Chronicles in Ordinary Time 81: Not one week has gone by…

October 3, 2015


A British mapping software company has illustrated the scale of America’s gun problem – with a map that displays all 264 mass shootings that have occurred in America this year. [right hand map]

Mapping company Esri UK, using data from the Gun Violence Archive, plotted every incident where four or more people were shot in the USA this year.

The finished product shows the sheer scale of gun violence in America, a country where there has not been one week this year without a mass shooting taking place.

Each dot on the map signifies a shooting where four or more people were injured or killed. Clicking on the dots brings up information about the number of people involved, and where it took place, with the dots getting larger the more severe the incident was.

mass shootings in the USLeft hand map:

I wonder at our society, which encourages, mostly by marketing, ‘first-person shooter’ video games. Making video death a form of entertainment. My understanding from cop-shows is that there are people in this world who play FPS games 5 hours each day…and we wonder why there are school shootings.

Am I saying that FPS video games create gun violence? No.

I am saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, it’s probable that most of the problems you encounter will tend to look like a nail.

I watch a lot of DVDs; typically 2-3 per night, often while I’m working on an illustration project. Half a day in my office with my playlist, the other half in the living room with my feet up to aid my neurological condition. I don’t play video games, I’m one of those dinosaurs whose last video game was Minesweeper…

Most of the DVDs I watch involve gun violence; I watch other people shooting each other. My form of entertainment isn’t much better than FPS video games. The advantage is that I don’t practice killing other people.

When we train pilots how to fly, we put them in simulators. My brother-in-law creates the audio background for these simulators. The goal is to make the experience as close to flying as possible, while in the safety of a room attached to the ground.

I’m not sure that I see that much difference between a simulator and an FPS video game.

One of the images I saw on Facebook following the most recent shooting in Roseburg, was a guy wearing a gun belt; and words that suggested that the best way to prevent school shootings is to arm people. School staff members all carrying will prevent school shooters—“no one in their right mind would enter a school with the intention of killing, if they knew that all of the adults were armed.” The problem being that mass murderers aren’t often in their right minds. It becomes ‘suicide by school janitor’ rather than ‘suicide by self’. And the janitor has to live with the consequences.

The ‘answer’ probably isn’t one of having better gun laws; although I can’t see any rational explanation for having an automatic weapon in your house. The fact that ‘it’s a Constitutional Freedom’ doesn’t really make much sense—there were no automatic weapons when the Constitution was written. The only reason to have an automatic weapon is to shoot humans en masse. Shooting humans is not one of our Constitutional Freedoms.

I think the answer is more along the lines of teaching every human in America that violence is not the way to solve our problems; it isn’t the way to defend our freedoms. Violence is another hammer.

I’ve watched a number of programs on the “Freedom Riders” and “Freedom Summer”—the efforts to integrate the US in the early 1960s.

FREEDOM RIDERS is the powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.



Chronicles in Ordinary Time 80: They Changed the World

September 18, 2015

your life isn't about you PKDYour life is not about you.

A guy I know would say that the above statement is absurd; of course his life is about him. To his mind, there is nothing more in life than his life. Nothingness follows his life. What will be left behind from his life [from my perspective] is a bunch of broken relationships; because, his life is only about him…

Your life is about others.

You will be remembered for what you did for, or to, others. If your life has never been about others, or has only been for others as some benefit to your own life, then your life has been wasted. You may be remembered, but not fondly.

This wasn’t the message I was raised with; it took a lot of effort for me to understand. Looking back, it didn’t seem like effort; I wanted to live my life in a way that I wasn’t seeing very often in this world; and I realized I needed new information.

Fortunately, there are far more people in this world who choose to be remembered because they did something positive for another person, rather than by choosing the negative.

Our American society tends to make villains into celebrities; mass murderers who somehow become celebrated for the pain they inflicted on others. Because we tend to make villains into celebrities, those who have been given no real value by the ‘others’ who raised them feel that “15 minutes of fame” as a monster, somehow equates with a life that has meaning. They were here; they made a statement. When historians look back, they will find the tale of a monster…a person remembered because they were ‘bold’ as a monster… Maybe there will even be a cable television series about his exploits…

How many lives have you saved by the simple act of driving safely? We may never know until we arrive at Home. It’s easier to count the damage done while driving with our minds elsewhere. We generally don’t get credit for doing a job ‘well’—the way the job is supposed to be done. The reality is that the reason for driving well is others. Not to avoid traffic tickets; not to see if you can manage to avoid getting caught; driving well is a gift you give to others. Doing your job well is a gift you give to others.

Your life is not about you.


This week I watched the PBS biography of Walt Disney on American Experience. I would not have enjoyed working for Disney; although a part of me wishes that I had left Eugene, Oregon in 1975 and headed for Los Angeles, to work full-time as an illustrator. In the late 1930s Disney’s crew worked 12-18 hour days in order to complete Snow White on time; the background painters, inkers and ‘in-betweeners’ worked for minimal pay [it was the Depression, and most of the painters and inkers were women—‘any knucklehead can do that job’]; while the ‘creative talent’ was paid well for their work. In the years following World War II, Disney employees went on strike for higher wages, wounding Disney deeply; this forever changed Walt’s vision of the world he wanted to create. As with many creative geniuses in the Art world, Disney was a tyrant, who had an entirely different persona displayed on camera, and with his family.

