Monday, December 29, 2008

The Dynamics of Walking through Crowds 3

Exiting elevators is an interesting experience for the dynamics of crowds. As weird as it may seem I just ride in elevators. Up then down, especially when it is busy because that is when the most crowd watching can happen.

You can find out who the polite people are and who the uninterested are. I still find a lot of chivalry within elevator etiquette. Men will still put their hand in front of the door so women and children can enter or exit. All will move around to make room for more if possible and someone will ALWAYS push the floor button when asked by someone buried in the crowd.

The Venetian Hotel and Casino is the world’s largest hotel/entertainment complex. It has over 8000 rooms which are all suites, millions of square feet in conventions space, more than twenty restaurants, a shopping mall, 5 major theaters for shows, a dozen small ones, and hundreds of thousands of square feet dedicated to slot machines. The problem is that it was built in three separate sections and is extremely confusing if you don’t know where you are going. Who would guess that the canal with gondola rides is ABOVE the casino or that they swimming pool is on the 10th floor and the main entrance is on the 3rd floor from the parking ramp. All this makes for great crowd watching.

I stand in the back of the elevator listening to some Phantom of the Opera music playing when people enter the elevator and see that the 3rd floor is pushed and I listen as they debate whether they need to go to the 1st or not to get to the casino. The push the 1st just in case. The doors open on the 3rd but it just looks like another parking floor. They ignore the signs that say “Hotel and Casino” with an arrow pointing the way and go down to the 1st floor and find another parking garage. Frustrated now they exit and disappear and I don’t know if they ever find what they are looking for.

OR: I stand in the back of a FULL elevator and wait. The 3rd floor opens up to the crowd and those in front exit, take a quick look right at the parking ramp and immediately turn left and the crowd follows them to the left as they exit the elevator. I follow too until they reach the dead end with more elevators. They all turn around en masse and look like lost sheep without a shepherd. The signs are everywhere pointing them to the hotel/casino but they just don’t trust them because they lead to the parking ramp. One adventurous couple will walk out of the elevator hallway and see a carpeted entrance and head up the ramp to the entrance. Soon the rest follow after they see the adventurous ones don’t come back. The crowd moves again.

I look at the signs again and wonder how they could be any clearer than they are. Crowds are crowds and they will blindly follow the one in front of them even though it ends in a dead end. You probably see where I am going here don’t you? I want to know if you just follow the crowds or if you actually pause and read the signs?

As the elevator door opens to this New Year and everything in front of you is new again I want to challenge you to read the signs and not just follow the crowd. I want to challenge you to be different and to make a difference. BE THE ONE people will watch to see if it works instead of being the one of many. Step out, step apart, step forward and make a difference.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Dynamics of Walking through Crowds 2

I pull off into a dead corner and watch the people streaming through each other. The personalities come through in this seemingly simple, but complicated interaction.

I see some people who are VERY aware of everything going on around them. They are VERY careful to keep to the far right side of the slow lane and never venture into the middle of the road for fear of having to touch or, God forbid, interact with these strangers. They are shy, self-conscious, and usually have a thinly veiled fear which I can see without even seeing their face. The mix with the older and frailer with a fear that is totally different.

In the middle of the stream, sometimes fighting oncoming traffic I see totally different temperaments. Some are fearless only to prove they are fearless to cover up their fear. They are the Bangers who will not care about pushing their way through the crown. They are dressed differently but are really the same. Some are dressed in baggy clothes and sideways hats clinging to a belt loop and walking wide to keep only a planned view of boxer shorts in view. The same people are in extremely tight shirts and pants which closely resemble another skin to show their bulging muscles and tattoos. There are female versions of these two but more often I see the prowling female in Las Vegas. You can tell a lot about women just by the way she turns when she makes her way through a crowd. Will she turn away and protect herself as she brushes by you or turn and face you daring you to excuse yourself by her. Sometimes I even get a wink from “ladies” I am forced to get too close to. As I watched I saw a man turn around and pursue a wink but I never saw if he caught up with her or not.

The rest of us flow with the crowd, not faster, not slower, just with it. Calmly, patiently getting to where we are going with a pocket full of “excuse me” and “sorry” ready to doll out.

While in that corner I experience an anomaly: the traffic clears. As if a stop light clicked on around the corner the hall becomes empty. One at a time people come through and they seem lost. They don’t know how to relate without the crowd. The fearful stand more upright and confident as they make their way. The Bangers slow down because they have no competitors to be faster than. The “ladies” cover up and seem to shrink. And the normal people, well, we simply straighten out the corners and make it a little faster than normal.

I come away from this experience realizing that we NEED each other. Even those defiant and ornery would have no one to be defiant and ornery to, if not for the rest of us. Our trip through the mall hallway is a microcosm of our lives and interactions with each other. We need each other to survive and to move forward in life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Dynamics of Walking through Crowds 1

It is the holiday season and I find myself walking through a lot of crowds. My mind makes the move into the express lane as I begin to notice the flow of people and crowd MOVEMENT dynamics.

Most of the time you don’t notice the dynamics unless something happens to interrupt the flow: like chatters to stop the flow and gather in a lane blocking circle to look into a store window; like the young or the elderly who cannot keep up with the flow and feel the fear of bodies passing them on all sides; like some daring thrill-seeker who attempts to work his way against the flow; or, like the occasional face to face with someone coming in the opposite direction where you mirror each other when you sidestep until one of you finally stops and the other makes their way around you.

Most of the time it is simply amazing to me that we actually MISS each other in all the hustle and bustle of people. Without even consciously thinking about it we can weave our way through a crowd without touching a person, while talking on a cell phone or with a friend next to you, making your way around the slow ones, avoiding the oncoming ones, and kicking it into gear to make a corner on the inside.

I have been observing this walking through crowd dynamics for a while now and I think I am ready for my Master’s Thesis on the personalities involved. Let me give you a few and next time you are in the crowd see if you can pick them out.

The Floater. The Floater floats through the crowd seeming to flit from one small gap to another just in time to push ahead before that gap closes. They seem to be unimpeded by the number of people. You try to follow them but you seem to reach the gap in people just as it closes behind them.

The Brute. The Brute is usually a guy but I have seen female brutes as well. This is the person who makes it through crowds by simple, brute force. Instead of floating through open gaps like the Floater, the Brute busts through small gaps making them wider by shoulder banging the people on each side of it. Rarely do you hear an “excuse me” even though you and he might make eye contact and you end up rubbing your shoulder.

The Gabber. The Gabber gabs. Usually a group of three or more friends who spend their time talking, laughing and looking. Often the Gabbers stop at a store window oblivious to the crowd around them. Or they may simply stop in the middle of the expressway, forcing all the traffic around them as they laugh and gab. Sometimes a Gabber can be a single person who may be on a cell phone that needs to make an important point to the person at the other end of the call and so needs to stop walking and make powerful expressions with the free hand.

The Clueless. The Clueless crowd walkers are the ones who gum up the works by simply disobeying the rules of the road. The rules are similar to driving rules. You MUST walk on the right side of the hallway or mallway. The faster walkers MUST pass closer to the middle but MUST NOT venture into oncoming traffic. If you stop you MUST get out of the way of both oncoming traffic and same lane traffic by going into a store entryway or a dead corner. The Clueless will stop and any time, will drive through oncoming traffic, will pass on the wrong side, or go slow on the wrong side. The Clueless just don’t follow the rules and believe they have no responsibility for the flow of the crowd.

There are more, like the Brood: the mom with kids trying to stick close, speeding up and slowing down depending on the temperament of kids and parents. The Entourage: with one leader and others hanging on his or her every word and comment and struggling to be the one closest to the leader. The Accessorized: Usually women with handbags like suitcases that can take out a whole row of the passing crowd or perfume that causes crowds to push AWAY from her. And many more.

Then there are the rest of us. Sometimes I experiment by being the Brute or the Clueless and just do things wrong to stir of the mix of the dynamic. Most often I walk amazed that things actually happen, that people actually move and that we don’t stand like sheep wondering why we don’t get anywhere. I think that might be part of what it means to be made in God’s image, that built-into-us-ness of progressing through crowds.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Achievement: We acquire strength in what we overcome.

Challenge: The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it.

One of the things that drove me crazy at work was those corny motivational statements plastered all over the break room walls at the factory or office. You know the ones with the great pictures and the inspirational statements below them, meant to get you into a positive attitude about your work. If I was still in the corporate world I would go to this website I’ve found and substitute a few of the corny ones for these from

Cluelessness: There are no stupid questions, but there are a LOT of inquisitive idiots.

Consulting: If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.

Effort: Hard work never killed anybody, but it is illegal in some places.

Laziness: Success is a journey not a destinations, so stop running.

Tradition: Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly stupid.

Sanity: Minds are like parachutes. Just because you’ve lost yours doesn’t mean you can borrow mine.

The TV show Office and the cartoon Dilbert are full of quotes and that is what makes them so appealing. It is the anti-motivational message that resonates with people, not the motivational ones. The majority of people relate to failure, while only a few relate to success and a manager standing in front of a cadre of employees spouting clichés becomes the opposite of motivation. At best they become the butt of jokes and youtube videos.

Motivation doesn’t come from outside sources. At best they are reminders of what we have inside but the switch is not going to come from a frequency of posters and clichés. Motivation, the opposite of despair, comes from considering yourself in a constant state of indebtedness. Most people don’t do that. Most people believe the world OWES THEM and doesn’t believe they OWE anything to the world or their God. Second, motivation comes from family. A supportive nurturing family breeds motivated people. And finally, motivation is a decision, not a feeling. Just because you don’t FEEL motivated doesn’t mean you can’t be. DECIDE to be motivated for whatever task you have and you will be motivated.

