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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Back Again

Back again in Saint Petersburg, and quickly reminded that family is not only blood relatives and in-laws.  DeAngelo has his twentieth birthday this coming Monday, so I went with him to IHOP to celebrate then to the mall for a birthday present—new shoes and shorts.  Kunte called to see how our trip to the east coast went.  Ruby called to check on Kathy's health.  And Kathy and I had lunch today with Dennis.  Last evening our son Alton called from prison in Jasper.  There’s nothing like the feel of connectedness to make the world seem solid.  There’s nothing like love to make one feel worthwhile.  



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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Last Day at the Paradise Hotel

I am now sitting in the lobby of the Hammock Beach Resort.  It’s a very swank and spacious place complete with a lit fireplace on one end.  This morning on the beach Kathy and I watched the sun rise and marveled at the vastness of the horizon and the antics of a sandpiper.  The surf covered our feet.  This afternoon the family visited St. Augustine focusing on St. George Street.  We toured shops and an Orthodox shrine later having lunch at a pub.  We returned the eighteen miles to the resort where we have become accustomed to sweeping extravagance.  We will need rehab to wean ourselves off these luxuries.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) the two of us head back to Saint Petersburg.  All in all it seems like a long way from Saint Petersburg and work.  Now Hammock Beach Resort is home.  This is the life to which we have become accustomed.  Maybe it’s now time to go back up to the suite overlooking the Atlantic, close the door, and take a cold shower.


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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On the Beach

I began the day early walking along the beach as waves rolled in from the Atlantic.  The sun was rising casting a bright blaze over the water.  Several sandpipers sped about pecking for food as the spent waves quickly receded back into the ocean. I put my feet in the Atlantic for the first time since I was with my parents on a vacation as a teenager.  The waves rolled over my feet and I looked down and took a snapshot.  I thought of the blessings I’ve had throughout my life.  For a brief emotional moment I wondered if this would be the last time I would feel the warm Atlantic bathe over my feet.  Not long after resuming my walk, a couple appeared strolling towards me down the beach.  They greeted me in an especially cheerful way and we stopped to talk.  “Isn’t God’s creation magnificent?  Man could not make anything like this;” the woman said sweeping her arm towards the horizon.  I returned to the resort to join family.  After breakfast we went tubing on the lazy river, then Kathy, mom, and I sat chatting in a sauna pool.  It was a fun and happy day because I felt privileged, not primarily for material goods (though they are abundant here), but for considerate people and for the bequest of consciousness itself.   

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Keeping it Real in Shorts and Sandals

Yesterday we arrived at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida.  This is on the Atlantic east coast of northern Florida.  Jim, my brother-in-law, told me that if I think the resort’s facilities are great, wait till I experience the service.  It took me about two seconds to get used to complete bellhop and valet services.  (The gratuity is attached to the bill at the end of the stay.  There is a strict “no tipping” policy, so one is spared frequent self-evaluations as to whether one is tipping enough.)  We walked over the grounds Sunday, deciding some of the activities we would be doing today.  There are multiple pools—one surrounded by white beach sand—and a lazy river ride. On the lazy river ride you float on yellow circular tubes along a winding course periodically going by or beneath devices to soak you with water spray.  I was at first a little apprehensive about visiting with new relatives until Jim made it clear that for him keeping it real is of first importance.  I had made a Shrek type comment last evening that I brought enough changes of clothes so that if I had had diarrhea three times already, I would still have multiple changes available.  Jim gave me a high-five and was relieved to find that his fairly new brother-in-law conceded to having bodily functions.  In other words, the multi-million dollar resort need not be an extravagant staging area for taxing attempts to keep up appearances.  We can, instead, be free to love and trust one another and to enjoy ourselves.  Indeed, despite all the amenities, how sad and depressing paradise would be otherwise.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Carefully Taught

