Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Year in the Life


Let’s face it:

For many people, 2010 was a rotten year. It’s been a hard time in just about every way possible.

It is tempting to tell people to think about others in the world who are worse off than they are. And there is some merit in that. Perspective is good, and it can help us to be more thankful than we are. But it doesn’t pay a bill that there’s no money to pay for, and it doesn’t erase the emotional or physical pain that a lot of people have been through over the past year.

I am hoping and praying for something very simple: I’m hoping and praying for a better year this year.

Anybody with me on this one?


Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Don't Like Mondays Either


So. You ever have one of THOSE days?

Yesterday was a Monday. It was horrible. I was tired all day, feeling down and restless. My mind was wandering all over the place. Erratic.

I tried to work on some music, to distract me from myself, but everything went wrong. Everything. Something happened that messed up all the files, literally ruined the mixes of all the songs I’ve been working on for over a year. It was madness. I was starting to panic and I had no idea what to do.

So I did what I do when I don’t know what to do.

I prayed.

Then I called my friend Tom.

Tom fixed my songs. Tom was patient with me. Tom was kind. It took a lot of time that I know he doesn’t really have. It was sacrificial. An act of grace.

He’s just that kind of guy.

I don’t know what I’d do without friends like Tom. I have some others like him too, who give and give to get me through. I don’t deserve them. I know it. I feel bad because there’s no way I’m as good a friend to any of them. I just do what I can and hope it’s enough. And remain thankful for my friends, who get me through.

Good friends do that, I guess. They get you through Mondays.

Let me just say: Thank you. You know who you are. All of you who help me get through Mondays, whatever day of the week they happen to happen.

Thank you.



Proverbs 17:17
Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

More


I’ve learned to be more careful over the years about making pronouncements about myself or my plans or what I think God is going to do. I’ve become wary of making declarations of intent, as if I need to tell people what I’m going to do or what God is going to do. My soul just cries out at me to shut up about it. Too much talk just complicates everything and brings out my foolishness. We think we have to proclaim our intent in order to accomplish it, but I’m not so sure about that.

Which goes against the grain in a world where we’re supposed to catch a “vision” and cast a “vision” and call people to do “great things.” We’re supposed to do this personally, and we’re supposed to do this as leaders if we’re in leadership positions.

Here’s a problem with all of that.

How do we define “success” or “great things” these days? That’s easy, right? Success = more. That’s really what it seems to come down to most, if not all, of the time.

More.

People give lip service to other things but, let me tell you from experience, “more” is everything in this world. If you have more, then you are “successful” and admired. More money. More influence. More people showing up. More power. Whatever you have, what you need is more, more, more. If you get more or make more or do more, people will affirm that. They will be impressed. They will take it as evidence that you’re doing things right, and you will too, most likely.

Maybe you are. But maybe you aren’t.

It makes me wonder how many people are stuck in the middle of some grand vision, some quest for more, trapped like rats, knowing they are not ever going to be satisfied. Not really. So many people seem to have everything, but inside they are empty, starving for approval and affirmation. It’s like Kurt Cobain wrote in his suicide letter about his fame and success in Nirvana. He wrote, “I've tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it's not enough).”

Do I really just want to lead people to more? Do I want my own life to be about this constant reaching and grasping?

I have been personally victimized by this idealization of “more.” Not that “more” has anything intrinsically wrong with it. More of the right things could be good, I suppose. "More" is not an evil concept in and of itself. It’s just what we do with it. It’s how we turn it into a little god to bow down to that I find disturbing.

This passage from the Bible has me thinking about these things: Ecclesiastes 5: 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

And this one. Jesus said this: Matthew 5:37 Simply let your `Yes' be `Yes,' and your`No,' `No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.


Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas: Anno Domini 2010


The reason we have Christmas to celebrate, instead of something else, is because we have sin that needs to be dealt with.

Sometimes you hear that Christians “stole” the holiday from pagans, which isn’t really true. When Christmas traditions first developed, they shared the stage with several different pagan celebration days that people took part in. But honoring the birth of Jesus simply became more important to people as time went by. It didn’t really matter if Jesus was actually born on December 25th or not. The point was the honor people wanted to show him.

I’m sure there were also leaders in the church, and probably in governments too, hoping to steer people away from some of the pagan days of feasting that caused a lot of trouble due to excess partying and craziness. But it was a progressive thing: people began trading away empty pagan celebrations, that were an excuse for sin, for a holy day that reminded them of how God worked to meet their needs. It’s sad that the opposite seems to be happening now: meaningful things being abandoned for pointless, empty things.

Some complain about it, but it’s really no surprise that people carried some of the old symbols into the new celebrations. They simply tried to redeem them, make them useful for the faith. After all, God is in the redemption business, isn’t he? In their simple ways, they were celebrating the truth that Jesus is God’s unique, one and only, way of dealing with our sin, like the Bible says in John 3:18:

John 3: 18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

“Condemned already.” Look around at the world we live in – the funeral homes and the police blotters, the history of war and violence we have lived – and try to deny it. We can try to blame God, but God knows we’re the problem. And, like it or not, no one here gets out alive. So we really NEED that baby in a manger. We really need what he did for us on the Cross. Because God loves us, he has done what it takes to meet our need:

John 3: 16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

We didn’t deserve it, but God humbled himself to become one of us and die for us. We need Jesus to save us because we can’t save ourselves.

All glory be to his name.

Merry Christmas and...
Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Paranoid for the Holidays

I don’t really know why but, for some strange reason, lately I have this feeling that I’m being . . . observed.

It’s kind of freaking me out.

When I’m sleeping, somehow I feel like I’m being watched. And when I wake up, I just get this gnawing feeling that someone is keeping track of it, you know?

Yesterday I was driving in the car, and I let myself get, shall we say, a little bit aggressive. I know, I know: it was inexcusable. But I was by myself and you think you can get away with a little attitude when you’re by yourself. But, I felt like someone knew I was taking it too far.

It was just a feeling.

And so, for the sake of all that is good, and in order to try and reduce the feelings of being watched, I’m pledging myself to being, shall we say, “Good.” I will submit to my inner urge to, as they say, “watch out.” I will seriously try to refrain from crying. And pouting is completely out of the question.

At least until the day after Christmas, when I sense, for some unknown reason, I can go back to being a plain, normal, self-centered human being again.

Peace to you. Merry Christmas. And watch out for the guy in this picture. I hear he’s trouble...



© LW Publishing 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Not What I Expected

When I was a kid, Christmas was a problem for me. I mean, it wasn’t just Christmas, but Christmas illustrates the problem.

I was one of those kids: I would build it up so much in my mind that when the actual day arrived, there was no way it could compete with the fantasy I had created. The food was good, but not quite as good as I had anticipated. The presents were great, but they never really satisfied like I thought they would. And if there was no snow, well, there you go. There’s nothing worse than a green Christmas.

In my own heart, this has been a thing I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I have a very good imagination. I can “envision” things. I can construct complex ideals in intricate ways within my heart. You might say I have big dreams. And I am surrounded by the phantoms of life, screaming with their common sense voices, “Wake up!”

Another example: One of the things that has kept me from recording music over the years is the fact that I have tried it and the results were always much less satisfying than the version I could hear in my head. I have now reached a point where I may be able to get something done right - we are at least trying - but I kind of worry about it in a way.

And it’s not just the music. I feel this way about a lot of things. The reality falls way short of the vision.

But it’s also true that, in some ways, life is much better than I ever expected. I never expected marriage to be such a great thing, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, apart from the work of God in my life. And I never had a single clue about what a joy being a dad would be. But it is revolutionary to the heart, soul and mind. I never thought about working in the Church for a living, not seriously. But that’s where I am and it is an honor every day.

In the end, I realize that my expectations are not the stuff of life. They can guide some of my decisions, but reality has a taste of mystery to it that I have had to learn to embrace because I can’t figure it out and I’m honestly getting tired of trying. The world inside my head does not define the world on the outside. And, while I don’t need to abandon my dreams, I do need to be sure I have a good and meaningful connection with what is real.

I can imagine a great Christmas, or a great whatever.

But simply enjoying the one I have can be a much better thing sometimes.


