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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The One and Only Good Snake

I have, at various times of my life, either been set upon pedestals as a ministry star, or abandoned as a flop and failure—pretty much while being the same person and doing the same things. Within a span of five minutes, I’ve been told by two different people that I am an amazing and anointed communicator, but then also that I’m such a bore that I seem to be putting myself to sleep while speaking.

Never wanting to displease anyone, I’ve too often not concerned myself enough with being centered rather upon pleasing The One who really counts.

The task of pastoring is impossible. It is crazy to try to please people, because it cannot be done in a diverse community. Truth is, I’m not as good as those fans who’ve come and gone believed me to be, and a great number of the criticisms are indeed unfairly leveled by people with small lives and even smaller perspectives.

Many people are too easily enchanted by a stage. Christians—ministers even—are no exception. Sometimes we elevate our leaders like Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness … as something to pin our hopes to … something to heal us, because we sense, somehow, that we are sick and need saving. Humans desire something to look to vicariously because we are desperate for something of God that we can barely articulate … something up there.

So, we take the beautiful, the talented, the fortunate from among us and lift them up on a stage. We fawn over them. Feed them. Praise them. Buy and sell their books, or books written in their name. We applaud their sermons skillfully delivered with content provided from a nameless someone from afar.

But the celebrities disappoint, and they will always disappoint. Unlike Moses’ bronze snake (or the Lifted One that it prefigured) we do not find healing for our ills in gazing upon our elevated leaders – the Moses people of our age – but only by seeing the Snake.

The voice behind the microphone and the voice that says “amen” in the pew are not so different. The minister at the lush mega-church with a staff of many dozens and the lone pastor in a spindly rural church are far more similar than they are different.

Or at least they ought to be. Both can be voices of wisdom, servants of biblical words and truth to lost and ornery sheep. Neither can save those that gaze upon them.

Because, you see, the Lifted One erodes the heights and valleys of our elevations. Only in elevating him will we see ourselves and others as we are, finding the life we seek in the desert.

So, after years of hating and dissing snakes and even having a snake category on this blog, I have to admit that there is a good Snake – the bronze one from the desert and the person it prefigured.

(Disclosure – I have edited and expanded upon a shorter piece from Leadership Journal in writing this.)

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

It Takes All Types to Make a World

I enjoy people watching – gotta admit it’s true. And today I’m sitting and typing this at Younger Toyota, while I wait for my car to be serviced.

Sitting across from me in the waiting area is a father and his two sons whom I’d guess to be about ages 15 and 11.

The father is clearly telegraphing his life values and interests. He is wearing a humorous tee-shirt with a giant “WANTED” printed over a couple of pictures of large-mouthed bass about to chomp on a lure. And at the bottom is some sort of “fish killer” message. He is also sporting a camouflage hat. Clearly, this guy is the stereo-typical outdoorsman. I can tell you right now that his vehicle being serviced here simply has to be a four-door Tundra truck. The only thing curious is that it is not a Ford or Chevy that he fixes himself on some cement blocks at home. Update: he is now talking with some on his very large and outdated cell phone about sources of ammo.

The oldest son is clearly a chip off the old block. His camo hat is accessorized (not a word he’d use of course) with various pins and lures. Wearing hiking boots and jeans, the most interesting part of his attire is his red and white plaid button-up dress shirt – that has the sleeves deeply cut out. Along with his peach fuzz-encouraged goatee (I think that is the effort being attempted), he is the next gen expression of Larry the Cable Guy.

Larry the Cable Guy

Larry the Cable Guy

But here’s where it gets interesting. The 11-year-old is entirely different – in dress and deportment. This kid looks like he must have been the illegitimate child of Silicon Valley tech geek and who was abandoned at birth and adopted across the country by a family valuing horsepower over megabytes. The boy is wearing a shirt sporting a movie fantasy theme, with cargo pants and sandals. While his older brother is reading Field and Stream magazine, this younger boy is frantically working away with an iPad.

I don’t mean to be critical… laugh with me here, it is just funny. Hey, I confess to being a geekie guy in many ways, while at the same time having a flock of chickens and a rusted out pickup truck in the woods.

It is simply humorous that so many family systems get such a different mix of kids in the same house from the same parents! When folks over the years have said to me some version of “I don’t know where this kid came from and how he got in our house,” I have just said to them, “God gives us what we need.”  And God has given us a world with all sorts of varied personalities, sometimes even under the same roof.

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.

Becoming a Total Drunk Lately!

Yes, I’m on the way to decline. In the past several weeks, I have almost doubled my entire lifetime consumption of alcohol. It’s sadly true. (Of course, you probably used more water to brush your teeth this morning than all I’ve ever swallowed of the stuff!)

Incident #1 – While in Texas I visited a church that had communion. Before I realized what was going down around me, down went a cup of real wine instead of the evangelically-approved Welch’s Grape Juice. Dreadful stuff! Oh my!

Incident #2 – I was with my dear friend Jim Warner at a dinner on the evening of his 40th-year celebration of being released from 5.5 years of incarceration in a North Vietnamese prisoner camp. He bought a bottle of champagne for a toast “to freedom.” Without doubt, the occasion was bigger than my scruples, so, I lifted the glass and participated in the worthy honor of the moment. Oh my! Is that what is meant by something being very “dry?”

Incident #3 – I won a six-pack of beer in a bet with a friend. I was at a political convention where a person was making a floor speech. The guy next to me remarked that this young man was the same who had spoken at the previous convention and made a terrible fool of himself. Knowing for a fact that he was not, I said that “no” it was a different person. My friend, being convinced that he was correct said, “I’ll bet you a case of beer on it!”  I knew I would not lose, so I took the bet!  At a break, we verified with the speaker that indeed I was correct and that he was not the foolish fellow of some months before. I had forgotten about the bet until my friend brought me a six-pack of “ginger beer.”  More dreadful stuff.

Explanation #1 – Lots of people presume that my anti-alcohol stance is due to some experience of trauma from a drunken family – not at all … I cannot name a relative that I know who ever drank anything. If my distaste is from childhood, it is actually from a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. While descending the stairs at the old Connie Mack stadium to get a hot dog when I was about maybe 8-9 years old, a Philadelphia drunk turned the corner and threw a whole cup of beer onto me. I was wearing a wool sweater, and oh my, did it ever stink for hours! I was nearly literally nauseated to the point of barfing from the smell. Ever since then, I can smell the slightest whiff of alcohol at a great distance in the same way that sharks are able to smell blood in water. I’m not proud of this talent. But that experience totally sickened me to any curiosity about imbibing.

Explanation #2 – I hate the predominance of alcohol in our culture. The ill effects are daily in the news as roots of multiple tragedies. Though I know this is nothing new – dating back to Noah’s family at least – it seems to me so very unnecessary. So, my summary line remains, “Though I grant the freedom of conscience for the Christian to consume, I completely dispute the wisdom, and I submit the highest virtue is abstinence” …. Well, at least relatively so. If you disagree with me … oh well, we probably agree together on a greater number of issues.

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.