AUGUST 28, 2014 – NATIONAL CHERRY TURNOVER DAY – NATIONAL BOW TIE DAY

I cannot believe I missed this.

I’ve always been fascinated by bow ties and not just because of David Tennant. Yes, bow ties are very cool but only recently have I realized just HOW cool. Like most people, my first exposure to grown up fashion started by mimicking those I thought were stylish. They wore suits, turtle necks, loafers, and neckties. But only the daring wore bow ties. Unfortunately they all seemed to be clip on type. What a ruse. So I dumbly wandered around the school dance floor with clip on neckties and bow ties unaware there was a difference.

I next learned about neckerchiefs in Boyscouts. What a find. We all wore them. No knot required and it was so cool to belong to a group of folk who looked alike. But one day I aged out of Scouts and my neckwear journey continued.

Then I learned about bolo neckwear. They reminded me of the neckerchief so I bought one. Those bits of braided leather cinched together with ornately etched silver “buckles” were great. But they went out of fashion as quickly as a power suit in 1990. So my fashion search continued.

So I did what most men do: I learned how to tie a standard necktie and never learned the subtle beauty that is the bow tie. It’s so special that of the neck adornments I list, only the bow tie “spell checks” as two words. Neckerchief. Necktie. Bolo. Ascot. Dickie. Bow tie. It’s how to get just a it of color and variety in the daily wear without looking pretentious.

But how to tie one on?

No one I knew could tie a bow tie. Even the menswear guy in the local mall anchor store was unable to help me. I was at a loss. Fewer and fewer wore the bow tie. And I was onto bigger things like school or church. Both of which, when formal wear was required, was lacking any real bow tie representation but did have a bevy of long neckties. So I took the cue and wore one too.

Then a few months ago two path altering things occurred. I was taken by an absolutely gorgeous Gerry Garcia bow tie. I simply had to have it, but I still couldn’t tie one on. And no one to teach me. The second thing to occur was my choir director wore (and wears) a bow tie to worship service. Fabulous bow ties too, purchased here there and almost everywhere. I was emboldened and finally used YouTube as a helpmeet. It showed me a video of a black man my age who showed me how to secure a self tie bow tie. I tried it.

It worked.

And now my collection has grown steadily ever since. I enjoy the uniqueness of my bow ties and how it automatically sets me apart. How the fraternity of bow tie wearing folk instantly recognizes one another and we form an instant brotherhood. Like a society of men who are in on the secret handshake and the fraternal uniform we have is the selfie bow tie.

Would you like to join?

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Fraternity of Fathers

It’s the first day of the sophomore year of college. Not for me; for my daughter.

The trip down was harrowing including interesting new policies the airline carrier imposed without adequate notice to its customers. Becoming haughty about that lack of full communication and delayed baggage. All of which couldn’t seem to be resolved unless the airport cops were involved.

Last time I checked, the lost baggage department was staffed with folk who were empathetic and interested in trying to help even when they had no real way to help. This one we met instead essentially quoted Smeagol “…leave now, and never return…” -__-

Eventually, 16 hours after leaving my humble abode, I pulled up to the fleabag motel where I’m staying with the rest of the family, bags retrieved and safely in our trunk. The motel staff is moderately put out due to the sudden influx of 15 trillion people. They are a bit gun shy and beleaguered so I can’t expect their best. Nor do I receive it.

The room is fine, for its part, and it’s convenient to the strip of groceries, big box stores, restaurants and is a short run to the actual university.

The stage is set. Strike up the band and dim the lights. The show is about to begin.

Next morning comes and it’s breakfast time. Here’s where the fun really begins. I look and my bleary eyes espy cold boiled eggs (which were rather good), a plethora of pre packaged bread items like bagels and pancakes which likely never actually saw a pan before being hermetically sealed in plastic. The juice is in a bladder hidden by a large metal closet with a plastic arm to release it’s chilled contents. The television is blasting the interlopers rioting in Ferguson Missouri making the locals anxious and fatigued. I stand in line with my bagel hoping the toaster doesn’t burn it like the last guys was. Next to me is an equally concerned father gaping at the toaster, giving it the side eye.