Peace to you.
© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Caroling With Dickens


I’ve been reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol again for the umpteenth time, and this book never gets old. Never. It’s a masterpiece, and Dickens himself was really happy with it. He paid a lot out of his own pocket to have it specially bound and illustrated, then he set the price really low so low income people could afford to buy a copy. Which means he made very little profit on the release.

But it was a passion for him because it was an expression of his heart.

When Dickens was twelve years old, his Dad and family were put into a debtors prison. Only young Charles avoided prison, because they put him to work in a factory that made boot polish. It was nasty work, especially for a twelve year old. But it gave Charles Dickens a compassion for the poor and for children that was rare in his lifetime.

Hard times really do shape our character.

There’s that scene early on in A Christmas Carol, where the man collecting for the poor is mistreated by Scrooge. They want a little donation from the skin flint, but he refuses, of course. And Scrooge tells them the poor will have to go to the “prisons” or the “workhouses” if they want help. So the man replies by saying, “'Many can't go there; and many would rather die.”

Here’s what I think: When Dickens wrote that, he knew what he was talking about. I think it’s how he felt about it. The shame and helplessness he had been through as a twelve year old boy was still with him. He had experienced true poverty first hand, and his response was great personal generosity to the poor and the broken, throughout the rest of his life.

What this makes me think of is the reality that empathy is often earned through hard times. Generosity is sometimes learned through poverty. It’s when we experience our own hard times that we learn how important it can be to show kindness to others.

At least, that’s my experience.

Bah, humbug?

Galatians 2:10
Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Honest Christmas Carols


In keeping with the Scrooge mind-set I struggle with on occasion, I’m thinking of starting a new trend. You could call it “honest Christmas carols.” Perhaps you could think up a few too. See if you can figure out the melodies. They would go something like this:

I’ll have a bland Christmas with or without you
It’ll be so bland just doing what we always do
Decorations and food
Bought with money galore
It’s always the same dear
But we keep buying more

Or the should-be-a-perennial-classic:

Dashing through the snow
In a beat up Chevrolet
Through the slush we go
Sliding all the way
Horns are ‘bout to ring
Making people fight
Everybody’s going crazy
It just isn’t right
(sigh)
Push and shove
Push and shove
Your way to Christmas day
Hey, that parking spot is mine
So, get out of my way   hey!
Push and shove
Push and shove
Your way to Christmas day
Hey, that shopping cart is mine
So get out of my way!

And then there’s the simple but meaningful:

I want to wish you a nondescript holiday experience
I want to wish you a nondescript holiday experience
I want to wish you a nondescript holiday experience
From the bottom of my politically correct hearrrrrrrrrrrt!

Okay. I’ll go back to being merry and bright now.

Maybe.



Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Groupies



Why does everyone want to hang out with the winning team?

If you’re on a winning team, and you’re a genuine part of their climb to “success,” then I get that. But if you’re just a groupie for the winning team? A Cheerleader? Hanging on the sidelines and watching from a distance: to me, that’s absolutely boring. You see a team is winning, so you want to be a part of it, vicariously. Why? So you can get in on the spoils?

I understand why people are attracted to the winners. It’s fun. It’s easy to be a groupie with the winners. You don’t even have to contribute to the victories. You can just feel good about yourself by being there for the win. Witnessing it. Feeling like you are a part of it, even though you really aren’t. So winners draw a crowd.

Have you considered how much more interesting and challenging it is to join with the underdog? To join with people who actually need you there? To be a part of a team that has somewhere to go besides down?

Sure, it can be a lonely, difficult business. And it certainly takes a lot more energy and commitment than hanging out on the sidelines with the winners. The groupies will accuse you of not caring about success. They’ll accuse you of not being serious enough or not passionate enough. You will be called a “loser” and it can make you question yourself. People will see you as “weak.” It goes with the territory.

But you will know better.

So, instead of spending so much time watching winning teams, maybe we should spend some time working with losing teams. Making a difference. Learning wisdom and compassion by living to build others up according to their need.

Please understand: the winners don’t really need you. At least not as much as the rest of us do.



Matthew 9: 11-13; 1 Corinthians 1: 27-31
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Spectacle


Well. The outside Christmas decorations are finally up. Got the lights on the bushes and the blow up thingie blown up and the trim around the door and all that. Christmas kitsch is alive and well.

Wasn’t sure I’d get the outdoor stuff up this year. There have been a few years where things were so nutty that I just never got to it, which disappoints the wife and kids. But I took Nike’s advice. I just did it.

I really enjoy the decorations that people put out on their lawns at Christmas, even though, if we’re honest about it, we’d have to admit that 99.9% of all the decorations are pretty horrid. I’m with the horrid crowd myself: Slapped together hodgepodges of this that and the other thing. Even in the big fancy neighborhoods, where people have enough money to do a coordinated decorating extravaganza, most people just put up whatever they saw in the store that they thought was cool at the time.

One thing that makes it a challenge is that if the stores end up stocking some decoration that happens to be really nice, and not overly priced, then EVERYONE buys the same thing and you see it all over town.

Whatever.

I like the decorations. I like that people take the time to put them up. And some of the most horrible decorations are the most fun to look at. I love it when people go crazy and make their yard look like some kind of deranged Christmas circus. I wouldn’t want to live next door to them, but I like the drive by. Some streets absolutely glow as you turn onto them because they have so many decorations.

At our house, we take advantage of the spectacle: It makes for a good trip through the neighborhood every year with the family. A very cheap night out “on the town.” We pick a night, and we drive slowly from street to street for a few hours, listening to Christmas music, eating some unhealthy fast food drive through grub and talk about, you know, stuff.

It’s a family tradition. I highly recommend it. And you can’t beat the price.



Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bittersweet

 


My youngest progeny is turning seven. She’s having a great time with it. One of her favorite gifts so far is an Elvis Jukebox ornament that plays the first section of “Blue Christmas.” We’ve been listening to it all morning. All. Morning. I will officially be sick of it in about fifteen seconds from now...

Yep. I'm there.

This daughter was our “Christmas Baby.” She is a kid's kid. She loves to play. She has a great nature about her. She likes to joke and have fun. She forgives quickly and loves to give hugs. She's really a joy to be around, unless you’re trying to brush her hair when it’s all tangled and messed up. This is when she turns into an irrational and whiny shadow of her former kinder, gentler self.

She’s got a lot of kid time left, and I treasure every minute of it, but we understand the reality that when this child leaves her childhood behind, our whole household leaves it behind (Until grand-kids, that is. Yikes.). She’s the end of the line. Which is bittersweet.

That word, “bittersweet,” really describes how I’m feeling lately.

I’m not having a blue Christmas, but I am having a bittersweet one so far. It’s like a birthday where too many people at the party are hurting and having a hard time. You want to have fun, but the mood isn’t right. As Dickens said, Christmas is a time “when want is more keenly felt.” I deal with a lot of hurting people, and it just gets to me sometimes.

I’m working hard, for myself and my church, to remember the holiness of this Holy Day and the season that leads up to it. What really sets it apart isn’t all the stuff we hang on it, like cheap ornaments on a beautiful tree. What really sets it apart, makes it holy, is what God has done in Christ.

I actually enjoy a lot of the kitschy elements of Christmas time. I like the lights and the gifts, the TV specials and the songs and the whole thing. Still, because I’m tired and worn, there are times when the whole thing seems tired and worn. And I don’t blame the kitsch. I know it’s my heart that is the issue. How I feel during the holidays is usually about how I feel going into them. All that’s happening is that my heart is being exposed to me. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

A bittersweet Christmas can be good for the soul. When I feel this way, I find myself a little more sensitive to the people around me who are hurting. And it helps me to remember that, while the kitsch is fun, it’s not the point.

As always, with all things, at all times: Jesus is the point.


Colossians 3:11
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mechanic


I was forced by circumstances, once again, to be a mechanic yesterday. The battery died on the better half’s car. At first we thought it was the starter, but we cleverly deduced it was the battery with the help of a heapum good friend.

So, you think to yourself, “Changing a battery. How hard could it be?”

Well. I’m writing this right now as a way of releasing the stress in order to not harm myself physically or otherwise due to the trauma of the experience.

Just kidding. Mostly.

