Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thankful

Happy New Year to my blogger friends. I have been reading quite a few retrospectives on 2008 the last couple of days, almost all of which lament the disastrous economy. I work for a bank and believe me, I am tuned in to how bad it is.

I still have many blessings to count, though. We've had some great times at my house over the past week, laughing, playing games (we are a competitive bunch here), eating great food and enjoying this season. As I have stated previously in this space, I am immensely blessed by a wonderful wife and three children who continue to love me "because of and in spite of." I am blown away by these people.

Wife and I have a quiet New Year's Eve planned. We'll get together with two other couples for an early dinner, then play cards for a while. Since I am on "holiday time" I might even make it to midnight. It will be an enjoyable evening and I am thankful for little blessings that times like these provide.

I am thankful to each of you, my faithful blogger friends, listed to the left on my blog page:

Kelly -- my lifelong friend who introduced me to blogging. We share a lifetime of memories and now have this connection. You are a true blessing in my life.


Pam -- Kelly's sister, who I probably met years ago, with whom I have become re-acquainted.
Your devotion to your daughter and your special grandsons, and to those children you have made a part of your life, is inspiring. I long to be as unselfish as you.

Hal -- You bring to life what it's like to be a pilot. I am always excited when I see a new post from you. And wow, what an example of a devoted husband and dad you are.

Bob B. -- Ditto what I said to Hal about learning about the life of a pilot. You possess a wit and a zest for life that comes through in everything you write. Your post about BILLY MAYS is still my favorite.

Michael --The wisdom you have at your age is nothing short of amazing. I am educated and challenged each time I read something you have written.

Quid -- We don't agree on politics but we share a love of reading and writing. I appreciate your consistent wit and wisdom. Still waiting to hear about the cat phobia thing.

Debby -- If I had the authority to give a "Blog of the Year" award, it would go to you. Your unfolding story about your battle with cancer -- and your humor, candor, optimism and faith in the midst of it -- is always an upper.

So, a big "Cheers" to you, good friends, as we close out this year. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2009. I look forward to our continued friendship.



Friday, December 26, 2008

The Year in Review in Books

As of today I have read 27 books in 2008, which is an average of two and a quarter books per month. I don’t set any goals of how many I will read and, obviously, they are of varying lengths and I have more time to read during some periods than others. So there is nothing scientific about my reading and recordkeeping. I just like to keep track and it helps when I am asked for recommendations. I also like to look back and see what kind of trends I am seeing in myself as to my preferences. (I started my Shelfari bookshelf in the left margin of my blog midway through the year, on which I now list every book I read. It does not, however, include every book from 2008 and the first seven are ones I had read previously).

The definite trend this year was toward nonfiction. Of the 27 books I read, only ten were fiction. I also read a lot of sports books this year. No particular reason other than they were gifts or recommendations and I do like sports.

For this post I set out to do a Top Ten List, but it has ended up being a Top Dozen instead. Here they are in no particular order, i.e. there is no favorite of the favorites:

1. Joshua, by Joseph Girzone. This is the first of a series of several about a man named Joshua who is a modern day incarnation of Christ. The author is a Catholic Priest. I loved the very personal human/divine element that Girzone gives the main character. The resounding themes of unconditional love and grace capture the essence of Christ’s divine nature but the Joshua character is as human as I am. I plan to read more of the series next year.

2. The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis. The best sports book I read this year, Lewis tells the poignant story of Michael Oher, a 350-plus pound African American boy who was taken in as a teenager off the streets (literally) of Memphis, Tennessee by a wealthy white family who sent him to a private Christian high school and eventually adopted him. Oher, who had never played football, became a star left tackle on his school’s team and was sought after by major colleges nationwide before eventually settling on Ole Miss, alma mater of his adoptive parents. (Now in his senior year, he is All American and will be a top NFL draft pick). As a parallel to the Oher story, the author traces the development of the left tackle position, the quarterback’s “blind side,” from whence comes the book’s title. If you are a football fan, I can almost guarantee that you will love this book. If you are not, and you can get past all the football stuff, you will love the story of Michael Oher and the family that helped change his life.

3. Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich. The inspiration behind the movie Twenty-One, this is the story of a group of MIT students who made millions, legally, from counting cards in casinos in Vegas, Atlantic City and smaller gaming venues around the country. I am not a gambler and have never set foot in a casino but this book was nothing short of fascinating for me. In addition to the in-depth explanation of card counting (much of which, I admit, went way over my head) and the methods the casino bosses use to weed out the big winners, Mezrich gets inside the mind of the main character who was originally talked into playing, then became addicted to, the game of Blackjack. I enjoyed the movie too, but as is so often the case, there were liberties taken that were not true to the book’s storyline. I highly recommend reading the book then renting the movie.

4. Freakonomics, by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The subtitle to this amazing book is “A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.” An outgrowth of a New York Times profile on Levitt, an economist and college professor, that was written by Dubner, the two joined forces to create this work which now has somewhat of a cult following. I hardly even know how to describe it other than to tell you it is about much more than economics and is very much about weird theories that seem to make perfect sense when you read about them. Levitt proudly admits there is no unifying theme, but yet, some unknown force seems to pull it all together. I loved this.

5. God’s Politics: Why the Religious Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, by Jim Wallis. Wallis, founder of the Sojourners organization and magazine of the same name, has made much of his life’s calling providing an alternative to – if not a resounding criticism of – the so called Religious Right. He calls Christians to a high standard of standing for justice and peace for all. He pulls no punches as he highlights his differences with some modern Evangelicals but pleads for common ground. Although I do not concur with all of his views, I found myself agreeing with many of his frustrations with the likes of Falwell, Robertson and Dobson. But he is equally critical of the extremists who want to take God out of every facet of public life. He demonstrates great personal humility and recounts with great regret a media battle years ago with Campus Crusade for Christ Founder Bill Bright. The two eventually reconciled in what few could deny was a series of divine appointments. For me, Wallis confirmed once again that God’s Kingdom is quite diverse and I should be very careful about judging who does and does not reside there. (As an aside, I also read The Woman Behind the Collar by Wallis’s wife, Joy Carroll Wallis, an Anglican Priest from England. I enjoyed it enough, but was put off by her contrasts between American and British life in which she often took critical and defensive positions. It was an interesting read, but definitely not in my Top Dozen).

6. Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis. I am a longtime C. S. Lewis fan and he ranks among the few writers whose works I will read over an over. In this largely autobiographical work he conveys genuine testimony without being preachy. Although a noted apologist, he shows here how simple faith truly is a belief in things unseen. Says Lewis, “Joy must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing” -- words I can neither read nor write without feeling chill bumps. I think I’ll go read this again.

7. When We Get to Surf City, by Bob Greene. Greene, with whom I began an infrequent and unlikely e-mail relationship after reading one of his prior books (he actually responded when I wrote and now e-mails me when he has a new one coming out), pens a great story about traveling with the sixties duo Jan and Dean. It’s a fun and interesting look into rock and roll and the author’s dream come true of playing in a real band.

8. Lou Holtz: Wins, Losses and Lessons, by Lou Holtz. An autobiographical piece that mixes Holtz’s philosophy of life with his trademark self-deprecating humor, this is a real upper. I know Holtz has his detractors but I am not among them. Holtz has great things to say about overcoming adversity and achieving lofty, unrealistic goals while adhering to old fashioned principles like integrity. You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this one and to appreciate Lou Holtz’s unique gift as a communicator.

9. Miracle at Speedy Motors, by Alexander McCall Smith. This is the eighth in the “Number One Ladies Detective Agency” series, each of which has been equally fresh, funny and insightful and each of which I have gleefully devoured. When I read the first of these, I had hardly heard of Botswana. Now I long to go. If the people there are as endearing as the characters Smith has created, it’s got to be a remarkable place. If you like light hearted, feel-good fiction that is extremely well written and not the least bit sappy or repetitive, and you have not started this series, you are in for a treat. And I am jealous.

10. Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan. Jordan’s first novel, set in 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, tells the story of a young woman from Memphis who follows her husband to a farm and struggles to raise daughters in an environment clearly not her natural habitat. Told from the points of view of different characters in alternating chapters, a compelling story develops with recurring themes of racism, cruelty and misconceptions typical of the era.

11. The Shack, by William Young. I struggled with whether I should list this among my favorites of the year. I am always skeptical of the “latest and greatest” in Christian circles and thus for many months resisted picking this up. But the more I read and heard about the author (a missionary child who set out to do nothing more than put something in writing for his family), and the more I heard from friends and family who had read the book (with differing reactions), the more curious I became, and finally gave in. In spite of my skepticism, I enjoyed this a great deal and found the message of hope highly compelling. At the same time, I struggled some with the metaphorical account of the Holy Trinity. But, with all objectivity, this was a page turner for me and I would highly recommend it for believers and non-believers alike. It is quite a story.

