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Posts Tagged ‘Olympic Peninsula Photography’

God Surprises

Olympic National Park, Hoh Rain Forest - Trail...

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Some people prefer to call them coincidences of life. Others just chalk them up to luck.  The cynical see only random odds at work.  Spiritual people refer to them as God moments, answers to prayer and even miracles.  I like to think of them as God surprises; moments when the deepest prayers and desires of the heart are met with unexpected and unexplainable answers.

When my family was younger and fewer by two children, I was pastoring a small country church on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State that did its best to provide for us.  With two young children, school bills from college and regular living expenses, it was never quite enough.  So, besides pastoring, I found work at the local family owned hardware store, cutting fired wood, picking clams and oysters, and coaching at the school.

After having been there a couple of years, my wife and I had a strong longing to vacation out on the ocean beach of the Washington coast.  The problem was we had no means to do it.  I shared our dream with a few people.  It seemed like a great idea but not a very practical one.  Nevertheless, we sighed and dreamed.  Maybe someday.

Then, one day, a surprise came our way.  There was someone who had an old 1961 14′ travel trail that they wanted to get rid of right away.  Would we be interested in it?  Sure!  Though, at the time, I was not sure what we would do with it since I did not have a vehicle to pull it anywhere.  But, living in a logging community, I thought that perhaps someone would be willing to loan us their truck for a couple of days.

The trailer was delivered. My wife and I discovered that the previous owner had actually lived in it.  He had been a heavy smoker and drinker.  It would need a lot of tender care and heavy cleaning to make it acceptable to my wife and kids.  So, we cleaned, painted, scraped and washed.  It would never look like a 1990 model.  But even a clean 1961 model was better than nothing and better than a family tent on the rainy Washington coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

What seemed like an impossibility at one point suddenly took on the looks of a possibility. A friend came through with the offer of his truck.  We would just exchange vehicles when the time came.  So, my wife and I began to make plans to take our two children to coast camping at Kalaloch Beach south of Forks, Washington.

As the time approached we grew excited. But I also grew anxious.  I planned a budget for the trip: gas and groceries.  Since we lived from payday to payday, there was no extra left over.  It seemed like an extravagance we could not afford, especially since I would also be taking a few days off of work.  How would I replace that missed income?  We may as well have been planning a trip to the Caribbean.  I figured that to replace my income and pay for gas and groceries would take about $500.  That was about 1/3 of my month’s income.

We went ahead and made plans and prayed. God had answered prayer before and perhaps he would once again smile upon us.  However, our finances did not change as the week of our planned vacation approached.  What would we do if we ended up not having the money?  Simple.  Stay home.  It wouldn’t be the end of the world.  Still, I could not help but feel that it sure would be nice to get away for a short time with my family.

Finally, the week approached. We were planned to leave on a Monday.  The weekend before came and still no financial means to even pull out of the driveway.  I resolved myself to the idea that it just would not happen.  On that Sunday morning, as I prepared early for the beginning of the Lord’s Day, I made one final appeal to the Lord as I wandered around the church building completing last minute preparations.

Dear Lord, it sure would be nice if I and my family could take this vacation.”

You know, Lord, in your economy, $500 is not very much money.  Isn’t there a way for you to make that happen?”

(Sigh)  “I know that it is not the end of the world if we do not go to the beach as a family…sure would be nice, though.

Did I happen to mention that it’s only $500?”

Thanks for the trailer anyway.  I’m sure it will come in handy some day.  Just maybe not this week, huh?”

Finally, I dropped it. There was no use getting worked up or anxious over it, I thought.  There were a lot bigger issues in the world than whether the Almberg family took a vacation to a beach.  So, I continued my preparations and spent some time in prayer for the people about to arrive that morning.  Some of them had a lot larger problems than I was facing.

People began to slowly arrive for Sunday School. I greeted them at the front doors.  It was always fun to see people arriving.  I especially enjoyed interacting with the kids coming through the doors.  Soon, laughter and light conversation were filling the halls and rooms of the building of that little congregation.  I’ve always imagined that God enjoyed those sounds as much as he ever did the singing of hymns and choruses.

In the middle of a conversation, the church phone rang. I did not worry about it as I always had people who could not stand the idea of an unanswered phone and would always be there before me.  So, I left the phone to be answered by whoever got there firsts.  Usually, it was Nancy, one of the pleasant ladies who volunteered in our office during the week, or Bill, a vigilant usher and deacon of the church.

