Saturday, September 24, 2011

Summertime 3

I don’t want you to get me wrong by believing that my entire summertime was all play and no work. Work was a BIG part of my early growing up years.

My first job was at 6-7 years old when I had to walk through the fields after a corn picker to pick up the ears of corn that were left by the machine. We had to put them into bushel baskets and didn’t get paid for it. Another year older and I could start “steering” a tractor. I wouldn’t call it “driving” yet since all I could to was stop and go (with the hand clutch) and steer a wheel bigger than my arms stretched. I would steer the tractor with a wagon behind it through the field while my dad and older brothers would throw bales of hay on the wagon. At this same age I would have to work in the garden with my mom planting seeds, weeding, hoeing and finally harvesting the vegetables and fruit.

When I was young my father built a chicken house that would house 6000 laying hens and it was my job to pick up the eggs twice a day. Sometime later I would get the job of feeding them and shooting the rats with our .22 rifle.

After the age of 10 I would get more and better jobs. One of them was actually DRIVING the tractor disking stocks of corn down to get the field ready for the next planting or dragging a field. Driving activities that wouldn’t destroy a crop if I drove into a ditch or something. Milking the cow in the morning before school, picking up eggs and feeding the chickens became a regular chore.

After the age of 13 I would be driving the tractors and pickups into the fields, even trying my hand at the big grain trucks. I would be asked to cultivate (the hardest driving job) but my dad and oldest brother didn’t have me do that too often. Now I was of the age where many of my oldest brothers were at college or had their own jobs and dad NEEDED me on the farm. Now I would spend 3-5 days home from school to work in the busy planting or harvesting season. There was nothing better than staying home from school to work.

By the age of 16 when I could get a regular license I was doing everything on the farm but I was also looking for my own job. A job that PAID, because, you see, working on the farm your pay was a little different. I can still hear my father saying: “You eat and sleep in my house: THAT is your pay!”

I miss the summertime of my childhood, but not just for me. I miss that summertime because you will RARELY find a child working hard at the age of 7. Today’s people have this crazy idea that giving a child work or chores at a young age is abuse and that they should be allowed to play all the time. I miss that age of building responsibility in youth at a YOUNG age. I knew at a young age that if I didn’t work … I didn’t eat. Can you imagine the outcry of parenting “experts” today if they heard my father say that to me? I miss the summertime of my youth and I mourn the loss of that summertime for today’s youth.

Summertime 2

One of my favorite activities as a summertime child on the farm involved the use of sticks. We never really knew we were poor (much to my parent’s credit) but my favorite toy was a stick. I have to believe that my mom looking out through the kitchen window at my activities had to be thinking: “What is that boy doing now?”

The trees on the farm were a constant source of entertainment for me. I remember the first time I fell out of a tree on my back knocking the breath out of me. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t inhale, couldn’t yell for mom, or anything. Just when I thought I was heading for the pearly gates I would slowly figure out how to breathe again and go on playing. The perfect stick was my best toy. I would take the smaller one and use as a sword; swashbuckling my way through the yard, defeating countless enemies. Sometimes I would have one in each hand as I battled. (Again, I can’t help but wonder what my mom was thinking when she looked out the window). I bigger stick would be a perfect rifle and I would spend my time defeating the Germans of WW2 with dramatic leaps and sprints to protected areas for the next expert marksman shot. Sometimes a sniper in a tree where I would be hit and fall out, dramatically hitting the ground but rolling to a shooting position to kill my pursuer. An even bigger stick would be a pole vault pole for me. I would practice poling from one place to another; from one dirt pile to another and when I got daring I would actually use it to pole vault over a barb wire fence.

My toys were not expensive, free in fact. A good stick was a great rifle and a clod of dirt made a great grenade. Kids today have too much money spent on them. I saw a 10ish boy yell at his mom because the gun she bought for his Wii wasn’t the right one for the game he was playing. The gun cost $50, the Wii another $100 and then you have the game and the TV on top of that. Probably over $500 to play the same game I was playing… only I had fun … outside.

I miss the summertime of my childhood but not just for me. I miss that summertime because the parents today think that joy in being a child comes from THINGS and not from imagination and freedom. Money cannot buy a child joy in his/her youth. Freedom to experience new things, letting their imagination run wild not their strong will. Sure, I wanted new toys and would cry when my mom and dad didn’t get me the perfect thing but soon after I realized all the crying in the world was not going to change their minds I picked up my stick and rode it into my imagination.

Summertime 1

The summertime of my memories is filled with adventure. There is no better place in summertime to be than on a farm. The majority of the “chores” are done with the planting of the crops so a young boy is free to adventure through the growing fields.

