Heaven On Earth.

From time to time I find myself adrift. Maybe overly complacent is more accurate. I’m a little surprised that still happens at my age. I don’t know if it is the same for everybody but from time to time I have to remind myself that trips around the sun are limited. I don’t want to look back on life with too many regrets. I’m not good with regrets. Regrets can lead to icky thoughts and take up space in my head that could be used for good things like love and hope and joy.

I always seem to feel better in life when I’m mindful of my priorities and actually, deliberately, working to maintain them. I need to be deliberate to first accept who I am and then to live purposefully toward serving others. It always seems too easy to get wrapped up with the business of being the things that I do: Father, husband, parent, employee, homeowner or whatever. All of the things I do in those roles require attention and maintenance and time. If I turn from the things I do, to the things I am, I’m better able have fulfillment in my roles. Only attitude, only living purposefully can determine if I’m living fully or merely existing.

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So that are my priorities? Where do I find purpose? Are you ready for this? I want to live my life in such a way as to contribute to heaven on earth. I’m not saying I’m very good at it. I’m not delusional, well not about this anyway. I take stock in the concept of the butterfly effect. (The phenomenon where the swoosh of a butterfly wing on one side of the world can result in a hurricane on the other side of the world.) I pray every day that I can be the kind of man that God wants me to be. Usually I’m lucky if I can finish the prayer before I fail but that mindset might just put me in a place to do some little, maybe even imperceptible thing that could turn something around for someone or someone’s someone later in the day.

What I’m really hoping to do, when I pray to be the kind of man God wants me to be, is doing things like listening to people. Really listening. Just by being present and attentive you can make a difference in someone’s day. I hold doors for people. I greet and engage people where I can. I especially like to engage people who might otherwise go unseen: the security guard, the maintenance guy, the cafeteria server. I try to be helpful where I see people struggling. Maybe they are carrying packages or dropped an item. Maybe they are running to catch the elevator or maybe they just look like they could use encouragement. None of this costs me anything and I find those micro connections, where you recognize that you let someone know they matter, essential to what I value about humanity.

My personality is such that I tend to do most of those things out of habit. On autopilot if you will. But I don’t seem to reap the benefits and fulfillment of those actions without being deliberate. Those are many ways to serve. When I practice these random connections consciously is when I’m most accepting who I am. With that acceptance I feel like I’m better able to be authentic in my engagements. It is built into our humanity to be social creatures. It is our innate proclivity to community that we have been able to achieve so much in this world.

That’s why it bothers me so much to see all of the divisiveness and isolationist rhetoric being normalized by recent trends towards populism. And we should stop calling what’s going on in the world today populism. It isn’t. Populism is defined as “support for the concerns of ordinary people.” That doesn’t seems to match what we are witnessing in society these days. It’s time we took to the streets with a servants heart and see if millions of butterflies can’t just get us back on track and create a little heaven on earth.

Latent Racism

There is a documentary going around exposing Yale students for garish elite entitlement. Support of the point of view is offered by video of interactions between students and university representatives. The film was reportedly made to show us just how over the top the entitled elite students of Yale have become. It is disguised as being about out of touch neophytes browbeating helpless officials who’s response is throttled by fear of lawsuits and perhaps worse, the fear of being politically incorrect.IMG_0101
The thing is, these generational complaints, the ones where comments are made about “those kids these days” are always self-serving and genuinely unoriginal. Socrates, legend would have it, once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” So this has been around forever. My point is, have we forgotten what we were like in college? You may not feel empathy for the students in this story but do you think our parents thought we weren’t just as messed up as these kids are made to look? We were you know. And that’s kind of the beauty of a college education.
We were young, full of energy and ecstatic about the blossoming capabilities of our expanding minds. New ways of thinking were offered not only in curriculum but in the confluence of kids from all over the country and the world in pursuit of higher education. We were no longer isolated in our homogenous hometowns where even if we were lucky enough to have come from a land of racial and ethnic diversity we were still most likely, surrounded by like minded people. College is a place to test out ideas, a place to safely find a voice and learn what works and what doesn’t. It is a training ground for the all too near real world in which they will soon be immersed.
I remember when my kids were young and we would spend weekends in bleachers and auditoriums watching hundreds of kids perform in their chosen extracurricular endeavors. I would hear people then, most likely people without kids at home, complain about the younger generation and the loss of hope for humanity. I always thought, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Those kids then, as I am sure kids now, were as driven and confused and trying to figure things out as we ever were.
But that’s not what bothers me about this video. The reaction to the video, in no small part is veiled racism. The question arises because the issue used to focus our angst at these privileged students was a racial insecurity. I do not condone the actions or comments of the students but I won’t condemn them either. This issue was wrapped in the 1st Amendment but underneath it was about race. These kids aren’t dumb. Not by any stretch of the imagination. They live in a world where nationalism and white supremacy are being normalized. I noticed the filmmaker never offered other instances of Yale students airing grievances. Certainly if the entire campus ran amok with spoiled self-centered egotists they would have been able to demonstrate other examples.
The whole thing reeked of “look at those uppity black folk who don’t know their place.” And the message is working. People are happy to condemn and ridicule the students as entitled elitists and never have to mention the ethnicity at play. The video is the perfect cover for latent racism. It was racism hidden in overgeneralization and supported by opportunistic video clips and clever editing. A better story would have been why, in 2017, are these kids living with that fear.
Yale is going to be OK. I hope the same is true for the students.

