Dancing in Brazil


Foods with a significant addition of chili force the taste buds to dance. Such a dance takes the participant weaving and bobbing as the meal continues. Actually, taste involves 5,000 to 10,000 taste buds screaming to your brain while the nose sticks itself into the business to fully translate the signal interpreting what is being eaten.

Life resembles a dance between the bland and shocking experiences of life. Again, the brain interprets each experience as painful, pleasant, exotic, fearful, challenging, etc. And, all such experiences are informed by memories of similar experiences from the past. But, occasionally experiences occur that the brain cannot draw upon the past to make an interpretation to inform the person about an appropriate reaction.

Brazil offers a plethora of unfamiliar experiences to travelers. A favorite vacation spot is Salvador, a coastal city in the Bahia of Brazil. The city is highly influenced by the influx of slaves from Africa during the decades of the slave trade. Gradually these people adapted to the Portuguese language, but held on to music and culinary roots. So, now, it is hard to separate the food and music of the two cultures. Then, you throw in the immigrants from Germany, Japan, North American and a host of other countries and Brazil became multi-national long before globalization.

I was introduced to the Bahia, a costal state of Brazil, through my involvement in missionary activities initiated by the Japanese in Brazil. A group of churches in Japan invited me to visit their missionaries in Mata de Sao Joao, a small town about 45 minutes from Salvador. But, first, they insisted I spend two days as a tourist in Salvador to become familiar with the Brazilian culture in hopes that they could serve not only the Japanese in Brazil but also the Brazilians.

Have you ever had a one-on-one guide employed to lead you to all the music and cuisine offerings of the city that is known for hosting the biggest carnival in the world, even exceeding Rio? That was an unusual perk considering I was at the time working for an overbearing, micro-managing boss that would have been disappointed had he known I had an entire day of bliss in the southern sun.

So much of the joy of life revolves around eating in every culture. So many people survey what they will do for dinner while enjoying the lunch that they planned so carefully. And, of course, they had awakened earlier salivating about the country ham, red-eye gravy, scrambled eggs, and flaky biscuits soon to be on their plate.

The cuisine of the Bahia is likely one of the best-kept secrets in the world, passed from generation to generation. And, that secret, like so many things in life, is stored in the minds, hearts and emotions of women (and a few men). In fact, none of the foods of the Bahia will be as good unless you can see and listen to the women that cooked it. Can guys cook in Brazil? Yes, but give me a woman any day. I was put into a dream world as we sat at a street side café on a bench that had once been painted bright red and ate on a table with vinyl checkered table cloth that had been wiped clean day after day for decades by the same woman and her mother before her. There is something incredibly alluring about a woman of African descent that still wraps her hair in the most brilliantly colored textiles available and complements her blouse with necklaces made from the beans of palms that also provide the oil that infuses so much of the flavor of many dishes.

The food stall had space for fifteen people to crowd around tables for lunch or dinner. My guide had arranged for me to try a variety of the common plates requested from Magdelina. She proudly brought me small bowls, one after another, until I cried, “Please no more.”

I tried Acarajé -a dish, made with beans, seasoned with salt and onion, fried in dendê (palm) oil and served with pepper sauce, dried shrimps, vatapa, tomato, and green pepper

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Next I was served Moqueca de camarão (shrimp) is a traditional Bahian seafood stew. It basically consists of shrimp or fish, onion, garlic, tomatoes, coriander, pimenta malagueta (chili pepper) and additional ingredients. It is usually accompanied by farinha, rice, and farofa

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If you haven’t tried Caruru, you should. It is a dish, made with okra, fish, shrimps, peanuts, cashew nuts and seasoned with oil and peppers

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My taste buds were moaning from a mixture of delight and pain that had been initiated by options of tiny bowls of spices to sample with the different dishes—some of the spices were moderately hot and others drove my heart to race, initiated perspiration and sneezing, and released endorphins to compensate for the sensations in the taste buds. The black-eyed pea fritters served to absorb some of heat and bring the mouth back to a point where it was ready for the next rocket of intense satisfaction.[1]

You need to put La Bahia on your bucket list for places to visit. You will not be disappointed.

 

The Fairest of the Fairs–And the Winner Is…..The Iowa State Fair!


Competition is good for the soul even among writing friends. I learned a long time ago that when competition is with only one person, it is best to go last. That allows me to know how much I have to exert myself. Unfortunately when some one really good goes before you, it is demoralizing at best and depressing at worse. But since I accepted a challenge with Nancy about the fairest of the state fairs, here we go.

If you have never been to a state fair, you have no idea what you have missed. The Iowa State fair borrows the best ideas from all other states and then uses the creativity and intelligence of the average Iowan and kicks the idea up a few notches. As a consequence, if you can endure the heat and humidity of an Iowa day in the summer, there is something for you.

