Category Archives: Social Behaviors

In the Spirit of the Ides of February

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Maureen Churabrutus-and-the-ghost-of-caesar-public-domain-wikiMost people know about the Ides of March, March 15, which was made infamous by the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC and continued in infamy by Shakespeare’s famous play, Julius Caesar, written some 1643 years later.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

However, did you know that February 15 also has special significance historically? February 15 was the date of an ancient ritual of purification, particularly washing with water, to purify people and their city from any evil spirits, which would allow the blessings of health and fertility to flourish as the citizens prepared for spring. februar_leandro_bassano-public-domainI don’t know about you, but I find all the dissension in America deeply disturbing, and I’m wondering if we might honor today as a day of personal purification coupled with earnest prayers for the healing of ourselves and our nation. It’s so easy to be critical of others…to make ourselves and our own values  into a gold standard for the way things should be. Can we instead humble ourselves and ask God to purify our hearts and straighten our thinking, so that we can see clearly and become a positive influence for good instead of adding to the cacophony of discord? There’s an old saying that “Charity starts at home,” and I think it’s just as true that “Purity starts with me.” Are we casting stones because we’re perfect and angry, or are we throwing mud because we’re frustrated that life is unfair and things aren’t going the way we think they should? Instead of adding to the problem, let’s pray that God will make us part of the solution by purifying our hearts and the hearts of our people. We can’t change others, but by God’s grace we can change ourselves. Then, I do believe God himself will rise up and move to work all things together for good…something no amount of fighting and anger will accomplish.mourning_mingrelians_pranishnikoff_1884“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.” (James 4:7-9)

Chasing Slow All The Way To Hawaii

chasing-slowErin Loechner is young. I am a senior citizen. Erin Loechner is a blogger with a fan base of over a million women. I have yet to have half a million people even view my blog and no “fan base” at all! Erin Loechner’s new book, Chasing Slow, just hit the market three weeks ago. I’ve never had a book hit the market! One thing we do have in common: She has no clue who I am, and I have no clue who she is…or at least that was true until I accepted the offer to read and review her book on my blog.

Chasing Slow arrived just before we left for Hawaii, and I chased slow all the way there and back, as the deadline is today! Do I recommend her book? Yes, for these people:

*Women who feel a lion roaring inside them or are feeling dizzy on their merry-go-round. (If this makes sense to you…you’re in.)

*Women who own a Millennial, love a Millennial, or would like to understand the pressures on this now largest living generation, born sometime between 1980 until 2000 or so. Millennials are a cohort of 75± million precious souls who are the major target of massive marketing efforts. They live in a world of cyber connection, averaging 250 friends on Facebook and a median of 50 phone texts per day. They tweet, instagram, pin, blog, linkin and are expected to measure their self worth on the yardstick of what the world-wide web deems perfection.

There’s the reason the “web” is called the “web.” It’s sticky and few escape. Erin found herself trapped in the vortex and has been trying to find her way out.

But it seemed impossibly hard, because she kept feeding the lion, and he was never satisfied. Feeding the lion? I grew up eating the Word and brushed my cut my teeth on 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Don’t feed the lion, resist the lion, and cast all your cares on God, who will care for you and deliver you from the lion (1 Peter 5:7-9; 2 Timothy 4:17). Sounds simple, but I know it’s hard. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to keep the lion fed. Both sooner and later he’ll just keep devouring you.

Feeling dizzy or empty? “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). That works better than yoga, brambleberry lip stain, or a double chocolate latte with whipped cream. Seeking fame and fortune—which comes standard on most Millennials—isn’t the endgame of life. Love and connection with God, family and friends is. Erin’s struggle to figure that out will inspire you if you’re a Millennial and probably distress you if you’ve stayed out of the fast lane, but she’s a very entertaining, openhearted writer, and she salts her mismatched analogies with lots of pepper, so if you can keep from crying you’ll be laughing as you read along her wild ride Chasing Slow.

