Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The things I am thankful for.

I have noticed recently a number of people being thankful. Some are posting what they are thankful for to Facebook. Some are making lists. I on the other hand, am feeling guilty for doing neither. Therefore, bear with me dear reader, for I am about to unleash thankfulness all over this blog.

I am thankful for indoor plumbing, furnaces and air-conditioning. I am thankful for winter, so I do not have to mow the lawn, and summer so I do not have to shovel the driveway. I am thankful for bread, since I like sandwiches. (Have you ever tried to eat a sandwich without the bread? It is messy and unfulfilling.) In fact, eating a breadless sandwich makes me thankful for silverware.

Most of all, I am thankful for my family and their sense of humor. Some people say that humor is a result of environment; I believe it is genetic. Both my grandfather and my father enjoyed waiting until someone had a drink poised at their lips before they said something utterly unexpected. This caused the intended victim to spew the contents of their mouth all over, causing even more riotous laughter. I, for one, have stayed far away from this gag, since I hate the end result of clean up.

This bent towards practical pranks was passed on to my brother. He would get up in the middle of the night and rubber band the cupboard door handles together. My poor mother would wake up early in the morning, stumble to the kitchen, without turning the lights on, for coffee, and open a cupboard door, just to have it inexplicably slam closed. Another favorite prank of my brother’s was to adjust the clips that hold cups on the drain rack. He would push them just far enough back so that when placing a cup upon them, the cup would catch, but not slide onto the clip. My mother would growl from the kitchen as she readjusted all the clips so she could set cups on them.

Mom has been waiting for her chance at revenge for years. Now she is getting it. My brother has his own child, a daughter. Let the revenge begin.

Back to thankfulness. One Thanksgiving, we were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma announced that since it was a special occasion, she was going to use her fine china plates. Of course the girls in the family were all a twitter (no, not that twitter, the other one). The guys were less excited, they were more concerned about important stuff like, turkey, mashed potatoes and football. While the tables were set, one of my girls kept inquiring about the china plates and then about the fine glasses Grandma was putting out. She then asked, “Grandma, are we going to use the china silverware too?”

Grandma answered that we were going to use the regular silverware since she did not have any china silverware.  At this point Middlest, who was about five at the time, chimed in, “Humph, it is a good thing Grandma doesn’t have china silverware since none of us know how to use chopsticks.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

The third miracle from the gospel of John.

I promised a few months ago to look at the miracles in the Gospel of John and to retell them. This story can be found in the fifth chapter of that gospel. First, I will explore the background; then I will tell the story.

On the outskirts of hustling bustling Jerusalem, there was a pool called Bethesda. It was a crowded place, filled with broken people, whose only hope was in the water. The story went that an angel from God would come down occasionally to stir up the water and the first person into the water would be healed.

I do not know if this was true or not. To me it seems somewhat cruel for God to send an angel down to stir up the water, and then sit back and watch these people, with their broken bodies, stumble and fumble their way down into the water, on the hope that the first one that stepped into the water would be healed. Cruel, yet there was hope.

One of the people waiting beside the pool was a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This brings up two things. First, had he been sitting there for thirty-eight years? I do not know, but I think he had been waiting to get better for that long time. John does not say he had been lame since birth, just for thirty-eight years. This leads to the suspicion that he once was not lame.

Next, why do we refer to people who have some physical limitation as invalids? Does their limitation make them less than valid? Do doctors validate people when they assist them into good health? Are people 'parking passes' that get validated?  It seems to me, whoever invented the English language ought to be invalidated.

I digress, so let me do the opposite and regress back to my story. This man is lying by the pool, when Jesus walks by and speaks to him. “Do you want to get well?”

After thirty-eight years of disability, countless years of waiting by the pool, innumerable numbers of insults and insensitive remarks that were meant to be kind, but which actually hurt, the man thinks to himself, “Is this guy for real? Is he joking? What does he think I am doing sitting by the pool?”  Many angry and bitter things raced to explode from his mouth, but with just a snippet of sarcasm he responded, “I try to get into the pool first when the water is stirred, but someone else always gets there first.”  He looked at the man that spoke to him, gauging him and his reaction. A strong man, hands rough from working as a carpenter, muscles toned from carrying lumber and walking across the countryside. Perhaps, just maybe, this man would stay and help him into the water. This was the simple wish of the man waiting by the pool, as he looked expectantly.

Then he heard the words, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man did not hesitate. He knew the feeling; he knew he could walk. He stood up, picked up his mat, and walked. He walked straight into a gaggle of members from the Jewish Rule Clique.

“Hey! You cannot carry your mat! It is the Sabbath! That is work!”

He replied, “All I know is, the man who healed me said, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’”

When the Ruler Clique found out it was Jesus who had healed the man, they threw him a party. They festooned with streamers and broke out the party hats. They ordered cake and ice cream. They were thrilled that someone was going around healing the lame people. NOT! They persecuted him. They were angry. “How could you heal on the Sabbath? That is work! There are rules and rules MUST be followed. ”

Their response, an epic fail, rendered them invalid. Invalid to the rules that hobbled the spirit of joy in the man’s healing, blind to the miracle before them, and deaf to the joy in the man’s voice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It is the most wonderful time of the year.

I, for the most part, love this time of year. The weeks between Halloween and the New Year are filled with family and celebrations. Thanksgiving, New Years, and of course, the biggest celebration, Christmas, give time to gather with family, friends and fiends. By the way, fiends are simply friends without our presence.