There were no video games, in fact TV was black and white, only had 3 channels and you had to change those channels by going up to the box and rotating a dial. Sometimes you were forced to stand in a certain place holding a wire coat hanger to get the best reception. Staying in your room was not only “NOT DONE” but it wasn’t even conceived of. Your room was for sleeping and changing and nothing more. The place to be was NOT in front of a computer screen or TV screen but outside, you know the place that shows up on your screen saver.

I would be up early and munch down my Wheaties or Corn Flakes with fresh milk from the cow I had to milk. I would be outside as soon as I could pull on my raggedy Keds. If the rains had come I would spend the day playing in the farm ditches. I would build canals that ran water towards my mud town. I would spend hours building a mud community complete with homes, schools, and churches. I would build bridges with small sticks and well-placed mud as mortar. Sometimes I would take out my Matchbox cars and even build garages for them. Noon would pass and I would forget about lunch. Mom wouldn’t call out, dad wouldn’t send out a search party. They know when the sun started setting I would mosey home. After hours of architectural work I would survey my realm; it was time. The creek would be a calm flow until I decided to open the flood gates. Then the floods came. I watches in adolescent glee as the water washed away hours of work; taking my houses, churches, schools and Matchbox with it. When all was gone I would jump into the ditch to find my cars and maybe a few tadpoles I could take home in a jar to watch turn into frogs. Happy with a complete summer day I would make my way back home as the sun was setting and ask mom to help me get the dozen leaches off my legs and arms.

Hours of building only to destroy. Stripping to my tighty-whities to play in a ditch. Taking new toys and burying them in mud and water. Spending 12 hours on my own as a 7-8 year old without adult supervision. Gleefully plucking leaches off my body. All these things would put a modern day psychologist into shock. They would have taken me away from my parents and into a “good” home. They would have sent me to a child psychologist trying to discover the roots of my “destructive tendencies.” They would have put me on some kind of drug to calm me down and make me want to set in front of a screen of some kind “like a good child should.”

I miss the summertime of my childhood, but not just for me. I miss the summertime of my childhood because my grandchildren will never experience it in today’s society of protection, prevention and drug induced calmness. I miss THAT summertime.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Surprising Life of Radio

To end this trilogy of blogs/columns (Death of Postal Service, Death of Email and this one) I would like to surprise you with what is actually ALIVE and GROWING.


Radio is alive and growing.

You and I would have thought that with the advent of digital music, iPods, MP3’s, internet streaming, Pandora, and automobile jacks for digital media that Radio would be dying a quick death. Not so much.

TV is actually evolving and extending its “Long Tail” to the point where it is not becoming recognizable. Try to imagine yourself an advertiser on TV. 20 years ago you pick the few popular shows or the many not-so-popular and you advertised with them because the price was set on their popularity. Now you have what is called the “Long Tail” based on the bell curve becoming more and more shallow and the “tails” of it extending out. You now have THOUSANDS of channels and options to advertise on with prices so variable it will make your head spin. TV isn’t dying it is just evolving.

Radio on the other hand is basically the same as it was when you listened 40 years ago. The sound may be better, the songs may be different, but it is essentially the same. Even the attack of ad-less radio like XM and Sirius have been repelled and are dying a slow death. But Radio, according to the latest statistics (2011) are adding 12 million listeners a MONTH! Digital and social media seem to ENHANCE radio and not detract from it. MP3 players have replaced CDs, which replaced Cassettes, which replaced 8-tracks, which replaced vinyl but they DID NOT replace radio.

Talk radio is growing at 12% a year.

Country music stations are growing at 8% a year.

Pop/Contemporary stations are growing at 4% a year

Urban/Rap stations are growing at 3% a year.

Even oldies stations are growing at 3% a year while all the “oldies” are getting older.

So with all the chatting and twittering I have been doing about the death of the Postal Service and Email and many other things in our lives it is also good to know that some things DON’T change. Some things stay the same, stay reliable, stay comfortable and even nostalgic. Radio brings me back to my younger years while driving a tractor on the farm, getting a tan, while listening to WLS in Chicago. Radio brings me the traffic reports I need, brings me the weather I need, and brings me the news that I want WHILE I am doing something else.

It will be a long time before our vehicles eliminate radio. It may look prettier and more digitally enhanced but it will still be radio. Long live the oldies!

The Death of Email

In the last column I wrote about the death of the US Postal Service. The problem is, the USPS doesn’t realize it yet. Everything the USPS does could be done better and cheaper in a different way but our leaders haven’t quite grasped what that means yet. They are still trying to sell us 8-tracks in an iPod world.

Well, now I am here to announce the death of email.

