Saturday, July 11, 2015

We and They. Us and Them

English 101
I have never been greatly proficient in the area of English grammar and composition. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you already know this. I can switch tenses in the middle of a sentence faster than you would have been able to keep up. See there?

We and They. Us and Them. Do you ever struggle with proper usage of these words? We and They are generally used as subject pronouns (We went to the ballpark.... They lost the game.) Us and Them are generally object pronouns (She shared her popcorn with us.... I gave the extra tickets to them.)

We is the nominative plural of I. They is the nominative plural of he, she, and it. Us is the objective case of We. Them is the objective case of They. English grammar and composition. Boring stuff.

One of my favorite records in my music collection is the 1973 Pink Floyd album, "The Dark Side of the Moon." One of the tracks, written by Richard Wright and Roger Waters, is titled "Us and Them."

The opening lyrics say:

"Us and them. And after all, we're only ordinary men.
Me and you. God only knows it's not what we would choose to do."

The meaning of the lyrics are generally accepted to be about war. Two sides to the conflict divided as "us " and "them" when, in fact, both sides are comprised of "ordinary men." And the song eludes to the fact that no one in their right mind would ever deliberately choose war over some other remedy.

I guess it has always been Us and Them. Not just in reference to war. But also human nature.

When we say the word "us" in day-to-day conversation, we usually just mean more than one person with something in common. "Meet us for dinner at Carrabba's." (That actually sounds like a pretty good idea!) Us. You know... US!

But when we talk politically, religiously, culturally... well, then "Us" or "We" takes on a completely different meaning. Here's where we start to divide the goats from the sheep.

Have you heard this lately?

"Look what is happening to Us."
"We shouldn't have to put up with this."
"We want things to be the way they used to be. (For Us.)"
"This country belongs to Us."
"We don't believe that."

When there is an Us or a We....there is inevitably a Them or a They that is being silently referenced.

"Look at what They are doing."
"Why don't you ask Them?"
"Do you know what They believe?"
"They started it."
"They are trying to take over."

Maybe there is not a traditional war being fought right now like World War II where the good guys (Us) are fighting against the evil axis powers (Them) but... make no mistake... we are at war in the United States right now. Watch the news. Read the paper. Go on social media (it's not so "social" right now... btw)

We are at each other's throats.
The Supreme Court says that same sex couples should be allowed to marry. So it's Us and Them.
A Confederate flag was taken down in Columbia, SC. So it's more Us and Them.

You wanna pick a fight? Are you angry? At who? THEM?

Our foundational document in the Library of Congress starts with the word "We."

"We the People of the United States..." That's us. All of us.
" order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States."

How are WE doing these days? How are YOU doing regarding these things?

a more perfect Union...(union means the state of being united)
establish Justice
domestic tranquility
promote general Welfare
secure the Blessings of Liberty

We've got way too much Us and Them right now.

Maybe we all should walk in the shoes of "Them" for a little while and see if maybe we have more important things in common than what we are disagreeing on.

Maybe we are all supposed to be Us.

I think I'll listen to my Pink Floyd album for a while.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Memorial at Emanuel AME Church (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Paul Ekman, noted American psychologist, has described the six basic human emotions as: happiness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust and sadness. In the 1990's he added the following 11 emotions to his list: amusement, contempt, contentment, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride in achievement, relief, satisfaction, sensory pleasure, and shame.

When I heard what happened this past week in Charleston, SC, I, like so many of you, had an emotional reaction. My immediate feeling was surprise. My goodness, nine innocent people in a church studying the bible were gunned down and killed by a young man who had been invited into their circle. Gunned down in a church! Almost immediately I was also (and still am) overwhelmed by sadness. I cannot imagine the gut-wrenching pain that the family and friends of the victims must be experiencing. All of Charleston must be hurting. People all over America are hurting.

As I learned more about who the victims were and who the suspect was, other emotions rose up in me. Nine African Americans were killed by a young, racist white man in the southern United States. A white person was involved in perpetrating violence upon blacks in a church. Unfortunately, this is nothing new in the United States. My mind raced back to my childhood years when I read news stories of black churches being bombed and burned and people being tortured and killed at the hands of racist whites. I am a white man. Even though I cannot grasp and have never known the kind of hatred that it must take to commit such heinous acts; nevertheless, I felt and continue to feel disgust, anger, guilt and shame.

It is tempting to argue that we casual observers have no responsibility in what happened. I am not responsible for the actions of another person. Each of us must account for our own actions. I know that. But, we all contribute to the landscape of our collective environment, even if in only small and subtle ways. It's not our fault we say. We would never do that, we say. We can't do anything about that, we say.

So nothing changes.

I feel such a sadness for what is happening in my country right now. I know all the emotions I experience each day. While my life is by no means perfect, it is a pretty good life, especially when contrasted to what others in our society experience. Honestly, I am usually so focused on what is going on in my little circle, I tend to not think much about others. Or to do much for others. People struggling? It's easier to rationalize that it's their own fault. People hurting? Let someone else deal with it. It's not my responsibility.

Did I contribute to a culture and a disharmony that may have moved this very disturbed, young man over a line that no one should ever cross? I don't know. But if I have contributed in any way, I cannot apologize enough to relieve the guilt and shame that reality would generate.

Those folks in Charleston invited this young man into their circle of friendship and fellowship. Jesus knows something about people within his invited circle turning on Him. And like Jesus, this community in Charleston has demonstrated forgiveness and compassion which leads me to experience something that Paul Ekman never itemized on his list.... hope.

I want us to be better. I want to be better. I want to see as Jesus sees. I want to love as Jesus loves. Lord, help me to be more like You and less like I am right now.

You may not identify with anything I have said here so forgive me because I just needed to write it out. For me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

No Wonder They Don't Bloom

Hydrangea in full bloom
My grandmother was a gardener. Her New Hampshire back yard from late springtime until early autumn was an explosion of color and an experience in sensory overload. Some of my favorite plants were her hydrangeas. Her garden had different varieties, different sizes, and different colors. Those nearly basketball sized blue ones were probably my favorite. My interest was limited to looking and smelling...not weeding, watering, feeding or pruning. I left that to my green-thumbed grandmother.

When Carol and I moved into our current house about seven years ago there were hardly any flowering plants in our yard. Little by little she planted more and more plants including a hydrangea, which, I think, was actually a gift from a friend. It grew larger that first year but never bloomed. We figured it was just too young to bloom. "Next year it will bloom," we said.

This went on for a few years. It became obvious that we just had the bad luck of planting a defective hydrangea plant.... the non-blooming variety apparently. It was still pretty with its bright green branches and leaves, growing fuller every year... just no blue or pink or white blooms like all other non-defective hydrangeas seem to have.