I don’t know what it is with me and cars. It’s like a curse really. It costs a fortune to have them fixed, and we don’t have a fortune, so sometimes I have to do it. And I know how to do a few things, theoretically, but just changing a battery these days requires the removal of bars and clips and electrical boxes with hidden screws and levers that all get in the way and make you want to pull your hair out.

I also have this talent for having EVERY wrench, screw driver or socket size known to mankind except, of course, the specific one I need to do the job. That particular tool will just not be there. Just. Not. So I have to drive up to the hardware store several times to buy (spend more hard earned money on) this tool or that one, which will somehow disappear again the next time I have to work on the car. I drop things constantly -- sockets, screws, my patience -- into the engine compartment, where they mystically disappear, as if into thin air, resulting in an additional hour spent fruitlessly searching for what was dropped. I cut myself and have a hard time with the small screws and such because of my Carpal Tunnel syndrome. And my back starts to hurt from all the bending over because, you know, I don’t have any of that fancy work on your car stuff that some people have.

I am not exaggerating any of this. I’m completely serious. It’s a predictable nightmare every time.

The only thing I can figure is:

1. God doesn’t want me working on my car.
2. God wants me working on my car so I can learn patience.
3. God just needs a laugh once in a while, so he breaks my car down to watch what I do.

Frankly, the only one that appeals to me is option three. I am willing to do it if it makes God laugh.


Romans 11:34-36
Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Energy


Just finished another book that was supposed to be a simple explanation of quantum mechanics. All I can say is that if it’s simple, then I’m really in trouble. But, From what I gather...

Everything is energy, or something like that. Or, more precisely, “particles” (or fields) that have energy. And what exactly is a particle? (This is where all the honest scientists just shrug their shoulders and leave the room in search of a good cup of coffee to share with all the other scientists who don’t honestly even know what gravity is.)

This is what I take from my readings in science: Everything is held together by energy. Quantized, wave packets of electrons, neutrons, protons, nucleons, photons, phonons, blah blah blah, in relationships that manage to pull together and make something of themselves.

Opposites really do attract.

These things pull together to make up molecules, which pull together to make up stuff, including people, who try to pull it all together to make something of themselves.

Things are made up of smaller things that are made up of even smaller things, until you get so small that no one can imagine or think of those things being made up of smaller things. We just call them “particles” (or you could make up your own word, who's to stop you) and hope for the best. What’s a scientist to do?

Well, there you go. Life is energy.

So why don’t I have any?


Psalm 139:14
Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanks To Who?


We will spend a lot of time today thinking about what we are thankful for.

I want to encourage you to think about who you are thankful to.

Thankful “for” means thankful “to.”

And if you know who you are thankful to, why not tell them?

I’ll start.

Thank you for reading my Blog. I appreciate it. I’m thankful you take the time and show interest in the things that matter to me and interest me. It is an encouragement. Thank you, and thank God for you.

Happy Thanksgiving and...


Peace to you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18


© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Whitman's Got Nothing On Me


What more do you need to meditate on the transience of life here on earth than to have to rake up leaves in your yard?

I am so sick of these leaves. Why can’t they just stay on the trees?

Sure, they start out nice. Dark green in the early summer. Bright and colorful in the fall. But they have such a short time to live. I imagine it’s hard for them to find a sense of meaning and purpose. Leaves are probably stoics. Or perhaps Existentialists?

Whatever.

I suppose the truth is that the leaves live for the sake of the tree, right? Mindlessly, I think. I mean, that’s what they’re there for. They gather the sun for the tree. “Don’t distract me. I’m trying to photosynthesize here.” It’s all about the tree. And when the tree is finished with the leaves, it just drops them like a hot potato. They fall to the ground, an ignominious end for something so selfless.

It hardly seems fair. You might feel sorry for them.

If there weren’t so stinking many.



Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Alligator Stew



The better half and myself went away for a day with some incredible, we don't deserve them, friends to a house in the woods, near a river, somewhere north of where we already are. It’s what you do in Michigan: You go “up north.” People do it all the time. Why? ‘Cause it’s there, I guess. In New York, I suppose they’d say they’re going “up state” or something like that.

To each his own.

The nice thing about laptops and the internet is that I can do at least some of my work pretty much anywhere. Which is what I did. But it was a little hard to concentrate with all the relaxing going on around me.

I happened to bring along with us some Alligator tail that I had purchased at a store near Lansing, Michigan, called Merindorf Meats. It’s just that kind of store. They have weird meats. It’s a great store.

So I had to decide what to do with this Alligator. I had never eaten alligator before. Never cooked it. Nothing. It was just a novelty. So I put it in a pot with some tomatoes and carrots and such, adding onions and potatoes and whatever struck my fancy. Cooked it low for hours until we were finally ready for dinner, really late, around eight at night.

We ladled the stew into bowls and, for the life of me, I couldn't find the alligator. It was like aliens had beamed the alligator chunks out of the pot while we weren't looking. Who knew aliens liked alligator? But finally we realized that it had simply broken down and it was spread all throughout the stew. The alligator wasn’t as tough as you’d think an alligator would be. And it was good. It did not die in vain.

But I wonder sometimes what leads me to such things. Why did I buy alligator in the first place? Why did I pull it out for this little trip? Why did I choose to make stew? Why did it end up tasting good? I don’t know why, really. I’m just an adventure seeker, I suppose.

Some people climb mountains. Some people travel the world. I make alligator stew.

Call me reckless, I don’t care.



Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Post Confessional Blues

So. I confessed here at Signify back in October (2010) to the strangely large number of books that I read all at the same time. The sad thing is, I found another stack of three or four more books that I failed to round up in my counting, so it’s even worse than I confessed at first.

Since then, I have honesty been trying to do better. My usual MO is to have about six or seven books, constantly jumping between them, with a backup bunch of nine or ten that I can switch in and out of the "current" reading if I feel the need, with a bunch more in strategic places like the car, for instance, which I read while waiting for the kids or whatever. And I have some larger books that are almost like textbooks, on history and art and such, that I often read in bits and pieces. And then I have the things I read for my work, which are many.

But I have been trying to do better. I have stacked up all the books in one spot. I selected three of them. One for next to the bed, which I think of as my “fun” read: a novel or biography, that kind of thing. Another one to go with me wherever I am around the house, which I think of as my “learning” read, which is the science or art or whatever book. And then one current “read for work” book, which is tough because I have a lot of things I need to keep up on with my work. Three books maximum. And I’ve really been trying to stick with this. I’m trying very consciously to NOT read the other books in the stack until I’ve finished one of the three. I’m trying to keep it at three, which seems reasonable.

I’m serious about this. But it’s hard to do.

I honestly find myself almost accidentally taking a book from the stack, you know, almost by reflex. They haunt me. So I have to stop myself. Sit it back down. Move on. And, on top of that, I just got a new book that I have to wait to read, which I don’t want to do. I just don’t. And if I choose to read it next, that means the things in the stack stay in the stack even longer.

Sigh.

I’m going to try to stick with this, but I know it’s not going to be easy. And I don’t even have a compelling moral reason to do it. I wish I did, as that helps me most of the time. I have no problem at all with the idea of doing some things simply because they are the right thing to do. There is a lot of peace in that. But in this case it's just about trying to discipline myself and be more productive and less scatter brained than I already am.

Oh, the humanity.



Romans 7:14-8:4
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck


I have been doing an “All Night Sleepover Party” with my kids every Friday night (with a few rare exceptions here and there) for 10 years straight now. I started this with my oldest when she was 2 years old and we have continued through the addition of the other two kids. We get carryout dinner and snacks and set up the basement with sleeping bags and all that. Sometimes we play some games. Currently we are playing Blokus a lot. Sometimes we play the wii. I’m not much good at that, but who cares. And then we watch movies until everyone passes out.

This is an important ritual for us. The kids look forward to it. And we try to keep this night a family night, so having friends over and all that kind of thing usually happens on Saturday night. I have to sleep on the couch, which is a little hard on the back, and it aggravates the carpal tunnel, but it’s worth it.

