Friday, April 27, 2012

Can of Worms

A few days ago I posted an article from a global publication to FB about the increasing destructive nature of student loan debt with my opinion tacked on.  That opened up a rather impassioned dialogue but common to the passion was the fact that students generally do not use discernment in the use of student loan money.  Then yesterday in another newspaper I was reading was a political cartoon of a college student in cap & gown reaching for his diploma but trailing from beneath the gown was a ball and chain of student loan debt.  This week I have watched from the Senate floor debate on the issues of student loan debt and the increasing of loan rates coming up in the near term and what the government, we the taxpayers, can do to alleviate the terrible debacle student loans have created. So I have pondered ... read on!

I grew up in a family deeply affected by alcoholism so I will backboard my comments to that horrific remembrance.  I was angry for decades with the liquid substance of alcohol as the culprit as the core reason for the memories that still linger.  But then a few years ago I had one of those aha moments when it hit me clearly that the alcohol itself was less the issue subordinated by the fact of a choice on the part of my father and the millions of others to ingest that poison.  Choices have consequences if they are bad choices and I believe alcoholism is a process of really bad choices.  Yes there is clinical realities but it begins with poor choice.  

So the parallel to me as the son of an alcoholic to the ball and chain reality of student loan debt is that it is still about choice meaning the student at some point must reside at the decision gate of will I get loan money or not and then how will I best utilize those monies once in my possession and then, oh by the way, how will I build that into my economy to repay the monies loaned over time.  From that point onward, the choices take legs of execution and thus consequence for decades potentially.  The problem with money that comes too easily available, like alcohol, is that a dependency either clinically or from the luxury ride it can provide in the short term always comes to a pay day.  It is that pay day where we now reside as a nation.

As a professor and seeing hundreds of students from freshmen to seniors sit before me with multiple thousands of dollars in student loan debt and credit card debt piled on top, my heart hurts but then many times that hurt melts away quickly when I realize how the monies are being expended in unnecessary, frivolous, living beyond one's means lifestyle such as cars, jewelry, tattoos, etc, etc; it is then I get very angry at all the hoopla splashed across news ink, computer blogs and TV cameras. I realize there are legitimate examples of needs and needs met via student loan debt and thus there is a need for such a program. But when I see that lack of drive to really seek to get a college degree with zero loans meaning working for a living, going to school a little longer but earning the funds to pay for the tuition and books; I get really tight in my belly at the waste and yes, I said waste and this waste goes on, plus interest, for a lifetime.

Here is generally what I witness in my years now of university teaching ... students that work, that intern, that drive to complete their degree with no debt are better and more mature in their academic endeavor. As well, I see employers more seeking their services upon graduation for they have shown maturity and having actually accomplished something through sacrifice.  I think sacrifice is my operative word today for not enough students truly understand what that means; to sacrifice something now for something better in the future!

I will tell you for one person, me, I fully grasp that issue of sacrifice for I certainly did and am appreciative of the DNA I got from my mother of how important that verb really is.  Yes, you may not get to wear the clothes others do or drive cars as others do or have as many dates or restaurant meals but that which is not spent for vain reasons is money retained for higher purpose reasons. So yes, I fully know about sacrifice and yearn for my students to seek that noble ground. But then I must also realize many, perhaps most, of my students have never seen the living example within their homes of parents have to sacrifice which I saw daily in my mother.  I wish I could thank her now for the example she gave in being selfless instead of selfish!

So I have opened a much needed opened can of worms.  So let me summarize! Student loan debt is a choice which can be good or not good. Not good means bad choice and bad choice means consequence into marriage, children and even grandchildren. Choose well!  Learn the value of sacrificing now for something better in the future and entering a marriage and a career debt free is the greatest gift you can give a husband or wife and your children!

If I have hurt your feelings today; perhaps they needed a good hurting!  The only thing I hate more than pain is debt.  Debt is the worst form of cancer for whoever owns your debt owns your future.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sometime you just have to feel really good about things!

