God is disappointed in me.

On the morning of Sunday, May 31, I was bad. 

I did not Zoom with our Sunday school class, nor did I tune in via uStream for our church service at 11.

Instead, I was in our son’s backyard. 

Along with one of his friends, and our daughter-in-law’s father, we had been recruited to put the finishing touches of assembly on a swing set. 

 Just in case you don’t know, swing sets aren’t simple swing sets anymore. They are now elaborate play sets with all kinds of bells and whistles. 

The assemblage requires at the very least an on call consultant who has the ability to interpret the very simple instructions and drawings in the very thick manual. In this case, our son was lucky, the consultant was his very capable wife, who at least read the manual. 

I confess, I was tardy in arriving, but I did bring along the requested tools—a sledge hammer, 8 foot step ladder, and a drill.

My assignment was to figure out the linkage for the three swing options. The results were simple—I failed. But, after staring into the instruction page for 3 hours, 44 minutes, and 17 seconds I finally figured it out.

Turns out, my son, who I still love dearly, gave me the wrong pack of caliper clips for my assignment.

While I was staring into that instruction page, I took a phone call from my friend, Katie Gooch. Katie is the Director of the Pace Center for student ministries(Wesley Foundation) on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). 

Katie’s programming is housed in the former Pace United Methodist Church at the corner of Pine and Franklin just across from Richmond’s Monroe Park. Unfortunately, Katie was calling to give me some discouraging news. Her building had been a target from the demonstrations related to the protests of George Floyd’s death.

Out of the blue, a few years ago, I was asked to serve as the property chair for the Board of Higher Education for the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. I basically was given the responsibility of keeping an eye on the Wesley Foundation properties on college campuses across Virginia. 

I knew the Pace building well, and I listened intently as Katie walked me through the damage. We talked, and she sketched out a game plan for securing the building. Her plan made sense, and Katie promised to follow-up as she organized her plan.

Without too many more hiccups, the play set came together. The final finishing touches were tweaked, and of course the final seal of inspection and approval came from, Josie, our soon to be three year old granddaughter.

Just as we were breaking for lunch, Katie called again to let me know that a team was assembling at Pace at 1 p.m. If I was available, she requested that I bring an extra step ladder and head down to assist.

With the play set christened by Josie, I departed for Pace.

I drove down Patterson Avenue, and then hooked a left on to Monument Avenue via North Thompson Street. It was a beautiful blue sky afternoon, perfect temperature. I saw people on the grassy medians of Monument sunbathing, some strolling with their dogs, and others just sitting in the sunshine. 

The deeper I drove down Monument, the more the traffic increased. And then, as I started to encounter the Civil War monuments, I saw what was creating the stir—the monuments had been severely defaced by the actions of some of Saturday night’s protestors. I did not stop and gawk, but the messages and damage was significant.

Monument changes to Franklin after the last statue, and at a house of worship further down Franklin, I noted plywood being installed over windows. Not sure if that was a preventative measure or responding to damage.

I reached Pace and found a place to park along Pine Street. The crew was already busy cutting plywood. Twelve windows had been damaged— nine along the back alley, and three facing Pine Street. It appeared the protesters picked up anything loose and hurled that object toward the windows.

Luckily, none of the stained glass windows surrounding the Sanctuary were damaged. But, it took the volunteers quite a bit of time to gingerly remove the sharp edged shards from the old metal window frames.

There was a bit of graffiti spray painted on the alley side brick wall. I’m sure attempting to remove it will be painful.

But, maybe in some respects, the Pace building was lucky. Ask the loading dock area of the VCU high-rise dorm that sits beside Pace. The dock and lots of its receptacles for removing trash and other items was torched. I mean in some instances melted to the ground.

Katie asked one of the volunteers to paint some kind messages on the plywood. Offering Pace as a source of help and hope for the community during this tragic crisis.

A group photo was taken of the COVID-19 masked volunteers. Katie and her property manager, Jean, worked out an additional security measure for the front doors. And then, I headed back home with no intention of working my way back along Monument.

It has been a few years, but I have never forgotten this quote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch when former United States Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, spoke at the Richmond Forum. Gates told the audience:  “The United States faces threats from extremists and unstable regimes around the world, but it’s the nation’s own political incivility that poses the gravest risk.”

America has been an imperfect union for too long. At this stage of my life, I would not call the state of our union sound. And, if I am truly honest with myself, our union has never been perfectly sound. There has always been something gnawing at our veneer. 

We are a spiraling mess. We are a country more capable of hurling astronauts into space than we are at solving years of social injustice, unrest, and our own incivility. 

I am a part of that spiraling mess.

I haven’t tried hard enough to fully comprehend and understand what is like to be an African American in our country.

And I haven’t tried hard enough to apply in my daily living the parable of the Good Samaritan. 

Jesus told the questioning lawyer how to live his life. Follow the example of the Good Samaritan in caring for your neighbor—“go and do likewise.”

When have I truly gone and done likewise?

When have I truly been the one who initiated mercy in the moment of crisis?

When have I advocated for justice, mercy, and understanding?

I think God will be disappointed in my answers.

Why?

Fear.

Fear has kept me in my silo.

Fear has prevented me from going out and doing likewise.

But, fear did not prevent the Good Samaritan from showing mercy.

Why?

Because the Good Samaritan at that very moment of decision grounded his actions in these words from the Bible:  “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the movie, The Green Book, I’m not sure which screenwriter Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, or Peter Farrelly wrote this line:  “It takes courage to change people’s hearts.” 

Those words ring true to me.

God’s disappointment in me is really aimed at my heart.

And his real question for me is very simple.

In turbulent times, do I have the courage to change my heart, but also to help people change their hearts?

Heart changing isn’t easy.

Heart changing is grounded in: “Go and do likewise, love your neighbor as yourself.”

impatient

On the morning of Tuesday, May 26, my friend, Ronnie Johnson, our head custodian at Trinity United Methodist Church, was helping me load bags of groceries. We placed the groceries in the bed of the church’s pickup truck.

