Monday, April 27, 2009

Letters from Home

Older Son moved out a few weeks ago (which is a whole other emotional story for another time). His move is a rather gradual one and his room still holds plenty of reminders of his presence.

He's only about 20 minutes away and of course he works in his mother's business so we still see him plenty.

Among the relics he found under his bed when he was cleaning things out was a package of letters he received when he went to camp for the first time in 1997 when he was 11 years old.

The letters are a walk down memory lane. There are plenty from his mom and me that gave daily recitations of events at home and testimonies of how much we missed him. There were several from his grandparents including one from my dad, now deceased, that he wrote on his old manual typewriter on stationery he had lifted from a Las Vegas hotel he had recently visited (my dad was way beyond thrifty and never wasted anything). There is a detailed narrative about the day's golf game and a partner who hit a nearby pedestrian with a ball. Hilarious.

My mother had been gone less than a year then and the letter included a poignantly honest portion about occasional loneliness. He hoped his grandson might visit him later in the summer to ease that a bit. Golf games and fishing trips were promised.

The letters reminded me that, sadly, computers and technology -- as wonderful as they are -- have robbed us of some of life's greatest pleasures, one of which is the handwritten (or even typewriter-written, for that matter) letter. It is just too easy to log on, type a few lines and, with the click of a mouse, presto, I've written you a note.

To be sure, e-mails are great, and one cannot argue with the convenience and speed. Still, there is nothing quite like holding in your hand a letter or note that someone has taken the time to write. And I can remember the thrill of going to a mailbox and finding one of those. In college it was a daily highlight to go to the post office. Somehow, something came through in a letter that, for whatever reason, gets left out on the computer screen.

When I was cleaning out my mom's and dad's things after Dad died in 2006, I found the letters he wrote to my mother when he was serving in the military, just months before coming home to marry her in 1946. Mom had saved them in a big package with a big ribbon around them and kept them in her cedar chest. They are, needless to say, priceless.

I still have many of the letters my parents wrote me when I was in college, law school and working a summer job in the mountains. Even then, Dad used the old trusty manual typewriter and there were plenty of errors. He was also spelling-challenged which still make those letters that much more funny to read.

Life moves on and we progress. But I sure miss those letters from home.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Poor Analogy

Ronald Reagan likened the U.S. to a “city set on a hill.” Borrowing from a sermon delivered by Puritan Pastor John Winthrop, who had actually borrowed it from the Sermon on the Mount, the phrase became inextricably associated with the Great Communicator. By the time he died, it seemed that more than a few believed it was a thought that had originated with him.

George W. Bush invoked another Biblical metaphor following Sept. 11, 2001, passionately describing the response of the U.S. to the attacks on our own soil. “The light shines in the darkness,” he said. “And the darkness will not overcome it.”

Reagan and Bush are certainly not the only political figures who have cited biblical language. It’s a fairly common practice. I appreciate it when our leaders go to the Scriptures for guidance; believe me, I'm all for it.

It would make me feel better, though, if they were a little more careful about the passages they cite, or at least more circumspect in their use of those passages

The “city set on a hill” was a phrase coined by Jesus himself. He was referring to his followers and their distinction as such. The imagery has since been used to mean the entire body of Christ, a reasonable progression. But is the entire United States a fair equivalent?

The “light” that “shines in the darkness” refers to Christ himself. I don’t see a likely comparison with any country, state or municipality. Bush caught some flack for that one -- and rightfully so, in my opinion.

I assure you that use and misuse of the Scriptures has been just as common among our Democratic brethren.

The latest example came just this week from none other than President Barack Obama. In a rather obscure speech on Tuesday that got very little press, Obama again reminded us that all that this economic mess had nothing to do with him (just in case we missed each and every other time he has told us this). He cited the parable of two men, one who built his house upon sand, only to have it wash away when the storms inevitably came; and the other who built his on a foundation of rock, and "when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, it fell not.”

This story also comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said those who heard his words but did not act on them were like the unwise man who built his house on sand; those who heard his words and did act on them were like the wise man who built his house on rock.

The implication, of course, is that we’ve been building houses on sand for quite some time now, which is why we’re seeing so much being washed away. Now is the time, he said, to begin building upon “the rock.” One must surmise that this includes components of his budget and economic stimulus plan, which contain more spending than has ever been contemplated in the history of our government. There are those of us who believe it might contain a great deal of sand.