In me, these celebrations give rise to some anxiety, and that anxiety revolves primarily around one activity – shopping. I dislike shopping. It makes my knees knock when I think I might be purchasing the wrong gift, in the wrong color, or the wrong size, or that the intended recipient already has a gazillion. When the recipient opens the gift, I always hold my breath, hoping they like it. So far, everyone has been gracious when receiving a gift. No one has complained; not even the fiends.  For that, I am thankful.

Another reason I dislike shopping so much…I believe there is a conspiracy against me, and others like me, by United Group for Leveraging Items Expected Sales (UGLIES). It works this way; let us say I want to purchase a widget for my great Aunt Gertrude. Gertie loves widgets and has an extensive collection. As I move from store to store, perusing the aisles of widgets, those cameras hanging from the ceiling record my movements and identify that I am seeking to purchase a widget. Immediately a hold is placed on the price of widgets in all stores within a 20-mile radius of my location.

When I find the perfect widget at a reasonable price, I purchase it. This is where the fun begins. The price I paid for that widget is shared amongst UGLIES network, and when the cameras have followed me out of the store, into my vehicle, and driving down the road, at least one store within that 20-mile radius immediately marks down the price of the widget I just purchased. The markdown is just enough to cause me to wish I had purchased it at that lower price, but not enough to make it worthwhile for me to return the original widget, drive to the other store, and purchase the cheaper one.

My next, and greatest, reason for disliking shopping is the crowds. Thankfully, Beloved and I are usually able to do our Christmas shopping during weekdays and avoid most crowds. It never ceases to amaze me how people manage to pilot 3000 pounds of metal, propelled by small explosions occurring inside a metal case, down roads, amidst many other vehicles heading in completely different directions in a safe manner. Yet, when they arrive at the mall, they completely forget how to navigate.  “Stay to the right. When walking in a group, do not obstruct the flow of traffic. Do not stop in the middle of the walk way, and if it is an emergency and you must stop, put on your 4-way flashers.”

The larger the crowd, the more discomfort I feel. I like to get to where I need to go, buy what I need to buy and exit the store quickly and efficiently. However, I am large, and when there are many people milling about, I need to exercise caution to keep from knocking people over. Beloved, who is not only drop dead gorgeous, but petite as well, does not have this problem. She can slip through the tiniest gaps in the crowd, and take off like a whippet at the races. As a result, she is often looking back at me in exasperation, wondering why I do not move faster.

I tend to lumber around behind people, as I move from one store to another. It reminds me of those bucolic scenes from old western movies. You know, the ones, where the cowboys are slowly riding along, playing harmonicas, as they herd the droves of cattle towards Abilene, or some other stop on the railroad.

Then I remember why those cows are being moved down the dusty trail to Abilene. They have been sold—sold to be shipped down the railroad, slaughtered and turned into prime rib, steak, and hamburger, to be eaten by people back east.

Did I mention I do not like shopping?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Eight-thousand, one-hundred and eight days.

Beloved and I tied the knot on August 19th. Some woman named Kim married some guy named Kris on August 20th. Their marriage has lasted 72 days. On the day Kim filed for divorce, Beloved and I celebrated 8108 days of marriage. I do not write this to poke fun at Kim and Kris; a failed relationship is painful, no matter how short. A failed marriage must be even more so. Just imagining life without Beloved makes me cringe. That would be, to quote one of my favorite pieces of literature, “A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” (Thank you, Judith Viorst.)

Therefore, I do not intend to make light of this short marriage. I do, however, intend to make light of society for paying for it. Apparently, the couple was paid in the neighborhood of $18 million for their wedding to be broadcast on TV. This means that over the course of the 72-day marriage, as a couple, they made over $10,000 per hour.

Every viewer of that special should be shouting in protest, “That is my money, I want it back.” In fact, they should be calling for an occupation of most reality TV shows, until they redistribute their wealth and engage in common sense.  If you think that freedom from that kind of exploitation for everyone is an innate right, you might be one of us.

That is the problem. ‘You might be one of us.’ People are waiting for someone to tell them what they should buy, how they should dress, how they should style their hair, what they should drive, in order to be ‘one of us.’ We watch reality TV shows to tell us how to ‘live the good life.’ We hope they will tell us the secret of how to ‘be one of us.’

In reality, the ‘they’ are just like ‘us’. With two exceptions, we pay to watch their lives, rather than living our own and they pay more for their mundane lives than we do for ours. I drive a mundane car, live in a mundane house, and have a mundane job (two actually).  Since I cannot afford to buy new tools every week, I, on regular occasions, go on adventures to find the ones I already own. I shopped for a used mini-van and was bitten by a poisonous spider. I have answered the age-old question, “Is a recorder a classical instrument?” I have been called a leprechaun and passed out from joy. I have driven halfway across the country and schemed with my friend about hiding the body of someone we hit, rather someone we had not hit yet, but might theoretically hit at some possible future time, and what we would do to escape the severe penalty of said theoretical hit. All of this has been done in my mundane life, with my mundane mini-van, mundane house and in a mundane neighborhood.

I received a thank you note from a student in my Sunday school class. This young man of the seventh grade variety wrote, “Thanks for sacrificing your useful time…” not valuable time, but useful time. He understood something amazing. Doctors have valuable time; lawyers have valuable time (at least they charge enough to make it valuable); Kim and Kris had a valuable marriage. But, value isn’t always useful. I fixed a leaky toilet and Beloved said I was “useful to have around.” A plumber would have been much more valuable, but I was useful. That is the way I want to be—useful. For that reason, I plead with you all, sacrifice your useful time; fix a leaky toilet, play with a child, take a good afternoon nap, laugh at a joke (preferably one of mine). Do not occupy Wall Street. Do not emulate those people on TV. Instead, be useful my friends, be useful.