screaming in the faces of the average citizen walking the sidewalk, or kicking and spitting on cars that drive to an intersection?   Ask what the message is, and you’ll be spat upon or showered in profanity, or worse.  Hatred has roosted.

If you adhere to this type of brainless anarchy, read on and see your future.

Out of this action comes deeply seeded rage, festering in the pits of the heart.  Fools will say it’s only politics in action.  Horse piles!  These are highly disturbed people who do not see much of a future, or ambition for the days to come.  We have seen what lies in store for segments of a society who sees nothing but hopelessness.  It may start in a basement with video games, but later, after the energy for rage has faded, one may find joblessness, homelessness, substance abuse for numbing and in the end, prison and/or death.

But for now, these are the aimless, with violence on their minds, looking for any crack in the door to open-up their spew.  Many are wandering gaming addicts, sleeping in their mom’s basement, just waiting for someone to call to give the green light for the next barn-burner.  These are young ones who will follow the next person who has the loudest voice.  If not, they sit, open another bag of Oreos, and wait.  For whatever reason, violence, non-verbal skills and civil abuse will not only ensue, but grow like a weed in an alley.  Wars have launched with less.  At least the civil rights marches of the mid-60’s, followed by the anti-war protests of the late 60’s, had a message.  Meaningful dialogue had so much to do with it.  In the end: a better nation.

“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you.  True power is sitting back and observing things with logic.  True power is restraint.  If words control you that means everyone else can control you.  Breathe and allow things to pass.” – Warren Buffett

Civility matters.  Civility speaks, disputes and debates.  Civility, when ruling the day, keeps citizens from bleeding, while others go to prison.  Otherwise, it is difficult to speak four words at the beginning of a sentence only to be slapped down by a yelling, screaming mouth belonging to a brain full of irrational thought.  (I know about this on a personal level.)

There is no civility police.  We voters assume we elect adults.  Adults have been known to understand how to control the tongue, to curb outrageous thoughts before they develop into action.  Civility matters.

As for today’s political landscape.  Allow me to say, be wise.  Evaluate.  Research.  Read-up.  Listening exclusively to the rants, rages and ravings will only get you angry.  It will also shortchange you on depth of content.  When one only listens to a sound-bite, or a phrase in a political ad, one usually is truly going to the polls uninformed.  There’s also something to the suggestion of getting the ears outside of the echo chamber they find themselves floating toward.  Decision making requires an astute mind.  One of my favorite theological teachers says, “Text without context is pretext.”  Know, understand and dig into why the content of a sound-bite rings right, or wrong.  Do the research.  Sound-bites and edited video clips are designed to change your direction of thought.  I know, my career was to write, voice and produce promos and ads.  The tongue is a sword, but it is also a rudder.  You and your nation deserve better.

Communication is more than just a word, especially when ignited with fuel for the race.

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large, and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider (how) a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire…” – James 3:3-6a (NIV)

Cabin Fever

“Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old.  Sometimes I’d like to quit.  Nothing ever seems to fit.  Hangin’ around.   Nothin’ to do but frown.  Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”   Rainy Days and Mondays (1971)  Recorded by:  Carpenters.  Composed by:  Roger Nichols and Paul Williams.

Well, as I write this, it’s not Monday, but here it is a soggy day outside my window.  With sounds of the thunder, along with the pounding of drops on the roof and doors, I have warmed up to my computer with coffee mug in hand.

Frankly, growing up in Texas, I loved the storms with their flash floods and darkened skies, as long as I wasn’t standing in the way of one.  Call me odd, but that’s how I’ve always felt about rainy days.  Then I moved to Buffalo, NY for a five year stint.  Oh, my stars!  I never knew there were that many dark days, rainfall and snow in one year’s time.  Too much of a good thing?  Yep, it can get old and depressing.

Rain Front

As I was watching the sheets of rain shellacking the pavement and bending the branches, suddenly I recalled a reality TV show I saw not long ago.

My remote landed on a TV show about buying or building cabins, off the grid, in the Alaskan wilderness.  Have you seen it?  To be honest, I think I clicked on it knowing the scenery would be simply stunning.  Log cabins are very cool, as well.  For me, the idea of “roughing it” out in the Grizzly country of wonderful Alaska might sound fun…for a short period of time, like a day or so.  Maybe I’m too much of a hot-weather city boy at heart.