Motivation: Giving thanks for all, feeling family vibes, and choosing it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


A peasant may believe as much
As a great clerk, and reach the highest stature.
Thus dost thou make proud knowledge bend and crouch
While grace fills up uneven nature.

This poem, part of a larger work, called Faith by George Herbert struck me this Thanksgiving season.

I met a man who was “homeless” and looked it. His clothes were clean but still the smell of homelessness was around his unkempt hair and scraggly beard. He had the nose of an alcoholic and his weathered hands wrapped around a cup of coffee as if it would keep his whole frail body warm. We sat across each other in a charity dining hall, I was there to serve and he was there to be served and we filled our rolls quietly.

The din of a hundred homeless having lunch and conversation filled the hall as I removed his plate for him and threw it away. I came back with the coffee pot and offered it to him. His hands opened like saloon doors to allow me to fill his cup again.

“Is there anything else I can get for you?” I asked as I withdrew the coffee pot.

His simple response set me back on my heals, “Grace” was all he said and he took another sip. I searched his eyes over the brim of his cup and saw both a tear and a smile.

Grace is an amazing thing. It is something we all need, from the greatest clerk or judge, to the lowest peasant; homeless and smelly. It is something given to all in equal measure to all of us. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, where you are or where you do it; grace is there.

Are you thankful that grace doesn’t depend on your station in life?

Are you thankful that grace doesn’t depend on how much money you have or how popular you are?

Are you thankful that grace doesn’t depend on how good (or bad) you are?
Are you thankful that “grace fills up uneven nature”?

Our Own Sunglasses

Now that the election is over and all the political ads are finally done running and ruining my TV viewing we can take a moment to pull back and look at what just happened. Or can we?

I have had multiple (at least 10) different conversations with people from BOTH sides of the aisle on what just happened and I am finding an interesting phenomenon. I find that people still have their sunglasses on. People can look at the exact SAME event and come out of it with two completely DIFFERENT ways to describe the SAME reality.

It is normal, natural and a part of our human nature. The only thing that is not allowed is the sunglasses that say “I don’t have sunglasses on. I see reality as it really is!” The people who don’t recognize that they are wearing sunglasses that tints reality in one direction or another are the ones that are dangerous.

Remember those cool lenses that came in cereal boxes in the 70’s that were red. You would eagerly dig through the cereal box to find the little package and then use it to read secret messages on the outside of the box. The red lens changed the message and allowed you to read a different colored text beneath. That is us, only we all have different colors reading the same message but it appears differently to us all.

Your sunglasses are your worldview. It is how you look at the world. It is your perspective, you bent on life. Your sunglasses are inherited in part. Your sunglasses are learned in part. Your sunglasses are shaped by your choices in life. Your sunglasses are sometimes beaten into you by abuses in life.

Even the myth of unbiased news reporting is just that: a myth. The best you can hope for in news is the opposite: put BOTH perspectives next to each other and let them present their colored views as best they can according to their sunglasses and let YOU decide who has the glasses with the closest color to yours. Once you realize that everything you see and hear is tainted in some way you are a step closer to reality.

First, recognize you wear sunglasses. Second, recognize everything you see and hear is from someone who also is wearing sunglasses. Third, recognize reality is somewhere in the middle of all that and there is no way we will find it on this side of eternity. Because now we see but a poor reflection, then we will see reality face to face. I have said this before but it is worth repeating: there will be three surprises in heaven. The first surprise is who is there that we NEVER THOUGHT WOULD BE. The second surprise is those who are NOT THERE that we thought would be. The third surprise is that WE ARE THERE AT ALL! What are your sunglasses telling you?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Loss of the Common

I was into one of my magazines, actually an Archeology magazine when I came across something unexpected. A Christian Pickup Line.

This is not something that you would normally find in a magazine on Archeology so it came out of the blue. The discussion was on the ancient city of Jericho and how much of an impact the story of Jericho has on our everyday life. Here’s the line, but you have to understand the biblical story of Jericho: “How many times do I have to walk around you to get your walls to fall down?”

So that got me thinking about what other pickup lines there may be out there, here are a few I found:

“I just don’t feel called to celibacy”
“What do you think Paul meant when he said to greet everyone with a holy kiss?”
“You know, I am really into relationship evangelism!”
“That halo matches your eyes!”
“Before tonight, I never believed in predestination!”
“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”
“The Bible says to give water to those who are thirsty and to feed the hungry, so how about dinner?”
“Is it a sin that you stole my heart?”
“Excuse me, is this pew taken?”
“Excuse me, but I believe one of your ribs belongs to me.”
“Oh, you’re cold? Maybe we should read Ecc. 4:11?”

There are even Christian break-up lines:

“I’m sorry; it just isn’t God’s will.”
“God loves me and must have a better plan for my life.”
“I think we should just be prayer partners.”
“I do love you, but it’s just agape now.”

Ouch! And more OUCH! Chances are, more than half of you who read this don’t get it. There is probably only a third of you who get most of them. And maybe only a quarter of you who know what predestination is in the biblical sense. For those of you who get these, how about you try to follow the Physicist’s pickup lines:

“You’re more special than relativity.”
“Heisenberg was wrong. I’m certain about what you’re doing tonight.”
“My last boyfriend wasn’t very stable. He spontaneously decayed last week and left me for a neutrino.”
“I’m attracted to you like the earth to the sun. With a large force inversely proportional to the distance squared.”

Wha? While we may understand the surface humor of it and maybe even laugh, but how many of us really know Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal? Or even what a neutrino is? Or why one of your ribs would belong to me? Or what Ecc. 4:11 says? Or what agape is? Or how the walls of Jericho came down?

What we lack is a common connection that comes from a common history but today, common connections are becoming very uncommon. While we may understand the words we cannot understand the context or meaning behind them. While the world is becoming flatter, it is sacrificing its depth in the process. We are losing the “common” in our history and while I can now talk to one thousand of you reading this many of you won’t get the joke – or the message.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Why I Write

When I was in High School as a freshman I would look at our school paper and the first thing I would read was the column by this ultra-wise senior who was also a basketball player. Talk about a trifecta: wise, senior, basketball. When I became a sophomore I began to think that I could do the same thing, they had no columnist for the Echo (name of our school paper) but I didn’t believe I was quite ready yet. By my Junior year I was on the Echo staff and learn to develop photographs (yes, this was still when we used dark rooms and had to actually “lay out” a newspaper since computers were not yet involved.) Then I submitted my first column. I don’t remember what I wrote about, but it was good enough for the Teacher/Sponsor of the Echo to give me a regular column. So when my first two knee surgeries took me out of any basketball playing I had to rely on my writing to attract the opposite sex. By the end of my senior year I felt I was a seasoned columnist. I wrote because I thought it was cool.

In my college years and in my years in business my writing languished. I had things to say but no format in which to say them. Then came computers: God’s gift to budding writers. I started writing my first book of fiction in the late 1980s and it took about 5 years to complete. It was on 5 1/2 inch floppy drives and was about 220 pages. Only a few have ever read it, it was never published, not even attempted to be published, and I don’t quite know where my copy is right now. I wrote it mainly to see if I could, kind of like climbing Mt. Everest.

Then I became pastor of a church and out of the business world. I was asked to write a Bible Study for Teens and when it was published I had the bug again. (It’s called Workout! And you can pick it up at discount tables or Amazon’s used books for less than a buck). I also started writing a column again in our church’s bulletin/newsletter. Because I was the pastor they let me. Being forced to write a column every week created a hunger in me. First: a hunger for something to write about since you run out of ideas pretty quick, seriously, try it sometime. Second: a hunger for reading things, anything and everything. Third: a hunger for memory helps, since I had the greatest idea for a column that would have changed the world but I forgot what it was – I didn’t write it down fast enough.

Today I write for two reasons. I write because I believe I have a gift of taking something complicated and through stories and weird connections I can make it simple and easy to understand. And I write because it helps me to focus my thoughts clearly and precisely. So here is my advice to you:
- READ, anything and everything. Listen to Books, Lectures, Classes on CD. Magazines, Blogs, and Websites. This will make you a broad, well-rounded, and interesting individual, the life of parties.
- WRITE, anything and everything. Your own column, blog, a journal, or even start your own book. This will force you to focus that broad knowledge you picked up from your reading and give you a conviction in what you believe.
Read to build knowledge and it will make you interesting. Write to build focus and it will make you firm in your convictions and beliefs.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Weak and the Strong

Who controls relationships? Is it the strong, type A personalities? Is it the older one? Is it the one who has the title? Who controls relationships? I find that it is the weaker person who often controls the relationships. This is counter-intuitive but hear me out on this one.

Isn’t it the weaker that becomes mad and throws a tantrum to get his/her way?

Isn’t it the weaker that becomes upset and pouts to get his/her way?

Isn’t it the weaker that becomes passive aggressive by underhanded yet quiet aggressiveness?

Isn’t it the stronger that calms and speaks of peace?

Isn’t it the stronger that seeks to find out what is wrong and initiates discussion?

Isn’t it the stronger that puts up with underhandedness with an understanding smile of forgiveness?

I find the stronger “giving in” to the weaker because the end isn’t important enough to use any means; because the battle will cause more pain than the wrong outcome. The weak seeks to control by threatening and tearing down while the strong seeks to GIVE by patching, watching over, taking care of, and forgiving.

Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

The weak make the mistake to think that forgiving is like a gift that we can bestow on those who have hurt us. “Here, take this!” we say as we hand them our forgiveness. But that is the wrong view of forgiveness, or better: that is a WEAK view of forgiveness.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”

Considering forgiveness a permanent attitude can only be mastered by the strong. Living forgiveness is a barbell attempted only by the brave. The weak control by tantrums, pouts, and the inability to LIFT forgiveness and LIVE forgiven.