All my life I have heard stories about Jesus.  Sometimes I have asked myself, what if non-believers are right, what if these stories are just made up.  What if Jesus’s miracles and his death and especially resurrection never actually happened?  What if my father and brother dedicated their lives to ministering from nothing but myth?  What if Santa Claus on his yearly treks from the North Pole at Christmas and Christ are on equal footing? When I asked those questions and yet feared them not, that’s when I appreciated the importance of indoctrination.  I have been carefully taught that original sin and redemption pretty much encompass the story of mankind. I have been carefully taught that the love of God is personal and universal and undergirds the structure of effective life and thought.  I have been carefully taught that forgiveness is essential.  I have been carefully taught that humility and generosity are big and that false pride and selfishness are small.  I have been carefully taught that there are verities that are eternal and are as accessible and real as dirt.  I have been carefully taught to respect the babe in a manger more than those relying for worth on the trappings of power.  I have been carefully taught that empathy is fundamental to intelligence.  I have been carefully taught that prayer from the faithful heart is not wasted breath.  I have been carefully taught that death while real is not for man the last word--but to allow for mystery, for realities only grasped in intimations forever beyond the reach of microscopes.  I have been carefully taught to value each day and hour—to live it committed to the lessons I have been carefully taught; and in this way to worship God, witness for Christ, and live in love a life of significance.  Someone so carefully taught cannot be expected to become a non-believer overnight. 

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wait Not

I'm sixty-six years old,
People ask me "When do you plan to retire?"
I am baffled by the question,
I haven't given it much thought,
I'm in a state of denial,
I want things to continue on as before
Work, and love, and getting and spending,
It doesn't seem attractive that I must live on a fixed income,
Cooking beans and spaghetti on the stove,
Waiting for God on the cheap.


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Friday, September 24, 2010

Afterthoughts on “Lake Divide”

The entry “Lake Divide” splits the world into a city of pretense and a city of truth. And actually these cities are not compromisers.  Neither will concede to being a little bit of both.  What we find, however, is that mankind is a great traveler inhabiting both cities from time to time.  And you might find mankind at its best on both sides.  When I die and if some hodgepodge of people should attend my funeral, do I want the unvarnished truth spoken about my life?  No, I would hope that a dash of pretense keeps things dignified—a bowdlerized edition will do nicely.  We have a “respect for the dead” in this sense without for sure knowing why, we just know that it’s right—in the midst of pretense an unfathomable truth emerges.  We look at this checkered life and from our deepest being know that, for our fleeting time on earth, it was good to have been their companion.  There are many such examples where pretense is kinder than truth.  Somehow we know that pretense in the name of encouragement and charitable forgiveness is pleasing to the Lord.  There is a Lake Divide all right, but mankind journeys across the lake in pursuit of the stars.


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Lake Divide

There is a great lake,
On one side is the city of pretense
On the other side is the city of truth
On which side are you?


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

To My Brother on His 70th Birthday

To My Brother on His 70th Birthday (7-25-2009)

A river bends through the wilderness,
With a shoreline of unkempt greenery
Wild, yet restful and inviting
The sun bathes the scene in light
And flocks of wild turkeys roam free--
This is a world of rich tapestry
Where stories are told that are young
With memories running long and their pull deep
Yet today is a challenge with promises to keep--
Accomplished is the word that most comes to mind
In the church, in government, in the family
Investment is required that is awesome and steep
Yet Bob is steady and convinced to the core
Of the essential validity of this marathon run
That his love will be returned in dominant fun.


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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Sidekick Preference

Suppose someone was lost in a byzantine matrix of streets without a GPS, which would they prefer—a knowledgeable friend giving lengthy and detailed directions on a sheet of paper or a knowledgeable friend agreeing to assist by riding shotgun and showing the way?  I think most would rather have the friend showing the way.  This is true for several reasons.  One, of course, is that it is difficult to read detailed instructions and drive at the same time.  But another serious matter is that complex instructions are characteristically filled with lacunae.  Some details necessary for proper execution are left out from oversight or sloppiness in specification.  A third factor is confidence—which can be lacking when one does not grasp the big picture.  One feels more like a rat in a maze than a knowledgeable navigator.  A fourth factor is that written directions do not provide that a knowledgeable resource is constantly available--one cannot question a sheet of paper.  If unforeseen circumstances occur on the way, with the friend sidekick the challenges can be met.  A fifth factor is constant reinforcement and support—there is a friend to talk to and share comments about driving conditions, other drivers, or the music on the radio.  Finally, a knowledgeable sidekick can be a great time saver helping to avoid mistakes especially in ambiguous areas.  Knowledgeable sidekicks outdo GPS’s as well for a human navigator knows the best route given all driving considerations—one could say intuitively.  Often around Saint Petersburg I ignore the GPS (or on-line maps) for the route given is not the best, though it might be theoretically shorter or faster it neglects the best route by overlooking some local realities and my own driving preferences.  In many unfamiliar matters, I prefer someone showing the way rather than describing it.  Lead by example, the saying goes; two heads are better than one.


