Story, Yet Unrealized

The June 1st rains are falling steadily. It is Tuesday…but it feels like Monday. Yesterday was Memorial Day. We are a country that is based on an idea. The idea is really a grand experiment that encompasses the family of man. Many nations…if not most…arise from their shared ethnicity. I visited the military cemetery at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. MJ’s uncle and aunt moved there when they retired, from Southern Illinois. Merle fought in World War II. He and Lauretta are buried at Ft. Bliss. As I walked among the white grave stones I saw crosses carved into some of the markers…but I also saw Stars of David and Crescent and Stars. Men and women from all nationalities and religions and ethnicities fought and died for our freedom and for the Story that they had been taught about the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. They lay down that which was most precious to them for the Story that captivated their imaginations and held their hearts. Many had come to the United States from lands that they suffered oppression in. Many came because they were hungry and afraid….and they saw the Great Lady,’ lift her lamp beside the Golden Door.’

‘Not like the brazen giant of greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land,

Here at our sea-washed gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lighting, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

‘Keep ancient lands, you stored pomp!’

Cries she

With silent lips . “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-most to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

Emma Lazarus

African Americans inspire me. With all of the suffering that they have endured in our land of opportunity…yet they still love this country… The untold pain of slavery and the extreme prejudice and ‘Jim Crow’ and the Tulsa Massacre that happened 100 years ago…and yet they still strive to realize the fulfillment of the Story of our county…

The Story of what the United States can be is unparalleled in its supreme beauty and simplicity. It is a Story that I was taught in school that we had already realized…but I was taught wrong. The idea of America is a nation of all peoples…a melting pot…a gathering of God’s creation…the human family… and strength and traditions of many cultures. It is an idea that is free of marginalization and it a lot like the Bible Story Books that I read as a child…’Jesus love the little children…all the little children of the world…red yellow black and white…all are precious in his sight…Jesus loves the little children of the world.’

Life Among the Potsherds

‘Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.’ Job 2:8. NIV

Have you ever considered what life would be without man’s inhumanity to his sisters and brothers? Recently a Congresswoman has equivocated the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid19 to the Holocaust. You may ask yourself how could anyone be so heartless or cruel…or so stark in their ignorance of what they were saying. Our United States Capitol was stormed by insurrectionist on January 6 of this year. Many stated that they wanted to hang Vice President Mike Pence. Others proclaimed that they were going to kill the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. It is looking bleak that 10 Republican Senators will come forward to vote for a non-partisan committee to examine what happened on one of the most dangerous and horrific days in our country’s history.

Political Winds are blowing against truth telling and the protection of our democracy and the future and viability of our country…and 1 Congresswoman had the courage to stand up and speak on the nations behalf rather than her own personal interest and political expediency. The political leaders of the minority party in the House and the minority party in the Senate say that there is, ‘Nothing to see here…move along…nothing to see here!’ Yet both men spoke out against the current president at that time…of the devastation… and felt the severe sting of fear for their lives…

San Jose, California has been the latest mass shooting. If I was a resident of another country…I would be afraid to travel to the United States. In some quantum theories there is the hypothesis that we are all computer simulations and that nothing that we experience is real. If this were true I would think that God is watching and seeing that his creation has a fatal flaw and that the game needs to either be rebooted or replaced. So, whatever postulations there are regarding our planet and its’ inhabitants…this is indeed our reality…our suffering…and at times our joy when when humanity cares about each other.

The politicians lie.

The homeless cry.

The innocents die.

People ask why?

It is Shonda.

We scrape boils.

Head to foot.

Curse God.

And die.

Yet in our flesh.

We will see God.

Your Future Is Now

Many of us enjoy procrastination…at least a little. We know that in the future we will have more time and more energy and more inspiration to accomplish those visions of our destiny that we somehow can not fulfill…today. I always told myself that I wanted to write but did not get up the steam to do so until 2014. Oh do not misunderstand me…I wrote once in a while, but I was always waiting for the right time and the right place and the muse of inspiration to sit beside me…for the task. Although I have written a lot in the past 7 years I have yet to write a novella or a novel. I think that the time has arrived.

Our pastor, Kerry, is a skilled playwright and can spin off a yarn in record time. My book could be surrounding a multitude of subjects that interest me and yet I must focus on a plot that is limited in scope and yet be a manuscript that can be encompassed in 100 – 200 pages. I was writing a book about former President Trump…but lost interest when my fictional account could not keep up with the incredible story line that was in the news each day.

How often I have heard friends and colleagues exclaim that once they retire they were going to do some traveling. Many of the folks that made these statements to me…were already senior citizens. I wondered when their travel plans were going to reach fruition. When Aaron and Jonathon were young…MJ and I traveled with them as much as our budget would allow. We wanted them to be exposed to as many experiences and cultures and peoples that they possibly could be. We have been all over the United States and traveled to Europe on three occasion with our sons and we just returned from Miramar Beach, Florida for a family holiday.

