“mute”

My itty-bitty brain believes the “mute” button on the remote control for our television might be one of the greatest inventions.

I’m sure you are as curious as Curious George to learn why I believe this.

Well, it is simple.

It is the only time in my life when I have complete control over any politician running for office.

 When a political ad pops up on the screen, my quick draw is incredible.

My squelching of the mute button is so fast that it can’t be timed.  

Zap, the politician is silenced.

I want to counter the advertisement with these words: “I’m Bill Pike, an American, and I disapprove of this ad.”

In an article written by Mark Murray for NBC News, Mr. Murray states: “The latest projections estimate that $6.7 billion could be spent on advertising in the 2020 election.”

That’s correct, I’m not making this up 6.7 billion dollars.

I don’t know about you, but I think we have lost our minds.

And what is sad about this absurd amount of money is that some of the candidates spending these big dollars will not be elected. 

I assume that the companies who make these political advertisements are laughing  all the way to their bank accounts.

Bill Foster was a gifted college basketball coach. He coached Jim Valvano as a player at Rutgers. Before Coach K at Duke, Bill Foster in 1978 got the Blue Devils to the NCAA championship game against Kentucky. After Duke he coached at the University of South Carolina and Northwestern.

After his passing in 2016, I watched an internet tribute to Coach Foster. Lots of his former players were a part of acknowledging their appreciation for him.

One South Carolina player shared a story from a practice session. The second string players were scrimmaging the starters. Nothing was going right for the starters. They could not hit any of their shots.

Coach Foster noted this. He called time out, and asked for the ball. At that point, Coach Foster took the ball and dropped  kicked it high up into the empty tiers of the coliseum. Then he said, “Something is wrong with the ball, get another one.”

That’s the way I feel about our election process—we need a new ball. 

Here is my first recommendation—political advertisements can only air on television from 12 midnight until 6:00 a.m. I’m sure the mute button on our television remote will appreciate this break in action.

Next, we must stop spending 6.7 billion dollars for advertisements. With all of the real problems we are facing in America, can’t we find a better economical path?

As a part of the content in the ads, we must consider eliminating  the mudslinging. I think the mudslinging only serves to contribute more to our already negative incivility. 

Perhaps politicians, their advisors, and the production companies who create the ads need to take a course in Mr Rogers.

And while I’m whining about political advertising, I will whack at mailings and robocalls.

It has become increasingly clear to me that politicians or maybe the people who work for them have a difficult time reading. 

On three separate occasions this fall, I have requested in writing that my name be removed from a mailing list. Despite my diligence, political mail still appears. I do not read mailed political ads. They are tossed in the recycling bin.

We all know there is nothing quite like a robocall. I love their tricks. Like using our area code to make me think— oh, this might be someone I know. 

But, what is even more interesting to me is the cowardly nature of these calls. If I attempt to redial the number, I can’t be connected, the number isn’t available.

The other day I listened to the beginning of a call. It started: “Perhaps you know this is an election year.” 

Are you kidding me? The only way I could not know this is an election year is if I was frozen and buried in Antarctica.

And yet somehow, despite all of its shortcoming, imperfections, and blurred vision, I am still an American who wants me and my country to wake up.

What is even sadder to me, no matter a person’s political party affiliation, and no matter how a person will vote, deep inside our hearts we all know that what I am spouting off about is the annoying truth.

I am not the brightest guy in the world, but I worry about our inability to see this.

In William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, I love his words: “inexhaustible, endurance, heart, soul, compassion, duty, honor, and sacrifice.”

America, we must relearn these words.

We can’t “mute” them.

Flags of America, Virginia, Henrico County by Bill Pike

The Chipmunkshank Redemption: “That joker was fast!”

September 30 was stunning. Overnight, a front had brought wind and rain. The front pushed out lingering warm, humid air a leftover from summer.

At 10, I was scheduled to meet with our Kids Director, Jen Williams. She was in the initial stages of planning a couple of community events for young families with children. 

The morning was so beautiful, I asked Jen if she would be opposed to meeting outside. She agreed, and we sat on the front steps to the church’s Welcome Center. We socially distanced in the cool fresh air.

I had left the middle door to the Welcome Center propped open. Our meeting was going well. Jen’s plans would be a good alternative for families with young children.

But, in a blink the productiveness of that meeting changed. 

My body was positioned toward Forest Avenue. I couldn’t see the open door. 

Out of the corner of her eye, Jen had seen a chipmunk scamper across the brick pavers and enter the doorway.

She calmly stated to me, “I don’t know if you want to know this, but a chipmunk just entered the building.”

I got up, and thought in my mind this is just what I need today. I entered the Welcome Center. Sure enough, the intruder was present. 

I took a couple of steps to my right, and he took off heading toward the Preschool. He quickly crossed the threshold of the double doors entering that wing.

Student artwork drying on the ancient carpet rustled as he rapidly skirted over these freshly created masterpieces.

He made a sharp right turn into Room 200, and with his heart pounding, the chipmunk hid.

Luckily for me the room was empty. The students were out on the playground. I can only imagine the chaos my new friend would have created if the room had been full of students.

I stood frozen at the door way. My brain trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to sprint a way to get help, but if I left the room I would not know if he decided to stay put for a few minutes or escape to a room that was full of kids.

Finally, my brain told me to call the church office. I needed the bravest chipmunk searcher in the world, our chief building caretaker, Ronnie Johnson. 