Last night I decided to do the old school movie routine of showing some short films first and then going with the movie, like they did in theaters years ago. So we made our popcorn and we watched a Disney short called “Pluto’s Christmas Tree.” It was excellent. And our main attraction was a Patrick Swayze Christmas movie called “Christmas In Wonderland,” maybe one of the last things he did before his death. It was a Canadian film, good for the family, funny in parts, but not exactly what you would call a great movie. Weak editing, slow pace, all that. But the kids liked it a lot and it goes into our collection of Christmas movies.

In between these two exciting film experiences, I inserted a classic Three Stooges short called “Men In Black.” Why it’s called “Men In Black” I have no idea. They play three freshly graduated doctors working at a hospital, wearing white smocks, running around with twice the energy and half the jokes of a Marx Brothers movie. And it works. At least, for me it works. As we’re watching the Stooges, here’s what I get....

6 year old: “Why are they doing that!”

9 year old: “Why is it all so random!”

12 year old: “Is this supposed to be funny?”

Sometimes it’s a lonely thing being the only man in the house.


Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Degenerate

 
Well, I’m going to have to have surgery. I have tried to avoid it, but there’s no way out of it now. I have carpal tunnel. I’ve had it for years. I put up with it because I didn’t want to have surgery. It has effected my ability to play drums. It makes guitar playing difficult. My hands fall asleep when I’m driving or holding up a book to read it. Blah blah blah.

I just didn’t want to get the surgery.

But it’s gotten to the point that my nerves, according to the doctor, are degenerating. The nerves in my hands are being destroyed. I’m losing the ability to feel. So I have to get this surgery done to stop that from happening and, in the end, I should be better off.

I just didn’t want to get the surgery.

After the doctor told me I had “degenerative nerve damage” due to severe carpal tunnel, I looked up the word “degenerate.” I kind of knew what it meant, but you look anyway, ya know? It was a boring, but accurate, typical Webster definition: “having a decline in function.”

That was the “a” definition. The “b” definition was much more interesting. It said: “having sunk to a lower, usually more vicious state.”

Which immediately brought up a memory from elementary school, fifth or sixth grade. I was in line for lunch and this kid cut in front of me. So I said what any kid would say to such an obvious social impropriety.  “Hey. No cuts!”

Without blinking, without the slightest pause or moral inclination to interrupt his fluid, degenerate response, without emotion or feeling, this kid punched me in the jaw, knocking me to the ground. In the lunch room! I could hardly believe it had happened. I was too shocked to cry. Not to mention that there were kids everywhere, which is one of the greatest tear inhibitors you can find. But I looked around, scanning the lunchroom for adults. Lunch ladies everywhere and not ONE of them had seen what the degenerate had done. Of course, there was no way I could tell anyone. That would only make it worse.

He ignored me as I got up off the floor and got in line behind him, wondering what he might do next. But he didn’t do anything. I didn’t matter to him. I was just in his way, and now that I was out of the way, I meant nothing to him.

Consider: When the world treats you this way, you need to understand that the world is degenerate. It has descended into a lower, vicious state. The world has lost feeling, like nerves lose their feeling, like a dead body can’t feel, which makes it a dangerous place to be sometimes. And we’re all a part of it. As the song says, “We are the world.”

This is why Christ came: To regenerate the degenerate.



Matthew 9:12-13
Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Believe It Or Not


This past summer we took our kids to the Smoky Mountains, and one of the things we did was go through the Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was totally cool, including my favorite: a three dimensional holographic projection of Mr. Ripley himself, talking to you from inside a small room. Very amazing.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a certain kinship with the oddities of the Ripley Museum. Maybe you’re completely normal and everything, with no idea what I mean by this, but I have my own list of Ripley’s type things in my own personal life. Do you? Unusual things that are true, believe it or not? Here are some of mine:

1. BOY RUN OVER BY BUS, LIVES TO TELL THE TALE...

I have been run over by a bus. Seriously. I wrote about this under the post: “The Boy & the Bus.” (Go read it if you dare. It’s archived under March 2010.) Thing is, about 10 years later, I was just barely kept from being run over by a bus a second time by a friend who pulled me out of the way at the last second. I was not paying attention. You’d think I would have been a little more careful after my previous experiences.

2. BOY ACTUALLY ALLERGIC TO SUN...

When I was a kid I had a fairly rare problem with “photosensitivity.” I would have an allergic reaction (severe, painful itching) after getting sunburned. The first time I had a reaction was after a day at the beach. I had a very mild sunburn that any normal person wouldn’t have paid any attention to. But a few days later, I was sitting in church and I thought someone was poking me in the back with needles while I wasn’t looking. Thing was, no one was sitting behind me. It freaked me out, and it didn’t stop. It began to spread, and the intensity of the pain kept increasing until I ended up running into the church basement where I was found a little later writhing incoherently on the floor with pain and madness. (I would have rather died than interrupt the church service, ya know.) I think my parents thought I had lost my mind, or maybe I was possessed, which would have been very embarrassing, considering we were at church. But, being raised Baptist instead of Pentecostal, they didn’t try to exorcise me. Instead, they rushed me to the hospital where I was diagnosed and covered with cloths that were coated with the miracles of modern medicine. They informed me that I am allergic to the sun, which put me off a life of being a beach bum. (And just kidding about the Pentecostal thing. Sort of.)

3. THE EERIE SYNCHRONICITY OF TWO DAVES...

One of my best friends is named Dave. My name is Dave. When we first met, long after High school, we discovered that Dave and I both graduated from the same High School about 5 or 6 years apart. We also discovered that we both have wives named “Sue,” and both of our wives were occupational therapists. On top of these startling coincidences, we both had dogs named “Buddy,” who are since then both dead, and we were both involved over the years in church work. (I know, it’s like that whole Lincoln/Kennedy thing.) And it’s also true that my buddy Dave is thin, healthy, energetic and smart. Which is, unfortunately, where the similarities end.

All of these things are 100% true, I’m pretty sure. Almost and completely entirely.

Believe it or not.


Ecclesiastes 1:9
Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mr. Pendergrass's Cake


When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher named Mr. Pendergrass. I have to admit that I was not especially pleased, at first, to end up in his 6th grade class. I had been hoping for another teacher who seemed a lot more with it than Mr. Pendergrass. But no one asked for my opinion and so I spent a year with a southern gentleman who was tall and stern and . . . interesting.

Mr. Pendergrass talked with a southern accent, a lot like most of my relatives at the time. He wore nerdy type glasses and he had thick wavy hair that didn’t behave. You might have laughed at him if you thought you could survive it, but we all knew better. And he wasn’t afraid to tell us we were acting stupid. He never called anyone stupid, but he let us know when we were acting stupid.

One thing that really stood out about Mr. Pendergrass is that he had what used to be called a “sardonic” sense of humor, which is a little hard to explain. Webster says it’s about being “disdainfully or skeptically humorous.” Yep. Whatever that means, that was Mr. Pendergrass. Yet, somehow, by the end of the year, I absolutely loved this teacher. I learned from him. I liked his sardonic humor. Somehow he was really likeable. It made no sense, but there you go.

So. Close to the end of that year there was a bake sale to raise money for something at the school. All the teachers made something. Cookies, pies, whatever. And Mr. Pendergrass had produced, marginally, a chocolate cake, which was my favorite. In all honesty, it wasn’t a very attractive cake. The frosting looked like it had been applied by distracted chimpanzees. But, still. It was made by Mr. Pendergrass, so I wanted it. It just seemed right that I should have it. But they were auctioning this stuff off to the highest bidder, which was bad news for me because my family wasn’t exactly floating in the green, if you know what I mean, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

But, for some strange reason, my mom was with me on this one. The bidding started and I shouted out my bid. But the price kept going up. And up. I would look at my mom with a look of “Yes, I Know Mom, This Is Crazy,” and she would give me a little nod and I’d add another quarter to my bid until, finally, we won the cake. I can’t remember how much it was, but it was ridiculous. I think it was the highest bid of the night.

And it was a very different, very pleasant, Mr. Pendergrass who immediately walked up to me and my mom. Apparently aliens had taken over his body. He was all smiles. He laughed and shook my hand and thanked my mom. He and my mom talked about how they were both from the south. He was blown away that we would pay that much for his cake, and I suddenly saw that he was just a young man who was teaching kids at a little school in Michigan because he liked kids. Kids like me.