Classic Corvette, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Corvette, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

We were minutes from starting our Sunday morning opening exercises when I was called to the office. The phone call was for me.  I dislike last minute phone calls right before church starts.  Usually, I make sure people understand that unless it’s an emergency they are to offer the help the caller needs or I can return the call after lunch.  However, this caller insisted on talking to “the pastor.”

Hello?” I answered a little impatient because of the timing.

Hi Ron.  This is Pastor Jim,” the caller identified himself.  I worked with Pastor Jim as an associate/youth pastor on his staff in Bremerton, Washington.  I wondered what was important that he would call me since he must also be preparing for his own busy Sunday morning.

Hi, Jim!” I replied, truly happy to speak to a good friend.  “What can I do for you?”

Sorry to call you so late, right before church,” he apologized.  “But I needed to talk to you and figured this would be a good time to guarantee I would catch you.  Aren’t you and your family planning on going on vacation this next week?

Yes,” I replied.  “We were hoping to leave tomorrow.”

Well, you came up in conversation in our church board meeting this last week.  The board here wanted to bless you and your family.  So, I was going to put a check in the mail for you.  I was hoping to catch you before you left, but could remember when you planned on leaving for vacation.  So, shall I put it in the mail this week or hold off until you get back next week.

Now I am surprised and somewhat taken aback.  We will not be able to leave with what we have but is the amount they are planning to send us enough to cover our expenses?  It seems we are not going anywhere this week anyway.  So, I decide…

“Go ahead and put it in this week,” I told Jim.  “We may have to postpone our plans.  We’re a little short in finances.  Your check may help us get on the road though.  Please make sure you let the guys on the board know how much we appreciate this and how thankful we are for their generosity.

Jim paused on the other end for a moment.  “Why do you need to postpone your plans?”

We’re a little short of funds,” I understated the situation.

“Oh,” Jim commiserated as a pastor of a small church himself.  “Well, I hope what we are sending you will help out.  How does $500 sound?”

I almost started laughing out loud.  “You know,” I told Jim, “that would be great.  That is exactly the amount of money I have been asking the Lord to provide so that we could go.”

Well, then, praise the Lord,” Jim encouraged.  “Maybe you don’t need to cancel your vacation indefinitely.  Just wait a couple of days for the check to get to you.  I’ll put it in the mail the first thing in the morning!

Wow,” I replied still somewhat stunned and surprised.  “Uh, yeah, we can wait a couple of days.  I don’t think that will be a problem at all.”

Great!  Well, you have a great Sunday and greet your wife for me,” Jim finished.

I will.  And you have a great Sunday, too, Jim.  Again, thanks so much,” I stammered still in shock of what had just transpired.

The rest of the Sunday was somewhat of a blur. I told the congregation that we would be gone for a few days on vacation, though we were leaving a few days later than originally planned.  Everyone was happy for us and wished us a great time at the ocean beaches.

When I arrived home after closing up the church, my wife asked me, “You sounded pretty confident that we are really leaving this week.”

Yes,” I said.  Then I shared with her my conversation on the phone with Pastor Jim just before church started.

Coincidence?  Luck of the draw?  A special alignment of the stars for the Almberg family? Let the skeptic and the cynic decide for him or her self.  I think that too much took place for all of that, which would require a greater amount of faith than simply believing that the Creator really does interact with his creation.  I wish that it happened more often than I have experienced it.  On the other hand, I think that the Creator enjoys showing up with God surprises just to let us know that he is here and he knows.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Point Wilson Beach, Washington State, July 2010

Point Wilson Beach, Washington State, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Towards A More Civil Public Discourse

One of the strengths of a true democratic system of government is the ability to have open public debates concerning the issues that matter to our nation.  No one individual, political party or system of thought controls or sensors the discussion; even to the point of publicly protesting before governmental buildings, outside political gatherings and in town meetings.  In many other countries of this world, such open protestations would be met with government oppression, brutality and even imprisonment and possibly death.

American citizens should appreciate these freedoms.  I strongly believe that they should be guarded and practiced.  However, I also believe that there is a danger today of allowing this form of public debate and open protest to degenerate into a deconstructive melee that will damage our system of public debate rather than promote it by the way we conduct ourselves.  Too often in today’s political climate the open discussions in our newspapers, talk-radio stations and sidewalk protests devolve into a hostile mob that demonizes everyone who does not think like they do.

