Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Ruth and Arnold

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 19, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

On the mornings that I pick up my auto glass order, the alarm rings at 4:30 A.M. I never worry about the alarm going off. My cell phone knows what time it is and always wakes me up, even if the electricity has been off during the night. But it hasn’t always been so easy to measure time. 

Before medieval times, humans measured time with oil lamps, candles, water clocks, and sundials. By the mid-14th century, large mechanical clocks began to appear in the towers of several cities. These clocks were not very accurate. Christiaan Huygens made the first pendulum clock in 1656. His timepiece had an error of less than 1 minute a day, and his later refinements reduced his clock’s errors to less than 10 seconds a day.

Even so, time measurement was still haphazard in the 19th century, with time being kept differently in each community. In the United States, there were over 140 local times in 1883, resulting in slight time differences between adjacent towns and cities. That year, major railroad companies in the U.S. began to operate on a coordinated system of four time zones. It was not until 1884 that a conference at Greenwich reached an agreement on global time measurement and adopted Greenwich Mean Time as the international standard. The world was beginning to get a handle on standardized time. 

But it still wasn’t easy to coordinate with Greenwich Mean Time. One enterprising London family had a solution. Every Monday, Ruth Belville stood at the entryway of a London watchmaker. Ruth was in the unusual business of selling time with her watch named Arnold. When the door opened, the storekeeper greeted the weekly visitor with “good morning, Miss Belleville, how is Arnold today.” Ruth replied, “good morning. Arnold is one-tenth of a second fast.” Then she reached into her handbag grabbed a pocket watch and passed it to the watchmaker. He used it to check the store’s main clock and then returned the pocket watch to her.

Once a week, Ruth would get up early and take the three-hour journey from her cottage west of London to the Greenwich Royal Observatory, reaching its gate by 9:00 A.M. She rang the bell and was greeted by the gate orderly who formally invited her inside. There she would hand over her watch, Arnold, to an attendant. The officials compared Arnold to the observatory master clock, then returned the timepiece to Ruth with a certificate stating the difference between its time and their central clock. Ruth walked to the Thames and caught a ferry to London with the official document in her hand. She then began making the rounds, visiting her customers.

The Belville family fell into this business accidentally. In the 1830s, Ruth’s father, John Belleville, worked at the Greenwich Observatory as a meteorologist and astronomer. The observatory leadership grew frustrated by the many interruptions caused by local astronomers desperate to know the precise time for their observational work. Instead of having unannounced visitors coming to the observatory and disrupting their scientific activities, they devised a plan to bring the time to those who needed it. They gave John Belville the task of providing time to nearly 200 customers using a very accurate timepiece that he nicknamed Arnold.

Arnold was formerly known as John Arnold number 485 and named after its maker. It was a highly accurate pocket watch built in the late 1700s. John Arnold originally designed Number 485 as a gift for the Duke of Sussex. The Duke thought the timepiece was too large and refused it. The watch ended up at the Greenwich Observatory. When John Belleville started the time service, he used the most accurate portable timepiece available, John Arnold number 485. In 1892, the watch was passed down to thirty-eight-year-old Ruth, who continued the family business until she was 86 years old.

When Ruth and Arnold were retiring from the time business, a clock was installed in the United States that consistently drew a crowd. In 1939, New Yorkers headed downtown to get the precise time at 195 Broadway in Manhattan. The art deco clock sat in the window of the AT&T corporate headquarters. It was not just any clock; it was the most accurate public clock in the world. A unique piece of quartz crystal provided its accuracy. Every day, hundreds of pedestrians stopped in front of the clock and held their finger on their watch stem waiting for the sweeping second hand to reach the top so they could set their watch accurately. Quartz clocks and watches were sold in large quantities during the 1970s when technological advances made them affordable.

But before long, there were even more accurate clocks. Lord Kelvin first suggested using atomic transitions to measure time in 1879. Louis Essen and Jack Parry built the first accurate atomic clock in 1955 at the National Physical Laboratory in the U.K. Atomic clocks are highly accurate with an error of only 1 second in one hundred million years. Today we can all have the accuracy of an atomic clock by purchasing a clock that automatically synchronizes itself to the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado.

Why do we place such emphasis on measuring time? Some 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Dost thou love time? Then use time wisely, for that’s the stuff that life is made of.” Being able to measure time helps us to use it wisely. Because of the fragile nature of time, Moses prayed, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Psalm 90:12 (NRSV) That is another way of saying it is the use, not the length, of our days that counts.

