A trip to Alaska has been on my bucket list for a long time. I have finally done it. It was worth the wait.

Breathtaking is not an adequate word to describe the scenery. At one point a fellow traveler said, “God really got it right,” as he stared at the awesome panorama.

Mt. McKinley (native name, Denali) is the highest peak in North America at 20,237 feet.

It was a clear morning as we drove north from Anchorage and we were able to see the mountain from the base to the peak. It was amazingly beautiful. Our guide told us that weather conditions allow only 30% of people who visit Alaska to get even a glimpse of this majestic peak.

A visit to the Mendenhall Glacier just a few miles outside Juneau was an incredible experience. We also got a close up view of the Hubbard Glacier. It is 76 miles long, 7 miles wide, and 600 feet tall at its terminal face. 350 feet is exposed above the waterline. As we viewed this magnificent site you could hear repeated “thunder” as parts of the glacier broke off (calved) and fell into the water of the Russell Fjord.

We got a little taste of Alaska’s state sport as we took a sled ride pulled by a team of Alaskan Huskies at one of the dog sledding summer training camps near Skagway. Our musher, Wade Mars, finished 16th in the 1100 mile Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race this past spring. After the ride he took time to introduce us to each of his 16 dog team and told us about the personality and strengths of each dog.

It is hard to describe the rugged beauty of the 6 million acre Denali National Park. Its landscape is a mix of forest at the lowest elevations. It also is home to tundra at middle elevations, and glaciers, rock, snow at the highest elevations, and wide variety of wildlife. Add in the quaint town of Talkeetna, the ski resort of Alyeska,  and the glass domed train ride back to Anchorage for an unforgettable experience. But to say I have been to Alaska is like saying I have been to the Atlantic Ocean. You can see and touch only tiny fraction of its vastness and beauty.

In addition to enjoying the scenery I learned a lot about the 49th state. Anchorage is the largest city with just under 300,000 people. Fairbanks and Juneau are about the same with a population of slightly more than 30,000 each. And something interesting about the state capitol- you cannot drive to Juneau. There are no roads into the city. It is accessible only by air and water. Or by foot I guess if you could make it over the rugged mountains and ice field.

One interesting story was about the state flag. In 1927 a contest was conducted for children in grades seven through twelve to design a flag for the territory. Benny Benson, a 13 year-old boy won the competition. With his entry he submitted this description of his simple design: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly in the union. The Dipper  is for the Great Bear—symbolizing strength.” The flag was later adopted as the State Flag.

Alaska is big- more than 1/5 the size of the “lower 48.” You could fit Georgia into Alaska  11 times. It is 4 times larger than California and twice as big as Texas. More than 50% of  the coastline of the United States is in Alaska. Although its land mass is huge the state is very sparsely populated. Georgia has 148 times more people per square mile. If Georgia’s   population density were the same as Alaska’s, only 58,752 people would live in Georgia rather than the approximately 10 million current residents. Put another way- if Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, there would be only 14 people in Manhattan.

Alaska really does have the feel of the last frontier. Rugged terrain, vast distances between cities and towns, limited connections between communities, cold and long winters. It is a great place to visit but I don’t want to live there.

As the plane touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, in my head I could hear Ray Charles singing: “Other arms reach out to me. Other eyes smile tenderly. Still in peaceful dreams I see the roads lead back to you, Georgia!”

Jamie Jenkins

 

He made so many people laugh and now millions cry for him. The news of Robin Williams’ death on August 11 made me very sad. Here was a man who “had everything to live for” but took his own life. This tragedy is another reminder that life can be hard even when it seems that a person has everything going for them. It also reminds us that we can never know the depth of any person’s struggles.

Robin Williams burst into the public eye on the Mork and Mindy television series in 1978. His character Mork, an extraterrestrial alien from the planet Ork, quickly became a favorite of millions. In 1997, the episode “Mork’s Mixed Emotions” was viewed by 61 million people and is ranked 94 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.

This manic comic brought much joy and laughter to millions of people with the multitude of voices and characters that he could call forth at the drop of a hat. In an article for Time Magazine Dick Cavett recalls an occasion years ago when Williams came off stage at a small club with the audience cheering wildly. This wacky comedian said to Cavett, “Isn’t it funny how I can bring great happiness to all these people, but not to myself.”

Robin Williams was more than an extraordinary comedian. He was also a talented serious actor. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting. He received two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and five Grammy Awards.

