Monday, August 21, 2017

Weeping?

Have you ever seen a machine weep for another machine when it breaks down?
But I see you weeping for your friend in pain.
You must not be a machine.
Tell me you are not a machine.

We speak of dysfunction, of breakdowns, of human resources,
Of being finely oiled and tuned machines.
We should beware the direction our analogies take us
Lest we forget we are human.

We may build machines and energize them with electricity,
But God created man and breathed the breath of life in him,
and man became a living soul.
Better to be one with God than one with machines.

We speak to Siri and Alexa as if these “its” are “theys”.
We listen to Alexa and Siri as if they are people.
God speaks but we do not hear,
Others speak but we do not listen.

If we look at others as parts
In a complex organizational machine,
Then let us not pretend that they matter as people,
When they wear out we will order replacements.

We are provided motivational speakers not to improve our characters,
But to improve our production.
We are too busy to care if one has lost a son, one a daughter, one a spouse.
Let’s keep our lives compartmentalized.

When the organizational machine falls on hard times the parts are expected to perform,
When the parts fall on hard times we replace them.
There are places where one can find used auto parts,
Are there places for used people?

Cynical? Perhaps. But is it cynical to describe what one sees?
Is it cynical to observe the isolation? The frenzied activity?
The pressure to perform and conform and not to think too much?
We are not resources, we are people…I think…maybe I am wrong.

Did I come from an assembly line?
Am I an interchangeable part?
Am I a function key on a keyboard?
When we cease to function do we have worth?

If we have our doubts let us not hesitate.
Let us flee to those with the answers.
Let us close our doors, ponder our deep questions…

And ask Siri and Alexa.

Opioids


The tragedy of opioids is touching so many lives, shattering families and communities. We think “treatment” is the answer. We think prevention will help.

But what use is treatment without hope? What use is prevention without hope? If we approach the problem from the perspective that we are the products of time plus matter plus chance then we are simply machines trying to temporarily repair other machines – we are all headed to the unfeeling landfill of deceased humanity.

And if we are the products of a great cosmic accident without purpose, then who is to say whose “reality” is the better? Whatever we may be thinking or feeling is accidental – it has no transcendent meaning or purpose. Whether we live one day or two days or 90 years does not really matter…not if we believe what we have been taught…not if we believe what many of us have taught others.

We have been fools in thinking that we are simply chemicals and matter – for if we are but matter then nothing really matters. But who really lives like this? If we do not live like this then let us admit we are hypocrites and ask the hard questions – who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why do we love? Why do we have a sense of justice? Why a sense of emotional pain? Why does hope matter?

Prevention and treatment without hope in a life that has transcendent-eternal meaning is like me giving you a check for one million dollars drawn on a bank account with no funds.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

More on Food Storage

   
A correspondent told me that she once threw out all of her miscellaneous containers – Cool Whip, butter tubs, everything she had. Then she purchased a set of green food storage containers. However, because they were all green and looked the same neither she nor her husband had visual memory of what they put in them – in other words, when they used the Cool Whip container that was so old that only the “p” remained in the name they knew it had leftover liver, but a green container is a green container. Plus, having all containers the same color lacked the excitement of wondering, “Now what’s in the Smart Balance container? What’s in the Land O’ Lakes container?” A green container is a green container. 

There was also an unforeseen problem with the green containers. When the lids were opened and the food was inspected the food all looked green; what was green because of the hue of the container and what was green because…well…because it was spoiled? Debates between my correspondent and her husband ensued, arguments about who was going to remove the food to inspect it, questions about whose day it was to taste the suspect food in order to verify whether it was safe to eat. Tension in the marriage began to rise. They have gone back to reusing butter tub containers, they say it makes life more interesting and it has reduced tension in their marriage.

This same correspondent told me about her friend’s husband who, being unable to correctly identify the substance in a butter tub container decided to eat it – after all it looked good. Do not eat what you are not certain about, if you do not recall eating it with your spouse do not assume what you are looking at are leftovers. It was moist dog food. This is a good argument for dry dog food, it is less likely to be mistaken for human food.

This reminds me of an afternoon some years ago when we lived on Beach Road. I arrived home from work before Vickie and I was quite hungry. I saw summer sausage on the kitchen countertop and sliced it and ate it with saltines and mustard – it was quite good. When Vickie arrived home and asked me where the summer sausage was I told her that I ate it.

“Didn’t you see the teeth marks on it?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, “why?”

“It rolled on the floor this morning and the dogs got it, I left it on the countertop rather than throwing it away so I could give them more later. Didn’t you wonder why I left it out of the refrigerator? Surely there was dog fur on it?”


Well…when you are hungry you are hungry and I guess you don’t always think straight. The only side effect of my eating the sausage was that for the next couple of weeks I’d bark occasionally.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hoarding Containers

         
In the midst of social and political turmoil our attention has been diverted from an issue critical to many Americans; I refer of course to the proliferation of empty Cool Whip and butter tub containers found in the cupboards of many households. The congressional select committee on alternative food storage policy has not met for a number of months and the present administration is seeking to pull its funding. You may recall that the Obama administration fought to retain funding in its final budget in spite of lobbying to dissolve the committee by Tupperware and Rubber Maid.

