Sunday, May 25, 2014

Remind: Memorial Day

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 25, 2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Deuteronomy 8: 1-5
Ephesians 6: 10-20

Let us pray, for a welcome mind and a loving heart
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. [1]

Memorial Day is a special day within the life of the church. Many have argued and debated recently as to whether secular national holidays should be celebrated within the church. It is very much caught up in the separation of church and state arguments. Like what is it all about to have an American flag hanging up here, is it appropriate to sing America the Beautiful and the others? There are really good arguments for the separation of religion and the state. . . I am certainly a big fan of the separation. I, for one, am a student of church history who believes that one of the biggest most unfortunate events in the church is it becoming established as the church of the Roman Empire. The biggest challenge to that kind of secular and worldly success is that the secular and the spiritual become linked, tied, and often misconstrued as the same thing. Historical events become irreparably linked to the faithfulness, or lack thereof of the people. Failure and success of the nation become connected to God's favor and disfavor, and things that are actually mysterious and unknown come front and center in absolute certainty and in that absolute certainty is power, and truth becomes lost. The truth that transcends life, the truth that is God, the truth that is so important to remember becomes clouded in the apparent, the seen, and the invisible God who is, is replaced by the very visible idols of power. Such is the danger of established religion. . . so often Christians fight against the separation of church and state, wanting prayer to be in the schools, in the public square, etc. . . . and there is something to those arguments, but the state run drunk with religion actually ends up destroying what it adopts, robbing the actual power of what it subsidizes. . . God needs no subsidy. . . but none of that is what Memorial Day is about. . . memorial day is about remembering, and remembering sacrifice, and what could be more Christian than that. Our faith is built on sacrifice, for sacrifice is the very root of love, and is shown as such by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.
I did a little research about the origin of Memorial Day, and it was originally called decoration day. . . and was done in connection to civil war grave yards both North and South. The idea is that the community would go to the graves of fallen soldiers and decorate those graves with flowers. There was usually originally a church service connected to the observance, and if that wasn't churchy enough, there was also a potluck dinner. Nothing says church like pot luck. I was reminded last week when giving my thoughts on what it means to be Presbyterian that I left out the most important part, the food. You really have got to have at least one green bean and onion casserole to know that you have had a religious experience for the week. So within the history of the holiday there is real religious and Christian observance. When you think about it, it makes more sense in its Christian context than maybe it even does as a National public holiday, turning a religious and spiritual day of remembrance into a kick off to the summer, a three-day weekend excuse for barbecues and heading to the pool. See what I mean about when the state adopts something, it seems to destroy it, at least it tends to shift and to cheapen the strength and meaning of it. So if we don't do the remembering here where would we, tell me that, where else does it happen this week, other than the marathons on AMC and Turner Classic Movies of great war films, where else does it happen? So if we can put off the cook outs, the parties and the pools, and the one sentence facebook remembrances, and really remember, reminding ourselves, for the remembering is important, it is what it's really all about.
We remember people, men and women, who have given all, given their lives to preserve our lives, where we are, where we worship, where we go about our daily routine, the place, the space, the room, the land, and the ideals, they are due to those sacrifices. It's hard to say more than that, it's one of those truths that just is, and so it is to put words to it, especially by someone who can barely imagine what war is really like, what combat is like, because I've never been close to it at all, and I know that some of you have. I've heard some of the stories, and I cherish hearing them. Jim I love to hear about your experiences, and Ned, and Walter the stories you tell are real, and I'll never forget hearing some also from Stuart Richardson. You all have direct connection to remembering those who fell in and around your life. And I can only imagine what that would be like. . . and so I seek to remember, to find something tangible to hold on to because I know remembering is important. It gives perspective, it helps in that way, it brings some humility, knowing that as independent as I like to think I am, my way of life, my safety, and my security, my rights as a human being and citizen of this nation are completely dependent on the sacrifices of others. That's humbling. . .
Christians lately in addition to being uncomfortable with Nationalism, often are also squeamish when it comes to talking about war. We hear Jesus saying things like, Blessed are the Peacemakers, and our natural distaste of violence is increased. Most churches have refrained from singing songs like Onward Christian Soldiers, and the like, because of the militaristic imagery used. . . even though in that hymn, it's more the metaphor of war, being used to describe the battle against evil in the world. It's funny I was talking about how the state adopting something can work to weaken it, the opposite is also true. . .nothing has made "Onward Christian Soldiers" so popular a hymn as it being made taboo by church leaders. The mystique is piqued in the rebellion of it. But then when it comes down to it, when you finally sing it,  you realize it isn't all that great of a hymn.
It is strange that we would be so squeamish about the metaphor when this morning's passage from Ephesians uses the very same one, that we are going to war against evil, and that we are to arm ourselves with God, putting on the armor of God, to be able to go and fight against evil. Paul tells the people of Ephesus that in order to stand against the present darkness, they should put on the whole armor of God, that they should put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. That the key to this armor is praying in the spirit, in prayer, in supplication, keeping alert and persevering. And there it is hidden in the very middle of the image, is that within that armor is the gospel of peace. That peace is a part of the battle, a part of the war, that sometimes, and actually quite often peace is something that is won, through conflict, not through avoidance. It is a hard truth, and one we don't usually like, but truth, righteousness, salvation, faith, and the word of God all point in that direction, and maybe it is that we should remember. The peace that was won on the battlefields from those who gave of themselves, in war, but not for war, for peace. . . wrapped in the armor of God, putting all that armor on, living that life is not living for the conflict, but living through the conflict, through the sacrifice, through the hardship, and sometimes dying, but through that death giving life to all. . . to be reminded of that, is to be reminded of the gospel, to be reminded of how much Christ loved us, giving his life for us, the gift of that sacrifice is very similar to the gift of the soldier who makes a sacrifice, it is the gift of life, of possibility, of faith, of hope, of truth, of love, and for all who have given, we give thanks, and we remember.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Eph 6:10-20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Friday, May 23, 2014


