I beg your pardon

When i was a child, I recall very clearly the large poster on my wall that paid homage to the virtues taught me in kindergarten. Robert F. had many words of wisdom for me to learn and live. Hold hands when you cross the street. Be kind. Treat others as you’d have them treat you. And more. It seemed that if all I needed to know in life could be taught in kindergarten I was good to go when I was handed my pushpin to hang the poster as reference. After all, I’d finished kindergarten hadn’t I? And hadn’t all my friends as well? What more did we need to know?

As it turns out, it’s not what we needed to learn, but what we needed to not forget.

You see, I was of the impression that basic courtesy and decency was expected from all. That being kind and polite to others was universal and common sense. But then I heard someone say if that’s such common sense, then why is it not so common? I had no answer then but I’ll try and understand it now.

I don’t really know when it was considered passĂ© to be considerate and kind to others. When inquiring into the health and well being of another was thought antiquated. Looked on as old fashioned and good for another generation, but not this one. Maybe it faded around the same time we started to feel vanity or envy. When we looked for differences more than commonalities.

They say that when culture is stripped away, the first thing to go is language. The connection to our roots and heritage are intermingled, intertwined, and steeped in our languages. Griot in Africa. Fables in the Mediterranean. Faerie tales in Western Europe. And in those tales we learn about ourselves and the community. By losing these connections, we start to drop important things. Like, politeness and consideration.

I don’t really know when these things changed. Perhaps it was when my generation started watching shows like The Simpsons or Married With Children. Or perhaps it was when the author of the writers guide to style Strunk and White insisted upon “..BREVITY..” I don’t know. But it happened.

It’s not so much that we’ve stopped saying complete phrases but that even trying to say them now causes us to falter and stumble through a once simple sentence. It even makes one feel awkward to utter a proper sentence without feeling as if one has just walked out of a medieval movie set. “.. My Lord, if it pleases thee, prithee find it within your heart of hearts to forgivest me..” I’m not advocating a full on reversal to the medieval ages to restore honest requests for forgiveness. I’m only saying that when fault is made, there should be a real effort to seek forgiveness for it. And it begins with a request, not a demand, for that forgiveness.

I can not count the number of times I’ve seen sports figures and politicians fall all over themselves trying to express sorrow without being sorrowful. “.. If I offended anyone, it was not my intension..” 0_o that’s just tragically sad. And pathetic. A real apology and request for forgiveness need not be wordy and highbrow. But it should never be a demand for forgiveness. Rather, it should be a request.

These asks are all very common phrases. But I believe the intent behind them have been muddled and conflated over time. Worse it seems like they’ve been used interchangeably.

I have seen a precipitous drop in the politeness barometer on a daily basis. I beg your pardon. Pardon me. The former is asking for a pardon while the latter demands it.

Excuse me. Please, excuse me. The former demands that you forgive them for some infraction while the latter asks for the other to offer relief from the burden of the fault. You see forgiveness is an act that release both from the yoke of guilt, shame, and a hard heart. Forgiveness allows both the offender and the offended to move forward without lingering malice or ill will. I merely suggest that since the act is so important, why not ask it in the spirit of contrition and not false superiority.

He who has not sinned…..

Biblically, John 8 brings this into even better clarity. The woman was accused of a crime and in the end, those who accused her were forced to reckon with their own faults. They left her without malice because they too had a lesson in forgiveness to be reminded of. They hadn’t yet sought forgiveness for their own faults and so they had not yet been made free to move forward in life. Held captive to their unforgiving pasts.

I am certain there is someone who has read this that has been offended. For that fault, I beg your forgiveness. It was never my intention to offend or hurt you. But if you can find it within you to forgive me, I would be grateful. Thank you.

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My chest got tight

It’s a pleasant afternoon. I’ve just left a quaint New England town in New Hampshire after purchasing a nice art piece in Maine from a fabulous artist. Don’t get excited, I spent all of $20.00. Hardly a big purchase. Now I’m in my car returning home and on the radio is a favorite talk radio show I enjoy. I’m about to turn to the music when the host mentions Matt Lauer and his interview of a CEO. I figured something was up when he said he’s not one to criticize fellow interviewers but instead played “the clip” without verbal judgement.

After hearing it, my chest clenched oh and my head spun. I could not believe what I’d just heard.

Let me look back before I spill the beans on the interview.

