A friend of mine, from a time long ago, has told me that she is on a personal quest to “delight more in life.” An admirable mission, at the very least, but for many of us, an uphill battle. You could use up a lot of energy on a task like that. A lot of questions leap immediately to mind, the first, at least the one most immediately leaping around in my head, is the use of the word “delight”. We’re not talking simple enjoyment here, we’re talking enjoyment with frosting and maybe some jimmies. Delight is a word which can be safely used only by someone who is careful with syntax, as in the ability to be very specific, knowing when that word, and only that word, will do. No others need apply. It is about the arrangement and specific meaning of words as influenced by those around them.
More than a few years ago, I had an assistant who not only practiced the ancient wizardry of shorthand, but whom I could trust to take my dictation, regardless of mood and demeanor of the moment, and turn it into legitimate prose. As particular as I am about wordcraft in communications, that’s saying something. I admit that there were times when her specific (and sometimes extreme) words were like fingernails on a chalkboard. Did I sometimes feel the exactness was contrived? Perhaps. There were probably times when my old boss was annoyed when I took his handwritten memos and corrected the spelling, usage and general mutilation of the language (in red) and sent them back to him. So, yes, I admit to occasionally making use of language to be a pain in the butt.
But, back to my friend’s quest. I delight in her goodness, and in her impulse not only to improve herself, her life and the lives of those around her, but to make it a specific goal, which is, as all strivers know, the only path to progress. After all, you can’t hit a target you don’t have. “Delight” is a word that might scare people, though. I could be threatened just by the fact that someone had the courage to be so sure of themselves to use a word that is so specific, and in that way, unusual. That person though, can look in the mirror and see a person of resolve and refined intent. If I heard the word in a disengaged conversation in a crowded room, it would probably snap my head around. I would want to know who was willing to put themselves out there in that way.
Overkill? I think not. It tells me that someone, and this person in particular, has made a conscious decision to not only find more joy in their own life, but to make her zest available to others, while not jamming it down their throats. My goal in life is usually just to put the people around me at ease. To handle their anxieties and discomforts while treating our differences in a civil way, without being burdensome or judgemental. My personal delight is in putting friends at ease, doing things that might be unexpected or even better, make them wonder what I am up to. Sadly I do not always succeed. For my friend, her personal delight in life will, I know, spill over and affect everyone she touches. It ain’t wrong, it’s just different.
or, “The Day our Daughter Became a Man”
Ok, Ok, it’s not what you’re thinking. I bought this cap in 2002 at Macalester College, the site of the 2002 Division III National Track and Field Championships. It was originally kind of a salmon color, now faded to a pale – something or other, frayed and stained, mostly with my blood where I dropped something on my head or ran into something when I wasn’t paying attention.
I’m sure that if we had had a son or two, at some point I would have gripped them by the shoulders and told them it was time they became a man, and did heroic, manly things. But – you just can’t do that with girls, and beside that, I was 300 feet away in the bleachers when the opportunity presented itself.
Let me set the stage: It is the finals of the triple jump. 16 start out, 7 to the finals. If you understand the triple jump, you are way ahead of me. Katie excelled at it. She also ran sprints and relays, but she excelled at the triple jump, and to a lesser extent, the long jump. On her first jump in the finals, she faulted. (she stepped on the line or something) On her second jump, she fell.
The whole family held our collective breath as she walked away, said something to the official, he nodded, and she gathered her warm-ups – and put them on. Was she done for the day? Being the dad, and having alot of the dad, and a little of the old ball coach in me, that was the moment, if I had been given the opportunity, I would have gone up to her, put a hand on each shoulder, looked her in the eye and told her, for lack of a better set of words, that it was time to be a man – you have one jump left. They weren’t going to let a crazy dad on the track, or the infield, and her mother wasn’t going to allow it anyway. So I sat. And squirmed. I watched her take a slow walk to the center of the football field which was in the center of the track. She had the hood up on her warm ups. She stopped, Looked at the ground, and stood there, for what seemed like an eternity. She raised her head, flipped back the hood, and trotted to the start position. She stripped off the warm ups, which if you haven’t seen a track athlete do it, is alot like the Hulk ripping his shirt off. She gave the starter a nod.