How strong are you?

Monday, October 20, 2008


We had finally gotten to Clearwater, Florida after more than a day in our station wagon. The ride had given us a crazy sense of cabin fever cornered with nine people and their luggage in a small space. Car games gave way to bickering hundreds of miles before we arrived so one of the first things we did was stop at a local 7-11 that was close to my grandparent’s Florida home. I ran into the door and filled the biggest cup I could find (there were no Big Gulp’s at the time) and the thickest straw and proceeded to suck down a Watermelon Slurpee. All that cramped up feelings disappeared as fast as the red beverage. My brothers and I forgot our arguing and fights and considered which baseball cards to buy and who would pay for which.

Soon another problem emerged, usually as we made the last slurping sounds with our straws trying to vacuum up the final drops. THEN it hit us all: sphenopalatineganglioneuralgia! Better known as “brain freeze!” The painful headache that comes from something cold spending time on the palate (top part) or your mouth, freezing your nerve endings there and sending painful messages to your brain. Too much, too quick of a good thing causing pain.

Hmm. Do you see an application here? How about:

Gastroesophoganglioneuralgia: Shoving too much good food down your throat cause pain, obesity, diabetes, etc.

UNgastroesophoganglioneuralgia: Causing yourself to NOT eat.

Fearofneighborknockganglioneuralgia: A good neighbor coming over EVERY day, just to talk.

Lotterywinnerganglioneuralgia: Getting A LOT of money too quickly and losing it all in a year which is closely related to:

Spoiledbratganglioneuralgia: Getting everything you want, whenever you want.

Anything good that comes too quickly is not necessarily a good thing. As much as we would all like to be rich and have a lot of money. Most lottery winners will only tell of the pain and heartbreak it caused. We all know what those annoying but cute spoiled brats turn into: Senators! (that was a joke, by the way, okay, maybe not so much).

The corollary to this rule of thumb is that when things are worked at and built up slowly they will last longer and will give you more enjoyment. So ask yourself: Am I sucking at life so hard that I am getting sphenopalatineganglioneuralgia? Or am I building my loves, my life and my self slowly and steadily over time and avoiding the brain freeze?

Signs of the Apocalypse

At the movie theater Frankie and I got our popcorn and drinks and the total came to $12.75. I didn’t have a ten so I gave the young lady a $20 and three ones. She looked at me with a confused expression and then handed back the three ones. I said I didn’t want all the change and handed the money back to her. Again, confused she took the money, rang it into the register, the drawer opened and she handed me the three ones back with a quarter. “I gave your $23” I reminded her, “so I should get back $10.25.” And I gave her back the three ones. She took them, put them in the drawer, stared at the various bills in the drawer, and then counted out ten ones for me and handed the stack to me. It was no longer worth the effort I put the huge wad of bills in my pocket and left with my popcorn.

These are from the internet and anonymous:

I walked into MacDonald’s with a buy-one-get-one free coupon for a breakfast sandwich. I handed it to the girl and she looked over at a sign that also said “buy-one-get-one for free”. She said to me that they were already buy-one-get-one free. I was about to put the coupon away when she took and said, “I guess they are both free then.” She gave me the two without charging me.

One day I was walking on the beach with some friends when one of them shouted. “Look at the dead bird!” Someone near us looked up at the sky and said, “Where?”

While looking at a house, my brother asked the real estate agent which direction was north because, he explained, he did not want the sun waking him up every morning. She asked, “Does the sun rise in the north?” When my brother explained that, the sun rises in the east, and has for some time now. She shook her head and said, “Oh, I don’t keep track of that stuff.”

I worked at a technical support for a 24/7 call center. One day I got a call from an individual who asked what hours the call center was open. I told him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He responded, “Is that Eastern or Pacific time?”

My sister has a lifesaving tool in her car designed to cut through a seat belt if she is trapped. She keeps it in the trunk.

My friends and I were on a soda run and noticed that the cased were discounted 10%. Since it was a big party, we bought two cases. The cashier multiplied 2 times 10% and gave us a 20% discount.

I could not find my luggage at the airport baggage area, so I went to the lost luggage office and told the woman that my bags never showed up. She smiled and told me not to worry because she was a trained professional and I was in good hands. “Now” she asked me, “has your plane arrived yet?”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Words can be worth a Thousand Pictures

I read some amazing words today in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s final address to the cadets ad West Point in 1962. The words themselves actually took my mind into battle with the sounds, smells and feelings of wars long past. The passage is too lengthy to put here but a simple internet search will bring you to those same words.

Pictures and graphics can do much to move you to action, explain situations, and even build memories. But there is something special about words put together in such a way that they take you, in your mind, to places never been. I have never been moved to tears by a picture or a good graphic but I have repeatedly been moved by a letter from a loved one, a song with words that make my heart sing, or a book that tugs on your emotions like a child wanting to play. I enjoy writing and I enjoy going places in my words, they work for me and I hope they resonate with you.

I could say that when I was young I used to play in our back yard. Or I could say:

My childhood on the farm is now filled with memories of the earth. The earth made up of the smell of fresh-cut grass as I rolled and rolled down a small hill in our backyard. I would get up dizzy and ready to do it again with our collie Princess running after me trying to figure out if I was hurt or playing. The earth made up of mudpies my sisters and I would construct in an old chicken-house turned bakery. Earth and water were the only ingredients but taste was only limited by our imaginations as we explained to the gas man who came on the yard that it was a chocolate chip cookie not a simple chocolate cookie as he thought. The earth made up the smell of freshly plow-turned furrows which would exactly fit my (full sized) GI Joe Army Jeep as it raced down the road until ambushed by the waiting enemy. Clods of dirt made realistic, exploding bombs as my hero fought unbelievable odds to eventual victory every hour of play. The earth made up of trees where I dared the impossible climb. Sometimes egged on by my brothers but mostly just to see what was up there. My first remembrance of fear was falling to the earth from a precarious limb and having the breath knocked out of me. The fear didn’t come from the fall as much as it came from the frantic gasps to get air into my lungs. Seconds felt like hours as I lay on my back in the grass wondering if I was going to die. Finally my body found the switch to activate the inhale almost like turning on a bank of breaker switches until you finally found the right one. The earth holds these memories for me and when I look at climbing trees, smell freshly turned dirt, get my hands muddy, or sit on a hillside the earth releases them back into my heart like hugging an old friend.

Words can be worth a thousand pictures.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Football season has begun along with all the craziness that is attached to it like the numbers on the player’s backs. I ran into a man and his wife this week who must now begin wearing his Vikings T-shirt and not wash it until the season is done. His wife, of course, complained about the smell and the rattiness of it all but he insists that his beloved Vikings win more games the longer he wears the T-shirt. He says he is sacrificing for the team and showing what a loyal fan his is.

When I played basketball I knew of players who would never change their socks after a win, their lucky socks would stay in there locker or gym bag until there was a loss. That season we went 24-2. There was not a person left in the locker room who could not smell his socks and I still believe we lost our first game after 17 wins because we all wanted him to get rid of those socks. I don’t think his mom washed them, I think she burned and buried them.

We deal with this kind of thinking all the time, wherever we are and whatever we do. The fallacy in Latin is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc” literally translated it means “after this, therefore BECAUSE OF this.”

As a manager I knew a supervisor who seemed to walk into a department and its production went down. It “seemed” like everywhere he was resulted in business going bad. Deep down you knew it was wrong but it just worked out that way. He was fired because no manager wanted to work with him. The fallacy? He walks in and business goes bad, so business goes bad BECAUSE he walked in.

More kids are violent today than 30 years ago. There were no violent video games 30 years ago; therefore: we have more violent kids BECAUSE of violent videos.

More marriages end in divorce today than 50 years ago. There were no swans in Duck Creek 50 years ago; therefore: we have more divorces today BECAUSE there are swans in Duck Creek.

My waistline is expanding. The earth is getting warmer; therefore: my belly is getting bigger BECAUSE of global warming.

We will often turn this around and believe that avoiding the supposed cause with prevent the undesirable occurance. If we can stop global warming I will be skinny again! If we get rid of the swans in Duck Creek we will have few divorces! If we get rid of violent video games we will have less violence in teens! If we want our team to lose (to get a better draft pick for next year) then wash your socks and don’t wear your lucky T-shirt!

Check your reasoning and see if you fall into the pro hoc ergo propter hoc thinking. This can be very serious because this fallacy is where justification for your prejudices comes from. All ______ people do this; therefore: they do this because they are ______. If you fill in the color then you will get a whiff of some smelly socks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I will never buy a dress for my wife. I will PAY for a dress but I will never buy a dress … again. When we were first married a quarter of a century ago, I found, what I thought, was a “pretty” dress for Frankie. I simply looked at the dresses that were on the rack and saw on that caught my eye. It wasn’t her birthday, it wasn’t our anniversary, it was just an unexpected gift. I had it wrapped and brought it home. My intentions were noble and good but the unintended consequences of my actions killed me.

The fabric was cheap and obviously so, I didn’t know, I just liked the color and style. It was a number of sizes too small, I didn’t know, I just liked the color and style. The style was definitely OUT, I didn’t know, I just liked the color and well, style. My noble intentions became a heated discussion on Frankie’s taste, style and even weight; ALL topics better left undisputed in a young marriage. Unintended consequences.

We all know about HIV/AIDS in Africa and the popular opinion is that it is spread through a particularly promiscuous population and heterosexual sex. So to solve the problem the US and other “Western” cultural countries flooded the continent with health care training and condoms. The thought was that 90 percent of the infections were through heterosexual sex but it turned out (according to peer-reviewed analysis of 22 studies by the authors of “Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits”) that it was only 25 – 35 percent compared to US percentage of over 50.