This is group-think at its worst.  There is no open and honest dialogue with the opposing viewpoint in many cases.  Instead, they are rallies to cheerlead a particular political or social agenda without regard to the other side of the argument.  The other side is not even welcome to the table.  They are seen as “the enemy”.

This is not about the political left or the political right.  It is not about Republicans, Democrats, the Tea Party or Coffee Party advocates.  I am more concerned about America’s tone and tenor in the discussion.  Where is the “civil” in our civil public debate and discourse?  What happened to dealing with issues rationally and objectively?  Is there really an honest discussion taking place for the benefit of all people if one side of the debate is not present?

I am not suggesting that debate be dispassionate.  Neither am I suggesting that individuals or groups should not boldly and strongly affirm and assert their position.  What I am suggesting is that there is a way to do that without demonizing and alienating the other side of the debate.  When our debate descends from dealing with issues and facts to finger-pointing, name calling and generating misinformation about the other side’s position, we have to ask ourselves, “What are we really accomplishing?”  I would venture to answer, “Not much.”

Granted, from America’s earliest political days, public discourse has been heated and mean.  (Something I address in an earlier Blog Post: “Let’s All Calm Down!”)  For a great picture of how mean it could get, I recommend William Safire‘s book Scandalmonger.  After the colonies won their independence from England, some of our earliest leaders were dismayed  how fractious and uncivil American politics quickly became.  George Washington despaired over the hostile divisions of the American political arena.  Individuals who were compatriots in the Revolution became bitter enemies afterward.

Another period of American history that turned into civil war instead of civil discourse was prior to and during Abraham Lincoln’s term in office.  The issues of states rights, federal government powers and slavery were issues that consumed American politics from its earliest days.  Reading the diatribes of the times, one senses a growing hostility between parties to the point that by the time Abraham Lincoln gained office he despaired whether the divide could even be healed.  It turns out he was both right and wrong.  The great divide in American politics and society could be bridged, but only by war.

It is precisely this type of “war” language that we are hearing once again on the fringes of the public discourse surrounding American politics and the accompanying agendas.  Whether it is the Health Care Reform Bill, abortion, socialism versus capitalism, taxes, gun ownership or any of the other number of “hot button” issues, the divide between the sides is growing into an unbreachable wall that will not permit constructive dialogue and problem solving.

History teaches us that the “fringes” of public thought soon become the primary movers for social reform.  Therefore, it would be wise for us to pay attention to how our public discourse is being shaped by them.  Again, I am not addressing the issues or topics discussed.  I am more concerned about the way in which they are being discussed.  The process of debate shapes us as much as the actual decisions that come out of it do.  How are we allowing the way we discuss and debate these issues shape us as a people and nation?

I am particularly dismayed and shocked at how Conservative Christians, or just Christians in general, conduct themselves in this public discourse.  We most often come across as the most angry and hostile.  Our points, which are very good ones, are lost in the screaming and yelling at the opposing side.  However passionate one might feel about a particular political issue, as a Christian, one must ask, “How does the way I conduct myself and communicate my message reflect the Kingdom of God and its King?”

Christians live in the tension of existing in two kingdoms: the Kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God.  We are primarily citizens of the Kingdom of God first and foremost.  Therefore, as citizens and ambassadors of that Kingdom to this earthly one, we should be concerned with how our actions and words portray the Kingdom of God and its King.

I am not suggesting that silence is the answer.  Neither is not caring what happens to and in this world.  We are called to bring the Kingdom of God to the world in which we live through our lives and our witness.  The issues of righteousness and justice are central to this mission.  However, the manner in which we strive for those things is just as important as their substance.  For by the way we conduct ourselves we reflect the nature and character of not only the Kingdom of God but also the nature and character of its ruler – our Heavenly Father.

Beach Pebbles, Ozette River Camp Site, June 2003

Beach Pebbles, Ozette River Camp Site, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

My experience has taught me that the one who begins yelling the loudest has already lost the debate for he or she has no further substantive content or cogent arguments to make to prove his or her point.  There is a more civil way to conduct a civil public discourse.  Let me humbly recommend a few action points that may help us towards a more healthy and constructive public debate:

  1. Have a first hand knowledge of the issues and their facts.  Do not depend upon the pundits or politically slanted news organizations to give you objective truth.  Remember, they have an agenda that sells and makes them money.  That’s their primary concern.  If they truly worked for resolutions, they would be out of business.  It’s in their best interest to stir up the debate, not resolve it.
  2. Turn off and tune out “the screamers”.  Those yelling the loudest, as I said above, often do not have anything more constructive to bring to the argument other than passion.  While their passion is good, at the end of the day, it will not win the debate of substance.  If you get a conservative or liberal news source – internet, print, TV, or radio – make sure you are balancing it by listening or reading to the opposing side.  Make sure you know the rational points and objections the other side of the argument is making.  This will sharpen your own points.
  3. Read and learn from history.  This is not the first time that American politics has gotten heated and ugly.  It is not the lowest we have reached in the political forum.  However, to avoid delving deeper or repeating the mistakes of the past, it is important to know where we have been and where we have come from in our collective history.
  4. Openly invite and welcome the opposing side to the discussion.  Two things can only be accomplished by this:  First, you will learn the objections and points of the other sided.  Second, you will strengthen your position and ability to communicate your point.  You will also learn the weaknesses in your own argument, which will send you back to studying and learning about the issues and facts.  You may be surprised and change your mind as a result!  Or, you may win a friend and the debate by being better equipped.
  5. Learn the difference between a public rally and public debate.  More of the former takes place than the latter.  Rallies are good for energizing and mobilizing political partners, if that is what is actually happening.  However, in my experience, they too easily devolve into pointless and nasty caricaturizations of the opposition.  A debate will have the opposition present and allow it to fairly communicate its points.  It will require clear and cogent communication, but, just as important, listening.
  6. Finally, for those who are Christians, remember the bigger picture of the Kingdom of God.  It is not bound by the boundaries of a political party or social agenda.  The Church of Christ is growing and propagating in some of the most hostile political and social environments our world has to offer.  God is bigger than either political party.  We are called to represent and be communicators of that Kingdom to this world.  How we do that is just as important as the substance of our agendas.  Do our words and actions reflect the nature and character of the One we way we follow and serve?

There are no easy answers and solutions to resolving differences of opinions.  It is why we call the discussions of these things “debates,” after all.  However, I am firmly convinced and convicted that as mature people interested in the good of all humankind and creation that we can do a better job of being civil in our public discourse.  The way we conduct our public debates shapes us as much or more so than the substances of those debates.  Cherishing and honoring this important democratic process is important to our future as a nation.

Good constructive debate over the issues and facts is healthy for our democracy.  Hostile demonization and threats of violence only send us back into the times of tribal warfare or, worse yet, civil war.  However, I have faith in people, especially the American people, and especially the American democratic experiment that we can turn towards a more civil public discourse.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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What’s For Easter Dinner?

Something that has plagued me since…well, I cannot remember really…has to do with the American traditional Easter meal.  Why do we serve ham?  Virtually everyone I know serves an “Easter Ham” for dinner on this special occasion.  I find it a curious practice and tradition, especially among Christians.

The Christian celebration of Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover.  It commemorates the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.  It reflects the same salvation story that Jewish people to this day tell concerning their deliverance from Egypt into the Promised Land.  Before Jesus’ crucifixion, on the same night that he was betrayed, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples.  It was also an eerie portent of what he was about to go through as the Paschal lamb of God for the sins of the world.

So, why ham?  Is it some kind of Gentile celebration set against the Jewish celebration?  Was it first established as a way for Gentiles to poke their thumb in the eye of Jews?  Think about it.  Of all the un-Jewish meats to serve near the Passover – ham?  Why ham?  Did it start out as a protest of sorts against a contrived Jewish conspiracy?  Was it meant as an overt insult to Jews and Muslims?  Does anyone else find this a fascinating query or is just me all alone out here?

The most often given explanation given to me when I’ve asked friends is that it is a tradition – pure and simple.  Suddenly, Gentiles sounds like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof:  “Tradition!”  Well, how did that come about in the first place?  There is definitely no connections with the original celebration surrounding Easter and Passover.

A quick search of the history and origins of eating ham at Easter turns up some interesting suggestions that seem very plausible.  It seems that as Christianity developed and further divorced itself from its Jewish roots and heritage, it embraced the customs and traditions of the Gentile cultures it was introduced to in the middle ages.  This is true of most Christian holidays: Lent, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.

Can you say, “syncretism”? A dictionary definition of “syncretism” is, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice” or “ the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms.”  Missiologist often use this word in reference to places and cultures where Christianity has adopted non-Christian beliefs, values, and practices.  Could this be applied to what we eat at Easter?  I will let the theologians and missiologists wrestle with that question.

