Monday, August 20, 2007

Bad Vibes

Do you ever get a bad feeling about something? Yeah? Well, I do.

I had a bad vibe about the mining cave in at Crandall Canyon Mine near Huntington,Utah . A terrible situation. I pray for those lost souls and the survivors of that disaster. And I pray the mining owners stop such risky mining exercises.

I also have a bad vibe about the return of the Space Shuttle Endeavour coming back to Earth. Sigh. I always hope in the back of my mind that everything will be fine, but sometimes that doesn't happen. It would be sad if Endeavour experienced a similar fate to Columbia, and even sadder to see the second teacher with her venture into space end in tragedy.

The issue with the space shuttle's small, but deep gouge troubles me, and the last time NASA said it'd be okay, it wasn't. Officials say the risk to do further damage just to repair the deep cut is what causes them to be cautious about fixing it in space, and apparently outweighs the risk of re-entry explosions from the shuttle's exposed surface igniting. Sigh. It's their judgment call. I just hope they are right.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Heaven is a Soul Filled with God's Love

Psst.... Don't we all know that salvation has come? Salvation is not something for us to be achieved or earned. It is a gift. It is given by the grace and mercy of God. Let us then stop seeing Heaven as a self-righteous goal that we must earn for eternal life.

Rather, let us "yearn" for God and His love. All that great loving stuff we do for each other, then, is just an outpouring, a reflection of God's love in us. As we "yearn" in God's love filling our soul, we are with God, and really, this is Heaven.

Condition of Your Soul

I've been wrestling with the concept and need of God's grace in a growing culture and church where we are so task and goal oriented. I believe this is similar to the wrestling match Martin Luther faced personally and professionally.

Anyhow, the convention is that God and His love is unconditional. Yet, instance after instance God threatens civilization and in some instances destroys communities due to their evil deeds. Then, tells later evil civilizations that the community he destroyed previously stands a better chance on the day of judgment than the current evil community. How can this be unconditional? God says through Jesus that if someone wrongs us that we should turn the other cheek. Forgive them seventy times seven. Vengence is mine, says the Lord. Sigh. What is God trying to say?

Okay, this is how I see it. We only have two cheeks (or four, depending what you deem to count), so basically that's like giving the benefit of the doubt twice (or four times). After that, consequences are needed. Sometimes, people need to know they did something wrong, so after a couple of times for those wronged to let it slip and give that proverbial benefit of the doubt, it's time to allow the consequence to correct the wrong-doer, if you will. Consequences are not vengence, in my humble opinion, which should rightfully be left to the One who judges.

So, in the situation of the evil deeds of a civilization receiving destruction, it is a consequence, then? Sure. I think vengence is much more personal. Something between the individual and God. Just my perspective anyway.

Now, onto those who think that if I only repent and accept Jesus, then I will be saved and attain Heaven at the end of my days. I really contemplate this sometimes, because we as a society are so pressed by that equation of "if, then" in our daily lives. If I work hard at my job every day, then I get paid and I can support my family. It's an equation that we understand, know, and live by every day.

Thus, it seems humanly logical that salvation can only be attained if we do something to achieve it. And, many churches also give that ultimatum to members, either outright or subconsciously. You must repent and accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior to attain God's graces. In this equation it is up to you, basically, to work for your salvation. And in our humanly minds we accept this conditionality of salvation. Humbly, I do not think this is God's salvation. This is humanity trying to save itself.

"If, then" statements work great for a computer. God is no computer. I don't think God is a conditional freak. He is not about "if, then". That is what we are as humans. But what about Sodom and Gomorrah? He basically was giving them the ultimate "if, then" statement, right? No, I don't think so. I think that was a consequence of sin.

God's salvation came through death on the cross with Jesus. Remember when Jesus said, if your arm (or eye, or whatever body part it was) causes you to sin, cut it off so that you may be right with God again (it was something like that). It is not the act of cutting something off that saves one from sin, but the ability to stop the sin, to keep the soul healthy and in essense keep it from death in sin. So, death also carries salvic value to those who face the consequence of sin. Death in many ways may be the ultimate band-aid for our sin. It is quite possible that death is the ultimate cut-off from our souls to sin. And, in a strange perspective, quite fitting for Jesus' blameless death on the cross to take sin from us.

You think that we still need to act to be saved? If God forced humans to act for their own salvation, then why the whole fuss about Jesus and Jesus' death on the cross? What need is there for God's grace and mercy if the things we do as humans, to "accept Jesus", to "repent our sins", to "pray", to "be good and love your neighbor", our own actions to personally save ourselves and attain heaven? It seems most Christians think if we just repent and accept Jesus as our personal savior and do good, that we will win our ticket to heaven. There's that whole "if, then" equation that seems to trip us up.

It's not about that. It is about the condition of our hearts/souls/spirits that God has made for us, and entrusted in us. True Christians do the things they do because of the condition of their soul. True Christians repent because their soul yearns for God. True Christians show the love of God because of the condition of their soul is filled with God's love. It is the act of God alone that fills them. It is the act of God that saves them. Nothing in our own power alone can save us. We are helpless by ourselves in our salvation.

Thus, it is God's grace and mercy that transforms our souls to reflect God's love. It is the condition of your soul God will judge at the end of the day, as only God knows who we really are.

And, why are you so concerned about the end times? The end times will come, at a day and time we do not know. God's beloved will be called for service and we will see light that has not been seen before. It will be then that the light will either be absorbed in the darkness of the soul or reflected out and radiating from the soul, depending on its condition. That is why we all must be ready, but not worried. God promises to protect His own.

And don't be worried about your own salvation, as salvation has already come. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Woo Hoo! A Legend of an Amusement Park

Wooooo! Yeeeeeeah! Let's do it again! One more time!

