Why we're here...

Love and marriage are the greatest adventures in life, and they point they way to our relationship with the Almighty.

We're honored to be a member of the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association...click on their logo to visit them.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Why Bother?

I was recently asked, "What do you get out of it? You live with constant, largely uncontrollable pain, you're spitting up blood, you can't walk more than a few steps without wincing and often buckling to your knees, and barring a miracle, it's not going to get better."

"So, what makes it worthwhile? Why are you smiling?"

All true. Good question, really. Why not just give up, curl up in a fetal position, and wait for death? Or at least go to the hospital and let them tranq me into insensibility?

Aside from my wife, my dogs, and my work, there are three main things that make it worthwhile.

  • This has been a learning experience. I've been forced to look at the circumstances of others, and see that in comparison to some, I've been, and continue to be, immoderately blessed. I can get around, with a cane, a wheelchair, or on my hands and knees. I can see and hear, and my mind's sharp. I live in a house, and sleep in comfort and warmth. I can't eat much, but when I can eat, the food's there. So many people lack some or all of these...so I'm vomiting blood, and have to crawl to the shop to weld? So what? I think many people on this planet would trade places with me, in a second.
  • It's an exercise in savoring every bite. When the landscape's a bit rough, one can try to appreciate the now. The taste of a spoon of rice, the sound of the dogs howling along with a distant siren, the sight of the moon rising. These things were so easy to overlook, but if you look at them from the right perspective, they're precious.
  • It's a challenge. Getting through the really bad minutes to the...well, not good, but less really bad minutes is not a trivial exercise. It's a path of tears, and fear. But it wouldn't be a challenge if it were easy, and it wouldn't be a victory if there was nothing to overcome. At the end of the day I'm still - metaphorically - standing. And while it's true that I'm not expressing that "bullshit optimism" during the worst minutes, I tend to bounce back pretty quickly.  That bounceback is the measure of the victory.
I've deliberately omitted faith. It plays a large role, but I'd like to make the lessons accessible to anyone. A strong faith helps - a lot.

In the end, I don't know whether all of the above is true and valid, or whether it's just self-aggrandizing self-delusion, and the effort isn't worth the result. It is to me, so I guess that means something.

I'll be here, and working in hope and gratitude, for as long as I'm graced with breath.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christ Died For Your Wallet

Heard a preacher - don't know who - on television the other night.

"Christ died for your financial prosperity."

Unfortunately, I am not taking it out of context, and it's verbatim. The guy really said it, and he really meant it.

"Prosperity theology" is one of the most common threads in modern Christianity, and it's no wonder - most people would love to be rich, would love to feel that being rich isn't a bad thing, and that God will help them get rich.

That's all very nice, and a careful reading of the Bible doesn't really contradict it. At least, not too many times. I mean, Jesus did say that it's easier for a camel to pass through the Eye of the Needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, but:

  • rich people are smarter and can perform at a higher level, so what's hard for you now will be easy when you're rich
  • there were a lot of rich people in the Bible that God seemed to like so we don't really need to put too much stock in this one comment
  • the Eye of the Needle is a gate in Jerusalem's wall, not the eye of a sewing needle, so camels passed through it all the time
Besides, Jesus was rich! Carpenters made good money. His friends were rich - one of them had two boats, one for fishing, one for fun.

And...now watch this...poor people are cursed by God!

I've heard all of this stuff come from people who are doing well enough to maintain a TV presence, and that presumably means that this is a large part of the Christian message for a significant number of people.

The saddest thing about it is the reduction of the Almighty to something approaching an ATM...swipe your card and key in the password (worship and pray the way the book you got for a Love Gift of $59.95 said to), and God will dispense cash.

One day you, too, will be up on the screen, giving a testimonial as to how a check for $10,000 arrived from a suddenly dead uncle the day after you sent $1000 to Reverend P. Ross Perity.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think their hamster got so far off the wheel that it'll need a GPS to get back. I think God's about love, and most especially love for those who've had life's breaks go the wrong way.

I don't think God has anything against rich people, but I think he does expect more from them...more help for the poor, more help for the church.

And I think we ignore words directly ascribed to Christ at our own peril.

Our own mortal peril.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smarter Than The Smart Guys

Recently I saw an interview with a very prominent clergyman. He was recounting his refusal to take part in a prayer service shortly after 9/11. He had been asked not to make reference to Christianity as the one true religion, and this he would not do.

The Founding Fathers, it seems, made an oversight in not making Christianity the American Religion, either de facto or officially.

The United States was founded by Christians. It gained independence under the guidance of Christians. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written to provide a framework in which the citizens' God-given rights would be preserved.

 And the Union was preserved under Christian leadership. (OK, the South did feel that God was on their side, too.)

But the United States is not, and was never intended to be a Christian nation. The First Amendment to the Constitution specifically says that no religion will be 'respected'; that is, given preferential treatment. And it goes further, to say that the free exercise of religion won't be infringed.

What this means to us, practically, is pretty clear - we won't have an official state religion, and, contrary to what certain preachers would like to believe, there's no legal way to turn the United States into a theocracy without some radical legal surgery.

It also means that the Ten Commandments have no place in our courthouses, and organized prayer, led by teachers or administrators, has no place in our public schools.

I'm tempted to wish it were otherwise, except that I know that I'm viewing the situation from a point of bias. I'm a Christian, and it would make me feel good to see the trappings of my religion honored in the public institutions my tax dollars support.

But if I shift perspective, say to Iran, comfort flees. Iran was something close to a theocracy under Ayatollah Khomeini, and the existence of a state religion made things distinctly uncomfortable for non-Muslims. In the years since the 1979 Khomeini revolution, Iran has varied from horrible to juts merely awful.

We're Christians, we say. We wouldn't be like that. I'd like to think so, but the Founding Fathers apparently didn't agree. They knew that their tenure in this life would be limited, so they left us with a set of guiding principles that are specific enough to prevent too much misinterpretation, but broad enough to grow with the nation's physical borders, population, and even technology.

What "freedom of religion" should mean to us is that we're expected to worship as we see fit, and we're to help others use their God-given right to worship as they see fit.

The Founding Fathers were smart men. They invented a country whose record of basic decency has never been matched, let alone surpassed, in the history of the world.

Until we can make a case for being smarter, it might be best to run the country according to the instructions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Defusing The Holiday Dinner-Table Bomb

It seems that the American holiday tradition includes showcasing dysfunctionality in families. In a movie, or on television, it can be funny, though it's often the uncomfortable kind of humor that we laugh at, and not with.

In real life, it can be funny in retrospect - epic battles at the Thanksgiving table can be grist for the conversational mill of family reunions for years to come.

But while it's happening, watching what's supposed to be a festive event spin out of control is painful, and ultimately profoundly sad. It's the irrevocable ruination of a day that can't be brought back - and even if the fight's stopped and apologies tendered, it's never the same. Something is lost, and even if you schedule another 'make-up' dinner for next week - it doesn't come back.

What to do? I believe - I hope - that if you've read this far you'd like to avoid the fights, and create a holiday that's memorable for being peaceful and enjoyable. While you clearly can't control everyone's behavior, youcan control your own, and that can go a long way to spreading oil on those choppy waters.