I’ve been a professional in my chosen field for over a decade. Worked in several cities and towns. I’ve had great success in the career I’ve chosen. Been fortunate enough to have a tremendous support network of friends, family and folk. For each of those jobs I’ve had to endure the painful process of an interview.

“So, what made you apply for this job?”
“Tell me about yourself.”
“What do you consider your greatest challenge?”
“So,” pregnant pause. “Why are you leaving your old job?”

And on and on and on. So many questions that are at once inane and also invasive. But apparently they feel these questions will give the interviewer a powerful insight into whether the applicant will be a good fit in the corporate structure. That notion is debatable but they ask away anyway and I as the applicant happily answer the questions because I want the job. Sometimes badly.

I’m asked about my past experience. I’m asked about my education. I’m subjected to questions about my certifications. Many questions are thrust at me about the vagaries and minutiae of my knowledge bank. I’m scrutinized about my ability to present myself well or not. My depth of field or narrowness of vision wheee leadership is concerned.

My entire professional life is questioned, weighed, and measured. If I’m lucky I get the offer. Tender. Gratuitous. Under paid. Well compensated. Whatever. The goal is to get the position and move on with my career life. So I’m not entirely fussed by it all. It’s normal. It’s what I expect.

What I don’t expect is what Mary Barra had asked of her by Matt Lauer. He had the reckless audacity. The unmitigated gall. The poor judgement to ask her the one question that no professional interviewer would ever ask. Possibility because it’s now considered sexist. Possibly because it’s considered irrelevant to most folks job skills. Possibly because it’s against the law. Whatever the reason, I have never heard that question asked of me. But Mary did.

And my chest tightened up when I heard it.

She was effectively asked, “So, woman. What makes you think you can have it all? Huh? What makes you feel, because I am not convinced you were thinking. What makes you FEEL that you can possibly be an effective leader of this fine institution and somehow be the job you should be working. In a kitchen, at home, with your kids, where you belong?”

Don’t worry. I’ll wait to see what the appropriate response to this line of questioning is.

I’m still waiting. Because there really isn’t one. There’s no having a logical or reasonable dialogue with anyone who begins with that mindset. Well yes there can be a firing back of why he never asked the same question of a man in that same position. But it’s probably moot considering his mind is already corrupted since the question came from his mind to begin with.

Perhaps one day the questions will stop. One day the double standard will be no more. Maybe one day.

Maybe.

Why I burn meat.

I’m pretty simple. I’m a dad. I like to cook. This is Sunday, so I’m gonna cook. Time to cook over an open pit of charcoal and fire. Man. Meat. Fire. (Thank you advertising agency, whomever you are).

But this isn’t the only day I cook. I cook on April 7th. December 16th. January 12th. July 20th. In other words, I don’t need a special day to cook. I just do. It’s not a testament to machismo for me to burn meat over coals. Or a moment to brag about how prolific I may or may not be when faced with heat, food and time. I cook because I’m hungry. I cook because my wife isn’t feeling up to it. I cook because the television show had an interesting recipe I just had to try. I cook because my mom taught me how. I cook because it’s my responsibility tonight. I cook because I feel like it.

I do not cook because it’s Father’s Day. I need no special day to cook. I need no special day created by opportunistic salesmen to “honor” fathers to cook. I cook because I feel pleasure seeing others mouths water when I draw the meat from the grill and they are no longer famished.

My point is this. I need no special occasion to cook because any day I cook is a good day to feed my loved ones. I need no special day to be a father because I am one every day. But despite that I am grateful for the day because it’s a day where men, like me, have chosen to be more than fathers but have chosen to instead be dads. It’s a day where we as dads who do not seek to be recognized for doing what we should do anyhow, are recognized. It’s a day where on any other day, we wouldn’t dream of thumping our chests and shouting how good it is to be fathers. Where others see men as more than pay checks on legs. Sagging pant wearing hooligans. Career driven warriors. Gun toting hunters. It’s a day where we can be the ever present models that boys should see daily, but often, sadly, do not.

We men are on this day seen as what we actually are every day.

Human.

Ok. Back to the grill.

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Satisfied? Maybe.

I met an artist recently who was presenting his work. Bold strikes against the canvas. Strokes of color that fly against vivid backdrops and each color evoking a story. And another. And another. The artist spoke of muses. Inspirations from his vision of the world. How an abstract image is what we see but his eyes saw order in the riot. Amazing. Fabulous. And educational.

