Praise in the Face of Troubles

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” Job 13:15 (NIV)

In this quiet hour, I will rise, O God.
In light of all that has been devoured,
I will still give you thanks, O Lord.

In the face of coming plague,
though dread draws close enough
that I can hear its tread,
I will yet give you praise.

For whatever days remain,
though I falter and even thought might fail,
your forgiveness flows without ceasing
and your power increases in my weakness.

Though trouble rises like the flood,
and calamity rides in the wind,
your faithfulness is sure
and your love never ends.

Though the wind stirs ashes
and flickers the dying embers,
I will remember that your righteousness
is not reflected in the magnitude of my blessing,
but in depth of my obedience.

Even though I should perish
and the whole world with me,
yet you will save my soul and keep me whole
even in the midst of my affliction.

Though fever should burn in me
like fire in dry grass,
though my breath be too weak
to pass my lips,
though my strength be gone
and even my heart fail within me,

Though this body be overwhelmed
and all of this world pass from me,
yet I know that my soul will live forever
and I will dwell in the presence
of Him Who Made Me.

H. Arnett
3/30/20

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Death & Dying, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Ancient Longing

I learned as a kid
the things my dad did
to make the burning safe:

backburning on the leeward side first,
keeping water close at hand,
and remembering it is much easier to start a fire than to put one out.

It’s something other than good practice—
even though it is good practice—
that leads me to burn the pasture each year.

It’s something more than good memories—
even though they are good memories—
that draws me to this ritual.

It’s something probably primeval,
something ancient and deep within the collective of human,
something powerful and mystic

that longs for the changing of the season,
this burning away the dried husks of winter,
the blackening of superficial memories

that so swiftly yield to the newing green,
the sheen of life’s thrilling change,
the promise of growth and the beauty of hope.

There’s something darker, too, I suppose.
The power of a single match and a light breeze,
the knowing that a gust in the wrong direction

could send the whole thing raging out of control,
like fury from a pent up soul
or a people too long kept from the source of their trouble.

Something deep inside me knows there is only
a thin and fragile line between keeping the flame
among the things I want destroyed

and away from those I long to keep.

H. Arnett
3/27/20

Posted in Family, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Can Compassion Survive a Virus?

On a Saturday morning, headed out to take care of some maintenance chores, I came upon a man pushing a bicycle along the road about four miles north of Ark City. In view of the barely above freezing temperatures and the nature of wind chill, he was dressed in heavy Carhartts, wearing gloves and a sock hat.

I pulled over onto the shoulder just in front of him and got out of my ’97 Ford Ranger. From what I could see of him, he looked to be around forty or so. “Something wrong with your bike?”

He shook his head. Having had a few miles of experience on a bicycle, I then asked, “Legs give out on you?” He nodded.

“Where you headed?”

He indicated he was going in to work at a clinic in Winfield. “Do you mind riding up front with me and a dog?”

I’ve never had anyone who was pushing a bicycle on a frosty morning ever indicate any apprehension about riding in close proximity to a friendly, well-behaved canine. I must admit, though, my sample size is quite limited. Current total of respondents: one.

He put his bike in the bed of the truck and I put Layla’s sleeping pad in the back of the truck and got her over close to me while the guy got in. He was just over six feet tall and looked to weigh around two-twenty. (Insulated overalls can lead one to over-estimate.) Layla managed to contort her forty-two pounds into the little bit of open space between the two of us and lay her head on my lap.

“What time you supposed to be there?” After he said “eight,” I checked my cell phone. It was just now ten after and we were at least eight miles away, maybe a bit more. But, we got him there a few hours sooner than he would have made it pushing a bicycle.

I suppose most folks would understand if I hadn’t bothered to pull over. In light of the current COVID-19 crisis, some might say I was being foolish. At the least, I guess, I could have had him ride in the back of the truck. That thought didn’t even occur to me.

I’ll admit, I hesitated about pulling over initially. And I would also admit that I had reservations about sharing the tiny cab of a ’97 Ranger with a stranger who might be hosting a disease that I’d really like to not share. With anyone.

But, I knew exactly what I’d want someone to do if they saw me pushing my bicycle along the side of the road. And that’s what I tried to do.

I will not seek out situations now or ever to deliberately or indifferently place myself in harm’s way. I will not “tempt the strength of the Lord [my] God.” You can bet everything you own or owe that as long as my brain remains mostly mine I will never intentionally take up a poisonous serpent or drink poison just to prove my faith is stronger than my survival instinct.

But under most circumstances, I will not drive by someone walking ten miles to work on a cold morning and not offer that person a ride. I’d rather die trying to live by the Golden Rule than die helping those that have the gold rule.

H. Arnett
3/26/20

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Appropriate Measures

Normally, on a day like today,
we’d shake hands and do the half-hug man thing,
then make our way to the kitchen,
where we’d sit at the counter drinking coffee,
or plop down just across from each other
on the sofa in the living room.

But given our age,
the possibility of contagion,
and the fact that the sun is shining on a chilly day,
we bump elbows and make a deal:
Steve and Neil will get chairs from the shed
while I get beer from the fridge.

