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Archive for December, 2009

Just saying the words, “New Year,” breathes hope into the heart and soul that the next 365 days will be different than the last.  We hope that there will be new opportunities of course.  But it is much more than that really.

What we want is not just more “new” of the same kinds of things.  Deep down, I believe, what most of us want is “new” different kinds of things.  We want new beginnings – fresh “start overs”.  We want different results from for our efforts and hard work in the professional and personal realms.  Some may want a new job (personally, that is on my short list since I have been gainfully unemployed now for over a year except for a few weeks in construction and a short writing assignment).  Some may want a new lifestyle or way of living.

hooked on phonics

When we say “Happy New Year”, then, we may not really know what we are wishing upon the persons we greet.  New more of the same kind?  Or, totally new of a different kind than they one they knew and experienced?  I have a sneaky suspicion that most people really want a new of a different kind.  I may be wrong and would readily admit it.  Perhaps this is born out of my own experience and constant dissatisfaction with the status quo.  I’ve never been happy with the stagnant, same ‘ol – same ‘ol.  I like to see progress and movement forward in my life.

However, I do not think that I am unique in this manner.  I think many people want their lives to be different.  I offer up as my evidence the perennial “New Year’s Resolutions”.  Most lists that I have examined, besides my own, consist of how things are going to be different in the New Year.  It may include lifestyle changes – lose weight, stop smoking, attend all my AA meetings, go to the gym more often, keep the kitchen clean, start and maintain a savings account among other things.  It may include spiritual changes – pray regularly, read the Bible everyday, start tithing, give monthly to missions, lead a small group, journal every week among a host of other things.

We want our future to be different. That means that we must become different, right?  Yeah, most of the time.  However, I do not think that any New Year’s Resolution will create a new me or new you.  What we really need is not more different but more of the same but right things in our lives.  All the ingredients for a Happy New Year are already in the cupboards of our life.  We just need to focus upon those ingredients and have more of them added into the daily mix.  In other words, we might not need a different recipe but just use what we have differently.

Want a New Year? Then add more of what is already available to you.  You already have God in your life?  Then add more of him in it by increasing his presence through prayer, praise, worship, and fellowship with like-minded believers.  You already have church fellowship and friends in your life?  Then add more fellowship and friends in your life be intentionally involving yourself in a serving or leadership role.  Already have family in your life?  Then add more through personal presence with them and heart-to-heart communication.  Already have a good job?  Then add to the joy of your work by doing it well and learning to be indispensable to others.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

As 2009 closes and 2010 opens to us, the one thing you can determine for this next year is how much “happy” and “new” you will have in it.  Sure, there will be trials and disappointment.  There may even be a major set back or two.  But remember, all the things you need for this New Year to be brand new and joyous may already be in your possession.  So, with that, I wish you a “Happy New Year”!

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Fall Leaf in Howard Amon Park, Fall 2009

Fall Leaf in Howard Amon Park, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Every once in a while
someone needs to help me
define reality.

Blinded by urgency
I cannot see outside
my space time.

Figures move too quickly
events come and go swiftly
right by me.

Someone who’s been here
sees from another perspective
my experience.

A view from where they stand
clearly enables me to better
define reality.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Glowing Fall Leaves, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington

Glowing Fall Leaves, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Beyond Our Inabilities

In a day and age where sports stars loom larger than life, it is hard to settle for being average.  It is painful being below average in anything!  How can you compare with the likes of a Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Williams, Roger Federer, Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, or Tiger Woods?  It would seem that the world doesn’t have a place for your average ‘Joe’ or ‘Josephine’.

The wonderful thing we find in a relationship with God, and confirmed in the Bible, is that God does use the average person.  In fact, God uses people in spite of any weaknesses or inabilities.  The Bible story seems to tell us that God delights in using the average, ordinary person to do extraordinary things in his creation and kingdom.

Throughout the Bible we find stories about God interacting with people who have all sorts of inadequacies.  Moses stuttered too much to be a spokesperson.  Caleb was too old to go off to battle.  David was too young to be a national leader.  Elijah suffered depression.  Josiah, made king as a child, was much too young and inexperienced to start a national spiritual revival and renewal.  Peter was too compulsive and hotheaded to be a pastor-leader.  Mark was a quitter and Paul had anger issues.

Lone Tree In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Fall 2009

Lone Tree In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Another great example of this is found in the story of Gideon (Judges 6 and 7).  He is someone that God used to deliver Israel from the nation of Midian.  Midian had overrun Israel and sent her people into hiding in the mountains.  They stole crops and cattle, leaving nothing for the Israelites.  Finally, Israel seeks God’s help.  He sends them Gideon.

