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…

A Positive Attitude In A Negative World

It is another, ‘beautiful day in the neighborhood,’ if you choose to see it. The temperature is in the 60’s with a soft spring breeze and the sun is shinning. I have experienced that life’s road affords us all… high mountain experiences…and the low valley disappointments. A blogging friend noted that he admired my positive outlooks in the blogs that I write. I write those blogs having experienced some low, valley, moments in my life. But…I made the conscious decision to focus on the positives of life…when I was still a child. It became clear to me, early on in my life, that bad things happen to us all…or bad things happen to good people. This life does not promise that life will be a, ‘Bowl of Cherries.’ As the popular author of the book entitled, ‘If Life Is A Bowl of Cherries…Why Am I Always In The Pits,’ by Erma Bombeck.’ Sadness and strife and worry and loss is waiting around the corner…for all of us. None of us are exempt. We all receive our share…and some of us feel that we receive the lions share…

But there is a rainbow at the end of the storm. Each of us receive the extension of God’s love for us if we have eyes to see it. Many years ago I was terminated from a custodial service that I worked approximately 16 to 18 hours per day for. Shortly thereafter I was hired by Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale where I ultimately became the Superintendent of the department for the last 13 years of my career.

Hunger is a motivating factor. I have experienced hunger. For many years…hunger has not been a concern for me or my family. At one time I walked everywhere that I needed to go…while my friends passed me by in new automobiles. Now MJ and I own a new Subaru, Forester and travel to Europe when we desire a holiday on the fascinating continent.

My dear friend, Jeff, lived as a homeless child on the streets of Chicago, Illinois. Now his is independently wealthy and has a business in the United Kingdom and our family have visited he and Margo on several occasions.

Our 2020/2021 Pandemic has illustrated to us that nothing can be taken for granted. We have been accosted with a devastating viral illness that has taken untold lives. We are living in, thus far, a once in a generation Pandemic. Our current time and environment shall be written about in history books for the next 100 years or more. It is impossible to asses if more Pandemics are on the way…that is indeed the case…sooner or later. But, through the morass of challenges and hurdles and valleys and rocky roads…there is the bright light of hope and opportunity and positive and progressive life for each of us as we make our way through this terrible and wonderful…drama of life…as we negotiate the rocks and shoals of landing our ship on to the shore of happiness and opportunity and fullness of the life that God has given us…

And…Now What?

My happiness is complete as I am back on the writing porch. Few home improvements have afforded me more joy than the screened in magnificent porch that my friend, Jim Calloway, built for us in the beginning days of my retirement…2011. Twenty-eleven seems like yesterday…but it has been 10 years. Someone asked me if others enjoyed my writing….to which I replied that I did not know…but that I certainly enjoyed doing it. I think that nothing has anchored me more in my retirement years than writing on a daily basis. If I miss a day…I am sad to have done so. Mom had an old cast iron Royal Typewriter when I was a child. When I looked at that machine…I dreamed of being a writer. Mr. Feazel encouraged me to write in Eldorado High School as did Miss Barton. My favorite professor at University, Carol Burns, told me that I could achieve any university degree that I sought and my professor for Literature Analysis told the class that most of them could never to hope to write as well as an anonymous paper of mine that he read to them. Now I am certain that these gracious compliments were much over-blown and full of hyperbole…but they did stick in my mind.

Life is about finding something that you enjoy doing and then doing it. No big secret formula or special hidden map to happiness…as Nike says, ‘Just Do It!’ I have known people who were held back by their own low expectations. Fulfillment and happiness are available to you if you have the courage to change your habits or to inculcate new ones. Self realization is not in the talking about it… but in the doing…

So what comes next for we intrepid survivors of the Great 2020/2021 Pandemic? Shall we return to our insular ways and our introverted tendencies? We could ensconce ourselves in conspiracy theories and ‘Larps’ that are created to manipulate us and steer us to a hidden and destructive agenda. I have been watching a six part documentary regarding QAnon that is amazing and revealing and disturbing. Live Action Role Playing is LARP. I would be less than honest if I said that I was repelled by all conspiracy theories as I have believed since I was a youngster that President John F. Kennedy was not killed by the lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. I watched Jack Ruby gun Oswald down on live television in my living room in Eldorado, Illinois. I thought at the time that something was not right with the story of the Kennedy Assassination. The Warren Commission did not convince me other wise. However conspiracy theories have grown into hydra headed Medusas and contain within them danger and death for innocent people.