So here’s what went down:

1. We ate the cake that night. It was delicious. Well. Delicious enough, anyway.
2. Mr. Pendergrass gave me an A for effort, marked with a note on my final report card saying something like, “Thanks for buying my cake!” Yes, he did.
3. I never forgot him.



Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Distracted


I’ve read that author Stephen King listens to heavy metal music while writing in the morning. Why is that not surprising?

Sometimes, I listen to music while I do other things.

But it occurred to me that most people would says something like this: “I listen to music while I work around the house.” For me, it’s more like this: “I work around the house while I listen to music.” I know they seem kind of like the same thing, but they aren’t.

When I listen to music, I listen to it. In fact, I have a really hard time not listening to it. It is a genuinely compulsive response. If I’m driving somewhere with people and they have music on in the car, then I can have a hard time keeping up with the conversation because I’m listening to the music. And I’m not sure how they are managing to not listen to the music.

When music is playing, I’m compelled to listen to it, which makes it hard to focus on other things. So while I’m doing things that take very little thought, like driving or working in the yard, I like to listen to music because I can really listen to it. But if I’m doing something that actually takes some thought, like my work, or reading, or talking to people, I can’t stand hearing music in the background because I’m not supposed to be listening to it, and it becomes a major distraction for me.

Imagine you love chocolate cake. It’s your favorite dessert. And while you’re having a conversation with someone, they have a freshly made chocolate cake suspended with wires between the two of you as you talk. You have to look over it slightly to see the face of the other person. It’s still slightly warm, so the aroma is floating in the air. And the frosting is just perfect. You haven’t had any chocolate cake in a long time. In fact, you missed dinner, so you’re really hungry anyway. And there is this cake, right in front of your face, while they try to talk to you about something important. You feel guilty, because you’re trying to listen, but you can’t help it. You are distracted by the cake.

Your cake is like music to my ears.

I want to pay attention. I want to listen. I want to focus on the people around me. I want to have empathy for people and really understand them. But, for me, that can be challenging sometimes. And it’s not just the music. It’s life. The wants and needs of one person can distract us from the wants and needs of another. The needs of one child can keep you from seeing the needs of another. Our own wants and needs get in the way too. Good things can keep us from seeing other good things.

I have no resolution for this.



Proverbs 4:20-22
Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ashamed



Sufjan Stevens has a song called “Romulus.” I was listening to it today. It makes me think of my grandmother Shelton, my mom’s mom. The song has nothing to do with my grandmother. Not really. But there’s this line where he says...

“I was ashamed. I was ashamed of her. I was ashamed. I was ashamed of her.”

He’s talking about his mom, or A mom. But, for some reason, this makes me think of my grandmother Shelton. I was never ashamed of my grandmother. But that line, for some reason, reminds me of a particular thing that happened.

You need to understand that my grandmother loved me. She really loved me. Massively. She talked about it. She told me she loved me constantly. She called me “My David.” She loved me way more than I deserved. I lived with her and my grandfather for about 6 months while I was going to school at Wayne State University, and it only cemented our relationship. This woman, my grandmother, was like Christ. I’m not saying she was perfect like Christ. I’m just saying. She was like Christ. She was loving and kind and full of grace. I can’t think of a single negative when it comes to my grandmother. She was, to me, a perfect human being, even though I know that she wasn’t perfect.

And when I hear the song “Romulus,” when I hear, “I was ashamed of her,” it makes think of this moment...

My grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. At that time in my life I had no idea how serious that was or what it could mean. I do now, unfortunately. I’ve seen a lot more. But, at the time, I had no idea. I knew she was sick, but it didn’t register how serious it was. She went to treatments. They didn’t seem to help. She went into the hospital. And I failed her. I failed to go see her as much as I should have. In my ignorance, I thought there was time.

But sometimes there’s no time.

There’s no way around it. I failed her. I was in school. I was really, honestly busy. And I didn’t understand cancer. I didn’t understand. So I neglected her.

Finally, I found time to go visit her. I went to the hospital. I was walking down the hall, looking into the rooms. I couldn’t exactly remember which room she was in, so I was looking in to see which room I should go in. There was a young woman in a room. Not Grandma. There was a black man in a room. Not Grandma. There was a skinny, bald white man in a room. Not Grandma. There was a black woman in a room. Not Grandma.

Then it dawned on me. The skinny old man with the bald head. That was my Grandma. It stopped me in my tracks. I had walked right past her and not recognized her. The treatments she had endured over the past week and so many days had reduced her to an unrecognizable person. She had been reduced to skin and bone, hairless, looking like an old man. And, I have to say, it devastated me. I was ruined.

I walked into her room and looked at her. She was in so much pain. Her body shook with the pain. She looked at me with vacant eyes, but she took my hand and held it. Standing there, holding her hand, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I wanted to run away as fast as I could. I wanted to fly away like Bono in Bullet the Blue Sky. But I stood there and held her hand and watched her frail little body shake with pain.

I have since stood in hospitals, holding the hands of dying people, or sick people. And it still wrecks me. It messes me up emotionally. It all takes me back to that moment. And it’s a hard thing.

She died a few days later. It was a mercy. She was with Christ, and that was something.

And here’s the thing. I want to remember her for her smile. I want to remember her for how she called me “my David.” And I do remember those things. But I can’t get that moment out of my head, where I saw her and thought she was an old man. That moment when I didn’t recognize her and I passed her by. I can’t forget how I failed her by not going to see her more often before she became so sick.

I am ashamed. I am ashamed of me. I am ashamed. I am ashamed of me.




Peace to me.




© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

At the Party


He walked into the dining room. He was dressed a little odd. His shirt was from the nineteen fifties. His tie was ancient. His pants were from the nineteen eighties. But his haircut was up to date. It made him look interesting and odd, in touch and out of touch all at the same time. Or it made him look confused.

The party had been going on for quite a while already, but there was a place at the table. He saw it as an opportunity, so he sat down. He’d never met these people before, but he was kind of an outgoing person, sometimes. Other times, not so much. You could never tell.

He sat down. The people already sitting were in the middle of a conversation about life, you know, everyday things like: family, friends and relationships, entertainment and sports and art, their jobs and their kids and their feelings, which he found kind of interesting. He listened for a bit. As he listened, he felt like joining the conversation, so he looked for an opening. He was hoping to connect to these people on some level. He said...

“I’m a real mess. You wouldn’t believe. I’m depressed most of the time. But I have good days too, occasionally. I hate my job, sometimes, but I work hard at it. I feel like I’m persecuted by family and friends sometimes, and my coworkers, because they don’t really understand me. I admit, I don’t know how to handle life’s ups and downs without serious emotional trauma, but nobody is perfect, right? I mean, I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers or anything. It’s just that I have something to say. But I’m not always sure what it is.”

At this point, one of them felt sorry for him. Another one wasn’t sure what to make of what he said. It seemed kind of too personal given the circumstances. Another one liked his shirt, while another one preferred his haircut. Most of them weren’t really interested in what he has to say. He hadn’t really earned the right to be heard, maybe. Another one didn’t really hear him because they were thinking about something else. A few of them stared at him, vaguely.

After an uncomfortable moment, he said, “But God is good and he loves me.” He thought they’d respond to this, but they just went on talking together as if he wasn't there.



Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Confession


I notice that there are a lot of what I would call “confessional” blogs on the blogosphere. These are blogs where people feel compelled to reveal intimate, personal things about themselves to complete strangers for the sake of being honest. Or something. Which is fine. Perhaps it has a kind of healing aspect to it, like confession can have. This is why they have support groups in AA, right?

I have to confess, I’m not big on this kind of thing unless I know the person. I do a lot of confessing myself, on a daily basis, to God. And I have some people very close to me who I talk to about what’s going on in my life. I try to make them aware of my struggles without milking them for sympathy. I believe in being honest, and I like sharing my experiences with people, but everyone does not need to be all up in my laundry all the time, ya know? That's just me.