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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Annual Checkup

Lose weight or you’re dead, he said
A heart attack will do you in
You may look good on paper—
A respectable lab report and blood pressure of a 17 year old--
But Intra-Abdominal Adiposity is your yoke
Your internal organs are immersed in fat
Your heart in time will yield to stress
And match weight gain
With pensive urns of dust remains.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Contrast as Prelude to Choosing the Best

Quality control greatly restricts the quantity of the best.  Consider great poetry, how much verse do you recall that in Emily Dickinson’s phrase can blow the top of your head off?  One can wade through piles of chaff before reaching the wheat.  In fiction and nonfiction multiple drafts are typically required.  Films are edited repeatedly before presentation quality is reached.  Music recordings have many takes. The Bible contains 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.  There is much perfection there, but anyone who has read the Bible through knows that scanning rather than reading becomes necessary now and then—otherwise one will never reach the great parts.  This surplus freight is true not only in the fine arts, but in the industrial arts as well; design and implementation are often profligate.  It is clear, then, that creative acts are by nature wasteful—as millions of sperm swim, but only one fertilizes the accessible egg.  Excess seems bound to creativity; finding the best requires first identifying the mediocre.  We know what’s great by comparing and intentionally demoting the second rate.


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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Today in Sunday School

Today the first Sunday school lesson’s scripture was:  Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted” Luke: 4:18 (KJV).  This lesson developed into the most important of the day as Mitch asked if we had ever been brokenhearted.  Viney had earlier related to the class how he had been abandoned in his youth by his family.  He went to the store, and when he returned home they had all left.  Today he told us of a second tragedy in his life.  He said one day the police arrived where he was working.  He turned and noticed that one of the police officers was pointing him out, indicating to the other officer who was to be the recipient of the news.  Viney knew then that something bad must have happened.  The officer told him that his wife and two children had been killed in an automobile accident.  This led Viney to have several nervous breakdowns.  He recovered after “going to the mountain.”  He lit a campfire on a mountain, and some people from a monastery further up the mountain noticed his campfire, went down, and invited him up to stay with them.  He recovered his health cleaning “pity pots” (dirty pots) in the kitchen with a wire scrubber.  They told him that job was especially effective for those feeling sorry for themselves.  He said the hard work helped him.  At the end of class as usual Mitch asked if anyone would like to have the closing prayer. When no one immediately responded, he asked Viney if he would have it.  Viney said he couldn’t give a good prayer.  Mitch said he didn’t ask for a good prayer, he had asked if he wanted to pray.  Viney then closed Sunday school with a short prayer from the heart.


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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Inadequate Tools; Adequate People

It would be interesting to know how many people have felt inadequate at a task when in fact the inadequacy was not of the person but of the tools at hand.  How unskilled, klutzy, incapable, and guilty they must have felt when in fact the problem was not them, but improper tools.  I think of the predicament that doctors have faced through the centuries—with hopelessly inadequate tools existing to treat their patients.  I wonder how many doctors accepted blame and felt guilt for patient suffering and death, when in fact the doctors were hopelessly lacking in developed procedures and adequate tools.  What brought on these thoughts today was a personal experience.  To fill the need of an additional electrical outlet for our new gas dryer, my plan was to remove the screw holding the faceplate on the existing outlet, plug in an adaptor with multiple outlets, and then fix the adaptor in place with a screw that came with the adaptor—simple enough.  I tried repeatedly to do this and when unsuccessful began to think I must be the world’s worst klutz.  I finally determined that I would have to have a longer screw.  I went to the mechanical department at Lowe’s to see if I could find one.  The associate in the department knew immediately what I needed (a 2 inch screw) and remarked that “this happens all the time.”  His words were very liberating to me.  I was not alone in this experience—I just needed the proper tool. 