For the 2014 graduates of Blue Ridge School

Graduation is a word from Alchemy,
A heretical art from a dark world,
Searching desperately for light
Inside the man made shadows.
It is connected to a process of refining
Something to a certain degree,
And so we bestow on you now
A certain degree. . .
To a certain degree you are finished. . .
To a certain degree you are a man. . .
To a certain degree you are ready. . .
Because you’ve been processed,
Refined, graded, and now graduated,
But there is one thing we can’t give,
For it is not certain, if it was,
It would be worthless.
Unique, rare, precious, dear,
This is the stuff of value,
And is the stuff of you.
You go now, to live,
And life is not a process,
At least not a certain one,
But one you form for yourself,
So form it, grab it, take it, own it,
No one else has any right to it,
But you, and you are yours.
Fill it with your dreams,
Especially the ones that are uncertain,
For from risk comes real reward,
Stepping outside of the normal,
Outside of the form, into the storm,
The unknown, that undiscovered country.
Be a traveler there, use the name of action,
Fill the certain degree with uncertainty,
For there you will find faith or die,
And there you will become whole,
There will you find yourself,
And there your value will be made complete,
Just in time for the world to need you.
We don’t need processed people,
Refined to a certain degree,
We need men shaped by fire,
Outside of any man made mold,
Breathing, hot, dangerous metal,
More than a tool or a device,
But a created weapon of purpose,
Dangerously perfect for good,
Made on purpose before time began,
Thought of in the infinite,
Born beyond eternity
To walk a path. . . Walk today,
But walk beyond today as well,
And fill life beyond the degrees,
Break the scale, burst out,
Become more, surge forth
To certain, absolute, wholeness,
Rather than living by degrees.

