Thursday, April 26

All A Matter Of Perspective...

Paul Harvey, the preeminent commentator heard by millions of Americans each day on their radios, offered some interesting insight recently on how one may tell whether or not "man's best friend" is enamored by your presence. Mr. Harvey stated that if a dog, possessing a noticeably detectable tail, was wagging said appendage in a particular manner, that one could utilize this visible clue as a true and dependable indicator of the dog's intention to accept one as a friend or foe. If it is observed that the dog's tail is wagging primarily on the right hand side of its body, the person is being regarded as favorable. If, however, the tail is beating a gig on the left hand side of it's body, may be being evaluated as an axe murderer.
I was intrigued by this bit of observation and decided to put it to the test. Not personally possessing a member of the canine breed as a pet, having two cats that hold honored sway in our household, I had to search around for a qualifying member of the species...that is, one that had a tail of significant proportions so as to leave no doubt in my mind as to which way it's evaluation of my personage was swaying. The opportunity to test Mr. Harvey's theory came recently as a result of my daughter and her best friend having been moved into a home in close proximity to our own.
It fell to me and my dear wife to undertake the majority of the moving duties to get Megan out of her room on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa and across the bay to St. Petersburg. While making numerous trips lugging furniture and a myriad of personal items in to the house, I became aware that a dog...what sounded like a "large" dog...resided at the next door neighbor's. It's barks announcing to us that it was well aware that strangers were close to it's proximity and that it wished to let us know that we were close to its. It was during this time that I began to question whether or not this particular dog was the best candidate to try out Mr. Harvey's observations. Petey had other ideas...
Petey, so named no doubt by his owners, because of his obvious striking resemblance to the "Petey" dog that graced many of the Little Rascals movies of yesteryear. (I'm dating myself). While I was taking a well deserved break on the front steps, Petey made an appearance in his owner's front yard and promptly took my measure. Lying flat on his stomach, no tail wagging was evident. Neither was any threatening barking, for which I was thankful. Summoning up my courage I beckoned Petey to come to me. After a few halting starts, Petey jumped to his feet and came bounding the few feet across his yard to where I was sitting. The next thing I knew Petey had his front paws on my chest and his tongue was busying itself giving my face a thorough bath. And his tail? It was wagging enthusiastically back and forth for all it was worth with neither side receiving preferential treatment. Either Mr. Harvey was mistaken in his assumptions or I need still to find yet another dog on which to test his premises. For the time being I have found a new friend in Petey.
Wouldn't it be interesting if people had the ability to display such an obvious pronouncement of their intentions towards other people? Right away one could look at an approaching fellow human being and size up immediately if he or she wished us good or ill. I am thankful, however, that God in his infinite wisdom decided against adorning His human creation with wagging tails. It certainly would give new meaning to formal wear garb of top hat and tails. In the mean time I am going to keep on the look out for more dogs to observe and to seriously consider forgoing the age old greeting practice of shaking a person's hand. I'm leaning towards just licking their face. Thanks Petey.

Thursday, April 12

Global Warming...The Least Of My Worries...

Pinellas County is geographically a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water...a microcosm of the entire state of Florida, itself surrounded on three sides by large bodies of water. Our home in St. Petersburg, the largest city by population among the twenty-three other municipalities located throughout the county, is approximately twelve city blocks from Tampa Bay on the east and approximately fifteen miles - give or take - to the Gulf of Mexico. It is a truly beautiful city. Other than perhaps San Diego, I can't think of another location in America where I would choose to live.
But here's apparently the rub... According to former vice-president and recent Oscar winner Al Gore, his "Inconvenient Truth" about global warming may have me and the other million plus residence of this fair county in its watery cross-hairs. If, as Mr. Gore professes (and apparently so do a cadre of credentialed individuals in like support of his contentions) the earth is indeed "warming" at an unprecedented alarming rate, it is most likely that St. Petersburg is headed for a watery bath that will eventually render much of its land mass to submersion. I am torn between panic and elation. Panic because I don't own an boat and elation because of where my particular piece of the "American dream" is located.
As fate would have it, my home is situated on a ridge of land that runs north and south through the Pinellas County peninsula, being approximately thirty-three feet above mean sea level. My home is also built on top of a block foundation that is an additional two and one half feet above grade. With these facts in mind, I figure I have a few years left before the tide comes lapping at my back door.
Here's the deal... I tend to believe that the the entire issue of global warming - pro and con - has validity. Do I believe that the earth is warming? Yes. Do I believe that this phenomena is a natural occurrence in the long and ever evolving cycle of the earth's existence? Yes. Do I think that mankind is perhaps exacerbating this documented warming trend to a detrimental degree? Yes. Do I think that the warming of the earth's surface will eventually - in this current cycle - produce increased sea levels to the point where many of the coastal cities and towns will be devastatingly affected? Perhaps. What, however, concerns me the most is not whether St. Petersburg will eventually sink below the waters of Tampa Bay, but whether America as a whole will sink beneath the waters of complacency as we as a people continue to follow a path of apathy toward those forces of evil in the world who have proclaimed that they wish to bring this great nation to its knees and eventual demise by any means possible. That real possibility scares me far more than the tide rising a minuscule amount in any given year.
I am dismayed by and disheartened with our elected national leaders who are so focused on the short-term political gains that may be immediately derived with their infighting and bickering than to cast a far wider vision of what may be accomplished through cooperative compromise. We, the people, are increasingly being left out of the equation of self-government....being regarded a pawns, dupes, and incapable of having an affective say in our own destinies. No wonder the American public cares little for the abilities of our elected leaders to seek anything other than their own self-sustaining aggrandizement. We are discouraged. We are angry. We have all but given up in the belief that man's better nature among our leaders with again come to the fore and we begin again to work together for the greater good of all of our citizens.
Some very wise person stated, "We should pray ceaselessly to God in recognition that all things depend on Him, and work together as though all things depend on us." If it can be determined factually that mankind can indeed slow if not totally reverse the worst effects of global warming, I'll do my part, as I suspect and am hopeful that the majority of reasoning individuals would follow suit. I am less assured and hopeful that our country will reach a consensus of determination that will render our nation a future in which our children and their children will live out their lives in peace. I hope and pray that I am wrong. Let the waters rise if they must. For the foreseeable future, God willing, I have no plans to build a boat dock at my back door.

