Monday, November 7, 2011

Men's Retreat: The Way i remember Things, Which means it's the truth - Part 1

Day 1 – The Drive.

Captains Log, Star Date 11411 + 4 and purple

Every year, around this time, a few of us stalwart men gather together from our church and trek up behind the cheddar curtain in Wisconsin.  It’s not just our church either, its several churches that contain groups of men that wish to shoot at clay pigeons, toss beanbags and share deeper conversations concerning how we get back to the camp site from McDonald’s at 3AM. 

This is the recovered footage from that trip. 

Names have not been changed, due to my uncreative mind with less than 7 hours of sleep for the past 2 days.

For the passed few years, the first weekend in November was always reserved on my calendar for a trip to Camp Joy in Whitewater WICamp Joy was founded in 1962.  It has a lovely back story for it’s founding, but I can’t remember it right now.  Besides, I think founding comes from the Greek root “to stumble across”.  So, I am sure that’s how it was founded, maybe by some Greeks, like my wife.  Someone ran into it and shouted “Found it!” 

We decided to car pool to save on gas and because no one ventures into Wisconsin alone, unless you are keenly aware of the highway system in Wisconsin, it’s best to travel in a large group.  A larger group has more of a chance to become indefinitely confused when you cross into County Q on highway CC after taking exit W.  Also, this makes people from Wisconsin believe you are actually a larger animal not worthy to hunt.

Our trip consisted of myself, my friend Jim (The Driver), his son Kyle ( 16 years old, if we got lost we could eat him), My friend Jon ( Who will pick up ANY song at any point when I start singing and vice versa) and my friend Jeff ( the sweetest big guy I know, you can lick him and he tastes like happy, kids!).

We stopped off at the Lockport Speedway for drinks before the long road trip.  Speedway has horrible coffee, but they have a lot of it, so, because Jim was driving all of us, I decided to buy him a cup of coffee.  In my mind, 1 cup of coffee would equal the $135 it took to fill up his van to cart our sorry rears to Camp Joy.  Luckily, for me, while standing in line, my friend Jon says “I’ll pay for your stuff!” and because he is such a good friend, and I can’t say no to someone wanting to spend their money, instead of mine, I said OK.  I realized though, that I now had nothing to offer Jim compensation for the driving deficit i was incurring.  I decided that to make everyone happy, and balance the universe karma, me carrying the drink from the counter to Jim would suffice.  My carrier charge of drinks just happens to be $175.  So Jim actually owed me $40 after the fact, but I am too good of a friend to bring this up.

On the road, deep conversations take place.  These conversations include the word “Dutch oven” and other cooking metaphors.  What seemed like a blink of an eye, we already were at Gurnee Mills with Wisconsin just in sight.  When you cross over into Wisconsin, something magical happens when you’re in the backseat, and from IL.  You get to remove your seat belt.  Wisconsin isn't the nanny state that IL pushes itself to be. Also, Wisconsin allows you to hunt any kind of animal while drinking.  Personal safety seems to be your responsibility.

Crossing the border, or as my illegal alien friends call it, “Crossing the border” we found ourselves pulling into at The Brat Stop Restaurant.

The Brat Stop is one of those places you just HAVE to stop at when entering into Wisconsin.  It’s like the Mars Cheese Castle, or well, the Mars Cheese Castle.

Entering the restaurant I noticed immediately a sign for a band called “Infinity”.  What’s hysterical about this is I know the lead singer to the band.  He’s the maintenance guy at our building where I work, and he sounds exactly like Steve Perry.

I had to point this out to the rest of the guys.  They had to know I KNEW someone cool enough to play at the Brat Stop.  And by general rule of association, I would be cool as well.  Not only do I know him, he also FIXES our toilets.

Oddly enough, no one seemed impressed by this fact.  I decided to see if I could get a poster to take with me.  That way I could show it to the maintenance guy that I took a poster with him on it.  A poster that he most likely paid to have printed and setup at the Brat Stop to advertise his band.  I began to see the error in my logic, only after the hostess at the register said she couldn’t give me a poster to give back to the lead singer toilet fixer of the band.

When ordering food I noticed an appetizer plate called “The Sausage Sampler”.  It contained assorted sausage sticks and crackers.  It fit our group.  I put a motion to the table that we dub our road trip group “The Sausage Sampler.”

Was it risqué?  Sure.  A little homo?  Maybe.  But it made sense at the time, and no one said no. DONE!

Full of Kraut and Brats, with Jim the Driver ordering the Sausage sampler, our group Sausage Sampler piled back into the van.

We continued our trek up to Whitewater.  Everything at this point was a non event, with conversation bordering on the ill advised.

COMING SOON:  Unpacking and being unplugged from everything and how much that reeked.  Seriously, I got the shakes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

All of us are Important, or None of us are.

