Monday, April 27, 2015

Scratch (#PoetryMonday*)

Anne Lamott advises sagely
in her book of sage advice for writers
disguised by its title as a book about birds
to always carry 3x5 cards and
a pen or pencil
to scratch down the random thoughts
that flock to the mind
without warning
and stick a little.

She warns if you don’t they'll
always escape, fly away,
like restless birds,
no matter how momentarily

I know. I was carrying cards
and pencils and pens
even before I read her book.

That’s not my problem.

My problem is my aging
lazy hand
and the chicken scratch scrawl
that loops as randomly as silly string
from the end of the pen as I write.

I can never read it later.

Ideas are crafty escape artists
and flighty. Like birds.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down.  

Since becoming hooked on using a PC for writing, my always poor handwriting has consistently deteriorated. The only way I can write legible notes is to make myself slow down when I write, and generally print. Even so many times Ive later looked at notes and had no idea what Id written. How about you? Do you experience this ailment of illegibility? 

BTW: The Anne Lamott book referenced, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is an excellent resource for all writers.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A clean sweep (#FlashFictionFriday*)

“Pastor! Could you come over here, please? I need to show you something.”

Hazel Snitzer was in her late 70s. She and her husband, Earl, had been long-standing members of the Fynder’s Community Church. For decades, they, along with a few other relatives and close old friends, made up the core membership of the church they all always referred to pointedly as “their” church.

Hazel was standing near the entrance of the fellowship hall that opened into the foyer of the sanctuary where double doors were propped open. Something behind one of the doors, in a corner, was the source of her agitation.

Pastor Smalley finished up his conversation with a visitor before going over to hear what was only one of a litany of endless complaints. Most were directed toward his sermons, usually that they were not “convicting” enough. By that, Pastor Smalley knew  she meant harsh and accusatory -- toward anyone different from her.

“What can I do for you, Sister Snitzer?” The church was a throwback where all of the elder members insisted on being referred to as “Brother” and “Sister.”

“Just look,” Helen said while pointing to the corner. “Can you see the cobwebs and dust? That janitor just is not doing a good job. I’ve been keeping an eye on this corner for weeks, waiting for him to clean it. And just look! It’s filthy! What are we paying him for?”

Pastor Smalley sighed. He placed a hand on Hazel’s shoulder to gently guide her toward the sanctuary as he spoke softly, “I’ll speak to Joe. I’m sure he just missed this one spot. See how nice the sanctuary looks? I need to get to the front so we can start the service. Thanks for being so observant.”

Helen fussed her way with Earl to “their” seats in “their” pew as Pastor Smalley moved to the pulpit and the organist began to play.

Joe Hardy was the janitor. Cleaning the church was one of three jobs that took up almost all of his time. Joe had approached the pastor when the previous janitor had quit, asking if he could take on the job part time. Joe was a widower with three kids and always stretched thin financially. Pastor Smalley was happy to help Joe out.

Joe was a hard worker. He cleaned the church in the evenings after he’d finished his two other jobs.

After the Sunday morning service, Pastor Smalley found Joe doing a quick clean-up of the Sunday school area. He took Joe over to the corner and showed him the dust.

“I’m so sorry, Pastor,” Joe said. “I cleaned that corner just last night and for some reason dust seems to accumulate there. I know it looks like cobwebs, but I assure you it’s just dust blowing in from somewhere. Guess I’ll make a point to get here a little earlier on Sunday mornings just to make sure this one corner is clean.”

“I’m sorry to bother you with something so petty,” said Pastor Smalley with a sigh, “but you know how fussy some of our ‘Pillars’ can be.” He looked at Joe and winked. Joe knew exactly what he meant and knew he had a good ally in Pastor Smalley.

Like many other small-ish churches, Fynder’s Community Church had its “Pillars.” They were the older, long-standing members, a few who had been with the church since its founding. While it was not an official title it was one these who had been “in the way” since the beginning would not eschew. Being called a pillar would be a point of flattery, and in their minds, both appropriate and deserved.

They believed that they were the dauntless essential few who held the church up and together. There was no detail of the church business or the business of its members that was too small for attention to be paid it by the Pillars. This was, as far as they were concerned, their duty and purpose on this earth.

Only through their diligence the church and its people stayed on the straight and narrow. The Pillars believed it was through their measure, assessment, and usually uninvited advice mostly proffered on the sly through hint and subtle suggestion under the guise of “spiritual encouragement,” that any member of the congregation would be found acceptable to the Lord on that great and glorious day of judgment.

Each Pillar took great pride in their tireless work cultivating, pruning, and correcting, knowing with a solid firmness in their hearts that they would receive a special reward in the sweet bye-and-bye. It was a dirty job but someone had to do it. So they thought and so they believed.

As Pastor Smalley and Joe were discussing the problem corner, the final few post-service lingerers left the building. These were the Pillars, always the first to arrive and the last to leave. It was in the casual chit-chat of these times that they were able to do most of their shaping up of the congregation.

They stood in a group on the sidewalk in front of the church, out of earshot of any left behind in the church, sharing the latest gossip, synchronizing rumors, and strategizing how to best address arisen issues.

Down the street, a semi truck with a flatbed loaded with steel girders, rumbled toward the church which was located on a main street of town. As it approached, a little too fast, several tires on the right side burst all at once, sending the truck careening out of control directly toward the Pillars standing like a clutch of bowling pins on the sidewalk in front of the church.

No Pillar was spared.

The investigation into the accident was never able to determine what caused the simultaneous blowouts.