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Friday, September 17, 2010

Resignation & Anticipation

After I have been living in my home for over 30 years without a clothes dryer, this morning Lowe’s delivered a new dryer for Kathy and me.  The gas installation company could not make it out today to install the dryer.  But promised they would be out first thing on Monday morning.  They contemplated for a time coming out on Saturday, but key employees had made personal plans for tomorrow.  Like I told Shawn, Sr. at the company, I have waited over 30 years--a few more days won’t hurt.  Actually though, as soon as it was delivered I wanted it installed.  When Shawn first suggested it might be done on Saturday, I said to myself “Yes!”  I am suddenly impatient to have an operating dryer.  But now that I must wait till Monday, I have accepted it reluctantly and have resigned myself tomorrow to hanging up clothes in the garage.  This reluctant resignation (joined with fresh anticipation of change) brings to mind Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer (conceived in a little stone cottage in Heath, Massachusetts).  In its original form:

"God, Give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, Courage
to change the things which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

(http://www.aahistory.com/prayer.html)

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Steadfast Dreams

One characteristic of Walter Mitty is that he “indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs”  [definition retrieved today from (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/walter_mitty)].  In addition to myself, this Walter Mitty characteristic also reminds me of my friend of seventeen years Kunte Kinta.  This evening Kathy and I had dinner with him at Chili’s to celebrate his 32nd birthday.  His ever persistent and long-lived dream is to be a rock star (The Dark Prince).  He takes courses in bass guitar, and has four or five guitars which he has purchased (along with amplifiers) on a modest income to help keep the dream alive.  He is personally challenged but has a strong will to count for something despite his handicap.  I have suggested to him that like my desire to be President, the efforts expended to fulfill his dream are never wasted.  An important lesson learned is awareness of one’s raw resolve despite great odds.  No matter how impossible the goals seem that Kunte and I undertake, I keep in mind that “God” and “can’t” don’t go together.  I take our yearnings for stellar achievement (however modest the result) as “Proof that there's a purpose set/Before the secret working mind:/Profane perfection of mankind” (Yeats, Under Ben Bulben). 

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Show-offs on The Tightrope

I’ve always liked Eddie Murphy because, even as Donkey in Shrek, he’s a show-off.  In the Beverly Hills Cops series, he plays Axel Foley (again a show-off).  It is with great amusement and even glee that I observe his impertinence, not to say insubordination.  He teases with great panache authority but especially the self-important.  It’s sometimes hard to define which characteristic of the show-off is primary—raw courage or a devil may care attitude.  Since Axel and Donkey care a lot, we must decide in their case that it is courage and an irrepressible desire to triumph.  Real life examples of show-offs are noticeably present during the teen years.  Many are those students who silently envy the boldness of the show-off.  But few have what it takes to pull it off successfully—to walk the thin line between brashness and laughter on the one hand and outright insubordination and punishment on the other.  Perhaps it’s worth noting that in the first Beverly Hills Cop, Axel in the end was escorted (in a friendly manner) out of town.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Birthdays and Funerals

Today in the copy room at work we celebrated this month’s birthdays.  Back in our office, I asked my co-workers a dumb question—why do we celebrate birthdays?   One answer, “for the presents;” another, “for the cake.”  I guess the answer is too obvious to take seriously.  Perhaps parents would never ask this question.  Birthdays are days that honor the memory of birth.  Birth is a spiritual as well as physical experience.  With our awareness of genetics, the feeling of transition on the occasion of birth can be extremely powerful—our heritage (we are alive and strong) and our legacy (we are also mortal) are in the structure of the genes.  That birth is a deep emotional experience is evidenced by the not uncommon shedding of tears on the part of observers at the moment of birth.

Next to the ritual of birthdays, place the ritual of funerals.  This evening I attended a visitation for Ginny Sweat—completely active until only a few months ago when it was discovered she had leukemia.  A funeral is not recurrent of course.  Most often, after a few years the exact date of death is a vague memory.  We are more inclined to remember a deceased’s birthday rather than their death day.   We cry tears at funerals primarily not from the awesomeness of life, but from the final extinguishing of life.  It is the closing off of opportunity for this individual and for us to relate to them.  The funeral ritual serves a friendly purpose.  It structures our feelings of emptiness with remembrances of a vibrant life while methodically in a dignified way disposing of the body.  Birthdays and funerals can be seen alike as celebrations of continuance and conclusion.  Both are somehow necessary to show due regard for the oddly crafted carriers of consciousness on planet earth.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

