A Tale of Two Walkways

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1000px-cthulhu_rising_by_somniturne1I’m hurrying to get this down. I fear it may be the last missive I write for a long time, maybe ever. If this be my last communication to the readers I love, know I did not faint nor flag in the fight. I pressed onward, met my enemy, and conquered him, but every victory has a price and this one is no different. In my zealous prosecution of the conflict, I have angered ancient foul beings of immense power and no mercy. I broke a sacred vow nearly two decades old. Now the cold hand of panic, raw gnawing terror grips me as the focus of their wrath turns towards me in its fullest. Already my fingers stiffen, my lower back is beginning to lock up, I cannot lift my arms above my head, my legs are in such knots I dare not attempt to poop for fear I may not be able to stand up from the toilet. These eldritch abominations possess long memories and when they are trifled with, they will have blood.

I can hear you thinking, “What, dearest Feet, have you done to deserve such a black fate? What vow could be so solemn its foreswearing cost so great a price?” The answer is as simple as it is deadly . . . I have constructed a stone walkway. I swore a blood oath I would never attempt such an undertaking again, but I did and now I have enraged the Dread Gods of DIY.

To fully understand the gravity of this matter, I must take you to the time I made this ill-advised oath. It was early in the summer of 1996. Budge and I had successfully navigated two years of dating and engagement without the principal of the school where I was a teacher and Budge a student discovering our love affair and having me summarily executed . . . or at least fired. I know I have piqued your interest, but alas, tis a story for another telling, and should I survive my current entanglement, I will tell it in due time.

For now, join me in a postage-stamp-sized backyard in a gated community where Budge’s dad decided it would be a capital idea to build a patio and walkway of concrete and flagstones.  I had serious doubts about the endeavor, but I owed quite the existential debt to Dad since I’d dated his daughter for over a year without him knowing. Once he found out — Budge broke down and told HIM without first telling ME she was telling HIM — he took the whole matter in stride, as he does most things. Still, he’s a shrewd man who knows when he’s got a wriggling worm impaled on the hook and ripe for catching a fish or a favor. In this case, my brutal, Herculean labor was the favor in question.

The day before, Dad “dug out” the shape of the patio and walkway. I cast aspersions because “scratched” would have been more accurate. The entire excavation dirt pile fit in a decent sized wheelbarrow with room to spare. Dad allayed my doubts about the ability of this small quarrying to hold enough concrete to anchor the flagstones by pointing to a pile of wood-looking stuff that upon closer examination proved to be slats cut from paneling. According to Dad, we were going to build a concrete form around the dugout area by stapling the slats to strategically anchored 2×4 stakes he had driven into the ground. It seemed a sound enough plan to me . . . this was before I learned Dad had never actually built a form or POURED any concrete slabs in his life . . . and he’d picked up the notion somewhere (I still think it was Budge) that I knew how to work concrete.

Any doubts I had about the disaster potential the day presented dissipated with the very first action Dad performed that fateful morning. We were going to staple the paneling to the aforementioned stakes with ¾” heavy duty staples. For this project, Dad replaced his venerable Bostitch stapler with a Black and Decker PowerShot stapler. The new model advertised much easier stapling and I must say the PowerShot easily sank a monster staple all the way to the bone of the heel of Dad’s hand with his very first shot. Dad winced at the pain, but when he moved the staple gun, no staple was in the stake. Dad thought he’d had a misfeed so he promptly shot another staple . . . right into the same hand. Turns out, the PowerShot is ass-backwards . . . something about leverage . . . and the staple comes out the opposite end from all other stapler. When no staple appeared the second time despite the pain in his hand, Dad looked down at the stapler and saw the blood seeping around two bottomed-out staples. It took a pair of needle nose pliers, two hearty yanks, and generous application of the curse word vocabulary Dad accumulated in a 20 year Navy career to remove those staples. The dew wasn’t dry on the grass; we already had bleeding.

staplers

I’d love to say Dad’s blood sacrifice paved the way for a smooth day, but I’d be lying. After we finally managed to get the “form” secured around noon, we discovered WHY professional cement finishers can make a good living. First, the cement mixer Dad rented wouldn’t fit through the gate into the back yard so we had to mix a batch, dump said batch into a wheelbarrow, and maneuver the wheelbarrow across the driveway — slopping cement every step of the way –  and pour the remainder into the excavation. Our batches of cement followed the “Goldilocks Principle.” The first batch was too thick, the second batch was too runny, the third batch was too stiff again . . . it was about ten batches before we finally achieved “just right” status and woefully few batches duplicated it. The Sun lay low in the sky before we had the form filled with something resembling concrete. I’d have loved to call it a night, but we were committed now the concrete was poured. We had to place the flagstones before it hardened.

What we were aiming for.

What we were aiming for.