Months later, just prior to the Sunday morning service, Joe was cleaning the dust from the troublesome corner, chatting with Pastor Smalley recalling the tragic day.

“Well,” sighed Pastor Smalley, “I guess you could say the Pillars have fallen.”

“Yes,” replied Joe as he stood, holding his dustpan and whisk, “but the church is still standing, and standing strong.”

Pastor Smalley and Joe stood silently for a moment looking at the clean swept corner.

“Yes, it is,” said Pastor Smalley, responding to Joe's observation. “Indeed it is.”


* It’s flash fiction Friday! (To learn more about FFF, click here and scroll down.) 
Flash fiction is nothing more or less than a very, very short short story. This one is a little over 1000 words. What do you think? Know any Pillars? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Naming names: What Kenny Archey taught me in one providential moment about respect & racism

Head’s up! Two warnings before you read this post:

[1] This post contains strong for-mature-audiences-only language and words that some may find offensive. I know I do and don’t employ them lightly. But please understand the context of the overall message and avoid reacting to isolated words.

[2] This is also a longer than usual post and may seem a little meandering. But each rabbit trail is relevant. It’s important to read to the end to get the full message.

Recently I’ve been thinking about an old high school friend who taught me a priceless lesson related to bigotry, name-calling, respect, and racism.

Actually, as I think back on the relationship I have to be honest in that he was more of an acquaintance, but a friendly and sincere one. That’s kind of the way most school-centric friendships were. At least for me.

I never went to his house. He never came to mine. If he had, I would have welcomed him in. But it didn’t happen because, well, for the same reason a lot of my school friends and I never visited each others’ homes. Many of us were transportation-challenged and walking averse. Plus, being an introvert, once school was over, my preference was to recharge alone in my room.

Anyway, most of what he and I knew of each other came from our time spent in chorale. The guy had a good voice and a pleasant personality. He was funny, charming, and smart.

Kenny Archey was the only black guy in chorale, but not the only black kid in our school. The last time I saw Kenny was at my 20 year high school reunion in 1990. We chatted briefly. Then just weeks later the news came that he had died.

I never told Kenny how he had taught me a critically valuable life lesson. But I’ll tell you.

What’s in a name? A lot!

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but it will be insulted if you call it stinkweed.

Names, what our parents give us, what we call ourselves, how we are called by others, are important.

Throughout the Bible, there are episodes where a person is renamed after having their life mission redirected following a significant spiritual encounter.

In the Old Testament, Jacob tended toward deception. In fact, his name meant “supplanter” which is defined as “to usurp especially through intrigue or underhanded tactics.” After wrestling with God and being commissioned for greatness, Jacob was rechristened Israel, or “one who wrestles with God” or “God perseveres” (Genesis 32:28).

In the New Testament, Jesus encounters a crusty fisherman named Simon and soon after gives him the new name of Peter, “the rock,” that better represented his new destiny (John 1:42).

In fact, those of us who make it to heaven will all be renamed to honor the occasion: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, ESV).

We give care to naming our children to ensure the names are meaningful, connecting our children to the family lineage, or giving them a name of someone significant and inspirational. It’s said  Martin King, Jr. was rechristened Martin Luther King, Jr. by his father who was inspired by Luther, the catalyst of the Reformation.

If someone twists our name or the names of our children into something mocking, we cringe. We understand the impact of such personally targeted disrespect.

Name-calling dehumanizes and wounds.

Renaming a person with labels by calling them cracker, whore, retard, stupid, bitch, bastard, lazy, pig, fatty, swine, smelly, and on and on is intended to minimize, ridicule, and marginalize.

Bigotry is not just about skin color and is akin to bullying. Racism encompasses both bigotry and bullying.

We don’t like when it’s done to us, so should abstain from doing it to others. 

I was not born on a bayou

The town I grew up in was and is relatively small. It didn’t feel so small while I was growing up there. It was filled with the typical Midwestern hustle and bustle. The overarching topic of conversation was always basketball, so it seemed. After all, this was Indiana, and I was a Hoosier, whatever the heck a Hoosier is.

Even though I was tall and perfect fodder for the sport, it held no attraction. I was gawky on the court and didn’t understand the game because I really wasn’t that interested. As soon as I learned to read, my nose was in a book. Others carried around their ball of choice, while I went everywhere with a book in my back pocket. Down time was always reading time.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s.

When all hell was beginning to break loose in Selma, I was a preteen and not really deeply aware of the hubbub. What little about race that broke through my fledgling consciousness didn’t make a whole lot of sense. After all, we were all human beings, right?

I vaguely remember while on some summer family vacations seeing signs here and there saying something about “colored only” but didn’t grasp what they meant. I was happy to drink from any water fountain when thirsty and allow anyone else to do the same.

While there weren’t a lot of discussions about race in our family, I cannot recall any real overt prejudice or bigotry. My parents spoke respectfully of all people, for the most part. If my dad criticized anyone for being lazy or “of no account” it had to do with their character or lack thereof, skin color being irrelevant.

Still, I must admit, I didn’t spend a lot of time around people who were not white. It wasn’t by choice, that’s just the circumstance I was in.

Although, there was this one black girl in high school I had a crush on for awhile. I never acted on it just as I didn’t act on most of my crushes. When it came to girls, I was a tad intimidated and backward.

You ain’t nothin’ but a hayseed hillbilly holy roller!