This rainy morning I have chosen to read no global news and while I struggle with withdrawal from that routine of filling my brain with what is happening in trying to understand why, I have instead found myself quietly smiling about some really great things I have witnessed this week; and yes, it feels very good!  Let me explain ...

First of all, the outpouring of love and caring and I am seeing from so many around the terrible reality my student, Justin Wigington, is working through is truly heartwarming.  Students rallying to contribute money, money I am sure most have very little of, getting businesses where they work to donate nice items for raffle or auction for the fundraiser, people that do not even know Justin but know me in some way are making themselves part of the journey, hearing the uplifting messages and words from an optimistic mother cheering for her son ... just got to feel great about being human and humane in what seems like a world gone mad!

Another smile is in watching a young lady in one of my classes new to leading a team deal with an emotional, anger-ridden situation within her team rise to the challenge and manager the dynamic masterfully.  I could not be more proud of her and in speaking with her last night I realized all over again taking the time, investing the energy and coaching through issues for and with my students is worth every ounce for they are learning lessons today, yes, but more importantly learning and preparing for the real challenges of life that reside across their horizon. That is why I love to teach and teach the way I do. I realize I actually enjoy working through the issues that arise probably more than the actual teaching itself!

We celebrated a sixth birthday with Ms. Gracie Williams, our beautiful little blond grand daughter with such an amazing mind of creativity and art.  I was so warmed to just sit and watch her glow with her new bike and seeing two families joined by marriage and connected DNA to this child enjoying a few minutes of laughter, food and, well, just being loved and getting to love ... cannot beat it!

So against the context of the craziness of the world, I sit here in reflection of a really great week looking forward to a day of worship with friends and family tomorrow knowing now I will be recharged for another week of challenges.  See, to sum it up, I know I am blessed in so many ways such as health, family, my work, my music, my enjoyment of learning and loving watching the learning process take place in my students.  Thank you God for life but thank you God for your Son that you gave up so that I can have eternal life when this one is over! THAT is the real blessing.

Today, take a few minutes and really count your many blessings, count them one by one and you will will quickly see what the Lord has done!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Acid of Disgust

Those of you that know me know I am upbeat, optimistic and love to encourage people to be better than they themselves think they can be.  However, I really messed up a great day by watching the Subcommittee hearings on CSPAN of the GSA wasteful spending debacle and got to tell you I became so angry I wanted literally to throw up.  I think not enough Americans have hit that magic sweet spot of being absolutely disgusted with the rancor, the cheating, the fraud, the abuse of taxpayer money, the ineptitude of our political leadership, the poison that continues unabated on Wall Street.

As I began to write this it was announced that Citibank shareholders voted down a $15,000,000 BONUS to CEO; a recipient of TARP funds just three years ago.  Almost daily we see snippets of banks issuing credits cards, banks that received TARP taxpayer money, increasing fees, inventing new fees aimed at an already debt laden drowning American public.

I want sooooooo badly to write about the sun coming up, the great inventions, the wins, the joys of this wonderful thing called life but then find myself literally absorbed with the cesspool swirling around us and you pick the Party.  I have just listened to on CSPAN a long debate about Post Office closures and learned, not surprisingly, of no layoff clauses in union contracts, payment for non work, guarantees of not being moved to a new location and who runs the Post Office? The same people that run Amtrak that is well underwater. So the solution posed today? We must save the post offices irrespective of the fact that 80%+ of hard mail is not junk mail, overall volume of mail deliver is down nearly fifty percent and the Senate are throwing arrows at each other at even the thought of closing post offices, laying off postal workers that are obviously not needed by we the taxpayers, stopping mail delivery on Saturday because Uncle Fred will miss his Saturday newspaper on Saturday morning, etc, etc.!

My anger is energized from working my professional life in tire manufacturing where every thing you did, every action taken, every person hired was weighed on the balance of adding cost to the making of the tire and if it did, you did not do it; it was really just that simple! So when I see boldfaced the waste of our monies, the binding of management's wrist by union contracts impeding doing whatever is necessary to bring efficiencies to a defunct system, and it is, I simply want to kick a tree really, really hard.