12. West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. As I write this I am still a few pages short of completing this memoir by a remarkable English-born woman who grew up in and lived most of her life on the African continent, mainly Nairobi, Kenya. Markham, who was born in 1902 and died in 1986, first published this work, her only book, in 1942 and it was not well received. It was, however, re-published in 1982 after someone found an obscure review written by none other than Ernest Hemingway, in which he praised Markham’s prose and lamented the fact that he would never write as well as she. This has not been one of those “I can’t put this down” types of books for me. In fact, it is only about 300 pages long and it has taken me almost a month to read it. But I would not think of not completing it. As I read the story of this rogue farmer-turned-horse-trainer-turned-pilot, I am fully aware that I am reading beautifully written narrative that is totally worth the effort.

###

Post Script: On my list for 2009 (would appreciate hearing from those who have read any of these and would welcome other recommendations):

-- Two Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and Oliver Redin.
-- Transplant, by Bill Frist.
-- The Maltese Falcon, by Dash Hammett (can’t believe I’ve never read this).
-- More in the Joshua series by Joseph Girzone.
Post Script 2: Can't decide if I'll go see the movie Marley and Me, which opened yesterday, or not. I loved the book and am afraid it won't do it justice. Anyone seen it yet?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Thoughts

Merry Christmas to all. Some random thoughts on Christmas Eve:

-- Wife and I are celebrating our 25th Christmas together as husband and wife. Our first Christmas we were still very tied to our respective families' traditions. We went to church with her parents on Christmas Eve, then had dinner, opened gifts and spent the night with them (even though we lived in the same town). We got up at 6 a.m. and drove to South Arkansas in time for breakfast with my folks. After the day there with them and my brother and his family we drove back to Little Rock for turkey sandwiches with Wife's parents. It was exhausting.

-- Our second Christmas, Wife was pregnant with our first child. We thought she was going into labor Christmas Eve and even went so far as to pack a bag before going to church. HA! The pains subsided and exactly one month later, three weeks past her due date, she delivered Daniel via Caesarean section. He was in no hurry whatsoever.

-- One memorable Christmas was 1988 when our daughter was about seven weeks old. On the afternoon of December 23rd she would not stop crying, which was not uncommon with our colicky babies, but Wife and I could both tell it was more than just the normal fussiness. Wife took her to the pediatrician and within a couple of hours she was in the hospital and that's where we spent Christmas that year. We tag-teamed staying in the hospital with her and spending time with her older brother at home. Turned out she had a little problem with her immune system and two more hospitalizations followed over the next few months. Everything eventually kicked in, though, and she's stunningly beautiful and healthy today.

-- The first Christmas after losing my mom was a sad one. She died in October 1996, two weeks after her and my dad's 50th anniversary. Dad was lost without her and decided to just stay home and get through it on Christmas Day. My brother and I said we would come with our families and put up a tree as we had always done but he would not hear of it. We respected his wishes and I called him Christmas morning. He was OK and had decided he would go to lunch at my brother's house. We all got through it and it was fine, but ever since then I have had a very keen awareness of those who are hurting at Christmastime. It's not always happy for everyone.

-- I lost Dad in January of 2006, less than two weeks after he had, at 83 years old, made the 8-hour drive to Nashville to spend Christmas with us. He was not always an easy guest but we really had a good time that year and I'll always be thankful for that Christmas with him. I think a lot of both of my parents at Christmas. I still miss them, but it really is true that good memories comfort you. I am very thankful that Wife's parents, both of whom turned 80 this year, both still join us for Christmas.

-- I love Christmas but I tire of the gift-giving. I enjoy giving special gifts when I want to, but I do not have the "gift" of giving and any type of shopping stresses me out. I also do not receive gifts well and am painfully embarrassed opening gifts in front of people. I realize this is a character deficiency and after years of discussions with Wife about this, I have made some progress. But I still don't like it very much.

-- I don't get all worked up over the "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" vs. "Season's Greetings" stuff. Political correctness drives me insane and why it bothers anybody for someone to wish them a Merry Christmas is beyond me, but hey, I won't say it to them if it bothers them. Wish me a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hannukah, Happy Holidays or anything of the sort and I'm just fine. As Christians we do in fact celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year and noone can take that away from us, so, as I said, I am not getting too excited over all of this. Many of the traditions around the Christmas celebration actually are derived from the old pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice and if I remember the facts correctly, that's how bringing a tree and other greenery inside got started. I know that in all likelihood Jesus was not born in December but I still think it's very appropriate that we make a big deal out of God sending His Son. And if we have tied some other traditions and practices to that that do not have Christian origins, and vice-versa, I am totally OK with that. We can all chill out and not major in the minors.

-- We're making some changes at our house this year for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We are having a "Mexican Fiesta" for Christmas Eve dinner -- enchiladas, fish tacos, chips and salsa. We're going to string up pepper lights in the dining room. If everyone likes, this, we're going to pick another country for Christmas Eve next year and maybe start a new tradition. Tomorrow we're having beef tenderloin and salmon (two of us are non-beef eaters). For years it's been turkey and dresssing and Wife said, if it's all the same to the rest of us, she gets a little tired of doing it again so soon after Thanksgiving. We're all cool with it.

-- We go to a non-denominational church which is rather contemporary and we have three services on Christmas Eve. We, however, do not attend on Christmas Eve. For a number of years now we have gone to a Methodist Church for an 11 p.m. Candlelight and Communion Service that is very traditional and has beautiful music. I love the pipe organ and brass that accompanies the traditional Christmas Carols and I love the choir. It is a highlight of Christmas for me.

-- To anyone who is reading this, I hope you have a blessed Christmas season and that, whatever it means to you, you will have some special times with those you love. If you are hurting this Christmas, I hope you get through it and I will join you in praying for better days ahead.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Coming Together

Kudos to President-elect Obama for choosing Rick Warren, noted pastor of Saddleback Church, and Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights activist, to pray at his inauguration.

These choices, representing two strong leaders who represent different factions of Christianity, demonstrate Obama's commitment to bringing together opposing forces for the greater good. When questioned about the picks, he said, "we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."

The "Amen" you hear is coming from this Republican.

Unfortunately, the Gay Rights extremists are shouting their criticisms of Obama for picking Warren, who is a supporter of California's Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. Warren is no homophobic, having spent untold time and resources on fighting the spread of AIDs around the world, an issue which, of course, has a huge impact on the gay community. But he still has strong beliefs in how marriage is to be defined and he is not backing down.

Obama, reiterating his commitment to "agreeing without being disagreeable," has stood by his choice. Obama remembers that Warren invited him to speak at his church a couple of years ago at a conference on AIDS. Warren was at that time strongly critized by his parisioners and other conservative followers but refused to budge, reminding his critics that Obama had done much in the AIDS battle and deserved to be heard. Obama and Warren forged a friendship which has lasted.

Now Obama is taking the heat for extending the invitation to Warren.

In his wildly popular book, The Purpose Driven Life, Warren's first admonition to readers is: "It's Not About You." Those words are simple yet profound, words that would be well taken to heart by those so quick to criticize.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Tree Hell


Putting up a Christmas Tree at this time of year is a cherished tradition in families across the country and my family is no exception. The distinguishing factor in my family, however, is that putting up the tree is anticipated not with awe, but dread. And that is all because of me.

For some reason, putting up the Christmas Tree brings out the worst in me. I have long held out for having a real tree, not an artificial one. So every year we go to one of the local stores, pick one out (when the children were younger, we would go cut one down), bring it home and put it up.

Would that it were that simple.

I really thought it went well last weekend when we got it in the house and in the stand. After a few maneuverings, it stood in the stand with no exterior wires. Mission accomplished. The Season of Good Cheer had officially arrived.

But about an hour later I noticed Wife was not cheerful. Most men know when they are at fault for their wives being a bit out of sorts. And, just like always, I had to go through the "What's wrong?" - "Nothing." - "No, really." - "Nothing." - "OK" - "Well if you don't know . . ." ordeal before finally figuring out I had once again offended her while carrying out the family tradition.

While lying on the floor turning the little screws on the tree stand with one hand and trying to hold the tree erect with the other, with her saying, "Turn it just a little, no that's not it, no it's still leaning, no, maybe you need to cut off a little branch, no, it's just not right, well, if you want a tree that's leaning," apparently I asked her to "hush." No, apparently it was more of a command.
Honestly, I don't remember it. But neither do I deny it. For, as I said, something about bringing a live tree in the house sends me into a funk.

I appropriately apologized and was forgiven. Wife's nothing if not understanding (and she has been down this road before).

The best way to explain myself is to print my Christmas letter of 2002. I have written our family Christmas letter for a number of years now. I always try to make it more of a humorous, satirical piece, to give the recipients a little comic relief amidst the ones that pour in touting the various accomplishments of the author or the author's family, particulary the author's unusually bright and outstanding children.

So, here it is, from six years ago, with my best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season:


December 2002

We continue to follow the cherished family holiday traditions. Here's a rundown from my journal of what we affectionately call, at our house, Christmas Tree Hell:

Sunday, Dec. 1: We take the whole family to Home Depot to get the tree. They are already sold out (on December 1st?!) except for the pitiful Charlie Brown trees. We go to a lot that would have required me to put a second mortgage on our home in order to purchase a tree there. I suggest we go to Kroger. Daughter says she won't allow tree from Kroger (??). Wise wife says let's wait a couple of days for Home Depot to get second shipment.