With the corner of house
blocking the breeze,
and our chairs set at ease on the concrete patio,
we hold glass bottles loosely;
three gray-haired men sitting in the sun,
laughing and talking

from six feet away.

H. Arnett
3/25/20

Posted in Aging, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith, Fear and Phobia

This was Sunday’s planned sermon title at Community Church of South Haven (KS). I suppose I should mention that as the minister and pastor, my dutiful attendance is usually expected. I was dressed and ready to go to church by 8:00 a.m. Just three minutes before I walked out the door I found out that there are at least eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Camden, SC.

So what, right?

The so what is that Randa and I just returned from Camden after spending eight days there spending time with our son Sam and his family. We had a terrific visit with him, Sara Jane and our four grandsons who reside with them. We met some of their neighbors, shopped in the community and participated in a few of the Irish Fest activities. In fact, Randa, Sam and I provided the musical entertainment for Irish Fest sponsors on the first night we were there. It was our first gig as a trio and hopefully will become one of many.

The big event that took us there at this particular time was another gig. A three-hour performance with 40 Thieves, a band that Sam put together three months ago just for this event. Sam lined up a drummer and bass player, both terrific professionals with a lot of experience. He invited some of his siblings and me to join him but none of them could make it.

So… Sam and I were going to be the front men, alternating singing lead on two dozen songs, including some old rock/pop numbers and several traditional Irish folk songs. Randa would take lead on an Emmy Lou Harris classic and provide harmony on several other songs.

She and I practiced for several weeks ahead, as did Sam. During our week visiting in Camden and prior to the planned Friday night gig at a popular local restaurant, Sam and I practiced for at least a dozen hours, plus another four or five hours with Scott and Gordon. Randa joined us for the second practice with the full group. We were ready!

Three months of expectation, many hours of practice, learning at least a dozen songs that I’d never performed in public before, fourteen hundred miles of driving from Kansas through Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, culminated in a genuine nexus of joyful anticipation: my son and I were going to be playing in public with a real band!

Just under twenty-four hours before we would start setting up our sound equipment at La Fiesta, Sam got a call from Army command. (Sam, currently a major, has been a soldier since 2007.) Unbelievably, Sam got orders that made it impossible for him to play the gig with us on Friday night.

We were all crushed, disappointed, heartbroken, sad, frustrated, in shock. Seriously? All that hope, anticipation, joy. Dashed on the rocks.

But… the show must go on.

Scott and Gordon contacted another singer/guitar player who agreed to fill in. I fumbled my way through setting up the equipment, with help from the others. I took over some of the songs Sam was going to sing, the other guy picked up a couple and we dropped one and subbed a different tune. In spite of the disorientation and a wind chill flirting with the freezing point, we did the gig. In the outdoor dining area. At least it had a roof over it.

The restaurant owner also had wind screens installed over part of the section and set out a couple of propane space heaters. Sam texted Randa a few times during the evening and she kept him posted on progress. Folks seemed to enjoy the show and we enjoyed performing—as much as we could under the circumstances.

Ironically, I’d had a premonition of sorts before we’d left Kansas nearly two weeks earlier. “What if something comes up with the Army and they order Sam back over to the Middle East or something else right before the show?” That was one of the reasons I’d learned to sing lead on most of the songs Sam was going to do. I will say, though, learning Mustang Sally was a definite stretch for me. Sam rips that song with a bluesy/rock style; I managed something of a folk/rock/country/twangy rendition. The bass guy and the drummer did a great job, though, and Randa and the stand-in guy pulled backup vocals.

In spite of the huge disappointment, I’m trying to follow Sam’s lead on focusing on the positive: having made new friends, playing together, a great visit with one another, and laying a foundation for future times together, including music gigs.

So… what does this have to do with “Faith, Fear, and Phobia?”

Even though I did not anticipate the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments, I never doubted that we would do the gig. Even knowing three weeks ago what I know now—except for the COVID-19 cases— I’d drive all those miles and spend that time there. Even though the gig was the huge, primary, motivating focus for making the trip at that particular time, it wasn’t nearly all there was to the visit. Three of my grandsons found out that their ole grandpappy can still chuck a basketball through the hoop, bounce the ball in a controlled manner and make a few passes. We met some really great people and helped a little bit with the fourth annual and biggest yet Irish Fest Camden. And we got to visit three other children, ten other grandchildren, and my sister and her husband on our way out.

In short, in the weeks of prayer and preparation, I always believed we would have a good visit, a good trip. That’s faith.

I am also sure that even though our country and our people will suffer through the coming weeks and months of dealing with COVID-19, we will survive. We will once again see good days. Even after the staggering losses to IRA’s and investments. Even after enduring sickness, witnessing the sickness of others and possibly suffering the death of loved ones. Those that we love in the Lord will go on to their rest, we will grieve and we will mourn and we will never be the same again. But we will go again. Faith.

The “fear” part?

Well, sometimes the word is used to denote cowardice, timidity, or lack of courage. Sometimes, though, it means a proper respect for the true power and nature of something. Or someone. Like “Fear the Lord and keep his commandments.”