Gentle Reader, there are many inequalities in life. But when it comes to the amount of time you have, everybody falls into the same category, and there is perfect equality. Every day, twenty-four hours, no more or no less, is given to every person. The way we use our time is essential. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15,16 (NIV) The great thing about the nature of time is that it is entirely ours to do with what we will. We can, right now, decide to make the best use of our time. May you find peace, joy, and purpose in the ways you spend your time today.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

My Favorite Color

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 19, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

What is your favorite color? Most of us have colors that we prefer over others. My favorite color is blue, and if it tends towards teal or turquoise, that is even better. Because I work on cars almost every day, I have noticed a trend in car colors. There are very few colorful cars from the past twenty years. Over 70 percent of vehicles built were painted either white, black, or silver during these twenty years. It wasn’t too long ago, from the 1950s through the 1970s, when cars of all shades of the color spectrum filled U.S. highways. You could see Tropical Turquoise on a 57 Chevy, Tahitian Bronze on a 59 T-Bird, Coral on a 61 Plymouth, Big Bad Green on a 69 AMX, or Plum Crazy Purple on a 71 Dodge Challenger. But the bright, colorful cars of that era are now a thing of the past.

During the heyday of the Ford Model T, Henry Ford said, “a customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Early Model Ts came in various colors, but in 1914, Henry decided to produce only black cars to simplify his new assembly line. But by 1926, the Model T was available in other colors such as green, blue, maroon, brown, beige, and grey.

An executive at Volkswagen recently described the current color situation on United States’ roads this way, “If you drove down an American street and looked only at the new vehicles, you might be forgiven for thinking you’re in a black-and-white movie.” Between the 2014 to 2020 model years, 24% of the vehicles sold in the U.S. were white, and 23% were black. The next two most popular paint colors, at 16% and 15%, were gray and silver. Almost eighty percent of all cars sold in the past decade were these greyscale colors. Before 1980 less than 30 percent of new vehicles sold were “colorless.”

Automotive analyst, Karl Brauer, complains about the lack of color choices. He says, “I joke that I’ll never order a silver car because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for creating another one.” He offers a ray of hope, however. “I think we’re shifting back to a bit more individuality and diversity,” he said. “Color is becoming more of a focus point. For me, if a car is offered in black, white, and seven shades of silver, I’m not interested.” He adds, “other people are starting to tire of the dominance of those colors.” In 2022, you will see more color on dealership lots as manufacturers add more color to their palettes.

I recently ran across a story about color written by Kathy Schultz. “Pink is my granddaughter’s favorite color,” she wrote. “She had been telling me this since she first discovered colors. The other night as she chatted away, she added that yellow was another one of her favorite colors.” Kathy explained why her granddaughter had added yellow as a favorite color. Her granddaughter told her that when she went to music class, Mrs. Cooke, the music teacher, told her she was a bright yellow crayon, bright as the sun.

Kathy wrote, “this is a wonderful description of my grandchild! The teacher was right. She is a bubbly, cheerful child. Truly, she is a bright ray of sunshine.” She concluded by saying, “words have such power. A small statement made by her teacher had truly inspired my granddaughter. It made her even list yellow as her favorite color. I doubt she will ever forget the teacher’s kind remarks. This made me think of the words I say. Do I say kind, encouraging, inspiring words to others?”

What is the color of the words you speak to others? Do you use red, angry words? Or aloof, condescending purple comments. Maybe you use calm, green words, or cheerful yellow words. As we go through life, one constant seems to be criticism. I’m sure everyone has received criticism and has more than likely been critical of others. I have been criticized on many occasions and have been critical of others. Still, recently I have had some experiences that made me stop and think about the impact of criticism and its opposites, affirmation, approval, and encouragement.

When a customer comes back with a complaint or criticism of an issue unrelated to my work, it puts me in a blue mood. But thankfully, that is a rare occurrence for me. Anyone in business knows that a satisfied customer seldom lets you know that he is satisfied, but a dissatisfied customer will tell you that he is unhappy. But over the past couple of weeks, I have had many customers tell me, “Thank you.” Affirmation, approval, and encouraging words always lift my spirits.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), Paul wrote, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneer in early childhood education in America, wrote, “Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” Are you encouraging those around you, or are you criticizing? “Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.” Proverbs 12:18 (CEV)

In the classic devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers wrote, “Jesus’ instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, ‘Don’t.’ The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm, nothing is accomplished by it.” He continues, “It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood. Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others.”

