Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Our World

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 27, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

In 1966, the television producer, Aubrey Singer, brought a bold new idea to the British Broadcasting Corporation. He was interested in the latest satellite technology emerging during the space race. He suggested a live international satellite program with participation from many countries. After ten months of organizing, negotiating, and technological hurdles, the production was broadcast live on June 25, 1967. 

The program was titled Our World and included creative artists from nineteen countries. The show’s ground rules were that everything had to be live without videotape or film. It would not involve politicians or heads of state. Over ten thousand technicians, producers, and interpreters took part in the broadcast. It was an undertaking of incredible complexity, involving control rooms worldwide, three geostationary communication satellites, and almost a million miles of cable. Fourteen countries participated in the production, which producers transmitted to 31 countries on every continent but Antarctica. Over 400 million people watched the program.

Creative artists, including The Beatles, opera singer Maria Callas, The Vienna Boys Choir, and painter Pablo Picasso, appeared in separate segments featuring their respective countries. The portion of the program from the United Kingdom starred The Beatles. Our World producers asked The Beatles to provide a song with a message easily understood by everyone, using basic English. John Lennon’s lyrics were deliberately simplistic to allow for the show’s international audience. The Beatles performed their song, All You Need Is Love, to close the broadcast. 

I can still remember the summer of 1967. It became known as the Summer of Love, and the single All You Need Is Love by The Beatles was the anthem. Just like other kids from around the world, I loved the song. It seemed that everyone knew the simple chorus. “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”

Is there any truth to the catchphrase, all you need is love? Or is it just a silly pop song? I believe that it is the truth. “All you need Is love. Love is all you need.” In 1 John 4:7,8 (NCV), the Bible tells us, “Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Love should be the basis for everything we do. In his gospel, Matthew recounts a story where an expert in the law asked Jesus, “which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT) When you distill it down that much, it seems simple. It is true; all you need is love.

God has written a love letter to you called the Bible. It says, “I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Romans 8:38,39 (CEV) How would you feel if you wrote these beautiful words to the love of your life, but they ignored them? God’s Word, The Bible, is His love letter to us. Don’t leave your love letter unopened and unread. God loves you, and he wants to tell you just how much. Open his love letter and listen to what he has to say to you.

The greatest love poem found in the Bible is in John 3:16,17 (NKJV). “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.” What beautiful words. We need to keep in mind that God loves the world, not a single nation, not a single race. Not just the good people, not only the people who love God back. “God so loved the world.” The people God loves include the lovable and the unlovable; those who are popular, and those who have no one else to love them; the ones who love God and those who never think of God.

In 1 Corinthians 13 (NLT), Paul expresses the importance of love to the Christian. “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing… Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 

Unfortunately, I have noticed that we Christians often don’t show love to others. We are slow to listen but quick to speak and get angry. Angry Christians fill my social media feeds. But Jesus challenged us to love others, even our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, remember that God loves the world, the entire world. Henri Nouwen wrote, “For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved.” Jesus tells us that no matter what we do for Him, it is nothing if we don’t have love. You see, it really is true. All you need Is love.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Harp Glissando

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 20, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The lighting was dim, and Megan joined in the noisy chatter as the elementary students streamed into the cafeteria. The tables were against the walls, and the chairs in the middle of the room faced an impromptu stage. The children were entranced by what they saw under the lights of the stage. An impressively large and ornate harp seemed to magically rise from its small pedestal base to a height taller than the students.

Megan found a seat near the back of the room and waited for the assembly to begin. After a couple of announcements, the principal introduced the woman with the harp. Beautiful music filled the room as the woman started to play. Megan listened intently. “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard,” she thought. After a few songs, the woman stopped playing and started telling the students about the harp.

Megan had noticed that some of the harp strings were colored and some were not. She wondered why. Her ears perked up when the woman began to explain. “The strings of a harp are color-coded for quick reference,” she said. “On my harp, all the C strings are red, and all the F strings are black, although, on some harps, the F strings might be dark blue. All of the other strings are not colored.” She continued, “why are the strings colored? It is simply so we harpists can find our place at a glance.”