Whether it is a short-course on agriculture, a life-size sculpture made from butter, an outhouse pushing contest, the challenge of competition in cooking, sewing, woodwork, and the arts, a culinary connoisseur’s haven, more midway thrills than the human stomach can endure, exposure to the best livestock in America, a plethora of country and pop music performers, car races, horse races, and much more, the world flocks to Iowa to see the best.

Farmers in Iowa look at going to the State Fair with as much seriousness as a Moslem considers a visit to Mecca during his/her lifetime. The Iowa fair started in 1854, before the Civil War was fought.

The internationally acclaimed Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. Annually attracting more than a million people from all over the world, the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines is Iowa’s great celebration, a salute to the best state in the midwest.

The Iowa State Fair, the inspiration for the original novel State Fair by Iowan Phil Stong, three motion pictures, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical, is without a doubt the country’s most famous state fair.

National media often ranks the Iowa Fair as one of the top events in the country. In 2004, USA Weekend named the event the #2 choice for summer fun in America, topping New York City’s Times Square, Cedar Point Amusement Park Resort in Ohio, and Disneyland in California.

Midwest Living magazine named the Fair one of the “Top 30 Things Every Midwesterner Should Experience.” The Fair is also the only fair listed in The New York Times best-selling travel book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and the subsequent travel book, 1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before you Die.

Iowa’s Fair is also known as “America’s classic state fair” because the event features all the traditional activities associated with state fairs in a park-like, 450-acre setting (the Fair’s home since 1886). The grounds and the adjoining 160 acres of Campgrounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the buildings pre-date World War I; many are priceless examples of American exposition-style architecture.

Throughout its history, the Fair has been a unique institution, serving to educate, inform and entertain people from all walks of life. It is an outstanding agricultural showplace, boasting one of the world’s largest livestock shows. Also home to the largest art show in the state, the Fair showcases visual and performing arts with a variety of special exhibits and activities. Each year, hundreds of manufacturers and industrial representatives clamor to rent coveted exhibit space.

Several ground stages feature more than $500,000 worth of spectacular entertainment free with gate admission. Performers and dynamic track events thrill thousands of fans in the Grandstand (Iowa’s original outdoor concert venue). Nearly 600 exhibitors and concessionaires feature quality merchandise and tasty foods. Hundreds of displays, exhibitions, demonstrations, unique attractions and all kinds of competition – for fun, for ribbons and for the pride of being chosen best – make Iowa’s Fair one of the biggest and greatest.

I attended the 100 anniversary of the fair in 1954 at the age of 9. Approximately 500,000 people attended that year. Unfortunately I was at the Illinois State fair when Roy Rogers appeared in grandstand show in 1959.

Our family’s annual vacations, except for one trip to Colorado, included a week at either the Iowa or Illinois State Fair. We alternated between the two. It was 132 miles to the Illinois fair and 166 to the Iowa fair from our home in southeast Iowa. That was a long trip for little boy. I can remember the effort to spot the golden domes of the capitol building of either Des Moines or Springfield signaling that we were entering the capitol city and hence close to the fair.

Long before most people had RV’s and trailers, the state fairs had acres and acres available for camping. In our case our family on my mother’s side always rented an 18 x 18 foot tent where we all slept on army cots and where the women cooked most of our meals with goods brought from our farms. My folks would buy a one week pass that allowed all family members daily entrance into the fair grounds, just a short walk down the hill from “tent city.”

The food selections have changed radically from then until now. Then we chose carefully between Carmeled Corn, Lemonade, frozen malts, and cotton candy, sweet corn. Now you can buy 70 different foods served on a stick at one of more than 200 food venders. s exotic choices such as deep-fried oreos, double bacon corn dogs, smoked turkey legs, Iowa pork chops, Apple Pie on a Stick, Blooming Onions, Caramel Apples on a Stick, Cheese Curds, crab fritters, Deep-fried Twinkie on-a-stick, funnel cakes, Dutch letters, fried pork tenderloins, and fried peanut butter/jelly sandwiches. This is to just name a few.

Now I need to concede that the Illinois state fair far exceeds the Iowa State Fair in two somewhat significant ways. The first way has to do with their Girlie Side Shows. The Illinois fair had for a few years a girlie show on the midway. I always figured that Illinois had that act while Iowa didn’t because Illinois must have had more of what my mom called “hussies.” Now these were lewd brazzen women that specialized in “personal revelations of their big tops.” Well, that was quite an attraction for my cousin and myself since we had not seen anything naked other than our farm animals. The carney barker would stand on the stage in front of the “hussy tent” and call his redheads, blonds, and brunettes to come out to show a hint of what could be seen inside. Naturally, this was a sideshow only for adult males. But some enterprising young pubescent early teens, namely my cousin and myself, quickly developed a plan to check out this show.

