Friday, October 25, 2013

Thoughts from a Corn Maze

On-line version of Newsletter Cover Article: Volume 1 Issue 1:
First of all, let me inform all of our on-line readers about the new monthly CCS Newsletter made possible by one of our school families and the advertisers, writers, and photographers represented in each edition. This post is an amplified version of the cover article of the November newsletter. Whenever possible, I will post an on-line version of my newsletter article with links [click on underlined text], additional photos, cross-references, etc.

maze2013On a beautiful Saturday back in October, my wife and I took our children and grandchildren to Lewis Farms in New Era.  Among the thousands of guests on those sprawling 700 acres of fall fun, we typically see lots of CCS friends each time we go. The corn maze shown below is one of their big attractions.

If you find yourself In a corn maze this fall, take time to stop and smell the roses—okay, okay… there are typically no roses in a corn maze but I guess what I mean is time to be aMAZED by God’s design in the corn. For instance, did you know that the number of rows on an ear of corn may vary (average is 16) but it will always be an even number? For the purpose of this article, however, I want you to direct your attention to the roots of a corn stalk.

What you see in this picture are called “brace roots.” They develop well after the stalk of corn has emerged from the soil. As you walk through the corn maze you’ll see that the corn is from 8 feet to 10 feet high and yet the stalk is roughly the width of a broom handle. How can millions of cornstalks (more than a million per 40 acres) stand so tall with all that weight and those broad leaves like sails in the wind? The answer is brace roots.

 God designed corn to grow brace roots that function the same way man-made braces prop up a palm tree in hurricane season.The brace roots on a stalk of corn are not the main part of the root system—not the main source of nourishment to the plant. That root system is below the brace roots as seen in the illustration below:

I know some of you may be thinking: “So you mean to tell me you were out in a corn maze with your family and grandchildren and you took time to think about all this corn stuff?” And the answer is yes. I had never paid any attention to the “brace roots” of corn before this past Saturday, but I’ve been thinking and writing about roots lately so these brace roots jumped out at me.

Metaphorically speaking, our roots keep us grounded, they nourish us, they reach deep to find moisture between needed rains, they keep things around us from falling apart (erosion of soil. Colossians says Christ literally holds all things together.), and as seen with the brace roots of corn, they help us stand tall against adversity.

The Bible has much to say about roots and healthy plants and bad plants and pruning and good soil and standing firm “like trees planted by the rivers of living waters.” I’ve barely touched on the subject in these thoughts and pictures, but the real purpose of these thoughts from the corn maze is to introduce the small booklet that will be enclosed in next month's newsletter.
It’s called “Roots around Rock: Teaching toward Ideals in a Less Than Ideal World.” I’d be honored if you’d read that booklet and perhaps share it with a friend. Extra copies will be in the literature rack at the school in December. Toward the end of that booklet, it says, "Ideals... are not just lofty words or feel-good maxims. They are not stepping stones conveniently placed along some garden walk. Ideals are immovable boulders deep in the ground, exposed over time in the grip of roots…and forever bound through the ages. They line the rugged, narrow path from where we are to where we know we ought to be as taught in Ancient Words proven true through centuries."

 We hope the booklet will help our community better understand what CCS means when we talk about “common ground” and being rooted in the things that matter most. It’s just a little booklet printed by the same CCS family that makes this newsletter possible, but the thoughts in it may help illustrate our goal of holding fast to the never-changing truth of God’s Word in an ever-changing world.

Tom Kapanka
CCS Administrator

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Please Send Our Roots Your Rain


The ground is clumps of hard and crackled clay
where creeks and ponds and puddled mud once lay
in meadows draped in a purple haze
of cocklebur in bloom. Gone are the days
of soft, dark loam when just as spring's begun
the plowshare sliced from morn to setting sun.
Too long the wind and weathered walls
have whispered in the empty stalls
of barns and whined at windows in the night
where just beyond in the flickering light
a shadow prays…as another sighs,
and with calloused hands against their eyes
they plead again in soft steadfast refrain…
“Ours, O, Lord, yes ours… please send our roots Your rain.”
Tom Kapanka
©Begun 1-26-12;/ completed 2-8-13

I realize that this poem comes out of nowhere and doesn't fit the season or the recent exciting events at school. I found a draft of it in a file on my external hard-drive today. It was just a bunch of lines that I did not recall even starting until I read them again. The date on that file was January 26, 2012. So the thoughts had sat there undisturbed for over a year, and then as I read them today, I remembered where I was going with it and finished them. Like so many things I write, if not properly read aloud, the lines seem to run-on, but I trust the images come through. It happened to fall into a sonnet of sorts.

