(Note new, dry high pressure over New England, and potential Hurricane Ana off Florida)
It has been another breezy day of warm temperatures, brilliant sunshine, and humidity down around 20 %. Perfect conditions for having a brush fire explode, though perhaps nothing like the conditions they experience out west. Out west it can be dry from the lowest root to the tip top of tall pines, and once a fire gets going entire trees explode into flame. Our drought is only at the lowest level, and doesn’t reach far underground, however our woods are messier than I can ever remember, and there is enough dead wood laying about the average forest floor these days to make a fire more than just burning leaves. However there were no nearby fires today: Just a beautiful day with the trees rapidly greening, and rapidly screening the view through trees with a green mist.
Yesterday branches were silver and bare
And I could watch a flicker wing its way
Through the trees to a far maple, and there
Land and look back sharply, as if to say,
“Mind your own business, you nosy human.”
Today a green fog is growing from twigs.
Golden green mist is swirling, blooming
From branches, hiding the birds that do jigs
and can-can along limbs, happy to be hid.
I spy on their antics with my radar.
If they wished privacy, they’d put a lid
On their joy, but that isn’t how spring birds are.
Are we the same? And is it so wrong
That when no one’s watching we burst into song?
There is something intoxicating about the whole world going golden green under glorious sunshine. It gets under your eyelids and drives the winter darkness from your brain. The only thing that keeps the glory of this time of year from rivaling the glory of peak foliage in October is that the singing birds must be fed, and this involves swarms of biting black flies.
BLACK FLY BLUES
Outside the sun is golden
But I ain’t goin’ out of doors today.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But inside is the place I’m goin’ t’stay.
I’ll be a couch potato
Til those pesky black flies go away.
I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything
Even in that pesky little fly.
I found this thought impossible,
So I grabbed one, and looked him in the eye.
He said, “Hey man! I love you!”
He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.
They love you head down to your toes.
They also love the inside of your nose.
They even love your armpits
And not too many folk are fond of those.
They’re part of God’s creation
Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.
See that flycatcher winging?
He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see.
Hear that tree swallow singing?
Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody.
The bitter flies among the sweet.
You can’t have half and own ecology.
Outside the sun is golden.
I guess I’ll budge my butt and face the swarm.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But I know clouds of black flies make a storm.
If this world was too comfortable
The next world wouldn’t tempt us to reform.
I did get out midst the swarms, to face various messes made by my trying to avoid the bitter and enjoy the sweet. One mess I made involves burning last year’s weeds in the garden even though there was a red flag warning. (It’s no use trying to get a permit, for the idiot bureaucrats will tell you to wait for a rain, when rain makes weeds too wet to burn)
Farmers have burned weeds for at least 250 years around here, as it kills a lot of bugs and bacteria and viruses that can hide out in dead stalks and infect this year’s plants, and also because the ashes fertilize the soil, and lastly because burning is a lot faster and easier than laboriously removing all the old, dead stalks by hand. And I was smart enough to keep the fire from spreading. However it was amazing how swiftly it burned, how hot it burned, and how busy I was kept rushing about keeping things under control. I was so busy I failed to notice that hidden under the weeds were some important garden hoses, until several were melted just enough to be useless.
Oh well, they were very old hoses, and had sprung leaks anyway, so I went and got new hoses. But I also decided to splurge on a “soaker” hose, because that seemed smarter than standing out in a swarm of black flies, watering by hand. And indeed it was wiser, and freed me up for other tasks, and other swarms of black flies, which annoyed me so much I hurried home at the end of the day, glad to get indoors, and forgot to turn off the “soaker” hose. That in turn resulted in just enough of my parched, drought-dried garden being turned into a mud-bog that my rotor tiller got stuck in the mud today, which involved extra effort midst an especially hungry swarm of black flies.
