Category Archives: History

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point – Part 2 “The Verge”

Grandpa Detrick's ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

Grandpa Detrick’s ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

We often live our lives on the verge. On the verge of success. On the verge of getting out of debt. On the verge of finding a rewarding relationship. On the verge of achieving that sought after promotion at work. On the verge of obtaining the scholarship. On the verge of finishing that degree. On the verge of fulfilling our dream.

The verge is a nice stop on the way to our destination. It is a terrible place to live permanently. If we camp there long enough, it becomes difficult to move on. While camped there we may analyze a million and one reasons why we got stuck in the first place, and another million and one reasons how we might move on, but we tend to be weighted down by the analysis to the point of paralysis, convincing ourselves that it is safer to just stay where we are at. Like I said earlier, passivity is the opposite of courage.

Wait a minute!  Stop the clock! Do not lose courage. Passivity is the inactive response to lost hopes and dreams. It is time for a change. You don’t have to live your life always “on the verge.” You can move past the verge.

Unlike the Apple Watch which I plan to never buy, I do have an affinity for old clocks. Not old clocks from the 1980’s with digital readouts, but really old clocks. Most in my collection are well over a century old, American made, and still working. And I work on them—have for years, both as a hobby and in a practical way to keep my collection running. Working on old clocks has taught me some lessons about systems, and mechanics, and maintenance, and life. They have also taught me about time, and how I use it, how I respond to it, how I measure it. After all, they have a lot to tell by listening to the tick-tock of the pendulum.

Verge - clockworksHow many mechanical items from a century ago are still functioning with their original purpose today? Not many! You probably don’t know that the term verge is a clock word. The verge is that part of a mechanical clock that keeps the pendulum moving back and forth – and keeps the rest of the clock ticking. The actual tick-tock is sound of the verge rocking back and forth, connecting with a toothed wheel that connects to other gears and wheels that eventually move the hour and minute hands, ever so slowly. When it is all synchronized, it is a beautiful thing. It keeps on moving, and keeping perfect time.

A verge is a lot like a tipping point. Malcom Gladwell states in his book, The Tipping Point:   “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

What if you could find the tipping point that would move you past the verge? What if you could stop listening to the melancholy melody that keeps you stuck? What if you could re-discover your courage? You can. Listen to another melody—a happier tune that will actually help you redeem the time:

“Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!”   Ephesians 5:14-16 The Message

“Make the most of every chance you get.”  The old King James Version actually instructs us, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” What if you struggled with financial problems, but had forgotten about an old savings bond your uncle gave you years ago? It may be worth $50,000 but if you never redeemed it, you would just be holding on to an old piece of paper while continuing to struggle with finances. Time is as old as “in the beginning.” To fully take advantage of it, we must redeem it.  My old clocks may be more than a century old, but they have taught me some redeeming contemporary lessons, and I look forward to sharing some of them with you.

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point

Grandpa Detrick's ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

Grandpa Detrick’s ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

 

Today Apple announced the new Apple Watch. For somewhere between $300 and $10K you can own one yourself. I understand the $10K version is 18 karat gold. If you want to use it to tell time, you better have good eyes or good glasses, because the time display is small—or so I am told.

For most of my life, I have enjoyed a love/hate relationship with time. It is my greatest asset. And when I have plenty of it, time is my friend. But when I am facing a deadline and running short, frustration and anxiety turn up the pressure and seem to accelerate the clock. I try to quicken my own pace to catch up, but the minutes fly by and missed deadlines turn to missed opportunities. This results in–you guessed it–more frustration and anxiety. Only now they are joined by their close comrade, regret. This trio sings a melancholy melody in three parts:

  • If only. . ..
  • Life’s not fair!
  • Why me?

If you listen to this trio for long, you will get stuck for sure, especially when the trio is joined by their bully of an ally, self-pity. He gladly lends his voice to the newly formed quartet, singing bass. He especially enjoys the refrain, “What’s the use?”

Sound familiar? Listen to this quartet for long and you will start humming along with them. And they will steal your life, your soul, your courage. We all have to learn to listen in to a different station. I know. Been there. Done that.

Today I asked a friend, “What is the opposite of courage?” We had a good conversation about it and agreed that most people would say the opposite of courage is fear. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I believe something else. The opposite of courage is passivity. We’ve failed before. We failed again. And we will probably fail if we make another attempt. So, “what’s the use?” Passivity.

