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The Good Life 3, Peace

The American nation was founded in the search for peace. A revolution to provide peace? Surely I jest! In 1775 Patrick Henry addressed a Virginia convention, hoping to fund a militia. “Peace! Peace! There is no peace. The war is actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. I know not what course others may choose, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” Inspired by these fiery words, Virginia armed the militia and went to war. Nations ignore the virtues of peace to secure the virtues of liberty, or to simply defend themselves. Peace is expensive.

Memorial Day, formerly Veterans Day, means remember the cost of peace. What is worth fighting for? Civil wars flare up as people within the same nation hold opposing ideas and can’t decide a solution. Was our Civil War fought to preserve the Union, preserve states’ rights, or free the slaves? Motives for war are not always clear, and the resentment of the loser is not cured by a treaty.

Some have already made the ultimate sacrifice. On Memorial Day cemeteries are dotted with flags and flowers. We remember the dead warriors. Our leaders are apt to say, “You and he must fight.” That’s an easier path than negotiating a peace.

We are easily offended and impulsive. The peace of God, which passes understanding, does not guide our actions. 700 years before Christ was born, Isaiah predicted a child would come who would be called the Prince of Peace. Jews and Gentile would be brought together in peace. His eyes had “seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Jesus urged us to reconcile with our brothers. “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 1: 9) Loving those with whom we disagree seems a hopeless task. Remember, Judas betrayed Jesus. Jesus may have been disappointed with Judas, but he did not try to dissuade him. Then Judas destroyed himself. This was not a coincidence.

The world needs to remember that the cost of war is evident in the cemetery. The Bible confirms that when we do not act in love, we disturb the peace. God bless us, everyone!

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The Good Life 2, Love

Last Saturday lovely Megan Markle, American bi-racial actress once divorced, married Britain’s Prince Harry, 6th in line for the British monarchy, in a fabulous fairy tale wedding. My father would have said, “Impossible!” But my grandchildren say, “So what?”  History tells us Love does not always have its way.

On TV we watched the extravagant affair along with  millions of others. Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother, attended the wedding. She became Queen of England because her Uncle Edward abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee. He chose Love. The Queen accepted her duty.

Contrast Megan’s world to the world of her new mother-in-law, Camilla, second wife of next in the royal line Prince Phillip, to see the enormous change in a society in my lifetime. The young Prince Phillip loved Camilla, but he could not marry a divorced American and bring disgrace to the English nation. Like his mother, he chose duty.  In a splendid wedding ceremony, Prince Phillip married the young and beautiful Lady Diana. He is introverted and she was extroverted, and except for the two handsome boys they produced, they had little in common. The marriage had a crashing finale.

The Brits and the royal family survived the tragedy of the popular Diana’s death. Now it seems happy to support the love their son, Prince Harry, obviously has for the beautiful, divorced, bi-racial American actress. Wow! Perhaps Love stands a chance in a fallen world.

The Reverend Michael Curry, an Episcopal bishop from Chicago, echoed ! Corinthians 13: 1 – 10, “If I could speak all languages on Earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wrong. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful.”

Love is a choice as well as an emotion. We can’t be in love, love must be in us. Love is the choice to value and respect another. Love beginning with the physical sensation of wanting to be with another leads to the complicated relationship of marriage. We are wonderfully made, but for a marriage to endure the tribulations of life, Love must mature into the biblical definition. Love is not self-centered. It protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

Jesus added, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12: 22) Love does not mean rejecting duty. Perhaps the British showed the world they have chosen Love.

 

The Good Life 1, Know Thyself

In his Essay on Man (1734), Alexander Pope wrote: Know thyself. Presume not God to scan. The proper study of mankind is man. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading biography, memoir, the Bible, and even novels. My friend in writing class published her memoir, Struck by Joy, available on Amazon, No life is all joy – but we treasure the moments, and we bring them out of memory like treasured gifts in times of sorrow. I congratulate my friend for her honest work.

What is the best way of being a person? Examining your own life is not an easy task. We tend to blame others when life does not work out the way we expected it to. Passing blame is easy – revealing ourselves is hard. From where do we get the cornerstone of our souls?

Thomas Wolfe died this week. He was gifted with a plethora of words, of sounds, of meaning, and he invented his persona – a southern gentleman who glimpsed the trials of a constantly changing society and explained what he saw. I don’t believe he did any harm, and perhaps some good in his meaningful life.

