Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cut and Paste

What Child is this ?
The babe, the son of Mary?
What Child is this?
This is Christ the King!
Glory to the newborn King!
The King of kings, salvation brings.
The everlasting light.
Fall on your knees, it is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
What Child is this?
This, this is Christ the King!
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.
What Child is this? The babe, the son of Mary?
Fall on your knees!
This, This is Christ the King.
Glory to the newborn King!
Born that man no more may die,
Born to give them second birth.
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Fall on your knees!
This is Christ the King.
God and sinners reconciled.
Glory to the newborn King!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


...just got home from Christmas Eve church service an hour or so ago. It was kind of special. My wife, Lori, is in the middle of a pretty bad cold and hasn't felt much like getting out of bed all day, much less getting dressed for church, and schlepping across town, and mingling and hugging. I "generously" offered to sacrifice my own church time and stay home and watch movies and eat cookies. My older son, Josh, told me he was looking forward to the candlelight service, so, convicted, I changed my plans and he and I attended the 8pm service.
The service itself was pretty much the same as it is every year. The room was more full than usual; there were lots of people who clearly don't attend very often; there was the ambient noise of restless kids that should have been in the nursery; the message was Jesus 101, obviously a reaching out to the unchurched visitors.
But I was moved this evening. The "worship team" was on their "A" game-the music was just fabulous-especially a solo by Janelle. [The music at our church has always been a big attraction for me-when I was dragged there against my will many, many moons ago by my wife, the quality of the musicians and singers made it pleasant, like a free concert.] The "finale" of Silent Night and the darkened room lit by 1000 candles was, as always, goosebump inducing. But the real "moment" for me tonight was the rare sense of calm spirit and quiet mind I felt while immersed in the music, and admiring the sea of candles. All day long I've had, as per normal, anxiousness, uneasiness, even quiet rage. My boys and I went to the Mall earlier today to get a last minute gift. Of course, parking was a challenge, the store was crowded, and the lines long. Then we went to the grocery store (since was wife was too sick to do so) to get the stuff we needed for tonight and tomorrow-shrimp, chips, cheese, all that party stuff. Again, crowded and long checkout lines. Our house-every room-looks like the running of the bulls was held here-yesterday. So by 7:15, when it was time to leave for church, I wasn't feeling quite "spiritual". In fact, murderous would be more accurate. But at some point during the service I became aware the rage was gone. I felt serene. Peaceful. Quiet. The hectic frenzy of the day (and much of this season) was gone! When Silent Night was done, the candles were blown out, the Pastor had said his "...ya'll come back now..." and the mass exodus had begun, I wanted to stay there enveloped in the peace, the "sanctuary" of the place and the moment. I expressed that to Josh-that I hated to step back out into the rat race. "I guess that's what they mean by standing back and seeing the world, but not really being part of it." Josh profoundly, simplistically expressed the essence of authentic Christian living. I want so badly to live in that peaceful Sanctuary of Christ.
But we, I am entangled in the worlds' "unpeace" of bills, and traffic jams, and laundry piles, and Santa, busy busy hurry hurry. I, and I suspect far too many of us, spend so much of our time out of breath, and swirling with to-do lists that true peace is a rare state of mind. What I heard tonight was Mary and Joseph, etc. etc. What I learned tonight was the meaning of Sanctuary.

Monday, December 22, 2008

There oughta be a movie...