To a degree Disney’s life was about others; but for the most part, his life was about him. His highest praise, in general, was ‘that will work’. He chose a career that depended upon people liking what he created. The struggle every commercial artist faces, regardless of the form in which the art appears.

If one provided Walt with what he wanted, on time and in good order, Walt was a friend. He wanted the Disney studios to be ‘families’ [albeit dysfunctional ones]; with himself as the father, and his artists as ‘his boys’ [gender bias noted]. Loyalty was rewarded; disloyalty was not permitted.

In 1937 he premiered that which his detractors called, “Disney’s Folly”: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. The movie that changed animation forever. The movie that proved that ‘a drawing can make an audience cry’. The wonder of those early images is lost on modern viewers; we’ve become accustomed to sophisticated imagery.

When I heard the words, ‘he wanted to prove that a drawing can make an audience cry,’ a chord was struck in my ‘heart’. While I’ve never used those words, I can understand them. I’ve had ambitions of artistic immortality. I doubt that this will happen.

mickey's cafeI apparently had a relative of some sort, a guy named Milt, who worked at Disney Studios sometime in the past. Hanging on my wall is a drawing that I inherited from my Grandmother, after we moved her out of her house in a little town in Eastern Oregon. An original ‘Disney’ drawing—probably a personal project. I used the image to explain the concept of layering in digital art, the great tool that makes Adobe Photoshop the ‘giant’ it is; the digital giant that the .psd file is. A digital algorithm that enables ability to create a ditital drawing using transparent layers—the digital equivalent of the ‘cels’ [celluloid sheets] Disney used to create his animations. Disney created his early animations by photographing layers of transparent cels, which gave his animations the illusion of depth.

After the post-war strike, Disney’s enthusiasm for creating ‘art’ rather than making cartoons, disappeared. He started turning his real interest to television, while his studio continued to turn out feature films. Eventually his interest turned to Disneyland.

Walt Disney touched everyone in America who has lived in the 1950’s and beyond. I realized this week that Disney was foundational to my early life. I grew up with a television as a babysitter [two working parents]; and Walt Disney provided a lot of my entertainment. He also told me about my ‘history’—a white, conservative, ‘American Dream’ history. I think Disneyland was still new when my parents took me there, along with a million other white, conservative, American families. The Disney version of American history omitted “Manifest Destiny” and the genocide of the people who were here before the Europeans arrived, in Frontierland; ignored Slavery and Civil Rights in Fantasyland; and the Atomic Bomb in Tomorrowland; and all of the atrocities carried on by the real version of American history.

The Disney version of the world created some of the most enduring stories in American culture. Many today want to return to that world—one that really didn’t exist beyond parts of rural America. A vision of small town America that didn’t translate well into the urban environment. Geographically, America is mostly made up of rural towns; in terms of population, America is mostly made up of urban-dwellers. Cities where knowing your neighbor takes a lot of effort [more effort than I want to put out].

In spite of all of his cultural shortcomings [against the advice of the NAACP, Disney’s Song of the South was filled with ‘darkies singing happy songs;’ and premiered in Atlanta, where the story’s hero, ‘Uncle Remus’ was not allowed into the all-white theater], the truths his stories tell told remain true: if you live for others, you’ll find a reason for your life.

Audrey p22-23From an unpublished biography of Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn was a sensation in Hollywood in her day. Surviving privation in Belgium during World War II, she emigrated to the UK to study ballet. Life being what it is, she instead became an actress, a virtual ‘overnight success’ after her role in Roman Holiday, opposite Gregory Peck. After she retired from movies, she devoted her life to UNICEF. My guess is that her impact as UNICEF’s ambassador far outweighed her career as an actress. Her life had taught her that her life was not about her.



Chronicles in Ordinary Time 79: Change the World

September 1, 2015

EstherThe Story of Esther, acrylic
permanent collection: Museum of Biblical Art, Dallas, Texas

Tonight [my tonight] there are fanatics in Syria, destroying thousands of years of art and architectural history, in the name of religion. This has happened before, in Western history; we call it iconoclasm. Part of the reason there is so little visual art in Protestant churches is a result of the iconoclasm that took place in the 1500s during the Protestant Reformation. The historical link, in the Abrahamic faiths, is a literal interpretation of the Creator’s command that man shall not make ‘graven images’—the creation of idols that are worshipped in place of the Creator. Israel’s “Golden Calf” being a prime example. People still make idols that sit on dashboards of cars and are enshrined in homes. In the American culture of today, many of our idols are concepts—we even name television shows after them…We make idols all the time. The Creator knew this from the beginning of Eternity. The Creator also gave us free will—the ability to choose how we live our lives. And the Creator gives us the power to get past our idols.