Then he told me of how he spoke with another creator of art. And he learned two things:

When you make it, know when to stop.

When you put it out there, be satisfied with it.

That got me to thinking, I said to him. That when we create something, that something should be satisfying. Of course not everything we do is satisfying or awe inspiring. In fact some things we make are downright embarrassing. But if we really care about it. Really care how it is seen by others. Truly are concerned that what we’ve made is the best we could make. Then we should also care enough to be sure that what we make is at least satisfying to us.

Art is nothing less than a precious child to an artist. He or she is always on edge hoping that those who experience it are as happy with it as the artist is. “Art,” he said, “continues to speak for the artist..” Long after the artist is dead and gone. The art continues to speak.” The child has it’s own voice. Speak child, speak. I felt a moment of truth there. Oprah calls it an aha moment. I said to myself “Aha!” But to the artist I simply said,”..That’ll preach.” And he smiled.

I believe that what we create speaks for us after we are dead and gone. I believe that what we create tells a story when it’s creator is no longer capable of telling that story. I feel that it is even more important than I initially realized that what we do and say and build and create and love and are stewards of; we must be satisfied with it. What ever it is. It must at least be satisfying.

Recall the movie “Babe”. Farmer Hoggett spared Babes life and raised him. Farmer Hoggett was not one to heap praise upon anyone or anything. He was not one to walk about smiling all the time about random things. But when he saw Babe do his very best and it was enough he said very simply

“.. That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do,” and when he said that, Babe knew then that his loving ‘father’ was pleased. But more accurately to his demeanor, Hoggett was satisfied.

When I think back on all the things I’ve done in my own life. The many things I’ve created and the things I deconstructed. The things I’ve loved and the things that I’ve turned away from. The relationships I’ve built and the ones I couldn’t maintain. I look back on all those and question, am I satisfied?

By and large I am.

As a man of faith I also wonder if God is satisfied with what He created. If He ever thinks, “… Man. If I could do this all over again….” I know God reconsidered everything. Hence the flood. But realizing the terrible choice made, He promised never to do that again on such a grand scale. And not again with water. But that in no way suggests that He doesn’t still wonder if his creations are in any real way speaking for Him? Are we saying things that He is satisfied with?

I wonder if I’m doing enough to satisfactory to Him?

If an artists work is hoped to speak for him. If The Creators work is to speak for Him, am I saying anything of worth? Anything that gives honor and does even a modicum of justice? I hope so.

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What’s in your backpack?

In 1910, the Boyscout movement began with its infant steps. It was a gathering together of several sources and ideals that has culminated today into the highly recognizable and worldwide phenomenon that was started by a British Lord named Powell. When the ideas started to congeal, there were and are several base principals that are the rule and guide of all Scouts everywhere.

With few exceptions and local custom each Scout is quoted to recite the Oath and Law at the opening of each meeting. In the opening, twelve points are remembered: trustworthy, loyal, helpful and so on. But what is often said but little understood is that a Scout is Reverent.

I know of at least a few troops that when asked what reverent means, there are blank stares given to me. And that is tragic to me.

In a fully outfitted Boyscout troop, there is a position for an adult who is tasked with being the chaplain. Now, that position is easier to fill and more expected in a troop affiliated with a church. But in a chartered one, that need may not be filled. It’s not out of maliciousness. But it may often be out of ignorance. I don’t judge. But I will say this:

It’s my argument that there is no more important point of the twelve than the point of a Scout being reverent.

In a Scouts life, he will encounter many challenges both in Scouting and in the world after age 18. He will face tests of his skill, strength and fortitude. His ability to lead will be questioned and his trustworthiness will be called upon time and time again. But without reverence to a higher power, whatever name he recognizes it by, the boy will always have some void in his manhood.

No Scout is required to be an particular religion. No religious expression of the major three Muslim, Christian or Hebrew. No. A particular faith expression is not required. BUT there must be a recognized higher power. A guiding set of principals that the boy who would become a man will follow when his own understanding and skills fail him. Faith is the essence of things unseen and the evidence of things hoped for. Faith is the source power of a reverent Scout and not to be underestimated.