Sea Anemone, Barnacles, and Muscles, June 2003

Sea Anemone, Barnacles, and Muscles, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In my search for answers, two basic ideas come out of the reason ham became the meat of choice at Easter.  One was a practical consideration.  Traditionally, animals were slaughtered in the fall and preserved for winter use by smoking or salting.  When Spring arrived, marked by the vernal equinox, a celebration ensued and the last of the winter meat was eaten.  In eastern and northern Europe, the meat of choice was pork since the pig had been domesticated early in human history.  It was also the easiest meat to preserve for long periods of time.

The other reason has pagan spiritual reasons.  In Europe, the pig was considered a “good luck” symbol.  Eating pork in the spring was a way of celebrating getting through the long winter and the anticipation of another good year of harvests and abundant new livestock, especially pigs. Maybe it was just good luck to have anything left over from winter to eat in the spring.  I do not really know, but it seems likely given the harsh living conditions of European humans in the middle ages.

Of course, the pagan roots of the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, Egg hunts, and Easter candy have been argued for many, many years.  Its connection with the pagan goddess Oestre, Eastre, Ostara or Ishtar has already been pointed out. (Which is a reason I prefer to avoid calling the day “Easter Sunday” or “Easter” but “Resurrection Sunday” or “Resurrection Day”.)  However, I have never heard anyone mention any problem with the Easter Ham.  It is curious to me since it seems to be so forthrightly anti-Semitic.

It turns out, that most of the world celebrates Easter by eating lamb.  So, Americans and northern Europeans are in a minority.  Since America has heavy influential roots stemming back to northern Europe, this should not surprise us.  It seems we brought our pagan religious practices with us – properly syncretized to Christianity, of course.  So, how do you like your ham cooked?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Imagine yourself at work on an average day, no better or worse than any other.  Along comes a religious man who you have heard about from friends.  Suddenly, he stops and watches you.  Then, speaking directly to you he says, “Follow me, and I will teach you change the course of people’s lives.”

What do you do?  Do you leave everything, quit your job, and follow such a man and his wild offer?  Will you risk all you know and have accumulated to be taught and trained by him?  What guarantee do you have that this endeavor will pay off?

Essentially, this is the call that Jesus gives to everyone who would follow him.  We all want to be a part of something larger than our own life.  There is a strong desire in every human heart to live a life that leaves an impact after we are long gone from the early scene.

However, we often give our lives to many other things of lesser importance.  What are more important, material gains or spiritual gains?  Friends won to entertain us or souls won into eternity?  Expanding personal resources or advancing Kingdom of God resources to accomplish Kingdom work?

It gets complicated, doesn’t it?  As one person said, “What is best is often sacrificed on the altar of good.”  Our lives get filled up quickly with important things, things that rob us of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, kingdom things, and spiritual things.  There is a danger in not being able to weigh the important things in our lives.

Sea Anemone, June 2003

Sea Anemone, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

An incident a couple of summers ago in San Antonio, Texas, illustrates what I’m talking about.  It was a hot, 99-degree August day when a ten-month-old baby girl was accidentally locked in a parked car by her aunt.  Frantically, the mother and the aunt ran around the auto in near hysteria, while a neighbor attempted to unlock the car with a clothes hanger.  The infant was bawling at the top of its lungs, beginning to turn purple and foam from the mouth from a combination of her anxiety and the intense heat inside the car.

It had quickly become a life-and-death situation when Fred Arriola, a
tow-truck driver, arrived on the scene.  He grabbed a hammer from his truck and smashed a backdoor window of the car to free the baby.  Was he heralded a hero?  Not so.  According to an article in the San Antonio Tribune, he is quoted as saying, “The lady was mad at me because I broke the window.  I just thought, ‘What’s more important — a baby or a window?'”

Most of the choices we make in life are not between what is trivial and what is important.  Rather, most of the choices we make are usually between what is important and what is more important.  We do this when,

  • we set up our family’s financial budget.
  • we set dates on our calendars.
  • we take our hard-earned money and give 10% to the Kingdom of God’s work.
  • out of an already busy life, we take time to gather in worship on Sundays with other believers to learn God’s Word, worship, pray, and rejoice together.
  • we use our personal time and energies to serve others in their time of need or to teach and mentor them.

Jesus is always calling us to follow him and become disciplers of other men, women, youth and children.  He is always calling to us to take up his cross and follow him.  He is always inviting us to lay aside what is important to us so that we would fulfill what is important to him.  Answer the call.  Today is the day to decide what is most important.

©Weathestone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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