I am a man of faith, and I am an artist. I am grateful to The Sisters of the Holy Names at Marylhurst, and other Catholic friends who helped me to resolve the differences between art that represents faith, and art that creates idols. More of my art is digital these days—my hands and eyes don’t work as well as they did in earlier times. Part of me ponders the idea as to whether or not digital images—patterns of light upon a screen—can even be considered ‘graven images’—the images don’t even really exist until they are printed on some type of medium. At that point, they really aren’t the created image, they are a copy of the image, subject to idiocies of printing equipment.

When my brain hurts because of the actions of extremist fanatics, I find myself retreating to science fiction movies—particularly of the genre inspired by Gene Roddenberry and the creators of the Stargate saga. Roddenberry believed in a future where the ideology that separates people can be overcome; that people of different races, religions, ideologies could live together in harmony rather than always being in endless war. These stories present the idea that we can become better people. Always working at becoming better people. Semper opus fieri meliores for those who believe that a phrase is always more cool in Latin…

This way of thinking seems hard to find, in today’s world. Here, the world runs at the whim of the rich and powerful—today’s American idols. People in masses tend toward violence and hatred; and fear of the unknown.

Individuals, and groups of individuals can actually create positive change. I’ve seen it happen, I see it happening every day, in small ways; small steps that can become giant leaps. Will the 98% overthrow the 2% and the fractions of the 1%? Hard to imagine, given that we keep electing millionaires and aspiring millionaires to the seats of power in government… This is the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its destruction of the Gulf Coast. Ten years on, there is still a lot of damage to be undone. The promises of government have not been kept. The actions of individuals working together have demonstrated what faith, hope and love can accomplish.

There are ideas and ideals that money and power cannot buy. Most lottery winners end up broke in a few years. From what I understand, most millionaires end up with broken families. I am neither rich nor famous—I have aspired to both in my time—but I am richly blessed in that I have a family that aspires to be better than they are at any given time. It takes a lot of work and commitment. Compared to much of the world, I am rich. My net worth is a positive number.

How do we change the world? One act of random kindness at a time.

A few years ago, without permission, I edited the movie “Evan Almighty” into a-few-minutes-long synopsis video. The file [link below the image] is fairly large so it will take a few minutes to download…

One Act of Random Kindness… can change the world for the better.



Chronicles in Ordinary Time 78: the tracks we leave behind…

August 27, 2015

My desire for the last few weeks has been to write something upbeat…it’s just very hard, looking at the world and the way it is.

Sitting BullWe will be known forever by the tracks we leave behind.

Lakota Proverb

I watch a lot of movies. Now that my time is not as tied to a schedule as it has been in the past, and because I spend about 1/3 of my day in a chair in the living room, I watch even more movies/DVDs…they occupy my mind while my hand and eye are working together.

I’m not sure why I’ve never watched “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” before. I spent several months, back in the 90s, researching our American history and our treatment of the ‘indigenous people’ who occupied our continent until we—white folk—drove them off their land. I’ve heard that there were something like 500 nations in the Americas before the Europeans arrived.

I’ve also spent/invested the last two weeks of my time investigating my family history. As an adult I’ve largely considered myself as an ‘immigrant child’—I’m ‘first generation on my Mom’s side of the family [she was born in Norway]; and ‘third generation’ on my Dad’s maternal side of the family [my maternal great grandparents were Swedish, born in Finland. My paternal great grandfather comes from a family line that seems to have taken the Biblical command VERY seriously: “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” From that generation backward, it seems like every mother gave birth to a dozen children—free labor. I found an immigrant side of that family as well—one of my ancestors emigrated from England to America in the mid-1600s. To my surprise, that line of my family goes back to Charlemagne—by marriage—a Plantagenet descendant married a woman who is in my ancestral line…

I’ve been a member of churches for the last 40 years; and I was in a Christianity-based sales organization for much of the 80s and early 90s. For years I have heard from platforms and pulpits, how blessed the [white] American people are—‘the only nation created in the name of God’—and other such nonsense. The prosperity so valued began in the 50s and 60s, increased in the 80s and died in 2008…I’ve heard so many people state that our material prosperity is a ‘gift from God.’ For all of our supposed ‘prosperity’ we have an incredible number of mass murders. Divorce, unemployment, destitution.

A lot of people who ‘proof text’ the Old Testament tend to leave out the places where ‘God’s People’ were cursed because of their wickedness. The Pilgrims who arrived here were seeking religious freedom—from the Anglican Church of England at that time. It’s probably an exaggeration to state that the Pilgrims came to bring religious freedom to a new land. They weren’t seeking religious freedom for everyone—they were seeking the freedom to practice their own religious beliefs.

We tend to rewrite history to make it sound much better than it really is. It appears today that the Founding Fathers, in declaring their independence from England were really saying that “we hold these Truths to be self-evident—that all [white males] are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…’ However, history has caught up with the Founders and the Supreme Court has ruled that these rights mostly apply to all American citizens, without regard to gender, race or religion. One of the ‘problems’ of a Democratic Republic—the rules can change.

Tonight I’m thinking about the huge number of Native Americans who were slaughtered by European emigrants who believed they could own land [“On 8 September 2000, the head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) formally apologized for the agency’s participation in the “ethnic cleansing” of Western tribes]; about the Japanese-American citizens who were sent to American concentration camps during World War II; and the hundreds of thousands killed in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which included the murder of thousands of children. How do we overlook such wickedness…

It is far easier for me to see the world today as being under a “curse”—I’m a 21st Century enlightened American Christian who has trouble thinking of the literalness of “curses and blessings’—than it is to see the results of blessing in our world.