I finally decided to do some research last year on why our hydrangea never bloomed. After doing some very basic study on the topic, I felt a bit foolish after discovering that we did not, in fact, own a defective hydrangea. Our hydrangea had defective owners.

Turns out that different varieties of hydrangeas set their blooms for the next (or upcoming) season differently. Without trying to sound smarter than I am on the subject, let me condense it to this- there are two basic types of hydrangea- those that bloom from "old wood" and those that bloom from "new wood." "Old wood" are the stems and branches grown the prior season. "New wood" is what you see growing in springtime all nice and green. "Old wood" in the dormant season just looks like dead sticks.

If your variety of hydrangea blooms from "old wood" you can't just prune the ugly  "dead looking" branches down to the ground at the end of the summer....that is, not if you want blooms the next year.

So, last fall I asked Carol to not cut back the hydrangeas like she had always done (just like we do with our lantana) to see if my newly found information applied to our bloom-less hydrangea.

Well, guess what?

Our previously "defective" hydrangea
This year we have blooms. LOTS of blooms.

Hydrangeas that bloom on "old wood" set their flower buds for the next year the previous summer. This includes the Mophead, Lacecap and Oakleaf varieties. Paniculates, Endless Summer Series and "Anabelle" varieties bloom from "new wood," meaning; they set their flower buds on the current season's growth.

All this hydrangea knowledge got me to thinking about how we as individuals "bloom." I think, like we saw with our hydrangea, we can sometimes get impatient and discouraged when we don't see results when we think they should come. Maybe it is someone that has struggled or worked hard or prayed and they feel like they should start to see some blooms. And when they don't they just hack everything back down to the ground believing that they are just not going to bloom.  But I think that life can be like those hydrangeas. We may go through a season of life where we believe we are doing everything we are supposed to do to "bloom." And when it doesn't happen that season we hack away... we quit a job, we end a relationship or stop trying, we give up on our teenager, we switch churches or even give up on church altogether.

Or we give up on God. "Why haven't I bloomed by now?" we cry. Maybe we just have to give it some time...let the flower buds get set... and wait for the next season. Not all hydrangeas are the same.

The blooms will come.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

We Can Be Better Than This

Before I get to what I want to say, let me tell you a short story.  I was born in the mid-fifties living in a small town in New England. Our town was multi-ethnic which means that, in addition to the folks like me of Irish/ French Canadian descent, we had people living there that were Italian, Polish, Greek, German and folks descended from several other European countries. However, based on my best recollection, I never had any classmates in my early days in New Hampshire that were Hispanic, Scandinavian, Asian or African American. In fact, the first black kid I ever met was a boy from New York that was part of the Fresh Air program. He was my best friend that summer of 1962. We were inseparable. His name was Jim. I obviously knew that he looked different from me but, I didn't think he was really any different because he enjoyed doing all the same things I liked to do. We climbed trees, caught frogs, played ball, rode bikes, shared Coca Colas and all the other things little boys do. At the end of the summer, when he left to go back home, I remember giving him a hug and was a little embarrassed that I cried in front of everybody.

I don't know what ever happened to Jim. But I have never forgotten him. That summer is engraved on my life. My first encounter with a black person was profound because it was just so normal and natural. A few years later, I moved as a military brat to North Carolina, then South Carolina and realized that things were different in the Carolinas than they were in New England. Forty plus years ago, I landed in Georgia where I live still.

I am a white male born during the baby boomer generation. I am part of the most powerful and influential group of people in the United States today. I don't know what it is like to be in the minority except for those times when I have gone to a foreign country. In America, I’m it. So my perspective on things comes from that reality. I see the world and am seen by the world as not female, not black, not Hispanic, not poor, not all the other things that I am not.

I have never been made to feel different because, for my entire life, I was not different. People that look like me were, and still are, in charge. I'm a man and I’m white. I don't have to provide a history lesson on how our society has treated and considered women in general and people that are not white. The short answer is…differently. Sure, things have changed a lot. Today we say that women are treated equally. We say that people that are not white are treated equally. That’s what we say. And we have said it enough that we believe it. Even when the reality doesn't match the declaration.

When we visited our daughter and son-in-law in Korea I got a small taste of what it feels like to be different. Everyone around us looked Korean (of course) and… different than us. They talked differently. Their habits and customs are different. Some Korean, especially older ones, gave us unwelcome looks on the sidewalks and subway. I wondered what they thought of us. Don't get me wrong; we met many, many friendly Koreans. But what I remember were the looks from those that seemed to not want us there. I got a small taste of what it must be like to be “different”... not in the majority.

My wife remembers being a little girl going downtown with her sister on the city bus with their maid, Louise. Louise was black. The girls always wanted to sit up front and would beg Louise to let them sit there. Louise would tell them that the seats were so much better at the back of the bus and she would walk them back there. She never told them that she wasn't allowed to sit at the front. She just told the little girls in her care that the seats were better at the back of the bus. Different.

Think for a moment what it might be like to be black in America… you are only about 12% of the US population. 88% of America is different than you…76% of what you see are white people, almost half of which are male. Most positions of power and influence are held by white males. 75% of the Senate members are white men, twice the percentage as their population. In the House of Representatives, the percent of white males drops a little to 70%. But, after all… it is the people’s House. But mostly white, male people.

Things are not so good these days. People are marching in the streets all across our country because of recent incidents with police and decisions made by grand juries in Missouri and New York City. Blacks are upset. I understand why. I can probably cite statistics that would suggest that police are justified in their handling of confrontations with blacks since we know that blacks, after all, kill each other at alarming rates and commit crimes at a higher rate than their population would suggest. I could say that people shouldn’t resist arrest or they'll have what’s coming to them. That would be the easy but inappropriate response.

If your wife tells you that a certain attitude or behavior of yours hurts her feelings, you can argue til the cows come home that she shouldn't feel that way because that is not your intention. You can tell her that she should get over it. But that doesn't change how she feels. In fact, that response makes the hurt even worse.

When black people say that they feel like the police, the justice system and authorities treat them differently (more severely and with an assumption of guilt) than they do whites, we can say that it is not true…that is not the intent of the police and others…. that the evidence doesn't match their concern. But that ignores the reality of how many black people feel. And that makes it even worse. We disregard their concerns. We argue and cite statistics. We tell them how many black people kill white cops. Or how many black cops kill white people and how you don’t see people getting all outraged about that. But that misses the point. And it helps nothing.

I wish we could block out all the noise and shouts of racism and just start having some frank, honest, respectful conversations about what we all believe and feel. Talk about what we each see as problems and what we think needs to change. We have to get off the defensive. We have to start treating one another better. We need a change of heart. Early in this blog I told you that I am middle aged, that I am a man, and that I am white. But that isn't my most significant identifier. My bible tells me that I am made in the image of God. That each of us is made in God’s image. I am a child of God and so are you. I need to start behaving that way. And so do you.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Are You Part of a Famous Family?