Intersectional Grievances And Hope For Unity.

The story of Roberto Beristain and his family has haunted me since his story broke on February 6th. Roberto had been living in South Bend Indiana under an “order of supervision”agreement with DHS. The agreement, under the historical interpretation, allows immigrants with a removal order to remain in the country for humanitarian reasons. Roberto had been doing all the right things. He regularly checked in with DHS, paid his taxes, was raising a family and employing twenty people at the successful restaurant he owned in South Bend. Roberto was arrested at his last DHS check-in and has been deported. His case attracted national attention because his wife had supported Donald Trump. Mrs Beristain claimed she feels betrayed because her husband is in no way a “bad hombre.”IMG_0095

Roberto’s story has been making the rounds on social media where the family is being vilified by the right and the left for harboring a criminal or”getting what they deserved” for voting for Trump. There is a family who’s entire world has been turned upside down and I’m certain if this were someone we knew we would be more sympathetic.

There’s a school of thought emerging that rises in depression and anxiety are the result of our increasingly comfortable lifestyle and resultant insulation from adversity. That’s not to diminish the challenges of modern life but real adversity like hunger, homelessness and persecution are largely removed from the average American’s daily life. With that lack of adversity some of our sense of purpose and ergo hopefulness has diminished. I sense that this void is what leads to a growing lack of empathy for others. Deep down, if feelings of unhappiness undermine our subconscious we lash out at others. I’m just going to leave that right there. It’s just a theory.

I’m a ridiculous optimist. I suppose my privilege affords that. I would hope that others could feel that optimism in this time where we are facing so much uncertainty, dissonance and division. My optimism comes from Roberto’s story and the ugly commentary that has attached to the story. It is my hope that reasonable people might see that and say, “Wait! What?” This family is being torn apart and both sides are piling onto their suffering. We’ve got to be better than that. There lies our hope, our purpose our challenge in the face of adversity. It’s time we quit knee-jerk responding with hostility and dismissiveness. The intersectional grievances of our discontent can be a point of unity. I’m going to chase that idea for a little bit. Will you join me?

 

Riding With My Dad.

IMG_0091My dad lied about his age to join the Navy in 1944. He was worried he wouldn’t get a chance to serve his country if he waited until he was of age. Landing a spot in the Seabee’s he participated in the clean-up of American interests in Nagasaki. His ship docked in Nagasaki shortly after Fat Man, the 22-kiloton atomic bomb, had been dropped at 11:02 on the morning of August 9, 1945. He never did talk much about what he saw there. I can’t imagine. When you witness the specific reality of such horrors it would affect you any number of ways. My Dad took some time to sort all that out in his own way I guess. Typical of some World War II Veterans my Dad found comfort in a Harley Davidson and the associated brotherhood that is now iconic Americana.IMG_0088

My dad was, however, willing to tell us stories about his motorcycling days and that is most likely why I ride to this day. He gave up motorcycling when he met my mom. He never told us why he made that decision but it was apparent he never lost his enthusiasm for two wheels. My dad was a practical man. I’m confident he subjugated his love for Harley’s in exchange for the priority of his family. Still, even in the later years of his of his life, whenever he heard the distinctive sound of a Harley, he would stop whatever he was doing and look for the source.

One of my father’s last rides was in late June of 1950. He decided to visit Yellowstone on a whim. He jumped on his 1949 FL pan-head and rode west. Alone. I asked him why and he smiled and just said, “I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone.” I suppose that’s as good of a reason as any. It was hard to reconcile such a free spirit once residing in a man who so epitomized living his life for others. He worked twelve hour days, six days a week at the gas station he owned. Busting his knuckles in the shop and wiping his hands on an oily rag he always had a smile on his face for any customer who pulled up to his full service pumps. His work ethic extended beyond providing for us. He was active at church, devoted to his family and did all of the maintenance on our humble cape cod.