The episode at hand consisted of a young couple from suburbia United States.  They were probably in their late 20’s to early 30’s.  They had emptied out their savings, however much that could be by the time 30 comes around, and found a small clearing to build-on in the Alaskan forest.  It was forever from civilization.  As enchanting as the view was, there were realities to be considered.  About nine months of ice and snow with below zero temps.  No electricity.  No furnace, only a potbelly stove.  Dozens of cords of wood must be chopped and stacked before winter, all done by yourself.  No water piped in.  No plumbing.  No human neighbors.  No schools, stores, gas stations, clinics, cops, or fire departments.  No main road to drive out on.  Also, NO BEAR EXPERTS!  Just think, a haven for you and your honey.  No doubt, enlargements must be in future plans as children will be included somewhere down the pike.  Oh, and then there’s at least 67 days without sunlight each winter in many areas, but they will get over 80 days of sunlight around the clock in the summer.  That’s when eye masks come in handy when bedtime rolls around.  Without a doubt, their species of cabin fever distracted them from what lies ahead.  My cabin fever is of a different stripe.  Anyway, you get the picture.

Alaska lance & PatPhoto:  Lance Nail

A smattering of family, along with some very selfless friends, made the trip.  After a long rugged ride, on 4-wheelers and 4-wheel drive trucks on a “not-yet-muddy” dirt road, with hops and skips across country, about nine people tackled raising a log cabin.  After a few days of hard work, all done by hand, about 70% of the cabin had been completed when rain began to fall bringing the construction to a halt.  The poor suburbanite girl began to sob, in need of being held by her husband.  He wasn’t doing much better himself as they stood there in their wet cargo khakis.  The tears puddled quicker than the Alaskan rain, as she mentioned how awful it was to have the unexpected rain come while building their rustic cabin.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Alan, how terrible of you to make light of this unfortunate couple gliding on their off-grid hopes and dreams.”  I’m sorry.  You’re right.  However, as we all know, rain stops and construction continues.  And by production minute 23, it did.  The little cabin in the woods was completed.

Cabin Alaska Airbnb.comPhoto:  Airbnb.com

Of course, it’s wrong to laugh at someone in an uncomfortable spot, but in the privacy of my living room, I did begin to chuckle.  Out loud, I remember saying, “Sweetheart, save your tears.  There’s so much more strife on the way.”  My guilt is being shared with you right now as I type.  Try not to judge me too harshly.  Besides, I’m sure they were paid mounds for being on the show.  (Even though there is a lack of banks for deposit in the outback of the great Alaskan wilderness.)  Okay, I’ll stop.

Obviously, the humor underlines a certainty.  Frankly, this couple didn’t seem like the rough-it type at all.  Their choice will bring hardships, many of them unexpected, which most of us could only imagine.  A bit of rain is the least of the turmoil and trials ahead of them.  With consideration of the emotions televised when christened by sprinkles, I will project there will be lots of tears to come.  If I were the dad or father-in-law, I would lobby them to reconsider with intensity.  Not everyone is ready for such an existence.

(On a personal note:  Ironically, it has taken two days to get to this next paragraph.  The storm outside brought down a transformer on our street, causing everyone on our block to be without power for almost six hours, and I’m so far from Alaska.)

As the underbelly of reality TV would have it, the viewing audience caught them in a feeble moment, thanks to the producers who felt the need to expose this brittle meltdown segment.  It’s a good thing TV cameras don’t follow me around during an average day.  Do you feel like that?  There but for the grace of God go I.  Right?  Right!

Related imagePhoto:  Simon Barker

Well, the wind and rain is starting to slack off on the window behind my desk, not to mention my mug needs refilling.  I’m sure a large tree branch will break off and demolish the roof above me any minute now.

