Thursday, June 18, 2020

history repeats itself

Amos was a prophet in Old Testament times. The Lord spoke through him to reproach the peoples of Israel and Judah for their unfaithfulness to Him.

Here is a portion of chapter 6 from the book of Amos:

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
    and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation,
    to whom the people of Israel come!
Go to Kalneh and look at it;
    go from there to great Hamath,
    and then go down to Gath in Philistia.
Are they better off than your two kingdoms?
    Is their land larger than yours?
You put off the day of disaster
    and bring near a reign of terror.
You lie on beds adorned with ivory
    and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
    and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
    and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful
    and use the finest lotions,
    but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;
    your feasting and lounging will end.


At the time, Zion was the capital of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Samaria the capital of Judah (the southern kingdom). By "notable men," Amos is referring to the leadership of these Jewish nations.

What came to mind as I read this particular passage? 

Congress. Our House of Representatives, and the Senate. 

Doesn't it sound like them?  They put off the day of disaster = kicking the can down the road. Look how many career politicians hold those 535 seats that govern our nation. Their collective years in politics is staggering, yet what of substance has been accomplished?  How many of the problems from yesteryear still plague us today?  Indeed, every day brings us further into a reign of terror

Maybe they don't lie on beds adorned with ivory, but you get the idea. They do live lives of luxury, so many having enriched themselves by taking advantage of the position they hold. They make laws that they themselves don't feel they have to follow.  They get generous pensions, not social security when they retire.  Their healthcare plan? Not like what you and I have. 

They live privileged lives and it seems like their first priority is not the American people that they were elected to serve, but themselves and getting reelected. 

Granted, not all of them are like that, but way too many are.  Look at the shape our country is in, and as Amos told the people back then, it is still true today - you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph (or America).  I feel like America is the Titanic and the members of Congress are the ones pushing women and children out of the way to get on the lifeboats. 

Look at the recent pandemic and the effect it had on the economy. Many people lost their jobs, many businesses suffered. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives took a vacation in fear of the pandemic. Did they forego their generous paychecks?  Did they give up anything during this time while so many suffered?  It wouldn't surprise me if they found some loophole that enabled them to receive stimulus checks, even though their salaries should have disqualified them. 

Like I said, not all of our elected officials are like that, but too many fit the mold. And for those that do fit that mold, then will verse 7 hold true? Keep all this in mind as the November elections draw near and vote accordingly.

Also, take the time to read the remainder of Amos 6. It is dangerously close to home. The geography may be different but not the substance.


The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares:
“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and detest his fortresses;
I will deliver up the city
    and everything in it.”
If ten people are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if the relative who comes to carry the bodies out of the house to burn them asks anyone who might be hiding there, “Is anyone else with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will go on to say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”
11 For the Lord has given the command,
    and he will smash the great house into pieces
    and the small house into bits.
12 Do horses run on the rocky crags?
    Does one plow the sea with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
    and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—
13 you who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar
    and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?”
14 For the Lord God Almighty declares,
    “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel,
that will oppress you all the way
    from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

KonMari that ball of confusion

Fifty (50!) years ago the Temptations released "Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)" which climbed to #3 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

Given 2020 so far, is that still an apt description?

I'm weary from information overload. So much of it is negative, angry, blaming, divisive, polarizing, etc. We're tossed to and fro and often don't know what to believe, with source A conflicting with source B and everything in between.

Seems so complicated. It's like when you resolve to clean up your house and then you look in the closet and see such a huge mess that makes you discouraged and you don't know where to begin.

In times like these, we need to apply the KonMari method and Kondo-ize that ball of confusion.

In case you're scratching your head, Marie Kondo is a well-known organizing consultant who has written books, articles, and hosted a series on Netflix about the art of tidying up. The Wikipedia description of her method, known as "KonMari," reads:

Kondo's method of organising is known as the KonMari method, and consists of gathering together all of one's belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that "spark joy" and choosing a place for everything from then on.

Let's do that with the Ball of Confusion we face.  It boils down to what Jesus said when asked to name the most important commandment.  He named a couple of things:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:30-31, NIV)

It begins with each of us, at the simple, individual level: we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

But what exactly is meant by "love?"