Gentle Reader, the choice is yours. Either you can criticize, or you can encourage. How will you color the world around you? Will you use colors of faith, hope, and love for others? Or will you dip your brush into harsh colors of judgment and criticism? Will you encourage others or use sharp words to cut them down to size and put them in their place. I hope that your choice will be to encourage and inspire others. When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. Show someone today how much you value them for who they are. Let the true colors of genuine Christianity shine through. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Deep Cleaning

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 12, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

Have you ever noticed that “garage” and “garbage” are only one letter different? Many of us have garages filled with things other than those intended for a garage. My two-car garage has just enough empty space to hold one car. I sometimes wonder why I keep all the things cluttering my garage. An old expression says, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I’m not sure of the origin of the phrase. Sometimes it’s written as “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

I did an internet search of the phrase, and the earliest example I could find was in the book from the 1860s, Popular Tales of the West Highlands. The book is a four-volume collection of fairy tales, collected and published by John Francis Campbell and often translated from Gaelic. The introduction to the collection reads, “Practical men may despise the tales, earnest men condemn them as lies, some even consider them wicked. But one man’s rubbish may be another’s treasure, and what is the standard of value in such a pursuit as this?” The phrase seems to have taken off since the 1960s. Maybe that’s because we have become a much more consumer-based society. 

My Daddy and I have been in business in the same location for over forty years. Junk, or treasure, depending on your viewpoint, has been collecting here for all those years. Behind my shop were mountains of car parts and other treasures we had saved over the years.

A few months ago, I made a new friend, and for some time, he has been helping me clean up around my shop. He has hauled dozens of trailer loads of scrap metal to the recyclers. Clean-up is slow when there have been forty years of accumulation, but we have slowly progressed. I upgraded my dumpster to a larger size to have more room to dispose of things we no longer needed.

With the colder winter weather arriving, we have started cleaning up my shop building. I haven’t used one side of my shop for the last few years. During that time, it filled up with so many “things” that I couldn’t bring a vehicle inside. Around 2500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “nature abhors a vacuum.” The phrase expresses the idea that unfilled spaces go against the laws of nature and physics and that every space needs to be filled with something. My shop certainly seemed to prove Aristotle correct.

After spending several days moving treasures, things I couldn’t bring myself to throw away, to another storage building and discarding a lot of trash, we could finally get a vehicle inside. But there is still much cleaning to be done. Shelves line the walls with forty years of accumulation of parts. We need to save some things, but much of it is no longer useful and needs to be thrown away. I plan to redo the ceiling, repair the water pipes shattered in last year’s record cold, and add more lights. When I complete the project, it will be a more comfortable place to work. But before I can move ahead with my plans, I must finish cleaning out the shop.

The beginning of a new year gets us thinking about what we want to accomplish in the future. Many of us have plans for our life. We may make New Year’s resolutions. But it seems like New Year’s resolutions are hopeless. In the comic strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown says, “The best way to keep New Year’s Resolutions is in a sealed envelope in a bottom desk drawer.” If we are so bad at keeping our resolutions, how can we ever expect to improve our lives? How can we hope to grow and become the person Jesus wants us to be?

New Year’s resolutions aren’t worthless. People who set goals are ten times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Everything that we accomplish in life is because we resolved to do it. There is no need to be discouraged if you’ve failed before. We all will fail at some point in our life. Failing is a learning experience so that we can do better next time. “A righteous person may fall seven times, but he gets up again.” Proverbs 24:16 (GW)

Before we can accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves this year, we have to clean out the clutter in our lives. Just like the first step in my shop renovation is to clean out the trash, junk, and mess, we have to clean out the clutter before succeeding in life. But just like I have spent years avoiding the deep cleaning that I knew my shop needed, we often avoid cleaning the junk out of our lives.

Christian author, Laurie McClure, writes; “I think sometimes we avoid cleaning out our hearts because it means we have to look at junk that causes us to feel embarrassment and shame. Jesus paid for our shame, so we don’t have to wear it anymore!” King David wrote in Psalm 51:10 (ESV), “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” When we know that we have things that we need to get rid of in our lives, we don’t have to do it alone. God will help us if we ask.