Collecting food for local Richmond area food banks has become a regular Friday event for our church since COVID-19 started misbehaving.

At some point, Ronnie and I realized we were going to need a second truck to load in all of the 142 bags of groceries. So Ronnie walked around to the back parking lot and drove his pickup around front for loading. 

While he was gone, I witnessed something frightening on Forest Avenue in front of the church. 

 Forest Avenue is a busy two-lane road that carries lots of traffic from Patterson Avenue to River Road everyday. 

I saw the driver of a small SUV pull out from behind the car that the driver was following. The driver drove the car across the double yellow no passing line.  Pulled into the on-coming traffic lane, and accelerated well beyond the posted speed limit of 35 mph.

I couldn’t believe it. 

But, I’m not surprised, myself included, we have become a very impatient society at times.

I witnessed another example of how impatient we have become on my way back from dropping off the food at Feedmore.

In the city of Richmond on Hermitage Road just past Ownby, and before Leigh Street, motorist cross a double set of railroad tracks.

As I came to this intersection, the mechanical arms were down blocking the railroad tracks,  and their red warning lights were flashing. No cars on either side of Hermitage Road were moving. We were all waiting for a train to pass through.

I was in the right lane waiting patiently excited like a kid for a train to come rambling by.

I had probably been there no more than a minute when I noticed the driver of a car in the left lane started to back up. There was enough room for the driver to move the car on to the other side of Hermitage and escape. 

Then the driver behind the first impatient escapee did the same.

And then a few seconds later, something hilarious happened. I laughed out loud.

 The mechanical arms on both sides of Hermitage Road rose up, went to their upright positions, and their red lights stopped flashing. No train had come through the intersection nor was one in sight. I wondered how the two escapees fared after leaving this short-lived railroad crossing blockade?

On Wednesday afternoon, I rode with my wife to COSTCO, I was in search for some supplies for the church. 

When we had finished our shopping, we were stopped at the intersection of West Broad and Springfield Road. Just as soon as the light turned green, an impatient beep of the horn from the car behind us annoyed our ears.

I recall a handful of times when I have been at a stoplight intersection. The light changes green. As I begin to inch out, a car comes barreling through that intersection having run the red light. I think what might have happened if I had accelerated faster into that no man’s land. I imagine there would have been a life altering kaboom. 

No matter where we reside, in the 24 hours of a day, a person in a blink can have his/her life changed forever with a car accident.

Earlier in May, I read a post on Facebook about a former Lakeside Elementary School student named Ryan. With this post, there was a handsome picture of Ryan in his Coast Guard dress uniform. And then, I began to read the sad words.

Ryan who was only 24 years old had been killed in a driving accident.

I scrolled down further and learned from a friend who had spoken with Ryan’s sister what had occurred.

Ryan, somewhere in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida was riding his motorcycle. A mother was in an “I’m in a hurry mode.” She was rushing to get her daughter to a piano lesson. Her focus on arriving at that piano lesson prohibited the mother from seeing Ryan on his motorcycle.

The impact from the collision caused severe trauma to Ryan’s head and chest. He did not survive.

I am guilty of being an impatient rusher of life at times. I think we all have those moments. 

But, we never know how that impatient rush might change the course of our lives and the lives of others forever.

I imagine that the driver of the car that took Ryan’s life will relive this tragedy for a long, long, long time.

And, I also assume that the driver will always, always ask these questions— why didn’t I stop the rushing, why didn’t I just slow down, why didn’t I leave earlier?

Ryan’s family will ask lots of questions too. That’s the way a sad tragedy works.

That Coast Guard photo of Ryan, shows a clear-eyed  man, impeccably neat, crisply clean in his military attire, with the presence of a youthful maturity.

The passing of a loved one, no matter the circumstances, always reveals the unfairness of life when a person is so young. We all know that 24 is way to early to jump into the blue yonder.

Tex Stanton was one of the Marines who James Bradley interviewed for his book, Flags of Our Fathers. Mr. Stanton was lucky. He survived the 36 days it took to secure the Japanese island, Iwo Jima, during World War II.

That challenging survival revealed this reflection from Mr. Stanton:   “Life was never regular again, we were changed from the moment we put our feet in the sand.”

Tragic automobile accidents have the same impact.

Psalm 147 verse 3 states:  “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

I’m not sure if time heals broken hearts and heals the wounds of a loss.

But, I do know that a handful of times in my life, I have been comforted by the words in Psalm 147

And through those words, miraculously, people were around me in my time of need. With willing hearts, they were patiently present ready to bind me and to help me heal.

Impatient? We are all impatient.

Rush? We all rush.

Easing back, letting up, pausing, slowing down? 

I fail.

Impatient?

I must improve.

Early morning quiet along Forest Avenue.

Part II: ge-og-ra-phy

Mr. and Mrs. Publix,

I didn’t expect to be reaching out to you again, but J in Customer Care has forced by hand.

Perhaps, you recall my post on Might Be Baloney titled ge-og-ra- phy back on May 12, 2020. I’m guessing since I’m hearing back from J in Customer Care that just maybe you did not take the time to read the post. 

While that is a disappointment, I think I understand.  Lots of normal things have been turned upside down by this pandemic. 

And I’m sure you have bigger upside down things to worry about other than some wacky, screw loose, bozo whining about truth in your print ad related to ge-og-ra-phy.

However, just to quickly bring you up to speed, in the blog post I questioned the accuracy of your print ad specifically the section titled:  Southern-grown produce. 

I pointed out one very obvious inaccuracy on that page. The advertisement implied that pineapples were grown in the southern part of the United States. 

While it is true that pineapples have long been a symbol of hospitality in the South, they are not grown in enough massive quantities in the South to supply all of your Publix stores. 

In the same post, I also took a swipe at your beer pricing. It is a tad on the high side. Specifically, the pricing of Anchor Steam Beer is outrageous.

I know the concerns I reported to you were upsetting. I still recall the blubbering with your tears, nose mucus, and slobber. It took several minutes for you both to regain your composure. But, if you had read the blog post, you might have noted I diplomatically gave you an out. Here is what you missed.