During my teen years, it wasn’t unusual to hear my buddies telling jokes that by today’s standards would be viewed as ultra-non-PC. Many of these jokes would start out something like, “Did you hear about the spic who....?” Or, “A wetback walked into a room....” Or, “You know she’s blonde when...”

A major sub-category of these jokes of the day involved polacks. These were common and often hilarious, so we thought. They could be given new life merely by swapping out polack for any other stereotype slang term du jour, such as injuns, hillbilly, wop, jap, chinks, redneck, kraut....

You get the idea.

Sometimes, the subjects of the humor were Jewish, Irish, Catholic, Dutch, English, Pentecostals, Baptists, or people from Kentucky. Or someone who lived in that part of town.

Of course now I get the irony in that I came from a Pentecostal religious tradition, born of parents who had many relatives in Kentucky, with an American Indian heritage, as well as a good dose of English and some Dutch and Irish in our lineage.

This meant that often I was the butt of the very jokes I heard and told without even being aware.

So it goes. Ignorance is bliss until it’s not.

In our current holier-than-thou-absurdly-politically-corrected age, while you likely won’t hear too many jokes poking fun at an ethnic group, you will readily hear vehement name-calling as the labels idiot, jerk, asshole, nut job, dumbass, fool, psycho, racist, stupid, narrow-minded, bigot, dickhead, moron, nitwit, and obscenely worse are attached to those with whom we disagree or dislike.

These are mostly aimed at those whose differences make us uncomfortable because, well, they’re different from us, which of course is really bad logic and totally irrational.

Add to this illogic that if we overheard one of our kids use these words we’d have heart attacks.

There’s no one here by that name

Even though we freely name-call others, we don’t like to be called names and we don’t like to have our given names butchered.

When a telemarketer calls asking for “Stefan” I bristle and end the call brusquely. When someone calls me “Steve” I correct them saying, “Stephen.”

I am Stephen, with a ph. Not Steven, even though that’s how it sounds. And definitely not Stefan, although it appears that it could be pronounced that way.

And if you call me stupid, the conversation is done, you moron.

I mean, who likes to be called stupid? And yet we toss that and worse around with impunity. Some couples will even wear “I’m with stupid” T-shirts underscored with arrows pointing at their mate.

It isn’t funny. It’s demeaning.

Facebook and social media in general are awash with insulting memes related to making fun of and insulting this or that person or group as stupid, idiots, or worse. And we “like”, laugh, and share.

Most of this name-calling has nothing to do with the attacked’s intellectual capacities.

Rather, it’s usually based on them being differently educated, differently informed, differently encultured, differently experienced, differently believing, differently read, differently preferenced, or differently perspectived.

Being differently minded about something does not equate to being wrong or stupid about something.

We all bring differences to the party, which is what makes a party fun and interesting.

Labeling someone as stupid or worse is incredibly demeaning to them and arrogant on our part.

Even Jesus warned, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22, ESV).

The term raca translated as “you fool” literally means “senseless, empty headed.”

Insulting each other does not facilitate conversation, let alone understanding, among us.

Up against the wall

Kenny Archey taught me that name calling, whether done passively as through a joke, or overtly, is not a good thing.

Just as polack jokes were popular back in the day, so were nigger jokes. I told my share of them all, repeating them mindlessly as I heard them, aiming to get a laugh and thus approval from my like-minded chums.

Of course, I never told them to my parents so I had a faint sense that there was something off-color about them. But at school, for inexplicable reasons, it was different.

One day, I was headed down the steps near the chorale room, walking with a couple of friends who were going the same way, and I was telling a nigger joke I’d just heard. I was oblivious to all others but my friends around me. One to whom I was oblivious was Kenny.

He was nearby and heard me.

In an instant, he was in my face, my shirt collar in one of his hands as he put me up against the wall, his other hand drawn back in a fist.

“What did you just say?” he demanded.

To say I was caught off guard would be a proverbial understatement. This was completely uncharacteristic of the Kenny I knew. And for several moments I was totally confused.

“What did you just say?” he repeated.

I don’t remember if my friends abandoned me. I don’t remember if there were any onlookers. At that moment, as best as I can recall, it was essentially just me and Kenny.

“What was that word you used?” he demanded a little more specifically.

It took me a few moments to sort through what I’d said and match it up with who Kenny was and what was happening before the light began to dawn.

“N-n-n-nigger?” I mumbled fearfully.

Looking into Kenny’s eyes, caring about him as a friend and a fellow human being, I began to understand that words, especially when they are naming words, make a difference. Him overhearing me tell what I wrongly viewed as an innocent joke had stabbed him through the heart.

“I don’t want to ever hear you use that word again,” he counseled emphatically as he loosened his grip on my shirt and unclenched his fist.

Kenny made it unequivocally clear to me in those few tense moments that “nigger” was never an acceptable label for a person. Ever.

The encounter ended with me sincerely apologizing for my, what I can only identify as, racist joking. Kenny apologized for his outburst and threat. We talked a bit more, shook hands, and went on to our classes. And we remained friends.

I’ve never forgotten that moment and, except in telling this story, as far as I’m aware, have never used the “n” word since. I have never begrudged Kenny his anger or action in that moment.

Over time, I’ve stopped telling any kind of joke that mocks ethnic, racial, or religious groups, including blonde jokes.

And today I cringe when I hear others, thinking themselves clever and funny, toss around epithets of stupid, idiot, moron, and the like. I especially cringe when it’s me tossing these around, whether in idle conversation or thought.

In fact, that high school stairwell encounter was the impetus for a reshaping of a lot of my thinking that continues. I owe Kenny Archey a huge debt of gratitude for that redirection.