That Porcupine Feeling

When I think back over my life, I can identify with B.B. King’s old girlfriend in the song Better Not Look Down who had lived “in love and for love,/and over love, and under love all her life/If the arrows from cupid’s bow that had/passed through her heart had been sticking/Out of her body she would have looked like a porcupine.”  I am convinced that in cupid’s quiver are numerous arrows designed for many levels of intimacy—and I’m not at all convinced that sexual intimacy is necessarily the sharpest or most important arrow.  By falling in love I mean that there is a deep mutual harmony and trust which results in an attraction well beyond the customary.  For such meetings, one has to say, at the minimum, that one has achieved an atypically good rapport.  When I look back over my life, I cherish those times of joy when mutual affirmation gave me a deep sense of life and a certain level of affection was achieved.  One of my early memories as a grade school student was an elderly lady I visited in the neighborhood after school.  Her name was Mrs. Woods.  She was a shut-in.   In winter, we would sit before her fireplace and she would tell me stories of her youth.  There have been many close relationships over the years sometimes with, sometimes without age differences.  I am grateful for these gifts of affection and bonding.  I’m personally convinced that my experience is widely shared.  Looking back, those of us who share this experience share in common that porcupine feeling.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Today at Church

The church service was led by United Methodist Women. The choir was all women and the sermon was delivered by a woman. We learned of several service projects of church women including pack-a-sack, which provides meals for disadvantaged children in Saint Petersburg. The first lesson (from the Upper Room) in Sunday school had this scripture: Hebrews 8:5 (NIV)—“See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” The lesson pointed out as we make things in our employment, “we are being made ourselves for better or worse.” The byproducts of work are spiritual. As we seek to find and do “God’s will in all things in this world” we help “fulfill God’s redemptive love and purpose, both in us as individuals and in the world around us.” This is an important concept, for as man creates, he creates himself. The second lesson was from Psalm 145:13 (NRSV)—“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and you dominion endures throughout all generations.” Despite premature predictions by nonbelievers of God’s death, the Psalm reminds us that “God isn’t a fad.” God is as much a part of human understanding throughout the centuries as is music, work, and all creative endeavors. Man believes in God for it is deeply ingrained in his nature to believe. It is in his nature to see a divine purpose that is deeper than his temporal wants and desires. Experience (often arising from short term failures) can through grace reveal to him that God’s purpose is deeper and wiser than man’s purpose. The final lesson was on prayer. We are to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NRSV). Prayer always acknowledges human limitations. We can’t go it alone. We need other people and we need divine intervention. Prayers arise from the heart. If we pray to win the lotto, we are revealing our heart; so too if we pray that disadvantaged children in our community find solid love, support, and discipline.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Realistic & Unrealistic Structures

The saying that “attitude is everything” always stirs up a counter-current in my mind—attitude is not everything.  Attitude is a frame of mind that may or may not fit the structure of reality.  For example, I have a power bill that’s now due.  I can think that the power company will not care if I don’t pay this bill.  However, this benevolent structure of forgiveness in my mind does not match the requirements of the power company.  Given enough time, I will find that the power to my home has been cut off despite my winning attitude.  Another example of conflicting structure was the geocentric model of the universe.  Thinking that the earth was the center of the universe did not make it so.  Attitude does not create reality in this sense.  Attitude that attempts to put a spin on reality had best hope that the spin aligns with the facts.  Now is there a sense in which reality is created by attitude?  Of course, it is done all the time in matters of tone or social atmosphere—we feel correctly and strongly that we have a say in this human creation.  The question is whether this tone or structure will be will be treated kindly by the inexorable forces of nature.  Even if it’s not, we may take pride in having fought in a lost cause—we made a uniquely human contribution (based on choice) to the battle—however doomed.  We can imagine mankind destined to be wiped out in a year by a catastrophic epidemic.  I feel certain that even under these circumstances, many would die with a good attitude, no matter how puzzling and unrealistic. They would die affirming the human condition of choice even in the teeth of tragedy.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Delineating Structure

Structure is at the core of everything we know.  A brief glimpse at structures reveals how important they are.  Structures include atomic structure of all elements, structure of living organisms, architectural structure, sentence structure, societal structure.  Structures simply comprise all of our reality and existence.  The absence of structure is dangerous.  Dangerous fantasies imagine anarchy driving creativity, opportunity, and a higher consciousness.  But in truth anarchy, not structure, is the enemy of freedom.  The debilitating effects of micromanagement derive not from too much structure, but from hierarchical failures.  To micromanage is to appropriate the integrity and responsibility of others, depriving them of their rightful responsibility to manage with exactitude.  The essential problem with micromanagement is not too much effective structure, but too little.  Likewise in schools, the integrity and responsibility of students must be honored by the teacher.  Free styling that does not lay down specific requirements and guidelines in effect deprives students of responsibility.  The student without clear marching orders (structure) cannot know his task so cannot assume responsibility.  Yeats wrote that “Measurement began our might.”  Delineating structure is basic to all awareness and accomplishment.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Second Anniversary