And then there is another quotation from the movie: “There is another road that runs beside warpath, a secret road, only known to the Christ worshippers…” for me, it is important to distinguish between the religion and the followers…they aren’t necessarily the same.

Medicine Bottle


Chronicles in Ordinary Time 77: Imagination and Inspiration

August 18, 2015

Martian landscapeImages:

 These are aerial photographs of the landscape of Mars.

This statement blows my mind. It ought to blow yours.

Not Hollywood. Not CGI. Photographs made with a camera that sits aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite that’s been orbiting Mars for about 10 years; shooting photos of strangely colored sand dunes, enormous ‘dust devils’ that extend thousands of feet into the air, and create strangely beautiful shadows; avalanches near the snow-covered Poles of Mars.

However, we live in the 21st Century; and the world of the Internet. All sorts of wonders happen all of the time, and we yawn and scroll down to the next item on Facebook…

When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, I read the John Carter of Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read of Barsoom and its canals and an adventurer from Earth who found himself a stranger in a strange land. The books are better than the movie was.

I was 10 years old when JFK spoke these words at Rice University:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man…”

Full speech below

 We went to the Moon by the end of that decade; and we have gone far beyond that goal. Astronauts have inspired children the world over to “seek out new adventures and to go where no man has gone before…”

I read the works Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov as well as dozens of other science fiction authors. Tom Swift Jr. was one of my literary heroes, and the subject of many of my internal adventures—a young inventor traveling the world and outer space, seeking to make life better. And now I can view photos of Mars, I can watch videos of Mars and its moons…as easily as I can watch Facebook.

Should we be trying to go to Mars? I’d rather see us fix up the planet we have, than to encourage us to continue wrecking this one while we find a new planet to wreck…

The problem isn’t money.

cost of war

The bottom number starts with One Trillion. A number, when applied to money, that none of us can accurately imagine. You can probably find a graphic somewhere on the Internet. These numbers of course are significantly smaller than the numbers are at this moment, as you are reading these words. You can find current numbers here.

There is no lack of money in the US and in the world for solving most of the problems of mankind; what is lacking is the willingness to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of people we don’t know. We can take pictures of Mars!—surely we can provide clean water and electricity to the planet. Can we reverse global warming? Probably not. Maybe we can slow it down.

You can inspire a child to dream; you can inspire a child to do something for good that no one in their history has ever done. You can inspire a child to become a better person than you are. By training your mind you can become a better person than you are now.



“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?

We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

President John F. Kennedy in front of a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962.


Chronicles in Ordinary Time 76: It’s always too soon to quit…

August 10, 2015

peacock window

A dear friend of mine recently posted some quotations from Marcus Aurelius on Facebook; a mutual friend, a woman we don’t know all that well, in reading his post remembered inspiration she received by reading the writings of this this long-dead Roman Emperor; and baby Aurelia was given her name. In the annals of history, being the instrument of the naming of a child is probably a small thing; however, she is only a few weeks old, and has her entire life ahead of her. Who knows what the inspiration from a Roman Emperor of 1900 years ago might have upon her life? The naming of each of our children was a well-thought-out experience, and I imagine it’s the same for many parents. We can never overlook the possibilities that our smallest acts contain.

This dear friend of mine has a lot of reasons for doubting the value of his life; he battles a chemical imbalance in his brain; probably a result of genes—something he cannot control. One of my ‘fears’ is that one day the chemistry will win out over what he knows in his heart-of-hearts to be true. When such ‘fears’ come upon me, I turn them over to the Author of Life, in whose name my dear friend was raised. Whatever events happen in our earthly lives, I know that we will meet again in the Life to Come. This is a promise from the Author of Life.

Sixty-three years of life; forty-two of them walking with the Author of Life. I rather wish I’d kept a list of the ‘small things’ that have happened in my life that ended up being extremely significant. Many of the ‘small things’ were barely noticed; like the song that just happened to start playing as I’m writing this paragraph [statistically, a 1/1340 chance]—The Impossible Dream, which caused to realize that there is more to live for in this life than the stuff we find around us. The story of the ‘Man of La Mancha,’ presented in a Senior AP English class in high school by “Captain Bob” Bonniwell opened the door to faith in my life. The older I get, the larger the pile of ‘stuff’ gets, and the more potent-smelling it becomes. And still I contend that it is better to live life as it could be, to live life as it ought to be lived; rather than to live life as it often presents itself in our circumstances. I never made the opportunity to thank Captain Bob. Should have.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to create a life for myself that allows me a lot of time to think, to ponder, to hope and to dream. The dreams are harder now, partially because the Dreambuilders I once surrounded myself with aren’t around. But I still am able to ponder and hope. I too often fail to realize what a gift my lifestyle has become for me. Most people have little time to think about LARGE concepts, such as faith. I wish I had the ability to download faith into all those who need it; I’d post it in a Dropbox and plaster the URL across the internet. Sadly, I can’t do that. By “faith” I’m not talking about religion; it often starts with religion; however, there is a Faith that transcends religion. I’m not there yet, but I can see it in the distance.

