Thursday, August 31, 2006

Prerogative, Part 2

Continuing the thoughts about changing our mind, I am reminded of the story of Joshua. Not the first one that comes to mind concerning the strange tactics leading to the collapse of the walls of Jericho, but the events that occurred just prior to that.

Joshua 5: 13-14a says "And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with his sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" So He said, "No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come."

In my mind this passage is one of the most powerful and revealing in all of scripture. Here is why; 1) This brief conversation reveals volumes about what is going on around us. The world we see is the superficial, shallow version of the unseen world. Sunday school teachers this weekend around the world will teach little children what has been taught for generations, that Joshua and the Israelites captured Jericho by marching around it and blowing on their trumpets. Some teachers will be wise enough to explain that it was not Joshua but God that caused the walls to fall. I dare say, though, that few will explain that there was an actual invisible army with an actual leader who had His sword drawn for days that brought down the walls. There is lots to think about concerning the unseen world around us. 2) Joshua displayed lots of courage. Some time earlier God had commissioned him to lead his people and instructed him to "meditate day and night concerning the law". Joshua had accepted and begun to demonstrate leadership. There was nothing in the law, however, about coming across such a man as this claiming to be the Commander of the Army of the Lord. I am guessing Joshua thought he wore that title. How would you react to seeing a man outside the city you were about to attack with his sword drawn? Joshua's reaction was to walk up to him and ask "Are you for us or our enemies?" His direct question and response to the answer tell me Joshua was a man who believed in facing the truth--good or bad. 3) Perhaps the most powerful message from this brief passage is this; when asked if He was on the side of the ordained preacher who was constantly in the word or his enemy, the Commander replied "Neither, I am the commander of the army of the Lord." Think about that. The Commander of the invisible army who is fighting around us as He did around Joshua said He was not on Joshua's side just because of who he was. He was not automatically on his side all the time. He was on the side of truth and accomplishing what God wanted accomplished. Can that help explain why some ministries and ministers that seem so right often fail? Can that help explain why the Forrest Gump types sometimes accomplish amazing things?

In my mind, the challenge is easy to recognize and difficult to accomplish. We must constantly remind ourselves and those we love that it is not about us versus them. God has sent an army to fight for right. Not everybody who calls on God's name or claims to speak in His name is on the side of truth and right. I have to constantly seek for truth, not the correct affiliation. I will post later about why I think this means we owe it to each other to speak the truth rather than what is flattering or politically correct. That is not the same as delighting in hurtful conversation nor always being contentious. But if we never lovingly correct nor allow ourselves to be corrected, how in the world can we hope to be constantly aligned with the "army of the Lord"?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pushing the Envelope

My good friend, David Savage, was part of an interesting group of men who gathered for lunch on Wednesdays at the Eastdale Mall food court for several years. It was a group that began as an early morning study/prayer group then became a midday prayer group and eventually a "lunch and share a small part of your week with brothers" social time. I miss all the guys who were part of that group but at least I see most of them occasionally at church. David, however, moved to North Carolina with his beautiful, tall wife to work at an actual job. While he was here, he mostly made fun of our jobs. He was particularly fond of saying about me (because I work at the Post Office) "that Roxy, every day he goes to work and pushes the envelope". I liked it even after it was old.
Now that I have traded the white shirt and tie for a blue collar it is easier for me to lampoon my workplace. Here is a sampling from the past week; 1) as I was walking from my bike to the office one morning last week a rental truck entered the employee parking area. Now, we regularly get safety briefings about mail and vehicle security. Ashley's terrorist neighbors would love to get their hands on a mail truck--they could drive right up to any government building and...well, you know. Our employee parking area is well fenced and clearly marked so it is rare that anybody "accidentally" rides through. Being the responsible employee, I hesitated to see what this person was up to. Turns out it was a young lady who is a substitute rural carrier. She and her husband are moving from Montgomery to Wetumpka. They had gotten up early, loaded the truck and she drove it to work, carried a route, then drove to the new house and unloaded. I am not making this up. Now, I am not making fun of her. I am really impressed. How many of your co-workers would ask for a week off to move and complain another week about how much work it was and how hot it is? This young lady (who has a toddler) and her husband moved in a little more than a day--with a full work day sandwiched in the middle. So, that vehicle is about as rare as you would ever see arriving at work at 7:00 a.m., right? Nope.