Jesus, Mohammed, and Budda are well known examples of well-lived lives. Each founded a system of beliefs, a religion, practiced by most of us in varying degrees at varying times. They each pointed to a direction in a well lived life: but life is complicated and the directions are subject to interpretation. Acting as men with heavenly connections, they left their wisdom to posterity. Learning about ourselves seals our relationship with the God we only sense.

Virtues are the undeniable characteristics of a “good life.” Knowing them and absorbing them take effort. “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” says Pope in his Essay on Criticism, 1709. We tend to avoid the labor of shoveling too deeply, and we become stuck in our paradigms. Socrates believed “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but do we want to make the effort to examine our beliefs?

Solomon explains that wisdom is better than rubies (Proverbs 8: 11) and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9: 10) Moses wrote God’s Ten Commandments on stone, and Jesus whittled them down to one. LOVE, and you will enjoy a good life.

But how did that work out?

Just A Minute, 5

Socrates means well, but all life is worth living, even the unexamined life. An epitaph on a neglected gravestone reads, “Here Lies An Athiest, all dressed up and no place to go.” A sorry state, indeed. Perhaps he should have taken the time to consider where his life was going. Life is the result of the choices we make at the crossroads of circumstances. All roads lead somewhere, but eventually end in a destination.

What circumstances did we use well, and how did we misuse others? How did our choices influence the circumstances they brought about? Do we take the time to think – to reflect and meditate? Life is so busy, and busyness occupies our time. Our maker sometimes seems far away, and what did He want from us anyway? Are we missing His Expectations?

Consider Pip, Charles Dickens’ unfinished character. Perhaps he married Estella, and had several beautiful children, or not. Dickens apparently could not decide, so his readers insisted on a happy ending. But Scrooge’s life is full of surprises that end well, and Tiny Tim is saved. Charles Dickens seemed to know how unpredictable life is, and how difficult to predict its end.

Life should be filled with joy and love. The rest is tragedy. We persist in gathering what is unattainable, and our lives are then filled with sorrow and remiss. Our lives are linked to others in a complicated knitting. We were born helpless and independent, and we will return to our maker in the same condition.

We are regrettably slow learners. We forget or never learn our history: Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul and others who have given us insight into a Loving and Forgiving God. The magazine GQ cites the Bible number 12 in its article, “25 books you don’t need to read,” I am told by a reliable source since GQ is not on my reading list.

Upon our demise we will be greeted by our Friend who wants only that we live well, taking his advice to love – God, our Neighbors, and Ourselves… to love all that is unknowable. Is Love the basis of all the virtues?

Consider the 10 Commandments, handed to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai,The Book of Virtues, (William J. Bennett, Simon and Schuster, 1993), and 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior hand-copied and kept by George Washington a schoolboy in Fredericksburg, Virginia and later found at Mount Vernon in Amor Towle’s novel Rules of Civility, (Penguin Books, 2011).  Surely these contain enough information to guarantee a well lived life.

We seek life’s meaning. Like Socrates and Solomon, we covet wisdom. It’s important.

Just A Minute, 4

Our thoughts are well stirred, and we can add to the pot of last words, well written by the deceased, but not forgotten.

Emily Dickenson (1830 – 1886), an American poet, wrote nearly 2000 poems in her brief lifetime, but she saw published only 12, many about death. Remember, “Because I could not stop for death, it kindly stopped for me. The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality.” We see the recluse Emily riding to the hereafter in a comfortable coach with Death, the loving sister, at her side. Her epitaph is brief: “Called back”, and she was heard no more.

Hilaire Bellocc (1870 – 1953), a prolific Anglo-French Catholic historian wrote, His Sins Were Scarlet, But His Books Were Red.” I could not find a listing of his scarlet sins, which might be interesting, but his Cautionary Tales for Children continues to be red.

Remember H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946)? The science fiction writer and author of War of the Worlds died of liver complications. In the preface of that book, he wrote his suggested epitaph, “I told you so, you damned fools.” His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the English Chanel. An historical marker, called a Blue Plaque, was put on his last home in Regents Park in 1966. We can hope his epitaph was not a prophesy.

Born in Darby, Pennsylvania, a busy suburb of Philadelphia, W.C. Fields (1880-1946) was an American comedian and actor who shared his contempt for dogs and children and love for alcohol. He claimed to read the Bible looking for loopholes. His final message was, “On the whole, I’d rather be living in Philadelphia.”

John Yeast left us his sense of humor. “Here Lies John Yeast. .. Gentleman. .. Pardon Me for Not Rising.” Christians can only hope this unknown Yeast’s fate is not ours.

There lies “Woodson James, (Jesse) 1847-1882, Murdered by a traitor and coward, whose name is not worthy to appear here.”