Gideon is much too timid to be an army general.  He simply lacks the skill set required for such an adventure.  Not only that, but he seems to be somewhat of a doubter.  He is definitely not “a man of faith and power for the hour” that is for sure.  Gideon confronts the Lord with a series of troubling questions:  Why has this happened to us?  Where are all the miracles we were told about as kids?  Why has the Lord abandoned us?  (In other words, where is God when evil is present?)

Gideon’s story teaches us that God is not bound or limited by human misunderstanding or mysteries.  He is not thrown off course by what is humanly unexplainable.  Only God has the capacity to understand everything.  Nothing is a mystery to Him.  Plus, he is not put off by us because of our doubts and lack of faith.  The Lord God seems to have enough confidence in his own power and ability to accomplish whatever he wills.  He’s just looking for a little cooperation, which, indeed, will require a little faith and action on our part.

The Lord tells Gideon to “go in the strength you have.” Since Gideon was real unsure this was a mission he could accomplish, the Lord also told him, “I am sending you.”  God always uses what we have available, which is usually not much.  At the same time, he is not limited by the lack of our abilities, strength, skills or experiences.  He promises to make up the difference with what he has, which are resources way beyond ours.

Gideon’s response is a lot like Moses’ at the burning bush.  It is a barrage of reasons why this plan will not work.  Gideon’s poor self image has taught him that he is powerless and helpless.  His family is on the bottom of the social scale in the tribe of Mannasseh.  Not only that, he is the least of the family, the last born, the smallest.  Plus, he has been living in a nation that has been socialized to expect to be beaten down and on the run.

This is an amazing story that has a principle repeated over and over in the Bible.  It is a story that tells us that God is not bound by the weaknesses we were born with.  Your parents, home life, siblings, birth order, gangs, school, or neighborhood does not limit God’s ability to work in your life.  He is bigger than your genetic or environmental makeup.  He is all-sufficient in himself.  While he does not need us to accomplish anything, he has chosen in his sovereignty to partner with his creation to fulfill his purposes and plans.  So, he is just looking to you and me for a little faith and cooperation.

So, you don’t need to be a superstar.  Average or below average, it doesn’t matter.  God can use you beyond your inability.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Purple Flower, Lake Bronson, Minnesota

Purple Flower, Lake Bronson, Minnesota ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Reflections on Quilcene Bay, Washington

Reflections on Quilcene Bay, Washington ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

We are made
if not by accident
then by intention.

We are made
if not be the moment
then by aspiration.

We are made
if not by incidents
then by reaction.

We are made
if not by environments
then by inclinations.

We are made
if not by God’s hand
then by our hand
or by fate’s hand
we are made.

We are made
by the potter
by the wheel
by the furnace
or our own zeal.

We are made
then
one day
unmade.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Truck Stop Jesus

One would have expected a different plan to introduce an important person; even if that person was a baby.  Historically, after all, royal births were always accompanied by fanfare and celebration.  Every important dignitary in the world is notified and invited to the event.  When the savior of the world arrived little more than 2,000 years ago, maybe someone made a mistake and got the address wrong.  Not only that, but they forgot to get reservations.  The young couple was left out in the cold to give birth to their child among animals and all that accompanies animals posted in a barn.  These would not be the first sights and sounds that I would have wanted any of my children to have as their first experience in this world.  Jesus’ birth was so radically different than the antiseptic world we live in today.  It leaves the modern individual amazed he survived his first year.

The irony and mystery of Jesus’ birth is that it was planned ahead of time to take place just the way it unfolded.  Prophets hundreds of years before had already laid out how this baby boy was going to come into the world.  The details they left for others to figure out, who were some of the wisest people on earth by the way, did not include royal privilege, birth in a capital city or any of the other things that would normally accompany the birth of someone important.  There was no golden spoon privilege for this messianic figure.

Imagine a modern day set of new parents caught far away from any hospital, family or friends when the expectant baby decides to come into the world.  Not only that, but now the birthing plan, carefully prepared hospital bag for mother and baby and new born baby clothes are all forgotten.  The fact of the matter is that even for 1st century Joseph and Mary the conditions of the birth of their child were far less than desirable.  Any parent of any socio-economic class at any time in history would have hoped for better.

Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.  Bethlehem, the city of ancient king David’s origin, was not an important city on the world map 2,000 years ago.  It still is not in today’s political or economic world.  It was more like a modern day truck stop on the way to a major city – Jerusalem.  Today it is a walled-up small city that survives on the arrival of tourists who come to ogle the supposed site of Jesus’ birth.  It is a battle-scarred town divided by deep religious factions that only seems to know peace once a year.  In Jesus’ day, Bethlehem was not prominent.  Its history was more storied than its present.

Bethlehem was a place that served the more impressive city of Jerusalem to the north.  Its trade in sheep, wool and grains provided for the needs of the much bigger and more important metropolis.  Bethlehem was a place one passed through on the way to Jerusalem.  It was rarely, if ever, a destination city.  On the trade route from Egypt, it served as a resting place for the traders.  The surrounding hills provided pasture for the sheep that were used in the temple sacrifices or kitchens of Jerusalem.  Bethlehem, “the house of bread”, also had rich fields surrounding it that provided the wheat and barley for Jerusalem’s bakeries and kitchens.

Like a modern day truck stop, then, traffic was always flowing in and out and through with goods on the way to the more important city of Jerusalem.  At the time of the census, when Joseph had to report to his ancestor’s hometown, Bethlehem, the already bustling city was packed.  The only space available was the equivalent of a small garage where some vehicles of transportation were parked.  Unfortunately, these eco-friendly vehicles would also leave their exhaust all over the floor of the place.

Cascades from Elk Pass Rest Area

Cascades from Elk Pass Rest Area ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Truck stops are never pretty places.  As much as I appreciate the Flying-J Travel Plazas, Pilot Travel Centers and TravelCenters of America, they are not places I ever intend to stay very long.   I am always just passing through.  On top of it, I would definitely not ever have dreamed of having a child at one of those places.  Perhaps it is for the purpose of avoiding having children at truck stops that doctors now discourage women from traveling during their final couple weeks of pregnancy.

Jerusalem was the capital city; the city of commerce and politics; the center of religion and learning.  Everything and anything important that happened took place in Jerusalem.  In the United States, it would be the equivalent of New York or Los Angeles.  In Europe, it would be the Paris or London.  In Asia, it would be the Tokyo or Beijing.  Anyone who wanted to be anybody made their way to Jerusalem, bought property, and hobnobbed with the rich and powerful.  Perhaps God did not get updated about conditions in Palestine during 1st century B.C./A.D.  I suspect, however, that he had a different plan and procedure than the one derived and practiced by humans since their arrival.

The birth of a messiah and savior would have been much more pronounced if I had been calling the shots.  Everyone on earth would have known that “God-in-the-flesh” had shown up on the scene to straighten out the crookedness of humankind’s ways.  It surely would not have been left up to a few foreign wisemen and local low-class shepherds to welcome the arrival of the most important figure in human history.  But then, I am not God.  This is not my creation.  It is not my story.  Plus, I suspect that God’s ways are directly counter intuitive to most of our human ways.

As it is, God might as well come in disguise. I mean, who among us would be apt to recognize his arrival today anymore than his contemporaries did then?  His economic class, education and means of arrival did not shout “God’s here!” in neon letters that is for sure.  Besides the angelic proclamation to lowly shepherds, no birth announcement cards were sent out.  Likewise, most scholars and religious leaders did not get the cryptic prophetic message left hundreds of years before by various writers of the Old Testament.  So, in a sense, when God sent a savior, he did it on the sly.

So, the most important birth of the most important human was scripted ahead of time to take place in obscurity – a couple of low socio-economic status and a shed on the back side of a truck stop served as the main characters and the setting.  As the story continues, things do not get any better.  Soon the couple was on the run from the law, spent a few years as illegal immigrants in a foreign country and only returned to their own home town years later.  The messiah grew up in obscurity and learned the family business.

This amazing story of truck stop Jesus violates our highest sensibilities of what we believe God is like.  We like to picture him in a Cathedral with mighty stone pillars and statutes, rich woods and tapestries, and lofty music.  I think, rather, that given Jesus’ birth record he would be just as out of place there as he would be at a Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdales.  After all, we like our deities to remain “high and lifted up” – far above the corruption of lower class humanity.  We would rather have the name of our deity pronounced in the more lofty open throated English “Gawd” than the too familiar buddy-buddy name of Jesus.  Somehow, a god who would prefer blue-grass music to Mozart and Beethoven just does not meet our criteria for divinity.