2) Monday (day before yesterday) as I made the same trek to the workroom, a firetruck turned into the parking lot and drove into the employee parking area blowing the air-horn at full tilt. Naturally, I looked at the roof of the building for smoke. All clear. Then I realized the driver of the firetruck was Chris, one of the city carriers. I am not making this up. See, Chris has served for some time as the fire-chief of the Buyck (pronounced bike) Volunteer Fire Department. During that time he was very instrumental in raising money for a new fire engine. Once they got the truck and were having final equipment installed, he wanted to come by (on his off-day) and show it off. It is a real beauty. Another first for me--sitting in a brand-spanking new firetruck.
3) Not all the interesting events at the Wetumpka Post Office involve unusual transportation. Yesterday afternoon someone walked into our break room to get a soft drink and saw a snake crawl under the table. There were no men in the building at the time, but this is a hardy group of women. Well, one of them got a little excited but leapt into action. She grabbed the fire extinguisher and blasted the snake with white foam. I don't know if you have ever experimented with a fire extinguisher (you really should before an emergency), but it makes a BIG mess. I didn't witness all the details but eventually a male rural carrier showed up and scooped the snake into a container and took him to the cow pasture next to our office and released him. Some of the ladies scrubbed the break room for about an hour. Today, there was much debate about what SHOULD have been done with the snake. It is a wonderful life.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Woman's Prerogative

You have heard it most of your life. "It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind". I agree. Unless you apply the definition or "exclusive right" to mean others can't change their mind. It is also a man's prerogative. I have already changed mind today (and it's early). Initially, I spelled prerogative "perogative" but decided to look it up. Eventually, the decision was made to go with the dictionary spelling rather than what "looked right". The most interesting job interview I ever had involved a panel of three folks asking a series of questions that examined the process skills of the applicants rather than content knowledge. For example, two of the questions were "Can you describe a time that you were correct and had to convince someone to accept your perspective?" and "Can you describe a time when you were wrong and someone had to convince you to accept their perspective?" The outcome of the interview was positive in several ways. I did get the promotion. More importantly, a question was planted in my mind that pops up more and more frequently. Whenever there is a disagreement, regardless of the subject, I try to default to this thought process. Am I on the side of truth? Do I need to see this issue from a different perspective? If I am finally convinced that my understanding is correct, is the issue worth persuading the other person? If so, how can that best be done?
That is a challenging process. Especially if I am trying to hold my own in a conversation. To process those thoughts I really have to shut up. The ensuing
silence bothers many folk and is seen by counselor/psychology types as "introverted" behavior. In reality it is an introverted thought process about how to communicate in an extroverted way. It is time to head to work so I will continue this thought process in another post. Allow me to leave with this question; "When was the last time someone changed your mind on and important issue?" If it has been years, we need to talk.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Biker Etiquette