First, I promised no congressional investigation. And I want you to know, I wouldn’t wish a congressional investigation on my worst enemy. But, you need to know too that J’s response from Customer Care continued to insult the dignity of my proper North Carolina education.

Second, at this time, no one from your communication or advertising staff has signed up to take Miss Helen Crump’s ge- og- ra- phy  class at the unheard of price of $19.99. 

This is particularly troubling news for you because that means her most acclaimed student, Dr. Ernest T. Bass, is warming up his arm down in Old Man Kelsey’s bullpen. Just be warned if summoned into action, Dr. Bass will not be hurling baseballs.

Third, here is the most curious point of interest for me. The 45 loyal followers who read every boring word from my blog site, many of them (well, at least 2) wanted to be alerted if I struck a deal with Publix on lowering the price of the Anchor Steam Beer.

What does that tell you about American consumers and my loyal followers?

I’m not sure, but I digress.

Look, Mr. and Mrs. Publix, I really, really take no pleasure in bringing you more bad news. But, I expect the next several minutes to be moments of uncontrollable blubbering with mass quantities of tears, nose mucus, and slobbering coming forth from the depths of your mission statement.

For the last two weeks, I have been carefully tracking the weekly print ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch—specifically, inspecting the Southern-grown produce page. I really hate to do this to you, but I feel J in Customer Care left me no choice when J’s e-mail stated the following:

We appreciate you contacting us with your valued feedback. Please know that your valued feedback has been shared with the appropriate business areas.

If my “valued feedback has been shared with the appropriate business areas,” then why do the May 14 and 21 flyers raise the following red flags for me:

May 14:  15 types of produce were listed, 9 were clearly labeled as being grown in states that are certified to be in the Southeast by Dr. Bass, the strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower were labeled as California grown, Brussel sprouts labeled USA, and apples the state of Washington. Here is the best one from the ad, the red seedless grapes came from Chile. Chile is in the South, but that would be as in South America.

And to add to your steady flow of facial oriented bodily fluids, the price of Anchor Steam Beer was still $11.99.

May 21:  13 types of produce were listed, 7 were certified by Dr. Bass as being birthed in states known to be in the Southeast, however, potato inspiration potatoes, cherries, and peaches were grown in California, raspberries and mangoes Mexico, and hero gala apples from the state of Washington.

Sadly, once again, there was no drop in the price of Anchor Steam Beer.

I’d offer you my handkerchief again, but I think you are going to need a couple of boxes of facial tissue to stop the flow. 

Perhaps, we should stop for a few minutes for a powder room break so that you can attempt to regain your composure.

No, you prefer to plow ahead. Well, I admire your courage. Because, you are really going to need it for the reporting of the last, but most egregious error.

Now, I’m not making this up, but the ad on May 21 contained the following at the bottom of the Southern-grown produce page, middle column:  Memorial Day Bouquet In Spectacular Patriotic Colors, each $9.99.

Mr. Publix, I’m sorry, but did Mrs. Publix just pass out?

Are you certain she is ok?

What is your question?

Am I certain an ad for flowers was on your produce page?

Yes, I’m certain. Like I said in my first blog post I am a somewhat honorable person. 

Again, I’m sorry for bringing this to your attention, but J really left me no choice. I’ll tell you what kind of pushed me over the edge was when J stated in the e-mail the following:

We always enjoy hearing from our customers, and we appreciate the trust you have placed in us as your grocer of choice.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Publix if I as a consumer really trusted you would I be going through all of this? I think you know the answer. And at this stage in our relationship, I believe even Gomer and Goober could figure out that your stores are not my grocer of choice. 

Perhaps, you recall the movie Cool Hand Luke, and that famous line spoken by actor Strother Martin, who portrayed the Captain, the prison warden. He spoke these words to Luke in one anguished scene:  “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

I’ll be honest, my first attempt to communicate with you was providing a link to my blog to your local newspaper, the Lakeland Ledger. 

Since Publix is headquartered in Lakeland, it is unlikely that an editor or publisher might take a risk and post an op-ed piece from a kooky wanna be writer in Richmond, who clearly has too much time on his hands, and who pokes fun at a huge Southern company over ge-og-ra-phy.

Now, here is the thing. I don’t want J to be unemployed. I’m sure J is a nice person who has the challenge of responding to stubborn old geezers like me. 

But, here is what really is making me nuts besides the disgraceful price of the Anchor Steam Beer and the dignity of my North Carolina education—it is school teachers and the students they teach throughout the Southeast.

 Your Southern-grown produce advertisement isn’t helping either one of them.

Truth be told your Southern-grown produce advertisement would probably be a terrific instructional tool in the classroom. The ad is a very good example of how a company failed to properly research and vet the products they sell before they print an ad.

I’m assuming your company has no idea how challenging it is for a classroom teacher to convey to students that contrary to the Publix flyer, the pineapples your parents purchased at the local Publix were not grown in the Southeast. 

The same goes for any produce in your ad that implies they were Southern grown. And I am truly sorry, but there is just no reasonable explanation for a bouquet of flowers being advertised on a produce page—unless your layout personnel were toying with me.

Please don’t toy with me. Toying with me would be like trying to remove a hungry black snake from a hen house—a bad idea.

Yes, I know that flowers and blossoms of some vegetables have been layered or folded into menus at elegant restaurants, but the typical Southern mother isn’t cooking edible flowers and vegetable blooms for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Even though he loves his wife to the depths of his heart, no husband is going to pull out sautéed flower petals from his lunch pail as a condiment for a center cut bologna and cheese sandwich.

Here’s the deal:   with technology, a bit of common sense, and some good research with your well-established produce suppliers, Publix should be able within a reasonable period of time to improve the ge-og-ra-phy communication on your Southern-grown produce page.

Yes, Mrs. Publix, what is your question, can I define a reasonable period of time?

Well, I know in the South we sometimes move at a slug’s pace, but in truth I thought you would have corrected this tiny little nit picking detail already.