Monday, April 9

Collecting Days...

"But ask yourself this: Have you ever lost someone you loved and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back." From Mitch Abom's Book - "for one more day."

This past Saturday I attended the memorial service for the nephew of a dear friend. The youngster was only 17 when a gun discharged in his presence and killed him instantly. The occasion was a birthday celebration. No celebration will ever mark that dark day again. From that day forward the date will become "Day Zero," the day that normal time was suspended and henceforth for all who knew and loved this young man will be marked as the day they each started over without him.

The funeral service was attended by the young man's relatives, of which there were many. But the majority of the hall was filled to capacity by this young man's many friends and acquaintances, perhaps numbering well over a hundred. For the most part these youngsters wore black, not in a conscience decision to morn the deceased, but as a rebellious fashion statement of who they are...or whom they perceive society regards them to be...outcasts, modern-day Don Quixote's jousting at societal windmills. Their selection of garb did not offend me. What troubled me was the nagging question of why these young people, on the threshold of life's promises, were taking such a disparaging view of the world in which they strive to counted? It is they they cannot "fit in," or that they choose not to fit it? To a person they each displayed symbols of their dyed jet black, or orange, or varying shades of blood red. Body piercings were prevalent, as were garish jewelry. Each was proclaiming their independence from the status quo by looking like mirror images of all the other youths in the room who were proclaiming their individuality in like manner. There is a sense of independence, I suppose, that is best assured when such independence is confirmed by an affirming majority.

Their professed swagger was betrayed by the tears shed by so many of the deceased young man's friends. No attempt was made to hide their grief and into each other's arms they sought comfort. These young hearts dissolved into the basic of human emotions; loss and grief. No amount of bravado will ever overwhelm mankind's basic quests...the need to be recognized as being of worth, to be appreciated, to be loved unconditionally...and to be be morned genuinely when their life is no more. From their departed 17 year old friend the lesson of earthly mortality was brought to the fore for each of them. Life is not fair and sometimes it ends far too suddenly and far too soon. It's a hard lesson to wrap oneself around when youth is all one knows.

Each life is a story. They are best told by those who know us best. To those who remember the joy of our births and the promise we each pursued as we transversed the collection of our own days. Perhaps the Beatles said it best..."And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make." I pray that each of the young people who were in attendance at the memorial service will find a way to make their own memories, full of love that will serve them well in life and in the hereafter. Their departed 17 year old friend left their affections far too soon. Yet he was loved and he left a good example for all of us to follow.

An Easter Birthday...

April 8th, 1948. My Birth Date. April 8th, 2007. My 59th Birthday. Cool!!