If I have learned anything over the years, it is that reasonable people, including reasonable people of faith, will have differences of opinion. The so-called Religious Right has taken a beating over the past few years for trying to tie Evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party. That criticism is well founded; conservatism, however defined or interpreted, and Christianity are not necessarily synonymous. Those who see themselves as being on “God’s side,” to the exclusion of all others, begin a descent down a slippery slope in my view.

Similarly, for Barack Obama to use the words of Christ to try and persuade me as to why I need to get on board with his economic stimulus plan causes me great problems.

While I respect the president as our nation’s leader, pray for him and support him as much as I can (and greatly appreciate his strong faith), I have sincere conscientious differences with him in many areas and strongly object to the actions his administration has taken or proposes to take to supposedly heal our ailing economy. I don’t appreciate his telling me that, if I’ll just go along with his policies, I’ll be building my house on a rock.

So, Mr. President, I would humbly offer you a small bit of advice: Be careful when using the words of the Master. In that he was the Son of God, he had one up on you when he told his stories.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


My favorite hymn of all time, hands down, is "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." These are the lyrics:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Some of the most wonderful memories from my childhood are from Easter Sundays in the Methodist Church my family attended, pipe organ being played full blast, sometimes a brass ensemble as well, accompanying choir and congregation singing these glorious words. I want it sung at my funeral.

It may or may not be sung tomorrow at the church of which I am now a part. If it is, it will be with electronic music that will not hold a candle to the more natural organ and brass, and it will probably be a more "modern" version, but I will still relish the words, which so beautifully -- yet simply -- tell the story of redemption that is the heart and soul of the Christian faith.

There is plenty of room at the table, in my opinion, for those who profess Christ as Savior. We come to Him in different ways. We can debate inerrancy of Scripture, reform theology, millenialism and on and on . . . and we will still arrive at different conclusions. And I am comfortable with that.

But the resurrection is one of those non-negotiables for me. As Wesley so eloquently put it, "Made like Him, like Him we rise." No room for any further discussion or interpretation there. The ultimate triumph, the resurrection, is what seals the deal.

There is a modern/contemporary song that I also love (though not nearly as much as "Christ the Lord") that also captures the redemption story. Titled "I Know My Redeemer Lives," the words are as follows:

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning? and Who told the ocean you can only come this far? And Who showed the moon where to hide 'til evening? Whose words alone can catch a falling star?

Well I know my Redeemer lives. I know my Redeemer lives: All of creation testifies, This life within me cries, I know my Redeemer lives.

The very same God that spins things in orbit runs to the weary, the worn and the weak. And the same gentle hands that hold me when I'm broken, they conquered death to bring me victory.

Now I know my Redeemer lives. I know my Redeemer lives. Let all creation testify, Let this life within we cry, I know my Redeemer.

He livesTo take away my shame. And He lives forever, I'll proclaim, that the payment for my sin Was the precious life He gave. But now He's alive and There's an empty grave.

Wow. My Redeemer lives. Made like Him, like Him we rise. Is that good news or what? Alleluia!

Monday, April 6, 2009


I wrote a few posts ago about Spring Training and how I missed it this year. With Younger Son having a late spring break, we opted instead to go to Boston to see the Red Sox and part of their opening series vs. the Rays.

With apologies to my lovely daughter, who had her break back in March (and you are greatly missed, Sweetie), the rest of us (Wife, myself and two sons) made our plans.

I've been to Boston several times. I have done the Freedom Trail, walked around the Commons and seen the "Cheers" sign. So the plan was that Wife and sons would leave this afternoon (Monday), do the touristy thing in Boston for a couple of days, then I would join them on Wednesday. We have tickets to games Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon. We have plans to go out to Cape Cod after Thursday's game and to come home Saturday. Daughter will join us for Easter.

Wife and sons left on schedule this afternoon. My plans, however, remain in limbo. I felt a little congestion coming on last Thursday afternoon. Thinking I could work through it, I plodded on through the weekend and hydrated myself as much as possible, trying to deny I was sinking.

Last night I sank hard. I was up most of the night coughing and I knew about 4 a.m. there was no way I was going to work. I got an appointment with my doc at 10:45.

I described my symptoms to her as best I could (one of which is I can't talk). She did all the typical stuff -- looked in my throat and my ears, felt all around my neck., and pronounced my condition as "viral."