One of our shortcomings as human beings is that we tend to think that we are something special; just by being human. In today’s world, “American Exceptionalism” is probably the most insidious version of this curse—at least within the American culture. I believe that when the Creator said, “let us make man in our own image,” the Creator wasn’t talking about form. I believe that the gift we were given, that gift which is in the Creator’s image, is our ability to Create. There are other creatures that use tools; creatures like the spider that can build a web we can’t even begin to replicate—and these abilities are hard-wired into their tiny brains and neurological systems. Birds make nests; I don’t know if there are birds who have realized that all that plastic garbage we leave lying around can become weather-proof roofs over their heads…

We have the ability to create our own realities; and by this gift we are human, slightly lower than the angels. As animals, humans display a lot of behavior that is far from special. We are more than animals.

I’m in an *interesting* place in life. I don’t have ALS—it’s clear that I don’t have ALS—and yet I can’t help but wonder if what I experience is similar to those with ALS: watching my body ‘dissolve’ around me. I end most evenings [early mornings to much of the world] watching ‘hero stories’ on DVD. I find that drawing-time seems to work best after 10p or 11; and lasts for 3-4 hours; after which it simply hurts too much to keep sitting down. So I move to the couch, and watch a couple hours of ‘hero’ stories; and then I try to figure out how I’m going to get off of the couch, and make my way to bed. I was at a friends’ house yesterday, and sat down on a footstool; I immediately realized that this was a bad choice, because the footstool turned out to be much squishier than I expected it to be. When it was time to leave that room, I waited until I was the last one there, so I could figure out what method I’d use to get myself from footstool to standing up… I honestly can’t tell if it’s a strength issue or a function [lack of] issue. Getting up from the footstool was awkward, and I am innately self-conscious.

There are a couple of old guys in my life, guys who cannot [yet] cope with the idea of ‘new normal’—a new set of conditions in their lives that make their former plans extremely difficult to achieve. Neither of them live with the difficulties that one of my heroes lives with; a woman who has lived most of her life in a wheelchair, with a body that mostly does not respond to her control. She’s endured more operations than she has years in her life. Her physical abilities are far less than those of the two old codgers I’m writing about; and yet they have trouble finding a reason to stay alive. My hero-friend has been making that choice for a long time.

We make choices as to how we will live our lives. Some of us have horrible crap to overcome; some of us merely have inconvenience to overcome; and we think that it’s ‘horrible crap’ because our view of life is too small… Each day above ground is a gift, whether or not we want to see it that way. And we are given tremendous flexibility as to how we will use this gift.

How will you use your gift, today?

How will I use mine?

Summer King

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 75: The Shadow People

July 17, 2015

Human Shadows Imprinted by Nuclear ExplosionHuman Shadows Imprinted by Nuclear Explosion

 I had planned on writing something more upbeat for this installment; I don’t like writing about the physical challenges I deal with—there are so many, with so many more…The hope, in writing the last installment, was that it might prove helpful for someone…

Then I was informed of the date: July 16, 2015, the 70th Anniversary of a horrific event.

On July 16, 1945, scientists in Los Alamos successfully exploded the first atomic bomb at the Trinity test site, located in nearby Alamogordo, New Mexico. The atomic age began; and the words were uttered by Robert Oppenheimer: “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds”. On August 6 and August 9—next month—the 70th Anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will occur. The above images are from these cities; the shadows left on structures after their owners were vaporized by the atomic blast.

 Atomic_bombing_of_JapanAtomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima

 Wednesday afternoon I opened my email to find that people are suggesting that we go to war with Iran; for fear that Iran will become a nuclear power, and will provide terrorists with nuclear capability. The insanity of nuclear war must stop.

This subject is particularly meaningful for me, in that it reminds me of one of my ‘failures’ as an illustrator. I was hired [not sure I ever got paid] to illustrate a “Hiroshima Diary” but could not finish the illustrations in the time I was given. Most of the illustrations have never been finished, nor published in any form. The diary is the story of a teacher who entered Hiroshima after the bombing, looking for two children who had been sent to Hiroshima for schooling. As she walked the streets of Hiroshima she saw hundreds of children wandering through the rubble, looking for their parents. The only survivors she found were children. Her diary tells of her encounters with wandering, damaged children; all of whom die in her arms…

Ashes of HiroshimaWe did this.

I don’t care how much discussion occurs over the justification of our actions; we obliterated thousands of women and children. Non-combatants. Perhaps they would have become combatants if we invaded Japan. We didn’t, and they weren’t. We slaughtered:

20 U.S., Dutch, British prisoners of war
90,000–166,000 killed in Hiroshima
39,000–80,000 killed in Nagasaki
Total: 129,000–246,000+ killed

 Champions of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

It must never happen again.