And that is a shame, because we are often on the verge of greatness. Remember the times when you said, “I can just feel it. I’m on the verge of something fantastic.” Especially when backed up by careful planning, disciplined focus, prayer, and hard work. You were launching into the confident expectation of certain achievement but landed in the bone-crushing agony of defeat. Shocked by the incredulity of the situation, you keep asking, ‘What happened? I knew I was just on the verge. . ..”

Nursing your wounds, you faintly hear that familiar old sad song. Before long you are singing along – you know all the words:

  • If only. . ..
  • Life’s not fair!
  • Why me?
  • What’s the use?

Wait a minute!  Stop the clock! Do not lose courage. Passivity is the inactive response to lost hopes and dreams. It is time for a change. You don’t have to live your life always “on the verge.” You can move past the verge. In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting on this theme and here are a few topics having to do with old clocks of all things, that will help you get past the verge and find your own tipping point:

  • Perspective – what you see on the face of the clock only presents the facts – the time in the present. What is behind the face is what keeps the hands moving.
  • Suspense – clocks have a suspension spring. Like clocks we actually need tension and drama.
  • Power – the force that provides energy – spring or weights –wound up, wound down
  • Perseverance – takes a licking and keeps on ticking
  • Alignment – the teeth in the clock’s wheels must be in perfect alignment – the front and back plates hold it all together
  • Opportunity – taking advantage of the moment – the only way the clock can move forward to the next second, minute, or hour is to take advantage of every moment’s opportunity.
  • Gratitude – accepting help from others and being grateful for the contributions of all who help you move forward
  • Leverage – the clock’s works are designed for maximum efficiency. Each part, however small, has a part to do.
  • Synergy – alone, any part would be unable to keep time. Together, they can do far more than any of them could do alone.
  • Re-calibrating – adjustments are needed in a clock, depending upon the season of the year, air pressure, age, etc.
  • Rest – recreation, restoration, oil on the pivot points.
  • Balance – the pendulum requires balance – level keel.

 

Thanksgiving Table Set 11-26-14I love the Thanksgiving holiday that we celebrate in America on the last Thursday in November. Jodi sets a magnificent table and our children gather with their children. Food, family, and football are the usual American components to celebrate the day.

In addition, it marks a time to reflect on our blessings over the past year which includes giving thanks for the good things provided, and giving thanks for the bad things that we have been spared from. It is also a time to consider ways to help our neighbors and share with those less fortunate in our community and around the world.

I love Thanksgiving, but  sad to say, I am not always thankful. It seems like a cliché, yet pausing to count our blessings and reflect on the gifts provided is one of our greatest privileges as humans in a life well lived. The author G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

The Bible has a lot to say about thanksgiving, mentioning it nearly 140 times.  In the book of Psalms alone, we are told over 30 times to “be thankful” and “give thanks unto the Lord.”  Psalm 92:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.”  Nineteen out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament mention the need for thanksgiving.   1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Regardless of the hardships we may face in life, we can be thankful for the good things God provides. And it is always helpful for me to consider the circumstances of the Pilgrims when they celebrated the event we now call “Thanksgiving.” When we think of that first thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims, we might assume it occurred during the first year of their residency here after their arrival in 1620. In fact, we know they did have a 3-day feast in the fall of 1621 where wild fowl and venison were served.  A letter by Edward Winslow is the only surviving description of the event itself.[1]  The hard winter months that followed brought extraordinary suffering and even more deaths to the small band of Pilgrims.

But the first real extended thanksgiving celebration took place a full three years after their arrival in 1620.  Those three years were filled with much hardship, toil and suffering.  Their days were spent combating sickness, drought, inner conflicts, and the elements.  But it wasn’t all bad news.  The Native Americans had taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod, hunt for game, and skin beavers for coats.   They had planted gardens, built a blockhouse for their protection, houses for their own comfort, and a meetinghouse to worship God.

