Friday, July 31, 2009

Alone

I made a comment in my Community Group the other night that seemed, at first utterance, to be completely self-contradictory. What I found out, however, is that several others in the group felt the same way at times.

I have been struggling recently as a couple in my group just got married, another just got engaged, and the other couples or individuals are very happy and satisfied and fulfilled in their relationships. There is so much happiness that I sometimes want to puke. I have been alone for so long that it is taking a noticeable toll on me. I have tried to work on myself, to improve, to grow, to deal with some long-standing problems and issues that I knew had to be faced, but I am alone as alone can be. The happiness of others just sickens me at times. I know, I know, I am a horrible person for saying this. I seem to be ruled by petty jealousy, by feelings of "If they can be happy then why can't I?", by feelings of "I have as much to offer as any of them.", by sentiments of "Why me?", "How did I get to this place?", "What did I do to deserve this?", "Maybe I really am not worthy of having someone.". Ultimately it turns out that I am ruled and dominated by feelings of regret from my past and a life that is racing by.

My remark in community group focussed on the fact that I am so sick and tired of being alone, but most times my mindset is that I just don't want to be around other people. I think it is that I just don't want to see how happy everyone is, I just don't want to be reminded of how sorry my life has become. I just have this sense that I need to be alone just to feel miserable. It is not meant to be a public display for sympathy. It is something intensely personal. The interesting thing is that others in the group had occasionally felt like this at times in their lives. The difference in my case is that this attitude is, apparently, not particularly temporary. In his wonderful memoir, "Darkness Visible", William Styron said when describing his deep depression, there is this indescribable sense that if the cure to your condition was sitting right in front of you, a cure that could turn your whole life around in the blink of an eye, you just wouldn't have the strength to reach out and take it. I have this sense and it pervades my mind. I feel marooned on an island. I used to be able to see and hear others, even to communicate with them. However, almost inperceptibly with time, their voices and presence have faded away to the point that I don't sense them all that much any more.

Perhaps though, it is time for a paradigm shift. Suppose I just accept my lot in life. Learn how to be alone, to be productive, to contribute where I can. If a rescue plane happens to come anywhere near my location, I will then set fires, jump up and down, and try to be noticed. If that happens, I will rejoice and celebrate, but if it doesn't happen, I need to find a way to live and be satisfied and fulfilled. Well, this notion sounds good anyway.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tithing II

Are you kidding me? 10%! Really? ... Really? Don't even get me started about arguments over gross vs. net. The subject of tithing has been on my mind for some time. Frankly, I have always lived in a rather guarded manner where my money is concerned. Some might use labels such as cheap or frugal. However, while I am careful, I am far from miserly. But it is my responsibility to be sure that the output does not exceed the input, and sometimes less than popular decisions have to be made to ensure that this is the case. But while there is truth and conviction in what I just said about my role as treasurer, I also fully realize that my faith and trust in God is only as deep as my biggest problem or fear or concern. Are there areas of my life that I put before God? I would be less than truthful if I didn't own up to the fact that money and security for the future get in the way on many occasions. It doesn't take long to recognize that I have not given ownership or control of my finances to God. I always find a way to make excuses or avoid the issue altogether. I try to twist the truth to fit my own version of reality - the false belief that it's my money and I'll be the one who decides what to give and when to give it.

From 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." Well, I am a clever man, and I know that I can make these words support any argument that I want to make on the subject of tithing. But trying to be as honest with myself as my biased, sinful nature will allow, I think these words really do tell me to do my best with giving, to be purposeful, to be consistent, to be generous. The giving is not just with my money, but with my time, my energy, my talents, my mind, and my strength. I have also tried to listen for direction from God during several important seasons of giving at my church and given more.

At my old church I used to put $5 a week in the offering plate. Whenever a particular message would resonate within me, I used to joke with my pastor that he really earned his $5 that week. At that time, giving was totally new to me. Certainly outside of my own family, I was definitely not a particularly generous person with any part of my life. However, I sensed that God was quite pleased with my approach and my effort. I never sensed that he was looking down on me shaking his head in disgust. As I have grown in my faith, I have increased my giving. Certainly it's a process, a process of growing trust and understanding. While I am still well below the traditional tithing level of 10%, I still sense that God is pleased with my approach and my effort. When it is time to do something more or to step out in faith futher, I am sure he'll let me know.