He asks me how to adjust the heat as his glasses are forgotten upstairs. I assist and we stand in silence for a beat. I feel from him that he is a father of a college kid too. So I ask him how it’s going. My instinct is correct as he immediately launches into the concerns we both share:

The university is huge.
My kid may get lost.
I may get lost.
My money is already lost.
The cost of education is unbearable.
The cost of not being educated is even more unbearable.
We both are afraid to walk out the motel door because everything we do and every time we move, it costs us dearly for tuition, books, room, board, handshakes with random folk, meetings with the professor, student center, trading post, parking. ‘…It never ends and it all has a price tag.’ he finishes. I agree and say that perhaps those whom are currently invested in jails would do well to pull out, given the current political climate. Better to invest in colleges. There’s money in them thar hills! He laughed mirthlessly at the irony of that observation and agrees. The haunted look in our faces would’ve made Janus pause.

We part.

Being a father has always been a challenge emotionally, physically, financially and sometimes spiritually. But honestly there’s no better job I could ever ask for. I’m blessed to be a daddy. I just wish college was not quite so painful for us dads.

Hang the blessed DJ because of the music that they constantly play

So apparently yesterday was national radio day. It seems that the greatest invention since fire was not sliced bread, but the wireless communication medium we know as radio. Marconi and his emulators have done well, I’d say.

For my part I like to think of radio as something that has always been my friend. What my friend says to me today isn’t all that different than what he said while I was a boy. He said then and now that I’m here, I won’t go away and when you need me, I’ll be waiting.

As a youth, I was like most who had a little box without pictures that talks. I stood next to my friend listening for the latest hit from Radio City Music Hall, Motown or from Capitol Records. I leapt for joy when my favorite jerry curl sporting group or mullet brandishing hair band released their latest effort at stardom. It was a micro event in my life when Michael Jackson released something “Bad” or Huey Lewis & The News told me that “This Is It”. I tell you I was pleasantly amused when the radio told me that video had committed murder to the radio stars I loved or that what I really wanted was my MTV. I listened with rapt attention when Rick Dees [sic] told me that the weekly top 40 hadn’t moved my favorite hit from the top spot just yet and I was good for another week.

Later, I would sit up all night listening to radio drama from the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. The Shadow, The Inner Sanctum and more recently in my young life “Minds Eye Theatre” who introduced me to Antigone. Yes my radio was my community connection and social water cooler. It told me when Tori Amos was coming to town and when the summer jam was leaving.

Eventually I grew up and my tastes changed. Top forty gave way to adult contemporary. And soon the slumber inducing tones of Kenny G and Grover Washington drifted over my speakers. So I started to drift from FM radio and now looked to AM radio for my entertainment. Late night blustering blowhards and bloviated hate mongers started to round out my world view. The venom they spewed in the guise of humor and catchy songs was the order of the day.

Eventually even that white noise became unnecessary to my late night runs delivering pizza and closing of the burger joints. I yearned for things less pugnacious and more informative. I was gratified to finally learn about the FM dials response to the loudmouths on the AM dial and was pleased to know their reporting of daily happenings need not be so subversive or politically motivated. The talkers I listened to even threw in a few new singers for me to learn about. And in short order I learned that there is a world of music outside of my sea to shining sea existence.

I added British alternative artists to my repertoire and noticed that in time, none of those were played on the channel frequencies I frequented. Soon I learned about A-Mei in Taiwan, Johny Clegg & Savuka from Africa, The Smiths from Manchester Britain, and so much more. I was in heaven. My friend again had found a voice for me to relate to and a song to chirp to. I learned that while television may fill my eyes with fleeting images, the minds eye was forever and indelibly marked by the sounds that only my imagination fueled by noises and voices from all over the world could appreciate.