Still, I have decided on this day, for no apparent reason, to confess something about myself that I find a little troubling? Disturbing? Maybe just unusual? I don’t see it as a huge problem. Maybe it is, I don’t know. I know it’s not “normal.” Perhaps you will decide. I’ve hinted at it in the past, which I do a lot. I’m a big hinter. It’s part of my passive aggressive personality disorder. If you really want to know me, you are going to have to pay attention. (See, there’s some more confession, but that’s not the thing I’m confessing.)

The thing I’m going to put out there today is the disturbing number of books I read at the same time. I’m simply going to list them here, to show you how twisted it is, and you can think what you will. Offer support? Identify with me? Think I’m nuts? But I will have confessed it and we’ll see if it makes me or anyone else feel any better. Frankly, I doubt it. But I’m willing to try. For the sake of brevity, whatever, I’ll only list the books that I have read at least two chapters of. If I’ve only read one chapter, I won’t include it, but they are there, waiting in the shadows of my own personal Little Library of Horrors. “Read me, Seymour, read me!”

Okay. Here’s the list, compiled from what I think of as my different “reading stacks” strategically placed throughout our house (and in my car) in no particular order. Sometimes I finish a book in a few days, sometimes it takes years, but I’ve finished reading practically every book I’ve ever started, except for a few that I found, well, unreadable.

Please don’t hold it against me:

1. I Walked the Line - Vivian Cash
2. This Perfect Day - Ira Levin
3. Mister Slaughter - Robert McCammon
4. The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
5. Rediscovering Church - Lynne and Bill Hybels
6. The Koran - Muhammed
7. The Strong Willed Child - Dr. James Dobson
8. A Brief History of Time (rereading) - Stephen Hawking
9. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era - James M. McPherson
10. Mountains of the Mind - Robert MacFarlane
11. The Bible (rereading) - God
12. Ray Harryhausen, An Animated Life - Ray Harryhausen
13. The Dark Pond - Joseph Bruchak
14. Raising Your Child, Not Your Voice - Dr. Duane Cuthbertson
15. Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy - Gordon Ramsay
16. Eyewitness to Power - David Gergen
17. Celebration, U.S.A. - Frantz/Collins
18. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bain
19. Calvin’s Institutes - Calvin
20. I Was Right On Time - Buck O’Neil
21. So You Want to Be Like Christ - Chuck Swindoll
22. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds - Os Guinness
23. Shadowplay - Tad Williams
23.Until I Find You - John Irving
24. Blessings In Disguise - Alec Guinness
25. Mr. Darwin’s Shooter - Roger McDonald
26. Art: A New History - Paul Johnson

Read anything good lately?



Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Definition



Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth?” It seems to have been a rhetorical question. Pilot’s answer to his own question would have probably been, “Truth is whatever I need it to be” or “Truth is what works for me.”

How about...
    “Truth is what is.” Given some contexts, you might say, “Truth is what is, independent of what we think or know about what is.” Einstein would have agreed with that, I think. If and/or how we know what is, well, that’s a different subject. But if something is, then its existence isn’t shaped by what we think or know about it. If it’s physical, and we touch it in some way, say to measure it, or whatever, then maybe it is shaped by our touch. But to measure it in our minds doesn’t change anything except, maybe, our minds.

So I think about God. God said, “I AM.” Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.”

We can talk about God being there or not, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what we think or say about it. Our “experience” of God (or non experience) may be subjective by degrees, but God is not subjective. God is either real or not.  God exists or does not exist as a person or a thing (though not a physical thing, unless some people are right, thinking the universe is a "god"). If God is “there,” then God isn’t shaped by our opinions anymore than the Grand Canyon is. We can talk subjectively all day long about whether or not we think the Grand Canyon is a beautiful thing or a big, ugly hole in the ground. But arguing about whether or not it’s there wouldn’t change whether or not it’s there. That would be the kind of empty philosophy that makes people want to stay as far away from philosophy classes as possible. It’s either there or it’s not. Opinions don’t matter. It’s not subjective. It just is. Or it isn’t.

I remember once (and I hate to admit this), I was watching the old Sally Jesse Raphael show. She had some overbearing “religious” people on with some carny show types who were completely over the top and she just let them at each other. The conflict was the point of the show. It was quite entertaining in a despicable sort of way. But Sally herself became frustrated with the “religious” people. They were, after all, kind of idiotic. And, in her frustration, Sally put her face right up in the camera and said something like, “I will NOT believe in a hateful, vengeful God.”

I get what she was saying. I get what a lot of people are saying when they try to define God. They want God, if God exists, to be a certain way. They have some personal ideal that’s subjective. And on an emotional level this is understandable. If you’ve been hurt a lot, you want a “god” who will stop the hurt. If you’re full of doubt, you want a “god” who will affirm your thoughts against doubt.

But if God is there, if God is, God can’t be defined by what has been created. God can only be discovered in some way. If God exists, and I believe God exists, our discovery of God does not change God’s nature. God is not whatever we want God to be. If God is there, then God is the one who does the defining.

God is not defined by us. We are defined by God.


Peace to you.




© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Masculinectomy


You need to understand: I was not overly blessed with manliness to begin with.

I have never been good at or much interested in team sports. And don’t get me started on the game of golf. What is it with watching golf on TV? How do people do this? I’m sorry, but I will never understand it. And I have a hard time relating to guys who can’t look you in the eye while they talk about how everything is “okay” all the time. I’m not big on hunting, though I do like to go fishing on occasion. But I’m not good at it. And I don’t like pickup trucks. I actually, honestly, really do like my mini van...

I think you get my point. If you don’t get my point by now, I’m sorry, but I can’t keep going with that. Suffice it to say, I’m troubled by the fact that I’m just not in a very good position to turn my lack of manliness around because I have been blessed.

With three daughters. Three. T-h-r-e-e. And no sons. I’m all alone here, people.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my daughters like crazy. I wouldn’t trade them for anything or anyone. They are light in my life. They are beautiful and amazing. But these three daughters are growing up into three teenage girls who will, God willing, become three grown women. And if you add their growing estrogen factories to my wife’s fully developed and highly functional estrogen output, what you have is a prescription for my ending up with a complete masculinectomy.

Example: I get in the shower. Can I find a bar of soap? Not a chance. Do they even make bars of soap anymore? I haven’t seen one in years. So what do I have to choose from? Cucumber melon sparkle something or other body wash with Jojoba and rice juice extract? Something nutty like that. And shampoo? Watermelon lime whatsit whatever with maximizer this and volumizer that.

You say, “Okay, grown man, go to the store and get your own bar of soap.” I say, “Oh yeah! And where would I put it? Every nook and cranny is filled with odd concoctions, scented in every conceivable way.

I get out of the shower smelling like the fruit drawer in our refrigerator.

I sense that my testosterone levels are progressively decreasing, day by day, due to environmental influences, and I may be reaching a crisis point where all that’s left is a shell of a man who should have prepared himself by playing a little sports now and then and maybe chewing some tobacco or learning how to grunt out expletives while fixing my car. That is, I mean, my truck. Pickup truck. With a gun rack on it, right? Something. Anything. I don’t know.

What I do know: I don’t stand a chance.



Philippians 4:13
Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Three People


It’s interesting to me, the impact some people can have on my life in just a short time. Big things and small, but still an impact.

A long time ago, my friend Gary managed to get me hired in as a temporary worker at the post office. It was a ninety day thing or something like that. Short term work for students.

The thing was, this post office job required me to get up at some ungodly hour. I don’t remember exactly, four or five in the morning, so we could get the mail unloaded off the trucks and in position for the mail delivery people to sort and slot and pack into their bags. It was too early for me. I was barely coherent.

On that job, in just ninety days, three people really made an impression on me.

The first was a woman who was angry. At me. All the time. Why? I have no idea, but she hated me. It was clear. She made it clear every time she spoke to me. I don’t know what I did, but I think I responded pretty well. I didn’t get mad. I didn’t yell back. I smiled and I was kind and I just wondered why she was so upset. I didn’t let it get to me and I worked hard and got things done.

Maybe that’s why she hated me.

The second person was a young woman who was deaf. She was amazing. She did not let her disability slow her down. She talked with people and made jokes and clearly enjoyed being alive. It was inspiring. She started to show me sign language, but I was slow at picking it up, considering we had to actually work while we were there. But I did learn a few things.

She taught me how to say my name in sign language.