Industry lobbyists have resubmitted draft legislation that would require $5.00 deposits on Cool Whip containers and all butter tubs. Their hope is that people will stop using these containers for storage and be coerced into purchasing products specifically made for storage. The Center for Disease Control has weighed in on the side of the lobbyists due to the high number of emergency room visits attributed to people eating unidentified leftovers stored in butter tubs and the like. Ironically, the National Institute for Health has opposed the legislation because, they argue, new molds and mutant organisms are routinely found in spoiled refrigerator food and their hope is that eventually this will lead to a medical breakthrough.

The American Institute for Counseling is supporting the legislation in the hope that it will reduce marital stress when it comes to identifying just what is in the refrigerator, who put it there, and how long it has been there. They receive weekly reports of spouses throwing containers at one another while arguing whether the contents are pasta, chicken, or liver.

The Humane Society also supports the legislation because it argues that pets are eating the leftovers that fall on the floor as a result of spouses throwing containers at each other – the spoiled food is making pets sick.

The National Mental Health Counsel supports the legislation due to people entering therapy because they have meltdowns when unable to correctly match a plastic lid to the container in question. Recently a woman in Colorado was found by her husband on the kitchen floor with 278 plastic lids surrounding her, speaking incoherently, picking up the lids and pounding them onto a hapless Cool Whip container. When her husband pointed out that all of the lids appeared to be butter tub lids she attacked him with the dog’s water bowl which was beside her on the floor.

Please write your congressperson about this – tell him or her, “No deposits on Cool Whip or butter tub containers!”


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charlottesville


Amidst the polarization and the fear, whether encouraged by media or by so-called leaders across the cultural spectrum, this is what I know:

The Church of Jesus Christ must stand apart from the world if we are to live in the world and speak into the world; otherwise we will be indistinguishable from the world and we will have nothing to say.

This means that we must have our citizenship in heaven with no competing allegiances. This idea of no competing allegiances applies to all segments of the fragmented church.

Our voice must be one that speaks peace and reconciliation alongside repentance and confession of sin. (I kept asking myself last weekend, “Where is Doctor King?”)

We must look at our collective history honestly without glossing over sin. Since the members of the Church live in the broader culture, and since members of the Church have participated (and do participate) in the sins of the culture, then the Church should have the courage to call sin sin and not to call it other names; such as “mistake”, or “patriotism”, or “they didn’t know better”, or “heritage”, or “they needed to do this for the economy”.  

We must adamantly reject the idea that criticism of our nation is not patriotic; Chesterton pointed out to the effect that if one’s patriotism depends on one’s interpretation of history then that is a pretty poor patriot. As Christians we should know the deep power of sin, not only in our own lives but in the lives of a collective people. The power of sin is perhaps nowhere more evident than in its power to deceive us; individual self-deception is bad enough, collective self-deception is frightening.

An honest appraisal of United States history (as is true with other national histories) shows that we (yes “we”) have exploited and used others to meet our own needs – we have had an insatiable appetite for economic and geographic growth – we devour and devour; we devour others and we devour our own people. This should be no surprise, our nation is not the Kingdom of God. What is the record of the professing church challenging our national appetite for more and more? What is the record of the professing church in speaking out for justice and equity?

If I am a white Christian I must ask God to help me understand the perspectives of my African – American brothers, my Latino brothers, my Asian brothers, and my Native American brothers. I must listen to them. I must stop looking for excuses not to listen, I must stop using justifications not to listen. And I must be willing to put their well-being ahead of my own; I must trust them whether I fully understand their deep feelings and perspectives – for how can I ever truly fully understand their experience?

Do I love my black brothers enough to trust them? Do I love them enough to allow them to “see” for me? Do I love them enough to allow them to take me by the hand and help lead me? Has it occurred to me that perhaps the people who were once enslaved may be the ones to lead me out of slavery?

On August 5, a week before Charlottesville, I wrote the following:

They say states-rights is why they fought
It was such a noble cause
The right to keep black humanity enslaved
Must have been an after thought

Old Jim Crow where did you go?
Where are you hiding today?

Where is the voice of the Church? If it is not a distinct voice of peace, reconciliation, confession of sin, and repentance – then it is nothing.

Maybe God had a point when He commanded that we should have no graven images.




Monday, August 14, 2017

Heritage?



I hope that my descendants will learn from my mistakes and flee from my sin. If they are to celebrate anything in my life let it be the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Prayer by Patrick

Lord, be with us this day,
Within us to purify us;
Above us to draw us up;
Beneath us to sustain us;
Before us to lead us;
Behind us to restrain us;
Around us to protect us.

(Patrick c389-461)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Prayer by Anselm

Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; 
because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself; 
because you have promised so much, I owe you my whole being. 

Moreover, I owe you as much more love than myself as you are greater than I, 
for whom you gave yourself and to whom you promised yourself. 

I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding. I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I cannot render the whole of it to you. Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of your love.

I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in love.

(Anselm 1033-1109)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Two Sons


In Matthew 21:28 – 32 Jesus tells a parable about two sons and their dad. The dad went to the first son and asked him to work in the vineyard but the son said “no”. Then the dad asked the second son to work in the vineyard and that son said “yes”. However, the first son regretted what he had said to his dad and went and worked in the vineyard, but the second son, in spite of what he told his father, didn’t go work in the vineyard.

Jesus asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

While I realize that Jesus told this parable to make a point to the religious types of His day, this is one of those parables that gives me hope. How many times have I told God my Father that I’d do something and then didn’t do it? How many times have I told Him that I wouldn’t do something but then did it? Well, I guess if I was going to play a part in this parable I could play either son. It is quite the warning that we can talk the talk but that if we don’t walk the walk the talk won’t cut it.