Today is the second anniversary for Kathy and me. We had lunch at Chili’s to celebrate. We had sweet ice tea and quesadillas (Kathy, chicken and bacon; me, jalapeƱo steak). What do I think of married life after having been a bachelor for so long? In a phrase: it’s comfortable, congenial, and a happy life. So why did I wait? The answer is that I was waiting for the right person and the right time. Kathy is the right person because she compliments my strengths and compensates for my weaknesses. My strengths can be a challenge to enumerate, but my weaknesses include being a slob in terms of tidiness and a procrastinator when it comes to such tasks as sorting through and getting rid of junk mail, keeping the house clean, dusted, and tidy. Kathy is good at what I’m bad at. I know this sounds bad, as if I’m exploiting her as a maid. But the wonder is she really enjoys doing it and makes it a vehicle of her love. And I appreciate it. She also is a forgiving person, and lord knows that also comes in handy. She remembers our first date and what we did. I remember our first kiss—it made me feel great, someone actually liked me, could even love me. The timing was right also. I never felt free to get married until I was “situated.” This involved getting the education I aspired to and a job that I enjoyed and paid well. Having arrived at this point, I was open to finding the right person. Now Kathy and I believe it was God’s will that brought us together—it was his delaying tactics as much as ours. We both have suffered from mental illness, and now both function essentially free from any signs of it thanks to medication and the grace of God. We approach our future with confidence and calm and the assurance that we are fulfilling our destiny.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Poor Man’s Studio

One theme for many of my dreams is frustration in one form or another. Either I can’t keep up, can’t find someone or someplace, can’t make sense of the situation, can’t succeed, can’t arrive where I want to go. It seems probable that we dream the way we do for we profoundly need the content and emotive force of the dream presented to us. Perhaps I am taught how to accept or deal with frustration in little things of life—none as far as I know typically as big or momentous as things of the dream. Dreams are often extravagant in the extreme using multi-million dollar sets. Even the poor can enjoy the limitless budget and professional studio of the dream.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Collegiate Diversions

When I first attended USF as an undergraduate in 1962, the weekend before start of classes we were treated one evening to a free movie:  Bell, Book and Candle staring James Stewart and Kim Novak.  It’s difficult to exaggerate how foreign this movie was to anything that I had ever experienced.  The movie took place in New York (I came from a small town in Florida), the theme was black magic (my background was four-square Methodist), the characters were sophisticated (I had only known the culturally unassuming), they drank scotch and bourbon often, (I was a teetotaler), they frequented the Zodiac, a night spot, (the only thing I regularly attended at night was prayer meeting), it was a love story with a designing woman (my reference point would have been my mother who tended to be shy and modest).  In short, the movie introduced me to college life—sophisticated, uptown, irreverent, worldly, hip, and forward.  I have come to think that college has great value, but not in the life it sometimes purports.  Like so many other human efforts, it attains value despite its pretensions.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Closing Chapters

Last evening my brother and I visited using Skype.  He had returned to Florida from a trip to Georgia where he and Linda are hoping to firm up a contract for a house this Wednesday.  I viewed pictures of the house and it has beautiful dormer windows and high ceilings in the rooms.  But when I heard they planned to sell their home in Orange Park, Florida, I felt a little sad—not for them of course, but for me.  I could hear a chapter of my life slamming shut.  They have lived in their Orange Park home for seventeen years, and I have memories of visiting there with family and friends.  It’s a large two story frame house with a swing on the porch, with spacious yard all around and has served as a reliable gathering place in my mind.  The memory takes me back to when mother was still living.  I have memories of nieces and nephews propelling their children on a cabled ride spanning a sloping distance between two trees; and swims in a pool hidden away in back fed by an artesian well.  With this close of a life’s chapter, I feel a little older as I think of these experiences in the past when I was younger, when everyone was younger.  It is a great folly to think I can stop time by stopping change—as if I could stop either one.  I have always sought to find a home and put down roots.  I get a sense of security from that, no matter how insubstantial it may be in the end.  After the Civil War the South held its breath for nearly a hundred years hoping that nothing would fundamentally change.  To allow change would be to admit defeat.  But change did come in my lifetime and averted a terrible dead end of racial hatred.  When I consider this, I am grateful for change and acknowledge its necessity and usefulness.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Today in Sunday school

Today in Sunday school we discussed Kunte’s declaration that you cannot always get what you want, you must first get what you need.  This moved to a discussion of prayer.  Mitch said that when we pray, we should be careful about praying for this or that specific thing which we think at the time indispensible to our happiness.  Instead, we should ask God to bless us.  This approach takes into consideration that we don’t always know what’s best for us.  God can bless us in unexpected ways. 

