Really, I’m not an Old Man!

Really, I’m not an Old Man!

old man mugThe abilities that exist to market items for sale in a targeted fashion never cease to amaze me. This is particularly true with what I see show up on my Facebook page.

Some of what appears is quite creative. Being from New Jersey originally but now living in Maryland, I have had advertisements pop up for shirts that feature the outline of the state of NJ, with the distinctive red, black and yellow colors and symbols of the MD state flag.

But honestly, the picture featured here is truly offensive!  I regularly now see an advertisement of this coffee mug that says, “Never underestimate an old man with a doctoral degree.”  It is nice to have my credentials somehow noticed, but there are a number of concomitant insults.

First of all, targeting me with a coffee mug shows that they truly do not really know me. I don’t do hot drinks, especially coffee. My guess is that it tastes as bad today as it did the last time I attempted to get the vile liquid past my nose and down my throat. That was in 1988.

Beyond that, there are a number of problems with the picture and the statement. Notice that it is photo-shopped, since the lettering does not curve around the cup. Technically, it should refer to the degree as a “doctorate,” and notice also that the tassel is on the wrong side for a graduate. “Never underestimate …”

But clearly the most offensive item is the sobriquet and moniker that the targeted customer — me — is an old man! How in the world did they possibly come to that conclusion? I will bet anything that the neophyte techno-geek who wrote the algorithm that data-mined me is a little punk I could bury today in a bicycle race at any distance between 50 yards and 50 miles! DSC_0162

Another regular advertisement that has been popping up for the past three months is for Toyota Camry automobiles. This is because I did online research in January on the Toyota Solara (a type of Camry), seeing a used vehicle of this model for sale.

I did buy the car. Here it is pictured. I have always wanted a red car … all my life! And it is way cool!  I have never had a car of my own that is so new as a 2006 with only 107,000 miles! And why would I purchase this at my stage of life? Well, I wanted to do it before I die!

But truly, this targeted advertising is offensive!

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Bucket List Check-off: Return to the Site of my First Million

Bucket List Check-off: Return to the Site of my First Million

Bucket lists are a bit morbid, though I have a few things that I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time. I did one of them today. I returned to the site of my first million made.

I grew up in a hillside home that overlooked a country club that is as beautiful as any you could find anywhere. Overgrown trees and vegetation have much diminished the view from that location, but when I was a child, it was amazing.

Somewhere around about age nine / 3rd grade I got the idea that I could walk around the extremities of this golf course, find lost golf balls, and sell them back to the goofballs who hit them out of bounds. I would collect them by the hundreds, wash them really clean, display them in egg cartons, and sell the best ones for 50 cents each to golfers on the 18th tee.

My father was rather amazed at this, as there were some weeks in the summer at age 10-12 where I would make more money than he did. There were certain fields and gullies just off the fairways that were particularly good places for ball discovery.

There were a few occupational hazards. The terrain was very rough, there were stickers and brambles everywhere; and since it was a private club, I needed to stay out of sight of the grounds crew. Also, I am sure that my snake paranoia is sourced in this childhood venture. I was fortunate to not be subject to poison ivy problems whatsoever.

It has been about 40 years since the last time I walked the fields and woods around Harkers Hollow country club in Harmony Township, NJ … but I did it today. Some places look exactly the same, whereas others are entirely different. Fields that were my primary “hunting grounds” are now overgrown woods with 80’ trees and dense undergrowth.

Certainly there are no entrepreneurial little boys in the area. Without even trying at all, I soon had about 40 golf balls and could not carry them all. So, being a graduate of Cairn University, I built a cairn of balls in the woods just off the 4th hole – a tribute to one of the fondest memories of my childhood.IMG_1302

It was a great experience, as the area is even prettier than I remember it being as a child, even though the old homestead does not appear to be extraordinarily cared-for … having the appearance of maybe being a day-care house.

Don’t believe the hype that New Jersey is just one big slum or toxic waste site. It simply is not true.

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The picture does not capture how high on a mountainside I am. My house is in the trees to the right and above the clubhouse. The farm and hillside to the upper left of the clubhouse is where my dad grew up – he plowed all those fields with horse-drawn equipment – as did his father and grandfather.

