What living and observing may do to stereotypes

Stereotypes 1

Some of the most progressive minded people are White guys who wear John Deer baseball caps, drive pick-up trucks and chew tobacco. How oxymoronic does that sound? As unlikely as it may be, it’s probably true. I remember when I was about twelve years old, I was working one summer with my grandfather. We were bailing hay, outside of my grandfather’s small farm operation, to make some extra money. We were working with a poor White family, who sharecropped on-what I thought to be- a rich White guy’s land.

I don’t remember much detail about the family with which my grandfather and I were working, but I do remember how they interacted with us. You’ve got to remember, this was in 1962, John F. Kennedy was still president and none of the historic Civil Rights Legislation that would come in the sixties had been put on the books. Separate but equal was still strong in Southern public schools, even though the Supreme Court had ruled separate schools for Blacks and Whites was unconstitutional. Let me get back to this poor White family. These folks were like no other White family I had ever been around. The father treated my grandfather with respect that I had never seen any White person treat him. His sons even referred to my grandfather as Mr. Jeffrey, and they always answered him with yes sir and no sir.

Bailing hay was some of the hardest work I had ever done. At twelve years of age, I hadn’t been asked to do a lot of the really hard work. I, along with the other young men, would remain on the trailer and arrange the bails for transport to a storage facility. If memory serves me well, one of the boys drove the tractor. My grandfather and the father of my co-laborers did most of the heavy lifting.

I had gone on other part-time work assignments with my grandfather, and we had always brought our lunch along with us. Normally, we would find a shady place to sit, rest and eat our provisions until it was time to return to work. The most shocking thing happened on the first day of working with this family. When lunch time came, the father invited my grandfather and me to come into their home to have lunch with them. The look on my grandfather’s face was indescribable. This had to be the first time in his life, and it would be the last time, that he would be invited to sit down to take bread with a White family.

I don’t remember a lot about these unusual White folks. I don’t even remember their names, but fifty-six years later I do remember their hospitality. Maya Angelou is famous for a saying, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Fifty-six years later, I still feel a comfortable level of warmness in my being whenever I think about our encounter with this poor, unusual White family, in Arkansas, in 1962. This was the first time I was afforded a sense that people are just people; we work, eat and laugh at the same things. We’re motivated by all elements of God’s creation to react similarly in seeking comfort, survival and success in the much the same manner.

Stereotype 3

I’ve experienced a lot of life since that summer of 1962. Much of it has been dark and unaccommodating; however, I’ve been blessed to have numerous encounters with people from all walks of life that have shattered stereotypes assigned to them. Usually, these were people who lived as God would have them to, whether they knew it or not.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Aren’t there some good things, too?

good stuff in the world

Have you turned on the television news lately, read a newspaper, accessed social media on your cell phone or your computer to take a gander at what current events are shaping the profile of the world? Of course, you have. When you did, were you inundated with depressing presentations of things that are trending in the world?

One thing that I do a lot of these days is observe. I think when you reach my age, you discover that you’ve seen a lot, and that you’ve acquired some degree of skill that gives you the ability to see the trees in the forest, while being able to enjoy the massive beauty of the forest itself.

I heard a prayer offered in church recently, and the words were just what the congregation needed to hear at the time. There was, however, something said that caused me to think. The person praying said that there are a lot of bad things in the world. This description wasn’t submitted in some kind attitude of hopelessness, instead it recognized the fact, in faith, that even though there are numerous bad things, God will provide refuge. I don’t deny that faith stand at all, but I couldn’t help but think there are a lot of good things in the world, too.

forest for the trees 2

Politics, financial shenanigans, mass shootings, plain old disrespect for each other, and countless other ungodly acts can oftentimes cloud our ability to see the good stuff. We can sometimes find ourselves submitting prayers to the Father, while standing amidst the best of conditions, and lamenting galore. I certainly don’t mean to say that we should turn a blind eye to injustice and all manner of social ills that darken the landscape of humanity, but don’t you think the good always outweigh the bad? Don’t you think we should lavish praise to the place/person from where our good fortune comes? Don’t you think our good fortune is a tool to be used in making whatever adjustments we can-no matter how small-to change some of the bad stuff? I read or heard somewhere that when each of us performs at least one-act of kindness, the world is changed. That seems infinitesimal, when seen in the light of the seven billion people on this tiny blue dot, doesn’t it, but it’s true.