(Part 2 of a 2 part series)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tithing I

Are you kidding me? 10%! Really? ... Really? Don't even get me started about arguments over gross vs. net. The subject of tithing has been on my mind for some time. I have been seeking out information from reliable sources and have been talking to folks from my church to find out what they actually do in this regard. Here is what I have found out:
  • The bible speaks of tithing but I do not believe that this is part of the new covenant, it belongs more to the Old Testament rules and regulations. I sense that God is pleased when we give what we can with a joyful heart and spirit. However, the notion of "first fruits" is entirely relevant here. "Honor the Lord with they substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase.". In other words, in dealing with your income, planning for God's kingdom should be handled first. All too often we look at what's left over after paying all of our monthly debts and hand over to God the crumbs.
  • It seems that everyone that I have talked to who works for my church tithes. I do not know the level at which they give, but I suspect that they follow the Old Testament reference of 10%.
Honestly, the notion of tithing is an uncomfortable one for me. It is a topic that I struggle with, that I try to avoid, that I would rather not have to consider. It boils down to not really wanting to know what God requires of me so that I don't have to face up to the fact that I don't have all that much money left over after the bills are paid for the mortgage, the car, the electricity, the water, the child care, the insurance, the food, ... . I am happy to give what I give when it is on my terms, when it doesn't inconvenience me or impact me in any noticeable manner. Dang it, I have gotten used to living a certain way and any notion of real tithing just cannot fit into my budget.

(Part 1 of a 2 part series)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

T.V. Generation

I grew up watching T.V., hours and hours of it every day and night. I probably spent more time watching T.V. than any other single activity with the possible exception of sleeping. This was even long before the days of hundreds of channels, before there was any sort of selection. I watched T.V. because there (apparently) was nothing else to do. As I grew up and went off to college, I had a host of new responsibilities with course work and homework and lab work and, well, you get the picture. However, I still made time to follow a subset of shows (and let's not forget all those baseball, football, and basketball games) and then veg out in front of the T.V. after I had taken care of all of my responsibilities. After college, work and family matters and real world activities took over more and more and I watched less and less T.V.. Heck, now I can't even think of a single program that I would rearrange my schedule to watch, and that includes the World Series and the Super Bowl. In fact, to give you some basis for understanding how dramatically things have changed since I was a youth, I have not followed a show regularly since Seinfeld went off the air, and this was more than 10 years ago. Every now and then as I am passing by the old set, I could swear I hear a sigh. A sigh of loneliness and change and please come back, but, alas, I keep walking as there (apparently) is something else to do.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A House Divided

I spend about an hour every day driving back and forth from home to work (two round trips × 15 minutes per leg = 60 minutes). I try to make the most of this reasonably quiet time. I may have a book with me that I read when stuck in traffic or waiting at a stop light. I might plan out my work schedule or think about what chores at home need to be completed. I also often find my driving time quite useful for some alone time to pray and be with God and talk to him about what's on my mind. This all sounds reasonably commendable. However, driving into work today, I found my mind and my heart were embroiled in an important conflict. The issue at hand comes straight from scripture in Matthew 12:25:

"Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand". (Popularized by Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 as "A house divided against itself cannot stand.")

While I was having some alone time with God and thinking about some bible verses that I had been given to consider by a friend of mine, I came across a motorist who couldn't decide which way they wanted to go and ended up blocking three lanes of traffic. Without disengaging my mind from my silent dialog with the most high God, my mouth blurted out "What a selfish idiot.". Immediately I was filled with disgusted amazement about how God could have my mind while the devil controlled my tongue. I am continually amazed about how much effort it takes for me to be courteous and mindful of others and how my negative and selfish nature always seems to be in control, even when I don't realize it. What's even more relevant for me is that the verses that I was given to read from my friend were from Romans chapters 7 and 8. For those not familiar with these chapters, they have to do with our sinful nature (among other things). Romans 7:15 says "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.". Romans 7:17 says "So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.". Kind of interesting how when I focus on a particular set of bible verses that I immediately stumble upon practical relevance in my own daily existence.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Modern-Day Alchemy

I was driving along when I passed by what was supposed to be an "upscale" car dealership. This is the kind of place where I imagine they give you a shiatsu massage while you contemplate whether you want the option package including the built in hang glider or the ejection seat. The kind of outfit where all of the seating arrangements are covered in fine Corinthian leather and the smell of musk fills the air. The salespeople all wear overly tailored suits and speak in fake-sounding, affected European accents. They are trying as much to sell you an image or feeling as they are trying to sell you an exotic and expensive car. I am sure they hold regular staff meetings about how to act more snooty and how to avoid making eye contact with the clientele. I am sure that you can picture the scene.

Well if this is what is appears to be, how come a brief drive-by survey of their lot included two (count 'em two) Dodge Neons and what looked to be a 1980 Ford pickup with lovely rust stains on the doors? These pi├Ęces de r├ęsistance were parked humorously amongst the BMWs and Audis. Did they think that they were fooling anyone here? Did they not even stop to consider that this was doing damage to the cultivated image that they were trying to maintain? Did they somehow believe in some kind of modern-day alchemy that if they parked these low-end vehicles near more expensive ones that some sort of transformation might occur? Yeah, that's gotta be the explanation. It's the only one that I can come up with that makes any sense.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Lost

I usually have a cache of books that I am reading and a separate list of books waiting in the wings that I plan to read (see my Shelfari list). For the first time in the past 3 years or so, both of these queues are empty and it is getting to me. I have really felt the void during the last couple of days. There are standard times of the day that I look forward to grabbing my book du jour and escaping for some alone time. This might be at lunch time, when I am sitting in traffic, or in the evening after the little one is in bed. I'm used to carrying my books around with me wherever I go. Since I completed my last read, I have been instinctively reaching for my reading material, only to remember that my holster is empty. Argh. I say argh!

