A More Sophisticated Model

It seems there’s nothing like an ice storm to make a soul take inventory—groceries, emergency fuel, back-up heat source and so forth. Some would add reading material to that list. In fact, we have friends who made a special trip to the public library to stock up.

A week ago, our forecast for this past weekend including an indication that we might have accumulations of one-half to one inch of ice from the three days of predicted freezing rain. An inch of ice? In my six-and-three-tenths decades I’ve never experienced that. The half-inch we got across the Midwest about ten years ago left a swath of devastation that bumped imagination into actualization. Power lines snapped and utility poles broke. Branches dropped off like twigs and trees toppled into houses. It was the most widespread disruption of lives and landscape I’d ever witnessed but this one seemed poised to eclipse it. “Icegaddon” some were calling it.

Well, folks, there’s usually always some element of “Dice-gaddon” in long range weather forecasting. And, to some degree, even short term. Even with the most sophisticated modeling and the most accurate gauging, the forces of nature sometimes do not seem governed by the predictions of humanity. A hurricane may veer off in a totally unanticipated direction. A warm front may stall out over southeastern Arkansas. Apparently, there’s just no way of knowing ahead of time exactly where and when the fronts of our lives may collide.

“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best” seems to be pretty good advice, whether you’re studying for a Richard Adams biology exam or bracing for a winter storm. Go ahead and make sure you’ve got plenty of milk and kerosene on hand and for crying out loud, don’t get them mixed up. And if the folks at NOAA or Accuweather or Weather Underground happen to miss the mark by a hundred miles or a couple of degrees, don’t curse them too loudly or celebrate your own good fortune too glibly. While we experienced little more than the briefest bit of inconvenience, some folks are without power and will be for a while.

In addition to the whims of nature and the inexplicable shiftings of weather, I think there might be yet another factor that keeps prognosticators from batting a thousand. I don’t think their computer models have yet acquired the capacity to factor in prayer.

As for our own personal modeling, it should definitely be able to handle simultaneous compassion for the plight of others and gratitude for our own blessings.

H. Arnett
1/17/17

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The God of All Times

Even when I am at my lowest—I will praise the God Most High.
Even when I am hungry—I will praise the God Who Provides.
Even when I am sick—I will praise the God Who Heals.
Even when I am tempted—I will praise the God Who Sanctifies.
Even when I wander—I will praise the God Who Leads.
Even when I am afraid—I will praise the God Who Is My Banner.
Even when I have sinned—I will praise the God Who Is Righteous.
Even when I am in strife—I will praise the God of Peace.
Even when I am surrounded by darkness—I will praise the God Who Is There.
Even when I am weak—I will praise the God Almighty.
Even when I am rebellious—I will praise the God Who Is Master.
Even when I am alone—I will praise the God of Hosts.
Even when I come to the hour of my death—I will praise the God Everlasting.

In all times,
in all things,
in all places,

I will praise the God of Grace and Mercy,
for he has formed me and made me,
he has given me life and saved my soul from hell.

Surely goodness and mercy have followed me
all the days of my life,
and my life has been far richer
than I ever imagined,
far more blessed than I ever deserved.

Blessed be the names of the Lord.

Amen.

H. Arnett
1/13/17

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Cold Feet

I remember some of those bitter winter mornings back in the dark days of dairy farming. On the usual winter days back in western Kentucky, we’d dress for the weather and be just fine. On weekends or “snow days” we could play for hours skating on the frozen creeks even though we never had skates. We could slide, though, and that was close enough to magic for us. Snow was not a rarity and some years we’d get storms that dumped several inches on us. Once in March—1960 I believe—we had over a foot of snow from one storm. Paul and I built an igloo in the yard and it lasted a while.

It also took a while to build but when the temperature is in the twenties, good gloves, good shoes and a few layers top and bottom pretty much give you all you need. But when the temperature dropped down in the neighborhood of zero, there weren’t enough layers to keep feet and hands warm.

Especially during milking.

You can’t milk cows without washing udders and you can’t very well wash udders while wearing cotton gloves. Dipping your hands in a bucket of hot water feels really awesome on a day that cold but that wet heat wears off really quickly. And even though our boots had “Insulated” imprinted on them, that was a relative term. We couldn’t fit enough socks into those things to keep our feet warm on those days.

Fortunately for us, there weren’t very many of those days. There were times when we’d get so cold we’d have to take a thaw break by the electric heater in the washroom. We’d wrestle off one boot and set it over close to the heater. Then, we’d stand on one foot and hold the other one up over the heater, as close to it as we’d dare and sometimes a bit closer than intended. When that foot sufficiently thawed or the sock began to smoke, we’d put that warm boot back on and swap out to warm the other one. Then go back to milking.

There are situations in life when it takes more than the usual effort and strength to endure a certain situation. Times when the cold or some other oppression presses down with greater weight. We layer ourselves up in prayer and perseverance and do the best we can with what we have to work with. Sometimes it may seem that we just can’t get close enough to the heater. It is in those times that we find that we can endure more than we believed we could. And when we’ve been through that and found ourselves sustained by grace, we face the next winter with a bit less fear.