We snuck away in the morning from the campsite with a couple of canvas tarps that were used to cover the back of our pickups on the trip so if we drove in rain our gear would not get wet. Then, prior to the 1 p.m. show we snuck under the back of the tent and inched our way, almost blindly, to a location near the left side of the stage where there were no chairs to block our view. We had cut a couple of peep holes in each canvas so we could sit quietly on the ground near the side of the tent with hopes that everyone would just think that we were just piles of the tarps had been left as a part of the set-up. It was a pretty sweet compact room with a view until midway through the show my cousin got the urge to use the bathroom. And, without telling me, he created a small stream running from our hideouts toward the crowd of distracted men. Yep, there is room for a taraddidle in almost every story.

I also have to admit that the Illinois fair is also the strongest when it comes to the husband calling contest. Here is a sampling:

My grandfather Fleenor was a first class land trader and entrepreneur. And, he taught my cousin the importance of never spending more money than you earned. Over the years we developed a sophisticated strategy of how to make money at the expense of the midway game shysters. There was one money maker that we used as our primary source to triple or quad-drupple our money on a given day. So, we could take the five day allowance of $10 that our parents gave us and turn it into $40 or more. With this we could try the double ferris wheel, the Side Winder, and Halley’s Comet. Rides that would never have fit into the budget our cash-strapped allowance provided by our parents. Here was our major ploy. There was one popular game that resembled a crane with a gravel bucket that dropped when a crank was turned in an effort to scoop up a prize. Unfortunately, the bucket always seemed to drop where was no prize except for where the people wanted to let people win just enough to draw interest from passing crowds. We studied the game and learned that cranes moved methodically inch by inch around the arc from one side to the other. Then, by simple patience and observation, we could watch while others spent there money and then left in discouragement just before the point where we would pay our dime and pull out the gift that the barkers would buy back for a quarter. It proved to be our gateway to a free week of frolic at the fair.

I was fascinated by the barking, cussing, and threats of the sulky drivers as they raced around the track. On one occasion, my father and I were standing along the rail when one driver yelled at the cart and horse in front of him. “Either move over, or I am going to let my horse run right over you!” As they moved ahead and out of hearing, the crazy driver of the faster horse actually ran his cart right up and over the left wheel of the leading driver causing quite an entanglement. Obviously the leading driver was unwilling to make room for the faster driver. I wonder if one–Terry Teeple–was at that race.

Now I could go on to talk about the competition for the largest pumpkin–yep, a 1,323 pumpkin raised in Iowa. Or, I could talk about the 1,335 pound boar. I guess you could say he would be capable to “litter” up the place.

I could go on to write about the years when our attention turned from the midway and the observation of farm animals to the exploration the beautiful 4-H girls pranced around showing their prize figures. Obviously, the fair got better and better until one of those girls convinced me to say “I do.” And, that was the end of my escapades at the fair.

So, let me close with the following evaluation of State Fairs. After retiring Jim Koppel from Moline, IL, visited all 50 of the state fairs. He used 100 criteria in making his decision.  And here is a list of his top five.  #1  The Iowa State Fair       #2   Alaska    #3   New York State Fair    #4  Minnesota   #5   Texas State Fair.  Opps.  I am saddened to report that the Illinois State Fair did not make his list.  An autobiographical “taraddidle” by Bob Watkins

My First Visit to Washington D. C.


No one could characterize me as a juvenile delinquent. I would not have thought of shoplifting even a candy bar. I would have been afraid to sample the Jack Daniel’s that was hidden away in the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet. It was a major breech of my code of conduct to pour over the interesting pages of “Playboy” that one our farm workers kept under his mattress. Now there was a temptation for a pubescent teen.

But, from a very early age, I became interested in practical jokes and other scams. These jokes began innocently and were copied from other people’s harmless teasing that I read about in “Reader’s Digest” or “Capper’s Weekly.”

One of my best was aimed at my Grandpa Fleenor. He was a pig farmer, a carpenter, and an entrepreneur. I listed on the local radio station on “swap and shop” that he had pigs on sale for half of the going price with the added comment that people should call after 10 p.m., well after Grandpa’s bedtime.

I captured my first wild animal at age 13 to add to my Grandma Watkins small town zoo. She had a fox, two deer, a small Asian bear, various snakes, all types of birds, a coon, a monkey, and a few other animals. My gift to Grandma was a baby skunk that she very quickly de-scented. Sam, as we called him, was a cute little bugger that loved me like his mother. Within two years I was using the pet skunk as a gag, leaving him in my sister’s bedroom, our new pastor’s study on Halloween, and carrying him to community events to watch people freak out and run wildly from my harmless pet.