Now, the “plan” called for us to CAREFULLY place each stone in its ideal location where it would harmonize with its neighbors. That lasted MAYBE four stones. We unceremoniously plopped the rest wherever our strength gave out with a given rock. Turned out, the lack of excavation depth was a blessing. If we’d dug properly, the stones would’ve been submerged. As it was, we laid a field of icebergs . . . some jutted proudly from the grey sea; others only a hinted at what lay beneath. Past midnight we heaved the final rock into place. It wasn’t very level, it wasn’t very uniform, but Sandy (Budge’s stepmom) declared it beautiful so it WAS done. I made my vow, with Dad as witness; I’d never build another stone walkway again and I kept my it. . . until today.

What we got.

What we got.

Today, I broke my word to the DIY Dread Lords and finished MY stone walkway. My design was much simpler. I didn’t use concrete, just dug a trench 5″ deep, 3′ wide, and about 20′ long from the driveway to the front steps, lined it with landscaping fabric, poured and leveled sand on top of that, installed some plastic edging, then filled the trench with 40 bags of pea gravel and raked everything smooth as a Zen monk’s rock garden. Each bag of sand and gravel weighed 50 pounds. The last time I moved 50 pound bags of ANYTHING, I was sixteen years old working at Community Cash in Fountain Inn. The electric pallet jack ran out of juice so three of us had to unload a semi trailer truck load of dog food by hand. So, my walkway is done; my vow broken. Budge has proclaimed it “beautiful.” Now I must pay the Gods of DIY. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know I was unable to appease those black hearted monsters and have gone to my doom (or at least to bed early) broken and in pain, but with all flags flying and pea gravel in my Crocs.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

On This Rock

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la-jument-3I grew up in a Christian home and for the first 35 years of my life, give or take a year, I didn’t question my beliefs, what I’d been taught, or the basis of Christianity in general. I probably didn’t spend the total of a single day reflecting on whether or not this was true and that false or what the true purpose of life was. The weightiest discussions I had were on the relative merits of different “flavors” of Christianity like Mama’s Fundamentalist Pentecostalism versus Granny’s Southern Baptist Sunday School lessons. Even when I was a rank heathen and behaved as such, I still had a good handle on how the world worked, Who was in charge, and what the end of all things was going to be. In due time, I made a profession of faith in Christ, and figured I’d punched my ticket to Heaven when I died. Budge and I went to the church where we’d been married and worked diligently and tirelessly to further the kingdom of God on Earth.

That all changed when my Papa John died in 2007.

When Papa died, I went into a night of the soul which left me an agnostic a breath away from hard atheism. I turned on my faith. Like a company in a hostile takeover, I fired everything and everyone I ever believed in. All my ideas had to “reapply.” It was hideous having the most basic of life’s foundations essentially blown up. EVERYTHING I had been taught, everything I held as truth, and everything  I had taken for granted evaporated immediately. It’s not over, either. Ideas I held as dogma I’ve discarded and have no intention of ever picking up again. I walked away from Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism and frost will form on the hinges of Hell before I turn back.

But, I believe in Easter.

Was the Earth created in six literal days? Don’t know; don’t care. Moses part the Red Sea? Noah’s Flood was world wide? Not the faintest idea. Were Adam and Eve real people or is the Garden story an allegory? Not a clue and it makes no difference to me either way. Is there going to be a Rapture? How about a Millennial Kingdom? Pre-Trib? Mid-Trib? Post-Trib? No Trib? I. Don’t. Care. Richard Dawkins, I don’t think you’re right, but knock yourself out.

I believe in Easter.

What I KNOW and what no one in 2000+ years has been able to disprove is the Easter story. I believe in Easter because I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe no matter how messed up I am, no matter what encyclopaedic compendium of stupid things I’ve done, no matter the “good” life I miserably failed to live . . . Jesus Christ died for me . . . THE HARD WAY. I refuse to turn my back on anyone who loves me enough to endure hematodrosis, scourging, being crowned with thorns, and finally get NAILED TO A BOARD ON A POST. My Mama loved me. My Budge still loves me. I was the apple of all my grandparents’ eyes, but I know none of them loved me that much. I don’t have a friend that close. Sure, you might have someone who SAYS he or she would take a bullet for you . . . but see where they are when the shooting starts.

For three years, Jesus Christ went around tending the sick and poor and they KILLED HIM FOR IT. He actually WAS a good man and they stuck a spear in His side. NO. I won’t turn my back on that. I don’t know about all the details and doctrines anymore, if I ever did. All I know is my life is ROYALLY screwed up thanks to choices I made and choices others made for me, but Jesus didn’t care. He let them kill Him anyway just to cover all my screw ups. There was just one catch . . . He didn’t STAY dead.

If you want to make me an atheist, just show me Jesus’ body. That’s all Pilate and the Sanhedrin needed to do. When people started screaming about “He is risen!!” They could have just trundled the body out into the streets of Jerusalem and said, “Nope. Here he is and he’s still DEAD.” But they didn’t, because they couldn’t because after he died, HE GOT BACK UP.