A new normal awaits our tired and longing eyes. If we have learned anything from our once in 100 year first hand experience with the Covid Pandemic…it is that we are all in this together…there is much more that unites us than divides us…we need each other to lean upon as we journey back to Jerusalem.

Rob, my committee partner on the Personnel Committee for the Session at First Presbyterian Church, emailed me today. Each time that I either speak with Rob or email him I am struck with what a wonderful and genuinely nice person that he is. Governments and Churches and Academic Committees…can do nothing but excel to excellence if they will only collaborate and not obfuscate…or work to illustrate who is the leader and who is the follower…

‘At Noon Darkness Fell Across The Whole Land Until Three O’clock’

‘As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall, but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews. Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him hurled insults on him. From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli Eli, lama sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’ Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put in on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’ And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’ Matthew 27: 32 – 54

‘And The Common People Heard Him Gladly’

Windy is the watchword for this Tuesday. Walking in 24 mile per hour wind will take your hat right off of your head unless you have a Tilley Hat that has the famous wind strap…that you can place under your chin. As I watch and listen to the George Floyd murder trial I am struck, once again, how most of us do not breath the rarified air of the political heads or the philosophical elite of our day. We live much of our life battling and struggling and some despair regarding our environment and our possibilities for a better future. We go to the local market to purchase our necessary groceries and we encounter our friends and neighbors there. We are happy to have enough money to buy some groceries and many of us vividly remember what it was like to not have funds for food. There is a large group of Americans that are not treated like Americans. Many hard working poor people feel that they are living in a different world than those who have resources and education and hope for a bright future.

Have you ever been a member of a group that is not seen? Have you ever spoken from your heart and the people who you were speaking to averted their eyes or checked their watches or smiled condescendingly… Do you know how it feels to have been treated wrongly or bullied or abused…and the actions are supported by the hierarchy of management and administration due to your not being a member of their preferred class?

Have you ever spoken to powerful people and your complaints or issues were subsequently explained away by a marginalization of you? At times it seems that the poor and the marginalized are, indeed, living a different reality and subject to different rules than the privileged majority. Now I have felt all of these things…and I am white. I understand how people feel when they speak and are not heard…when they are present and are not seen…when they are wronged and their managers and supervisors and political leaders support the wrong that they are undergoing.

Christ spoke to the poor and the drunkards and the women of the night and those who had been forgotten by the society of his day. Jesus did not ride in a golden chariot or adorn himself in silk and satin robes. He sought those who were not seen by the recognized religious scholars. ‘Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, Jesus, Master, have pity on us! When he saw them, he said, Go, show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed.’ Luke 17: 11 – 14.

Unhappiness abounds in our present world. There is such a dichotomy between different peoples of both social and ethnic and economic backgrounds in our country. It has been said that cocaine is widely abused by many who work on Wall Street…as they make millions for their clients and for themselves. Opiate addiction is an epidemic throughout our nation. There is no question that many soccer mothers and fathers enjoy each others fellowship and company while being on a regiment of calming or stimulating drugs…to help them get thought their day in the suburbs and the requirements of an up-scale lifestyle. Alcohol addiction is the not talked about killer among the upper class and the academia and the power players in our world.

Mr. George Floyd had some drugs in his system and he was a dedicated christian who when he greeted you would clasp your hand with both of his. Mr. Floyd was 6 feet and 3 inches tall…a big guy…it has been said. I am 6 feet and 3 inches tall…and I would not hurt a flea… He had struggled with drugs for years…and he loved Jesus…and Jesus…loved him…