So where did the epidemic of HIV/AIDS come from in Africa? The predominant group with HIV in Africa are non-promiscuous adults involved in strictly monogamous relationships. The culprit is poor medical care, specifically dirty needles. Unfortunately for those living in Africa the more “health care” they receive the greater their chances of being infected. Sanitary conditions that we take for granted don’t exist. They reused not only needles and syringes but surgical instruments. The World Health Organization now admits that the needles used to administer the contraceptive Depo-Povera actually GAVE HIV to women in Africa because the needles used were reused. Unintended consequences.

I can still remember the use of DDT in the sixties on our farm in Indiana. It was a great controller of crop eating insects. We even used it to control spiders on our porches and in barns. Anyone growing up in rural America remembers those nasty spiders that found the corners of your porches, lawn furniture, and swings. Even tent moths that would cover and kill trees were sprayed with DDT to keep the trees alive. In WWII our troops were bathed in it to control mosquitoes which controlled typhus, malaria and other diseases. Then came the book by Rachel Carson called “Silent Spring” calling into question the uses of DDT. She stated that she found the unintended consequences of cancer in humans and threats to other wildlife as well as the insects. It was the one of the first fights in the new environmental movement and by 1972 DDT was banned in the US and around the world.

Yet it has been proven that DDT does NOT cause cancer. It has been proven that DDT kills only insects and NOT birds or other wildlife since “Silent Spring” came out. DDT kept our troops safe, including my father, while fighting in the mosquito laden South Pacific. Today over 515 MILLION people are infected with malaria and THREE MILLION people die every year because they have been bitten by a malaria carrying mosquito. There is no vaccine; there is only maintenance drugs that must be taken the rest of your life to keep it in check. The most effective and proven prevention of malaria cannot be used. Unintended consequences.
While I cannot really connect buying a dress for my wife and millions of people dying of AIDS and Malaria I can connect the Law of Unintended Consequences. Check your sources and your facts before you climb on a bandwagon or the latest trend. When you find the unintended consequences of your actions don’t be afraid to suck it up and admit your were wrong, change direction, or simply stop what you are doing. Rachel Carson died before she could retract what her book started, don’t you wait that long.

Your Actions are Speaking

I was cut off in traffic by an SUV plastered with bumper stickers. You can tell a lot about a person by their bumper stickers. My anger at being cut off and having to hit my brakes HARD to avoid an accident was changed into a different kind of anger when I read some of the bumper stickers. After cutting me off he tail-gated the car in front of him until it literally pulled over and let the guy pass. As he passed he gave the one-fingered salute to the elderly gentleman in the car that just pulled over and raced to the next stop light to wait impatiently for the color change. I caught up to him again at the light and watched as he jumped halfway into the intersection when he thought the light was going to turn green but was only the turning lane. Then, with tires squealing in protest, he took off into the busy streets to never be seen again. Here is a sampling of his bumper stickers:

“Jesus loves you!”
“Proud Parent of ______ middle school honor roll student”
“_______ church”
“_______ for president”
Stickers showing he had 3 kids and a dog along with all their names.
Sticker of Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes” praying in front of a cross.

Herman Melville in “Moby Dick” wrote, “It is better to sleep with a drunken cannibal than a sober Christian.” I think Herman had this guy in mind when he wrote that. I don’t think the children were too proud of their father at this point. I don’t think the presidential candidate was too happy to have his sticker on that SUV while it ran people off the road and cut people off. I especially don’t think that he helped the cause of Christians and his church by advertising that he was an insane driver.

Now I don’t want to give you the impression that Christians don’t and shouldn’t have flaws or are perfect. THEY ARE NOT PERFECT! Christians struggle like everyone else but just like the politicians they have to watch their every action because advertising that you are a Christian, which is what you are supposed to do, puts a target on your back. When you say you are a Christian people will search your life for inconsistencies and hypocrisy. I was embarrassed by the driver of the SUV. My anger at being cut off was turned into a different anger of the name of Christ (Christian) being dragged through the mud by this guy. He just made it harder for EVERY Christian with his antics. The truth is: Christians NEED to live a better and more consistent life than others because we are called to it and because we are being watched.

So watch your actions because they speak many times louder than your words.


Ready for bed on a Service Project in a back-woodsy location, I remember lifting up the zippered flap of my sleeping bag and seeing a few cockroaches go scurrying for cover. There was no way I was now going to slip into that sleeping bag and get any sleep. I unzipped the whole thing and started flapping it to empty it from the cockroaches. I set it down again and found a few more, flapped it again, vigorously, and this time it passed inspection. Yet doubt lingered like those cockroaches lingered for me to simply fall asleep so they could invade the dark covers again. I didn’t sleep much that night.

“Hey, let me do that! I’ll make sure it gets done!” is a scary phrase for people in leadership. On one hand it is your job as a leader to make sure your people are competent and trained as well as giving them new opportunities to succeed. On the other hand it would go so much better if you just did it yourself and/or gave the job to the people who have done it before. When untried and untested requests taking on a job there is small cockroach of doubt that creeps into the covers. You suddenly just are NOT comfortable.

The key is to change that doubt into trust. We learn to trust certain people because of their history: what they have done for us in the past; because of their relationship to you: are they a friend or family; because of necessity: you have no other option. Schwartz says in “The Magic of Thinking Big” that “doubt attracts reasons for not succeeding.” When we doubt someone we have the equivalent of that creepy cockroach in our bed.

If you find that people don’t trust you, then you must ask yourself: “Am I trustworthy?” Have I done something that would signal to them that I am not to be trusted? What can I change to show I can be trusted?

If you find that you don’t trust people, then you must ask yourself: “WHY don’t I trust them?” Is it because they have had no opportunity before or is it because they have already proven themselves untrustworthy. Even if their past was untrustworthy, have they learned from their mistakes so that it is time to trust them again?

Doubt can destroy any company, church or family. Doubt is that nagging cockroach that gives you sleepless nights and paranoid exaggerations. I swear there was a 20 pound cockroach in my bed that night. Each night afterwards I would fully inspect my sleeping bag because I didn’t quite trust it until it proved itself again to me. I laugh at it now but after a few sleepless nights with huge cockroaches it begins to impact your life.

Remove the cockroaches from your life! Trust more and become more trustworthy! Only then can you sleep the good sleep.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

85% Chance of Fogginess

We had a primary election last week and it seems that only 15% of our local population showed up to the poles to vote. That means 85% of the people who are eligible to vote decided to stay home, or to ignore the advertisements, or to simply thumb their nose at the process in protest. 85% chose to withdraw.

If that percentage held true throughout all of the US that means of the 300 million people we have only 45 million voted last week. For the season finale of American Idol there were over 65 million votes. Even America’s Got Talent and So you think you can Dance got more votes than did those in our primary. Now before you think this column is about complacency let me change tack here.

Alexis de Tocqueville told us in “Democracy in America” way back in the 1800’s that one of the dangers of democracy is “the tendency, when there is equality in conditions, is to withdraw.” In the Philosophical world when two philosophies to battle with each other and neither is a clear winner the tendency of the populace is to enter into a “so what?” kind of malaise. In the religious world Christianity thrives under persecution but when there is total freedom of religion the tendency is to become complacent and non-committal.

With five older brothers I learned to play baseball and basketball with kids who were years older than me. When it came to going to school and playing with kids my age it was a piece of cake, yet when I did my game suffered. I wasn’t challenged, I wasn’t growing, I was simply getting complacent and lazy.

As a compliment I think Americans are predominantly over-achievers. But we are over-achievers who have gotten everything too easily so we have become withdrawn, complacent, lazy and in some kind of foggy malaise. 9/11 shocked us out of this for about a year and then was gone. Katrina shocked us again for about 6 months and then was gone. Our politicians can’t win right now because they are simply trying to appeal to these over-achievers who are stuck in this fog.
It is time for a politician to take a stand, to have a backbone that is not bent by the latest wind but by some kind of conviction that is radical and earthshaking enough for us to push through the fog and vote. EVEN IF IT IS THE WRONG STAND TO TAKE! Did you hear me on that last one? Let me say it again: EVEN IF IT IS THE WRONG STAND TO TAKE! Because if you stand on something with backbone and strength it will cause me to take a stand against it with backbone enough to match yours; which would cause you to stand up again to defend and promote it; which would cause me to make my point clearer and more appealing, and so on, and so on. Cut the clichés, dump the doubletalk and speak clearly and concisely and STRONGLY for or against something. You will turn some people off, turn some people on but most of all you will help ALL out of our 85% chance of fogginess.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Knife

I submitted myself to the knife again this past week. It was a simple outpatient surgery that knocked a few days out of my schedule. It is more of an inconvenience than anything else. I always struggle with the balance of putting up with the pain or putting up with the inconvenience of taking care of the pain. A little less than a year ago I put up with the pain after a softball injury left me with a swelled foot and pain for a few weeks. Most of the pain went away but a nagging nob of some kind never really did. It felt like I was constantly walking on a stone. I would wear good shoes and the pain would not show up until later in the day but barefooted (which is my normal summer state) was painful quickly and I grew to walking on the side of my foot instead of putting all the weight on the ball of my foot.

Enough was enough and it was time to have a professional check it out. After a series of x-rays and an MRI I found my bones were broken way back when and they had healed wrong. So I was walking on the wrong part of my bones and it was pressing on the wrong muscles and doing all kinds of other wrong stuff. Next step: surgery; or just shut up about it and deal with it. I had dealt with it for almost a year so now was the time for the knife to take care of it.