~ Rev. Peter T. Atkinson


For the 2012 Graduates of Blue Ridge School

To commence, to start, initiate;
To gather together and begin,
So here we are together one last time
And off you go, at the outset of a journey,
Having completed the twelve year tutorial,
Embark, with guided steps.
Good luck, bon voyage, congratulations,
All are certainly in order.
You’ve earned this day,
The culmination of past days,
The first of future days.
Burst free and fly, it’s you now,
Your choices, your plans, your work,
Your future, your life,
And we who’ve played a part,
Go with you forever,
Just as you stay with us forever,
For bonds made in relationship don’t break,
Impact is reciprocal when it’s honest,
Teaching is learning when it’s true,
The intersections of life are life,
Thank you for what you brought,
And I hope you can use what I gave,
Then as your path winds on,
May the way build you as the past has done,
And know that there is only one instance of you,
One original creation,
One glorious blessed uniqueness,
That has much to offer a world in need.
Know yourself, be yourself, always,
One unified searching soul.
Encounter each challenge as it comes.
Remember that suffering strengthens,
That pain deepens your soul,
So instead of avoiding, attack.
Attack life and live.
Taste each breath you take.
Feel each tear you shed.
Treasure each time you laugh.
And love as if your life depended on it
Because it does more than you ever could know.
I can give no other advice
On this your commencement
Than to stop for only a second,
Smile, take a breath, and go. . .

                                  -Peter T. Atkinson

Sunday, May 18, 2014


A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 18, 2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Deuteronomy 6: 1-8
Ephesians 1: 3-14

Let us pray, for a welcome mind and a loving heart
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ  before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. [1]

So on this Presbyterian Heritage Sunday, and this special day in the life of our church and of course my family, where we baptize my oldest Daughter Coralee, the occasion presents a wonderful time to look at what we are as Presbyterians, and what we offer the world as a part of the Body of Christ, the Church in the world. Later in Paul's letter to the Ephesians he talks about how there are many diverse functions within the church and much diversity in general, but yet we are one, one in person, one in focus, one in everything because we are united in Jesus Christ and Christ is our all in all. . . and so often we talk about that oneness, and that oneness is certainly important, but today I want to talk about what Presbyterians are, what we offer, and the value that we have as a part of the body, like one may talk about the power of the elbow, or the foot, the hands, the brains, the eyes, or the nose. . . each has a function in our person, and talking about how great the eyes are, does in no way negate the import of the feet. I'm reminded about something I remember Southern comic writer, Lewis Grizzard saying, "That every time he writes about how much he loves the south, he gets tons of letters asking, why he hates Yankees. . . he said in response. . . of course "I don't hate Yankees, but I have a friend that hates them." Today I want to talk about how very proud I am about what it means to be Presbyterian, and how important I think what we do is within the Body of Christ, and not to dwell on it, lest I'd get choked up, why we, as parents, DeAnna and I are very proud to have Coralee baptized today into the church.
To begin I want to share a dream I had this week. It's a weird one because it had to do with me delivering this sermon today. I was to give the sermon with the topic of today, but I was showing up without it prepared. . . at least I had my clothes on. . . but I didn't have anything written, so I ran to my office to write something quickly, but one crazy disaster after another, I can't recall any of them, but long story short, church started, the bell rang, and I was going to have to wing it. . . which was cool, I felt confident that I could do it. . . I knew this Presbyterian stuff down, I know the history, the Book of Order, what I value, I've got it down. I'll be good, but this is where it got a little weird. The church wasn't this one, though Tim was playing his bagpipes. It was much bigger, and there were all these dignitaries behind me. All Presbyterians, and a very diverse crowd, familiar faces to me, but no real names to go with them, all people of some clout, but representing two very different political wings. . . the very left, and the very right. It just so happened in the dream that the one from the conservative extreme was a lay reader of sorts, and one from the other extreme was reading the scripture. The conservative lay reader was going for it, talking about sin and repentance and righteousness, hell and judgment. . . packing as much of all that into the call to worship, much more than I thought ever could be possible. You could feel the tension building on the other side. Then it came time for the scripture and the left wing reader took it upon himself