Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury, 1920 - 2012

Ray Bradbury died Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at the age of 91. I have read one article that says he died in the morning, and another that says he died that night. What I want to know is, did he die before, during, or after the transit of Venus? I want it to be "during," because it seems important that the transit and his death least from my sense of fitness in a literary sense.

Somewhere around 1964, on a rainy July afternoon at Camp Riva-Lake, I discovered a tattered copy of The Martian Chronicles in a little library of paperbacks in one of the cabins. The cover and some of the pages were missing, and those that were still glued together were quite yellow with age. But I was hooked immediately, and from that day on I was a fan of Ray Bradbury.

I first attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1995 because he was the keynote speaker. I figured a writing conference that had Ray Bradbury for a keynoter had to be just the place for me. And it was, and he was an awesome speaker, talking of a boyhood love for comics, enduring the sneers of other kids when he cut Buck Rogers cartoons out of the newspaper to keep in a scrapbook, how he became a writer, how years later he was asked to write the introduction to an anthology of Buck Rogers comics. He asked us to reflect on the metaphors of our lives and to write about them.

I have three of his books that he autographed for me at the conference over the years. He wrote my name when he signed the copy of The Martian Chronicles. I bet an autographed copy of The Martian Chronicles would go for plenty today on Ebay. Tough! It's mine forever!

I last saw him speak at SBWC in 2008. He had had a stroke and was in a wheelchair, and his speech was a little slow and halting. But that brilliant mind was still there, spinning stories day after day.

I leave for the 2012 conference tomorrow. I know we will be talking about him there -- and raising a glass to him (I seem to recall he always had one of those in his hand!). Thank you, Ray, for sharing your soaring imagination with us, and urging us to soar with you.

And on the day you died, the world was looking up at the skies and beholding the wonder of Venus passing in front of the sun. We were focused just where you wanted us to be. Perfect!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Sower and the Seeds, 2.0

Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow seeds. It turns up in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. Some of the seeds fell on the path, where they were trampled by passersby, and the birds ate the rest. Some fell on rocky soil. They managed to germinate, but the plants couldn't develop a good root system in the rocky soil, and so they withered and died for lack of moisture. Some fell among the weeds and thorns and got choked out as they tried to grow. But some fell in good soil and produced bounteous crops, even a hundred times as many as the seeds that were planted. And Jesus said those famous words, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen."

But in case his listeners didn't get what he was trying to tell them, in Luke's account Jesus explains the parable to them ("Parables for Dummies"). The seed is the word of God. The seeds on the path go to those who hear but let the devil take the word away from them. The seeds on the rocky ground go to those who hear the message, get really excited about it, and then drift away when real life intervenes. The seeds that fall among thorns and are choked out go to those who are easily distracted by the diversions of life. But ah! those who receive the word of God as seeds in good soil will receive spiritual blessings by the hundredfold.

Hey, it's spring again in the North Country. This past winter was nowhere near as bad as our first. The snowblower only got a couple of runs all winter, as opposed to the year before, when it got a LOT of use, especially by the pastor's spouse early on Sunday mornings so ye olde pastor could get the Evacumobile out of the driveway and past the jagged mountains of frozen snow left along the curb by the plows. But this winter was nothing like last winter. Hello, climate change.

But I dutifully waited until mid-March to start my seeds in peat pots under the sunny windows in my office at the church; I put too much effort into getting these little guys started to lose them to an unexpected late frost. They seem to like the location, and it keeps them safe from marauding cats at home who would delight in digging them up or making salads out of them.

I keep seeds in a vegetable compartment in the refrigerator. I can usually get three or four seasons out of a pack of seeds. Most of the seeds I started this year came from packs I also used last year. The cherry tomatoes started to pop up after just five days. Last year's jalapeno peppers followed suit. But the other pepper seeds I got this season from a specialty supplier took their sweet time. Finally I saw a couple of leaves of a bell pepper variety supposed to be good for short northern growing seasons. Then a cayenne pepper cautiously peeked out of the soil, and then another with leaves of an interesting purple shade. But the four peat pots with seeds supposedly of the variety used to make Tabasco sauce are still stubbornly bare after four weeks. (Of course, that's the variety my husband wanted the most to grow. He is such a fan of Tabasco that he has several Tabasco ties; he even wore one for our wedding.)

Every morning I check the peat pots for signs of life. Now even the spinach I planted last week is quickly coming up. But no Tabasco peppers. I thought about the parable of the seed and the sower. But this is different. All these little plants got planted in the same kind of soil, and all of them are in the same physical location. They got lots of water and warmth and sun. They got turned every day so the seedlings wouldn't lean in one direction. And some are doing just fine. And some refuse to sprout.

Jesus didn't tell the parable like this. But I think there's a parable here about spiritual growth. We in the church can knock ourselves out trying to provide just the perfect spiritual climate for people to grow in their faith. We offer worship, music, art, study, prayer, fellowship groups, outreach opportunities, mission trips, everything we can think of to help nurture people in their faith in a way that has meaning for them. Some will find their niche right away and thrive. Some take a little longer, then something clicks and they get more involved. Some take a LOT longer, years and years, and you hope that someday, something somebody said or did will come back to them and have meaning for them. And some, well, nothing ever seems to happen in that little peat pot, and we never understand why.

So -- Jesus never told a parable about a bunch of seeds that all got the same good treatment but didn't all take root and thrive. But that's a parable, too.

In the meantime, the vegetable garden has been tilled and is waiting for the seedlings when the danger of frost is past. The sugar snap pea seeds got planted over the weekend. I'm hoping for another great gardening season this year.

And I've been watching some new Christians grow in their faith this winter. It's been neat. New seedlings.