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Henry Ford
Teddy Roosevelt
William Rockefeller

Cornelius Vanderbilt
Do you ever wonder what it is like to be closely related to a very famous person? I don't mean famous in the smaller sense, I mean famous as in being written about in history books and having documentaries and even movies made about you. Do you ever think about what it was like being the son or daughter of a Vanderbilt or Roosevelt or Rockefeller? What if you were related to Martin Luther King or Henry Ford or Bill Gates?

Bill Gates
Let’s say the famous person was your grandfather and he was an important part of your life for many years… in fact, he is still alive today and he is still an important part of your life. As you matured, you were able to get to know him as more than just a relative or a famous someone that others had heard about…you are able to spend time talking with your grandfather and learning more and more about him. Your grandfather shared things with you that have helped you navigate your life and you know deep in the deepest part of your heart how much you love him and how much you are loved by him. Even though he is extremely well known and famous, to you he is almost like your closest friend and you know that you are a very important part of his very large family. You are aware that his fame came with sacrifice to himself personally but, he was willing to do it because he knew that the people that came after him would benefit from what he did.

I often wonder how people that are related to very famous people talk about them when people inquire. If someone asked about your famous grandfather, would your first inclination be to recite the many things written about him in the history books? Would you describe his accomplishments and talk about what he has done? Or would you just tell them who your grandfather is to you and share what an incredible influence he has had on you and in your life? Would you talk about his nature and tell about the reasons that you love him so much. Would you describe what it is like to be a part of his family? I wonder. See, I think people that are closely related to famous people see them not necessarily as others see them…not the way the writers of history books and movies see them. They know them intimately.

I don't know about you but I don't have any famous people in my family. You won’t read the name Toomey in any history books. The only “famous” Toomeys I know are/ were Regis Toomey (an actor), Bill Toomey (won the decathlon in the 1968 Olympics), and Pat Toomey (a politician in Pennsylvania.) So the hypothetical question I have posed is not one that I have ever had to address.

But, you know what? I am related to a famous person, written about in history books, portrayed in movies and known the world over. His name is Jesus. And I am a part of His family.

When I talk to others about Jesus do I recite what has been written about Him in history books or do I tell people about the relationship I have and the incredible influence He has made in my life? Are you related to anyone famous?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Futbol and Football

Tomorrow morning, the United States soccer team plays Germany. The outcome will determine if one or both of these teams advance to the round of 16 in the World Cup. There will be many Americans glued to their televisions to watch the match. There will also be many Americans that couldn't care less that there is even a sport called soccer.

In most of the world, when you say "football or futbol" they know that you are referring to the sport of soccer. In America, when you say "football," people think of that game played with helmets and shoulder pads on fields with a 50 yard line and goalposts. Every sports fan in America recognizes the names Joe Namath,  Johnny Unitis, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Significantly fewer know (or care) who Pele or Diego Maradona or Neymar or Christiano Ronaldo are.

Regardless, the World Cup is an international sensation. Soccer fans are some of the most obsessed sports fans there are. Correct that...THE most obsessed sports fans. They LOVE their sport.

There is truly no way to compare American football to association football (soccer.) They are completely different games. There are many who describe watching a soccer match to watching paint dry. They don't get what all the fuss is about. Many of the World Cup matches will end 0-0 (that's nil-nil in soccer-speak.) How can you play a 90 minute match and it end in a tie (that's a draw in soccer-speak) they ask. Are you kidding me? Run around for 90 minutes and nobody scores? You find this interesting or exciting?

Another criticism of soccer is all the feigning of injury (called diving in soccer-speak...called "simulation" by FIFA.) I would imagine that rugby players, in particular, get greatly annoyed when watching soccer. Oh look, he was tripped and is writhing around in pain as if he was hit by a truck (rugby players actually do hit you like a truck.) Quite frankly, everyone who watches soccer finds all the diving annoying. Don't blame the sport...blame the players.

Look, soccer isn't American football and it certainly isn't rugby. They are completely different sports. It is not fair to compare them. And enough of the complaints about low or no scoring games. Ever watch a baseball game (America's pastime) that is 0-0 after 9 innings? Don't whine to me about games that can be slow or boring. Soccer isn't the only sport where that can happen.

Here's the thing about soccer. It truly is the world's game. I mean, there is even a team from Algeria...and Ecuador. Not so with football, or baseball, or basketball. Just soccer. And that's why many Americans don't like it. Americans don't dominate soccer like we do the other sports I mentioned. It's not American born and bred.

I watch (and enjoy) soccer once every four years...just like the Olympics. How often do you watch bobsled racing or pole vaulting, or curling, or giant slalom? But you did watch it during the summer or winter games didn't you? As did the whole world. Like I said, the World Cup is a big deal. For a brief moment, the world changes its focus from all the junk going on to watch a team from Iran play a game against a team from Bosnia and Herzegovina (that's one country, not two.) By the way, Bosnia and Herzegovina won 3-1.

Let's be clear though. Come September, this guy will be watching college and professional football every weekend. Maybe I will get lucky and score some tickets to watch my Georgia Bulldogs (that's Dawgs in Georgia-speak) at beautiful Sanford Stadium. But I am perfectly comfortable loving that great sport played every autumn as well as my enjoyment of watching the World Cup. Go Dawgs! Ole Ole Ole!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Father's Day and Saving Private Ryan

I was watching the news a week or so ago and they were talking about the difference in the way that Mother's Day and Father's Day are celebrated...basically suggesting that Dads get shortchanged when compared to the phone calls made, flowers and gifts given, and family get togethers that occur on Mother's Day. Dads don't seem to complain though... my experience is that guys aren't really that hard to please.

I enjoy Father's Day because it reminds me of how blessed I am to have the family I have....a wife that loves me, two wonderful adult children and a great son-in-law. I also enjoyed a great lunch, feasting on a medium-rare, 20-oz. bone-in ribeye, baked potato, salad with bleu cheese dressing and steaming yeast rolls. I was only able to eat half my steak and potato at lunch which meant that I was able to enjoy the leftovers later that night. Yum.

Sunday afternoons frequently include a nap after I get home from church and lunch. On Father's Day I decided to watch a couple of movies in lieu of a nap (actually, I think I did both.) I am a big WWII movie fan so I pulled out "Patton" and "Saving Private Ryan" from my modest Blu-Ray collection. I think part of the reason I love watching these war movies is because it reminds me of the generation for whom I have so much admiration and respect. Growing up, the WWII veterans were such an integral part of the town in which I lived. They were the people in my community that I looked up to.

