Friday, February 25, 2011

Kickball Hero

When: Spring 1976. 
Where: Stephen F. Austin Elementary School - Playground.
Who: Mrs. Dollar’s class vs. Mrs. Martin’s class.
What: Kickball!
Larson on the mound. Hopes at the plate.
It was over in a minute. Larson barely had a chance to look up to see the red speck growing larger to cover his entire face and knocking him over backward.
The memory that Hopes was bigger in third grade than I am now may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact that I flinch every time a ball comes my way, originated in that moment. As my kickball team has gone through a variety of practices, almost everyone on the team has recounted some kind of kickball horror memory. If the memory did not come from kickball, it came from some other sport.
Yet, here we are, playing on a kickball team as adults. Speaking for myself, I’m having a wonderful time at the games and look forward to our practices and game times each week. Deep inside, I am overcoming the horrors of the childhood playground and redeeming myself (because, honestly, I many not yet be the world’s best athlete, but I am in better shape than I ever was as a teenager) athletically.
Come on Friday! Bring it!

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Now that the heart of winter has settled upon us here in Austin, I have found it is the perfect time to dodge about town on my scooter. The weather has been shorts and tee-shirt perfect, so I’ve grabbed the camera, filled my backpack with a pad and pens, a bottle of water, hopped on my scooter and have started making my way to parks in Austin I never would have explored had I been driving my truck. In fact, I have driven by many of them and never noticed them as I passed.

So many (semi)quiet retreats are just around the corner. Just today I discovered a side trail to the Lady Bird (Town) Lake running trail with benches and tables and what appears to be ample shade when the trees are fully leaved in the summer. The little park offers view of Longhorn Dam and the decommissioned power plant that I never imagined. With the benches and tables I have room to work, write, and just sit as others pass by.

These are the first pictures I have kept of the old power plant that will soon be demolished.

Longhorn Dam at the end of Lady Bird Lake. This is the first time I have ever seen it from the lake side. For three years, I drove across it almost daily on my way to work.
As we move into spring and Austin comes alive, I am looking forward to enjoying this new passion as I explore more parts of a city I have loved for ten years.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Winter Water in the Greenbelt

At most points of the year, the bulk of the Barton Creek Greenbelt it dry with only patches of water. In my hike this past Sunday, I reached a point where I could hear water running, but I could not find it anywhere. Finally, I wandered over to the side of the Greenbelt and found where water was streaming down from a path  between two cliffs. Possibly the water was coming out of someone's ancient septic system or drainage from somewhere. I was glad not to be playing in it.

I absolutely loved the water flowing over the leaves. As I have posted numerous pictures of water flowing before, there is a life to the water that contrasts with the dead leaves in the bed of the otherwise dry creek bed.

Shortly after the water pooled past the area where it appeared and ran, it disappeared into the ground as a demonstration of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge zone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Greenbelt in Winter

Sunday afternoon was such a beautiful time in Austin, that I could not stay at home no matter how much work I had to do. At one of my stops I discovered a friend had just taken a shortcut down to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, so I grabbed my camera and went down there to catch him. While the entire area contains some stunning sights, the one area with the cliffs - which can be accessed at several different levels is particularly stunning without the water flowing in the stream bed.

When the water is flowing, people jump from the cliffs into the water. At times when no water is flowing, the landscape transforms into a much more harsh and stark landscape.

Despite the differences in the landscape in winter, there are some areas of simple beauty with the contrasts in light and shadow.

I absolutely love the way the large stones in the center of the stream bed are surrounded by the more regular "river rock"

After each rain, different debris gets hung up at different points along the stream bed. My fascination with stumps is matched by such random droppings of sticks and other material along the path of the water.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Austin Scenes

Yesterday was such an amazingly beautiful day in Austin, I couldn't stay inside, so after making a quick dash home to change clothes, I hopped on my scooter and started driving around Austin. I went down to Lady Bird Lake and took some shots of the updated Austin skyline. Currently there is only one crane visible at the site of the new Federal courthouse (where the Intel building was imploded) when only a year ago the skyline was dominated by construction cranes.

I'm very excited about all the work being done around the old Seaholm Power Plant (above). It is being used for parties and events at this time, but is becoming a social hub for downtown Austin.