H. Arnett
1/12/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ancient Delights

I stand at the old cast iron sink
set in the corner of the kitchen
washing the few dishes
left on the counter from last night’s supper
and the two wine glasses
from that time of the evening
when the day passes from work towards rest.

It is neither usual nor uncommon
that I am washing a few dishes
in the hour before dawning,
nor is it any great thing,
a simple routine of cleaning
what someone else used
in preparing me food:
skillets and plates and such shapes
as make the making and the eating easier.

Then, too, there are the two loaf pans
soaking from earlier that afternoon,
coated with Crisco and crumbs
from the warm leavings of strawberry bread.

While Randa is still sleeping,
I dip my hands in this quiet chore of early morning,
nothing more than the simple washing
of a few dishes and the making of fresh coffee.

There a few things more pleasing
than those things that show others
that they are loved
and that remind us
that we love.

Perhaps this, too,
is why our Provider delights
in giving us our daily bread.

H. Arnett
1/11/17

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The Shroud

Last summer a Cowley College relocation project involved turning a seldom-used conference room into office space for two teachers. One wall of the room hosted a 4 x 4 whiteboard cabinet that appeared to be in imminent danger of interfering with the proposed subdivision. As you know, interfering with a proposed subdivision is dang near a capital offense in a capitalist society. So, in order to spare as much hostility, destruction, contention and controversy as possible, I issued an executive order.

Soon thereafter, a maintenance crew showed up with the hundred-and-fifty pound cabinet and installed it on the east wall of my office. I had to move one of my favorite pictures but such are the sacrifices of the bourgeois. With its simulated mahogany finish, the cabinet actually looked pretty good framing in the meeting space on that side of the room. Blends nicely with the simulated mahogany finish on the heavy round table around which my administrative team and I gather on a semi-regular basis.

Even more appealing is the functionality of the cabinet. Its twin doors open up to reveal a 4 x 4 writing surface. Each door has a 2 x 4 writing surface and bonus reversible, removable panel. That yields a total of about sixty-four square feet of writing surface neatly tucked away. Exceptionally handy for taking notes during brainstorming and other planning sessions. We’ve developed grant proposals and mapped out semester plans on it.

The only disappointment has been with the removable writing panels. The one time I wrote on them, I had to use cleaning spray to remove the dry erase marking. Very disappointing, especially considering it wasn’t a matter of leaving the script up for several weeks. I’d tried to erase it within fifteen minutes. Usually, on a good quality board, the marking comes right off quickly and easily. Not with these brats. I had to scrub them like farm kids on a Saturday night.

Not wanting to spend much time scrubbing whiteboard, I started just setting the panels out of the way during discussions. That’s what I did yesterday. When I started to put them back up after the meeting, I noticed one of them had a damaged corner as if it had been dropped on a hard surface at some time. It looked like a few small pieces would drop off at any point so I figured I’d go ahead and remove them. Not as easy as I expected: the pieces were held in place with heavy clear plastic. No one had ever removed the protective shipping film.

Just in case you’ve wondered: plastic film does not make a good dry erase surface.

My good friend and colleague Eddie was in my good friend and colleague Janice’s office which is conveniently located near my office. So I had him help me strip off the plastic film. After a few years of close association, a rather strong bond had developed between the film and its substrate. I held the board firmly and had Eddie pull the film. We looked like two corporate types settling a dispute with an old fashioned tug-of-war. Or like we were skinning albino roadkill. In spite of convulsive laughter, Janice managed to record the farce using her phone’s video function.

Sometimes things turn comical when we some past oversight comes to light. Sometimes not so much. In this case, we all had a good laugh. After we’ve rested a few more days, we’ll tackle removing the film from the other panel.

I think I’m going to start calling my whiteboard cabinet the “Almost Converted Discussion Center.” I’ve seen a few people over the years that appeared to have had their “Come to Jesus” moment. Some while later, though, whether weeks, months or years, it turned out that film of self and stubbornness had never been peeled off of their heart.

Until that happens, the heart can never be the fountain of hope and healing, of mercy and compassion, of faith and purity that its Designer intended. Until then, it is the writing of the world that will be recorded, not only on its surface but on its deepest parts as well.

H. Arnett
1/10/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Higher Education, Humor, Metaphysical Reflection, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Empathy and Experience

Sometimes empathy is as easy as glancing over at someone else’s situation. A house destroyed by a tornado, a car wreck, a tragedy of some sort or another. In such cases it doesn’t take an awful lot of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to know you wouldn’t like the fit. Even a comfy pair of loafers don’t feel all that great once they catch on fire. “Sure wouldn’t want to be wearing those,” we think and understand that this is no time for judging the person who is wearing them. Instead, we respond with care and compassion.