I suspect that if we were to have to look for Jesus’ arrival today that we would be better off looking for him at a truck stop.  His neighbors are more likely to be migrant workers and trailer park inhabitants than a gated suburban community.  I suspect that his address would more likely be under a bridge, overpass or homeless shelter than in a 2,000 square foot house.  He would be more acquainted with the living conditions of foreigners in our land than the economic well-to-do and socially established.  As a religious reformer, his audience would more likely be among the illiterate and poorly educated working class than among the highly respected theologians and seminarians of our day.  His calloused carpenter hands would shake more gnarled and calloused hands than manicured ones.

In short, most of us might have a hard time relating to this truck stop birth of Jesus.  I suspect, however, that it is all part of God’s redemption scheme.  For those of us who think we are better off than others, we will need to get down on Jesus’ level and humble ourselves to accept him and his mission to the least, the last and the lost of this world.  To those among this latter group, he raises their vision, empowers their future and invites them to participate in his redemption story.  So, the next time you have a chance to stop in your travels at a truck stop, just think to yourself, “Maybe Jesus is here.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Merry Crispmouse

As another year has become a memory, my heartfelt appreciation goes out to all of you who have taken the time and trouble to send me “forwards” over the past 12 months. Thank you for making me feel safe, secure blessed, and wealthy.

Extra thanks for the ones that I have to open 15 times to get to the message.

Special thanks to whoever sent me the one about rat crap in the glue on envelopes ’cause I now have to go get a wet towel every time I need to seal an envelope.

Also, I scrub the top of every can I open for the same reason. Because of your concern, I no longer drink Coca Cola because it can remove toilet stains.

I no longer drink Pepsi or Dr Pepper since the people who make these products are atheists who won’t put “Under God” on their cans.

I no longer use Saran wrap in the microwave because it causes cancer.

I no longer check the coin return on pay phones because I could be pricked with a needle infected with AIDS.

I no longer use cancer-causing deodorants even though I smell like a water buffalo on a hot day.

I no longer go to shopping malls because someone might drug me with a perfume sample and rob me.

I no longer receive packages from, nor send packages by UPS or FedEx, since they are actually Al Qaeda in disguise.

I no longer answer the phone because someone will ask me to dial a number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, and Uzbekistan.

I no longer eat KFC because their “chickens” are actually horrible mutant freaks with no eyes or feathers.

I no longer have any sneakers — but that will change once I receive my free replacement pair from Nike.

I no longer have to buy expensive cookies from Neiman Marcus since I now have their recipe.

I no longer worry about my soul because at last count I have 363,214 angels looking out for me.

Thanks to you, I have learned that God only answers my prayers if I forward an e-mail to seven of my friends and make a wish within five minutes.

I no longer have any savings because I gave it to a sick girl who is about to die in the hospital (for the 1,387,258th time).

I no longer have any money at all – but that will change once I receive the $15,000 that Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in their special email program.

Yes, I want to thank you so much for looking out for me so now I will now return the favor!

If you don’t send this e-mail to at least 144,000 people in the next 7 minutes, a large pigeon with a wicked case of diarrhea will land on your head at 5:00 PM (EDT) this afternoon. I know this will occur because it actually happened to a friend of mine’s next door neighbor’s ex-mother-in-law’s second husband’s cousin’s beautician.

Have a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(unknown)

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At Least We Don't Have Hurricanes

It was the beginning of December.   The trip had gone reasonably well, and the business traveler was ready to go back home.

The airport on the other hand had turned a tacky red and green with loudspeakers blared annoying elevator renditions of cherished Christmas carols.

Being someone who took Christmas very seriously, and being slightly tired, he was not in a particularly good mood.

Going to check in his luggage, he saw hanging mistletoe.  Not real mistletoe, but very cheap plastic with red paint on some of the rounder parts and green paint on some of the flatter and “pointier” parts, that could be taken for mistletoe only in a very Picasso sort of way.

With a considerable degree of irritation and nowhere else to vent it, he said to the lady attendant, “Even if I were not married, I would not want to kiss you under such a ghastly mockery of mistletoe.”

Sir, look more closely at where the mistletoe is.”

Ok, I see that it’s above the luggage scale, which is the place you’d have to step forward for a kiss.”

That’s not why it’s there.”

Ok, I give up.  Why is it there?”

It’s there so you can kiss your luggage goodbye.”

(unknown)

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Lutefisk Lessons

When the holidays come around, my mind immediately wanders back to the days our family gathered around my grandparent’s dining room table with a huge plate of steaming lutefisk set upon it.  My grandmother was from German descent, but my grandfather came directly from Sweden as a young boy.  So, my grandmother learned to cook the Scandinavian fish delicacy for the family.  We always ate it on potatoes with white gravy.  That is just the way it came.  I was told that it was because we are Swedes and that it was the only proper way to eat it.