It is no secret that this much beloved and talented comedian/actor struggled with substance abuse, anxiety and depression. He openly talked about his struggles and often incorporated them into his comic routines. And it was revealed after his death that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Former child actor Mara Wilson who played William’s daughter in the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, remembers him as “warm, gentle, expressive, nurturing, and brilliant.”

The circumstances of his death help us to realize that depression is what the late award-winning writer William Styron in an essay for Newsweek (April 18, 1994) called “an interior pain that is all but indescribable.” He said, “People don’t think rich, famous, funny people can suffer from depression. But they can. I know from experience that sometimes the ones who seem like they have the most going for them can be holding on by the slimmest threads.”

In a Huffington Post blog, sixteen year old Ally Del Monte recently wrote: “Depression doesn’t discriminate. It knows no boundaries. Young, old, rich, poor, fat, thin, beautiful, ugly, popular, nerd, loved, lonely- depression doesn’t see a difference and affects all kinds of people.”

It is estimated that 19 million American adults are living with major depression. The National Institute of Mental Health says many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medication, psychotherapy, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.

Depression has been called “the worst agony devised for man” but it is an illness and it can be treated. Unfortunately many people treat depression as something to be ashamed of or a sign of weakness instead of an illness just like cancer, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Any illness, physical or mental, if untreated can do great harm. But with proper diagnosis, medication, and other forms of treatment health can be restored.

If you are depressed, seek treatment. If you know someone who is depressed, encourage them to get help. See a medical doctor, a mental health specialist, or your pastor. There can be life after depression. Don’t settle for anything else.

Jamie Jenkins

Southern Accent Reduction Class? Are you kidding me? People are actually teaching folks how to talk like they are not from the South?

Yep, that’s right. There are some people who see a southern accent as a liability. Can you imagine?

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory was fixin’ to offer classes to help folks lose their Southern accent. They had employed “a nationally certified speech pathologist and accent reduction trainer” to teach people to speak “with a more neutral accent.”

I agree with Sam Massell, former Atlanta mayor and current president of the Buckhead Coalition. He asked, “Why would anyone want to give up the advantage that comes with the warmth and hospitable persona that accompanies a Southern accent?” Why indeed?

After receiving complaints, Oak Ridge cancelled the classes. Boy howdy! I reckon they got the message.

When I moved to New York in the mid-60s people would ask me to repeat words that we southerners drag out. I worked at J. C. Penney’s and customers liked to hear the long “I” when I told them the price of the item was ninety-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. The company should have paid me extra commission because of the sales that were made because of my “charming” southern accent.

According to Scientific American, “Studies have shown that whether you are from the North or South, a Southern twang pegs the speaker as comparatively dimwitted, but also likely to be a nicer person than folks who speak like a Yankee.” While I resent being considered “dimwitted” because of my accent (or for any reason), I am happy to be thought of as a “nicer person.”

According to a press release, Cupid.com surveyed 2,000 men and women and determined that 36.5 percent of respondents voted the Southern accent the most attractive. That was far more than any other regional accent. The survey by the dating site also concluded that the Southern accent is the country’s sexiest. At my age “sexiest” doesn’t carry much weight but I am glad to know that people consider the southern accent “attractive.”

The Apostle Paul said “there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.” He was writing to the Christian community but I imagine he would agree that one’s religion, ethnicity, culture, or language should not diminish the value of any individual.

In the New Testament Peter, James, and Paul- all leaders of the Early Church- expressed the same opinion about God’s attitude toward people. Each of them stated clearly that God shows no favoritism (Acts 10:34, James 2:1, Romans 2:11).

We are all special creations of God, “formed in God’s own image,” reflecting God’s own nature. We may have different skin pigment. Our traditions and customs may vary. The languages we speak and our accents are many. But I suspect that those factors endear us to God.

I think those different qualities, and many more, are priceless. Just as many colors are needed to form a rainbow, our dress, the foods we eat, our mannerisms, and our accents are treasures that should be retained and not destroyed.

That’s my opinion. Do y’all agree?

Jamie Jenkins

If you grew up in the South chances are you know about “campmeeting.” If you know about it, you probably also know that it is pronounced with a silent “g.” Campmeetin’ has been for many years a tradition in the primarily rural sections of the southern United States.

Campmeetings began as a type of outdoor revival meeting on the American frontier In the 19th century. Various Protestant denominations sponsored these events and people came prepared to camp out. Farmers had a bit of a break after their crops were “laid by” and fall harvesting had not yet begun. The campmeetings provided as much for the social life of attendees as it did for their spiritual well being.