And so it goes. I seek the sweet, but can’t avoid the bitter. I suppose it is “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” It seems to permeate so much of life that at times progress seems impossible, and I wonder how it is mankind has progressed at all. One gets so discouraged that, at my age, one can become an old grouch and frown at any suggestion of change. Fortunately progress is possible, but only if you face the bitter.
Nothing tastes quite so bitter as confessing a mistake. Engineers know all about mistakes, which may be why they invented “Murphy’s Law.” Even the most beautiful bridge may turn into a “Galloping Gertie”.
Rather than a red flag going up when we seek an improvement, (because we expect failure), the red flag should go up when we fail to confess our mistakes. How are we to learn from our mistakes if we don’t dare confess they exist? Engineers actually go out of their way to have their mistakes pointed out, because they’d rather see a mistake before they build, than see the mistake after they build, in the form of a structural collapse. However in other areas of life people are not so wise.
When was the last time you heard a politician confess he made mistakes? Likely never. Instead he will spend millions on smear advertisements sneering at an opponents mistakes, as if mistakes were degrading rather than human, and worth damnation rather than often being laughable and even lovable.
Today I got to avoid the black flies by being something that likely has made my mother sit up in her grave. I am now officially “Chairman of the Diaconate” of a church. It is a peculiar twist of fate I never expected, and which all who knew me as a young bohemian artist would have said was utterly impossible. It only happened because our church has crumbled from 200 members in 1999 to roughly 40 members today, and no one else wanted to touch the job with a ten foot pole.
In some ways our church has been a “Galloping Gertie,” but no one has wanted to be a true engineer and simply be honest about confessing. Way back when the red flags of the first schism first flew, I was a voice in the wilderness when I said we should have what I called a “forum”. I was frustrated by a lot of arguments which stated it wasn’t “Christian” to be blunt, open and honest.
Partly it was because the pastor is expected to “honor confidentiality”, as if he followed the pseudoscience of psychiatry and social workers. Partly it was because Christians feel it is wrong to gossip, and when gossip occurs they “turn the other cheek”, and either refuse to listen or, if they listen, refuse to respond in any way other than a very cold shoulder.
None of this furthered communication, in my eyes, but heck, what do I know? I haven’t been to divinity school, and, even though I read the Bible with interest, I am lousy when it comes to memorizing in that way that lets you quote chapter and verse, and it is important to quote chapter and verse when dealing with many Christians. It is no good to say, “Someone said something somewhere, and the gist of it is…”
In any case, despite a lot of efforts to reform, involving various classes about “how to mend the broken” and “how to heal the hurting,” I watched my church continue to crumble like a Galloping Gertie. Our efforts at correction were about as successful as correctional institute’s efforts to reform hardened criminals. It was frustrating and also embarrassing, because Christians are suppose to be good at healing, and aren’t suppose to resemble hardened criminals.
It was especially frustrating to our pastors, who did all this by-the-book stuff that failed to work. Our final pastor, perhaps hurt and bitter, told me just before he resigned, “If I go you will find no other pastor willing to come to this church, because you have such a record of un-Christian quarreling and pastor-smearing, and, without me stopping all you quarreling, the few people still part of this church will be at each other’s throats, and the church will be dead within six months.”
Not the most auspicious benediction, you must admit. And I confess things looked very bleak, as we could no longer afford a pastor to lead us out of the hole we were in. We barely could even afford to heat the church, last winter. Furthermore, much of the deaconate resigned when the pastor did, which left me and another guy in charge of the “spiritual well-being” of the church. Neither of us really wanted to be the “chairman”, so we flipped a coin, and I lost, and became the chairman.
I had no desire to pretend I was a pastor, so I simply said we did have a pastor, and our pastor was the Lord. I figured that was the Truth, but I confess it also got me off the hook, in terms of being responsible. Then I said what I had been saying all along, which was that we should have a “forum”.
If nothing else, this sparked a lot of discussion about whether forums were Christian, or some heathen Roman concept. During these discussions I wasn’t able to quote anything chapter and verse, but fortunately my wife is good at that stuff, and could tug at my sleeve and supply me with chapters and verses, (which is sort of like ammunition.) Also, when I asked her, “Where does someone say something like…” she was able to give me references, and sometimes multiple references.