On the occasions he recalled his trip to Yellowstone it seemed as if he was reliving the wind in his hair and rumble under his seat. He spoke proudly of his Harley which he claimed was the only motorcycle in the world that you could ride at eighty miles an hour all day long. My dad wouldn’t see Yellowstone on that trip. He would never see it from the seat of a Harley. He had stopped in Cody Wyoming to fuel up just outside the majestic park. The attendant asked, “Have you heard? North Korea has invaded South Korea and it sounds like we’re going back to war.” My dad told the man to fill it to the rim and hurry. He saddled up and headed for home. He had the opportunity to prove his bike would run eighty miles per hour all day long. It took him over twenty-four hours to ride straight through to the Naval recruiting station in his home town. Duty. Honor. Character.

Nearly fifty years later, some twenty years after my father had passed, I had the opportunity to trace his Yellowstone ride. I had just completed the glorious ride down Shell Canyon and was a little emotional from realizing this country had probably changed very little since my father had rode there. I had used most of my gas riding through the Big Horn Mountains. Cody lie ahead. I have to admit I watched nervously for anyone who might approach that would have some inconceivable news that might end my trip. God smiled upon me and I was able to spend the next few days with my dad filling my heart and taking in a timeless American treasure. I’d say my dad would have loved that ride through Yellowstone but I had the real sense that he was there all along, riding with me side by side.

 

Lead With Your Heart. Sometimes.

One of the favorite stories I love to share comes up when I introduce lending to new hires in my job at the credit union. I make the story fit my curriculum at work but I’ll share with you what really happened.
A guy, I’m just going to call him Mike, came in to get a loan. The thing was, Mike saw me often to get a loan but I was never able to give him one. Mike had a good job but had made some poor financial choices in the past and held more debt than any man ever should. I knew that every month it was likely he needed to make the decision to eat or pay his bills. I just wasn’t able to do anything for him that wouldn’t make his situation worse.
A lot goes into the measure of a man. Mike could just never say no to his family. The repeated loan requests were always for the benefit of his wife or daughter and never about him. One beautiful spring day he came into my office and sat heavily in the chair across my desk. He had been crying. I acted as if I hadn’t noticed. He needed fifty bucks to get him through to payday because his daughter had been invited to Prom. His wife and daughter would make a dress. He was certain she would be the most beautiful girl at the prom… if he could only get his hands on fifty bucks… to buy a bit of cloth.
Everything about this loan was wrong. Credit worthiness, IMG_0086capacity to repay and the loan fell below my minimum loan requirements. I made the loan. You might ask why I didn’t just hand the guy fifty but I knew he wouldn’t have accepted it that way. I set him up for a ninety day note and by the time you add up the cost of toner, the documents, the statements and the data processing expenses it was a loser of a deal no matter what interest rate I would have charged him. But sometimes doing business isn’t about making the best deal.. Sometimes doing business is affording another a little dignity and that is what this was about. As the papers came out of my printer and I spun them for a signature I noticed Mike sitting taller and looking about ten years younger.
I have made some good loans in my day. College loans, vacation loans, wedding loans, car loans and home loans. Few things are better than handing a check to someone to make their dreams come true. That being said, no loan ever gave me more satisfaction than handing over that fifty dollar loan draft on that beautiful spring day. We locked eyes and shook hands. A lot can be communicated through a handshake when you look a man in the eye. I think I never saw more resolve and gratitude than in that moment. Still, no matter Mike’s intention at that point, I had assumed that I would pay off this loan before it went delinquent. I never had to.  I’ve heard people brag about making the best deals, the biggest deals and so many deals, believe me, I’m just not impressed. I want to know what’s in a man’s heart. If he works hard and struggles for others then I’m impressed.
I got lucky on that loan. I explained it to my board and they weren’t happy but they trusted that my heart was in the right place. We need more of that these days. There are times when leading with your heart is the right thing to do. Oh! And Mike came back after prom and showed me pictures. My favorite was the one where he stood tall beside his daughter with the look of the proudest father in the history of fatherhood apparent in his smile. It’s likely his daughter was the most beautiful girl at the prom.

A Story About Ducks, Football and The American Dream.