Encyclopedia Britannica describes the scene. “Families pitched their tents around a forest clearing where log benches and a rude preaching platform constituted an outdoor church that remained in almost constant session for three or four days. As many as 10,000 to 20,000 people were reported at some meetings. People came partly out of curiosity, partly out of a desire for social contact and festivity, but primarily out of their yearning for religious worship.”

Historians have generally credited James McGready (c. 1760–1817), a Presbyterian, with inaugurating the first typical camp meetings in 1799–1801 in Logan County, Kentucky. Activities included preaching, prayer meetings, hymn singing, weddings, and baptisms.

By 1820, there were almost one thousand camps in America. Although their popularity has diminished with urbanization, this tradition lives on in many places and is a very important part of the spiritual and social lives of some people.

Permanent buildings, most with electricity, air conditioning, and running water have replaced the tents from the early years of campmeetings. These new “tents,” as they still call them, are owned by families and often have been passed from one generation to another.

There are a number of campmeetings around North Georgia with a rich history that continue each summer. I am a Methodist and know more about those with Methodist heritage than others. White Oak Campground near Thomson, established in 1820 and Salem Campmeeting near Conyers was founded in 1828 and are among the oldest, thriving campgrounds in the nation. Lumpkin County Campground in Dawsonville celebrated 184 consecutive years of campmeeting last week. Lawrenceville and Shingleroof in McDonough were both established in 1832, Marietta started in 1837, and Holbrook in Alpharetta and Loudsville began in 1838. Shiloh in Carrollton/Bowdon (more precisely in the Burwell Community) held its 147th encampment earlier this summer. Since 1890 the Indian Speings Holiness Campmeeting has met for ten days each year.

When these campmeetings began all of them were in rural communities where a few miles was a great distance. The agricultural economy and modes of transportation limited opportunities for people to travel far. The environment for many of them has changed dramatically. They are now surrounded by houses and traffic but continue to gather for renewal and refreshing for several days each summer.

This week one of this area’s last campmeetings of the season is going on at Mossy Creek in White County. In 1829 gold was discovered in nearby Duke’s Creek and that same year a parcel of land was sold for $44 that eventually became Mossy Creek Campground.

From its beginnings Mossy Creek grew into an annual week long revival in mid-August and the sense of tradition and worship continues. As in the beginning, camp meeting is still a time to leave the stress of daily life and be in a community of God’s people, sharing His love.

I’ll see you at Mossy Creek tonight.

Jamie Jenkins

I live in a safe and peaceful neighborhood. Our house is in a sub-division of 82 houses with only one entrance and two streets. I live near the rear of the sub-division. The houses across the street back up to the Chattahoochee River. So it is not uncommon for deer to stroll through our neighborhood and across our front yard and enjoy the “salad bar” of flowers.

Although our lot is small the trees, shrubs, and ivy covered fence, make the backyard rather private. Neighbors behind and beside us are fairly invisible due to this green border. My wife, a Master Gardener, has devoted many hours (and more than a few dollars) to establishing gravel paths and flower beds with a colorful variety of flowering plants and greenery. Our backyard is a place of beauty and tranquility. I am not always conscious of that but as I was sitting on the patio early one morning I realized how blessed I am.

It had rained a lot the previous few days so everything seemed to be more vibrant than usual. Birds covered the feeders and flitted about chasing one another through the trees. Several chipmunks scurried about eating the seeds that the birds dropped to the ground. A couple of squirrels were persistent in trying to get to the bird feeders. Fortunately (from my perspective) they failed so they settled for joining the chipmunks foraging on the ground. The only sound was the occasional flutter of wings and the melodious songs of the birds.

The beauty of my surroundings was overwhelming. The gift that God and my wife had provided me was incredible. I am so richly blessed and I was reminded of something I hear often and it sometimes seems trite, but not this particular morning. We are blessed to be a blessing.

As I pondered the grace of God that allows me to live in such a serene setting I became aware of another reality. The birds, chipmunks and squirrels kept a close eye on me and if I made even the slightest move or made any sound the little creatures rushed away. They were fearful because they thought I posed a danger to them. I wanted to tell them, “I am not going to hurt you,” but there was no way to communicate with them.

I wondered how many people live in an environment more like the little creatures of my backyard rather than like the man who sat on the patio. While I enjoyed beauty and peacefulness, how many others are constantly on guard to avoid harm and destruction? Earlier that morning I had read the latest news about the plane shot down in Ukraine, the violence in Israel and Gaza, the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped three months ago by terrorists, the plight of the thousands of unaccompanied and undocumented children arriving at our borders from Central America, and the death of a sixteen month old boy at the hands of his mother’s boy friend.

