Monday, January 30, 2017

The Simple Seventies

Most of us received the news of Mary Tyler Moore's death, this past week, with a mixture of sadness and reminiscence.  Since the show was originally released in 1970, when I wasn't even born yet, and it ended in 1977, when I was just five, I don't have many memories of the show itself.  I was definitely more of a fan of the Electric Company and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at that age. The obituaries have all been talking about how the show highlighted gender equality, feminine strength and the sexual-revolution.  But, forgive me, I don't think that's why we will all miss Mary Tyler Moore!

 There is one image from that show which indelibly sticks in my mind, and which I even remember taking note of as a four and five year old child.  That is, of course, the picture of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air as the credits were rolling at the beginning of every episode.  The picture is enclosed above in case you forgot it.  And why does that image stick in all of our minds (including actors, directors, producers and commentators like Carl Reiner, Ted Knight, Terry Gross)?  It is because that one simple act, throwing a hat in the air, is emblematic in a way of the entire decade of the 1970's.  That time period was:

The Simple Seventies
Across the board, from fashion (bell bottoms, bowl cuts, denim) to music (The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Elton John), to television (The Rockford Files, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Eight Is Enough), there was a beautiful simpleness about the 1970's.  And perhaps it is because I was living in Boise, Idaho at the time, and things really were simple, but technology was simpler then too.  In the seventies cassette tapes and record players were still in use.  Remote controls for televisions didn't exist.  People still rolled down their car windows with their hands.  The perfect photograph for any budding photographer was capturing a young woman wearing bell bottom pants sitting on a flowery, mountainy, hill, with the sun behind her, blowing dandelion parachutes into the air.  And so, when Mary Tyler Moore died this past week, I think part of all of us also felt that a part of simplicity also died along with her.

The Simple Seventies were of course followed up by the:

Excessive Eighties
The eighties were about excess.  And excess is never beautiful.  In fact, there was something sort of disgusting about the eighties.  I look at pictures of myself, in elementary school and Jr. High wearing power ties and blue blazers (I was only 12), trying to imitate that stock broking tycoons I saw on TV.  I remember my Jr. High folder cover that had Michael Jackson wearing a white be-sequined glove, and the ever present eighties perm.  Whatever can be said of the eighties, they were certainly not simple.

The Excessive Eighties were, not to belabor the point, followed then by the:

Self-Absorbed Nineties
I was living in Scotland and Denmark for part of this decade, and I can still remember the general disdain that Europeans felt for Americans then (and perhaps even more-so now), at our apparent self-ease and self-perception that we could do anything.  I will never forget watching Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem before a huge sporting event in the early nineties, just as our planes were about to drop bombs on Saddam Husain and the country of Iraq.  We thought we could do it all!  Save the world.  Stop all the dictators.  The nineties were not simple either.

It is too early to say what to make of the 2000's (or the naughts as they are called by some).  Perhaps they will actually be so non-descript as to not even have a singular image by which to understand the decade.  But, I miss simplicity.  I miss hats being thrown into the air on a cold winter afternoon.  I miss clunky old gas guzzling steel-doored cars.  I miss bell-bottoms and actual Kodak photographs printed on real yellow photo paper.  I miss shag-green carpets and naugahyde furniture.  The only NET I had as a kid was the one that I caught tad poles in behind the house in the creek that we would play in from morning until night.  I miss:

The Simple Seventies!

What about you?

All For Now,


Monday, January 23, 2017

The Trouble With Transitions

Transition is easy.  It's what comes after the transition that is hard!

It's never the change that kills you - it's the rebound!

It's not the ascent to the top that gets you - it's the descent to the bottom!

It's not the journey that poses the challenge - it's the return home!

These basic axioms of life were seemingly proven this past weekend when I drove the rainy streets and freeways of Southern California, in the midst of a torrential downpour.  With two hands glued to the steering wheel, and two eyes fixed on the road, I wondered to myself where the highest numbers of car accidents take place for the average person.  The answer, according to Google (I waited until I got home to Google - in case you are wondering:-), may surprise you.  They occur right around people's driveways, and within five minutes of their house.  The theory goes that as people take long car rides to different places, they tend to focus very closely on the freeways and roads that they are not familiar with.  On the other hand, when people get closer to home, they let down their guard, they pay less attention, they get into crashes. 

Similarly, the hard part about launching a spacecraft into outer space, I am told, is not getting past the earth's atmosphere and into orbit, it's the re-entry back to the earth.  The huge heat forces that a spacecraft has to guard against, and the penumbra of things that can go wrong, are the dangerous part of space travel.  Most spacecraft and astronautical problems occur on re-entry.