I shared this text at my father’s funeral. I officiated at the funeral because we didn’t know a pastor who knew Dad and I didn’t want a stranger going through the motions. My Dad pretty much said, “I am not going to work in your vineyard,” all his life…but then…toward the end…who should appear in God’s vineyard but my Dad. This is kind of like the parable of the workers in the vineyard that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in that we just never know how things are going to work out, but what we do know is that God’s grace is amazing.

Sometimes, at work, I’ll have an employee with an attitude like the first son, but I try to be patient because you just never know, the employee with the attitude may just show up in the vineyard and surprise everyone. I’ve also had employees who talked a good talk but never showed up for work, or if they did show up in the vineyard it was to watch others work. People just don’t get the accountability issue – they think their words are what they will be evaluated on, not their actions.


What about you? What role do you see yourself in when you look at this parable? 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vacuum-packed Coffee


Cousin Clovis purchased some vacuum-packed coffee last week. I was going to write that he purchased a pound of coffee, but not too many roasters will sell you a pound of coffee any more, they will sell you 10 or 12 ounces and package it like a pound used to look and charge you double of what a pound used to cost.

This morning Clovis went to open his little vacuum pack, mind you that he was sleepy, mind you that he needed his coffee, mind you that he had never dealt with a vacuum pack before, at least before 5:30 A.M.

As his blurry eyes viewed the package he saw a little series of dashes across one end of the package and a little pair of scissors printed on the package with a teeny-weeny arrow pointing from the scissors to the line of dashes. Because Clovis ain’t no dummy, even at 5:30 in the morning, he took a pair of scissors out of the kitchen drawer and cut along the red dashes, then he expectantly pulled on that end of the package anticipating that the seal would break, giving him access to the coffee.

Clovis’s expectations were not realized, the package remained sealed. He held the package up to his eyes, yes he had cut right along the red dashes; no, the package would not open.

Once again Clovis got the scissors and cut again, this time tight to the square part of the package, fearing that the entire package might come undone and spill coffee all over the counter and floor…thankfully the package just opened, but now its contents were ready to make their escape because there was nothing between the top of the package and the big outside world.

Clovis carefully balanced the package up against the coffee maker, retrieved a one-pint Ziploc freezer bag (he was smart enough to know, even at 5:30 A.M., that a sandwich bag might break), and carefully emptied the coffee into the storage bag. Then he inserted his measuring cup in the bag to get coffee and…and…and…there were lumps and clumps. What to do?

He tried to break up the clumps and lumps with the measuring cup, no did work. He put the measuring cup down and gently held the bag in this hands and applied pressure – no did work. He laid the bag on the cutting board and gently pressed down, nothing, the lumps and clumps held firm. He got a wooden rolling pin and tried that, might as well have been using the rolling pin to smooth asphalt – it didn’t work.

What to do?

Finally he hit upon an idea.

He ran hot water for a few minutes in the sink and through the garbage disposal. Then he ran the garbage disposal to get the water out and try to dry it. Then he disconnected the drain line from the disposal. Then he put a mixing bowl beneath the disposal. Then he dumped the coffee from the Ziploc bag into the disposal. Then he turned the disposal on, fully expecting the lumps and clumps to be pulverized and exit the disposal into the mixing bowl. The disposal motor whined and whined and groaned and groaned and then it stopped. Clovis found an allen wrench and tried to turn the disposal blades before hitting the reset button, they wouldn’t move.

It was now 6:15 and if he didn’t get a move on he’d be late for work.

He reconnected the drain line. Took the Ziploc bag and the bag the coffee came in, put them both in his lunch bag, put the scissors back in the drawer, and then left for work…stopping at 7-11 on his way to get a cup of coffee. Later that morning his wife, Francine, called him to tell him that something was wrong with the disposal and did he know anything about it. He told her that he couldn’t image what was wrong with it.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Lemuel and Rosa and Duke’s Mayonnaise – Part 4


Lemuel asked, “Rosa, is there anything I can pray for, for you or your family or friends?”

Rosa, thoughtfully looking at her customer said, “I’m having cataract surgery next Tuesday and I’m worried. I don’t know why but I’m worried. I had it done on my other eye a few years ago and it went fine, but I’m worried this time.”

Rosa’s right eye was long overdue for the surgery, it looked like a pane of opaque glass, cloudy and thick, it was the first thing one noticed about Rosa’s physical appearance. She had probably been living with this condition for years.

Lemuel looked at Rosa and stretching out his two hands said, “Here, give me your hand and let’s pray.” She reached her hand across the counter and Lemuel prayed aloud for her – it was a holy moment between Rosa and Lemuel, two people who had been strangers five minutes before.

After the prayer Lemuel picked up his bag with Duke’s, said, “God bless you,” to Rosa, and headed out the door. Rosa called after him, “What’s your name?”

“Lemuel” was the reply.

The only thing better than a mater and sliced white bread and Duke’s Mayonnaise is when you add prayer – that’s a recipe hard to beat.

Lemuel had a business meeting a while later, prior to the meeting getting started he got to share about Rosa with a man he just met. Then a lady arrived to participate in the meeting who Lemuel did not know would be there, he was delighted to see her for it had been at least two years since they last met – she and Lemuel had prayed together before. She and Lemuel both smiled when they saw each other and embraced – the other meeting participants looking on and perhaps wondering, “How do they know each other?”