Here are some suggestions -
  • Don't respond - most arguments start with baiting. Someone will try to get your goat, try to draw you out about something - anything! Try seeing yourself as a rock on the seashore, with waves breaking around you. The water comes in, and it goes out, but you remain, solid and serene. Even if the baiting intensifies, and I'll bet it will, The Rock is unmoved, and the unfortunate person who's trying to make you a target will, hopefully, move on to other pursuits.
  • Filter what you say - in any group of people, there will be a diversity of opinions on almost any significant topic. Before you throw a comment out there, give it some thought, and see if it passes this test...are you making it to a person you know will disagree, to get a rise out of them? We all do it, and it's called...see above..."baiting".Beyond that, if it's controversial, do you really have to air the subject? Chances are that your gathering will not have an immediate effect on, say, abortion, so why bring it up? (Please park the "you've got to be involved" thought at the door - we're talking about conversation at a single event)
  • Change courses - when you hear others' conversations heading south, jump in to pull one of the participants away - to the next room, outside, whatever. You may feel this is being something of a busybody, but it's not. You're protecting the interest everyone has in a peaceful event - and that's your interest, too.
  • Be firm - if you're the host, or have the host's permission, be firm in breaking up an incipient conflict. If you've got an unrepentant "bad boy", telling him to leave the room, or the house until he can control his mouth may be the only recourse. It's bad if the situation gets to this point, since a "please leave" will tend to hang in the air for awhile and chill the mood, but once a troublemaker is removed, folks will be quick to relax - quicker than you think.
  • Avoid dead time - idle hands are the Devil's tools, and idle time is what the Devil uses to create discord. Keep things moving, with planned and scheduled activities. It's also not a bad thing to maintain some sort of agenda for dinner-table conversation, things you can introduce that are both interesting and nonconfrontational.
  • Don't mourn - if, in spite of your best efforts, things get derailed, set an example by putting it behind you as quickly as you can. This involves attitude, choice of words, tone of voice...everything. Someone has to create a holiday miracle - be the miracle.
You may be thinking, "fine, great, but this won't work with MY family". Maybe not. But will making the effort make it worse? Probably not, so what do you have to lose?

You may also be wondering why you should be the one to carry the burden. The short answer is why NOT you? You're there, you have a vested interest in making the experience pleasant, and unless you secretly enjoy conflict, you're acting in your own interest. Besides, if you set an example, others will follow.

Give it a try. And good luck!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wrong Tool

The Great Commission is sometimes maddeningly unspecific. I mean, why can't we be told how to win souls, along with being told that it's what we need to do?

I wrote earlier that the right tool for the audience to which I was a sometime minister was that the Apostles were willing to die for their faith, and that they were, as far as we know, intelligent men who would not accept martyrdom for what they knew was a lie.

But along with what works, it's probably good to recount what didn't work. The list is longer.
  • Jesus is my best friend - this, mentioned to an unbeliever in almost any form, will usually bring back a smart-alecky comeback about invisible friends
  • God loves you - a lot of people look at the trouble in the world, now and historically, and say, "that's not believable." It immediately sets up a block which can be overcome, but takes time - which your listener may not grant you
  • You don't have much time - this may have worked for Billy Graham, but many people are well-read enough to know that end-time predictions have been going on for over a hundred years in the US. They don't feel a sense of urgency
  • If you're not a Christian, you're going to hell - most people who believe in Heaven don't believe this...they believe that pretty much everyone is going to Heaven, with a few exceptions, like Hitler. Additionally, many people have friends of different faiths, and when you try to tell them that their Buddhist buddy is going to Hell, you put your listener in the position where he feels he has to defend his friend. You won't win that fight.
  • The Bible says so, and the Bible is right - most of the people you talk with don't believe that the Bible is inerrant.
The most important thing to remember is that you're offering hope, and you should do nothing that will make someone fight against that hope.

Because fight against it they will. Sometimes, to the death.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Right Tool

Evangelism isn't easy. Mind you, I don't suppose it was meant to be a walkover, because along with bringing the convert to Christ, it sharpens the faith of the evangelist, and a sword is sharped on a whetstone.

I'm an untutored fisherman. I came to the Christian faith through a fairly roundabout path; never went to bible college, never went to Sunday School, and when I tried Bible Study I came close to losing my faith.

Additionally, I'm not by nature a very emotional person, and describing an impassioned salvation of my soul would be inaccurate, and for me, impossible.

So the toolbox was pretty empty, but I wanted to give people I met the Good News.  What to do?
  1. First, I looked at what impressed me most about Christianity, in terms of making me believe that it's true. This doesn't mean, "what made me a Christian", for the excellent reason that I don't know...I just realized one day, hey, I believe this stuff!
  2. Second, I looked at my potential audience. I was working on a PhD at the time, in a technical foeld, and talked with a lot of students about a lot of things while we worked together in the lab, doing menial work. So the audience was mostly 20-25 years old, college-educated, mainly male, mainly white. There were a few older fellows from China, Korea, and India.
  3. Third, I looked at the support system to which I could direct a convert or potential convert...since this was Southern California, the Catholic Church loomed large, and I tailored what I said to follow a largely Catholic message.
The main arguments against Christianity were:
  • The Resurrection didn't really happen; Jesus either wasn't killed on the Cross, or his body was merely stolen and the Resurrection story fabricated to create a legend and gain influence by starting a new religion
  • Jesus never really lived, and the whole thing's a myth
Other arguments really didn't hold water, and eventually devolved into these two.

The "Jesus never lived" argument was easy to demolish, since He was mentioned by a couple of contemporary sources. Josephus, for instance, from whom we have the description of the siege of Masada, speaks of Him.

The second argument's harder, since there are no non-Biblical accounts of the Resurrection. Telling someone who doesn't believe (yet!) that "the Bible says it, so it's true!" is remarkably ineffective in that it creates a circular argument.

But we don have "something". We have the rapid rise of a new religion that would come to be called Christianity in the hundred years after Jesus' crucifixion.

And we have the people who walked with Jesus; the Apostles. We know who they were, where they went, how they died; in some cases we have fairly well-documented tombs.

How they died. With the exception of John of Patmos, the Apostles were martyred.

And there's the answer. The Apostles were in a position to know, if anyone did, whether the Resurrection was true, or whether Jesus' body was merely stolen. If it was the latter, then their deaths were in the service of a known lie, and not even a madman will accept a hideous death to promote a cause he knows is false. And these were not madmen; no one's ever claimed they were.

Here was the key that worked for my audience. A rational argument that comes as close as one can to "proving" the central tenet of Christianity, that Jesus died and rose from the dead.

Everything else could build from there.

What tool do you use, or have you used, to attract people to Christianity? What worked, and what didn't?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Welcome To The Jungle

Did you survive Black Friday?

Did you find everything you wanted?

Are their people on your Christmas list who will be disappointed, no matter what you give them...and will subtly let you know?

Did you vow, last year, to avoid the lunacy of Black Friday and the whole "let's overspend this Christmas!" mentality...and then break the vow?

Welcome to the rest of the human race.

Society runs on two pillars - laws and traditions. We need the laws to make sure things run smoothly. We need traditions to make sure that we understand the meaning for our world...to let us know why things are worth running at all.

The tradition of Black Friday grew out of the reality that we have a prosperous society. Gift exchange is an ancient way to express love, affection, and good wishes; in a society in which most members have disposable income, spending a significant amount says to the recipient, "Hey, you're important to me!" This is generally understood, at least subconsciously, by both giver and recipient.

(When was the last time you god an "it's the thought that counts" gift from someone you knew could afford more. Were you just a bit disappointed? Honestly, now.)

Black Friday itself just recognizes the fact that most people have one 'extra day' to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If retailers can get people into the stores and spending money for Black Friday, they assume - correctly - that shoppers will be likely to come back more often, and they'll make more money.