And, not to belabor the point, but more people die on the descent from Everest every year, than the ascent.  Again, the reasons for this phenomenon are easy to understand.  A climber, focussed on the top of the mountain with energy, vitality, excitement and initiative, does whatever it takes to make it to the top.  However, it's when the body's resources are spent, and the mental energies are depleted that mistakes occur and accidents happen.

The basic truthfulness of this premise is probably enough of a blogpost to sustain most of us this week.  It literally applies to every aspect of our lives (our health, our relationships, our work habits, our parenting experiences, our finances).  However, here are a couple of application points that I have been pondering.

Our country experienced a great transition this past weekend.  We changed one leader of the free world out for another - we changed Presidents.  For Trump supporters, it was a "tour de force" and a herculean accomplishment, to help an individual who came not from not just the back bench of American politics, but from way outside in the parking lot.  We have never had a President like Trump before.  Never before has such a feat, in the estimation of some, been accomplished.  And yet, to apply the previously articulated principle to my point, getting elected isn't really the hard part - it's what comes next.  It's the governing.  If you will, getting elected was the mountaintop experience, the descent (and I mean this just metaphorically) is the day to day act of moving forward.

One imagines as well, the transition and post-transition for former President Barak Obama.  Like many of his predecessors, it may be that the office isn't what does him in, it is what comes after that causes the fatal blow.  For former President Lyndon Johnson, it was the cigarette that he lit up on the Marine One helicopter (that soon led to many packs more), that led to his early death.  For Obama too, it may be that leading the country for eight years was the easy part.  The hard part may be transitioning into something different and new, as a "youngish" man who has just left the most powerful post in the world.

Church leaders also experience the transition/post-transition challenge on a regular basis.  The hard part is not the building of the new sanctuary, the hard part is the transitioning people from the old sanctuary (the vessel of so many hopes and dreams over the years).  The new incredible building is built, but people like the old one better.  The challenge is not starting a new contemporary worship service, the challenge is the problem which arises afterward that you never expected (the neighbors begin to complain about the sound levels, the church attracts a different group of people than ever before, the sound system isn't sufficient).

Some people have called this the rubber band effect.  If you shoot a rubber-band at someone (I've been practicing, I have elementary school aged kids), and the rubber band hits the other person, it isn't the front side of the rubber band that causes the sting, and the welt, it's the back part which quickly follows there after, and makes the snapping sound.

The answer to this scientific phenomenon for our personal lives, is of course, to always be ready for the thing that comes after.  To expect a backlash, a rebound, a rubber band snap.  We should remember not to expend all of our energy on the forward motion, but to save up enough energy, reserve, strength, fortitude, patience, and resilience to deal with what comes after.

All For Now,


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Sasha Model

On this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, and on this, the last week of Barak Obama's Presidency, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on perhaps a lesser figure on the global political stage, but a person that all of us can learn an important lesson from.  I want to focus on Barak and Michelle Obama's younger daughter - Sasha.  Sasha Obama (15), and Malia Obama (18) are often cited by her father, the soon to be former acting President Barak Obama, as the two most important achievements of his life. However, at his final, valedictory speech to the nation this past Tuesday night, Sasha, the younger daughter, was nowhere to be seen.   "Where was she?" many people wondered.  The rumor mill around Washington was active.  Was she on a secret spy mission somewhere?  No.  Did she misbehave and was she grounded at home in the Whitehouse?  No.  The answer, as it turns out, was much more mundane than all of that - Sasha was at home doing her homework!

As a father of two budding young female world leaders myself (my two daughters Haley 8, and Sheena 4), both of whom have reams of homework themselves every night, I instantly knew that Sasha's explanation for her absence from her father's speech was correct.  Sasha had an exam the next morning, and was studying to make sure that she did as well as possible the next day.  It turns out that CNN actually did some background research on the story and found a link on Sasha's school's schedule and found that a science exam was in fact being held on Wednesday the next morning (Wait...there's no secret log-in to get onto the school's test schedule so that outsiders like CNN can't snoop into the private lives of ordinary American citizens?  I digress).  Rather than attending her father's goodbye speech, a speech she had no doubt heard countless times before in a myriad of different forms - Sasha was doing her homework.  Well done Sasha!