(P.S.—Tomorrow I want to tell you about a Hawaiian we met last week named Larry Rivera. He played with Elvis Presley back in the day but passed him forty years ago by chasing slow!)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV)

A Few of My Favorite Birds (35): Africa’s Golden “Cape Weaver” Birds

ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-hanging-upside-downWhile visiting North Uthungulu in South Africa, tourist-shopping-center-in-north-uthunguluwe stopped at a strip mall (aka little souvenir location built for tourists). hovels-by-road-in-north-uthunguluI usually tried to buy something home-in-north-uthungulu to help support the local artisans, cape-weaver-weaving-his-nestbut this time I was so taken by the birds that I could hardly take my eyes off them long enough to look for soaps, candles, or glassware! cape-weaver-bird-weaving-with-his-beak-using-grassA really squawky colony of brilliantly arrayed Cape weaver birds
were busily making nests in a tree along the path, brilliantly-colored-cape-weaver-bird-south-africaand they immediately captured my attention, cape-weaver-bird-south-africabecause I’d never seen anything quite like them before. cape-weaver-bird-s-a-11-2-16In fact, there are weaver birds in some tropical areas of Asia and Australia,
but weaver birds are most common in sub-Saharan Africa, colony-of-cape-weaver-birdswhere they tend to live in colonies of 2-20 gregarious (though fiercely territorial) males and how-many-ever females they attract. ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-in-tree Male Cape weavers (Ploceus capensis) are about 7 inches long,
have long, conical bills (good for weaving and for sucking nectar).intricate-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdThe males are especially colorful during the long mating season,
which lasts from June to February and peaks during the rainy season. cape-weaver-bird-in-treeDuring the mating season, Cape weaver males are decked out
with golden underparts and orange faces, olive-drab-back-of-weaver-birdsalthough their heads and back are more olive drab in coloring
(which is also the year-round color of females and young chicks.) cape-weaver-making-nestThese talented guys weave intricate, kidney-shaped nests
out of grass, reeds, and leafy fibers to attract prospective mates. kidney-bean-shaped-cape-weaver-bird-nestTheir nests have small, downward-facing entrances and are fully waterproof. cape-weaver-bird-in-nestInterested females test the construction quality by tugging at the interior walls, and if a nest makes the young lady feel snug and secure, father-cape-weaver-bird-helps-feed-youngshe’ll adopt it for the season, mating with her benefactor. colony-of-cape-weaver-birds-north-uthungulu-south-africaUnlike most birds, Cape weavers are polygynous, and one male may build
and therefore entice up to seven mates during any one season. cape-weaver-bird-with-nestEach female spends a couple of weeks brooding her clutch of 2-5 eggs.
She stays the first few nights with the chicks after they hatch, unused-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdbut then she roosts close by in one of the unused nests. cape-weaver-birds-south-africaAlthough the females initially care for the chicks, ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-making-nestas they get older, the males help out with their own chicks,
which must keep them extremely busy for awhile! empty-nest-of-african-cape-weaver-bird-11-2-16Happily, in about 17 days the fledglings are big enough to find their own suppers of seeds, fruit, nectar, unsuspecting small spiders, and insects,
and the parents become empty nesters.

Are you an empty nester? Do you have a home? Keeping up a home seems like a never-ending job to me. Have you considered Jesus, who worked constantly—much harder than the energetic weaver birds—to prepare spiritual homes for “whosoever will”? Still, despite his tireless work, he never had a nest of his own, because He was too busy helping others!

The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them…
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head
(Luke 9:56, 58).