I’m not sure that I would ever get my shop cleaned out if it wasn’t for the help of my friend. It seemed such an overwhelming task that I never started the project until my friend was there to help me. Without him, the job seemed impossible, but with his help, we are making the clean-up a reality.

Gentle Reader, when we make an effort to bring our hearts to God, asking Him to give us a clean heart, He will forgive our sinful attitudes and actions and make our hearts new again. Then we can clean out the clutter and junk from our life and uncover some treasures we thought were lost, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22 (NCV) This year, make a resolution to ask God to help you do a deep cleaning in your life.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Winter Wonderland

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 5, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

As the clock struck twelve and ushered in the new year, fireworks boomed outside. They were the natural kind of fireworks, with bright flashes of lightning and deep booming peals of thunder. 2022 came in with a bang. The pounding on the roof announced that heavy rain was pouring down. With temperatures in the upper 60s, accompanied by heavy rain, thunder, and lightning, it seemed much more like a spring storm than the first day of the new year.

After a toast to the new year, I was off to bed. Midnight is far later than my regular bedtime, but I stayed up to usher out 2021, hoping for something better in 2022. When I got up in the morning, the temperature was still unseasonably warm. Heavy rains had filled the creek behind my house during the night. The rushing water was pushing over the creek bank in several places.

We spent the morning preparing for a New Year’s feast. Along with a roast beef, there was fresh green beans with mushrooms, jalapeno cream corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh baked rolls, with gingerbread and whipped cream for dessert. Circumstance made it so that our family could not be together on Christmas, but we would celebrate Christmas this afternoon.

When everyone arrived, happy conversation filled the house. The Christmas dinner was marvelous, and after everyone was sufficiently stuffed, we moved to the living room to exchange presents. But with the warm temperatures outside and being a week late, it didn’t seem very Christmassy.

That evening we watched the movie Ron’s Gone Wrong with my granddaughters. They filled the room with laughter at the antics of Ron, the B-Bot that fell off the back of a truck, so it’s a bit defective. By the time we went to bed, the temperatures were dropping outside. 

The following day, the temperature was a frigid 19 degrees. Light snow was falling, and by the time we sat down for breakfast, there was enough snow to cover the yard with a thin layer of white. We had a white Christmas; it just came in January. We had Grandma’s egg casserole for breakfast, a Christmas morning tradition at our house, along with what may become a new tradition, aebleskivers.

My daughter had given my wife an aebleskiver pan for Christmas. Aebleskiver is a Danish dessert, like large, filled doughnut holes. They have been popular for hundreds of years in Denmark and are often served during the Christmas holiday. The earliest known aebleskiver pans are more than 300 years old, made from hammered copper. But bare copper wasn’t ideal and was soon succeeded by cast iron, distributing heat more evenly. The aebleskivers were delicious, and the softly falling snow added to the cheerful holiday atmosphere.

After everyone left that afternoon, we decided to drive up the Talimena Drive to Queen Wilhelmina State Park. From Mena, we could see that the trees were frosted in white at higher elevations. We hadn’t driven very far out of town when the trees began to turn white. Bare and seemingly lifeless trees turned into marvelous works of art. The white-coated trees changed the landscape into a mystical, magical place. The ice, frost, and snow turned the mountain into a winter wonderland.

As we made our way up the mountain, the coating on the trees became thicker. They looked like they had been flocked, with each branch having almost an inch of snow clinging to it. There were heavy clouds, but occasionally the sun tried to pierce the clouds, and I could see the sun’s outline. When the sun was able to break through, the light on the trees made the white even whiter and brighter. The bitterly cold wind would go right through me when I would step out of the car for a minute or two to take photos. The temperature was 15 degrees, and it was windy. The bright white trees and the moody skies made stunning pictures. Occasionally the sun would shine through, putting a portion of the hillside in the spotlight. 

Snow can be beautiful, and it certainly transformed the scenery on Rich Mountain. Where there had been grey, leafless, and seemingly lifeless trees, now there was a bright white beauty that turned the landscape into a winter wonderland. I loved seeing how the ugly imperfections of the stunted, twisted trees become lovely when covered with a blanket of snow.