Tuesday, Dec. 3: Wife and children come home from Home Depot with tree that would indicate that second shipment came from Redwood Forest. Not to worry, Wife says, observing my look of unbelief. She has purchased the "Miracle Christmas Tree Stand," with "One Person Setup" -- what we have always needed, she says. Picture on box shows smartly dressed woman in high heels placing tree in stand, using her foot to adjust the patented swivel feature which dares any tree not to stand straight. Yes, Dear, I say, this year will be different, even though trunk of tree is near my waist size.

Wednesday, Dec. 4: Almost 17-year-old son and I carry Christmas Tree into house. (If the gal in the picture on the box could do this by herself, she shouldn't be modeling for Christmas Tree stand boxes; she should be a body builder). I ask children not to videotape this event as in years past as it could be used against me should our state ever allow children to divorce parents. Wife prepares "Miracle Christmas Tree Stand." Son and I lift and heave. Miracle doesn't happen. Tree falls to floor. Wife reads instructions. Oh, she says, we forgot to trim the trunk so it will "wedge" into stand. I wonder if maybe Wife should have dressed more like woman on the box. I utter words under my breath and go get my saw. Younger two children fight back tears and retreat to playroom. Son and I begin to make tree trunk resemble "wedge." Room resembles forest as sawdust and needles blanket carpet. I lean back against the wall in exhaustion, perspiration pouring. Hours later, Wife again prepares "Miracle Christmas Tree Stand," we heave and hoist, Wife "swivels" stand pursuant to instructions and lo and behold, Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow, it really is a miracle, the tree stands. I have triumphed over nature. No need to tie it to the wall this year, I say. Maybe just for security, doubting Wife says. NO!!! I say . . . sweetly.

Thursday, Dec. 5: Family decorates tree. Angel is placed on top. All three children comment that tree seems to be leaning. Don't be cute, I say. Angel looks like she is about to take flight, or nosedive, from top of tree.

Friday, Dec. 6: Wife hosts church staff Christmas dinner at our home. Christmas Tree stands majestically, beautiful lights and ornaments hanging gracefully as fifty people gather 'round. I get choked up as I smugly relate how easily it went up this year, thanks to my skill and the "Miracle Christmas Tree Stand."

Sunday, Dec. 8: Tree has survived the weekend. I deny hearing creaky popping sounds from that end of the room that children point out. I threaten to return their Christmas presents if they continue to make reference to tree leaning.

Tuesday, Dec. 10: Angel at top of tree at right angle, pleading with us to give her some relief if she is to reign over Christmas this year. In private I get the ladder and put her out her misery. Again, I deny hearing any kind of creaking or popping sound as I lift her off the tree. I tell Wife I'm giving angel a rest and will put her back up at a later time.

Wednesday, Dec. 11: Wife calls me at work at 10 a.m. Tree has fallen to floor, she says, smashing lights and ornaments. What to do, she asks. I'll come home, I say, tree will be thrown into back yard, "Miracle Christmas Tree Stand" will be returned with instructions on what they can do with it and we will purchase a fake tree, or have no tree at all. God never intended for us to have trees in our houses in the first place, I say. Stay at work, she says, we'll deal with it tonight. When I arrive at home, I observe tree lying prostrate on the floor and decide once again that it will not defeat me. Armed with wire, hooks, nails and a hammer, son and I pick it up, put it back into former miracle stand, and it is wired to the nail in the wall as in years past.

Thursday, Dec. 12 (today): Christmas Tree stands naked in our den as we try to muster our enthusiasm for decorating it again. Wife says we will one day laugh about it. Children will remember annual battle between Christmas Tree and crazed father as highlight of Christmas season.

If anyone in the world should surrender to an artificial tree, it is yours truly. But by this time next year this will be a faded memory and we'll do it again. I shall return.


###

And yes, we've done it every year since. I will say it has gotten better and we have finally learned to pick out more reasonably sized trees. Only one real disaster since 2002, and that year we finally surrendered and used an artificial tree that Wife's parents had handed down to us. We had about 80 dollars' worth of greenery from the mammoth real tree that just refused to participate.

Saying "hush" to Wife only one time during the whole process this year, and that being the extent of the tension, is progress, my friends. Merry Christmas -- and a joyous Christmas Tree -- to all.










Friday, December 5, 2008

Like No Other

For me, the holiday season is not complete without hearing at least a recording, if not a live presentation, of Messiah, George Frederick Handel's famous oratorio which he wrote over a period of 24 days in 1741.

The score includes orchestral pieces as well as both choruses and solos. The words are entirely from Scripture. Although most often performed at the Christmas season, the works encompass the prophecy, birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Some of the better known portions include "For Unto Us a Child is Born" and "Hallelujah."

I was first introduced to this magnificent work as high school sophomore chorister in South Arkansas. Our combined high school choirs and youth orchestra performed at our local municipal auditorium. It was a challenging task for high schoolers but I thought it came off beautifully. A vinyl record album was even made of our rendition, which included all the shuffling and coughing that came with the performance. I played it so much I think I finally wore it out.

I have participated in and heard a number of Messiah performances since that time. I now have a CD of one performed by a London choir and orchestra. Older Son and Daughter have both participated in performances. No matter who is performing, professional or amateur, I am always moved and get chills down my spine from the time I hear the overture until the last piece, usually the Hallelujah chorus. It is a complicated work, yet paradoxically simple as it tells the timeless story of Messiah coming to earth. I am at once moved by the beautiful music as well as the words.

There are few things about which I am a purist, but Handel's Messiah is one of them. None of the pieces should ever be changed or shortened in any way, nor should they ever be performed as a contemporary chorus or "praise song." I have heard some horrible take-offs on the Hallelujah Chorus and have, unfortunately, over the years occasionally heard a modern artist include one of the beautiful songs from Messiah jazzed up as part of a Christmas album. This is nothing short of blasphemy and cheapens Handel's incredible masterpiece. There is a place for every style of music, but there is never a reason to so chop up a creation as to be insulting.

Tonight one of our local churches hosted a "Messiah Sing-Along" where a choir, orchestra and soloists performed the work, but audience members were given a score and invited to sing with the choruses. Older Son and I went and enthusiastically lent our out-of-practice voices to the timeless pieces. I was again in awe of the beauty and wonder of the glorious music and was reminded anew of how God sent Messiah as His amazing gift to the world.

"For Unto Us a Child is Born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."

To that, what can a person say, but Hallelujah?!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A State of Mind

There is a song from the old Broadway show, Mame, titled “We Need a Little Christmas.” You will no doubt hear it if you listen to a radio stations that plays continuous Christmas music from mid-November through Christmas Day. One of the verses goes as follows, evidencing the song’s recurring theme:

We need a little Christmas! Right this very minute! Candles in the window, carols at the spinet, yes we need a little Christmas, right this very minute! Need a little Christmas now!

In the play the song is performed by Auntie Mame and her nephew, Patrick, acknowledging the hard times they are experiencing but agreeing that, by pretending it is Christmas, they can take at least momentary solace. In one of the other lines in the song, Patrick states, “But Auntie Mame, it’s one week from Thanksgiving Day now.”

I am guessing Patrick meant Thanksgiving was one week away rather than one week in the past but either way, this line from the song would today be ludicrous. Stores are completely decorated for Christmas by the day after Halloween if not before. This has been going on for some time now and to an extent, it is understandable. Retailers depend on the Christmas season for a huge part of their year’s revenues.

Now, individuals have caught on to the early decorating and preparation. Several houses in our neighborhood are already decked out for Christmas and I am confident that, by this weekend, many of our friends will have put up their Christmas trees.

This past weekend at our church, the entire service was devoted to kicking off our “Global Christmas” where, for a number of holiday seasons now, members have been urged to give to a fund that is used throughout the year to support worthwhile causes and ministries all over the world. The emphasis is on the idea of giving rather than receiving and the special offering will be taken in mid-December. It is always a wonderful time in our congregation and extremely heartening to see people look beyond what is sometimes superficial gift-giving and choose to invest in something with eternal worth.

There was no acknowledgement, however, of Thanksgiving, other than the pastor who was speaking saying something like, “I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but . . .” No “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” or any other song or reading to acknowledge the holiday that has become pretty much the gateway to the Christmas season.

I used to get all worked up over this, lamenting the fact that Christmas has become so commercial and we just skip right over Thanksgiving. I scoffed at the early decorating and the playing of Christmas music starting in early November.

After a lot of good natured ribbing and outright laughter from my wife and children, though, I have completely mellowed about it all. I have come to realize that Thanksgiving is a state of mind (as is the commercialization of Christmas, but that’s for another day). If I am having a problem being as thankful as I should be, well, that is a problem of my own making.

The fact that Christmas decorations are up should not prevent me from being thankful. On Thanksgiving Day I will get up and go participate in a 5K to benefit Habitat for Humanity. I will go serve at a little inner city church that caters to its community, many of whom are way down on their luck. I will come home and enjoy a wonderful meal with my wonderful family (who laugh at me, but that’s OK). Again, something is way wrong with me if I am not thankful after a day like that.