I try to keep my ear to the ground for books that have received good reviews or come with strong recommendations from my friends. In fact, nearly all of my favorite books from the past couple of years have been suggestions from others. This is really great as I would not otherwise have known about them or pursued them. So, let me know what I might enjoy or what might challenge me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grind My Gears V

I suspect fully that there are some people out there who were just put on this Earth to annoy me. Whether they were created to cause me frustration, vexation, aggravation, indigestion, Ken-L-Ration (now there's an old reference), or some other -tion word, these people somehow tend to seek me out for no other purpose than to get on my nerves. They just stand there with their bare faces hanging out and you just know what they are up to. They are the reason for my regular blog segment entitled What Grinds my Gears, of course inspired by the noted Greek philosopher Peter Griffinocles (a contemporary of Socrates and Democritus). To be more specific, today I direct my contempt and wrath toward those individuals who feel that a fan works best when it is pointed away from you. They seem to feel quite strongly about this. They love to try to bury you under with arguments that the outward-pointing fans pull the hot air out of the room and thus reduce the temperature, leaving you cool and refreshed. These gear-grinding individuals, in fact, could not be more wrong. They are also bed wetters.

Electric fans work by blowing air on you, making it easier for the air to evaporate sweat from your skin. This is how you eliminate body heat. The more evaporation, the cooler you feel. In fact, if you turn the fan so that it does not blow directly on you, the process reverses itself, causing sweat to form on your skin and to get sucked back into your pudgy little bodies, which can then cause your internal temperature (if not carefully monitored by a licensed health care professional) to rise to a level sufficient for spontaneous internal human combustion to begin. Sounds like an important cautionary warning, right? So if anyone tries to turn your fans around, you must immediately call out "Shenanigans" and end this lunancy. Perhaps you should also smite them with a butter-filled sock. This exercise will certainly help to reduce your -tion levels dramatically, at least it does for me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Impatience

Ladies and gentlemen . . . and now the moment you've all been waiting for . . . (the crowd roars in anticipation) . . . the award for the world's most impatient person goes to . . . Dang! Will they just get on with it! Why does everything have to be dragged out to such an extreme?

Folks, I ended up taking home the trophy that night. In fact, my mantle is overflowing with those annoying golden statuettes. I bet that anyone could probably have guessed this just by spending a few moments with me.

I am impatient when I drive:
  • Why can't they just get into the turning lane?
  • Why are they just poking along?
  • Right turn on red is allowed you moron! Go!
I am impatient at the grocery store:
  • Does it really take that long to pick out of a box of cereal?
  • Stop being so oblivious, get your cart out of the middle of the aisle.
  • Why are you writing a check?
I am impatient in meetings at work:
  • Why is this idiot blathering on and on?
  • Man, get to the point!
  • Won't this useless meeting ever end?
What's amusing in a sad kind of way is that I am impatient with others in situations where their actions have no impact on me. How's that for a full blown case of man-you-are-disturbed-itis?

I thought I would end with a few calming, soothing words from scripture that should help take the edge off. Maybe next time someone else will take home the award.

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone, 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires, James 1:19-20

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry, Psalm 40:1

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fear of the Dark

"Last night I didn't get to sleep at all, no, no; I lay awake and watched until the morning light."

With apologies to the Fifth Dimension, I have been suffering all day with extreme fatigue because I had trouble sleeping last night. As I was lying in bed, slowly approaching Nod, I felt something brush against my hand. I immediately (and groggily) sprung out of my bed and turned on the light. I saw the intruder moving down the side of my bed. I did my best Bullseye imitation and ran like the wind to get the vacuum cleaner. I was operating in a mode of panic, fueled by pure, uncut adrenaline. I sucked the critter up and spent the next 30 minutes creeping about my bedroom with an old broom handle, looking for other enemy combatants. I was so totally fried after a long, pressure-filled day, but I was too petrified to get back into bed and try again.

In case you couldn't tell by what I have said already, I have an irrational fear of bugs. I find them so odious, that my blood pressure just skyrockets thinking about them. After the all-clear was finally sounded and my room was certified once again as ready for nighty-night, I took the extra precaution of moving the vacuum cleaner outside to my storage shed (you can't be too careful when it comes to bug spirits). I wanted to sleep, I needed to sleep, but my bug paranoia was in control. About an hour later, after significant tossing and turning, I was just starting to surface sleep again, but my innards were still reeling - images of the enemy still flashing in my mind. At one point I opened my eyes and thought there was another critter on the wall. I jumped out of bed again, and stumbled across the floor to find the switch to flood the room with light. As I moved through the dark, my discarded socks on the floor growled at me, my shoes caused me to catch my breath. I was outnumbered! They were everywhere! After what seemed like several minutes of pure terror, I finally found a clear path to the light switch and turned it on. Nothing. The room was completely bug free.