I have been shaped by radio as surely as any other out-of-home influence can. I am forever grateful to the folk who saw fit to entertain me when they didn’t even know me, educate me when they didn’t know I was lacking knowledge, informed me when they didn’t know I wasn’t aware. They didn’t personally know me, but somehow, magically, and blessedly, they proved year after year and time after time, that in an odd and unexpected way, they actually did. Maybe they knew me better than I knew myself. They knew that I was going to want to know, hear, experience, feel, and do more. That my life in school wasn’t the end but there was “the rest of the story” yet to be heard.

Thank you radio, my old and omnipresent friend. And no, I won’t turn that dial.

Couldn’t do it without him

Several weeks ago I woke up on the third morning of a weeklong camping trip with a local Boyscout troop, hungry mosquitos desperately trying to drain energy from me. I had made it through another evening and wasn’t feeling badly at all. In fact, it was as if I had caught my second wind after a long exercise regimen. I stretched my achy back and reached for the toothbrush and my eyeglasses both tucked safely in my carry pouch.

The boys outside my tent had already started to stir and I realized they had to be enjoying a ten to fifteen minute head start on me. No matter. As long as I was somewhat alert for the flag raising that’s all that mattered. Breakfast was sure to be a disappointment for me and my self imposed diet that omits pork products (choice, not faith).

The Ceremony complete, I marched the boys down to the mess hall over small hillocks and exposed roots of long ago born trees. The natural rock formations worn by years of size sixes and smaller threatened to trip me. But I made it in spite of my blurred vision. “Coffee…” Was my only thought.

So the meal came, I grabbed my coffee and sat to choke down some dry toast masquerading as something the French might’ve lain claim to were it not for the bitter aftertaste. I sighed. Then announcements. Merit badge classes: Archery. Shotgun. Sailing. Cooking. And a dozen more. Good. Full day. I’ll be as busy as the boys.

Then the announcement I was not expecting. There is a foot race planned some weeks after I am scheduled to return home. I’ve never participated in a foot race so I was interested for purely selfish reasons. I like seeing my belly get smaller and there’s a handsome patch in it for every participant. Cool. Sign me up.

Later, I see the beautiful patch in the camp store. I realized that the patch was part of a trifecta of patches. By participating or whimping out and buying it, I could get that patch they talked about. I thought of my son and how he would enjoy the collection of his patches. So I thought, when I get home, I’m gonna register both my son and myself for the race, we will earn that patch together.

Weeks later, on the night before the race, I register us both.

My son, ever the inquisitive one asks me why he is going to have to awaken at 6:30 am on a Saturday to run a race? I didn’t want to ruin the patch surprise so I hid that from him and admitted to wanting to do it just to do it. And I admitted, truthfully, that I wanted to do it with him. He seemed skeptical but allowed himself to be placed in my car and driven an hour away for an uncertain event.

We get to the camp and wander around a bit looking for familiar faces. Finding them, we greet the others and then stretching so we are not too sore for the race. I insist we are not here to win, but to finish. I ask him to lead me through stretches he uses in his community rowing team. They helped loosen us both up and he seemed to enjoy showing me something he knew.

The starting gun fired and we were off. For almost 1/3 of a mile I ran. Then I started to sweat. Puff. Even drool a bit. I was faltering already. “…Oh well. I’m only here to finish…” I remind myself. I began to hope my shoes would fail so I could turn back. I was gasping for air. I didn’t think I could go on.

Then I looked at my son. And he was just fine. So I smiled. And pressed on. But not as fast. This part of the race I just jogged at a very slow pace. My son saw me do this and kept pace with me too. He urged me on when the road grew long and steep. He called out words of encouragement to me when and even before I knew needed it. Then on one particularly rough hill, he came up to me, extended his hand, and held mine as he pulled me along. My own son gave me strength. He held me as I struggled and in so doing I was reinvigorated and my strength was bolstered enough for me to press on.

All of this in the first mile.

And he didn’t stop. He got me going when it was toughest. So I showed him beautiful mountain lake vistas I saw before on this same trail when I went on a much slower paced hike with the boys some weeks before. I showed him a tree stump with flowers growing out of it. Houses that defied gravity as they clung to mountainsides.