The "Black Friday" label, and the whole " great sales and early door openings" thing comes from a need to somehow distinguish special days. We do this with the Superbowl, and college basketball's March Madness.

Taken in context, and viewed with a sympathetic eye, Black Friday and the whole "commercial consumerist" tradition is just a to-be-expected manifestation of the things that we kind of like in our society...the ability to live without worrying about where our next meal's coming from.

And if you think that overspending and finding oneself in debt come January is unusual, just look at the feasts, the "potlatch" that Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest used to throw. They'd put out huge spreads of food, and give livestock and slaves, and after it was over the coffers of an individual - or tribe - would be exhausted. That made a true potlatch a pretty rare event.

You can swim against the tide allou want, and refuse to take part in this dirty greedy grubby custom, but the fact is, you're being a Don Quixote, in the worst sense. The real evils in our society are not found here. These are only windmills - they are not giants.

Now have fun, and go feel good about it!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Sky Is Falling!

There seems to be a trend, at least in certain corners of the Christian world, not to be thankful. Some preachers are pulling news items together to make the world seem like a place that's far worse than it really is.

The explanation given by most of these people is that we're in the Last Days, and we should be aware of the signposts that indicate the "soon return of Christ".

Well, yes. It would be useful to know when everything we know is going to end, but much of what's being used to "prove" the thesis is either inaccurate, or taken completely out of context. The end result isn't a service to God; it's something that ul;timately is designed to show the cleverness of the presenter. And, in the most unfortunate cases, to frighten the viewer into sending money, in the hope that it will increase the chances of being 'saved'.

The end result is that the world we live in made "blacker than black", and that makes it more than a bit difficult to be grateful for the good things that are in our lives now. These exhortations focus minds on the negative, and that comes suspiciously close to "leading the little ones astray". I mean, we're supposed to enter Heaven as children, and according to Jesus the penalties for hurting kids are pretty severe. A millstone isn't a very good swimming accessory.

To be specific, here are three examples:
  1. A very prominent television evangelist recently stated that the situation for Christians in the United States in 2012 is exactly like that of the Jews in Hitler's Germany. Oh, really? Are Christians being barred from certain professions? Are their money and property being confiscated, and are government-sponsored thugs roaming our cities, wrecking Crhistian homes, burninjg churches, and murdering the odd Christian? The answer is no. Nothing like that exists now, or is on the horizon. While the gentleman responsible for these remarks might say he's realloy relating a "word of prophetic knoiwledge", even this is far-fetched, because the constitutional safeguards with which this nation was formed still exist.
  2. Several prominent preachers have pointed to recent natural disasters, and have claimed that the Earth is suffering the birth pangs that will send forth the Kingdom. Again...no. Any recent increase in, say, earthquakes is balanced by years in which the "big ones" were not happening. Add to that the fact that the keeping of accurate seismic records is far less than a century old, and the only rational conclusion to which we can come is that any recent variation in the number and severity of earthquakes is not statistically significant.
  3. Greece has joined the European Union, and the Holy Roman Emprie is thereby reconstituted...which is a precondition for the Second Coming. Nice try, but Ireland was not a part of the original Holy Roman Empire
I can certainly understand a desire to see the Second Coming. But trying to predict it by putting out flawed and inaccurate data will simply
  • Diminish the ability of believers to enjoy life today
  • Give the humanists ammunition that they will most assuredly use to make Christians look but silly and irrelevant
The first is a disservice to fellow Christians.

The second is a disservice to God

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give Thanks Because We Can

Thanksgiving is an easy target.

From a traditional gathering to give thanks to the Almighty for the harvest, it's become a secular holiday that celebrates family, set to a ritualized schedule of televised parades and football games, accompanied by overeating.

And lately, it's the deep breath before the plunge into the madness of Black Friday. A day of rest before seasoned shoppers rise in the predawn dark to get the best deals on everything from toys to home theater systems.

So, ready...aim...FIRE! The true meaning of the holiday is lost, subsumed in a wave of commercialism and self-indulgence. Like Christmas, Thanksgiving is a symbol of Western greed and frivolous excess. It's a slap in the face to the rest of the world, where a full meal is by itself a cause for delirious joy.

But why don't you wait a moment before pulling the trigger.

It's true that modern Thaksgiving is a product of its time, and it's heavily hung with the trappings of a prosperous consumerist society. But what else could it be? We're not a nation of yeomen farmers, and haven't been for nigh on a century and a half. We're not subject to intermittent and inevitable famine, nor to the whims of a lunatic dictator who may choose to wipe out a tribal group because he put the wrong shoes on the wrong feet that morning.

So what is wrong with acknowledging the fact that the vast majority of the citizens of the United States lead comfortable lives, largely free from want and fear?

What is wrong with foregathering with friends and family to partake in traditional entertainments, cheering for the team with which we identify, and marveling at the balloons and floats in their triumphal procession through New York?

True, there is heartbreak and misery throughourt the world, but are we doing our God a service by smearing ash over the symbols of our good fortune? Are we going to increase out holiness through mea culpas and breastbeating?

Thanksgiving's all about symbols, and is it really any better to hate our good fortune than to appreciate it, and take a day to specifically enjoy it?

Neither will alleviate the pain of a hurting world, but if we take a day to appreciate what we have, aren't we more likely to return to The World with a more generous and energetic heart?

Generosity and effective outreach grow better in a soil watered wityh joy, rather than with tears.

So, go...enjoy the parades and the games and the food and the traditional family arguments around the dinner table.

And then, when the leftovers are finished, step out and do your bit to help the rest of the world. Do it in a spirit of joy and gratitude.

And wear steel toed-shoes for your Black Friday expedition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Devil's Secret Name

Restoring a romantic atmosphere to your marriage is one of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse - and yourself. Romance lifts you up. It gives you a glimpse of the love the Almighty has for us, and makes almost anything seem possible.

So...don't wait! Start now! Because tomorrow could be too late.

I thought about this post for a long time before deciding to publish it. We all want to think that it's never too late, as long as we're still breathing. But in matters of the heart, honestly, I think that sometimes it is.

The expression that's gained currency in today's world is 'moving on'. Ugh. What a horrible way of putting it. Sounds like Donald Trup deciding to pass on a merger.

I don't have a nickname for 'Too Late'. It doesn't need one.

It seeps in, like a damp fog infiltrating a bedroom through poorly-sealed windows.

Many would equate 'Too Late' with romatic interest finding another object. "I don't feel that way about my wife any more, but when I talk to the gal in the next cubicle my heart seems to skip a beat..."

Believe it or not, this is the better part of Too Late. This is a brink from which one can return, and with effort (and usually help from a counselor) rediscover those feelings for a spouse. The desire for romance is still there - it's just starved, for one reason or another. (Please, please don't look at this as condining extramartial relationships!)

The lowest circle of 'Too Late' is when you stop being able to see yourself in a romantic relationship at all. We all function, to some degree, as theatergoers in the moviehouse of our life-to-come, seeing the potential of our life and the role we can play, and then finding a way to make it true.

But when we can't see something that was once alive in a daily reality, we're in big, big trouble. Vision and a forward-looking imagination are the ladder that helps us climb over walls, but take away that ladder, and you're left staring at the bricks.

Staring at the bricks, and ultimately wondering why you're even there. The insidious evil of Too Late is that it spreads. You'll find yourself wondering what love even means, and then what friendship means. You'll wonder why anyone even bothers.

You'll see others who are making their dreams true in their lives, and you'll go from wishing you were like that, to 'knowing' you can never be like that, to thinking that the poor people are simply delusional.