In our office, Kim Tingler took my call and located Ronnie. And Diane Ladd notified the Preschool Director, Katie Swartz. It seemed like hours before they arrived at the room. 

Once we had a body to keep an eye on the room, I sprinted to get a dust mop. I figured the head of the dust mop would cover the door entrance. We could shut the door, put the mop head at the base to create a barrier in case our friend bolted toward the door. I was thinking containment.

So, we set that up, and Ronnie and I entered the room. I had the broom handle, and I used it to poke along the walls of the room where all sorts of hiding places existed. 

As I poked, I clanked against things making noise. Sure enough, a poke into to the back right corner of the room sprung the chipmunk. He was a blur, a streak of lightning.

The chipmunk zipped along the wall parallel to Forest Avenue, but he finally gave us a real break. The chipmunk entered the tiny restroom. 

However, he had plenty of cover in this space. A trash can, two cumbersome wooden steps, and the toilet created an obstacle course for me. I moved, and he countered my move.

Ronnie handed me a trash can to align on the floor in front of the door. I was in perfect position. I could see him, and he could see me. 

I was ready to nudge him into the trash can when that chipmunk disappeared. He vanished. Poof, he was gone.

Neither Ronnie nor I saw him scoot by us. It was like the floor had opened or a guardian angel for chipmunks had received a text from God:  “Hey swoop down into Room 200 at the Trinity Preschool, two old geezers have one of your lads cornered in a bathroom.”

Ronnie and I were stunned. We never saw the chipmunk come by us. 

We decided to recheck the room again. We poked. We moved furniture. We tilted and lifted things. But, we never saw the chipmunk.

If he was in that room, the chipmunk must have put on his nerves of steel. Or maybe, he was thinking—ok, I’ve got this. These two old slow geezers will never trap me. I’ll just let them think that I am Houdini or that God did send down a guardian angel to rescue me.

In truth, our evening building caretaker, Bobby, spotted the chipmunk back in the Welcome Center late in the afternoon. Bobby opened the same door the chipmunk had entered earlier in the day. However, Bobby can’t confirm that the chipmunk like Elvis had left the building.

I have rethought this intrusion quite a bit. 

I have asked myself what could I have done differently?

Well, for starters, I would have kept that door shut.

I wish I had grabbed a pair of gloves and a broom. Maybe I could have captured the chipmunk with those confidence builders.

But, the intruder has also made me laugh. 

That bathroom scene was a classic. I moved, the chipmunk moved. Ronnie was behind me coaching me. I would have liked to have seen our faces when that chipmunk vanished from the bathroom.

And, I will never forget Ronnie’s comment—“that joker was fast.”

Sometimes in the speed of life, we feel trapped.

No matter where we look—we see no options, no solutions, no way out.

Who knows, maybe the good Lord was using this encounter to point out to me—Hey, you knucklehead, there are lots of people out there who feel like a chipmunk trapped in a restroom. 

What are you going to do about it? 

How are you going to help them?

Maybe all they need is an open door, and an open heart.

The chipmunk’s point of entry, photo by Bill Pike

7:40 a.m. disgusted

The front that pushed through last night brought wind and rain. Thankfully, it blew out humid air that was making September feel like summer again.

This was a perfect morning to go for a run. The temperature was 59 degrees, clear blue sky, and the earth still damp from the overnight rain. 

But, I was disgusted with myself.

 It was taking me too long to get ready. The route I had been taking recently would put me on Westham Parkway heading north. Getting this late start meant more traffic to face. Yes, this was true, but I needed the run—my brain was swirling.

On the still damp road surface, some early fallen leaves had temporarily attached themselves. Some spots looked like they had been splotched  down with glue from first graders. 

Other spots along the way were crunchy with acorns. Those uncrushed, rain dampened acorns were as slick and slippery as an American politician.

I didn’t watch the first presidential debate on Tuesday evening. I sensed it would be ugly. The headlines I skimmed this morning confirmed the unpleasant event. And I think this is very sad.

An uncivil event like that doesn’t give me hope. I don’t know about you, but America needs a good dose of hope.

I keep thinking about my parents and their families during World War II. They made sacrifices for four long years. As Americans, it seems we are lost when it comes to understanding and applying sacrifice today. I think selfishness plays a role in that mentality.

Recently, I read Erik Larson’s book The Splendid and The Vile. Larson looks in depth at Winston Churchill, his family, and his leadership during the bombing blitz by Germany of England.

In those horrible circumstances, somehow, Churchill found the words to help the people of England to tough it out and hang on. Even when, the bombing was at its worst, they held fast.

I am certain that October, November, and December are going to be a challenge, and I pray that as a country we too can hang on.

As my old body rambles slowly through the neighborhood, I look for signs of hope. 

I see new life—recent spreading of grass seeds are now sprouting as  sprigs of green spire upward from spiked holes made by an aerator.

I marvel at the paths of the sunlight as it cuts angles through trees and between houses to cast the birth of a new day.

A rising sun peeking through trees photo by Bill Pike

Early morning sun angles a dogwood shadow by Bill Pike

And over on a quiet, straight stretch of Rock Creek Road, I admire the energy of a young girl who is sprinting down the old road without a worry in front of her mother.

On the weekend of November 30, 1940, Churchill’s first grandson was christened, and it was also the Prime Minister’s birthday. 

Toasts were made in honor of the grandson and Churchill. Something about the words spoken in the toasts touched Churchill, and he wept.