You thought email was to be the replacement for the USPS and faxes and it is, or rather it WAS. There are now over 3 billion email accounts worldwide and over 107 TRILLION, with a T, emails sent in the same year (2010). You correspondence can be sent in a fraction of a second to anywhere in the world. The average businessperson sends 33 emails a day. Sounds like a thriving business, a thriving new enterprise to get into. But just like the USPS is a dying media or brand; so is email.

Consider this: in 1985 90% of all emails sent were personal correspondence or business related. Today that number is less than 8%. 89% of all emails sent to you are SPAM (unwanted advertising and viruses) the majority of which are pharmaceutical promotions. While seniors are using email more (up 28%) teens are using email less (down 59%). America is getting less and less ONLINE, in fact, AOL reached its peak in 2004 with 23 million subscribers and in 2010 in is down to a mere 4 million.

So we no longer send “snail mail” through the USPS and we are leaving email by the millions; so what is next? Next seems to be the new social media of Phone texting, Facebook and Twitter. From 2004 to 2010 Facebook has grown from 1 million to 800 million users. There are over 36 billion photos shared on Facebook and over one TRILLION comments, likes, or status updates. Twitter, unheard of in 2004, now has over 25 billion “tweets” or comments posted in 2010 and is growing exponentially. Texting has become an epidemic among teens with phones being used for texting 1200 times MORE than as a phone.

So now you just got this email thing figured out and it is already obsolete. I can see a new genre of Americans moving back to Amish country to get away from the electronic tsunami. Everything is changing but, again, the question is: is it for the better? Hard to judge at this point. I know I “communicate” with more people in the new media than I EVER would by snail mail. But I also know it is easier for me to hide from REAL FACE TO FACE interaction because of the “social” media. I know my nieces and nephews better through Facebook but do I REALLY know them?

So I have Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Linked-In, and texting on my phone along with my 5 email addresses. You cannot hide from me … nor I from you. I think I got a handle on it … wait … what is this angry bird thing?

The Death of the Postal Service

In the 1950’s the mailman was one of the most popular people in the world. You can almost picture the lovelorn waiting in anticipation, staring out the window at the lonely mailbox until that American Icon opened it and inserts the letter you had been waiting for. The mail included exciting cards from exotic places, letters from far-away loved ones, and even the rare advertising was read from cover to cover.

In the 1980’s a company called America Online sent out free software to EVERYONE. You would find a disc in magazines, in your mail, and for free at stores. America got online. By the end of the 80’s there were almost 2 million people getting and receiving email. By 1996 that number grew to 100 million and now it is close to 3 BILLION worldwide. My 90 year old father checks his email every day.

What happened to “snail mail”? Something that takes more than a few seconds to send moves at a snail’s pace. We are no longer impressed that a piece of paper can be sent from Maine to California in just a few days when you can send something a thousand times bigger electronically in seconds.

The US Postal Service sent over 170 billion pieces of mail last year. But with all that mail are you waiting, looking out your front window in anticipation of the mail coming by. Most of us don’t even pick up the mail daily. When I look at my mail the most exciting thing for me is the latest magazines I get. You can probably tell a lot about me by my list: Archeology, Biblical Archeology, KMT (Mag of ancient Egypt) Ancient Egypt Magazine, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Wired, Fast Company, Inc, National Geographic Travel, Scuba and probably a few others I don’t remember subscribing to. Today just about ALL of those magazines are online and in a better format. Of the 170 billion pieces of mail we get from the USPS only one half of a percent of that is personal mail; more than 85% of that is advertising; with the rest made up of periodicals and bills. No wonder we don’t rush out to get our mail and why we now avoid or at least wish “rain or sleet or” SOMETHING would keep them from their appointed rounds.

What do you get from the USPS that you could not get BETTER from some other place, media or method? Turns out the only good thing about the mail IS the time it takes for them to get to where the mail is supposed to be. I know a guy who will pay his bills on the VERY LAST day and then send his check through the mail without signing it so it comes back, through the mail, so he can wait a few days, sign it, and then send it back: so delaying and floating his check for almost two weeks. I know another guy who writes who he is sending it TO in the FROM section of the envelope and puts his address in the TO section and then drops it in a mail box without a stamp. That way it will be returned to sender and the sender is the person he wanted to send it to the first place; now free.

I am sorry all you Post People out there who make a living sorting, carrying and delivering mail but there is just a better way. There is a choice we as a nation have to make, do we keep supporting a dying industry because so many depend on it for their jobs or do we step into the new “flat” world? I know what I would choose.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Heaven Is …

I am a child of summer. I would LOVE nothing more than living in a perpetual summertime. I love being outside in nature. I love hearing birds sing and lawn mowers at 6 am. I love wearing nothing more than shorts and a shirt and going around barefoot. I love open windows and cool breezes. I love green flowering and fruiting plants. I love the sun’s warmth on my skin like a blanket. I love summer.