to echo in reverse everything that the other guy said. . . so the next thing you know words and insults are being thrown back and forth. . . both sides calling each other out for being ignorant, having an agenda, ripping Christ to shreds, and everything thing else you can think of. . . and it was in this, that I was called to get up and speak about the Presbyterian faith, unity. . . and so I did, and I felt like I was exactly in the right place at the right time, that what I had to say was going to come out, put the division to rest, bring both sides together, and bring some if not healing, at least perspective to a ridiculous shouting match example of everything that may just be wrong with the what church sometimes has become. . . so with full confidence I rise and head to the lectern, raise my hand and everyone refrains from shouting, and sits, for they have come for this. . . and I begin, and then. . . I woke up. What was I going to say? What were the words that were in the right place at the right time for that moment. . . I'm not sure, or at least the dream didn't tell me. . . but I think I still know, and I think it because that is the world we live in, the world of the church, both outside and in, and we as Presbyterians don't have it figured out in action in the present yet, but we do in our history, and we do in our philosophy, in our theology, in our foundational understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. It is this we need to remember today and all days. 
To me the greatest strength, the greatest distinctive mark, the thing that I am the most proud of, and have the most hope in, next to Jesus Christ being the head of the Church, is the following two related statements from our Book of Order, from our Historic Principles, that this is something that Presbyterians have held onto and believed in from the beginning. One has to do with private judgment and the second how to deal with the reality of that private judgment.
F-3.0101 God Is Lord of the Conscience
a. That “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the
doctrines and commandments of men2 which are in anything contrary to his Word, or
beside it, in matters of faith or worship.”3
b. Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect
religion, as universal and unalienable: We do not even wish to see any religious
constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and
security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others.
In short we own our brains, we own our thoughts, we get to make up our own minds, at least no one other than Christ has the control over any one else's mind. You don't have to check your mind at the door, you don't have to check your doubts at the door, you don't have to check your misgivings, your not quite sure abouts, your conscience. . . it's yours. And not only do we not force belief of details, we also celebrate those differences, we understand that we are all on a journey, and that it is all a process, and that it is God's work, happening in God's time not our own, and so we help each other on the way. . . finding people where they are, accepting people where they are, learning together with people where they are, helping people where they are, and loving people where they are. We can change, grow, evolve, reform, constantly moving closer and closer to the totality of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is what it means to be Presbyterian.  That is what it means to allow God, not any one of us to be Lord of yours, mine or anybody else's conscience, God is in control, the God we serve is in control, so why would we need to fight and seek control ourselves. . . it is central to our faith practice, and it is in fact the precursor to freedom, and the foundational philosophical influence on the founding of this nation. Born in Log colleges, Princeton up North, Hampden-Sydney here in Virginia, freedom of the conscience, is the older sibling of the first amendment, the basis for Religious Freedom. We should be proud of it, and be a standard bearer for it in the world, but do we even know that history, the Presbyterian place in that History, the huge influence of the First Great Awakening in this fledgling nation? Do we even know that the battle for Religious Freedom in America found its roots less than an hour's drive from here, and that the founders of that faith are the ones who set up this church, here in Gordonsville, so very long go. . .  but freedom is a dream, it is a seed, it is only the beginning, and it goes no where without the second statement from our book of order I'm going to read, and it is the point that we need to again seek to lead the world in learning again. It is what we need to learn again. . .and it is what the problem, the argument of my dream was about. It is subtitled:
F-3.0105 Mutual Forbearance
That, while under the conviction of the above principle we think it necessary to make
effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also
believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and
principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and
societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.