It made me think of the Bible verse, “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalms 51:7 (NIV) It is lovely to visualize how God can take the imperfections of our hearts and turn them into something pure and clean and beautiful. God is pleased when we allow him to cover our sins. Because of His great love for us, God doesn’t abandon us in our sins. Instead, by His grace, He wants to change and transform us. “’Come now, let us think about this together,’ says the Lord. ‘Even though your sins are bright red, they will be as white as snow.’” Isaiah 1:18 (NLV)

When God takes our sins and makes them white as snow, it cuts down on the noise of the world around us. The world becomes just a bit quieter and more peaceful. We can more easily hear God as he communicates with us. He covers the ugly branches of our lives with beautiful pristine whiteness.

Gentle Reader, we all have sin in our life that makes us dirty and separates us from God. But God has provided a way for us to be clean again. Through Jesus, we can all be as white as snow. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (KJV) So next time a snowstorm heads your way, make sure and take time to enjoy the beauty of His glistening masterpiece. Stop for a few minutes to take in the winter wonderland and thank God for making your sins as white as snow.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

In the Quiet of Christmas Morning

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 29, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The morning dawned quiet and peaceful. Too quiet and peaceful. There was no excitement. There were no shouts of Merry Christmas. No laughter filled the air. The Christmas tree in the living room stood silently with presents all around. But the gifts remained untouched. No one was opening them. The living room was in perfect order, with no torn wrapping paper in sight.

I sighed and thought, “it doesn’t feel like Christmas.” It didn’t help that the temperature outside was almost seventy degrees. Across the street, cars filled the driveway, and people arrived for Christmas morning celebrations. But our house was quiet. Illness had changed our plans, and there would be no one at our home for Christmas. No bubbly, excited granddaughters to make the day festive. I thought about all the people who would not be with those they love this Christmas and felt empathy for them.

We did have a lovely Christmas dinner planned with cousins and my Daddy, but that was hours away. I sat in my favorite chair on the deck and looked out over my backyard. “It is so nice today,” I thought as I sat there in my shirt sleeves, “but it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” Here in Arkansas, it’s not supposed to be in the seventies on Christmas. “What is it that makes Christmas feel special,” I wondered. I decided that it is being with people you love and feeling a part of a tradition. Our traditions help Christmas feel special.

Around the world, Christmas traditions vary considerably. I remember spending a Christmas in Puerto Rico in the 70s. Puerto Ricans celebrated Christmas, but there were no gifts on Christmas Day. January 6th, known as Three Kings Day, rather than December 25th, was the day for exchanging gifts. Children would gather grass, hay, or straw in shoeboxes for horses and camels of the three kings, much like children in the U.S. leave cookies and milk for Santa and his reindeer. Good kids are rewarded with presents and candy on Three Kings Day.

The tradition of Three Kings Day comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew of wise men from the East who came looking for a baby who was the King of the Jews. “The star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:9-11 (NKJV) This biblical story is the basis for gift giving at Christmas.

In much of Europe, it is Christkind that brings the Christmas presents. The tradition dates to the reformation and Martin Luther. At this time, it was traditional to give children gifts on December 6th, St. Nicolas’s Day. Does the idea that Saint Nicolas delivers gifts sound familiar to you? But Martin Luther wanted to do away with the veneration of saints and saints’ days, so he started a gift-giving tradition on Christmas Eve. He told the children that the Christ Child had brought their presents. This tradition quickly took hold in Lutheran families. 

While Martin Luther’s original intention was that the infant Jesus brings gifts, over time, the image of a baby transformed into an angelic figure with golden hair topped with a crown and golden wings. A baby couldn’t deliver gifts, so a female angel with Christ-like qualities did the job. This angelic figure is known as Christkind. In much of Europe, Christkind is a symbol of Christmas along with Santa Claus. In this tradition, children never see Christkind in person. Parents tell them that Christkind will not come and bring presents if they try to spot it. You will find Christkind delivering gifts all over Germany, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and much of Latin America.

In Scandinavia, an important tradition during the Christmas season is celebrating Saint Lucia. She was a young Christian girl who was killed in 304 A.D. Her history has been lost, and all we know for sure is that this brave woman lost her life during the persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Her veneration spread to Rome so that by the sixth century, the whole church recognized her courage in defense of the faith.

Tradition tells us that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head to have both her hands free to carry things. St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolize new life in winter. Many towns and villages choose a girl to play St. Lucia and lead a procession of carolers.

Whatever your Christmas traditions are, I hope they bring you joy and happiness. I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change.

I feel that Christians should be neither “traditional” nor “non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God’s word requires it, then we must do it. If God’s word forbids it, we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, there is no problem with tradition. But I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.

