Leaves of Three

During my childhood, I learned the doggerel in Cub Scouts: “Leaves of three, let them be!” Forewarned should be forearmed. However, experience always provides Poison Ivylife’s best-learned lessons. During childhood, it took several close encounters with plants of the three-leafed variety before I learned the importance of leaving the leaves alone.

People react in various ways to poison ivy along with its relatives, poison oak and poison sumac. The toxic plants do not affect some people. Others get a mild rash. A few react violently.

Unfortunately, I am highly allergic to all plants with the first name “poison.” Just standing downwind of the toxic vines makes me itch.

During my boyhood, I could count on a bad case of poison ivy every summer. In the days before air conditioning, video games, cable television, or computers, we actually stayed outside during the day and most of the evening. The boys in the neighborhood often played in the woods across the street. Inevitably, I suffered from a brush with poison ivy or one of its noxious cousins.

For those who have never suffered from the malady, words do not suffice. The angry red rash causes an infernal itch. Scratching the inflammation aggravates the itch.

Back in the day before cortisone lotions and shots, Calamine Lotion provided the only temporary relief. However, it felt like fighting a forest fire with a water pistol. The creamy salve barely treated the symptoms. Time proved to be the only cure.

Despite medical advances during the past decades, prevention remains the best cure. Over the years, I have become quite adept at spotting “leaves of three” from a long distance. It doesn’t matter if the plant disguises itself as vine, shrub, or sapling.

During walks in the woods, I constantly scan the ground for any form of poison ivy. I keep a supply of herbicide on hand for any toxic plant that dares raise its ugly head in our yard.

In my spiritual journey, I have found that temptation shares many characteristics with poison ivy. Both can be beautiful to the eye and nonthreatening to the touch. Each easily blends with its background and gives no hint of potential harm.

It requires diligence and vigilance to note poison’s proximity. Sometimes it takes time before the consequences of our actions are revealed. The best antidote is to avoid what causes the ailment.

In 1749, Charles Wesley wrote the words of the hymn “I Want a Principle Within.” The first stanza declares: “I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near. I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire, to catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.”

When it comes to three-leafed plants and alluring temptation, the same principle applies: LEAVE THEM BE!

Air Conditioning

During my childhood, I grew up in the suburbs of Decatur, Georgia. Our humble home on McAfee Road contained two bedrooms and a single bath. My father eventually converted the carport into a family room. The original den became a third bedroom for yours truly.

A few upscale houses in the neighborhood possessed central air conditioning. However, my friends and I never knew to miss it. We did not have AC in our cars or schools. During summer vacation, we actually played outside during the day and most of the evening.

We cooled our house in warmer weather with an attic fan. The belt-driven mechanism rumbled like the propeller on a plane during takeoff. Standing under the vents in the hallway produced a wind tunnel effect. Propped open windows welcomed any cool breeze blowing by.

During my ninth grade year, we moved to Woodstock, Georgia. My parents neglected to include central air conditioning in the new home they built. I attended Cherokee High School where the only air conditioned building (well, other than the front offices where the principal and secretaries ruled supreme) was the library.

Then  I went to Berry College for undergraduate work. My freshman dorm room featured radiator heat and paint-stuck windows. The next dorm I occupied had been built decades later with central heat but no air. My roommate and I felt like gypsies in the palace when we finally scrounged a box fan for the one window.

After seminary, the bishop appointed me to two churches outside Newnan, Georgia. A wood stove heated the parsonage IF the preacher cut enough wood. An all too familiar attic fan in the hallway provided the only source for cooling. During my fourth year at the church, my wife and I married. THEN the church installed a dish washer and a single window air conditioning unit.

The next church we served owned a parsonage complete with “central” heat. Well, at least the heat source was located in the center of the house—a gas fed furnace shot torrid blasts of heat from a waffle-pattern floor grate. This particular home didn’t even boast an attic fan.

After three years of committee meetings, the church eventually installed a new heat and air system. At 32 years of age, I finally enjoyed the comforts of central air conditioning for the first time in my life.

Only a few decades ago country congregations vehemently argued whether to install air conditioning. The progressive elements argued that people wanted to enjoy the same degree of comfort at church as they did in homes and malls. The fiscally conservative countered that the money could be better used for missions and funeral home fans.

Seriously, I’m not making this stuff up. Today no one would even consider building a church facility without all the modern amenities.

We live in a prosperous era. What were once luxuries are now considered to be necessities. I am certainly not advocating a return to the past. Years later I still recall how hot, humid, sticky, and muggy those “good old days” of the summer truly were.

However, it wouldn’t hurt to be thankful for our present blessings that past generations never even imagined. Thank God for the hot summer weather outside, AND praise the Lord for the air conditioning inside.

America the Beautiful

Fourth of JulyOn July 4, 1776, our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. The Philadelphia document formalized the American rebellion against British rule. Next week the United States of America observes its 240th birthday. Independence Day celebrates over two centuries of freedom with parades, flags, picnics, and fireworks.

Many will also ATTEMPT to sing our National Anthem. Every school child knows the story behind The Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key was a gifted poet who found himself unexpectedly detained on a British frigate. He witnessed firsthand the English attack Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. After the night’s artillery bombardment, Key peered through the dawn’s early light to see the American flag still flying proudly.

Inspired by the sight, Key scribbled some notes on the back of an envelope. His musings evolved into a four stanza poem. On September 15, 1814, a Baltimore newspaper first published The Star Spangled Banner.

Ironically, Key suggested the poem be sung to a popular BRITISH tune entitled To Anacreon in Heaven. The melody was originally composed for a gentlemen’s music club in London. The song quickly became popular across America. However, Congress did not actually make The Star Spangled Banner our National Anthem until 1931.

Although our national anthem is inspiring, the tune is somewhat, uh, challenging to sing. Amateur and professional vocalists alike struggle to do the tune justice.

In recent years, some have suggested changing the National Anthem to America the Beautiful.  It is a powerful hymn with moving imagery; AND it is much easier to sing!

Katherine Lee Bates wrote America the Beautiful in the nineteenth century. Dr. Bates, the daughter of a minister, became a professor of English Literature at Wellesley College. In 1893, she stopped in Chicago during a trip to Colorado Springs. Both the natural beauty of Colorado’s “fruited plains” and the “alabaster city” of the Chicago World Fair inspired her to write the well-known hymn.

Regardless of one’s national origin, all of God’s people can sing some of the lines together:

God shed his grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood,

From sea to shining sea.

 May God thy gold refine,

till all success be nobleness,

and every gain divine.

On the Fourth of July, we pause to give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy. Our liberty is a precious gift dearly obtained. The star spangled banner still waves over America the beautiful. May God continue to bless our nation—land that we love.

Happy Independence Day!