(If you want to hear what Cape Weaver birds sound like, this is from YouTube):

 

What’s Not to Love about Cape Town?

view-of-cape-town-south-africa-from-table-mountainI didn’t know much about Cape Town until I started prepping for our trip to Africa, but in 2014 both the New York Times and U.K.’s Daily Telegraph named Cape Town “the best place in the world to visit!” Now I know why! lions-head-mountain-cape-townCape Town is where our African adventure began, and both Alan and I fell in love with this beautiful city. If it weren’t for the fact that most everyone we love lives in America, it might be tempting to retire there. For one thing, the GDP per capita is just under $16K, less than a quarter that of the U.S., which would mean we’d feel four times richer if we lived there! shoreline-of-atlantic-south-of-cape-town      But, Cape Town isn’t simply special because it’s relatively inexpensive.
It’s gorgeous. The coastal areas are rugged and tropical, reminiscent of Hawaii. sandstone-fynbos-on-table-mountainCape Town shares a latitude and warm Mediterranean climate with cities like Sydney in the southern hemisphere and Los Angeles in the north, so it has lots of sunshine and very temperate weather. cape-town-in-natural-amphitheaterCape Town began 400 years ago as a supply station for the Dutch East India Company along the Atlantic seaboard with a sheltered city bowl that’s nestled in a natural amphitheater surrounded by mountains. table-mountain-south-africaTable Mountain, forming part of the bowl, is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world, and the entire area  is one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. bustling-harbor-of-cape-town-in-table-bayCape Town’s population has grown from 360 in 1658 to over 3.6 million today!ocean-basket-restaurant-cape-town Their bustling Victoria and Albert Waterfront hosts several hundred shops and restaurants, making it the city’s most visited tourist attraction.  victoria-and-albert-waterfront-cape-townI’ll write more about several of the area’s most unique features, but for today I just wanted to introduce you to this magnificent city in case you’ve not had a chance to visit for yourself. cape-town-as-seen-from-table-mountainIdeal as it seems in many ways, Cape Town (like every other city in the world) has some devastating problems. They have trouble with drugs and gangs, and (to me) the most severe problem regards ongoing racial tension. cape-malay-bo-kaap-in-cape-townSouth Africa feels like it’s about 80 years behind America in trying to reconcile blacks and whites. These are things not to love about Cape Town! However, visiting also gave me a sickening reminder of how much work we have yet to do in America concerning racial equality. We are all created in the image of God and descendants of Adam and Eve, which makes us brothers and sisters! Do you believe that? I do!

black-busker-in-cape-townSo God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27).

Ya…Politics Again. But No Commentary, Just Quotable Quotes

hot-chocolate-heart-shapedTomorrow will be a momentous day in America. It’s the day of our national election. Today, I’d like to ask you to take a break and ponder a few timely quotations by some of our world’s thought leaders. May they inspire us all to pray, prepare, and turn out to vote tomorrow!

“Even if you are on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” ~Will Rogers

“Socialism is GREAT -UNTIL you run out of other people’s money.” ~Margaret Thatcher

“Always do right. This will surprise some people and astonish the rest.”
~ Mark Twain

 “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” ~John Adams

“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” ~ Helen Keller

“Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the Government take care of him, better take a closer look at the American Indian.” ~Henry Ford

“Additional problems are the offspring of poor solutions.” ~Mark Twain

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.” ~Thomas Jefferson

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” ~Benjamin Franklin

“To reach a port, we must sail—sail, not tie at anchor, sail, not drift.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

“It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep for all your life.”
~Elizabeth Kenny

“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” ~Winston Churchill

“Do what you can with what you have where you are.” ~Teddy Roosevelt

“The doors of wisdom are never shut.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Change your thoughts and change your world.” ~Norman Vincent Peale

“The time is always right to do what is right.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

