“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed” – Mark Twain

My father only attended school to the 11th grade because his father had abandoned the family, and Dad had to take a job to put food on the table. Many times he told me of carrying three paper routes, the last one taking him by the potato chip factory where he could get a bag of crumbs to eat on the way home. The paper routes were before he gave up on trying to get an education.

He and my mother married in 1951, she was 27, he was 34. She came from a higher class than he did. Her father and uncle were partners in a drug store together, the old-fashioned one with a soda fountain like you see in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The difference in classes created a lot of tension between my father and mother. Only in his later years, did my father confide in me that he had always hoped his father-in-law would take him into the drug store business.

By the time my dad married, he had essentially already raised a family providing for his mother and siblings. After the wedding, he and my mom moved into the house that Dad had grown up in.  Mom became pregnant right away, so my grandmother, who was still living in the house, left so my parents could raise their family.

Dad was blue collar, working at the power plant for the electric company. With his limited schooling, he studied the newspaper every day from front to back and that provided his education. In those days, the local newspaper was a common point of reference. In fact, my parents subscribed to two newspapers, the Times Democrat (later to be called the Quad City Times) and the Des Moines Register. In those days, it seemed that the newspaper was trying to print factual and unbiased information. Opinions were saved for the editorials.

There is so much noise in the world today coming at you from every direction, not only giving you the information but also telling you what to think about it.  The media has done a great disservice by intentionally slanting the story in one direction or another, by centering their production around a particular political view instead of focusing on as unbiased a presentation as they can make.   Oh, that they would return to their roots.

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Being a parent

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Being a parent is the hardest and best job anyone can have.  It will not make you rich except in ways you cannot put a price on.  You start the job thinking you have all the knowledge you need only to discover that every day is a new learning experience.  If you made the mistakes at work that you make being a parent, you’d be fired.  Having a child is a matter of biology; being a parent is a matter of commitment.

The best kind of magic …

Thoughts from January 1, 2014 still apply as we start 2016. Personally 2015 was a very tough year … may there be more bright days than dark days in the year ahead for you.

Family Dimensions

New year’s eve is the best kind of magic. The slate is wiped clean, all that was, no longer is, and the horrible things that happened during the year can now be put behind us. Here is to a better 2014. The symbol of the newborn fits because the new year is all full of hope and promise.

In that light, we promise not to drag the same old self into the new year, to take better care of ourselves. We will lose the weight, handle our money better, and set new career goals for ourselves. By golly, it is going to be a better year! 

Sometimes it doesn’t take very many steps into the new year or even a new day until we get a sign that maybe the day or the year is not going to be all that we had hoped.   Here comes Debbie Downer.  Frustration appears…

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What I want in the next president

Who cares?  Who cares what I want in the next president?  Everybody has an opinion about it, why should mine matter?

It doesn’t, other than the fact that I am just another of 330 million Americans and I think this is what you want, too.

I want a president who is going to administer a government that serves it’s people. I’m tired of presidents who think their job is to dictate rules that make people behave in the way they think people should behave. We have two houses of Congress for that. Our forefathers set up those two houses in different ways, so that no one way of thinking can override any other way of thinking. It’s not ideal, but it works better than most other manners of government, so let those people do their jobs.

A president has an awesome responsibility to administer agencies that protect the common person and allow that person to be a productive member of society.  That is why it is called an administration.

We need a military where a young person can go to learn skills and discipline that will make them a productive member of society the rest of their life.  The military protects from natural and man-made disasters that can hit our country as a whole  or any group within it. Examples are hurricanes, lunatics, and invasions from other governments. The military provides a safe environment, and within a safe environment we have the ability to do great things.  The solution to evil invading our lives (bombs at marathons, shootings at schools or theaters, etc.) is not gun control but the presence of visible personnel there to protect the common good.

The government also oversees the delivery of safe food and medication to our store shelves, makes sure that we are not abused by our employers or in interactions with each other, and provides areas and institutions where we can relax, appreciate and learn about the things that God and our predecessors have provided us. These things do not come without a price, so there needs to be a fair and equitable system for collecting the funds.

So it appears that what I am looking for is a great administrator who will have the best interest of an honest, productive person at heart, not someone who promises freebies and a better life. Give me a government that is meeting its obligations, and I can find a better life.

