Monday, September 27, 2021

Still A Game And More


These days I find myself enjoying high school football much more than pro or college.  The pro game has always been about the money, but when you see the best playing any sport it can be worth watching.  Yet I seldom watch a game in real time anymore, preferring to record and just fast forward through most of it.

 

I started to lose interest in the Cowboys when Jerry Jones kicked Tom Landry to the curb.  It was time for Tom to hang it up, but it should have been handled better.  When Jones decided he could do it all and didn’t need Jimmy Johnson around, that pretty much finished the Cowboys for me.  I’ve always liked Green Bay and Pittsburgh.  Just the fans, the tradition; it feels like it means so much to everyone connected in some way to those teams.  I’ve always liked the Kansas City Chiefs, even going back to the old days when they were the Dallas Texans (yes, I am that old…).  The Hunt family is a class act and now they have Patrick Mahomes at QB.  He’s about the only great thing that’s come out of Texas Tech football since the good ol’ boys ran off Mike Leach.  So I do like watching Mahomes and the Chiefs.  But that’s about it for me and pro football.

 

Big money has ruined the college game.  It’s always been dirty and never really been about student-athletes.  But at least we could pretend it was somehow amateur; played for the love of the sport, one’s school and fellow students; grateful alumni and adoring fans. Traditions, tail-gating, rivalries, memories, beautiful autumn days when your team won and nothing else mattered at that moment. But now, all of that is officially gone.  Drowned beneath multi-million dollar coaching contracts, transfer portals, conference realignment, NIL deals for the players and its own success as reality television entertainment.

 

So last Friday night, I went to a local high school football game. Texas high school football is a big deal and produces players for college programs all over the nation.  This game was 5A Div II and that’s a pretty good brand of football, just a step behind 5A Div I and a larger step behind the big 6A schools.  But it’s still top-notch football.  The kids played hard and seemed to genuinely care about their teammates and even their opponents.  The coaches were hands on, encouraging the players, concerned about those who got injured, whether their own or the other team’s.  The fans were enthusiastic but mostly well-behaved.  The players; black, white and brown; all stood at attention when the national anthem was played.  It was a closely contested game and our team won on a late touchdown and then a fourth down stop to end the game.  Winning made it better, but it would have been a great night even if the other team had won.  The players, the coaches, the fans, the bands, the cheerleaders, the drill teams; everyone was involved; and the communities were all made better by what went on that night. 

 

And that sort of thing goes on all across this nation on Friday nights.  Yes, I know that players get hurt, not everyone wins and sometimes it’s just not a good experience for some folks.  Human beings have a way of messing up anything if you give them enough time and the motivation to do so.  Yet still there remains something of value when young people get involved in sports; whether on the field, in the band, on the sidelines or in the stands.  We can only hope and pray (silently, of course) that such events survive the current tides of cultural change.


"I remember in September when the final stumps were drawn

And the shouts of crowds now silent when the boisterous cheer had gone.

Let us O Lord above us remember simple things

When all are dead to love us...Oh, the Captains and the Kings."

- Brendan Behan

 






Saturday, August 28, 2021

No Flowers In The Field


 

My dog saw it first.  Barney is an English Springer Spaniel and he doesn’t miss much unless it’s kennel time when he seems to have a hearing problem.  There in the freshly mowed field was a pair of wings, standing upright like flowers.  But it’s August in Texas and, other than sunflowers, there are no flowers in the fields around here.

 

Barney usually sniffs and then chews on most things he finds in the field.  But, this time he just stood there, looking at the tiny wings and then looking back at me for an explanation.  As I got closer, I realized that he had found a butterfly.  An exceptionally beautiful one at that.  It appeared to have only recently nose-dived to earth finding its final resting place in an almost perfect vertical pose, wings fully extended and intact.  Even the butterfly’s body appeared to be unharmed.  I started to pick it up for further examination, but decided such an artful passing need only be memorialized in a photo. 

 

As Barney and I walked on I had to wonder what happened to this butterfly.  They only live for a few weeks. Had its time come?  Did it just run out of fuel and crash?  Or did it fall victim to an angry wasp or some mischievous dragonfly.  Was it the ruthless, deadly herbicide I use to keep weeds and grass out of the fence row?  Or did it just fly to close to the sun?  For some reason it has remained in my thoughts, this dead butterfly suspended at the end of a perfect dive.

 

The next day we walked past the same place and it was still there, but one wing had collapsed giving way to the wind and gravity.  Another day later and the butterfly’s remains appeared to be long gone. But Barney was intent on finding a trace and there some twelve feet away from the crash site was a piece of the wing, soon to become dust, yet still shining in the late evening sun.  