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails..."   (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

Loving our neighbor as ourselves will "spark joy," to use Marie Kondo's words.

And examine ourselves to get rid of all the "belongings" we don't need. Some examples:

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen...  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."   (Ephesians 4:29,31)

Love our neighbors as ourselves?  That's it? Seems too simple, maybe naive? Yet this came from the wisest person to ever walk the earth, the only one without sin. If it perhaps wasn't easy for Him given His human side and dealing with people every day, then for sure it will be even harder for us.  But if we stumble along the way, Jesus is there to help us up; and through Him we will persevere.

Love our neighbors as ourselves - the answer to tidy up that ball of confusion!

Sunday, June 7, 2020

seasoned with salt

You're all familiar with the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." While I appreciate the wisdom it offers, in these busy times of information and social overload, all too often we don't look beyond the covers. 

There's a lot of truth to another saying, "First impressions matter." In the sales world, this is impressed on reps because without a good first impression there won't be an opportunity for another one.

As I am bombarded by headlines, captions and teasers from all sides - the mainstream media, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and everything else, I have to make choices on where, if anywhere, I turn my attention. Everything is competing for that attention, of which there is only so much that can be given.

Something I've noticed is the abundance of media with outrageous and/or incendiary headlines/captions, especially in the political realm. 

For example, there is a video of a short speech by Ben Carson on YouTube, the caption of which says, ""THEY STILL DON'T LIKE US" - Watch Ben Carson Wipe the Floor with Nancy Pelosi and Entire Dems." On the lead-in screen of the video showing the "play" button is plastered, "THEY HATE US ALL!"  Just so you know, this video was not posted by Carson, but by some entity calling itself "House Republican," so the captions are not Carson's.


That's like the "cover" of the book. But if you take the time to read it (i.e., watch the video), it doesn't live up to its billing, and thankfully so. Ben Carson is not like that.  Calmly and rationally he makes his argument, whereas the buildup would lead you to expect some wild rant spewing forth from his mouth after which he would drop the mic and walk off stage.

On the other hand, there are plenty of "books" out there whose content is just like their cover. Political headlines and captions that sound more like the buildup to the fight of the century (or a recount of the biggest knockdown of the century) lead to articles that are designed to bring out the worst emotions in people by belittling and denigrating the opposition.

My question is, how much constructive discussion do these provocative, confrontational headlines and articles generate? Is anyone with an opposing viewpoint even going to want to take the time to listen? Or if they do, odds are they'll strike back in the same manner and it will just wind up a yelling contest.

Colossians 4:5-6 says, "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."

We Christians should ask ourselves, what is our "cover" like?  That's what people see first. Our good friends may know what's inside those covers, but others not necessarily so. They'll judge us by those covers. First impressions count and there may not be a chance for a second one.

I've seen Christian covers that scream, "IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN JESUS YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!" And covers that say, "I'm listening." Even though the ultimate content beyond the cover for both may be sharing the gospel, which book do you think people would pick up from the shelf?

By the way, this is the Ben Carson video:


Monday, June 1, 2020

don't need a weatherman

In no way do I intend to minimize or demean the recent tragic death of George Floyd. I am as outraged and saddened as anyone. But what I'd like to point out is the cycle has begun again.

Every time an incident like this happens, the subject of racism jumps to the forefront. Calls for justice, calls for protests, calls for investigation into white supremacy, condemnation of white privilege, people standing up for solidarity against racism, calls for forums, symposiums, conferences, etc. Every celebrity and politician has to make his or her statement about it.

Nothing wrong with this at all. Evil and wrongdoing need to be stopped.

But after the outrage has died down, then what? We all have good intentions to condemn the act and call for solutions but what is the follow through? Is it enough that we've shown our sympathy and outrage and now our civic duty for humanity has been done?

Then there's the programs and seminars on race relations and all the calls for people to join together. People attend, nod their head in enthusiastic agreement, and then go home and...?

That's like going to church on Sunday and nodding your head at what is being preached, and saying, "Amen!" Then you go home and for the other six days of the week, what do you do? Sunday starts the cycle again.  Just like the next white/non-white incident will start another cycle.

