Thursday, June 28, 2012

America the Beautiful

Since last July 4, 2011, I’ve traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico; Spokane and Seattle, Washington; Olympic National Park, Washington; Chicago, Illinois; Breckenridge, Colorado; Austin, Texas; central Florida, including Winter Park and Mount Dora; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Portland, Oregon. 

What I found is, when I get out into the land, leaving politics, shopping centers, television viewing and myself behind, I arrive at places of beauty. Even on my front porch, where the angle of sunlight changes with the hour, beauty resides. My prayer for this nation is that the privilege of living here is driven home by the natural beauty of the land and the warmth of the majority of her people and cities. I, for one, can’t think of anywhere else I would rather live. 

The following pictures are from my travels to some of the places mentioned above. We live in a beautiful land!

Barb Harwood, photos

Spokane, WA

Spokane, WA

Portland, OR

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

Breckenridge, CO

Breckenridge, CO

Breckenridge, CO

Breckenridge, CO

Olympic National Park, WA

Olympic National Park, WA

Olympic National Park, WA

Olympic National Park, WA

Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA

Drive from Spokane to Seattle, WA
                                                                          Santa Fe, New Mexico

O beautiful for spacious skies, 

For amber waves of grain, 

For purple mountain majesties 

Above the fruited plain! 

America! America! 

God shed his grace on thee 

And crown thy good with brotherhood 

From sea to shining sea! 

O beautiful for pilgrim feet 

Whose stern impassioned stress

A thoroughfare of freedom beat 

Across the wilderness! 

America! America! 

God mend thine every flaw, 

Confirm thy soul in self-control, 

Thy liberty in law! 

Katharine Lee Bates

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Coffee Bikes in Rwanda

What's not to love about bicycles and coffee? The joy and ease they add to life is immeasurable. Which is why I was delighted to stumble across this video today:

Read more about the project here:

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:..." Ecclesiastes 4:9

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Facebook and Marriage

As long as I'm on the topic of the Internet, the May 21, 2012 issue of SmartMoney featured an article titled, "Does Facebook Wreck Marriages?" written by Quentin Fottrell. Read it here:

"Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path." Psalm 119:127-128

"Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me." Psalm 119:133

"Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble." Psalm 119:165

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you." James 4:7-8

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Encyclopedias: The End of An Era

Two excellent editorials appeared this March, paying homage to the end of the made-from-trees version of Encyclopedia Britannica.

For anyone who remembers spending lazy childhood days with their nose in an encyclopedia, the following two editorials will strike an emotional cord. But not only that, the two authors share, I believe, accurate perceptions on the current state of information retrieval which often does not lead to wisdom in the minds of the retrievers.

I begin with Alfred P. Doblin’s piece, “Before Wikipedia, We Sang ‘Rule Britannica,'” which appeared in The Record, part of the North Jersey Media Group, March 16, 2012. Doblin writes:

“What I lament is that the poetry of grand thought – and it is poetry – has been replaced by the quick clicks of random pieces of information. Instant facts do not make for instant analysis. Instant analysis is an oxymoron. The laborious process of research affords someone the needed time to digest multiple sources of information, discern what is valid and, in some cases, accurate, and come to a reasoned conclusion.

Too easily online, what poses as thought is merely reaction. We have created a society of Pavlov’s dogs reflexively moving and twitching to outside stimuli.” Alfred P. Doblin

Note Doblin’s advocacy of “multiple sources of information.” The Britannica is neither liberal nor conservative. The problem with online fact or opinion sourcing is that the internet allows us the choice to visit only like-minded websites, Facebook pages and news sources, including gossip sites that pose as news. And this one-sided diet on everything, day in and day out, is a dangerous way to feed oneself. How can one ever be wrong or mistaken if one never gets the truth, but only an agenda-plagued version of the story?

Doblin continues:

“The print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica gave an overview that made the longer journey possible. Too many people go no further than Wikipedia. And if they do, it is to TMZ. Intellectual curiosity is discouraged. We all may have the world at our fingertips if we have a broadband connection and a good computer, but our fingers are not the part of the anatomy that thinks.

Our national conversation is a reflection of this: Simplistic questions about complex issues, as if a Google search engine can find the meaning of life. And so the responses are equally simplistic. “ Alfred P. Doblin

Read the entire op-ed here:

Ask any teacher in America if student attention spans are growing shorter. What does this mean for well researched, thought out and considered answers to questions? What will happen to the notion and practice of “looking at both sides of an issue?”

As a journalist friend of mine once responded, when I asked what had happened to journalistic writing that objectively answers the Who, What, Where, When and Why questions (as I was taught), “nobody does that anymore!” Scary.

