Monkey-Handed

In parts of India and Africa, monkeys can be quite troublesome. They steal crops from farmers, and swoop down and snatch lunches from folks taking noon day breaks in city parks. One method of controlling the pesky critters is to trap them, …and then hopefully transport them to a more suitable environment.

One of the most effective ways of trapping them, is to put pieces of fruits or nuts into gourds, termite mounds, or caged traps. Now the monkey is too smart to fully enter the trap, so the entryway of each of these vessels is designed to barely accommodate the monkey’s empty hand. The monkey reaches in, grabs the goodies but when he tries to remove his hand, clasped to the goods it won’t fit back through the hole or the bars of the trap. This creates quite a dilemma for the monkey: let go, or remain trapped.

How many times in our lives are we faced with the choice of letting go or remaining trapped? Old wounds, grudges, habits, notions, ways of doing things: these can be sources of the clenched fists of our being, holding us back from better versions of ourselves. It’s good to have rock solid values -integrity, honesty, charity, self-discipline, but sometimes we have to take a second look at our daily practices. Maybe there are things we need to let go, in order to set us free.

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Share Christ’s Joy

Check out @Pontifex’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/Pontifex/status/835108269416984577?s=09

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Reading for our day of National Mourning

https://www.google.com/amp/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/504710/

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Not, Another New Year’s Resolution

With the New Year fast approaching, most of us will be adding new, New Year’s resolutions to our “to-do” lists. We’ll aim to lose weight, eat better, make more money, read more, (maybe books on self-improvement…) watch less TV, be a better friend, spouse, sibling, parent, etc. In other words, in the new year, we will strive to improve ourselves from this current year’s model. It’s a new year. Anything is possible!

So, with that in mind, I’ve made a list, or more accurately, I’ve modified an ancient, yet well-known list.

If you’ve attended any Christian weddings in recent times, you’ll be quite familiar with this text. And I promise, this will not offend any non-Christians, or non-believers. It’s practical advice for anyone.

  • I am patient. I am kind.
  • I am not jealous. I am not pompous. I am not inflated, rude, nor do I seek my own interests.
  • I am not quick-tempered. I do not brood over injury. I do not rejoice over wrongdoing, but I rejoice with the truth.
  • I bear all things; I believe all things. I hope in all things. I endure all things. I will never fail.
  • When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became an adult, I put aside childish things.

Adapted from 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. Verses 4-7, 11

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Happy New Year, to the new you.

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Time to Lower the Flag

My family moved to the Deep South in the summer of 1968 when I was ten years old from “up North,” which even today, includes pretty much everywhere, except the South. My father, climbing the corporate ladder in the go-go sixties had several job opportunities, even one in Venezuela. As I look back, the Deep South and Venezuela weren’t that much different to us, as far as being a foreign land.

I recall arriving in a small town in Northeast Mississippi, with a population of less than 2500, on a bright, suffocating hot summer Saturday afternoon. As a family we had already moved three times -that I remember. My mother, the ever good sport and head family cheerleader instilled in us a great sense of adventure and optimism with each new destination, and I clearly remember with eager anticipation the thought of arriving in the Land of Cotton. My hopes were pretty high after seeing Gone with the Wind at the theater as a primer for Southern living. Imagine my disappointment when we arrived and there were no dirt streets, horse and carriages, or wooden planked sidewalks in front of the stores along Main Street. Most of those had been gone for …four or five years.

The thing I most clearly remember about our early days in Mississippi was the family-like friendliness and hospitality showered upon us Damned Yankees. The saying goes, Yankees come from the North; Damned Yankees come and stay.  For almost fifty years, I’ve never left, so that makes me a Damned Yankee for sure.

We initially stayed a few days in a small motel, with a pool, thank God, just off the main dusty highway on the West side of town; it was owned and operated by the mayor –who my mother called several weeks later because of giant roaches inhabiting the rental house we lived in while our new home was being built. Makes sense: got bugs, call the Mayor.

The only full service restaurant in town was located right next to the motel.  The restaurant owner was a large, red faced, silver haired, perpetually sweating jolly man. “Y’all” was one of our first foreign words we learned. With three meals a day over the first week at the restaurant, we discovered grits, country ham, red-eye gravy, buttermilk biscuits, greens, jowls, black-eyed peas, catfish and cornbread …and on and on.

We quickly noticed that everyone waved at each other. They raised their finger from the steering wheel –index, not middle, to acknowledge on-coming drivers. “Hey,” was another new word for us. Not “hey! What’s the matter with you?” But, “hey, how y’all doin?” “Hey, y’all come on over for coke.” Not a pop, not a soda. Not even a Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper. Those are all “cokes.” The particular flavor or type of “coke” would be determined once ‘y’all got there… And tea. It was cold and sweet.