Mutual forbearance. . . people can believe different things, they may hold to differing principles, and in doing so may disagree, but they, on both sides, can be of good character. . . and so it is the "duty of both private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance." Having a different opinion is okay. . . being at a different place is ok. . . so although we all have our opinions, and our principles, and we may stubbornly hold to them, we may believe them to our hearts core, we may be unwilling to let them go, let them be pried from our dead fingers (if you could do such a thing), we would need to be respectful that someone else just may have the same stubborn belief in the opposite, and still be faithful Christians. . . can such things be in today's polarized world? Consensus doesn't have to be. . . everyone doesn't have to agree? No one has a monopoly on the truth. Though we may agree on many things, we don't have to agree on everything. . . you don't have to have people agree with you to love them, you only need them to agree if you want to control them. . . and Jesus' example of love was not about forcibly changing peoples' minds, but instead loving them to the cross hoping to inspire their hearts to love. . . love inspires, love gives, love does not seek to control. And it might get messy. . . it might be the harder way, the longer way. . . but the way would be that way since it is founded in the cross.
I read in a book about church, written by Rev. Tommy Nance, the former pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, that he had once heard that church can be like porcupines in the cold. . . alone the porcupines perish, freezing to death, if they wish to survive they must huddle together, though it may be difficult and painful to do so, survival depends on it. What a picture of mutual forbearance. . . I know that I am pricking you, and you me, but it is not the pain that divides us, but our need for each other that makes the pain irrelevant. Can we be bonded despite our differences, embracing that struggle to be together. . . a strong question to ask when we seek so hard to push our own agenda forward. . . am I controlling people, am I setting people free, is it the will of God or my own?
I saw an article a few months back in Christianity Today, the article was appalled that only 42% of PCUSA pastors who were surveyed answered affirmatively to the idea that Jesus Christ was the only means of salvation. . . Now I have to admit that 42% I thought was low, though the question is kinda dumb, in that other religions don't necessarily claim something called "salvation." To a buddhist, enlightenment is hardly salvation, neither really is paradise to a Muslim, but that is beside the point. . . the other problem with the question to Presbyterians I hope is that faith should not be about a multiple choice test. . . and what does the Christianity Today publishing (I guess Majority) folks, have business judging what people believe in the first place. . . the article was trying to create lines and divide people, where Presbyterians seek to be and  do the opposite. . . because who is served by those lines of division, really? Surely Not Christ, maybe our egos, maybe our insecurities, maybe our need for order and control, but certainly not Christ. Those divisions would leave us porcupines in need to die.
Nancy Roache and I were talking the other week, and she told me she ran into someone, I can't remember all the details, but he asked where she went to church, and when she said, "the Presbyterian Church, here in town" he responded with, "Presbyterian, huh, you're one of those seekers." That's it right. . . I'm proud to be a seeker. . . I'm proud to seek with others. . . It's honest. . . it's welcoming. . . and it is a place of faith. . . seeking God's will in our lives, in our world, in our relationships, in our church. . . seeking a path forward. . . seeking, to me is better than knowing, because knowing is standing still. . . looking back. . . but seeking is looking forward. . . and God, the God who is, whose name means "is" presence, now, eternally now, eternally present, doesn't stand still. . . God led the Israelite out Egypt through the Red Sea, waiting for that sea to part again, misses the Ten Commandments, waiting at Mt. Sinai, misses Jesus. . . waiting at the cross misses the empty tomb, and hanging out in the tomb misses the fact that Jesus is risen, running loose in this world. . . you don't get closer to a living God by standing still, but by seeking.
So on today, where we look back to our past, we don't seek to go backward or back to it. We worship here in a historic building, there is a great cloud of witnesses that have passed through these doors and have occupied this space in faith together. We share something with them, but we aren't them, and can't be. We live in the present, seeking God here, to build the future according to his will. Presbyterians have an important role to play in the future of this world, and the future of this nation, and this the greater church. The world and all of its parts needs to learn, and to remember, how to cherish the freedom of the conscience. . . that we are all better, when we all get to be. . . that no one is in the way, nor expendable, all truly held beliefs and principles are valid as long as they are seeking truth. Hold on to your own, and help build others, supporting, respecting, learning from, and teaching, the world needs much more of this. . . and it is what we have always done well, let's not forget it, for it through Christ is foundational to the freedom of the world.
This week I wrote a fable, that I hope you all can take a look at, I put copies in the back ( In that fable there is a beaver, whose job was to secure the dam, to plug the leaks, for it was the foundation of life for the rest, but he forsook his job, trying to do for the others, to do their jobs for them, he forgot his own, to the destruction of all. We have a job to do, like the foot, the knee, the brain, the eye, all and each are valid and important and crucial for God's world. He made all of us and he needs all of us, and if there is a them, he needs them too. And we are all Christians. . . despite being so in our unique ways, and to quote one of the Presbyterian fighters for religious freedom, Samuel Davies "that is our highest distinction" and as Christians Christ said that we are to seek first the kingdom of God, and all the rest shall be added unto  us. . . if you look at what God made, there is much beauty, but not much symmetry, it is much more diverse, much more messy, much more made with a hand and eye for detail and distinction, should the kingdom of God to which we seek, be any different, one yes, but not one formed of conformity, one formed community of uniqueness, may we seek that kingdom, may he lead us to do so. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Eph 1:3-14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to Build a Fairy House