Chronicles in Ordinary Time 74: Life is filled with surprises…

July 11, 2015

p25From the soon-to-be-published, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

 Jim is a little dismayed…when he left for work this morning, his wife, Della had knee-length hair. At lunch he went out and bought her a pair of elegant hair-combs as a dearly-purchased present. Life is filled with surprises…

My birthday today. 63 is a surprising number. Not that I didn’t expect to reach this number, it’s just that it seems so soon; or so sudden. My brain is still somewhere in my 40’s. The last six years have tumbled all of my plans; and have made it difficult to make new ones…

In 2008 I worked with Medical Teams International in two different parts of the world. First in New Orleans, working on Katrina Recovery; and a few months later in Oaxaca, Mexico. While in New Orleans I watched an exhausted young couple coordinate the efforts of dozens of volunteers, sent out to various places, repairing damaged houses. Earlier in my life, I was a contractor; followed by 14 years in the Bureau of Buildings in Portland. I realized that I could give that couple a break; I knew how to do what they were doing. I just needed to figure out how I’d deal with the finances. I had a belt custom-made when I returned home, as a reminder of my desire to serve… Standing in my room in Oaxaca, overwhelmed with the foreign-ness of the nighttime activity happening on the street below, I realized that I might have found my purpose for the years ahead—using my experience in construction to help others around the world.

Six months later I started seeing neurologists, concerned about two numb areas, one at the bottom of each foot. Six months after that, I lost most of the sensation in my skin, over most of my body. While working with our church in building some homes in a village on the Baja Peninsula, I discovered that working with sharp things wasn’t very smart. I was able to draw blood without feeling it. A similar trip the following year, after the lack of sensation in my skin had covered the rest of my body; I was convinced that I was done with construction. I still have most of my tools; I haven’t found the self-discipline to get rid of them. Now, standing on my feet and walking around for a couple of hours exhausts me. My hands shake when I draw; I have difficulty with finger movement; so now I draw at large scale, and mostly work with digital versions of my drawings. There was a period in my life when I expected to become a ‘famous illustrator’. Life is filled with surprises…

And yet I still find hope… Not hope that the neuropathy will heal; not hope that I won’t have wheels in my future. Nor hope that I’ll still become a famous illustrator. Hope that things will work out OK.

It’s hard to explain hope; I believe that my hope is a gift of the Creator. I have two old guys in my life at present, 10-20 years older than myself. Neither of them has much in the way of hope; both expect to die soon, their dreams for the future unfulfilled. They are both angry. I’d be angry, too. Some days I am angry.

When I asked the Creator into my life in 1973, I determined not to become Religious. I found Religious people to be annoying; they had opinions about my life that had very little basis in fact. I have come to realize that the opinions weren’t far off the mark, because humans are remarkably similar; but they were rude in their presumption. There is nothing in my life that causes me to deserve Heaven, or to have earned a place in Heaven. We don’t spend Eternity with the Creator because we are good people. We spend Eternity in Heaven [whatever that may be] simply because that is what the Creator intended from the beginning of Creation. This idea messes with the minds of a lot of Religious people, and they have all sorts of verses from the Bible that justify their opinions, ‘proving’ me wrong. I learned a long time ago that there is no point in arguing Scripture with these folk. Scripture can justify nearly everything, if one is good at it.
There were two thieves hanging on a cross, next to Jesus. One of the thieves mocked Jesus.
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

No “Spiritual Laws,” no going to church, no being a good person, no not-doing a list of things that good people aren’t supposed to do. Just, ‘remember me.’ And a promise from the Creator of the Universe, come to earth in the form of Jesus. Most of the people who are most critical of non-Religious people are well-intentioned, although it often doesn’t seem that way. They just never learned to play well with other children…

I see life in America, and life in the Church in an odd way. A dear friend recently described it as a “Specialized Uniqueness.” I have to limit it to America, because I’ve seen very little of the world. I have friends in various places in the world, doing mission-work among people who’ve never really heard of Jesus. The majority of the world has never heard of Jesus, or have heard a very peculiar version of Jesus. To the uninitiated, it seems like missionaries are trying to ‘win points in Heaven’. From my experience, these are people who have found a way to make sense of life, and they truly want to share the experience with others, out of love and compassion. A compassion that isn’t found very often in this world. And yes, it often comes with a ‘yardstick’. To me, that ‘yardstick’ tends to make a lot of sense. But it can’t be forced. Jesus never forced anyone to do anything; and He was fairly intolerant of those who did. Somehow this part tends to get overlooked. He spent most of His time hanging around with the people that the Religious people couldn’t stand. Jesus liked to party.

I’m not big on parties. I don’t like drawing attention to myself [how I ever believed that I could be a ‘famous illustrator’ while not drawing attention to myself I’m not sure I’ll ever understand]. Maybe when I get Home I’ll enjoy parties…

 the universe in his hands_1


Chronicles in Ordinary Time 73: Altruism

June 14, 2015

robot 2

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy this afternoon; amusing, but I’m getting tired of ‘comic book’ movies, aka ‘collateral damage’ movies. Movies whose most prominent feature is the property damage that occurs during the battles between the good guys and the bad guys. The movies rarely, if ever, deal with the fact that lots of people lose most of their stuff, if not their lives; and that the heroes of the movie rarely help the victims recover. That’s one of the places where the difference between life and movies becomes obvious.