Then, came the dare. The skunk had made it to Danville High School with the permission of the principal to irritate a teacher that no one liked, including the principal. My classmates knew that I was making a bus trip to Washington D. C. and they challenged me to smuggle the skunk to top of the Washington Monument. Being rather adventurous, I could only see the $40 they were offering if I could garner a note in a newspaper of notoriety. The implications of getting caught with a skunk in the nation’s capital never entered my mind.

The major issue I felt would be how to keep a skunk hidden and sedate for periods of up to ten hours in a bus or hotel. So, I decided to try “catnip” since my folks used it when we brought our neurotic cat on the train from Denver, Colorado to Burlington, Iowa to begin farming after the end of World War II. The skunk had become use to the company of humans since I kidnapped it as an infant. In many ways it had no idea it was not a person. Grandma often took the skunk to the school when invited by teachers for show and tell days. The silly skunk would just walk around with a curious look until some kid would pick him up and rub his unruly hair.

My experiments with catnip were amazingly effective. And, I learned that the skunk could easily go twelve hours without needing to potty. He was fastidious about the neatness and cleanliness of wherever he had to sleep. If any water got into his pen, he would not sleep inside it until it was changed.

I packed my suitcase allotting one third of the space for Sam. The sponsors of the trip insisted that two participants share a room throughout the trip. But, I wrote a letter to the sponsors claiming that I could not share a room due to a nasal problem causing snoring that caused consternation for my own family. This opened the door to having the freedom to feed and relieve my pet each evening and early morning.

These were before the days before 9/11 and almost no security was in place at national monuments. In fact, thirty years later, at age 50 I carried my entire suitcase to the top of the Statue of Liberty because I didn’t want to pay for a locker to stow it. I was rather miserly in those days and refused to use money if I could avoid it.

I studied the design and security issues of the monument before making the trip. Washington Monument was the highest structure in the world until the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The monument had 49 flights of stairs up to the 490-foot level with 18 steps or risers per flight, plus a 490–500-foot spiral stairway with 16 steps in the northeast corner. In 1958, the original spiral stairway was replaced with two 490–500-foot spiral stairways of a different design with 15 steps each in the northeast and southeast corners. There was an elevator that visitors could use, but a huge majority of the people chose to climb just to boast that they had made it to the top.

I had asked my mom to sew me a type of backpack that I could carry while visiting the sites of the nation’s capitol. She knew nothing of my ploy to take my skunk to what she saw as the apex of world cities.

The trip to Washington on Greyhound with 40 other students went without a hitch. I assume my skunk slept most of the way with his mild sedative. And, I even let him sleep on the bed with me.

The actual ascent of the monument was scheduled for the fourth day of our visit, and I was really calm about my plan. Every day was so jam-packed with visits to the Smithsonian, Mt. Vernon, the Washington Cathedral, and a host of other sites that I barely thought about the fact that I would soon have to set Sam free to make it as he could in the nation’s capital.

The white marble of the Washington Monument beamed in the sun on the day of our visit. I had no idea that so many people visited the monument on a given day and I soon realized that I would have difficulty finding a secluded spot near the top to set Sam free. I waited at the top peering time and again out the small windows for a view of the city. Finally, our group cleared out and there were a few moments to spring the “kitty.” And, then, I began the descent to catch up with my group. It was strange but we met no one going up and I was wondering if I was already busted. Had someone gone up the elevator and then back down to report a polecat at the top of the monument?

We noticed a large group of Japanese people as we exited and left for the walk to the Lincoln and Jefferson Monuments. I lingered. As soon as we left the Japanese began their ascent, it was not ten minutes until the first Japanese must have met Sam trying to find an exit. The entire contingency came pouring out of the monument. The women were screaming and the men were giggling from a mixture of fright and pleasure.

I decided to leave as inconspicuously as possible.

The next day, the “Washington Post” ran a brief article about the Japanese ambassador and a group from Japan being rudely rushed out of the Washington Monument because of the presence of a skunk. And, the editorial comic had a cute caricature of a skunk with his raised tail running after a group of Asians as they hustled away from the monument.

I had my newspaper story. Now all I had to do was to keep this secret until I returned home. Unfortunately, I had no guarantee my friends would guard my secret from my other friends and family. But, that is a story for another day.

Yep, that was a taraddidle (a little white lie)!