Mohammed didn’t do that. He said if you do enough good and avoid enough evil, you get to go to Paradise. Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha didn’t do that. He said if you get your mind right, you’ll become one with the Universe and go to Nirvana. No atheist did that. They just say we’re here by chance — dumb luck — in which case I’ve got a list of people who need their luck to run out.

But Jesus said, “I’ll fix YOUR mess. I’ll take care of what YOU screwed up. I’ll let you KILL ME so YOU can live.”

I’m not turning my back on that. I may suck at being a Christian, but it’s what I am and not because Papa and Mama said so anymore. Not because I live in the South and supposedly “all y’all” are Christians. Not because “the preacher said so” or even because “the Bible said so.” I’m a Christian because He didn’t turn His back on me and I’m not going to turn my back on Him. I still believe in Easter and some days, it’s ALL I believe in, but it’s enough to get me out of bed and keep me from putting a bullet in my brain.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and Happy Easter.

 

 

One Year Down and Life to Go

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20130825_111222I don’t know how I can hurt this much and not die. I’ve asked psychiatrists, psychologists, and internalists, but none of them can give me an answer. So I go on.

A year ago this evening, Mama died. Death did what no psychotic girlfriend, no commitment-shy boyfriend, no divorce or distance could do — split up Mama and me. Despite my protestations, my howlings to the deaf heavens, and my insistence that surely some fundamental law of the universe has been violated, the world still turns; the Sun comes up and it goes down. Life goes on whether I want it to or not because, as a midwestern singer so eloquently put it thirty years and three name changes ago, “Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.”

The grief is mine to shoulder alone now. My beloved psychiatrist warned me people — even closest friends — generally give a person three weeks to a month of good, quality support before life intervenes. After that, it’s just you, four walls, and memories. Oh, and “firsts” lots and lots of firsts — first white carnation Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving without her, first Christmas without her, and probably the worst for me . . . my first birthday without getting a call at 6:19 AM telling me she loved me and wishing me Happy Birthday.

I swear to Buddha I will projectile vomit upon the next person — well-meaning or no — who tells me “time heals all wounds.” I’m here to say it doesn’t or if it does, a year is nowhere near enough time. While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to go back in time and cold-cock one idiotic Prussian philosopher by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche right square in his gloriously mustachioed mouth. If you don’t know, he’s the moron who penned the sadistic little phrase “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Bullpucky. Mama’s dying may not have killed me, but it damn sure hasn’t made me stronger.

I wish I could say more, but even though people have told me I am good with words, I just don’t have the vocabulary to explain the abject loneliness I feel every morning I wake up and remember Mama’s not with me (and please, if you are my friend or just want me to think of you as a decent human being, spare me the “she’s always with you in spirit” drivel. “Spirit hugs” if they even exist, are about as useless as a milk bucket under a bull.) I can’t describe the emotional crash I get every time something tremendously noteworthy – to me at least – happens and I immediately pull out my phone to call Mama and tell her . . . only to realize I’ve deleted her contact information just so I won’t do such a stupid thing.

My reality is, Mama’s dead and that’s thrown all my puzzle pieces into the air in disarray and one year later, I’m afraid I don’t have the emotional strength to even start looking for the edge pieces.

And so it goes.

Love you all, love you Mama; I still miss you.

 

Tommy John Is Not a Doctor!

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Dr. Frank Jobe  1925-2014 The Surgeon

Dr. Frank Jobe
1925-2014
The Surgeon

I was reading through the sports pages on MSN today and amidst all the bracketology talk and bubble predictions about the upcoming NCAA tournament, I saw an article stating Frank Wilson Jobe had passed away March 6th at the age of 88. I figure only the most diehard baseball fans would know that name, but Frank Jobe, in my opinion, should go into the Baseball Hall of Fame on a special ballot even though he never played baseball at any level, never threw a pitch, or fielded a grounder. Instead, DOCTOR Frank Jobe developed a procedure which altered the way injured pitchers looked at their futures and to date has saved the careers of some of baseball’s most noted pitchers including players like Chris Carpenter, John Smoltz, Ben Sheets, and quite recently Stephen Strasbourg. The procedure is properly termed “ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction” but baseball fans everywhere refer to it by the name of its first recipient — then Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed pitcher Tommy John.

Tommy John was a pitching star in the Dodger organization when he blew his elbow out in 1974. At that time, John’s injury was considered career ending. In fact, the fantastic career of another Dodger – legendary Sandy Koufax – had been truncated in 1966 by the same injury John was facing. Tommy John, however, refused to accept such a bleak diagnosis and approached the team’s orthopedist, Dr. Jobe, about ANY possible fixes. Dr. Jobe had a colleague who had used ligament harvesting to treat polio patients’ paralysis and the two doctors mulled over the idea of using a similar technique to replace the ruined ligaments in John’s throwing elbow. From the start, Dr. Jobe was bluntly honest with Tommy John. In an interview I heard on ESPN radio Tommy John recalled, “I asked Dr. Jobe what would happen if I didn’t have the surgery and he said, ‘You’ll never pitch major league baseball again.’ So I asked him what would happen if I did have the surgery and he said, ‘You’ll PROBABLY never pitch major league baseball again.’”