“Do I have any volunteers who would like to come up and play the harp?” Almost every hand in the room shot up. Megan wanted to see the harp up close and to touch the strings, but she was a quiet, timid little girl, sitting in the back. She was sure that the student chosen would not be her. “I will choose one boy and one girl,” the woman said. After selecting a boy from the front of the room, she looked towards the back and pointed directly at Megan. Megan slowly walked up to the front of the room, with her heart beating fast. She could not believe that the woman chose her. She was shy about being in front of all her classmates but excited about the harp.

When Megan reached the front, she forgot about everyone in the audience. Her only focus was the beautiful harp in front of her. The woman with the harp said, “ladies first,” and Megan found herself directly next to the harp. “Do you remember when I talked about the colored strings?” the woman asked. “C is red, and F is black. Find a C and play it for me.” Megan reached out and plucked a red string. With that first note, it was a done deal; she wanted to play this instrument.

“Next,” the woman said, “we are going to play a glissando. It is one of the most beautiful sounds that the harp makes, and you will be able to do it. It is played by rapidly sliding your finger along the strings like this.” The sound seemed magical to Megan. “Now you do it,” the woman said. As she drew her finger along the strings and heard the glissando, Megan knew that she wanted to learn to play the harp and make beautiful music.

Megan talked to her parents about playing the harp for a year before they agreed, saying, “we will find you a harp teacher.” From that moment on, playing the harp was a priority for Megan. She did not know what that would look like, but she just knew that she wanted to play the harp. She received a Bachelor of Music in harp from the University of Arizona and a Master of Music from the University of Texas at Austin. She gained a Premiere Prix from the music conservatory in Grasse, France, under Alessandra Magrini and Elisabeth Fontan-Binoche’s tutelage.

Megan’s music showcases a mix of jazz, folk, contemporary, and classical styles that always drive after authentic, meaningful expression. She is an accomplished performer and avid collaborative artist, working with numerous artists in other disciplines, including songwriters, composers, dancers, choreographers, visual artists, poets, and studio musicians.  

I heard Megan’s story in her interview on the podcast, Instrumental with JJ Heller. After telling the story of her life pursuing excellence on the harp, even moving to France to learn from the living legend Elisabeth Fontan-Binoche, Megan recounted the story of her first experience with a harp. That day in the cafeteria at her elementary school profoundly changed her life. In retrospect, her future hinged on that seemingly unimportant moment. During the interview, Megan said, “we can never really guess what God has in store for us.”

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, “No one has ever seen, no one has ever heard, no one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (ERV) I know that Christians usually quote this verse in connection with heaven. I do believe that we can not imagine the wonders of living eternally with God. But I think that the verse also contains an essential lesson for our lives here on this earth. When young Megan walked into her school assembly that day, she could not imagine her future life as an accomplished performer on the harp who teaches in her private studio in Cabris, France. But God had plans for her.

Gentle Reader, just like God had plans for Megan Metheney to make beautiful music on the harp, He has plans for you. In Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), God says, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” What are God’s plans for your life? I don’t know. But I do know that he has a plan. You can be just as sure as David was when he said, “the Lord will work out his plans for my life; for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.” Psalms 138:8 (NLT)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Talasbuan Fäbod

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 13, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Not far from the edge of the mountain, in Jämtland Sweden, lies Talasbuan fäbod. It stood empty for 80 years before Tova and Mathias decided to give new life to the old place. 

There is no easy way to translate the Swedish word fäbod into English. It is a summer pasture for one or several homesteads’ livestock. A fäbod consisted of several simple buildings such as a dwelling-house, cattle shed, storage cabins, and a cooking cabin. Each building had a specific purpose. These buildings are simple log cabins for summer use only. 