The third person was a young guy who was a temporary like me. I’m not sure, but I think he was Italian. I don’t know. But he had a slight accent that was kind of endearing in a way. I don’t think he was from Italy. It was more like his parents were from Italy (or wherever it was) and he had picked up on their accent. But, anyway, he was a political science major and he always, ALWAYS, had a good attitude. I don’t know how he did it, but every morning he’d walk in the door and move around from person to person saying loudly, with cheer, “Goot morning!” Which, at first, was a little too much. But as time went on I began to admire him. I admired his positive attitude and good nature. I wanted to be more like that.

Nowadays, if I show up somewhere in the morning, you might hear me say, “Goot morning!”  I say it just like he did. And this is in honor of him. It’s a remembrance. A stab at being more cheerful, like I should be.

All of this to say: Don’t underestimate your impact on people. The little things matter. The little things make an impression, they make a difference. And just imagine the difference you can make in people’s lives if you really try.

Seriously. Imagine.


Matthew 13:31-32
Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Three Hour Tour


This friend of mine, a particularly good one, asked me and a few of his coworkers to go on a chartered fishing trip last Friday. It was supposed to be five hours on Lake Erie, but we didn’t know if we were going to head out in the first place as the captain wasn’t sure it was safe. Finally, he gave it a “go” and we headed out onto choppy waters.

When we finally reached “the right spot,” we started fishing. For the life of me I don’t know how you find a “spot” in the middle of Lake Erie. All the “spots” seem identical to me. But what do I know? I’m a land lubber. And how. But we fished that “spot” with swells of water making their way higher and higher over the side of the boat. And I have to confess that baiting my hook while being tossed in the air was challenging. I have a few holes in the epidermis of my phalanges to prove it. You had to grab a minnow by the head so you could spear it with the hook. I considered holding it between my teeth while hooking it, but the guys might have thought I was showing off. Can’t have that. But, still, minnow eyeballs and brains were flying everywhere.

It was truly disgusting, yes, but manly men don’t squawk at such things.

The boat heaved us higher and higher. Water sprayed in our faces, as if someone was on the side of the boat squirting us with a water hose. Perhaps it was the fish. They certainly weren’t busy getting caught. But I was loving every minute of it, just happy that someone invited me to the “spot.”

Did I mention I caught a fish?

It was a little silver thing. About an inch and a half long. It gleamed at me balefully, clearly upset with me for having interrupted morning breakfast. We tossed it back, to the delight of some seagulls, and I continued feeding minnows to fish I’d never even get to see. They carefully slipped the bait off the hooks and looked up from the depths, laughing at the goofy looking guy being tossed around on the boat.

A few of the other guys caught a decent sized fish or two, but the weather started getting dark and our captain said grimly, “We’d better head back in.” I looked at him and, I have to say, he looked a little nervous to me. Which made me a little nervous. Our brave and sure captain had been doing this for twenty five years. He’s not supposed to get nervous. But his first mate, a mighty sailing man, quickly reeled in the rods and we began shoving our way through waves that were now, according to the captain, “six footers.”

Six footers?

Water crashed over the boat, and I’d say that approximately 92.3 percent of it went down my shirt and shorts, to pool icily in my skivvies. (That’s sailor talk for undies.)  A tarp was pulled over us, which helped, and we made it back to shore, where things were much more calm. Nice even. Our five hour tour had been cut to three, but it was a blast. And we had a little time to fish from the docks. Now, that was the “spot.”

Ironic ending: For lunch we had all you can eat fish at a restaurant. It wasn’t fresh, but hey. I was glad to make it to shore in one piece.



Matthew 4:19
Peace to you, land lubbers.


© LW Publishing 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Raspberries

I'm not big on berries, but the better half and myself decided to make homemade Raspberry jam the other night. Why? You could reason that someone slipped us some hallucinogens while we weren’t looking but, actually, it’s just about how one thing leads to another...

We were out with the kids. We went to an apple orchard with my wife’s sister and her son. Had a great time, and on the way home we stopped to show our kids my wife’s old house, the one she grew up in. So we went there and looked at it.

It just sat there.

But next door was my wife’s old neighbor, who happens to run a Raspberry farm. So, I thought, let’s go visit and, while we’re there, we can pick a few berries for the kids. We parked, we said "hello," we talked for a while and asked if we could pick a few berries. He grabbed three LARGE trays filled with little plastic berry baskets. He said, “We’ll see how much you guys can pick.”

Okay.

So we picked. And we picked. And we picked some more. We ended up with a lot of berries, which made me a bit nervous as I only had a ten in my pocket. I thought, well, we picked some berries for the guy. He can sell them to someone else. But what he did was give us the Raspberries. He wouldn’t take a dime. It was an amazing kindness that was totally NOT expected. It blows me away how nice some people are, especially considering how nice some people aren’t. And in case you ever read this: Thanks again Mr. B.

My wife’s sister took some of the berries, but she didn’t want much, which left a lot of berries. A lot. My kids ate some, but they couldn’t eat all those berries. So, what do you do?

You make jam. Isn't that what you do? You make jam.

I Googled for jam recipies, figured out the basic ingredients, and decided to do “cooked” jam so it would last longer. I recruited the wife and we stumbled through four and a half jars of Raspberry jam, boiled the jars before and after and all that. Burned myself a few times. It was chaos. Didn’t think ahead of time about how I was going to get the jars in and out of the boiling water. Apparently they have tools for that, but I didn’t think about it until after the water was already boiling and the jam was cooking. So there you go. We figured it out. We used some plastic tongs and whatever we could find. It was madness. But...

Right now, in the fridge, are some jars of pretty incredible Raspberry jam. I had some on toast and, I’m telling you, it’s very tasty.

By the grace of God.


P.S. Yes, the picture is what we made, not some internet fake. Also, while writing this post, my spell correct taught me that they are called RASP berries. Not RAS berries or RAZ berries. You learn something new everyday.


© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bibliophobia



I stumble across a lot of facts while looking for other facts. For instance: According to some medical dictionaries, there are people out there who have bibliophobia. They have an unreasoning fear of books. Which means, apparently, that if they drive by a library or accidently stumble across Amazon.com they will break out into a cold sweat with heart palpitations and want to run home to their mommies.

Seriously?

I imagine the conversation. The psychologist with his little notebook, sitting next to the couch where a nervous looking man is twiddling his fingers together with anxiety.

The Doc: Dzo, idz it dat you are afdddraaid of boooks, or idz it dat you joost hab no deezire to rdddread zem?

The Patient: Who me? Well, honestly, I just like to wait for the movie.


Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Second Hand



There’s a big neighborhood yard sale going on today in our neighborhood. Cars everywhere, people getting in and out. We’re not participating this time, but I’ve been people watching out front a bit, and I don’t see much merchandise getting moved out.

People don’t really want to buy things at yard sales anymore. What they want to do is make a token payment of, say, fifty cents, and then drive away with your car and your youngest child and give you a dirty look on their way out for not giving them a good enough deal.

We tried selling things at the last city-wide yard sale and we didn’t sell much. No one wants what we don’t want anymore. And I’m amazed at how used books don’t sell. You can hardly give them away. I don’t know if people just don’t read anymore or what.

Which reminds me.

This is how it works: I was with my dad at the doctor’s office for his regular check up last week and they had some books for sale there. Seemed weird, but it was some kind of fund raiser. Besides, it was more interesting than the magazines. What’s with the magazines? They used to have good magazines in doctor’s offices. Now they just throw their used medical journals out and who cares if you pass out from boredom by the time they call your name.

Anyway. In this little book sale, I found a book by Ira Levin, who is the author of Rosemary’s Baby. I read Rosemary’s Baby years ago, and I felt the book and the movie were a bit over rated. But that’s just me. Whatever. The book I found is called “This Perfect Day,” which just happens to be a dystopian fantasy in the order of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. And, so far, This Perfect Day is WAY better than Rosemary’s Baby, even though I had never even heard of it before. No movie, that I know of, has been made from it. It was not even on my radar screen. But it’s very well written so far and kind of creepy. We’ll see how it ends up, as I’m only about fifty or so pages into it so far.