This is somewhat like the view out our front window, though our house would have been 30-40 higher in elevation.

This is somewhat like the view out our front window, though our house would have been 30-40 higher in elevation.

The woods where these deer are standing was an open, high-grass field when I was a kid.

The woods where these deer are standing was an open, high-grass field when I was a kid.

Here is where I made my first million dollars - sitting on a bench at the back of this tee box - under a big maple tree.

Here is where I made my first million dollars – sitting on a bench at the back of this tee box – under a big maple tree.

Bottom Rail on Top

In Ken Burn’s epic Civil War documentary, legendary historian Shelby Foote told the story of a slave who ran away from his master, joined the Union army and came back through the South and seized his own master’s plantation with his regiment. Seeing his former master in a lineup of captured Confederates, he says, “Bottom rail on top this time, Massah. Bottom rail’s on top now.”fences

That is quite a role reversal.

My current hospital foray – the first of my life – has put me in the category of living out a role reversal. I’m the patient, not the clergy visitor.

Yesterday, I looked up from my hospital bed at the doorway, and there stood Larry and Joyce Coffin. We just looked at each other for a couple of seconds, and all three of us broke into laughter like a group of elementary schoolgirls. Over the years and through all the surgeries and hospitalizations they have endured, I have very often visited them! About 30 seconds behind them, Ed and Sylvia House walked in, and we had to explain what we were giggling about.

IMG_0827[1]We all need each other at different times, and that is why the Christian life is supposed to be done as a group and shared experience in this thing called the church, even if certain idiosyncrasies or whatever that we all have become occasional annoyance factors. We can’t really make it alone; we’re in it together. So… spend all the time you can serving others, because a day is going to come when you need what someone else has that you do not at the moment possess.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

The Get-Along Shirt

Many years ago I heard James Dobson of “Focus on the Family” say that the #1 frustration of parents was the issue of sibling rivalry. I don’t know if that could be statistically proven, but I certainly remember it being an issue of strife in our family past. It particularly got my attention the day a hammer went flying through the air to hit one brother running away from another brother after a verbal altercation!

get-along shirtI have several times on Facebook seen the accompanying picture. Isn’t that priceless? Why didn’t Diana and I think of this? It would have either solved problems, or so complicated them that we would have had fewer mouths to feed!

A “get-along shirt” like this was pretty much what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote about a couple of women in the church in Philippi. He says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel…”

These were not bad people; they were effective church workers and servants – commended by no less than the Apostle Paul!  But the benefit of their service was being very much marginalized by some inter-personal controversy surrounding them. It is likely that it also involved other people being put into a position of having to take sides with one or the other. Whatever – the end result was a church-wide distraction that simply did not need to be going on.

Again, I don’t know if it is indeed the #1 frustration of parents, but sibling rivalry and worthless dissention between siblings in the church family is just about the typical pastor’s #1 frustration. Lots of pastors would probably like to have the ability to put some people together inside the same shirt to make them get along! The issues are seldom of sufficient fire to account for the smoke accumulated. Would it not be so very much better to apply some other words of Paul on another occasion to another church:  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

—–

The above portion of this writing is for next week’s church newsletter. The following will not be a part of that, but for a moment of fun, I will give a Sweet Frog gift card to the first person (not named Buchman) who answers correctly the following two questions about the hammer flying through the air:

1.  The hammer was thrown by …

a. Nathan at Ben

b. Ben at Nathan

c. Nathan at Aaron

d. Aaron at Nathan

e. Ben at Aaron

f. Aaron at Ben

g. Nathan at Jesse

h. Aaron at Nathan

i. Jesse at Ben

j. Jesse at Aaron

k. Jesse at Caleb

l. Aaron at Jesse

m. Caleb at Jesse

2.  The hammer hit the less-than-fully-innocent victim in the …

a. head

b. back

c. buttocks

d. leg

Structurally Obsolete – I Can Relate!