Could it have been my imagination? Was I in some kooky dream-ish condition? I couldn't risk being wrong, so I pulled all of the furniture away from the walls and carefully slunk around the room channeling Rambo from First Blood. After I was certain that I was alone, I went through the process of restoring my furniture to its original location and going back to sleep. Another 30 minutes went by before I even started to drift off, but once again, my mind began playing cruel tricks on me. I saw a huge, praying mantis-like creature sitting on my nightstand eyeing me with vicious, hostile intent. I jumped up screaming like a 14-year-old school girl, covered in sweat. At this point I looked at the clock and knew I was in trouble. It was just past 4:00 a.m., and I had to be at work in about 3 hours. I knew that I was going to have to battle all day just to even try to stay awake and be clear-headed. I knew this was a battle that I would lose.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Inside-out Socks

I am a weak man, a pathetic excuse. I have tried time and again to set a goal and then to follow through, but I always seem to fall short. I find myself falling back on old ways after just a very brief time. I often wonder if I would feel better about myself if I had never gone through the charade of setting a goal and then failing almost immediately after beginning. What bothers me and also disgusts me is that I cannot even seem to follow through on the "easy" objectives that I set for myself. If I can't handle the easy things, how can I even hope to tackle or to be trusted with the tougher issues. Is it a question of will power, of moxie, of courage? Alas, no. It always seems to boil down to laziness, taking the easy way out, the path of least (or seemingly no) resistance.

You may ask, "Dan, what is this all about?". Well, I suppose that it probably doesn't really matter at this point what brought on the above diatribe against myself. However, it all started when I found myself grumbling aloud as I was folding my laundry the other day. Normally you might think that this would amount to a fairly benign activity, an area that would not lead to increased anxiety. But as I was folding, I noticed that all my socks were inside out and I don't like having to invert them. I find it time consuming and laborious. I know it's a small thing, but I resolved then and there to be certain to take care when taking my socks off in the evening. I would take the extra 2 seconds required per foot to remove my socks in a manner to ensure that they were not balled up or inside out when I put them in the hamper. Sounds simple enough, a pretty achievable task, right? However, I found that I did fine paying attention to this for all of 2 days until I reverted to my old ways. At the next laundry day I was, once again, grumbling as I was folding my socks. So, why is it that I couldn't maintain an effort that even passed the giggle test? If I can't take care of business on the easy tasks, how can I expect to be successful given more difficult undertakings? Am I being too hard on myself? After all, we're just talking about laundry. Right?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stranger, Stranger

Every once and a while a song just fits. The lyrics and music just touch your heart and mind in a special way to capture a moment, an emotion, a feeling. This is one of those songs for me - the song "Stranger, Stranger" by the band Bad Company, from their 1990 album Holy Water.

There's a crazy moon, a crazy sky, looking down on me
I've been losing track of time
It's been the hardest day, the longest night I've ever spent alone
I can't get you off my mind

You know what I've been missing, do I really have to say
We talk but you don't listen, it's not always been that way, no... she's a

Chorus:
Stranger, stranger - you're not the girl I knew, will you ever be the same
You act like a stranger, stranger - tell me it ain't true
Won't you please explain, why you're so strange

In the morning gloom, this empty room, I can see your face
When I look again, you're gone
Your memory, so close to me, it leaves a trace
Won't you tell me what went wrong

No sign, no words, no warning, we can never be the same, no
When you walked out that morning, you know you left nothing but the blame

I know that you're a...

Chorus:
Stranger, stranger - you're not the girl I knew, will you ever be the same
You act like a stranger, stranger - tell me it ain't true
Won't you please explain, why you're so strange

Friday, July 17, 2009

Get a (Real) Job

There are some jobs out there that are just plain silly. In fact, they are more than silly, they serve no useful purpose. I might even go so far as to say that they are actually counterproductive. Now I understand that a person's got to earn a paycheck to support their spouse and l'il ones, but couldn't they at least try to take a position with some dignity, that supports the community in at least some tangential manner? Today, in case it is not painfully obvious, I am railing against the job of mobile billboard driver. This is a job where you drive around in a very unsightly van that has a series of billboards on the back and sides that rotate from one annoying advertisement to another. They call this rockin' veeee-hicle the "Admobile", kind of like the old Adam West batmobile but about 3 orders of magnitude less cool. Imagine a job where your sole purpose is to drive aimlessly around town, getting in the way of motorists who have an actual place to be (i.e. they are not vagrants), all to show billboards of our local "action" news team (slogan: when news breaks, we fix it) or the Ronco food dehydrator. Puh-lease. Needlessly using up our planet's natural resources and filling up our already congested roadways. Have you ever been trapped behind one of these behemoth's at a traffic light. The rotating vertical panels have a way of putting you into a deep trance, with subsequent emission of drool out of the corner of your mouth. The light then changes, and then everyone but you drives onward. You are left blocking others who then start yelling and shouting at you. I tell you it's an outrage, an indignity. I'm going to have to consider what to do next after I enjoy some yummy turkey jerky.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Principle of the Path