When I entered fifth grade in the fall, actually August, which was another foreign custom to us because we had never started school until after Labor Day up North, I was asked by the kids to “say somethin…”

“Like what?”

“Anythin…”

“Okay, ‘peanut butter.’”

“Did y’all hear that? Oh man. Say it agin!”

“You guys sure make a big deal…”

“’You guys’…did you hear that? Man! Say that agin!”

This language exploration in Mississippi was always amusing and done out of a sense of curiosity, among friends. I never felt made fun of. It was never uncomfortable. We were discovering new languages, and cultures together.  -Southern Hospitality 101.

But there was also a dark side to this Southern Culture. To ignore it, or claim it was misunderstood or didn’t exist is just preposterous. Because as warm and inviting as whites were to each other and to us, blacks rarely if ever, enjoyed that same kind of embrace from whites, that same kind of inclusion. This  white aversion of black people could be manifested in varying levels from a simple lack of respect to downright malicious hatred. I suppose some whites did acknowledge and embrace people of color in those days, in that town; but I suspect those relationships were very few and far between.

It’s cliché to say “The South is complicated.” But it is. How can a people be so generous, loving, giving, forgiving, “Christian,” to some people, but completely opposite to others, simply based on skin color? I don’t know. I do know that parts of the Southern Culture are wonderfully beautiful, -Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Shirley Ann Grau, Georgia O’Keefe, Jack Daniels! And some of it is horribly tragic, terroristic and ugly beyond human understanding.

The one symbol that epitomizes this dichotomy is the Confederate Battle Flag, the stars and bars. It’s like one of those drawings where two people look at it and one person sees a horses’ face, and the other person sees an angel sitting on a cloud. Same drawing, same artist, same paper, same pen, but two clearly different things appearing to two different people. This is why I believe that flag should not be publicly displayed. At best it should be preserved in museums. For those who want to wave it to proclaim Southern Culture, I get that. But, the fight for slavery, the KKK, terrorism against our own citizens, the years of Jim Crow laws, and now the white supremacists who embrace it,  simply cannot be separated from the fabric of those red white a blue cross bars. Likewise you cannot fly a Nazi flag in remembrance of a proud Germanic peoples recovering from a humiliating loss of a world war without the haunting images of death camps, torture, and extreme racism.

So, we Southerners –those of us Southern by birth and those of us Southern by choice, need at this time to come up with a new symbol to celebrate our culture of hospitality, of our unique foods and flavors, of our amazing artistic expressions, and of our intense loyalties to friends, family and country.  That’s our challenge of the New South in this new millennium: to share this beautiful culture, with everyone. I propose a magnolia blossom, or mockingbird, – a red velvet cake! Jack Daniels on the rocks? Fried catfish. Hushpuppies. Food and drink is something that we southerners of all shades can agree on. So, let’s get together under the shade of an old hickory tree, and toast the passing of one faded symbol, and welcome in something new; something that we can all celebrate, together.

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Attention to Detail

It was a predawn Friday morning and Grant was finishing up a two weeks long sales trip. It was a lengthy time to be away from home, but he was opening up a new territory and he knew that always took extra time and effort.  He hurriedly packed up from the backwater, small town, motel room, still drowsy from a short night’s sleep and no coffee, yet.  He anxiously hopped in his car and sped away in search of an open convenience store.

After a short search he found a mini-mart open with stout black coffee, probably brewed the night before. He dashed back into his car and under a star filled black sky he found the I-40 entrance and headed home. As he drove through the morning darkness, he thought of the varying degrees of success he had had with his sales presentations and meetings, -the new customers who would become long term partners and loyal clients, the ones who would need more work, and a few who probably wouldn’t buy from him at all.  The coffee brought a zen-like clarity to these thoughts. When the coffee buzz subsided he popped in  a sales training CD his boss had given him: Achieving Sales Success through Attention to the Details.  He had listened to it religiously over the two weeks, and he was almost ninety percent through the program.

As he drove along at 80 miles per hour, unhindered by the empty road, the sun slowly began to rise and illuminate the long, flat treeless interstate landscape.  And then, suddenly he saw a massive, shredded truck tire in his lane just ahead.  He quickly swerved into the left lane missing the tire remnants. Relieved at not driving into the deep ditch dividing the interstate or hitting another vehicle, he looked into the rear-view mirror to check for traffic, to see what he may have veered into -nothing. That was lucky, he thought.