“If you see a friend without a smile; give him one of yours.”
Proverb quote

Life is hard.  As with anything hard, it has rewards, but the greatest irony (and believe me I KNOW irony) is anything gained in this life can’t be brought with you into the next one.  At least anything material gained or unless you are an Egyptian Pharaoh.  Those guys got to bring everything with them, even their pets.  If the Egyptians were right, I would want to be buried with a camera.  The only reason is I don’t think anyone else would have remembered to bring one.  Oh, and a harmonica. 

A good marriage and good kids make you realize something.  You matter as an individual in this life.  If at any point you remove yourself or one of those other individuals and the rest suffer, then you understand what it means to matter in someone else’s life. 

“It’s a Wonderful Life” explains as best it can the point I am trying to make.  In the office, after George’s Dad dies, there is a sign on the wall that says “All you can take with you is that which you've given away”

I remember the first time I caught that.  I was an adult, and Katie was just born.  We were staying in a 2 bedroom apartment in Tinley Park and we didn’t have much.  It was our first Christmas as a family of 3 and I got choked up when I saw it.  I didn’t cry, because I am not a sissy, but I was close.  But I thought then that I had heard this concept before, many times in one form or another.  You can’t take it with you or People are an investment worth making.

But this was a different application.  In fact, it so parallels Christianity in its simplicity and execution of how a Christian should live.  Our lives and our relationships cannot be measured in a qualifying chart of summarized returns like bonuses and profits.

You matter to other living breathing individuals that they may count on seeing you just to make it through their day.  Or maybe you happen to just matter to one person on this planet and you are everything to them.

Brandon and I were going over his spelling words out loud.  And as we were practicing he spelled one word out of twenty three wrong.  Now Brandon takes everything personally.  He hates failure and hates when he gets something wrong.  The word was receive. His eyes started to well up, and I thought he was going to be ok, able to hold in the disappointment until Collin shouted “BRANDON WHY ARE YOU CRYING!  DAD, BRANDON’S GOING TO CRY!”


Dismissing Collin, I told Brandon to come sit by me.  He sat on my lap in the chair and I asked what was wrong.  He replied “I don’t know…”  But he knew.  He is just too young to describe it and put it into words.  After he said I don’t know he really started crying.  

I spoke kindly to him, with a bit of encouragement “Brandon, look at me.”  Holding his spelling book in my hand I said “Buddy, these are just words.  It’s just simple memorization of 23 words.  On your bike 2 weeks ago you peddled over 11 miles.  THAT was hard.  You were an 8 year old that went over 11 miles on your bike.  These letters, these are nothing, you’ll get this.  Now, wipe your tears.”

He took his sleeve and wiped away a big tear that was stuck in the corner of his eye.  He looked at me and said “Dad, can I get a piece of paper and write them down as you say them, instead of spelling then out loud?”

Of course he could.  He ran and got paper and we went over the letters and he spelled every one of them correctly on his sheet of paper.

I have a few years left with Brandon to break the self image he has of himself, the image of “I make too many mistakes to try”.  But I noticed that if I believed in him, he believed in himself.

People, all people, at one point or another need someone to believe in them.  For kids, it might be parents or grandparents.  For students, it’s a teacher.  For spouses it’s their significant other, and for Luke Skywalker it was Obi-Wan Kenobi.

What should happen in life is we should all believe in one another.  As a fallen race, we should look to our left and right at our co-humans and realize no one does this life right.  And we all need a little help, a little belief that we can matter to the next person, that we can achieve something that we didn’t think we could.

What is characteristic of what we are as a race is our inability to be helpful to those outside our view of responsibility, to be jealous of another’s success, and to demean those of a different perspective than our own.

John 3:16, when not being put on cardboard and shown at football games starts with “God so loved the world…”

That, needs a longer pause than most of us Christians give it, we so focus on the rest of the verse that the very reason for the rest of it is this part here.

He loved every facet and variation of people. Never minimize your purpose or existence and never allow someone else to minimize you either.
We all matter. 

As far as we have fallen as a people, as far away we stand on matters of politics or religion or are separated from each other depending on whatever issue we feel is important for the hour of whatever day it doesn’t matter…

Because He so loved us.  And that love gave a gift, and that gift salvages what is left of life into something everlasting.

I don’t have time to be anything BUT a good father to my son.  He needs to know that his Dad believes in him, that he can succeed.  And that no matter what happens, I so love him.

Not just my son, or all my kids, or wife, or friends either.  But my enemies and strangers as well are deserving of this same kind of love.

Because they are the world and they all matter too.  If I am so loved, they should be as well.

Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?  But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Change the voices in Your Head Part II


Every once in a while  I look at my middle child Brandon and see such a quiet and gentle boy who tells me often he loves me with no initiation on my part.  I’ll get statements from out of nowhere from him like

“Dad, I love you”
“Dad, thanks for spending time with me”
“Dad thanks for taking me to lunch”
“Dad thanks for riding bikes with me”

This kid either knows how to play the “Get stuff from dad” game, or from what I am seeing is just a sweet guy.  He is also an 8 year old with a 6-pack set of abs.

Recently Brandon has gotten back on his bike.  He didn’t ride it all summer since for one reason or another, but now that it is the fall season we have taken up to going around the area for about 1 to 2 miles.  He is still mastering balance on it and how high he wants his seat in order for him to be comfortable riding while not fearing falling over.

If you bike at all, you know seat position is very important, when peddling you want as close to a full leg extension as possible to use all the muscles and get full range.  Well, that requires the seat to be a bit higher than what Brandon likes.  Since it is a position of balance, he likes to sit lower.  This causes him to work a lot harder at moving the bike forward, but it makes him comfortable.

So, this week I decided to try out the new bike trails by our house.  The trails themselves aren’t finished yet, they are still compacted gravel.  I asked my daughter Katie if she wanted to go on an adventure with me on our bikes and she said yes.  Brandon quickly piped up ‘Can I come too Dad?”

Oh man.  I initially was about to tell him no.  The way is moderate to heavy hills and it’s GRAVEL.  I know Katie could make it, since she was riding her bike during the summer and had 2 years of muscle development on Brandon.

I decided to do what any good parent would.  I would make it sound so awful that he would want to stay home.

And I almost did. 

I realized Brandon isn’t going to get better if I keep him from something that might be difficult or that he might fail at, or even worse find out middle of the way through that if he doesn’t stay committed that he won’t make it back home.  What 8 year old can comprehend that? 

As a parent of three children, I have a deep desire to see them succeed.  I purposefully set up things for them that will cause them to succeed or even fail so they can learn something from it.  I also have a belief that it is my responsibility to turn out fully functional adults at age 18.  I have a sick idea that if I can’t do that I will be a failure as a parent and a teacher.

But this lesson, this time, was going to be different.  This was a “as soon as you commit you have no choices but to continue” lesson.  And it was going to be Brandon’s first.

Getting our riding gear on I failed to notice that Brandon was riding while wearing his sandals.  Not the sharpest crayon, Brandon unlike Katie will have to marry for money instead of love it appears. :)

We had hit the trail when I realized how difficult it was going to be riding.  The gravel, although compacted would shift a bit under our tires, like sand.  The first portion of the ride was downhill and I told both Katie and Brandon to get use to what the terrain feels like under them.  Nothing can beat practical experience sometimes.  Except for ice cream, ice cream beats everything.
We had passed some group of teenage boys who were walking the same direction as us and within 5 minutes hit our first hill, which happened to be the worst.  I rode up ahead and Katie followed.  The hill curved and Brandon lost site of us.  All of a sudden I heard some yelling.  It wasn’t coming from Brandon though; it was coming from the teen boys we had passed.  I turned my bike around and rode down the hill and curve.  There was Brandon walking and one of the teenage boys had picked up his bike on his shoulder and was running trying to catch up to us.  This teenager must have thought we left Brandon because he was running really hard with Brandon’s bike.  He put the bike down when I reached him and Brandon was close behind him.

I looked at him and at Brandon.  I thanked him for helping Brandon, but informed him it was important for Brandon to make it up the hill by himself.  Whether peddling or walking his bike, Brandon needed to realize he could make it.

Also, I informed Brandon that he seemed to have been presented a different lesson that day.  Sometimes when we least expect it, and when things are getting hard or seem to be insurmountable, a person will come along and help us carry the load.

We finished the trails and headed back home.  It’s only a matter of time when this trail becomes easy to Brandon.  When that day comes, I am sure there will be other trails and other people who will help him along the way.  Life seems to be full of these.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Change The Voices in Your Head


I am pretty sure it is illegal for humans to eat their young.  I am aware of some species of animals that do this.  Mostly, I believe, because the animal parent wants to avoid the complaints from the animal child of not having the newest iPhone.

I don’t have this issue.  My kids are aware of technology, but luckily I’ve kept them in the proverbial dark about how awesome technology is.  I mean, it can do everything.  My phone can unlock my car, and if I spend enough time working at it, my phone can unlock your car.  It can order pizza, translate language and show me how to apply a tourniquet.

That’s cool, and by laws of usage and phone wielding power, it makes me a little cooler as well.

Recently, I had some experiences with my two older children Katie and Brandon.  For her birthday, I was able to get a hold of one of those $99 HP Touchpad’s from Wal-mart.  Don’t ask me how, aside from pure Jesus power was I able to get one of these from Wal-mart customer service rep Chris.  I got home and started setting it up for Katie to use when I gave it to her on her birthday which was in 2 weeks.