From time to time I want to review the lives and deeds of folks who are... interesting. They may be heroes or may be villains. They may have accomplished great things, and history holds the record, or they may be obscure but... interesting. The latter is the case with Larry Walters.
In a previous life, I conducted weekly sales meetings, and each week I struggled to find some inspirational or motivating or edifying and entertaining story. The Larry Walters story would be great meeting fodder-he exemplified determination, pursuing a goal despite naysayers, and risk taking to fulfill a vision. In a future life, if I am a filmmaker, Larry Walters' story will be my first project-it's perfect for the surreal texture of the Coens (Fargo, Raising Arizona, Big Lebowski) or Tim Burton (Big Fish), or the darkly surreal David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart).
Larry Walters was born In 1949 in California. He dreamed, as a kid, of flying. He joined the Air Force but was not allowed to fly because of poor eyesight. After his discharge, he acted upon an idea he first had at 13 to fly. In 1982 he purchased 45 weather balloons and 2 helium tanks. He tethered his Sears lawn chair to his Jeep, then filled 42 of the balloons with helium and tied them to the chair (he dubbed his "aircraft" the Inspiration). He put a parachute on his back, took along sandwiches, Miller Lite, a CB radio, a camera, and a pellet gun-to shoot balloons to adjust his altitude and land. The plan was to rise to about 30 feet and float for a few hours. When the assembled friends cut the cord Larry and chair shot up rapidly until it finally leveled off -at 16,000 feet! Being much too high to shoot balloons and risk falling out, he floated for about 14 hours! Eventually he drifted into the restricted air space of Los Angeles International Airport ! He finally did shoot some balloons, and as planned, he drifted gently back towards the ground-until the dangling balloon ties got caught in power lines, causing a blackout in parts of Long Beach. When authorities finally figured out what to charge him with he was fined $1500. When asked why he tried such a stunt he said, "A man can't just sit around". Indeed. Words to live by.
Larry enjoyed 15 minutes, or so, of fame. He traveled and spoke briefly (sales meetings?), but in 1993, at 44 years old "Lawnchair Larry" hiked into the forest and shot himself.
Thank goodness there have been others wired like Larry-driven to chase a dream, even a kooky one. The Wright brothers come to mind, and Christopher Columbus, Jobs and Wozniak, Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), and others who agree with Larry-"a man can't just sit around."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For my sons...

To my imaginary, non-existent audience, this post is for my 2 boys. Everyone else go away, or read a different post.
There was a time, long ago, a time when I argued that God was a myth, that I asserted there was no such thing as "love"...that love was an invented concept...nothing more than an expression of biological needs and humans' fear of loneliness combined. I know now, and am painfully reminded from the events of last evening, that love is very real.
The only thing I have really cared about for about 18 1/2 years is my family. There was, for me, a cathartic moment when Josh was born...a deep, lasting realization that nothing I could do in life was more important than holding this little guy's hand until I had to let go. Career, achievement, material pursuits must, now, fall below being deeply involved in his, and then Jordan's life. I made a vow with the universe that I would not be absent, as my father was, or ever-EVER lie to my boys...I would never never never say "we will" when I know we won't, or "I will" when I know I can't. I have taken pride in knowing I have been honest, and involved, and supportive. I have taken pride in being at nearly every T-ball game, and baseball game, and soccer match, and basketball game, and swim meet, and cross country meet, and track meet, and concert, and Christmas program. I have taken pride in making sure there was breakfast in your bellies every morning, at least a few dollars in your pockets, and lately, gas in your tank. I have tried to the extent possible-and still do today-to prevent hurt, both physical and emotional; to forsee danger and steer you away from it; to get you there on time; to read to you, and tell stories, and teach you to spell, and learn your times-tables, and help finish overdue projects, and rarely say "no", even when it opposes Mommy.
But "pride" is a dangerous and deluding thing. Pardon the crude analogy, but when someone has B.O., they don't know it-but those around them sure do.
Some weeks ago, Jordan and I had a peaceful, adult, but emotional conversation about the distance I sensed between him and I. He shared how bothered he was, how uncomfortable he felt with the tension and bickering often present in our home. Though he was indirect about it, I know the real source of that tension and discomfort is my temper-the way I react to frustration with housekeeping, or grades, or cellphone bills.
Last evening, Josh expressed-in a style very much like my own-that I was a source, a catalyst for rage on his part-and have been for 18 years.
I don't smell my own B.O.
During the war that developed last evening with Josh, I said I was done caring about his success or failure, that I was taking my hands off, and he's on his own. I can no more follow through with that threat than I can stop breathing! I will never stop loving, worrying about, and wanting to hold the hands of my boys. Josh and Jordan -I love you both very, very much. I want to be "Daddy" as long as I live-and as long as you live. I want to still carry you on my shoulders.
I absolutely don't want to sermonize here. But in the last few weeks, at that Men's Fraternity thing I go to, we have learned about "wounds"-including the "father wound". The focus is on working through wounds we may be carrying around-but it is, now, glaringly obvious that I have been wounding my precious sons. My temper and anger, and inability to control it, have been far more wounding than I've realized. As a Christian, I am to believe that Christ can change people-their hearts, their cores, their wiring. I hope last nights horrible scene, if in fact all things can be used by God for good, is the moment at which I shed my lifelong battle with temper. I will seek the help of the God I say I believe in, and try to develop the "fruit of the Spirt"-which includes self-control.
After the fight, I felt like I had lost a loved one. There's a knot, or a hole, or an ache that develops in the chest. It's the same feeling as breaking up with a girlfriend. Nothing else seems important. And the anger or hurt slowly transforms into an intense desire to reconcile. My twisted inability to openly express emotion makes that harder for me than it should be. And pride blocks the procees of seeing my own contibution to the problem. So I've chosen this chicken-shit, spineless method of reaching out to both of you for forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding, and patience.
Almost simultaneous with begining this "essay", I got a text message from Josh that said he, too, was sorry and that he loved me! I've tried like crazy to never let you guys see me cry. It doesn't happen very often. It has multiple times in the last 15 hours, especially when I read Josh's text.
I am thankful and relieved that reconciliation is possible. I love you guys so much.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bail bail bail me out...