I am not a child of winter. I don’t miss cold, snow and wind chills. I don’t miss frosted windows, windshields and mustaches. I don’t miss the hollow sound of creaking, empty trees dealing with overweight snow and brittle winds. I don’t miss bundling up in layers upon layers of clothing just to get the mail. I don’t miss the salty roads, dirty snow piles, and slush. I don’t miss the sunless days where cold comes on you like a prickly sweater. I don’t miss winter.

I tell people, who don’t live in the south that we have one spring, two summers and a really hot season. I don’t miss winter. Of course this is a preference and I know others who have EXACTLY the opposite view of mine. I have a distant relative with whom I share the same name, who lives in Norway and LOVES the winter and can’t wait for summer to be over. Others I know love the changing of the seasons and would miss summer leaves turning to fall, fall colors turning to a white blanket, winter white turning to the new growth of spring, and spring sprouting into a full blown summertime.

I cannot see myself in a cold climate again. But I can’t say I will NEVER be in a cold climate again. I find an even deeper truth than my love of summer. I find that God has plans that may not have ANYTHING to do with my preferences. What happens if God calls my wife and I back to Michigan, or to a church in Northern Alberta? No, sorry God, I prefer summertime. How about Hawaii or the Florida Keys?

Actually that is a picture of heaven for me. Right now, my preferences and God’s plan are often at odds. But there will come a time when they are one and the same. There is a place where I will be just where God wants me to be and that will be the same place where I prefer to be. That time and that place is heaven. I can’t wait (well, I can, but you know what I mean) to move there!

Heaven is where your preferences and God’s plan become one.

It is Really Very Simple

I didn’t do it again this week. I promised myself I would get it done and AGAIN, I didn’t. I will put it off again until next week and make sure I do it then. No wait! I have to babysit two days, I have a trip to go on and a bunch of meetings; I will do it the week after.

Why don’t we get things done? What gets in the way of getting things done? It really comes down to five very simple reasons:

The first reason we don’t get things done is because WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. We know that something is supposed to be accomplished or fixed but we don’t know what that SOMETHING is. I know that when I plug something into that outlet it would work but it doesn’t. What do I do? It is an IGNORANCE problem.

The second reason is that WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO IT. Here we know WHAT to do but don’t know HOW to get do it. I know that there is a wire not completing the circuit somewhere to cause that plug not to work but I don’t know how to get at it or where that wire is. How do I do it? It is an EDUCATION problem.

The third reason we don’t get things done is because WE DON’T HAVE THE AUTHORITY to do it. I would love to fix that outlet but it is in my neighbor’s house. It is an PERMISSION problem.

The fourth reason is that WE DON’T HAVE THE RESOURCES to complete it. I misplaced my screwdriver and my hot wire tester thingy so I can’t get it done. It is a PREPAREDNESS problem.

The fifth and final reason we don’t get things done is REALLY the main reason we don’t get things done. That is WE ARE AFRAID. Every time I open up a wiring outlet I get ZAPPED or when I open up one I cause two more problems to pop up. Fix one thing and two more don’t work. It is a FEAR problem.

So, once you figure out what’s getting in the way of the task you need to complete you should find it easier to get it done. What is the answer to why you don’t get things done? Your stuck?

Stuck is a state of mind, and it is curable. Let’s get unstuck together this week.

The Death of Ebay

I was an Ebay nut. I have the “collectors” gene in me which causes me to collect things. I have a coin collection, shot glass collection, mug collection (of shows I’ve gone to), Lord of the Rings memorabilia collection, Egyptian Ushabti collection, Lord’s Supper art work collection, Archeology and History Magazine collection, and probably a navel fuzz collection on me right now. One of my dreams would be having an “antique” Bible collection. I keep looking at an original 1607 Geneva Study Bible that is in Bauman’s Rare Books at the Venetian Hotel but it doesn’t get much cheaper than the $5000 they want for it right now. Still a dream. But now, my main source for my collections: Ebay, has died.

In 1846 an Irish immigrant named Alexander Stewart opened a store in NYC unlike any that Americans has ever seen before. Stewart started many innovations like in-store fashion shows, street level windows for window shopping and a lavishly decorated store to appeal to shoppers. But his most important innovation was that all of his products came with a price tag. You see, before Alex got involved you had to haggle your price with the merchant which, as most of us know, can be a frustrating dance between the two parties and rarely do both go away happy with the transaction. So Alex marked everything with a fixed price, pay it or don’t, it is up to you. MANY decided to pay it and made Alex one of the most successful retailers in NYC in the mid 1800’s.