The author states that a call went out for Churchill to reply to the toasts. 

Larson wrote these words:  He stood. As he spoke, his voice shook and tears streamed. “In these days,” Churchill said, “I often think of Our Lord.” At that point, Churchill sat down, he could say no more.

In these days in America, I hope we are often thinking of Our Lord.

“we tried”

On January 2, 1961, episode #13 of the Andy Griffith Show aired. Titled “Mayberry Goes Hollywood” this show is about a Hollywood producer who comes to Mayberry. The producer is scouting locations for filming a movie.

Turns out, the producer likes what he sees in Mayberry. Friendly people, simple living, and scenery that meets the needs of the movie’s script.

You know Mayberry, word trickles out to its citizens. On the morning that the producer and his film crew arrive to start their work—Mayberry has changed. 

The people have transformed themselves and their shops into a downtown that resembles a gaudy tourist trap. Even Deputy Fife has a spiffy new uniform.

Mr. Harmon, the producer, isn’t happy. 

At a welcoming ceremony, in honor of this significant  milestone in Mayberry’s history, town leaders plan to take down a beautiful tree. And that’s when Mr. Harmon speaks up.

He gently chastises the mayor and his citizens. He wants the townsfolk and the storefronts to return to their normal appearances and routines.

Although there is some disappointment, the citizens listen. They head home to change out of their best Sunday clothes. Shop owners make preparations to remove the Hollywood inspired signage.

And the downcast Mayor, says to Sheriff Taylor:  “We tried to tell them didn’t we Andy.”

Of course, you know Mayberry well enough that it was Andy who “tried to tell them” not the Mayor.

Recently, I have started thinking about something I call the “reflective cringe.” 

This is when my memory goes way back, and I recall moments in life when someone tried to tell me something for my own good. Of course I didn’t listen. And when those reflective moments hit me, I cringe. 

I think to myself how could I have been so out of touch, unreasonable, impractical, selfish,  and downright stubborn?

Those parts of my life, I would like to have permanently removed. Like when the broken, fractured, crumbling section of a road surface are cut out and repaired.

Road surface on Westham Parkway photo by Bill Pike

Right now, America isn’t much different from that road surface. America is worn, weather beaten, fractured, and divided.

Natural born worrier that I am, America worries me. 

In truth, America scares me.

When I reflect upon America, I cringe. 

Because I see the same in America that I see in me when someone who cared about me, maybe even respected, or loved me—“tried to tell me.”

I see America as being like I am sometimes— out of touch, unreasonable, impractical, selfish, and downright stubborn.

On Saturday, September 26, the scripture reading in the Upper Room was from Mark Chapter 7 verses 31-37.

Friends of a man who could not hear or speak brought him to Jesus. Jesus was near the region of Decapolis. They want Jesus to touch him, to fix his impairments, to make him normal.

Jesus takes the man aside. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears. Jesus spits and touches the man’s tongue.

Next, Jesus looks toward heaven, he sighs, and then he says the word “Ephphatha” ( f ah tha) which means “be open.”

Bible stories like this where Jesus in an instant restores the man’s hearing and speech frustrate me. I cringe.

I want to know why in our present day world things don’t work like that?

For example, why can’t God’s angels take hurricanes that pummel the Gulf Coast and force them to make a left turn? Steer the remnants of the storm northwest go drop 10 to 20 inches of rain on California, Oregon, and Washington instead of states that are already soaked.

At times I wonder has God given up on us?

Maybe God knows about Episode #13 of the Andy Griffith Show.

Maybe God is thinking:  “We tried to tell them didn’t we Jesus?”

Maybe our problem is “Ephphatha” ( f ah tha).

Maybe we are not being open in the way God needs us to be open.

On Thursday and Friday of this past week, I virtually attended the Leadership Institute at the Church of the Resurrection out in Kansas. 

One of the keynote speakers was the Reverend Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Church. 

Bishop Curry concluded his presentation by telling a story about two neighbors in Daytona, Florida. One neighbor was white and one was black. It is a story of chicken coop droppings, illness, chicken soup, and roses.

But, it is also a story of reflective cringing and how to “be open.”

The quiet, humble hero at the heart of that story was love. 

Despite how she had been treated by her white neighbor, the black neighbor follows the teachings in the Bible—she gives love to her ill neighbor.

The Commander Supreme recently steered me to read Charlie Mackesy’s book:  The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse.

I think this book should be required reading for the whole world.

Perhaps, in an indirect way, the book is about how to “be open.”

Here is a sample:

“I’ve realized why we are here.” whispered the boy.

“For cake?” asked the mole.

“To love,” said the boy.

“And be loved, “ said the horse.

Makes no difference if its Mayberry, Decapolis, Daytona, America, or the world, to change the challenges in front of me I must be open to love.

Let us pray:

Father of us all, help us to be open. Open to love our neighbors. Open to allow you to work on our hearts and the hearts of those who surround us each day. In your name we pray, Amen.

Author’s note this piece was used as devotion for the Outreach Sunday school class on September 27, 2020.

This isn’t September

This isn’t September.

I know the calendar says it is September.

But, this isn’t September. 

Let me explain why.

In the morning and the afternoon, the sound of a school bus no longer rumbles through our neighborhood streets.

I don’t see parents, their children, and the family dog gathered at bus stops.

When I am working on the grounds at my church, I no longer hear the happy playground voices of children carrying through the air from the nearby Tuckahoe Elementary School.