Life is unpredictable. The only thing that is certain…is change. We are like the man spoken of in the Bible…we build barns and tear them down to build bigger ones. Capitalism has become the bedrock of many fundamentalist churches. The Prosperity Doctrine has prospective Christians in line for their big payoff. There is such a Grand Canyon between the rich and poor in the United States that it is incredible to me that some ministers, who this doctrine seems to work for, preach this falsehood to their poor and impoverished congregations. There are over 600 billionaires in the U.S. that became much richer during our Pandemic. In the company that you work for there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of employees and a handful of executives at the top of the pyramid. The executives and owners become increasingly rich while those that provide the means for their leaders to become rich…often go without a raise and live in semi-poverty.

Each day is a new gift from God. Many of them we choose to sleep away or spend our gift worried about what others think of us or what impression that we are making by our wealth and material accumulation. All that we can lay our eyes upon and all that we admire…returns to dust. Why not enjoy today and seek fulfillment in the dreams that you have for yourself and your family…

Where Have All The People Gone?

Bob Dylan sang, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin,’ This was true at the song’s release in 1964…and it is true today. I was watching a documentary on CNN with newscaster and commentator, Fareed Zakaria, who noted that the United States is rapidly becoming a secular society. Denominational churches are diminishing in congregants on an annual basis. Many churches have been forced to either close or to shrink their paid staff and often they are unable to afford a full time paid pastor. Yet our country is full of sad and lonely people who feel unfulfilled and unloved. Many of our fellow citizens can relate to the thousands of Covid 19 victims who died alone in their ICU hospital beds. They would cry…but there is no shoulder, other than their own…to cry on.

Our neighbors have heard of the love of Christ…but many have not seen or felt the illustration of it…accept in a Bible Story Book. We that are still members of churches…often have our own little club that we like very much. The music is just like we want it and the pastor preaches what we want to hear…and not longer than we specify…or we are sure to correct him before the next Sunday service. We see the throngs outside of our church doors…the hungry and the homeless and those who have neither coat nor cloak…and their barefeet are soiled from their journey on the rocky road of life. We wonder what we would do…if they wanted to come in.

Easy it is to relate to the Biblical injunction to feed the hungry and house the homeless…but what about our neighbors who are different than our comfort level allows? What about our neighbor who enjoys hearing an old spiritual song or someone who plays upon the drums or the Tamborine or the harp? What about our neighbor who has not attended University or who is not a professional degree holder…does the gospel of Jesus include them…or was Christ vision a segregated christian faith?

The recognized faith communities of Christ time on earth…did not accept him…they were waiting for the Messiah…fashioned in their own image and a recognized dues paying member of the club…

‘Now Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.’ II Kings 5:1

‘When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ‘Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’ But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage. II Kings 5:11 – 12

‘Naaman servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet would have told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.’ II Kings 5:13

Embrace Who You Are

Cool and rainy today. MJ and I made a sojourn to Aldi’s this morning…to obtain some magnificent low prices. Our lost Gander was greeted today by a couple of his compatriots and they bawled at each other as if they had not seen each other in a month of Sundays. Our goose has become a fixture in our back yard and our pond. He is lonely but thus far he has not left with his friends.

I have been pondering the relatively new quest for people to embrace who they are. It is a refreshing change from my youth. In my early years the goal was to satisfy my elders. I sought to produce what they deemed was appropriate for me. However I soon discovered that I was much happier and more contented if I marched to the beat of my own drummer. Saying what I really thought and being a true rendition of Bradley Jay Brooks has brought me much joy! I watch with disbelief as many republicans agree with Congresswoman Liz Cheny and yet are afraid to speak their mind. She has the courage to represent the feelings of a large group and including many of her congressional colleagues and yet they do not have the courage to be their selves and speak the truth.

Poly-Parroting the ideas of others and aping the behavior of the perceived accepted…is excruciatingly boring. To accept what a religious leader tells you is the truth, without your own research and thorough examination…is morphing into a marionette. It is much more fun to make your own decisions. Part of being a unique creation is being…unique…

Joy emanates from your conviction and courage to be yourself and thus…at times…to speak against the crowd. I spoke against the unjust termination of our former Chancellor, Dr. Jo Ann Argersinger, and I was threatened in both a veiled manner…and a direct one. It was one of the happiest times of my life and I would not change a thing! During that tumultuous time a colleague told me that he admired my courage to speak my convictions and that at least…I was about something… I feared the loss of my job…but I heard more the face in the mirror…

‘Go where your effort is appreciated. Don’t let your actions go unnoticed by individuals who are never satisfied.’ Billy Chapata.