My dad served in the Navy although I don't think he saw much action during the war. His uncle was also in the Navy and was killed when the ship on which he served was torpedoed and sunk in the Pacific. My dad died almost fourteen years ago and, although our time together when I was growing up was limited due to my parent's divorce when I was young, the times I had with him when I was a kid and as an adult remain precious memories. I miss him. Especially on Father's Day.

I often think about my role as a dad and wonder how my kids will remember me when I'm gone. I know I have made so many mistakes but, my earnest desire is and has always been to be a good dad.

"Saving Private Ryan" is one of my favorite movies. There are so many powerful scenes in that movie but, there are a couple, aside from the intense battle scenes, that seem to hit me right in the heart. I think most everyone has seen this movie so, I don't think I need to issue a spoiler alert.

The movie opens with a modern-day scene in the U.S Military Cemetery at Ste. Laurent-sur-Mer, France with an old man (presumed to be a WWII veteran) walking amongst the white marble grave markers...mostly crosses and stars of David. At the opening of the movie, we are not sure who this character is. We learn a little later in the movie that Private James Francis Ryan has lost all four of his brothers in battle and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall issues orders for eight men from the 2nd Rangers, who have just survived the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, to find Ryan and get him safely back home. But no one knows exactly where he is.

At the latter part of the movie, after Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) has been fatally shot, he pulls Private Ryan (played by Matt Damon) close and whispers in a weak voice "James- Earn this...Earn it." Men have risked and lost their lives trying to find and escort Private Ryan to safety so he can return home and live his life. Captain Miller is telling Ryan to live a life worthy of the men who paid such a high price to rescue him.

The ending scene goes back to where we were in the opening scene. The gentleman, who we now know to be the old man-James Ryan, is there to find the grave of Captain Miller...the one who led the men who risked and lost lives so that he could live. He is very emotional and his wife comes up to his side. Ryan turns to his wife and says, "Tell me I've led a good life." "Tell me I'm a good man." I don't know how a husband and father can watch that scene and not be moved.

Ending scenes

I watched this movie on purpose on Father's Day. Because, as a dad (and husband,) the same desire and reassurance that James Ryan was seeking at the end of the movie, I seek. I want to know that I have led a good life. I want to be a good man. I want to be a good dad. And I want to live a life worthy of the sacrifice that was made for me. And made for you, for that matter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

She loves you (yeah, yeah, yeah!)

50 years ago last night, the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show and 73 million people tuned in to hear the Fab Four sing their sensational music that had exploded onto the American music scene. I was 8 years old and glued to our black and white Philco television set, mesmerized by this new sound and look.

Last night, several of my friends on Facebook were commenting on the Grammys' 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles that was televised on CBS. I was torn between watching Olympic figure skating or watching some of today's most talented musicians pay tribute to Paul and Ringo, the surviving members of The Beatles, as well as paying tribute and acknowledging the incredible contributions of John and George. It was a great night to reminisce. But not everyone that grew up during that time were Beatles' fans. Some preferred other bands or musicians of that day while others may not have been really into music much during that time in their lives. Fan or not, I am sure that the contribution that The Beatles made to modern pop music is acknowledged nonetheless.

I wrote a blog a couple of years ago soon after Don Cornelius of "Soul Train" fame had, sadly, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I wrote then:

Music is an incredibly powerful thing. Every culture has music traditions and, just in my lifetime, I have witnessed the way that music can influence the world around us.

The segregated American society that made up a large part of the 20th century is an historical fact, painful though it is to be reminded of. But there has been one thing that seems to have transcended the racial divide that existed and, in some ways, still exists today...and that is music. From the white, Celtic-influenced Appalachian music that birthed bluegrass, rockabilly, and country the gospel music sung in rural churches, to the black, rhythm and blues music from the Delta, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit...the combination of all which birthed what we call Rock and Roll music. The soul music sound of African-American Detroit artists, on Barry Gordy's Motown Records kept the dance halls rocking and swaying to some incredible music and vocal harmonies.

The older, white generation didn't embrace much of this music...sometimes because it was just so different from the music they enjoyed but also because of racial prejudice. Sadly, many included the "N-word" in describing this new music. But for the younger Baby Boomer generation, I believe the blending of these musical genres and the appreciation for and enjoyment of these new musical sounds went a long way in bridging the racial divide.

As a white kid that loved the likes of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers; I also loved the sounds of the Coasters, the Drifters, Sam and Dave, Ray Charles, James Brown, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, Wilson Pickett, and Marvin Gaye. And just when rock and roll seemed to be losing its way, along came the mid-60's British invasion of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Kinks and dozens of others that had listened to all that America had blended together musically, and reintroduced it to us.

Whether or not The Beatles were your favorite band in the 60's matters not. Like other forms of art and food and fragrance, we all have our personal preferences. Thank goodness we have so much to choose from. I enjoyed last night because it brought back a flood of great memories. Thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo. 

Oh, and my favorite Beatles song? That's a very tough one. There are too many to list but two songs have likely had more plays on my iPod than the others- "No reply" and "I don't want to spoil the party" (and they are both from the Beatles- For Sale album.) What is your favorite?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Amazing Grace

Sin. You realize that this word really has only one definition, right? I mean, we can use it in our day-to-day conversation in ways that somehow muddy up its meaning. “Did you eat any of that chocolate dessert? It’s absolutely sinful!” [Cake isn't sinful.] “It’s just a sin that everyone wasn't able to get into that concert…it was that good!” [Inability to get into a concert isn't a sin.]

Here’s the thing about sin. None of us avoid it. All of us commit it. But here’s another thing… we seem to be more concerned [maybe even obsessed] with the sin of others than our own. [Jesus used the illustration of the speck in someone else’s eye versus the log in your own.] Do I have a log in my eye? Of course I do. But I like it better if I can rationalize that the speck is in my eye and the log is in yours.

Hey, Westboro Baptist Church- do you want to demonstrate in front of a place where sinners are? Then why aren't you carrying signs out in front of my house? I mean, there are only three of us here right now but... my house is occupied 100% by sinners.

By the way, have you seen the “Official Sin Grading Scale” that ranks sins from top to bottom…from least to first? I bet it’s an even better read than Letterman’s Top 10 List. I’m kidding…there really isn't an official sin grading scale. But there IS an unofficial list. We all have made one. The thing is…my most common sins are (fortunately) not in the top 10 on my list (I’m glad I’m using my grading scale otherwise….geesh I’d feel pretty filthy and unworthy.)

The trouble is that Sin # 8,341,890 on my list had the same effect on my relationship with God as Sin #1. It means that I am 100% disobedient. I know, I know…this doesn't quite seem us. Sin #1 is far more detestable (to me) than Sin #8,341,890. But I’m not the One that has been offended. I don’t get to set the standard. The One who created me does. Tell one lie and I am a liar. Lust one time and I am an adulterer (that’s right…adulterer.) Think one immoral thought and I’m a deviant. Withhold one thing from someone in need and I am a thief. And murderer? By Jesus’ standard, I am that too.

