On my back porch the temperature gauge is reading 77°. I think this is the warmest Christmas Eve I ever remember enjoying in Alabama. I'm sitting here in a short-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of lightweight sweat pants; any more than that would feel cumbersome. The sky is blue with a handful of lazy clouds out for a drift in the gentle breeze that is caressing the leafless trees. Way up high in the sky a crow is making its way to the horizon for a date with who knows what. Though the grasses on the gentle hills around our home have put on their brown winter coats, they are allowing the green clover to show itself off probably for the last time this winter. The solstice arrived a few days ago, ushering in an excellent opportunity for the doomsday preachers to find yet another date for the end of the world.
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Max, our beloved family dog, is lying close by my side looking like he's trying to decide whether to have one last squirrel chase before spring, or to just take a nap. He never catches the squirrels; I don't know why he bothers. All in all, things couldn't look further from the end of the world; they look more like the dawn of days of wine and roses.
The trouble with the landscape is that it can often be a deceiving backdrop for reality. Because of the curve of the earth, at sea level a person can only see in a 15-mile radius from where they stand; beyond that, everything drops behind the horizon. When you think about the size of the earth, 15 miles is not very far. Fifteen miles yonder can lurk a line of tornadoes with enough power to carry your entire belongings, house included, to the sea, or a thunderstorm packing enough wattage to take out your power for a day or two.
Off in the distance a pileated woodpecker is sounding off and digging his wooden holes; I can't see him, but I know he's there. I once took the time to identify to which bird that cry belongs, and his snapshot pops into my mind every time I hear him call. There are lots of woodpeckers in the forest, but only one that sounds like that one.
In our society are people, thankfully, who make a career of studying the natural world and its inhabitants; they can tell us without a doubt what's out there. If we're interested enough we can spend time with these people and learn how to identify the "voices" of nature for ourselves. We can learn which sounds belong to which respective birds, insects and animals. We can become educated by listening to recordings and watching videos, and eventually we may grow to be extremely proficient at identifying species. In fact we can become so learned in the art, that some of us might one day teach classes and offer courses. And all of that would be possible … never once having walked through the forest or even having gone outside our front door. These days we can do just about anything through the use of the Internet. By this basic process of education a person can learn a foreign language, and teach others that language, never once visiting the country where that language is native or even spending time around anyone else who speaks that language.
I was interested to learn once that Christopher Reeve (of Superman fame) once taught his son to ride a bike for the first time. "So what?" you say, "Anyone can teach someone to ride a bike." What made this story interesting for me was that Mr. Reeve taught his son to ride the bike AFTER Mr. Reeve had been paralyzed from the neck down. His son relied totally on the instruction spoken to him … and he learned to ride.
So, I guess my point is that it's not necessary to have any useful "hands-on" experience with the knowledge floating around in your head or on your tongue, but if you do know a little bit about it, chances are you can teach that knowledge to someone else; and so on and on and on, till the world is full of people who know everything there is to know about the starry sky and all its wonders … without ever having once left the planet.
Freddie, one of our favorite cats, just jumped up on my table looking for something to rub against. He's been eyeing my mouse for a while, and I'm not sure if he understands it's not real. Sorry for the distraction. Oh, and here comes the neighbors' huge Great Pyrenees that has adopted us on a semi-full-time arrangement. I don't think he cares about the mouse, he just wants to be petted; he's such a baby.
Let's talk for a moment about the Creator behind the creation we live amidst. I suppose a person could take all kinds of classes about the Creator. I imagine we can learn about what He made; how He made it; what He has to say about what He made and what He'd like us to do with it; how we might find Him, etc., etc. We can read books, watch videos, and listen to recordings of what people think He might sound or look like, and what He means when He says this or that. I suppose we can become quite good at identifying Him in the distance ... but never actually lay eyes on Him … or hear His voice for ourselves. We might find that if we want to know what He's saying, we'll have to ask an "expert." Given time, we might even become experts ourselves and grow to be quite proficient at telling others how to manage their lives according to what the Creator has outlined, based on what we're learning from this or that expert we're reading from at any given moment.
Perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to judge this latter set of listeners, because throughout early Old Testament history, the Children of Israel were given similar bizarre instructions regarding the handling of humanity. As they went through certain lands they were to leave no one alive, not even the livestock. If their children disobeyed they were to be stoned to death. The same for Sabbath-breakers, adulterers and witches. Although the story had a happy ending, even Abraham was told BY GOD to take his son, Isaac, up the mountain and kill him as a sacrifice to the God of Heaven. Abraham didn't have to complete the horrible task — but he would have, had an angel not stayed the knife in Abraham's hand. If you or I heard that voice giving us those instructions today, we would likely cringe from the thought, thinking that we were crazy. But why? What makes you or me different from Abraham? We're all human. The Bible teaches that God doesn't change — the same yesterday, today and forever. So how shall we decide which instruction is from Heaven, and which from our own inclination? Many people explain their allegiance to certain Bible principles based upon reason: "If the instructions don't fit my picture of God, well, I just ignore them." And what we wind up with is a movement of believers who obey all Ten Commandments … excepting one. While another denomination might find that they obey all Ten Commandments … but nine.
"Ha!" you say, "All that craziness is beyond my horizon; I don't have to be concerned about the whackos on the other side of the world, or across the country, or even across the state. None of that affects me." Hmmm, think again, Miss Swan; the next phone call with bad news could be coming to you sooner than you think. If you are a person of prayer, now would be a good time to seek protection from those who only have the ability to protect you, and your children, and your spouses, and who only can protect those who every day are risking their mortal lives to protect you (you know who they are).
Well, forget all that. The sun is shining; the breeze is wafting; the dogs and the cat are now lazily snoozing. What could possibly be wrong with the world in which we live? Eat, drink and be merry ….
And that's just my take on it ….