Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Ruth and Arnold

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 26, 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.