Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is Anybody There?

I have had a problem for years of discomfort in front of large groups of people. That will come as a surprise to people who knew me as a pastor, or who thought all pastors are born extroverts.

One year in high school I was encouraged to sing a song in the annual minstel show. I really didn't want to do it - but the two prettiest girls in my class smiled and said I would be great and, needless to say, I melted at the attention. The evening of the performance rolled around, I took my place on the stage, and my mind went blank. I got through the first verse but everything else went blank. The song was a Disney song of the time, 'The Reluctant Dragon', and people reminded me of that awful experience for years afterward. Making the performance worse was that my voice was changing.

Another experience was in a Grange program - my mother wanted me to play a slide flute and dress up in a sheet to look like snake charmer. Nothing about the performance went well, especially when the costume started falling apart and it was either play the flute or try to save my dignity.

So, you ask, what about working in radio? That wasn't so bad - after all, I was alone in a studio with no one looking at me. I could do what I wanted and say what I wanted and not worry about any eyes staring at me when things went awry.
The only way I knew anyone was there was the letters and cards I got with requests for songs, and in later years, voices on the phone when I was involved with telephone request shows.

So what do I end up doing? Writing and sharing sermons every Sunday morning. In front of people. Sometimes LARGE GROUPS of people. I think the problem of earlier days was still there; however, I must have mellowed because I wasn't eaten up with panic attacks. But now a new aspect came into focus: 'What are people thinking about the message?' 'Am I making my point?' 'What are they hearing; do they understand?' 'Are they just waiting to get the hour over with?'

I remember looking out at the faces in the congregation and trying to read the individual expressions on faces. My wife helped -she'd smile - she'd frown - she'd suggest - by expression that I was on shaky ground or that I was running a little bit long. But with the church congregation, was there a smile? Was there boredom? Was there disagreement? Or were there eyes that were closed like the Marvin strip above? And was there something to the fact that cartoonist Tom Armstrong had been in my congregation the Sunday before the strip was created?

Nowadays, it's not easy to figure out about reactions to blogs I come up with. I seldom hear anything about the blogs - I just crank them out hoping that someone may get a laugh or two - or be motivated to think about some issue I've written about. I think sometimes that writing is just one of those things one enjoys doing, and if a particular blog means something to someone out there in the invisible world, then I'm content that the effort has been worth while.

So, with all that said, I wonder what to write about next week?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Memories of a Warmer Day

We're having a heat wave - it got all the way up to 61 today. Most of the snow and ice has gone away - at least around our apartment complex. We got daring yesterday and drove up to Harrison State Park and discovered that there is still a lot of 'stuff' on the ground and in the woods of the park. It's going to be a while before we can comfortably walk the trails at our nearest park.

All this is simply to admit that my mind wandered back to the Caribbean and the wintertime cruises we took a few years ago. I think we ended up taking forty or more over fifteen years on half a dozen cruise lines. It helped that I was an active
travel agent on official business on most cruises. A good way to mix business and pleasure, agreed? You know - take the cruise free and get paid for doing it is a pretty good way to live life.

We got to see a lot of places - ports on the East Coast and Canada, in the Mediterranean Sea, Hawaii, the Panama Canal, Alaska, and a lot of time sailing around the warm seas of the Caribbean. It was a rough life but someone had to do it.

The picture above is of a Dutch hat which was a souvenir of one of the East Caribbean cruises. It was created on the former Westerdam which had sailed earlier as the 'Homeric' (of the now defunct Home Lines) Bought byHolland America Line in the early 1980's, the ship was cut in half and another couple hundred more feet were added in the middle. If one looked closely they could see the difference in windows and portholes in the new section. We loved the Westerdam and she still sails the Mediterranean Sea under a different company flag.

But the Dutch hat brings back more memories than the ship - it's a reminder of an Indonesian young man who worked as a sreward on the Verandah Deck. He was very friendly and kind and one night near the end of a Fall 1997 cruise he came up to us and gave us the hat as a gift. It came totally out of the blue and we still treasure it. Yes, if you are wondering, we DID provide him a significant tip - not just for the hat but for wonderful service as well. Most of all, we were amazed at his artistic talent. So, hanging on the hall wall of our apartment is not only a memory of a wonderful cruise but of a very special member of the cruise ship team. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to Loderick - and I certainly hope he has enjoyed a good life since then.

Most of all, I'm reminded by this gift that it is also easy to take people for granted.
People like waiters, and stewards, not only on cruise ships but in our own neighborhood services. You may not get something as personal as a Dutch cap -
but hopefully those service employees will try to do their best to make your life better for their efforts. Give them a smile when you can - and share a good tip. They're trying to make your life more pleasant.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Miss Marvin

It goes back a few years, but I remember times when (like a few other dads) I used to wait up for one or another of our daughters to come home from a date. Most of the time they were pretty good about getting home on time - but there also were times when they got home a bit late. I remember one time in particular - our eldest was quite late and I was sitting on the stairs so there was no way she could sneak upstairs to bed without getting caught. She was not a happy camper.