There is just something to love about those old wooden roller coasters, and the "Legend" at Arnold's Park makes you love it. At first glance you notice its small imposing curved posture as you walk to the park's entrance from the parking lot. You may think this is just another small, old coaster. The coaster's train rumbles overhead, almost in slow motion, and you think there could be no thrill left in that roller coaster. It's a classic white wooden coaster, with distinctive red rails and railing.

As you walk through the entrance of Arnold's Park, you walk under the station house of the Legend, and notice the old Tipsy House built into the coaster's infrastructure. Although it seems old and outdated, you enter out of curiosity. Walking around, you feel as though you drank too much at a college kegger, and somehow your mind has been completely flipped and you can't decipher up from down. Finally, you get to the "balcony" of the Tipsy House, hoping to find some relief from the topsy turvy feelings beginning to rumble in your tummy. Grabbing hold of the railing, you look out at a spectacular view of Lake Okoboji and feel the cool breeze through your hair. Yet, the sloping floor beckons you to finish the tour of the Tipsy House.

Finally, you exit the architectural antics of the Tipsy House and find yourself in front of the Mirror Maze. You enter, thinking two things: this is a kiddie attraction, and so was the Tipsy House, so you never know. Walking in you think that to make it difficult you will not look down. BAM! Okay, so it's not so easy. You make it to the back of the Mirror Maze, and the wacky, wavy mirrors in the back make you wonder why we have diets when we ought to replace conventional flat mirrors with these.

Managing to make it out of the Mirror Maze mostly unscathed, you view the elevated station for the Legend roller coaster and notice the short line for the ride. You begin to walk over to the plank for the coaster when the horn from the park's train honks in your direction. You are again sidetracked glancing over at the park's train, with its nostalgic engine, coaster cars moving past you, and the ding of the railroad crossing sign warning pedestrians to get out of the way.

You then become determined to ride the Legend as it calls you to ascend the ramp to the station. Balancing yourself against the strip of wood on the plank to the station, you wait in anticipation as the train comes into the station with shouts of satisfied coaster riders. You wonder how such a coaster could make people scream like that.

You sit in the car, the fourth row from the front, and notice both a lap bar and safety belt. You think, there's probably a reason for the safety belt, and you tighten the strap across your lap. The train leaves the station and dips below the exit of the Tipsy House before hooking up with the chain drive that leads the coaster up to the first summit. Clinkety, clankety sounds echo like an amusement park bell choir and the air seems oddly still for a moment. Then, the breeze comes up again, catching the leaves of the surrounding large, old oak trees that thrive in this area. The branches bend down as if they were trying to high five the thrill-seekers in the coaster cars. Looking up around the rustling branches, you see at the peak an ominous sign: The Point of No Return.

The car begins to go past the sign as the coaster sends you downward and you gulp to catch your breath for a moment. You let out a whoop of excitement as you pass under a section of the roller coaster you have yet to experience. The train leads you up to the curve and you feel as if you are flying. Nothing extreme. Pleasant. As if you are a hawk flying among the grand oak trees that frame the coaster.

Once you feel that this is a nice, tame coaster, you plunge downward, then feel airborne as if you are about to be ejected from your seat. Not so tame after all. You scream and now know why people love the Legend at Arnold's Park.

(Thanks to the Youtuber Greiman23 who made this video.)

Airtime, my friend, wonderful airtime. That is what makes them scream, wanting to come back for more. Something too amazing to capture on video. It's not just any old airtime, this coaster makes you fly, float, and you feel your heart soar as the last two hills take your breath away. As the train pulls toward the station, you see the lake, with its waves that twinkle at you. It charms your soul into exhilarating screams of gratitude--Woooo! Yeeeeeah! Let's do it again! One more time!!

The Legend roller coaster at Arnold's Park, Iowa, USA is the 7th oldest coaster in the USA and the 13th oldest in the world. It was built in 1927 as a freeform figure 8 design by John A. Miller, John F. Pierce and Harry Baker, manufactured by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. The ride time is one minute 12 seconds, a height of 63 feet, and speeds on its tracks at 50 mph. Originally called the Giant Coaster, when I went to the park as I was growing up (1970s and 1980s), it was called the Big Coaster, and around 1995 it was renamed The Legend.

As I grew up, Arnold's Park also featured an indoor skating rink and the Roof Garden that held a dance hall, retail shops, and the Fun House, that had a spinning horizontal barrel, moving planks (back and forth, and up and down), a spinning wooden king of the hill type of ride, and, my favorite, the large wooden slides.

In 1968, the Roof Garden was hit by a tornado and rebuilt, however its days were numbered. The Roof Garden was a popular concert venue (featuring area bands and nationally-internationally recorded groups, including one of the last bands to play: The Romantics) up until its ultimate demise in 1987 when the park closed and many of the buildings were razed, including the Roof Garden, that met its fate with the local firefighters who burned it down as a training exercise. Arnold's Park was reopened in 1989, with a refurbished roller coaster and fewer attractions.

In 1999, Arnold's Park was purchased and threatened to close as the new owners had ambitious plans for a condominium complex. They gave the community an ultimatum that they had to raise around 4 million dollars to save the park. In 30 days, the community rallied to save the park and raised well over 7 million dollars.

They have since added several rides, including a log flume, a kid's play park, and a very nice mini-putt-putt course, along with some nice landscaping around the park. Arnold's Park is alive and well, and in my opinion, doing even better than I can remember.

If you want to experience The Legend and the rest of Arnold's Park Amusement Park, it's located on Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa, USA, just off Highway 71 on Lake Street in Arnolds Park, Iowa (yes, the town has the same name).