Angels, angels, and more angels. Somehow, the world has suddenly gotten very interested in angels. In fact, one of America's most popular TV shows has been a positive show called "Touched by an Angel." It's about these two angels - sort of a rookie and a veteran - who are sent on various assignments to deliver God's messages to people who are in critical situations. Now, I've watched it every once in a while - and the one I saw recently was about the rookie angel's performance review by a senior angel. Now, in the process, they flashed back on the highlights of some of the situations where she had touched people's lives and they had touched hers. There was one brief excerpt from a previous show that really hit me hard, even though I don't know what the whole story was. The young angel was kneeling at the feet of a man who appeared to be a dirty old derelict. The angel had a basin of water - and the man was telling her not to do what she was about to do - wash his feet. But she looked up at him with tears in her eyes and gave an answer that obviously came from deep in her heart - "I have to do this," the angel explained, "so I remember who I am."
Boutros Boutros-Ghali is gone - the man who was Secretary General of the United Nations through much of the 1990s.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali was replaced by a highly respected African diplomat with the comparatively boring name of Kofi Annan. As the spotlight shifted to the new Secretary General, reporters began to learn more about his life, including an enlightening true story he told from his childhood. His teacher came into his class one day when he was a boy, and hung a big white piece of paper on the board with a little black dot in the lower right hand corner. The teacher asked a simple question of his class, "What do you see, boys?" Everyone shouted out eagerly, "The dot! The black dot!" That's when the teacher said, "That's interesting. Doesn't anyone see a big white piece of paper? After all, the dot is just one little spot on this huge page." The Secretary General of the U.N. said he never forgot the lesson from that day - in areas such as negotiations, let's say. Don't get stuck staring at a little dot!
One of the more lovable men on TV these days is a weatherman named Al Roker. You may have seen him on the "Today" show in the morning or hosting coverage of some special events or even on his own show. A recent article in Parade Magazine that quotes Al as saying that he weighed in at over 300 pounds - at only 5'8". Notice I said weighed in - that was past tense. After carrying around all those pounds for a while, he suddenly went out to a gym one day and asked them to put him on a diet and exercise program that would radically reduce his size. As of the writing of this article, he had lost 55 pounds! And what was it that suddenly got him wanting to do something about weight he had carried around for a long time? His young daughter came up to him one day when he had his shirt off and made a blunt, off-the-cuff observation about how he looked - the kind only a child can make in all innocence and get away with. That was it. Hello, gymnasium - goodbye, fat.
The hazards of shopping at a mall. Let's see: overheating your credit card, pickpockets, an occasional mugging, being run into by a ship. Wait a minute! That is exactly what happened to about a thousand Christmas shoppers at the Riverwalk shopping complex in New Orleans. Navigating the most dangerous stretch of the Mississippi River near there, a freighter suddenly lost power. In or near its path were two cruises ships holding 1,700 people and a riverboat casino with 800 people on board. The potential was there for hundreds of fatalities. But the pilot of the freighter got his emergency horn wailing and that gave people on the ships and in the mall a warning. He dropped his anchors in a desperate attempt to at least slow the ship and somehow managed to steer without power between those three ships. Yes, the freighter plowed into the riverfront stretch of stores and restaurants, but because of how that pilot responded when things were out of control, the people were saved. Here was the amazing headline: "None Dead in New Orleans Accident."
I was with two friends, returning from some Native American ministry in the Southwest. We had a rental car and a four hour drive to the airport in Phoenix. And we needed every minute to make our connections. Which made the lurch pretty annoying. Every time the driver would get the speed up to about 60, the car would start shuddering and lurching. Now with a 75 MPH speed limit, that was frustrating - and we weren't sure if we'd even make it with the shake, rattle, and roll mobile we had. Now everyone who knows me knows I'm no mechanic - but I did have a semi-technical idea. I said, "He did you check the emergency brake?" Answer, "No." I had driven that car the night before, and because I was parking for the night on an incline, I engaged the emergency brake. But neither our driver or I had thought about that brake the next morning. Well, from that point on we flew to Phoenix with no more lurching, but first we had to release what was holding us back!