Last chance. One, two, three – or however many steps there are before she hits the board, were fast and true, one foot ahead of the other. She powered off the board and literally flew over the sand pit to an almost perfect landing. I don’t remember the distance. You could look it up. It was the best jump of her career, high school or college, and she still holds the record at Arrowhead HS, an athletic factory. It was also her last – ever. She got up and brushed the sand off of her (unnecessarily scanty, I thought) lycra suit and walked over and claimed her warm ups. I know she gave us a thumbs up somewhere along in there, but I’m not sure.
She was a little kid as a little kid. We always called her Tiny but Tough. She had the T-shirt. She wasn’t tiny any more. She had always had a competitive spirit and discipline to go with it. We had been disappointed when she walked away from basketball, because she was very good, but those choices were always up to the girls. I’m always proud of the them. They’re all moms now, and good ones at that. But they’ve all had moments where they became a man, and that has nothing to do with gender. That’s why I still wear the cap. And if somebody says it is time to retire it, they just don’t know the history.
I wrote this in 2011, and every time I read it, I find I still like it. It is a little extreme for me, but sometimes I feel like I have to push back against those who take advantage of us. Let me know what you think.
As I sit down to write this, we are a few days out from the capture and execution of Osama Bin Laden. It is apparent that the Pakistanis need some things explained to them from my perspective, because I am the guy that writes the checks.
A little history is in order. This is the guy that either gave the orders or gave his blessing on any number of attacks not only on Americans, but good people of every race and creed (including his own) over the past 20 years. Many died. They had families, dependents and futures. At the end of the day, it became obvious that we were going to have to go and get him. My father was not a profane man, by any stretch of the imagination. He was a quiet man who believed what he believed, and said little. He had a word though, for anything that just didn’t make sense – it was “bullshit”. That is the category where I put your claim that we violated your sovereignty when we snatched Bin Laden – Bullshit. Look up a picture of the burning towers of the World Trade Center, where 3000 innocents died that day, many trying to rescue others. That was a violation of national sovereignty. It is not about revenge, it is about cutting out evil at its root.
You have the audacity to harbor this guy and then shake your fist at us when we did what you couldn’t or wouldn’t for ten years. Enough is enough. Period. And by the way, about reducing our presence in your country to “minimum” levels. Consider it done, and we will do you one better. We’re gone, and the money is gone. As for your friends in Afghanistan, we got what we came for. Deal with what you get when we are gone. Deal with the Indians. See how your balance of power in the region works now.
Oh, by the way, the average of $2 billion we have sent you over the last ten years? Kiss it good bye. We have some folks we need to take care of. We have people starving and dying in our cities for lack of health care, proper nutrition and proper education. Somebody estimated that 80% of what we have sent you has been misappropriated or stolen outright. One thing we know, it didn’t go for intelligence.
The thing you have going for you is that we are not all the hard-ass rednecks you think we are. We are suckers for a starving child or news of a local disaster anywhere on earth. Oh we’ll still be there for that. You got caught with your pants down and your hand out. Deal with it. And deal with the death merchants of Radical Islam in your own way. And we will deal with them in ours. Radical Islam whose apparent goal is to turn the rest of the world into that shithole that is most of the Middle East.
For the time being, we will deal with them with surgical strikes like the Navy Seals. I have a hunch your folks didn’t lift a finger when we got there, because you had more than a good idea what you were up against. We can come after you with 24 guys in a helicopter or drop one in your living room from 60000 feet, and anything in between. We have introduced you to the Navy Seals. We’ve got a few more groups who could probably have done the same job. Like the Rangers – they’ve been around since the 1750’s. They taught the French about light fighters in the Seven Years War. Then there’s the Green Berets, they can be a little nasty, too. There’s the Marines and the good old US Army. Those are the guys in Camo that buy your kids coloring books. We’re used to fighting guys who don’t play by the rules. You and the rest of the world have gotten too used to us playing by the rules. Now deal with it.