I am thankful for so much and my heart is full as I think of the blessings I have. And to anyone reading this, I hope you are thankful also. And if you want to put up your Christmas tree tomorrow or this weekend -- or if you put it up last week -- you have my blessing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Something positive

In the midst of all the discouraging crap going on, I found encouragement here:

http://sports.yahoo.com/golf/blog/devil_ball_golf/post/J-P-Hayes-is-as-honest-as-we-like-to-think-we-a?urn=golf,123304

I don't play golf and don't even fully understand this, but I know one thing: this guy chose to do the right thing. He didn't have to do it but he did it. Not because it helped him; not because he would get kudos from folks like me. He did it simply because it was the right thing to do. That was enough.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Tag Game

Thank you to everyone who "tagged" me. I know you meant well. At the left on my blog page is my blog list which I believe at last count was seven. The rules of this little game say that you tag seven friends, post the rules, then state seven weird or random things about yourself. I think almost everyone on my list has already been included in this so I'm not going to "tag" you again, nor am I going to post the rules again. Quid said we didn't have to . . .

I did come up with seven things and added one more. These are not weird but I guess they are random. I am, as usual, too wordy. I don't like to talk about myself and look forward to writing about things that I hope are more interesting.

1. I’m a family man. My wife and three children bring me more joy than I have ever deserved. Having a family trumps most everything I have ever experienced.

2. The longer I live, the less I like and am comfortable with the liberal and conservative labels, both politically and socially. I know that, by common definitions, I am conservative. Like one of my other blogger friends, I am anti-death penalty but pro-gun. I am pro-life. I believe in the capitalist system but I am totally frustrated and disenchanted by the current state of healthcare in the this country and although I think I oppose universal health insurance and am skeptical of anything run by the government, I know that is easy for me to say because I have not been without health insurance. I still have not decided if health care is a privilege or a right. I have a fundamental problem with the recently passed financial rescue legislation but I work for a bank that will likely benefit from it. So is all of this conservative or liberal?

I am part of a church that would be known as both conservative and evangelical as those terms are commonly defined today. Again, though, I don’t like the labels. I believe Jesus is very inclusive, not exclusive. I love the creeds, worship, liturgy and music in many of the traditional Christian churches. I do not believe any particular brand of Christianity has it all right and I am immediately put off by any faction that teaches or implies that it does.

3. I am extremely soft-hearted, probably to a fault. I do not like conflict but I am also very stubborn and will (obnoxiously at times) resolutely argue about something if I am impassioned about the subject matter. My wife would confirm this and would add that I will resolutely argue even when I know I am wrong.

I have tried to channel the soft-heartedness into good things and several years ago began volunteering at, and eventually went on the Board of Directors of, a local homeless shelter and life recovery center. I am totally in awe of both the staff who work there and the clientele who work so hard to change their lives.

4. I love music of many types – Classical, Modern, Rock and Roll, Jazz and Country. I play the piano – started taking piano lessons when I started school. I also love to sing. I sang in choirs from an early age until moving to Tennessee in 1997. I also sang in small ensembles and an occasional solo in my former church in Arkansas. The music in my current church is very contemporary and hard for me to follow, so I don’t do any up front singing anymore.

5. I love to read and write. My reading preferences are as varied as my musical ones. I have read a lot of sports books this year for no other reason than friends have passed them on or recommended them to me. My five all-time favorite books are listed on my blog profile. I do not care much for fantasy or science fiction.

I love the whole blogging thing because it gives me an outlet to write and there are about a half dozen folks who are kind enough to read what I write and give me their feedback. Most of these people I have never personally met, yet I have come to think of them as friends. My friend Kelly introduced me to blogging. She and I have known each other our entire lives and, until she married, had the same last name but are not related.

I have been saying for years that I think I have a novel in me but it has not yet been birthed.

6. I majored in Journalism in college and wrote for my college newspaper. I went to law school right out of college. If I had it to do over again, I would have taken some time between undergrad and law school. That is what I advise young people – who ask – to do unless they are extremely passionate about the profession or graduate study they believe they want to pursue. For me, although it has all worked out fine, I was not very mature when I graduated from college. A year or two doing something else – maybe working for a newspaper or maybe just doing a low skills job – would have done me a world of good, helped me to mature and maybe helped me avoid a great deal of second guessing myself.

7. The best job I ever had in my life was during the summers of 1980 and ’81 when I worked in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Those were the summers after my senior year of college and first year of law school, respectively. This is where I became totally hooked on the great outdoors.

8. This is one extra but I have to add that I am huge sports fan, especially Major League Baseball and College Football. I'm also a big high school football fan, especially since Younger Son currently plays on the O-line and his team is in the state playoffs.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I'm progressing

I let him go after getting my picture made
Dad and Son having a great day at the lake

Older Son Daniel

Older Son has taught me how to put photos on here. You have to understand that I am only semi-literate at computing. Even having a blog was a stretch but I enjoy it so much and I enjoy seeing the occasional photo so I wanted to be able to do it.

Older Son and I went fishing yesterday and had such a good time. Caught some blue gill and catfish and had just an incredible time. It was a gorgeous fall day and even was worth missing a game or two on TV (we caught the second half of Bama/LSU when we got home).

So now I have a profile shot and here are some photos of our day at the lake yesterday. Oh yeah, in the one of Older Son and me, I'm on the right. (HA!) I know, we look like twins don't we? Also, I added a group shot to my post a while back about the Auburn/Vanderbilt weekend so take a look if you'd like to see it.
Yes folks, he can be taught! :-)


Saturday, November 8, 2008

No Great Revelation Here

My blogger friend Hal had a very interesting piece recently about dreams. He said that he viewed his dreams about his wife and son as gifts. His wife and son are very much alive but he has to be away from them from time to time.

Hal's piece got me to thinking. This is the time of year that my mother died, in the fall, of 1996. I don't make a big deal about the anniversary of her death. This year I did not even think of it until the day was almost over. But when the fall season comes I do tend to remember the circumstances surrounding her passing and the months of suffering she endured.

For a long time after her death I would have very vivid dreams about her. In those dreams she was always sick. I would wake up sad because, even though I was 39 years old when she died and I had a lifetime of "healthy" memories of her, I was beginning to always think of her as sick. Of course I could remember her as a very well person but for some reason the "sick" memories were very much trumping the "well" ones. I did not want to remember her only in that way.

I cannot remember exactly when it happened, but eventually I began to dream about her the way I wanted to remember her -- as the compassionate, funny and caring mother and person that she was, and not sick. Although I would awake from those dreams and have a quick twinge of sadness as I remembered she was no longer with me, within minutes I would feel extremely comforted. And the dreams made me feel as if she were right there with me.

My dad died nearly ten years later, in 2006. His death was sudden, so I did not have the dreams of him being sick.

Strange thing was, I almost immediately began to have dreams about both of them. I still do. I guess I average several dreams per month about them. Often they are in the house where I grew up (which we sold after Dad died); sometimes I am a child again in the dreams.

I almost always awake from these dreams with a great sense of comfort and peace. Although I still miss both of them very much, in a very real sense I feel as if they are with me when I have these dreams.

And I believe I might have hit on something here, thanks in part to Hal's recent blog which got me to thinking about all of this. I think I have come to realize that yes, they are in fact with me in these dreams.

But not just in the dreams. They continue to live because all they did for me and everything they ever said to me are so much a part of me. I could no more not have them with me than not have my limbs or any other part of my body. They are a part of me and they go with me wherever I go; it is just that simple.

I know this is no great revelation but, just as I believe the dreams are gifts, I believe God continues to comfort me. I believe, no matter what age we are, we become different people when we lose a parent. Although we learn to live with it and accept it, I am not sure we ever really stop grieving the loss. And to deal with that in a healthy way, there has to be some comfort, some assurance.

And these dreams, as well as my good thoughts and memories, continue to comfort me and make me feel a very real presence. Wow.

(Thanks, Hal).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Final Thoughts

Election Post Mortem:

-- I am very disappointed, more than I thought I would be. I have predicted an Obama victory for months now and did not even watch the coverage Tuesday night, other than looking in for a total of about three minutes to confirm the result. I had prepared myself for it, but the reality is I hate to lose.

-- I want to make clear that my vote for John McCain was not just a vote against Obama, nor was it a vote for “the lesser of two evils.” I enthusiastically voted for John McCain. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

-- Tons of folks, even McCain supporters, disagree with me here, but the brightest part of the election for me was Sarah Palin. The die was cast long ago for a Democratic victory that was only going to be derailed by a major screw-up by Obama (and with the media cheering him on, that was not going to happen), but Governor Palin brought a breath of fresh air to the Republican ticket and to the entire election. And I loved how it just infuriated the hell out of her detractors when she kept right on going as much as they tried to discredit her. As I stated in an earlier post, borrowing from Rudyard Kipling, she kept her head about her when all about her were losing theirs and, being lied about, did not deal in lies.