Gentle Reader, what are your Christmas traditions? Do they bring you joy? Do they remind you of Jesus and how important He is to you? Jesus wants you to have joy. He says, “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11 (NKJV) This Christmas season, I hope you have experienced love and joy. “There are three things that endure: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NCB)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Home for Christmas

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 22, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

It was a cold, windy day in December 1903. Orville Wright stands on the beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, staring at the sky. His brother Wilbur is flying overhead in the machine they had built together. It was their fourth flight of the day in their hand-built flying machine. Wilbur Wright succeeded in flying their homemade machine for 59 seconds, covering 852 feet at a speed of seven miles per hour. Orville had piloted the first flight of the day that lasted just 12 seconds and traveled only 180 feet, but it proved that human flight was possible. 

Orville wrote in his diary about the first attempted flight that morning. “I found the control of the front rudder quite difficult. As a result the machine would rise suddenly to about ten feet and then as suddenly, on turning the rudder, dart for the ground. A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight. Time about 12 seconds.”

The brothers realized that a successful flight depended on their ability to learn how to handle the machine. Each attempt showed improvement. They were pleased enough with Wilbur’s 59-second flight but knew they could do better. Unfortunately, there was not going to be another flight that day. Orville explains in his diary. “We set the machine down a few feet west of the building, and while standing about discussing the last flight, a sudden gust of wind struck the machine and started to turn it over. All rushed to stop it. Will, near one end, ran to the front, but too late to do any good. Mr. Daniels and myself seized spars at the rear, but to no purpose. The machine gradually turned over on us. Mr. Daniels, having had no experience in handling a machine of this kind, hung on to it from the inside, and as a result was knocked down and turned over and over with it as it went. His escape was miraculous, as he was in with the engine and chains. The engine legs were all broken off, the chain guides badly bent, a number of uprights, and nearly all the rear ends of the ribs were broken.”

That day, Orville and Wilbur became the first to demonstrate a heavier-than-air machine’s sustained flight under the pilot’s complete control. What did the brothers do after their exciting success and the heartbreak of damaging their flying machine? They had an unhurried lunch and then walked four miles to send a telegram to their father. The telegraph read, “Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from level with engine power alone. Average speed through air thirty one miles. Longest 57 seconds. Inform press. Home for Christmas.” With their machine wrecked by the wind and flying done for the season, the Wrights immediately thought of going home for Christmas. They returned home with their broken machine on the evening of December 23.

According to their niece, Ivonette Miller, who was 7 in 1903, the children were excited that Wilbur and Orville would be home for Christmas. She recalled that they said something like: “Oh, goody, Uncle Will will be home in time to carve the Christmas turkey!”

Amanda Wright Lane, the great-grandniece of Wilbur and Orville, said: “The Wright family was thrilled to learn about that first flight, but they were happier yet to know that meant the boys, great cooks, would be home in time for Wilbur to stuff the Christmas turkey and for Orville to make his cranberry bunny, served at holiday meals.”

Orville and Wilbur Wright had just accomplished something that no human being before them had ever done. What they accomplished that cold, windy December day would change humankind forever. But their thoughts were with their family and making it home for Christmas.

The family is important to God because it is an institution He has created, and it is one of His blessings. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Every family is different, unique, and every person within each family is essential. When God created the family, he simultaneously gave us an extraordinary gift and a unique challenge. Family requires an unshakable commitment to each other even when everyone involved is intimately aware of each other’s flaws.

If you are committed to your family, they should always come first. Even if you are working on something significant, like the first powered, heavier than air flight, you should never forget your commitment to your family.

As a Christian, you are a part of two families, your earthly family and your heavenly family. 1 John 3:1 (GW) tells us, “Consider this: The Father has given us his love. He loves us so much that we are actually called God’s dear children. And that’s what we are.” And Romans 8:15-17 (ICB) says, “the Spirit that we have makes us children of God. And with that Spirit we say, ‘Father, dear Father.’ And the Spirit himself joins with our spirits to say that we are God’s children. If we are God’s children, then we will receive the blessings God has for us. We will receive these things from God together with Christ.” 