It’s good to be reminded how God’s economy works.  Being holier-than-thou always ends bitterly, no matter who you are.  When the One who calms the sea directs its rage to the coastline, ALL ships will find trouble in its path.  Rainy days and Mondays hit each of us, wherever we live and whatever we personally believe.  Ask any missionary.  It’s vital today to mention the truth of this.  With so many teaching that trials and troubles allude a person of faith, simply because there’s a trust in God, is a lie.  Open a Bible and point to any page, you will find this to be a fact.  Knowing and resting on what Jesus said about the inevitability of cares, troubles and turbulence in life, but relaxing through it, understanding He has overcome the world and its crap, is a source of tremendous peace.

One thing is for sure.  Rain will never get in the tank of fuel for the race.

 “…for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  – Jesus  From Matthew 5:45b (NAS) 

Curious Things

“And yesterday pedaling down 4th Avenue, between the stalls and the bookshops, the sepia tones of a lost afternoon cradled a curio storefront.  And inside the air was thick with the past as dust settled onto his heart.  And here for a moment is every place in the world…” – “Ideas Are Like Stars” (1996)  – Mary Chapin Carpenter.

It’s a curious thing…things, that is.  Most of us treasure an item held dear, a keepsake, a memento, or heirloom.  The thing of personal great admiration might not be valuable to anyone who walks by, but a gold mine nonetheless.  Am I right?  It might consist of an old dime store ring made of plastic.  The item could be as simple as an old grass-stained baseball with fragile stitches having lost some of its grip.  Then again, it may be the pocketknife once used to carve your initials in the bark of a tree with a first love.  Maybe it’s a faded ticket stub representing a memorable event, now a part of history.  One thing is for sure.  If you’ve kept it, it is a prize of the heart.

Not long ago my wife, Michelle, inherited an old curio once owned by her late grandmother.  She grew up seeing it resting alongside the kitchen wall in her grandparent’s home.

I never thought about the word “curio.”  As you imagined, it comes from the word “curious.”  And isn’t it though?

Shortly after it was brought into our living room, she had it filled with a collage of items I was unfamiliar with.  Nothing about each element seemed to relate to the others.  It was truly a mixed bowl of nuts.  Michelle handled each piece with the utmost care.  After explaining each article, dusted and placed carefully on the shelves, I asked if I could include some items of curiosity from my past.  She quickly agreed, as long as she approved of them.  Somehow I knew my old Kempo boxing gloves and my 1970’s Bruce Lee posters were not going to make the cut.

Come, sit on my couch.  Here’s a cup of java for you.  Allow me to give you a quick curio tour.  You may discover you are among the most curious.

In the feature photo above the title, there are three items of particular interest displayed on top of the curio.  The American flag with the bald eagle is made of porcelain.  My Uncle John Brown was on the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, along with his brother, Gordon Brown.  My Uncle John passed away in 2002.  He was a WWII naval war hero.  I had the great honor of giving the eulogy at his memorial service with many Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance.  His daughter, my cousin, kindly gave this ornament to me.  There were a total of four altogether, one at each corner edge of his flag draped coffin.  The red bird house was part of a sweet flower arrangement sent to me from an old family friend from Wisconsin when I spent last December in the hospital.  It kept me warm deep inside while in recovery from an unanticipated quadruple bypass.  The rose-glass vase was a wedding gift to my wife’s parents back in 1957.

Curio

On the top shelf sits some plates from family holiday dinners past.  Art runs in the clan.  The light blue floral plate, in the back-right, was painted by my grandmother-in-law.  The bejeweled miniature Cinderella pumpkin carriage, with a removable top, has a very special meaning.  While standing on the edge of a cliff-side sightseer’s perch, across the canyon from the beautiful Turner Falls in Oklahoma, I presented it to Michelle.  When she pulled the stem, opening the top, she found an engagement ring.  She said yes.  (By the way, the wheels work.)  Over to the left, a small file drawer stocked with, what she calls, Fruit of The Spirit Rocks.