I feel obliged to inform the caged commuters (that would be anybody enclosed in a metal box and strapped, by law, in an upright position--unless you are riding on 21' rims, then you are allowed to recline while driving) concerning rules of the road for the enlightened ones who are able to move about freely. This post will not attempt to recruit bikers by explaining the sense of freedom and the heightened senses but rather attempt to educate caged riders about what is happening around them. The one point of biker etiquette to be covered today is the "biker greeting". No doubt, you have witnessed this. If you are following a motorcycle at a safe distance (you are in the minority--we can stop very quickly--you can't) you will notice that as another bike approaches from the opposite direction that usually each rider will lower his left hand as if he is pointing just to the left of his foot. First of all, relax. This is not an indication of gang affiliation. Rather it is an indication of international brotherhood. It is a way of saying "Hey, brother, way to go! I, like you, decided to brave riding the roads with the brain dead caged, strapped, telecommuters (it seems everybody in a car is talking on a cell phone). Good to see you survived another day. Hang in there. Watch those insectiles." It is similar to calling Rush Limbaugh and saying "mega-dittos" to save saying what everybody else has said many times. Of course, some may be having a slightly different conversation in their heads but you get the idea. Here is what you probably don't notice. There is discrimination among bikers. I am not making this up. It is not as bad as among church folks, but close. You see, there are many types of motorcycles and therefore great variety in riders. Geico insurance demonstrates much wisdom in acknowledging this disparity in their advertisements. Condensed version; bikers can be wildly different but still have one thing in common--great insurance coverage from Geico. Watch for their ads, you will see it. With respect to the many variations, allow me to broadly categorize bikers into two general groups (not including off-roaders since they, well, are not on the road). The two broad groups are; 1) cruisers and 2) sport bikes. Purists will want to diferentiate further (Japanese vs. American, etc.) and there is a place for that. But for now either you are on a bike built for cruising around town and touring several hundred miles or you are on a bike built for screaming between traffic lights and ripping from lane to lane on the open road while laying head first and feet back as if you are poised for the beginning of the 200 meter breast-stroke. Some folks like both types and can communicate with either crowd without making enemies but most riders see it as "us and them". Because of that, you don't see many sport bike riders giving the standard biker salute and most cruisers don't bother waving to sport bike riders. You think I am kidding? Start watching. Rarely will two cruiser/tourer riders meet that they don't give the cool left-hand-down wave but the same warm greeting is not often extended to sport bike riders.

Here is my observation; we are all prejudiced in some ways. We tend to like, admire, and want to be around people who are like us because we expect they are most apt to like, admire, and want to be around us. It is sad to see that human quality in many settings. It is funny to see it riding the roads on two wheels. People are funny animals when you stop to think about it. Even the caged ones.


in-sek'-tiles-noun--any of numerous small invertebrate animals that normally vary between mildly annoying and scream inducing in their mundane insect state. Any of these creatures have the ability to morph into projectiles especially around those who regularly ride in the 70 mph range on a motorcycle. An insectile the size of, say, a bumble bee that hits an unsuspecting rider in the cheek at 70 mph has the equivalent force of being shot in the face with 22 caliber rifle. Eye protection must be worn at all times where insects are known to exist (i.e. Earth) because the potential for losing an eye because of an insectile is much greater than the Daisy BB gun your mother always warned you about.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Death By Chocolate

No this post is not about a fabulous dessert nor the restuarant by the same name. It is, in fact, a deadly serious report. The news this morning includes the report of a man who fell into a vat of chocolate at the factory where he is employed and could not get out because the chocolate had the "consistency of quicksand". I am not making this up! Co-workers apparently could not extricate him from the chocolate quicksand. His only hope was for them to add cocoa butter to the mix to alter the consistency and THEN pull him out. I swear, I am not making this up! I wonder how much time would pass while extra ingredients were added and the consistency changed enough to allow for rescue? I wonder if he was treading chocolate all this time? I wonder if they thought to turn down the heat on that burner? I wonder how long all this took? I wonder if that chocolate will still make it to a candy bar somewhere? I wonder at what point someone called his wife? "Mrs. Johnson, I am afraid there has been an accident down at the chocolate factory".

Now, LaWanna disagrees but I think that is how I want to go. I REALLY love chocolate and while the thought of literally drowning in it is not so pleasant, it beats being run over by a by-pass driver or being mauled by a hormonal poodle by a long shot. It is not likely since I don't work in nor visit a chocolate factory, but just in case it happens that way, I hereby request to be buried in that delicious, chocolate-covered state. I also request that milk and coffee be served at the visitation. You guys have some fun and don't be moping around. Maybe somebody will say "You know, with dark hair Roxy really looks younger." LaWanna (looking a little guilty) will say "Yeah, I always encouraged him to wear blue because it brought out the blue in his eyes but he really preferred brown." One final request; will you sing that song from "O brother". You know, "Let's all go down, down to the river to pray". I loved that song. And chocolate.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

JonBenet Ramsey

This just in; CNN is just now reporting that a suspect has been arrested in Thailand for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey 10 years ago. This is amazing news for many reasons and now I have lots of questions. However, most of what will be said today will be speculation and guesswork by reporters. No doubt many questions will be answered over the next 24 hours. Maybe there is hope that O.J. will find Nicole's killer.