A century and a half later there was another innovator by the name of Pierre Omidyar. His new store was unlike ANYTHING that Americans had seen before. Pierre’s vision was to have the world’s largest open market, which would sell ANYTHING to EVERYBODY, where the small guy could compete with the huge corporations and where shoppers could find all kinds of products they never dreamed of buying. He called his “store” Ebay. Pierre’s greatest innovation was in pricing, just like Alex, but is replaced fixed prices with auctions. The prices were to be set by the ever changing supply and demand. Customers responded and made Ebay the world’s largest retailer and business experts called it the “perfect store”.

But Pierre’s model, just like Alex’s has been run through the cycle of changing technology and scam artists. Bidding on Ebay items used to be fun, but now it is not, with “snipers” electronically putting in the last bid in milliseconds to take that beanie baby you were hoping for. Winning a bid on Ebay no longer seems to be a bargain like it used to be or you would win an item for a good price and the shipping costs would kill you. Ebay, as originally intended, has died. Now auctions are a distant second to the “Buy it Now” button price. Shipping costs are set by Ebay based on distance to keep the scammers at bay. But the novelty has simply worn off.

It was fun while it lasted but my collections will have to grow in other ways. We grow, we adapt, we adjust, we move on. The problem is clingers, those who valiantly try to cling to past innovation while the world moves on. The buggy whip is no longer for sale other than as a novelty. The Minivan pushed out the Station Wagon which is gave way to the SUV which is now under attack by the Crossovers. Those of us clinging to land line phones will find that they will no longer be in service. I just heard that Amazon now sells more books electronically than it sells books that are actually made out of paper. Are you ready?

We MUST grow, we MUST adapt, we MUST adjust, and we MUST move on. The alternative is not too pleasant and potentially dangerous. So does anyone have hookups for a rare Bible for me?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Easy vs. Certain

The lottery is great, because it is easy. It is not certain, but it is easy. All you have to do is spend a few bucks and buy a ticket, pick the numbers, or even easier, have the computer pick your numbers for you; then you just sit back and wait for the drawing. Easy but not certain. You have more of a chance to get hit by lightning than you do at winning the lottery. Tens of millions to one are your chances. Still, it is easy.

Medical school is great, because it is certain. It is not easy, but it is certain. The average medical school graduate makes $120,000 right out of school. After being in the profession for a few years or getting into a specialized field a doctor can make up to a $1 million a year. It is certain that you will have a job and make good money but not easy. The studying and residency pressures knock out over 75% of the students before they officially become a doctor. Still, it is certain.

Most people are searching for a path to success that is both easy and certain. But, that path does not exist.

We all know people who are waiting for “their ship to come in” or that “big deal” that will make everything come together for them. We also know people who have been slaving away for years and have worked EXTREMELY hard for what they have.

Which are you? Are you working on the easy but not certain path to success? Or are you working on the certain but not easy path to success? Or are you working on the impossible path that is both certain and easy?

What we often forget is that there is a fourth path. A path to success that is neither easy nor certain. THAT path is the one that most of us find ourselves in. Getting out of that path (rut?) requires a LOT of energy.

However you measure success, there is an easy way and a certain way. How you balance and deal with those two will impact your life, your love, your career, your future, and even your eternity.

What do I Write when I don’t want to Write?

There are times when writing is cathartic for me. ( the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art as tragedy or music.)

There are times when writing is fun for me. ( something that provides mirth or amusement; enjoyment or playfulness)

There are times when writing is a pain for me. ( a distressing sensation in a particular part of the body; mental or emotional suffering or torment; laborious or careful effort; assiduous care)

There are times when words just gush out of me. ( to flow or issue suddenly, copiously, or forcibly, as a fluid from confinement; to have a sudden, copious flow of blood or tears; to emit suddenly, forcibly, or copiously)

There are times when words just trickle out of me. ( to flow or fall by drops, or in a small amount; to come and go or pass bit by bit, slowly, irregularly)

I read a lot and listen to a lot of college level classes on CD while driving around. It is rare that you will find me without my Kindle and my note cards or sticky notes. I am probably the only person you know who keeps sticky notes and highlighter pens within easy reach in the bathroom. I have plenty of books on philosophy marked up, 4x6 cards with ideas from classes I’ve taken or things I’ve heard and want to remember. Usually when I sit down to write a column I go through these cards or marked up books and find something that hits me; something that compels me to write ( to force or drive, especially to a course of action; to overpower; to have a powerful and irresistible effect, influence.)

But what do I do when I don’t want to write? What do I do when I just don’t feel like it? What do I do when none of my notes, highlights or printouts inspires me. ( to produce or arouse a feeling or thought; to fill or affect with a specified feeling; to influence or impel; to guide or control by divine influence; to give rise to, bring about, or cause.)