The Guinea Pig Tommy John in 1975,  his rehab year.

The Guinea Pig
Tommy John in 1975,
his rehab year.

But the surgery was a success beyond anything Dr. Jobe could have hoped for. After a complete year of rehabilitation – a practice still followed today — Tommy John returned for the 1976 season and went 10 – 10, which was considered completely miraculous at the time. He also showcased the durability of the reconstruction by pitching fourteen more seasons before he finally retired in 1989. Today, estimates vary, but most hover at around one-third of all major league pitchers have (or will have) some degree of Tommy John Surgery. Thanks to a pitcher who wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and a doctor who was willing to try something entirely untested to put him back on the mound, a blown out pitching elbow no longer means an end to a career, but for many pitchers – the original recipient among them – it signals the beginning of even better performance.

Hopefully, Cooperstown will think the same way I do and eventually, Dr. Frank Jobe will have a bronze bust in the special wing of the Hall of Fame to honor the man whose procedure saved the careers of nearly 100 major league pitching stars even if the non-baseball public continues to think Tommy John was the surgeon and not the patient!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Freefallin’

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im-falling

It’s not the fall;
It’s the sudden stop at the bottom.

I get a sick feeling when life goes well for more than a day or two at a stretch. I see good times as a pair of steel shoes resting on the ground and as the good days stretch out, one shoe sits while the other begins to rise and gain size; the longer the good stretch lasts, the higher and heavier the shoe gets, right up to the point when the next crisis strikes and “the other shoe drops” — literally screams down at 9.80665m/sec² — thus the higher and heavier it’s gotten (ie. the longer and better the stretch of life has been) the more destruction it causes when it hits ground.

Things have been going entirely too well lately and the other shoe had gotten much too far and fat for my liking. Even though I know it’s just a construct of my imagination, I still picture it up there — waiting, looming — and I cringe as the days pile up without incident because what goes up is going to come down and the farther up it goes, the worse it’s going to be. Well, my small group leader ended the waiting and ruined supper by announcing after four great years together, our group will cease to exist come May. That sound you hear is the wind whistling through the eyelets of a gargantuan steel Air Jordan streaking earthward like the comet that killed the dinosaurs.

As I sat staring into my empty plate like a poor dumb T-Rex on the prehistoric Yucatan Peninsula all I could think of was, “It’s happening AGAIN.” What is happening again is my abandonment mechanism is going off. If you don’t suffer from abandonment issues, get on your knees right now and thank Jesus, Buddha, Ganesha, or Shiva (or Darwin for the atheists in the crowd) because of all the agonies of Borderline Personality Disorder, the one I would least wish on anyone (except Hitler, Stalin, or Mao — you know, the only three people going to Hell) is Abandonment Issues.

When I was five, Mama and Daddy started having “trouble.” By the time I was seven, they had separated; by eight, divorced. I see Daddy’s blue stepside Chevy truck driving off and me waving desperately from the front porch of the trailer as clearly today as almost forty years ago. Two key things I’ve learned at great financial and emotional cost in seven years of therapy are 1) children with single digit ages have limited ability to process emotional nuances that cause adults problems and 2) when you experience a devastating trauma at a young age, a part of you emotionally never gets any older. So, while the 43-year-old man I am knows Daddy and Mama had issues and it was best they divorce, the seven-year old still inside me just sees daddies aren’t supposed to leave, but Daddy left ME. I want to be crystal clear about something right now — this is not a “beat up Daddy” post. This is a “why I am what I am” post and the fact is, Mama and Daddy’s divorce planted the seed of abandonment in my seven-year old soul and, dear God, has it grown over the years.

For several years after the divorce, I could not stand for Mama to leave me as she might decided not to return too. I tolerated her going to work to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table only because I got to stay with my beloved Papa and Granny Wham. Otherwise, if Mama wasn’t at work and I wasn’t at school, I was welded to her hip. Naturally, this caused some problems. I smothered the life out of Mama. My mother was a drop dead gorgeous woman and she was single again at 25, but she couldn’t date because I would throw a royal fit if she left me at night. I remember one time in particular, several women she worked with begged her to go to Myrtle Beach with them for a long weekend and she finally agreed, but she knew how I’d take it so she didn’t tell me. Instead, I went to Granny and Papa’s as usual but instead of getting up at midnight to go home, I woke up on Saturday morning next to Papa Wham.

To put it mildly (and seriously, I’m not even going into the details) I FLIPPED THE HELL OUT! I screamed, cried, and thrashed but most of all, I kept repeating over and over, “She left me, she left me . . . ” I was so distraught I made myself vomit from crying and screaming. It scared Granny to death. It didn’t do me a lot of good either, especially because I had no idea where Mama was, when she was coming back, but most of all what was wrong with me. I literally COULD NOT calm down. Mama never went anywhere again without me. I sucked a huge portion of life out of my precious Mama because I couldn’t bear for her to leave me.