The knife. It is a useful tool and a destructive one. I have had many knife slips in my time; cutting me in places I was not supposed to be cut in. You could spread butter with a knife, slice your T-bone or use it to kill someone. What normally would be destructive: cutting into my skin, was now useful and necessary. I had to trust the guy behind the knife (that was after I had to sign a million consent forms and liability forms) I had to trust that guy could heal with that knife and not cause more destruction. We joked and laughed together before the surgery as he wrote “THIS ONE” on my foot with a Sharpie.

Now it is done and I am left with the healing pain after. Was it worth it? Time will tell but I am reminded of another knife that cuts both ways. This knife can be much sharper than any surgical instrument for good and healing but also can be as destructive as a Rambo knife when used wrongly. Only a few days before while in the waiting room I watched a mother’s interaction with her child. The child was being a child and running the room impatiently until finally the mother had enough and began yelling. “You get your little butt over here now or I will give you back to you father!” The pain in the child’s eyes was evident and the knife sliced.
My foot will heal but that child’s heart has a wound that will take more than time to heal. Watch out for how you use your knife for it is as sharp as a double-edged sword.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Profundity of Staples

One of the reasons for this column, for good or ill, is that it gives me a chance to remove some of the post-it notes that are sticking to the inside of my skull. After a while they start piling up and simply need to be put on paper.

I used the last row of staples out of an old box today and I had to go to Office Max to buy another NEW box. Stop and think a minute. How many of you have actually gone through a complete box of staples? Most of the time you lose the box and have to get another one and then you lose that one before it is totally used up. Seriously, how many times have you scoured every junk drawer in the house for that box of staples you just bought? Other times you drop the box on the floor and all those nice neat rows of staples are busted into 5000 individual staples to be swept up and put into the garbage. I repeat; I used the last row of staples in a dusty old box today. I have a certain Monk-like pride in that. All is right with the world.

I can remember that box being available when the kids needed to staple a report for school or when my wife needed it for her church activities and I would find that box sitting on a table next to my borrowed stapler. I would try to keep my cool as I, through gritted teeth, reminded my wife and kids to put it back when they are done because it will get lost if they don’t. Just like their own stapler and box of staples that I bought for them a month ago that now is lost somewhere in the house. I repeat; I used the last row of staples today!

I can compare this to the odometer on my truck which turned 100000 last year. It is such a great number, all zeros. I stopped on the side of the road to just take it in as it happened. I searched for people to pull over and show it to but found none. So I called my wife and explained it as the phenomenal occurrence it was but I don’t think I got it through to her for some reason. It is almost the equivalent of an eclipse or visible comet with it’s rarity, but she didn’t quite grasp it and simple said “okay” and hung up.

My kids now get a kick out of taking one thing off my desk and causing me to go nuts trying to work while it is missing. I worry it might not get put back where it is supposed to be and I really can’t work well until it’s done. They laugh as I try to work because to me it is like trying to type without one of my fingers, or with 20 people in my room talking loud and distracting me. Without a place for everything and everything in it’s place I find the world slightly kittywampus.
I used the last row of staples today. My two hole punches and stapler are in place along with the tape, paper clips, scissors, extra pens, stamps, batteries and, yes, even post-it notes. All is right with the world and my efficiency is through the roof! I find profundity in staples, you may not, but my application to you would be simply this: find your groove.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gay Marriage

I don’t often get so politicized in my columns. I try to write columns that will appeal to all thinking people about moral issues related to their lives. The FACT that I am a Christian I normally keep low key so that I might open doors that would not be open. I don’t want to preach to the choir. I want to preach to all in an effort to lift our whole society.

Yet I am a Christian and come from a Christian perspective. My creed is: “credo put intelligam” which means “I believe in order that I might understand.” So you know the tinted glasses I wear. This column goes to almost 700 people now and, while I appreciate all of you for your interest, I will now risk offending you. I fully expect to lose over 200 subscribers to this column with my views on this topic.

Gay Marriage

The Supreme Court of my neighboring state has decided to go against the wishes of the majority of Californians and allow the issuing of permits for Gay Marriage. This was voted on twice by the people of California to NOT allow and now the state courts have decided the people didn’t know what they were talking about and so gay marriage is now legal.

Let me break this down and simply as I possibly can. Gay Marriage is wrong from a NON-religious perspective because:
- You are giving the STATE control over a NON-political institution. The equivalent of the State telling you that you may only teach creation as a FACT in your schools
- You are giving the STATE permission to be a despot. Dictating what you can and cannot think, can and cannot do now that Gay Marriage is open and available anything that opposes that would be considered law suit material. (Zondervan Corporation in Michigan is currently begin sued for $70 million because they print the NIV Bible which states homosexuality is evil and bad and so is causing “emotional distress”)
- You are opening a door to other deviant (meaning non-traditional) forms of marriage. How could we possibly stop Mormons from having more than one wife? How could we possibly stop female teachers from having sex with and marrying their 13 year-old students?
- You believe that the fall of the traditional marriage means that it doesn’t work and is not doing what it is supposed to in society. YOU ARE RIGHT! But that does not mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater. The fact that traditional marriage is falling down doesn’t mean we have permission to trash the whole thing.
- You are calling on the State to dictate a belief. A belief that homosexuality is natural, a belief that gay marriage should be good if you both love each other, a belief that a vocal minority can dictate to a lazy majority, a belief that a 3000 year old tradition is now wrong, and many more beliefs all dictated by the state to others to believe.
- You literally gain nothing. In every state you can designate who your caretaker is, who your inheritor is, and who you chose to live with and have sex with. What are you gaining?

If you are a Christian the answer is simple:
- Practicing homosexuality is condemned VERY strongly in the Bible. There really is no way you can nuance away this teaching. Both New Testament and Old call it sin.
- The belief that you can be born with homosexual tendencies is not really an issue. You might be but that still doesn’t excuse GIVING IN to those tendencies. We are all born with tendencies towards sin but we are called to fight the urge not make it legal.
- God instituted marriage between a man and a women and that “one flesh” bond is and should be stronger than any other bond in our lives. Even though we as Christians divorce and fall that doesn’t mean the institution is bad, it means WE are bad and in need of a Savior.

Wrong is wrong, sin is sin, and sometimes you just have to take a stand against the tide of public opinion and say “ENOUGH!” I love my country and though battered and bruised from enemies outside and in, she still stands. Look for me way down at the foundation where I will be working hard to shore it up. Will you not join me?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Self Interest Well Understood

We sat across each other at the negotiating table. He had his talking points in front of him on a yellow pad, scribbled hastily as if he did it during his break time. At the table with us was a mediator who was there to keep the peace as much as help us negotiate a solution. I knew my boss supported me in whatever decision I would come up with and I was prepared to give some ground in the interests of keeping the peace and simple sympathy.

Two weeks ago I had fired my whole department. Twenty-two people were told they had two weeks to find other jobs and/or reapply for their old positions. In the meantime I had restructured the whole department and had all new job descriptions approved. I was hired to clean house get the shipping and receiving department’s accuracy from 50% up to 99%. People had taken the warehouse jobs thinking they were gravy jobs. They drove a forklift all day. Jobs were given based on seniority not on interviews or past performance and so accuracy had become a joke.

The former employee started by attacking me personally. The negotiator stopped that after a few rants and she asked for specific grievances that he had. He began to rant against my restructuring and that I only did it so I could hire women. I was being accused of prejudice against men and only wanted women in my department. It was an interesting coincidence that the only former employees that I hired back were women, but they simply were good employees who happened to be women. When it came to my turn I offered an out for him, I offered to keep him in his job for another month so he could find another job within the company or prove me wrong with his performance. He was so fixated on the grievance and so sure he would win he never applied for any of the many open positions that he could have gotten with his seniority, so if the grievance didn’t go his way, he was out of a job. He threw it back in my face as if it was a smelly rag.

The mediator really had nothing to mediate. He had no real grievance and just thought if he blew enough steam my way I would relent. He left the company that day.

Alexis de Tocqueville said in Democracy in America that Americans had mastered the concept of “self interest well understood.” His definition was that we understood that we had to give up a small portion to others in order to get a large portion of what we want. We understood that we had to think of everybody once in a while instead of just ourselves and when we did that, we would get MOST of what we wanted.

This former employee lost sight of that concept. I was willing to keep him around and give him a chance to either prove himself as indispensable or have another job in the company. He didn’t understand and so lost both. I wonder if Tocqueville would say the same thing about America today. I wonder if we would be willing to give up some or ALL of our self interest for the interests of the whole. Is your self interest well understood?

Monday, July 14, 2008


Are you successful? How do you measure whether you are or not? What REALLY does being successful mean? Does it mean having a lot of money? Having a GREAT job? Having a great family? Having your kids have a lot of money? What really is success? I went to the ultimate guru of all information Wikipedia and found that “Success MAY mean: a level of social status, achievement of an objective or goal, or simply the opposite of failure.” I went to the etymology of the word and I find it is Latin for “not retreating” or not yielding. I like that definition.

Do you realize how new being successful in life is? Success is a very new concept, not retreating in military terms is as old a war but success in life or in your profession is a VERY new concept, like less than 200 years old. Previous in our history you simply took your place in society, you never even thought about success. If your father was a farmer then you grew up to be a farmer and when you were ready you took your place, married, and had kids that would also grow up to be farmers. If you were a smithy then your father was a smithy and so would your children be. Rarely would be the time where a farmer would venture out to be a smithy. It was an economic thing but also a status thing. If you were a nobleman, your father was one and your son would be. When you were “of age” you would simply take your place in society. No one would worry about whether you were a successful smithy, or a successful farmer because if you weren’t you simply would not eat. Even when the US began factories and mining in the 1800’s you still didn’t think about being successful, you simply provided or didn’t provide for your family.