Within 5 minutes of working on it in my bedroom, Katie comes walking in and says “WHAT’S THAT?!?!”

Now, as an aside, I did have the door open, and I wasn’t really doing this in secret.  But she saw I had something that resembled an iPad.  I explained to her that it was an HP Touchpad and that I was trying it out since they stopped making them that day.  She was a little saddened and said “So it’s just for you?”  I replied that it was the families and that we all could share.

You might be one of those people who say “Why would you give an 11 year old something so expensive?”  I have a philosophy…well it’s more like guidelines…not really; it’s more like a leaflet of rules.  You see, tech to our kids will be what appliances are to us now.  A tablet is the same as a toaster; it’s just an object that serves a purpose.  Remember the jokes that Grandpa had to call his Grandson to set the clock on the VCR?  Yeah, we are a little bit beyond that in society now.  The VCR is now a mini tower running a Linux kernel OS with an encrypted Hard Drive.  They might even move them to solid state soon. Programming the clock is the least of your troubles.

As a Christian, I have sat in sermons where a preacher or even talking to lay people who would say the computer is from Satan, and not to have one in your home.  You people can not be my friend, because you don’t view these devices for the tools that they are.  You limit your ability to see the possibilities of having access to vast amounts of information to better your understanding of the environment you live in or even to just read a book (please some of you, just read a book) online.  Should you always be connected?  No, but don’t succumb to the Salem Witch trials of 2012.

Back to Katie.  This daughter of mine.  Oy.  She picks up a musical instrument and like a Keanu Reeves wannabe sitting in a Matrix chair and gets the operating manual on how to play these things downloaded into her head by some chord I am sure is in her room.  She’s smart, and I don’t mean just book smart, oh no, she’s that, but she is rocket fuel making kind of smart.  Today we were discussing neutrinos and their ability to possibly travel faster than the speed of light, thereby negating the laws of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and mass density.  Physics could be rewritten. 

Yeah…that’s what I got.

So, she was given this tablet for her Birthday, and last night she decides to write on her FB wall “I’m bored out of my mind.” (Yes I let her on Face Book, yes I police her friends, and yes I go through everything she does.  If you feel the need to question me as a parent, I’ll question your intelligence for judging me by 1 sentence in a paragraph)

Bored out of your what?!?!!?  I sat there and stared at it for a good 2 minutes.  WHAT?!?!  You have close to 200 books to read, or in her case RE-read.  A kindle app that can download anything you want to read.  FOUR musical instruments you know how to play!  A microscope with slides!  Or puzzles!  You have a DOG!  Play…with the DOG!  Vacuum your room!

I called her into the bedroom, and like every good parent asked her “What is this?!”  As I held up my laptop showing her status update and my brilliant daughter looked at me with a blank vacant stare where only crickets could be heard she enunciated what I think was “I unno”

Followed by a shoulder shrug.

I did the normal parent thing for 3 minutes lecturing about stuff and opportunities and benefits and yadda yadda yadda then dismissed her back to her room.

Something turned in me and I knew I wasn’t done.  I waited a few minutes to calm down my disappointment in this person, my daughter.  The one I would rock at night to sleep and sing songs to while she was sick.  No, I wasn't being a dad there, I was just someone who corrected her for a mistake but I didn’t correct what caused the mistake.

Something happens to us as people.  When we grow up, I have no idea what it is but something happens were we go from hopeful to negative; where the positive is a necessity to apathy as a reality.

I called Katie back in to my room and we talked.  We covered how people perceive outside comments like that.  I asked if she wanted to be known as someone who complains.  Someone who focuses so much on self that what is wonderful and fantastic passes you by.  I gave her an assignment.  Find something, anything, once a day that is positive and brings joy to you or others and think about it and post that.  For 1 week, correct your thinking from negativity to something edifying.  You see, that’s application in Christianity.

 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I need to do more than to train my daughter to be exceptional scholastically and in body.  She needs to be spiritually sound too.  If not, she ends up like every other kid that falls down the path of negativity and with the attitude that what they do in life doesn’t matter.  That sense of disconnection starts somewhere with kids.  As a parent, it’s my job to make sure it is corrected.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

If I was a Smurf...

I’d like to take some time to step away from the cynical and sarcastic ways of me and think about current events and pop culture and what that means to us as a collective group of individuals.

I can’t think of any greater trend right now than that of Hollywood doing most of the TV shows of our youth since they have completely run out of any good idea.

Smurfs.  For realz yo!

I have often wondered over the years, or at least for the past few minutes anyway, what Smurf I would have been should I have been born in that lovable city of mushrooms.  I love Hefty smurf.  He was the strong one.  He got stuff done and for sure was the one who was going to end up with Smurfette.  I mean come on – he had a tattoo and everything.

But no, I have come to realize in the Smurf Kingdom (village? Farm?  Crop?  Whatever…) I would not be Hefty.