Easter Hope


The Difficult Transition from Christmas to Easter Hope

Reflections on Life and Death–

Three decades ago, I visited my grandmother in a nursing home in New London, Iowa and could not believe my eyes. It had been months since my last visit and I had to look carefully to be certain of her identity. She was restrained in a wheelchair, an unwilling slave of the present. I was stunned to see my robust grandma had gradually withered to 90 pounds and had practically no hair. She now refused to open her eyes. She was shutting out the world more and more each day. She was speaking to no one now. She looked exhausted from being bombarded by age and cancer. I knew that she wanted to die and couldn’t. I wondered, what does Christian hope say in this circumstance? What good is faith in this situation? What good is her hope in this context? Should I hope that she will get better, or should I hope that God would call her life to a merciful end? I knew the best alternative, but I found it difficult to pray for death. I encountered a great struggle in making the transition in my mind and heart from my grandma living on Earth to one of my spiritual mentors departing to Heaven!

Later that month, I found myself driving to see a beloved friend the afternoon before open-heart surgery. Her doctor had explained that the chances were 60-40 that she would not pull through the surgery. Even if she did, her chances of a very long survival were minimal. I wondered how I could speak a word of hope to her as we talked about the surgery that she might not survive. What could I say to her about hope? I wanted to carefully balance hope for recovery and yet assure her that her hope did not solely depend on surgical success. Similar examples befall all of us. The problem continues to appear time and again––how can we maintain a true hope in those circumstances when health and aging are totally out of our control?

Everyone has tragic situations that cause despair. During those times, we find it difficult to cope. We need something, someone, to assure us that there is a way for the Christian to move through the present into the future.

Hope should be special for Christians. Hope allows us to step into a dismal future with confidence. Our hope in God’s control of the future allows us to live optimistically. Hope keeps the Christian steadfast. Paul wrote, “we continually remember…your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thessalonians 1:3 NIV) You will remember that Paul named hope as a great foundation of the Christian faith. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) Despite Paul’s priority of love, times occur when we need hope more than love.

Two types of hope are clearly present in the Bible even though they are not specifically separated and titled. I call one level “Christmas Hope” and the other “Resurrection Hope.”

Christmas hope manifests itself in the birth of a little baby with his/her whole life before him. It is the hope for a meaningful life full of love here on this Earth. This hope focuses on the present and the immediate future. It believes that God will help people find meaning and happiness in this life. This hope trusts that when people get ill they can get better. When people get depressed, they can recover. It believes people can receive their daily bread instead of suffering in poverty. The nature of temporal Christmas hope centers on the physical, the financial, and the desire to help build the kingdom of God on earth. This hope is personally designed for the times of our life here on this Earth. It centers on the hope to live this life abundantly. Christmas hope urges us to relate, laugh, play, create, share, feel, think, plan, talk, and love. It urges the “milking” of life to the fullest. The problem with this kind of hope is that at some point it has an end. Sometime that end comes quickly, in the blink of an eye. Other times, the end affords everyone the opportunity to transition from one hope to another. We don’t like to think about it. This hope must say one day, “it is nearly finished.” We do not like to think about it, but everyone’s earthly life is limited. Christmas hope only lasted for 33 years for Jesus. We need something more than a temporal hope when a meaningful existence on this earth fades.

Fortunately, Christmas hope is not all we have. Christ’s resurrection provides a model for another kind of hope––Easter hope. Easter hope supports Christmas hope. Most of our life it doesn’t dominate our thinking. Instead, it surrounds and even informs our Christmas hope. But Easter hope supersedes Christmas hope. Christmas hope is existential. Easter hope is eschatological. One enjoys the present and the other prepares us for an eternal future. Though we concentrate more on Christmas hope, Easter hope remains the most important. Our Christmas hope is enriched by Easter hope. Both hopes are based on the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter hope usually surfaces when Christmas hope gets in jeopardy. It centers on the spiritual and the eternal areas or reality and it focuses on a new Jerusalem, a new body, a new Earth, and a new peace.

While with Christmas hope we sometimes struggle to find a reason to live, with resurrection hope we know we will live! With this understanding, hope never disappears; it is gently turned to God’s promise of eternity.

Christian maturity based on faith and trust involves the ability to make a gradual shift from temporal hope to eternal hope during our expected lifespan. We sometimes wobble between the two hopes, wondering where we should concentrate. Unfortunately, this shift has to occur more quickly in the situation of a terminal illness. Such an illness causes the person and their family to shift from hope to hope according to an unpredictable schedule.

Recently I was speaking with a man who is well into his 70’s. I shared my perplexity over when a person should begin to shift the emphasis in the object of his or her hope. I said, “If we get heavily bound to quickly, we miss the joy in mission of this life. If we get fixed on earthly hope too long, we get discouraged and miss the joy of heavenly expectations and spiritual preparation.”