C.S. Lewis hoped that mankind would never venture into the solar system and beyond—his fear was that we would spread the infection of our foul natures out to the other life in the universe. Ever notice how the science fiction movies that get made so often assume that other intelligent life chooses evil as a way to live? I can’t help but wonder whether or not other life in the universe may never choose evil as a way to respond to life…

I have a friend who is angry at god because of the evil in the world. I keep telling him that most of the evil in the world comes from the hands of man; and our tendency to use our Free Will to take advantage of others. We want what’s best for ourselves and are unwilling to put ourselves out for the benefit of others. Not all of us, not all of the time; but all it takes is a few of us taking advantage of others to ruin it for the rest of the world. Too many people respond to the bad stuff that happens to them by passing that bad stuff on to others. We feel crappy, or we feel crappy about our circumstances, and we act crappy toward others. The disease gets passed on to others.

Can you imagine a world where people treat each other, treat everyone graciously? I can, sort of, because I’ve met these kind of people. Not a lot of them; and most of them wouldn’t want to consider themselves as being ‘especially good’ people—we all know our failings, and these folks would look first at their failings, and consider them more significant than the good stuff that comes so easily to them. People that decide to live an entirely different life than most of us choose. I know a young couple, with a new baby, who have chosen to live in ‘outer Mongolia’ in order to tell people about Jesus, in a world where nearly everyone has never heard of Jesus. They have a different religious belief. To those who believe that one religious belief is as bad as another, this concept has a negative tone. It used to have a negative tone for me. Life changes one. I know this couple who are giving up most of the stuff that the rest of us strive for—there isn’t anything negative there. The same belief that sends healthcare workers to fight Ebola and MERS in a different country; the same altruism that sends people to Nepal when people are fleeing earthquakes. The altruism that sends First Responders into burning buildings…

It isn’t me; my goals are more mundane and more career-related. I’ve looked at this concept for lots of years.

I like to close with another illustration; none of the people I’m thinking of would like their faces to be used—they wouldn’t want to be seen as an example. So, I’ll end with some who are anonymous, and can express joy:

silhouette tap




Chronicles in Ordinary Time 72: The Hard Questions

May 22, 2015

Black Care

Abraham Lincoln battled it before and while he was President. A lot of the world’s great artists battled it all the time; and sometimes battled to the death.

Theodore Roosevelt called it “Black Care”—I wrote about it before:

Today we call it Clinical Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, Manic-Depression—they aren’t all the same, but they have some similarities. They all lurk in my gene pool [which hasn’t been filtered well enough]. Dealing with Black Care can be awful.

Thanks to the wonder of modern chemistry, I may have passed through another valley. It seems too soon for the increased dosage of Prozac to have worked, but there’s some sunlight in my life today; couldn’t say that yesterday. I still ache all day, I get shooting pains in a variety of places all day long, my feet feel sunburned all the time. My teeth are clenched—I realized I have a habit of pushing on my upper palate with my tongue—it keeps me from grinding my teeth…

Sometimes I get asked how I write these Chronicles [or, I receive spam that looks like someone is asking a question]. Usually they percolate in my brain for a period of time [ruminate might be a better word]; and I get the urge to put the words on digital paper. Frequently the hard part is finding the illustration. I generally don’t draw people in a snarky mood. Too close to home.

People who are very important to me are dealing with a lot of shit right now; and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it besides praying for them, and asking some ‘prayer warriors’ I know to pray as well. Prayer isn’t magic. The Creator is not our magic butler who makes everything work out for us. A lot of the time, I think that when all of the Gears of Life [think of the Lionsgate Movies logo] are turning in such a way that the Creator’s plans work out to our advantage, we sometimes see unexpected, but hoped-for things happen in our lives…Being human, we only consider answered prayer to be “yes”—sometimes the answer is “wait” and we don’t like that answer. We like “no” even less; but by definition, “no” is an answer.

The pain of those close to me is my own pain. This is part of the reason I allow so few people to get close to me. My daughter’s tears at 35-ish set off the same internal alarms that they did when she was 5. Reading about my son’s tears sets off the same alarms. And I don’t want to not hear those tears. Part of the weirdness of being a parent.

I’m currently wading through Augustine; CS Lewis recommended that we should always read from older periods in history, so that we can better understand the present. I haven’t followed that advice too strongly; but my first introduction into ‘theology’ was reading Marcus Aurelius in college. He asked the same questions I was asking. Job, the oldest book in Torah/the Old Testament, something like 4000 years old, asks the same questions.

“How can there be a loving God when this is such an awful place to live?”

“How can a loving God allow all of the hatred and war in the world?”

“How can there be a loving God who allows typhoons and earthquakes to devastate populations?”

“How can there be a loving God who allowed the Holocaust, and who allows the brutality of ISIS and Boko Haram?”

My short answer to these questions is that we have a Creator who has endowed us with Free Will and so values our individuality and respects our right to express ourselves that He allows us to commit all of the stupidity we find necessary to live; in hopes that some day, as individuals, we will come to our senses, and ask the Creator “how should we live?”

Just because people commit crime and blame it on God does not mean that God had anything to do with the crime…God gets blamed for an incredible amount of human misery.