The good news? The REALLY, REALLY good news? God does not condemn me for my sins. Why? Because of the saving work of Jesus on the cross and my acceptance of His gift of grace, my sins yesterday, my sins today, and my sins tomorrow are forgiven. I have been pardoned. You might not forgive me for my sins and I certainly can understand that. I too struggle with the sin I see all around me. I want people to stop sinning. I especially want myself to stop sinning. I can definitely relate to Paul who wrote in his letter to the church at Rome: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do. But what I hate, I do." (Romans 7:15 NIV) But, I come back to this point…why am I so concerned with the sin around me and seemingly less concerned about the sin within my own heart? Maybe it makes me feel better about myself. Thankfully, God hasn't deputized me to be His law enforcer. If He did, my first action would have to be locking myself in jail... marking a swift end to my career in law enforcement.

58 years ago, when I was born unexpectedly early in a little town hospital in Maine weighing only 3 pounds; for some reason, God saved me from most certain death. The priest had been summoned to baptize and pray some last rites over me. But I was spared. 29 long years later I asked Jesus to take my life and He saved me all over again...but this time for eternity. And since then, sin separates me from Him no more.

Nobody ever wrote a song titled "Amazing Law."

It’s called Grace. Amazing Grace.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So, how do I join?

There are many living choices available to us as Americans. We have city dwellers and we have people that live in rural communities. Some, trying to split the difference, have moved out to the suburbs...close to the city but farther out in the country. We have people that live in gated communities that allow entry only with membership or a temporary pass. Some folks own their homes, or townhouses while other rent houses or apartments. Communities like Celebration, Florida are effectively self contained towns complete with schools, churches, shops, parks and recreation amenities all the while nestled away from others that are not a part of that community.

There are even people that prefer a more nomadic existence. More and more people have become full time RV'ers (recreational vehicles owners.) Many of these have sold houses and possessions and scaled down into living spaces on wheels packed into less than 400 square feet. Moving around the country, they drop anchor wherever they please, stay as long as they please and then...shove off to another camping site.

All of these different living choices have advantages and disadvantages...some cost significantly more than others with differing levels of comfort and privacy. As I get closer to retirement age, these living choices become more interesting to ponder.

Did you know that there is an alternative living arrangement that may be superior to all the others when it comes to affordable living? What would you think about a community that:

  • Provides free housing albeit with smaller than normal living space
  • Meals are provided at no cost. Your only costs are for extra items like snacks, candy, etc.
  • Free television. My cable bill runs about $150 per month. How would you like free TV?
  • Free phone service although cellular coverage is nearly non-existent
  • Clothing is provided
  • Utilities are no extra charge.
  • Recreation and exercise spaces are available to all community members
  • Free health care including dental
  • No lawncare required
  • Free transportation outside of the community but who would ever leave?
  • Educational opportunities are provided at no cost. This includes technical training.
  • On site library
  • On site rehab where applicable
  • Some parts of the community provide complete solitude
  • Gated community
  • Security is provided at no charge and no one has ever broken into one of these communities.
  • Community is completely desegregated. People of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds are included.
  • Religious services and religion specific studies are available
  • Intramural sports exist at most of the communities.
  • There are communities available all across the United States so you may not even have to leave the state where you currently reside
  • You pay no rent, no taxes, no dues, no utilities, no maintenance fees, nor homeowners dues
  • Some members of the community are allowed to stay their entire lifetime, others are required to leave after a specific number of years. Turnover is necessary in order to accommodate new members.
OK!! By now I'm sure you are on the edge of your seat to know how to enjoy all of the benefits of this alternative living arrangement. So I guess now we get to hear the sales pitch. What is the name of this community?


Federal prison.

SeaTac Federal Detention Center- Seattle, WA
There are any number of ways that you can arrange to get yourself eligible to be a part of this community. I'll let you figure that part out.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A King With Worms

I don't see any worms?
I know this is a strange blog title and you may be wondering if I am merely using it metaphorically. Nope. This is about a king... and worms.

You know... these days there aren't nearly as many kings lording over countries as there were back in the olden days. And, even in those countries that still have kings and queens, most times the country is actually run by a parliament, prime minister or other political apparatus.

England in the late 1400's was ruled by a king. King Richard III was the monarch of the British Empire for all of 2 years. He died in battle in 1485, seven years before Christopher Columbus sailed to the West Indies and founded the Sandals Resorts in the Caribbean.

A year ago, King Richard's remains were discovered... underneath the Grey Friars Church parking lot in Leicester, England. I know it's not really funny but...I keep thinking about that song that says "they paved Paradise...put up a parking lot."

Seems in 1935, they believed that they had discovered Richard when a leaden coffin and skeletal remains were discovered at the ruins of the Church of St. Mary in Leicester. Turns wasn't Richard III....or any Richard for that matter.

The under-the-parking-lot remains found last year have been scientifically shown to be the real deal. The DNA from the remains match samples from modern day descendants and the skeleton shows signs of scoliosis (twisted spine) as well as eight battle wounds to the head...all consistent with what is known about him. But it seems old Richard had something else going on before he died.

He had worms.

Now, if your stomach didn't just now turn a bit...well, I'm not sure what to think.

The evidence from the remains most likely shows that Richard suffered from roundworms (roundworm eggs are quite hardy and resist decomposition and erosion.) Chances are the good king ingested roundworm eggs from food that was contaminated with...well.....poo. Roundworms (Ascaris lumbricoides) can live in the gut and its eggs follow your southbound highway back out to the light of day. Unfortunately, the light of day is where food is grown and handled and where most of our poor sanitary habits take place.

In 2013, we don't think of human beings as having these nasty, parasitic creatures living inside of us. We don't see them but we can certainly see the evidence of their existence. And then we can spread it around for others to possibly get. In fact, while roundworm is very uncommon in humans in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.2 billion people worldwide suffer from roundworm. Yes, billion with a "b." The World Health Organization claims that roundworm claims 60,000 lives each year. Tragically, most are children.

In the 1400's, it didn't matter if you were a mere serf toiling in the fields, a prisoner chained to a wall in some prison, a wealthy landowner and noble...or even a king. You were not immune to the possibility of something inside of you that could kill you and that you could share with those around you because of your own and their poor habits. Richard's physical death was not caused by this thing inside of him which was eating him away. No, he was fortunate to die in battle. His predecessor, King Richard I may have had the heart of a Lion...but King Richard III had the gut of a hound.

