REMEMBRANCE ON MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

Vietnam Veterans Memorial WallOn this Memorial Day weekend, I’m sending warm greetings and affirmations to all veterans and veterans’ families – and indeed to all American veterans everywhere – who have given sacrificially for the shared values and civic dreams we prize above all others – freedom, justice, and equality for all.

My favorite lines in “America the Beautiful” are in its third verse: “O beautiful for heroes proved/ in liberating strife,/ who more than self their country loved,/ and mercy more than life….” While many can lay claim to that sentiment, our veterans are among the chief patriots “who more than self their country loved…”

During my lifetime, America’s military service personnel have been engaged in one “conflict,” “war,” “skirmish,” or “initiative” after another. Veterans have answered the call whenever it has been issued, and we have witnessed their valor at every turn.

That we have not discovered better ways to resolve international differences and global tensions is a commentary on a lack of political will and imagination, and there is much work to do on that front. But our veterans and the families of our veterans have been exemplary in sacrifice, steadfastness and determination.

A good friend, who served several tours in Vietnam, once expressed utter humility and hope in one simple statement, and I haven’t forgotten it: “I just did my duty. One day we’ll figure out better methods of dealing with things other than shooting at each other.” May we all increase in our sense of duty, dedication, and our hopefulness for that better world.

– Bob Hill

EXTRAORDINARY MYSTERIES, ORDINARY DAY

Far above the fleeting pin-lights of towns and cities five miles below, there is this mystery: how ten dozen passengers can shoot through the sky at 400 miles per hour and arrive at their destination safe and somewhat sound.

And at Gate 39 there is still another mystery: how beloved to beloved will experience reunion with glee and delight, as a 2-foot high little boy will rub the sleep out of his eyes in full wonderment and run in to a loving embrace, shouting “Daddy!”

And in the parking lot, there is still another mysterious astonishment: how the Jeep – left unattended and orphaned among a host of other unattended and orphaned vehicles in the airport parking lot – still welcomes the key and the engine still sparks to life for the trek to home-sweet-home.

And yet one final miraculous mystery occurs on a seemingly ordinary day: the home where bones come to rest and a blessed bed knows your form and the coffee maker awaits exercise tomorrow morning.

– Bob Hill

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

GEORGE NAKASHIMA – To Rest for the Night with an Honest Face

nakashima-portrait.#2

(On what would have been his 111th birthday, I’m remembering the life and legacy of George Katsutoshi Nakashima.)

A while back, on a sunlit afternoon in New York City, near an illuminating window within the confines of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I ran across a small table by George Nakashima. Astounding in its simplicity, beautiful in its form, shining in its appearance, it was immediately apparent why a table like that had attained the status of art and been deemed worthy of exhibition.

One of Nakashima’s hallmark creations, I would learn later, is a Peace Table he made for the United Nations. It turns out he was also an insightful soul, chock full of good counsel for life, as well as knowledge about wood and its wonders.

Nakashima mentored many wood artists, always encouraging them to do their work in such ways, with such integrity, that they could “rest for the night with an honest face.”

Sterling advice for us all, indeed, whether or not we know much about wood.

– Bob Hill
© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

[From ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, to be published in September, 2016. For similar ruminations and reflections, see LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015.]

“What is your bucket list for Christian believers?”

Honored to offer a response to the question “What is your bucket list for Christian believers?” in today’s “Voices of Faith” column in THE KANSAS CITY STAR, May 14, 2016, p. 2C

http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article77312847.html

The variety of “bucket lists” – sets of actions or experiences which people hope to fulfill before they die – are endlessly wondrous and intriguing: visit every major league baseball park; learn how to cook crawfish etouffée; read all of Alice Walker’s writings; travel to Tierra del Fuego; dance with each of your children at their weddings; and on and on.

Such lists for religiously and spiritually inclined folks often focus on global holy places like Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, Lambini, the Ganges River. Others center on the birthplaces of founders and exemplary leaders in one’s tradition.

A bucket list for Christians needs to be fashioned individually, with an eye toward personal fulfillment and compassionate care for others. Surely some of the following would qualify as bucket list items:

  • Say thanks to those who have contributed the most to your life and faith.
  • Discover the holy places (akin to Bethlehem and Sinai) wherever you live.
  • Attend a worship service of a faith different than your own.
  • Read through the entire Bible, at least once, applying lessons learned from it along the way.
  • Participate in a mission trip.
  • Share communion in another country.
  • Make friends with your biggest doubt.
  • Experience one moment of pure, focused attention on the sheer presence of God.

The best attitude for constructing such a list is not as mandatory obligation but as an adventurous opportunity to gain deeper connections with God, one’s faith traditions, and the human family.