Kids can be cruel & I was

Actually, a few years prior to my providential run-in with Kenny, an uncle tried to get this concept through my thick skull. Uncle Floyd was the Sunday school teacher for us preteen to early teen boys. Most of us were 10, 11, or 12 at the time.

There was a newer kid that showed up one Sunday. He was a little smaller than most, had a sweet disposition, and always -- I mean always -- wore a red blazer with gold buttons and a faux coat of arms embroidered on the left breast pocket. This was just too much for the rest of us.

The poor kid, I think his name was Billy, endured endless ribbing from us. We eventually began calling him Cherry because of his jacket. He abhorred the nickname and our teasing, tearing up more than once.

I was genuinely too naive to realize the more, shall we say earthy, meanings of the name Cherry. My uncle was not. When he learned of our cruel christening, he lost no time letting us know that we were out of bounds. And then he did something that was really personal.

To get his point across about the harm mean nicknames can cause, he began giving each of us new names.

My hair, back when I had more of it, was my mother’s pride and my horror. It was naturally curly and I hated it. My uncle knew this.

When he got to me, his nephew, he gave me the only nickname that stuck: Cotton Top.

I was boiling inside but there was little I could do. Except ratchet up the teasing of Billy to draw attention away from myself. This is not a good strategy and is seldom effective in the long run. It just made me look cruel, which I was.

As best as I can remember Billy and his family stopped coming to our church. Can’t say that I blame them at all.

Wherever you are, Billy, I am truly sorry.

Tell me your name again?

It wasn’t long after my reeducation from Kenny that I encountered the writings of Francis Schaeffer.  In his slim yet significant book titled The Mark of the Christian, he states:

“All men bear the image of God. They have value, not because they are redeemed, but because they are God’s creation in God’s image. Modern man, who has rejected this, has no clue as to who he is, and because of this he can find no real value for himself or for other men. Hence, he downgrades the value of other men and produces the horrible thing we face today — a sick culture in which men treat men as inhuman, as machines. As Christians, however, we know the value of men.”

As a kid, when I mindlessly told those jokes, I was denying the image of God in the people being ridiculed. The same thing happens when we name-call.

A few years ago, during a small group Bible study, a friend talked about how he knew some Christians who were real assholes.

I was stunned by his use of such a derogatory term to describe fellow believers. Yes, there are people, believers and unbelievers, who are annoying, but labeling them in such a descriptively obscene way is to deface the image of God in them. It’s demeaning and flat out wrong. Especially among Christians.

When we get into debates over race, police behavior, politics, theology, sports, or anything else that gets our dander up, and we slip into name calling, our intent is to diminish the value of those we see as opponents.

In our minds, we draw them as enemies and less-than-human (and less-than-us), mentally defacing God’s image in them. We put them down, think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and so arbitrarily declare the ground we stand on as uneven. And ultimately we devalue ourselves.

It doesn’t matter “who started it.” This is not loving or mature. This is not the way to approach reconciliation. This is not the way to accomplish anything good or true or just.

The solution is to go another direction.

Youre a conservatively liberal left-looking fundamentalizing middle-of-the road non-moderate convultionary provocateurist!

More than once I’ve tried to have conversations with a person who was very bigoted in ways they couldn’t even begin to acknowledge. Often the conversation had to do with how others were horrible bigots.

You know, the “others” who are crazy liberals, ignorant conservatives, misguided religious fanatics, wrong-headed atheists, backwards creationists, God-hating evolutionists, faithless scientists, or whatever group they’re ranting about.

The problem in these kinds of conversations is twofold: First, the other person can never envision themselves as being wrong. Second, they insist on applying labels and thus judgments to everyone. Including me.

Once they get you in a box they feel they have you. They know exactly what you are thinking. They know what you will say in response to various ideas. And whatever they believe you are going to say they have already decided you are wrong.

The way they will try to profile me is by asking if I go to church or not, what TV news shows I watch, what I think about various movies, who I voted for in certain elections, am I pro or con on a particular issue, and similar questions.

When they feel they’ve got me pegged, I’m labeled, rubber-stamped, and told what I’m thinking. At that point, any hope of a real discussion or conversation is lost.

Anything I say that doesn’t fit their prejudiced idea of who I am is disbelieved.

If you believe all cops are pigs, then that’s how you’ll think of them and relate to them. If you believe all Christians are hypocrites, or all from France are rude, or all CEOs are greedy, or all whites are racists, or all blacks are lazy, or all teens are irresponsible, or all Millennials are self-centered, or all Republicans are oppressors of the poor, or all Democrats are socialists, and so forth, then that’s how you’ll think of them and relate to them, with your bigoted mindset.

You will interpret everything any group does through your preconceived ideas of what and who you believe they are, accurate or not. In other words, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

That’s bigotry which makes us all bigots. It forces everyone into an “us” against “them” stance. Common ground is eliminated under a barrage of wrong-headed presuppositions.

Everyone ends up lobbing epithets at the other side. It’s just another form of name-calling and bullying.

This isn’t the way to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).

Hot coals to warm the soul

There’s an interesting passage in Romans where Paul suggests random and intentional acts of kindness toward enemies are like heaping hot coals on their heads. The whole passage is worth reading to get the full context:

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21, ESV; see also Proverbs 25:21-22 and Luke 6:27).

On the surface, the idea of putting hot coals on someone’s head is puzzling to say the least. Often, I’ve heard it weakly explained that by doing good to one’s enemies their consciences will be “burned” into recognizing the errors of their ways. In other words, doing good to our enemies is a backhanded way of getting at them somehow.