School was marked by some real difficulties. I had a terrible time with math and science. I couldn’t read music and eventually got thrown out of the band for ‘going solo’because I couldn’t read music. But I tested over the top. Always in the 98th or 99th percentile. That marked me as smart. My grades marked me as lazy. Teachers saw possibilities, sometimes, and I think John Koehn was the first to discover it, but through all of the other ups and downs, I could write. It started when I got to class one day and discovered that I had a short story due.
We had to read our short story in front of the class. We were a blended 5th and 6th grade, so this was only for the sixth grade. I was about halfway down the list to read the story that I hadn’t started. I started to write, feverishly. I had about 2/3 of a page done with two people ahead of me. I was writing about being followed by a shadowy figure, whose shadow I could see, but not the person. The shadow looked like it was about to hack me to pieces, raising and lowering its arms with something long and pointed in its hands. I knew I had to finish, but I didn’t know where to go. I had a lot of ideas, but only a couple of minutes. My last paragraph went something like:
“Suddenly there was a loud clatter in my head, a ringing, and someone was shaking me, was I dead? No, it was my dad, shaking me, and my alarm clock (which I didn’t and have never, used) ringing. I rubbed my eyes, blinked several times, and woke up” It had all been a dream. (the end) Everybody clapped when I got done reading it, and I got an A on the essay.
I figured out a few things that day. 1. I’m pretty good under pressure. 2. I can figure my way through almost anything. 3. I might be able to write a little.
My writing is still marked by that style. It often ends abruptly, maybe just to leave the reader wanting more, and maybe just for a little bait for the writer to write another day.
There is, then, the idea of the seeker. The seeker of inviolate truth, of wisdom, or just what is right and what is wrong. I have given up on inviolate truth. Wisdom would be good, but then, I’ve never been sure that I could be trusted with it, or that I would know what to do with it. Right and wrong seems to be the simplest thing, and once we get all of the ego and greed out of the way, we all seem to have a pretty good handle on what that is important, we just have a problem showing it off sometimes.
Never been a fan of hierarchies, or arbitrary authority of any kind. There’s good all over, but to say that I have to take all of this and none of that – well, it’s just not happening. Where did that start? It started with my fascination with the American Revolution, and the ability of a few guys with an idea to change the world. Mostly – it comes from the willingness to stick ones toe in the water and say, “I will test this”. Hundreds of books and articles, original documents and arguments later, I have a slightly different view on the American Revolution than most. When I was at WSU-Oshkosh, many years ago, I had a history professor named Bob Chaffin that taught the American Revolution from a British perspective – not a Tory perspective, but rather from the perspective of the political environment extant in Britain at the time, as well as the view of the public. The course was organized around Peter Oliver’s “Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion” which, although a laborious read, should be on the reading list of everyone who has the saccharin soaked account of the American Revolution emblazoned on their mind.
The politics of the American Revolution both in its relations with Great Britain and the American colonists was a rough and tumble, bare knuckle fight. While some would claim a minority of the colonists were sympathetic to the rebellion, that’s probably not true. Americans had 150 years of operating independently under their belts before the mother country decided the colonies had free boarded long enough in their view. The war in the north became a war of attrition, and despite the inclinations of the American officer corps, including Washington, to go toe to toe with the largest expeditionary force ever sent anywhere by the British government up to that time. Make no mistake, this was the finest military organization of the time – anywhere. Washington’s first priority, and what he impressed upon his subordinates, was to always, always, always come away with the ability to fight another day. Even his victories were, for the most part, lightning strikes.
