A Celebration of Sorrow

Never having been to a Buddhist funeral before, I wasn’t sure what to wear, what to do or what to expect. I’d read many years ago that many Asians wear white as a symbol of mourning. Sure enough, the few articles I checked regarding Vietnamese funerals indicated that mourners wear white. In the more traditional events, they also wore pointed white hats. Since this particular family includes third generation Americans, I expected they might skip the hats due to association with another traditional American group.

As for what colors to wear, I decided to check with the family. I contacted my friend and colleague Eddie and requested that he ask our colleague Gaileen, “Is it okay if I wear gray and black?” Since the funeral was for her father, I considered her to be an appropriate authority. She replied that those colors would be fine and in fact the family would be wearing black.

Indeed they were. They also wore white headbands. Along with the monks, they gathered at the front of the funeral chapel in Wichita where Binh’s casket was surrounded by numerous sprays of flowers. Unlike the monks, the family knelt together to honor the deceased. They remained kneeling while one of their religious leaders led the group through a series of chants and songs. Periodically, one monk would signal to the family to bow and they bowed together. I never understood a word of the chanting but I noticed that on some of the segments, many members of the audience joined in with him.

I imagine that at least some of the songs are part of ancient tradition, carried forward through many generations of Vietnamese. These were likely some of the same notes and words that sounded in villages and cities thousands of miles away. Peasants and lords, workmen and royalty, farmers and shopkeepers. Whether prince or pauper, when someone died, friends and family, neighbors and near of blood would come together for honor, for remembrance and for sharing.

Here in this nation of immigrants and indigenous peoples, we had gathered to honor a life and comfort those left behind. As we filed past the body and dropped flowers into the casket, I was reminded that even when we do not share faith, we should share sorrow.

I paused beside Binh Nguyen’s body, added my flower to the growing bouquet and bowed slightly. To him, to the family, to humanity. We are larger than our differences and infinitely smaller than the God who has made us all.

H. Arnett
2/22/17

Posted in Death & Dying, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Voices

There are those who live their lives
on the lonely edge of long shadows,
fearing the night
and longing for the flight of doves
to lift them above the aching touch
of empty voices
and bitter choices made
in the biting light of reality.

There are those who choose the use of others,
who long ago learned
that they could turn the fear
of their leaving into a burning threat
that would keep things
as they desired,
the smoke of a smoldering fire
in the corner of a frozen room.

There came one who called them out
from fear and darkness,
from fire and frost,
from threat and loss.
Who offered peace in the midst of pain,
a hope bright as heaven
without the leavening of guilt,
and a leaving of shame.

I have sometimes walked in darkness,
have felt the coldness of consequence,
and found that even in grace
I have had to face the lingering sting
of things traced to past choices.
And I have also found
there is a balm in the voice of Gilead,
a soothing of scars

a healing of hope
that leads to love.

H. Arnett
2/21/17

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

What Goes Around

I don’t know that I had much of a plan for how I might spend my Saturday. I did plan to make waffles for breakfast as that has been both plan and action for just about every Saturday morning at our house for over twenty years. For the first time in a few months, it was warm enough that we ate our waffles while sitting on the porch. As we were enjoying our breakfast, I noticed the big shrub at the northeast corner of the house. Its upper branches were brushing against the eave and reaching up above the gutter. So, I decided that once we finished our breakfast, I’d trim that rascal back a bit.

I’m not sure exactly what sort of shrub it is but it’s quite reminiscent of winter creeper. Its branches grew nearly three feet last season. So, that’s about how far I trimmed it back for the start of this season. When I started raking up the branches from around the bush, I remembered the blanket of leaves covering the narrow strip of yard on that same corner of our property. I began raking those up into piles.

While raking, I soon noticed that the leaves were almost exclusively oak leaves. The primary significance of that fact is that we don’t have any oak trees. When I shared that observation with Randa, she said, “So, should we take these over to their yard?” Frankly, I found the thought somewhat appealing. I mentally rehearsed the scene of dumping a big bag of leaves in their yard.

Then it occurred to me that I didn’t want to go around the neighborhood trying to retrieve the leaves from our three huge elm trees.

It doesn’t usually take a lot of time to figure out that you aren’t going to get too far down that road of just desserts before you find the spoon in your own hand and a dish you’re not going to enjoy very much sitting right there in front of you. Might be good before starting on that journey of just rewards for others to remember what Jesus said about “Blessed are the merciful…”

H. Arnett
2/20/17

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

Prayer for the Lord’s Day

Lord God of Heaven and Earth:
you have made all things, O Lord,
and given life to the living.
You created humanity from the dust of the earth
and breathed into us the Breath of Life
that we became living souls.

Look down upon us, Lord God,
in love and mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Savior of Humanity,
you came into this world of sin and darkness
to bring light and love, mercy and justice.
You walked among us,
healing the sick,
forgiving the sinful,
and convicting the proud and self-righteous.

In return for your miracles,
your compassion and kindness,
they set loose a murderer
and condemned you.
You, the Giver of Life,
they executed as a thief and liar.

You were wrapped in common cloth
and laid in the cold stone of the earth.

And yet on this day,
the First Day,
the New Sabbath,
you came forth in triumph
over Sin and Death and Hell,
giving everlasting hope
of life beyond the grave,
of blessing beyond imagination,

of Redemption.

Holy is your name, Lord God,
worthy of praise and thanksgiving
forever.

H. Arnett
2/19/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Poetry, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Adkins Diet & Other Tortures

About a dozen years ago, Randa and I decided to try the Adkins Diet. She did the research; I did the complaining.