I want to be a wise guy and tell you a reasonable amount of time is 30 seconds, but just to be fair let’s say 31 days. And just to be even more kindhearted, I’ll suggest a solution for resolving this dilemma.

Here is my suggestion break the page into three sections under one heading:  Fresh Produce.  To be followed by:

Produce sourced from farmers in Southeastern states

Produce sourced from farmers in the USA

Produce sourced from farmers around the world

I’m sure you employ people a lot smarter than me who can figure this out. But in truth, that flower bouquet on the produce page is starting to cause me some serious doubts about their capacity to figure this out. 

In closing, people who know me will tell you that I’m pretty quiet, and mild-mannered. I don’t make threats. I just diplomatically try to point out a concern. 

And, while I have not carefully researched the Publix commitment to local schools in terms of monetary gifts, I know from your initial push into the Richmond grocery market that you did help some schools in neighborhoods close to your stores.

 If you have the courage to financially assist schools, then you should have the courage to reasonably correct the Southern-grown produce page to the benefit of teachers and their students throughout the Southeast.

Finally, this one time offer ought to stop the blubbering.

 Correct the wording of the Southern-grown produce ad for the rest of my life, and I’ll forget about your lousy price on the Anchor Steam Beer. 

But, if you can’t improve the ge -og- ra -phy in that weekly flyer, expect me to continue to be just as pesky and pesty as Dr. Ernest T. Bass.

And if I bring along my pal Earl Stanley Yarville as a consultant, I can’t promise you that we won’t land on an op-ed page of a major newspaper in the Southeast. 

While that might never happen, if it does, I can assure you I will try my best to highlight the errors of your ge- og- ra- phy.

While at this point, I am disappointed in your response, I realize that COVID-19 is burning lots of your energy.

I patiently await J’s next follow-up from Customer Care.

And don’t forget, Dr. Bass is impatiently warming up his throwing arm in Old Man Kelsey’s bullpen.

Rain kissed dogwood petals awaiting harvesting for a lunch pail

Memorial Day 2020: Iwo Jima 36 days

Hanging by a magnet on the door of our refrigerator is a save the date announcement. One of my wife’s nephews is scheduled to marry his lovely fiancee in November of 2020 in Hawaii.

We are honored to be invited. We hope the challenges from COVID-19 will settle down so that we can attend.

If we are able to travel, I’m sure we will be busy with activities related to the wedding. But selfishly, I also have something else on my mind—Pearl Harbor.

I hope there will be time to make a visit. I figure this will be the closest I will ever come to honoring my father’s oldest brother. In a cemetery in the Philippines, there is a marker bearing his name, Boyd Pike.

Boyd was a sailor on the USS Simms a destroyer during World War II. The ship was attacked in the Coral Sea and sank. Boyd wasn’t one of the survivors.

I know Boyd’s family prayed everyday for his safety, just like my mother’s family prayed everyday for her brother, Sam. 

But, why did Sam come back from his dangerous missions as a tail gunner on a B-24, and Boyd didn’t? Both families were earnestly praying to the same God for the same safe results. I guess that is the tragedy of war—all wars.

When I was a kid, I thought war was like the television show I watched every week—Combat.

While I am not a prolific reader, I now know through books I have read, the show Combat was nothing like what really, really transpired.

James Bradley’s book, Flags of Our Fathers, is one of those grisly accounts of war. While the book focuses on the famous flag raising photograph on Iwo Jima, Bradley captures the horror of war for the Americans and Japanese troops.

It took our Marines 36 days to fully capture Iwo Jima also known as “sulfur island.” The four days of fighting it took to be able to raise the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi were a slaughterous hell.

From the air, Iwo Jima was the size of the head of a finishing nail in the sprawling Pacific Ocean. But, it was a strategic location with a landing strip for our bombers. Capturing the island shortened the perilous bombing raid flights to Japan. Securing this island also improved all the logistics needed for striking the Japanese homeland.

We had no choice in World War II. Our country had to confront the evil actions in Europe and the Pacific.

Sadly, despite our efforts, evil still breathes today.

God won’t like this, but I have no tolerance for evil.

Here is why.

On May 12 in Kabul, Afghanistan gunmen entered a hospital’s maternity ward and murdered newborns, their mothers, and the nurses who were helping them. In this senseless attack, it has been reported 24 people died.

I do not have the mental capacity to understand the evil minds and hearts of the people who did this, and that includes anyone associated with them. 

And, I’m sorry God, but I hope the cowardly luck of these gunmen and their associates runs out soon.

One of the Marines chronicled in James Bradley’s book is his own father, John. John Bradley was a corpsman, a medic on the battlefield. All kinds of valor and  bravery swirls in the heat of a battle. But, I can’t even begin to comprehend the courage of a medic in that environment. 

James Bradley’s father survived the war. 

He returned home to Wisconsin. Raised a family, was a model citizen, and rarely talked about his experiences in the war. This was despite the fact that John Bradley was one of the Marines in the famous photograph pushing the flagpole up on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi.

As a child, James Bradley, knew his father had endured something during the war in the Pacific. His ears had heard people say— his father, John, was a war hero. 

James Bradley tried to pry that war life from his father, but he was never successful.

He notes the closest his father came to talking about his experiences was with this quote:

“The real heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn’t come back.”

No matter where we cast our eyes in this world, we will find the stories of American military personnel who didn’t make it back. Sometimes, those stories are in are own neighborhoods.

On the front grounds of Trinity United Methodist Church is a memorial garden with a stone wall, azaleas, dogwoods, a flagpole, a floodlight, a bench,  and a plaque. The plaque has the printed names of three young men from our church who didn’t come back from the Vietnam War.

On Wednesday afternoon, I spent time in that garden clearing out pesky weeds. Gray clouds and misty rain were hanging around. At times a gusty east wind would flutter and flap the American flag. On those rare moments along Forest Avenue when no cars were passing by, I could hear the unique sound of that flag freely flapping.

And while I do not always understand America, I do love America. I hope our flag will always stand and freely flap in a breeze even on a gray afternoon.

On this Memorial Day, I hope we will take the time to remember those who didn’t come back, their families, their stories, and their sacrifice.