Bob Dylan wrote a song called Subterranean Homesick Blues. One of the lyrics says, You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.  Just take a look around our nation and world. It's obvious things are not peachy keen, that there's problems that need to be addressed. The Bible is very clear on the cause - Sin. People are sinful, all of us.

So what's the cure?

Psalm 127:1 says in part, Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Solutions absent God are not going to work.

When asked what was the most important commandment, Jesus declared in no uncertain terms, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

It begins at the individual level. It's incumbent on each of us to prayerfully live out what Jesus commanded on a daily basis, 24/7 as best we can and be the light and example for others. Action speaks louder than words, and influence on a personal level has a greater and more lasting impact than listening to a seminar or reading some academic treatise. It's all about follow-through.

You've heard of the movie Six Degrees of Separation?  It posits that everyone is six or less social connections away from each other. So the persons you or I influence in a positive way take that and influence their own connections, and so on and so forth, gaining momentum to that sixth degree. But it all starts with each of us as individuals doing our part to build on the foundation with the Lord's help - to visibly live out Jesus' two greatest commandments in our own lives.

Not easy! I sure stumble. But do we really want to make a difference?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Prayer always

I've been watching the looting and violence currently taking place, supposedly in response to the sad death of George Floyd. I feel anger and sadness watching these criminals engaging in theft and vandalism even in the presence of the police.

I'm reminded of an incident recounted in Mark 9:14-29 in which Jesus' disciples were unable to drive out an unclean spirit from a boy.The boy's father appealed to Jesus on behalf of his possessed son:

“Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a spirit that makes him mute. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked Your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable.” 

"O unbelieving generation!” Jesus replied. “How long must I remain with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to Me.”

Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the boy, and immediately he was cured. Later on His disciples asked Him why they were unable to do this themselves.

Jesus answered, “This kind cannot come out, except by prayer.”

It seems to me that these rioters ("protesters," to use the PC newscast term) are possessed, judging by the way they act and don't seem to respond to anything. As I watch and feel helpless since the police don't seem to have much luck because of the sheer numbers of the rioters, I wonder what can be done? 

The first and foremost thing that can be done, that should be done with any difficult situation, is to pray. God is always in control. Maybe it doesn't seem that way, but we are too small to know the mind of God and His purposes and plans. We can still pray, however. 

I know there are non-believers who scoff at prayer, considering it as useless talk that accomplishes nothing - as in, all talk and no action. But that is not the case. Prayer should precede action; we need to ask the Lord for guidance and wisdom in a situation, to enable us to discern the right course of action and then enable us with the courage and resources to follow through. Action without prayer is what ultimately accomplishes nothing.

Maybe there's nothing we can really do; many things are beyond our control, but nevertheless we need to keep praying because nothing is beyond God's control; He hears us. If He does call us to action then we pray His Spirit will lead us so we may serve by doing His will, that we will be the light of Christ through it all.

Prayer works. Jesus said it - O unbelieving generation! in response to unsuccessful attempts to help the boy who was out of control. Take heed of His words: This kind cannot come out, except by prayer.

Friday, May 29, 2020

my brother's keeper?

As I write this, an event that has the country up in arms is the death of George Floyd, who died while being held on the ground by a police officer whose knee was on his neck for approximately 9 minutes. Despite pleas from Floyd and onlookers, and Floyd's obvious physical distress, the officer didn't relent until Floyd was dead.

Here is a link to an article about it that also contains a video of this horrifying incident:

https://nypost.com/2020/05/26/minneapolis-cop-puts-knee-on-neck-of-black-man-who-later-died-video/

There were four officers on the scene; one had his knee on Floyd's neck and the others stood there while it happened.  All four were fired from the force. The kneeling officer has now been arrested but not the other three.

There appears to be no excuse for choking this poor man to death, regardless of what he had done. And, there is no excuse for the other three officers to have stood there, allowing it to happen and doing nothing to intercede on the victim's behalf.

Did any of them have a conscience?

It is as if God was asking them, what are you doing?  And they're responding, am I my brother's keeper?  You're probably familiar with the first recorded incident of this, but if not then take a look at the account of Cain murdering his brother Abel, in Genesis chapter 4.