‘Kindness is loaning someone Your strength Instead of Reminding Them of Their Weakness.’ Contemplative Monk

TGIF

I sent my friend the acronym, TGIF, meaning Thank God It’s Friday. Although I have been retired for over 10 years…I have not forgotten the significance of the blessed last day of the work week. I not only have not forgotten it, I vividly recall the lighter mood in the office and the workplace and the abundance of smiles that were plainly visible for all to see and enjoy. Work is necessary and fruitful and engaging…and it is…stressful. During your career you are forced to spend an inordinate amount of your time pursuing excellence and success. There is so much more to life…and you pursue that on Friday night and the weekend.

Through the years I have witnessed more than one administrator who is virtually carried by their staff. They exhibit no working knowledge of the areas that they oversee and are at a total loss when crisis occurs. Of course this is another reason to provide the staff that support the Figurehead…a living wage.

Plain talk is as scarce as hens teeth. Obfuscation and George Orwell’s ‘Newspeak and Doublethink’ from his famous book, 1984… is all too often the rule of administrator and management communication to their loyal subordinates. The failure to recognize the mental acuity of members of your team is demoralizing for hard working and dedicated staff.

Trust is a sacred covenant between supervisor and colleague in the workplace. Trust is painstakingly earned and can be frittered away with one lie or misrepresentation. When you are a manger or leader…everyone is watching you. I remember telling a manager I was not going to tell my staff his third change in story over three days. I went on to assure him that once he had settled on his narrative…I would inform our colleagues of his story.

Colleagues and coworkers are precious. Many of them are shouldering burdens that no one knows. Some are ill. Some are at the breaking point from Covid and reversals in their family and challenges that they wonder if they will be able to bear. Managers and administrators have staff that are better educated than they are and who have unique skills that they do not possess…in other words they are blessed with the riches of loyal and diligent colleagues that want to see them succeed. How sad when the leader does not realize that they are squandering a Horn Of Plenty of human potential riches…for the sake of their hyper inflated ego… The old fable of, The Emperor Has No Clothes is a lesson for today.

I have seen the naked Emperor…on several occasions…and it is a visualization that is difficult to put our of your mind…

The Gift Of A Smiling Face

The weather has warmed in our part of the globe. But then again it is almost May. Our lonely goose has a friend with him today. I wonder if Mrs. Goose came back to find her lost husband and show him the way home? He appears to be extremely content and subsequently followed her into the pond for an afternoon swim. The Gander now has a reason to smile as he is no longer alone. It is much the same for us as we emerge from the darkness of our Pandemic. We rejoice in the miracle of being alive! I have witnessed some smiling faces as we have had celebratory birthday dinners in both Cape Girardeau and Paducah as well as Cunetto House of Pasta on the Hill in St. Louis. You can’t wear a mask while you are eating and drinking. The sheer joy and abandon of the people that were venturing out of the Covid Dark Tunnel into the light of Vaccination Freedom…was palpable.

I was a participant of the excess of the 1980’s. I remember the Yuppies. I recall when Lladro ceramic figurines were plentiful in the department stores in our area along with Waterford Crystal Santa Claus’s each holiday season and I vividly remember standing in long check out lines at our University Mall where customers would have not 1 or 2 or 3 credit cards denied…but finally finding the magic one that still had enough funds on it to pay for their purchase. This was before the Debit card and yet I was struck that almost no one paid with cash… Down payments on new homes kept getting smaller…until you could purchase a new home that was much above your income with no money down. There were not many smiling faces in those days of debt upon debt and the supreme struggle to keep us with the Jones.

We are all much more equal than we thought. Some of us had big jobs and lofty positions…others of us had good middle class jobs and we thought to ourselves, ‘At least I am not homeless and in the trouble that that poor bastard is…at the end of the lane,’ and some of us were desperately poor and hungry and cold…and we wondered why God seemed to love some while forgetting us. With Covid we discovered that many of our brothers and sisters are a legend in their own mind. They are making an impression…but it is not the one that they are seeking to make.

Each of us has a little muscle called a heart that propels us forward and when it stops…we are totally equal… Money and fine silks and satins and gated communities really did not make us smarter and certainly not wiser. Our wealth was not an accurate barometer of our ability or leadership or wisdom. We seek the consult of the rich…in place of the Sage. We seek the counsel of the holder of lands and vehicles and boats and country club memberships as to what they have to say about life…and the teacher and the minister and the social worker…we are certain could not tell us anything that we do not already know. We have become a credentialing society rather than a people that respect education and science and medicine and law.