The use of a summer pasture is ancient; The practice goes back over one thousand years. In this part of Sweden, the hay meadows were small. The amount of hay produced by the homesteads in these areas was barely enough to keep the livestock alive during winter. The fields were for winter fodder only. The cattle could not be allowed to graze in the homestead’s meadows. If they did, there would be no winter fodder. The farmers in these areas used summer pastures on common land in the forests and hills to survive.

In 2012, Tova and Mathias moved into a small cottage at an old fäbod. On their blog, Talasbuan Off the Grid, Tova states, “I have always, or for as long as I remember, wanted to have a fäbod. Live there at summertime with my animals and make cheese and butter. Then I met Mathias and after a while we thought, why not live like this year around? To come closer to nature and feel the shifts in the seasons in a deeper way. Feel the calm and be away from all the things that beeps and make a sound in an ordinary home. We have surely made it harder for ourselves, we could probably have bought a place with electricity and so on. But keeping this fäbod tradition, and guarding traditional skills is important to us, and so is the satisfying feeling of living a very resilient life.”

She goes on to say, “The to-do list is long, build the new log house, because currently we live in 15 square meters, a cheese cellar and a root cellar, the creamery, the kitchen garden and so on. We have sheep, chickens, pigs, rabbits, cats and dogs, In time cows and maybe goats. We are harvesting, making hay for the animals and going for the self-sufficient life.”

In February 2017,  Tova and Mathias published their first vlog and have been making them ever since. I recently discovered their YouTube channel and have been fascinated by their videos. The forests of Sweden are beautiful and peaceful. Watching these two young people learning to live off of the land gives me a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into such a life. Seeing the love that they have for their animals, their land, and their life together is heartwarming. The simplicity of the life they have chosen, juxtaposed with the required hard work, fascinates me.

As much as I enjoy watching about life at Talasbuan Fäbod, I can’t imagine living off the grid. I can’t imagine living with the cold, the snow, the dark winter. I’m not ready to give up all of the comforts of electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. 

There are not many people in the western world who are living their lives off the grid. Electrical power is one of those things that we don’t think about very often. We usually only think about electrical power when it isn’t there. When we flip the switch, we expect the lights to go on. When we come home from work, we expect the house to be comfortable. When we open the refrigerator, we expect the milk to be cold.

When the power isn’t working, it suddenly becomes crucial. Anyone who was living in Polk County during December 2000 remembers being without power. A significant ice storm developed on Christmas Day and continued through the early morning hours of December 27th. A layer of ice up to 3 inches thick covered everything. 300,000 Arkansans were without power for many days. The 2000 ice storm may be the worst natural disaster in Arkansas history. We were without power for six days and had friends in South Polk County without power for 23 days.

Even though our house still had all of its electrical wiring, outlets, and switches, nothing worked. Habits are hard to break, and even after days without power, I still found myself trying to turn on the lights. Even though everything looked fine, there was no power. The experience gave me a taste of what it would be like to live off the grid.

Many people in our culture, in our society, live their lives apart from God. Spiritually, they have chosen to live their lives off the grid. Just like a house without electricity, we have no power in ourselves. We need to plug into the grid of God’s power. There are even Christians who seem reluctant to plug into God’s power. They feel that they have enough strength of their own to overcome sin. But we cannot change ourselves. I’m sure that your experience verifies the fact that sheer willpower cannot conquer sin. On our own, living like Christ is not difficult; it’s impossible. In John 15:5 (NLT), Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Gentle Reader, just like we take our electrical power for granted, we also often take God’s power for granted. We expect Him to love us. We expect Him to be there for us, but how often do we think about His power? I don’t want to live off the grid. I want to say with King David, “I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.” Psalms 59:16 (NLT)


You can check out the Talasbuan Fäbod YouTube channel here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Kindness and Helpfulness

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 6, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The houses on the street were shrouded in early morning darkness as I left for work. Before opening my business, I had to pick up a load of glass. As I drove along the highway, the trees’ outlines became more apparent as the first light of dawn softened the grey skies. By the time I reached the storage building where my supplier had dropped off my glass order during the night, there was enough light to see to load my truck. A soft drizzle along with a sharp cold breeze made loading the glass unpleasant. When the last piece of glass was on the truck, I quickly slipped into the cab to dry off and warm up.