After scootering around S. Austin and meeting a couple friends down in the Barton Creek Greenbelt for a hike, I was riding home when I came over a hill and saw this view of downtown Austin. No, this is not Photoshop - it is one shot as the sun is setting to the west. I need to find out how to use this shot in my header.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Bible on Prayer

I wanted to provide a solid foundation for prayer as a part of the Christian life, but after reading and studying, I discovered that the theology surrounding prayer is a minefield so sensitive that looking across it could trigger explosions of cognitive dissonance. Absolute directions provided by one source contradicted equally stringent commands from another source whose guides another labeled cultish and satanic. All the sources cited scripture as their guide.
After reviewing the scriptures in as many as five translations, the cause for the discrepancy becomes clear: the Bible gives relatively little absolute direction on HOW to pray despite mentioning that we SHOULD pray. The directions from Christ, Himself, provided some of the most solid guidelines. His discourse in Matthew Chapter 6, on piety, contains the model prayer which covers our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and our relationship with things. AS we come to God privately, humbly, and directly, we have and effective prayer.
Almost no Bible study on prayer I was able to locate dwelt on the topic of prayer in the Old Testament. Periodically a major prophet, patriarch, or Psalm would be mentioned, but very little was said of them. Upon doing a concordance search of the word prayer, I found that it was not a term much used in the Old Testament, but in reading passages, we see language that we recognized as what we call prayer happening throughout. Just as Jesus would speak to His Father, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha and others all have conversations with God recorded in the Old Testament. Unless directed to be by God, these conversations were not Public Spectacles, but followed  Jesus’s command to go to God in private.
I have been wondering what it would be like to have an Abrahamic prayer life - kicking back with God on my patio while the chiminea warms us and the grill cooks burgers (without cheese) while He and I have an intimate conversation about what he has planned for me in the coming weeks, months, and centuries.
As I seek to have a healthy prayer life, I find some direction, but really more examples in the Bible. Following the examples from the patriarchs through the prophets to Christ and the apostles, gives me a foundation that sees me through any situation.Reading patiently and thoroughly through both the Old and New Testaments, we find the foundation for prayer that we need. As we see in the Bible, coming regularly, earnestly, and directly to Him is the key to  relationship and genuine prayer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My History with Prayer

A pastor and parishioner are talking.
The parishioner asks the pastor: “Pastor, may I smoke while praying?”
The pastor replied: “Absolutely not! Prayer is a sacred act.”
Parishioner: “Well, then, may I pray while smoking?”
Pastor: “Of course! Prayer is appropriate at any time, in any place.”
Everyone of us has a unique history with prayer and likely we never give it much thought. Prayer is just something we do as people of faith.
But how did we learn?
Is there a right way and a wrong way to pray and who says?
How much time did your church spend teaching about prayer - other than an occasional sermon from the preacher?
My earliest memories of prayer were of my Nana kneeling by the side of the bed to pray as was her habit every night. As a young child, when I spent the night with my grandparents, I often slept on a pallet on the floor next to her bed and got to witness her evening prayer. Everything but the “amen” was silent, so I don’t know what she said, but I have that visual image stuck with me for life.
In Sunday school we memorized prayers, but I don’t recall many particular lessons about prayer other than that we were expected to do it every night or we were a really bad person. I still have not discovered what was so special about praying at night, but that was the definite time it was supposed to happen.
Later in life, as an adult, the church I was attending had a Discipleship Training class on prayer, but from what I now remember of it, it was a very technical guide to prayer that left one thinking there were definitely right and wrong ways to pray, so for years, I felt guilty about not praying the right way.
As I began reading and preparing for this study, I found more and more that my history was not entirely unique in the extent to which the church often lacks consistent and clear training about prayer while at the same time valuing prayer as one of the essential tools of a healthy spiritual life.  But compared to some others, I was quite unique in that I had attended a church that actually did a study of prayer. Such a lack of direction and implied learning by example offers both positives and negatives to church members. On the positive, the church cannot judge one much on prayer when it has taught so little about it, but it can create a degree of concern for the believer as they seek to pray when they hear examples going in many different directions.
In any congregation, people are going to come from a variety of backgrounds with members like myself who have been regular in attendance since birth to those who came to the church late in life. The more I have studied about prayer, the more I have come to believe that providing meaningful instruction on prayer is a necessary function of the church in developing a spiritually mature membership. While the brief study we had will not complete that task, hopefully it will move the members who participated closer to that goal.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Take Me to Your Leader