There is nothing quite like Duke’s mayonnaise. And…there is nothing quite like praying for and with others. If we can spread Duke’s on our sliced white bread, and spread the news about Duke’s to others…surely we can also spread care and concern and prayer in our daily lives. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lemuel and Rosa and Duke’s Mayonnaise – Part 3


Lemuel lifted a jar of sugar-free Duke’s Mayonnaise off the shelf and headed to the checkout area. The cashier at the first register had no customers so he walked up to her station, placed his bodacious Duke’s Mayonnaise on the counter, and as he was saying “Hi, how are you today?” he saw by her name tag that her name was Rosa.

You don’t meet a lot of ladies named Rosa today. When I think of the name Rosa I think of two Rosas, one is a lady I knew way back when who was the mother of my father, the other was Rosa Parks, who on December 1, 1955 refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL. I need to meet Lemuel’s Rosa so I can make the acquaintance of a third Rosa.

My grandmother was born in 1897, which is to confirm that she entered this world before I did. She passed away in 1974. That seems like a long time to live when you go from one century into another; but hey, look at me (and maybe you) – born in the 20th century and likely to leave here in the 21st century – if I make it until the 22nd century I sure hope they fully fund Social Security. One day a grandchild or great-grandchild may be writing the same thing about me – assuming that in the future folks can write coherent sentences; I believe Social Security has a better chance of surviving than literacy.

Rosa Anderson married Caskie Withers (born 1888) in 1912; that means, as I cypher it, that she was 15 years old – that seems awfully young, but that’s what the genealogy says. She and Caskie had their first child, Jean, in 1914. Caskie was in WWI, came home and died of pneumonia on December 30, 1929. 1929 was not a very good year for the country or for Grandmother Withers – she was pregnant with her last child, Aunt Christine, who was born in February 1930.  My daddy was born in 1925, Uncle John in 1927, Uncle Cleve in 1925, there was a baby James who died in 1924, and there were more who were born earlier. I guess in those days having babies at home wasn’t expensive like having them in the hospital. But seriously, it must have been a terrible thing when Rosa lost Caskie – the loss of her husband was bad enough, but think about all the little ones. I wish I really knew her story, but I don’t. When you get on in life you wish that you’d listened and asked questions when you were young and stupid – and when you get older and want to ask questions there is no one to ask.

I didn’t see much of Grandmother Withers growing up. She lived in Northern Virginia and we lived in Maryland. This was before beltways and superhighways and getting from “here to there” wasn’t always as easy as it is today. I know my Daddy went to live with Aunt Jean in D.C. before he went into the Navy in WWII. At some point Grandmother moved up to Northern Virginia from Nelson County, and all of her children except Christine lived in the Northern Virginia – D.C. area. Nelson County, where both of my grandparents were born, is where a few of my ancestors with various last names are from; it is also the backdrop for the “Waltons” in case you didn’t know – I think my family probably knew the Baldwin sisters.

I admire Rosa Parks, the woman had courage. Yes, I know she said she was just tired and wasn’t going to move, but the woman had courage. Mrs. Parks said, “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” We live in a world where no one can make up his mind and where no one knows what must be done – we live in a world of moral cowards, we need Rosa Parks to come back and lead us.

Back to our Mizz Rosa. Lemuel says, “We’re having BLTs tonight and I need to get me some Duke’s Mayonnaise. You can’t have a BLT without Duke’s and the missus won’t let me in the door without it.”

Mizz Rosa, a lady in her mid - to late 70s, smiled at Lemuel and said, “That is the truth, you gotta have Duke’s. I remember I once worked in an office where they didn’t know anything about tomato sandwiches, and they sure didn’t know noth’n about Duke’s. One day I went out to a roadside produce stand and got me some tomatoes, then I went to the store and got me some sliced white bread and Duke’s. I went back to the office and started to make me a mater sandwich. Everyone was looking at me not knowing what I was doing.

“ “What are you doing?” they was asking. I said, “I’m making a tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise.” They ‘aint’ never seen a tomato sandwich…can you believe that? Never seen such a thing...can you believe that? O my goodness. Well, I fixed my sandwich and was a eat’n it when I looked and one of them had two slices of bread out and was cutting one of my tomatoes and putting my Duke’s on the bread and then commenced to eat’n…eat’n my Dukes, my tomatoes, my sliced white bread. And then another started, and then another, and don’t you know that before it was over I didn’t have one tomato left.” 

As I listened to Lemuel’s story I couldn’t help but admire Mizz Rosa spreading culture in her workplace, whether she intended to or not. It sounds like she was gracious about it, which one would expect with a name like Rosa. I think the best way to win friends and influence people is with Duke’s Mayonnaise and some blues music along with bluegrass. Maybe if we dropped Duke’s Mayonnaise on folks out yonder in the Middle East along with blues and bluegrass and Hanover maters and sliced white bread they’d all get along a mite better. Don’t laugh, people with full stomachs tend to be more contented that folks looking for their next meal.  Come to think of it this program might work in our own country with folks a’be’n mean to one another and a’hurt’n one another – might even send some Duke’s up to Washington City in the District of Columbia.

As Lemuel and Mizz Rosa kept talking, with Mizz Rosa ringing up the mayonnaise and taking Lemuel’s money, and putting that sugar-free southern treasure in a bag Lemuel looked at Mizz Rosa and asked….

To be continued…



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

An Old Man On A Bench


As I was walking down a sidewalk, heading into a Kroger, I saw an old man sitting on a bench. He had a red and blue plaid newsboy cap on and his face was chiseled with decades of time. If his face were a phonograph record it would play the blues.