He said, “Bob, I am 75 and I’ve already shifted gears. My primary hope now rests in heaven. I still enjoy life, but I’m concentrating more on heaven.” He said, “Resurrection hope, as you call it, has become my focus.”

His attitude deserves consideration. The timing of transfer of hope is a personal matter. The transfer of hope from a worldly focus to a heavenly one involves a struggle. Wasn’t Jesus coping with this balanced between living on earth and passing into eternity when he communicated with God in Gethsemane and said, “Not my will, but thy will be done!” The humanity of Jesus did not want to leave the earth. But he submitted to the hour and began to shift his hope from bringing the kingdom of God on earth to joining the kingdom of God in heaven.

Just a few Sundays ago I heard a sermon that pointed me to the very moment when I think Jesus made the full transition from Christmas to Easter hope. The key verses are in John 12:27-28.

23And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. 26“If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

Jesus Foretells His Death

27“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28“Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

It seems sound to assume that at that point, Jesus saw the moment had arrived when his soul was at it deepest point of struggling with the acceptance of his death, that he realized it was time to shift from glorifying God through his life and request that “God be glorified through Christ’s death!” Just as verse 27 says, Jesus gave up on being saved in some miraculous way and gave it all over to the “Glory of the Resurrection.”

Paul also recorded his struggle with the transfer of emphasis of one hope to another. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I go on living in this body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I’m torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:21–24) This is our challenge. Shifting hope always creates an uncomfortable tension. We do not detach from this world easily. In fact, we don’t usually want our beloved friends or friends to detach from their physical role in our life.

Thomas Jefferson said, “When hope is gone, what is left? We say of this one or that one, he has lost heart. What we really mean is that he is lost hope. When hope dies, then the heart goes out of man.”

Christians do not need to lose heart; our hope continues––only our emphasis changes. Today, we live and rejoice with the temporal Christmas hope; but tomorrow we may have to step reluctantly but confidently into an eternal Easter hope.

It is interesting that in 2009 I visited both Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Bethlehem touched me much less than Jerusalem. When I reached Golgotha and saw with my own eyes an open tomb similar to that from which Jesus emerged after his resurrection, I better understood the assurance of Easter hope!

 

Meeting My Great Great Grandmother


The strangest thing happened last night. My great great grandmother came for dinner. She arrived unannounced, just appeared across the table, sitting erect in an empty chair. My wife and I shuddered and gasped. She said, “Do not be afraid. I am your great grandmother, Kitty Catherine Bronzella Love Jamison. I understand you have always wanted to meet me.” It took a few seconds for my mind to catch up, but her name was not unfamiliar to me. Her name had popped up with regularity at family reunions or at holiday celebrations.

 

She had the ruddy complexion of so many of my family—sort of confirming my feeling that there is some native American blood in our ancestry. Her appearance was not at all what I had expected. Her personal warmth nearly made me overlook her physical characteristics. She spoke softly and usually took several moments to think before speaking. 

 
Grandma Jamison was my father’s grandmother on his mother’s side. I was so glad for the visit because I had always believed she was responsible for many of the artistic genes that continue to bless our family. She birthed 10 children in 22 years, and she passed away (March 7, 1945) a little more than four months before my birth. She lived from1872-1945. I reminded her that she was still considered the best painter of our clan. A few of her pictures still hang in the homes of her great grandchildren. I remember three paintings—a proud bulldog, a serene landscape of a cabin by a lake with mountains in the background, and a beautiful work of three stallions romping in a field. We have a poem from a booklet “The Glory Belongs to Our Ancestors” that Grandma Kitty wrote as her creed the day before her death.
 
“Blessed Jesus, I’ve tried to the end;
On Thee, always, I’ll ever depend.
Let my life and faith abide, 
Keep me always by thy side.
 
Give me faith and courage too,
Always love and lean on you,
For we know, whate’er befall
God’s own hand is over all.
 
He it is, our changes choose,
Never will he let us loose.
If we, faithful, do his will
He will guard and keep us still.
 
I am in his loving care,
I have never known despair
He will guard and guide you too,
If you will to him be true.”
 
If it is amazing how you pass an evening over dinner when you know it is the only time you will see someone. In this case, there were more questions, followed by answers, and limited small talk. I wish I had had time to prepare to make the most of the moments with her, but then I often have time to cogitate ways to make the most of conversations with other people, but don’t. She was little impressed with our modern trappings, but seemed content to sit at our small kitchenette in our modest park model. None of us actually got around to eating. I tried to introduce her at one point to my computer and the internet. But she quickly said sternly, “Not interested.”
 