That explanation never sat well with me.

There’s a better, more contextually appropriate explanation. When I first heard it a some years ago, it was an “Aha!” moment.

Essentially, in Bible times, if the fire went out in your home, this was a big problem. When this happened, women would go out in the community seeking hot coals from their neighbor’s fires to restart their own. They would carry these coals in clay jars on their heads. Getting one or two coals was a good thing, but having coals “heaped on their heads” was a guarantee of renewed warmth and the ability to cook in their own homes.

In other words, it’s like humbly asking to borrow a cup of milk and receiving the gift of a gallon as well as loaf of bread and a dozen eggs.

Martin Luther King, Jr. explains the impact of this kind of “heaping coals love” this way:

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

So, how do we begin to love our enemies? To love our very different neighbors? To begin to see each other as vulnerable God-imaged human beings instead of skin-bags of battling political agendas?

The same way we already love our friends.

Instead of throwing hot coals of insult and disrespect at each other we must offer heaping coals of warmth, service, and caring to each other.

We can start by calling people only by the name they choose to go by. And then listening to their unique stories, thoughts, and feelings.

In a God-ordained epiphany moment on those high school steps years ago, Kenny Archey taught me this.

It’s that simple. And it’s a good start.

Thanks, Kenny.


Relevant links:
Again, I apologize to those who were offended by my use of certain words, but I felt it was the best way to be clear. What do you think? How do you think of those you disagree with? Do you speak respectfully to them face-to-face and then insult them behind their backs or in your thoughts? Do you wish them well or harm? Have you had moments like mine with Kenny where you gained special insight? Please share your thoughts in the comments

Monday, April 20, 2015

Twilight Zone (#PoetryMonday*)

I wish time would stand still just as the sun winks out
and leaves the world all grayed over in muddy darkness.
It's quieter at night. No work to do. No phones to answer.
Sleep drawing all things to a slower pace.
Night makes the aloneness a little more acute,
but still, it's better. There's no need to explain
or excuse or do anything.
                                      Mourning is better
at night. Sorrow is not a good breakfast companion.
Pain is best felt under cover of darkness and blankets
where others cannot see the tears or hear
the rending of your heart all over again;
to be embraced by sleep and better dreams than
what reality offers in the light of day.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down.  

This is from a poem I first jotted out sometime in 2007, lamenting a divorce that was not my choice. I’ve tweaked it a few times since then.  It’s a little tough sharing something so personal, but then the best writing is personal, isnt it?  What do you think? Do you agree with the Flaubert quote in the graphic? (By the way, because I choose to place the graphic right next to the poem, it causes the lines to break where they actually dont.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Pivoting the premise: Choosing the preferred of various goods rather than the lesser of two evils

(Originally posted October 9, 2012;
reposted here with minor edits
& some updates)

I’m choosing to reject the idea that any election (or debate over an issue or law) is nothing more than a forced choice between the lesser of two evils. Instead I’m choosing to look at these as opportunities to vote/advocate for the preferred of two or more goods.

Most men and women who hold or seek political office, regardless of party affiliation or philosophical bent, are intelligent, well-intentioned citizens. There are exceptions, but they usually get put out of office sooner or later, if they even make it into office at all.

Candidates arise from “We the people of the United States.”

We are the people

Government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

We are the people. The people are us. What we get in the way of government is what we choose.

Those who serve in elected and appointed offices arose from the midst of us.

Those elected were elected by us.

Those appointed were appointed by those we elected to represent us.

If candidates arise and get elected who are truly evil, then they arise because we allow them to and we choose them. And if they persist in office, they persist because of us.

We usually get what we ask for

The candidates who are elected get elected because, at least to some degree, they reflect our values, our desires, our intentions, our morals, our hopes, our dreams. They get into office because we view them as a means to achieve what we want; what we believe is best for ourselves and our country, state, county, or town.

If what we want is evil, then we will choose evil to represent us.

If what we want is good, then we will choose good to represent us.

I do not believe, on the whole, that any major party or serious candidate represents evil per se.

Rather, all candidates are generally good, intelligent, capable people with very different ideas as to what’s best for our country.

Most viewpoints have been shaped and are informed by intelligence and wisdom, as well as very different life experiences and worldviews.

That candidates willfully subject themselves to the horrific, abusive gauntlet of what we have turned political campaigns into in this country speaks volumes about the toughness, resilience, and perseverance of their characters and intellects.

Spineless ignorant idiots simply don’t survive such rigors. We are foolish to think otherwise.

We are the “other” side to them

To blast those who represent or support the “other” party, side, or viewpoint as evil, bad, dishonest, stupid, idiots, or worse, is to diminish ourselves, revealing our own character flaws. We’re worse than undisciplined children name-calling on the playground when we sling our own mud.

We need to stop demonizing each other and our candidates, even when they do it to each other. If candidates or those in office can't behave, we must set an example for them by being better.

To use profanity, insults, ridicule, distortion, belittling, and demeaning language is not to engage in dialogue, but rather to engage in bullying. 

Such slamming and posturing achieves nothing positive. It merely shuts down intelligent discourse while fueling mindless anger.

To understand what this looks like and what it leads to simply consider the ugliness of  the mindless hate-driven tauntings and attacks of the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, KKK, or any such hateful, terroristic, anti- or un-American group.

Multiple well-informed viewpoints; one people under God

We are being presented with different sets of ideas and methods for governing our country. These ideas are different and different is not bad.