The bench once had advertising painted on it, but the peeling green paint on its slats made it indiscernible. The multicolor lettering was long gone, even its outline was now lost  - only flakes of paint here and there bore testimony to soap, or soda, or aspirin; the purchase of which promised to make life better - the bench was weathered and warped, the old man was weathered and bent.

His eyes saw me, he was aware of what was immediately surrounding him – but he was looking at something else, something I couldn’t see – his soul was looking through his eyes, beyond what I and other passersby could see. I had a sense that he was there and yet wasn’t there. I had a sense that I was intruding.

Reverently I said, “Good afternoon.”

He looked at me, through me, beyond me, and replied:

“When I die I will fly
And when I fly I will soar.
When I soar it will be above this old earth
And my troubles will be far below.”

I don’t think he was actually talking to me, I was just a witness in the sacred place of the old man, for I don’t think he was simply sitting on a bench; the bench was just a prop, a prop for a tired old soul in the tired old body of a tired old man.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Lemuel and Rosa and Duke’s Mayonnaise – Part 2



Upon entering Food Lion, Lemuel glanced up at the product descriptions at the end of the aisles and saw the aisle that had mayonnaise. Walking down the aisle he saw the mayonnaise section with two national brands that bombard the consumer with advertising and alongside them Duke’s – which is the only national brand made without sugar (ain’t that sweet!).

Duke’s, as any history major knows, was formulated, produced, and first sold by Eugenia Thomas Duke in Greenville, S.C. in the early 20th century. She started in the sandwich business and as part of her business she made her own mayonnaise. As the sandwich endeavor rapidly grew it became apparent that its success was largely due to the tasty mayonnaise, and around 1923 Eugenia started a separate enterprise focused on the production and selling of mayonnaise. Demand became too much to keep up with and in 1929 she sold her business to the C.F. Sauer Company (which is celebrating its 130th year anniversary in 2017). Later she moved to California to be with her daughter and opened a sandwich business there.

Now we need to note a few salient historical and cultural points. Firstly, you may wonder why, even if her daughter lived in California, Eugenia would leave South Carolina and move there – South Carolina was not the dust bowl. Historians are still arguing over why she moved out yonder leaving the land of low-country cuisine with its shrimp and grits and its gators, after all, California ain’t got no gators – and there ain’t nothing quite like taking a stroll at night wondering whether your next step might lead to the amputation of your toes…or worse.

We also need to note that there were two Dukes whose products have been widely disseminated across our land, the Mayonnaise Dukes and the Tobacco Dukes. Now these next questions may appear on the final exam so please take notice, “Which product tastes better on a sandwich, mayonnaise or tobacco? Which of these two products is likely to take your taste away so that can’t fully taste the sandwich? Which of these two products is more likely to kill you?”

I think Duke University got the nickname the Blue Devils from students turning blue as they were choking on Mr. Duke’s cigarettes. Which would you rather do, smoke and turn blue or eat delicious mayonnaise and smile and sing and skip and dance and…oh yes…breathe? (This may also be a test question). Ever make a paste out of tobacco and spread it on a sandwich? Think about it.

Another historical point is that C.F. Sauer, the company that purchased Duke’s Mayonnaise, was founded and is still based in Richmond, VA. So while Duke’s may have started in South Carolina, and while it may have continued to be produced in South Carolina, it is owned by a Virginia company. I think Virginians can have some satisfaction in this, even be it small, because South Carolina is the group that got us into that nasty war a few years back – frankly I think South Carolina ought to pay us reparations. Anyway, Duke’s belongs to us’uns and not you’uns, even though we choose to employ you’uns to make mayonnaise for us’uns.

Over the years Duke’s Mayonnaise has spread across the country. One of my brothers lives in Fall Creek, WI and there is a Walmart in Chippewa Falls that sells Duke’s. This is bittersweet news to me because I’d like to be able to tell him that he can’t get it where he lives. On the other hand, folks across the country could use a little culture.


To be continued…

Friday, July 28, 2017

Lemuel and Rosa and Duke’s Mayonnaise


Lemuel told me that he stopped at Food Lion yesterday to pick up some mayonnaise. Earlier in the week a friend had given him manna from his garden, you may know manna as tomatoes. If you don’t associate home-grown tomatoes as manna, then with all due respect (and pity) you ain’t from around here.

In my own life I recall that when Vickie and I lived in MA and friends from around here were coming to visit, that when they asked if they could bring us anything we didn’t have to think twice, “Hanover tomatoes”. If you don’t know what Hanover tomatoes are then with all due respect (and pity) you ain’t from around here.

When I meet someone from around here who doesn’t like tomatoes I give them my sympathies and ask them why they don’t move – what’s the point of living here and not loving tomatoes. Then once I establish that they aren’t moving I ask them if I can have their share of tomatoes.

Lemuel and his missus were going to have BLTs last night and needed mayonnaise. If you are from around here you immediately recognize that this couple committed the eighth deadly sin, if you ain’t from around here you don’t know no better – to be out of mayonnaise during tomato season is not one of those tweeny-weeny sins, it is a deadly sin. I’ve known unfortunate things to happen in families that have run out of mayonnaise, I’ve known life-long friends to come to blows over the last spoonful in a jar, I’ve known couples in counseling because one or the other failed to notify the other when the last dollop was gone so that it could be replenished. The smart family has extra mayonnaise, the intelligent family estimates their anticipated mayonnaise consumption at the start of ‘mater season and stocks a supply – you don’t fly across the Pacific without plenty of fuel, and no thoughtful family is going to risk entering the tomato season without ensuring a supply of mayonnaise. (I hope Lemuel and his missus don’t read this!).