A flag freely flapping in the wind will always be linked to sacrifice.

During the 36 days it took for our Marines to capture and secure Iwo Jima, a cemetery was established. James Bradley (p.247) notes the following words that had been chiseled outside that cemetery:

When you get home

Tell them for us and say

For your tomorrow

We gave our today

deflated hearts

At some point, my wife and I will make the decision to stop receiving a paper copy of the our local newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  That will be an economic decision, and a sad day. We both enjoy holding the newspaper in our hands.

Time flies, the world changes, I struggle to adapt.

Every day in the Times-Dispatch, I skim the Today In History section. I am amazed at the events that have occurred in my life time that I don’t remember. 

For example, on May 17, 1987, the Associated Press reported 37 sailors aboard the U. S. Navy frigate the Stark were killed when an Iraqi warplane attacked the ship. 

That date and the resulting attack is burned in the memories of family members who lost loved ones.

We all have memories. If our minds are working properly, they  will automatically recall significant dates in our lives. Some of those dates are pleasant memories, and some are simply tragedies of the worst kind. 

For a mother and father who are dear college friends, May 24 is a tragedy date.

Their youngest son was senselessly shot by a boat marina employee at a lake in Arizona in 2019.

There are still lots of unanswered questions about this tragedy.

A 500 page report about this shooting is in the hands of the district attorney for that part of Arizona. The person who fired the fatal shot at this point has not been charged. The district attorney must make that decision based upon the evidence and the laws in Arizona.

Senseless tragedies alter forever the lives of those who are left behind.

In conversations with our friends, my heart hurts. I have seen the tears of sadness in their eyes and heard the breaking of their words in their throats.

Their son left behind a beautiful wife who is a fully credentialed and trained emergency room doctor. And at the time of her husband’s shooting, she was expecting their first child.

Her husband, left behind a legacy of changed lives, including his own. He carved out a heart driven business that helped people—families and their children. He was very good at his craft. He had a great instructor— his own life.

I do not own any recordings by singer/songwriter Randy Newman. Mr. Newman has enjoyed quite a career as a songwriter and film scorer. He usually garners high praise for his work with lyrics that can be humorous, biting, thought-provoking, and at times beautiful and gentle.

His song “Wandering Boy” from his 2017 album Dark Matter on Nonesuch Records is one of those gentle, straight from the heart songs.

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon this song. But, it has stuck with me for many months now.

The song features a father describing the family’s youngest son. He calls him the “little caboose” and the “light of our life.”

One stanza focuses on a magical snapshot locked clearly in the father’s memory when his son jumped off a high board into a pool as a five year old.

That golden moment of laughter, no fears, and love is contrast with a real time question— “Where is my wandering boy tonight?”

In a following stanza, the father continues his careful reflection with statements of hope for his son. And one of those hopeful statements is this: “that a stranger’s eye is a friendly eye.”

“That a stranger’s eye is a friendly eye” is the quiet prayer of every parent for their children.

When I read those words, and hear Mr. Newman sing them, I automatically think of our friends, their loss, and the stranger who  pulled the trigger.

In his book My Losing Season, author Pat Conroy, chronicles his senior year of playing college basketball at The Citadel.

Conroy describes his teammates after the long, disheartening practices during Christmas break:  “ They looked like boys who had nothing left to give, as though someone had let the air out of their hearts.”

Parents who lose a child to a senseless tragedy have had the air let out of their hearts.

Try as they might, those hearts will never be fully inflated again.

And that is part of the tragedy too.

Long after I’m gone, maybe someday in the future there will still be a newspaper around with a Today In History section.

 And just maybe there will be one day when the summary states: America woke up. Courageous hearts bring an end to senseless  tragedies related to handgun violence.

I pray that day will happen.

Our deflated hearts need it.

unsplash.com Marcos Paulo Prado

“Same God made you, made me.”

Author’s note, the following piece was sent to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for consideration for their Faith and Values column. The piece was published today, May 19, in the Times-Dispatch. This is the original, the editors made a few good tweaks.

On the morning of Sunday, May 10, I went for a run. 

Aside from the green foliage and the colors of spring blossoms, it felt like an October morning.

When I left the house, the temperature was 33 degrees. I was dressed for an early winter morning run.

Almost all of the state of Virginia was under a frost or freeze warning.

My wife’s mother reported that Saturday evening in West Hartford, Connecticut looked like a blizzard.

And up on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on Saturday, the wind chill was minus 22 degrees with wind gusts to 87 mph.

Some New England locations received up to 10 inches of snow.

This is nuts.

My body doesn’t want to go on this run. But, my mind needs it.

Moving slower than a tortoise in a hot desert sun, my resistant legs gradually begin to lift and push me forward.

Along the way, I note the presence of frost on rooftops, car windshields, and sections of lawns.

Birds energetically chatter like stereophonic sound in my ears. They are embracing the new morning better than me.

My wife and I have been zooming with our longtime college friends on Saturday afternoons. We do this once every two weeks. These people mean so much to us.

Saturday afternoon, my college roommate confessed—he misses baseball season.

Some of these spectacular spring days would have been perfect for a baseball game. I’m reminded of a comment from Chicago Cubs legend, Ernie Banks, about such beautiful days, he stated:  “Let’s play two.” Meaning, it is such a beautiful day for baseball, lets play two games instead of one.

As I work my way up Westham Parkway, this crazy weather makes me think about farmers. Especially fruit tree farmers who have orchards nestled in nooks and crannies throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

I wonder how peach and apple trees will respond to these not normal temperatures? I wonder if I will experience the sweetness of a mountain grown peach this summer or the crisp, crunch of a mountain apple this fall?

Truth be told, we are all wondering. 

COVID-19 is at the heart of that wondering, that questioning, that pondering, that searching.

I am a natural born worrier.

And while COVID-19 has me worried, here’s what really, really worries me—ourselves.

Our differences keep widening and dividing. 

Those differences are troubling.