In his book The Principle of the Path, author and pastor Andy Stanley talks about how to choose the path that will take us from where we are to where we want to be. His oft-repeated tag line is
Direction -- not intention -- determines our destination
. In this book, Stanley tells the story of the wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon, son of David, and what brought about his downfall and that of the kingdom of Israel. Stanley asks the thought-provoking question,

"If the wisdom, understanding, and insight of a man like Solomon does not insure against choosing the wrong path, isn't it foolish for us to lean on our limited insight and understanding?" Translation: If the wisest man ever could not make it relying on himself, what makes us think that we can?

Too often I find myself tired of where I am in life. Tired of the decisions that I made in the past haunting me today. So many regrets, so much neglect, so much selfishness. These decisions I made on my own. Translation: I have nobody to blame but myself. I thought that I could figure everything out solely by my own system, by my own thoughts and ideas, by my own efforts. As my present world burns around me, I realize how true Stanley's quote above really is. So foolish. Sure, I received casual advice from friends along the way, but I knew best. Out of my way. I know what I am doing. So foolish. The trouble signs sprung up along the way, but I dismissed them with ease. So foolish.

Now I struggle to put out the fires and rebuild. Hopefully I will heed the lessons from the painful experiences that I have walked through. Hopefully next time, at the next fork in the road, I will not rely on myself alone.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

From Me to You

To You:

This letter is written with the earnest purpose of attempting to lift this huge weight off my chest, a weight that has served to crush my spirit and has left me in search of my smile. I know that I will never uncover the reasons, the who, what, why, when, and where. Why you betrayed me so completely, with such venom and hatred and energy and purpose. I understand that I will never receive the answers to the questions that have haunted me for years now, that still continually echo in my mind. In the end, I lost my best friend and the best "thing" that ever happened to me. Before you there was no life, no sun, no twinkling eyes, no laughter in the darkness, nobody to say "I understand". Of course, regardless of what you did or even what I think you did, we both share wholly in the blame. How could I not have earned my full measure if you could utter the words of doubt that you did after so long? I failed you so completely and so pathetically that I can still hardly face the looking-glass. I am filled with so much hatred and regret that I fear my very soul has been blackened through and through. You took back everything you ever gave to me, every whisper, every wink, every promise, every touch. You were cold and ruthless and underhanded and conniving, and although I forgave you long ago, I will never forget. I can't let myself, for if I don't learn the lessons of history, I am doomed to repeat its mistakes.

From Me

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oh Crap!

I have had several "Oh Crap!" moments over the years. Those times where you know in an instant that you are in trouble, screwed big time. There is no getting out of it and you realize that there will be a price to pay, a very dear price. Sometimes you were doing something in the shadows and hoping to get away with it. Keeping your fingers crossed that nobody would find out or expose your dirty secret. Other times, you are just going along and something out of nowhere bites you, and bites you real hard. While both of these categories ultimately represent big trouble, I think it is the latter of the two that can take a toll on you physically, financially, spiritually, and relationally. Well folks, I just had a major "Oh Crap!" moment and am still reeling from the blow. I received a suspicious (curiously stained) letter from the IRS (Intentional Resource Shredding). The letter was thick and dangerous looking - the kind that you know just spells trouble, spells pain. Some sensory system deep within you just goes off, sounds the alert, tells you to drop the letter and beat a path far away. Upon opening the envelope, I heard a Satanic hiss and felt an ice cold shiver run down my spine. Using a set of kitchen tongs, I extracted the contents of that envelope. A fog immediately started to take over the room. I could just make out the ghostly writing at the top of the letter, A-U-D-I-T. Oh Crap! If that wasn't bad enough, it was for the past two years.

The paperwork was left with my accountant who told me that things were not looking good for me. He told me to say goodbye to loved ones and friends, and then oddly he asked me if I like the gentle lilt of a burly man's serenade. I screamed and was brought out of a horrible nightmare. I was covered with sweat, riddled with anxiety. Looking over at the night stand, however, there sat the IRS correspondence. The audit was all too real. It does look like I will be paying several thousands of dollars back to the government for deductions that my accountant should not have claimed. Should I be angry or litigious? Maybe, but that will not be my tack. I will grumble a bit and complain a bit, maybe even write a blog about it. However, the law is the law, and I must be held accountable and I must do the right thing, whether I want to or not.

Monday, July 13, 2009

In Your Place


I sit back in my chair, comfortable, fully at ease. I am relaxed and confident, and why shouldn't I be, I'm not on the hot seat. I'm not under the microscope being judged. Can I appreciate the pressure that this other person is under? Sure, at least intellectually. I probably even remember enough from my past when I have been in similar situations to say, "Geez, I'm glad that I'm not in their position". Heck, I might even truly empathize, somewhere inside.