 “The doors we open and close each day decide the way we live.”
~Flora Whittemore

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” ~James 1:5, Bible

A Few More Bits of Wisdom from Past Presidents

red-and-white-striped-rose-manito-park-8-1-16-2Sorry if you feel I’m allowing my blog to be hijacked by the thinking of others, but my theory is that the erudite reflections of great men who’ve influenced my thinking might also be of value to you.  So, here are a few more political gleanings worth winnowing:   yellow-rose-manito-park-8-1-16-8“I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.” – Calvin Coolidge   red-rose-manito-park-8-1-16-2“You cannot extend the mastery of government over the daily life of a people without somewhere making it master of people’s souls and thoughts.… Every step in that direction poisons the very roots of liberalism. It poisons political equality, free speech, free press, and equality of opportunity. It is the road not to more liberty but to less liberty.”  Herbert Hoover   white-roses-manito-park-8-1-16“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” —James Madison   pink-and-yellow-rose-manito-park-8-1-16“Recognizing and confronting our history is important. Transcending our history is essential. We are not limited by what we have done, or what we have left undone. We are limited only by what we are willing to do.”—George W. Bush

red-and-white-striped-rose-manito-park-8-1-16-3A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels” (Proverbs 1:5).

ArtPrize 8 Winners…and Tips for ArtPrize 9 Contestants

lizzie-checking-out-from-the-rising-of-the-sunAfter 19 days with hundreds of thousands of visitors viewing 1,453 entries from 44 countries at 171 venues here in Grand Rapids, 380,119 votes were cast to determine which entries were the best of the best! wounded-warrior-dogsAlas, I was not among that starry group, but I can definitely take my hat off to the winner of the public vote, James Mellick, whose entry was called “Wounded Warrior Dogs,” an exhibit designed to raise awareness and support for vets using wooden carvings of several canine warriors who were wounded in war.  xThe other (juried) $200,000 grand prize was given to Stacey Kirby for her “The Bureau of Personal Belonging,” which was a three-part installation hearkening back to 1968, interrogating visitors about their views on sexual identity and gender in order to determine if they were “valid” members of society. Ummm.  benedicts-visit-from-the-rising-of-the-sun-artprize-8Despite the fact that there are now fifty-eight gender options for Facebook users these days, under 2% of the population self-report as anything other than heterosexual, so I’m not sure why gender studies have become all the rage on college campuses across our continent, but I’m certain that how we answer questions about gender is not the proper litmus test for our validity as members of society. It’s my theory that if we are human, we are valid. Nevertheless, we are called to be law-abiding, not law-breaking, and countries differ widely on their laws, which (whether or not anybody’s willing to admit it) are all based on moral ethics. What is moral and what is not? What is so immoral that the society is willing to outlaw it? Tough issues, and obviously highly charged with emotion, as we each defend our ideas of right and wrong based on whatever makes us believe this or that is right or wrong. Right? And, those issues really never disappear. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”   meijer-garden-panel-from-artprize-8When Alan and I left a paneled interview of the artists that exhibited at Meijer Garden, I whispered in his ear, “Well, I have no worries of ever winning a juried award!” The popular vote is totally unpredictable and as capricious as people, but the juried vote is much more predictable and follows distinct patterns.   recycled-items-for-artprize-entryIf you’re after a juried prize for 2017, I have a few tips for you! Tips one and two: be sure your work is modern art, not traditional, and use recycled waste. ditch-liliesThe singular contestant who was ranked in the top twenty for both the popular and juried votes was a man who gathered dead day lily stems from ditches around Grand Rapids and lined them up in such a way that they cast interesting shadows on a wall. ditch-lilies-2Clever, and his play with light was creative, but when interviewed, it sounded like he came up with his plan and executed the project in a day or two after arriving in GR, and the fact that he was a finalist in both categories was a bit deflating for those of us who spent months or years preparing our exhibits. artprize-8-mural-with-armstrong-familyTip three: you’ll get the most positive attention if you can come up with some creative way to make a philosophical statement that reflects support for gender diversity. artprize-8-family-visiting-from-the-rising-of-the-sunOtherwise, (tip four) come to ArtPrize for the joy of it! Create to give, not to take, and like Eric Liddell, take delight in sensing God’s pleasure in what you’re doing.  artprize-8-kathryn-w-armstrong-with-helen-bI returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).monarch-butterfly-exhibit