While I don’t think COVID-19 even faintly approaches the power and awesomeness of the Lord God Jehovah, it does warrant proper respect and understanding. It is not “just a bad cold” or “another type of flu.” As a novel virus, there is no pre-existing immunity developed from prior exposure. It is much reportedly about fifteen times more infectious than influenza Type A or Type B, and has a fatality rate over thirty times higher.

Yes, many people will have it and never know it. Mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. No fever, no aches, no hacking and coughing. No big deal. Many of these asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic people will spread it to others. They either don’t know or don’t care and so they continue to go to work, go to church, go to the store, hang out with others. By whatever means, many others who are more vulnerable due to age or underlying conditions will require hospitalization and many will die. Maybe not millions but likely thousands.

Especially if we continue to mock science, medicine, common sense and compassion. Some medical and especially infectious disease experts believe that as many as one hundred thousand Americans were already infected by the time of the president’s declaration of a national emergency. That cannot be verified because of the extremely limited number of testing kits available, because many people will be sick but not seek treatment, and again, because many people have the virus but are asymptomatic.

If we properly “fear” this disease, we will support precautions, remediation, prevention and cautious behavior for as long as it takes to protect ourselves, our families and others. We will minimize contact with others, we will wash our hands zealously, we will check our temperature daily, we will quit assembling in large groups, we will avoid physical contact. We will stay home when we are sick and maybe even when we aren’t.

This is not being a sissy, scaredy-cat, or coward. It is being sensible and compassionate. In fact, it could be argued that denial is actually a manifestation of greater fear than realistic precaution. If we don’t admit it, then we don’t have to deal with it, right? If we ridicule, mock, and denigrate scientists, physicians and health officials, that proves we ain’t skeered. Right? Maybe, although other interpretations are also possible.

While God has assured us of his infinite love and care, he has also sternly warned us “Do not test the strength of the Lord your God.” In other words, don’t deliberately put yourself in situations that require miraculous intervention to protect or rescue you. And do not by your actions set in place a small series of chain events that could put others in such situations.

Put your trust in God (faith) and demonstrate proper respect (fear) for natural and spiritual dangers or threats. Our sojourn through this time of testing may very well be different than you planned and hoped. Stay safe as much as you can, show compassion to others and remember what a great visit you had with those you love.

The “phobia” part? Buying a trunkload or a truckload of toilet paper. Not speaking to your neighbor from across the yard. Not calling your grandmother or checking on your aunt. Buying six months’ worth of groceries or a two-year supply of sanitizer. Gargling with bleach. Putting ammonia in the humidifier. Moving to Outer Mongolia.

So, this is the sermon I’d planned to deliver Sunday morning. We had no idea until less than an hour before church started that there were identified cases of COVID-19 where we’d just visited a week earlier. Now, it is possible that the exposure contact for those people occurred after we left Camden. Possible. And… the show must go on, right?

Well, they did go ahead and have church, so yes, the “show” did go on. But sometimes, it’s best that the show go on without us. Even though I was prepared, dressed and ready to go, I didn’t go. Sometimes the greater compassion is in what we do not do.

H. Arnett
3/15/20

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Sojourners

I have—from time to time—
made it a habit of mine
to pick up those folks
that I see walking along the road.

I hope that it is without excessive gumption
that I make the assumption—
without first talking—
that they would prefer riding to walking.

Some of them were stranded
by some temporary trouble,
and some by longer term deprivation
or obligation beyond their means at the moment.

Some seemed a bit slow of wit and others just plain crazy:
one guy said he was going to climb a cottonweed tree
so he could take a nap
before slipping over the river that night into Missouri.

And, if you happen to take some notice of geography,
you might find some slight fun in knowing
about the one who was going to Minnesota or North Dakota,
by traveling east from Kansas.

On the whole, though, even with the ones
who appeared not to be exactly right behind the eyes,
I found they were—at least for a while—
headed in the same direction as me.

And that seemed—
regardless of clothes, hygiene or weather—
reason enough
for us to travel together.

H. Arnett
2/21/20

Posted in Christian Living, Humor, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , ,

An Uncommon Vengeance

There is not much in life that seems more natural than lashing out at someone who has insulted us, hurt us or otherwise irritated or inconvenienced us. It seems born to the species. Just watch what happens when one toddler snatches a toy or a piece of candy away from another.

Natural, yes. Even understandable. Productive? Rarely.

Escalations and retaliations, whether in the realm of kindergarten, corporate headquarters or in international relations, usually lead us into dark paths. And often with negative consequences for participants and bystanders.

When we heed the ancient advice to return good for evil, to forgive rather than resent, we actually help ourselves.

When we harbor anger and ill will, our bodies release a very potent substance called cortisol. Powerful stuff there. It can help the body respond to emergency situations with energy and strength… but there’s a price. Regular episodes of this release appear to be clearly correlated with reduced life expectancy. In other words, the stuff can kill you.

Solomon advised around three thousand years ago, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21).

It’s not necessarily our natural response, but it can be strangely satisfying. Solomon said it would really burn ’em!

H. Arnett
2/19/20

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