The early morning practice sounds of the Douglas Freeman High School marching band are silent.

I do not hear the voice of the PA announcer calling out the progress of a junior varsity football game as twilight falls over our backyard.

This isn’t September.

Those school sights and sounds are packed away all across America.

 We have traded in their normalcy for a virtual educational setting. 

All caused by a mindless virus intent on creating chaos. A disrupting demon, who finds joy in extending the mileage of division between us.

The stories from the first weeks of school are different. How could they not be?

I heard from a veteran high school teacher—“the toughest first week of my career.”

A friend who has a daughter who teaches kindergarten students had two parents arguing on line about the short break students were given in class.

Another friend who has a daughter teaching at the high school level described a virtual disruption to her class. The voice of a stranger entered her classroom and began to bad mouth another teacher.

And then there is the mute button. 

Students mute and unmute themselves at will. Of course, a non-muted computer is perfect for students to improve their vocabulary. Especially, when a parent observer in the background uses inappropriate language that every student hears.

Now if teaching wasn’t already one of the most challenging professions in the world, at this very moment, the degree of difficulty for teachers has increased a million times.

And like always, teachers, their schools, and their school systems have been called upon to do the impossible.

Do not even attempt to tell me teachers had it easy before COVID-19, and that they have it even easier now. If this is your mentality, I suggest you make an appointment with your local neurologist and have your brain completely rewired.

Teachers, like you, me, we, us are imperfect. 

And, like all professions cast into the public spotlight there are good teachers and teachers who struggle to be good.

Without question, technology is a powerful tool.

 Our world is in its grips. And unless there is a profound shift, we will continue to be grasped by technology.

But no matter how good technology might be, some students will struggle to learn with this tool.

Despite the efforts of school systems to provide a tablet or laptop to every student, the human infrastructure at home might not be in place to help that student adjust to this new classroom.

Part of my psychological makeup is that I am a worrier. And right now, I am worried about those students who are going to struggle mightily with this current virtual classroom environment.

 Essential foundation skills are taught in every elementary school across America. How are we to insure that students are developing competency?

How are we going to help those students who are not building those basic skills? How can we intervene virtually? 

Will these students fall so far behind that catching up will become a part of their permanent records—this is a COVID-19 student who fell behind because the virtual classroom setting was unable to offer the type of instruction this student needed.

During my career in education, I had the privilege of working at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. I have worked with teachers in our department of corrections schools, and I even went back into the classroom to teach for a couple of years in a private high school. 

That’s a lot of Septembers, and for the most part they were normal openings to the school year.

But, I have never seen a school September like this.

And, I am sure that lots of students, parents, and teachers hope they never see a September like this again.

As tough as this one is, teachers can’t whine in self-pity. 

Whining zaps energy. 

That energy is needed to keep nudging the students forward.

Somehow in the early stages of World War II, when England was bombed consistently by the Germans, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, kept his wits and never stopped believing in the people of Britain. 

Right now, we can’t let teachers lose their wits.

We must believe in them.

Photo by Bill Pike

Quiet Beer Whiners

On the afternoon of Friday, August 28, I ventured into a local grocery store to pick up a missing item for dinner. I live in Richmond, Virginia. 

Once I found my item, I was drawn to a beer display sporting Oktoberfest beers. 

Just in case you want to know, brewers make sure that Oktoberfest beers start appearing on shelves in August. You know when states in the mid-Atlantic experience temperatures hovering in the 90s, and high humidity and dew points make a person yearn for a cool October day.

That’s all a part of the marketing strategies from those who tout beer. I will never understand those strategies, but I don’t think I am supposed to understand them.

Anyway, I am sure that you are aware, and probably disappointed to know that the annual Oktoberfest held in Munich, Germany has been canceled this year. Something about a virus caused this cancellation.

But, if it brings you any comfort, Oktoberfest has already been rescheduled for 2021. The first kegs will be tapped promptly at 12 noon on September 18, and the last call for beer will go out at 10:30 p.m. on October 3.

You can research further on line why an event that runs more days in September than October is named Oktoberfest, but it is linked to a historic wedding and good fall weather.

Marketing seasonal beers and the range of prices

But, let me walk you back to that display of Oktoberfest beers.

Here was the lineup, with the location of where the beer  is brewed:  Dogfish Head(Delaware), Sam Adams(Boston), Legends(Richmond, Virginia), Devils Backbone(Virginia), and Bitburger(Germany).

Let me toss out the price per six pack for you. Maybe you can match the cost to the beer:  $8.99, $9.99, $10.49, $10.49, and $12.99. 

A practical thinker might make the following logical pricing guess: the beer from Richmond, Virginia probably cost $8.99 and the beer from Germany might cost $12.99.

Sadly, there is no logical thinking when it comes to beer pricing in the beer industry, especially for craft beer brewers. 

Here is the how the pricing matched up:  Dogfish Head $12.99, Sam Adams $10.49, Legends brewed in my hometown $10.49, Devils Backbone $9.99, and Bitburger $8.99. 

That’s correct, the beer brewed in Germany and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean cost less per six pack than the four craft beers brewed in America.

If this makes no sense to you, I am right there with you.

Now, it is possible that Bitburger contracted to have the beer brewed here in America. If that was the case, then that explains the lower cost. But, I would be floored if Bitburger chose this path.