I have read books on writing and how professional writers treat writing as a profession. You set a time, you sit down, you put your fingers on the keyboard, and you WRITE. It has nothing to do with feeling like it or wanting to. It is your job, you don’t work at a factory only when you FEEL like it, so don’t treat your writing like a pastime, treat it like a job. BE a professional. ( following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain; following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime; expert.)

So, I guess I just don’t know what to do when I don’t want to write and I sure don’t feel like writing today. Any suggestions?

Sucks to Grow Old?

Three years ago, while playing softball, I was running to first base and heard and FELT a crunching in my foot. Ouch … another sprain, last game for a while until it heals. Didn’t heal and I ended up having surgery to remove pieces of the bones I broke and to remove the feeling of walking barefoot on stones that I had for months. JUST FROM RUNNING TO FIRST BASE! Boy it sucks to grow old. I remember running ALL DAY at school playing ball, at home to escape my brothers, by myself just for the fun of it. Running and running some more, never having to worry about a broken bone.

Well I signed up for a softball team for the first time since that injury and we had our first game last night. After losing 65 pounds and triking 50-60 miles a week I was feeling pretty indestructible. Just had to get the swing back and work on the throwing arm a bit. My first at bat was a mighty swing and I popped it up to the first baseman but at the end of the swing was a silent pop and a lightning bolt of pain in my elbow. Hyper-extension. I grinned and bore it for the next few innings playing with just one arm but too many balls were getting hit to me and I had to concede to the handicap. Asked Coach to take me out of the game and probably out of the season. Man it sucks to grow old.

I had ice on it last night and heat on it now as I type. Luckily on my left arm I can still do most of the things I could before, just with more pain.

Pain has a way of making you aware of things around you: how good it was NOT being in pain; how I take my left arm for granted; how old I am getting; how I need to exercise more; etc.

In life we find that the more extreme the pain, and the closer to death we come; the more seriously we take life. NOT that there aren’t fun things when you are terminal but there aren’t PETTY things when you are terminal. Cancer patients will tell you how sweeter life can be when your recognize, because of the cancer, how special it is. Every moment with a loved one is precious. Every flower, sunrise, unseen-before sight, is now brighter and more colorful.

How great would it be to live life like that all the time? How great would it be to NOT take life for granted? How great would it be to drop all the pettiness and prejudices of life? How great would it be to live like you are dying?

I thought I was indestructible again and was AGAIN proven wrong. Now I appreciate health and life more because of it. I would encourage you to be smarter than me … appreciate it BEFORE the pain comes. Appreciate it NOW because you know, it really doesn’t have to suck to grow old.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Star

After a few years of meeting his potential the rising Star seemed to be flickering a bit. He did amazing things and crowds followed him everywhere just to hear him sing. Those close to him reveled in the popularity and jostled for the position of his right hand man.

But then something changed. The Star started hanging out with the wrong people and his image began to be tainted. The rumors were bad enough but now people began to SEE him hanging out with prostitutes and, even worse, the Bernie Madoffs of the day. Not only was he hanging out with those people who stole others money but he was accepting invitations to their home for dinner and sing for THEM!

The media of the day were having a great time documenting his fall from grace. The people still listened to him because he had a GREAT voice, one like no other. But the leaders began to manipulate the people by spreading rumors and innuendo. The Star made it easy for them by socializing with the wrong people and not even caring that they were the wrong people. The Star even called the RIGHT people the wrong people. What was he thinking?

It all came to a climax when the Star showed up at an event he was not invited to. In fact, he was WARNED to stay away or there would be “dire” circumstances. When the Star arrived, the crowds cheered him for his audacity but instead of singing, he caused such an upheaval the crowds ran away from the repercussions. Now the authorities had an opportunity to arrest him or worse.

Knowing this, and that his time was short, the Star had a last meal with his closest followers. The couldn’t understand his songs any more. They just wanted to go back to the popular times. Maybe he could to a come-back tour or something. After the meal, in the middle of the night he was arrested, tried and convicted in a VERY short time. The authorities felt they just HAD to make it a quick break. All his “close” friends ran away, fearing the same authorities.

He was executed. In retrospect many wondered how it happened so fast. From the greatest rising Star to a death sentence. But it must just have been one of those cases that kind of slip through the cracks of justice, propelled by … who-knows-what.

Now, many years later we know that it was the Star-wannabees that pushed the execution. The competition from the Star was too much and he had to be eliminated. His competition tried to bury his songs and punish others for playing them. But they never counted on the resurrection of the Star. Not just his music, but the Star himself. The ULTIMATE comeback tour lasted for 40 days and then he was gone. But his music, oh, his music continues to play in our hearts and minds even today.

I have his Easter album bursting from my buds today. Can you hear it? Does it move you still?