Too Late will kill you, because it is the devil's secret name.

The Salvation Decoder Ring

Every profession, pastime, and hobby has its own special jargon. Golfers talk about birdies, bogeys, and The Rough; bowlers deal with strikes, spares, and splits; and runners embrace endorphins and shin splints.

And Christians...we have jargon to beat the band. We 'agree' in prayer, 'confess with the mouth', and 'repent of' our multitudinous sins.

Watching Christians talk with one another can be quite instructive, as the jargon flies thick and fast, a kind of cross between verbal shorthand and Swahili.

it's very good, very fulfilling, and completely fails in one vital aspect of Christianity - The great Commission.

The problem with jargon is that it's a separator. Yes, I know - 'go and be ye separate'. But trumping that is the message to spread the Good News to all creatures. Period.

And all creatures don't know the jargon. They walk into a church, and what they hear contains a lot of specialized terms - not specialized because they have to be, but because, in general, they come from the King James translation of the Bible. as such, they're at best archaic, and at worst, they don't correspond accurately to modern English.

Take confess with the mouth. Where, outside church or Bible Study, have you heard this? What it means is that we're verbally acknowledging that Jesus is God's Son, and that His death was in atonement for our sins.

But if you say this to a non-Christian, or to a nominal Christian whose practice ends at sleeping through Easter and Christmas services, you'll cause a bit of bewilderment, discomfort, and resentment.

Bewilderment because the first thing that comes to mind with the word confess is what criminals do, discomfort because the words do not rest easy on the modern ear, and resentment because Christianity is being portrayed as something of a 'club', with passwords and hierarchy.

It's not supposed to be that way. Jesus said that we enter the Kingdom as a child, or not at all. That pretty well rules out ranking based on our expertise in 'unpacking' the KJV.

He also suggested that we say yes when we mean yes, and no when we mean no. That's an exhortation to plain speech.

No one wants to take away the linguistic grace of King James' translation, but we have to keep our hearts on the reason we're here - to help others find peace, life, and hope in Christ.

The Great Commission is our primary job. Walk the walk, and talk the talk - plainly.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Amish And Built To Stay That Way

Have you ever wished you were Amish? Did you ever look at these singular 'people apart' in the media, or in person, and feel a stirring in your heart..."What these people have...I want that."

I certainly have. (Don't bother telling my wife. She won't believe you.)

And I'm not alone. One might say that the Harrison Ford movie "Witness" started the ball rolling, and writers like Beverly Lewis have illuminated aspects of the Amish life...and people are buying their books. (Yes, we have a Beverly Lewis shelf.)

What's to love? I think for most people it starts with the sense of community, belonging to a group of people who are honor-bound to come to your aid...just as it's a challenge to your honor, to be ready to come to your neighbor's aid. I think there's a strong need to be challenged in this way, in our United States.

I'm certainly not naive enough to think everyone's best pals, and that the internal politicking in an Amish community isn't dissimilar to classic Small-Town America.

And yet...there are rules. In this land of freedom, I think we want rules that will help us honor the commitments we want to keep.

I also like the plain clothing. I don;t know about you, but I get really tired of seeing men who look like they've spent all weekend in front of a TV set (well, maybe they did), or women who look like they need a slight nudge to spill mammarilly out of their clothing.

I think that maybe we want to be called to dress modestly, and keep a demeanor to match our clothing.

Doing with television, the Internet, and even electricity...hmm. That's pushing it. But some of the nicest evenings with my wife were spent on nights when there was a power failure. Conversation over candlelight was something I'd never known I'd missed. And some days, now, I just turn off the TV and the computer, and listen to the quiet. I think we want to invite quiet back into our hearts.

Finally, the way the Amish life is centered on faith is intriguing. There's no question about going to church, because it's what one does, plain and simple (get it?). It's as much a part of being Amish as going to a golf course is part of being a professional golfer.

Besides, next week's service might be in your house, and then where will you go? I think we want to invite God back into our houses.

Obviously, the Amish have their warts, and there are aspects of the life that would leave us uncomfortable indeed (like shunning) if only because we didn't grow up understanding it. The shadow areas are there, but the dream transcends them.

The appeal of being Amish really isn't based in a desire to run away from our busy lives. Instead, it's something to run to. It's a life that would call us to be more than we ever thought we could be, and better than we ever dreamed we could be.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Sabbath Blues

A man opens a refrigerator and finds a rabbit inside, reclining on a bed of smashed bread loaves. Shocked, he yells, "What are you doing in there?"

The rabbit replies, "This is a Westinghouse, isn't it?"


"Well, I'm just westin'."

After you stop groaning, we can go on. All done? Okay.

For a long time I scored the idea of a Day of Rest. I figured that Jesus said the the Sabbath is made for man, not vice versa, and having seven days in which to work meant that I could get seven days' work done.

All very true, and for a long time I fancied myself as being very effective. What I didn't realize was that people were starting to avoid me, because I had become a humorless, rather Prussian caricature. While I didn't force anyone to match my pace, someone eventually told me that I looked like I expected them to, and was perfectly capable of finding a way to enforce it.

I thought this was a compliment.

It wasn't until I married that I became aware that another way of life was actually an option. And, typically, I resisted it. God knows why Barbara put up with me! She tried to convince me that taking a day off wouldn't kill me professionally, and that I might actually be more effective if I would spend the day with her, relaxing, and go back refreshed on Monday.

Okay. I can still work in my head. Obviously, this was a nonstarter, and Barbara eventually gave it up.

Fast forward to now. I'm no longer the humorless Prussian...at least, I hope not. I've learned to take time off, mainly due to a ferocious illness that doesn't give me a choice. My teaching/research career has been prematurely ended, despite the fact that I was known to be one of the hardest workers in the business.

And I'm left with the memory of the 500 weekends of my marriage, sacrificed on the altar of a self-imposed work ethic, to a career that no longer exists.

Don't be me.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Redneck Medicine

They say ninety percent of being a doctor's learning the vocabulary...I'm partway there!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pokemon Amnesia

Seventy years ago, the United States fought the Empire of Japan for the control of the Pacific Hemisphere. We won.

That reminder, that "we won" isn't entirely facetious, because while the US has made the Second World War part of its cultural history, the Japanese have made a concerted - and relatively successful - effort to eradicate it from the national memory.

Part of the reason is rooted in the work Douglas MacArthur did in setting up an Occupation Government that would later transfer back to independence. MacArthur did not want militarism to come rising out of its unquiet grave. Putting it there the first time was costly to the US, and to the Japanese (who endured two atomic bombs before giving up).

Another part is cultural, and not completely accessible to the Western mind. Japan in the early 20th century took most of its cultural cues from Bushido, which roughly translates as "the way of the warrior". Bushido is, or was, a large part of the Japanese soul, but it changed with the times almost as a living thing, The version which led Japan to a war they could never win was popularized in the 20s and 30s, and has some significant differences from the version first codified under the title Hagakure in the late 18th century.

One very important distinction is that the savagery toward the enemy, and toward civilians in the crossfire was utterly banned by traditional Bushido. Another distinction is the Death Culture that was used to develop and deploy the kamikaze. While the individual Japanese soldier was supposed to be ever-ready to die, he was not supposed to simply kill himself, or attach into the teeth of a the American military simply to meet a good end on the field.

I think it's this that has caused a deep feeling of shame and revulsion among the Japanese who survived the War - as it should have. The result is that the memories have gone into a sturdy - and seldom-opened - box. Their presence in the front room of the Japanese soul has been taken by the vapidity of Pokemon and Hello Kitty.