Many years hence, after the account of Noah and the flood took place, we find this passage in the Bible:

Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brothers.”
Genesis 9:20-25

Noah got drunk, which he shouldn't have done, and passed out, naked, in his tent. Ham, one of his three sons, saw his father in this state but instead of doing anything about it, he went out and told his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. I'm thinking he probably found it amusing.

Ham's two brothers did not see the humor and as you can read in the account, they rectified the situation by covering up their father while looking elsewhere instead of at his nakedness. In other words, they did the right thing. Instead of joining with Ham as an onlooker, they honored their father even though he shouldn't have drank so much in the first place.

I suppose if you asked Ham why he did nothing, he could have replied, am I my father's keeper?

Watching that video was hard. It's heart and gut-wrenching and it made me really angry that anyone could be so callous as to keep his knee on Floyd's neck that way, and also that his fellow officers could be similarly callous to allow it to happen.

But in my life I know I am not innocent of the same thing. Perhaps not as egregious as this recent incident in Minneapolis, but I've stood by, silent, instead of speaking up against a wrong I knew was taking place.

It's too late to do anything about those times in the past, but may God grant me the wisdom to recognize situations like this going forward, and the courage to do what is right when they happen. 

Yes, we are called to be our brother's and sister's keeper.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

haircuts

I've written before about how much I hate getting a haircut. It isn't so much the haircut itself, but the time it takes to go to the barber and then possibly have to wait that is what I don't like.

Now in my elementary school days, I hated haircuts because of the above, plus being laughed at the next day in school over the damage my FOB barber did. On haircut day my dad would come home from work and we'd go to this barber shop where two elderly Japanese men who spoke no English cut hair. I had no idea what they were saying, and all of the magazines to read while waiting were in Japanese so I had no idea what those said, either. And most of the time we had to wait.

In this pandemic time with barbers and hair salons being closed, lots of hair is growing long. I see it during Zoom meetings. But, the longer the salons are closed, more and more hair is being cut at home on a DIY basis. Honestly, unless someone has a really odd or extreme haircut I don't really pay that much attention. And from the DIY's I've seen for those I know, they've done a pretty good job.

I gave in several weeks ago after getting fed up with my hair feeling too long, so I did a DIY using some clippers I got from Amazon. It didn't turn out too badly, which in large part is because I trimmed everything the same length using the #2 attachment.

The second DIY, I got bolder and tried to shape/fade it using the #1, #2 and #3 attachments. This time the results weren't so good, but then neither were they so bad. And I discovered through these two cuts that I actually enjoy cutting my own hair. I see it as a challenge.

This has led me to decide I'm no longer going to the barber, I'm just going to cut it myself whenever I feel it needs cutting. Making this decision has been remarkably freeing! It's not so much saving money but just the idea that I can cut it whenever I want. I like my barber (despite our opposing political views.. but then never argue politics while someone is cutting your hair) but I would always go on a Wednesday because that's the day she is there and the owner of the shop isn't.

The owner used to cut my hair but one time she wasn't available, so Irene cut it and I liked it so much that I've stuck with her over the years. But being the chicken that I am, I don't want to have to say no if both Grace and Irene are there and my turn comes up with Grace. Instead, I always go on Wednesdays, Grace's day off.

That's moot now, since I've decided to just do it myself. I'll miss Irene, but not enough to keep going for a haircut. I wonder how many other people made the same decision during this lockdown?

As for blades, I got this hair clipper pictured below. It works well and seems to be really sturdy. I'm happy!



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Costco in the senior lane

The past few days I've been looking at old posts I've made in this blog and many of them have to do with my weekly trips to Costco and posting pictures of "finds" for the day.

Well in this time of Covid 19 pandemic, it's no longer a weekly trip but I have a feeling that will resume in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile, Julie and I made the trek yesterday. Thankfully, we were able to take advantage of the early senior shopping hour from 9:00-10:00 during weekdays. When we arrived around 9:20, there was a short line for seniors and a longer line for non-seniors who were waiting for the normal 10:00 opening. Our wait was hardly anything; Julie waited in line while I went to get a cart and by the time I returned it was our turn to head in.