You could see Americans start to think about doing more gradually over the last 150 years but it was few and far between and really only in America because this truly is the land of opportunity. It would take another few decades for the rest of the world to catch up. Being a success in your life exploded after World War II when a million men came home after staring death in the face and wanted to do more with their life than simply take their place. They wanted something better for their kids then what they had. They DIDN’T want them to simply take their place, they wanted them to go to school, college, and do something great with their lives and not retreat – to succeed!

As with many things, we need to be careful of what we ask for or we will get it. Americans became VERY successful and now we expect success. We used to work for it but now we just expect that it will drop in our laps and we will have a lot of money, a great family, and the respect of all we encounter; all without working for it. As the enemy advances we retreat to our government or church or others to take care of us.
However we define success there are two things I know for sure: that it will NEVER come without hard work and sacrifice AND that it comes when you LEAST expect it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Captain Ahab

The antiseptic floors smell like and remind me of a hospital every time I walk in, but it is not a hospital. The tile floors echo the footsteps of the scrubs-clad employees as they push wheelchairs or simply walk with the residents of the nursing home. Every time I come here I feel humbled and receive a quick, fresh breeze of gratitude when I think that many here are younger than my own parents who still play golf and travel to visit their grandchildren.

Margaret is bitter. The bitterness comes from doctors who ignore her aches and pains, nurses and attendants who ignore her needs and wants, and, especially, children and grandchildren who simply ignore everything. Margaret navigated her electric wheelchair through the nursing home as if it was a throne. She dispensed orders to the vassals and serfs with a short temper and a long, piercing, still-strong voice. Crowds literally part in front of her, partly because she is an erratic driver but mostly because of who she is.

I had a chance to sit and talk with Margaret this week. She is losing her mind and she knows it, Alzheimer’s is taking it a piece at a time and the pieces left are not pleasant. In a focused and lucid period we talked and she confessed that the care really wasn’t doing that bad, she had been in worse places. She also confessed that her children were a few states away and it was hard for them to get to Las Vegas to see her. And she confessed that it was her that demanded they take her to Las Vegas for her care almost DARING her family to show her that they love her by having to travel so far to see her. So I asked the difficult question: “Why all the bitterness and anger?” This very sharp, former professional accountant, simply said, “I can’t help it. I have been angry so long I cannot stop it any more. I feel like Captain Ahab who just HAS TO slay that white whale. And I see it everyday and everyday I pull out my harpoons and attack.”

I was taken aback by her candor and her knowledge. It wasn’t long after she said this that she slipped back into Ahab mode and said, “I have to go, they probably screwed up making my bed again!” and she turned her throne around and headed off. I was reminded of a quote from Moby Dick. Melville said “As if his chest had been a mortar he burst his hot, heart’s shell upon it.” Speaking of Ahab’s self-destructive battle with the whale, Melville could have said the same of Margaret.

Let it go. Pull in your anger and bitterness harpoons because when you loose them they only injure you and your white whale floats oblivious of your battle. Call me Ishmael.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Word Vision

Have you ever heard words that don’t give you information as much as they give you a picture, an emotion, or a vision?

Beautiful Woman (by AR Ammons)

The spring

her step

turned to

Cal you see it? Can you picture it in your mind? Can you see the beautiful woman? What I like about this short, one sentence poem is that you really don’t know if it is positive or negative? It doesn’t say the beautiful woman is no longer beautiful. In fact I would dare say that if you are reading this as a teenager, in the spring of life, you would take this as sad or negative. But if you are in your fifties you would look at this poem differently. It is almost like you are looking at this poem from different sides of the metaphor. As if you mentally hold the poem in your hands and look at it from a number of sides to figure out what it is saying. Then after careful examination you realize the poem isn’t saying much but it causes YOU to say a lot.

The mixed metaphor is almost a physical jolt to your brain. It causes your brain to do a: “Wait! What?” A spring in your step at the spring of your life seems to degenerate into falling into the fall of your life. But turn the poem to another angle and you find that the beauty of a fresh spring is just a foretaste of the beautiful maturity in the colors of fall.

We are now in a VERY political season and every word and phrase is analyzed and processed to the point where it is unrecognizable to the one who said it. Each candidate talks about “change” as if that is what we all want to do. But the truth is we are all uncomfortable with change, it is happening around us all the time, just watch the gas prices. Is change good or bad? The answer is both. If you pick up the word in your mind and look at it from all angles you will get both answer and more. You can take ANY word or phrase and make it say what you want it to say and do what you want it to do.

This makes our job more difficult because you and I can hear the EXACT same word and find what you want to hear in it. We need to hone our Word Vision and find intent behind the poem. We must take our stand on the intent and that takes work and research not just pundits and youtube videos. Find the intent and stand on it or you will fall for anything.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Best Drug

Once again I find that I am burdened with a load of guilt from a TV commercial. I am in tears with the wide-eyed, hopeful look on the child’s face and the narrator tells me that just a few dollars a week can feed this child and educate this child for a life time. I search my pocket and find more than a few dollars and through the tears I promise myself that I will feed and educate that little boy, again. Yet before the call is made, before the first check is written, before I have a chance to wipe the tears from my eyes; cynicism sets in. My mind goes through how much work it will be to get that check to that young boy, how much will the organization take of that dollar, how much REALLY will go to that wide-eyed, innocent? I put my checkbook away.

I am sure all of you have gone through similar feelings from pity to guilt, to promise, to cynicism, and to inaction. And I am not writing this to get you into more action and less cynicism. In fact in today’s world cynicism is an appropriate response. So with all the charities demanding your dollars let me dole out a dollop of wisdom to help you deal.

1] Giving should be out of JOY, not out of GUILT. Whenever you feel guilt-ed into action – be suspicious. I am not saying that legitimate charities don’t use guilt, but I KNOW illegitimate charities definitely use guilt as their primary weapon. So if you are being pelted with one guilt bomb after another: back off.

2] Pity is a spur that drives joy into action NOT a means of blackmail. It is human to feel pity for the dire straits of another human. It is godly to recognize how good you have it and repeat: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Out of that JOY, that thankfulness you desire to give. When that scene meant to bring you to pity lays on guilt, you know there is something wrong. It is really NOT your fault that children are starving around the world! So guilt is the wrong feeling. But out of thankfulness and joy it IS your job to work at helping those in that situation. Pity drives JOY into action!

3] Giving is based on RELATIONSHIP and not on RESOURCES. People give because they have a relationship with a person in that charity or an affinity of some kind. Families who have dealt with cancer give to cancer research. Families who have dealt with Alzheimer’s gives to Alzheimer’s research. You will give to a family member or friend who is in that charity or mission. When in doubt: fall back on your relationships.

4] When all else fails do your due diligence. EVERY charity should have it’s books open and available for you to make sure that you are not spending 99% of your charitable giving to administration and only 1% to those advertised. Research before you give!

I am always open to new charities because there is no better feeling than GIVING. It is the greatest, mind-altering, life-changing “drug” you will ever have on this side of eternity. Give it a try, in excess!

Innocents Abroad Part 8: The Soccer Ball

We had a one hour window where we were allowed up on the temple mount. For five days we had walked around it, saw it from a distance and even saw a model of it but we had never been on top of it. The Muslim guards checked our camera cases and ran us through metal detectors and after checking our passports we were on our way. We walked up a wooden covered ramp to get up to the level of the mount which towered over that part of the old city. Looking over the handrails we could see the Hassidic Jews with their heads bobbing forwards and backwards while facing the Western Wall. From the back it looked like they were hitting their foreheads over and over on the last remaining wall of the 2000 year old temple.

Once on top I found the space bigger than I imagined it. Not only was the huge Muslim Dome of the Rock dominating the space but there was a huge courtyard the size of a few football fields to be accessed through large pillars at various places along the outside. Some areas were off limits and we could not enter the Mosque but we were free to walk around and take pictures. Security tried to be unobtrusive but you knew they were there in the shade and shadows keeping an eye on everything. After what seemed like a lot less than an hour the soldiers came out of hiding and politely ushered us off the sacred mount and back into the old city.

As we were walking out, a different way than where we came up, I say a young Muslim boy kicking a soccer ball and keeping it balanced on his foot as his veiled mother hustled him along to afternoon prayers. You could almost make out the “Aww, mom!” from the young man as his mother motioned to quit playing with the ball. Just a day before this I saw almost the exact same scene played out with a young Israeli boy with the soccer ball and the “Aww, mom!” was in Hebrew and not Arabic. In the Palestinian Christian quarter of the Old City there were kids playing soccer in a school yard the same day.

Jerusalem is a special city to the three major world religions: Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. How many times have you heard that Religion causes the MOST wars and bloodshed in history? That statement is not only false it reveals a thinly veiled hostility of Religion and a not-so-veiled ignorance of History by the one who says it. The battle for the Temple Mount is not a battle of religions as much as it is a battle of territory and retribution. It is closer to a Hatfields and McCoys battle than it is a clash of major religions. Someone has got to turn the other cheek and the striker has to realize that this other is NOT going to respond with more violence. It takes both. I saw the next generation simply playing soccer. ALL OF THEM! What happens to that boy kicking a soccer ball that turns him into a man who is bent on the destruction of the other soccer boy? How can we stop that transition? What does it take for YOU to give up your long-held and FALSE concepts of others?
As I wrap up my comments on this journey I find the most profound change in me was seeing Muslim, Israeli, Bedouin, Palestinian, and Coptic for who they really are and not what I read in the paper, see on TV, or on the internet. We are all just humans trying to balance that soccer ball on our foot.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Innocents Abroad Part 7: Hard to Find

Our guide got farther and farther ahead of me as I wound my way through the cavern trying to keep up. This was nothing like the carved out cave walk down and down to find the cisterns at one of Herod’s summer escapes in Caesarea. There you would only go down and down and there was only one way to go. You knew your guide was waiting at the bottom for you. But in this cavern there were multiple twists and turns, ups and downs, and plenty of time and room to get lost. I am relatively tall and so I could just make out the funky hat our guide wore way ahead as I struggled to keep up and at every intersection looked for that hat again. At every intersection, or any place for that matter, a vendor would tell me: “You American, I have great price for you, just one dollar! Come and look, just one dollar!” I would mutter “No thank you,” and move on to catch up with my group again. Over the top of the crowd of people I could just see his hat.