All viewpoints, generally speaking, are valid and worthy of our thoughtful consideration. We don’t need to agree with them, but we should at least respectfully consider them.

And then, for President and every other office up for grabs over the coming years, we each get to exercise our wonderful right and privilege to vote.

We need to respect each others’ choices and support those we place into office.

There’s a lot of whining that goes on regarding the failure of our elected politicians to get along and govern in a more bipartisan spirit.If we, as the governed for whom the elected work, can’t get along with our own friends, neighbors, relatives, and coworkers who are on the “other” side, why do we expect those we elect to behave any differently?

Government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, for the people. We are the people. The people are us.

It’s time for “we the people” to start behaving the way we want those we elect to behave as they govern our country. It’s our country and our government and it reflects us to the world.

This means that when the person we voted for behaves badly or lies, or the party we align with acts without integrity, we need to call them out and hold them accountable. It’s not enough to merely point the finger at the foibles of the “other” side while excusing or whitewashing the same faults on “our” side. And it’s just as wrong to gloat when “they” slip up.

Oh, and calling for everyone to play nice, get along, and be reasonable while at the same time taking a swipe at your opponent is not cool. It’s simply hypocritical.

Jesus cautioned us about all this when he said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, ESV).

Check for logs & dont be mean

Then, on any election day or in the midst of any debate, regardless of who wins office, we must remember: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV).

Just because your candidate won or lost the election doesn’t mean you no longer are obligated to love your neighbor – who voted for the other guy – as yourself. As Paul reminds us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV).

Exercise your conscience. Honor God. Love and respect your neighbor. Seek peace and justice for all. Be respectful to everyone. Keep the faith.

What do you think? Reposting this with edits seemed especially apropos given all the heat being generated over the RFRA issue in Indiana. Sadly, it seems the most hateful rhetoric is coming from those accusing RFRA supporters as being intolerant. And all Hoosiers are being painted as bigots by those trying to shout the law down. Much of the media isn’t helping either.  It’s okay to disagree, but it’s not cool to bully and abuse your opponents. Please share your thoughts and comment! Just please be nice.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Runner (#PoetryMonday*)

Moving smoothly along an empty beach
Early in the morning misty thick
With spring warmth, a pre-dawn dewy haze,
You can hear his breathing
In timed panting with his feet's
Sandy slapping, leaving wet impressions
Trailing him
Moving his legs in ecstatic delight,
Enjoying the feel of his muscles,
Taut and working,
Moving him, pushing him,
Through the glowing dawn, the salt air.
Above him
Gulls in white swirls
Cry out his presence to the day,
To the sleeping sea.
Arms taut and solid by his sides,
Moving in balanced rhythm,
His head up, smiling open and large,
Intense in his celebration
And worship, he runs.
In solitude, Jesus runs.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down.  

This is from my only collection of poetry, The Godtouch, which you can read online or buy using the links below. The poem opens the Easter section of the book, offering a somewhat different view of how Jesus may have spent some of his time alone. What do you think? Do you think Jesus ever ran on the beach?

• Kindle version.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Letting go of (prop)aganda: Giving props to Him Who sustains

(Originally posted April 11, 2011;
reposted here with minor edits
& some updates)

We are surrounded with daily messages telling us what we need to be happy, successful, and just live comfortably in this world.

Then, about once a week, we go to church and sing a hymn that declares, “He [Jesus] is all we need.” We hear sermons that remind us to rest in and depend on Jesus for – everything.

But then, we leave church, get into a reliable car, drive to a nearby restaurant, easily pay for a great meal, go home to our nice house, and putter with our toys around the yard.

Ah, summertime and the living is easy.

Marketing = Give us all your money and then you’ll be happy

The world’s propaganda (called marketing and advertising) is essentially geared to take our money while claiming to give us satisfaction in return.

We are teased with the idea that buying this or that will bring us the happiness we won’t find from sticking our money into a savings account or donating it to worthy causes.

The purpose of man, we are told, is to get more stuff!

The devil in the marketing details

The devil’s propaganda is geared toward shifting our reliance away from God onto anything else, often things that appear good: better job, loving family, good health, lots of savings, moving closer to family, a nice house, food in the pantry, and so on.

Satan’s goal is to get us to find our identity in anything and everything other than faith in Christ and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

These other things may all be good. The point is that they are not the point!

Our purpose in life is not about our happiness, but about serving God and enjoying him.

Giving props to the One who knocks away the props

Both what the world sells us and what Satan spins to us is really (prop)aganda: These are all lies we use to “prop” ourselves up instead of depending on and trusting in God.

How does God tend to correct this misplaced dependence?

Simple. He knocks the props out from under us. One at a time. As often as it takes.

How do I know this? Because I’m learning it.

Learning to lean the right way

In the past year or so [2010-11], pretty much all of my props have been taken from me. I lost my job, developed a series of serious health issues, and had my car stolen and totaled.
  •  The job I lost was the one I quit a good job in Indiana and moved to Cleveland for, among “promises” that it would include years of stability and bonuses.
  • The health I lost included issues with bronchitis that somehow led to atrial fibrillation and flutter that required minor heart surgery and ongoing management with meds. Trailing these was severe anemia that required five units of blood and three iron infusions over several months to get me back on track.
  • The car I lost was a 1992 Jeep that was taken for a joy ride that ended head-on into a tree. It was insured, but the money was needed to cover other, more pressing bills, which means I’m still carless.
In the midst of all this, there have been no job offers, no freelance clients, and just enough unemployment to squeak by.