I would be Snarky.

Yes, Snarky Smurf.

I would setup my tasks to be various to make sure I was effective and to live up to the name that I had been given.

First, I would punch out Brainy Smurf.  Ya see, Brainy, tries to be snarky.  But he just comes off as annoying.  He isn’t that brainy either, he is just a tattle tale and an envious little blue punk.  So, I would rename Brainy to Sally Smurf.  I would send out a letter in an email to the other Smurfs that this is what Brainy wanted to be called after his “operation” is complete.

(This mirrors a conversation I had with a friend this week; I thought I would use it here.)

Next, I would remind Smurfette that even though she is the only girl in the mushroom village, she isn’t worth dating.  I would constantly remind her that she started out as an evil creation of Gargamel the Sorcerer and is most likely either a demon or a witch at the very least.  If she would get angry with me I would shout “The power of Smurf compels you!!!”  We wouldn’t be friends for very long, but I would remind her that that was her choice and not mine, since she was the evil one.

As for Gargamel, who is always trying to eat the Smurfs, I would catch his cat Azrael and cut off its tail.  I would then let Azrael go approximately 50 miles away from my village where I also let raccoons out.  I would inform this cat, which appears to understand language, never ever to return home, especially if it wanted to keep its eyes.

I would send the tail back to Gargamel, with a used smurf fork and knife and a note that said “Next time, send a Persian, they are less fatty.”

Papa Smurf would have to go.  Either that or conform to the rest of the smurf dress code standards of white pants/white hat.  Honestly, what kind of cult is this if we all aren’t wearing the same clothes?

Methodist Smurf, Catholic Smurf and Flamboyant Smurf cannot hang out with me.  I don’t believe how they do.

I would tend to hang out with Disney’s The Gummi Bears.  They appear to know how to refine their juice into a powerful weapon when needed.

Finally, I would campaign on capitalism vs. the apparent social order setup by the rest of these blue commies.  Either that, or Lazy Smurf has to get a job.

I understand this didn’t have much to do with my Christian life, for that I apologize.  But if I didn’t write these things out, they would actually come out of my mouth.

And that would just be Snarky.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Irritable Scowl Syndrome

Some Blogs I post are for my children’s benefit as well as my own.  This one is a warning for them.

“False happiness is like false money; it passes for a long time as well as the true, and serves some ordinary occasions; but when it is brought to the touch, we find the lightness and alloy, and feel the loss.” – Alexander Pope

     False Happiness is usually symptoms of a greater issue.  A person who exudes this type of character trait has a great knack of also being a false friend.  Underneath what they try and portray as a super mega friendly attitude is the same heart that beats in the rest of us mere mortals. 

     I recently have run into what would consider an obstacle of disappointing proportions.  Someone who I once considered a friend has gone small lengths to be a backbiting selfish mouthy comment making individual.  The problem is, and I am sure most of you have some experience in this, is the public persona of this person is so accepted as a happy supportive person.  In fact, everyone tells them how great they are with being so happy.  Like a set of groupies who enjoy telling them how happy they are all the time.

     This personality type must find an outlet to show its true colors.  Most of the time it is overly dismissive of individuals they think are so opposite of them.  When in reality they never had an opportunity to examine themselves.  To discover that the personality traits of people they say they despise are actually their own.
     Sometimes, it’s good to have your self image shattered once in a while.
     When I was a kid, a scene from The Never Ending Story stuck with me.  I mean, aside from the super cool flying Dragon Falkor.  The hero Atreju of the story had to pass trials and gates to carry on with his quest.  A discussion was had about a second gate that Atreju would cross:

Scientist - The worst one is coming up. Next is the magic mirror gate. Atreju has to face his true self.
Falkor - So what, that won't be too hard for him.
Scientist - Ohhh!!! That's what everyone thinks. Kind people find that they are cruel, brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming!

     Sometimes these individuals never figure out that their comments or facial expressions give them away.  The façade falls when they tire of keeping up appearances.

You might think “Hey, what do you have against happy people?!”
Nothing, I applaud people who can enjoy happy events.  I myself have had many happy events.  From my children being born, to phone calls from old friends and children giving hugs.  Good stuff like that.

The problem is happy events are not sustainable.  Joy is, we will address that later, but happy isn’t.

Recently my wife and I had the chance to work with 2nd and 3rd graders for almost a week and three days into it, a small girl who has had an already rough life looked up to my wife and said “What if you were my mommy?”  My wife turned to her and said “Well, then you would be coming home with me.” 

The little girl smiled.

I recalled this event on the way to work the next day and cried for half an hour.

Now that isn’t cynical or sarcastic.  That’s reality.  And for the fake happy person they can carry on with the existence they set for themselves and never give that child another thought.