My grandfather, Walter, took pride in finding lutefisk fresh in the Ballard, Washington, markets.  Ballard is a city just north of the city of Seattle, across the Lake Union canal, and sports more than its fair-share of Pacific Northwest Scandinavians.  My grandmother, Evelyn, took pride in complimenting the seasonal foods with all things Scandinavian – yulekake, krumkake, rosettes, lefsa, and kringla.

Now, lutefisk lovers all over the world have suffered ridicule at the hands of non-lutefisk eaters.  I do not know why there is such animosity towards us.  So, to better garner mutual understanding and perhaps greater dialogue on such culinary subjects, I offer below the recipe for cooking lutefisk from “Our Favorite Grange Recipes,” which was compiled and edited by the Home Economics Committee of the California State Grange with Gladys True as Chairperson and printed in 1965 by the Record of Yolo County:

  • Clean thoroughly and place in a wooden bowl or pail.
  • Add water to cover and set in a cool place for 5 to 6 days.  Change water each day.
  • Remove fish and thoroughly clean wooden bowl.
  • Make a solution of water, lime, and ashes and allow to stand overnight.
  • Drain off clear liquid and pour over soaked fish.  Set in a cool place for 7 days.
  • When fish is soft, remove from solution, scrub bowl well and soak fish for several days in cold clear water.
  • Cook in boiling salted water at simmering temperature for about 20 minutes.
  • Drain well and serve.

NOTE:  The Norwegians serve the fish with melted butter; the Swedes serve it with white or mustard sauce.  Allow 1/3 pound per person.

And that is just for the first piece of lutefisk!  Two things are made very, very clear when reading this recipe.  First, preparing and cooking lutefisk takes a lot of forethought and planning.  There is a good three weeks before one could eat this delicacy.  Also, I would like to humbly point out, this obviously takes a higher than average level of intelligence.  Secondly, at the end of the process, the cook has a very clean bowl.

I have recently lived in another lutefisk eating haven of North America. It is the Red River Valley of the North.  The beautiful thing about living there is that virtually every truck stop and restaurant serves lutefisk for the holidays.  Why, one could eat out at a different restaurant every night of the week from Thanksgiving until Christmas and have lutefisk every night!  It is obvious that this truly is the place of “Walhalla” – “the valley of the gods.”  These people are blessed.  Truly blessed by the divine.

Walhalla, Pembina Gorge, North Dakota

Walhalla, Pembina Gorge, North Dakota ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

I consider myself to be a fortunate man to have such a rich heritage and life experience.  I am thankful that I live in the United States of America.  This is a rich and bountiful land filled with people from all over the world.  These holidays allow us to give thanks and celebrate the religious background that helped us attain such blessings.

However, if you are like me, as we enter into the holiday seasons, it is much too easy in the hustle and bustle to forget that gratitude and appreciation should be the greatest marks of the season.  Somehow this gets lots in the midst of frantic Christmas shopping, Thanksgiving meal planning and cooking, company Christmas parties, family gatherings, and decorating.  The greatest challenge to all of us is to not let the overindulgence of our materialistic society numb us to all that we are blessed with in this world.  I want to gently caution you as I remind myself:  Do not forfeit your future as collateral for fulfillment today with material goods that fade so quickly away into a closet, storage unit or Goodwill bin.

Americans seem to think that God will wink at our gluttony and overindulgent materialism in the face of the rest of the world’s needs.  I think we are wrong.  I believe we will be judged as a nation by how we treat the hungry, poor, naked and immigrant in the rest of the world.  Our expanded waistlines as well as overstuffed closets and storage units testify against us like the blood of Abel crying out from the ground.  How can we have and enjoy so much when so many have so little?

I want to challenge all my friends to consider the food you eat and the things you purchase in light of eternity and your eternal reward.  My family, for example, gave Christmas money this year to Gospel for Asia to help purchase a goat for a needy family.  This goat will provide milk and cheese for a long time.  We did this to remind ourselves how blessed we truly are in this world.  There are plenty of local and global ministries that help the poor and downtrodden.  I would recommend visiting the website adventconspiracy.org to get more ideas.  I challenge you to remember these ministry efforts in your giving during this season.  Remember what Jesus said, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me”.  Now, there is something that will last much longer than three-week old soaked lutefisk.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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