Through the years, that feeling of being abandoned has flared up with angry intensity on more occasions than I’d care to admit. When I was in sixth grade, the first little girl I ever had a crush on moved. That would be tough on lots of kids. I was sick in bed for a week. When I was a junior in high school, the first girl I ever was truly, madly in love with went out with another boy. Wreck. Later, when we were seniors, we went through another rough patch and ended up calling it quits for good when she said, and I’ll never forget it, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you and the good news is IT’S NOT YOURS now I guess you know the bad news too.” That one was the first time I ever made out a bona fide suicide plan and would have carried it out if Duane Craddock had not defied his parents to come to my house and take me to Amy Mims’ house at midnight so the two of them could talk me down off the ledge so to speak.

I’ve got more, but this post has already run over my 1000 word target so I’m going to wrap this one up. Maybe, if enough of you decide you’d like to hear the rest of the story, I’ll do a part two about how abandonment issues have pretty much crippled my life for years now.

In any event, know that I love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Cauliflowers to Canteloupes

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Michael-Sam-Jason-CollinsTwo days ago, Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to participate in an NBA basketball game. Michael Sams, a linebacker from the University of Missouri, stands to become the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team at some point during the upcoming Draft. Both of these men are obviously making waves in their respective sports and driving conversation throughout the country about civil rights, inclusion, and tolerance in locker rooms and beyond. Collins’ and Sams’ sagas are a mirror of the current state of American society. Seventeen states have already legalized same-sex marriage and others have legislation pending. No doubt the times they are a changin’ to quote Dylan.

That’s great. I don’t have a problem with same-sex marriages or gay players in pro sports (or college, high school, rec leagues, and intramural), or two guys holding hands or two girls kissing. Live your life as you want to live it. I take flack from some devout Christian friends, but I’m okay with that. My religious views and views on civil rights do not interfere with each other. In many ways, I have a “wall of separation” between my religion and my politics.  Having said all that, I do have one serious problem with the rash of Sam and Collins supporters — especially sportswriters and sports announcers who should know better — I’m tired of hearing these two guys compared to Jackie Robinson. Let me be clear, what Sam and Collins are doing is vitally important, but THEY ARE NOT JACKIE ROBINSON and putting them with Jackie is comparing cauliflowers with cantaloupes.

First off, neither is the talent Robinson was. Collins is an eight-team journeyman player who had been out of basketball nearly a year before the also-ran Brooklyn Nets signed him to a ten-day contract. Sam is an unknown commodity yet to play in the NFL, but it’s not like he set the world on fire at Mizzou. Jackie Robinson was a six-time All-Star. He was the Major League Rookie of the Year in 1947. He won the 1949 batting title and was twice the stolen bases champion. Doesn’t matter that he broke the color barrier as well — he had the goods on the field too.  Jackie broke the color barrier, not because he was a black player, but because he was the BEST black player. He might have been many things, but Jackie Robinson wasn’t a gimmick. I may be proven wrong, but neither Collins nor Sam is likely to have their jersey number retired by an entire league.

Secondly, neither Sam nor Collins have had to endure ANYTHING approaching the abuse Robinson faced in his early MLB career and they NEVER will. It’s a different country now and people would go to jail for Federal hate crimes if they talked the way crowds spoke to Robinson. When Sam takes the field for whatever team drafts him, no one — especially an opposing manager — is going to yell out “Faggot! Get back to the gay clubs,” but a Philadelphia Phillie manager screamed at Jackie to “get [his] nigger ass back to the cotton fields!” Any team Sam or Collins plays for will not have to choose between sleeping in a hotel without them or sleeping as a team on the bus with them the way the Brooklyn Dodgers sometimes had to choose on their road trips. Perhaps people’s feelings about those who are different from them haven’t changed, but today’s bigots can’t hide behind badges and laws  . . . at least in America — in Uganda or Saudi Arabia, you’ll have to take your chances.

Also, a rabid bigot may see gays and lesbians everywhere, but demographic experts put the HIGHEST number of gays at 10% of the American population while a reputable Gay and Lesbian think tank put the numbers between 5% to 8%. By contrast, 15% of Americans are Black and that doesn’t include the further people the census say identify as “other race.” Sam and Collins are representing a sometimes vocal community, but Jackie Robinson had the hopes of an entire PEOPLE on his broad shoulders, and those people were in constant danger just for being themselves. According to the Tuskegee Law Institute, 3445 black men were lynched –  murdered without trial — in the United States from 1882-1968. 240px-JrobinsonSure, gay people have endured violence, but nowhere near the scale black people faced. A black child could be murdered WITHOUT PENALTY in parts of the US as late as the 1950s just for “talking fresh” to a white woman. Don’t think so? Google Emmitt Till. That is the kind of vitriol Jackie Robinson faced when he was out on the playing field.