The greatness of America has always resided in doing right things right and in find efficiencies as Mr. Adam Smith, the Father of the Free Enterprise espoused into our very national doctrine in the 1700s.  Our greatness has been in find a better way, pioneering new paths, pushing the envelop but it seems to me we have grown lethargic, accepting and frankly, quite lazy in seeking the tough, stony paths!  I preach endlessly to my students to make themselves better, push themselves, get out of Canton, OH, work out of this country, experience this world.  You should Google Plato's Cave and spend sometime there.  We are trapped as a nation in that cave and do not wish to venture out to seek a new reality. Therefore, we reside in that cave, pine and whine about the shadows which are what I outline above; sadly, this has become our reality.

I long to see some of my students make the tough decision to venture out of this Cave, make a difference, create a new path and others will follow!  Like my signature block on my email states ... STAY IN THE FIGHT but that means initiating combat against the status quo.  Somebody once told me, if you do not stand for something you will fall for anything.  I think that a most appropriate adage in light of the shadows in your Cave. So, what do you stand for?  Because another adage that applies, if you do what you have always done you will get what you have always gotten .... not liking what we are getting, are you?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Taste of Our World

As I sit here with the sun flowing through my back windows at the close of another day and with my speaking and singing voice now have moved back to Alabama instead of remaining here in Ohio with me, silence this day has given me time to assess some of the flavors of our world.  The courses to the meal are many with North Korea yet again rattling her missiles,  the racial divide in our nation continues to widen from the tragedy in Florida,  the political rhetoric continues to escalate to the point I am about to just quit listening ... but, you know, life is really pretty good isn't it?  That is a serious question so let it soak into the pores for a little while in your own part of this universe.

I realize a fatal flaw that has pretty much always been part of me is this insatiable need to want to understand Why something is as it appears.  I realize, therefore, I will over think things and people. I admit it. I have a problem. I care too much some time I suppose but hey, if you are going to admit you have a problem, that one is not too bad, is it?

When I think about all the global shifts and pangs of worry and fear I can get absorbed.  But more importantly when I focus on those around me that are hurting, fearful, disappointed, threatened, and scared about the tomorrows, then I realize how blessed my family truly is.  Four students this semester from the same class have and are experiencing some really terrible issues in their own lives or in the lives of those that they love. They are experiencing the power of Why in such things as will I walk again, will my life be changed forever for medical issues, will family hurts and anger create an even more horrific situation, etc?  All pertinent questions and all very real and all in my world where I live and invest my time, effort and prayer.  People are hurting. People are scared. People are hopeful. People are determined.  People make other people either better or worse.  As the Bible teaches us, as iron sharpens iron, so does Man sharpens Man. 

So my Taste of Our World is having an awe inspiring renewal of the power of a Loving God that is there; HE IS ALWAYS THERE FOR ME!  I know He is there.  I hurt when I see the waves of life wash over my loved ones and my students but do not see the reliance on that Loving God to calm the fears and dissipate the worries of this life.  I do thank God for the wonderful flavors on my taste buds of this wonderful thing called life.  See, I am blessed and yes, I know it. 

So for those that toss a small rock at me for seeming to always write about the negatives of this world, the sun, the day, the air I get to breathe and the work I still get to do leave me with this sense of good in this world.  A song that is out now sung by Jeff Easter is entitled, I Get To!  In that song he talks about having to mow the grass when he was a boy but now that he is a man and his dad has had a heart attack, he gets to mow the grass.  That song is so compelling to me.  I guess you have to live long enough to realize the things you no longer have to do but you get to do them for the right reasons.  That is how I would sum my life in tasting my world; I get to do what I love to do be it teaching, singing, encouraging, loving and yes, living.  

That is what I call a pretty good deal!  I pray you can translate that into your own life.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hearts, Moons, Blood and Joy!

Awakening this morning after a night of weird dreams, I viewed out my living room windows to see that breathtaking moon that God hung up there just for me I feel.  Am still wiping the sleep from my eyes in trying to focus when those four components of today's blog slipped into my brain; heart, moon, blood and joy so let me unfold how those four rivers come to confluence this morning for this, for me, is a very special morning so let me explain and see if God has embedded a special message for you in someway.