It's understandable, and it's tragic. The shame is being buried, but so are the memories of strength and fortitude that should help any country when the chips are down. The kamikazes - "tokko boys" - were neither press-ganged nor brainwashed. The really believed that a victorious United States would ravage their home and families, and these young men meant to keep that from happening. The only weapon left, they were told (and it was true) was to embrace the fatal choice, and in their deaths make the price for invading the home islands so great that the enemy would just strike their tents and go home.

(What wasn't true was the supposition that Americans were barbarians. When our troops got to Japan, they were more interested in teaching kids how to play baseball than they were in looting and pillaging. Americans would have made lousy Vikings or Visigoths.)

It was a strategy which might have worked, too, but for the fertile mind of one Albert Einstein.

Can you imagine making this choice? It's part of our culture, too - the Alamo comes pretty close without the suicidal aspect, and the phrase "save the last bullet for yourself" covers that nicely. But we managed to avoid the perversion of the ideal. Japan, sadly, did not.

And so, Japan beats it swords into plowshares, and the War, likes its fast-dwindling number of surviving veterans, dwindles away to myth and legend.

And to Pokemon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Keeping the "We" in Wedding - Pt. 2

While the specific intention of Date Night is a big factor in keeping romance in a marriage, there are other things we can do to help keep the atmosphere conducive to maintaining that warm emotional bond - with the spice of heart-fluttering excitement.

  1. Respect for your spouse's contribution to your shared life - This means being thankful - in words - for what he or she does. Doesn't matter if it's their 'expected' division of labor. The point is that your spouse has chosen to be with you, and chosen a life that includes making dinner, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, taking out the trash...there is a lot that is being done for you, and it's only right to say 'thanks'. Every time.
  2. Respect for your spouse as a person - Do you ever say something critical to your wife or husband that you wouldn't say to your boss, or to a friend, under similar circumstances? if you said yes, then you're taking advantage of the 'special' relationship. Your spouse has a vested interest in the relationship, and you can be less considerate - and oft-times, more cruel - than you  would be to someone who can simply walk away (or, in the case of a boss, suggest that you walk away).
  3. Reliability - Do what you say you're going to do, without excuses. If you promised to clean the gutters but your favorite team's made the playoffs - too bad. You made a promise, and while you can be released from that promise, you can't either ignore it, nor ask for release, nor do the work in an attitude of resentment. The team you support really doesn't care whether you watch them or not. But your spouse cares, very much, about being with a person who will do what he says he'll do.
  4. Present a united front - In public, your obligation is to support your spouse - no matter what. You don't laugh at jokes at his expense (unless he makes the joke), and you certainly never make a joke at his expense. Your spouse deserves to know that "you've got his back".
  5. Be thoughtful - Guys, open doors for your wives. Car doors, church doors, you name it - you open it. If it's cold, your coat is suddenly hers, and you do not complain. Ladies, don't greet your husband on Saturday morning with a list of things you want done by three in the afternoon. 
  6. Be giving - Everyone loves gifts that say "I'm thinking of you". Men like flowers, even if they have no idea what they are. Just make sure that the gift is for your spouse's pleasure - not yours. Giving your wife a copy of the action-adventure DVD you want to see will get you a strained "thanks", and the knowing that you did what you wanted, while trying to look good.
  7.  Be unexpectant - What you do, do for love, and for the look in your spouse's eyes that says, I feel safe, I feel loved, I feel wanted". Guys, the minute you connect any of these with the expectation of sex, either in the immediate or the no-too-distant future  (and that is what most men do), you've destroyed a part of the bond you're trying to nurture. Sure, you may get what you want - after all, you paid for it. How does that sound?

The environment of love and care that is within your power to keep in vibrant life is worth more than any job, more than any accomplishment. It's what makes the good times better, and makes the bad times bearable.

What does the picture have to do with the subject? The puppies look like their practicing skydiving positions together - and isn't marriage a bit like jumping out of an airplane, in the faith that you'll have a soft landing?

What does your spouse do, in the course of normal life, that makes your marriage more romantic?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Keep The "We" in Wedding - Pt. 1

To begin - "romance" is a seven-letter word, and it does not begin with "s" nor does it end with "x".

Romance, in a marriage, is what reminds us of what we dreamed for the relationship. It's said that "men give love to get sex, and women give sex to get love".

Hogwash. Both men and women are affected deeply by the romantic underpinnings of a developing relationship. Men get weak-kneed at a whiff of their beloved's perfume, and it's not because the blood starts flowing somewhere else. They're taken by the romantic, by the emotional connection that promises to fulfill a need to deep for any psychologist to unearth.

The trouble is that after a few weeks of a shared bathroom and shared checkbook and "I didn't know she snored", romance begins to fade. It's not a question of "the hunt successfully completed" and the focus turning elsewhere - men want to be in love with their wives, but they begin to forget how to Keep the We. Men will start reverting to their 'single' way of thinking, and start looking for ways to spend time with their friends, watch sports, or spend Saturday loafing.

It's not entirely their fault (mostly, not entirely). Women will often move from a focus on the relationship to a focus on nest-building. A hug or cuddle will be interrupted by a request to have a look at color swatches, and weekends get programmed with what will soon be referred to as honey-do lists.

It doesn't have to be this way. A few simple things, if practiced, will help to keep the flower healthy and watered, and won't let it become a pressed rose, drying in grandfather's Bible. One of these is Date Night; here are some suggestions...

  1. Recognize that keeping romance alive takes work - It didn't take work during courtship - it was "the work". But now romantic time has to compete with domestic life, and unless it's given priority, it's guaranteed to lose. Why? Because the person who wants to spend 'couple time' when there are tasks to be accomplished will be seen as less effective, and 'dreamy'. It's pride at work.
  2. Make dates - set aside time at home for a movie, or time for a night out. Make that time special - if you're at home and want to wear PJ's while watching, fine, but shower, put on cologne or perfume, and use your nice PJ's. If you're going out - even to McDonald's - dress up.
  3. Celebrate the dates - make some sort of permanent record of your date nights - a note to one another, or a picture, or a pair of saved movie tickets, in your scrapbook.
  4. Keep the memories - speaking of scrapbooks, keep one that's devoted to your relationship - not the kids, not the family, not the dogs, but just the two of you.
  5. Guys, watch your hands - when you're cuddling on the sofa watching, well, whatever, guys, keep your hands where they could be if your pastor would walk in and join you. It's important for women to be wanted sexually, yes - but it's much more important to be respected. Pawing isn't respect - it's taking advantage of a situation - taking advantage of the fact that your wife probably won't say anything because she doesn't want to spoil to mood.
  6.  Give the date closure - just because you live together and are going to sleep in the same bed doesn't mean that the date doesn't deserve a proper ending. A nice hug and kiss, a few words to say, "that was fun, I enjoyed your company" is appropriate.

Your marriage is the most important relationship you'll have, and almost every religion sees it as a sacrament for God's love for us. Doesn't it make sense to do the maintenance, so the dream that we shared during those first hesitant steps together can become real?

What do you do in your marriage, to keep romance flourishing?

Monday, November 12, 2012


How many friends do you have?

Not Facebook Friends...it's not that they aren't real friends, in the potential or the actual, but I'm talking about the kind of person you can call on the phone at 3 am, and you'll never have to think about apologizing.  (And spouses don't count, for this one.)

About the kind of friend whose car breaks down on a Saturday morning, and you throw them your keys and change your weekend plans without hesitation or resentment.