Finally, and this won’t be popular, but all Sam and Collins had to do to live quiet normal lives was simply to keep their mouths shut. They chose to come out; no one twisted their arms. I realize no one should have to hide being gay to play his chosen sport much less live a regular life. I agree, I understand the argument, and sooner or later it’s not going to be that way, but the fact remains, a gay person can hide being gay, but a black person has ZERO chance of hiding being black. People are arguing both ways about homosexuality — is it birth or is it choice? The jury may be out on what makes people gay, but no one is debating what makes a person black. White people are born white; black people are born BLACK. You have more chance of hiding a golf ball in a glass of spring water than being a “closeted black man.”

So, Michael Sam and Jason Collins are definitely moving the conversation on equality of sexuality in this country forward, but to put them into the same mold of Number 42 is a poor comparison at best and cauliflowers to cantaloupes at worst.

Hope I didn’t make anyone too mad, but if I did, it’s like a bridge . . . you’ll get over it. In any event, love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Missionary Position

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boys fightingOnce upon a time, I was a new Christian determined to win the world for Jesus. I thought everyone should go to Heaven and I was the one to show them the way. I had ALL the answers to anything anyone could ever ask me about faith. Then, eight years ago, Papa John died and I didn’t have answers for MY questions, and when I finally had those pieces of life somewhat reorganized, Mama died and dumped my apple cart again. I went to a seriously dark place emotionally and mentally and almost gave up on everything.

A year later, I’m still recovering, but I’m a different person. I still believe Jesus is our savior, sacrifice, lord and the ONLY means of salvation and eternal life. (Wonder how many followers THAT lost me?) I still want to go to Heaven . . . especially if it means I’ll see Mama again. I’m still “on the firing line” as the old gospel song says, but . . . BUT, I understand a few things differently now. For instance, everyone doesn’t WANT to go to Heaven. Lots of people could care less about Heaven or Jesus too for that matter. I know there’s a difference between civil rights and religious teachings. I’m different and I’m scarred now, and because of that, I have a better missionary position than before.

I’ve developed my position around three critical ideas: a perceived interest, a perceived need, and/or an established relationship. First, I have a willingness to discuss the story of my faith in Christ and what He’s done for me with anyone who shows even the remotest interest. I believe all Christians should be willing and able to do the same because we are admonished to “always be ready to give a defense or reason for the hope we have in us.” I also think it’s important to pay attention to the person I’m talking to. If I see the reptilian haze begin to fuzz over their eyes or they seem to bristle at the name of Jesus, then it’s time to talk about the weather or football or — God forbid — politics.

Second, I’m willing to start a conversation about Christ and faith with anyone (even a stranger) who seems to be in a state of physical or emotional turmoil or pain. Some people might see that approach as intrusive or offensive, but I see such a conversation in the same light as a compassionate nurse or doctor checking on someone he saw take a tumble or having a little trouble breathing. I like to help people; I want everyone to go to Heaven, and I have the skill set for such a conversation. If they seem open, I go as far as inviting them to church one Saturday night or Sunday morning; if I sense pushback, fine – it’s a perfectly legitimate choice on their part and we’ll just leave it at that. It never hurts to care about people, though.Finally, I’ll initiate faith discussions – often intense ones – with non-believers I have an established relationship with. The key is ESTABLISHED. I’m not going to ask a person if he’s a Christian on our first meeting unless he brings it up. Football is much safer for a conversation starter. I’m talking about people I’ve known and interacted with over a lengthy period of time. It could be a friend, but I’ve also had these faith discussions with my regular waitress at restaurants I frequent. These are people who know a decent amount about me. Hopefully, they can tell I’m a Christian before I even bring it up; if they can’t, I’ve got a bigger problem because my life isn’t a reflection of Whom I serve.

Discussions like these, however, are YEARS forming and they are not without hazards – I’ve lost touch with a couple of people I considered good friends over tension between our beliefs, but such is the risk anyone who wants to point people towards God’s Kingdom must be willing to take. It doesn’t feel great and it certainly doesn’t make me some sort of martyr to lose a friend over my faith, but if you put yourself out there, it’s likely to happen at some point. In the end, all I can do is show the way; I can’t walk the path for them. My grandmother-in-law had a saying I think of often: “We must let people go to Hell in their own way.”

Now just as I have three key ideas I live by for sharing my faith, I also have three things I avoid. For one, I will NOT “debate” religion in a comments section of a website or in posts on Facebook. Text is a poor way to debate ideas because so much communication and meaning relies on non-verbal cues. It is extremely difficult to gauge someone’s state of mind or read his intent on a message board. I see online religious “discussions” as THE fastest way to obtain proof of Godwin’s Law, Poe’s Law, and – most profoundly – John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Theory, often all in a single comment or post. Remember, don’t feed the trolls.

The second thing I will not do is participate in any sort of mass “direct evangelism.” For those who didn’t grow up in the South, direct evangelism is going door to door in neighborhoods, trailer parks, and shopping malls to ask random people to sit down and discuss their salvation. This kind of missionary position is not the exclusive domain of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, but they’ve made it famous; however, I know of several “regular” churches where one night per week is “visitation night” or “outreach night.” I know this human faith wave has produced fruit, but I also know it’s created more bad press for Christians than good. No one wants to deal with telemarketers, even if the product is salvation, and knocking on the wrong doors these days is a quick way to meet Jesus in person via a 9 mm slug to the head.