The celebration of my personal birthdays have not been very high on my list of things to make a big fuss over. They just are. They come and go pretty much like any other day. I don't like anyone to make a big fuss over my birthday. It's not that I have an aversion to getting older. That would be like having an aversion to breathing. It is something that just happens and you get kind of use to it. I've learned to live with breathing on a regular basis and having birthdays on a regular basis. It is what it is...
Yesterday's "celebration," however, was unique. My two 6 and 4 year old granddaughters were in attendance and helped blow out the candles on my birthday cake. For them it was a bigger deal than it was for me. But because they got such a kick out of sitting on Papa's lap while we together extinguished the candles, that made it a fun experience for me as well. Of course, everything was recorded for prosperity by my loving wife, who deems it absolutely essential that such milestone occasions be documented. I suppose it is possible that sometime in the future that this particular event will be viewed by my grandchildren's children in order to introduce them to their great grandfather...long departed and only vaguely remembered. So be it. If those great grandchildren only capture the sense of love and happiness that was in the room that day, then it will be an object lesson well worth recording.
Now I have 365 days left before I obtain yet another notable milestone along my personal life's journey...turning 60! I remember when I turned 50 and received a personal letter from the AARP. I laughed. Perhaps for my 60th birthday they will send a limousine and take me on a preview tour of the nicer nursing homes in the area. If they serve drinks and let me smoke my cigars, I'll probably go along for the ride. Do I dread turning 60? Not in the slightest. It will be just another day that the Lord has granted me for which I will be thankful. Every day is a gift. And all those loved ones who populate my life make each day that God grants me breath on this earth a birthday celebration each and every day. Cool!!

Monday, April 2

A Litmus Test For Arrogance...

On March 28, US News & World Report columnist Dan Gilgoff wrote an article detailing Focus On The Family Chairman Dr. James Dobson proffered opinion as to the viability of the possible presidential candidacy of former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. Stated Dr. Dobson, "Everyone knows he's conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for. [But] I don't think he's a Christian; at least that's my impression." Dr. Dobson went on to further opine that such an impression would make it difficult for Thompson to connect with the Republican Party's conservative base and win the GOP nomination. A follow up conversation with a Focus on the Family representative further expanded on Dr. Dobson's statements revealing that while Dobson didn't believe Thompson to be a member of a non-Christian faith, Dobson nevertheless "has never know Thompson to be a committed Christian - someone who talks openly about his faith." Thank you Dr. Dobson for establishing for me the deciding factor in what criteria I am to employ in order to evaluate a political candidate for any elected office. (Please note my tone of sarcasm in the preceding statement).
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Mr. Thompson, took issue (as well he should) with Dobson's characterization of Thompson's lack of audible profession of faith by stating, "Thompson is indeed a Christian. He was baptized into the Church of Christ." Not satisfied with the taste of their feet in their mouths, Dr. Dobson's representative attempted to present yet further clarifying information regarding Dobson's initial statements. "We use that word - Christian - to refer to people who are evangelical Christians. Dr. Dobson wasn't expressing a personal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he was trying to 'read the tea leaves' about such a possibility." Dr. Dobson, do me and the rest of believing Christians a favor and leave tea leave reading to soothsayers who are more adept at that valueless enterprise.
What amazes (and disappoints) me about Dr. Dobson's alleged off-the-cuff pronouncements about Mr. Thompson's potential presidential candidacy is the assumption that he could possibly know the depth (or lack there of) of Mr. Thompson's personal Christian faith. I agree that as a Christian that I would prefer to have the highest elected office in the nation occupied by an individual (man or woman) who has a deep and abiding faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ. However, history has underscored that such personal convictions hardly guarantees that the administrative policies invoked by such an occupant will produce policies that are overall regarded to be in the best interest of the country as a whole. I have no doubt that President Bush is a man of committed Christian faith. But, be that as it may, such personal convictions have failed to sway the American people that our continuing and necessary "war on terror" is best slugged out in the streets of Bagdad. To site an additional example, our nation's thirty-ninth president, James Earl Carter, Jr., made his professions of evangelical Christianity a focal point of both his candidacy and presidency, wishing to make the federal government of his era one of compassion and competency. Neither quest prevailed. Today the more outspoken conservative Christians regard him as a liberal thinker out of touch with the real politic realities prevalent in the world today. Thus, so much for the litmus test of the necessity of being an out-spoken evangelical Christian in order to meet a major prerequisite for competent presidential leadership.
By no stretch of competency do I declare myself to be a biblical scholar, but I can declare with certainty that the only "test" that I am aware of for professing to be a Christian is to state publicly my belief in Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God. It is not even a requirement that I become baptized in order for that conversion to be valid; baptism being a symbolic gesture to further demonstrate that which has already occurred. Mr. Thompson, in my opinion, most certainly meets the only requirement necessary to be included in the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christianity, as may be assumed, having been "baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ." For Dr. Dodson to suggest that such a declaration of fact doesn't quite measure up to his minimum expectations for political candidates smacks of an arrogance far beneath a man of Dr. Dodson's prominence. Jesus Christ's death, Resurrection and return to Heaven, leaving us in charge to carry on the work of expanding His Kingdom on earth hardly imbues Dr. Dobson with the title of "king maker." I, for one, do not find Dr. Dobson's evaluation of Mr. Thompson's Christian worthiness offensive, but laughable. Dr. Dobson should be ashamed for questioning any Christian's commitment. I know of only one entinity who is divinely acumented to do so...God Himself.
If you don't mind, Dr. Dobson, I'll coninue to regard Mr. Thompson, for the time being, as a viable candidate for President of the United States in spite of your ill advised and self-serving pronouncment to the contrary.