Cowboy Poem: Better Keep in Touch

Jake, the rancher, went one day to fix a distant fence

The wind was cold and gusty and the clouds rolled gray and dense

As he pounded the last staples in and gathered tools to go

The temperature had fallen, the wind and snow began to blow

When he finally reached his pickup, he felt a heavy heart

From the sound of that ignition he knew it wouldn’t start

So Jake did what most of us would do if we had been there

He humbly bowed his balding head and sent aloft a prayer

As he turned the key for the last time he softly cursed his luck

They found him three days later frozen stiff in that old truck

Now Jake had been around in life and done his share of roaming

But when he saw heaven he was shocked – it looked just like Wyoming

St. Peter and he talked for a minute or two, or maybe it was three

Nobody was keeping score for in heaven time is free

I’ve always heard, Jake said to Pete, that God will answer prayer

But one time I asked for help, well, he just plain wasn’t there

Does God answer prayer of some and ignore the prayers of others?

That doesn’t seem exactly square – I know all men are brothers

Or does he randomly reply without good rhyme or reason?

Maybe it’s’ the time of day, the weather or the season

Now I ain’t trying to act smart, It’s just the way I feel

And I was wondering could you tell me what the heck is the deal?

Peter listened very patiently and when Jake was done

There were smiles of recognition and he said “so you’re the one!”

That day your truck, it wouldn’t start, and you sent your prayer a flying

You gave us all a real bad time with hundreds of us trying

A thousand angels rushed to check the status of your file

Buy you know, Jake, we hadn’t heard from you in quite a long while

And though all prayers are answered and God ain’t got no quota

He didn’t recognize your voice and started a truck in Minnesota

Are you telling the TRUTH?

I am fascinated by the TV show “Lie to me” because I like the thought that you can read a person’s mind based on their facial expressions and on their body language. There are actual “Deception Detection” experts that work for the police and banks and even looking at the honesty of new CEO’s. These experts are usually former trained CIA officers using their skills in the public sector.

One of these experts share some of the tricks of the trade:

1. Fidgeting. Aside from true sociopaths, people aren’t natural liars and saying one thing while thinking something else can actually cause physical discomfort. Something we know as “squirming.”

2. Weasel Words. “expected to” or “probably” or “basically” or “should be” are WEASEL words. These kind of qualifiers crop up when someone is trying to obscure doubts or worries. Or hedge their lie with a smidgeon of deny-ability.

3. Detour Phrases. Think “as I said before …” Liars try to circumvent a direct answer by referencing past answers to different questions. The hope is to fold a potential second lie onto the previous one to stay consistent when really they have not answered the question.

4. Complaints. Grips like “How long am I going to be here?” are often used to derail a particular line of questioning.

5. Selective Memory. Phrases like “to the best of my knowledge” or “from what I remember” are evasive maneuvers designed to get away from telling the truth or having a bald-faced lie.

6. Ask for details. They are harder to lie consistently about and make up on the spot.

One of the most important things you must do to “catch” a liar is to establish a “baseline” of normal expressions and motions. In other words, you have to get to know the person in various situations and emotional states. That is why it is much easier to tell lies from people you know than from those you don’t. You know when a loved one is lying because you know what they are like when they are not.

I believe we pick up these indications all the time. We call them gut feelings or intuition or whatever but most of the time we don’t trust them. It is VERY difficult to say to a loved one “You’re lying” when BOTH of you know they are. It is easier to say to a friend “That’s BS” in a joking and non-threatening way. But most of us pass it off as a simple misunderstanding or smile and nod, allowing the liar to keep on lying even though we know it’s not true.

Lying doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We create the environment for lying. When we are silent we build up the walls for that environment by encouraging the liar to keep on lying. That is why your insurance premium is so high. I caused an accident a few years ago and admitted it. The policeman was so shocked that he asked me 3 times to repeat it and then asked me to write it down. Friends told me that I was stupid to admit it and left myself liable to lawsuits. I may have spit into the wind but I also took down one little brick in our lying environment.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Animals and Eternity

There is a painting by Giuseppe Vermiglio of the Last Supper. This painting has three animals in it. I have never pictured the Last Supper with Jesus to have animals included but this is how Vermiglio saw it. The first animal is in front of Jesus and is the butchered Passover Lamb. This lamb was to be spotless and without blemish in order to be sacrifices and served at the Passover meal. This animal represented Christ himself, OUR Passover Lamb. The spotless and perfect one who was sacrificed for us.

The next animal is a small dog. You see this dog coming out from under the table the disciples were reclining on. The small dog here was a symbel of the destitute in society, of those who fed off the scraps of the tables the rest of the people left over after they had their fill. Whatever fell to the floor was picked up and cleaned up by the small dogs. These were the friendly, big-eyed, whimpering ones and not the mean and nasty dogs of the street.