-- Geraldine Ferraro graciously recognized Governor Palin for what she was doing. Ms. Ferrarro, who ran as Walter Mondale’s running mate on the Democratic ticket in 1984 and is now a commentator on Fox News, made it clear from the outset that she was not a McCain-Palin supporter. She was, however, extremely gracious and enthusiastic about what Governor Palin represented and symbolized for women. Oh my, if only some of the others in her camp would copy her grace and good manners.

-- As I have stated before, I like Barack Obama. I think he and I could be friends. I will do my best to be supportive of him.

-- I am very concerned about a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. I am concerned about the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court who will make law rather than interpret it. I am concerned about welfare being disguised as a tax cut. I am concerned about pulling out of Iraq prematurely and jeopardizing our own national security as a result. I am concerned about a president who appears to have had very poor judgment about some of his past associations.

-- I am concerned but I am not scared. I do not think it is right to incite fear in people. As I said, I am disappointed, but I am also hopeful. Unlike James Dobson, who somehow decided he is a prophet and wrote a ridiculously awful hypothetical letter about what life will be like in just four years, I have great optimism that we will continue to be just fine in this country. The people have spoken. Thank God we live in a place where we are allowed to have a voice. In two years we will have that chance again in Congressional elections. And in four years, if Obama has not lived up to all of his own hype, we can boot him right out.

-- My blogger friend Michael wrote a great piece a few weeks ago, a parody of sorts about a debate between the candidates in which Michael is the moderator. Here's what he said at the end:

In four years, your life may be slightly different due to which candidate gets elected. Either man may be able to shape laws and policies to impact your day-to-day existence. But those impacts pale in comparison to what you do to shape your life over the next four years.You hope for change? You hope for better days? You hope for enriched family life?Don't hope. Choose.

Thanks Michael. Truer words were never spoken.

And Congratulations, President-Elect Obama. My prayers are with you and your family.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rammer Jammer and War Eagle

If you look at my Shelfari bookshelf, you'll see my most recent read is Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer by Warren St. John, a hilarious look at football fans of the University of Alabama.

St. John, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama but did not go to the University in Tuscaloosa, in 1999 took leave from his magazine job in New York City, bought a used RV, and traveled among the die-hard Alabama fans to both home and away games.

In his introduction, St. John writes with tongue squarely in cheek that "in the life of every sports fan there comes a moment of reckoning" when you must ask yourself "a version of the question others -- spouses, friends, children and colleagues -- have asked for years: 'Why do I care?' "

Why, indeed. Although St. John and I are in different camps (I bleed Auburn blue and orange after sending two children to school there), I relate well to the question he presents. My name is Bob and I am a Sports Fan.

It started innocently enough when I was a boy growing up in South Arkansas. Lacking the genetic makeup to play sports with any degree of effectiveness, I became a fanatical spectator ("a fan") instead. I first became a fan watching my older brother play baseball, football and basketball. Like my parents and other relatives of players, I had a vested interest.

But somewhere along the line I joined the throngs of others who become obsessed with other teams, teams made of of people they do not know from Adam. It started for me with the Houston Astros when my family visited the Astrodome in 1968. I followed them loyally through many lean years and literally teared up in 2006 when they won the National League pennant for the first time ever.

Worse, however, was my total devotion as a child and young man to Arkansas Razorback football. I grew up in South Arkansas. Although when the time came I did not attend "the University" (what everyone in Arkansas called the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville - pronounced "Fedvul" in South Arkansas), I, like so many others, loyally supported the state's only major college team.

I am not proud of the fact that my mood during football season was directly related to the success of the Razorbacks. This started in early December of 1969 when I was 12 years old. Arkansas and Texas, both undefeated, were playing in what was being billed as "the game of the century." The winner would go on to win the (now defunct) Southwest Conference championship and a berth in the Cotton Bowl and would more than likely be the National Champion as well.

Leading 14-0 going into the fourth quarter, the Hogs looked as if they would proceed to victory. Alas, with two miracle touchdowns and a successful 2-point conversion by the Longhorns, the final score was Texas 15, Arkansas 14.

This was the first sports event where I actually cried because of the result. This game also birthed a strong hatred of the Texas Longhorns.

I continued this devotion (and hatred of Texas) for many years, but as time went on and I married and had a family (although I once promised my wife I would be nice to her the rest of her life if she would let me go to a game at the last minute), I mellowed. I became more interested in my children and their activities, including their own involvement in sports. I felt like maturity had finally set in. I still really enjoyed college and pro sports and still faithfully followed the Astros, but took a much more casual interest in the Razorbacks. I could carry on in the event of a loss. I even began to look disdainfully at the fans who got so worked up over it all.

Fast forward to Fall 2004. We had lived in Tennessee for seven years by that time. Older Son had graduated high school and headed to Auburn University in Alabama. It did not take long for him to get "bit," big-time, by Auburn football. It did not hurt that they went 13-0 that year and were cheated out of the national championship (not that I am bitter).

It did not take long for it to catch on with me as well. I have fallen hard. Older Son has graduated and Daughter is now there. We make as many games as we can and I have been known to revert to my 12-year-old histrionics. Wife has more than once had to grab me and try to calm me down.

It has been a frustrating season for the Auburn Tigers and I have not done well with it. I find myself getting angry at the players and at Coach Tommy Tubberville as if they are personally letting me down. It is crazy.

But it does not look as if things will get better anytime soon. I sat here just today with my two sons watching Auburn on TV as they haplessly played and lost to Ole Miss. I yelled, I hit things (though not my sons) and I put my hands in front of my eyes to dull the pain (it did not work). I stayed mad for several hours.

Although I abhor seasons like this (Auburn is 4-5 and has lost four straight as of today), it does help to put things in perspective. After all, it's just a game. And it HAS to get better soon, at least by next season! IT HAS TO!!! War Eagle!!!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thank Heaven . . .

We brought her home from the hospital Nov. 8, 1988. It was Election Day and that night George H.W. Bush would be elected President of the United States. (Who did he run against again?)

This coming Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, another Election Day, is her 20th birthday. She came home from college last weekend to do early voting in her first presidential election.

I speak of my lovely daughter, a sweet, sweet little ray of sunshine squeezed between two rough-and-tumble boys, and one of the nicest gifts I have ever received. Even though we could have known her gender prior to her birth, we chose not to, which made it all the more sweet when we learned some of the blue in the nursery would have to be painted pink.

She had my number from the very start. Any attempt at discipline was totally useless (since she was perfect in my eyes) so that had to be quickly assigned to her mother.

As a toddler we would dance to show tunes, the most memorable being "Beauty and the Beast."

"We'll dance to that at my wedding one day, Daddy," she once told me. ("Not if I have anything to say about it," I would think to myself. "Why would you ever want to leave me for another man?")

She was a nurturer from an early age, which still shows as she makes plans to be an elementary school teacher. She got her start at age 4 when we brought home her little brother. She already had a doll family and it was easy enough to add him to the group. And I might add that she has kept a watchful eye on him ever since.

As she grew into adolescence her leadership skills became evident. When she told me she wanted to run for class office before her sophomore year in high school, I encouraged her but told her to just do her best and not worry about winning or losing. She never had to worry about that because sophomore, junior and senior years, she never lost. She served her classes with distinction.

When she gave her high school commencement address, I was a nervous wreck, having given her a few pointers and listened to her rehearse. If she was nervous at all, though, she did not show it. I think it was right then, when she left the podium after her speech, full of poise and confidence, that I realized she had truly grown her wings and would soon spread them whether I liked it or not. It was reality-check time.

Three months later when we took her to college, her mother had to finally put me in the car and drive me away as I watched through a window into the stairwell of the dorm as my baby climbed those stairs to indendence. I will never forget that image of her, nor will I forget that a couple of hours earlier as I continued to give her last-minute instructions, she had told me she would really appreciate it if I would not make a scene when it was time for me to go. Well I did not make much of one.

Today, a sophomore in college and within days of being twenty years old, she is as sweet as ever and she continues to hold me in the palm of her hand. We talk often and she exuberantly tells me all that is going on in her life. She always has time for me.

She loves college and has blossomed there even more. Silly, unworthy boys seem to be giving her a lot of attention these days and I do not envy the one who one day will dare to ask to take her on a permanent basis. That will not be an easy test to pass.

Who could forget Maurice Chavalier's classic "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" which had to have been written on behalf of doting daddies everywhere?

"Each time I see a little girl,
Of five, or six, or seven,
I can't resist a joyous urge,
To smile and say:

Thank heaven, for little girls,
for little girls get bigger every day!

Thank heaven, for little girls,
they grow up in the most delightful way!

Those little eyes so helpless and appealing,
one day will flash, and send you crashin' thru the ceilin'!

Thank heaven, for little girls,
thank heaven for them all,
no matter where, no matter who,
for without them, what would little boys do?

Thank heaven,
Thank heaven,
Thank heaven, for little girls!"

Thank Heaven, indeed.

Happy Birthday Sweetie! Come home soon!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Loving My Neighbor

More thoughts on politics but with a twist at the end:

-- You can say what you want about “Joe the Plumber” and Obama’s statement about “spreading the wealth around.” Whether Joe is legitimate or not is not the question. Obama’s response is indicative of the fundamental difference of opinion he and I have about the role of government. He wants to punish you if you make too much money. He wants to give tax “refunds” to people who never paid taxes in the first place. I just don’t think that makes sense.