Building a fairy house is the only way
To see a fairy in this our day
Where fairies are disappeared and gone
And people live without seeing one.

So listen child and I’ll begin
To teach the ancient arts again
That most of us have all but lost
By history’s winds been turned and tossed.

Find a clearing underneath a bush
And clear a path in the underbrush
There lay foundation in the shade
Miniature to us, but to a fairy a glade.

And go and gather all around
Twigs from yonder neighbored ground
And in the Earth insert each twig
In a semi circle not small not big

And at the top lay one long ways
Connecting them all, providing stays
And upon the top lay a piece of wood
A roof to shelter them so good.

On the roof place a small pine cone
To act as a chimney for the fairy home
Place with care two sweet gum balls
To work as windows and light the halls.

And now weave flowers into the wall
For color is the only way to call
A fairy to come and dwell within
Which is the reason you did begin.

Make a path of pebble stone
Leading into the peaceful home
Border the path with moss and berry
As if ‘twere a queen the path should carry.

For in many ways she is a queen
This princess of your wildest dream
With beauty and sweet magic power
Paired with the innocence of a flower.

So make the path with the honor due
A welcome road to show you’re true
Adorn with flowers the mossy way
As if she’s welcome here to stay.

Bend a white pine branch at the end
A gate to welcome your little friend
And place a few leaves here and there
To camouflage the house with care.

And now you’ve completed your fairy house
And you must wait as quiet as a mouse
For they have become quite timid creatures
Hiding from the world their magical features

But wait you must and if you do
A fairy may just come to you
And dwell in your house until the end
Filling you with the love of a magic friend.

~ Peter T. Atkinson

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Busy Body Beaver

The Busy Body Beaver: An American Fable

Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger
                                                                   ~ Hamlet