She is in my prayers every night now.  I am 2 days away from getting her address and I will be burned alive if I am going to let that little girl think we have forgotten her.

How can you tell if you are one of these people?  That’s easy.  If your reality of happiness is the 2 feet around you then you may want to look in the mirror.

I have met people who have been given a position of influence over others, a “look Up to” position, and when another opportunity presented itself they abandoned scores of individuals.  If you brought this up to them you are labeled critical.

Moving forward to what should be the focus is actually joy in life.  To a Christian joy is a shared, confidant and ever increasing trait.  It’s given to us at the conception of our belief and grows the more we grow in our understanding of Christ and what he has done for us.

But, since we deal in reality, Christians are people too.  We always don’t get things right.  The ability to slip back into out old ways or to confuse a fake happiness for joy can occur at any moment.  The caution is to make sure we are being truthful with ourselves whether we are sharing a true joy with others, or if the façade is just hiding the scowl of what really remains underneath.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Just Dirt

When I travel out of town I often make sure if there is a period of time that I am going to be away I make sure that I attend a church in that area so I can stay…well…. You know…spiritual or something.

It was one of these journeys where I found myself in Dubuque Iowa.  I am pretty sure Dubuque was a city that was founded by the French.  I have nothing to back that up other than the spelling of the name of the city, that and the fact that it rests on the Mississippi River

A totally French River.

It was a Wednesday night and for us Baptists that means it’s a bible study night.  How different is that from a church service you ask?  Well – not much, except you include a 20-30 minute prayer time which is the best time to find out about people because they ask you to pray for them and their broken washing machines or in this case of the Iowa church – tractors and farm animals.

In Iowa, it appears they still give nicknames assigned to you per your occupation.  So in this church, almost everyone had the nickname “farmer”.  They only had to learn my 1 name when they greeted me, and I had about a 95% chance that I would get their name right.  Unless there was a Tiller…or a CatBeater.

 After the bible study was underway the Pastor began to relay about a man he knew that worked at a crematorium.  I know what you’re thinking “Craig if I hear you tell one more crematorium story I am going to punch you in the mouth!”  I know, but hear me out – this one doesn’t end with dead Chinese.

The story goes like this: The Pastor knew this man who owned this business and in the back of the crematorium was the most beautiful garden.  The man also kept the garden and people from all over would travel to see the beautiful flourishing plants and flowers.  Finally – the Pastor asked “How do you keep this garden so beautiful and healthy?”  The man answered that when you incinerate the human body and give it over to the people asking for the cremation, they don’t get all of the …well…stuff.  They get what they can – but there is left over …um stuff.  The man said it’s basically dirt.  The best dirt you can ever find.

Now I get this.  Basically we are carbon after you remove all the moisture. 

And the Pastor said something on that evening that stuck with me.  He said “You know what I don’t understand?  After hearing the man tell me about his garden.  Why as human beings we think of ourselves as better pieces of dirt than another piece of dirt.”

Wow.  No one is any different than the next, especially when incinerated. 

It was a humbling view of what as human beings we really are physically. 

But that isn’t all we are.  C.S. Lewis gives the complimentary viewpoint that adds to what the very base of our existence is of just Dirt.

"It is a serious thing," says Lewis, "to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whome we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."

So yes, as I understand myself to be dirt, and no better dirt that you as we both would make plants grow well; we are eternal to our very core.

I could give scripture to back that up, but most everyone knows that to be true already.  Those who deny that part of their existence have been marred in a way I feel pity for.

I left that night with an altered perspective for the people I would continue to come in contact with in life.  At our very base, we are a good fertilizer. 

But charged with what Lewis wrote “our charity must be a real and costly love”.

While you know what you are, and what others are, just humbly love.  It was one of the last commands Christians were given...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Away with me Passenger! More Good Deeds await!

My Wife and I are super heroes.  Well, OK – maybe not SUPER heroes but definitely sidekick material. 

My wife and I planned a trip to Moline, IL.  If you have never been to Moline imagine a town, with trees and roads and people, but with no fun.  Honestly, the laughter of children dies at the city border.  In Moline there is the South Park Mall, and an IHOP. 

We arrived at the hotel on a Friday only to find the pool closed.  Why in the world would a pool be closed?  Cleaning?  VD?  I had to ask the night manager why the pool would be unavailable during my wife’s and mine trip to the outer quad cities.  Well citizens, it turns out that some genius of a Bride decided to hang her wedding dress up in her room which was 1 floor above the pool.  Did she hang it up in the closet?  No.  It appears since she had a very long wedding dress she hung it up above the floor on a water spout for the fire alarm system.  She hadn’t noticed she broke the seal and in doing so several minutes later after leaving the room, the entire fire suppression system sprayed water into their hotel room all over her unused wedding dress and collapsed part of the floor into the pool causing close to $50k in damage.

No Pool.