-- I thought Sarah Palin knocked it out of the park on Saturday Night Live last weekend. To be able to laugh at yourself, to be able to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” to be able to, when “being lied about, (not) deal in lies” (with thanks to Rudyard Kipling) – these are attributes worthy of a Vice President. I also caught a little bit of her address this morning to parents of children with special needs. All I can say is I love this lady. As I have stated previously, I do not think the McCain-Palin ticket will prevail. The circumstances, history and media fawning are simply not in their favor although, if ever there has been a time when I hope I am wrong, this is it. But we have all been enriched by getting to know Sarah Palin. She has done her country, state, family and gender proud. I predict we will see her again. I look forward to it.

-- Barack Obama is taking a couple of days off to go be with his grandmother in Hawaii who is gravely ill and may not even make it through Election Day. As I have said before, although I do not agree with his politics, I like Barack Obama and think he is a kind, decent person. His grandmother had a big role in his upbringing and he is not about to let his running for the nation’s highest office interfere with his being with her in what might be her final days. I like that.

-- I am accused of having a Pollyanna-ish view, but I believe John McCain, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are all good, decent people who have the best interest of this country at heart. Unfortunately, each in his/her own way has sold out to the nastiness of partisan party politics (and I look forward to a day when maybe that is no longer necessary), but I can still find a lot of good in all of them. McCain’s distinguished career as a Senator, his service to his country in the military and his ability to bridge division among his colleagues are all to be admired. Sarah Palin, although she has been treated cruelly and unfairly by the media and even by some of my blogger friends, represents so many of the things that are good about our country and she also represents a huge step forward for women. Barack Obama is a credit to African-Americans everywhere and has helped us move forward in race relations. His intelligence and pragmatism have served him well. I have always liked Joe Biden. His devotion to his family and his recovery from tragedy years ago are above reproach.

-- I still believe government is not responsible for fixing our problems. That’s what scares me about the Democrats and about having a Democratic President AND Congress. I am afraid it’s going to be Entitlement City.

-- Sadly, with the state of the economy and the focus on the middle class, there has been little if any talk this election season about the plight of the poor and downtrodden. Gone are the discussions about partnering with faith based organizations and the thousand points of light. But the “least of these” are still out there – the people who don’t worry about keeping a home but just having a place to sleep; the AIDS and Cancer patients who don’t have the family support to take care of them; the crack babies. And that’s just in this country. Read a little bit about what’s going on in Darfur. It’s enough to put all of this stuff in perspective.

-- And finally, as I have pondered the election and the plight of our country, I have been reading through the Gospels. Each of the writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – presents a different perspective on the life of Jesus, yet there is a recurring theme. Although it was a drastically different time when He walked the earth, many of the problems were the same. There were political divisions, economic challenges and oppression of the weak. And yet this guy who mysteriously claimed to be fully God and fully man challenged his followers to lead simple lives of service to others, to love God with all their hearts, souls and minds and love their neighbors as they loved themselves. The message was so radical, so completely earth-shattering, that He was put to death for it.

-- So that’s where I am today – trying to figure out what loving my neighbor as myself means for me. As much as I concern myself with the election and the economy, this is really much more important. I went to the Gospels for insight and oh my, did I get it. Am I willing to live a life so radical and earth-shattering, so much that I would die for it?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Whiskey Making and the Art of Raising Sons

Younger Son, who will turn 16 next week, has always provided the comic relief in our family. He has a wry sense of humor and a vocabulary that has always been beyond his years.

He has not always possessed, shall we say, “tact.” When he was about eight, his grandparents took him and his sister to the Jack Daniels distillery that is about an hour’s drive from here. The grandparents, to my knowledge, have never touched alcohol, but enjoy history and local culture and loved the outing with two of their grandchildren.

Younger Son enjoyed it too. So much so that, the following Sunday in church, it was reported that he took the floor in his Sunday School class and gave a very detailed narrative of the whiskey-making process. I assured the teacher (who was maybe a little too tightly wound and might have benefited from a shot of Jack himself) that, while I was not overly concerned about his becoming an alcoholic at such a young age, there would not be a repeat performance. I was able to finish that conversation with a straight face before I stepped around the corner and died laughing.

He has always believed in the benefits of a clear conscience. When he was younger and was reprimanded at school -- or church -- or by a friend’s parent -- or the coach of whatever team on which he was playing at the time (you get the idea), he was always quick to come home and confess, figuring the consequences might be less severe if he came clean before we got the call from the authority figure whose feathers he had ruffled.

He was probably right. It was hard to get too upset with him. His transgressions were always minor, involving typical boyhood mischief and/or running his mouth about something and continuing after a polite request to refrain from doing so. We have had numerous conversations over the years about “speaking when spoken to.” Eventually maturity took hold and, although he can still pontificate on most any subject and likes to have the last word, he has become a fairly responsible young man who is well liked by his teachers and peers.

He still sees the advantage of preemptive confession, though – even when he’s innocent.

He is on a two-day fall break from school. Three friends spent the night last night. Wife and I were in bed long before they were. We found this note in the kitchen this morning, next to a broken plate, one of those decorative types that hangs on the wall:

Mom, I know what you are thinking but this was not us. All 4 of us were in bed at the time this happened and Powell and I both heard it. I know that it is extremely convenient that this happened on a night that 3 friends slept over. The current time is 4:10. We were all in bed by 3:40. I’m sorry if this plate has some kind of sentimental value but please know that this was a freak accident which had no people involved. Love, David

The boy can spin as well as any politician I know of.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Evolution of Communication

I might have been the last person I know to get a cell phone. I fought it for years but a few years ago, when Wife upgraded us to the “Family Plan,” she handed me my phone and welcomed me to the family. Now, several phones and upgrades later, it is indispensable to me and I could not imagine life without it. But sometimes I wish I could.

I can remember living in a house with one telephone. This adequately served a family of four. It was on a wall in the kitchen and it belonged to the telephone company. It had a rotary dial.

Local callers could be heard perfectly. Long distance calls (which were very infrequent in my house) were a little scratchy and I can remember my dad hollering into the phone talking to his mother who lived out of town. But, generally speaking, parties on each end could be heard pretty well.

Eventually my parents got a phone in their room. We had really moved up in the world. Then we moved into a two-story house and actually had three phones. At that point we had defnitely arrived. Again, the phones belonged to the phone company.

I don’t remember there ever having to be any repairs made to any of these phones. The phone company never visited our house that I remember, other than for installation. We might have occasionally lost service during a storm but it was quickly restored.

Somewhere along the way the government intervened and broke up Ma Bell. It was about that time that we had to start buying our own phones. They were junk. One would last a couple of years at best and of course, once it broke you had to go replace it. I’m guessing landfills today are full of old, crappy phones.

As technology progressed, so did changes and advances in phones. Push-button keypads replaced rotary dials. Telephones became a part of home d├ęcor and Mickey Mouse could just as likely be cradling your ear-and-mouthpiece as the boring black or white nondescript base unit.

Wireless remote technology made it possible to carry the receiver and walk around the house unattached. Answering machines (now called “voice mail”) allowed us to never miss a call and “call waiting” gave us the ability to be rude and stop one call and take another. Eventually – and this one really sent me over the top – we were even able to tell who was calling us when the phone rang, allowing us to pick and choose what calls to take!

Then, of course, cell phones came along. They are great, but how many times do you get cut off in the middle of a conversation? How often do you hear, “I’m losing you” or, “You’re breaking up” when you are talking to someone? (“Can you hear me now?” is the question asked in the popular commercial, mocking the company’s rival carrier. In reality, though, neither is better or worse then the other). This never happened when the phone company owned the phone that resided safely in the house and was wired into the wall.

And of course obtaining cell phone service is like getting a bill through Congress. I long ago had to turn it all over to Wife after it became evident that I would be imprisoned for assault or murder if I had to talk to another representative who tried to help me decide what plan would best meet my needs and lifestyle. For the love of everything holy, all I want is a phone. It does not have to do anything but make and receive calls. It does not have to have a personal ring or be a certain color or anything like that.

And do you think these things are reliable? I could not even begin to tell you how many of them we have replaced in my family of five. We used to get the insurance but decided that was a waste. There are supposed to be warranties on them but of course they don’t apply when phones are dropped. Or immersed in water. Or thrown like a ball. Or slammed up against a locker at school. Or run over by a pickup truck.

Don’t ask.

I have suggested we discontinue home phone or “land line” service at our house since we all have cell phones. Wife disagrees, saying if we have an emergency, the 911 dispatcher might not be able to find us if we call from a cell phone. I guess she is right.

And since the emergency might well be related to my having thrown our cell phones into the street to allow vehicles to run over and crush them, it will probably be a good idea to have another option.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Good Friends, Good Times


I am ready to write about something other than politics. In fact I am today writing about something much more important -- the goings on in my family.

Older Son is a recent graduate of Auburn University and Daughter is now a sophomore there. Auburn played Vanderbilt this past Saturday (and, unfortunately, lost). We live about 20 minutes from the Vandy campus so we were a perfect stopping-off place for college friends old and new.