Never heard of it. It cost me one dollar, in hardback, original print from 1970. It’s in rough shape, but still. I have a book to read that I’m enjoying reading. It’s so good that all my other reading has been put on the back burner. And that’s how it works sometimes.

So. You reading anything good?



Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Day After



 It’s fascinating and a little frightening how fast life moves on.

I was at my buddy Joe’s funeral last night. Joe Smith. It was kind of intimidating. It just wasn’t right. He was too young to be resting in a casket. I kept wondering: if we had known twenty-five or thirty years ago that he would be gone at this time, what would have changed? Anything? If you knew that you weren’t going to make it into old age, that two years from now or five years from now or twenty that you would be gone from here, if you KNEW, then what would change about how you are living life right now?

Ignorance is bliss.

Apparently, Joe’s heart stopped working, which is amazingly ironic because he was all heart. It’s the last thing I thought would ever go bad in him. It was painful to look at him. Joe’s eighty-eight year old mother took me by the hand and we faced him together. He had a grin on his face, which is unusual, but his mom liked it. So did I. It was fitting.

There were some friends from High School at the funeral that I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years. 30 YEARS!!!  Pardon my French, but holy crap Batman! That’s like a lifetime all by itself. Even though it was a funeral, it was good to see them. It was like we hadn’t been apart at all. These people are wonderful. I could have talked all night with them without missing a beat. Only thing was, Joe wasn’t in on the conversations, and they would have been a lot funnier if he had been.

It’s a little sad that it took one of us dying to get us together, which is as much my fault as anyone’s because I’m so busy. I haven’t always been there for people like I wanted to because there’s just no time. My life is very full like everyone else’s seems to be. And even death didn’t draw all of us together. Some couldn’t make it to the funeral home, of course. Life gets in the way. High School was a long time ago. People have jobs and responsibilities, some people are too far away, and that’s that.

Every funeral I go to makes me think of this haunting line from a Jackson Browne song that I love called “Of Missing Persons.” A sentence from that song has been stuck in my head for decades and it won’t go away because it’s so true...

“Does it take a death to learn what a life is worth?”

Joe was an amazing person. They had pictures of him, like they usually do at funerals, and there he was, smiling with that big smile of his, through the windows of those photos. I had sat across from him, smiling at me, looking just like that, many times, back when Joe lived just a few blocks from another close friend who means the world to me. And these two were with me at a time in life when I was trying to figure out who and what I was. I don’t exactly know why we fell together in time the way we did, but I’m thankful for it, and I realize that they are both a part of the definition of who I am, along with other great friends who have no idea how important to me they are, even though I haven’t seen some of them for years. We simply ended up separated by the geography and expectations of life. I’m not bitter about it, that’s just how it goes, but it makes you wish there was a little more time here to keep things going. And it makes you want to reconnect with people that you have lost contact with. But that’s easier said than done.

When I was working on my undergraduate and then my master’s degrees I lost touch with practically everyone I had known prior to that. Not good, but there is nothing I could do about it. The demands were very heavy. And then we had kids and I launched into a whole different direction job wise with the church, and then suddenly 30 years is past and your hair is going grey and you find yourself wondering where the time went.

Honestly, right now, I feel like going away somewhere quiet where there are no expectations. I feel like I need time away to assess and figure things out. But that’s not going to happen. We don’t always get to do what we feel we need to do. So I will forge ahead and pray and try to figure out what God wants and what the people around me need so I can love them like I should.

What else can you do?



Peace to you.



© LW Publishing 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Joe Smith


My heart is broken today. I found out late yesterday that a good buddy from High School has passed away. This was someone I loved and admired and spent countless hours with over a lot of years. He always made me laugh and he was good at so many things.

His name was Joe Smith, but he was a lot more complex than his name.

Joe and my other buddy, Al, were like brothers to me in High School. In my heart they still are.

Years ago Joe wanted to lose weight and he just did it. He buckled down and did it. He ran marathons like a champ. He worked hard. I thought he could do pretty much anything, but I was wrong.

One day, I'm not sure exactly when, maybe just for fun or to fit in or out of curiosity, maybe out of grief over losing his father at such a young age, whatever the reason: he tried some drugs. Any one of us could have. Most of us did. We had a taste. But most of us put it away.

He didn’t. He continued to struggle all through his life. A devil on one shoulder, an angel on the other.

Even when we were young he had a hard side, a certain face that would look at you and have some kind of emptiness in it that is hard to define. Light moved in and out of his eyes. When it was there, he was a joy. When it was gone, he was . . . difficult.

But I refuse to define him by his weakness. I refuse to remember him for those things alone. What I remember most is how he made people laugh. How he made me laugh. Like his family, he enjoyed laughter and good food and friends. I remember how he learned to cook, like a chef, with great care and knowledge. One time I showed up at a restaurant he was working at and he made me a prime rib that weighed about five pounds, I think, with all the trimmings, and he wouldn't take a dime. I remember how he liked to dance and listen to music. I remember his determination and willpower to run and finish marathons. And I remember how bright and joyful his smile was, especially when he was telling a joke he thought was funny.

I miss my friend Joe. I miss him a lot. More than I can say. I feel empty inside.

But I look for a better day.


“I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
                                Bono, U2


Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Movie Hosts: A Trip Through Time

I have a fond place in my heart for TV movie hosts. These were not talk show hosts, but movie hosts. I don’t know where the phenomenon began, but when I was very young, 3 and 4 years old, it was very common to find movies on TV during the daytime all week long and on weekends that had a “host,” a person who would come on and introduce the movie and do interstitials before or after the commercials. These people were on one of the three or four networks, not on some homegrown, cable operated, nobody watches it, channel (There wasn't any cable at that time anyway).

Growing up, during the week it was Bill Kennedy at the Movies and Rita Bell's Prize Movie.



 Bill Kennedy knew a lot about the movies he showed, giving trivia and jokes as he went along. He was even a bit player in a few of the movies he showed. He had been through a moderate career as an actor before getting into the world of hosting. Over the years, as he got older and older, his toupee grew larger and more noticeable, but this guy was a lot of fun to watch.


 Rita Bell didn’t know so much about the movies, but she was nice. I read somewhere that she ended up in California doing something or other. And these two shows had all kinds of movies, including a lot of classic films from the 1940's and 1950's. I kind of lost track of them when I started school, but I did go on to watch an after school movie show that would often have series of Godzilla movies or other sci fi fair, like the Planet of the Apes films. Sad thing was that there was no host for these movies.



But on the weekends, on Saturday especially, there was the great Sir Graves Ghastly, a man named Lawson Deming who dressed up as a goofy vampire and did all kinds of comedy bits that were absolutely compelling for a kid. It was on this show that I first saw the British Hammer films, most of the Vincent Price horror films and, most importantly of all, the Universal Monster movies like Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon. These movies also showed sometimes on the after school show, but it had no host, so it lacked the charm of Sir Graves.



As I got older, I found, late night on Saturday nights, a guy named “The Ghoul,” who showed creepy movies and blew things up with firecrackers and M80's. This guy was an absolute blast to watch and while he’s not on TV in Detroit right now, he’s still around on the web, and I see him every year at the comic convention.  His real name is Ron Sweed and he’s very kind and fun to be around.

Sadly, over time, all of these kinds of shows began to fade away, at least around the Detroit area. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, tried to keep it going, as well as others, but I never liked any of those. To me they lacked the innocence of the earlier shows.



But now I have found a local show called “Wolfman Mac's Chiller Drive-In,” and, I have to say, this show has the charm. It has the fun and the innocence, though occasionally they’ll show a movie with something a little racy in it. Keep your kids away from Barbara Steele (that’s all I’ve got to say about that). They really try to give this show the classic movie host feel, with lots of Ghoulish touches, sketches, and so on. I’m telling you, it’s pretty fun if you like this sort of thing. My kids like watching it with me, which is the bomb, and I feel like I'm going back in time in a way. I really like it. It’s on Saturday nights at 10pm on RTV (which is regular broadcast TV, channel 7.2, ABC) in Detroit. I think RTV is on in several different states, but not sure if Wolfman Mac is on those or not. I’m sure the website will say. And tonight they’re showing Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill.

Gotta love it.



Peace to you.


© LW Publishing 2010