This is perhaps the most important tool in his pack as he travels the world after hiking trails is done. The television commercial challenges us to declare what’s in our wallet. I challenge you former Scouts to ask yourself: what’s in your pack? Have you packed your loyalty? Is there a bottle of trustworthiness there? Have you rolled up and stowed your supply of helpfulness? Can you find buried in there someplace a bag of courtesy? And in the center of it all, close to your back so you can feel it always, have you carried with you your reverence?

With reverence, you can find strength that you yourself may not have. A strength that will carry you through even in the face of the toughest storms of life. Not all battles are to faced alone. Sometimes you need another to help. And with an humble spirit, and a quiet strength that comes from those who have trust in their higher spirit can more easily face life by being reverent.

Yes I know. If it’s so important why is it the last tool in our Boyscout packs? It is our anchor. Our final word. The last thing you pack in but the first thing you see when the pack is opened back up. Reverence is faith. It is acceptance of our I man nature and that we cannot always have all the answers so then we still have one(s) greater than us to call upon for help aid and assistance.

Check your pack now. See if it’s there. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Oh, Ye of Little Religion

Sunday morning at 11 o’clock, it has been said, is the most segregated time in America. It is a time when the people of Christendom gather with other like minded folk of Christendom and enter into common union. A time when folk look to hear a Word, break bread, and drink of the cup. Gather to accept a new life. Perhaps cast off an old life and accept the new.

By and large, it’s also a time when they focus less on faith and more fully on religion. Therein lays the sadness.

First the Word.

Matthew 8:26, 16:8, 6:30, 14:31…. All of these passages describe a moment in people’s lives when they require dependence on something or someone greater than they. There is a time in all our lives where we look to people or things for assistance and there is nothing wrong with it. You sometimes need a car when the distance is long. A library when you need an answer. A friend when the day is hard. A hammer when facing a reticent nail. No one does it all by themselves. Even the most strident individualist must use assistance of some kind at some point.

That’s the world.

Spiritually the help becomes less tangible and perhaps a bit more grey area. And that is just where the disciples were in these passages. Y’know I do believe many of us are there today too. We too need help, aid or assistance and look to something that is greater than we to solve it.

So what did Jesus do? He said go to the temple and petition the rabbis. Right? No.

He said hire a catering company if you need food. Right? No.

He reminded them in five words that man can fail but faith never does. He said not to focus effort on the solutions of the world but of the eternal. He said, in essence, let go of your expectations of the world. He said not to run to the comfort of religion but instead grasp onto the strong hand of faith. How do I arrive at this?

Because He did not say “…oh, ye of little religion…”.

The world was then and is now already full of various religions. In my opinion religion is the great divider, not uniter. We find more ways to divide, separate and segregate from one another in the name of religion than one might think possible. We have each and every one of us formed our own idea of what is the “correct” way to supplicate and request and praise and honor God. My way. Your way. His way. Her way. Their way. And there is always something wrong with someone else’s way. Divide.

No, there was quite enough religion, thank you.

But faith. That was sadly lacking. That IS sadly lacking.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It is the inspiration for pressing on when “common sense” says to stop. To climb that last hill. Ride that last mile. Apply for that last job. Ask that woman or man to marry you. Believe that it’s gonna be alright when you are done. That is faith. Faith is what encourages. Strengthens. Bolsters. And fuels the spirit for one last go.

Let me ask those of you: When you drive a car to work, you check road conditions on tv? Okay. So do I. But then do you walk the route? Call the sky-cam team and double confirm the report? Check social media for its input? Consult the polls for the latest results in infrastructure funding to be sure that monies went to the pothole you saw yesterday and aren’t sure was fixed last night? Then do you call the department of transportation to verify that all traffic signals and painted lines are in place and as they should be? No? Why not? Because you have a form of faith called trust that the road conditions, other drivers, and your own skills at driving will allow you safe passage to work.

I’m not saying that no chair will ever fail you, but it is highly unlikely that you take no seat without first checking the engineering reports by its designer and subject it to a load test to assure it will support your weight. No. You don’t. I’m sure of that. What you do is take it on faith that the chair will be fine with you on it or under someone else.

I would submit that if you have more religion than faith, you are not necessarily living as Christ hoped for his followers. I say that He led with the hope that Christians who would profess to love Him would be less dogmatic in religion and more comforted by faith.

I believe that those who cast off the shackles of religion as the source of faith and instead embrace the freedom of faith as the inspiration of our religion are the happiest and most complete people of God you’ll meet.