Maybe, you have seen the movie Best Of Enemies. The movie is based upon a true story that took place in Durham, North Carolina in 1971. The film is grounded in a book written by Osha Gray Davidson.

Two Durham residents, Ann Atwater, an African American community activist and organizer, and C.P. Ellis, leader of the local Ku Klux Klan are asked to take leadership roles in helping to solve Durham’s racial divide over public education.

At one point in the movie, there is a heated exchange after a community meeting between Atwater and Ellis. 

With her Bible in hand, and shaking it in Ellis’s direction, Atwater states to him, “This here does my talking for me.”

Ellis responds, “I have a Bible.”

Then Atwater fires back, “‘Then you ought to know.”

Ellis asks, “Know what?”

And without any hesitation, she replies:  “The same God that made you, made me.”

Screenwriter and director for the movie, Robin Bissell, captures the tension of that encounter with his words and the actors on the screen.

That tension is part of our differences, our divide. That tension is as twitchy as a tectonic plate on a fault line deep below the earth’s surface.

“Same God that made you made me” rattles in my brain.

I ask myself how often do I overlook that fact in my interaction with people? 

What prevents me from keeping that statement in the forefront of my thoughts each day?

Where am I in the differences between us?

Thankfully, I make it to the top of the hill on Stuart Hall Road.

I look toward our front steps.

A few weeks ago, my wife purchased a small sign. It hangs from one of the railing posts leading up the steps.

The sign is plain and simple, it reads:  “Be Kind.” 

The first seven words from Ephesians 4:32 state:  “Be kind and compassionate to one another.”

In the gap of our differences, and knowing that the same God that made you made me, why is there such a struggle for us to be kind and compassionate to one another?

If we create a vaccine for COVID-19, why can’t we have a vaccine to inject us with kindness and compassion toward each other for forever?

Well, in truth, we are already equipped with that vaccine—our hearts.

What will it take to truly change them?

COVID-19: What now for this place called church?

Maybe deep inside of us, we knew the world in its pre-COVID-19 condition needed to be turned upside down. 

No matter where we might cast our eyes or our attention, challenges were present. Quite simply, the world was a mess. 

But, I don’t think I initially thought that COVID-19 would cause such a disastrous intrusion and disruption.

Doesn’t matter what my definition of normal was before COVID-19, normal is gone.

The key to the future is what will we learn from the havoc  created by COVID-19? 

But, maybe the real question is— are we willing to learn from this experience?

It appears that no individuals or longstanding public institutions were spared immunity from COVID-19. Having worked in schools for 31 years, and now working for a church, I know both have been impacted.

But, even before this pandemic, many churches found themselves in difficult situations. Declining attendance, resistance to change, aging facilities, and shrinking financial support were already on the minds of church leaders at every level.

Now, those matters and others will be at stake for church leaders in figuring out how to move forward from COVID-19. Sadly, some churches might not be able to move forward and reopen because of the financial impact of the virus.

We are a long way from the explosion of growth that churches experienced in the 50s into the 60s. 

From where our Methodist church is located in western Henrico County, there are at least ten other houses of worship within easy driving distance. Interestingly, out of that ten, there is denominational duplication from the Baptists, Episcopalians, and Methodist.

I wonder what church planners and planters were thinking during that boom? Perhaps, the mentality was— “if we build it, they will come.”

And that surely was the case for many years. During those years of growth, churches often expanded their facilities’ footprint and at the same time developed rainy day funds. 

Often, the sustainers of building projects and rainy day funds were members from the Greatest Generation. That financial mindset isn’t as prevalent in congregations today. 

Over the last several weeks, I have heard comments from people related to COVID-19 like—“God’s got this” “This is part of God’s plan” “God is at work here” “God is getting our attention.”

It seems to me that God is always attempting to get our attention. When we are in crisis, we appear to immediately return to him—praying, seeking the good in ourselves for others, and searching for his wisdom and guidance to move us forward. 

However, when a crisis has passed, the question I ask of myself is this—will God still have my attention?

For a long, long, long time God has been aware of how we are living on earth. I would imagine some days he is pleased, and other days he might think— what in the world have these people done now?

But as churches look to their futures, thinking is exactly what will be needed to help congregations move forward.

Pastors and their staffs will have lots to think about as they work toward reopening. That thinking and work should also include members of the congregation as a part of the team who will be figuring out how to do this. 

Figuring this out will not be easy. Churches have a wide range of demographic needs in their congregations. How do you meet the needs of your senior citizens and infants, and everyone in between?

For sure, communication will be critical. Helping members to understand the rationale in how the reopening will work can’t be taken for granted.

And in my mind, there is one piece that can’t be overlooked. 

Churches in this fragile time cannot afford to alienate their congregations. That is why it is so important to figure out the reopening well before the return to church.

In our world, I am often reminded how much “fear” impacts our actions. The Bible is full of references using the word —fear. Clearly, in the days ahead of us, fear will continue to be around. COVID-19 has proven it shouldn’t be taken lightly. So, how do we deal with this lingering presence of fear?

I think for churches to move forward pastors, their staffs, and congregational leaders will need to do lots of practical thinking. 

Additionally, implementing a reopening plan will require very thoughtful communication grounded in safety for all, but at a reasonable pace. 

But, there is another critical piece for churches to consider. That is the capacity to change— we have an opportunity to rethink those normal Sunday morning routines.  I hope we will not be content to continue to follow our very predictable church patterns as we figure out how to move forward.

Figuring out how to reopen and  move forward will have some anxious moments.

 In those moments of uncertainty and worry, holding on to these words from Philippians 4:6-7 might help:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Reopening churches will require lots of prayer and hearts capable of understanding the challenges of this task.

Author’s note: This piece was started on May 4, 2020. The content of this baloney is solely on me as an observer of life.

Pet Sounds: “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”

On May 16, 1966, Capitol Records released the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds. This collection of songs was a total departure from the landscape the Beach Boys sold to people all around the world. Gone were surfing, surfer girls, fast cars, and memories about  growing up in southern California. 