So, this morning I want to lift up Sasha Obama in my blogpost, and everyone, for that matter, over the next four years of civic life in America who will, for one brief moment, turn off their TV clicker, put down their I-Phone, stop checking Facebook, cease putting pictures on Instagram, and dare I say stop tweeting messages to the general public - and who sits down to do their homework.  I even have a name for it - I am calling it:

The Sasha Model

The Sasha model says that there are actually more important things than watching the news.  There are more important things than trolling the internet.  There are more important things than even attending an historic national event put on by your father - if he is the President.  In other words, there are more important things than "observing" in life.  This is a good thing to remember.  Because it sometimes seems like we are doing something in life, when actually we are doing nothing.

Recently, comedian Judd Apatow sat down with New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd to articulate the same idea; "There's a danger," he said, "on the internet that you think you are accomplishing something.  So you see an article about a disease and retweet it and think 'It's cured now!' and you've fooled yourself into thinking that you've done something productive."

Lest you think I am getting preachy with this blogpost, I want you to know that I am really writing it to myself.  Perhaps more than anyone I know, I can tune into news every evening and be captivated by every news story that emerges, and feel that by watching it, I am somehow participating in the larger American narrative.  Every morning, I commute for one hour up to Santa Barbara from where I live in Oxnard.  A friend recently said to me, "What are you doing with all of that time in the car?  Are you using it wisely?  You could learn a language on tape, or listen to audio books."  Another friend actually gave me tapes on how to learn modern Greek in three simple months.  Am I listening to them?  No.  The answer is that I would rather follow the recent news stories of whatever is breaking or emerging from the ever more scintillating and scathing news-cycle that occurs every minute in this country, than do my homework.

So that's it. On this MLK day weekend, that's my blog.  Do your homework!  Whatever that homework is.

Thanks to a 15 year old high school sophomore for teaching us all this lesson!

Thank you Sasha!

All For Now,

Monday, January 9, 2017

Gathering Strength

My aunt Sheena, who lives in England - and who also happens to be a World War II concentration camp survivor - frequently talks about moments in our lives which are periods of collecting energy.  These are not necessarily always understandable or decipherable moments, but they are vitally important for the harboring internal reserve and power.  Without them, we could not do what we are being prepared to do.  She calls these periods -  moments of;

Gathering Strength

One of my favorite genres of writing are climbing novels and biographies of adventurers.  The best of these, from an American literary standpoint is, Into Thin Air by John Krakauer.   The book is about the fatal climbing accident that occurred on Everest in 1996 and that claimed the lives of several of his best climbing friends.  The book is about climbing, but really, it is about the human quest for greatness and summiting all kinds of things (our fears, our goals, our hopes, our dreams).  Krakauer talks about how summiting Everest is not really about simply shear strength and "daring-do", but it is also about waiting.  It is about waiting for the right moment to push for the summit.  It is about waiting for the clouds and the storms to part long enough for climbers and adventurers to make a big "push".  It is about simply lying in their tent and doing absolutely nothing [picture above of climber waiting at the base camp of Everest].  Krakauer talks about how days upon days were spent at the base camp, just sitting in their tent and reading.  And Krakauer is not alone in this.  Every climber ever to reach the peak of Everest has done the same.  In Krakauer's words; "While tent bound on Everest, Mallory and his companions would read aloud to one another from Hamlet and King Lear."  But really, what they were doing is;

Gathering Strength

I have a friend, named Dustin Stevens, who is an extreme athlete.  He has run countless marathons.  He has run the vaunted Iron Man triathlon in Hawaii several times.  He is currently training, amidst all of his other life actives, for the famous Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Wisconsin - the gold cup of cross country ski races in America.  Dustin tells me that athletes have a name for this notion of gathering strength.  It is called - "tapering".  Tapering, in Dustin's observation is the act of, "building your strength over a long period of time - but pairing back your training right before a big race, in order that when you are entering that race (in swimming, or running, per say), you have that, 'extra amount of strength' and endurance to compete really well."  Tapering is another way of talking about;

Gathering Strength

And so, I have been thinking about what gathering spiritual strength might mean.  What would it mean for God to offer a person a period of downtime or a lull in their life during a certain point, in order to prepare them (to gather strength, to taper) for the next leg of life?  What would it look like for a person to be able to go inwards (spiritually, physically and emotionally) in order to gather strength for what comes next?