The most boring part of any youth group outing is the long bus trip, especially if the trip is from Michigan to Arizona. Not long ago I interviewed some kids who went on this mission trip to the Navajo Reservation, but I don't think they will remember the trip as boring. Because of the carelessness of another driver, their bus had to swerve sharply at one point and the bus went off the road and started to roll all the way over into a ditch. Needless to say, it was very scary. One-by-one they emerged from the bus and thank God, no one was killed. Some were injured and had to be treated at a local hospital. Well, when they finally arrived at that Indian reservation they were a sorry looking bunch. They weren't able to bring all their luggage with them, some were on crutches, in braces, patched, bandaged. But when they found out at least one reason why the bus had rolled well, they have been thanking God for that accident ever since!
In my little world, "nuke" is just a word to describe what happens to my leftover when I put them into the microwave. But when I was doing a week of outreach on an Air Force base, nuke meant something far more lethal - as in nuclear missile. This particular base was home to scores of the missiles that have been part of the front lines of our nation's defense for years. They're kept in underground silos, surrounded by very high-tech security systems. It was my privilege to be taken on a visit of one of the launch control centers there, each one of these command centers is responsible for ten missiles. At the time I was there, the center was manned by two airmen who were on 24-hour shifts called "alerts." When they were on "alert," they went underground into a fully self-sustaining unit that contains both the launch systems and the systems that protect those missiles from intruders. They showed me the systems which monitor virtually every movement every minute for their ten missiles sites. In fact these protection systems are so finely tuned that a plastic bag blowing across the prairie can trigger it, or some rabbit who has no idea what is under his little feet. Frankly, I was encouraged that we have crews like this that are on full alert - what they're responsible for needs full alert!
Our dog Missy now has to share our attention with another pet, actually it's a canary who we named in honor of one of our Native American friends, we named the canary Cherokee. This little yellow cheerleader is great for when you're in a bad mood, because he never is. As soon as you uncover his cage in the morning, he starts warbling his repertoire of happy tunes. It may be a sunny day and you got happy singing all day long. It might be a miserable day guess what happy singing all day long. The people around our canary may be happy, or stressed, or noisy, or quiet, or down, it just doesn't matter. No matter what, he's singing!
When I check my suitcase at the airport - and then I see it disappear as the conveyor belt carries it beyond the curtain into the black hole called - the luggage-zone. I sometimes wonder how my bag is going to be handled. I don't know exactly what baggage handlers do, but I do know that Bertha - I've named my bag since we spend so much time together - she may get tossed, buried, squished. That's why I ask for a special sticker when I'm checking a bag that has something breakable in it - like my last trip, for example. There were a lot of plastic items in my bag that could have been shattered if the handlers got rowdy. So I simply asked for the protection of that bright red sticker with the picture of a fine drinking glass on it - the symbol of breakable. And I hope that somewhere in the luggage-zone that one seven-letter word will make a difference in how my things are handled - the word - fragile.
Tornadoes I know about - we had one go through our backyard when I was a kid. Then we moved to the East Coast - so I also got the opportunity to get acquainted with hurricanes. But there is one natural disaster I do not know much about - and that's just fine - earthquakes. What I know I have learned from people who have been through them - like Mike, for example, the man in the seat next to me on a long airplane flight recently. Until recently, he lived in Northridge, CA - remember, that was the epicenter of a major quake not long ago. He told me he and his family were lucky to be alive after that quake. And the day after he was out in his backyard, cleaning up some of the damage. Suddenly, he said, the ground started moving around him - and he literally saw the ground moving in waves toward him. Now it was an aftershock - and it was scary to see. And he summed up what he had learned from that earthquake in just a few words - "Things you're sure will always be there - may not be."