We’re conditioned, and not always so subliminally, to focus on tragedy. The media have conditioned us to pay homage to the bad stuff. We sit and watch TV dramas where there is a murder in a small town every week. Wouldn’t that town be empty of citizens at some point? Even the unrealistic portrayals of dramatic entertainment delivered to our living rooms are scripted to focus on the bad stuff.

I’m sorry if you read this thinking you might find something uniquely stimulating. I just wanted to muse about something that Sherlock Holmes might say is, elementary. Or you might look at something a real-life individual said: The late Alex Haley, author of roots, said in an interview, “In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

forest for the trees 1

Yes, there are some good things in the world and there can certainly be a whole lot more.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too

Home Town is how I want it to be

restoring house 1

One of the things I enjoy is watching HGTV (Home and Gardening Television). I think I can honestly say it’s one of the many pleasures I relish in my old age. There’s a show that comes on HGTV that I find to be a metaphorical fix for many ills of the world. Of course, I realize that real-life TV isn’t totally real-life, but this show is one of the better ones that can lay claim to the moniker that I’ve seen yet.

Home Town is filmed in Laurel Mississippi. It’s hosted by residents Ben and Erin Napier. These are two of the most down-home, optically enjoyable people you could ever see on TV. Their deep southern accents, honest affection for each other, and love they harbor for their small town seems genuine, not concocted by the shows production efforts. Ben is a highly skilled wood worker and Erin, his wife, is an artist. During each episode they show two houses (in need of varying degrees of rehab) to someone, mostly couples, who is  in the market to buy a house. The buyer selects one of the homes for purchase. Then, Ben and Erin, along with a crew of professionals (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.) skillfully apply what seems like the Midas touch to a home in need of loving owners.

restoring house 3

Mississippi has a history of not being a very progressive place. I live in a place that also has had to reckon with some less than progressive attitudes that have erupted into actions many of its denizens would prefer never happened. I live in Little rock, Arkansas. This show contradicts all the stereotypes one might have about small-town Mississippi. I’ve watched the show since it premiered on HGTV, and I’ve seen a world of diversity in the people Ben and Erin offer their assistance to in acquiring a home. There have been folks from above the Masson Dixon Line; couples of mixed-race, who during my first two or three decades of life couldn’t have dreamed of purchasing a house in the neighborhoods shown on this show. There was one episode where an older African-American lady not only purchased a house that Ben and Erin resuscitated, but also established a business in the downtown area of Laurel.

As I watch Home Town, I find myself drawing comparisons to Mayberry, the fictional town where Sheriff Andy lived. This was an ideal southern village too, but the timeframe was different. For one thing, there was no ethnic diversity on the show. It also didn’t present real-life scenarios.

restoring house 2

As Ben and Erin work passionately to grant older homes in Laurel a look far better than their original profile, to improve the landscape of their small southern town, they have no idea that there’s and old guy in Arkansas, just 350 miles west of them who thinks Home Town is, “How I want it to be.”

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Isn’t sacrifice necessary in a civil society?

power of forgiveness

I had a conversation not too long ago with a small group about forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those things many of us are taught to practice early in life. I remember those school-yard tussles that were stopped by a teacher, who tried to cap the battle by having the tiny titans shake hands. Evidently, this action signified some outward sign of forgiveness that was supposed to result in the two kids being civil towards each other ever after. It didn’t always work.

As I harken back to my formative years, I can recall the mixed messages I would receive about this whole thing of forgiveness. On the one hand, I was bathed with images from media where revenge seemed to be the way to go when you’re done an injustice. Somehow it was all okay if the avenger wore a white hat and spouted some platitude about serving the greater need of society. There just wasn’t a great deal of focus on this idea of forgiveness; how its practice would purge one of unhealthy emotions and allow healing of both sides of a dispute.

For those of us who were exposed to Sunday school coming up, forgiveness was espoused. That horrible image of Jesus dying on two rough pieces of wood, fastened together to make a cross, projected the most profound example of forgiveness I saw at an early age. I can remember thinking, though not with enough understanding, how sacrificial this act of selflessness was. Of course, this was God. He could do it. The image of Jesus voluntarily dying for the transgressions (sins) of others was lost on the young me. Little did I know His act was for the benefit of us all.

wine and bread

 

The symbolism, the metaphorical representation Jesus’ death demonstrated came to me later in life. He forgave, showed us what “loving to death” really means, and moved on back to heaven, fully restored to the status previously occupied thirty-three years before. His sacrifice was example enough for how we are to achieve the goal of a civil society.