This world is no place for a permanent home.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Muffin Tops

One of the aggravating things I remember from junior high and high school was the habit of some guys to come up behind you and pull your shirt tail out of your pants. Most guys didn't want to seem vain and go to the men's room to unbuckle and tuck properly, but just cramming your shirt back in looked--well, just crammed in. Yes, I was in high school at the end of the hippie era and ALL kinds of clothing styles were abundant including the dirty, worn jeans that are a distant cousin to the bleached jeans worn today. However, lots of teenagers dressed with some sense of fashion and style. Granted, the girl's skirts were generally way too short and the guy's hair was generally way too long. Also most of the teens I knew had one goal in common. Boys and girls (with some exception) mostly tried to keep their mid-section covered. Not only the folks who were larger than optimal size but also smaller folks felt embarrassed to show their belly in street clothes. Before you get upset, I already conceded that skirts were WAY short and yes, we swam together in suits that were sometimes smaller than what is worn today. And sometimes guys would wear cut off sweatshirts to play sports if the six-pack abs were above average.
Today it is funny to me to see how many girls and young women wear short shirts of various descriptions and low-rider jeans but without the benefit of a "Cher" figure. This has led to the term "muffin top" referring to the way that roll of fat spills over the top of the jeans like a muffin spilling over the top of its holder. I wish I had originated the term but actually read it a couple of years ago in an article discussing the trend. I expect to take some heat about this post and openly acknowledge a higher than ideal percentage of body fat but at least I try to keep a shirt pulled over my mid-section when mingling at places like CHURCH. "To each his own" some say. Just don't be mad if I nod your way and say "muffin top alert".

Monday, August 14, 2006

Degree in Aggressive Driving

Would someone check the Alabama State University catalogue for me? I have not actually seen this, but have concluded from daily observations that ASU apparently is offering a B.S. degree in "aggressive driving". There is no doubt that aggressive driving is taking place on the streets and highways of Montgomery and surrounding areas and that it is becoming more prevalent. For a time I could not think of a reason for the noticeable increase. Then it became more and more obvious how many of those SUV's that were tailgating less than one car length behind some idiot that is only driving 20 mph over the speed limit in order to "persuade" them to increase to 30 mph over the limit or get off the road more often than not are sporting an Alabama State University black and gold car tag. I would never stoop so low as to suggest that there might be a racial or social factor contributing to this dangerous and irritating driving style so the only reasonable explanation is that there are courses offered at ASU that are responsible for the various manifestations of road rage. I can only guess that the "lady" in the red BMW who followed five feet behind my motorcycle on the E. Bypass in the right lane until we were on I-85 where she could screech accross 3 lanes and scream out her window so violently that she was spitting on herself, probably was the Valedictorian. By the way, "lady", if you are reading this I couldn't hear your words over my bike and the other traffic that was also traveling at 75-80 mph but I suppose you were thanking me for helping you pace yourself to keep it under 80 until you hit the interstate. You are welcome. Give peace a chance.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Susan Butcher died yesterday. No, she was not a relative or close friend. In fact, I never met her. But I do know a few things about her. She was the second female to win the 1,100 mile Iditarod dog-sled race in 1986 and won it 4 years in a row. She finished in the top four the next three years. She also was part of the first team in 1979 to drive a sled-dog team to the 20,320 foot summit of Mt. McKinley. Now those last few sentences included several numbers. You likely read past them quickly. I invite you to sit still a minute and think about 1,100 miles of truly rugged wilderness from Anchorage to Nome and how far that is. And when we speak of the height of mountains, I suspect that most folks would hardly notice whether the number was 2000 feet or 20,000 feet. Mt. McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America and I have seen in from a small plane on a flight-seeing tour. There is no town nearby, no place to get off the glacier and warm for a while. It is rugged beyond what most of us can imagine. When you pause, the numbers become more significant. Here is the one that struck me with the greatest impact; she was 51. Again, if you have never been there it probably seems remote and a great distance from where you are now. I am 52. From here 51 seems very young.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Butterflies and Snail Darters