I have learned through the years that "viral" means something like the common cold and there is really nothing you can do other than take some over-the-counter stuff and let it run its course. "Bacterial," on the other hand, means there is some kind of infection and can be treated with antibiotics. I have done my share of reading through the years, especially since having children, and there are varying opinions about the whole antibiotic thing. Some experts believe that a lot of us overloaded our kids with them when they were little (to the point that now they might even be immune) and that our pediatricians just gave them to us because that's what we wanted. I am sure a lot of us remember the "pink stuff" they gave our babies for ear infections. Did it really help?

I have mixed feelings. I don't want to take unnecesessary drugs but I do want to feel better. If"thinking" I'll feel better will help, that's OK with me.

Today my doc wrote me a prescription for a cough supressant so I can sleep, but she also wrote me one for an antibiotic for me to "hold" until Wednesday and if I'm not feeling better by then, I should start on it.

I really like my doctor but this is very confusing to me. What is it, viral or bacterial? Or does she really know? She seemed to think I would be feeling better very soon since I've had some of the symptons for several days now. (I really should take someone with me when I go to the doctor. I never seem to ask the right questions, then can't remember what she said).

I am worse. I am sitting here shivering, have a fever of about 101 and every once in a while I get this feeling in my throat as if there's a straight pin in there. This sends me into a gagging, convulsive cough. OK, maybe "convulsive" is a bit of an exaggeration, but it's not pleasant.

What's worse is that Wife and sons left, Daughter is at school and my dog is gone to the kennel. I am all alone and I would cry if it would not make me much worse. (Yes I am a poster child for men who are babies about being sick).

So I took it all the meds. I took Ibuprofen for the fever, the cough medicine which has something in it that is giving me a little buzz (not complaining about that) and yes, I started the antibioitic too. I hope I am not doing something bad to my body but I just have to feel better.

My flight is scheduled to leave at 10 a.m. Wednesday, day after tomorrow. I have a looooooong way to go if I'm going to make it. It is not fair to my wife and sons to stay in a hotel room with them while I am hacking and coughing. And of course if it's viral, I'm contagious. Besides, I don't want to go if I'm feeling like this.

So now that I feel sufficiently sorry for myself, I will wait to see if I get better. And to amuse myself I'll do an Internet search about viral vs. bacterial. I'll let you know if I reach a different conclusion.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Enough Drama

The latest in reality television seems to be on the cable station TLC which documents (apparent) real life in families with unique circumstances. There is a show about two dwarves who are married to each other and have at least one dwarf child but other normal-sized ones (I have never seen a complete episode so I’m a little fuzzy on the details). The family from Arkansas who has 18 (at last count) children has their own show now, though I have not seen it. I think there is at least one other one.

The one garnering much discussion lately, it seems, is “Jon & Kate Plus 8.” This couple had twin girls, then, about three years later, had a litter. That’s right, SIX at one time!!!! Three boys and three girls, for a total of eight. I don’t know their current ages but on the episodes I have seen the sextuplets are three and the twin girls are six. But I think I might be two or three years behind.

I have seen this show in reruns maybe three times and the concept seems to be that the camera folks just show up at Jon’s and Kate’s house in the morning and follow everyone around, with occasional cutaways to Jon and Kate sitting next to each other giving a recap of recent activities. (I guess some of the camera crew watch the kids while the parents are talking because you never see them tugging onto their parents for anything, which is what normal little ones would be doing). Anyway, they live in a nice but modest middle-class home (although Wife has just told me they have recently upgraded to a much nicer place) and they’re getting by. As you can imagine, it is constant chaos and it makes me tired just watching.

Here are a few of my observations after watching these three episodes:

-- Jon and Kate seem to be nice people.

-- Jon appears to be short on patience (rolls his eyes a lot) but he sucks it up pretty good. Kate does most of the talking and I would have probably told her where to get off a long time ago.

-- Kate wears the pants in the family. She often corrects Jon and complains that he doesn’t always pull his weight. Again, I would probably not take that as well as Jon appears to.

-- Jon and Kate don’t seem nearly as tired as you would think. If I had eight children the ages of theirs – or any ages for that matter – I would not be able to sit in a chair and talk as lucidly as they, nor would I look as good. I fear that I might have hit the road once those six babies popped out. I hope I’m wrong but I’m glad I never had to take that test.