There must be a line at the U.S. Capitol building snaking out the door, and around the corner, of folks waiting to see Congress seeking a bailout for their business or sector. Kinda like the kids at the mall waiting in line to see Santa -similarly armed with wish lists of, to them, free stuff. If Time magazine did a Word of the Year issue {see last post} this year's cover word would have to be BAILOUT. The cynic in me makes me suspicious of just how ill these various industries and companies are. Is this like a kid who wants to stay home from school so develops a belly ache, a woeful tone describing it, and a profound recovery about 10 a.m.? "Cooking the books" used to mean creating phony prosperity so as to attract investors or lenders. But now it's more advantageous to appear in dire financial straits-at least as long as Uncles Sam (and Barney and Hank) are passing out billions like Al Bundy on the intro of Married with Children.
I have lost track of all the bailout packages created in the last few months, and the dollars assigned to some deals seem to have changed, both in amount and intended usage. But here are some reminder numbers: AIG-$85 billion (plus a piece of the big enchilada that will take their stocking stuffer to about $120 bill.) Freddie and Fannie required about $100 billion EACH to regain solvency. (That's a rounded number, of course, but what's a few hundred mill between friends). It's too bad some strong willed elected official didn't attach a stipulation to the Freddie/Fannie bailout that they change their names! It's just wrong that these open sewers of irresponsible lending and stewardship of others' money should be allowed to continue with nicknames that make them sound like an eccentric aunt and uncle that have fallen on hard times. (Poor Aunt Fannie and Uncle Freddie-they're eating dogfood again. Let's help them a little.) That big enchilada, the big one that disrupted the campaigns, the one to buy "toxic assets" was 750 large. (if you say it with no alarm in your voice it seems so normal-so nice). After the late night emergency Senate session that produced the deal to fund Hank's unclogging of credit markets by ridding them of those toxic assets, which he pleaded with Congress was the way to keep our nation from washing out to sea, he said "Nevermind...we changed our mind..." He kept the 750, of course, but no longer has an appetite for toxicity. Now it's his (Treasury's) credit card with a $750,000,000,000 cash advance limit. There was also, of course, Bear Stearns. There will be something under the tree for automakers-the rejected deal, today was what, $34 billion? Among those in line to see Santa are the newspapers. I'm sure there are other "smokestacks" watching the auto industry's groveling. Someone, somewhere still makes buggy whips and I'd bet they could use a hand. Obsolescence is...obsolete. The total appears, so far, to be about a nice round trillion, give or take 100 billion. But it's OK. Just say it with no alarm in your voice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