But neither was my mother when I would come back in from a square dance that ended at 1 a.m. at four a.m. or later. Or there was the prom on graduation night when it was close to dawn or after. In fact, that episode was made even more exciting when Mom looked down the stairs to the bedroom and saw two curly heads in bed and she screamed "He's got a girl with him!" (My friends' hair was long enough to have been a girls) I remember abruptly waking up to her scream and I shouted back, "It's not a girl mom - it's Richard!" I sometimes brought Richard home to reduce the parental screaming when I came home and even then the screaming ('Where have you been all this time?') came after I took him home where he went through his own parental chastisement.

In addition, she never accepted the fact that it took hours to drop off my friends whose homes were all over the northern half of our county. That just went with being one of the few in my class with a car - which was more an incentive than my sparkling (?) personality.

Which goes to say that 'what goes around comes around'. We've had times when our children wonder why we are not home when they call. In the old days our parents worried about us when we were out late - and now our children worry about us when we don't answer the phone after nine-thirty at night. But kids, don't fret -we probably were in bed by nine. For sure, we weren't out running around or out at a lovers lane on some back road. But it sounds like an interesting idea.

By the way, the cartoon strip is by one of my favorite cartoonists, Tom Armstrong.
He and his family were members of our church in Bradenton, Florida and I really enjoyed knowing them. He really saw life in a wonderful way and this strip was a gift to us when I retired in Florida. I miss them and I miss his character Marvin.
We always could see a little of our own lives in Tom's humor.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

signs of the time

If anyone wonders, we don't live in Florida anymore. Reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
Likewise, I can assure you that it is not Daytona Beach either. But I can say with assurance that we did see a dusting of snow on our car windshield in December of 1988 in Bradenton. Yes, I can remember that far back so I guess that dimensia has not caught up with me (so far).
Forget the top photo for a moment (though all three of the pictures are out of windows of our Indianapolis hibernation cave # 227 in Wyndom Hall). The other pictures reflect the last few days. Snow and ice and sleet ("oh,my" - to borrow from the Wizard of Oz again). They say the thing that saved us for the most part was that we had sleet last night rather than freezing rain. In this area most of the power comes from underground cables which has helped. However, for 48 hours we haven't been able to get out of our end of the building because every time the sidewalks would be cleared, they'd ice up again. Therefore we haven't been able to deice the car and unseal the doors. The few people who did get out were, for the most part, unable to get their cars open either. Maybe in a couple of days I can make it to the pharmacy for a prescription or two. Meanwhile, I rumble about the apartment and keep asking Joyce, "Please, may I go out and play?" She glares at me and replies, "Don't act stupid", or something to that effect.
Meanwhile, the top picture offers a pretty hope for the future. It's not a typical
Gulf of Mexico sunset off Bradenton Beach, but it's not just black and while and cold, and icy. And yes, if you're wondering, it is Indianapolis.
When I think of it, I guess we're luckier than some who are struggling with two, three or more feet of drifting snow. I guess I'll sit back and enjoy my hibernation cave and look out the windows for the first sign of spring.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Memories of Egypt

It's been a few years since we were in Egypt. But we have seen familiar scenes on TV news the last few days,
Our visit provided us a lot of contrasts. We stayed in a luxury hotel not far from the pyramids. We rode in comfortable motor coaches or aboard modern railroad trains composed of German sleeper coaches. We saw the pyramids, mosques, ancient ruins, a riverboat from which we could see farming along the Nile and a whole lot more.
The bottom picture shows Cairo - a busy modern city. Some of the buildings and highway viaducts in the background are the same as we've seen on television this past week. But Cairo is a city of contrasts - not much different in many ways from other middle eastern cities. Busy streets - modern stores - large office buildings - signs of prosperity.
But the picture at the top left was also in Cairo. Call it a subdivision if you wish.
Only thing is, this housing was at the city dump. Yes, it IS housing - look at the doors open to living quarters. And the picture at the top right was near Cairo - another small housing development at the side of the road.
Sadly, we take a lot of our lifestyle in American for granted. We live in comfortable homes, apartments, and condos - at least for the most part. But we can see scenes like these in we look for them. I recall an assignment I had when I was going to pastoral school in Kansas City, Mo. back in the late 1970's. We were to told to go into the inner city and visit people where they lived. Apartments without running water - plaster peeling from walls and ceilings - abodes filled with debris and crawling insects. Mildew. Mold. A smell that stayed with us long after we left.
Scenes not limited to one city but duplicated in many other areas of our country.
Yet not one of those scenes compared to the poverty and privation we've seen in Egypt.
So, as I watch the news, I'm not surprised at people protesting and demonstrating.
To be sure, some demonstrators live a lot better - or have in the past. But once in a while we need to recognize that the treasured life styles we enjoy are too often simply taken for granted. I pray for God's forgiveness when we take privation for granted. And don't do anything to correct it.