As you may know, the initial phase of the Adkins Diet limits you to something like ten grams of carbohydrates a day. That’s like half of one Oreo with no filling in the middle. No bread, no sugar, all the celery you want. Through careful strategy, incredible self-control and decades of sacrifice, I’d managed to limit my celery intake to about four stalks a year. Bread and sugar were staples in my regimen of food intake. Giving them both up cold turkey made me want to break things, destroy other people’s property and hurl acid at works of art and beauty. Mind you, I didn’t actually do any of those things but I did get more surly than usual. Not that anyone could tell but I could feel the rage building in me.

Those feelings subsided after a couple of weeks. We learned to substitute stewed cauliflower for mashed potatoes and carrots for anything else that seemed tempting. We tried the Adkins brand waffle mix but didn’t care much for the taste of cardboard flavored breakfast treats. By the end of the third month, we’d each lost ten or fifteen pounds. By the end of six months, we’d lost the dog and most of our friends. It’s not always fun being around people who are that determined to lose weight.

These days, I’m more inclined to the Buddy Hackett diet.

Buddy was a popular comedian in the 60’s and 70’s. At one point, he weighed over three hundred pounds. Over a period of two years or so, he dropped nearly half of that weight. He did it without surgery and without giving up any of the foods he loved. “I knew I was eating way too much,” the comic explained, “Way too much.” He went on to say that he hated dieting. “I knew I couldn’t stay with anything that made me give up all the stuff I loved to eat.”

So how did he do it? Simple: “I just started eating half as much. I’d still eat steak, still eat potatoes. Just half as much.” He also started to exercise. “Nothing strenuous,” he grinned, “just walking and stuff like that.”

With a lot of things, a bit of moderation will get us where we need and want to be. Self-control and temperance, so to speak. Works well with cheeseburgers, fine wines and chocolate. But if it’s an area where we can’t manage the moderation part, abstinence is the better choice. That’s why Oreos aren’t on my version of the Buddy Hackett diet…

H. Arnett
2/15/17

Posted in Humor, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Valentine’s Day

As the story goes, a student came to Socrates one day to ask his advice about marriage. The old man dodged and demurred but the young man was persistent. “Please, master, I must know, should I marry or not?” Again, the philosopher declined to answer directly, saying something about it being a matter one man could not resolve for another. But his disciple continued to plead.

Finally the venerated teacher blurted out, “It doesn’t matter!”

The young man was stunned. “But of course it matters, Teacher! It is of utmost importance. How can you possibly say ‘It doesn’t matter?'”

The old man smiled wryly and responded, “Because no matter whether you choose to marry or not marry, you will wish you had chosen the other.”

Now, I don’t know whether that little anecdote makes you smile, wince or burst into tears but I do imagine that you can see some smattering of truth in it. It’s a rare relationship of any length at all that hasn’t at some point questioned the wisdom of its own existence. Even the best of them have tripped across one or two rough rocks during the trek along life’s road.

We can survive the occasional stone and stumble, even thrive in spite of the mishaps and false steps. Join hands, kiss the hurts, help each other mend and move on. Stay on the course but take time to enjoy the view from time to time. Keep focused on the destination but every now and then take a look back to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come. Celebrate our love, be together in ways that matter, forgive as frequently as needed and more frequently than asked. Live below our means so we can give more than is expected. Be genuinely grateful and show sincere appreciation. Honor one another.

Pretty much it comes down to treating one another the way we desire to be treated. Funny how often that works, isn’t it?

H. Arnett
2/14/17

Posted in Relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

A Fine Imitation

The Eagles have been one of my tip top favorite bands ever since they formed the year I graduated from high school. Over the years, they rolled out hit after hit until a fifteen-year hiatus in 1980. Their second reunion album “Long Road Out of Eden,” released in 2008 I think, demonstrated they still had a powerful poetic touch, could yet lay down wonderful vocals and riff out some mighty fine guitar leads.

When I saw online last Tuesday that The Eagles tribute band Hotel California was slated to perform in Wichita on Friday night, I thought “That sounds like it might be a fun thing to do.” When my son Sam texted me on Wednesday from near Kansas City to suggest that he, Randa and I go to the concert, I thought “Well, yeah!” So… Sam drove over and we met up for supper at the River City Brewery and Restaurant in Old Town Friday evening. From there it was only a two-minute drive over to the Orpheum Theatre.

Being inside that theater in itself is reason enough to drive over to Wichita but it was certainly the performance that made the evening memorable.

From git to gone, it was terrific! The four-piece Canadian-based band nailed the vocals and wailed the instrumentals. One of the lead guitar players looked a tiny bit like Joe Walsh and the drummer/lead vocalist bore more than a passing resemblance to Glenn Frey. I’m certainly no certified high-powered music critic or authenticator; I’ve never seen The Eagles play live or even watched video of any of their concerts. But I have heard their songs thousands of times. And when I closed my eyes, I could not tell that it wasn’t them on the stage. The performance was that authentic.

Now I will certainly admit that it was not the same as being at an Eagles concert but it was very much like listening to The Eagles. When the vocals are that good, the bass and drums carry the rhythm that well and the guitars are exactly what you remember from the title tracks, you feel like you are definitely experiencing the band’s music. It made me wonder how many hundreds or thousands of hours these guys have devoted to their craft.

In a similar way, when we devote that much time, effort and energy to the imitation of Christ, those around us will feel like they have experienced his presence. When the compassion we show, the forgiveness we demonstrate and the love that we live are completely infused with his grace, meekness and mercy, others may close their eyes and believe that Jesus yet walks upon this earth.

And we are not imposters in this imitation for it actually is him living in us.

H. Arnett
2/13/17

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Music, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , ,