The elusive Arisaema triphyllum

Photography by Mark Knox

Arisaema triphyllum, also known as a Jack-in-the-Pulpit, is a flowering plant found in the wooded areas of eastern North America, including the forest behind my back yard. They show up quickly in early May and stick around into June. This year, with a cold, rainy spell this past week, I saw a second wave of blooms.

Every year it’s a challenge for me, as my dogs playfully tread the mountain paths, to spot these plants when they first arrive. In the midst of May Apples, thorny sprouts, ferns, and other greenery, the Jacks hide tucked away in shady spots. Each evening as I return home, I announce how many new plants I spotted that day.

This search goes all the way back to my high school days, when in my sophomore or junior year, my science teacher whose name escapes me, assigned us to search the woods and dales of the north-central Ohio landscape for wild spring flowers. We were to collect, press, display, and describe as many as we could find. We would be graded on a sliding scale based on how many specimens we completed.

As one who woefully underachieved in high school and seldom did homework, ironically I really enjoyed this assignment. I even bought a little pocket guide to wildflowers to help me with the identification.

Unfortunately, my excitement for the assignment failed to overcome my inherent laziness and procrastination (something I struggle with to this day), so I ended up not turning in many examples. I probably got a “D” as I recall.

But near the due date, I summoned up some initiative and headed into the wood across the street from my house on Ohio Route 58, hoping to find enough to get me over the threshold of failure. For some reason, and I had no real scientific knowledge of this, I thought maybe I might find a Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

I spent the better part of an hour wandering through this small woodland. I don’t remember if I found any other specimens, but I continued to look for Jack. I didn’t know that most Jacks plants have an additional stem with 3 leaves; I was just looking for the familiar striped spathe – the pulpit – that housed the spadix – “Jack” – that I had seen somewhere before in some distant memory.

Suddenly, there he was! It was almost startling, kind of like the feeling you get when someone jumps out at you from behind a door. And then, where before I couldn’t find a one, now I was seeing dozens everywhere. Some were light green, and others had more of a purple-ish striped hue. I carefully broke one off at the base, took it home, and pressed it into my collection. I never went back to that woods.

Here in the temperate climes of western North Carolina, I began to walk the woods with Shadow the Dog, later adding the Amazing Roscoe Dog, I began to think about hunting for Jack anew.

Again, that nervous pursuit. Where might I find him? Looking, looking, looking. Peering, staring, studying. This time, he didn’t startle me; he was just there. I looked around; surely there are more of his mates. But no, he was a solo preacher. Maybe that first year I found three.

The next year there were more, and in additional places. Each year the numbers increase. Either they are spreading, or my powers of observation and discovery are hightened.

I’ve even found some variations beyond the coloring, green or purple. There are the early ones that are shorter and smaller with thinner stems. 3 leaves. There are some stalks with only leaves that grow. I look closely; they’re the same leaves, but no pulpit. I’ve found some with five leaves. Is this a new species? After all, they’re called tri-phyllum. Probably not, just a variation. Later in the season, I start to see a different kind. The base is a brown wrap giving way to thick stems, 3 in fact! One with the Jack and two stems of 3 leaves. Big leaves!

Today’s the first day of summer, and the Jack blooms are starting to wilt. With the cooler weather, we’ve had an extended season this year. so it’s been a gratifying adventure to take my nightly walk.

I like to think that this is something like what Adam must have felt in the Garden as he worked it and gave names to his discoveries. I believe my Father is pleased when I delight in what he has placed in this world. Through no fault of its own, the whole creation was subjected to corruption and eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-23). But, though groaning, creation still tells a story.

Each spring, these Jacks step into their pulpits and preach the glory of God.

Thoughts from an African-American friend on George Floyd, race in America

Darnell Phillip is a friend of mine, an African-American man. On Tuesday, the day after the murder of George Floyd, he posted these thoughts. This is raw, fresh, and real. At the time, all I could post was the words, “thank you.” His words have stayed with me throughout the week, even as tensions have mounted. I have tried to stay focused in my mind on the single incident, not wanting the unrest and the riots to dilute my sense of shock and horror of that senseless act. His words have further opened my eyes; I truly do not know what it’s like to be a black man in America. I asked if I could share his words, and he agreed. I want all of us to begin to see through the eyes of others.

If you comment, please keep your comments related to his thoughts. If you bring up the riots and how they may or may not discredit or minimize the racial injustice, I will delete your comment. This is not the place to discuss that.

Darnell

“Today has just been a gut wrenching day. I’m reminded of every time that I have been pulled over by police or questioned by a position in authority. I am reminded that no one had to teach me coping mechanisms of how not to appear to be a threat. I am reminded of how I have changed my body language, altered my tone, dressed differently, or walked to the other side of the street as to give you space and made you comfortable. And why do I do these things? Because this nation has taught black men that the consequences of not doing them can be deadly.

“I think of the ways that we have explained it, the lengths we have gone to demand a voice and a place within this society. When we held back our hand and refused to adopt methods of violence, we were hosed and assassinated. When we decided that we must stand up for ourselves by any means necessary, We were vilified and assassinated. We were ridiculed for kneeling during the star spangled banner when no one else would seek change.

“I remember the ways that my hands gripped the wheel each time I drove through long sections of Southern states anxious that I may have a tail light out and a reason to be pursued. And I could comfort myself with the notion that the South is the only region that I would need to avoid. The South has been the epicenter of black suffering and trauma the effects of which are still prevalent today. But that would only be a delusion. These stories of murder at the hands of those sworn to protect us hail from NYC, Baltimore, Minnesota, as well as New Orleans, Ferguson, Florida and too many other places to name. The fact is that this is an American problem. Not a regional thing. Or a blue or red thing. Or a religious thing.

“The most disheartening thing that I experience is people who claim ‘well, we were not there and it’s easy to make a judgment about a video but you don’t know what he did to provoke that kind of attention.’ Or the way that people will scour a black victims social media to find anything that would suggest that he deserved to die. It sickens me when I think that white supremacists have been arrested after killing in cold blood American citizens while black men have been murdered in broad daylight without resisting arrest. I have no easy answers for those who want to help. There are no convenient ways that we as Americans can begin to set right what is so broken within our own society. It’d be so easy for our conscience to donate to a fund because in our own detached way we could convince ourselves that we were in an active role for seeking change. POC don’t need saviors (in any non-religious sense), but we certainly could use allies. People brace enough to speak up and admit that enough is enough. We won’t have any solutions until we can admit what we as a society have done wrong. Can you see America putting down its pride long enough to make that kind of restitution? Right now to be completely honest it doesn’t seem likely. However, I have been encouraged by the people who have asked I wanted someone to vent to or asked how we can help.”

Article link: David Mathis on reading the Bible

I have a passion for God’s people to know God’s Word. In short, it’s a passion for biblical literacy. That’s not my term; you see it used often. I define it as –

A biblically literate person is able to apply the skills of language, literature, and logic to passages of the Bible, comparing one with another, so that the reader is able to accurately determine the meaning of a passage and to grasp its place in the greater story that God is telling.

25 Bible Passages You Should Know, Mark Knox

There are many articles, books, and tools that can help the believer better understand the Bible. David Mathis has written an excellent one on DesiringGod.org. He’s said it so well. Read it. Share it.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-read-the-bible-better

I am writing a book, 25 Bible Passages You Should Know. Read about it here.

Article link: Trade Self-Help for God-Help

Inasmuch as this blog at times becomes advisory – whether of leadership, productivity, or the like – it would be easy to think of my writing as in the genre of “self-help.” And while some of the things I write share similarities to self-help literature, my articles are intended to look at the various topics from a biblically-informed world-view.

That said, “self-help” would not be an apt description for my writing. This leads me to commend to you a wonderful article from Desiring God by Greg Morse, entitled “Trade Self-Help for God-Help.” This article embodies the perspective I share when considering issues that could better our lives, a perspective that puts God and Jesus Christ clearly at the center.

Enjoy.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/trade-self-help-for-god-help

The Beatles, Christianity, and Culture

https://www.facebook.com/Yesterday/

I recently went to the movies with my daughter-in-law to see “Yesterday,” a tale of a struggling musician who, through some twist of fate, finds himself in some kind of alternate reality where he’s the only person who knows who the Beatles were. He proceeds to introduce the world to the music of the Fab Four as if it’s his own. Comedy and conflict ensue. We enjoyed the film; it’s a fresh premise in a summer of adaptations, sequels, TV-to-movie offerings, and no less than three live-action Disney remakes. Plus, I have spent the last couple of days getting reacquainted with the Beatles catalogue.

Which, for me, is to say, I found some albums on Spotify. You see, in one of those unusual quirks of my personal history, I own NO music by the Beatles. For someone whose life has been marked by the music on my various radio stations, turntables, tape decks, and CD players, it seems unthinkable that I would not have any Beatles in my possession.

Except, it’s not that unthinkable, when I delve into my early history. This whole re-immersion has caused me to ponder my upbringing and engagement with rock-n-roll. The “what if the Beatles didn’t exist” premise of the movie is closer to reality for my childhood. The Beatles may as well not have existed in my household. No Beatlemania there. My dad would scoff at those “long-hairs” as beneath him. No chance to catch the Ed Sullivan appearance that was so defining for many of my peers; no sir, we went to church on Sunday nights. When I purchased a couple of packs of Beatles trading cards, my mom let me know they were not welcome. And when John Lennon famously proclaimed that they were more popular than Jesus, well, if he’d announced that he was the Anti-Christ, it wouldn’t have been any more reprehensible.

This is not to say that my childhood was overly-repressive or joyless. I was, after all, saved by the aforementioned Jesus during one of those Sunday night services that caused me to miss the end of the 4:00 football games and the Ed Sullivan show. I suppose Beatlemania arrived in my life well before the more independent and rebellious times of my junior high and high school years. So, I was more or less obedient to my folks and never learned to like the Beatles.

Plus, my parents, though flawed as all are, were simply trying to live out their beliefs in a world that didn’t always embrace our Christian faith. I can’t fault them for that.

H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture identifies several ways that Christians have attempted to engage the authority of Christ when facing the culture around them. My folks were clearly in the “Christ against culture” camp. Things like drinking, smoking, and certainly rock-n-roll were vestiges of the secular city and were entities to be opposed as a Christian.

I’ve come to see Christ as the Transformer of Culture. There are certainly evil things in the world, but I’ve lost the “anything that is not Sacred is to be disregarded” mindset. In the common grace of God, John, George, Paul, and Ringo can produce something truly human that might just touch my soul in a way that can only be described as divine. So, I’m listening…and thinking.

Excuse me, Sgt. Pepper just ended. I need to “Get Back” to where I once belonged.

For a more complete discussion of Niebuhr’s book and the Christ and Culture debate, go here.

Know thyself: a survey of personality assessments, Part 3

I am concluding my survey of personality assessments. If you haven’t read Part 1 or 2 or a little of my story, you might want to do that first. Otherwise, here are the next two.

The Motivators Assessment

One factor that every leader should understand is what motivates people. A common mistake is to assume that what motivates you will also motivate others, and this is not the case. In fact, an appeal to a motivation that works for some can actually serve to demotivate others.

Nowhere is this more important than to understand what motivates yourself. If you can access and harness this, you are better able to tailor your job and boost your satisfaction in your work. This is the premise of the Motivators Assessment, as described in the book, What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.

This book, and the accompanying assessment, highlights 23 motivators which are then clustered into 5 “Identities” or motivational types. The 5 Identities are – The Achievers, The Builders, The Caregivers, The Reward-Driven, and the Thinkers. When I first purchased the book and glanced over it, my first thought at seeing these Identities was that I would probably rank high as a Builder. Sure enough, that was my strongest identity.

The book contains a great deal of practical advice for how you can take this self-knowledge and use it to sculpt your work life.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a popular tool that identifies 9 personality types (“enne” is “9” in Greek). Various friends of mine have taken an Enneagram and swear by it. As in, “it saved our marriage” kind of thing. There are many sources and books on the Enneagram; a great one is Ian Cron’s The Road Back to You.

Honestly, I am still in the process of becoming familiar with this assessment. But rather than put my ignorance on display for all to see, I’m going to defer to someone who knows her stuff.

Ms. Ron Tamir Nehr is a Life Coach and Personal Development Mentor who has written well on the Enneagram. Her excellent article is here, along with a free assessment.

One thing I have noticed among Enneagram adherents is a tendency to say, “I am a 6,” or something like that. As a cautionary statement about personality assessments in general, I find that if you get too locked into describing yourself by a certain type, as if it were some kind of personality ethnicity, you can inadvertently box yourself into thinking that you can’t help but be and do what your type is. The fact is, we are incredibly capable of all kinds of behavior, and not just those of our “type.” So, do be careful there.

It has been my hope through this series on that you will take the time to better understand yourself and thus become the best version of yourself that you can.

Question to ponder: What assessment has helped you the most to understand and value your unique skills, personality, and contributions?

I teach a course which utilizes the DiSC personality assessment. It’s called “Solving the People Puzzle” and is available in faith-based and non-faith-based formats. Please contact me if you are interested in this for your group or organization.

The blog has moved…

For those interested, I’ve moved my blog to a new website. The URL is http://www.learningcontinues.com. It is the website of my professional and personal development endeavors and is unifying my web presence. The mission of “taking root downward, bearing fruit upward” is still the driving force at Learning Continues.

Thank you for following me, and I hope you’ll follow me over there as well.

This is your God!

Note: Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach at my church.  Missio Dei Churchvectorstock_20456096 small, in Asheville, NC. We are in a series on the 10 Commandments, and my message was on the 1st Commandment, “you shall have no other gods before me.” In my message, I indicated that the true God has revealed himself to us by his name and by his work in history. What follows is a recitation of some of the true God’s deeds…

Who is the true God?

He is God the Father, the God who created all things out of nothing by the power of his Word, which we know is his Son, Jesus Christ…

The God who placed the crown of his creation, man and woman created in his image in a perfect garden, with the promise of life if they obeyed and immediate death if they did not,

Who, when they sinned, graciously withheld his immediate judgment and promised a future redeemer and covered their sin with clothing from a slain animal,

Who judged the wicked world by flood but spared Noah and his family so that mankind and his redemptive promise would go on,

Who entered into a covenant with a pagan Abram and promised his seed would be as numerous as the stars.

This is your God!

Who preserved his people by sending Joseph to Egypt in chains so that the family could be saved from famine,

Who 450 years later spoke to a lowly shepherd from a burning bush and sent his servant Moses to rescue this now nation from bitter bondage,

Who spoke from the mountaintop and gave his people laws and commandments so they would know how to worship and obey,

Who time and again was patient with his people when they failed to keep the covenant he had made with them.

This is your God!

Who, after speaking at many times and in many ways by the prophets, spoke to us in these last days by his Son, Jesus,

Who was God-made-flesh, born of a virgin, God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus, who shall save his people from their sins,

Who lived a life in perfect obedience to the law, both in deed and in thought,

Who, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This is your God!

Whose death lovingly purchased forgiveness for the sins of all who would believe in him, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,

Who, when his work was complete, demonstrated the Father’s acceptance of his sacrifice by raising from the dead,

Who ascended to heaven, with the promise of his return as reigning King of kings and Lord of lords.

This is your God!

Who sent the Holy Spirit, who is himself God, to indwell his people with power, and to intercede for us with groanings too deep for words,

By whom, even to this day, is building his Church upon the rock of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,

Who now is seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,

And he is the God who in the fullness of time will by his return unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth,

To the praise of his glorious grace!

THIS IS YOUR GOD!

Clearing clutter


by The Organization Man

I’ve been on a crusaSAMSUNGde to reduce the amount of physical clutter in my life.  Like most people, I’ve managed to collect quite a bit of stuff over the years.  Couple that with a major career change some five years ago, and I’ve found myself to have saved many things that I no longer use or need.

Six years ago, I was a teacher.  As such, I collected quite a bit of tools, books, and supplies befitting my trade.  Then, I was no longer a teacher. After all this time, I’m probably not going back to it. So much of my Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) is sitting here taking up space and benefitting no one.

As I’ve gone through this process, I’ve managed to compile some thoughts and observations that you might find enlightening.

There’s a difference between clutter and organization.

You would not find my basement storage area on a typical episode of “American Pickers;” it’s too neat. My stuff is neatly stored in plastic bins and boxes, neatly tucked away on metal shelving of just the right spacing and height. So it’s organized.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not clutter.  Clutter could be defined as any resource that you no longer use and is a drain on other resources. It takes up space. It might represent potential value if you sold it, which would allow you to access other resources if you choose to. If you have to do anything to maintain your clutter, it takes up time.

My organization was a smokescreen to my real problem. I was hoarding. And there’s a good reason for that.

Getting rid of Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) is psychologically hard.

I’ve taken the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment.  One of my top 5 strengths is “Input.” This makes me a collector…of ideas, facts, quotations, and even physical objects. All of which I tend to view as having value. So keeping all these possessions quite simply arose from this very real strength in my psyche that sees all things, whether material or immaterial, as potentially useful.

I found myself viscerally torn as I began to choose to part with various pieces of Perfectly Good Stuff (TM). “I could use this!” I found myself saying. I recalled other times when I’d tossed something, only to find that I needed it later. Didn’t want that to happen again.

I had to change my way of thinking. Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) became simply…stuff.

Perhaps the fact that I tended to think of Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) in a “trademark” sort of way led me into this hoarding, protectionist mode. I had to change my way of thinking. Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) became simply…stuff.  Stuff I no longer used or needed.  A friend said it well: it’s not worth the time or energy to keep it.

As I began to part with my stuff, I found…

It becomes self-rewarding to de-clutter. And easier.

The more I chose to part with clutter, the easier it became.  And I began to see the rewards for doing so. Every additional bin that was emptied, every load taken to the dump or to Goodwill, every piece given and received joyfully by someone else who could use it, every “one-man’s-junk-is-another-man’s-treasure” item sold on eBay…each of those occurrences was a feel-good pat on the back for someone who previously felt very conflicted to part with his possessions.

And so, it became easier.  Items that were earlier off-limits were now on the chopping block. “What else?” has become the battle cry. “Please stop giving us stuff!” has become the plea o20180224_213806f my extended family. Where once there was a certain anxiety, there is now peace and joy.

And to the person who bought a 12-year old empty Xbox 360 box from me for $25 (that’s right, just an empty carton!), my bank account thanks you.