I’ve been told that some jurisdictions have arrested grocery store owners who have jacked up the price of mayonnaise during hurricane season when folks think they might have to hunker down. I think that is wrong, I don’t think they should be arrested, just deported. I understand that one citizenship ceremony on July 4 includes the requirement that the new citizens partake of either a BLT or a straight tomato and mayonnaise sandwich. If you don’t understand all of this…you ain’t from around here.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you ain’t from around here but move here there is hope; just as in the ancient world not everyone was a Greek, but everyone could learn to speak Greek and thereby become cultured, so the door of Southern hospitality is open to refugees from other regions who have not been initiated into the delight and comfort of home-grown tomatoes, especially Hanover tomatoes. We all need help from time-to-time and most folks are open to helping those unfortunates who have never tasted tomato manna – most are open I say, not all. I admit that I struggle with sharing tomatoes, which is pretty sad considering that others share tomatoes with me – but I digress, this is about Lemuel and Rosa and Duke’s…not about me.


I see that I’ve written all that I can right now, so we’ll pick this up in the next post. By the way, don’t leave home today without checking on your stock of mayo.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

We All Matter


“The priest looked puzzled also, as if at his own thoughts; he sat with knotted brow and then said abruptly: ‘You see, it’s so easy to be misunderstood. All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.” 
― 
G.K. ChestertonThe Complete Father Brown


Tuesday night we went to the baseball game. Wednesday afternoon we were back for another baseball game. Crowds are interesting to me. So many people, dressed so many ways, doing so many things. As I write this it is early in the morning, soon I’ll leave home and go out into more crowds, more people. Some will be nice, some indifferent, some perhaps inconsiderate. Some drivers may be rude and dangerous – it seems to be getting worse. 


This afternoon I have an important meeting, there will be people there I have never met; it may be tense, I hope not. I wonder how it will go.


Will I remember that everyone who I meet today matters? Will I remember that they all matter to God and that they should matter to me?

When I am in crowds I often think, “Jesus died for that person, and that person, and that person. Lord, draw them to you.” I think, “There is no one here for whom Jesus did not die. There is no one here whom Jesus does not love.”


It’s one thing to think high and lofty theological or philosophical thoughts, but they don’t mean anything if we can’t grapple with the fact that everyone matters. If we can’t love our neighbor then what’s the point? If we can’t learn to love the unlovable and touch the untouchable then why bother? When an animal is hurting it can be dangerous, it can bite, it can tear – but we hopefully do what we can to help and heal. If that’s true with us and animals – why not more so with each other?


We all matter. The question is whether I will live like they do today, will I pay attention to others and do what I can to help them?


How am I going to live today?



What about you?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Clocking In At 4:00 PM – More Thoughts


This parable (Matthew 20:1-16) gives me hope. I’m not sure when I really started to work in the vineyard. There are days when I’m not even sure that I’ve started. I know there have been days when I thought I was working but was doing more harm than good – I’ve had a lot of those days. So when I read this parable I think, “Well, it’s never too late to get it right. Even if you start late there is hope.” Now I realize this wasn’t the point of the parable. It is a warning to us who are self-righteous and think we know who is more valuable or worthy; it is a picture of the grace of God, as Luther wrote concerning this parable, “…God does not want to deal with us according to our work, according to our deserving, but according to grace.”

The idea of grace makes me hopeful as well – for I can’t work enough for God, I can’t earn God’s grace, or His mercy, or His favor. To the religious leaders of Jesus’ day it was a warning that just maybe they would be last so they’d better watch out. Since then, in every generation, religious leaders ought to pay attention to this parable – just because we have divinity degrees doesn’t mean a thing when it comes time for the Owner of the vineyard to settle up with the laborers. Frankly, divinity degrees can get in the way of good honest hard work in the vineyard – we can think we are something we are not.

I think maybe I’ve knocked a good deal of fruit off the vine with my stupidity. I’ve also passed by some ripe fruit because I didn’t recognize it. And then there have been times when it has been too blasted hot to work and I’ve made excuses and snuck out early – not finishing the job. Then I’ve picked fruit before it was ripe; then there is the fruit that I’ve allowed to rot. Oh yes, then I’ve pulled weeds when I should have left them alone because in pulling the weeds I inadvertently pulled and damaged fruit.

So this idea of God’s grace is a good thing for me to ponder and hope for; it does give me hope, even joy. I need not trust myself or my ability – I can trust the Owner of the vineyard – He has shown who He is in and through Jesus Christ. I know whatever He gives me will be more kindness than I deserve…much much more.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Clocking In At 4:00 PM When The Shift Ends At 5:00 PM


In Matthew 20:1 – 16 Jesus tells a parable about the owner of a vineyard and his day laborers. Early in the morning he hired a group of people to work in the vineyard and he agreed to pay them $50.00; two or three hours later he saw some folks looking for work and he hired them too, promising to pay them “whatever is right”; then three hours later he did the same thing, and three hours after that he did the same thing. Finally, two hours after that, with only one hour of the workday left, he saw more folks standing around and he hired them too.