Well we were much more than a stopping-off place. They started drifting in mid-day Friday. By the time Wife and I left for Younger Son’s football game about 6 p.m., there were about a half dozen or so. Wife had made two big pots of soup which we left in the able hands of Older Son and Daughter to distribute.

We dropped by after the game. To say the numbers had swelled is an understatement. People were everywhere. The former pots of soup were bone dry. Several nice looking young ladies were engaged in a game of pool in the playroom. A couple of nice looking young men were not far away watching, generously offering their assistance. Several sat at the kitchen table nibbling on brownies. One young man asked Daughter what she was doing here, allowing as to how he knew both her and her older brother and had been invited by the latter, but did not know the two were related.

Younger Son stood firmly and said he was not leaving but Wife and I, when we had begun hearing of the possible numbers, had made arrangements to sleep at some friends’ house. We felt somewhat like the hired help, getting things cleaned up then leaving to go to our temporary quarters about 11:30 p.m.

We returned Saturday morning. We did not do an official body count but the estimate was about 25 sleeping at the house. Every bed and sofa was occupied. Makeshift arrangements of sleeping bags and recliners were in use also. We assigned boys’ and girls’ bathrooms and the only disagreements we heard were as to whose turn it was in the shower.

By lunchtime Saturday things were in full swing. We set up our tailgate tent in the backyard and set up a long table and chairs under a tree. It was a pretty warm day here in Middle Tennessee, so most opted to stay inside in the air conditioning. Other college football games were being broadcast so the hardcore football fans did not stray far from the TV. We think we served about 40 in all.

Older Son’s fraternity brothers and friends of legal age brought their ice chests with libations, which were confined to the back deck. I did not check IDs but invoked the honor and trust system that has, for the most part, served me well since becoming a dad nearly 23 years ago. And best I could tell nothing got out of hand. We made sure there were designated drivers when it came time to go to the football game which had a 5 p.m. kickoff.

Though the game had a poor outcome for us, the fun at our house continued. Wife and I again did the late night cleanup and she rolled out her famous homemade cinnamon rolls to rise overnight. We again went to our friends’ house to sleep, then returned Sunday morning to start baking. As the smell drifted through the house, bodies began to rise and make their way to the kitchen. I will tell with you with no hesitation that one of Wife’s cinnamon rolls just out of the oven with a cold glass of milk will bring tears to your eyes. You can’t do it every morning if you don’t want to gain a zillion pounds and see your cholesterol skyrocket, but for an occasional treat, oh my, it is sheer heaven.

The exits began mid-morning and by early afternoon most of them were gone. Older Son quickly went into cleanup mode, as much, I think, to assuage the twinge of sadness he feels that these friends are no longer a part of his everyday life, as to help us. But what a great heritage he has and, knowing his personality as I do, I know many of these friendships will remain strong.

Wife and I were worn out last night but also extremely gratified. We have made a lot of mistakes – more than we would care to count -- as we have been parents to three children, but one of the things we did right was to make a decision years ago to invest in their relationships and get to know their friends. It’s costly in more ways than one. Our house needs painting and we desperately need new carpet and I’m sure some of the people noticed that over the weekend. But as they left yesterday, hugging us and vowing to return, I don’t think those things were uppermost in their minds.

What I hope they will remember, and what I know I will remember one day when this house screams with quietness, is a home filled with laughter and good cheer, good food and good times. Memories of such things last a lifetime.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Resign, Madam Speaker

OK, I retract anything I might have said about staying away from politics.

The House today rejected the proposed bailout plan. Although I had misgivings about it, I had decided I was in favor of betting this extraordinary amount of money on the government being able to acquire these failed assets, stabilize the economy and ultimately recover the investment. But a large number of American people felt differently and made those feelings known to their congressional representatives. Those representatives, many of whom are up for re-election in about a month, heard those voices and voted down the bailout.

I am disappointed that the legislation did not pass. I believe both sides worked to get to a plan that would begin to fix some of the problems that are severely hurting our financial system.

My disappointment, however, is far surpassed by the anger I feel at one Nancy Pelosi, our esteemed Speaker of the House. Just before the vote in the House, Madam Speaker took it upon herself to remind her colleagues one more time just what, IN HER OPINION, got us to where we are today -- the failed policies of the Bush administration.

She might be right. I am not writing today to defend President Bush. But when it was time to vote on the proposal, it was time for her to put aside her own personal agenda (although I truly believe she is incapable of doing so) and simply call for a vote.

But no, Speaker Pelosi could not resist the temptation to make it personal one more time and kick the guy who, when she presided for the first time as Speaker at a State of the Union speech, graciously recognized her and her accomplishment at becoming first female Speaker.

There are those who say her statements today actually caused some Republicans to change their votes. I doubt that is true but that is not the point. The fact is that the timing of her statements was inexcusable and indefensable and her statements have nothing to do with anything but her own partisan political leanings.

I can only conclude that Nancy Pelosi has an agenda far more important to her than passing legislation to heal the economy and help the American people, and that is to make sure that a Republican no longer resides in the White House come January.

That's disgraceful. Please, Madam Speaker, do us all a favor. Resign as House Speaker and go ahead and start posturing for a cabinet position in the Obama administration.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More Random Musings

Oh my, the goings on in our government continue to get “curiouser and curiouser.” Here are more random thoughts from my overtaxed mind:

-- I do not like the term “bailout” and conceptually I am not in favor of it. But I am also the first to admit that much of this goes way over my head. I am a lawyer who happens to work for a bank, so I have a basic understanding of regulation, but as for all the other economic stuff, I am next to clueless. I’m with those who believe that, with regard to how we got here, there is plenty of blame to go around.

-- I thought Bush did a relatively good job of conveying the gravity of the situation in his speech Wednesday night. It is ironic that he, who has espoused smaller government, is spearheading what is perhaps the biggest government intervention in history. I don’t think it’s what he wants to do, but I believe he thinks it is what he has to do. Again, I don’t understand enough to even venture a guess as to whether he is right or wrong. I hope he is right about the part that, once the government buys all these bad loans, they will eventually get their money back. Especially since it’s our money.

-- There was no way this thing was not going to get political. And I think this has essentially sealed the deal for Obama. No matter the reality of the situation, he's been able to use it to his advantage (with plenty of help from his media admirers). Unless something unpredictable happens between now and Nov. 4 (which is, of course, quite possible), I believe he is going to be our next president. The election is going to be decided by the undecided voters. I believe the majority of them will probably look at this situation and decide that we have had a Republican administration for eight years and things are not looking too good. Maybe it’s time to give the other side a try. I really hope I am wrong but that's my prediction.

-- Not sure what I think about McCain’s latest moves – “suspending” his campaign, going to Washington and trying to put off the debate. Did he really do this in the best interest of the country? I like to think he did but that’s really between him and God. The part of me that wants to think the best of him, though, believes that he had to have known that the mainstream media -- who are, let’s face it, in the midst of a love affair with Obama -- would blast him for it, which they have, and that it could/would ultimately cost him the election (which I think it will). He’s not stupid, so maybe he decided it really is more important to participate in this process and let the chips fall where they may as far as the election is concerned. Who knows, history might treat him kindly for it. But for now, the sky is falling and a Republican is in the White House (see previous bullet point).

-- I thought the account we got of Obama trying to call McCain on Wednesday was rather comical. Of course each tried to put his own spin on it but it appears that Obama called McCain at 8:30 a.m. and McCain called him back around 2:30 p.m.. Just how are those calls placed? Does each carry his own private cell phone? Something makes me think they are not in each other’s “five.” I would guess there are a few layers you have to go through to reach either of them, no matter who you are. They do each have a few irons in the fire right now (although Obama has assured us he is quite able to multi-task). If they were able to make connections within a six-hour time frame, that seems pretty good to me.

-- I am ready for it to be over. I have, since I was a very young person, always enjoyed the process. The first presidential election I remember is Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. Needless to say, things have changed drastically since then, especially the way we get information. And I am somewhat addicted to getting that information. I don't get near as upset about it as I used to, but I can get pretty worked up. I need to get over it.

-- Well it looks like the debate is going to happen. It wouldn't look too good for McCain not to show up. Word is that Obama's going to go at him fully loaded and, in his most sanctimonious way, question why in the world McCain would want the two of them to high-tail it to Washington and do their respective jobs as senators when they needed to be telling the American people what they'll each do as president. As I said -- and I really hope I'm wrong -- I think we're headed for an Obama presidency.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mysteries of Life

What a week this has been! The happenings in the economy seem unprecedented, and to an extent they are, but I told one of my colleagues at work about a month ago that I would not be surprised to see another RTC-type organization formed. And that is exactly where we are headed.

But I am going to depart from all of these goings-on and write today about what I consider one of the great mysteries of life -- housekeepers.

Anyone who reads my stuff here knows that my wife is an amazing woman, a person I hold in extremely high esteem. She is a wonderful homemaker, an extraordinary hostess, a gourmet cook, is well read, plays Bridge (and has tried with little success to teach me) and owns a business. That's for starters.