 

Since that day, I have looked in vain for a butterfly as beautiful as that one.  Perhaps next spring there will be flowers in the field and another butterfly even more beautiful will appear….at least for a few days.  




Monday, August 16, 2021

CONFLICT

 


Snarky: 

Critical or mocking in an indirect or sarcastic way. - (Oxford dictionary)

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”  The Apostle Paul -Galatians 5: 14-15


True confession: I have anger issues.  Not that it is expressed by acts of violence, revenge or retribution.  Thankfully, I was not raised by violent people.  Physically hurting others never seemed right to me and, just as a practical matter, seldom works out very well for either party. And growing up, I was bigger and stronger than most kids, so my parents warned me to not be a bully.  I grew up being more of a teddy bear than a grizzly bear.

But I am a teddy bear with an attitude.  That attitude, combined with a sharp wit and an even sharper tongue can do more damage than the best left hook or right cross.  I am at my core a pessimist and very distrustful of others’ actions, intention and motives.  As a result, I tend to be coldly cynical and bitingly sarcastic in dealing with those outside of my circle of trust, a circle which is indeed quite small.   Fortunately, my sense of humor and good ol’ Texas drawl gets me a pass on many comments which if taken at face value would be very offensive if not downright mean-spirited.  

In other words, I was “Snarky” before snarky was even a thing.  But these days being Snarky is how the game is played.  It fuels social media, politics, business, sports, television, movies, music and even Sunday morning sermons.  It has become the zeitgeist, the defining spirit and mood, of our culture.  It is the shedding of blood without the blood as we bite and devour each other.

Why do we, who call ourselves Christians, play this game?  What drives us to say and do those things which defy our Lord’s command to love one another?  It’s easy to say, “Well we aren’t perfect….just poor old sinners, saved by grace, praise God. “  And then go on to act just like everyone else.

But shouldn’t we be better?  Shouldn’t we be different?  Are we just saved, clinging to some shallow faith as our insurance policy against the fires of Hell?  Whatever happened to becoming disciples and going on to make disciples as commanded by the One we claim to believe in and follow? 

As I reflect upon my own behavior, I have come to understand why Anger has earned its place as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Perhaps more importantly, I have learned that Anger is always motivated by one of the other six deadly sins: Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Pride and Sloth. 

Further on in the fifth chapter of Galatians Paul calls such things “the acts of the flesh”.  Then he exhorts us to live by The Spirit, bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

There are times when pushback and conflict are necessary.  But one must always ask, am I doing this out of Envy or Greed or Lust or Pride or any such “act of the flesh”.  Personally, I have found that most of the time, when I am inclined to say or do something in anger, it’s because someone has injured my pride or challenged my power to get what I want.  Well, I’m not perfect…just a poor old sinner…saved by grace…praise God and so it goes on…and goes on.

Since The Fall, the pattern of this world has been one of conflict and chaos.  Honest peacekeepers who truly love others have been few and far between.  Today more than ever, Christians need to be the light that shines in the darkness.  We have bitten and devoured others far too long. 

So the next time you feel anger. or even just some good old-fashioned “righteous indignation” swelling up inside, ask yourself….WHY?  You just might discover that your anger is part of the problem.  The solution will be found in love, that place where all conflicts will be settled in the end.


“I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life.” – Dallas Willard


Saturday, July 24, 2021

I Can't Imagine

 

I watched a replay of the Olympic Games Opening ceremony.  Near the end of the ceremony they played the old John Lennon classic “Imagine” accompanied by a swelling symphony of Hans Zimmer written music while different singers representing the people of the world sang those famous lyrics:

 

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…

 

I am sure millions of people around the world found the singing and the moment to be inspiring. Something that might bring us all together, especially as we battle a global pandemic, social injustice, racism, sexism, violence, climate change and slow service at the fast-food drive thru.  But, I’ve never liked that song or it’s message.  It may a be a feel-good song for those who dream of a man-made earthly Utopia.  But it runs counter to the evidence and human experience, not to mention the truth as written in Holy Scripture.

 

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion, too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

 

C’mon, John.  It’s very hard to imagine no countries.  Geography alone would create countries.  Add in climate, natural resources along with the history of human civilization and you end up with countries. How’s the U.N. working out for us?  And how about that World Health Organization?  Even the E.U. can’t seem to make it work with only a few countries trying to operate just as one.  China would be on board as long as we all do it their way and to their benefit.  John, if only you were still around to explain this dream world to Left and Right-Wing extremists.  