The last couple of weeks, we have been conducting interviews where I work for two high-level management positions. Associated with each position, there are a small handful of candidates brought in and put through the wringer. It's so easy to lose sight of what they are going through when my already busy schedule is added to with the inconvenience of interviews to prepare for and to attend. It's easy to drift off during their times of pressure and angst, check my watch, catch up on some email, let my mind drift off. It's not me up their sweating it out, career on the line, trying to sell myself to a panel of judges. Now I appreciate that an important part of my job as a more senior employee is to judge people and to critically examine their work and track record and future potential. However, understanding what these people are going through is something that I don't want to lose touch with. I think it's important to not lose sight of this.

A few years ago I was the chairman of the graduate admissions committee at my University. In this position I was responsible for overseeing the review of about 300 applications to our graduate school and selecting out the best 20 or 25 individuals. Too often I could pick up an application folder and get a sense for the qualifications of the individual in 15 or 20 seconds. In less than a few minutes I could make the decision to either pass the application on to the rest of the full admissions committee for review or reject it. Given the lack of available time and the vast experience I had in reviewing these applications, it became all to easy to lose sight of the fact that this folder represented a person. My split-second decision of no or yes could have a major impact on their lives and future. I had to continually remind myself to treat each person and their record with respect and a caring attitude.

The take-home message today for everyone is to continually strive to put yourself in the positions of others. Take the extra time needed to remind yourself that others are just as important as you and deserve just as much respect as you. This is an especially important reminder for those in leadership or more senior positions.
  • Preserve sound judgement and discernment, do not let them out of your sight, Proverbs 3:21
  • Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement, John 7:24
  • Judge not lest ye be judged, Matthew 7:1

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Da Feet

Folks, I have had enough! Having seen what I have seen, endured what I have endured, it's time for action. Time for an official decree to be made into law. What's that? By whose authority am I acting? Never you mind such details. Suffice it to say that I have been given this authority by top people. Top people. This edict goes out to all of you whose feet display any of the following symptoms:
  • Funky looking or smelling;
  • Deformed in any way;
  • Disgusting nail problems;
  • Unchecked nail growth;
  • Non-standard big toe to second toe length ratio.
If you suffer from any of the above afflications, you are no longer allowed to go into public (and this includes walking out to the mailbox or out to get the morning paper) without full foot coverage. This requires socks that go up to at least the ankle (preferrably the knee or even mid-quad) and proper shoe-wear. Sandals or open-toed shoes of any kind are strictly forbidden. People need to keep in mind that we are living in a society. A society!

From this moment forward, only people who have completed a lengthy and costly application process and are properly foot certified may go out in public wearing sandals or what are termed "flip-flops". The world has had enough given that quantifiable bile production is off the charts. These measures may seem Draconian at first, but you will get used to them (plus you have no choice). Very soon you will notice that the world is a much better and safer place to live and in which to go about your day-to-day business. Fin.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who Am I?

I have been pondering deeply lately about who it is that I am. These thoughts have been circling my brain as a result of two recent posts that I prepared. The first (Old Car, New Car) was associated with buying a new car. The second (Guard Your Throat) had to do with my pastor, consumed with desire to punch me in the throat. O.K., you might consider why I am not locked up in a high-security asylum by now given how my mind works. Fair enough, fair enough, but I must humbly insist that you give me some room to make a point. In "Guard Your Throat" I was talking about the advice that some people give me along the lines of "be yourself". I remarked that this advice is essentially useless if you do not know who you are. When I was working to purchase a new car, I was dealing with a typical greasy, low-life salesman who was trying to impress on me the finer points of trim work on the new XLG series compared to that on the XLS and XLQ series. He was droning on and on about how the chrome workers on the XLG series are beaten less than those working on the other lines of vehicles and it makes for considerably less stress in the processing. Acckkkk! Who cares? When I was about to nod off and fall flat on the pavement of the car lot, I caught myself and put the brakes on Joe salesman. I made it clear that his blather was wasted on me. I told him succinctly, I am not a "car guy", although I am a "car man". Did you catch that clever word play? If you did not, shame on you. (Think about my surname, ..., good, now that wasn't so painful, was it?) It's funny, but my clever repartee, meant to be a witticism, kind of stuck in my craw. It kept causing me to ask, who am I? What am I supposed to be at this point in my life? Who am I supposed to be? I should not have the mindset of teenagers who are trying to define themselves, trying on coat after coat. By this point, should I not have at least some things figured out? I feel that if somebody were to try to figure me out and ask me who I am, my reply would still be, "What can I be? What are my options?".

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bee n' Aitch

You called me with the unexpected and shocking news that you were moving away. A new direction in life in a new city. Bee and Aitch, you two have been such an important part of my new life that I felt like I had been punched in the gut when I heard. I couldn't believe it. I had to sit down to keep from tumbling. What began through a structured relationship, blossomed into something more, something personal and special.