“Torah tells how God caused the Israelites to wipe out nations; God wiped out mankind in the Flood and God sent plagues to the Egyptians. How could a loving God do that?”

I believe that Torah and the New Testament are True, and Inspired by the Creator. I also believe that these books are more like what we term “a journal” than complete histories of those times. These are the journals of the Hebrew people and the early Church. Statements and explanations of what happened; they don’t necessarily explain what the Creator wanted to have happen. I sometimes wonder if the things attributed to the Creator really were the Creator’s wishes…The things happened—David murdered Bathsheba’s husband so that he could get into her pants—it was not the Creator’s will. We are granted an incredible amount of choice, and sometimes we choose to blame God for our own greed and selfishness.

How could God have destroyed innocent men, women and children?

I have no idea what the destroyed nations were like; perhaps these nations were committed to paths of destruction. Human sacrifice [often sacrifice of children] was a very common way to ‘appease the gods’ in ancient times. Animal sacrifice goes on today. For a moment, suppose those nations were like ISIS and Boko Haram? Would our question have a different answer?

Who will the young boys living under ISIS grow up to be? Will they emulate their fathers and uncles? Would it be more merciful if they didn’t grow up at all? This isn’t a question I have been given to answer.

As 21st Century American individuals, we have no real understanding of what it would be like to live under an all-powerful and benevolent Ruler who commands obedience for our own welfare. It’s never happened in recorded history. Even writing the words, “commands obedience” causes warning lights to flash in my head. Growing up with my Dad. The Creator isn’t like my Dad. My Dad, was in some ways, like the Creator.

When the Israelites asked God to give them a king, so they could be like other nations, God’s response was a warning that they really won’t like what happens if they have an earthly King; and yet God gave Israel a King. The Kings of Israel were just as flawed and stupid as the rest of humanity.

We live on a rock floating in space, rotating at 24,000 mph, and traveling around our Sun for a year per revolution. Our distance from the Sun changes over the course of the year; our planet’s tilt, relative to the Sun, and that changing distance cause extreme changes in temperature during that year. At the center of this rock is a molten core of incredibly hot liquid. The surface of our world is a series of rock-plates that float on this molten core—extremely simplified geology. I live on the side of a volcano that is situated in a region that will most likely have a devastating earthquake in the coming decades. I haven’t moved to Iowa; nor to Maui, which would be my preference. There is only so much potential for destruction that my imagination will allow me to deal with.

Given all that we have learned about the non-static nature of the earth, why would we expect it to be static and always nice?

“Because God created the world and called it good.”

The Hebrew word translated as “good” is defined as, “to be (transitively, do or make) good (or well) in the widest sense.” To expect that ‘good’ means ‘perfect’ is projection of what we’d like it to mean. I think ‘good’ probably means something more like ‘sufficient’ than like ‘exceptional.’

I have three of the most terrific adult children that a parent could ask for. They are all flawed, in different ways than I am flawed; they all have traveled paths I wish they wouldn’t have traveled; and yet I have always tried to support their endeavors to the best of my ability at that time.

My children don’t experience the relationship with their Creator that I experience. I have no idea why, because I never asked for my experience…which isn’t entirely true, because I did ask for this experience; I just didn’t know what I was asking for. I knew that I didn’t know enough about life to live it successfully; three years in college had already made that clear to me. I had no spiritual background or experience, growing up. Asking the Creator of Life to lead me seemed to be a really smart choice when I finally understood the question; I really couldn’t understand why my parents weren’t as enthusiastic about this new awareness as I was. I found they had run from the Church; they never talked about the particulars.

The older I get, and the more I see of life, the more I wonder how my children view me. Someone with some odd beliefs about how Life works; perhaps someone who isn’t as enlightened as they are…

I have been blessed with encounters with the Living Creator for the last 40-odd years [or 40 odd years]. I long ago realized that mine is not a universal experience; and when it is experienced, it often is expressed in a manner that I find very peculiar. Probably as peculiar as my children view me; and as peculiar as I viewed ‘religion’ in my first years of college. I admire a gal at our church who says that she doesn’t have a ‘sarcasm’ gene. I can’t relate, but I admire the concept.

I am bothered that as a parent, I didn’t demonstrate the nature of “belief in the Creator” in such a way that my children would want to emulate that belief. Scripture teaches that my belief is a gift of the Creator. Sometimes I feel like it was a gift given to the wrong person. I can’t see my life as my Creator sees my life. That happens when I get Home.

I believe we are created with Eternal Souls; that Earth is a place where we are intended to learn how to live well with our fellow creatures. I believe there is another ‘plane of existence’ that isn’t tied to bodies and disease and suffering; and that we arrive at that plane when we leave these damaged bodies behind. I also believe that we could do a much better job of living with each other than we do. It’s our greed, our stupidity, our selfishness that makes this world a garbage heap…

We can each become the change we want to see in the world. That’s frequently a statement that is much easier to write than it is to do. I wouldn’t have written this statement in recent days. I thank God for Prozac. Those who manage to get through this life without the aid of chemistry are truly blessed.

piggy back draft 5From “A Dimly Burning Wick” a Hiroshima Diary





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