Just when things seemed to take a turn for the better, they again got worse.  In the summer of 1623, a drought threatened to destroy their vital crops.  So the colonists prayed and fasted for relief.  When the rains came a few days later, disaster was averted, and their crops were saved. Not long after, Captain Miles Standish arrived with staples and news that a Dutch supply ship was on its way.  Because of all these blessings and answered prayers, the Pilgrims held a day of thanksgiving and praise.  This 1623 event appears to have been the origin of our Thanksgiving Day because it combined a religious and social celebration.[2]  It was a time for expressing gratitude to God and sharing with their Indian neighbors.  Governor Bradford made the following proclamation:

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

 Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meetinghouse, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”[3]

The provisions for that thanksgiving feast included:  “twelve tasty venisons, besides others, pieces of roasted venison, fruit pies, roasted wild turkeys, plums, nuts, grapes, corn, popcorn, vegetables of all types, fish, roast pork, etc.  But before all this, the first course was served:  on an empty plate in front of each person were five kernels of corn. . .lest anyone should forget” (the hardship of the previous winters.)[4]

“Lest anyone should forget.” Like Chesterton said, “the critical thing in life is whether we take things for granted, or with gratitude.” Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] http://www.plimoth.org/Library/Thanksgiving/afirst.htm

[2] http://www.si.edu/resource/faq/nmah/thanks.htm

[3]Federer, William J.  “America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations.”  Coppell, TX:  Fame Publishing, 1994, p. 66-67.

[4]Marshall, Peter and Manuel, David “The Light and the Glory.”  Old Tappan, NJ:  Revell, 1977, p. 144.

Memorial Day: A Time For Reflection

Memorial Day A Time For ReflectionMy mind goes back to the days of my childhood when my father called Memorial Day “Decoration Day,” as it was commonly known to past generations of Americans. It was a day for decorating the graves of our departed family members. Rising early in the morning, we would go to the garden and pick the flowering blossoms of the snowball tree, peonies, day lilies, rhododendron, or azaleas– anything that happened to be blooming at the moment, colorful and fragrant. Dad was particularly fond of iris, which he always called, “flags.” Depending upon the weather patterns of spring in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, we might have an abundant or meager floral supply—but there was always something. These cut flowers were carefully arranged in mason jars and taken to the cemetery where they were lovingly placed on the graves of those departed loved ones whose memory my parents cherished. There, our “flags” took their place amongst the American flags commemorating departed veterans.

I must admit, I failed to recognize the significance of this ritual and tradition at the time. Most of those being remembered pre-dated my memory, and I felt no personal connection to a person I’d never known. The noise of the nearby boat races on the Willamette River sounded much more exciting than the dead silence of a graveyard to my way of thinking. Over time however, I discovered my parent’s traditional genes also flow through my blood. These days I consider it a privilege, if not a responsibility, to follow their ancient rituals in remembering loved ones from the past on Memorial Day.

It is ironic isn’t it, that we sometimes must be faced with death to consider the importance of life. Jesus calls us to come to him, to pause and find rest for our weary souls (see Matthew 11:28-29). In the Sermon on the Mount, he encouraged us to “consider the lilies of the field” and recognize that worry and a hectic pace adds little of substance to our lives. In so doing, we may reflect and consider what God has done for us, and in so doing discover how we should then live. In essence it represents a call to pause and consider the meaning of life. Our life.

Iris - 5-24-13

Iris blooming in my neighborhood (c)2013 Don Detrick

What will others remember about us on some distant Memorial Day? As human beings, we are prone to action more than reflection. We are human beings, not human doings, yet we seem to love doing much more than being. That is why it is good to occasionally pause and reflect—to examine ourselves. But this requires us to slow down, to wait, to think, to meditate, things we often avoid.

Growing up on a farm, I particularly enjoyed tasks that involved driving the tractor. It is a job that does not require great amounts of concentration, and provides you time to reflect. One thing I learned is that you can observe things at the speed of 7 miles per hour that you miss at the speed of 70 miles per hour. You notice the little things that have fallen by the wayside, and have time to think and reflect. Things like the vibrant beauty of flowers contrasted with flags and gravestones. One representing the glory of life in the present, the other significant for remembering the blessings of heritage and freedom. Both are important for a balanced life. How might you add a moment or two of reflection to your busy Memorial Day weekend?