Let’s move on to the delightful March 19, 2012 op-ed by Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post, titled, “In Era of Instant Data Retrieval, a Bastion of Knowledge Folds.” Petri writes: 
“There’s a curious void, and we’ve filled it with Thoughts About Ourselves. No wonder we spend more time on Facebook than Google. Why learn about anything else? Why stare beyond? Someone in the 16th century already did, and, wouldn’t you know, Wikipedia’s all over it.

Once, people had the nagging suspicion that everything you could possibly think had already been thought. Now, with Google suggesting things before we think them and Wikipedia supplying answers to our every question, we don’t have to suspect.” Alexandra Petri

Read her op-ed here. You won't be disappointed!

One other person has provided a post-mortem on the book-set encyclopedia: Paul Reuter, Editorial Director of Convenience Store/Petroleum magazine, a copy of which I picked up at a recent coffee tradeshow. Reuter, who cites the Doblin article, asks, “Is everyone entitled to the same platform? Does a politician have equal standing with a heart surgeon when talking about medical procedures? Does a patron carry equal credibility when talking taste with a French chef?”

These are excellent questions, far-removed, perhaps, from the news that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is going out of print after 244 years (will still be online. But will people bother?) One thing this instant access to “information” has done, at times, is give people false empowerment. Which leads to pride. A friend of mine once made the comment that “everyone’s an expert on nothin’.”

Reuter writes, “What we mostly have today is instant reaction. I hear something, perhaps check out a couple of websites, and then form my opinion. That is not analysis or analytical thinking.” Paul Reuter

I once canceled an online subscription to what promoted itself as a Christian news source. As I read the supposed “news” stories, which, to my trained journalistic ear should entail “objectivity” (where all the facts are presented to speak for themselves and the reader is allowed to make up their own mind), I quickly realized much of the news was slanted. (I took the time to compare the stories to several other news outlets, including Associated Press, and found, in the Christian news stories, editorializing where there should not be and many facts left out entirely). If one cannot make a case honestly, then one is not a confident person of integrity. If we feel the means (misrepresenting or not revealing accurate facts) justify the end, what kind of end are we going for? Precisely one that can’t stand on its own two feet because it has been tainted in the getting there.

And that is what happens on the Internet all the time.

Which is why I am glad the Encyclopaedia Britannica will continue online, albeit for a fee, as it is much needed. Only time will tell if people are willing to pay for information that has proved itself trustworthy for 244 years.

“Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning…” Proverbs 10:13

“Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.” Proverbs 10:14
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Drunks and Degenerates?

I once heard a pastor, in a Sunday morning church sermon, lament the “drunks and degenerates” in the world. I was stopped short by the remark. Shocked, I mentally checked-out of the sermon, sat back, and asked myself if that was my attitude also. I realized that God has truly been doing a work in my heart the past two years, replacing haughty condemnation with compassion for those I read about in the paper arrested for various crimes. His conviction is replacing my heart of stone with a heart of humility by reminding me that I was once counted among the so-called “drunks and degenerates.”

We must always celebrate and praise God for victorious Christian living. I thank God for doing in me what I could never have done on my own. But still, as I considered the state of my heart towards the lost that Sunday morning, I realized I have a long way to go. Sometimes it’s easier to muster compassion for the obvious prisoners to sin than those who aren’t breaking the legal law, but are breaking God’s law on a daily basis. Either way, I realized on that Sunday morning that name-calling and derision is hardly the place for Christian hearts to dwell when looking at the world.

The best way God has taught me to ward off pride is to remind me of my own failures and sin, and for me to thank Him for His saving grace and forgiveness in my life, and ask it for others in their life as well. I try to remember to ask God to reveal any unknown sin in me, and that I will agree with God on His estimation of my heart and behavior. I pray that I will ask the same for brothers and sisters in Christ (including pastors and church leaders), as well as for those in the world. Yet it's one thing to know and aspire to all this, but another to actually do it. We must ask and rely on God.

We can all fall to a so-called “degenerate” state the minute we take our mind and heart off Jesus and place it on our flesh (i.e. “me”). We dare not ever resort to non-association with the lost through spiritual pride. Because we, ourselves, though saved through faith in Christ and His work of redemption, still sin.

David Roper, in the Spring 2012 “Our Daily Bread” devotional, addresses this very concern when he writes,

“I learned that we cause unfathomable sorrow when we dishonor and debase others through bigotry. Every human being is created in the image of God—more like God than any other creature and worthy of honor. To demean that image is to wound another human being at the deepest level. There is but one race: the human race.”