Perhaps we have learned a valuable lesson as we emerge from the equanimity of our shared 2020/2021 Pandemic. Perhaps we will look for individuals in the mold of Mother Teresa…rather than a psychotic narcissist…to tell us the meaning for life…

Subtle Change

Jonathon and I were just talking about money orders. It occurred to me that I have not thought of money orders for several years and that the era of the Debit card and on-line purchasing had somewhat supplanted what was the go-to method of payment a generation ago. Now I realize that money orders are still in use, however they do not have the prominence that they one time had.

I remember watching the Today Show on NBC and one of the announcers asking the other what email was. I was glad that the question was asked because I had no idea what it was and was mystified by the internet addresses beginning with ‘www’… both struck me as speaking another language. I was enrolled in the major, Electronic Data Processing’ in 1980 and we fashioned our programs from typing the instructions on data cards and running them through a card reader and having the results printed out on watermelon paper. The floor of the computer lab at Faner, on the campus of SIUC, was covered with the little circles that came from the punches that were made in the cards. When I began working at the University the personal computer had yet to be invented. When the PC arrived on Campus…they were all Apple computers.

So, in our current time almost everyone has a computer or two…or three. For over a year our church has conducted church services by Zoom and it has worked swimmingly. Worship and commerce and media and opinion…have never been more convenient and we have never been more separated. I was so excited at the onset of the Internet and reveled in my telephone modem hook up that took minutes to download one page. I could not imagine the knowledge that was at my fingertips…and now I feel like the actor Burgess Meredith in the famous Twilight Zone episode where he survives a nuclear holocaust and is left in a crumbling library…with books piled high and surrounding him on every side. The classic episode illustrates that Meredith’s character had terrible vision and suddenly he trips…and breaks his glasses and can no longer read the printed word. In a similar vein we have been given a gift that is a Trojan horse. For each useful and accurate and true piece of information that is on-line…there are a plethora of lies and conspiracy theories and false information that’s purpose is to deceive and demoralized and denigrate our society. False information has broken our glasses…

We used to join hands around the dinner table and pray for God’s blessing over our food and our lives. Everyone attended and all took part in the lively conversation of the events that the family had encountered during their sojourn to work and school. Our neighbors would knock on our front door or we would sit on our porch and enjoy a drink of cool lemonade or iced tea with them. They knew us…and we knew them. If their kids were in danger…we ran to help them. If someone did not have enough to eat…we saw to it that they did not go hungry… When we needed information we walked to the public library and held the thick books of knowledge and learned to be quiet and marveled that we could check out any book that we wanted…for free.

Contentment was enjoying Sunday lunch after church. A good lesson from the Bible and some up-lifting hymns…and now a full belly of mom’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes…and then the sublime Sunday afternoon nap…

Exciting Possibilities

As I was listening to Pastor Kerry’s sermon, this morning, I thought of the innumerable exciting possibilities that are before us. He spoke of those of us who are happy and content in our faith community and yet…how do we reach out to so many of our human family who need some good news and some friendship and some hope…because they feel hopeless.

I remember how I felt when we first attended First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, Illinois. First and foremost I was searching for a church where I and my family were welcome. Along with that we were seeking a worship service that when it was concluded we felt better for having attended. Life is hard and it involves us in problems and concerns and stress and we need a context to deal with the challenges. Although MJ and I were well into our middle years and we had two wonderful sons…we were still uneasy and apprehensive as to how we would be accepted at the church that we immediately felt a kinship with. We were so pleasantly surprised at how friendly the members of the congregation were and their pleasure that we were there. During my past church experiences I had been an elder and deacon and a trustee at one time or another. Yet when I was asked to be a member of the Trustee Board at First Presbyterian…I was nervous and somewhat in doubt as to the abilities that I brought to the task. I was so welcomed by the outgoing chair of the Board and then, Dorothy Baker, the on-coming chair…that I felt I was, with God’s help, up to the job.

We church going Christians have a blessing and we have a burden. Someone reached out to us when we were seeking a fellowship that would welcome us and encourage us to be an active member of their group. In our world of insular… lonely… sad… and the lack of trust in our neighbor that is exacerbated by the plethora of conspiracy theories, that seem to be around every corner, who will reach out to our brothers and sisters of our human family if we do not? I have been a member of groups that felt exceedingly comfortable with each other and much like a family dynamic ensued. I feel very much as a welcomed family member in our church. But, it was not always that way. If someone had not continued to love and care about me….

Happiness is ahead of us. Social dinners at our favorite Winery are already occurring. Travel is considered to be safe with the proper precautions. There is a rest and ease and comfort in taking the vaccinations. You will breath deeper and feel safer once you have received your jabs. If there is any lesson that I have learned over our 2020/2021 Pandemic it is that we are all in this together. Rich and poor and academic and tradesman…gay and straight…the churched and the un-churched…we all have a second chance at unity and family and leaning on each other and needing each other. We have the opportunity to increase our house and to expand our walls…to build a bigger and longer table…

If we have the courage…