Why I Love Old Barns

Why I Love Old Barns Graphic BarnDriving by, what you see is probably different from what I see. The barn may be old and dilapidated. The roof started leaking years ago and eventually the weather soaked into the supporting timbers so the old girl now sags where she once stood firm and tall. If you look closely enough, you might see flecks of red paint under the growing lichens and moss on the sideboards. If you are lucky, you might find the upper floor still intact, once the home to bales or mounds of hay, guaranteeing the livestock would not starve during winter’s ravaging days. And if you are really lucky, you might find the old block and tackle with rope still attached, now rotting and frayed, but once attached to a hay fork or hook designed to transport that hay and probably a young boy or two up to the hayloft on a hot summer day.

Work and pleasure—that’s what comes to mind when I see that old barn, along with a million more memories. Because I once was one of those delighted boys who loved it when the work was done and my dad would use the old block and tackle to provide me a joyous ride on a rope up to the hayloft. It wasn’t quite the same as riding the Zipper at the state fair. But for a home-made thrill, it was as about as good as it gets, at least in those days. Much better than coasting my bike at breakneck speed down Sunnycrest Hill, especially since there was no crash at the end with bloody chin, hands, elbows, and knees, not to mention the smattering of gravel ground in for good measure. No, you could ride to the top relatively unscathed without so much as a concussion, unless a friend other than your dad happened to be hoisting you up and let the rope slip when you were almost at the top! So I stop and take a picture to preserve what will soon be rot, dust, and ashes, knowing that somebody somewhere probably cherishes similar memories from this very place.

Old Barn and Silo 2 on Mox Chehalis Rd 4-14-13What adventures were staged in that hayloft, real or imagined? Pirates and terror on the high seas played out in a child’s mind, though miles from the nearest body of navigable water? Cowboys riding their horses at a gallop with Winchester Model 94’s pulled from the scabbard while in hot pursuit of a mountain lion threatening their cattle? World War II Soldiers fighting the Battle of the Bulge to protect the world from Nazi tyranny? Or how about a first crush daydream interlude, as a fourth grade boy imagines waking in the middle of the night hearing the screams of Laura Lane, his classmate up the road.  “Somebody please save me,” Laura screams. Our young hero bravely answers the call to duty and rescues Laura from the fiery inferno, although becoming mortally wounded in the process. Stumbling through the flaming wreckage with suffocating smoke, he grabs Laura in his arms. He relishes his final breath as Laura declares her eternal gratitude for her young rescuer and kisses his bruised cheek and smiles as he places her safely on the front lawn, his final act of sacrificial devotion. In a hayloft, heroes lived and died, and imagination was better than a video game.

Barns can also be a place of worship and prayer, of meeting with God. In the Old Testament, Gideon was threshing grain when the angel of the Lord appeared to him. Jesus was born amid livestock and laid in a manger. Farmers know well the biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing.” Whether praying about the weather, a crop, or a prodigal child, a farmer’s work often allowed ample time to pray while milking the cows, slopping the hogs, feeding the chickens, or driving the tractor. The pace of life and nature of the work provide a symbiotic relationship and environment for prayer and reflection to flourish. I remember a young boy praying while performing such chores, or while lying flat on his back in the hayloft. “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

What about the economic benefit to the family and community? The livestock produced, the cows milked, all providing more employment for the hired hands, the delivery people, the feed store, and the grocery store workers? A single family farm could have far-reaching influence for labor and industry. Not to mention the lessons learned in thrift, character, and the satisfaction of working with your hands and cooperating with God in the care of his creation and growing things beneficial to God’s children.

Old Barn and Silo on Mox Chehalis Rd 4-14-13And what about the family ties, stronger than the rope in the hayloft, that intertwined and made family the heart of the family farm? While not fair to compare it to contemporary living in a city apartment, the truth is, there is no comparison. Memories of farm life are all about family, love, endurance, strength, doing things, and getting things done—together. Unlike most twenty-first century families, farm families lived, worked, ate, and played—together. We knew our land like the back of our hands, every fence, valley, creek, tree, and blade of grass. And we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Despite the latter, we worked together to make each other successful. Every meal lovingly prepared was the tasty culmination of a team effort.

So, that’s why I take photographs of old barns. I see a different picture, an image carefully concealed and hiding beyond the pile of junk you might glimpse driving past at sixty miles per hour. I see the intersection of time, space, weather, God’s creativity and faithfulness combined with human existence to produce a work of art. Capturing it in a snapshot of time seems the least I can do.