I have a deep respect and admiration for craft brewers, but even though I have tried, I do not understand how they determine the pricing of their products with retailers.

I sense that craft brewers can charge what they want knowing that a segment of people who purchase their products are not concerned about the price they pay.

There is part of me that believes that mentality is absolutely true. Here is an example.

Sticker shock when no sticker is present

Recently, I have noted that in small retail stores that sell wine, beer, and maybe a few speciality food items that some of the craft beer on shelves and in coolers have no price labels. 

According to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, there is nothing in their guidelines that requires retailers to post/label prices for beer. I’m not sure this lack of pricing signage/labels is good for consumers.

Earlier this summer, a friend told me about purchasing two four packs of beer that were in sixteen ounce cans in a small retail store near his neighborhood.  He guessed the price per four pack was going to be in the 11 to 13 dollar range. 

When the cashier rang up his purchase, he was shocked. The cost was just under 40 dollars. He couldn’t believe the price, but also remembered their was no signage, no pricing label. 

My friend was buying based upon similar past purchases. No way he expected to shell out close to 40 dollars. And my point is this, if the cost for the beer had been properly labeled/displayed, my friend stated he would not have made this selection. 

In this situation, the purchaser experienced real sticker shock, and maybe this rude awakening could have been prevented with the presence of a price sticker.

However, is it possible this experience at the cash register is exactly what the retailer and the brewer want—a blind purchase of a beer, an impulse buy.  But, the customer,(and in this case a knowledgeable one) is buying on past pricing experiences. 

And in this situation, I don’t imagine too many customers as that sale is being recorded at the register are going to say—hold on— no way I’m shelling out almost 40 dollars for two four packs of beer. Potentially, that would be embarrassing for the customer and frustrating for the employee. 

But, is that what really needs to happen?

What kind of message would be sent to the retailer and the brewer if more consumers balked from sticker shock because no price was posted? 

I’m sure staffing a small retail store isn’t easy.

 Additionally, I’m assuming putting price labels on beer packaging is labor intensive and time consuming. But, consumers need to know the cost of the goods they are purchasing.

One small retailer commented to me, the customer can always ask the price of the beer being purchased. 

While this is true, asking an employee the cost of a six pack is also time consuming and potentially disruptive. This would especially be true if the customer asked continually about a number of non-priced beers.

If other larger retail outlets can effectively and efficiently put price labels on beer, why can’t smaller retailers?

I’m sure that answer is going to be linked to time, size of staff, and pennies.

It takes lots of courage to manage a small retail shop. Those shops usually offer valuable knowledge and helpful guidance to consumers who often become loyal customers. 

But, I think there is another piece to that loyalty— making sure customers who come into a store have the opportunity to be wise consumers if they want to be related to price.  A customer can’t do that if prices are not properly displayed. 

And quite honestly, as a customer who wants to support a small local retailer, I do not like walking around in a store where products that catch my attention have no price tag. 

That might be a marketing strategy toward an impulse buy or blind purchase, but I’m not that customer. Sadly, I am less likely to support that small local retailer.

A possible backward step

My third and final whine is about what I consider a backward step for some craft brewers. A few craft brewers are now brewing lower calorie beers and seltzer beverages.

If I remember correctly, many craft brewers started their breweries to provide a distinct alternative to big breweries and their lightweight beers. Quite honestly, I’m disappointed at this move toward lighter beers and seltzers. It appears so counter to the initial purpose for brewing craft beers.

In my mind, this move is about money, and maybe survival. 

During this COVID-19 pandemic, craft brewers across America have been forced to be very creative in adjusting how they continue to get their product into the hands of the public. I admire the brewers determination in this extremely difficult environment.

Yes, I am a rapidly aging old geezer. I will probably spend the days I have left on this earth finding things to whine about.  But in my mind, the craft brewing industry is worth the whining. 

The last thing on earth I would want to see is a craft beer commercial from Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada that takes the path of an old Miller Lite ad.

What the craft beer movement has carved out is an incredible story. That story deserves the opportunity to continue to grow.

I know craft brewing is labor intensive with huge financial risks. 

I know there is lots of data out there about craft brewers and their consumers. 

I doubt if much of that data pinpoints beer whiners. 

But, what craft brewers have to realize about data is that there are people in that data. And who knows the people in your data might just help craft brewers figure out what lies ahead.

Listening might be a dying tool for learning.

I think craft brewers have always been very good at learning, adapting, and taking risks.

What might craft brewers and their industry learn about themselves and their customers, including the whiners, with a little listening?

Who knows maybe there is  growth in listening?

Craft brewers who take the time to listen will learn there is a demographic in their customer base who is just as passionate as they are about craft beer.

It is like a principal seeking out the quietest teacher in the school  building for advice. That quiet teacher hears and sees a lot in that daily action. Sometimes quiet teachers offer helpful wisdom and practical ideas.

Maybe, the same might be said for quiet beer whiners.

A quiet Oktoberfest beer on a pretty September afternoon photo by Bill Pike

A move with the water walker

It was a carefully calculated decision. There were risks at every angle.

But, sometimes risks must be taken. 

Early in July of 2019, our oldest daughter, Lauren, her husband, Doug, and their two children said goodbye to their Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. Cary, North Carolina was their destination.

A lot can happen in a year for a young family. Transitions are always interesting. 

In this case, Lauren and Doug did their homework and did everything they could to embrace this bold move.  Cary and Raleigh were good for them.