With no dates, “Here lies Lester Moore, 4 shots from a ’44. No less, No moore.”

A wooden marker tells half of a sad story. Unwittingly George bought a stolen horse. “Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake. 1822. Nearby a marker tells the rest of the story. “He was right. We was wrong. But we strung him up and now he’s gone.”

Mel Blanc (1908 – 1989) is remembered for the voice of Porky Pig in children’s cartoons. His final words were “That’s all folks.”

 

Just A Minute, 3

Just a minute to wonder about time that eventually ends for all mortals and the final words they leave to mark their lives. Some might find reading epitaphs grim, but they are revealing. College classes in pre-Shakespearean literature wet my appetite for poetry and antiquity, while it made a terrible speller of me. Kyd, Marlowe, Spencer. and Lyly are not familiar names to the modern unacquainted reader, but Shakespeare borrowed from their works,. If one would honor someone, he borrows, but returns with interest.

Edmund Spencer (1522- 1596), author of The Faerie Queene is buried at Westminster Abbey in the Poets’ Corner. When Goode Queene Bess failed to pay the 100 pounds she had promised to him, Spencer wrote, “I was promised on a time— To have a reason for my rhyme… From that time unto this season… I received nor rhyme nor reason.” She paid. Spencer’s epitaph says, “Here lies the body of a poet. The prince of poets in this time, Whose divine spirit needs no other witness Than the works he left behind.” Self-congratulatory certainly, but contemporary poets and the public threw pens and pieces of poetry in his grave with their copious tears.

Ben Johnson’s (1573-1637) grave is simply marked, “O rare.” Nearby is the grave of his son. seven years of age. Johnson wrote, “lent to me, but escaped the world’s and flesh’s rage, and if no other misery than Age. My best piece of poetry, for what I love can never live too much.” A romantic  Ben wrote, “Drink to me only with thine eyes, and I will drink with mine: or leave a kiss within the cup, and I’ll not look for wine.”

John Donne (1572-1631) is remembered for his poetry and philosophy. We know him for “No man is an island entire of itself…” His epitaph expresses his religious beliefs, “Reader, I am to let thee know, Donne’s body only lies below. For could the grave his soul comprise, Earth would be richer than the skies.”

Not an Elizabethan, but the writer of many rhymed couplets, Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) wrote, “Good Nature and Good Sense must ever combine. To err is human, to forgive divine.” His grave suggests his grand ideas. ” Heroes and Kings! Your distance keep. In peace let this poor poet sleep. Who never flattered folks like you. Let Horace blush and Virgil too.”

Robert Southey (1813 – 1843) wrote the first version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,”  in which a witch discovers and eats the porridge, and then jumps out a window when encountered by angry bears. He sleeps under the words, “Beneath these poppies buried deep, the bones of Bob the bard lie hid. Peace to his manes (spirit) and may he sleep — as soundly as his readers did.”    Dead poets leave their words behind them!

 

Just A Minute, 2

Please spare a minute for William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, born sometime before April 24, 1564 when he was christened. Sharing the responsibility for 39 plays, 134 sonnets, and other writings in his brief 52 years of life, he died suddenly on April 23, 1616, cause unknown. He is still considered England’s greatest poet. Writing in an age unconstrained by copyright laws, he shared the work of other writers. Sharing your work, then called borrowing, was the custom and no one sued him for plagiarism. With his unique sense of drama and poetry, he enriched his world and ours.

We know today’s present is tomorrow’s past. The Bard explained it thus: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5) “Out, out, brief candle.” Our time on Earth is limited to today, but do we judge the past with today’s standards? Will a more responsible future judge today with their vision?

In Macbeth we learn of the Scottish general who receives a prophesy from three witches that someday he will be king. In his haste and overcome with ambition, he kills the king. Wracked by guilt and the strife and disorder that prevails, he uses up his brief string of time. Macbeth is dead, but the sin of ambition persists today.

Time changes the world we live in, but seems to change little about its inhabitants. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets its hour across the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing —” continues Macbeth. The tragedy shows how ambition changes those who seek power, a truth to be observed 402 years later.

Epitaphs conclude our stories, and Shakespeare’s monument tells us, “Good friend for Jesus sake forbear — to dig the dust enclosed here. Blest be the man who spares these stones, and Curst be he who moves my bones. It seems to be a request for peace.

Happy Birthday Will, on the day I remember well since 1963. Happy Birthday daughter. You light my life.

Reading a gravestone is like reading the last page of a book first. Give me a minute and I’ll tell you more of the epitaphs left at death’s door.