“Take me to your leader.”
That infamous first line by the aliens that seems so ubiquitous in cheap science fiction falls far from the beliefs of Christians with a rich prayer life. Genuine, devout prayer opens a line of communication directly with our Leader that offers solace and guidance as needed. Prayer, for the believer, proves to be a cornerstone of the faith and an opportunity for that direct fellowship both humans and God desire. As we grow in our prayers, our relationship with God, hopefully will become like that of the patriarchs of the Hebrew faith: a one-on-one discussion about our lives and future as He would have it be for us.
For the last five weeks, the adult Bible study classes at University Baptist Church have been studying prayer in the way that only UBC Austin can - with an eclectic mix of song, discussion, and reflection on the topic. As the organizer of the study, I must confess that five weeks offers such a superficial overview of prayer, that I am embarrassed to offer it as a “study,” for the topic of prayer runs so deep in the Christian faith that such a limited time can do little more than kindle an interest in the topic.
After hatching the idea, I began reading books, scouring the Bible, and identifying Internet resources to support the study. The volumes of information available paralyzed me in composing the lesson guides for the various teachers. Finally, though, I settled on a five-week plan after deciding on discussion topics that moved us toward the goal of writing a prayer book for the Liturgical season of Lent. With that goal as the focus, the discussion topics make sense and guide the discussion to the topic of public prayer - a type which suits a prayer guide.
The five discussion topics that led us to the opportunity to write a prayer are:
  1. Our History with Prayer - A discussion concerning how we learned to pray, who taught us, and we learned from church and the community around us.
  2. Biblical Foundations of Prayer - A discussion based on what we learned in the Bible about prayer through those that were recorded and directions that were given to us.
  3. Types of Prayer - A discussion based on different types of free-form and highly structured prayers.
  4. Purposes of Prayer - A discussion which categorized reasons people pray, and the more I studied this session, I saw the language around this topic morph toward the functions of prayer rather than the purposes of prayer.
  5. Public Prayer- The discussion that concluded the study centered around University Baptist Church’s “Guide for Public Prayers” and how we suppose those came to be in written form.
Despite my frustration a five-week study imposed, the in class discussions, the random conversations with other church and community members have been some of the richest theological discussions I’ve had in my lifetime. Topic-by-topic I hope to expand my thinking on the topic and and inspire others to develop a meaningful public prayer life on top of a healthy private prayer time.
The fictional, “take me to your leader” moment will likely never happen in our lives, but as people of faith, we have the opportunity to approach our Leader directly, and ideally, that is the approach we will have to prayer.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Circle Rainbow

It may not be the “double rainbow” of YouTube fame, but looking out the window of my flight to Denver, I was amazed to see a full circle rainbow.

I took the best shots I could get with my iPhone out of the window.

The full circle may be due to the perspective of the plane or due to windows of the plane. Either way, it was a neat sight to see

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Insights in Flight

Due to the last minute nature of my booking, I ended up taking a very round-about flight to Kansas for my cousin’s wedding. The flight took me from Austin, to El Paso, to Albuquerque, to Denver, and finally to Wichita. The unexpected benefit of the flight was he view up the Rocky Mountains as the sun rose from the east, creating bright peaks and shadowed valleys in places. The views were so spectacular that, given the chance, I will book this same flight again.

As we were flying over New Mexico and I looked at the vast landscapes unaltered by human hands, I imagined the cowboys in the 1800’s riding across these landscapes and the Indians who populated the lands even before then. Certainly they had to be impressed by the majesty around them, but was it even possible for them to grasp the magnitude of the landscape by standing at eye level or even elevated on the back of a horse.

Streaking trough the sky at 33,000 feet, the sensation of what it had to be like to trek across those mountains and plains in solitude or even in small bands overcame me with a sense of the smallness of humankind. I could barely comprehend the grandeur of it all seen from the miles-high perspective, and yet hardy individuals struck out across it unaware of anything that was farther than the horizon.

After the weekend is over, I want to search out parks with hiking trails in the region over which I flew, so that I can get that eye-level perspective of old.

All the photos were taken through the window of the plane with my iPhone.