And here we are a year later, and they are on the move again.

During the year in Cary, Doug was in the process of gradually shutting down his business while searching for a job. An electrical engineer by training, he pursued a number of options. But, in June of 2020, a company based in Greensboro found him, and offered him a job.

To their credit, Lauren and Doug, never made the move to North Carolina with the idea that one locality would become their home forever. That flexibility is always good to have around when you take a risk.

With the job in place, house hunting in Greensboro started. There were lots of multiple viewings on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes, our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who lives in Raleigh helped out with child care.

Gradually, they found a house that met their needs, and their offer was accepted. Inspections, closing dates, securing a mover, and packing all started to unfold. 

Once we knew the moving date, the Commander Supreme committed us to help out. So on Wednesday, September 9, we left for Greensboro. We drove two cars loaded with an assortment of items for the new home. 

We decided to take the back way down instead of the interstates. Patterson Avenue to 288, and then our navigator, Nigel, with the British accent, lead us through an assortment of backroads in southern Chesterfield County and the edge of Amelia County to U.S. 360. 

We followed this to South Boston, where we picked up U.S. 58. We stayed on 58 until Danville. There Nigel put us on U.S. 29 south until he directed us to an exit in Guilford County. More backroads until we were in Summerfield. 

Nigel’s directions were perfect, and we arrived at the new house. We found the hidden key, scoped out the house, unloaded the junk, and headed to Cary.

When we walked in the house in Cary, you knew a move was in the works. The main clue was the upstairs playroom. 

Nothing had been packed away. Toys everywhere, but there was a reason. Toys are the last thing to be packed during a move. Keeping the toys around to the last minute prevents a mutiny.

Thursday morning, the movers arrived on time. And of course summer was being summer, warm, high humidity, muggy, uncomfortable. But, this crew quickly set up to start loading the truck.

Mid-morning, our son-in-law drove a load of stuff to the new house. Lauren, the Commander, and the kids had an escape plan. I had a list of chores to complete so I stayed at the house.

Around 3 that afternoon, the truck was stuffed. The crew sealed it up, confirmed the arrival time in Summerfield on Friday morning, and drove off.

The Commander and I stayed at Elizabeth’s house Thursday night, and Lauren, Doug, and the kids camped out in their new house.

Friday morning came quick. Within  minutes of our arrival in Summerfield, the moving truck arrived. Once again, the crew wasted no time in their set up, and the unloading started.

We all had chores that also included some playtime with Caroline and Hudson.

This two man crew of movers really hustled. Shortly after 2, they were finishing up the items coming off the truck.

With the movers gone, the real unpacking started. Gradually progress was taking place.

By the time the Commander and I started back to Richmond on Saturday afternoon, the kitchen was really starting to come together along with the bedrooms.

At some point during this North Carolina visit, I caught a glimpse of a window sticker on the back glass of a vehicle. We were stopped at an intersection. As I was waiting for the light to change, I saw and read the following sticker: My life guard walks on water.

Clearly, this was a reference to the Bible story when Jesus walked on water in front of his disciples.

Moving is quite simply a pain. Even with professional movers to help, moving creates stress.

I have thought quite a bit about the timing of the move by Lauren and Doug from Chicago to Raleigh. It seems to me that the life guard who walks on water has been involved all along.

His touch is evident. 

At the right time, the condo in Chicago sold.

At the right time, Doug found the rental house in Cary. A preschool, a church, a pediatrician, a job offer, and a new house were in that mix too.

But, I keep coming back to one event.

In late February, our youngest daughter made an extremely emotional and difficult decision. She decided to end her engagement. As soon as she communicated her decision to Lauren and Doug, they were there for her. 

During those challenging days and weeks, Lauren and Doug with love, respect, and patience supported Elizabeth and her decision.

I am convinced that the life guard who walks on water was in all of this.

On those days, when my faith is doubtful, my hope is bleak, and no solution is within my reach, I’m going to remember the move from Chicago. 

And, I’m going to think about timing.

Without question, the water walker was in that timing. 

Pieces of the puzzles of life came together and connected in a way that I couldn’t see or predict.

So, what have I learned?

Oh me of little faith has learned—don’t doubt the timing and the skills of the water walker.

The truck in Cary photo by Bill Pike

“You Still Believe In Me”

Read Psalm 100

If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.  Job 9:16 (NRSV)

Thought For The Day

The capacity to endure is in believing and trusting.

Much has been written about the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. This collection of songs was a departure from their normal tunes about the culture of surfers.

While the band’s trademark vocal harmonies remained, the instrumentation, chord structures, and lyrics were quite different on Pet Sounds

These songs composed by their leader, Brian Wilson, were remarkable, and the lyrics from Tony Asher were an introspective match.

One song, “You Still Believe In Me,” asks a challenging question in the relationship between a young man and young woman. The young man asks—“And after all I’ve done to you, how can it be, you still believe in me?”

That same question often runs through my mind. How is it that through the disappointments and frustrations I have put the good Lord through that he still believes in me?

In a similar way, Job (9:16) probes: “If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.”

Clearly, there are times when Job’s statement matches my thinking.

But, I need to realize that no matter how much I put the Lord through, he does not give up on me. 

His foundation of love, grace, trust, hope, and forgiveness can’t be shaken. 

There is an enduring harmony in his foundation.

That harmony holds me with this truth—he still believes in me, and I must believe in him.