She asked me if I had heard of the Chautauqua meetings. I said, “No.” She explained that they were quite formational in the life of Americans in the early 1900’s. describes an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Named after Chautauqua Lake, in Western New York where the first was held. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. A Chautauqua Assembly brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is “the most American thing in America”. Two of the most popular speakers were William Jennings Bryan with his populist and evangelical message addressing topics such a temperance and evolution, The most popular speech was delivered by Russell Conwell who delivered his famous “Acres of Diamonds” speech 5,000 times to audiences on the Chautagua and Lyceum circuits. His theme was “Get rich young man, for money is power and power ought to be in the hands of good people. I say you have no right to be poor.” 
She asked me if we had any truly inspiration orators today and I struggled to name anyone that was admired by more than half our fickle constituency.

 

She didn’t ask a single question about politics, crime, international issues, or our weather, Instead, she wanted to know about her grandchildren (my parents) and my family. I did ask her to tell us some of the details about her 75 years in heaven. But she was tight-lipped.

 
She said, “That is not for me to tell.”
 
“God will introduce you to your new dimension in good time. Right now you can’t begin to comprehend it.” 
 
“But I will say—you will not be disappointed, only surprised.”
 
But she kindly said, “Let’s talk about people and faith. You know in the end, that is all that really counts.” 
 
I told her that my youngest son had her Bible. She demonstrated a certain pleasure that a great great grandson had spent his life trying to introduce people to Christ—a charge she had taken so seriously. I thanked her for whatever influence that she had over my father, her grandson. I told her that his gentle spirit had been loved by all. I thanked her for the genes of creativity I now see in my own children. She gleamed with pride as she held a magnificent pot formed at the potter’s wheel by my son.
 
I asked her if it was true that she won a piano from the Lange Piano Company in Burlington, Iowa and she confessed it as true. I told her it was strange but that I had won a ten day trip to Washington D. C. as a junior in high school for my writing on rural electrification. She chuckled, then winked, and said, “Did you say you were my great, great grandson?”
(This ‘’tale” is a novel way to present this ancestor to my family. Obviously, she did not visit my home, but this is my imagination of the content of such a meeting.)

“Most People Are Wimps These Days!”