The instrumentation for this recording expanded well beyond bass, guitars, and drums. Bass harmonica, theremin, all sorts of percussion, bicycle horn, woodwinds, strings, keyboards, horns, and more are all in the mix.

For Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson collaborated with Tony Asher to carve out the lyrics. Tony Asher worked in advertising. Additionally, Brian recorded the album with a group of top notch studio musicians in Los Angeles known as the Wrecking Crew.

The pattern worked like this.  

Brian wrote the music for the songs at his piano, while Tony was close by writing the lyrics. 

Brian went to the recording studio, recorded the instrumental tracks for each song with the Wrecking Crew. 

The Beach Boys would come off the road from touring, and spend countless hours over endless days recording the vocal tracks. 

Brian would oversee the mixing of the tracks, and would deliver the final product to Capitol Records.

If a song from the album made the charts as a single, then Brian’s youngest brother Carl, would work out the arrangements for concert performances and teach the song to his fellow Beach Boys.

Of the 13 tracks on Pet Sounds,  my guess is you are most familiar with “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and “God Only Knows.” Initially, Pet Sounds was not a huge hit like the band’s previous recordings. In fact, a few years after the album was released, it was out of print, not available. 

But, Pet Sounds, for many musicians then and now was the album that changed  how pop songwriters wrote, crafted, and recorded songs. Even today, the legacy of Pet Sounds and its impact remains intact.

As sure as the instruments used in recording the album were different, so were the lyrics. 

Brian pushed Tony Asher into an entirely different direction, far away from surfing and cars. The lyrics were introspective, probing. The boy/girl relationships of the teenage years were gone. Now, the observations and questions asked in the relationship were a step up— man and woman.

Pet Sounds has songs of exuberance “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Here Today.” But, the album also contains the opposite of such joyfulness—“You Still Believe In Me” and “Caroline No.”

I will admit, it took years for my ears to appreciate Pet Sounds. And, I have listened to the album, and its outtakes many, many times, and for some reason,  I keep being drawn back to one song—“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

I think I am drawn to this song for several reasons. But, here is the main one—I believe the lyrics capture how we all might feel or have felt at some point in our lives. And at those points,  we most likely have never made those feelings public.   Here are the lyrics:

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times

Written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher from the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds Capitol Records All lyrics Irving Music copyright 1966

I keep looking for a place to fit in where I can speak my mind.

I’ve been trying hard to find the people that I won’t leave behind.

They say I got brains, but they ain’t doing me no good, I wish they could. Each time things start to happen again, I think I got something good going for myself, but what goes wrong?

Sometimes, I feel very sad. Sometimes, I feel very sad. (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into)

Sometimes, I feel very sad.(Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into)

I guess, I just wasn’t made for these times.

Every time I get the inspiration to go change things around; no one wants to help me look for places where new things might be found.

Where can I turn when my fair weather friends cop out? What’s it all about?

Each time things start to happen again, I think I got something good going for myself, but what goes wrong?

Sometimes, I feel very sad. Sometimes, I feel very sad. (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into) Sometimes, I feel very sad. (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into)

I guess I just wasn’t made for these times, I guess I just wasn’t made for these times, I guess I just wasn’t made for these times

I wonder at this very moment how many people who we think we really know feel like they weren’t made for these times? 

At times in my life, I felt like the lyrics captured me. I didn’t fit in, my brain was useless, and disappointment consumed me when the anticipation of something good happening failed.

My guess is that COVID-19 has pushed many people to think—I just wasn’t made for these times.

When I read this virus has killed more Americans than the troops we lost in the Vietnam War (58,220), I am saddened. Those troops we lost over a period of almost two decades. COVID-19 has taken at this point in America 82,246 lives (this figure changes daily)  in almost four months.

The scars of war are never forgotten, and I imagine the same will be said about COVID-19.

Maybe your heart sank like mine did when I read about the New York City doctor who took her own life related to her work helping  COVID-19 patients. I wonder if she had reached the point of feeling like she wasn’t made for these times?

There isn’t much doubt in my mind that Brian Wilson has thought and felt at moments in his life that he wasn’t made for these times. And yet, somehow, Brian with help pushed back his demons and worked to overcome them. While I love his music, I also admire that Brian is a survivor.

Yes, it is very likely that many people in the past, now, and in the future will feel like in life’s certain moments— they weren’t made for these times.

For these people, be they family, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or stranger, when they feel like they weren’t made for these times, we need to be the gentle  pivot point.

What is a gentle pivot point? What does that mean?

I think a gentle pivot point is simply this—listening.

If you ears listen carefully to the chorus for “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” you will hear the following counter melody:  (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into.)

That counter melody has always resonated with me.

Why?

Well, I think our hearts and souls are always searching for something to grab, something to hold us up, something to get us through the challenges of the moment.

And perhaps that is the very heart of the story found in “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

The narrator is seeking a very basic human need—hear me, listen to me.

Right now,  in this upside down world, maybe you, me, we can be the “right thing” for that person whose heart and soul just needs to be heard.

ge·og·ra·phy

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Publix, 

I hope all is well at your headquarters in Lakeland, Florida.

As a consumer, I thought I might give you some insight as to how your expansion march is going into the northern tiers of the South. 

Personally, I find your stores to be attractive, well-maintained, and at this point your personnel have been friendly and helpful. 

From a distance, I think some of your competitors in the Richmond market have better pricing. But, I’m assuming you are recovering your cost for all of the new construction you initiated across the Richmond area.

In your newspaper flyer that appeared in the Wednesday, May 6 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I found on page 4 a teeny-weeny concern.

At the top of the page, I read the following heading:

Southern-grown produce.

The first fruit displayed is a tempting image of golden ripe pineapples at a “surprisingly low price.”

Now, my wife, the Commander Supreme, can confirm for you that I am not the sharpest tack on the bulletin board. 

But, when I was a student a long, long, long time ago in the North Carolina Public Schools, when teachers actually taught ge-og-ra-phy,  I do not recall any teacher stating that pineapples  were being produced in significant harvestable numbers anywhere in the South. 