When the workday was over and it was time to pay the workers, the owner had the workers line up beginning with the ones who started last – and he paid the last group $50.00, and the second to the last group $50.00, and the third from the last group $50.00 – and so on until he came to the group that had started first thing in the morning and who he had agreed to pay $50.00. When he paid the first group what they had agreed on, which was $50.00, they had a duck fit complaining that they deserved more than the group that had only worked one hour. The owner said, “I haven’t done you any wrong, I’ve paid you what we agreed to. Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I wish with my own money?”

This parable can be viewed from the perspective of the owner, or of the workers who started first, or of the workers who started last. I see some overlay here with the elder brother in the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and the workers who worked all day – resentful when someone shows liberality to others who did not earn it. There is a lot of that in our society, and I suppose in many of our churches. “If you didn’t earn it then you don’t deserve it and if you don’t deserve it then I don’t want you to have it.” It is as if we created ourselves and our abilities and our resources and can attribute our success to ourselves and ourselves alone – we forget that during the first few years of our lives that we could do nothing for ourselves. We forget that we may have talents or abilities or influences in our lives, or opportunities, that others do not have.

Why this anger when some people display liberality toward others? For the Christian, our Father is beyond liberality, giving until it hurts – see Christ on the Cross. If we are to be as our Father in heaven it would do us well to learn His liberality. He sends His sun and His refreshing rain on all – the good and evil, the thankful and unthankful. If we are to live as his children, it would also be well if we learn to rejoice when those who only worked one hour are given the same wages as ourselves – why we might even suggest that they be given more.

Who can I be generous to today? Is there someone who needs a kind word, an act of service, money to help them through a tough time?


What about you?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Which Light?


“When the light in most people’s faces comes from the glow of the laptop, the smartphone, or the television screen, we are living in a Dark Age…They are missing that fundamental light meant to shine forth in a human person through social interaction…love can only come from that. Without real contact with other human persons, there is no love. We’ve never seen a Dark Age like this one.” Father Martin, Benedictine Monk. Quoted by Ron Dreher in, The Benedict Option.

Do we reflect the light of relationship or the blue light of technology? If we convince ourselves that we are machines, which we seem to be doing, we will choke all hope of love from our lives. What is wrong with one machine constantly interfacing with another machine? Nothing. What is wrong with humanity convincing itself that it is a machine and living in 24/7 interaction with machines? Everything.

If we are machines then when we do have interaction with other human machines we come to primarily view others as machines, as things, to be used and consumed and then discarded. Our worth is purely functional and when we can no longer function then we are taken to the landfill – after all, it is just business. We don’t want others to interfere with the functionality of our lives, and we are brainwashed to the point where we don’t want to interfere in the functionality of the lives of others. When we have nothing practical to give then it is time to give up on life. Euthanasia becomes the practical thing to do, we save on space, we save on money, we save others time – isn’t that what we do with machines? Why we are even biodegradable!

When we are reduced to masses of biochemical matter reflecting the blue light of technology we not only shut ourselves off from each other, we deny our Creator and functionally shut ourselves off from Him and His Divine light in Jesus Christ.

Satan need not worry too much about convincing us that there is no God, if he can convince us that we are machines. The irony is that machines do not create themselves. What fools we are not to recognize that and to attack those who do.

Father Martin’s observation reminds us that we all have something to give others – love, care, and the gift of relationship. Let’s do what we can, let’s focus on what we can do and not on what we can’t do; let’s focus on the lives we can touch.

The other day I was crossing a parking lot and spoke to a passing man, it was a comment about how cold it was getting (the temperature was around 98 degrees), what had been a vacant look smiled and replied to me. That man has been in my mind the past few days. I speak to passing people often, which is amazing because I’m an introvert of introverts; but more and more I see it as giving a drink of cool water to parched lips, more and more I see it as an imperative.

We have been taught that to look at the sun directly will blind us. We have not been taught that blue light will also blind us to who we are, to who others are – virtual reality is not reality.


We are dying from the artificial blue light of technology, we need to give each other the light of relationship, and we all need the light of Jesus Christ. We need to help one another find our way out of this enveloping darkness. Grab someone’s hand today and try to find the way out…maybe if enough of us hold hands we can find our way back to who we are…children of God. The hands of Jesus are always outstretched, if He has hold of your hand, then take someone else’s hand and gently guide it into the hand of Jesus…He can hold us all.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When Socks Don’t Hold Up


Alas, I threw them away. I couldn’t get another day out of them. I should have thrown the other pair away too, but I wore them. Socks that creep down one’s legs are socks that should be thrown away.
                               

We are better at evaluating socks than thinking. It doesn’t matter whether our thinking fails us day after day, we keep putting the system of thought back on. We pull it up, it falls; we pull it up again, it falls. We deny the socks are falling. We are a people walking around with falling socks, with socks creeping down into our shoes. Some go sockless and think they’ve avoided the problem, but their thinking and belief systems fail too, they are just in denial. Better not to look at our feet, better not to look at another’s feet; than to admit that socks are falling. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Face of Earth Entomb


“Any yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp. Is’t night’s predominance, or the day’s shame, that darkness does the face of earth entomb, when living light should kiss it?” Macbeth, Act II, Scene 4. Spoken by Ross.

What to do when darkness envelopes the land, when the day is night and the night is blacker than black? What to do when the land is kissed not by light but by darkness? When the sun rises the night reaches forth its tentacles to strangle it, lest it should reveal deeds of darkness, the works of the abyss. A curtain of blindness, we dance and play in the dark and think it is light – it is so long since we’ve seen the sun that we have forgotten what the light of light looks like, our eyes have adjusted to dimness first, then blackness. So accustomed are we to darkness that we no longer need light to see.