Most likely, you and I don't have roundworm. But, as humans, we were born carrying around something more insidious inside of us that doesn't discriminate between young or old, rich or poor, man or woman. Even if we had not been born with it, we would have, because of our nature, freely ingested it at some point. And, because we have it, it affects the people around us. And, left untreated, it brings death.

Romans 3:23 says "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
Romans 6:23 says "for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord"

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Do you believe the words you sing?

In that dynamic and exciting world of church hymnals, there is a controversy that has been growing over the last few months. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has dropped a familiar and widely loved hymn- "In Christ Alone"- from their new hymnal. This hymn, unlike many that fill the pages of the book in the pew rack in front of you, is only about ten years old... a mere infant in hymn-dom.

This body of the Presbyterian church (not to be confused with the more conservative but smaller body known as the Presbyterian Church in America) wanted to publish the song in their new hymnal but wanted to make a modification to the lyrics. Ultimately, the hymn authors, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, did not approve the request to change the lyrics. To be fair, the change had already been published in a different hymnal and so, PC(USA) thought that the other hymnal publisher had previously gotten permission (which they had not.) As the authors and holders of the copyright, Townend and Getty own the song and own the rights to how it can or can't be modified. If I paint my house blue and you don't like it and come over and paint it can't do's not YOUR house, it's mine. You can't, without permission, change the words to a copyrighted song. PC(USA) decided their only option was to leave the song out of their hymnal.

The problem came down to a part of the song that says: "...on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied." The Presbyterian Church (USA) does not agree with the theology of that particular line. They wanted to publish their hymnal with these revised words: "...on the cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified." Musically, I think it is a pretty good revision. The number of syllables remains unchanged, the word "magnified" and "satisfied" both rhyme beautifully with the last word ("died") in the previous line just like good songs should. You would never really notice any difference singing the original words or the new words. It's not like they were wanting you to sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun," or "Peaceful, Easy Feeling," or the theme song from Gilligan's Island. It's just a couple of simple words!

What's the big deal? Good songwriters generally choose their lyrics carefully. I doubt that Townend and Getty disagree that God's love was, in fact, magnified on the cross. It's not what the Presbyterians wanted to add to the song that was the problem...I think it's what they wanted to remove. Theologically, some have a problem with the idea that God's wrath was "satisfied" by Jesus' death on the cross. Debate exists over what Jesus' death on the cross meant. Presbyterians disagree. I'm a Baptist. I'm sure fellow Baptists disagree on this theological point. I won't try to explain the many points of disagreement because that would take up more space than a blog allows.

So, who are these picky people that scrutinize the words of songs that closely? My gosh, it's a great song, with a great tune and I hear it played frequently on my local Christian radio station must be a good one. Personally, I have no problem with the original lyrics and believe I understand what Townend and Getty were saying in the song... including the line in question.

As a worship leader, I get requests sometimes daily about a song that someone believes would be a great new song to include in our Sunday morning repertoire. The song may have a great driving beat that will generate lots of energy into the service..or it may have a really great "hook" in the song which is always a powerful attraction. Or it might be a song that was sung at a recent conference or is popular at other churches in town. It may have a really sweet piano part throughout or a really cool guitar ride after the chorus. It might be a real toe tapper or hand clapper or even one that may move you to tears.

I do wonder sometimes, though, if folks read or pay attention to the words in the song they request or suggest. I sometimes want to ask, "can you tell me a little about what the song says?" Should it be important to think about what is actually being said to or about God in that song? Now, I understand many songs, especially those in modern, contemporary music, are just good, fun songs not meant to convey any deep theological message. But do you even agree with the words you want to sing? Look, I'm not a music snob that turns his nose up at certain songs or certain styles or genres. I have heard Christian hip hop songs that have lyrics that are more true and relevant than songs that have been in the Baptist Hymnal for the last 60 years.

I think the words we sing in worship matter just as much as the words we pray and the words that the pastor preaches. I know it is difficult some Sunday mornings to sing songs that do not convey where you are at that moment. I know it can be very hard to sing a song of joy if, at that moment in your life, you are feeling as low as you can be. On the other hand, I believe that by singing words that are beautiful and true, it can lift us up closer to God as we sing to glorify and praise Him.

Like the title of my blog says...this is... one man's opinion. Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Life Well Lived

I am hesitant to write a blog about a good friend that passed away yesterday. My hesitancy is out of concern that I will do an injustice by not having the right words or that I will somehow dishonor his memory because of my lack of skill in articulating what is on my heart.

I consider myself incredibly blessed to have known Jake Malone and to call him my friend. My friendship with Jake began when Carol and I joined First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia way back in the early 1980's. Jake was one of the ministers on staff then and continued to be until early this year when he was diagnosed with cancer and his health no longer allowed him to work. He served First Baptist for 33 years in many ministry areas...youth, recreation, senior adults and church administration. But Jake's influence on First Baptist (and folks all over the community and world for that matter) went far beyond his ministry titles or specific job duties in those roles. With the support (and I'm sure gentle prodding now and then) of his loving ministry partner Delores, his wife of 44 years, Jake showed us what loving Jesus and serving Jesus looks like.

Jake was a lover of people because I think he took very seriously Jesus' command to us to love others. But I don't think Jake loved out of a sense of obligation. He just had that kind of heart. Jake demonstrated that love sometimes with bear hugs (and that is the only appropriate description for a hug from Jake Malone,) big smiles, a listening ear, a prayer with you, gentle advice, firm guidance, great encouragement and a genuineness that few people possess.

Not sure how people felt about Jake Malone? If you have a Facebook account, log in and look up his Facebook page (I apologize if you can't access it.) Read the comments. Read the testimonies from people from all over the world that were touched by this wonderful man. I will never forget the countless times Jake spoke words to me, often with tears in his eyes, that were intended to lift me up, to encourage me, to make me feel like I was special. But I also think that Jake was simply speaking the words that he thought Jesus would speak to me if He were sitting in front of me.

Jake was by no means a perfect man. He would be the first one to admit that. But he had a perfect Savior and Jake tried to live a life that was in accordance with how he thought God wanted him to live.

That's a life well lived.

Matthew 22:36-40

New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Most words in the dictionary will have two, maybe three definitions. The word "new" has upwards of seven or more. We hear this word used in so many contexts. New car (with the new car smell.) New baby. New person. New boyfriend. New moon. New job. New strain of virus. New friend. New house. Turning over a new leaf.