Then finally, nearly five miles later we near then end of the race. He sees it before I do and suddenly, without warning, he grabs my hand, yanks and takes off like a shot. The scoutmasters and youth staff leaders are gathered within the last quarter mile and they are shouting words of encouragement. Their shouts are like the water tables all along the trail. Refreshing and welcomed. But nothing these scouts offered me was like the hand of my son around mine. I was whipped, but I ran, just so I could finish with him at my side.
I couldn’t have done it without him and I wouldn’t have wanted to try.

The race that began at my urging finished at his. Tired, sweaty, smelly, calves on fire, chest heaving in the air. And I’ve never felt so good in my life.

The act can purify the moment

But what if I make a mistake?

What if they all laugh at me?

What if they don’t understand?

How can I be sure I’m doing it for the correct reasons?

I’ve heard a story and I want to share it with you. There was a rabbi who was leading a group of people in some task. The people were doing what they were told. The deed was a good one, but the people doing it grew concerned about how they would later be judged for their deeds. They worried aloud about the image they portrayed in accomplishing their task. They even felt unsure that their own motives for doing this was misplaced and was not for glorifying God, but instead was for personal edification. So they asked the rabbi if they should change their action for these reasons and more.

The rabbi recognized their fears and said to them that this thing they do is not something to fear. That what they are doing is good. They know it in their hearts. They’ve prayed about it and discussed it and they should finish the work. “Why?” They grumbled. “We think our spirits will be up to question because our motivations may be misplaced” the rabbi simply said that they should not worry so much about the motivation. Was not their task a good one? Yes. Was not their work good and correct in its base nature? Yes. Then focus on that. Focus on the good you do and less on the motivation. Sometimes the act is more important than the reason behind doing it.

Another story.

A musician who is greatly in demand was preparing for a very important concert. The entire reason for being there was not just the musicians talents but the cause the performance was for. The entire community would benefit from it and he was glad to do it. His partner, on the other hand was equally good at playing an instrument. But his partner was focused on the money that would come of it. Very focused on it. To ensure he would benefit greatly, he practiced much longer and harder than the first. The day of the performance came and the first played beautifully. The audience was in rapture. The second played and missed notes, was off in his time and struggled. He wasn’t sure why, since he had rehearsed so hard and long. So when the concert ended, of the two musicians the loudest applause and accolades came to the first musician. And he was rewarded in ways the other never realized. Puzzled the second asked the first why his reward was so great while his was so much less than he expected.

The first said “…because your focus was on the wrong thing. I focused on the music while you focused on the money you expected. I was in the music and in the moment. You were more concerned with the outcome and I was focused on the love of what I was doing. The music”

The thing is, he had chosen to focus not on where his music would take him and what others would think of it. How the music (little g) gods would love his efforts. He was more concerned with with doing his craft for the love of it because that was the correct thing to do. Not to worry about how others would see him in doing it. In so doing this in-the-moment act, removing his focus onto others, he found the greatest joy in what he put into it and less on what he got out of it.

I, myself, have often said that if you try to focus on a career that is big money and less on the career you want the money ultimately will come. Chasing that paper may seem like the right thing to do because after all, how can you have a family, home, respect if you don’t have a full bank account? I would argue that by doing what you love simply because you love doing it and it’s what God wants you to do, then eventually if not sooner, the benefits will come. Both spiritually, emotionally, and financially.

Do what you love and the money will come. But in the meantime, your heart will be filled with joy because what you are doing is for the love of doing it.

Robin

Nanu nanu.

Phenomenal cosmic powers! >Whoosh< itty bitty living space.

The Pan is back.

There are a myriad of images, quotes and emotions that run through my head when I think about the genius I knew first as Mork from Ork. The giant egg. The splayed finger handshake. The man who frantically leapt from one side of the stage to another for Comic Relief. The man who showed me that its's okay to be flamboyant and own a club and still be one Hell of a father in the process. The man who made me believe that aliens, Colorado, jeeps, sitting on your head, Peter Pan, long dead poets that whisper, and blue cartoon characters living in bottles were all very real and could teach me something.