Almost exactly twenty-years ago at this very moment on the clock plus the six hours time difference in Europe, I was experiencing a heart attack so April 7, 1990 at 1240 European Standard Time always resonates in my life.  The event was, in retrospect, not all that traumatic but for a few hours and days after that basketball game but remembering vividly laying on the cold floor of the men's locker room with many people hovered around me, encouraging me, praying for me, seeing tears and fears melted together; all a tapestry that will never be removed from my mind's vault.  Having just played a basketball game against the varsity men's team of the American International School in Luxembourg and had beaten them soundly, I realized I have allowed myself to slide back to my college playing days with no thought of the overexertion implication at forty-two years old. I was sinking shots and blocking shots galore. Racing up and down the floor, setting up shots, rebounding with reckless abandon and having a wonderful time; so vivid. But then I knew!

As it turned out, the heart attack was relatively light with no residual affects physically but with tremendous emotional and spiritual affects going forward.  See, I realized after the fact, that God had given me a wake up call plus another chance. I looked at life much differently. I loved my family more and wanted to be better at everything.  As it came time to return to work, I could not wait for it was like I had to prove something to someone.  But twenty-two years ago, no doubt, my life was changed in path, in direction, in every way.

As a family we rarely even speak of that day now and doubtful they even think about it much but one more, those twenty-two wake ups always leave me with such a sense of humbleness at how God has used those twenty-two years in so many ways.  So this day, my heart and what happened with it is a backboard on my goal of life.  I thank God everyday for the gift of life He provides me in allowing me to do what I love so much with teaching, singing, loving, living!

In the Good Friday service at my church last evening, there was a short video used which was actual video of the human blood flow microscopically filmed with captions about human blood cannot be manufactured by Man but that Man cannot live without it.  That few moments of video captivated my mind which I believe was God's plan to awaken me spiritually for this special day for my heart and me.  Blood is to Man what Water is to Earth; it is life!  So watching actual blood course through arteries was such an impactful view for me and touched me deeply.

So my heart attack, the phenomenal beauty of the moon and the powerful reality of blood are the rivers the flow around me but have come to confluence in my life this day in reflecting and counting the Joy of this life for one Jim Williams for my life does abound with true joy.  That joy is manifested in so many ways. Just this week in getting to sing to a phenomenal group of older folks always bring enjoyment to me in seeing how music can be such a blessing but this time I felt real joy in my soul in getting to exercise my ministry of music. That still amazes me when I think about being identified by so many people through my music; that is a gift God has granted me and I know it. 

Just this week we have witnessed tremendous prayer-driven improvement in the stamina improvement of my student, Justin Wigington that hopefully will allow the ventilator to be permanently removed so rehab can begin on his real issue of the broken back and trying to walk again.

Just this week I have seen growth in some students that I realize God has positioned me to be part of that growth as they prepare for a future.  That is a true Joy for me to see successes where there seemed to be no way to gain success.

Just this week I have witnessed further spiritual growth in a young man, former student, God opened the door to his heart several months ago but this week I believe that pathway was moved from the brain to the heart which is where the Spirit resides.  I could not be happier in seeing this spiritual progress for it requires a life change ... a CHANGE in LIFE .... that is powerful isn't it?

So Heart, Moon, Blood and Joy = LIFE CHANGE and I can tell you that if God took me home today that I can honestly and sincerely write those words of description; my life has been changed for the better and what a blessing it is to be able to write those word of testimony.  It is because of that that I believe God has opened up floodgates of ministry in song, in teaching, in witnessing, in encouraging, in loving the life I get to live but the greater joy is in knowing that life that waits for me when this life is over is going to be even better.  THAT is the real joy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Following the gold ...

I had recorded from The Military History Channel a program entitled, "Following the Nazi Gold."  I finally watched it last night and it was, well, compelling.  Sure, some of the documentary was biased and slanted and overly poisonous at times which is normal for showmanship but still I was compelled to think deeply about what I saw and what I see, wondering if there is a linkage from history to today into tomorrow on such a horrid topic.