The third animal is a fat cat. Not even a black cat but a cat that represents the devil. The only one to notice this cat is the small dog. The cat/devil sits behind Judas whom we recognize because he is holding a bag full of 30 pieces of silver in his right hand and while all the other Apostles are listing to and leaning toward Jesus, he seems to be looking to make his way AWAY FROM the Savior.

Vermiglio was saying some pretty interesting things through his painting. The dog is in a defensive posture and probably barking annoyingly which the disicples simple don’t see or pay attention to. The only one that sees the evil hovering around Judas is the destitute in society. The Apostles are too busy trying to jocky for position and learning from Jesus that they neglect the world around them and the devil in their midst.

While not crafted and as popular as DaVinci’s version of the same scene, Vermiglio captures something the Leonardo misses. Listen to your animals! Okay, maybe not that so much but certainly BE AWARE of the world around you even while you are worshipping and spending time in the presence of Jesus.

The Ten Commandments

Minnesota Style 1. Der’s only one God, ya know. 2. Don’t make that fish on your mantle an important thing 3. Cussin ain’t Minnesota nice 4. Go to church even when you’re up nort 5. Honor your folks 6. Don’t kill, Catch and release 7. There’s only one Lena for every Ole. No cheatin. 8. If it ain’t your lutefisk, don’t take it 9. Don’t be bragging bout how much snow ya shoveled 10. Keep your mind off your neighbor’s hotdish Vegas Style 1. Love only God, and God is not the name of an exclusive nightclub 2. Sequined purses and boots are not to be worshipped 3. Watch what you say and how you act – there are camera’s EVERYWHERE 4. Even swing shifters need time off, take a day 5. Remember to comp your mom and dad when they are in town 6. Even when the guys pulls a crazy flush on the river to beat your 3 of a kind, killing is not an option 7. Keep your eyes on the road and not the billboards, or taxi signs. 8. A One-Armed-Bandit is a slot machine not a way of life 9. Don’t tell me you “just about broke even” that is Vegas-speak for “I just lost $500 and my wife is gonna kill me.” 10. Your suite is fine, don’t worry about your buddy getting the Presidential Suite Internet Style 1. Don’t bow before your computer even though google is “all-knowing” 2. That perfect internet connection is not your purpose 3. BOLD FACED TYPING is yelling too, watch your language 4. Let your computer rest, never leave it on full time you never know what bugs and spam it will pick up 5. Skype your mom and dad frequently 6. Don’t enjoy mashing your “friend” in WOW too much 7. Keep your firewalls up 8. Knowing your friends passwords can only get you into trouble 9. Watch out what you Text and Twitter about it WILL come back to haunt you 10. The latest MEGA graphics card won’t make any difference if you buy it just for show No matter how you slice it, as good as it may be; the original is still the best. AND still appropriate and timely.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Es Es Percepe

Is there really an external world? Is there really a world outside of our experience? When you see an apple, you picture it in your mind (as you are right now); what happens when you close your eyes and think of something else? Does the apple disappear? Does the world disappear when you close your eyes? If everyone in the world closed their eyes and emptied their minds at the same time would the universe disappear? When we group our regularly occurring experiences we give them names. “Apple” is our word for a consistent collection of sweet, red, crunchy sensations of a certain size, texture, and smell. But that is all an apple is. Or is it? According to George Berkeley (1685-1753) that is all an apple is. To suppose that it is something more, something OUT THERE, is to go beyond the evidence of experience. Worse, it is to think the absurd thought that sweetness can exist untasted and red can exist unseen. To believe that something exists in the realm OUTSIDE the senses is to build a shaky scaffolding to stand on. Yet it might surprise you to know that George was a devout Christian. He actually used this “idealism” as evidence and proof for God. Berkeley argues that God perceives and therefore sustains the whole of the universe whether we happen to be looking at it or not. For Berkeley the continued existence of everything is proof not only of God’s existence but also his benevolence. If God blinked, not only would our world go out of existence but so would we. The Latin “es es percepe” means “to be is to be perceived”. What would we be without others experiencing us? What would we be without our own senses? What would we be without God perceiving us? With us being unable to trust our own senses reality and truth, then, is how God perceives it. The truth corresponds to reality as GOD perceives it: NOT OUR PERCEPTION. Our very existence depends on GOD perceiving us: NOT OUR PERCEPTION of HIM! I think ancient scripture writers understood this when they gave us the priestly benediction: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his FACE SHINE ON YOU and be gracious to you; may the Lord TURN HIS FACE TOWARD YOU and give you peace.” May the Lord PERCEIVE you too.