Prayer:  Father of us all, no matter what we face, endure our hearts to trust that you will still believe in us and we in you. Amen

Prayer Focus: Musicians and songwriters

By Bill Pike edited and submitted to the Upper Room on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

October 10, 2019 notified by the Upper Room this piece was being held for consideration.

August 31, 2020 notified by Upper Room this piece was no longer being considered for publication.

scared

In September of 1979, I was scared.

I had accepted a job to teach English to tenth and eleventh grade students at Hermitage High School in Henrico County, Virginia.

Since the fall of 1975, I had been a Title VII remedial reading teacher at Martinsville Junior High School in Martinsville, Virginia. 

Making this transition was going to be a challenge. And to tell you the truth, I was scared, really scared. 

The faculty and staff at Hermitage could not have been nicer.  The English department was very supportive and patient with me.

My curriculum in Martinsville had been a single, pre-planned IBM reading program.

 At Hermitage, I would have more homework than my students in prepping for tenth and eleventh grade classes everyday. I used all my waking hours to read and plan, and gradually, grading papers would be woven into that mix.

Interestingly, those tough students in Martinsville had given me an essential gift—classroom management. The discipline lessons learned in my Martinsville classroom helped me transition into my new environment.

Everyone kept telling me, just make it through this first year, and next year will be better.

Somehow, I made it. 

I have always felt the American literature textbook used for our eleventh grade students helped me survive.

That book reconnected me with America. In fact, I so cherished this collection of literature that I kept a copy of it.

The editors arranged the textbook into five sections:  Examining Inner Struggles, Observing Human Frailties, Crying Out For Justice, Celebrating Independent Spirit, and Probing Values. They used fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, and excerpts from longer works of literature to probe their five topics.

My soul was touched. 

James Thurber made me laugh. Richard Wright formed tears. Louis Untermeyer’s piece on Susan B. Anthony gave me perspective. And Phyllis McGinley’s poem “Eleven O’Clock News Summary” captured radio news as a war weary citizen listened closely to a broadcast before trying to find sleep.

But, the work of one writer, Reginald Rose, still remains with me. Mr. Rose wove together a powerful television drama— Twelve Angry Men. These twelve men are jurors in a murder case. They must decide the fate of a nineteen year old young man who is accused of killing his father.

Reginald Rose’s career as a writer for television carried him from the 50s into the 80s. He was a much sought after writer, and Mr. Rose actually wrote for each of the three major networks. Twelve Angry Men was his best known play, and it was made into a movie. Mr. Rose based his play on an actual experience he had serving on a jury.

As Twelve Angry Men begins, in the jury room, the twelve men are seated. To get their assignment started, the foreman asks for  an initial guilty or not guilty vote. That first assessment found eleven votes for guilty and one not guilty. 

The one hold out, Juror #8, is the protagonist. Jurors #10 and 3 are the antagonist. Essentially in that jury room, every piece of evidence and testimony is revisited. Emotions and tension run high as jurors clash. Juror #8 holds firm to his pursuit of fairness, and Juror #10 bitterly counters every point. 

In the last act of the play, Juror #10 has a meltdown. His bigot attitude spills out:  “Look you know how those people lie. They don’t know what the truth is. That’s how they are. You know what I mean—violent! Human life don’t mean as much to them as it does to us.”

Slowly, the other jurors stand. They move away from the table and turn their backs on Juror #10.

Finally, Juror #4, appalled at Juror #10’s outburst, stands over him. The room is quiet. Juror #4 tells him:  “I’ve had enough. If you open your mouth again, I’m going to split your skull.”

Rose gives us no indication that Juror #4 could be pushed to utter such a threat. But, Juror #4 was disgusted.

And as unsettling as the words from Juror #4 were, here is what is scary to me—that play first aired on American television in 1954. 

Here we are 66 years later, and we are still wrestling with people in our country who think like Juror #10.

Bill, Bill, Bill, my friend, this is a Hollywood script. You know Hollywood. 

Yes, I know it is a Hollywood script.

But, if Reginald Rose was sharp enough to pick up on that mentality in 1954, we should be sharp enough to realize that sadly, the thinking portrayed by Juror #10 hasn’t left us. 

What is even more sad is this—that thinking today is dividing us— dividing us in ways that might never be repairable.

Why is that? 

Why are we so slow to learn, to adjust, to change?

Why can’t we let go and build ourselves new hearts?

When will able to say to people who are so full of hatred, racism, and bigotry —that’s enough?

In Jeremiah 33, verse 3, the Lord says:  “Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Lord, I’m calling, e-mailing, texting, to you. I need you to tell me these unsearchable things that I do not know.

I don’t think we can keep living like this down here. I know you have your hands full up in the blue yonder. 

Or maybe you don’t.  

Maybe, you are counting on us to figure things out down here on our own.

Maybe, your thinking is I have guided them enough, by now they ought to know.

What is it we ought to know Lord? That is why I’m bugging you.

Ok, Bill, here goes.

When you first started writing this post you stated that in 1979 you were scared.

And guess what, Juror #10, and anyone in your world today whose behavior is like his—is scared too.

Yes, that hatred, racism, and bigotry is all grounded in fear.

A fear that is grounded in misinformed history, lack of education, lack of understanding, and a temporarily lost heart.

You want to say enough. I want you to say enough.

But ask yourself this question, “How did you overcome being scared at Hermitage High School that first year?”

Here’s what I recall. 