All of these taken together represent control over my life: it’s not in my hands!

Better than birds

Guess what? Despite fleeting moments of panic, I’m doing okay because God is taking care of me. But I have no idea what’s next! I’ve been kind of forced to live as Jesus directed in Matthew 6:25-34 where he said:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

What’s the point?

Why is this happening? I don’t know. All I know is that I can trust Him to take care of me and that He is.

Maybe what’s happening to me is actually an object lesson for someone else who’s watching my situation. Maybe it’s a training ground for something else coming down the road. Maybe, because I was feeling so cushy in my great-paying job, it’s God’s way of reminding me who’s really in charge of providing my income. Maybe it’s all of those or none of those reasons.

At times I feel like the three Hebrew dudes, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who, just before being tossed into a fiery furnace, said to their king:
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18)

It is clear that I’m not in charge here; I’m not the boss of me. The point is that all the “props” in the world are worthless. The only right way to lean is on the everlasting arms of God the Father.

And God knows what’s best for me.

While there are days that feel a little “warmer” than others (meaning, getting a little close to furnace), the bottom line is that my needs have been and are being met.

Plus, in the midst of the tough stuff, there have been some very, very good things that have happened: God brought a wonderful, loving, godly woman into my life to whom I am now joyously married. He’s surrounded me with wonderful, godly friends who have blessed me enormously. He has proved to me, again, how much He cares for me.

While I have felt alone, He has never left me alone.

And although being propped up is nice, it’s more important to give props to the One who sustains our very lives:
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

Brief update: BethAnn and I are still happily married. We have two nice cars and steady income. I am still dealing with a-fib issues, but am managing with meds. Things are pretty okay! Ill be the first to admit, Im still learning dependency on God. She and I both are. But then I believe that this is a day-to-day kind of thing. You know, give us this day, etc., etc. Kind of like how God provided the manna in the desert, one day at a time as needed. It isn’t always fun at the time, but its always good in the end. How are you doing? Share your experience or tips for hanging on in the comments!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Easy Chair (#PoetryMonday*)

I could sit here and read poetry all day,
he thinks, the fire crackling in the background,
the liar sun glistening over the frozen snow outside.

Writing poetry? Yes, I’d like to and I could, too.
But then I’d have to close the book, get up,
go into a colder room, wait to be fully roused
by some random muse passing by
as the PC turns on and boots,
open the word processing application, put fingers on keys,
poised, waiting for the lines to form on the pixeled page.

I’d rather just stay here next to the fire,
where it’s warmer, and enjoy the ripe fruit
of someone else
s labor.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Ah, La-Z-Boy, you are a comfort to me
! Sometimes I wonder if easy chairs are more of a curse than a blessing. But Im not giving mine up! And, to be honest, with my laptop, I can write anywhere. And the only fireplace I have access to right now is a digital version on the TV. What do you think? Is it better to sit at a desk to write? Or in a coffee shop? Share in the comments section.

FYI: My blog has reached more than 100,000 views.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Police warn the suspect is armed & dangerous & dressed all in white. (#PoetryMonday*)

A random brown leaf feigning sentience
skips mockingly alongside as
I shovel laboriously
and then blows on.

Snow was once a plaything.
Now it's a potential murder weapon.

The white flakes were welcomed
as they transformed the
green and muddied earth into
a giant white tabula rasa.

Mused by Dylan Thomas I recall snow that
“was not only shaken from white wash buckets
down the sky,
it came shawling out of the ground
and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands
and bodies of the trees;
snow grew overnight....”

Imagination made it an alien landscape.
A white planet of sweet dread and possibility.
A delightful drifting dessert.

We burrowed like arctic ferrets,
our stocking caps poking up like cherries
topping glistening yards of sweet cream icing,
marked by magical paths, random designs,
outlines of games and constellations,
secret caves carved by snow gnomes.

When it was packable we built forts,
then fought white hot holy wars
fraught with glee. Joy our aim
as boredom was vanquished.

In winter, white was the color of fun,
the sign of schools closed and minds afire,
the sure bet that Christmas
and Jack Frost birthdays
would be wishes abundantly fulfilled.
There would be sleds!

We stayed out playing, freezing, turning
as blue as the sky when the clouds
parted briefly, then the stars shone signaling
the end of malleable snow as evening cooled
everything to a hard crust.

We went in and thawed, dreaming of tomorrow.
Hoping for more snow. Caring not a whit for
bird-chirped spring or soft-boiled summer.


we wake,

check our phones before
even peeking out windows.

Snow is Death’s emissary, Death’s
soft stealth tool.

A multi-effectual snare. A trap without teeth.

We could slip, fall, become stuck in its soft
quicksand grip and die, sucked into the frozen
tundra, becoming a human popsicle,
literally licked by Death.

Or, shoveling an escape path, dreaming of flights
to warmer climes, succumb to a snow
stress induced heart attack in a fit
of cabin fever. Oh! Angina!

Found later in our driveway, clutching our chest,
dressed in Bermuda shorts and a poofy down parka,
the police and neighbors look on, shaking their heads
knowingly, mumbling under their visible breath,
“It could’ve been any one of us. There’s just been
so much snow this year. Just so much.
Only so much.”

Instead, my foot finds ice, my ankle twists, I fall
folded but unbruised, rise again, alive in pain,
crippled, star eyed and teared.

The wind carries Death’s mocking chuckles
rattling the curled dead leaves
dangling in the frozen trees,
a rustling knell.