I’m of the opinion that the reason it’s so hard for us to forgive is because forgiveness requires a symbolic dying of our selves. When we are done an injustice by another, we’re hurt, we’re ashamed, we often suffer a host of emotions that might cause physical and emotional imbalance. Shouldn’t I have access to my pound of flesh? Shouldn’t I relish in the witness of some suffering on the part the one who did me wrong before forgiveness is even entertained? As we scroll down through the list of emotions that are available for use in reacting to the retched soul who did us wrong, we’re blind to the fact that we’re ill of soul. To relieve the misery, the best solution is to allow our need for revenge to die. That death denies us something we think we need; however, that death begins a healing process. Two sides, making peace, is an example of the most civil of behaviors society can witness. Extend that behavior from a family, to a neighborhood, and the larger world community and we might see what civility can look like in its rarest of forms.

sacrifice the word

Is forgiveness and the sacrifice it’s built on easy? No. But the best things in this life aren’t always easy to come by.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Jazz and grandchildren

funny-cartoon-grandchildren

 

I’m a sixty-eight-year-old man, who loves calm. One of the things I’ve told Chris is that I must go someplace where there’s ocean and beach at least every two years. (Chris, formally Christene, spelled with one “I”, is my wife, whom I will informally refer to from time to time from this point forward.) Although I love my home state of Arkansas, being land locked has some disadvantages. There’s just something about ocean breezes, waves lapping against the shore and dodging the poop of sea birds floating down from above that’s soothing.

Man, do I love calm! Then came this afternoon. Chris, with my unnecessary consent, accepted a request from our son to babysit two of his offspring for a couple of months. How could I not consent? Millennials are having a hard time making ends meet these days. I come from a generation where keeping the grandkids mean watching them occasionally to allow their parents time for a date night. We all know that a few hours now and then are enough time to spoil those little darlings something terrible.

Then came this afternoon. Chris had to visit her hair dressers. I know that the place women go to have their hair reshaped operates on a different representation of time than men can comprehend. Two hours regular time equals a half a day or more. The little darlings are supposed to touch down at our house this afternoon to do what they do best, wear papa out. I honestly feel that they come, see and conquer, laying waste to their grandparents abode. After they leave, there’s a need to do spot-house cleaning. Sippy cups just don’t seem to hold their contents very well while a two-year-old maneuvers around furniture, in and out of nooks and crannies on a foot-powered vehicle Fred Flintstone would love.

While Chris was at the hair dressers, the little grand darlings arrived. The doorbell rang, rang again and again. My two-year old grandson is evidently destined to be a doorbell tester when he grows up. The dog went crazy, rushing to the door to give her customary greeting. Neither my grandson or his two-teeth-at the-bottom sister were near needing a nap. Of course, I needed one. After all, that’s what sixty-eight-year-old men do right…watch TV, think about honey-do lists and nap?

One thing I always try to do is to make sure one of them is napping while the other one is actively exploring our home. This strategy didn’t work that well this afternoon. As I awkwardly tried to juggle fixing a bottle for the sister, figure out what the two-year-old was trying to say to me, and shoo the dog away as she tried to get me to play with one of her toys, I had an epiphany: PANDORA! These modern-day televisions have all kinds of stuff on them. I’m a lover of jazz, so I punched the on-demand button on the remote and scrolled to PANDORA. I’ve been listening to PANDORA on my iPhone for years. I have a jazz station already programmed.

grandpa ans screamig child

Then came this afternoon: grand darlings, Shih Tzu and jazz. Thank God for His unending ability to maintain my sustainability as a sixty-eight-year-old papa! I just love them grand darlings.! I love jazz, too. Oh, Chris came home later: Nice hair!

grandkids circle of love

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

If God had wanted us to…

clouds and light

It’s a waste of time. There’s nothing good that can come from using it. It will cause brain death. If God had wanted us to have it, He would have created it. Have you ever heard these phrases before? Even if you haven’t personally, you’ve probably heard about them, or read about them in some book somewhere.

History shows us that change; technological change is not always embraced wholeheartedly. When the horseless carriage was first introduced, there were people who didn’t want it. History tells us some of the reasons why: It spooked the horses sharing the road with them; It was noisy; It was more expensive than a horse and buggy; It would be too dangerous because there would be no horse to help the driver shape the path.