My final taboo is “Christian merchandising.” My cars do not sport chrome fish or any other Christian device. I do not own a Christian t-shirt. I don’t carry a reference or study bible with me wherever I go. None of this is due to my shame at being a Christian; it’s the polar opposite. Before chrome fish, we didn’t have chrome fish with feet, chrome fish eating chrome fish with feet or vice versa, or chrome flying spaghetti monsters. Also, I know how I drive and ESPECIALLY how my Budge drives. I don’t want to embarrass Christ with our road rage. I can’t think of a worse witness for Jesus than cutting someone off with a huge chrome fish on your bumper THEN giving them the finger when they blow their horns at you.

So, that’s my take on sharing my faith. I want everyone to go to Heaven, but I’m not naïve enough to believe everyone will make it in. Hell, some days (LOTS of days) I have serious doubts about myself! Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

2013 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Those Who Can, Do; Those Who CARE, Teach

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Atlanta school snow“Teachers get paid entirely too much!”

“Teachers only work half as much as everyone else!”

“It must be nice having summers off!”

“Teachers couldn’t handle a REAL job!”

“Education students couldn’t handle a REAL major!”

I spent fifteen years in public education as a high school teacher and a middle school librarian; my wife is currently in her 11th year as a fourth grade teacher, and statements like these are just some of the hurtful barbs I’ve had hurled at us over the years. Public school teachers make wonderful policy whipping boys. Regardless of what is wrong with the country, be it a stale economy, high crime, unemployment, or any other issue — regardless of how tangentially the connection may be — blaming education and teachers is a sure fire way for a talking head to get some applause.

It doesn’t matter what the problem is. It doesn’t matter many decisions by people who last saw a classroom when Ancient History was Current Events. The song remains the same — if it’s broken, blame the teachers. The Left takes potshots at us as being too conservative and teaching “ignorance” like Intelligent Design, even though WE didn’t elect the people who passed the law. The Right blasts us for being in the pockets of the “radical ____ agenda” and filling their children’s heads with all kinds of socialist, communist drivel. You can put whatever you want in that blank as well. I’ve heard “anti-family,” “pro-abortion,” “homosexual” and others I can’t put in here even if Mama isn’t around to read my blog anymore.

But we teachers are still here and we’re still teaching (well, not me anymore, but anyway.)

When Winter Storm Leon (one quick tangent — whose the idiot who thought naming winter storms like we do hurricanes was thing? And they say TEACHERS waste taxpayer dollars!) slammed into Atlanta — totally by surprise OR after many unheeded warnings, depending on who you want to believe, nothing short of chaos ensued. All over the city, people stranded in cars took off hiking home. Some sheltered in the stores of compassionate managers and owners. Many, many teachers were not among those. They had work to do.

Once it became obvious the storm was getting worse and the traffic was hopeless, principals and teachers realized many of their pupils wouldn’t be getting home that day. With no prior preparation, schools all over Atlanta became de facto Hotel 6′s as educators prepared to take care of “their” children for the night. Many of these teachers had children of their own who needed attended to, but duty was calling louder than even motherly (and fatherly) instincts. A storm was raging and Atlanta’s educators rose to meet the monster with gym mats and cafeteria food, stage curtain blankets and bedtime stories from principals.

Just for a moment, please put yourself in the shoes of a child in K4 and yes, we do send them to school THAT little these days. Mommy put you on the bus this morning like she always did and told you she’d see you at home in the evening. You’ve never spent a night away from home; you haven’t had a sleepover yet that didn’t involve grandparents. Now, it’s getting dark. The bus you got on you thought was going to take you home has taken you back to school and you are just about to go into K4 meltdown mode.

Then, you see her — it’s Mizziz Smif’. This woman and her steadfast aide beside her have watched over you for the last 100 days as if you were their own. You are still terrified and most likely hungry, but you feel a little better. The lady from the office who usually terrifies you takes you out of a line of your classmates and puts a phone in your hand. Mommy is on the line. “Sweetheart,” she says, “You are staying at school tonight! Won’t that be fun?” Well, you don’t know about “fun” but now you know two things: 1) Mommy knows where you are and that’s a BIG HONKING DEAL to a four-year old and 2) you are somewhere the people know you and have done everything but swear oaths to take care of you. This may be scary, but you think it may turn out alright.

Stories have come in from all over Atlanta of teachers reading bedtime stories to children, of principals organizing early morning snowball fights to take the children’s minds off the gravity of the situation, of cafeteria workers staying to make sure the children had hot food to eat.