Later, limping up the walk, I stop, turn with my back
to the white covered lawn,
fall backwards,
imagining it in slow motion but moving dizzyingly quick,
arms outstretched,
sticking out my tongue, mocking Death,
whispering “Neener! Neener!”
inches of frozen fluff embracing me gently,
more or less,
I fan my splayed limbs lying on the cold ground,
then rise again, slowly, with effort and hard breathing,
but unharmed,
leaving behind an impression
of an angel taking flight in the snow.

Take that cold Death!
Not yet!
             Not yet,
I supplicate.

Or, so I imagine as
I take up my shovel,
and walk, lame, into the warm
beckoning house.

Death waits outside. Shivering.
Skulking. Shrouded in white.
Fearing spring’s melting approach
but eyeing the promise
of summer beaches and
the possibilities of undertow.

For now, he scythes over fields of snow,
an icy garden mottled with a smattering of
leftover shriveled leaves.

I sit inside, ignoring what’s out,
eating my dinner mockingly,
blowing my soup cool.

  * It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

  This one is long but I kind of like it. How about you? How are you doing during this very cold winter? Does this poem capture some of your feelings about the season? Let me know what you
’re thinking in the comments!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

10 rules for saving face & avoiding a Facebook faux pas

(Originally posted May 4, 2011;
reposted here with minor edits
& some updates)

I was initially reluctant to get on Facebook, but now am an avid (although sometimes aggravated) user. I try to be thoughtful in what I post and how I comment on others’ posts. I wish everyone would be as thoughtful and careful.

Among my pet peeves – and I have many – are the ways some people, in my opinion, abuse Facebook. So here are a few rules I’d like to suggest.

1. Keep your comment(s) related to the post to which it is attached. If you want to address an unrelated topic with the poster, message them via their inbox or chat. And if you want to communicate with someone who has commented, do it on their page or inbox them.

2. Make your comment short and to the point. Use your own Notes to share treatises, diatribes, and expound on your soap-box issues. In many cases, it’s best to just keep your quirky ideas to yourself.

3. Avoid daisy-chaining your comments. This is related to #2. If you can’t express yourself within the limitations of one comment box, then just be quiet. No one wants to read a book on Facebook.
Caveat to #2 & #3. Sometimes a longer comment may be called for, but this should be the exception. First, craft your response using Word. This will help you avoid spelling errors. Second, edit and rewrite it down as much as possible. Third, copy and paste it into the appropriate comment box.It’s hard enough to write a short comment directly in the comment box, long ones are impossible!  Fourth, check it one more time before making the post live.
Tip: Use two keys to create paragraph breaks! Use Shift+Enter to create a paragraph within a comment without posting it. Using only Enter posts the comment.

4. Match the tone of your comment to the tone of the Post. If the post is humorous, keep your comment light. If the posting is serious, don’t crack wise in your comment. If you’re not sure if the post is humorous or serious, then don’t comment.

5. Don’t start a fight in public on their page. If you thoroughly disagree with what someone has posted, be very careful how you respond. Don’t be insulting or abusive. Perhaps the best response is to hide that specific post so it doesn’t show up in your feed, and then inbox the person if you really need to get something off your chest. But be careful with your inbox message, too.

6. Eliminate foul language! Keep in mind that your posts can be read by a variety of people, young and old, who may be offended by foul, gutter language. Current or potential employers can find your posts. Do not use foul or abusive language on Facebook, in blogs, or anywhere else on the Internet. It will come back to haunt you. And it really isn’t cute or clever at all.

7. Avoid mixing drinking and commenting! Don’t, under any circumstances, comment when you’re not sober. Just as it’s dangerous to drive when you’re drunk, it’s just as dangerous to your reputation and character to post stupid rants on Facebook while drunk. It’s even more tragic if you’re angry and drunk. Just turn off the computer and watch TV or go to bed.
Tip: You can edit most of your posts and comments. On posts, look for the little down arrow (v) located on the top right. Click it to reveal the menu. On comments, hover your mouse over the comment and look for the pencil icon that will appear on the right side. Click it to reveal the menu.

8. Be civil. Yes, this is a free country, you are entitled to your opinions, and political correctness can be maddening. Still, as it always has been, civility is the better way to go. Avoid being intentionally insulting to people and their beliefs. There really is no need and it just makes you come across like a jerk.

9. Don’t post angry. Step away from the computer and take a breath. Just as when we're confronted with a heated situation face-to-face, take some time to cool down and rethink the situation before commenting. If you’ve posted something in anger and realize later that you have offended or crossed a line, you can delete the post. But, you can’t make those who have read it forget it. The best response is sometimes no response.

10. Before commenting on a shared link, read the linked item! If someone posts an article, read the article before you like it or comment to ensure you really do like it and that your comment is relevant and appropriate.
These are just a few rules. I could probably come up with more.

Such as, if you’re going to be on Facebook, learn how to use Facebook.  There are plenty of useful tips right within Facebook in the Help section.

In fact, you can search right from the search box at the top of the page and find answers to just about any question you have about how to use Facebook.

There are also a variety of good books that explain all the ins and outs of Facebook in simple, clear terms. Get one and keep it next to your computer.

Oh, and be sure to use good grammar.

And of course, check your spelling.

Okay, maybe I should stop now.

Just remember, above all, be civil.

Relevant link:

What are your Facebook or general social media pet peeves? Have you ever embarrassed yourself on social media? Do you hate or love social media? What are some tips you can offer for behaving on social media? Share (nicely) in the comments!