Candid shots are my preference but the things that move on the trail do not always want their photos taken. So today, I tried to gently coax this beetle to pose for its portrait on all legs. Instead, it rolled on its back. Then it stood on its head. Repeatedly, it stood on its head. I suggested one last time, “You’re portrait will be engaging if you stand on your legs!” My friend stood on its head once again.
I interpreted this to mean it was striking a pose.
I confess I have been looking forward to meeting a rattlesnake since moving to the west three years ago. Call it a transplanted midwesterner’s romance with the frontier or a foolhardy amateur photographer’s dream. Either way, today was my lucky day.
On our weekly sabbath hike, my wife and I encountered a plump rattler along Oregon’s Deschutes River. I powered up my camera while keeping a safe distance. I briefly debated whether to get on my belly in order to get an ophidian-eye view of my formidable friend.
The fears inherent in pre-adolescent stories of the evil rattlesnake (undoubtedly embellished) joined together with the tales of lifelong eastern Oregonians with a respect for the genus, to convince me that was unwise. Appreciating my zoom, I snapped multiple photos while kneeling on the ground.
Hiking away from my new rattler friend, I felt disappointment. I didn’t get the knockout shot I had imagined I’d get on my first encounter with a rattlesnake.
Sigh. On the other hand, I didn’t need a trip to the emergency room.
I had to work on the bicentennial of our country. Along with two others who lived the same 40 miles away from the Six Flags over Mid-America, I car pooled to work. A chivalrous seventeen-year-old, I squeezed into the backseat of a Chevy Vega on July 4, 1976. (Those of a certain age will know that this was no small task for a two-year-old let alone a teenage boy.)
I was discouraged that day; I spent it selling watered-down orange juice in cheap plastic orange shaped containers when I really wanted to be celebrating my country’s two-hundredth birthday. Instead I spent it earning $1.90 an hour (less than minimum wage) because I was a seasonal worker.
Nonetheless, I still believed in my country and was glad to have a summer job. Growing up during Vietnam and the Watergate era, I wasn’t naive but I believed in the progression of the dream. Deep down, people are good, all people. (I still perceive this deep within my essence.)
I am not as idealistic as I was three plus decades later. I’ve witnessed things I thought would never happen.This is true both on a personal and national level. I‘ve had to explain unjust war to my children more than once. My trust in the electoral process — with some caveats — was shattered by the 2000 debacle.
I’ve seen improvement in race relations only to see a significant and sometimes racially-motivated backlash to the election of a bi-racial president. I’ve seen a minority of people so afraid of our rapidly changing world they draw their circles of inclusion tighter and tighter. This has been true in politics and within the faith I claim.
I began pastoring a small United Church of Christ in an eastern Oregon town of less than 700 this year. I quickly began to hear murmurings in town about the big Fourth of July celebration. A little cynical and not much of a flag-waver, I was curious about what this big day would hold. There was an all-community breakfast and dinner in the newly-restored town park. The parade was followed by a soap box derby and tricycle races on Main Street.
Though there were plenty of flags and some of the outfits my congregants wore blinded me with their stars and stripes, this was not about waving the flag. The Fourth was not about blind-obedience to a particular political perspective or even to the United States. No one denied we have our differences in our small town.
Despite those differences, we share something. We share the place we live. We are dependent on one another in our isolated community. We smile at one another (and sometime sneer or are cold to one another) but we all crave community. We need each other. While I lack my exuberant patriotism of 1976, I’ll wave a flag for a town that comes together for a red, white, and blue spectacle each July. I’ll wave a flag for those who in this era of division and vitriol, seek to be a community.
May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. Genesis 28:3 NRSV (Read in context.)
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 NRSV (Read in context.)
The grain elevator, both metaphorically and literally representing humanity’s need for bread, reigns over the rural skyline. The town of Condon is an oasis in the desert turned vast wheat field. Whether you travel through the arid land from the east, the west, south, or the north, when you approach town the bread elevator is visible. Its presence in town is evidence that our species needs food (and water) for survival.
Recently, I have begun to use it as a touchstone in a new spiritual practice. As metaphorical altar, the grain elevator reminds me that humanity will whither in the field without the divine One. And, so, each time I glimpse Condon’s giant bread box, I pause to consciously feel God’s presence, to say a micro-prayer of recognition to God.
Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”