“The Tragic Necessity of Institutions”

churchI was very fortunate to have Pastor Ronald Lavin as my pastor growing up.  He was the product of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and became a Lutheran minister.  His theology was deep and rich.  When I expressed my own desire to enter the ministry, he immediately put me on the Evangelism Committee at church.  In Pastor Lavin’s view anyone who expressed any kind of interest in the church deserved to be called on by the church.  If we were to be disciples of Christ, we had to be Christ-like in reaching out to people, and he taught me that although this may be the most difficult work of the church, it is also the foundation of the faith that we express.  The index cards we were given only had the individual’s contact information, so I called on everyone regardless of race, gender or social-economic status.  It served me well as I learned the meaning of “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Pastor Lavin had a very charismatic personality and that alone was enough to draw many people to him.  He also was not afraid to speak his mind, so when he was asked to address the graduating class of a local college, his address was called, “The Tragic Necessity of Institutions.”  In it, he discussed how the logistics of operating schools, churches, governments and corporations often contradicts the missions they are trying to fulfill.  “When our response to a situation as a church contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ, we are in danger of violating the principles that the organization is built on.”

Evil is resident in the world.  Because of that, many ships (institutions) get tossed over in a storm. In my line of work (I am a Certified Public Accountant), I often see those storms in terms of financial fraud that takes place.  Other moral atrocities may be allowed to storm a ship, but don’t touch the money.  The reaction to financial fraud becomes almost as rancid as the fraudulent act when I see the crew of the ship searching out a captain to flog instead of concentrating on setting the ship upright. We have a tendency in this country (or maybe as humans in general), to want to blame the victim.

In Boy Scouts, we teach that when you point a finger at someone else, you have 3 fingers pointing back at you.   That lesson could be an important one in helping institutions avoid making tragic mistakes.

Freshly mowed lawn

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I’m mowing the grass again this year.  After some years of outsourcing the care of the lawn to lawn services, I have resumed responsibility for it, much to the chagrin of my neighbor who owns the lawn service that I was using.  Although cost was a small part of my original consideration, my real incentive was the exercise.  You can’t hire out your exercise program, and believe me, I have tried.  I subscribed to Mark Twain’s feelings that the best way to handle the urge to exercise was to lay down until it passed.

I’m always amazed when I see pictures of myself, I am so much larger that the picture of me that is in my mind.  If I’d had any of this bulk when I was a kid, I would have played football, but I was a skinny little kid with my ribs sticking out, and confidentially, no athletic ability to speak of.

I am convinced that God gave us lawns to go with our homes when He saw that we are no longer hunters and gatherers.  My lawn mowing experiences since my restart have brought back things that I did not realize I was missing.  Monthly Boy Scout camp outs used to give me a connection with nature, but that has been a few years ago, so lawn mowing does put me in that outside environment again with some beautiful birds.  While I could complete the lawn in a single motion in my younger days, it now requires 2 – 3 rest periods, pleasant 15 minute periods when I can sit with nothing to do and enjoy the breeze and the smell of the freshly mowed grass.

Speaking of that smell, I know a family that gave “Dad” a candle scented as “freshly mowed grass” for Father’s Day.  No comment as to whether “Dad” really appreciated the gift.  One of my earliest memories as a child was my dad mowing the grass with the old rotary mower (it didn’t have a motor), and mom raking it together so a little Kurt could pick it up and put it in the bushel basket.  For Millenials, the rotary lawn mower has not been replaced with a digital version, it just has a motor now … and sometimes a seat … but a digital version is probably not far away.

So keep it simple and remember to enjoy all of life, even mowing the grass.

Father’s Day

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An interesting day in church today.  At the children’s sermon, the minister asked the children about their fathers, who they are, what they do, etc.  presumably to emphasize the role of the father in the family.  All in all, the children remained pretty unresponsive. One child finally responded, “My dad puts criminals away in jail.”

I’m sure I would be told that I am reading far too much into this, but it seems that the role of “father” has been greatly reduced.  The researcher in me took over and I came across Marlena Graves article from Christianity Today in February, 2012, “Role Reversal:  The Problem of the Increasing Marginalization of Men”.

Graves states, “Men in the West still enjoy vast preferences in most sectors of public life, including in professional hiring, government leadership, and, some charge, the church.”  A real boon to men that may be on a power trip, but not much solace to those of us trying to have an impact on lives.  Graves points to an overall decline in respect for men’s roles and offers great analysis and debate.  Maybe it was born out by the response of the children in church this morning.

The point of Graves article was a call for the end of gender wars.  “Let’s embrace biblical notions of shared power, humility, mutual submission and sacrifice, and the unfettered use of our spiritual and natural gifts within the family, church and world.”  An ideal, yes, but one worth striving for.  It’s taken hundreds and thousands of years for us as a human culture to recognize the value of this goal.  The value being that maybe not next year or the year after, but soon, children will voice as loving a response to “who is your father?” as they do to “who is your mother?”