There are "fad" words. At any given time there are some words or phrases that, if used correctly define you as hip...or if used incorrectly, or after their 15 minutes have expired, define you as an affectatious dork. "Mad" comes to mind-meaning "lots of", or "a minute"-meaning some undefined, but longer than a minute, length of time, as in "I haven't seen him in a minute". Being closer to dork than hip, I am unable to site the most-current, leading edge examples. Some expired fad words or expressions (still heard from some afore mentioned folks) are " the end of the day..." (actually still used alot, but the equivalent of holding a banner that says "I'm trying to sound smarter than I am"); "You go girl", which, hopefully the incoming administration will ban by executive order within the first 100 days; "back in the day..." which is the same as having a Joe Dirt haircut; and Time magazine's Word of the Year for '06 (well, it would have been if there were such a thing)-"proactive".

A former coworker comes to mind, who is on everybody who ever knew him's list of "Most Annoying People", who could use 2 or 3 hip-words-du jour in a single sentence, and would do so, with the same words or phrases, 10 times or more in a single day. This fellow calculated who was listening-whom do I most wish to impress-with every utterance. When our black General Manager was within earshot he talked "hood"-"Aunt" suddenly rhymed with "font"; "is" would occasionally be replaced with "be"; "talking" became "talkin' ", and he would adopt a black-preacher cadence and rhythm-think Obama speech (he was, though, quite white).

There are also words that, at a given time, are in the front row, center seat, of our minds...words that seem repeatedly applicable to goings on in our lives...which bring me, at long last to a point. My word du jour is "authenticity". I am enrolled in a group that bills itself as pursuing Authentic Manhood. I suppose that's why the word "authenticity" has moved from the balcony seats to the front row. But I, of late, find the concept, the trait, most desirous in others, and a ruler for measuring my own conduct. The word is probably best defined by it's synonyms-honest, real, unpretentious, sincere. Almost synonymous-dependable, do-what-say-you-are-going-to-do, promises kept, exhibiting what you espouse or advocate. It's definitely not being a chameleon like the non-authentic former coworker. Authentic authenticity is rare, attractive, a goal worth pursuing, and my word du jour.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Sweetie is Home

Maddie is home. Though she has a noticeable limp, and spent most of the evening just lying on the living room carpet, she was happy-lots of tail wagging. The vet says it's her knee- arthritis and a patella that moves out of place; prescribed pain killers; testing for lyme disease-not much else can be done. A horrible decision has been deferred, at least for a time. We will try to keep her comfortable and happy as long as is possible, will "supervise" her activity so as to avoid aggravating behaviors (like chasing groundhogs or squirrels at a hundred miles an hour, or jumping onto the bed like Superman), will try to indulge her with her favorite thing-rides in the car (if we utter 'wanna go for a ride?'-or even just 'ride?' she gets all excited, like a kid on Christmas morning) and enjoy her company as much and as long as possible.
Beginning this blogging thing was not intended as a place to tell pet tales, but, as a place , a means, to exercise my brain, to stimulate thought (my own), to practice assembling words in an efficient, comprehendable way, and pretend I'm sharing thoughts with others. For the past 36 hours, or so, the dominant focus of my thought has been my dog. Hopefully, future posts will involve a wider, deeper variety of thought. I know, of course, that nobody is out there. This is the communication equivalent of peeing in your wetsuit-nobody knows, but you feel better.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Baby Girl

It's cold and grey (or is it gray?) outside today-inside as well. My fourth favorite living thing in the world went to Yorkshire Animal Hospital this morning. My baby girl, my big, bushy haired, black mutt Maddie developed pain in her hind quarter-hip area-last night at bedtime. After a typically active day-many trips up and down the stairs, she was unable to get up the stairs to go to bed. This morning she squealed in pain just trying to stand up. I'm waiting to hear from the vet, and am nervously aware that among the possible outcomes, some are just crushing to consider. She's about 4, doesn't know she's a dog, loves her family, and craves our attention and touch (and I her's). Not sure if it's theologically sound to ask God to help a dog, but if you are so inclined, I would appreciate it.