And when the chips are down, the kind of friend for whom, if they got in trouble in a distant country, you'd follow the advice of the old Warren Zevon song, and bring "lawyers, guns, and money" to get them home.

I have a few...one hand would suffice to count them. Let me introduce two - a former student who won my heart by playing computer games in class, while I was trying to teach the design of reinforced concrete buildings; and a fellow writer who, if I gave up to my illness, gave in, and died, would follow me to Hell and kill me again. So there.

And, interestingly (for me, anyway), I met all of these people as an adult. It's said by some that the real friends you carry through your life you make in childhood, but it hasn't worked out that way for me.

And there are people who are moving toward that place in my heart. None moving away, for which I thank God.

I was going to write this post as a list of things to do to make a friend, but I realized that it would be a pretty short list. For the record, here it is:

  1. Keep an open heart
That's it. If you keep your heart open and alive to the possibility of someone coming and knocking on your heart's door, you'll have covered almost the full distance needed to make the kind of friend that you need - that we all need.

That we all need. The follow-on is that the friends you make help everyone. Compare our society to chain mail...old-fashioned armor made up of zillions of little interlocking rings. An individual ring hooks onto a few immediately around it, but those links are absolutely necessary for the integrity of the whole. One link all by itself is as useless as nail polish for a sheep, but that link, connected by others, is absolutely necessary.

Maybe that's what Christ was trying to say, when he said that "wherever two or more are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them".

He's saying that everybody needs a friend.

How many good friends can you count? How did you meet them?

And just for the record, did you know you can get a chain-mail bikini top? 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remember Us

As I write this, it's November 11, 2012 - Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran's Day in the US, Armistice Day is many other countries. It's the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities that ended World War One, at 11 am on November 11, 1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

World War One was supposed to be the War To End All Wars - the introduction of the machine gun, the airplane, the submarine, and the use of poison gas on the battlefield was supposed to make the prospect of war so ghastly that the sword would be forever sheathed. It didn't happen.

All war is waste - and no glory. But World War One did hit some high points in the wastage of human potential...on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Allies lost over 20,000 men. In a single day.

Many of these were lost in their assault across "No Man's Land", the area between the Allied and German trench systems. The Allied troops left their trenches in an act called going "over the top", and walked - they were expressly told not to run - across the 400-800 yards of No Man's Land, flayed by German machine guns and artillery all the way.

One of the killed was William Hodgson, who two days before his death penned this heartbreaking poem, a farewell to the life he was soon to lose:

Before Action

by Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson, MC, 29th June, 1916

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening's benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.
By all of all man's hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.
I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; -
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
If William Hodgson was not to truly die in vain, then his last words to us have not only to carry down through the years...they have to inspire us to act, in some way, to alter the flow of time. This sweet lament is both a valedictory of his heart, and a challenge, because to a greater or lesser degree we pass unheedingly through large tracts of our lives.
How does this poem affect you? Is there anything in your life, or thought, that you'd feel inspired to change?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tulip Time

Once upon a time there was a very hard-headed Pit Bull named Tulip...

Tulip arrived in 1998, which makes him probably 15. Pretty ancient for a dog, but not terribly unusual for a Pit. He was unexpected - oh, yes, sorry. Tulip is a boy. No, he doesn't have any gender-identity problems. He's a dog.

He's been picked up by the campus police at the college in California, where I worked as a lab technician. Seeing him confined in an enclosure which housed the PD's emergency generator, I asked about him, and was told that county Animal Control would be coming to pick hip up. At the time, the county was killing every Pit that came into their custody, as policy, and I mentioned this to the cop. He shrugged, and said it was too bad.

Too bad indeed. Somehow, Tulip vanished from the enclosure, and spent the rest of the workday in a box that was strapped to a hand-truck, being trundled from my office to the lab and back again. The box had openings for hand-holds, and I was watched by one calm yellow eye.

When he got to the vet, Tulip elicited some sympathy. He was thin, filthy, and his collar had been stapled to his neck.

He healed, and grew, but childhood had left scars. He didn't play well with others, and picked several fights with a big coonhound named Atascaedro. Tasky was imposing of size but meek of character, and would inevitably faint when confronted. The other dogs supported Tasky, until a white Shepherd named Hallie stepped in to make peace with the newcomer.

Hallie was small for a shepherd, but extremely strong-willed. She had a habit of stealing cups of coffee I made for myself, even drinking them when they were too hot for me. She tamed Mr. Tulip by the simple expedient of grasping him by the scruff of the neck and slamming him against the nearest wall. Cooperation came quickly, and they stayed together for nine years, until Hallie's death.

At that point, Mr. Tulip became very depressed. We tried pairing him with Sylvia, the Pit whose picture graces this blog's homepage, but Sylvia wasn't quiet as understanding as Hallie had been. Mr. Tulip picked a fight with her, and lost, badly.

So Tulip was alone. The run on one side was occupied by Rufus, a jack Russell, and on the other side he had Labby, a black lab, so he wasn't too lonely. But I think he missed having someone to bump shoulders with.

A few weeks ago, Tulip developed an inner-ear problem common to older dogs - it was like he was stuck on a spinning turntable, and he could not walk a straight line. There's no cure, but Dramamine (meclizine) is a fairly effective pallative. It takes awhile to become effective, though, and while Tulip enjoyed the personal attention he got from me and from Barbara, I had the feeling that something was missing.

One day I noticed that Rufus was following us along the fence, and I helped Tulip keep a straight line. Rufus is a tough little fellow, with the build and resilience of a rugger ball, and I thought, why not?

So in he went. he ran up to Tulip, sniffed at him. Tulip lurched to his feet, and his first steps started what looked like an uncontrollable right turn. I went to catch him, but wasn't needed.

Rufus was there. He was at Tulip's side, paws on the big guy's shoulders, steadying him. He followed Tulip around, and every misstep, Rufus was there.

And he still is. Tulip's balance is almost completely restored, but Rufus always walks by his side. They are fed separately, but Tulip always leaves a little bit in his bowl for his buddy. They curl up together in the sun when it's nice, and together in Tulip's rather large doghouse, when Tulip's tired.

And there are some who say dogs have no souls.

Friday, November 9, 2012

When The World Dials 911

Happy 237th birthday to the United States Marine Corps!

The Marines are the smallest branch of the fighting services, but they hold a place in America's heart that is both large and unique.

Large because the Marine Corps' place in modern history has been gained through some truly outsize events.

Just after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they stopped by at the tiny atoll of Wake to overwhelm the tiny Marine garrison stationed there. Instead, it was the Japanese who were overwhelmed, and their invasion failed. When they returned with vastly superior forces, the Marines on Wake fought to the bitter end, only ceding the island after inflicting a fearful toll on the invaders.

A few months later, the First Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal, in the Solomons. It was there that the limit of Japanese empire was established, and the long, slow path to victory in the pacific began.

To these can be added Tarawa and Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Twenty years on Marines made the headlines in Viet Nam, in the siege of Khe Sanh and the battle for Hue City

But beyond the numbers, and beyond the mythos, the Marines are perhaps the most beloved branch of any armed service to walk the earth.

They're an anachronism, in a way, with pure infantry as their main calling. other services may employ ever-larger quantities technology, but the basic marine mission is still to support the 19-year-old lance corporal who's advancing through the mud.

And as such, their standards have remained high. You may want to be a Marine; but not everyone with the wish has the ability. Gaining admittance to this club requires sweat, blood, toil, and character, because the marines don't want weaklings who'll fold under pressure.