The “Old City” they call it. Yet the Old City of Jerusalem would sell you digital camera SD cards and batteries. Pots and pan, women’s and men’s clothes hung above you while on all sides were everything from antiques to TV’s and stereos. It was a cavern maybe ten foot wide and another one I had to duck through or I would hit my head on a low hung pan. Most every street was lined with a vendor of some kind and it was VERY easy to lose site of our guide who glided through the cavern like a stealthy cat knowing every twist and turn to get us to the places we were heading. Every now and again we would be overrun by pilgrims singing Christian songs in many languages as our path crossed theirs. They were following the “Via de la Rosa,” the way of the rose, the last steps of Jesus as he went through the old city 2000 years ago.

I was lost. I listened to the song “Beautiful Savior” sung in Korean for too long and the funky hat was nowhere to be seen. I pulled out the map of the Old City. It seemed to be a pretty good map supplied by the hotel and I knew where we were supposed to be going this afternoon but there was a problem. There were no street signs. Every now and again I would catch a glimpse of something scrawled on a wall that seemed to be the name of a street but I could not get it to match my map. Finally, after listening to a number of vendors trying to sell me their whole store for a dollar if I just come inside and have a look, I stopped one to ask for directions. “No problem” he said in near perfect English and a big smile. He showed me the way and it wasn’t too long and I found the tail end of our group and was back in step before our guide knew I was gone.

I was struck by the Palestinian man who gave me directions. Very quickly he dropped out of his sales pitch and was genuinely trying hard to help me. It was as abrupt as if he had a mask on and he took it off to talk to me. As I left he put the mask back on again and tried to sell his store for a dollar. As is the case more often than not I find a little more about myself as I find out more about my neighbors. My crisis had forced me to take my mask off first and treat him like the human he is behind the mask. My mask was mumbling and meandering through his streets, looking strait ahead and not acknowledging the humans with their masks on around me. When I took mind off and genuinely talked to him he reciprocated by genuinely smiling and talking to me. The masks were down and we had a moment, just a moment. I remember looking for him as we made our way back later that afternoon but all I saw were people with masks on. A mask-less face is hard to find.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Innocents Abroad Part 6: Trains and low flying Birds

In a journey filled with great and even jaw-dropping experiences there was one experience that had to be the fly in the ointment. There was one experience that gave all of us in our party a measurement for rating all the other experiences. We could always say, “At least that wasn’t as bad as the slow train to Luxor!” or “Compared to the slow train to Luxor this is luxury!”

We began our journey from Cairo to Luxor excited about riding what was billed as the Agatha Christie train ride. I have not read the books but apparently there are mystery novels set on a train from Cairo to Luxor. We fought the hazy Cairo traffic to get to the train station with ALL our luggage. And there we sat. The train was a bit delayed. We found out later that there was a crash delaying OUR train so they hastily put together another train to take its place. That should have been clue #1 but we didn’t know any better. The train finally arrived and we were looking forward to our luxury compartments for the eight hour, over night ride. We knew something was wrong when we walked down the narrow aisle, struggling with our luggage, while looking out of windows that looked like they were coated in a thin film of frost. It turned out not to be frost in the Egyptian desert but skuz. Our luxury compartment was a dingy grey with brownish accents and no room for luggage much less a 6’1” 250 lb. passenger and his wife. I sat in the seat with my knees grazing the sink in front of me looking at myself in disbelief in the mirror. Don’t even get me started on the bathroom down the hall because this is a family program!

The food was delivered by our steward and we picked at it for a while before he came and made it disappear. It was some kind of meat with some kind of vegetable with some kind of hard, crusty bread. I got some tea to wash the few mouthfuls down and was happy that I had the sink in front of me. Then our steward came in and pulled down the bunk beds for us and I found my grey sheets and ratty wool blankets were, just like the bunk, made for someone closer to 5’6”. The boards that supported the bunk were easy to find and hard to sleep on with the one inch mattress rising and falling around each one of them.

After a sleepless night we found out in the morning that the train was not going to move for a while. That same accident that stopped our original train was now gumming up the whole train system and we sat for an extra six hours staring out skuzzy windows and trying to find our steward who was fast asleep in one of the compartments. At least he got a good night sleep.
As I look back it reminded me of spending a Sunday in Jerusalem the week following this train ride. I was dressed in my Sunday best and we went to a Lutheran church in the Old City. We had a great time and a spiritual high for me but as we were walking back I got “bombed” by a low flying bird. It hit me on my ever-growing forehead with unexplained, wet warmth. I asked my wife what it was and all she could do was laugh. As I look back on the train ride I can complain to you as much as I want, and my co-travelers would complain with me but, after all, we were in Egypt. We had just seen the great pyramids of Giza and were now in the Valley of the Kings, I’m sorry but on a trip like that I can handle a nasty train ride OR being dive bombed by Jerusalem birds.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Innocents Abroad Part 5: Bedouin Life

One of the most entertaining and interesting jaunts on our trip to the Middle East was the opportunity we had to spend time with a Bedouin family. Our Archeologist Guide spent a lot of time at a dig in Petra, Jordan and got to know some of the Bedouin workers there. He arranged for us to share and evening meal with this man, his two wives and his children. We literally broke bread together and got a small bit of insight into the lives of the Jordanian Bedouins.

The only “furniture” in the room was couch pillows arranged on the floor around the walls of the room. The walls were decorated with murals painted by our host of sunsets over the Persian Gulf. Our first “course” was a choice between a sweet tea or a high octane, concentrated coffee in cups the size of shot glasses. I chose the tea. Rushing in and out of the room were the children of our host who were introduced and became immediately shy as a result. The women prepared the meal as each child made an appearance and sat for a while with the father so he could display them like all proud parents.

Next a plastic, tarp-like mat was placed on the floor in front of us and soon after a huge platter with rice and various cut up pieces of chicken. Our host then poured a sauce of some kind over the whole mixture and then threw down a paper thin form of bread made on a rock out back. He then sat next to me and reached into the pile of food with his right hand (common plates ALWAYS demand use of ONLY the right hand) and quickly formed the rice mixture into a golf-ball sized bite and popped it into his mouth so quickly I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t just thrown it behind him. No utensils, no plates, no problem. I tentatively tried it and it tasted good but the rice and sauce spilled all over me and the mat. He smiled and said “no problem” and proceeded to down another golf ball with hardly getting his hand dirty. I went back to the old standby of using the bread to grab my food and ate that way. The pile in the middle was hardly touched as we motioned that we were full, I wasn’t; I was just tire of working so hard to get food to my mouth. How sad is that?

The Bedouins seemed to me to be a study in contrasts and contradiction. They are a loving people who will kiss you on both cheeks and smile easy yet carry an offence even longer then they carry a gun. I see them in their tents made of wood poles and rugs but also air-conditioning. I would see some come meandering up perched on the hump of a camel chatting away on a cell phone. They would proudly show off their children in the home yet keep them dirty with ratty hair for the sympathy of the tourists and a few more Jordanian Denars. Contrast and contradiction between their actions and their words and, wait a minute, that kind of describes us too. Hmm.

Innocents Abroad Part 4: Camels

Every day I grab a Diet Coke and walk outside to open the door of my truck with my only worry being spilling my soda before it get it into my cup holder. I sit comfortably in my nicely upholstered chair and calmly drive to wherever I am heading that day. I live in Las Vegas so there are plenty of hills and even a mountain or two to climb. I feel my truck downshift as I begin up the incline with, again, my only concern being whether my soda spills as I calmly sip it.

The camel is down and calmly chewing a cud from some long forgotten meal. On his back is a saddle with two horns, one in front and one in back. The saddle is tied down and a few ratty camel hair blankets are thrown on for a little extra padding. I sit calmly on the saddle as the Bedouin gives him a few light taps with a stick and says something in Arabic to get him up. All my calm went south as the camel rose. You have to understand that a camel doesn’t rise like an elevator; a camel rises more like a folding table. First the back side goes completely up while you are hanging on for dear life to keep from falling on your face in the camel droppings in front of you. Then the front side comes up to level experience with a thrill ride that compares with most roller-coasters.

Now that we are up we begin our slow rolling gate up the side of the mountain. The camel does well on the ancient carved steps following a path it has walked thousands of times with thousands of tourists. Sometimes it is a little close to the edge as remarked by one co-travelers who had a slight fear of heights. The ride up was not bad once you got used to the rolling steps of the camel. We got to our destination after about an hour of this riding, enjoying the sites. Then came the downward journey. While going up the camel would take the steps in his slow rolling gate but coming down the camel had a tendency to get both front feet to the edge of a step and jump down. Need I remind you of the two horns on the saddle? No more rolling gate enjoying the scenery, this we replaces by jumps and jolts surrounded by brief periods of respite. While protecting myself from the front horn on the saddle by pushing back in preparation for the next jump my tail bone was in perfect position to be assaulted by the rear horn. After a grueling hour return journey the camel folded his front legs under him pitching me one last time into the forward saddle horn and finally settled itself on the dusty desert floor. He calmly regurgitated his cud again and began chewing. As I walked away I swore I heard a smirk-like grunt.
A week later my tailbone was still sore and bruised. I was reminded with smirking of my co-travelers as I had to gently sit for the rest of the trip. We have it so good here in the States and when I got home one of the first things I did was hug my truck. Seriously.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Innocents Abroad 3: A Gun Assumption

Growing up on a farm in Indiana with my brothers involved a lot of war games. Many times I would be mortally wounded and the gun from my hand would go flying as I would tumble down the side of the ditch and end up in the muddy water, seemingly dead. My brother would rescue me and shoot the enemy while dragging me from certain death. I would retrieve my gun and commence shooting again until it was time to save him in his dramatic tumble into the ditch. Our guns were fashioned sticks and our enemies disappeared from our minds when we started home in our drenched clothes laughingly pulling leeches from our skin.

