A Better Reflection

A few miles from our house is an outdoor recreation center called “Camp Horizon.” It is owned and operated by the United Methodist Church. Among the various opportunities afforded there is outdoor hiking in a setting quite unlike what most visitors would expect in south central Kansas. My dear friends Mark and Dianne Flickinger live near there. Saturday evening seemed like the perfect time to take Mark up on a standing invitation (pun intended) to hike with him.

After a few minutes of hiking the gravel road over to the camp headquarter, we took the short walk out along the knife ridge that terminates a few hundred feet past the last building of the center. As we stood on “Inspiration Point” I could not help thinking once more about how ill-informed is the stereotype of “flat Kansas.”

Mark and I stood on one of the small boulders at the southern end of the narrow ridge, looking out over the Arkansas River. High and muddy from recent rains along its basin, the river disappeared behind a thick lining of cottonwood and oak and other hardwood trees. To our west and slightly north, the plains stretched out in a low ripple. To our east, the rolling, rugged terrain of the Flint Hills transitioned from timber to prairie. South of the river, the lush greens of an Oklahoma spring layered the land. Fifteen miles away, a thin trail of smoke drifted up from the ridge, maybe from someone’s burning a brush pile.

Mark pointed out a few landmarks and we guessed distances. (It’s something men do…) “Where we are right here is actually the eastern edge of the Flint Hills,” he commented. “They call them ‘Osage Hills’ in Oklahoma but it’s the same chain.”

As we stood for a while longer, I looked back to the northwest, toward Ark City. A few miles away, at just the right angle for the evening sun, a river bend glimmered its platinum reflection, so brightly it hurt to look at it. It still amazes me—even after all these years—how the dark and troubled nature of a flooded river disappears in its reflection of the sun.

I’m hoping that someday I will lose enough of my own darkness that others will only see the image I am trying to reflect.

H. Arnett
5/24/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Exercise, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , ,

There’s Beauty in Them Thare Hills

After the adult education graduation ceremony ended Saturday morning a bit after eleven o’clock, I headed out to Wheat State Winery. Not for the purpose of libation seeing it was not yet the sixth hour of the day. It was instead for the fifth annual fund-raising cross country run to benefit William Newton Hospital which is located in Winfield. That is the hospital at which Dr. Jeryl Fullen successfully repaired my left knee after I’d torn the meniscus back in September of 2015.

I thought the 5K run would be a chance to have a bit of fun and help out in a worthy effort. I knew I was going to be at least an hour-and-a-half late but was hoping they’d let me run anyway.

They did. Even though they’d already taken down the route signs and pulled all the staff off the course. After crossing the creek, I headed left as directed and up the hill. Before I got to the top of the ridge, I could see miles of pasture and hills, cropland and woodland. At the top, I could also see fields of winter wheat just starting to shift from green to gold and the curving lines of trees along the Walnut River bottoms.

I would have liked to taken in some longer looks but I didn’t want to tarry in any one spot and I’ve learned it’s best to keep a watchful eye on the trail when you’re running in a place like the Flint Hills.

Tripping over some stray stone in the path can bring a right unpleasant disruption to one’s gandering or gawking about. Although truth and beauty often cohabit together in rather pleasing ways, some days it seems best to choose one or the other. And when the path before you is neither level nor straight, as is often the case in this world, I recommend going with truth.

H. Arnett
5/23/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Exercise, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

A Good Leading

My Saturday started off with the privilege of delivering the commencement speech for our Adult Education grads. These are the folks who earn their high school diploma by studying well enough and hard enough to pass a test that forty percent of high school graduates can’t pass. Certainly not the “easy way out” some folks seem to think it is. I used a Guy Clark song, “The Cape,” for my platform and that seemed to go over right well, which was quite a relief since I’d never tried that before.

During my speech but without any prior intention, I shared a story about a time when I’d contemplated suicide. It actually fit right in with what I was saying but I found myself surprised by the sharing.

After the ceremony was over, a few folks came over and expressed their appreciation for my talk. One woman took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear what you had to say today. My son attempted suicide and sometimes I just don’t know if there’s any hope for him.” I could see the mist in her eyes welling up in the corners of her eyelids. She blinked a couple of times and continued, “But when I heard you talk about your own struggle and I see you like this today, I know that there is hope for him! Thank you.”

I thanked her and could feel my own eyes hazing up a bit. I patted her shoulder and told her, “I think I have to give the Spirit credit for this one. I hadn’t planned at all to use that story but I am so glad that you let me know it was something you needed to hear.”

Whether as public speaker or private listener, I am continually amazed at the way God can move in us to help others. As long as we are willing.

H. Arnett
5/22/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Flint Hill Flowers

Making my way back from Topeka
at the fading end of a long day
in the middle of the week,
I kept catching passing peeks
of brilliant yellow blooms
as I moved along I-35
through the Flint Hills
at seventy-five.

Knowing I was still
two hours away from home,
I was reluctant to pull over
but then remembered
there was no one there waiting on me
and if I wanted to see something
closer than I’d seen before
it was going to take a bit more
than a passing wish.

I pulled off onto the shoulder
and crossed over toward
the rocky slope of a small bluff
that was just high enough
to catch the slanting sun.
Soft leather loafers
weren’t meant for crossing a wet slough
but I knew that finding truth and beauty
is worth a pair of muddy shoes,
especially if you can pick your way through
the highest parts of a low run.

I found small mounds
of brilliant yellow blooms,
half the size of a man’s hand
lifted on short stems
above a base of green leaves
rooted into the thin rocky dirt
that skirts the cuts made
to bring the road through
a place of long rolling hills
in the vast grazing of native grasses
worth more than a glance in passing through
the view of evening sun
now settling down behind a distant ridge.

