Well, the national holiday concluded with a cake filled with 64 lit candles, that were blown out in one great blow by the “old guy” who still has it! I have to say it was a wonderful day of doing not much of anything, and enjoying it immensely. The weather turned yesterday, and so we spent most of the day trying not to get blown away by the fierce winds, which continue to this afternoon, apparently. However, the blinding snow, at least in town, did not materialize, and so this morning we are with the howl of the wind blowing through the empty branches of the trees.
Let me say from the start that, although I celebrate my birthday, it’s a much easier and more fun time to get ready for and execute the birthdays of others. I get to find just the right presents, the right cake, the right meal, and I’m able to be the director/producer of the day. When it’s my birthday, however, I feel a little awkward, as the star of the show. I’m not being humble – I just sort of don’t know what to do with my hands, metaphorically speaking. “What do you want for your birthday? What kind of cake do you want? What do you want for your birthday dinner? What special things would you like to do that day?” are all questions that I can easily ask, but have a dickens of a time answering, since most often, the true answer would be, “Oh nothing really – I’m fine.” But that’s just not fair to my wonderful family, who I know love me, and want to do nice things for me on the 14th of January.
So, we are having steamed crab and popovers tonight, since Cheri just got home at 5:20 last night, and there was no time or space to get that meal ready. It’s sort of a “birthday extended.” I already told you about the cake… A while back, I did give the family a list of potential presents I’d like, and they ended up producing those and some surprises, like an autographed picture of the last shuttle mission – Atlantis – and a small piece of the actual material of the storage cloth from the shuttle. Pretty cool, and will soon hang in my office…
For some reason, I also asked for a bunch of books. It’s strange, but for years and years I would consume books by reading them all the time. I had stacks and stacks of ones to read and ones all finished. Probably because of my work in the last 8 years (or more), the only books I came to pick up were ones that I either needed to read because I was responsible for teaching the material, or producing videos on a chapter or two for Lenten studies or such, but they were all books that fit my “trade” as a pastor. Theology, church life, leadership, adaptive approaches to difficult issues and such. They were mostly fine books, but it just seemed that, with all else I had to do, that they ate up any normal reading I might do. When I then retired from doing all that kind of “read and teach” stuff, I had gotten out of the habit of just reading for enjoyment. I would go to a bookstore, and try to find anything that interested me, but it was a hard labor. There were a few times when I really thought my love for reading had just dried up and blown away.
So, when I was asked what I would like for this first birthday in the post-employment era, my mind drifted to the possibility that maybe I’d like to read a book or two, since I truly do have time, with no one breathing down my neck to accomplish something. I went back to my three loves in terms of books: history, trivia, and words. One of my favorite books of all time is one by Ross King called Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, which tells the story of the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Just to digress: Michelangelo painted the ceiling in two parts. After he finished the first half, he took down the scaffolding to move over to the next part of the ceiling, and as he stood on the floor and looked up, he noticed that, although the paintings done so far were indeed magnificent, that they looked crowded with too many characters, and too much detail. From the top of the scaffolding, it was wonderful – from the floor, it was, well, kind of busy. This utterly changed his perspective, and so as he worked on the second half, he altered the size and content of the paintings to fit his new understanding. It’s in that second half that we today see the masterpiece of God reaching out one finger to almost touch the outstretched finger of Adam. A very simple, uncluttered scene that it perhaps the greatest part of the ceiling. It taught me that sometimes when we are busy working and trying to make everything fit in, that it is important to stop, and to look at what we are doing, and to see if what we think we are working on truly does accomplish what we hope to accomplish. That’s history.
So, back to birthday. I made a list of about 15 different books, of all kinds of themes and such. When I began to open the stack of presents, book after book came unwrapped, which included a biography of the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion from South Carolina and the Revolutionary War, and a number of other books that are historical trivia, and yet others that dealt with spies in the Revolutionary War and themes like that.
I love them. I can’t wait to carve out time everyday just to devour them, and to reacquaint myself with one of my lost loves, of reading and learning. Sure, I have a Lego model of the White House to build as well, but the books are going to last much longer than that.
What are you going to do with your day today? I’m not asking what others are going to use up your day and your efforts today. I’m afraid I did that for too many years. What part of your day are you intentionally giving over to delving into life, into knowledge, into that most significant thing you can do, or perhaps even insignificant, except that it brings you joy and fills you up with all that is good? I will say once again that when we live intentionally, we fill our lives with significance and purpose and with the sheer joy of being awake and alive, whether it’s your birthday or not. I have 364 more days until another celebration like that, but I intend each day to celebrate what God has blessed me with and to learn more about myself, my world and my past. I hope you will do the same.
Word for the day: oikology. Pronounced oy-CALL-uh-gee. It’s from our friends the Greeks today, and with the -ology, we know it’s the study of something, like biology, theology, ecology – but the oikos is the key to what we study. It’s Greek for “house.” However, oikology is not the study of architecture or engineering – it is really defined as the study of how we “keep” house. It’s the science of housekeeping, or the way sanitary conditions are maintained in a home. When a parent says that a child’s room is a pigsty, what they could better say is that the child needs to become an oikologist, which can also be said for dorm rooms, for especially young men’s apartments and some older folks’ messy living arrangements. Hoarders would be anti-oikologists…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.