It was homecoming of my senior year at Cedar Falls High School. Time was running out and we had a 21-0 lead over cross town rivals from Central Waterloo. I didn’t have a spectacular high school football career but I like to think I played an important role for the team. Eleven starters had bravely defended our goal for the entire game. They were able, in part, to do that because I and my duck squad had learned the opponent’s tendencies and prepared our team for what they might see in the game. That’s the thing about teamwork; victories are often the result of unseen contributions.IMG_0083
I was captain of the ducks but I’m not sure how the name “ducks” was attributed to our practice squad. Washington park had a pond that was home to a flock of ducks and I assume the name originated with less than complimentary intent. Regardless, by the time I was in high school the moniker had its own sense of honor.
We were fortunate to play our home games in the local university’s domed stadium. The air supported cloth roof had flashed throughout the game as a raging thunderstorm lit up the October night sky. The fans were jubilant as the defense struggled to maintain the shutout. The Chargers were driving toward the end zone. It was time for my ducks to shine. We were fresh. We were hungry. We wanted our taste of this victory in the understood contact that we got to play when games were well in hand. Two minutes left.
The coach hadn’t looked our way. I called out. “Coach! It’s duck time.” One minute thirty remaining. Maybe he hadn’t heard me. “Coach! We’re ready.” “Not now Willy” he said. A couple more plays went by and my duck squad was looking to me with hope in their eyes. Another play. The clock ticked under a minute. I was mad. I saw what was going on. The coach wanted the shut out. I stepped in front of the coach and fighting back tears of rage yelled, “Coach! We want to play! Now!” For his own reasons the coach turned his back on me. Time expired. The shutout was in the books.
9EDB06D9-BF91-4CA3-9679-1546807C72CBOur high school and locker room was a couple of miles from the stadium. Normally the bus ride home after any victory was marked with macho and boisterous bravado in the manner only teen age boys are capable of. But there was no hooting. No hollering. No chanting. No laughter or talks of events after the game. There was only some murmuring; maybe a sniffle here and there as the bitter disappointment from the unrewarded hours and hours of hard work and dedication sank in.
It was still pouring rain. It was a seriously reduced visibility kind of rain. And as the bus pulled up behind our gym I looked down disgustingly at my glaringly white game pants. I made sure to get to the front of the bus before the doors opened and I looked back at my team. “I’ll tell you what! I didn’t get to play tonight but I’ll be damned if they aren’t going to have to wash my uniform!” I ran off the bus and swan dove into the muddy field beside our school. As I came to the end of my slide teammates, all of them, ducks and starters alike, were sliding past me. The first sounds of joy filled the air as we frolicked in the mud.
The coach was waiting at the door when we went in. He didn’t say anything but he looked me in the eye and I knew he knew. He was a great coach but had made a mistake that night. He knew it. We knew it. Sometimes that’s enough.
I thought about this story because I’m seeing more and more stories of people banding together to challenge adversity. Western society is hierarchical in its own ways and just like my heart swelled when my team had my back I have to believe we encourage people who feel at risk when we show them support. There are many changes facing our country these days. Nearly every psychological need is at risk by one person or another in America today. To fully grasp what it requires to be our best certain hierarchical needs must be met. From Maslow’s great work:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love.
4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

You can see how these things are at risk for many in our community under the Trump administration. Only by standing together will we be able to ever truly celebrate home coming. Let’s make the world a better place. Resist. Persist.

That’s Just How We Do Things Around Here

There’s a story about an experiment involving five monkeys that has been floating around and is popular in management seminars. Basically it goes like this:
IMG_0080A scientist put five monkeys in a room and in the middle of the room was a ladder with bananas on the top of it. Every time a monkey went up the ladder to get a banana, the scientist sprayed the other monkeys with ice cold water. The monkeys didn’t like that. The monkeys learned that they would be sprayed if another monkey climbed the ladder so they would attack any monkey that got near the ladder. Eventually, none of the five monkeys dared to go up the ladder in spite of the covered bananas. Once the behavior was learned the scientist no longer sprayed the monkeys because none would go near the ladder.
One day the scientist replaced one of the monkeys with a new monkey. The first thing the new monkey did was head for the ladder to get the bananas. Immediately the other monkeys attacked. It didn’t take very long for the new guy to learn he didn’t want a banana that bad so he quit going near the ladder. After some time, a second monkey was substituted and the same thing occurred. Interestingly, first new monkey eagerly joined in the beating of the second monkey even though he had never been sprayed. Then a third monkey was exchanged and the same thing happened.. The fourth monkey was substituted, same result. Finally the fifth and final original monkey was replaced so none of the monkeys remaining had ever been sprayed with ice water. None would climb the ladder. When the scientist asked the monkeys why, they replied, “We don’t know. That’s just the way we’ve always done it around here.”
It’s a pretty dark story but I imagine the point resonates with most of us; that we all have some things we do in life and we aren’t sure why, What is that? It’s not even always about comfort or complacency. Hearing that story has me wondering what things I do that don’t make much sense. My weight is always a challenge and it’s possible that some of that is conditioned response. I have validation issues, just a little bit though. (wink) What is it that makes me crave approval? Or how about judgement? When I hear someone refer to liberals as elitists I want to thank them. Because I do see liberals as more evolved and deep down…I know that’s not right.
There are many things in a given day that rob me of my Zen. IMG_0081People with more than 15 items in the twelve or less checkout or the old man with a coin purse digging for the exact change shouldn’t bother me. Last second lane mergers, other people’s wild kids, mushy apples and reality TV aren’t worth a flash of negative thought. There’s no sense holding onto things because that’s what I’ve always done. It’s time to let some things go.
I’m glad it’s Friday. Let’s go enjoy some bananas.

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