In. Loco. Parentis. Yes, it’s a legal term dripping with all the crap an army of lawyers can hang on it, but at the heart it means exactly what it says — “In the place of a parent.” It’s what every teacher worthy of the title holds closest to his or her heart whenever he looks at the young lives in his or her charge. For the 8 to 10 hours a day these children are with their teachers, their teachers ARE their parents and most of the time consequences be damned. People who think teaching is about 7 to 3 with summers off have no clue. The teachers in Atlanta who did not sleep so their children could weren’t thinking about the summer vacation. Teaching is more than that.

Happily, the debacle in Atlanta has passed with no children harmed . . . except maybe from a snowball to the nose, but teachers everywhere have stood in the place of parents and given the last full measure of devotion with no worry about what was to come.

Victoria Soto wasn’t worried about Common Core when she put her own body between a madman and her precious Sandy Hook first graders — taking bullets meant for them. Professor Liviu Librescu wasn’t thinking about his tenure hearing as he held the door of his Virginia Tech classroom shut even as the deranged gunman fired shot after shot through the door and into the Holocaust survivor’s body. The Sisters of Charity who taught at St. Mary’s Orphanage in Galveston, TX were not champing at the bit to get home on that dark September day in 1900 when all ten perished — each with her portion of the 90 children in her charge tied to their waists with clothesline as The Great Galveston Hurricane drowned the island.

All teachers. In loco parentis.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

 

Howdy, I’m a Parasite!

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chd_tick_engorgedFor most of my life, I’ve believed myself to be a person.  Apparently, I was wrong.

I’ve recently become privy to the fact that I am, instead of human, a parasite. Specifically, I am a life-draining, blood-sucking, economy wrecking, nation dooming species of parasite. Apparently, I became a parasite a few years ago when I started drawing Social Security Disability checks. According to various authorities on arthropodology, among them Conservative talk radio hosts (Rash Limburger springs to mind), some more strident members of the faction of the GOP ironically called the TEA Party, and certain friends and family members who are unaware of my source of income, I am a parasite and if me and my kind could be eradicated from the face of the Earth, this planet (or at least the portion occupied by the United States) would be a much healthier, safer, economically sounder, and altogether more wholesome place where the “American Dream” could flourish as Providence, the Founding Fathers, and John Boehner intended it to be.

To make my personal lowly state even worse, I know now that I’ve been in various stages of parasitism for years. In my larval stage, I was one of the hideous brood known as the “unemployed.” As such, I partook of life giving substances like SC Unemployment Insurance. I was even crass enough to draw unemployment for longer than the 26 weeks this tremendously progressive state allows people out of work to find another job. Yes, gentle readers, when my SCUI ran out, I latched on — leech that I am — to the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation. I was lucky on that account. The exterminators up on Capital Hill have done yeoman’s work eradicating the parasites still clinging to EUC; I managed to metamorphize into my current form as a “disabled worker” before EUC dried up.

I hate it for all the now-hungry critters who were living so high on the hog on those massive $276 per week EUC payments. Lord knows I sure liked my payments so much more than I liked going to the job of my dreams every day as a school librarian (this is back when I was human, of course) and earning ten times that amount per month. It was nice to pare down and simplify life. People were really helpful too when they’d look away quickly before telling you they weren’t hiring. I REALLY enjoyed going on interviews 90 minutes from home just to be told the position was already filled. That was the highlight of my day!

I hope my fellow larval parasites manage to find a McJob before their nests get foreclosed on. If they are lucky, maybe they can take the advice on the old McDonald’s employee website and get TWO McJobs. Then they might actually be able to afford to choose whether or not to buy gas, food, or medicine. Who knows? With that kind of newly disposable income floating around, the country should be back on track in no time! Then maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to pay the soldier parasites their full pensions for fighting our wars for us.

As for me, I love my life as a parasite. Nothing’s grander than staring out the window at a sunshiny day and only seeing rain. Yeah, I’m THAT kind of “disabled.” I’ve got one of those “conditions” no one can see so it probably doesn’t exist. After all, who’s ever heard of Borderline Personality Disorder or Severe Dysthymic Disorder or even the elusive Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Can’t see it; must not be real. Shoot, that’s a terrific argument. Atheists have been using it for YEARS!

Oh and the things people say to us parasites — trying to be helpful, of course. Things like, “with all that free time you have, you should do X, Y, or Z!” Sure thing! I’ll get right on that as soon as the anti-anxiety meds kick in so I can go out in public alone for about an hour. Have to make sure to take extra or get home before they wear off. People tend to get really uncomfortable when they see grown male parasites with tears streaming down their faces for no apparent reason trying to find a short checkout line so they can get through and hurry back to the nest.

So, to all you hardworking humans out there, this parasite would like to apologize. I’m sorry for slurping up your tax money, ruining the future of the country, and generally just dashing all your dreams. I promise I’ll try hard not to flaunt my overly extravagant lifestyle in your faces as I drive by in my old truck on the way home to my singlewide trailer-nest. Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll even work up the courage to step in front of a bus or something and there’ll be one less blood-sucking mouth for everyone and Congress to worry about.Freshly pressed

For the rest of y’all, I really do love y’all. You keep me going. So keep those feet clean and watch were you step, we parasites are everywhere.