Gentle Reader, there is no doubt that God loves His children. He shows it by His words, His actions, and His promises. He longs for His children to be with him. Like we want our children and grandchildren to come home for Christmas, God wants us to come home and be with Him. Jesus says, “I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together.” John 14:3 (VOICE) There is nothing in this life that is more important than for us to be a child of God and come home for Christmas. Let’s tell God, “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Counting on Google

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 15, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The Fed-Ex driver placed two gigantic Dell computer boxes on my front porch. I had been waiting for this day. I replaced my 386x computer with the 80-megabyte hard drive with a new Pentium computer containing a 1 Gigabyte hard drive and the latest Windows 95 operating system. The 19-inch monitor was so large that it hung out over the back of my desk. As I hooked up the wires and turned my new computer on for the first time, a current of excitement ran through me. Sitting on my desk was a state-of-the-art computer that was my portal to the world wide web.

After loading the Netscape Navigator software from my internet provider company, I sat at my desk with eager anticipation as I heard, “Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch*ding*ding*ding,” and the computer screen announced that I had connected. What would I search for now that I had the whole world at my fingertips? Using the InfoSeek search engine, I began soaking up information. It was after 3 a.m. when I finally pulled myself away from this magical information portal and went to sleep for a few hours before I had to go to work.

At about the same time, another story occurred halfway across the country at Stanford University. Larry Page and Sergey Brin met when Brin was assigned to show Page around Stanford. They disagreed about nearly everything during that first meeting, but by the following year, they started a partnership. Working from their dorm rooms, they built a search engine that used links to determine the academic importance of individual pages on the World Wide Web. They called this search engine Backrub.

Over the next couple of years, Page and Brin caught the attention of the academic community and Silicon Valley investors. In August 1998, after receiving an investment of $100,000, the team moved from the dorms to their first office: a garage in suburban Menlo Park, California. When they looked to name the company, they wanted something that spoke to the tremendous amount of information available as the World Wide Web was exploding. They decided on the word Googol. 

“Googol” got its name in 1938 when mathematician Edward Kasner picked the name for a number so large that it doesn’t have a significant role in mathematics. A googol is a 1 with one hundred zeros after it. There isn’t a googol of anything on Earth, not grains of sand, not drops of water in the oceans. It is an impossibly large number. Page and Brin were engineers and were familiar with the word googol. But they decided to modify it a little and came up with Google. Today, if you search the internet, you probably use the Google search engine. Even though more than twenty search engines are available, over ninety percent of users choose Google. 

The next time you search the internet and the familiar Google logo appears on the page, maybe you will remember the impossibly large number that gave Google its name. The largest number name that most of us use is trillion. But do we understand what a trillion is? When I hear that the United States is twenty-nine trillion dollars in debt, I have no fundamental concept of what that means. Twenty-nine trillion seconds equals 914,834 years. How can we wrap our minds around what such large numbers mean?

When people think of big numbers, the things used as symbols are interesting. Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) says, “but the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  So, how many hairs are on your head? According to the Harvard University website Bionumbers, the number of hairs on a human head range from 90,000 to 150,000. That seems like a number that we can understand. 

Stars and grains of sand are symbols of big numbers found in the Bible. In Genesis 22:17 (NET), God made Abraham a promise, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore.” Science writer David Blatner, in his book Spectrums, writes, “a group of researchers at the University of Hawaii, being well-versed in all things beachy, tried to calculate the number of grains of sand. They said if you assume a grain of sand has an average size, calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon, and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly seven thousand five hundred quadrillion grains.” That is a lot of grains of sand.

There is no way that I can wrap my mind around the concept of numbers like a trillion, quadrillion, and googol. But even a smaller number like eight billion is meaningless to me. I can read that any day now, the population of Earth will reach eight billion, but what does that mean? Eight billion people. It’s a considerable number. I know billions of people live on this planet, but I can’t comprehend what that means. 

I may not be able to comprehend large numbers, but God can. Even though God can understand numbers that I cannot, God doesn’t see the number; He sees faces. God sees the personal histories and heartaches, individual problems and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a particular place, wakes up each day, faces their issues, and deals with the obstacles that confront them. He loves each one of these eight billion people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.

Even though we might not understand the concepts of a billion, trillion, or googol, we can know that God loves the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16,17 (NKJV) 

Gentle Reader, God loves each one of the eight billion people on Earth, and that includes you. But when God looks at His children today, He sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people who claim to follow Him but don’t love others. He wants us to do better. “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”1 John 4:7,8 (NLT) Eight billion people. It’s a vast number. But God loves them all. Let’s remember how much God loves us. All of us! We can count on Him all the way to a googol.