I've been thinking........(insert witty retort here)......about butterflies and snail darters. That is a good sign, really--it is. It happens while running. When I started running (the most recent start) the chore seemed almost impossible. I had to focus on footfall, breathing, "is that thunder or my heart pounding", and countless fundamental elements required keep my hulking self in motion. After pushing myself to do that for many, many miles now, it was somewhat discouraging when I could not see improvement in speed nor strength. As I ran today and my mind wandered the thought finally occurred what was happening. My mind was wandering. This is one of the two great benefits of running in my opinion.

The first (and for many folks, the only) reason is physical improvement. I will save the "Run Long, Live Long" lecture but will mention the thought presented by Dr. George Sheehan (runner, M.D., philosopher, author). He said in one of his books the reason he runs is to "become the animal he was meant to be".

The less obvious reason for running is understood only by those who cross a certain threshold which brings a clarity of thought not easily achieved in our loud, hectic world. The solitude of distance running combined with the mindless physical exertion free the mind to explore thoughts at a depth we usually don't allow time for. That is why I was elated to realize I had drifted into this state and was no longer having to focus on the process of running. Then the butterfly analogy inched into my mind. Before a butterfly is a butterfly he/she is a caterpillar that must work diligently to climb to a safe place and spin a cacoon before the amazing transformation occurs. All that work is done as a caterpillar. I wonder if he knows what is coming. I doubt it. Probably, he is just doing what he feels he should do. Then one day he wakes up with beautiful wings. That helps me inch along day after day, doing what seems the right thing to do. Unlike the caterpillar, I have some idea of what is coming.
Also as I plodded along today, I saw another deer. I see them often on my remote runs down Ft. Toulouse Road. Several have run across right in front of me like that goofy commercial. But today a doe was Walmart-walking across the road. You know, nonchalantly strolling with no destination in mind and no timetable and no awareness of anybody else needing to pass. When I first saw her, I was about 60 yards away. She didn't seem to notice me for a long time as I came closer and closer. When I was about 25 yards away and she was nearly off the other side of the pavement she spotted me and stood motionless (like the deer in the headlights-without headlights). Then she looked behind her into the woods where she had emerged. That is when I knew there was another deer behind her. As I came within 20 yards she bounded into the woods. I slowed (if you can believe that is possible) to look and eventually saw the light-colored hair of two front legs then was able to see the second deer about 15 yards in the woods waiting to see what I would do. It is pretty neat to be able to pass between the two of them and they didn't seem to mind too much--almost like they were expecting me.
That started the meandering chain of thoughts that encompassed snail darters, spotted owls, and all the other "endangered species" that have halted commerce of various types. I am a hunter because that endeaver allows me to observe and study various wildlife in their habitat. I love watching deer the way I did today and do not see a "target" when seeing them in the wild. At the same time, I believe God has communicated with us that animals were put here for man, not the other way around. Don't get me wrong, I strongly resist the guys who wear their camo year-round to social gatherings and want to "bag" as many of all game animals as possible in a competitive, score-keeping manner. And I think we can worship profit so much that we heartlessly harm the environment when it is not necessary. But I would say our society has gone too far the other direction when we pay murderous muslems $75 a barrel for oil to avoid forcing a caribou to have to look at a pipeline running across a frozen tundra. It reminds me of Ted Nugent's interview with a British (liberal)journalist. When asked if he thought a deer's last thought before being shot was "Can I trust you" or "Did you kill my brother?", Ted responded "deer are animals--they don't think like that. All they think about is 'where can I next eat?' or "where can I next have sex?' or 'can I run fast enough to get away?' They are much like the French."
I had a good run today.