That is rare. One person who is so multidimensional and talented. Capable of taking such varied personalities and make them all believable if only for 90-120 minutes. The are few who I could give that much of my time to and not regret it.

Robin Williams is the reason I bought a pair of rainbow suspenders in grade school. Robin Williams, not Spock, is the reason I learned to splay my fingers. Robin Williams is the reason I learned that comedy can help heal. Comedy can be a part of daily life and yet you still be taken seriously by your colleagues. Robin Williams is the reason I learned that growing up doesn't mean you've got to grow old. That you mustn't forget that the truth must be told in spite of your job, even in another country.

The kind of adult I wanted to be wasn't really clear to me as a child. I had my family patriarch in my grandfather. But sadly he passed into the next world before I was more than a year into my teenage years. So I looked at other male figures I knew and those I didn't as role models. Luckily for me, my mother insisted I watch only certain examples on television. Robin was one. So here is what I have come away with on this very sad day:

Bring joy with you into the room and the room will return that joy to you.

Be who you are: unashamedly, boldly, and loudly.

The world appreciates, if not understands, authenticity of a genuine spirit.

When you are sad, and don't know why, tell someone. Don't hide it inside.

If you trust others with your quirks, they might surprise you by being quirky right back. And that's ok.

The most important lessons in life need not be learned with a straight face.

I will miss Robin. He was one of the great ones. Right up the with Milton Burrell, George Burns, Flip Wilson, and John Candy. Vaudevillian in their craft, dogged in their determination to make a serious point though you may not even realize it until later, and sincere in their devotion to make other folks days just a little bit better.

My list of his movies I've not seen (yet) has only a few films on it. But in my estimation Hook was the best. Why?

Because he showed me that it's okay to be a boy in a grown mans body. To be more than a father and instead aspire to be a daddy. To look out for those who are smaller than you. And know that faeries do exist. And I don't see anything wrong with that. Not. One. Bit.

Rest in peace Robin Williams. Your life was greater than you may have known.

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Prayer

On a Thursday night some years ago, I had the distinct privilege and honor of leading a class of youth in my church. This youth bible study was a continuation of the classes I taught in another state, in a different church, in a different time. That is to say that my teaching method was raw and not always up to the task. It often required me to be adept at recognizing the needs of the young adults and help explain the bible in ways that sometimes even I didn’t quite fully grasp. In my shortcomings I found ways to become less and less a fairly good teacher of several and soon the underwhelming leader of one or two.

It wasn’t exactly my best example of leadership on display. But there was this one time, a very important lesson needed to be taught. It was born of a question the kids asked one week prior.

What is prayer? And this is what I said. This is what I believe. This is what I know for myself.

Prayer is one of the most recognized actions of the faithful but the least explained. I have spent most of my life hearing the faith leaders in my life explain to me that prayer is something we as the devout do when we wish to talk to God. That its something we all do as men and women of faith. And it’s not exclusive to Christians but is common to most every religion and faith. And they told me it’s an action that must come in any one of several forms:

Praise and adoration. This is prayer that is focused upon God, Himself, and in this prayer form we express love of and for him. This prayer form outwardly shows our love of and for Him in as much as a child of God can. It’s an expression of love returned. Since love is a circle, it’s simply completing the circuit.

Penitence. This is the prayer that expresses a willingness to show an admittance of personal fault and a true need for Gods forgiveness. It’s the kind of prayer that recognizes that sin is part of who and what we are but we are still seeking His guidance. It’s not true that we are wholly sinful, but those who would follow the Word of God are expected to seek to rise above our sin filled heritage.