The drill instructor hurt your feelings? Take it up with your congressman, but in the meantime get off post and don't come back.

Your arm wrecked by a bullet? You still have another one, don't you? Keep shooting.

Because of this unapologetically neanderthal stance, with machismo simply splashing off the top, the Marine Corps have earned our love, and our trust. When asked "who would you turn to for help?", given the choices of a doctor, a clergyman, a congressman, or a Marine, guess who wins, with over 97% of the votes?

And who shows up every Christmas, standing post for Toys For Tots?

Our Marines.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Among the Righteous

Well, it's official. If you are a drug user in Oklahoma, you won't get welfare.

On the face of it, this is a commonsense way to guard the coffers of our nation, and to encourage good behavior. Dig a little deeper, and it's a rather cynical attempt to implement a 'feel righteous' policy without having to solve the problem.

The rise in illegal drug use, starting in the 60s, has been a disaster for the United States. The amount of human potential, minds that could have made a difference, has gone up in smoke. An effective treatment for breast cancer, perhaps...or a way to prevent Alzheimers. We'll never know.

And so, we attack the symptoms. Keep welfare money out of the hands of drug users. That'll show them.

I wonder, though, what does it show them? These drugs are addictive. Celebrities and politicians spend a lot of money going to the Betty Ford Center to try to break their habits. Are we expecting those on welfare to have the strength to do it on their own? Does giving them the choice of starvation - literally - hold the promise of making them superhuman? Or is it a convenient way of telling them to go die, while feeling very judicial about the whole thing?

And at the same time, we protect the drug culture. We love the television shows and movies with winking references to drug use, and we make sure that our best and brightest make enough money to be able to cycle through detox facilities. We don't want to lose a Britney Spears, for heaven's sake! And we can't face a world without Lindsay Lohan's acting talents!

We elect presidents who've admitted to using drugs. Bill Clinton, who didn't inhale. George Bush Jr., who used cocaine before becoming a born-again Christian. Barack Obama, whose use of marijuana (inhaling, apparently) is well-known. That's three out of the last three, if anyone's counting.

We don't want to sacrifice the politicians and singers and actors and athletes on the altar of law. So we're apparently going to take the less-important members of our society, and sacrifice them instead.

While we laugh at the funny things people do when they use drugs, every evening, gathered around the television, the modern family hearth.

Have we lost our minds?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Prize

What's The Prize?

Simple. To be a part of something bigger and more noble than themselves, so that their lives can gain stature, and be uplifted by association, and by inclusion.

Look at the phenomenon of Stephen Ambrose and "Band of Brothers". Dr. Ambrose was a dedicated professional historian, and a skilled writer, but when he decided to tell the story of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment's E Company, he opened a floodgate of emotion and need in the United States.

"Band of Brothers" is the story of a group of men who were ordinary soldiers at the time - skilled, yes, but there were hundreds of other military units manned with competent citizen-soldiers, and dozens with an equivalent level of proficiency.

But what was ordinary then seems extraordinary today.

Dr, Ambrose recognized the innate nobility in these men, and the justice of the cause in which they fought, and in which some of them died. It's not that he made them ten feet tall; he just cleared away the underbrush of sad years that had grown up in the last half of the 20th century, so we could see their true stature.

I think we want that stature today. We want heroes, and causes of mythic proportions. We want to feel that we can be better than we think we are.

Better than we think we are. The real point that Ambrose (and Tom Brokaw, author of "The Greatest Generation") makes is that these men were 'common', that they came from every region and social class. They didn't see themselves as noble, and like Bill Maudlin's cartoon characters "Willie and Joe", many of them griped their way through the killing fields, wanting to get it done and go home.

People like us. They were caught on a cusp that forced greatness on them...but so are we all. Every one of us faces challenges in our lives that invite us to rise above what we are, above what we thought we could be. Challenges in action, yes, but also in compassion, challenges in forgiveness, challenges in duty, honor, and fair play.

We can be better than we think we are. We CAN be as good as we really are.

It's our choice. Every day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Whosover Destroyeth A Soul

When I was growing up, a bully was someone who waited for you after school, and threw you headfirst into a culvert. It was something that just happened, and eventually Mr. Bully would meet someone bigger and meaner, and get the stuffing kicked out of him. (Never her, in my experience, but girls may have dealt with their own sort of bullying.)

It's different now - the Internet has allowed a new generation of bullies to flourish, without the risk that an old-school bully took - that his victim might just land a lucky punch or kick. The New Bullies can work their misery in safe anonymity, behind an electronic wall.

And they are out to kill. they aren't aiming to hurt the body; they're out to destroy souls. And young people are killing themselves, driven to despair that their lives can be ruined by lies spread across the Internet.

Why do we tolerate it (and we are tolerating it, please make no mistake)? One reason is practical - it's not that hard to find the origin of an Internet hate campaign, but it's expensive. Many of these kids know the rudiments of covering their tracks, and it takes some sophistication to reliably run them to ground.

The other reason we tolerate it is the culture of victimization. Everyone's a victim, and perpetrators are really the victims of their own victims...they've somehow been goaded into their predatory ways, and therefore deserve special care.

In addition to these, there's the Culture of The Child, taking "a little child shall lead them" just a bit too far. We've allowed children to be a world unto themselves. Ask any high-school student...it's a cruel and insular world in which they live, with no real accountability except to one another (and to school administrators who sometimes swoop in, deus ex mechina, to harshly enforce some regulation, and then disappear.

After all, the worst among us might just be the best, given a chance.

Then again, they might merely be the worst.

The best way to rid ourselves of this blight is pretty simple - terminate the Culture of the Child. Hire teachers and administrators that will not only follow the lesson plan, but who have the understanding, and the authority, to enforce good citizenship. let the kids know that their independence is over, and that they will be answering to the adult world for their actions.

After this, truncate the 'victimization chain' to two links - perpetrator and victim. Period. There are no extenuating circumstances for bullying.

Will we, as a society, do this?

It's really up to us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Good Things Happen

I would not trade places with you.

Nothing against your life - but I wouldn't want you, whoever you are, to experience the amount of pain that I go through on a daily basis. Nothing noble about it - I just wouldn't want it on my conscience.

It comes from a pancreas problem, caused by gallbladder surgery in 2002. It can't be fixed, and increasingly, can't be controlled by medication. Cheap cigars help the nausea, though. There's always a silver lining.

It's characterized by sharp pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, just below the ribs. it extends through to the back, and lately has been cutting across the center (the 'midsagittal plane') to the left side. it really, really sucks.

I thought I'd try to avoid being one of those happy-sappy idiots who says that "This is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I wouldn't trade it for the world!"

What morons. Anyone with a speck of sense wouldn't want this.

But there is a tiny grain of truth there, a little mustard seed of reality. learning to deal with this has made me able to work under conditions I never thought I could face. Looking at the likely outcome of the process and maintaining both hope and a calm outlook has changed me. Well, okay, for the better, I hope!

There is a lot of support from family and friends, but at the end of the day, the responsibility to keep moving, both physically and emotionally, is mine. One can philosophize until the cows come home comatose, but mastering almost any challenge is a good thing.

I enjoy sunrises and sunsets more. I live each day more fully than most people I see, and try not to denigrate any hour with careless words...nor stain any hour with careless action. I don't watch much television, but I read a lot more. Most important, I try to let my wife know I love her, and let the small stuff go. Just...let it go, and never mention the little stones in everyone's marriage shoes.