With a son who is a structural engineer working for a firm designing bridges, whenever I see a news story about a bridge collapse, it catches my eye. There is one such account in the news today about a bridge section that fell into a river yesterday in Washington State – north of Seattle. A truck accident caused the failure, which involved a couple of vehicles unable to stop and thereby plunging into the stream.

But here is the part of the story that caught my eye and … well … I found a bit offensive actually…

Bridge collapse in Washington State

Bridge collapse in Washington State

The bridge was not classified as structurally deficient, but a Federal Highway Administration database listed it as being “functionally obsolete” — a category meaning that the design is outdated … The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80 … but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.

Hey, I take offense to this since I was also “built” in 1955!  Well, I guess I should take some encouragement from this, because, like the bridge, though I’m not currently rated as “structurally deficient” (meaning “dead”), I guess my horribly aching knees acknowledge that I am “structurally obsolete.”  That is a sanitary engineer-esque way of saying you’re “getting old and out of date.”

And like the bridge, which will have the broken section replaced with some artificial structure, I guess that is what awaits my knees … ugh!

One thing for sure, my bridge engineer son will never be without a job … nor will any orthopedic surgeon doing knee replacements. But when you think about it, they actually are both structural engineers.

French Christians and Church Life

During our recent trip to Europe, it was a most interesting experience to visit with a church group that our son Jesse had become acquainted over his semester in France. It was truly a fantastic bunch of people. Jesse took the bold step of seeking out this church group through a contact from our (Tri-State Fellowship) French friends Tsiry and Barbara Andria.

The church is made up of about 100-125 people who meet in a facility that is located in a sort of shopping mall setting – like a strip mall of parallel rows. We went to a Saturday evening fellowship dinner that was an outreach event, having the specific goal of church people inviting their friends to hear a program consisting of several sketches, videos, and a message. I was able to understand and recall enough of my high school and college French to catch the basic idea of the program. They talked about how the world faces political and economic crises, but that the spiritual crisis faced by sin is actually a bigger problem – that though empires and great leaders have come and gone, only a relationship with Christ can fix the real problem faced by everyone. It was excellent.

IMG_0364On Sunday afternoon we attended a luncheon featuring a gathering of the young adults of the church at the home of a truly delightful college girl. Her parents prepared the meal, replete with course after course of appetizers, portions of the meal, and several rounds of desserts. So there were four “old people” there between the hosts and Diana and me … along with 16 young adults ranging in age from a couple of high school students through those in their mid 20s. It was a very, very sharp group of folks – as this area of France is essentially in what is the “Silicon Valley” equivalent to California.

The mother of the girl hosting the gathering spoke English quite well, as did a number of the young adults. All together, this group really helped Jesse with his French speaking skills – as the classes at the University Jesse attended were taught in English, so he was not getting more proficient through that.

One of the men of the church that I had met on Saturday evening – a fellow with both a French and American background – told me that the history of the church was “Brethren.”  I immediately presumed it was not any sort of Brethren that we may know of in the Tri-State area, but rather a group with British connections known as “Plymouth Brethren” … with a most prominent name of John Nelson Darby – sometimes also known as Darbyism. This was very interesting to me for a variety of reasons. Though there is no direct line or connection, many of the thoughts of Darby were further defined (I would say more accurately) by C.I. Scofield (of the famous Scofield Reference Bible and founder of my college) and popularized by the many well-known teachers associated with Dallas Theological Seminary. (The theological system is known as dispensationalism, and was much the foundation of my family’s faith system and love of Scripture.) Beyond that, Darbyists and Plymouth Brethren were known for the distinct views of shared/plural eldership and open meetings – for open sharing and teaching of Scripture. The former of these has always been a core value of TSF, while the latter was also to some extent in the early years when the church was small enough for this to be practical. This entire discussion with our hosts – filled with lots of translations by the more bilingual of the group – was very much of interest and engagement by a number of the young adults. It did not “blow over their heads.”