Bee became the person who held me accountable as a man and as a Christian. He worked hard, sometimes pushing, sometimes pulling, to keep me from getting too close to the edge, too close to that dark place where I all too often gravitate and settle. I shared with him my deepest sins and my rough spots. He was genuine. He was honest. He was completely accepting. He told me about God and his forgiveness and his love for me. He made time to listen and to encourage. I was important and I mattered and I was valuable.

Aitch invited me and my daughter into her home. Cooking and laughing and sharing and making us feel welcome and important. Teaching me lessons that I needed to learn about people and social interactions and friendship. She was genuine. She was open. Not a burden or an outsider.

I counted the two of you among the great joys in my life. Isn't it obvious that the crossing of our paths was no random happenstance? I am convinced of this and recognize the great blessing that knowing you has been. When I heard the news of your leaving, my first instinct, my first inclination was to get angry. I have only known you for just over a year and already you are being taken from my life. I envisioned us continuing on our journey and our walks together for some time to come. Alas, this is not the plan. God brought you into my life for a reason, and he is taking you from it for a reason. I know you'd both say, "be patient and trust him". It has been an honor to know you and I will not forget our all too brief time together. Peace, love, and blessings to you both, my friends.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Regulating Common Sense

I was listening to the radio the other day on my way to work and stumbled onto a discussion about some new laws that just went into effect in Virginia. One of the big ones was a law against driving and sending text messages with your cellular phone at the same time. From what I understood, if a police officer sees you doing this, he cannot give you a ticket. However, if he pulls you over for another infraction and catches you in the act of texting, he can give you a citation. O.K., the spirit of the law seems fairly reasonable, but the implementation obviously needs some work. Given the absurd vaguaries, it is clear that only a total and complete and oblivious moron would get a citation for driving while texting (DWT). After listening to the radio jockeys for a few moments, I actually could not tell if they were for or against this new law or were just railing on the "quirks" of the folks who write the laws in the first place. The new cell phone law is not the end of the story. Other new laws in the works include:
  1. There can only be one mortician per household.
  2. Selling of prank food items like tofu is forbidden.
  3. Using air quotes in public is a felony punishable by stoning.
  4. Every state resident must have a current chalk outline of themselves on file at the crime lab.
  5. Jolly Rancher candies may be substituted for vegetables at the family table.
Anyway, you get the idea. However, I want to return to the state passing laws on allowable actions while driving. It seems to me that they are trying to regulate common sense, an instinct that seems to be rapidly diminishing among people. I have seen folks driving while eating cereal, watching videos on a screen mounted on the front dashboard, turned around completely and yelling at their children. As I can imagine that these are just as dangerous and distracting as texting while driving, where will the laws end? When will people realize that their behavior and actions and decisions impact others as well? When will people figure out that they have lost a key characteristic of being human?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Re-election Return

A prominent politician has been arrested, again. Not for the second time, but for at least the sixth time in the past ten years. His police record does not consist of minor fringe-of-the-law kind of infractions, but some big ones. I can assuredly believe that if he has been caught six times, that there are many other times he has broken the law and gotten away with it. His list of arrests while in office as an elected official include:
  • Caught smoking crack with mob figures;
  • Stalking young women;
  • Caught with marijuana and cocaine in his possession;
  • Not filing or paying income taxes for several years.
What blows my mind is that he goes through these very public arrests, some of which have been on video where he is kicking and screaming and cursing and way too under the influence, and the people keep reelecting him. What spell does he have over people that he can behave like this, get away with it, and be welcomed back into positions of power and influence with open arms? Do the people who voted for him purposely look the other way? Do they argue that he may not be the nicest person in the world, but he is such an effective politician? Do they believe that he is the right person for the job because his district has historically had extreme problems with drugs and sex crimes and he knows much about these topics? This discussion reminds me of an interview with George Shultz (Ronald Reagan's secretary of state). He was asked if the presidential election boiled down to an honest democrat with a strong track record running vs. a republican Satan, for whom would he advise the American people to vote? He looked in the camera, and without a touch of doubt or confusion, answered Satan.

Now mind you, this post is not meant to be a political rant or to demark open season on anyone. The point is, that we need to be responsible for the choices that we make and the people that we endorse. Yes I know that the situation is complicated and folks feel that their way of life is at stake. But can we sleep comfortably at night if we understand who we are pushing to the front of the line to represent us?