Petition. This is the prayer that we normally fall into. It’s the kind of prayer that is us asking for something. Usually something that has a price tag that you can affix to it. It’s always a prayer of asking. Heal my illness. Take away this hurt for my friend. Almost begging for anything and everything. The hope is that petition is not for material possessions, but instead for the betterment of self so that the glory of God can be seen clearly from within to the without. Petition should be beyond what one wears on the outside and be more about who and what we are on the inside. Asking for inner peace and a giving heart may be a good place to start. Or perhaps asking to be more like what God wants us to be: truly like Him on earth.

Thanksgiving. That’s the prayer that essentially boils down to a spirit of thankfulness. It’s a chance for us to express our gladness and joy in the blessings of God. This is the prayer that for some is most often want to offered. It is the prayer some may feel is all the prayer we ever need do. It’s the prayer form that I’ve seen some use to “lord” over the petitioner. The hard part is that many of us have a very hard time thanking folk for things they’ve done or said or given. I am an advocate of thanking God for the time he gave us to be in his presence and the time we have to live.

Intercession. This is the prayer that is selfless in nature. It’s designed to intercede on behalf of others and see to their needs and not your own. This prayer may have elements of petition-like language but the language is not personal, but magnanimous. It’s literally asking God to be a bulwark for someone where you see them in trial or trouble and have not the power yourself to help, aid, or assist. But you know God and ask for Him to step in.

So back to my class: here is where I took a left turn. I asked the children just what should a prayer say? How does one pray? Is there a certain set of rules that apply to the meditation we call prayer? Should we be on bended knee? Prostrate on the ground? Standing with our eyes closed? Open and gazing heavenward? Is there a biblically prescribed rule that says that when you pray, you must be in this place or that building or the other position?

In all my reading of the bible, the answer I have is – no.

I’ve arrived at this conclusion. And I ask you to look at this example of prayer:
president Bartlett prays
It’s an example of prayer that I’ve never before seen so wonderfully presented on television or in life. Prayer has literally nothing to do with where you physically are. Because of grace there is no requirement for us to be in any particular building, situation or physical position to speak with God. God never said that He will ignore your pleas if you are not in a massive cathedral, kneeling on a hard bench, head bowed, and hands firmly clasped in a position of supplication. That if you don’t have someone pray for you at an altar or in a room out of your eyesight then God hasn’t heard your hearts words.

Not true.

You may have heard that prayer requires a certain set of words to be acceptable as prayer. The model prayer of the bible for example. But that too is not my belief.

I believe that prayer is fully and centrally devoted not to the position of ones body, but to the position of ones heart. The heart not the mind. Ones mind may be in a state of abject fear, or confusion. But if ones heart is sincere and open to receive, then prayer can begin.

I also believe that prayer is not more recognizable nor more correct nor likely to be heard by the Almighty God if it is of a particular length. No prayer must be long winded and include all the elements of “traditional” prayer. I say “traditional” because I am hoping to see a new tradition. One centered upon the open dialogue and personal relationship that develops with communion. Let’s not fool ourselves. Prayer is communion with God. Common. Union. Unification with God as a commonality. It need not be formal. Grandiose. Edited for clarity. Presented to a board for approval. Written and checked for grammar.

Prayer is a chance to chat with God. Or to yell at Him. Share your day with Him. To tell God off. Ask Him how He’s doing. Tell Him how unfair things are. Mull things over with Him. Chew the fat with God. Tell Him all your troubles not so much because you think He doesn’t know them. Far from it. But as an acknowledgement that YOU know the troubles and are not above asking His intercession on your behalf with a penitent spirit.

Prayers may be as long as the Gettysburg address. Or they may be a single word. It’s not the length or the position or the formality. It’s the heart that supplies the prayer with its power. Sharing time, our most valuable possession beyond life itself, with God, is the ultimate gift to him. Time well spent builds relationship, not just with Him but with our fellow humans too. And in the end, that is what God really wants with His children. Relationship.

So whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Druid, or Wiccan, prayer is a chance to express your heart to your God or god or goddess. I am not here to judge your faith walk. I am only suggesting that if you have faith, and you feel like it is waning in the slightest, maybe you need to take a minute…. Just a tiny little minute… And have a nice little chat with someone.