Begin today, even if you’re years away from kicking the bucket.

– Bob Hill

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

 

WHAT’S YOUR UNDERTONE?

ROL sunrise 2016

As much as I admire Frederick W. Robertson, the great 19th century divine (esteemed by some as the greatest preacher in the English tongue), I was caught off guard when I learned about one of his basic tenets of faith. I was dismayed to read about what I would call Robertson’s regrettable understanding of human experience: “The deep undertone of the world is sadness.”

I am sure that there are countless people who would agree with the “Bright Light of Brighton,” particularly since there are so many occasions for sadness throughout the world and in our own lives. But to say that the world’s fundamental undertone is basically sadness seems to me to be a mis‑taking of the human experience as a whole and a misinterpretation of the Biblical witness.

The undertones of the world are many and varied. Sorrow, to be sure, is an undertone in any place where tornadoes have wreaked havoc and horror as well, as in the seemingly incessant carnage wrought by wars and terroristic attacks But relief and satisfaction and gladness and celebration are also undertones in every commencement exercise going on at colleges and high schools these days.

Who would deny that beauty seems to be one of the premier current undertones in the heart of the heart of the country, with spring fully sprung and the greening of Kansas City everywhere on display?

Appreciation and remembrance will be among the undertones for people visiting cemeteries and grave sites on the Memorial Day weekend. Growth and grace and affirmation and love will surely be abiding undertones of vacation adventures and mission trips and family reunions later on this summer.

And so, an important question for all of us, individually and collectively, is this: Which undertones will prevail among us, undertones of faith, hope, and love, or undertones of perplexity, despair, and wandering?

May the predominant undertones in your life remain the former sorts!

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

[Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015.]

ALWAYS LEARNING

always learning

Commencement exercises will be celebrated by millions of high school and college graduates across the United States in what has become an annual rite of spring.

These are happy times for students who have worked hard, studied diligently, and attained benchmark status points in their particular endeavors. It is hoped that these halcyon days also mark a transition for all graduates from institutional learning to life-long learning. For educational organizations — when they really do their jobs — do not merely prepare students for better jobs, or career advancement, or the establishment of a stable financial foundation. Simply put, when educators truly educate, they teach us how to learn.

May we always know the multiple meanings of learning. Surely the following are among the various understandings of what learning is all about:

Learning is to knowledge what burning is to fire. Learning is the beginning of new life and the closing off of that which has passed the point of usefulness. To learn is to encounter every present moment as a potential extravaganza..

Learning is an adventure in uncharted territory. It is the challenge of all good managers, all insightful inventors, all creative musicians, all cantankerous painters, and all worthy teachers.

Learning is experienced by staying awake and paying attention and doing your homework. Learning is also experienced by simply sitting on the banks of a peacefully flowing river or watching clouds traipse by overhead or listening to the gentle rhythms of the rain. Learning is not merely kept under lock and key at the schoolhouse.

Learning is crucial for every effort toward quality, and it is unavoidable in the natural scheme of maturation. Either we learn or we perish. Learning inspires the mind and checks our brazenness. Learning humbles the highest and ennobles the lowly.

Learning is the expansion of a child’s heart as well as her mind. Learning is a young one fashioning dreams, and an old one sharing visions. If we pay attention, learning is what takes place when knees are skinned, when egos are bruised, and when souls are stretched by new awareness.

Learning is what shines on a graduate’s face. Learning is what empowers the disenfranchised and lifts up the downtrodden. Learning is the great “democratizer.” Learning is the ultimate check-and-balance system.

Learning is the breaking of poverty’s shackles. It is an escape hatch out of the pit of prejudice. It is the living link which draws drastically disparate groups together. Without learning, history proceeds in retrograde.With learning, we take the next authentic step into the future.

– Bob Hill

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

[From LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015]

COMMENCEMENTS

commencement-2013

I’ve always treasured occasions of commencement. I’ve always cherished the joy shared by families at commencement, the sacred experience of saturating release once a worthy struggle is over, and the recognition of knowledge being passed on to new generations.

At commencements exercises there is a sense that miracles have occurred. And that is so because they have. The miracle of discovery. The miracle of rising after falling. The miracle of finishing after failing. The miracle of proficiency. The miracle of excellence. The miracles of transferring wonder and appreciation and intrigue and the glories of the universe from mind to mind, life to life.

          Occasions of commencement are also simply splendid because of the word itself. Every commencement is a new beginning, a reminder that Yogi Berra was exactly right: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Every commencement is an enrollment in a new moment in our maturation, moving us forward to the next phase of our development and the next and the next. Congratulations, graduates. May the commencements never cease!

– Bob Hill
© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

[Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015]