Two summers ago, while visiting Julie's folks in Kansas in July, I was in the car with my father-in-law. Many farms in that part of wheat contry still have the remnant of a barn with gaps between the boards that let in light and wind, but they are typically still maintained by someone no longer living there.

I saw rolling hills of cocklebur and said something about the purple cast they gave the landscape. My father-in-law told me the weed was an invasive species that takes over acres and acres of pasture, leaving them unfit for crops or livestock. He pointed out that the fields I was admiring were once good farm land but had gone feral many years ago. I had heard that term applied to wild animals (like cats found in abandoned houses) but never to land, and it made me ponder the farmer's plight: even in the best of times he struggles to keep the growing things he wants from those he doesn't--to separate the wheat from tares, so to speak. He knows that, left alone, the weeds win. That much he expects as part of life and Eden's curse. But there are other times, times of drought, when even the daily struggle of separating good from bad is lost for lack of rain, and in such times he is reminded of his total dependence on God. This is hard for farmers because they are problem solvers who believe hard work gives hands their worth.

Such were my thoughts when I began this piece more than a year ago before forgetting I'd begun it. I chose not to set it in time, and kept the praying couple vague (shadows). The flickering light could be a candle, a lantern, or a bare dim bulb. They could be settlers from a 150 years ago; they could be the grandchildren of settlers in the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression; they could be living on a barren farm right now.

But I mostly left the time and characters vague to take the notion of being parched beyond dry land to a sort of personal, spiritual drought. This latter image needs no season, and like the farmer's plight can only be solved from above. So many good things are currently happening for our school, and we thank all of those who are praying for God's continued blessing. He is indeed sending our roots rain. May this be true for each of us in every way.

The refrain at the end is a variation on a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89) I first read the poem entitled ‘Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend’ over 30 years ago, and though I cannot say I'm an avid reader of Hopkins, his earnest plea for rain and personal restoration has come to mind at various times of "drought" through the years.

Psalm 42: 1
"As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God."

Note: This post was originally published here in February, and it remains in that February 2013 space. It was re-posted in October to follow the post about roots.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Revisiting the Meaning of Neighbor

One time Jesus was talking to a lawyer who had heard him summarize the Ten Commandments with “Love the Lord your God completely AND love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer had a follow-up:

“Let’s define the terms. Who is my neighbor?"

Wouldn’t life be easier if Jesus had said, "Your neighbor is any person whose primary residential property is contiguous with your own and perpendicular to the street of address." Loving “next-door neighbors” unconditionally would not always be easy, but the duty would at least be limited to a few occupants of two homes. Hard as it would be to love all next-door neighbors "as yourself," Jesus makes the task even more daunting by dropping the "next-door" part and completely re-defining the word neighbor through a story.

You know the one. It's called the Good Samaritan, a parable of unmerited kindness in an atmosphere of prejudice. As a creative exercise (not an attempt to "improve" upon the original in God's word), a few years ago I took some liberties and wrote a paraphrase set in New York City. I think it may serve as a good reminder that our Lord does not ask us to be "neighbors" only to those who share our beliefs but also to those whom he brings into our lives through circumstances beyond our control. In a different part of Scripture, we are reminded that sometimes we are interacting with angels unaware. How we treat those we are most inclined to avoid or not want in our midst says much about our progress as followers of Christ. So here's a modern retelling of that old parable:
.................. ............................................ ...................

The suburban lawyer was glad to hear Jesus talking about loving his neighbors. He liked Joe to the south and Jim to the north—they got along great, but he wanted to make sure it didn’t include Josh on the back lot line. Josh was a jerk. He once cut down a Scotch Pine that was in this lawyer’s lot and all he said was “Sorry I didn't ask, but my dog kennel needed some sun.” It was that blasted dog kennel and the ugly mutt inside that the lawyer wanted most to block with the bushy tree, but he let it go. Oh, how he hoped Jesus’ answer only meant “next-door” neighbors on the same street.