To say that life is not fair is a gross understatement. As I enjoyed my moment of beauty and tranquility I prayed, “Lord, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.  As you have blessed me, help me to be a blessing to others.”

Jamie Jenkins

 

They are everywhere. You have probably seen them along the roadside or at a busy intersection as you drive around.

I am talking about the people with signs pointing you to places that serve food, rent apartments, prepare taxes, are going out of business, or will buy your gold. (I don’t know about you but I don’t think I would take my gold to one of those stores.)

Sometimes these people are dressed as animals, cartoon characters, the Statue of Liberty, and many other things. Often they are dancing and twirling their signs. Anything to get your attention.

Human billboards have been used for centuries in one form or another. In the early 1800s one common expression  was called sandwich boards. Charles Dickens described them as “a piece of human flesh between two slices of paste board.” The contemporary sign holders carry it to another level.

Sign holders are known as human directionals in the advertising industry. They are widely used especially in areas that have a lot of traffic. The signs will frequently be shaped like arrows in order to direct traffic to the location being advertised.

According to the Los Angeles Times Eye Shot, a Lake Forest, California company claims to have invented modern sign spinning using arrow-shaped signs. Another California company, AArow Advertising, conducts “boot camps” to train its employees, and has also filed patent applications for a number of its “signature moves”.

Demand for human directionals has increased significantly since the introduction of sign-twirling techniques and they appear to be highly effective. For example, The New York Times reported that during one month nearly 8% of the 3,600 people who visited model homes in a housing development in Moreno Valley, California  were directed there by human directionals.

I don’t know if this method of advertising is really cost effective. However, because of the significant increase in the number and variety of human directionals, I suspect they offer a viable alternative and give flexibility that some higher cost methods cannot.

Whatever you or I think about these sign holders/twirlers, there is a principle that the Church might take note of. If a human being pointing the way increases business traffic, the same might be true for leading people to faith.

Before you write me off as some “crazy person” (although there are probably other reasons why you should), I am not suggesting that Christians- or people of any faith for that matter- should dress up in outrageous costumes or engage in ridiculous dances on the street corner. What I am proposing is what I think Jesus offered when he said, “Let your light shine so that others might see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The Church does not do “good works” to “show off.” Rather it is the result of following the One who “came not to be served but to serve.” I think the Church needs to do a better job of telling its stories- not so they will receive praise but to point others to the One who gave his life in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Jamie Jenkins

 

We live in a world where we are aware of events that happen in distant places almost immediately. Technological advances allow us to witness the tragedies and triumphs of people across the globe in real time.

Tornados in the Midwest. Tsunamis in Japan. 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped from their school by a militant Islamic group. Four teenagers brutally murdered and the violent responses in Israel. The death of a 22 month old child left in a hot car in Atlanta.

We are bombarded daily by tales of horror and inhumanity. So much bad news.

But there are times when the world is brought together by different and more pleasant events. The past three weeks have afforded such an opportunity as the excitement of the 2014 World Cup has been shared by people all over the world.

The 20th FIFA World Cup began June 12 and will culminate with the final match on July 13. National teams from 32 countries have competed after being selected through qualifying rounds that began three years ago.

Almost four million spectators have filled the 12 stadiums across Brazil for the 62 matches that have been completed. Billions of people have watched this sports spectacle in countries across the globe.

The finals are scheduled for this weekend with Netherlands and Brazil in the consolation round on Saturday while Germany and Argentina will meet in the championship match on Sunday.

I watched with pride as the team from the United States represented the country well with their level of play. As a result of his outstanding performances, USA goalie Tim Howard, earned high praise and respect. He set a World Cup record with sixteen saves. Quite an accomplishment for someone diagnosed with Tourette syndrome when he was in sixth grade. His mother said she was afraid people would not be able to get past his physical and vocal tics.

Among other surprises of the tournament was the early departure of soccer (football to most of the world) powerhouses England and Spain. Then two days ago Brazil was beaten by Germany 7-1. It is not surprising that Brazil would have a hard time against Germany after losing their star player, Neymar, to an injury in the previous match, and their captain because of too many yellow cards (penalties) in previous matches. But no one anticipated such an humbling defeat.

During these past three weeks I have celebrated and agonized with people I never met. I have rejoiced at their victories and sympathized with them in their defeats. I hope for more opportunities- athletic events, humanitarian efforts, social gatherings, spiritual and religious experiences- to help us recognize that we are more alike than different.

Jamie Jenkins

I opened my mail one day last week and discovered that lady luck had smiled on me. The letter congratulated me on holding the lucky number for the USA Lottery Sweepstakes and informed me that I had won $250,000. WOW!