As far back as we can search, there have always been some people who have felt uncomfortable with new technologies. Believe it or not, the radio and the television had some harsh critics. Some complaints about them stemmed from the belief that their usage would hamper intellectual development. There might be some today who would feel comfortable holding onto that assertion.

I could conduct a historical survey to more factually represent how people have stood against technological change through the years; however, that’s not the point I want to make. I want to talk about Facebook and other social media in general. I find it confusing that there are people in my generation (Baby Boomers), who show little interest in Facebook. I often hear comments like: “I see no good use for that Facebook stuff”; That stuff takes too much time”; It’s too complicated”. Often, upon further examination, I find people who make such comments are indicting the technology because they see no utility in it. These are probably some of the same people who would have been against television, radio, the horseless carriage and other innovations that have proven themselves useful in making life more convenient.

One of the debates I hear often takes place in the church. The older, more conservative church members are often dead set against introducing new technologies in service to the Lord, while millennials are continually decreasing in numbers. There seems to be some notion that using new tools to spread the gospel will somehow diminish its integrity. I find that interesting, since the Holy Scriptures show plainly how Jesus used different approaches to share God’s message with everyone. The approach was different, while the message was the same. God’s love came through to whomever He encountered.

Think about this for a minute: A pencil is a computer. You use it to represent language in word form, draw images, as well as a host of other activities where chronicling data is necessary. Your laptop is used to accomplish the same things as a pencil. Of course, I’m not talking about all the storage capability, accessing the internet and other things that obviously a pencil can’t be used to accomplish, but the basics of the two technologies are there with both.

mel brooks

If you ever hear someone say, “If God had of wanted…”, you might want to ask them, “How do you know He didn’t?”

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

It’s inevitable, but we fight it anyway

tree of life

Having a life-threatening illness can provide insight into one of the most fascinating things about the human spirit. If you’ve read any of my stuff, you know I have Multiple Myeloma.  This piece isn’t going to be about me and my experiences with this insidious disease. It’s going to be about the observations I’ve had, and continue to have, about folks who have this disease.

Oh, let my go back to that most “fascinating thing” I just mentioned. The battle against death is that most fascinating thing. I am a member of several social media sites that share information and provide support to folks who have Multiple Myeloma. What I’ve discovered about many of the people who have membership in these sanctuaries of cyber space is their all-out fight against death. I can hear you saying now: What do you expect them to do? Who wants to die, especially from cancer or some other horrible disease? I can appreciate that sentiment. Before you indict me as being insensitive, please be mindful of the fact that I’m a warrior in this battle, too.

From the second we’re born, we embark on a journey. This journey takes all of us to one inevitable location. That location is when our corporal selves transition to something else. In my case, I believe we take up residence in Heaven or the alternative, hell. I’m not going to discuss the comparative theology of what happens to us once we die. I’m simply sharing what I believe. You may believe otherwise. If we’re all going to die anyway, isn’t it fascinating how much energy, time, effort, finances and other untold amounts of resources are expended on staying alive? I do believe staying alive is a good thing but read on.

I often read very sad stories of how Myeloma patients are suffering from symptoms brought on by this disease. The fear-laden signs of the battle against death are often laid out without the slightest cloak. This locomotive force drives them to seek the latest treatment, the newest clinical trial that might usher forward the gift of life toward a few more months or years. Recently, I read a question on a social media site that posed the question: What do you do when you go into relapse? Some responses seemed almost hopeless, not giving much thought to the fact that they were yet alive. Acknowledging the life yet present, compared to the threat of death from Myeloma, took a back seat. Shouldn’t life be celebrated, no matter that all the pistons in the engine that animates it aren’t hitting as well as they should? Isn’t life yet existing, a state of being deserving of some degree of homage to the One who gave it? Why worry about the inevitable that will come eventually to us all?

sitting on bay

The fight against death can sometimes prevent us from finding joy in living the life we’re given. In case you’re giving thought to “quality” (or poor quality) of life; that state of existence that makes it hard to find joy when pain and discomfort are in abundance, I believe one’s faith stance can play an important role here. I, again this is just me, have faith in a creator who gives life, loves life, loves me. He wants the best for me even when my temple is infested with auto immune activity that cares not for my continued existence in the least bit. It’s my belief that when the black-robed, sickle-carrying angel of death does come to extract me from this plain, my creator, my God will welcome me to a plain where death will have no power.

We’re all advancing toward the inevitable, but shouldn’t we try our best to enjoy (as best we can) the bird in hand that we’ve been blessed to have?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.