But Jesus threw him a curve. The story had nothing to do with houses or lot lines. It was about this man who got knocked out, and robbed on a side street in New York City. He was lying there like one of those homeless guys you try not to look in the eyes.

Most of the passers by had learned how to step aside without looking down at those awkward glances, but some crossed the street because he was moaning and reaching out for help.

One man thought, “I can't tell if he's drunk or hurt, but I’m not getting close enough to find out.”

“I’m not getting involved,” another thought, “Last time I did I had to be a witness in court. ‘I know nothing... nothing,’” he said in a German accent. (He was actually Italian, but he loved that line from Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes.)

Then this “red state” rancher comes walking along in a cowboy hat and boots. He was in New York on business, a trip that had flopped the second he walked into the client’s office with his Southern accent and a “Support the Troops” button on his lapel. So he cut the trip short and had a few hours to see the sights before his flight.

Everywhere he goes people stare at him. It may have been his bow-legged gate. It may have been the puzzled smile he returned to folks with pink and purple hair who snickered at his hat. He walks by some protesters on a corner and one of them screams "Accept Me," shaking a sign so close to his face that he can't read the words. He simply tips his hat and says, “Much obliged, Ma’am,” thinking to himself “Toto, We’re not in Kansas anymore.” (He was actually from Texas, but he loved that line.)

Then he comes upon this beat-up man by the curb and quickly stoops down to help. He takes a bottle of water from his coat and a bandanna from his back pocket. As the blood's wiped off the fallen man's face, he looks up and whispers,"Gracias." It’s clear that there are no serious injuries and the fallen man insists on NOT going to the hospital and NOT calling the police. The Texan fully understands what that means. Being from San Antonia, he knew the confident look of his Hispanic neighbors and the skittish look of their visiting friends who came and went with work. So he helps up the raggedy man and walks him down the block to the fine hotel where he was staying.

The regal doorman stopped them. “Sir, he can’t come in here.”

But the Texan said, “He’s with me, and my room’s booked for another two nights.”

The Mexican man smiled as they crossed the grand lobby and the kind stranger approached the front desk.

"I'm registering this gentleman to stay in my room. I won’t be needing it. He could use a hot bath and some rest, room service meals—and how ‘bout one of them back-rubs the brochure talks up. He’s kinda sore. Oh, and some clothes from that men's shop there—which by the way doesn't even know what a Stetson is. And if he wants it, a train ticket to anywhere he says. Put it all on my card. Here’s my cell phone number. Let me know if he needs anything else. Now…could you please call me a cab. I have a plane to catch.”
Turning to leave with a smile, he gave his new friend his hat. A few days later the man was feeling fine. He sat a long time at the top of the hotel's back stoop before beginning his walk to Grand Central.

It was a short story using the things most familiar to his listeners, and after telling it
Jesus paused and asked, “Who was neighbor to the man?”

The lawyer answered. “The one who picked him up and helped him without judging or asking what he already knew.”

“Good answer. I call it showing mercy. Now you go and do likewise.... even if a guy cuts down your Scotch Pine.”

“Yes, Lord. Hey... how did you know about my pine tree?… Oh, yeah, I forgot,” he said sheepishly as Jesus put something in his hand.

"Here's the penny for your thoughts."
(He was actually omniscient, but he loved that line.)
[Author's note: Why NYC? Because they have a "Good Samaritan" law that gets its name from the Bible story and stems from a similar real-life incident in which many eye witnesses refused to offer help a person in need. Why Texas? Because I think people in "red states" (more conservative states that tend to vote Republican--especially those in the south) are often treated by northern more-liberal elitists as "red necks" and bigots, an attitude which is as bigoted as any other form of prejudice. Why a Mexican? Two reasons: They are our neighbor to the south and in some respects our neighbors in need, but the story could have included a refuge from the Congo or a new arrival from an Arab country or any other person toward whom the passers-by have visceral feelings of rejection (because that was an important part of the original story; and second, I wanted to use the word "Gracias" which shares its roots and meaning with "Grace," and that one word is what this story is all about.]