 

And no religion?  People may not go to church.  They may not even believe in God or gods.  But human beings are “religious”.   Whether you believe we were created by a higher power for a higher purpose or just evolved to be what we are, humans are “religious”.  We have to believe in something, we must have a reason to be, to exist.  We may try to replace God with Secular Humanism, a Utopian vision, Social Justice, or some other ideology…but we all end up worshipping something.

 

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

 

Sorry John, I can’t even imagine “all the people” generously sharing highways or elevator space, much less their food and possessions.  A brotherhood of man?  Up to a point perhaps.  No need for greed or hunger?  Sign me up, just tell me how that system is going to work.  More specifically, who’s going to DO the work and who’s going to do the most difficult work, the most critical work?  Somehow I don’t really want the person doing my knee replacement to be functioning on the same level as the person washing my car when it comes to talent, skill, education, training, experience and economic reward.  

To be clear, that person washing my car absolutely deserves my total respect and to be fairly compensated for their labor.  But who’s going to determine what’s fair?  Let me give you a hint….it’s all the people…sharing all the world… and it’s called “the marketplace.   Now that’s something I actually can imagine.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Thinning The Herd

 

Back in December I made my predictions for 2021.  Two of those were related to Covid:

Covid-19 related restrictions will ease up a bit by mid-year, but are not going away in 2021.  If you are expecting “normal” to return sometime in 2021, you will be disappointed.

 70% of Americans will have been vaccinated by the end of the year, but there will still be a good deal of uncertainty.  Some will still get sick and some will die.  The fear and the testing will not go away.  Wearing masks and maintaining social distance will be with us at least through the winter of 2021-22.

The one point that stands out as a big miss so far is the % of Americans who have been fully vaccinated.  Right now that number is 50% and I think it’s doubtful that we will get to 70% by the end of the year.  Factor in the spread of Covid virus variants and the winter of 2021-2022 is not looking good.  I don’t see us going back to masks mandates in states like Texas, but I think you’ll start seeing more people wearing masks and keeping their distance as things go downhill later this year.

There is some good news in that 75% of seniors are fully vaccinated.  However, that it’s only 75% is a baffling.  Given the impact that Covid has had on seniors, why would any older person not take the vaccine.  The risk of side-effects from the vaccine is nothing compared to the risk of Covid for an un-vaccinated older person. While there is no guarantee that a vaccinated person won’t get sick, it appears that they are much less likely to; and if they do, the outcomes are likely to be more favorable.

I don’t think Americans will tolerate another full lockdown.  While football stadiums may be packed in September, by November we’ll likely be back to distancing and crowd limits.  The same is likely for restaurants and bars.  People who are working remote now will continue to work remote and some who have gone back to their office, will return to working remote.  The real wild card will be the schools.  Will they close? Will they offer both in-room and virtual classes?  How many parents will opt to keep their kids home?  And will the government subsidize these “home-schooling” parents?

There are a lot of big questions.  Will those who have been vaccinated need a booster shot this fall?  Will that depend on what vaccine they took in the first place?  If we do have a bad Covid winter, will vaccinations become mandatory? 

All of us would like to put the Covid nightmare behind us.  But Covid just keeps on coming.  And most likely, it will eventually become much like the seasonal flu which kills thousands of people every year.  A lot of people get flu shots and many will start getting their annual Covid shot.  And many will not. 

I am one of those who did take the vaccine. So did my wife.  Most people I know have gotten vaccinated, or at least say they have.  But there are plenty here in Grayson County Texas who have not.  That’s their choice.  It may put all of us, including the vaccinated, at greater risk.  It most certainly puts the unvaccinated at greater risk. Which means until we develop enough natural herd immunity, Covid will continue its march around the world…thinning the herd. 


“Throughout the pandemic, the nation lacked a uniform policy about gathering places, and there was no central authority with the power to make and enforce rules that everyone had to obey. Each community acted on its own, doing as its elected officials thought best.”
― Albert Marrin, Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Birds Of A Feather







On this Fourth of July we find ourselves a nation divided.  Not since the years leading up to the Civil War have Americans been so polarized.  I hesitate to use that comparison considering that some still feel that many Americans are essentially enslaved by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference or just their physical appearance. 

 

Indeed, these days we find ourselves divided along the lines of group identity.  There are groups who believe they are oppressed and groups who are seen as the oppressors.  Postmodern theorists make the case that those who are marginalized and oppressed own the high moral ground from which Truth may be spoken.  Therefore, they get to define the groups, who gets membership, how those groups rank in terms of being oppressed and which groups most clearly intersect with other oppressed groups.   Likewise, they have defined the oppressors who are, for the most part, those who have attained the most power and privilege in Western Civilization.