Monday, July 6, 2009

First Impressions

There was a T.V. commercial for a shampoo that ran quite some years ago with the tag line, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression". Truer words have never been spoken. I find it simply amazing how quickly I form an opinion of someone from my first encounter with them. It can be based on how they look, how they dress, their mannerisms or body language, their smile, their attitude, and I'm quite sure on dozens of other things of which I'm not even fully conscious. I have been pondering lately how my first impressions hold up over the long run. If I have an initial positive impression of someone, does it sustain itself over the long term? Do negative first impressions soften or melt away as I get to know someone? It's funny, but it seems the opinions that I form in just a few moments of meeting someone, by mechanisms that I can't begin to quantify, hold up over time. In fact, they seem to be reinforced time and again whenever I interact with them. In other words, if I think somebody is a jerk when I first meet them, this notion is not dispelled with further encounters. If I find someone to be interesting and worth investing in at first meeting, then this stands up. I have run things over and over in my mind and there are only a small number of people that I have changed my mind about over the years. I have a number of friends that caution me to keep an open mind about people, get to know them and understand that on first meetings, some folks are nervous and edgy or overdetermined to please. Maybe they have just had a bad day or are suffereing from indigestion. Who knows? Certainly they would caution that we should not form lasting judgements of people until we know them and understand them.

Cognitively, I understand this point of view, and I appreciate it. I really do. However, that part of me that forms the immediate opinion based on the first impression, somehow happens outside of my conscious control. Also, I would be less hesitant about changing my ways or even re-examining my approach if I was often wrong with my initial findings. After all, who am I to question my own human progamming?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Always Remember


To all my online friends, hope you have a most awesome day and don't forget what we are celebrating.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Road Trip

There are few joys in life more satisfying, more, well, joyous, than being out on the open road, the wind in your hair, the bugs in your teeth. Ahh, yes. Good times, good times. But what is even more hap-hap-happier than this crap is watching your fellow man annoy you and get busted for it. The time that some Mario Andretti wanna-be flies past you at Mach-10 scaring the crap out of you and causing your car to wildly shake in his pressure wave, only to be seen a mile down the road parked on the shoulder with ol' smokey behind him. What about the time Mr. I-am-way-beyond-observing-traffic-signs causes major lane backup by stopping in the middle of the road and performing a highly illegal U-turn only to have a copper sitting right there on his scooter taking it all in. Both of these are situations that I have personally observed, with my own eyes. These experiences filled me with warm feelings that have lasted almost to this very day. Is it wrong to rejoice in the woes and despairs of another? For the most part no, but in some cases it is so totally allowed. The bible goes on and on about this, particularly in the books of III Corinthians and John 4.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Guard Your Throat

My pastor Stu Hodges at Waters Edge Church was in the middle of delivering his most recent sermon last Sunday when he said that he wanted to punch me in the throat. There was no mistaking who he was addressing at that moment. I would now suppose that all this deserves a bit of an explanation. Well, Stu was talking about the purpose of the church, what it needs in terms of people, in order to function properly, to fulfill its purpose. It reminded me a bit of the notion of critical mass in nuclear reactions. Without sufficient numbers of the right groups of people in the body, the church is doomed to fracture and to fall apart, to fail in its mission. The series was entitled "Welcome to the Party". The analogy to the fully functional church reaching its full potential was the perfect party with the "right" invitees (the agnostics/doubters, the newly converted, and those farther along on their walks). At one point, Stu mentioned in an aside, how he hates party poopers. Those people who try to ruin every party with their crappy attitudes and their lack of full participation and embrace. He added in a joking manner, that if you are one of these types, come see him after the service and he will punch you in the throat. This line, by design, got a big laugh from the crowd and served to lighten the mood at that moment in the talk.

The trouble is, Stu was obviously talking right to me. You see, I am a prototypical stick in the mud. I am the person who has always had great difficulty fitting in. I am agoraphobic and quickly want to mutate into a turtle when I am in any social situation. Now mind you, I am not the judgemental pharisee type of old, with a holier-than-thou attitude, wagging my finger at everyone. I just don't know how to relax and have fun. I feel so awkward and out of place and exposed, that I want to explode. Time and time again, people have tried to give me advice on this subject. They say, "just be yourself". The trouble is, I don't know who I am. I have nothing to say, nothing to add, and am uncomfortable with attempts at any sort of pleasant chatter. More often than not, when given an invitation to the party, I find a way not to attend. It is really a pathetic scene. When I have accepted an invitation to a party, I have done my best when I have someone who is willing to act as my sherpa, to take me under their wing and guide me through the process (using cue cards if necessary). I kind of use this person like an athelete uses a personal trainer. I have hoped that, given sufficient time, I could adjust and learn how to deal with these situations. Alas, that has not yet happened and I fear I will never adjust. Now, as if I didn't have enough issues with being out in public, I must guard my throat whenever I am around my pastor.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hare Trigger

Drip, drip, drip. Slowly the container fills. A wheel is about to be set into motion. Eeeek, glub, pfffft. In the twinkling of an eye it will be over. An elaborate plan to be sure, but somehow simple, elegant, foolproof. We all have to pee and that, ultimately, will lead to his cleverly crafted demise. You say, "What can I do? This doesn't affect me.". Oh, doesn't it? You explain to the family, the wife and mother, the hundreds of little bouncers flitting about with unbridled excitement. You tell them why daddy isn't coming home. Sure, go ahead and have another glass of water or, perhaps, iced tea. Go ahead and look forward to that commercial break. Mark my words, it will be on your hands as you finally zip up.