The store was pretty crowded, full of seniors and also health care workers who've also been accorded the privilege of the early shopping hour.  Stocks were plentiful on just about everything except they were out of sanitizing wipes. We got what we needed and exited the store at 10:00. By that time there was quite a long line of people snaking through the blocked off parking area so we were glad we were able to go when we did. The gas pumps, which for the last few times I've gone were nearly deserted, were looking back to normal with lines of cars in every lane.

I've got one picture for you, the only "unusual" purchase:


Costco is selling this 10" and 12" set for $29.99, a pretty reasonable price. We don't have any cast iron cookware. Julie was like, what do we need more pans for? I said there's some stuff that just does better with cast iron. I don't really plan on using them that much since they're a pain to care for as compared to non-stick pans, but for times when a lot of heat is needed and/or something that is oven safe, these will do the trick.

Seeing these long lines at Costco reminded me of the long lines back in 1973 when the oil embargo hit. Those of you old enough, remember those times? We certainly weren't used to having to wait in line for gas, and on top of that, prices took a big jump. Gone were the days of gasoline in the high 20's/low 30's cent per gallon range. I remember seeing a news segment back then showing one station charging 54.9 cents per gallon and my jaw dropped. How could we ever afford prices like that???

Then there were the long waits in line, which led to implementing the odd/even rule as to which day you could buy gas, depending on the last digit of your license plate. Maybe they should do that at Costco now, odd/even depending on the last digit of your birth year. One big difference between then and now is while people are (or were) hoarding toilet paper and germ killing solutions, you can't really hoard gasoline.

Well, most people can't hoard gasoline.





Monday, May 25, 2020

Resurfacing

It's been slightly more than five years since the last entry in this blog. If your (or my) existence coincided solely with when postings were made here, then our last frame of consciousness would have been May 15, 2015. That is, until today when you and I plopped down smack in the midst of a pandemic, the Covid-19 Pandemic, to be exact.

What's with everyone wearing masks? And seemingly terrified of proximity with one another? Has everyone gone radioactive?  

Turn on the news and that would provide a quick education as to what's going on. We'd learn about the virus (98%), a brief update on the weather (1%), and gape at sports played to empty arenas (1%).

Wow.

Well, in reality we do know what is going on and as far as filling in the 5 year gap from the last post, maybe I'll get around to it and maybe not. While putting up with this current "sheltering in place" and, in less PC terms, "lockdown" or "revocation of rights," I started reading the posts I've made here, starting with the first one back in 2008 and working my way forward.

Recently I had pondered writing an autobiography, both for posterity's sake and also something to give the kids so that they wouldn't be as clueless about me as I unfortunately am about my own parents. So far procrastination had outweighed my good intentions.

Then I started reading my own blog and noted that a good deal of the earlier posts recounted the things that have stuck most in my mind up through college. I realized, hey, there it is, already written!  I figure a good deal of what I'd be putting in an autobiography is already in this blog.  What a time saver! What I plan on doing is cutting and pasting all of it into one massive Word file/book since all of it exists nowhere else except on this site.

That'll give me something to occupy my time while waiting out this lockdown.

Our current state of things brings to mind one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite groups because the eerily bizarre lyrics seem prophetic to these eerily bizarre times. Here's a YouTube version but in case it gets taken down (like the majority of the YouTubes I had posted in previous blog entries, leaving only a hole in the ground where they used to be), I'm also reprinting the lyrics.


"King Of The World" (Walter Becker & Donald Fagen)


Hello one and all
Was it you I used to know
Can't you hear me call
On this old ham radio
All I got to say
I'm alive and feeling fine
If you come my way
You can share my poison wine

[Chorus:]
No marigolds in the promised land
There's a hole in the ground
Where they used to grow
Any man left on the Rio Grande
Is the king of the world
As far as I know

I won't take your bread
I don't need no helping hand
I can't be no savage
I can't be no highwayman
Show me where you are
You and I will spend this day
Driving in my car
Through the ruins of Santa Fe

[Chorus]

I'm reading last year's papers
Although I don't know why
Assassins cons and rapers
Might as well die

If you come around
No more pain and no regrets
Watch the sun go brown
Smoking cobalt cigarettes
There's no need to hide
Taking things the easy way
If I stay inside
I might live til Saturday

[Chorus]