“Then Jesus spoke to them again saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Bridal Shop


I see where a major chain of bridal stores has closed, sending soon-to-be brides into panic. While I don’t know the details, I imagine that some brides-to-be had chosen their gowns; others had paid for them; others had been fitted for them; others had the date set when they were going to pick them up. Panic has been introduced into the hoped-for perfect wedding. Perhaps also financial hardship if the gowns had been paid for. The unexpected has happened – what was a sure thing is no longer a sure thing. A trusted company has closed – the brides relied on a firm that was financially rotten – they did not know.

What about us?

Jesus tells a parable about a king who held a wedding reception for his son, strangely none of those originally invited came. Then the king sent his servants out into the highways to bring whoever they could find – all types of people came, it was a crowd of contradictions. According to the custom each attendee was given a special wedding garment to wear while participating in the reception. Strangely one of the attendees declined the garment – he was, to put it mildly, ejected from the reception (Matthew 22:1-14).

Jesus tells another parable about a group of gals who went out to meet the bridegroom at night; five of them thought ahead and took extra batteries for their flashlights, five didn’t take extra batteries. When the hours past and the batteries began to weaken the smart five changed their batteries, but the dumb ones left to go to the 7-Eleven to buy more batteries. While the dumb ones were gone the bridegroom came and the smart ones escorted him to the wedding reception. When the dumb ones finally got their batteries changed they found their way to the grand reception but it was too late, in spite of their protestations they were shut out. (Matthew 25:1 – 13).

Revelation 19:7 – 10 tells us about a wedding feast to surpass all the grand wedding feasts that man has ever staged; and the bridal gown is going to be more dazzling and pure than we can imagine (Revelation Chapters 21-22). We need not worry about whether the One who supplies this gown is going out of business…

but we might think about whether we are going to be at the wedding.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Sinkhole


Video of homes being swallowed by a sinkhole has been on the news the past two days. One moment a house looks normal, stable; the next moment there is movement, and as the foundation is sucked into the ground the walls collapse and the roof goes with it. Within minutes clothing, photos, toys, furniture – the things of living and of family are gone – into the earth. Hopefully there are no people or pets descending into the abyss. Sometimes there are.

Everything looked normal when the sun rose over those houses – but everything was not normal – looks were deceiving.

When chaos is the “new norm”; when violence and promiscuity and darkness cover a land -what is normal is not normal; when a people reject the image of God to the point of defacing it in ever-increasing ways; when children are robbed not just of childhood but of humanity; when men and women are reduced to commodities, when they are human resources, not really any different that coal or solar or gas or other types of energy; when churches blend in with the “age” so as to endorse rather than challenge; when the poor and helpless are exploited at one time and ignored at another time; when we are drunk with pleasure and entertainment; when our minds have atrophied to the point where it is easier to carry a bucket of water five miles than carry a conversation five minutes…


May it not be that we have been swallowed by a sinkhole but that, in our stupor, we don’t know it?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Baseball and Life


The Major League baseball season consists of 162 games per team, far more than the NBA (82), NHL (82), or NFL (16). This means, among other things, that baseball players deal with failure far more frequently than players in these other sports. In fact, when you look at it one way, position players in baseball fail more than they succeed; consider that a .300 hitter in baseball is well above average, and yet, to hit .300 means that you are only getting a hit 3 out of every ten 10 at bats.

Baseball does not have a “failure” statistic, as in a ballplayer having a .700 average for failure (the opposite part of the .300 batting average calculation). Image what it would do to a batter’s mind if he looked at a failure statistic – it could easily suck all of the hope out of him for a better game or a better season. A .250 hitter can visualize becoming a .260 hitter, then a .270 hitter, then a .280 hitter – there can be hope. But a .750 failure hitter, what is he going to visualize…becoming a .725 failure hitter, a .700 failure hitter – thinking about failure, visualizing failure, isn’t much to look forward to, it isn’t likely to inspire hope in a player. Having a goal of “failing less” isn’t a thinking that is likely to produce more hits in a game or season, it isn’t a trajectory likely to produce a good big league career.

A benefit about a long season is that there is always tomorrow; major league players have to learn to shake off a bad game and focus on the next game. While they need to learn from their mistakes and poor at-bats, they can’t dwell on the past or the past will paralyze them.

Sometimes our days get off to great starts, and then something happens and things spin out of control and then we wonder what happened to the great day we had going. (This has probably never happened to you). It’s like a baseball player having a couple of good at-bats early in the game and then he makes an error in the 9th inning that causes his team to lose. The ballplayer can’t blame his error on anyone else, and we can’t blame a bad day on other people because how we respond to other people and events is really up to us (yes, there can be unforeseen tragedy that invades our lives, I’m not talking about those terrible times).

One thing is sure, dwelling on yesterday’s poor game will not help me play a better game today, let me learn what I can and move on – and not worry about avoiding failure but focus on making contact with the ball, for I know that the more contact I have that the more hits I’ll have.

Perfectly pitched games in baseball are rare; in over 140 years and 210,000 games of major league baseball there have only been 23, and no pitcher has thrown more than one. Also, those who have pitched a perfect game did not do it by themselves, they all needed their teammates.

Maybe this is one reason why baseball is the game I love, failure is woven into it – but you really don’t look it long and hard because you know you’ve got another at-bat coming up.

Well, I had a bad 9th inning yesterday, I’ve got to get out on the field now and play today’s game.