That left my wife and me the IHOP.  But we didn’t head there.  In an effort to enjoy the true nightlife of Moline my wife and I found out through the same night manager that explained the horrid pool episode that a Buffalo Wild Wings was close.  HUZZAH!

We hopped into the Cobra and took off to, well, South Park Mall.  The BW’s was right outside of it.

Now I need to explain our car.  Years ago my wife and I decided to buy a date car.  It would be our car.  We would offer rides in it for sure, and the kids could go in it once and a while, but it would not be our standard car.  It was reserved for us.  Through a coworker we came across a 97 Mustang Cobra triple black convertible.  The car looks like Batman, if Batman were a car.  In fact we got license plates that say IM BTMN.  Most people when they see the license plate say sarcastically (and believe me I know sarcasm) “Oh?  You’re Batman huh?”

 I have to inform them, no not me, it’s the car.

I digress.  So we head out to the car and to BW’s.  We were seated after what we were told was going to be a long wait in Moline of 15 minutes.  It WAS Friday night after all. 

Friday and we so excited. 

While we ordered, for some reason I believed at one point in my existence I had the Mango Habanero sauce.  I don’t know why I was so sure or what made me even think this was a good idea.  Mango Habanero on the BW’s Hot Chart, is just 2 steps down from the  Hottest Blazin sauce which I am sure is 2 steps down from actual Lava.

I had 3 of my wings, and the rest went into the trash.  But the problem was my mouth was still on fire.  It didn’t seem to care that the other wings were no longer an option for digestion.  Yankee Biz one time yelled at me that milk is needed to stop the burn, but I had none.  All I had was Ice Tea and Splenda, and that was not assisting.

We settled our tab and jumped back into IM BTMN in just enough time to watch Moline SHUTDOWN. 

Honestly.  The entire town just shutdown. 

My wife and I walked around the inside of the closed South Park Mall.  Inside the mall was ALL Cell World store and Hat World Store.

At night, I wondered if the two worlds fought for supremacy.

With none of the stores open we realized how lame this was so we went back to the Hotel which had no working pool.

Then it happened.  Like the Bat Signal – but in heartburn form – I turned to my trusty wife and said “Dude, seriously, we need to find like a Walgreens or something, I need Tums.”

And like a flash of Mango Habanero we were off and back in the cool car.  Using my wife’s GPS we found a Walgreens just 4 miles away.  The only problem was when we got there, the 24 hour Walgreens was not open 24 hours.

I decided to turn around in the parking lot of the NOT OPEN 24 hours Walgreens and that’s when we saw it.  A car – turn wide left and miss the road coming to a stop over the concrete curb and onto the grass.  Clearly he misjudged because he was drunk.

I finished my U-turn in the parking lot and the car, was gone.  I asked my wife.  “Did he pull away?  Or did he roll down the hill?”

My wife responded with ‘I Don’t Know”

  We sprang into action as I brought our car to where the Drunken Mobile had been and sure enough, about 6 feet below where the car had been we saw an overturned undercarriage. 
 We quickly raced around to the other side as I asked my wife to call 911.

She was on the phone and I was out of our car to see if there was anything that could be done to help this poor slob.

I came up on the car and I noticed at this point my overly analytical brain proved to be a hindrance.  The conversation went something like this in my head in less than 5 seconds.

 “I am going to run up and see if this guy needs help” “Your not a Doctor, your cousin is, but your not!  What the crap man” “What if he is hurt?” “What if he hurt his neck?  He can sue you if you drag him out of there and his neck is hurt”

So I tried the car door at least and it was locked, for a moment I thought about kicking in the glass, but I couldn’t see where the driver was at.  So – I shouted ‘Hey buddy, you OK?”

No Answer.  So I did what any other person would have done in my situation.

I took out my phone and snapped a couple pictures.

Yup – that was it.  Classic Heroism right there boys and girls.

Within 10 more seconds, because MOLINE has NOTHING going on, 8 police cars were on the scene.  The first officer gets out and shouts “ARE YOU ALRIGHT?” – At me.

I respond back that the poor fellow is still in his car and that I am quite fine, as most heroes would be.

But now the police are here, and I can watch the professionals in action.  The officer ran up to the door, tried it and said…”Hmm, it’s Locked” to another officer.  To which the other officer replied “Gonna kick in the glass?”  Which drew the response ‘No, Might hit him.”

So – He shouted ‘Hey buddy, you OK?”

Yup.  My work here was done.

The police were able to get the man inside to unlock his car doors and helped him out and to his feet to the nearest squad.

So – like all heroic exits I stealthily ran back to my car and was stopped by one of Moline’s finest.  They wanted my information because my wife and I had been a witness to the accident.

Then, realizing the original mission, I asked the Officer where a 24 hour, well, anything was.  He proceeded to direct me to Wal-Mart.  Tums Obtained!  Habanero Defeated!