Fruit of The Spirit Rocks

Straight out of scripture (Galatians 5:22-23) and onto these small stones.  Michelle is a highly talented artist.  This idea was something new to her at the time she painted the project.  I would point out here how each stone is different than the rest.  Created on rock, symbolizing permanence, stability and eternal vision.  Each fruit of The Spirit is seen as enduring, like a stone.  Not one is like another, in exact size and shape.  Not unlike each word describing the fruit of The Spirit which God lavishes upon those who trust in Him, are very different in works and content, although related.  Given love when there is a lack of it.  Given self-control when drowning in a tantalizing culture.  Given gentleness when the mob screams profanities in our ears.  Given goodness when oppressed by mean-spirited actions.  Given faithfulness when feeling the urge to run from what is difficult.  Given kindness when the days of rudeness seems to prevail.  Given patience when knee-jerking overreaction is common.  Given peace when the rapids of rage can be the order of the day.  Given joy when fickle happiness is mislabeled.  First, we are given, then we give.

From top to bottom, the third shelf is arranged with an assortment of breakables.  On the left, a prize of mine.  As a singer, I have performed lots of Barry Manilow material in my life.  This handmade ceramic sculpture, The Piano Player by Dino Bencini of Florence, Italy, was on the album cover of his Tryin’ To Get The Feeling album from 1975.  My mom bought the statue for me when I was 16 years old.  To me, it appeared to be a caricature of a 1970’s Manilow at the piano.  Michelle’s late grandfather was a pastor for decades.  The gold clock on the right was given to him by one of his congregations in recognition of his lifelong pastoral service.  The figurines surrounding the clock also came from a late aunt who held them near and dear to her heart.  We were told she kept them displayed wherever she lived, including the nursing home, which was her last residence.  They were a gift from her husband long ago.  These delicate, exquisite pieces are Bisque “Paulus” figurines, hand-painted and made in Occupied Japan shortly after WWII.  In the middle of the shelf are some favorite novels.  Among the stack are classics like, David Copperfield, Les Miserables and Pilgrim’s Progress.

The second shelf from the bottom is most curious indeed, at least to me.  Cradling various ornamental balls of wicker, rope and glass of assorted sizes, is an antique dark wicker basket.  No one is sure what it has held through the past century.  We do know my wife’s great-grandmother brought it with her when she migrated to Oklahoma in a covered wagon.  To the right is a plaque with the word, “Grace”.  It is a stark reminder of favor given without earning the gift.  Beneath it, and to its very definition, books on “nature and of nature’s God” (Declaration of Independence) like the bounty of the world’s species of flowers.  At the head of the stack, an old 1931 hymnal, worn, but gently used with its yellowed pages of the greatest songs from the Christian faith of that day.

The bottom shelf holds two patchwork quilts.  Just the sight of them grants visions of old maternal love and care by worn hands that rocked generations to sleep at night by candlelight.  The top quilt was made by my mother-in-law.

Maybe I’m alone on this.  More times than I can count, I learn of eternal things when I gaze at something temporal long enough.  “…And here for a moment is every place in the world…”  Mary Chapin Carpenter may have something solid in the lyric.  Our furniture sits across the room from the curio, so my line of sight browses its shelves quite often.

Just like the pieces of collectibles, gently placed within the walls of the curio, you and I  are not so different.  The shelves represent a potpourri of makes, styles, colors and uses.  We are all created differently with various bents.  Even our colors, races and careers are like a juggle of humanity in the atmosphere.  The utmost love and care surrounds each of us.  We are created on a collection of foreign soils and clay.  We read each other from diversified lands, cultures and political structures.  Our stripes are unique to ourselves.  Yet, it is the Creator who spun the family of humankind to be where and who we are.  He placed us by His wisdom and grace.  We are all resting in God’s curio with only the clearest walls of glass for a view of perfection. The treasures in our living room curio don’t bother with unrest or squirming.  They are all well placed, like each of us.  All persons have their purpose, their history and artistry, all of whom are cared for by design from the greatest of love.  He is the Potter, we are the clay.  He is the Tailor, we are the cloth.  He is the Sculpturer, we are the lively stones.  He is the Spirit, we are the fruit etched in rock.  He is the Author and Publisher, we are His story.  Because He is the Clock-maker who holds the times, we are offered a place beyond the clocks, guided by the synchronized rotations and revolutions of the planets.

Who knew a curio could house so much fuel for the race?

“But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’  Does the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?  What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?  What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called…” – Paul –  Romans 9:20-24a (NIV)