I wish it didn't happen, and that I didn't have to go through this...but I think my wife feels more appreciated than if I were 'normal'. I think my dogs are happier.

Ah, the heck with it.

Best thing that ever happened to me.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Vote For ME!

Well, the election's almost here. Still don't know who to vote for, for the presidency? Vote for ME! Just write my name in there...

I mean, why not? I'm a pretty decent person, and would rather see harmony than strife. I like animals, get bored by zealots, and think that pageantry, pomp and ceremony are a waste of time.I think people who want to take crosses off public lands are stupid nasty spoilsports...and I think those crosses should be joined by Stars of David and Islamic Crescents. This country needs to stand for the free practice of every religion...not just militant atheism.

I'd love to be able to say that the government which governs best, governs least. It's no longer possible, though, since there are entities in the media which will step into any vacuum and exercise proxy government by shamelessly manipulating public opinion. The Jeffersonian Ideal was great - in Jefferson's day. If we tried it today, the people who run Facebook and Google would be running the country.

I'd love to say I believe in the working harmony of the international community. Well, I don't. A lot of governments out there would love to see the United States diminished, and we just don't have to listen to them.

Enough generalities. If elected I promise to:

  1. Work toward cutting congressional salaries and pensions, and increasing those for teachers, police officers, and firemen/
  2. Work towards repealing Obamacare. Not that I don't believe in a national, comprehensive health program, but I would like to see one that might actually work before trying to implement it. - and the president and Congress should be the first to be included in it.
  3. Stomp the Iranian nuclear weapons program, hard.
  4. Tax companies that send jobs overseas, to the point that they lose money by doing so.
  5. Let the Bush 'high-income' tax cuts lapse...BUT use those tax revenues to by the equivalent of 'war bonds' in the name of the taxpayer, so they get that money back, with interest.
  6. Make sure that all government employees who have contact with the public are monitored for good manners.
  7. Support PBS and the NEA - we need them, even if we disagree with them
  8. Work to permit prayer in public schools - the public education system needs all the help it can get, and I'm being serious.
  9. Work to abolish 'No Child Left Behind'.It's just an excuse for passing kids who don't have an education through the system. Kids need the basics - reading, writing, and arithmetic, along with US history. The rest is gravy, if the educational system's already in disarray.
  10. Support the Second Amendment as an individual right to bear arms - people have an inalienable right to defend themselves and their families.
Ten reasons are really enough. Most voters choose their candidate on one or two issues.

But whoever you vote for, please get out and vote. Not everyone in the world gets to do that.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Rednecks In Love

In my heart of hearts (and, my wife would add, in my half of brains) I'm a redneck. Even though I can quote Shakespeare, identify scads of classical music (and know how to use the word scads), and wrote video scripts on Impressionist art...I could still fit effortlessly into the rural south, and I'd never be found again.

Fortunately for me, my bucolic tendencies were somewhat muted when we were dating, and I only tried a few of my Sure-Fire Redneck Dating Strategies on her.

Here's what she missed...mostly.

  1. During a romantic walk on the beach, impress her with your drunken gorilla imitation. (When I met Barb I lived inland)
  2. When making a date, tell her "Don't wear a tight skirt...it's a long first step up into my truck." Women love big trucks.
  3. When picked her up, don't honk. Gun the engine instead. If you're smart the V-8's got headers, and she'll be impressed. Women love the noise of a poorly-muffled big engine.
  4. Wear a ballcap. Women don't like to look at your sweaty hair. Turns 'em off.
  5. When she gets in the truck, make sure she knows that the six-pack's under the seat, but not to give you one...you're driving. Women love responsible men.
  6. Make sure the dogs in the cab with you didn't eat beans that day. Women get turned off by farting dogs. Done't eat beans yourself, either.
  7. Plan your dinner venue with care. The crowds at McDonalds start to thin out at about 7:30.
  8. Women like good table manners. Cut up your McNuggets, and eat them with a knife and fork. Keep your napkin on your lap, not in the front pocket of your jeans.
  9. If you selected a movie, make sure it's in English so she won't have to read you the subtitles. Women don't like to be put to work during a date.
  10. If you go to a concert, bring an extra cigarette lighter for her.
  11. When you're bringing her home, move the dogs over and let her sit next to you. Put your ballcap on her head to show that you like her; she'll be so taken she won't care about your sweaty hair, or the sweaty ballcap, either. Women like romantic gestures.
  12. When you're saying goodnight, and she offers you her hand, show her how cultured you are by kissing it. Don't lean to far forward and put her face in her chest, because then she might hit you, and that makes asking for another date awkward. Women don't like to have to hit their dates.
  13. When you call to ask her out again, and she screams, it means she's happy. Women love polite, sophisticated men.
Yes, all of these things really happened before I met Barbara. And have happened since.

To her! I mean, to her!!!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Better To Be Eaten By Chihuahuas...

Most people dread public speaking. Some simply loathe it. And there are certain select individuals who not only claim to enjoy it, but give every evidence of actually reveling in the process of speaking to an audience.

These people are clearly crazy, and should be locked up for their own protection, lest we find their existence intolerable.

But, if you absolutely have to speak to a group of people, and every way you've tried to get out of it has failed (someone brought a fire extinguisher to your well-planned self-immolation), here are some suggestions. They're not 'tips'. 'Tips' sound like they might work. With these, who knows.

  1. Know your subject - this doesn't mean, be an expert. If you go to a biker's convention, a stern talk on the evils of drink probably won't go over well.
  2. Know (without assuming you know) where you're speaking - I was once scheduled to give a talk at a Hilton. Unfortunately, I did not know that the city in which the conference took place had three Hiltons. I thought I knew which was the right one. I was wrong.
  3. Dress for the occasion - and if your luggage doesn't make it, be sure you have time to pick up something else. "Aw, this'll work" usually doesn't work if "this" is a torn Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops.
  4. If alcohol is offered before your talk, abstain - one audience is bad enough. Seeing two or three is just torture.
  5. If alcohol is offered after your talk, abstain -  you're the hero of the hour for just showing up, and breath that smells like rocket fuel kind of ruins the image
  6. Audience sizes vary - sometimes you really will have to say, "Good evening, lady and gentleman..."
  7. DON'T imagine your audience naked - for one thing, it's inappropriate...for another thing, most people don't exercise enough
  8. Intentional humor is risky - breaking wind, however, will always raise a laugh
  9. Run your talk too long to avoid Q&A periods - there will be at least one person who will want to show off his knowledge by downgrading yours. Remember, it's at least a misdemeanor to physically assault a member of your audience, even if he's a jerk. "Oh, too bad, no time for questions!" are the sweetest words a speaker can hear.
  10. If you have an odd name (like Budek-Schmeisser) tell the moderator how to pronounce it - And don't wince when he mispronounces it anyway
  11. If you use Powerpoint, don't let anyone have access to the slides - some people have a weird sense of humor, and an unexpected view of your Uncle Fred from last year's Christmas party that your husband snuck in 'as a joke' is grounds for divorce. Or murder.
  12. Don't wave your arms if you're using a stick as a pointer - some moderators stand too close to the edge of the stage. Personal experience, but they were able to put most of his teeth back in.
  13.  If you're using a laser-pointer, don't play "blind the heckler" - the beams are too unfocused to really blind someone. You're just wasting your time.
  14. If you make a big exit, people will remember your talk - falling off the stage works pretty well
  15. If they ask you back, it's a Big Thing - it either means you were great, or you're the only person they think will be dumb enough to show up next time
And, finally, remember this...there's at least one person in the audience who wants to be there even less than you do!