Bigotry covers race, but also our attitude toward “drunks and degenerates” as well as anyone we enjoy harboring distaste  towards: the rich, the beautiful, the creative, the mathematical, the political, the conservative, the liberal, the athletic, the intellectual and the uneducated.

Roper ends his devotional with these words: “God desires that we show respect to all people, because everyone bears His image.”

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

“Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ 
Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’” Luke 15:1-7

Saturday, June 9, 2012


                                                                                                                                                  Barb Harwood, photo

Today I thank God for heaven, because in heaven, relationships will finally be right. No longer will we be social misfits, trying to navigate our way through myriad personalities and the misunderstandings that inevitably arise out of them. We won't wonder if we offended, or mistakenly think someone intentionally meant to offend us. Assumptions, hunches and speculations will not be in heaven. Heart to heart talks will not be about healing the past, but about sharing complete joy in the present. We will walk with the Lord in the perfection we are so aware of lacking here. We will be humble in His presence because that is what we will know--and desire--to be. In heaven, we will never fail in our interpersonal relationships.

If there is any motivation of telling others of Christ, and prayer for them, especially those we have proverbially struggled with in relationship on this earth, it is the confidence and joy of knowing that if we are together in heaven, those relationships will be all grace. Not a trace of sin or rebellion or imperfection will be in them. We will know our nemeses, enemies, rough-around-the-edges friends and family and those with whom our relationships are like oil and water, in perfect peace, in heaven. And they will know us. 

And those we hold dear and get along with here on earth, but also, on occasion, hurt: these too we will walk alongside of in complete reconciliation. 

For this great promise and redemption, I thank, ever so much, our compassionate and obedient Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8)

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:9-11

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,..." Revelation 21:1

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'" Revelation 21:3-4

Monday, June 4, 2012

Get a Grip

We in Wisconsin have an election tomorrow. And all of us have one in November. I think the words of Rick Warren, which I heard him say in an interview several years ago, bear repeating: “The people in other countries (implying impoverished countries) would love to have the problems we have.”

The next time any of us is tempted to hand-wring, character assassinate, lambast or otherwise wax dramatic regarding politics--and how supposedly tough some say we have it in this country--take a walk on the Internet into Sudan. Then, count our blessings.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—" 
Philippians 2:14-15

Friday, June 1, 2012

I Break It, God Fixes It

I read the following words from Oswald Chambers this morning:

“It is a revelation of pure joyousness in which the child of God pours into the Father’s bosom the cares which give pain and anxiety that He may solve the difficulties…and we just stay before Him with our broken treasures or our pain and watch Him mend or heal in such a way that we understand Him better.” Oswald Chambers, from Prayer, A Holy Occupation

How often have we thought, “I got myself into this mess, argument, conflict, point of tension, dysfunction--I will get myself out?” No. That is not how it works if we are children of the Triune Father. We sin, of our own fleshly volition. That is our part. God’s part is to heal, to make clean, to create in us a new heart, where new words--and quietness--replace the words or actions that emanated from a fleshly heart. We sin; God cleans up the mess.

But that feels weird; like we shouldn’t ask God to help us when He has in no way been complicit in our failure. It completely goes against reason and humanism. We are told things from a very young age: “You made your bed, now you have to lie in it;” “You made a mess, you clean it up;” “You broke it, you buy it.” Yes, if dealing with literal beds, kitchens and gift store trinkets! But when I think of, in the lyrics of Dave Matthews, the “trail of busted stuff” I’ve left behind in life, and the stuff I continue to bust while on the trail, I know I can’t fix it. I can prevent the breakage over time by being in God’s Word, praying and hanging out with Christians who are doing the same. But in the process, God is a God of healing and making right. And I’ve never been able to right anything that I’ve messed up without Him.

The good thing about God is that He can teach us through encouragement, loving conviction and consequences, how not to walk the path. He can transform and mature us into people who do rightly walk His path. That’s the beauty and excitement of turning to God in utmost humility, admitting we can’t fix our flaws or our situations on our own. We must look to God for the answer on how to stop repeating the same mistakes. He will perform the miraculous in us and in our situations when we truly let Him. Only then will we know what we are to do, how we are to act, and what we are to say, or not say, going forward. 

As I always say, “How can I fix me if I am the problem?” And I certainly cannot fix or change anyone around me. They, too, must seek the Lord for their maturity and growth. And if they aren’t doing that, we must go to the Lord in prayer for them, just as we go to the Lord in prayer for our own depraved selves: in humility and gratefulness for all He promises to do when we agree that His ways are best.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25