In the closing light of coming night,
when miles of green
fade from brighter sheen
to softer tones of more gentle sight,
I walked about a bit just beyond
the woven-wire fence staked to steel posts
and noticed several more types
of bloom and stem;
some bright and blue,
some white and yellow
and one type of white bell-shaped clusters
with fine lines of darker color
mustering into the center
in a way that reminded me of catalpa blooms.

I had stopped for a single flower
looked around and found at least a dozen more
in less than half an hour.
There’s no telling how much truth and beauty
we might find right around us,
were those the things we looked for
more than the other.

H. Arnett
5/19/17

(I invite you to see several pictures of Flint Hill Flowers on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DocArnett )

Posted in Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A Short Walk in a Garden of Hearts

I met Tristan in 2004 when I helped begin a study program at Highland Community College in northeastern Kansas. He, Shayne and Dione were my first study group leaders there and all three were cut from similar cloth. In addition to being football players, they were young men of exceptional character and intelligence, ideal candidates to lead the study sessions for our special summer program that consisted almost entirely of freshmen football players. And darn good looking, too.

I’ve maintained some level of contact with all three—and a few other younger friends from those days. Last evening, I carved out an opportunity to visit with Tristan, his lovely wife Katie and their toddler Ty. While his parents and I visited on the deck on a lovely evening, Ty occupied himself with a variety of activities, some of which required greater parental alertness than others.

The little fellow is full blond, full of energy and fully as cute as you’d expect Tristan and Katie’s kid to be. By a crafty series of little silly things, including peek-a-boo at the base of a maple tree, I eventually enticed Ty to come to me. I started out with some little “airplane” whirls about the deck and then in the yard. By the time the grilled meatloaf was done, we’d taken the long tour around the yard, collecting flowers for Katie.

Ty is a bit short yet on conversational skills but not entirely deficit in the manner of communication. I walked along the tree break while he sat on my shoulders with his little legs wrapped around my neck. Each time he’d see a bloom of some kind, he’d point and say emphatically, “Mah’muh.” By the time we made our way around the perimeter of trees and bushes, he had a daisy, a slightly wilted iris, a couple of wildflowers and a few honeysuckle blooms. He seemed nearly as proud of his offerings as was his mother. “You found an iris!” Katie exclaimed, and added the new blooms to the collection sitting in a small jar by the kitchen window.

Our timing worked out well as Tristan finished up at the grill and Katie filled our plates for the patio table. We ate and visited, sitting outside on a beautiful spring evening in central Kansas. I tried to remember why it had taken me over a year to get back to visiting with them. I knew the excuses but I was having trouble with the reasons. Whatever it was, I resolved to quit cheating myself so much.

Time spent with those we love is time well spent. There is comfort and healing, balm and blessing in sharing such affection. Bonds are built that endure the separations of our busy-ness. Whatever else it is that fills our lives, there is little else so enriching and so rewarding as the indulgences of family and friendship, joy and love.

Whether with those whose parents I’ve “adopted” over the years or with my own children and grandchildren, I have spent too little time with small hands clutching at my hair and feeling the liberating weight of tiny feet draped so closely to my heart.

H. Arnett
5/18/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A Bit of Heaven

I often think
whenever I meet
some old friend for dinner
or have time to spend with family
that I haven’t seen in a while
or just get the chance
to be with people I love
“this must be like heaven”
except for the leaving.

H. Arnett
5/17/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , ,

Ch-Chh-Chuhh-Changes

It is no easy thing to bring certain change types of change to a culture, whether you’re introducing automobiles in a land of horses or replacing waterwheels with steam power. In most every case, those who feel displaced will face and resist the change with everything from words to pitchforks to fire bombs. And sometimes with good reason: it’s hard to celebrate progress when it’s put your family out on the street and without food to eat.

I remember a class I took at Murray State University (KY) when I was working on my master’s degree in 1981. We watched a film one day that celebrated the advent of robotics into the world of manufacturing. The producers showed how one machine could take the place of three to a dozen human workers. “They don’t get tired, they don’t make mistakes, they don’t need health insurance and they never go out on strike.”

Increased production with drastically lowered costs offered clear benefits to the owners, not so much to displaced workers. “Don’t worry,” our instructor said, “they’ll be trained to take care of the robots.”

It was baloney and we knew it. Without a whit of training in advanced economic theory, we knew that thousands of people were going to lose high-paying jobs that would not be replaced. This was not some temporary blip in employment patterns; it was a fundamental change in the nature of manufacturing. It was a change in how the world would do business.

You probably know a bit about the rest of the story. Countries without an established manufacturing industry leaped from the 18th Century toward the 21st. They built factories based on the emerging technologies of robotics, computer controlled machining and modern logistics. Absent the history of unions and ignoring the factors that made them necessary, they had thousands of citizens eager to work a whole day for the hourly wages of American factory earners.

American companies with millions invested in suddenly obsolete equipment and operating systems struggled to adjust and compete. Some succeeded, some did not. Some capitalized on the changes, switching to outsourcing and building or investing in new factories in other places. Our society is still dealing with the impact and implications of a greatly diminished role in manufacturing the world’s goods. The economic ripple is still sending aftershocks, and not just through the Rust Belt.

In most cases, societal change, whether in manufacturing methods or in entertainment and communication, outpaces the anticipation and preparation for its implications. We argue, we blame, we debate, cuss and discuss while things continue to change around us. Sometimes we feel ourselves abandoned by our own culture. Whether we are “old hippies who don’t know what to do” as the Bellamy Brothers used to sing, or are masters of a new domestic reality, we all need something deep, solid and rooted that can not only sustain us but help us live triumphant lives, no matter what unbidden changes come into them.

We need faith, hope and love. And wisdom.

H. Arnett
5/16/17

Posted in Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,