Christmas Taradiddle 2017
“Most People Are Wimps These Days!”
Sometime between Thanksgiving and January 5, thousands and thousands of North American families will pack into their warm cars and drive a few miles to select their spruce, pine, or fir tree at the Boy Scouts or Lion’s Club rented parking lot. Hundreds of nearly perfect trees will be propped up on makeshift stands for easy selection. These recently cut trees release a pine odor that is unique to Christmas. Parents and grandparents will plop down $50-$150 for a tree that will hold its needles for three to four weeks. What a bunch of wimps! For us old timers, such a process is markedly anti-climatic and anti-traditional. For the others, the Christmas holiday ain’t what it ought or could be.
I lived in the early 1950’s when men were men, and boys were men. Christmas was notably dufferent back then because of the location, the availability, and the cost of trees. During my childhood, the first Saturday of December was marked on our 16 x 24 inch Burlington Bank and Trust calendar. The free gift from the bank provided adequate space for families to record all important events—whether the weaning of calves, the God’s Portion Sale of the local Church, or a host of birthdays and anniversaries. Few families failed to have a date calendar hanging somewhere in their kitchen. Mom always scribbled “Falling and Decoration of the Christmas Tree” in the area under the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. No other activities could “trump” this family tradition.
November was reserved in part to verbalizing our dreams of how we would find something even prettier than previous years.
We would go over as many creeks as necessary to look for the “perfect” tree. An artificial tree was not an option. My Dad, my sister, and I made the foray while Mom stayed home making a variety of cookies and keeping the chocolate and/or spiced tea hot for our undetermined return to the home fires.Temperatures in southeast Iowa usually hovered close to or below freezing during December, and snow often covered the ground. There was about a 35% chance of snow in early December according to historical weather records. My sweet dishwater blond sister was three years older than I. No one could call her a tomboy. In fact, I always thought of her as a bit prissy. So, while I would dress in five buckle overshoes, overalls, a thick-hooded wool coat, gloves, and a pilot cap. Carolyn would wear her loose top rubber boots, snow pants, fuzzy white coat, mittens, and a beret with earmuffs.
Scan 36
Our annual hunts had many similarities year after year. My mother scanned the countryside frequently throughout the year trying to spy an ideal tree. Unfortunately, we could only consider wild cedars since spruce, fir and pine were not native to Iowa. These “nicely-shaped” trees could only be spotted in the yards of other families. I would have snuck in during the night to steal such a tree, but my legalistic Mom vetoed that idea. Christmas tree farms were non-existent. The wild cedar trees belonged to the general populace–first come, first serve. Unlike in the deep south of United States, Iowa cedars were seldom perfectly shaped; instead, they were scraggly and never a deep green. Unless, considerable rain fell during the summer, some of the boughs were often more tan than green. Consequently, it took a lot of walking and patience to find an acceptable tree. Usually, we would have to go deep into the timber to find an area that had not been picked clean by other families on the prowl.
If we had not spotted a tree that was close to the road during the summer and fall, Dad would hook our B John Deere to a hay wagon—load a saw and a double bitted ax, his two energetic children on the wagon along with one or two dogs, and head out for an area of the farm that he deemed most hopeful. Every thing usually went really well as long as we rode toward the timber toward the back of the farm on the wagon.
The problems began when we had to leave the wagon. We walked when we reached a point on the farm where the tractor and wagon could not proceed because of creeks or fences. Carolyn’s boots were inadequate to keep the snow from falling inside and eventually causing her to cry about her feet getting cold. I suspect the “few” snowballs I threw at her caused some additional discomfort. Simultaneously, our hands would chill to near freezing. And both my sister and I would beg Dad to build a fire. That never happened.
Scan 68
My sister, though an above average athlete, never perfected the dynamics of climbing over a barbed-wire fence. She approached the effort as a combination of climbing Mt. Everest and escaping over a prison wall with three strings of barbed wire at the top.
I would step onto the second barbed wire with my right foot while holding on to a fence post, quickly step two wires higher with the left foot, then swing my long right leg over the top wire without touching, balance there, put my weight on the right leg, swing over the left leg and attempt to jump to a perfect landing on the other side of the fence. More often than not, I landed on my bottom in the snow.
Carolyn, on the other hand, had much shorter legs, less balance and limited agility. (At least that is the way I perceived it.) Plus, the fear factor doomed her to failure before she began. She grabbed the barbed wire to begin the ascent and immediately got her mittens tangled in a barb. The thorn-like barb would puncture her flesh. She would fall back to the ground and the fussing would begin, followed by “I can’t do this!”
Dad would tenderly urge, “You need to learn to do it sometime. Try again.” The next effort usually resulted in her reaching one wire higher up the obstacle when again she would stick herself with one or more barbs, and she would climb back down, pouting pathetically.
Finally, she would reach the top of the fence, get a straddle the fence and then her foot would slip off one or other side and she would lean precariously while screaming “HELP” wildly with the top wire firmly sinking its barbs into the insides of her legs. Dad would rescue his sweet little angel and I would get up out of the snow where I had been rolling in laughter.
But, sooner or later, we would find a candidate tree, and a decision had to be made by unanimous vote. I chose to endure a bit of discomfort (often two or three hours) in order to find a tree that was greener, balanced, and definitely tall enough to reach the ceiling of the living room. I can’t remember a single year that Dad didn’t have to fall the tree in the timber and then cut off a few feet at our house because we had insisted on a tree that was a couple of feet too high.
Sooner rather than later, Carolyn was voting yes to every tree we considered.
Dad would then saw down the tree and we would let Carolyn yell “timber” to help her forget her wounds. The return to the tractor and wagon resulted in a few more outcries of helplessness. And, then, when we reached the tractor, we would take turns warming our hands through our gloves on the muffler of the tractor. I remember so well the care that had to be taken to get our gloves warm enough to remove the chill but no so hot as to burn our hands.
Home always looked and felt so good. Mom had warm molasses cookies and piping hot chocolate ready for us before we would size and decorate the tree. And, since Carolyn had been given the task to yell, “Timber,” in her deepest voice; as the youngest child, I was allowed to finalize the tree by placing the angel.
From that moment, the attention shifted from the Christmas tree to guesses about what we would find under it on the Christmas morning.

The 23rd Psalm–David’s Best


IMG_0831This Psalm used to be one of the most memorized chapters of the Bible. It was probably the only chapter that most Christians knew by heart. I love it because it teaches us about the nature of God. I suspect that God revealed these truths to David while he sat alone at night tending his sheep.

Here is what I have learned from David’s reflections.

God is a personal caretaker of all who listen for His voice.  “The Lord is my shepherd” (vs. 1)

God is the great provider of our needs.  “I shall not be in want” (vs. 1).

God is a divine and perfect leader. “He leads me beside still waters” (vs. 2)

God provides constant opportunities to renew one’s faith.  “He restores my soul” (vs. 3)

God is always around interacting in our life. “For you are with me” (vs. 4).

God ultimately wins. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (vs. 4).

God is intent on us reaching the highest ethic possible. “He guides me in the path of righteousness” (vs. 5).

 

God is good and loving. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life (vs. 6).

God is eternal. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vs. 6).