You worked hard, you accepted help from the people who surrounded you, and you don’t know this, but people prayed for you.

Being able to say enough to all of the challenges in front of your country will require hard work.

 It will require you and everyone around you to relearn the lost art of working together, and this will require surrounding people who we do not understand with help, support, and love.

And somewhere in there, you need to pray.

In the final act of Twelve Angry Men, Juror #9 states:  “It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone.”

I am certain that Juror #8 was scared when he was the only vote for not guilty when the play started. He stood alone.

And, I am certain Juror #10 was scared in a different way. By the final act, his values had been exposed.

Sometimes the courage of our convictions are in conflict. 

When this occurs, it is incumbent upon us to do difficult work just like the jurors in the play. 

This real life we are in requires the same of us. 

We must do the difficult work.

That is the only way we change scared and lost hearts.

My new friend in 1979 photo by Bill Pike

Shingles, side effects, snapping alligators

My mother was miserable during the last days of her life. Cancer had taken over that sweet lady’s body. I know she wanted to fight, but her feistiness was gone. She could not punch back.

Her internal instincts to survive had guided her at other stages of her life.

 She had beaten back a reckless, careless father who deserted his wife and their three children in Mississippi. 

At some point during the family’s transition into the Piedmont section of North Carolina, they survived a significant house fire.

A few days before Christmas in 1972, my mother and sister survived an auto accident. Most people who looked at the broadside impact on the driver’s side of the car wondered how my mother lived.

But, I will never forget when my mother had a confrontation with the shingles. She looked battered. There was a weariness about her that I had never seen. And, it is the only time in my life when she turned down a hug—to embrace her hurt her body.

Earlier in the spring when I had my annual physical, my doctor told me that I needed to get the shingles vaccine. This is now a two-shot process.

After repeated, well-intentioned reminders from the Commander Supreme, I went to my local CVS pharmacy for shot number one.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 18, I kept my appointment, signed my life away, and waited for the pharmacist to find a quiet moment to administer the shot.

The pharmacist was gentle when she poked the needle into the upper part of my left arm. I could feel a slight muscle ache as she finished up. Before releasing me, the pharmacist rattled off a list of possible side effects.

I don’t remember the pharmacist saying anything about dying in her side effects list. But by mid-morning on Wednesday, I thought I might be in the early stages of death.

My ears were boiling hot, channels of chills ran rampant through my body, pangs of pain pinged through me like a unruly pinball, and I had no energy. I thought to myself—I have got to keep moving.

I called the Commander. She was in North Carolina helping out family. The Commander reminded me that her sister, Abby, way out in California, had felt lousy after her first shingles vaccine. 

Upon the advice of the Commander, I took a couple of ibuprofen, and slowly all those flu like symptoms gradually subsided. But after dinner that evening the body invaders returned for round two. 

On Thursday, I had a couple of skirmishes, but overall was feeling better.

As far as I can remember, this is the first time in my adult life that I experienced a side effect from a vaccination. I want to tell you—I am really looking forward to the second shingles shot.

However, if that second shot gives me even the slightest potential of avoiding the misery my mother experienced from the shingles—I’ll take the second dose.

But the more I thought about this experience, the more I pondered side effects. We might take side effects for granted, but in truth they are all around us.

We make a decision—a side effect. We offer an opinion—a side effect. We fail to respond to a request—a side effect. We are negligent—a side effect.

Sometimes in listening to a television commercial for a powerful new drug, I also hear all of the potential side effects rattled off.  My internal voice asks—with all of those risks why would a person want to take that drug?

The answer is simple—relief, and perhaps beating the odds of a life threatening condition.

Churches are not immune from side effects. 

Today, in a different kind of way, churches might be looking for a powerful new drug to solve their challenges and bring relief.

Declining attendance, aging congregations, tired facilities, resistance to change, grounded in their glory days, and an inability to assess and evaluate their current circumstances create multiple side effects for churches.

In the same vein, our country isn’t much different.

What are the side effects for COVID-19, social injustice, economic divide,  failing infrastructure, our inability to fix longstanding vicious cycles that rob people of basic human dignity, and our loss of civility?  

Sadly, for our churches and our country—there is no wonder drug to cure our ailments.

This past week at Trinity, my church where I work, I felt like alligators were snapping at me at every corner.

People wanted this, and they wanted that, and they were counting on me to meet these requests, and they wanted them in the blink of a nano second.

The temptation to snap, to reply in a totally inappropriate manner was very present in my old brain.

But, then I started to reflect. 

Rob showed up to do some grounds work.

Our door guy, Jim read my mind, knew how many keys I needed, cut them, and delivered the keys to the church.

Dennis and Ronnie worked with my risk taking related to ladders, lifts, and lights.

Nell refocused me on another church project.

A young electrician, Chad, found a way to move a thermostat.

Our ageless wonder, Joe, continued the challenging task of painting exterior railings.

And one of our high school students, Amelia, wants to return on Saturday morning to do more power washing. 

Each of those people were “good” side effects. They were a counter to the alligator snapping.

If churches and America are going to make it out of this mess, we must work tirelessly and collectively to find the good in the hearts of people.

I wonder what the side effects will be for us when we let go of our divisions and find the good in the hearts of you, me, we, and us?

In truth, I believe that is our only chance.

And, I think God is impatiently waiting on us to find the good in our hearts. 

He wants us to put our hearts to work.

I sense he is weary of our division and its side effects.

Possible side effects