As the willingness of the taxpayers in Britain to continue to fund the war in North America with the lives of their sons and their taxes, the war in the North took on something of the look of the Vietnam War. George Washington was fighting a guerilla war, knowing he didn’t need to win, he just needed not to lose. The British sensed, (wrongly, it turned out) that there was a far higher pro British sympathy in the south than in the snakepit that was New England. They were right to the point that the war in the south was much more akin to a civil war than what had been fought in the north, but the rebels were much less interested in the niceties of European tactics that Washington had been in the north. Washington eventually made his way into the southern colonies, but his master stroke of the entire war was to send Nathaniel Green to oversee things in the south. In turn, Green’s master stroke was to turn loose the likes of Daniel Morgan, Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens. The British “southern strategy” erroneously discounted the deep seated hatred for the British of the Scots-Irish (my ancestors) “over mountain” men that largely comprised the rebel guerilla forces. When combined with the southern patriots of the rebels east of the mountains, the war in the south became a war the British could not win, and when Cornwallis was pushed onto the Yorktown Peninsula with no avenue of escape, he was forced to surrender the main body of the British Army in North America. The British, unable to position their navy to rescue Cornwallis, and with support at home in a deep decline, for the most part gave up the fight after Yorktown.
So, stick your toe in the water; start your fight – usually, you don’t need to win, but if you can just outlast ’em, you can get folks to see it your way… It’s an American tradition.
The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was Thomas Jefferson’s effort to extract what he considered the pertinent doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists. It should be noted that he used several translations from several languages to do this, comparing them side by side. Using a razor, Jefferson cut and arranged selected verses from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in chronological order, mingling excerpts from one text to those of another in order to create a single narrative. He shared it with a number of friends, but he never allowed it to be published during his lifetime.
The most complete form Jefferson produced was inherited by his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and was published in 1895 by the National Museum in Washington. I have been, for many years, both a fan and a skeptic of Jefferson, but at the very least, I considered him no less inspired, and certainly no less an intellect than those who assembled the New Testament over the first 1600 years after Christ’s birth and death. (with long overdue thanks to Dr. Everett Long of UW-Whitewater). It should be noted that he added nothing, and probably was not even aware of, the gnostic gospels, also known as the apocrypha – those gospels known of, but not included by the various councils and beard strokers of early Christendom.
For the first 50 or so years of my life, I was an active church attender and skeptical believer and yes, I was skeptical from the first time we dug worms and couldn’t see Hell from there. More about that somewhere else at a later time. However, while not a major Biblical scholar, my skepticism has allowed me to accept what others believe and understand why they might believe differently than I do, hopefully with none of the air of superiority that is displayed by some people who should, by virtue of their prior behavior – be tending their own house. My life, and thinking, began to change one day, when I was talking to our minister. As the chair of the board of deacons in our church, I was having a hard time with reports that large quantities of what the UCC synod was sending to Nicaragua as medical aid was being intercepted and used to aid Communist rebels. As anti-war as any product of the 60’s can be, I still could not absorb standing by bringing aid and comfort to the enemy.
The pastor looked at me and said, in his trained, neutralizing way, “I understand – if Jesus found a wounded man, what do you think he would do?”
i recognized the trap. “He would cleanse his wounds and wash his feet – and pretty much not ask about his politics”. We never spoke of it again. I think about that conversation often, though, as I try to make sense of life and my place in this world. Jefferson was, I think, trying to make some sense of his world, as well. As a seeker, a conflicted man dealing with far larger issues than we deal with daily, including holding slaves to the day of his death, Jefferson probed delicately into these things, not as a service to humanity, but to find some clarity in his 77 year old mind. We should all put forth the effort to clear our minds that this man did. Jefferson scholars are in general agreement, I think, that Jefferson was at best a Deist – he believed in God, the Almighty, Divine Providence as he at various times referred to God, but probably not a Christian in the sense of believing in the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, etc.
When I first heard about the so-called Jefferson Bible, I was reminded of my seventh birthday, for which I received a Bible I could barely carry, but had a unique feature I hadn’t seen before. My mother was behind this, a Bible this size was nonsense for a little kid who had only recently learned to read and probably still needed help with at least a few of the big words. She was a fire-breathing, “you’re going to hell if…” and “God will punish you if … ” converted Catholic turned born-again Christian of the most conservative ilk. Sooo… like most things I wanted straight answers on, I went to my dad. “Daddy, how come some of the letters in the Bible are red?”