Reading these various uses of the word, we can see the subtle and also considerably different meanings. When you say that you bought a new car, we could assume that you are the first retail buyer ever of the car. If the car is a 2012 model, you might feel compelled to clarify (so as not to mislead) ..."sure, it is last year's model...but... it is still new." If I said that I was moving into a new house or new apartment would you automatically assume that I was the first person to ever occupy the house or apartment? Probably not. New house can mean...different than the last one I occupied. If you were told that a couple had a new baby you wouldn't think it a strange term because you've never heard of "used" babies. New can mean recent as in new friend or new job. Nobody, of course knows the difference between a full moon and a new moon except those geeky people that have "ologist" in their job or hobby title. I'd love a new truck but... a new strain of virus?...uh, not so much.

Had I been contemplating such things at 6:00 am this morning, I would have recognized that today was (and is) a new day. [Warning- going on short tangent here] Why isn't new day one word? We have TOday, YESTERday, SOMEday, FRIday (thank goodness), but we don't have ANYday, NEWday (at least not if being grammatically correct.) Then, to make it even more confusing, we have everyday and every day which have totally different meanings...[END of tangent...sorry]

Back to the new day. The reality is that every day is a "new" day. It's never been seen before (the movie Groundhog Day notwithstanding.) When the day ends at midnight, that day will forever be gone. People my age often speak about the "old days" sometimes preceded by the modifier "good." Not sure exactly the specifics of when those "good old days" were but, they usually are referring to a time in the past when things were perceived as being "better." Some want to hold on to the old days...I understand that sentiment but, I am much more excited about the new days because how can you live in the past? And why would you want to?

The pastor of my church has challenged the congregation to embrace the idea of "A New Day." This Sunday, we will embark on a new Sunday worship schedule that is, in part, intended to allow for better use of our gifts of music, preaching, hospitality and worship. But the newness of that day goes far beyond a schedule change.

When our pastor, Greg speaks of a "new day" one would naturally think about which definition of "new" should apply. Certainly Sunday will be a new day in that it has never occurred before. Saturday will, at that point, be history. Sunday will be new. What is expected to be new about it?

Sometimes we are asked to look and see with new eyes. We are often challenged to embrace and demonstrate a new attitude. Occasionally we hear someone declare that they have turned over a new leaf...become a new person. We know that in each of these things, what we are really talking about is a change of heart. Not to mean that the old heart is not rightly focused...but maybe not the heart that God wants from each of us. My heart is not always in accord with fact, it is frequently a heart focused more on me than Him. Maybe what Greg is talking about is that I need to see with new eyes, hear with new ears, worship with new priority and passion, love others with new vigor, change with new courage, forgive with new church with a new heartbeat.

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has been made new! 2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV

I wrote a song several years ago. The chorus goes like this: "I want to know the way to... live a life that's brand new... to embrace the One who loves me as I am. I don't want to stay in the place I am today. Lord show me the way...from wilderness to You."

Don't we all really yearn to be "new?" I know I do.

Sunday at First Baptist Augusta

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2009 Toomey Music. All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Naked. And. Afraid.

Maybe you have watched the new survival themed television show, "Naked and Afraid." It is not dissimilar to some of the other survivor type reality shows. Well, it is different in one regard. The man and woman (strangers) are dropped into some survival setting with nearly nothing...each one gets to choose only one item. Oh, and get this...they are buck naked. Fortunately, the network blurs out the exposed parts that your Momma (and the network censors) always said you should keep covered up. Rear camera angles...not so much blurred. Some of the folks are married (although not to each other.) Both folks have an above average level of survival skill experience. They have to survive for 21 days on some remote island, jungle, desert...whatever...relying on their individual survival skills and each other. The first episode I watched (honestly I couldn't make it through the whole episode) was on immediately following the broadcast of Nick Wallenda walking across the Grand Canyon. cable box was already tuned to that station.

By the end of the 21 days (not all have made it to the end) both of the survivors look quite different from when they began. They usually have lost significant weight and look quite disheveled to say the least. It's almost like they have been in a battle. Naked. And. Afraid.

In the 3rd Chapter of Genesis, we read the story of Adam and Eve's disobedience of God's command not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden...the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God from among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." Gen 3:8-10 NIV

Prior to this, it seems that neither the man nor the woman ever thought twice about the fact they were without garments or coverings. Of course, the "nakedness" of our first parents really had very little to do with a lack of clothing. Their disobedience had been uncovered and they were now fully exposed. And they were afraid. They even tried to cover themselves (their sin) with garments of their own making. We see very early in Scripture that man and woman are unable to cover their sin by their own efforts. God steps in and covers their nakedness with garments of His making...the skins of animals. This required the shedding of blood as the animals were sacrificed in order to provide the covering.

A lot has happened in the world of garments since that time. We are quite proud of our coverings. We spend a lot of money for our coverings. Surely, our clothing provides protection from the elements but, our clothing is still primarily to cover up our nakedness.

Do you ever feel naked...and afraid? Do you ever feel like you have been stripped down and left with nothing? Maybe your life feels a bit like it is falling apart. You feel like you are so exposed. You feel vulnerable, uncertain, unprotected...and maybe all alone. And it feels like everyone's piercing eyes are trained on you with looks of judgement or pity or scorn. You feel naked...and afraid.

We all struggle. Life comes at us sometimes like the soothing warmth of a morning sunrise. Ah, those days are so good. And we rejoice. Other times it comes at us like a raging hailstorm, pelting us with stones of pain or failure or regret. Some days life is just so hard. Life can strip us of all the things in which we find comfort and peace and contentment. Sometimes we find ourselves naked. And that can be scary.

I'm no bible statistician but, I'm pretty sure one of the most repeated messages from God is something like this: Fear Not...Do NOT Be Afraid. God sees you. God knows your circumstance. And like the emergency responder who has plucked you from the icy waters, armed with a warm blanket wrapping it tightly around you with caring, strong hands...God wraps his mighty arms around you with His blanket of lovingkindness.

Sometimes, I'm like Adam wanting to hide from my Heavenly Father. I feel naked and I am afraid. But just like when God asked Adam, "Where are you?" ...He knows exactly where I am. And he knows exactly what I need.

I need Him.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't judge a book by its cover

What's inside?
Who is not familiar with this admonition? Not to insult your intelligence; but, I do want to dissect this phrase just a bit. The phrase says that we shouldn't prejudge based solely on what the outward appearance may suggest. Is the phrase always applicable? Is there ever a time when a book should be judged by its cover?

Stereotyping exists. So does prejudice and discrimination. Is stereotyping always inaccurate? Is it a pejorative term? Does stereotyping typically lead to prejudice and discrimination? The subject of stereotyping is very complex and has been studied from many different psychological perspectives. I don't propose to be an expert on the topic. I just know it exists. The reasons why are as varied as the stereotypes themselves. Let's look at a few statements that could be considered stereotyping.