There was also a check for $3,974.46 in the envelope. That amount would more than pay for the “insurance, handling and shipping fees” for my winning check of $250,000. All I had to do was call my claims agent, give him the PIN # assigned to me and he would instruct me on what I needed to do to receive my quarter of a million dollars.

It seemed too good to be true. And it was.

The enclosed check looked authentic. It was drawn on the account of a very reputable and recognized international company. But it was a fake. This scam has been around so long that you would think nobody would fall for it.

If I had called my “claims agent” I would have been instructed to deposit the check I received into  my bank account. Then I was to send $3900 to cover the expenses related to delivery of my winnings. The catch is that by time I learn that the check I deposited into my bank account is bogus, the money I sent is gone. I would have been out almost $4000.

This is one incident that proves the truth of the old saying: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

I receive a lot of email offers for discounted merchandise and services. Some of them have presented real money saving offers. Recently one of the companies had iPads at a ridiculously low price. When I passed it on to my son he cautioned me to never buy anything from this company. Minimal research revealed that there were many, many complaints that what was offered was not a good deal. Once again: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

It doesn’t take too many experiences like the ones described above to make a person very cynical. It is easy to become suspicious of everything that looks good.

Tomorrow is July 4th. It is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. The day will be marked by patriotic displays of all kinds. Decorations of red, white, and blue will be everywhere.

Amidst the pomp and circumstance of Fourth of July celebrations it is easy to forget the significance of the day. The celebration of our independence affirms some very basic and essential rights for the American people.

Since Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his famous Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence has become the ultimate statement of human rights. It asserts the belief that “all men are created equal”  and  that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Among these are  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It has been said that this passage represents “a moral standard to which the United States should strive.”

I am glad that the standard is set and I believe we are making progress toward the ultimate goal of equality for all people. If that goal seems too good to be true, look again.

Multitudes across the globe suffer under oppressive governments without even the most basic human rights. Military coups and sectarian violence are the order of the day in many parts of the world. We do not live in a perfect society in the United States but the freedoms we enjoy- and often take for granted- are the dreams of millions. From their perspective this “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all” seems too good to be true. But thank God it is not a fantasy. Freedom is a priceless gift that must be cherished. Let us be thankful and live responsibly.

Jamie Jenkins

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It’s not ‘my side of the road’ or “your side of the road.’ It’s just ‘the road’ and it’s shared as a cooperative adventure.” That is how travel guru Rick Steves describes driving on the narrow rural roads in Ireland.

After returning last weekend from my first visit to the Emerald Isle I have a first-hand understanding of what Steves meant. My wife and I arrived in Dublin, rented a car, and drove over 1500 kilometers (900-1000 miles) in eight days. We took the motorway (like our interstate highways) for the first leg of the journey (Dublin to Galway) and the last short day’s drive from Kilkenny back to Dublin. But the rest of the trip was on smaller roads.

Throughout our time on the roads we would regularly see a sign that indicated very curvy roads ahead. Occasionally there would be a sign that warned that there were sharp or dangerous “bends” ahead. I thought it would make more sense to simply post a sign once in a while that informed you that there were 100 yards of straight road ahead.

I am accustomed to driving on very curvy roads in the mountains of North Georgia and North Carolina. The difference in Ireland is that you are driving on the left side of the road and the speed limit is 100-120 kilometers (60-75 MPH) on those hair pin curves and most of the time the roads have no shoulders. The yellow line on the edge of the road runs constantly along a huge rock wall or an overpowering hedge row. If the person coming at you crosses the center line- if there is one- you have nowhere to go.

We enjoyed staying overnight in Bed and Breakfast facilities which were wonderful. Not only did the local folks who owned the B&Bs extended exceptional hospitality, they also provided very helpful advice on things to see and do that were not always on the itinerary of most tourists.

Having a car gave us flexibility to follow some of their suggestions and get out into the country away from the touristy areas. Once we left the “main” roads” described above and got onto the small(er) rural roads we found that Rick Steves advice about “the road” was exactly right.

When two cars met on one of those country roads, one driver would find a place to pull over enough for the other to pass and barely scrape the vegetation alongside the road. Everyone was courteous. Not once did either driver stand their ground and make the other give way.

What a different world it would be if that attitude was adopted by everyone in every situation. It’s not “my side of the road” or “your side of the road.” Life is “the road” and we share it in cooperative adventure.

Jamie Jenkins

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There are no Thoughts for Thursday this week because I am on vacation.  I will have some thoughts to share with you next week after I return. 

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