What I believe I saw in this church was the future of the effective church in America. We are, by all visible indicators, headed toward a totally secular, post-Christian, pluralistic society such as is in place today in France. But here in Antibes, France … on the Cote d’Azur (the French Riviera) is a group of Christians who are jointly members of a rather suspect minority in the culture. They are doing life together, almost in a 1st Century sort of way. There is a felt need for dependence and inter-dependence. The fact is that we all have the same need even in America, but we just don’t yet feel it quite so keenly. This church was a multiple generation church; and I continue to believe that this is the most successful model for true church growth that will be measured in terms of faithfulness and depth of ministry, rather than in numbers of people and flash and pizzazz. This sort of church takes work and personal and intentional commitment – probably well beyond what most of us are actively experiencing and living in terms of a covenant community relationship with one another. It is increasingly my conviction that we must do this or be essentially flushed by the coarsening culture.

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Living and Dying Things

Sometimes I just have to brag about my family. Our clothes washer just plain stopped working last week – like, nothing! It would not turn on. So, this is intolerable, since Caleb does more laundry than … well … ah … we never got to have a girl, as you know. But, his clothing has to not only be clean, it has to smell a certain way – like it does when he has gotten laundry back from Scott’s house, where Mrs. Long has chosen the world’s best fabric softener (which for the record is Downey). Anyhow … back to the broken machine. As you all also know, I have no patience with broken devices, machines, tractors, autos, etc. So, my wife researches it online, finds the components to fix it, has them expedited to the house, tears apart the electronics and replaces the circuitry to fix the dumb thing! I admit that I thought it was quite impressive.IMG_0244[1]

Since I’m naming guilty people in this post, I’ll name my fellow marathon-running buddy of the past – Bill Seiple – with whom I ran about 10,000 miles. You get to really know someone when you do that, especially when you are oxygen-depleted and you begin to talk about stuff you’d likely not say if you were in your right mind. We were both pretty amazed that we married well. He always said it was a man’s duty to marry up and improve his genetics. Well, he sure did that with Didi (as you New Jersey people can testify). And the truth is that I’ve done the same with Diana. She is pretty amazing with what she can do – like fix computers and washing machines, run businesses and deal with the IRS.

IMG_0246[1]OK, I’ve had the same clock for decades. It is the one that was sitting on the nightstand when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. In those days, I worked evenings at United Parcel Service and would get home very late at night. Dallas Seminary was not a place for the faint-hearted when it came to academics, and the assignments had piled up on me. One evening, I knew I had hours of work ahead of me to finish a paper for the next morning. I also knew I’d be depressed if I was aware what time it really was, so, I set the alarm for the necessary time to get up, and I turned the clock around so that I could not see what time I would actually go to bed. After a number of hours of finishing the paper (on a typewriter!) I took a shower, got in bed, pulled up the covers, and at that instant the alarm rang. Well, that was quite an insult, and in that instant I smashed the snooze with a full-fisted ka-bamb! Somehow the clock survived… until yesterday. I guess the thought of facing another change to daylight savings time was more than it could endure in its dotage.

<Hold the presses!>  Late breaking story – I went to get a picture of it, and it is working again! This proves MY view of broken things – that may well have worked for the washer. If you give it enough time, it will fix itself! So, for example, with the car – just turn up the radio, and eventually the screechy noise will go away.DSC_0135 (1024x665)

And finally, there is Lucifer. I wrote about this on Facebook yesterday. He is my one surviving rooster. I’m not sure what happened to the other one; he just kinda disappeared recently. But my guess now is that he and Lucifer – who is a Black Jersey Giant breed – had a big fight. And though the other one was dominant all along, Lucifer had his day. NOW, Lucifer has decided that I am the next one who needs to be eliminated. He has decided to attack me whenever I’m not looking. Well, this really irritates me to be quite honest. I’m there bringing he and his 25 girls food and water, and HE is going to attack ME while I’m doing it!?!  So, we had quite a fight yesterday. I had a plastic milk jug in my hand when he made a rush at me – winging through the air with claws and spurs flying. He hit me pretty good a couple of times, but on most attacks I whacked him across the face with the jug – like 20-25 times before he finally gave up. I think I won the fight, but I was exhausted from it. If this keeps up, he is going to get to meet his father the Devil.

So, nothing lasts forever; but at our house, things are given a shot to last as long as they can.