Women are bad drivers.
Jews are greedy.
Hispanics are lazy.
Hispanics are very hard workers.
Asian students are more intelligent than their non-Asian counterparts.
Blacks are poor swimmers.
Germans make good engineers.
People from the American South are "rednecks."
People from California are liberal.
Yankees are rude.
All my ex's live in Texas (Sorry, I just needed to lighten the mood)

We have all heard these statements. In fact, there are bad drivers that are female... you could find a Jewish person that is greedy... there are lazy as well as extremely hard working Hispanics... you could find an Asian student that is at the top of her school class.... I am sure there are some blacks that cannot swim... Germany does have some very talented engineers...rednecks do exist in the South... a liberal may not be hard to find in California...and yes...all Yankees are rude (OK, I'm kidding, I'm kidding.) Oh, and I have no ex's in Texas.

To say that women are bad drivers suggests that ALL or, at least the majority of women are poor drivers. Wrong, all-inclusive suggestions apply to the other statements as well. We know that these statements, made in a general sense, are false.

These are commonly heard stereotypes but I wouldn't ever try to defend any of these statements because I do not agree with them. Unfortunately these are not the most offensive stereotypical beliefs that are out there. There are certainly worse ones.

The original topic was judging a book by its cover. Does our outward appearance send some type of message to those that see us? How do you react or what would you assume if you saw:

  • A young man with spiked hair dyed red, arms and neck covered in tattoos, multiple piercings, and grungy, black clothing, with the name/graphic of a violent/fantasy video game on his shirt?
  • A woman in a very tight, very short skirt, 7 inch heels, very low cut top showing lots of cleavage?
  • A woman in a business suit carrying a briefcase and a Venti size Starbucks coffee cup?
  • A burly, tattooed man with long beard, do-rag, no shirt, leather vest with various patches/logos/slogan on back, black leather boots, wallet with long chain attached to belt loop of his jeans on a very loud Harley Davidson motorcycle?
  • A young man wearing boxer shorts with pants below his buttocks, white tank top T-shirt, gold teeth, NY Yankees hat turned to the side on his head, talking in street language, smoking a Blunt cigar, making what appears to be gang symbols?
  • A man in a lifted pickup truck with gun rack and Confederate flag, NASCAR and Browning rifle decals, wearing camo, mullet hairstyle?
  • A obese woman in overly tight sweatpants, bedroom slippers, a stained tank top that doesn't cover her mid-riff accompanied by several children and shopping in Dollar General?
  • A teenage boy carrying a bookbag, wearing khakis, loafers, button-down oxford shirt with a tie and blue blazer?
  • An underweight, teenage girl with very pale skin, black lipstick, all black clothing, long black hair with a stud in her nose and tongue?

Have you ever seen people whose appearance was similar to what I have described? Would you likely have some internal or emotional response if you saw the people as I have described? Would you make assumptions based on these appearances alone? Do you believe your assumptions would be relatively accurate? Some of these appearances are intentionally meant by the person to identify oneself with a particular group. Some are driven by pop culture. Some of these appearances are circumstantial. Some aspects of these looks serve a utilitarian purpose (i.e. briefcases hold papers, pens, folders...leather boots protect bikers' feet and ankles... some students are required to wear uniforms...hunters put rifles in gun racks.)

Sometimes we make judgments when we see people that do not look like or dress like or act like us. Some of these appearances impress us, some titillate us, some evoke pity, some frustrate us, while some intimidate or frighten us. Just like we cannot make assumptions about even the people around us that we resemble or associate with the most, we should not make assumptions about the people we do not have much association with that do not look like or dress like or speak like or act like we do.

So how do we overcome these stereotypes? First, refuse to embrace them yourself. Acknowledge that it is wrong and inaccurate to judge or stereotype groups of people of the same religion, race, gender, socioeconomic status, political party affiliation, sexual orientation, regional citizenship or outward appearance based on the behavior or ideas or appearance of individuals of the same identification.

I have known people that fit reasonably close some of these descriptions above and it was consistent with the stereotype that is commonly associated with people that look that way. But I have also known people that had some of those same appearances that were nothing at all like what the stereotypes would suggest.

So...let's try hard not to judge a book by its cover. I will promise to try as well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Parkway

Cruella (Deville) and I on The Parkway
Have you ever been drawn to a place? Is there a place to where you almost seem called to be? For many, it is an ocean side or lake side, or river side location that is special to you. For others it might be a mountain top or maybe a meadow or a canyon. Still others may yearn for wind in their sail as they skip over a calm sea. There is so much beauty around us that it is no surprise that we find ourselves drawn to certain special places. For of those special places is a road. It's not just any is is a stretch of pavement that ribbons 469 miles over the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina. It is the Blue Ridge Parkway. With its back to Shenandoah National Park, the parkway begins at Rockfish Gap near Waynesville, VA and it reaches its end at the Oconaluftee River at the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC. What is in between those two points is a road rich in history, culture, scenery, foliage and fauna.

Kancamagus Hwy- Rte 112 in New Hampshire
I have been traveling (camping/ hiking/ lazing) on and around the parkway since the mid 1970's, not long after moving from New Hampshire to Georgia. My wife and kids likely cannot remember a time when they weren't riding on the parkway with Dad (Oh gee Dad, look, there is another mountain or ...tree gosh are we ever going to get off this parkway?) I was skeptical, upon my first visit, that this road would be at all comparable to the great highways like those that that snake through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Green Moutains of Vermont. In particular, I was certain that this Blue Ridge Parkway was no match for the Kancamagus Highway that cuts 34.5 miles through White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. But I was wrong. The Blue Ridge Parkway's beauty owes no apology to any other of our country's magnificent motorways.

Cabin at Humpback Rocks, VA
One of the things that makes this parkway unique is that it stretches across the backbone and valleys of the southern Appalachians and cuts through the mountain culture of the German and Scotch-Irish people that populated this area from the early days of our country's history. Unlike what happened when the Skyline Drive was built through Shenandoah National Park, this time the Department of the Interior was intentional in not evacuating the people and razing their cabins after purchasing their land. They were determined to maintain as many of the physical structures as possible that depicted the early 20th century mountain culture. In most ways, this isolated culture more resembled life from the preceding century. The depression era road building project began in 1935 utilizing the many unemployed of Virginia and North Carolina through the recently created Civilian Conservation Corp and was a project on the grandest scale. The final section around Grandfather's Mountain, NC, which included the building of the Linn Cove Viaduct, was completed in 1987.
Linn Cove Viaduct

Over the last week, I spent some time traveling along the parkway... once again being reminded of the beauty that is this region. While dodging deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrels and spandex clothed cyclists on my 45 mph journey, my senses were in overdrive as I was in awe once again to behold the majesty of God's creation. We always associate God's proximity to us as being....up. I think the mountains give us a sense of being closer to the One that created them...and us. I'll be back.

John Brown's a-Hanging on a Sour Apple Tree