I took the key out of my pocket and hurriedly stuck it in the ignition. When I turned the key, the only thing I heard was a click. I turned the key several more times, and each time there was just a click. I was cold and wet, and now I was irritated. The battery was less than two months old; how could it be dead? What was I going to do? It was early in the morning, and there was no one around. I knew that in an hour, the auto parts store next to the storage buildings would open. There was nothing that I could do, but wait.

When the auto parts store opened, I went inside. There was one other customer, a young man who had been waiting for the store to open. He was in a hurry to get his parts so he could go to work. As the young man finished up his purchase and picked up his parts, the counterman asked me what I needed. I told him that I needed a boost and asked if he could help me. He said that he couldn’t leave the counter, and I would have to wait until another employee came to work. “How long will that be,” I wondered. I knew that there were already customers at my shop waiting for me to open.

The young man overheard my predicament and said, “I have a booster pack in my truck. I can help you.” My spirits lifted as we headed over to where my truck was parked. I opened the hood, and we quickly attached the cables from the booster pack to my battery. When I turned the key, expecting the engine to come to life, once again, I only heard a click. We made sure that the cables were making good contact and tried one more time. But there was nothing but a click. Now I was beginning to suspect the starter. During the seventeen years that I have owned the Chevrolet S-10 shop truck, I have had to replace the starter several times. 

The young man who was helping me was thinking the same thing. “I think your starter is stuck,” he said. Grabbing a wrench from the back of his pickup, he slid under my truck and began banging on the starter. When he crawled out from under the S-10, we tried to start it one more time. But there was nothing but a click. “If we had a chain, we could pull it and get it started,” I said. “It is a standard transmission, so it would be easy to start.” The young man rummaged around in the back of his pickup and came up with a length of tow strap. I didn’t have any ends, but he tied one end to the S-10, and the other end around the ball on his pickup. 

I put the S-10 in second gear, switched on the ignition, and pushed in the clutch. The tow rope tightened, and the S-10 began to move. I popped the clutch, and the engine purred to life. Thanking the young man profusely, I wished him well as he headed to work. As I pulled out onto Highway 71 and headed for my shop, I thought about the cheerful, helpful young man who took the time to help me even though his day had started badly, and he was late for work. His act of kindness and helpfulness made me want to be the kind of person he was.  

As Christians, many believe that we have to do great and mighty things to change the world. The truth is that a simple act of kindness can start a ripple effect. If you are kind and helpful to someone, they are more likely to pass it on. But an act of unkindness can also start a ripple effect. If you start the day in a lousy mood and mistreat someone, they are more apt to be in a bad mood and pass it on. Christians should strive to have so much of Jesus’ love, generosity, and kindness in them that they can’t help but share it with others. Being kind and helping others should be the natural outgrowth of living as a Christian. 

Colossians 3:12 (NIV) says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Kindness is love in action. It is a practical expression of love, visible and active, not just emotional. It is helping a stranger when you are already late for work. Jesus gave us an example by showing everyday kindness and helpfulness to others. He made breakfast for His friends after they spent an exhausting night fishing. He blessed the children who the grown-ups were trying to shoo away. He fed thousands of hungry people who had followed Him to a remote hillside. Jesus spent much more time taking care of people’s needs than he did preaching.    

Gentle Reader, remember that God has blessed you so you can bless others. Ask Him to help you see the needs of the people He brings into your life. Then, be ready to help with no expectation of anything in return. God will put someone in your path who needs your help. Consider their needs and help them with a spirit of kindness and helpfulness. “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” Hebrews 6:10 (NIV)