Sometimes, it’s not so easy. A crying baby on a late flight, an impatient driver, an annoyance of some sort or another. In such cases it’s pretty easy to focus on our inconvenience and someone else’s need for improved ability, better attitude or greater consideration. “I sure never let my kids act like that!” we mutter under our breath or perhaps over it given sufficient distance or disregard. In such cases, it takes a deliberate effort to move from aggravation to consideration. “Poor things, I bet the whole family is worn out. Been there, done that.”

There’s something fine and friendly in the wonderful phenomenon of deliberately putting ourselves in someone else’s place and taking a look at things from their perspective. Something that moves us to greater understanding and insight. Something that helps us move from judging to sojourning. It is a thoughtful and gentle practice, a very Christ-like notion.

Whether easy or not, it is a good thing. What is shameful to me is when I do not gain that other perspective until life has actually placed me in someone else’s place.

I was very judgmental toward divorced people until I went through divorce and had former friends and brethren refuse to speak with me or shake my hand afterwards. I was very judgmental toward the poor and unemployed until I found myself unable to license my car in Ohio because I didn’t have insurance on it. I was very judgmental toward people who weren’t like me until I lived in a place where the majority of people weren’t like me.

Most recently, I have come to realize how utterly non-empathetic I was toward my own father when he was losing his hearing. Whether trying to carry on a conversation with him on the phone or in person, it became so frustrating that I eventually gave up. I quit calling. Instead of thinking about his frustration and isolation, I focused on my annoyance. I resented his intrusions into and interruptions of attempted conversations with others without thinking that when you can’t hear, it’s easy to not realize someone else is already talking with someone else.

He was a man who truly valued conversation, who loved visiting with people, loved sharing jokes and making quips. A man who loved communication. It was not until I began experiencing the isolation, frustration and loneliness myself that it even occurred to me that he might have gone through the same things. I wish I had shown him more patience.

Even though I sometimes still have difficulty clearly catching all of what some people are saying, the hearing aids have definitely helped. But it may be that the greatest gains are in the way of humility and empathy. To those who are open to the possibility, life has its way of bringing such opportunities to us.

I try to remind myself that in seeking to follow The Carpenter, I should not have to wait for the strike of the hammer before I consider the perspective of the nail.

H. Arnett
1/9/17

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Pride and Self-Prejudice

About a dozen years ago I knew that my hearing was not as good as it used to be. During an extended bout of dizziness that turned out to be due to an inner ear infection, the ENT specialist ordered a hearing test. It revealed a decline in the upper frequencies. “Not enough at this point that you should get hearing aids but definitely something to keep an eye on.” Another infection five years later, another hearing test. “You should probably think about getting hearing aids; there’s a definite loss in the upper frequencies that is affecting your hearing.” Two years ago, after going to a training session and being made painfully aware that it wasn’t as slight a decline as I’d tried to pretend, I went to a hearing aid clinic. And left without making a purchase.

Why? It’s complicated.

Middle-aged ego forced to acknowledge that “middle” was becoming something of a euphemism? Yep. Hearing aids are undeniable evidence of markedly declining physical ability. Undeniable and visible to others. “Hey, there’s an old man here. Certainly ain’t what he used to be, is he?!”

Inconvenience? Well, yeah. You like having something stuck in your ears? Of course, if I was forty years younger I would have been wearing ear buds since toddlersville. But to be chic, you had to have tiny cords attached from the ear bud to some electronic device. The closest I ever got to “chic” was the last time I bought Chiclets and that would have been in the Eighties…

Cheapskate? Ouch, that’s painfully close to truth, or at least truth somewhat adulterated by factors One and Two listed above. Might be more excuse than reason but it definitely has some reason-like qualities.

You can buy an iPhone with the equivalent technological processing capability of the first three lunar missions for under a thousand bucks. All the technology of hearing aids plus exponentially more than that. An incredible computer shrunk to palm size. Hearing aids? Unless you’re willing to take a chance with an online purchase from an unheard of manufacturer—”Hey, I used to be an engineer and a buddy and I made these in my garage”—you’re going to be paying from four to six times the price of an iPhone. And in many if not most cases, without any reimbursement from insurance. So yes, the economic aspect was a huge factor in my reluctance.

Eventually, though, you weigh the price of exclusion, embarrassment, missing out and not being able to function effectively in professional and personal roles and you decide that if you’ve done without a nice bass boat for this many years, you can probably make it a while longer without that luxury. So, instead of having a 200 horsepower Ranger Pro parked in the driveway, I’ve been wearing hearing aids since October. They’ve definitely helped. I’m saying “Yes, ma’am” more frequently than “Huh?” at home now and can understand at least ninety percent of what’s said in administrative council meetings.

One of the most awkwardly affirming moments about my investment was when I called my oldest son a couple of weeks after my reluctant purchase. “Well, I finally got myself some hearing aids” I confessed in a somewhat forlorn tone of voice. Without even a hint of respectable hesitation, Mike responded, “Good, you should have done that years ago.”

That’s true for a lot of our pride-driven reluctances, isn’t it? Sometimes admitting what everyone else already knows takes more effort than it should. But it’s still worthwhile and definitely better late than never.

H. Arnett
1/6/17

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