“Well son, we think those are the words that Jesus said, so they are in red because they’re important.” A minister’s son, I usually got straight answers from him without the fire and smoke. So here I am almost 60 years later, back to reading the red parts in the red letter edition of the Bible. Maybe they stole the idea from Jefferson.
Now, when I write, that would normally have been a good point to end my thoughts. BUT, I digress here to point out another of my related lines of thought, and that is this nonsense about gay marriage and wedding cakes, etc. Anybody who has read any of my stuff knows that I cannot figure out why humanity cannot go more than a few seconds without killing someone in anger, and worse, why nations can’t spend more than fifteen minutes without starting another war – or why any of that makes sense. Yet it is our religions that are the basis for most of our wars, and Christians have been the middle of a lot of them. The Catholic church also has some other skeletons in their closet that they need to come clean about. And then, I was more than a little put out when the Missouri synod Lutheran Pastor wouldn’t let me speak from the pulpit to give my brother’s eulogy – so it appears we take one step back every time we get into a forward motion.
My point is this: I’m a simple guy. I have friends of every conceivable religious background. . When one of my friends asked me to make wooden crosses for the altar boys to carry in the masses at the local Catholic church, it never occurred to me to refuse. And if, by some twist of fate, a couple asked me to make them a wedding box, or a wedding cake, for that matter, I wouldn’t hesitate. It wouldn’t occur to me to check to see if they were gay or not – (usually these requests come from a wedding planner, or one of the couple – I’m not totally naive). You see, Jesus was a carpenter, and I think he would have been willing to make a wedding box for a gay couple, and it would be the best he could do on that day, because even if he disagreed with them, I believe his ministry on that day would be to do his best. He would probably wash their feet. Not for a moment do I believe he would judge them.
I don’t know where I lost control of this piece of – writing, but I did. Happy to find it where I did. I think there’s a sequel in there somewhere, but I need to think about that.
Every teacher’s best reward is knowing they made a difference. With the school year about to close, Johnny’s Essay is my sweet reminder:
Oconomowoc, Wi September, 1962
You could get a paper route when you were twelve On August 22, 1962, I was twelve years old On August 22, 1962 I got a paper route You got Esther Schroeder in the deal On September 4, 1962 I went to Junior High I became a thing, in the name of my school, for the first time Like all my classmates from sixth grade, became a Lincoln Bulldog
It was a huge transition. In the very building where I had spent K-3 The building, where, in the corner room on the first floor Next to the office of Principal Don Kramer Where only a few short years ago I had earnestly tried to convince the testy Mrs. Voight that…
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On Friday morning, as I was going south on Highway C across State Highway 16, I noticed a gray squirrel running frantically across the road, as if he was trying to decide on which side he preferred to stop. He ran across to the east side, went back across, and then back to the east, and there met his end under the right front tire of a white SUV. He flipped a couple of times, and went straight stiff. If the driver knew what had happened, she didn’t let on.
What struck me is that it was first light, the birds were flying, and they continued to fly. Cars were driving, and they continued their courses. Leaves blew across the road, people waited at the curb for the coffee shop to open, and things generally went on as usual. In the moment, the death of a single squirrel mattered to seemingly no one.
It struck me that if the driver had been aware, she could have slowed down, or sped up, or altered her course just a little to avoid what for her was a minor incident, but for the squirrel and his squirrel family was, well, a major tragedy. Years from now, squirrel newspapers will announce that his squirrel offspring were left without a father at an early age, and were, therefore, left to wander down an indistinct path to delinquency and wasted lives. Somewhere, a squirrel mother will have to leave the den just a little earlier to clean the dens of wealthier squirrels just to put her kids through squirrel school.
From now on, I will keep the radio on in the truck on the way to work. It keeps my mind from wandering down indistinct paths.