One thing I remembered the church doing from long ago, which had sort of faded away over the years, was something called “The confession of sin and assurance of pardon.” It turned out this was from 1 John 8-9, and, very loosely translated, says that modern politicians have it totally backwards when they say they are without sin, and then smear their opponents. The actual quote goes, ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
I liked the part about being “purified from all unrighteousness”, even if it did seem highly unlikely a church as rowdy, disobedient and fallen as ours could be fixed. So I suggested we give the confession-business a try.
I have been flabbergasted by how things that never worked abruptly began working. Despite my hopes regarding a “forum”, I feared honesty might enflame people and make things worse, but rather than muddying the waters, a clarity descended. I can’t really explain it, but will, at the risk of sounding like a psychologist promoting pseudo-science, describe some stages I’ve seen things go through.
Stage one involves person A saying something to person B that makes B feel troubled. Honesty does little good at this point, because the red flag is only a “feeling”, and even if B is honest with A and says, “Something about what you say troubles me”, he cannot give any specifics.
Stage two involves person B going to what amounts to a support-group. He does not seek out people liable to disagree, finding that prospect disagreeable, but instead seeks people who tend to agree, finding that agreeable. This support-group allows B to explore the feeling and develop an idea, which is often unfavorable towards A.
Stage three-X involves B afraid to confess the idea to A, as it seems rude, and a smear. However A does learn of the idea because someone in the support-group talks to C who talks to D who talks to E who tells A. By then the idea has been embellished and twisted by the game of “telephone”, and A is hurt, and then resentful, and a schism develops.
Stage three-Y involves confession. B is not afraid to go to A and confess the idea, whereupon A may be taken aback, but at least has the chance to respond directly to the idea.
What I saw then happen (and hadn’t happened in years) was something I hoped for, but still it amazed me.
First, as B spoke the idea a sense of humbleness appeared, and to some degree the idea seemed a bit lame. Without the support of the support-group it became more frail and vulnerable to questioning, (like an engineer putting a plan out for peer-review).
Second, as A responded it quite often turned out some degree of misunderstanding was involved, and was cleared up. (This is like an engineer getting his plan corrected by peer review.)
Third, sometimes A experienced a revelation, as they saw something they would never have thought of on their own, and rather than resenting B they thanked B.
That is a very clumsy explanation of what I have seen starting to happen in my devastated and humbled church. I wouldn’t say we are “purified from all unrighteousness”, but some sort of purity is definitely within the clarity that has mysteriously decended.
The thing that is clear to me is that the red flags our hearts feel are not repressed and ignored. The initial feeling is a red flag, the support-group clarifies the red flag, and then the courage B demonstrates when he goes back to A and confesses brings the red flag to A’s attention. In this manner the bitterness of mistakes are not buried, and instead mistakes are learned from.
For the benefit to manifest, you have to prefer the bitter to the sweet, for a support group is sweet, but having to leave the support group is not so sweet.
I suppose it only works when you bring the red flag in a spirit of confession, rather than a spirit of righteous indignation and accusation. There has to trust. If your red flag turns out to be a false alarm, you need to feel trust that you are not shamed for your honesty, but rather are better off for being honest. If your red flag turns out to be on the mark, the person receiving it must feel benefited, helped, cared for, loved.
In any case, I find it somewhat astonishing to see peace, clarity, trust and even laughter returning to a church that seemed so down and out. Even if we are still a dying church, it is at least a death with dignity.
So that is what I did for a while today. I preferred the bitter to the sweet, but the result was a sweeter sweetness. And talking with old friends was definitely sweeter than thinking about what wasn’t spoken, midst a swarm of black flies.
Lastly the above explains why, though I dug the trench for the potatoes today, I won’t get the potatoes actually planted until tomorrow.