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August 1st- Who We Really Are

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3)

 

Henry David Thoreau was an American author of the mid-19th century, best known for his work Walden. The book is an experiment in self-discovery, as Thoreau committed to living for two years alone in the woods at Walden Pond.Thoreau

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned a living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again….Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid….”

 

Thoreau's experience and insights are noble, and deserve the place they have obtained as a piece of great American literature. However...

The however has nothing to do with Thoreau's philosophy or ability, but rather with a reality that brings some clarity to his experience. He was, as the book does not deny, only two miles out of town.

Richard Zacks, in his book An Underground Education, explains:

(Thoreau) visited Concord Village almost every day; Thoreau's mother and sisters, who lived less than two miles away, delivered goodies baskets every Sunday, stocked with pies, doughnuts, and meals; Thoreau even raided the family cookie jar during his frequent visits home...

 

The children of Concord visited on weekends and the cabin became a popular picnicking spot for local families. One winter, fellow writer Bronson Alcott had dinner there on Sunday nights; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne were frequent visitors.

 

And, on August 1, 1846, the good ladies of an antislavery group held their annual celebration of the freeing of West Indian slaves on his doorstep. The cabin once packed twenty-five visitors inside.

 

'It was not a lonely spot,' understates Walter Harding in his excellent The Days of Henry Thoreau. 'Hardly a day went by that Thoreau did not visit the village or was visited at the pond.' The joke making the rounds in Concord was that when Mrs. Emerson rang the dinner bell, Thoreau came rushing out of the woods and was first in line with his outstretched plate.

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July 31st- Meaningless or Meaningful

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

It is all meaningless.

 

When my little girl hurts herself and wants a hug...it is meaningless.

 

Ring Around

When an alcoholic humbly cries out to God for help...it is meaningless.

 

When a firefighter risks his life for a stranger...it is meaningless.

 

When the children laugh at the silliness of the cartoon...it is meaningless.

 

When a sunrise floods the morning with warmth and light...it is meaningless.

 

When the ball barely clears the fence for a game winning home-run in the bottom of the ninth...it is meaningless.

 

When a young woman gives up her career to care for the sick and poor of a distant land...it is meaningless.

 

When you toil as hard as you can to provide for your family...it is meaningless.

 

When the baby cuts her first tooth...it is meaningless.

 

It is all meaningless, if there is no God. If all of this has just happened by chance, if chemicals alone made the universe, nothing, absolutely nothing, really matters. We are simply filling up time and space until the universe collapses back in upon itself.

 

Your hopes and dreams, hurts and fears, are all meaningless. Or are they?

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July 18th- Button Pushers

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

 

I was, for a short time, a private teacher for an affluent family. My job was to teach algebra and physics. My student was a good kid, but as can often come with great wealth, he was also entitled.Physics

When I took the job I was told that there was one rule: no homework—ever! Immediately I knew this would be a problem. Teaching algebra and physics without homework is like becoming an Olympic diver without a swimming pool. But being the foolish optimist that I am, I agreed to work around the limits.

 

To say that he struggled with the material would be an understatement. Yet, the number one problem was that he couldn't retain anything from one lesson to the next. I would find myself going over and over the same things day after day.

 

Things finally came to a head at the mid-point of the school year. He took a test, which I had watered-down considerably, and bombed it. Sadly, I had given him problems exactly like the ones we reviewed the two previous days. However, since he never had to do any homework, he didn't retain it. When he failed the test, he was very upset. Then, as I'd seen him do with another teacher, he went in the other room and called his mom on the phone to complain that the test wasn't fair.

On my way home, I got a call from his mom. I was glad she called, for I wanted to tell her the truth about this “no homework” rule. What I wasn't prepared for was when she opened the conversation with “My son never fails tests. If he failed, it was because you weren't teaching him the material.” Uh, it could be that, or it could be that your son isn't required to do any work?

 

The mom loved her son, but unfortunately, she loved him by the wrong definition. To her, love meant that she should rescue her boy from the consequences of his own behavior. He shouldn't have to change, other people should. It is a recipe for disaster, for her boy was going to become a man who believed that the rules of life didn't apply to him. Her boy was going to become a man who didn't live in reality.

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July 21st, 22nd- Banca Rupta

“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12)

 

The word bankrupt has an interesting origin. It goes back to the ancient practice of exchanging money. Charles Earle Funk, in his book Thereby Hangs A Tale, shares the story:

 

bankrupt

From time immemorial there have been money-changers. These were men who, for a premium, calculated the value of currency received by a merchant dealing with foreign countries and exchanged it for domestic money.

 

Their business was conducted in some public place, such as the market place in Athens, the forum in Rome, or the temple in Jerusalem. There they set up a small table or bench for the convenience of their customers. In later times, as in the cities of Florence and Venice, which were the chief trading centers of the Middle Ages, such a table or bench had the name banca, the source of 'bank,' for these money-changers corresponded in some degree with our modern bankers.

 

Although the principal occupation was changing money, these men sometimes took money from wealthy patrons which, with their own, they lent to others at a profit—a rate of interest that would be considered usury now. But there was always a risk involved in such a loan—the borrower might lose his life, his goods, and his ship through some disaster. A succession of such misfortunes could cause the failure of the banker, unable to repay his own creditors. The laws of ancient Rome, though perhaps never exercised, permitted creditors actually to divide the body of the debtor into parts proportionate to their claims. However, the penalty was less severe in the Middle Ages. The creditors of such a banker or his fellows in the market place merely broke up his table or bench, thus showing that he was no longer in business. This, in Florence, was designated banca rotta, broken bench. Italian bankers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries carried this expression of business failure into England, but the Italian rotta gradually gave way to the Latin word for broken—ruptus—and banca rotta, altered to banca rupta, became corrupted to our present term, bankrupt.”

 

I share this story because money, and especially the lack there of, is a big deal. I've heard it said that most fights in marriage are regarding money, and I can believe it. And while inflation and recessions and job losses are out of control, some parts of our money management are not.

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July 15th- The Land Of My Sojourn

“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17)

 

I've lived here for two year and never noticed it before.

 

My office is in the heart of downtown Delaware, Ohio, and this morning I had to drop something off at the city's administrative building. As I walked the four blocks from my office to the city building, I was lost in oblivion. Half-praying, half-thinking, I was going over and over the challenges and responsibilities that seem to consume my life.

Mail Pouch

 

While I walked, I saw the familiar sights of the city. I went past the big church, by the failed restaurant, and across the bustling main street. And although the surroundings briefly got my attention, I soon returned to my worries.

Just outside the administrative building a police man was giving a speeding ticket. The blue and red flashing lights caught my eye for just a moment, but I quickly lost interest. Having arrived, I pulled open the door and walked inside. I knew my way through the building and efficently conducted my business.

 

When I returned to the street, those familiar thoughts continued to dominate. Soon, I stood at the main intersection waiting for the signal to cross the street. That is when I noticed it. As I watched for the walk sign, I stood facing the familiar coffee shop on the adjacent corner. Above the coffee shop was an old faded sign for the local bookshop. I'd seen that sign hundreds of times, but today, in the bright summer daylight, I noticed another sign next to it, so worn and faded as to be hardly distinguishable.

 

And what a famous sign it was. There, in the heart of the city, upon the side of that building I had passed a thousand times, was a sign for Mail Pouch Tobacco. If you have ever driven through the farmland of the midwest, you know Mail Pouch Tobacco. It was the company that, fifty plus years ago, had thrown up advertising on seemingly every barn from Tennessee to the Great Lakes.

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