The only state in America mentioned that grew pineapples in significant numbers was Hawaii.  Last I checked, Hawaii was still way out in the Pacific Ocean. And since I have lived all my life either in North Carolina or Virginia, I believe I would have known if Hawaii had been annexed into the South. 

Thus in lies the problem, your ad has insulted the dignity of my proper North Carolina education by implying that pineapples are grown in the Southern parts of the United States. Uncle Jasper might have a few plants in his backyard out on Sanibel Island, Florida, but Uncle Jasper ain’t growing enough to supply all of your Publix stores.

Out of the twelve fruits and vegetables advertised on the page, eight named Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina as their birth states. No origin is noted for the pineapples, fresh attitude salad, and the mix and match offer on broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

And just to make this a bit more painful for you, I checked the website for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. I specifically researched Florida Crops Seasonal Availability/Typical Harvest Times. I hope you are sitting down as I gently break this news to you— pineapples were not on the list.

I’ll give you a few seconds to regain your composure, I know hearing that news wasn’t easy.

Better now? Is it ok for me to proceed?

Hang on, here is my handkerchief, your nose mucus, tears, and slobber are running together. Use that hanky to mop up.

Now, that’s better. 

Take a deep cleansing breath.

Even though, the dignity of my North Carolina education has been insulted, I want you to know that I am to some degree a person of honor. 

 I will not call for a congressional investigation. Those trifling mischief-makers don’t know anything about ge-og-ra-phy. The only thing they understand about land is if you live and vote in their district.

But back to our problem, I believe I might have a solution for us to ponder. 

  It is clear to me that your advertising writers, copy editors, and  proofreaders need some remediation in  ge-og-ra-phy. After all, you are paying these degreed people lots of pennies to attract customers.

So, I would recommend that your human resources department enroll your loyal communicators in Miss Crump’s remedial ge-og-ra-phy class. This all can be done on-line for $19.99 per student. 

Enrolling your personnel into this twelve week class is guaranteed to solve all future ge-og-ra-phy problems. Just ask Miss Crump’s prized student, Dr. Ernest T. Bass, from Old Man Kelsey’s Woods a rock toss away from Mayberry, North Carolina.

But, if you really want to insure that I cause you no more ambushes where your tears, nose mucus, and slobber conspire against you, here is what you might consider.

Overall, your beer pricing is way out of line. Here is one example, your price for a six pack of Anchor Steam Beer is ridiculous. At the Publix in Richmond closest to me, you are asking $11.99. I can buy that same six pack elsewhere for $8.99.

You follow where I’m going with this?

Lower that six pack price on Anchor Steam Beer to $8.99 for the rest of my life, and I’ll forget about the problem you have with ge-og-ra-phy.

Otherwise, my eyes will continue to scour the weekly flyer looking for teeny-weeny problems.

in-dis-pens-able

There should be a warning message that goes off in our brains when a husband and wife make a decision to pursue becoming parents. No one can tell you what becoming a parent is truly like until you become one.

If I really search, tucked away in the hard drive of my brain are lots of memories about becoming a parent. Here are a few that I recall.

The breathing techniques from Lamaze class. 

My wife trying to teach me how to properly pin the diaper without collateral damage to the newborn or myself. 

Not reading the directions for putting the crib together, and missing a critical step. 

 Sleepless nights when you exhausted every Dr.  Spock trick to try to get your most prized possession to go to sleep.

The diaper change when your son decides to hose you and the changing surface down. 

Exploding bowel movements that dripped and oozed from the saturated diaper. 

 All points bulletin searches for that prized pacifier or the dirtiest, softest, but most favorite rag of a blanket.

See those memories are there. Safely tucked away and chronicled for appropriate retrieval. 

 It’s ok to revisit because you’ll laugh, cry, and wonder how you and your wife got through those early years.  

Now when you start the search on your brain’s hard drive for these memories, you’re certain to find the following file:  Every Father’s Nightmare. 

 In this file, you’ll find two statements from your wife. Either one has the potential to trigger a cardiac moment:  “Honey, I’m sick, or honey, I’m taking a trip.”

If the husband must deal with the first statement, automatically, he will ask a ridiculous question:  “Honey, are you certain that you are sick?”

 And  if the father gets the second statement, the first ill-advised words to spring forth to his wife are:  “Honey, are you taking the children with you on this trip?”

It will take a father, several minutes to recover from the verbal pounding he will receive if he asks his wife either of those questions. 

Once he recovers, that’s when the real fear and worry of what lies ahead of him will start to nervously ping in his brain.

Whether his spouse is bedridden or being driven to the airport, immediately, a detailed list is produced  providing the orders of the day. These orders  must be followed to perfection.  

Failure to follow this list of orders can be catastrophic for fathers in dealing with his children in these moments.  A father will automatically know he is in deep, deep trouble if he hears even a mumbling whisper of these words:  “That’s not the way mom does it.”

That one whisper can quickly turn into constant reminders to the father regarding his inferior skills.

That’s not the way Mom makes or packs my lunch. 

 That’s not the way Mom drives the car pool. 

 Mom’s never late in picking us up from any of our after school activities.  

That’s not the way Mom shops at the grocery store.  

That’s not the way Mom washes and dries my hair.  

That’s not the way Mom washes, dries, and folds the clothes.   

That’s not the way Mom fixes dinner. 

 Mom always lets us watch this show. 

 That’s not the way Mom tells us good night.

Even when the husband’s commanding officer recovers from her illness or returns from her much needed sabbatical, the chorus “that’s not the way Mom does it,” will ring in his ears forever.

Why?

Because it’s an indisputable fact— no one has the knack, the touch, the intuitive nature, the personality, the style, the grace, the culture, the diplomatic skills,  the vision, the wisdom, the talent, and the hugs of Mom.  

Exodus, Chapter 20, verse 12 in the Bible reads as follows: “Honor your father and your mother.” 

 Perhaps that famous commandment should be edited to include the following:  Honor your father and your mother, but especially your mother.

 Because only a mother has the unique ability and capacity to love her children in the way she does.

 No one else has that touch, no one, but a mother.

She is without question indispensable.