However, there was an uneasy feeling, …something didn’t seem quite right. He thought for a few minutes about what am I missing here? And then after another five miles he looked again into the rear-view mirror and he noticed what he was missing. The bar across the back seat where he normally hung his clothes and product samples -was empty.  As he realized his utter inattention to that detail, he read a passing road sign: Next Exit, 40 Miles.

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Unfriended

Bill’s neighbor Grady posted nearly every aspect of his exciting life on Facebook. One Saturday afternoon after seeing a post of Grady and his wife Sylvia lounging poolside with an ocean view from some far off exotic locale, Bill sent the following phone text: “Hey Grady, why didn’t you tell us you were moving? There are 3 guys in your driveway right now, loading all kinds of stuff into a big U-Haul truck. Thanks for not saying goodbye…geez.”

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The Long Night

It was a long, tortuous night; filled with dreams, nightmares, tossing and turning, and sounds …those horrible sounds! All night long, dogs growling, lions roaring, -and bellowing traffic like a freight train rumbling through the room. It was a constant rumble through the ear, barreling into the brain. At first light, exhausted, Stanley decided: Florence must do something about her snoring.

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From Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among the creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”  -William Faulkner

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Cutting the Cord

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” -Howard Beale, the 1976 movie Network

I’m no Howard Beale, but my cable/internet/phone bill was irritating. I was spending over $220.00 per month on a phone I never used, and about 500 channels I never watched; although I did enjoy the speed and dependability of the internet service. So, I decided to explore the world of cord cutters. As it turns out, I didn’t completely cut the cord, and that was one of the more surprising things about the whole experience.

So, how does this work? Well, it’s working great so far. We’re a couple months into the experiment, and no complaints from me. My wife is a huge movie buff and HGTV fan; she seems pleased with it . I’ve linked the different devices below to Amazon to give you an idea of pricing and a place to start your shopping.

So, here’s what I’ve  done:

  1. I purchased a Roku 3 device (There are other devices available -Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and others, but my research seemed to point to the Roku 3 as being the best overall choice, as of a couple months ago.)
  2. I purchased an indoor antenna for local programming.-A TV antenna? Who knew there was such a thing anymore???
  3. I purchased a cable modem (which saves about $7.00 per month from my cable bill) and a WiFi router. These are both highly rated, high output devices to ensure the best HD quality streaming -and viewing on our TV.
  4. I subscribed to Sling TV which allows us to get a variety of channels, including HGTV, ESPN 1 & 2, TBS, AMC, and about a dozen others. This service comes through the Roku/internet and costs $21.94 per month. There’s no long term contract –you can cancel anytime.
  5. We already had an Amazon Prime membership and a Netflix subscription.

A couple things you might want to consider before joining the Cord Cutters: Do you live in an area where you can pick up the major broadcasters, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, via local programming? I do. I can get over a dozen local channels through the antenna. With the digital, high range antenna the picture is crystal clear –as good as before with the cable connection. If getting local news, weather, sports, or even live broadcast programming is important, you’ll need to consider this.

You also have to have a Roku-type device and an antenna for each TV in the house. So far I’ve only got one TV configured. I’ve been waiting to make sure it’s going to work out  before I invest further in additional TVs  If you’re someone who has a TV in every room, including the bathrooms, you will have to consider the expense of buying multiple devices and antennas. Also, Sling TV only allows you to watch a program on their service one TV, (or computer, smart phone) at a time. So you can’t watch a Sling program on one device while someone is watching it on another device.

My initial goal was to be a cord cutter; to just have an internet connection. Unfortunately, my options were extremely limited:just AT&T and my current provider Comcast/Xfinity. So, with a quote in hand from AT&T, I called Comcast/Xfinity and after about ten minutes of friendly negotiating, I was able to get my service down to about $75.00 per month. The funny thing is, I still have a basic cable connection, very basic… There are only a few channels, and no HD channels. But that’s okay. I’m not connecting my TV to it anyway. So, it was cheaper to have the “double play” -internet and cable, rather than just the internet.

The bottom line: we are saving over $100.00 per month, -in less than two months we’ll make back the investment in the Roku player and the antenna. The picture is clean and clear. We still have more movie/program choices than we know what to do with. I think of Bruce Springsteen’s song “57 Channels and nothings on…” We have many more than 57 channels, but we also have more channels that we actually watch compared with the hundreds and hundreds of channels on cable that we never watched.  And one thing I never considered initially, I’m reading more and watching TV less.  I can’t imagine ever going back to the bloated cable TV packages again.

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