 

That groups exist is a fact.  How they interact, how we ended up where we are in the 21st Century and what we are going to do about it are issues that must be resolved.   And history tells us that there will be resolution at some point…peaceful or otherwise.

 

History also tells us that human beings are inclined toward grouping.  So groups are never going to go away.  We are tribal.  We form groups on purpose and usually for more than one purpose.   Essentially groups form for protection, production and power.  Groups must evolve to provide all of these, otherwise they fall apart and new groups emerge. 

 

And this formation always begins simply enough: Birds of a feather flock together.  As much as we may try to deny it, this is part of our survival instinct.  The challenge for us today is to decide which feathers matter the most or do any of the feathers matter all that much.  Will we continue to define ourselves by the color or shape or function of our feathers?   Or will we look beyond the feathers and accept one another as individuals?  As a group, as Americans, as citizens of planet earth; we all seek protection from harm, productive lives and the power to choose and control our lives.

 

So maybe the Fourth of July might be a good time to un-ruffle your feathers, look each other in the eye and stop fighting.  Ain’t none of us getting out of this thing alive, so we might as well learn how to get along.


"Once you're in the circus you're all in the circus, and of course it turns out that they are real people too." - Eric Idle, former member of the Monty Python comedy group


 

 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Watering Holes

 

Somewhere in Central Texas, where the state divides between East Texas and West Texas, man-made watering holes become either Tanks or Ponds.  Growing up west of that divide my folks always called them Tanks.   The first time I heard Ponds was when I moved to Paris....the one in Northeast Texas not the other one.  I went dove-hunting with some locals and they said we were going out to a pond.  I thought a pond was a natural watering hole, fed by an underground spring or even just a natural hole in the ground that caught the rain from a creek or something.  When we got to this pond, I saw a big man- made dam that encircled about two-thirds of it.  I commented that this looked like a tank to me...not a pond. 

 

After a few beers,  (Yes, I must admit that we used to drink beer and handle loaded shotguns at the same time.); the locals explained to me the difference between a pond and a tank and why it was an East Texas vs. West Texas distinction.  Their explanation went something like this:

 

“Here’s the deal.  We get enough rain that our ponds don’t dry up.  You get a little ways west of here (little ways in Texas could be 100 feet or 100 miles), and they don’t get the rain like we do.  Their ponds dry up.  Ponds don’t dry up.  Tanks dry up.  So they can’t call them ponds out there.”

 

This logic prevailing, I began calling their tanks ponds.  But whenever I went out to my family’s land in Hood County, those were tanks.  And sometime, the smaller ones were indeed dry.

 

As a boy I spent a lot of time down there in Hood County and some of the best times were at a big tank on my Papaw’s farm.  It was big enough and deep enough that it always had water.  It also had perch, sunfish and bluegills.  That was sport enough for a kid.  My cousins and I would even swim in that old tank, dodging floating cow patties and the occasional cottonmouth.  Today, adults would go to jail if they allowed kids to get in that water.  But we had fun, didn’t get snake-bit or sick, and it probably made us immune to most things that seem to infect people these days.

 

So, of course, now that I live on a little piece of land up here in Grayson County, I had to have a tank...or is it pond?  Grayson County is in that transition zone between East and West Texas.  It’s north of I-20 and east of I-35, so it cannot by any means be called West Texas.  That’s a rule.  Most of the time we avoid the issue by just calling it The Texoma Area, Texoma being the big lake on the Red River dividing Texas and Oklahoma.  But, the real clue to our location is what the Graysonians call their man-made watering holes....Ponds. 

 

So after spending time and money digging up a chunk of land, I do not have a tank...I have a pond.  It’s a nice pond, but it doesn’t feel right.  Ponds are for people who always have water.  Their grass stays green and the cows are always fat.  White fluffy clouds hang in the sky.  Cranes come to ponds for their fish.  Deer drink water from ponds.  Ponds are clean and picturesque.  Ponds always have water.  Tanks go dry sometimes.  Old beer cans and the remnants of shotgun shells litter the ground around tanks.   Artists paint ponds.  Real Estate agents photograph tanks and then touch them up to make them look like ponds. 

 

Ponds are for the right brain.  Tanks are for the left brain.  Now when you look at the Texas map it makes sense.  East Texas, with its ponds is on the right.  The tanks of West Texas on the left.  I’m still going to call my watering hole a tank…but my wife calls it a pond.  As usual, she is right.

 

But I am a tank guy.  If my pond has water in it today, it will go dry tomorrow.  Skunks and feral hogs will end up drinking the water, not deer.  Fish will die and mosquitoes will thrive.  Someday the dam will probably break.  My tank will never be a pond.