At the airport in Cairo we saw armed guards but we see them at airports in the States now. Outside we see taxi drivers with pistols on their hips. On our bus we pass by farmers with rifles strapped to their backs. At every tourist site were armed Egyptians both military and civilian. We passed check point after checkpoint and more than a few times had to show our passports to armed security. We were told to make sure we take no pictures of them as we passed or as they questioned us. One in our group was so nervous at a check point that when a friendly guard asked “Where are you from?” while she sat strait and still in her seat. She nervously whipped up her arm saying “HERE’S MY PASSPORT!”

Our trip across Egypt to Sinai and on to Jordon included our own personal security. A young man who was drafted without a change of clothes and with little notice to sit in our bus and hide behind his pressed suit and sunglasses. The goal was to make him laugh over three days journey with him but the bulge of his automatic weapon under his suit barely let him crack a smile.

During our trip we saw guns, guns and more guns; from all the check points to our security guard, to the heavily armed border crossings. In Israel the guns seemed to be carried by teenagers, and I am sure some of them were since mandatory service goes from 18-20 years old for both men and women. I had to wonder that these “kids” were not too much older than me and my brothers as we played our war games on that farm in Indiana. A typical picture in Old Jerusalem was a Sabbath teaching of young kids by their Israeli Sabbath School Teacher. There were 30 or so kids with a few adults mixed in to keep order while the teacher was giving his lesson. Yet each of the adults had an automatic weapon strapped to their back or sitting on their knees. I have a hard time picturing our Sunday school classes in the same way. I talked to an Israeli about this and his comment stuck with me. He said “Guns give us the assumption of safety. Without the guns we feel we are not protected, not safe.” So everybody carries guns.

In the States we have the opposite assumption. We assume guns mean there is no safety. Without getting into a gun control argument I believe there has to be a line somewhere in between that needs to be walked. I was innocently shocked by the guns everywhere I looked but I also understood the need. They make the assumption that guns mean safety but that also means they make the assumption that their neighbor is trying to kill them and the threat of killing them back is the only thing that prevents that. A mini Cold War rages in our assumptions. What a beautifully fallen world it is that we live in.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Innocents Abroad 2: Panic Tunnel

Ever since my primary toys were Legos I have been fascinated with Pyramids. I would fashion Pyramids out of my fresh, red blocks and even make attempts at the Sphinx. I would read about the mummies and be scared by a dusty, linen-wrapped Boris Karloff. My parents took me to the Chicago Field Museum to see actual mummies and artifacts and I pressed my nose and stubby fingers against the glass to see if I could see them breathe or something. I have always been fascinated with Egypt.

At first our guide in Egypt teased us with passing glimpses of the great pyramids of Giza as we drove to various OTHER places in Cairo but finally there I stood. The fine sand would whip up into little desert tornados in the blue-skied backdrop while I stood looking at the immense structures built 5000 years ago. I just stood there taking it all in, it just didn’t seem quite real to me. It was kind of like my Grand Canyon experience: you know it’s there, you know you are there, but it all seems like you are looking at a huge, two dimensional photo and not reality. For a few Egyptian Pounds you could talk one of the security guards into letting you get your picture taken on one of the millions of huge stones hauled from miles away to form the Pyramids, so my wife and I get our picture taken next to them.

One of the things I could not have pictured was how many pyramids there were on the Giza Plateau. From the Cheops and Knufu pyramids you can see another 60-70 other ones across the desert. The Pyramids of Pharaohs and officials alike were bumping up like teenage zits on the desert landscape. Some just mounds, others excavated but all having a hidden story beneath them.

Our guide directed us to one that we could go into, go under and discover some of those hidden stories. My mind when back to the labyrinth Boris and even Abbot and Costello explored. I was looking forward to being handed a torch made out of a stick and mummy linen, soaked in some oil reserve, and like Indiana Jones go down exploring through all the cobwebs. Reality was much different. I am over six foot tall and the opening was MAYBE four foot so I had to bend over. The tunnel was not a labyrinth it was simply a way down, down, and more down. It was well worn steps in this small tunnel that I had to walk bent over. There were no torches but a simply a poorly wired string of fluorescents. After an eternity of downward steps we came to a small room a mile or two below the pyramid. The room was about 20 foot square with only the one entrance. I finally arrived there, out of breath from all the steps and realized I could not breathe. There was no oxygen pumped into the place, we were miles underground, there were hundreds of other people filing in and out breathing all my air, and I was feeling panic well up inside me like some kind of mental regurgitation. So this is what a panic attack is like, I thought. I fought the urge as I bent into the task of climbing all those steps again. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed more like heaven than I have ever experienced and as I finally burst out of the opening I felt that I needed to do an “I’m alive!” victory dance.

My boyhood fantasies were crushed and I put away my Indy fedora as I enjoyed air like never before. But quickly questions and a thirst for knowledge overtook my disappointments: How did they get the sarcophagus down there? They must have built the pyramid OVER the burial chamber with all the stuff in it right? How did the thieves get all the stuff out through that little hole? How did they find that little hole in the first place? While my boyhood dreams were pushed to the background I didn’t mourn them because they were replaced by experiences I will never forget and by new questions to research. And that really is what education is all about.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Innocents Abroad, Part 1

My wife and I embarked on a once in a lifetime tour of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel with a personal side stop in the Netherlands. I have done some traveling in the past but NOTHING LIKE THIS and here I sit, less than a week after returning home and sill feel the after-effects of the trip. One book in our list of “suggested reading” before the trip was “Innocents Abroad” by Mark Twain where he took a similar trip, lasting MUCH longer but journaled about it in this book. While the experiences were different I can’t help but believe the title fit my impressions of the trip and over the next few columns I hope to take you with me as an innocent abroad.

“And then we buried it”

The phrase that sticks out in my mind which became an amusing catch phrase for us to kid our guide was “and then we buried it!” Our guide was an American archeologist who worked on digs in Jordan and Israel. These digs led him to research into Egypt as well because of their influence on the nations as the area superpower for so many years.

Our guide would take us through ruins and point out what they once were. We would look at a stone with a few carvings on it and a square edge but is no bigger than a Rubik’s cube and he would determine that it was once a temple to the god such-and-so along with the date and what the pharaoh ate that day for lunch. All from a Rubik’s cube sized stone. He would point out a mound covered by scrub grass and a stony sand and tell us that it was a temple built by the Egyptians where they would prepare bodies for burial, which was taken over by the Romans and used to house troops, which was taken over by Coptic Christians who used it for a church, which was taken over by the Byzantine Christians who made it a monastery, and now was a large pile of scrub grass and stony sand. Everyone in our tour group would stare in wide-eyed amazement at the mound of dirt trying to grasp and picture what was just said. Finally a brave soul would crack into the awed silence and say, “Umm, how the heck do you know that?”

He would take a deep breath and then “Well when we started digging we found mosaics of the Byzantine monastery, then we went a little deeper and found iconic paintings on the walls that matched those of Coptic churches in Egypt, then as we went wider and found stone that had grooves in them that Roman soldiers would use to sharpen their knives on and matched that with similar grooves from Roman troop shelters, then as we looked at those original stones we found hieroglyphics that show the embalming process and we also found tools that were used in that process, the deeper we dug the more we found out and could date the time periods and found that they embalmed Pharaoh Tutmosesaknotaminohapchetsuit III here in 2436 BCE, on a Thursday afternoon at 4:37, after a light lunch of dates and fresh bread.”

In awed silence the whole group turned again to the mound of scrub grass and stony sand and stared. After about fifteen minutes of mental processing another brave soul turned to our guide and said, “But it’s just a mound of scrub grass and stony sand!”

“Yes, I know, but I got great pictures of the dig, the mosaics, the icons, the stones and hieroglyphs!”

“But it is just a MOUND! Where’s the stuff!”

Our guide looked at the trusting tourist and said with confident understanding, “Well, sure its just a mound, we buried it.”

You could have heard everyone’s neck snap as we all turned to our guide in undisguised confusion. “You did WHAT?”

All of that time and work on a dig to uncover everything, painstakingly documenting every square centimeter, removing tons of dirt and debris with a pickaxe smaller than your hand and a toothbrush, taking pictures and then what do you do? You BURY it!

We would drive by “tells” or mounds of dirt in our bus and our guide would talk about what that mound represented and was then he would end by saying, “and then we buried it.” This would happen to the point where our group would complete his great description of dig sites by chorusing together: “and then you buried it.”

It seems that exposing ancient tiles, paintings and even stone to the normal elements will degrade and even destroy them. So it is common practice on archeological digs to find out everything they can, removed any pottery or other artifact, photograph it and then bury it again. This protects the site until someone can come along with the money to preserve and maintain it for tourists to see. If the money to buy a safe, protected environment is not there, it remains buried AND protected.

As I write this it reminds me of a few hearts I know. This precious artifact is buried away in a lot of people until it finds a safe, protected environment that will allow it to be exposed without destroying it. Sometimes it never happens and it stays buried and eventually forgotten but sometimes, just sometimes that heart is given a save environment for all to see and enjoy. That would make all of us archeologists. We must work on ways to get a safe environment for all those precious artifacts to be exposed to the world and enjoyed by all.