At the end of the night, a good deed was done.  I had dubbed my wife her super hero name of “Passenger”.

I still kept my original name of “Lion-O Ninja Star”

It was a good night.

Until Next time Citizens!

Yoiks and AWAY!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lonely, but never alone...

The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.

Firefly was a good TV show.  I am not sure why Fox ever cancelled it, but it appeared to have everything in a show I like, and many things I don’t.  What I especially liked about the show was the pilot of the ship named “Wash”.  I could identify with this guy.  He married an awesome woman, like I did, he had a great sense of humor that was sarcastic but not sardonic - just like me, and when it came time for them to make a movie of the show called “Serenity”, he ends up dying by taking a spear to the chest after saving everyone on board.

Exactly how I want to go.

But I digress; I remember one episode called “Out of Gas”.  In it the Ship runs out of…well, whatever it’s powered on and something breaks and yadda yadda yadda plus some scary stuff and they decide to send 2 groups of people out in 2 separate small shuttles to get help and the captain – named Mal – decides to stay behind in case someone answers the distress beacon they setup there.

It’s in this event a line is uttered that will forever be burned in my psyche as truly remarkable and troubling at the same time.  One of the passengers who cares for the captain comes up to him and they have a small exchange of words that goes as follows:

Inara: Mal, you don't have to die alone. 
Mal: Everybody dies alone.

It didn’t dawn on me that whether you were lost at sea with hundreds of people, taken out by a bomb from a plane or in a car full of clowns in an accident, the death you have is singular to you.  You don’t leave this world holding hands with anyone.  The sum of whatever existence you have at the time of your passing ends with the last breathe that leaves and another one refuses to come back in.  No more are you given the opportunity to love your spouse or teach your children or pet your dog.

How cruel.  The reasons for it are explainable, but not in this post.

In 100 years those who would have known of your death or of you will all be gone as well.  I don’t remember my Great, Great Grand Parents.  Their existence had an affect on my life because without them, there would have been no me, but they are strangers to me.

How cruel is death that it is allowed not only a severance of all things we care about but it carries us into an oblivion and eternity that isn’t well documented or easily understood.  And you must go alone.  Christians tell they are unafraid of death.  Death shouldn’t have a fear attached to it.  Everyone, at some point, dies.

But you must do so alone.  My Grandfather was placed in Hospice.  He died alone.  We couldn’t take the journey with him.

Job is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  I don’t know why, most likely because it is a book that I can identify with the reality of. Job lost it all.  And his reaction to his friends is he wanted to be left alone.

I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave.
Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little,
Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;
A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.

I get it Job.  Everyone dies alone.  How can any comfort come from such despair and that reality?  I find none in his statement.

Lately, I have been studying Paul.  Paul was able to see something that few others can claim they had.  If we believe Paul’s account and I have no reason to doubt it – since SOMETHING must have changed a murdering zealot into a convert of the men, women and children he was killing – then we have the example of being completely alone.

Before the end of his life he writes “Only Luke is with me.” And “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me”.

No matter what people say right now, it is not as unpopular now to be a Christian as it was back then.  People fled Paul in some instances for their safety.  Anyone who identified that they were a Christian and visited Paul was arrested and murdered by Emperor Nero.  He was not a nice fellow.

Something drove Paul that made him reject the same despair that enveloped Job.   He explains in the same chapter when expressing his state of being as a single resister in an army of one.  “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me”.
Seriously?  Maybe Paul was delusional over the years of imprisonment.  Maybe he finally succumbed to some madness that didn’t affect his writings or his brain for prose, but brought upon some type of psychosomatic belief that he was not by himself when he was writing.

Forgive that logic but that does not add up to me.

Composers Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Chopin had great bouts of depression as most incredible artists do.  It seems bi-polar is a contributing factor to a mark of a genius.

Pearl Buck said “The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.”

But Paul, he writes “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Content with being alone?  Honestly? 

I know what you are thinking.  I like “me” time.  It’s nice and quiet and allows for thoughts to dwell on peaceful things or solutions to problems or meditate on some great truth or love of this life.  I agree, as long as I can come back to some type of community.

No, Paul must have had a deeper experience and connection to someone that exceeded his physical prison, his poor health, and his upcoming execution.  Digging into his statement I found “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”

There it was.  Paul was recounting this one moment in time when this most important relationship, the only one that would have kept him sane, would ground him to the reality that was his ultimate destiny.  And with that he would never be alone.  Even in facing death Paul says “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

 As human beings we change the same sentence by filling in the most crucial part of the sentence with something else. “For to me to live is ______, and to die is gain.”  Is that a career, or a family, or a product or service that we fill in the blank with?  There is only one right answer.  All other answers do not make death a gaining experience.

With Christ.  Sometimes lonely, but never Alone.