Having researched and studied Hitler's ability, sinister at best, to rouse a sleeping giant called Germany and then to rally that giant focused on global dominance and then to see through the lens of history the various military, diplomatic, economic and political arms of the regime is quite amazing when viewed through the microscope of history.  Not until watching that documentary did it hit me that a major driver for the rapid national expansions of the Nazi effort was to take over the financial assets of gold and currency and fine art of the conquered nation.

In other words, Hitler was driving his armies rapidly to capture entire nations thus collaterally able to glean the spoils of the victories to pay for further expansions; a cause and effect reality.  But the ace in Hitler's hole was, of course, Switzerland that was complicit in so many ways with the world allowing, wrongly, to grant Switzerland a "neutral nation" status that was abused and used by the Nazi war effort.  I just found all of that very interesting and especially since I had not connected those dots myself prior.

But then as I went to bed with all of that rumbling through the cerebellum, I began thinking if all of that strategic orchestration, sick but masterful frankly, is feasible in a globalized, wireless world of the 21st century with the threat of nuclear always in the nostrils of our world?  Could there be a "Hitler" smart enough, strong enough, astute enough, driven enough to put together a multi-layered strategic plan as Hitler and his henchmen did and execute it so ruthlessly but yet so efficiently today? 

As I watch the rapid escalation and elevation of the BRICS led by the Chinese, I wonder.  As I watch China more than double its military spend as a percent of GDP while the post WWII powers military spend continues to be reduced due to debt / interest / entitlement requirements, I wonder.  As I watch entire regions, Asia and South America strengthen around one central nation in that region; I wonder.  As I watched the post WWII powers wallowing and bowing to the BRICS which is a far cry from the role America and later England and Germany played at the global diplomatic chess game of the 20th century, I wonder!

So on this still dark Wednesday morning, I have awakened with this deep gnawing that America needs to gain traction and firm footing to stand tall against the winds of terror that exist in our world.  The world needs America to be that strong, agile, mean force that keeps the bad people looking over their shoulder.  For those that think America does not nor should be the cop on the global beat, just look around and see what that beat now looks like with a weakened cop, the US, and see if you like what you see!  Today's headlines across the world are predicting early withdrawal from Afghanistan as we raced to leave Iraq; how is that working out for us? Not too well for the violence continues, the threat of a nuclear Iran looms larger and I believe history will paint those withdrawals as it has for the 1975 withdrawal from Vietnam; a strategic military loss! 

I want the world to fear America for I believe fundamentally that the foundation of respect is fear and we have managed to pretty much flitter that away by giving way to dictators and tyrants instead of punishing them relentlessly as Mr. Hitler and Mr. Mussolini experienced. I sense our current Mr. Hitler, our man in Iran, feels no real fear of the US war machine thus why should be be restrained from his spoken aim of annihilating the Jewish state, right?

But I believe a greater and perhaps the greatest concern I see in our nation on a grand scale is that our citizenry has lost fear and thus respect for a Sovereign God; that same God upon whose principles this nation was built and a Constitution that chartered this nation on those Godly principles. Hitler's rise and regime was built on a godless doctrine and millions died as a result.  We, today, are in a growing godless society and all the societal malformations that go with that such as our beliefs about what a marriage really is, disregard for human life, abominable acts around the world, atheism outpacing evangelical religion, etc, etc.  Can you see the parallel to a Hitler Germany and all the horrors and malcontents of that Germany to an America that has forsaken the very founding principles upon which our nation was chartered?  I can and it is very disheartening and scary for my grandchildren and their world.

We are at the Easter season, the most Holiest of all the seasons when we celebrate the death, burial and RESURRECTION of our Risen Savior.  My prayer is that this Easter will be marked as a high water mark for all that is pulling us down as people return to the precious sweetness and love our Sovereign God has gifted us with if we will but accept it and turn from our terrible societal ways.  This nation has become the children of Israel at the base of Sinai carousing sinfully while Moses was with God on the mountain. That Bible story has taken on a new life with me after that documentary I watched.

Be blessed and that is a choice!