There are many moments in Jesus' life when he seems to be intentionally pulling himself away from the group, or the crowds or the action in order to gather strength for the next big hurdle.  Right after John the Baptist is killed (Jesus cousin and friend in ministry), Jesus withdraws to a remote region of the Sea of Galilee (the Gerasenes), to pray and be by himself.  There are frequent examples of Jesus, "slipping into the crowd" in his ministry.  Where was he going, what was he doing?  What about the 30 years of Jesus' life that were lived before his ministry began that we know virtually nothing about.  Was Jesus gathering strength?  And what about the last three years of his ministry which burned bright and hot.   But even in these, Jesus drew himself away again and again.  The best example is when Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion to pray and to prepare and to;

Gather Strength

What time period are you in right now?  Are you in the midst of a metaphorical push to the summit of Everest, or are you in a time of gathering strength?  The summits of life will always be there.  But before they are attempted, because we are human, we must, all of us, draw inward.  Even the best of us only has a certain amount of energy.  So first we must be;

Gathering Strength

All For Now,

Monday, January 2, 2017

What America Makes In 2017

Today is Jan. 2, the second day of the new year, and it also happens to be the day of four College Football Bowl Games.  Are you watching them, or are you headed back to work like me?  In case you are inclined to watch the Bowl Games today, while you are pretending to do your work at your computer, but are really streaming a game at your desk, here is the line-up:

*  1:00 - Outback Bowl
*  1:00 - The Goodyear (Cotton Bowl)
*  5:00 - The Rose Bowl presented by Vizio
*  8:30 - The Allstate (Sugar Bowl)

And if there ever was a sign of the change of America, of how it is moving its economic base from agriculture to other industries, it is how the Bowl Games that we watch are named.  Originally designed to promote the tourism regions of the places where the Bowls are held, and to promote the local agricultural mainstays, the names of the Bowls were chosen for the thing that that part of the country did best.

Hence, the Rose Bowl, the first of its kind - started in 1923 - was so named because Pasadena and Southern California had a huge flower industry that it was trying to promote.  The Sugar Bowl was chosen as a name in Louisiana because of the huge sugar plantations that existed there.  The Peach Bowl was named in Atlanta for the massive peach business there (Also the reason that Peachtree Presbyterian Church was named - Peachtree).  And so it went.  The Orange Bowl and the Citrus Bowls were in Florida because of the massive Orange and Citrus markets there.  The Cotton Bowl was in a part of Texas where cotton was grown.  But no more, (or rather, not as much...).

Shakespeare once said, "A rose by any other name is still a rose...."  But that may not be the case when it applies to football and what we name our games.

Today, the major industries in our country are no longer agricultural, but they seem to be (based on the names of our Bowls), fast-food and banking and insurance.  Consider the names of all the Bowls this year, and judge for yourself:

*  Chick-fil-A Bowl - Fast Food Chicken
*  Playstation Bowl - Video Games
*  Outback Bowl - Middle Range Restaurant
*  Goodyear Bowl - Tires
*  Allstate Bowl - Insurance
*  Gildan Bowl - Clothing
*  Raycom Media Bowl - Broadcast Television
*  Autonation Cure Bowl - Autoparts
*  R+L Carriers Bowl - Freight and Trucking
*  Popeyes Bowl - Fast Food Chicken
*  Lockheed Martin Bowl - Military Equipment
*  Dollar General Bowl - Inexpensive Merchandise
*  Quick Lane Bowl - Oil Change
*  Capital One Bowl - Financial Services
*  Camping World Bowl - Camping Equipment
*  Motel 6 Bowl - Cheap Hotel Rooms
*  Russell Athletic Bowl - Athletic Clothing
*  Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - Fast Food Chicken

Only the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, still played in Boise, Idaho has retained its agricultural roots and its original farming name of potatoes.

Notice that fast food chicken restaurants and financial services are popular names for Bowl Games.    No less than three of the Bowl Games are named after chicken restaurants.  If we are what we eat, as a nation, we must be a piece of fried chicken.

One funny name combination is the Allstate Bowl which is played in the Mercedes Benz Stadium.  I wonder if you can get your Auto-Insurance at the same time that you are buying a new car?

Maybe I'm just being sentimental and showing my age, but I do miss the days when the Bowls were named after fruits and vegetables.  Somehow they seemed more wholesome and innocent.  But perhaps college football sports has also, at the same time become less wholesome and innocent.  Perhaps the entire college experience has become less wholesome and innocent.  Perhaps our nation has become less wholesome and innocent.  One commentator yesterday applauded a running back from Alabama (Scarborough) who decided to refrain from joining the professional National Football League this year so that he could potentially make more money (a purported $20 a year) by waiting a year.  "Good for that young man, what a hale and smart young fellow:-)"

I better finish this blogpost, now that I look at the my watch.  The Outback Bowl is about to begin - and I am getting hungry:-)

All For Now,