Deep in the forest, far from human eyes
Lived four creatures of diverse skill and size.
They made their home where a rushing river bends,
And there they lived the most unlikely of friends.
So long had they lived with each other here
And generations before them, lived year after year
That they had forgotten the source of their bond,
The delicate balance their lives depend on,
For the river didn’t always bend like it does:
Once the deep water was all that there was.
The land that they live on was submerged beneath
Before the first beaver came there with is teeth.
Slowly but surely, piece by piece, board by board,
He damned up the water, diverting it toward,
Another direction, just out of the way,
And eventually made a place for others to stay.
And others did come, now that the land was dry,
A squirrel, and a bird, and a bear all came by,
And made their homes where the water was diverted,
They lived there together in a harmony concerted:
The squirrel gathered nuts one by one with his hands
The bird built his nest out of sticks from the land,
And the bear ventured out in the shallows catching salm’n,
While the beaver worked securing the hold of the dam.
In this delicate balance the four animals thrived
Year after year, the generations survived,
And in the rainy season when the water gets high
Behind the strong dam they were all safe and dry.
Each to his work, his own job to do
Not quite like clockwork, no, more like glue
Holding them together, each freely giving
In the delicate balance of purposeful living.
But one day, the beaver, filled with boredom I guess
Looked over at the squirrel working hard without rest,
And he thought, how foolish to labor so hard so long
To grab one by one with two hands is just wrong,
So he took it upon himself to show his friend
A new way to put his labor to an end.
He said, “Why don’t you just load a bunch on your tail?
You could carry more at once, then rest and inhale,
Letting you keep on this way would be a crime,
For you could fill your needs in just half the time.
Here, I’ll show you, do it like this.”
And he piled fifteen acorns at once on his,
But when the squirrel tried with his bushy tail,
The acorns wouldn’t stay, so he did fail.
But the busy beaver would not let it go, and so
He did the job for him, laying more acorns in a row
Than the squirrel could ever do on his own.
Progress was made and the job was done.
The squirrel could now rest in comfort and peace
Not worried that his food supply would ever decrease,
And having done that the busy beaver felt good,
Then he saw the bird, working, as he idly stood,
Flying about going this way and that,
Looking for branches, twigs, and sticks, whereat
He could sweep down and gather each one to make
Into his nest for his future children’s sake.
And the beaver seeing this, thought it absurd
And he felt sorry for this little bird,
Scrounging around for just sticks from on the ground,
Depending so much on just what could be found,
He thought it would be better to teach his good friend
How to make twigs, himself, so then,
He called up to the bird from beneath,
And showed him how he could cut wood with his teeth,
But when the bird tried to bite through the wood,
And whether or not he would or he should,
He found there was just no way that he could.
He hurt his mouth. He broke his beak,
And before the bird could even speak,
Feeling so bad, the beaver just did it himself,
And the bird just sat by at rest on the shelf.
He didn’t care, it was done, there was no guilt
And before they knew it the nest was all built,
So the bird like the squirrel sat happily by
Free to rest, in the shade, underneath the clear sky.
And having finished the beaver felt good again,
Knowing he had helped out his poor friend
And feeling such pride, he then saw the bear
Up to his waist in the water over there,
And thought to himself though my friend is large
Think of all the energy he has to discharge,
Trying to catch slippery fish in his paws,
Relying on simply the strength of his jaws.
“If I could show him how to do it
He wouldn’t have to keep going through it
Again and again, day after day,
He could rest, instead, get a chance to play.
No one should have to toil and struggle long,
When good folks like me can right the wrong.”
So he grabbed the bear aside and told him,
“Build a trap in the water instead to hold them.
And with the fish there with no place to run,
You can reach down, and grab each one,
No need to wait for a fish to get near,
Any time you want one, it will be right here.”
But the bear had no mind for building with wood
And though he thought that the plan was good
He just didn’t believe him that he could.
“I like my way, and I do just fine,
But I appreciate your being so kind.
I’ll just do it my way, never you mind.”
The busy beaver said, “No I insist.
I can’t let you so stubbornly persist.
I’ll just do it for you, it’s easy you see.
Just stand aside, hey I’ll do it for free.”
And he spent the rest of that day, building the trap
While the bear sat bouncing his cubs on his lap.
And the view of the family made the beaver feel smart,
He felt so generous to give such a gift from the heart.
The beaver liked helping, enjoyed to be working,
And the others didn't feel like they were shirking
"He's just doing it better than you or me,
And more than that, who can beat it, it's free!"
Nothing seemed wrong, no one could suppose
And the rainy season came, and the water rose.
The dam stayed firm, the acorns were all kept,
The eggs were warmed, and the bear was full and slept.
No danger did they see, not even a sign
All seemed as if it were perfectly fine.
But when the time for work did come
The other animals refused to do their sum.
"Could you do what you did last year again?"
When the beaver hesitated, the animals complained,
"You do it better than we ever could
And  you are so kind, so loving, so good"
Just like this, the desperate animals pleaded,
The beaver felt flattered, felt good, felt needed,
And so he did help them again year after year,
He was loved, and honored, respected and cheered.
As long as he did their jobs for  them
They acted as if they all adored him,
But their gratitude quickly began to fade,
They expected and needed the things he made,
And though they never at first asked about it,
Having been given it, they couldn't live without it.
Now they had forgotten how to do their jobs
Their idleness had made them useless slobs.
And since the dam had been long neglected
The years going by without it being inspected
The water began to drip slowly through it
The dam started breaking though none of them knew it.
And if something isn't done really soon,
Though they think their lives are safe and immune
They won't survive to see the next June.
And in the face of this impending disaster
The busy beaver worked all the more faster,
But not where he should have fixing the leaks
Instead he worked to improve his techniques
Building the systems to help his friends all the more
His own job he did completely ignore
He had done what they wanted, was popular, succeeded,
But did not give them what they really needed.
And the leak it grew, to a trickle and then,
It burst open completely and flooded the glen.
All was lost, the four friends and their families all drowned
Not one patch of dry ground was left to be found.
And a lesson is here for us all to learn
That to progress is something for which we all yearn,
Innovation ignoring the truth from the past,
Can never, no never, be destined to last,
To labor is life, and nothing is free,
A hard day's work is full of dignity,
And when helping turns into doing things for,
The danger is there for it growing to more,
Sitting idly by is a comfort to all,
But is a tower that always will fall.

~ Rev. Peter T. Atkinson