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Power Problems

Today I watched Bruce Almighty and laughed at the limitations of power.  The character Bruce Nolan is given unlimited power except that he cannot violate free will—he has the power of God.  But he uses this power mainly to perform self-centered tricks many of which have bad repercussions.  By saying “Yes” to everyone’s prayers, so many people hit the lotto that the payout for a winning ticket is less than $15 and riots result.  Unlimited power, rather than bringing happiness, brings despair.  The inherent limitations of power become duly obvious the moment such a fantasy becomes faced with the paradoxes of life.  This take on power seriously undermines the “greed is good” philosophy which can be seen as good only so long as fantasy dominates.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Keeping in Style

Today I watched  the movie Remember the Titans.   It tells the story of a high school in the south (T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia) during the early years of racial desegregation and the resultant challenges facing a newly integrated football team.  It was a movie recommended to me in 2005 by an American National Government professor, Erik Lipham.  To me the central story was so compelling and the victory on many levels so significant that I overlooked the flaws found in the movie by critics.  One thing that intrigued me about the movie was the team’s development of a unique style during warm-up.  In musical terms the difference between the typical warm-up style and theirs was the difference between martial band music and jazz.  They found they were so unique and different, that they developed a style to express it.  Style (as a transitive verb) is defined by Encarta Dictionary as:  to give something a particular shape or design.  Since everyone is different, each person develops a unique style.  I’m speaking of the style that resides in a person beyond hair style or clothes worn.  I’m speaking of the style of verbal and bodily expression.  It’s what defines a person and makes their presentation different from all others.  It’s important to find one’s style and have confidence in its worthiness and faithfulness to the essential person.  If one is comfortable with themselves, they are not constantly shopping for a superficial style that imitates others.  Then their unique and true style will find expression.  They and their style are one.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

An Unspeakable Luxury

Today I was a taker. I took paid sick time provided by my employer.  I took a free ride to the hospital and back from Mitch, my Sunday school teacher.  I received first class medical service from administrative matters to preparation by nurses, to due diligence from anesthesiologists, to surgical skills by Dr. Burke.  My knee was repaired, one has to conclude, in the lap of luxury—not only of external material goods, but of untold hours of training and practice on the part of medical professionals.  Additional is the development of these practitioners in terms of character and attitude.  A host of people (medical and nonmedical) over many years provided this intangible but essential groundwork.  Plus there is the present state of all technologies that contributed to treatment.  It is an unspeakable luxury to have all these resources directed at a patient with a knee problem.  I must add when I arrived home, my wife Kathy prepared my meals and brought me fresh peaches to eat.  I was entertained by widescreen movies.  People from work called to express their concern.  Friends kept me in their prayers.  Is it any wonder that I am walking about without using a walker and shunning unnecessary pain medication?  I was offered the best of the best today; and I took it. 

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Expectation Blues

One of the greatest causes of stress and unhappiness in childhood is unrealistic expectations.  The tendency to expect the unrealistic follows us into adulthood and is the cause of needless frustration.  The list of assumptions upon which unrealistic expectations are based is almost endless:  assumptions can be made which leave out important realities such as the degree to which others are willing to accept our plans, the degree to which others are able to effectively deliver our expectations, the degree to which we are prepared to cope with consequences, the degree to which conditions such as health, weather, political or economic readiness are amenable, the degree to which the unexpected including accidents can occur, the degree to which technology is available, the degree to which delay and troubleshooting will be necessary, the degree to which money is available.  A central indicator of maturity is to recognize that the realization of expectations can require understanding, extensive planning and preparation, patience, and sometimes, in the end, denial.  Frequently the timing is not right.  Learning when to voice our expectations in the face of numerous complexities becomes a sign of wisdom.  A child wants fulfillment of their expectations immediately.  A mature adult, even in the express check-out line at Publix, realizes that unexpected delays should not come as surprises. 

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