But she knows, as we all do, that there is a limit to what one human being can do. So a couple of years ago, Wife and I agreed that it would help both of us if we engaged the assistance of a housekeeper. I am very egalitarian when it comes to the roles of husband and wife and have always tried to help with all of the household duties. But I'm no superhuman either so I wholeheartedly endorsed getting some assistance at the house.

Now when I was growing up in South Arkansas, this was commonly referred to as "help," as in, "I have help XXX days a week." And I am sad to say that "help" in those days in the South often meant an African-American lady who would either (a) ride public transportation from her residence to yours or (b) be brought to and from her residence by one of your parents in the backseat of the car.

We had "help" occasionally when I was growing up. Some of our neighbors had regular maids who were part of their families. I grew up in a small town without any public transportion that I knew of, so they were brought to their homes by one of the moms or dads. I never knew of one who had her own car.

Today, thankfully, that has all changed. Domestic help is big business and there are even companies who contract it out.

We have a couple of ladies who come to our house every two weeks. They are sisters and they bring their own vacuum cleaners and cleaning solutions. I am usually not at home when they come but I have met them a couple of times and they are nice ladies. They do a great job too.

But there is something about this whole arrangement I find intriguing. The night before they are to come, we have to clean the house. It starts with Wife doing a frantic run through the house picking up clutter, e.g. shoes out of place, yesterday's newspapers, etc. Then she sweeps the floor, scrubs the kitchen counters and loads the dishwasher. I feel bad for her so, being the equality-of-the-sexes proponent I am, I tell whatever of our offspring who happen to be at home to get off his/her rear-end and start picking up.

Is there irony here? Did we not hire these people to do what we are doing?

Not at all, says Wife. She is not about to have someone coming into her house and give them the impression they are cleaning up after slobs. And the more we do, the more they can do. I have not quite figured what the "more" is that they do but I am keeping quiet.

So when the housekeepers arrive at our house every other Thursday, they come into a sparkling-clean house. And it should not surprise you to learn that it does not take them very long to accomplish their tasks, pick up their compensation and be on their way.

There is also another intriguing fact I learned about the day the housekeepers come -- you have to eat out that night because you can't mess up the kitchen that was just cleaned (twice).

So when I add up the cost of what we pay these nice ladies plus the cost of eating out the night after they come, I'm laying down a pretty good chunk of the budget to get the house cleaned.

BUT on some things you cannot put a price. One of those things is having housekeepers who do not think I am a slob. Another is having a kitchen that is clean for at least 24 hours.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What Do You Do?

I am on the Board of Directors of a local homeless shelter and life recovery center. I believe passionately in the work that is done there. Hurting people are given the chance to start over and some amazing things happen. I work a lot with the staff and other board members on finances and strategic planning.

I believe helping the hurting and marginalized is the essence of the Gospel.

I do not get to do as much actual hands-on work at the shelter as I would like because my job now requires me to travel to another city part of each week. In that city I have a small apartment downtown, just a couple of blocks from the office I use when I am there.

Every day when I am there and I walk to work, almost without fail I will walk among people who are homeless. I have no idea what their stories are. Most days one of them will stop me or call out to me, asking if I can spare a bit of money for them.

Every once in a while I will reach into my wallet and hand them something. But most times I just walk by and, quite frankly, I just wish they would leave me alone. Sometimes I act like don't hear them. Sometimes, to ease my conscience, I tell myself that anything I give them will just be used for drugs and alcohol.

Jesus said when we give unto the "least of these" we give to Him. He said when someone asks you for something, you give more than what they ask for. He said that to whom much is given, much is required.

What do I say about myself when I walk by those people and just hope they will let me walk by? When I see one coming and I cross the street so I won't have to walk by them? When I get to my office and hate myself because I didn't have enough compassion to even look at those people?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Random Political Musings

I just can’t stay away from politics. I have had a lot of thoughts rumbling around my head in the last few weeks so here goes:

I will probably vote Republican. I’m sure of it, unless something really, really wild happens between now and the election. The reason I will vote McCain-Palin is that I think national security is the number one issue and I think John McCain is best equipped to handle it. I am afraid the Democrats way under-estimate the terrorist threat. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in a politics-of-fear philosophy, but we have to be realistic. And the reality is they are not going away. The other reason I will vote Republican is that I still believe in as small a government as we can get away with. The Dems still seem to lean toward the big government approach. I am sure they have their reasons but I can’t buy it.

That said, the Republicans must tell me more about how they are going to deal with the economy and health care. John McCain says he is not going to raise taxes and, while I appreciate that, how does he propose to get things stable without it (remember “Read my lips – no new taxes?”)? Obama says to expect a modest tax increase on the wealthy. Frankly, I appreciate that he is being up front about it.

As for health care, the system is broken. I do not know what to do to fix it but one of these people running for president needs to come up with something. How did we get to a system where the insurance companies dictate treatment? And how is it that (some) doctors assume that, because of their lofty education, they are entitled to be millionaires? Is there not some middle ground somewhere? I was having dinner with a surgeon recently and he was lamenting the threat of universal health care. I asked him point-blank, just for the sake of conversation, why he would be so opposed and he said “Because I wouldn’t make as much money.” Sorry, Doc, that doesn’t do it for me.

I like Sarah Palin. I admire her strength, her poise and her grit. It looks like she has done a good job in Alaska, standing up to bullies and special interests, including those in her own party. But is she ready to be president? Can she rise to the occasion? I hope so. This is too important for on-the-job training.

Come to think of it, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter had both been governors before ascending to the presidency. I don’t recall them having a lot of foreign policy experience. Not that they are good examples.

I don’t think anyone can deny that Sarah Palin has been treated unfairly by the media and certain Democratic underlings since McCain announced her as his running mate. It is really comical when you think about it. Feminist organizations like NOW advocate a wide variety of equal rights for women and so do I. But you know it is driving them crazy that a conservative woman is possibly headed for the nation’s second highest office. Have you heard any of the NOW members coming to her defense? The silence you hear is deafening. That’s because they want equal rights for women and they want women in positions of leadership, but not Sarah Palin-type women. In other words, if you’re pro-choice and Democrat, they’re on your side. Anything else, well, you’re on your own.

Can Sarah Palin handle the job of the vice presidency with a family of five children and soon-to-be one grandchild? Hello, are we asking the right questions here? Ever read Proverbs 31? That woman was a wife, a mother, a businesswoman and a servant to the poor, for starters. I don’t know if she did it all at one time. I bet she had a really supportive husband and some good employees but don’t try to tell me she was a fulltime stay-at-home mom. Solomon saw fit to include her in the Book of Proverbs. Can Sarah Palin handle the job of vice-presidency given her current station in life? Please. God created each of us – men and women – with unique gifts and characteristics. If Sarah Palin believes this is her time, even on the heels of having a down syndrome baby and learning that her teenage daughter is pregnant, all I can say is you go girl, and may your husband and children rise up and call you blessed.

I like Barack Obama. I think he is a good guy and I think, much like Bill Clinton, if I were to meet him, we could be friends. I was impressed with his remarks at the Saddleback Civil Forum and I believe he is a committed man of faith. I think he is a good husband and dad and that he truly wants to make a difference, do good things and unite the country. He and I have a fundamental difference of opinion in that he sees the government as the vehicle for doing good and fixing things. I see it as the vehicle for enabling the people to do good and fix things. Too many times, through oppressive laws and taxes, the government stands in our way. But I like Barack Obama and I am praying for him during this election.

Speaking of the Saddleback Forum, I thought it was great. The moderator, Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist who formed his congregation from scratch as an alternative for those who had become disillusioned with church, and who subsequently authored the insanely popular “A Purpose Driven Life,” is not an evangelical cut in the mold of Falwell, Robertson or Dobson. In an appearance on Larry King Live following the forum, he confirmed that he comes down squarely in the middle, which frustrates both the right and the left. He counts both Obama and McCain as friends. Though he is pro-life, he is also equally if not more passionate about social issues such as justice for the oppressed, AIDS and the environment. He is part of a new breed of evangelical that is taking into account the totality of the Gospel message and finding more there than being anti-abortion and pro-family – much more.

As one who has been a part of the evangelical fold for most of my adult life (though I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with the label), I could not be more delighted with Warren’s entry into the faith and politics discussion. I was furious after the September 11 attacks when both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said that America had, in essence, gotten what it deserved after years of moral decay. I was equally angered just a few weeks ago when James Dobson picked apart a speech Obama had made some two years earlier, calling into question his faith and his “fruitcake interpretation” of the Scriptures. Falwell never spoke for me and neither do Robertson or Dobson. I have often found their comments to be more divisive than helpful. We owe a debt of gratitude to those like Rick Warren who are bringing about civility not only among Christians, but all those who long for a more civil discussion and analysis of the political process. Something makes me think he took seriously the passage where Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”



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P.S. There are those who might think I have a romantic or unrealistic approach to this. I have read other blogs where the writers are much more critical of the candidates than I, and in many instances, rightfully so. Those folks are probably a lot smarter and informed. I'll give them credit and take into account their opinions. These are just my thoughts to date for what they are worth.