-- The twin girls are identical looking but as different as night and day. One is full of personality and just as precocious as she can be. I would not be the least bit surprised if she gives Jon and Kate fits when she becomes a teenager. The other is quiet and reserved and you almost forget she’s there (not hard to do when there are eight of them).

-- The six little ones are adorable, there’s no way around it.

OK, those are my observations. Now here are my questions:

-- How did Jon and Kate get this gig? Who called them? Who negotiated the contract?

-- Are we seeing the “real deal” here? I mean, really, I just couldn’t be myself if I had cameras following me around. And if I did have cameras following me around, and also had eight children, I would probably not be very kind.

-- Do they get tired of their lives being a TV show?

-- Does the TV crew include babysitters? It has to. Maybe that’s what was enticing to Jon and Kate in the first place, as well as the compensation it must include. I mean, for the love of all that’s holy, they’ve got eight mouths to feed, so I guess it was pretty tempting when a TV network came calling.

-- Let’s say Jon and/or Kate loses it. I mean, it’s just gotten to the point that one of them has had it with this whole situation, he or she lets loose a string of profanities and storms out. Does that part automatically get edited, per their contract? (I am not suggesting either would do this; I am just wondering).

-- Do friends and neighbors just happen to “drop by” during filming to try to get on TV? If my next-door-neighbors were filming a TV show, I would probably go over for a cup of sugar.

-- This is crass but you know if you’re an adult, you’re thinking it. When in the world do they ever find the time and energy, between having eight children and starring in a marathon TV show, to do what mommies and daddies sometimes do when those little ones are asleep?????

I don’t watch Jon & Kate during prime time and I don’t plan to. I don’t plan to watch any more of the reruns either. I just looked in out of curiosity and I have seen enough. They seem like nice enough people but, somehow, I just feel like I am invading their privacy (even though they are asking me to do so).

I have had my own family documentary going on right here under my own roof for 23-plus years. We have had some great times but we are probably not interesting enough to merit our own show. Still, I am not very interested in a TV show where I watch people do what I have done or in some instances continue to do.


Multiple births are not nearly as uncommon as they once were, due to fertility drugs and treatments. The Dionne quintuplets, all girls, were born in Canada back in the 1930s. They were an international spectacle and the Canadian government was quick to capitalize on them.

They were taken from their parents and made wards of the Canadian government. They lived in a compound that included a playground covered in a see-through dome for public observation! There were souvenir stands nearby, at least one of which was operated by their father, where various wares, including dolls made into the likenesses of the quints, were peddled. The Canadian government reportedly made millions off of them.

The Dionne girls were eventually returned to their parents (I think when they were about ten) but apparently when they were 18 they bolted, and had little contact with their parents thereafter. They eventually squealed about what their lives were really like (which were anything but normal). There have been books and documentaries. Two died before reaching middle age, one died in her late sixties and two are still alive. (This is all according to Wikipedia).

I cannot help but feel sorry for the Dionne girls and, to some extent, for their family. They did not ask to be born as they were and certainly, the way the Canadian government took control of their lives was indefensible. When I picture people by the thousands going to “Quint Land” to see them, as if they were in a zoo, I cringe.

But then, what are we doing when we tune in to Jon & Kate Plus 8 or one of these other shows? Is it really any different? What makes us attracted to something like this? If we are so hooked on reality, what could be more real (or too real, maybe) than our own lives?

Of course when people become celebrities their lives change. This weekend Kate will be in Nashville appearing at the “Southern Women’s Show.” I am sure she is under contract to make appearances nationwide at such events. (I hope Jon has some help at home if they are not all coming with her).

Wife tells me she has read that Jon has now quit his day job. There are rumors of his going to wild parties. There are also reports that Kate is estranged from her parents and from one of the ladies who has been featured on the show keeping the children from time to time. Who knows how much, if any of this, is true? Unfortunately, in the information age in which we live, people are hungry for this kind of information, true or not.

I cannot help but wonder if, when these children are grown (and it happens very fast) and the TV cameras are long gone, will they and their parents look back on all of this and think it was a good thing? Will it have been worth it to surrender their privacy for the rewards of being, at least for a period of time, celebrities?

For me, I have decided to do my part and leave them alone. I have all the drama I need right here in my own home. And I am plenty thankful there are no cameras rolling.