Thursday, January 26, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Control

For Five Minute Friday this week we get to consider control.

five minute friday 27 January control
Behind the bread is the flour,
behind the flour is the mill,
behind the mill is the rain and the sun and the Maker's will.
Behind the bread and the rain and the sun is the Maker's will.

God charges us with stewardship of creation, with land a particular point for our care. Whether expanses of commercial farm, a city backyard plot, community garden or a multi-generational 40 acres, humans need to know about seeds and soil and cycles, to control what they plant, where they plant, when they plant. Humans need to learn what crops grow well beside other crops. Famers need to know about soil nutrients, fertilizers and fallowing.

Land-grant colleges and universities in this country originally began as agriculture schools because most of the country was rural; as the USA became more urban, the schools expanded and changed their curriculum, yet many still are outstanding places for aspiring farmers to learn more about the trade, craft, and art of working the land God lends us. Whether you plant and harvest your own garden, the neighborhood garden around the corner, or you care for farmland that stretches way over beyond the horizon, you need to track typical and extraordinary weather patterns in order to maintain that humanly possible modicum of control over the harvest.

Behind the bread on my kitchen table, behind the bread on our communion table, we find farmers who plan, plant, and harvest. Millers who turn grain into flour. Bakers who mix and shape dough into loaves. Behind the baker and the mill, in the sky over the land, sun and rain – and also the land itself – are gifts from God no human effort can duplicate, equal, or replace. The loaf of bread is a product of divine-human partnership; we plan and wait, pray and hope, but ultimately the bread is out of our control—in the end, the outcome is sheer gift!

In Saxon England, the lord provided the loaf, the sustenance for the people.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Three Word Wednesday: Let's Get Along

Kristin Hill Taylor's Three Word Wednesday implores Let's Get Along! You already know how particularly presidential politics in the USA has divided people...

Come July 2017, desert spirit's fire the blog will celebrate 15 years online; no surprise that over time this blog has changed. Starting out I posted mostly content I'd saved from online discussions; soon after that book reviews. Along the way I began other blogs: art/design; preservation project—about our built urban environment; Arizona travel; music; more theology. I've kept them all but publicly list only this blog and the four somewhat active ones on my sidebar. While still in Former City I began trying to write more openly about concerns in my own life; since relocating to Current City I've done some lifestyle posts and updated blog description to • Theology • Ecology • Liturgy • Life. However, the "life" stuff often retains a theological focus, whether it's my own testimony or more scripturally reflective.

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Yes, let's get alone! A well-known ecclesiastical slogan or tagline reminds us:

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

I researched and discovered it came from "German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, Rupertus Meldenius ... [from a] ... tract on Christian unity written circa 1627 during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648)." You might appreciate the article I found on the Ligonier site. Nineteenth century church historian Philip Schaff called this concept "the watchword of Christian peacemakers." Can we make it a watchword for our families, our political exchanges, civic activities? Church conversations? The English language love-word charity derives from the Greek word for grace! Christians often remind each other that God's love is agape love, but even more so, how divinely-sourced is our behavior and attitude when it originates from the Divine impulse freely to grace all creation?

Some of the design freebies I get every week from creative market are useful for client projects, but many are so clearly in the style of that artist-designer I hesitate to use them anywhere, even though I have a legal license to do so. I got the tropical bouquet in my header image during 2016; it hints that we can look to a garden in bloom, an arrangement of colors, sizes, and shapes of flowers; fresh salad assembled from a dozen varied yet compatible ingredients as getting-along examples. Flowers, fruits, birds, mammals, and vegetation also remind us that certain geographical locations simply cannot support growing the same goods from the ground that others do. We can make an analogy to individuals or communities with particular needs or backgrounds that may do best with a style of government others might not prefer; some people might require interventions and help from government with some basic needs.

During the sixteenth century no social media circled cyberspace connecting people and ideas, but in terms only of the continental European Reformation, printed material got around town and between cities at a rapid rate, connecting people, connecting ideas, inciting excitement! People cared intensely about church, about God, about doctrine and salvation to such an extent some Christians cast aspersions on other Christians by issuing anathemas and condemnations! This year as we celebrate #Reformation500 and #Luther500 (Katie Luther is my #homegirl) with a true sense of the liberty (or freedom—sometimes a slight difference in connotation), most followers of Christ rejoice and commend rather than condemn denominational and theological distinctives that make the Church of Jesus Christ much richer than it otherwise would be. Certain emphases and styles appeal to people's unique personalities and perspectives. Over the past four decades, historically unprecedented agreement and unity on essentials, across-the-board agreement to have liberty in non-essentials, an astonishing grace-motivated charity has gone down among churches of the protestant mainline that in this country have been in earnest dialogue for over four decades, and even between some Protestant traditions and the Roman Catholic Church. They say religion and politics are the two topics to avoid in civil conversation, but if churches can do it, how about politicians? To be human is to be political, to care about how structure and decisions, leaders and possibilities affect me and my family, my neighborhood and my friends.

God became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth amidst a particular culture – you could call it a lifestyle – in measurable geography and history; his daily human life wore and carried the signs and marks of where, when, and how he lived. Besides embodying Jesus Christ, church traditions also reflect and sometimes rock the time and place of their origin. You still can recognize the nineteenth century American frontier in denominations such as Christian Church-Disciples of Christ and Latter-day Saints that came out of nineteenth century Restoration movements. One can find congregations in the Reformed tradition that allow only psalms as hymnody; architecture and appointments of worship spaces designed by Lutherans of Scandinavian heritage usually are plain, clean, and spare; Roman Catholics of Italian and Latin heritage tend toward the ornate. You get the idea!

Haven't you found starting at the micro level between individuals, telling your stories to each other, works best? Talk to each other! Tell your own stories and your family's stories; listen to mine. Let's get along! You may find out your neighbor voted for the other candidate because of neighbor's experience and needs. You still may prefer your candidate or your way of assembling a salad or arranging flowers, but with charitable grace, you still can agree to disagree.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Refine

Our FMF host Kate recently started Refine Services, her own business featuring writing, editing and virtual assistance—to help clients refine their own offerings. Read all about it at her blog home! Wonder why our one-word prompt this time is refine...

Abravanel Hall SLC

I work as a graphic artist-designer; I'm also a performing musician. Both endeavors take talent, training, patience, and persistence. Despite the fact I've been engaged in both pursuits a long time and quickly can produce a good layout or "play something for us on the piano" very well, most of the time a quality professional end product still takes time and requires gradual refining. The "refine" concept reminded me many major symphony orchestras hold public Open Rehearsals, usually shortly before they present that particular program in their regular series. Open Rehearsal repertoire already is highly refined, almost ready for the big audience that will include reviewers, aka "critics" from print and digital media. Open Rehearsal tickets always cost a lot less than a single ticket to a regular concert, which gives people who can't spring for a high-priced ticket and/or don't have a subscription series a chance to enjoy some excellent live music. But it's a rehearsal, so the conductor may stop the orchestra members a few times along the way and explain how to further refine a particular passage. A guest pianist or violinist also may ask to go through a tough section again. Maybe because it didn't go quite right, or maybe because it went very well and they want reassurance it's sufficiently refined. Remember, this is a re-hearsal that aims to re-fine.

Refine reminded me of "Finishing Touches," Utah Symphony's name for their open rehearsals. When I lived in Salt Lake City, now and then I got to go to Saturday Evening Symphony with a friend whose daughter sometimes worked Saturday evenings and couldn't use her ticket. Other times I'd buy my own affordable admission for a Friday Finishing Touches. I loved walking out of Abravanel Hall into a bright sunshiny day!

From the Utah Symphony site:
Finishing Touches Series

Experience a behind-the-scenes look at our orchestra during four Masterworks Series rehearsals. Includes light refreshments in the lobby prior to the rehearsal. Please note that these events are working rehearsals and programming is chosen from that weekend's selections at the discretion of the conductor. Final rehearsals are held on the Friday morning at 10 AM. at Abravanel Hall.

Blog Production notes:

I got my header image of the Utah Symphony's home, Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, from wikimedia commons that usually has extremely pleasing photos that need little – if any – refining. The original looked as if someone took it during one of SLC's frequent winter inversions, so I refined and brightened it some in Photoshop with exposure, levels, warming photo filter, (wide sharp) paint daubs, brightness/contrast with reduced opacity on that layer. Despite the wintery original, if you look closely you'll notice a fabulous reflection of buildings on the opposite side of South Temple, a mirror image that in itself creates an enticing symphony of lights, darks, sparkles, and varied textures.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Three Word Wednesday: Sanctity of {Every} Life

For Three Word Wednesday, Kristin Hill Taylor offers a challenging Sanctity of {every} life.

3 word wednesday sanctity of life

Sanctity derives from the Latin word for holy, "sanctus." We consider thrice-holiness – "sanctus, sanctus, sanctus" as we sing during the liturgy – an attribute of God, yet in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit we humans also strive for sanctification (deification, theosis in some theological traditions) as our attitudes, behaviors, our entire beings gradually align more with the Savior's. In addition, sanctity of life has become an unfortunate political and religious buzzword, a catchphrase that instantly conjures up petitions, boycotts, marches for the unborn, those who are dying, capital punishment, women's rights... I won't go there. I'm not qualified to go there. A few years back on either Confessing Christ or in one of the United Church of Christ online discussions, someone pointed out "the Roman branch of the Church has a body of moral theology that makes what we do [mainline and other assorted protestants] look trivial."

Besides, numerically there are very few humans on earth today who don't perceive value in future possibilities of a fetus still in the womb, who have an easy-going attitude about even very early pregnancy termination, sorrow that some with end-stage ravages of a serious disease don't, won't, or legally/ethically can't die sooner—whether they consider death a gift of God leading to fullness of life or simply the end of earthbound existence. Most sentient humans assign some intrinsic worth to all critters of every description; it would be tough to find those who don't realize the valuable interconnectedness of all creation.

Given my lack of qualifications and also my disinterest in pursuing heavyweight theological, medical, scientific, and ethical concerns, I'll say a little about Kristin's wonderful blog description and purpose, "Seeking God as the author of every story."

Scripture and our own experiences remind us how God's presence often is hidden and concealed—at least while a story if unfolding or in the thick of an event. In the book of Exodus we find a locus classicus for God's hiddenness:
Exodus 33

18Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." 19And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The Lord'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20But you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." 21And the Lord continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."
As Christians we recognize that God writes or "authors" all of our stories. Some of the excitement of blog- and journal-writing and photography is making those stories come alive again for ourselves, and making them real for an audience. Narrating our own histories helps us discern where God was when something occurred, what God might have been leading up to at another time. Countless times I've glanced backwards remembering how at the time I'd no clue God or any good was part of a situation, yet in retrospect I can assemble the pieces and put together a timeline that reveals God's presence and faithfulness, and many times even my own obedience. My patience, too? No comment on that one.

And I'll say a little about the button I designed for this post. The background acrylic painting of posies has seen a whole lot (how many items in a lot? What does it take to make a whole one?) of my many lives. They first came to life when I designed some nature patterns to help illustrate concepts in a color theory class; originally I did up these flowers in three different colorways. That was way back when only geeks were particularly digitized, but what I learned in that class made it one of the half-dozen most useful school experiences ever, so I kept the two binders of course material for reference and finally scanned and photoshopped my example drawings. I use versions of this flowery nosegay for posts I've tagged "Life Stuff" and "Telling the Story," so why not another version for this post about life and its stuff?

Kristin says "Seeking God as the author." To seek is a looking for, looking into, inquiring after. Looking into, re-calling, invoking is exactly what we do when we read others' stories and when we relate our own. Every story of every individual and every family has sanctity, is a holy one; God authored it! But often we need to seek, peer deeply, wonder intensely and wait for God's own revelation about his presence. Notice I wrote the words of my button for today's post in burnout so you need to look more closely and carefully to read what it says than if the letters popped out at you as conventional dark against light or light against dark? Something of a metaphor for God's frequently hard to find presence!

Have you started writing and telling the world about the sanctity of your own life and your family's lives? Where is God in the mix and in the sometime mess?

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Middle

This week we get to write about middle for our 5 minute flash mob free write. Well... almost a flash mob—it entails a lot of people doing the same thing at the same time, initially at their own physical location and then everyone comes together and links up at Kate's place. Big thanks to Kate for continuing to host this linkup!

desert spirit's fire middle
More weeks than not I play FMF, but middle the prompt didn't immediately attract me because it didn't ignite my imagination or my memories. But then I thought about the midway or the middle way at a fair or at a carnival, that food and games vendor concessions area in-between outside streets and exhibits inside. Even more than a county fair midway, the middle way of the midway you find in resort communities fired me up. More often than not, that midway is a boardwalk lined with caf├ęs, restaurants, and shops. On one side of the middle way we find the beach that features sand and surf—sometimes a lake instead of an ocean. On the other side's the town or the village. As locals and tourists stroll the midway and visit its retail establishments, I stop and ask some of them "are you a beachie—an outsider who's here mainly for the beach?" "Are you a townie—a resident who lives, works, maybe goes to school in the place that gives the community its name?" Then my questions become, "since you're a beachie, do you while away hours basking in the sun, riding the waves, enjoying a new magazine?" "Given that you're a townie, does that mean you attend the community college, work at the mall, and dress in preppie standard?" Both individual's answers are the same...

***end of 5 minutes***

"Not at all! When I'm on the midway that's middle of the way between town and beach, I rock some of my typical townie (or beachie) characteristics and style, but the middle way of the midway gives me a chance to be a little of both, or to choose none of either, and especially to do some stuff that's outrageously not like the usual me. Because the middle way sometimes does combine traits of both sides so I can be beachie and townie at once even when technically I'm a beachie from a place outside the town or a townie who doesn't often venture onto the sand; the middle way of the midway creates its own way that's a lot of neither and that's also its very own tabloid-worthy style. In short, the middle way means freedom. Middle means not being bound by rules or expectations, by labels or by the past."

What's the story on my header image? Not much, other than text is in the middle of the design and I chose teal as a color that's in the middle between blue and green. I'm doing my best to have fun with the free design assets I get on Creative Market every week; this week's Sweet Little Hand Drawn Elements included five delicate floral wreaths. I chose one, recolored it and added text. The package include 37 separate floral clipart elements in png file format so you can create your own wreaths or bouquets!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Three Word Wednesday: Truth, Goodness, Beauty

For her Three Word Wednesday, Kristin Hill Taylor reflects on Truth, goodness & beauty. Inspired by a quote from Andrew Kern on Instagram, "We think to determine three things: whether something is true, whether something should be done, and whether something commands our appreciation. In other words, we think to know truth, goodness, and beauty," Kristin tells us, "...especially those three words – truth, goodness, beauty – stopped my mindless social media scrolling."

"Truth, Goodness & Beauty" reminded me of Psalm 85 that in turn reminded me of the fullness of earth's bounty we ideally experience during summer.

3 word wednesday tomato
Psalm 85:1a, 10-12

1God, you smiled on your good earth!

10Love and Truth meet in the street,
    Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!
11Truth sprouts green from the ground,
    Right Living pours down from the skies!

12Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty
    our land responds with Bounty and Blessing. MSG
Probably written down after the Babylonian exile with righteous concern for restoring land, crops, and the fertility of planet earth to its utmost so humans and everything else would be revived to thrive in interdependence, Psalm 85 is packed with dense theological words—land, salvation, forgiveness, steadfast love, faithfulness, mercy, peace, righteousness, good, truth, earth... Although some exiles chose to stay in Babylon to make lives for themselves, the place and space others returned to was the literal Good Land of Promise whose valleys and streams would generate figs, grains, grapes, pomegranates...
Deuteronomy 8

6Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. NRSV
God smiling on God's good earth becomes a reality when we fulfill the commandment to steward the land, to live in covenant with all creation—not solely with human creatures. And yes, also when we seriously practice what I've called "neighborology" in the covenantal traditions of Deuteronomy and of Jeremiah. In Psalm 85, "peace" is the Hebrew shalom, a way of living together as neighbors that's far more than absence of conflict; shalom includes the broad reality of distributive justice, well-being and "enough" sufficiency for all, a common-wealth reconciled to one another and to God on every level. Shalom is "Right Living and Whole Living" in Pastor Eugene's interpretation of the psalm. Israel's Lord God Yahweh was and still is a fertility god who owns the land and loans it out for human caretaking and for the benefit of all creation. Two thousand years ago, the day of resurrection marked the end of the seemingly eternal recycling of human history (sin, violence, debt, war, greed), though in the power of the HS we still need to pray and work and hope toward the absolute completion of God's redemption.

Psalm 85:11 tells us "truth sprouts green from the ground." Every agricultural season's freshly sprouting plants of every kind – especially the beginnings and later the growth of anyone's tomato plants – become harbingers of hope for more to come, for the lively possibility of our continuing to get it right, continuing to care well for the ground and its gifts, keeping on keeping on with concern for our immediate neighbors on either side of us at home or at work, in gracious kindness and hospitality for neighbors we haven't yet met but whose lives already touch ours through other lives they touch that touch ours. You've been in conversations at work, church, club, school, where tomato plants are the main topic?

Garden Fresh Tomatoes have become a triumphant icon of a healthy summer garden, of people living into and loving all of the glory of summer's long warm days, summer's enhanced opportunities for leisure and recreation. God smiles on the good earth as truth sprouts green from the ground—right living pours down from the skies! The sacraments form models for the lives we pursue after we leave those circled around liturgy of Word and Sacrament to engage those and others the circle of the world embraces. In a parallel manner, scripture – not only the commandments – as words from heaven and Word of God for us, outline how we can work alongside God to make this southern California county – and where you make your home today – a place where love and truth meet in the street, where righteousness and integrity spontaneously hug each other, where this-seasonal veggies, fruits, berries, and flowers sprout green and all other colors imaginable. A location where God again smiles on our good earth. Essentially making our surroundings into year-round endless summer!

Let's love the earth. Care for the land. Treasure the waterways. Keep the air clean. Live locally. Remember your neighbor. Keep covenant with all creation. Let's help fill planet earth with endless truth, goodness, and beauty. Make your neighborhood into a forever summer. Thank you!

Credits: Psalter verses from Pastor Eugene Peterson's The Message; stock photo of fresh summer tomatoes by Pippalou on morguefile; edited by me as suntreeriver design. Headline font on tomato graphic is Blog Script; psalm expressed in the font garden fresh tomatoes.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Connect

At her welcoming place in cyberspace, Kate gives us connect for our first Five Minute Friday prompt of 2017.

five minute friday desert spirit's fire connect

Design and theology are two major ways I connect with people in real life and online in my virtual world. As reluctant as I am ever to talk much about myself, my history, aspirations, disappointments, dreams for the future, when it comes to theology or design I can be a little hard to shut up, sometimes very difficult to slow down when my excitement about the subject drives me into a literal flight of ideas. I've never consciously followed *many* trends, nor have I been a trendsetter myself—maybe except at Haarlem, when I decided to braid my hair and over the next few days several of my female classmates braided theirs. However, please note my very recently designed header banner features the font Bombshell Pro, and that's one I paid real $ for. Hand-drawn brush scripts are majorly trending, and I've gotten some beautiful ones, noticed others I might spring for, but how many does a designer need?

So why would I use Bombshell Pro right here and now? To connect in solidarity with my blogging pal and FMF host Kate. Similar to when you walk out onto the city streets and notice someone wearing close to the exact same outfit you assembled mostly from random pieces you found at random places, it forms an invisible kinship that Kate or anyone else might or might not noticed (or appreciate), and helps me realize I'm not quite that weird and non-mainstream, after all.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Three Word Wednesday: Happy New Year!

happy new year 2017

For my first blog of 2017 I'm linking up with Kristin Hill Taylor's almost weekly Three Word Wednesday; as usual I'm writing to her prompt – a predictable and create-able Happy New Year! I always enjoy this opportunity because in Kristin's words, "Three Word Wednesday is a chance to pause and hear God. Sum up what you're hearing in three words and then share the rest of the story. How's your new year going? Do you have any resolutions or insights?"

At least a half-dozen times I've mentioned the four annual new beginnings I celebrate. In order of importance...

1. My birthday—I'm cool when people remember it, equally okay if they don't.

2. Secular calendar new year: occasionally I've gone to party, church, or restaurant on New Year's Eve, but don't care about being awake when the ball drops. However, I enjoy anticipating new calendar pages to fill, good reasons to do things a little differently. Then there's reality of more minutes, more hours of daylight that happen with the new year! This afternoon I made my first mall visit of 2017. Nice to see many nativity decorations still in place, as the twelfth day of Christmas doesn't happen until Friday. Predictably marked-down prices on fall and winter clothes and household gear, but stacks of long-sleeved shirts in symbolic spring pastels of blue, green, peach, lavender, orchid (one line of tops had two different versions of light purple), yellow, pink, etc. energized me!

3. Every twelve months the church begins a new year of grace on the first Sunday of Advent—more than a month earlier than the world surrounding the church welcomes another year. Each Advent we begin reading from a different synoptic gospel in the Revised Common Lectionary rotation; texts for the first Sunday of Advent always include a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it. Scripture readings, colors, symbols, and songs all come together to help create a sense that something already new is here and now, something even more amazing on the way. Watch. Look. Listen. Hope!

4. The New School Year's always been my big one, chock full with symbol, ritual, liturgical action, speech—talk about holy time! With more than a suggestion of holy space and place. Major action starts even before the very late August date or Labor Day week when classrooms re-open: buying or setting aside clothes; new haircut (new hair style?). Notebooks, binders, backpacks, and pens. Figuring out transportation—school bus; city bus; commuter train; walking if you're really lucky; on- or off-campus parking. Do you need a sticker or other permit? Will this be a new to me school or an old one? Excited plans to reunite with old classmates or anxiety about meeting new ones? Housing? Probably with family of origin or close relatives if you're 12th grade or under. Otherwise, on- of off-campus? In addition, did all the classes you wanted "take" when you registered at the end of spring semester or do you need to wade through a marathon drop-add-change event?

Other religions, countries, and cultures feature new beginnings, as well. Typically I note those only in passing, but wouldn't it be a fun project to celebrate more of them with traditional food and related festivities?

But Kristin asked how this new year 2017 is going so far. Aside from needing to move as soon as possible for practical reasons and because of health concerns... did I really say that out loud in public? Yes.

Post title is "Happy New Year." Not joyous new beginnings, not joy-filled January. Scriptures and sages and our own experiences all own that abiding joy is evidence of God's presence. Happiness is more mundane, something lesser-than, more earthbound, yet that ultra-frequent "blessed" word in scripture translates to happy in English, selig in German. The psalter opens with...
1Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

2but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.

3They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Not only Psalm 1, but many many passages in scripture promise if we delight in the commandments, if we obey, if we keep covenant, happiness will be ours. Do I have resolutions or insights for this new calendar year 2017? To keep more faithful covenant with God and with all creation. To claim this as a happy new year for the remainder of January and for the next twelve months!

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